January 2, 2014
The Butchers

When he had made sure there were no survivors in his house

And that all the suitors were dead, heaped in blood and dust

Like fish that fishermen with fine-meshed nets have hauled

Up gasping for salt water, evaporating in the sunshine,

Odysseus, spattered with muck and like a lion dripping blood

From his chest and cheeks after devouring a farmer’s bullock,

Ordered the disloyal housemaids to sponge down the armchairs

And tables, while Telemachos, the oxherd and the swineherd

Scraped the foor with shovels, and then between the portico

And the roundhouse stretched a hawser and hanged the women

So none touched the ground with her toes, like long-winged thrushes

Or doves trapped in a mist-net across the thicket where they roost,

Their heads bobbing in a row, their feet twitching but not for long,

And when they had dragged Melanthios’s corpse into the haggard

And cut off his nose and ears and cock and balls, a dog’s dinner,

Odysseus, seeing the need for whitewash and disinfectant,

Fumigated the house and the outhouses, so that Hermes

Like a clergyman might wave the supernatural baton

With which he resurrects or hypnotises those he chooses,

And waken and round up the suitors’ souls, and the housemaids’,

Like bats gibbering in the nooks of their mysterious cave

When out of the clusters that dangle from the rocky ceiling

One of them drops and squeaks, so their souls were bat-squeaks

As they fittered after Hermes, their deliverer, who led them

Along the clammy sheughs, then past the oceanic streams

And the white rock, the sun’s gatepost in that dreamy region,

Until they came to a bog-meadow full of bog-asphodels

Where the residents are ghosts or images of the dead.

— Michael Longley (1991)