Hero By Paul Engle

I
I have heard the horn of Roland goldly screaming
In the petty Pyrenees of the inner ear
And seen the frightful Saracens of fear
Pour from the passes, fought them, brave in dreaming.

But waked, and heard my own voice tinly screaming
In the whorled and whirling valleys of the ear,
And beat the savage bed back in my fear,
And crawled, unheroed, down those cliffs of dreaming.

    II
I have ridden with Hannibal in the mountain dusk,
Watching the drivers yell the doomed and gray
Elephants over the trumpeting Alps, gone gay
With snow vivid on peaks, on the ivory tusk.

But waked, and found myself in the vivid dusk
Plunging the deep and icy floor, gone gray
With bellowing shapes of morning, and the gay
Sunshaft through me like an ivory tusk.

    III
I have smiled on the platform, hearing without shame
The crowd scream out my praise, I, the new star,
Handsome, disparaging my bloody scar,
Yet turning its curve to the light when they called my name.

But waked, and the empty window sneered my name,
The sky bled, drop by golden drop, each star
The curved moon glittered like a sickle's scar,
The night wind called with its gentle voices: Shame!

    IV
I have climbed the secret balcony, on the floor
Lain with the lady, drunk the passionate wine,
Found, beneath the green, lewd-smelling vine,
Love open to me like a waiting door.

But waked to delirious shadows on the door,
Found, while my stomach staggered with sour wine,
Green drunkenness creep on me like a vine,
And puked my passion on the bathroom floor.

    V
I have run with Boone and watched the Indian pillage
The log house, fought, arrow in leg, and hobbled
Over the painful ground while the warrior gobbled
Wild-turkey cry, but escaped to save the village.

But waked, and walked the city, vicious village,
Fought through the traffic where the wild horn gobbled,
Bruised on the bumper, turned toward home, hobbled
Back, myself the house my neighbors pillage.

    VI
I have lain in bed and felt my body taken
Like water utterly possessing sand,
Surrounding, seething, soothing, as a hand
Comforts and clasps the hand that it has shaken.

But waked, and found that I was wholly shaken
By you, as the wave surrounds and seethes the sand,
That your whole body was a reaching hand
And my whole body the hand that yours had taken.
"Hero" from Embrace, by Paul Engle, copyright © 1969, and reprinted by permission of the Estate of Paul Engle.

Source: Embrace (Random House Inc., 1969)

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