Max Beckmann, Odysseus and Kalypso
This is the man who prefers mortality
to eternal compromise.
This is the woman who prefers vitality
to compromised eternity.
This is the woman who charms
the serpent and to whom wise birds minister.
This is the man who blindfolds
pudent cyclops and bails out some friends.
This is the man who knows sirens;
tied to the foremast, he resists
bribes, destroyers of the polis.
This is the woman who knows gods
hate demigods falling in love with mortals,
hate the happiness of women and men.
The woman, naked
except for her feather necklace,
the cat’s coat
(and the ankle chain).
The man, naked
except for the iron shin-guards
and the iron helmet of his armor.
Here they are in Amsterdam, 1943
starving so they can afford
the blue paint for their aura
of pain and hope.
And they read that she gives him bread,
wine, and wood for the raft of his journey;
words of love
for a seven-year farewell.
Norman Franke lives in Aotearoa/New Zealand and works as a research fellow in Australia. Franke's mentor at Cornell was Prof Peter Kahn, who taught at Cornell in the 1980s and was the director of the Cornell study abroad program in Hamburg, Germany, where he also taught art history. A distant relative of Gustav Mahler, Peter survived the Nazi terror in the USA. Ruth Stiles Gannett, Peter's wife, the author of My Father's Dragon, was actively involved in the European protest movements against the nuclear arms race - modern epic journeys. The poem is based on Max Beckmann's painting Odysseus und Kalypso (Amsterdam 1943).