from The Household Gods
Two Poems

from The Household Gods

Homage to Vulcan

Instead praise the crippled god hurled from terraced heaven in his father’s wine-dark rage. Him I know. Not there among honey and ambrosia but in the rank beneath, in the bowels amid flint and plinth. There while the deathless fuss and vamp he builds fires that fire the world. For all things have been created unfinished, and the smith must skim away the dross. The outcast god, the cuckolded god. In whose image this is made.

Pick Up Your Shears, Delilah

For the drag of silk against the skin.
For the cool blade of trust as he,
in all his knotted might, sleeps.
Just to watch the veil fall away
from all that muscle. To love him
more then, when the strength that
won me lies feathered on the floor.

Anansi the Spider

We do not really mean, we do not really mean
that what we are about to say is true.

                                    ASHANTI FOLKLORE

I had meant to speak of Anansi,
who bought stories from the sky god
and hung them up in his false house
of secret gossamer. I thought the spider,
the art spun of its own body, could be
the appropriate symbol for the poem,
whose proper effort is the breath, the beat
of the heart, my own iambic clock’s tick.
None of that will do. For the better
part of an hour now I have watched
this spider, fat as a stuck thumb, advance
upon the silk sarcophagus of a housefly,
its orchestra of legs grotesquely tuned.
The adequate object is a natural symbol.
I had tangled myself, like storied Anansi,
in the weave and weft of my own tale.
I did not really mean that what I was
about to say was true. I had not expected
imaginary webs with real spiders in them,
the eyes that stare everywhere at once.
Look how far its web stretches. Touch
one thread and the whole fabric shudders.

Peace in Our Time

The god of war was tired. Like a gourmand at the end of a great feast he was swollen and glutted and surrounded by tiny bones. Now to rest. Comforted by the clanging of steel and the cries he—as he so often had as a child—curled in the vast spoon of his shield and slept.

When he woke, the field was abandoned. An awful quiet had spread across the front. Even the crows had flown. The god of war looked in all directions, as far as he could see, then sat down hard and howled, like an infant, and tore out the grass around him blade by blade.


How it was to be among them I can hardly say now.
Stepped from the pages of their books they stood
as vagabond kings in exile or daughters of the sea.
I waited for some sign from them that what I hoped
was true was true, but they turned their gaze away
as if yoked by strange wisdom or the lack of it.
They smelled of moss and blood and the deep forest.
Doubter, do not tell me they were only this or that,
men and woman as you and I and ours might be,
for nothing is ever only, the book is shut, and they
have passed from the earth whose hoarded words
were like these words of ours but rang like steel.


This cannot be real—this must not be what real is.
Unstrung, my whole body is a sigh. I strut and fret
in the cloth of my stretched flesh. Once I wanted
only this. Now I want everything: to carve my name
into some dense, dumb wood. To feel a few true
words on my tongue, say this, this is the real me,
but this is a life without a single string to hang on.
At night, I watch the lost stars fall through space.
In my sleep I can hear the house warp and rasp.

A Map of Middle-earth

If only the known world were deckle-edged and gilt.
A clearing at the edge of every crosshatched forest
where we might sit down to elevenses and smoke.
I know if we could we would write our own histories,
say once and for all who is the orc and who the elf.
We would map out every last fantasy to scale. If only.
But even in Hobbiton I would long for Hobbiton.

Gore Orphanage
                  LORAIN COUNTY, OHIO

No orphanage ever stood here, much less burned.
Or there was an orphanage there but never here,
and nothing here burned. What was built did burn
but never burned with children trapped inside.
The children were by then—thank God—long gone.
So say then it was the Sprungers, come from Indiana,
who built what was never built, but Gore himself,
the caretaker, who watched the orphanage burn
and—mercy—full of children. Or say it was Swift
who built his estate on this hollow but fell destitute
and sold Wilber the land. Where Wilber hosted
séances, where the dead were long ago howling
in their flames. Or were never. Were only dead,
not conjured or abandoned, orphaned or condemned
for a time to haunt this sad scorched gore where
someone’s orphanage stood. In what was or was not
Swift’s great country acreage, or the Sprungers’,
or was only the dream of another family whose name
is long lost, who were never blessed with children.
Whatever fires once burned are long burned out,
but nothing keeps the children from coming back
to park their borrowed cars, necking and reckless,
scared and stoned. They may have heard the rumors
that in this field, or that one, on a moonless night,
you can hear the children calling from their graves.
Who knows if they know this, if they would care
that there was never an orphanage here, no fire,
no ghosts. That there were never any children.

Homage to Thoth

If you would be his priests you must open the mouths of the dead and let them speak. Touch their eyes and mouths with adze and amulet and write the word in their stopped hearts. Watch as the nib is sunk into ink—as an ibis spears a fish and comes up in full-throated gulps. Watch him, thrice-great, divide sea from sky with a line. With a line he marks where all lines meet, and disappear: lines written in sand, names writ in water, blank ink on the blank page. Who would be his priests must trust that the book of the dead is still being written, and all the words on the walls of our hearts weigh no more than a feather.

Dave Lucas is the author of Weather (Georgia, 2011), which received the 2012 Ohioana Book Award for Poetry. Named by Rita Dove as one of thirteen “young poets to watch,” he has also received a Discovery/The Nation Prize and a Cleveland Arts Prize. He teaches at Case Western Reserve University and lives in Cleveland, where he was born and raised.


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