(The Plight of) An Average Menelaus by Robert Roden

Robert Roden


According to Julia Turner’s account of Troy,
casting directors had difficult work finding
an actress beautiful enough to be Helen-worthy,
for no woman seems to possess the power,
in our age, to have 1,000 ships launched after her.
Evidently in their search for the perfect starlet,
agents appraised beauty in milliHelens.

I cannot help but try to figure out how
many milliHelens my own wife would rate
(dispatching the thought I haven’t any ships
should she be stolen from me by another).

I ponder this, but soon I am on to past lovers,
trying to gauge their value on this grand scale.
Since I never owned a boat, but wrote
ardently undulating letters to some of them,
I try to remember how many missives
I launched after they were gone
for more enticing shores or stronger arms.

There was L.W., definitely several milliHelens,
or a dozen, though I’m willing to admit that
that figure may have had more to do
with my psychosis than her beauty.
And J.R., whose lips alone would call for 10,
another 29 for her green eyes.
Green eyes always sail ships.
After running through the rest of this
small roster, I start computing the allure
of lovers I wish I had.
There’s C.S., for whom if I had 119 cruisers
I would surely send them out to sea.
And I think of A.F., easily 100 boats,
if not more, I’d send afloat.
I cannot think of one for whom
I would start a war,
but several cross my mind as worthy
of bruises and a black eye or two.

I never really decide about my wife.
If she were taken it would be my own
fault, no doubt, as much as an effect
of her beauty. I know that when a woman
leaves, it’s far too late to send the vessels
you should have all along.
So instead of calculating crafts,
I measure her grace in glances,
those looks I give her from across the room
where she looks back and whispers,
What? As if she doesn’t know
what I am thinking when I stare at her
like that, for the nine hundredth time.

from Rattle #23, Summer 2005

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