Original poem reprinted online here: "Complaint of Achilles' Heel" by Charles Jensen
Originally read: June 13, 2013
More information about the Poet: Charles Jensen
After reading this poem a couple of times, past me wrote this note pointing to the "Achilles' Heel" in the title, "Is this the perspective?" Well, it is. The speaker plays with the perspective and language in order to give a different interpretation of Achilles.
The tone of the speaker is playful in the beginning, "Everyone's so quick to blame my / tenderness." And the language splits a bit between the physical and the emotional automatically. Mixed with the playful tone, it seems the speaker doesn't take the scenario seriously.
Yet, the simile of the next line, "My wound opening like a mouth / to kiss an arrow's steel beak" is oddly direct. The perspective is further personified with the line attempting to make the speaker into a separate entity from the "beautiful man, now, plants his face / in Trojan sand," Achilles, and now since the "body" is dead, the speaker can now, "tell / the secrets of his body --"
But not necessarily the third stanza elaborates the death of Achilles as though to set up something, "Red with the death of Achilles, felled / by an arrow's bit when nothing--" Yes, I read the poem multiple times so I know what's coming. But the line, "by an arrow's bit when nothing--" the "nothing--" along with the shifting tone foreshadows a change.
"nothing-- could puncture his Kevlar skin." There's a hint of the present here due to the diction of Kevlar (as current me pointed out). Now the poem could go towards the contemporary, but the next line focuses more on something the speaker can do in the present, comment on the past, "Everyone skips ahead to the moral: don't / be a heel." The shift in tone is diffused by the pun. Don't be a heel -- bad guy, and well, the actual heel in this case. This line I feel is the core of the poem tone wise. The speaker shifts from playful, to a bit serious, then back to playful -- an unexpected element in a well known tale.
I think this is what makes the poem work -- rather than being tethered to the allusion, the speaker is bringing perspective, humor, and shifts in order to drive the poem towards the speaker and using the allusion more as an experiment without bashing it.
Now where was I, "For just one day I felt / sun where the chaffing bonds of sandal / should have been." The lines bring motive to the speaker -- fleshing it out more. And with this new sense of self, there is a sense of importance:
[...] Without me, he'd be
just more fodder for the cannon.
I made him a hero, Troy's poster
boy. Everyone forgets I was a part of him,
I needed him -- [...]
This sequence brings power because it's so human in a sense. The shift of emotions similar to grief -- anger, resentment, and so the "acceptance" in the end of "I needed him" is a strong emotional appeal which, I feel, this line, "--that even as he died, / I tasted each pulse--" feels completes the poem in a logical way, but doesn't fit the form of tercets.
The last image, "that I could not hold back its rush of red / birds or the season to which they flew" comes out of nowhere for me. I mean the tone and mood shifts, but the image going in this direction feels a bit throwaway, but I think that's the point of the lines -- just something to divert attention just like the body when the weakness is the heel.