Marc Chagall The Soul of Elpenor (L’ame d’Elpenor)
Getting Wasted With Elpenor
Pretty bored last night so I decided
to descend to the underworld
hoping to meet the great Achilles
or Agamemnon or, you know, one
of them, even that mad Ajax would do.
Instead I ran into Elpenor sulking
on a lonely, miasmal crossroad.
Seems no one had buried him yet—
remember he’s the dopey kid
who got drunk atop Circe’s roof
and fell off and broke his neck
(one or two lines in The Odyssey).
He’d talk to anybody who drank
the blood, begging, pleading for burial
so his soul could cease its wandering.
Well, I wasn’t much help
so back up on a roof (Circe’s again?),
we wound up getting cheap drunk
on Gallo wine–
and once more Elpenor slid off
to still another death, another
broken neck. He looked so sad
as he peered at me from the ground
though I had already explained
that I lacked the power to salvage
either his body or soul. I sang
from my vantage–Ray Charles’
rendition of “Born to Lose,”
never quite deciding who ranks
as the greater losers:
hopeless, broken blokes like Elpenor
or those of us who can’t restore them.
I tried to tell her she did not smell
like mosquito repellant
but I could tell by her frown
and the way she flicked her hair
that she didn’t believe me.
She kept sniffing at her arms
in a kind of minor horror.
I took her hand and tried to
pull her into the house
but she resisted: “How can I
come in when I smell like poison?”
“Smell me,” she demanded,
“all over,” as she proceeded
to remove her clothing.
What a dilemma.
If I told her she smelled
like champagne or the attar
of roses, she would accuse
me of lying;
if I told her she did indeed
smell like mosquito repellant
she would go berserk–
for this was one clean woman.
In the end I offered to rub her down
with denatured alcohol
(which smells horrible)
to remove every trace of repellant.
She liked the idea
and followed me into the house,
the screen door banging behind us.
I smeared the wretched alcohol
all over her flesh and rubbed it in.
Then I carried her to the tub
and washed it off with Ivory.
Now I’m boiling water for
sassafras tea as she lies back
on the sofa, smiling, purified,
And I tell you, I’m smiling too.
Louis Gallo’s work has appeared or will shortly appear in Wide Awake in the Pelican State (LSU anthology), Southern Literary Review, Fiction Fix, Glimmer Train, Hollins Critic,, Rattle, Southern Quarterly, Litro, New Orleans Review, Xavier Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Missouri Review, Mississippi Review, Texas Review, Baltimore Review, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, The Ledge, storySouth, Houston Literary Review, Tampa Review, Raving Dove, The Journal (Ohio), Greensboro Review,and many others. Chapbooks include The Truth Change, The Abomination of Fascination, Status Updates and The Ten Most Important Questions. He is the founding editor of the now defunct journals, The Barataria Review and Books: A New Orleans Review. He teaches at Radford University in Radford, Virginia.