His mother holds the golden vase
That holds the bones of her only son
That hold the memory of Achilles
That holds an eternal question
When she took her infant to the river Styx
And dipped her child in the waters of death
And won him this underworldly armour
And slept easier knowing he was protected
What if instead she had held his toe
What if instead she grasped just the nail
What if for a moment she had let go
And he had been submerged entirely
Now he rests as famed for his weakness
As for the rest of his warrior glory
And she rests her head in her hands
Asking ‘what if’ for the rest of time
There is no shame in wanting invincibility
But there is no hope of obtaining it
For no soul can resist the current
If no one holds fast to their human part
One is undone by an arrow to the heel
On the battlefields of Troy
But another sits with shirt undone
And surveys his half-planted fields
Bare feet rest in the soil’s warmth
Grateful for one patch that isn’t numb
That holds his connection to the earth
What if we knew: no life is ever left undone?
Note: While I was familiar with the idea of an Achilles heel, this was a word I didn’t know, that I encountered for the first time in this article.
Hamartia means a fatal flaw leading to a downfall – but I found myself during the questioning of this poem whether our flaws do have to lead to our downfalls? Perhaps by accepting them rather than trying to surmount them, we can find a more peaceful, more life-affirming path?
The structure of this took hold as I was writing – the first stanza clicked into place, and then I had great fun trying to recycle words, or to turn them in different directions to see them from different angles. I really wanted to go somewhere different at the end, and this structure didn’t feel like it could take me there. I’m still undecided whether breaking the form means I need to work harder to find options that follow within the rules, or if the unravelling of the poem (bringing the words back in a looser way), echoes the feeling of a more organic and accepting attitude. Hopefully the latter, but we will see what I think of it once the poem has had time to rest.