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 C F Ryal

 

The Sons of Atreus Returned


We had been sitting at our places,
   at our own chairs, at our own tables, and suddenly
         there they were:
   the sons of Atreus, returned.


The tables should have been too small
   for men like that,
but there were places here among us
   where one or both of them could have
set down that chair
   long held in reserve for when the man
      returned from far away.
Some time ago, these had been left and lost
   out back, behind the stairs.
We felt a vague unease to know the sons of Atreus
   had nothing of their own
      to sit on.


No-one had anything to say
   as they stood by the inner door, shifting
      the weight of their bags
   from hand to hand
   clattering in their tarnished
      bronze.


No-one would begrudge them
   a quiet place to sit, a drink or two, the problem
   being who to be the first to open up
      a place for the sons of Atreus, returned
   so late, from a land so far remote
      from all of us.


And then the sons of Atreus returned
   for want of any welcome here
      among the tentative and living
   to being plaster faces
      mute and dusty on the wall.
We sat there at our places, and a vague unease
   told not of having flubbed
      interrogation of the shades
   but disclosed a greater fear of nothing
      being there at all.

 

The poem is unpublished. It is inspired by Cavafy's When The Watchman Saw the Light, Keeley-Sherrard translation, the last two lines of which are:

Someone else indispensible and unique and great / can always be found at a moment's notice.