John Kindness: The Blinding of Polyphemous
(after the Theseus painter) 2005. Enamel, oil & gold leaf on steel amplifier panel
Ed Higgins
Polyphemous Remembers the Taste of Greeks

Years later Polyphemous, the one-eyed
man-mountain, still remembers the wine-soaked
taste of Odysseus's men. The barley and palatable
garlic-flavored Greeks. Their sinewy flesh a fibrous,
blood-hued hummus. Their crunched bones releasing
sweet marrow the texture of almond paste. The salty
pink smell of warm Achaian blood squirting into
his beard, spurting onto his bare chest. Puny tidbits
really, but the unwashed earthy warrior taste, sweat
mixed with fear, the tang of filled intestines, all
as robust as Agean sea duck in a fine-cuisine
Mycenae restaurant, tasting of the duck's fish
and crustacean diet. These sailing Greeks bobbing
sea ducks too. And his father Posiden letting them move
over his fast seas, along his rocky shorelines. Until
they came to Cyclop's shore. Set to plunder his racked
cheeses, steal sheep and goat kids from their pens.
Polyphemous remembers too the the fire-hardened point
of the smouldering olivewood stake driven hard
through his closed eyelid, deep and fast, deeper still,
twisted like a drill into a wine cask. The searing pain
so instant his howls drove the heady Greek-gift
wine from his drunken brain. His gore-streaming
eye a cantaloupe-size grape on a white-hot spit, sizzling,
bursting. His ears mad with roaring. Pain frantic hands
twisting the punishing spike from his eye in a geyser
of blood and clotted eye flesh spilling to the cave floor
from its smoking socket. Charred pain burning down
his cheeks flowing thick as yellow-hot Vesuvian lava,
a goad to anger as he swung the still smouldering spear
against throbbing darkness. Menacing only the air
at the invisible Greeks' agony-cunning stroke, froth
erupting from his lips like scalding magma.
The men of Achaea, all but the six he'd eaten,
escaped by guile too, despite all his blind-thick caution.
Fretful with pain he had lifted the cave's stone-slab
door, slippery with his own blood spray, to warming
morning air, letting his sheep and goats to pasture.
Wary of escaping Greeks the groaning monster
raked each sheep's back with his thick fingers
as a woman cards wool before spinning. Undiscovered,
clinging like tics under each beast's shaggy belly, Odysseus
and his fear-filled sailors fled into dawn's grey shadows
straight to their waiting ship. Odysseus hurling taunts
from offshore at the gouged-eye behemoth, like an erring
boy taunting a bully from a safe distance. The sightless
cliff-shaking giant hurled back curses on his tormentor
crying out avenging prayers to his sea-father Poseidon.
From his blind rocky heights the riled beast hurled down
wrenched boulders larger then his stolen bleating sheep
stowed onboard the plundereing Greeks' departing ship.
Defiant Odysseus shouting his own eye-gouging name to the
pain-bellowing giant urging raging Polyphemous tell
the world who blinded his wits as well as his eye,
"Odysseus, destroyer of cities, blinded you! Laertes's
son who now sails for his kingdom home and royal
waiting Penelope on Ithaca. Odysseus, who stunned you
with strong Hellene wine stealing first your dull wits
and then your blistering blood-curdled eye as well as
your deep-wooled sheep. All stolen, and not even the sea-blue
Poseidon can ease your anguished pain." The monster heaved
a still larger boulder, churning the surrounding sea as oarsmen
plied their fear and strength into their vessel's slow leaving
while archers rained shafts onto the high cliff above as
the ship's steady eye surged seaward.

All these years later what Polyphemous fears most
sleeping sometimes fitfully outside his cave on warm
Mediterranean nights, fingering his blackened, empty eye socket,
tracing the cauterized lumpy flesh of the still deep wound,
is the coming again of Greek ships. Wily Odysseus's return,
the blue glare of hubris in his two eyes.