Wiglaf

This is the first poem I ever posted on this blog, many years ago. It was borrowed from a friend who has excellent taste in words.

I’m recording all the poems I post this month. Click the title of the poem to listen.

Wiglaf

Wiglaf the foot-warrior sat near the shoulder of the king, wearily sprinkling water on his face to wake him. He succeeded not at all. –Beowulf

It is the saddest part of a sad story:
a young man in an old man’s heavy shirt,
his helmet, arm-rings, all the gold gone dull


and gummed with blood. The gutted dragon lies
there twitching, and cowards–seasoned fighters–
are dragging themselves, shamefaced, from the woods.


Wiglaf’s own eyes saw his master’s body
caught up by waves of flame, saw long teeth tear
the great one’s throat. Through clots of smoke, he


found the weak spot, struck, and found out later
what is worse than dragons. Kings die slowly,
gasping words. Young Wiglaf loved his king


and carried water to him, in his hands.
This story is and isn’t old. My half-brother’s
sixth-month-born, three-pound daughter was alive


an hour last December, and in spring, he’s
saying this, “You haven’t seen her room, yet”
although he knows I have, the crib and stack


of folded blankets, silver brush and comb
his wife lifts up to dust beneath and then
puts back. Fat bears and grinning tigers dance


across the wall. Foot-warrior Wiglaf knew
the king was dead, and still he bathed his face
to wake him, sprinkling water, while the others


watched. We are standing in my brother’s yard,
where a single mimosa, bloom-decked, leans
in careful arabesque. He’s choking, weary,


on his loss, and I see how love, once started,
can become a thing apart from us,
a being all its own, unstoppable,


just watching as we waste our human gestures
on the air, and who can say if it’s
the monster or the hero of our lives?

–by Marisa De Los Santos

(from her book “From the Bones Out” and also published in “The New American Poets” Breadloaf anthology, edited by Michael Collier. Originally published in the Antioch Review)

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