SHIELD OF ACHILLES
(After Auden, 1952)
Peering over his shoulder
the goddess of love in all her melting forms
sees no glad world of giving
molded there, no inlaid scenes of sacrifice
or service or of modest
calm obeisance to acknowledged modes
of conduct, much less law. Abrading
the bronze surface as it sets, corrosive pride
coils, pitting the golden arc
of honor, clouding clear air.
Absorbing what her spouse has made
she shudders, seeming for the moment older:
emblazoned at the center
of the metal field a bulky figure squats,
sniffing the sluggish breeze for those that doubt
or might decline to play his
cat-game, batted publicly
from paw to paw.
Degraded from foundations
out, the house of freedom trembles towards the pit,
unmoored by shouted or implicit
threats infesting it.
The bulwarks sought do not appear,
submerged in self-regarding greed
or fear. The Botticelli
gaze turns gray. Her jealous hairy
husband sneers triumphantly
then limps away.
Version first published in What Rough Beast, 29 June 2019; reprinted in Hill Rag (March 2020)