National Poetry Day Series

The Wayfarer:  Odysseus at Dodoma

Acorns lie strewn with old leaves, thick
as years beneath the shadow of spreading oaks
where an old woman stoops, picking up sticks
that are no more or less twisted than she, binding
them onto her bent back, and watching with one
bright, blackbird eye as the wayfarer approaches,
an oar balanced across his knotted shoulder, his eyes
narrowed between deep seams, as one who has looked
out to numerous horizons and seen wonders: the moon’s
twinned horns rising from a twilit sea like some mythic
beast, awe and terror bound into the one moment
of seeing – those same eyes strayed now into this land
of low, green hills where the margin of the world
is always close as the line of the next, wooded slope
meeting sky, and where a crone hobbles closer
beneath her load, head twisted up to see him better,
curious as a crow, cackling to think there can be
any burden greater than hers in this world of suffering,
flapping work-worn hands and husking at him
in her cracked voice, bidding him return to the hearth
fire and the home isle, to sit in the sunlit porch
with grandchildren clutching at his knees –
but the wanderer hears only the ravens cawing,
lifting in clouds from the sacred grove, darkening
the sun with their wings, crying out that he is fated,
condemned to roam across sea and land, never
resting or knowing ease until he comes at last
to some far country where salt too is a stranger
and no traveller has ever brought word to those
who dwell there, or led them to imagine
the immeasurable vastness, the restless expanse
of the great ocean, that is the circumference,
the greater part of an unknown world.
© Helen Lowe

Finalist, Takahe National Poetry Competition 2006/ first published Takahe 62

The Wayfarer is part of Helen’s “ITHACA CONVERSATIONS” sequence.


Helen Lowe is a novelist, poet, interviewer, and the current Ursula Bethell Writer-in-Residence at the University of Canterbury. Helen’s first novel,Thornspell, was published to critical praise in the US and her second, The Heir of Night, is published internationally and recently won the International Gemmell Morningstar Award 2012.  The Gathering of the Lost, the second novel in “The Wall of Night” series, is newly published. Helen’s poetry has been published, anthologized, and broadcast in New Zealand and internationally. She posts every day on her Helen Lowe on Anything, Really blog, and you can also now follow her on Twitter: @helenl0we


For a complete list of National Poetry Day events around the country, go here.