Mrs. Cyclops

Ain’t really gonna leave. I’ll just pretend,
Brontesa. Cy and I are bound. I simply
Can’t bear to turn a blind eye to my mate—
Not even if our love-life’s off of late;
Not even if his skin is coarse and pimply.
At least not till his eye is on the mend.

You heard he was attacked by some rank Greeks
Who trespassed in our cave? Cy took a bite
Of one—a sweaty sailor foul with fault.
Cy said that the man was dry from too much salt.
We had two more for dinner. Cooked ‘em right
With olive oil, garum and some leeks.

But then their leader lulled Cy into sleep
By coaxing him to binge wine in extremis
(He loves a nip no less than other folk).
He got Cy drunk then gave his eye a poke!
Those evil men! They crippled Polyphemus
Then fled bound to the bellies of our sheep!

Aye, Polyphemus is Cy’s given name.
But it’s too long, Brontesa. I prefer
Endearing terms. To me he’s always Cy.
I well recall the day he caught my eye!
He smelled of sheep, a vision garbed in fur!
A brute, but quite the eyeful just the same.

You’re right to question why I’m known to no one.
On our first date I told Cy straight away
“Don’t let my name be seen in any books!
I’m sore about my height, my weight, my looks!
I’ll keep your cave from dust and disarray.
Just keep me private. I ain’t much to show one.”

Our marriage? It’s convenient and compliant.
Though he’s all brawn he thinks himself quite sly.
‘Course I’m the one who keeps our goals in sight.
So what if now and then Cy picks a fight?
He’ll always be the apple of my eye;
A vision, aye, a legendary giant.



The Return to Ithaca

This shall not be forever,
This life spent on the sea.
__I’m going to find my one true love
And joined again we’ll be.

I’ll risk the howling tempest
With sails high on the mast,
__The stinging pain of loneliness
Left firmly in the past.

I’m sailing home to Ithaca;
I hope to find her there
__Devoted, waiting by the shore
With myrtle in her hair;

Her skin as white as sheep’s milk,__
Her lips as sweet as wine,
__Her voice like breezes from the bay
With whispers soft and fine.

We’ll kiss in dappled sunlight
Upon the Grecian shore,
__And she shall press her lips to mine
One hundred times or more!

I’ll tell her that I love her
And shall no longer roam.
__I’ll be the husband that she’s missed
And ever more stay home.



Brian Yapko is a lawyer who also writes poetry. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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34 Responses

  1. James Sale

    Returning is sweet, Brian, but I love Mrs Cyclops most – very very funny, especially the way you keep on alluding to eyes – one way or another! Aye-aye, as we say. Wonderful work. Well done.

    • Brian A. Yapko

      I had a great time coming up with all of those cheeky “eye” references, James, so I’m thrilled that you enjoyed them! Thank you very much for the kind comment!

    • Brian A. Yapko

      Thank you very much, Jeremiah! And thanks for citing the Dickinson and Auden poems. I enjoyed reading them!

  2. Roy Eugene Peterson

    “Mrs. Cyclops” is an absolutely clever poem written with a wonderful sense of humor while keeping things in an interesting perspective. “The Return to Ithaca” is a precious sentimental poem that portrays a romantic theme true to a seafaring soul. Nicely done.

    • Brian A. Yapko

      I’m not sure whatever possessed me to write Mrs. Cyclops, but I had great fun writing it. Thank you very much for your generous comment, Roy!

  3. Joseph S. Salemi

    Our enemies in the po-biz community frequently fling in our faces the criticism that we depend too heavily on ancient mythology for themes and subjects, and that these hoary Greek tales are now played out, overdone, and stale.

    Yapko proves them not just wrong, but blind. The idea of a Mrs. Cyclops is new and provocative, and also INTERESTING! Presenting her in a dramatic monologue with one of her female neighbors is a delight, as she talks on and complains (as any bored wife might do) about her husband and his faults. And if the reader recalls that Polyphemus was also the brutish and stupid suitor to the lovely sea-nymph Galatea (who was of course repelled by his witless and crude advances), then the idea that he has actually managed later to get a female companion is more than comic — it strikes one as preposterous. The Cyclops as a boorish husband, with a somewhat disillusioned wife — what a great idea!

    Let me add that the rhyme of “Polyphemus” with “in extremis” is a brilliant touch.

    As for “The Return to Ithaca,” the poem strikes me as deliberately ironic — indeed, almost sardonic — in its simple expression of nostalgia and love. The tone and the language of the speaker are those of a naive and moonstruck teenager, when we know that Odysseus was not that type at all. He was a tough-minded, shrewd, calculating, and daring man of the world, and although he loved his wife and wanted to go home, accomplishing those things would involve him in horrendous struggles, torment, bloodshed, and complex intrigues. My sense of the poem is that Yapko is saying this: “You think that marital love and attachment to your home are just all peaches and cream? Think again! Odysseus was not the homesick dreamer that I’m presenting here! He was the storm-tossed fighter who came home to danger, terror, and the need to slaughter his enemies — and even then he had to prove to Penelope that he was actually her husband!” Yapko’s poem reminds me of how Shakespeare puts sweet words of love-longing and affection into the mouth of Richard III, when we already know what a loveless brute the man really is.

    Poems such as these show that our Western mythologies are not dead — they are still living sources from which we can take inspiration, and on which we can sharpen the knives of creativity.

    • Brian A. Yapko

      Thank you very much indeed, Joe, for your appreciation of what I was going after. I’m not sure where or when the thought struck me, but as I thought about writing an Odyssey-related poem, instead of coming up with something stuffy I had this image of Madame Thenardier from Les Miserables complaining about her husband — and with a slight cockney accent, no less! That led to a Polyphemus who is as much a boor as a brute. That also led to all of the tongue-in-cheek eye/aye/vision references. I agree fully that the ancient Greek and Roman myths — their history as well — are as relevant today as they ever were. Maybe more important than ever as we watch the collapse of Western civilization about us! To me they are an inexhaustible source of creative material. And, by the way, your offhand reference to our classical poetry critics as “blind” was itself hilarious!

      You are right to read between the lines in “Return to Ithaca” because it is a bit too innocent to be true. But your reading is a bit darker than I intended. My view on Odysseus/Ulysses here is that he is fantasizing about something that is patently improbable. I think he would like to pretend that everything will be just fine when (if!) he returns home. But if there’s a theme here — it’s that “you can’t go home again.” After everything that Odysseus has been through (and he has no idea what Penelope has been through!) there is no possibility of a return to innocence. I think of the hobbits who find their return to Hobbiton disappointing and anticlimactic after all of the dark events in The Lord of the Rings. They want to return home but they have been changed forever. And so the intended disconnect here is not so much like Richard III, who was blatantly manipulative, as with the sad irony and naivete of the poem I wrote last year about King Lear called “Cordelia’s Choice.” She ends her poem believing that if she returns to Britain she’ll rescue Lear and the story will end with a happily ever after.

      I don’t consider Odysseus naive — he’s certainly been around the block! But I also believe he is governed by a strong romantic streak. Is there a story in literature more romantic than this classical hero fighting gods, monsters and the sea itself to get back home to his wife? Romantic, yes. But a search for something that may never satisfy. History cannot be undone. For Odysseus the idea that he’ll be the gentle husband that she’s always wanted who will never again roam is a pleasant fantasy which reality cannot possibly deliver upon. Too much has changed. Still… “isn’t it pretty to think so?”

  4. Laura Schwartz

    Mine eyes had seen this coming
    From Bard Brian yet once more.
    He has conquered rhymes and rhythms
    And is never one to bore.

    For who else would take on Cy or any other ‘clopses’, too?
    His chutzpah marches on!0

    • Brian A. Yapko

      Why thank you for commenting, Laura! I enjoyed your poem here and, true to its words, I do strive to never bore. And I’ll take your “chutzpah” observation as a great compliment!

  5. jd

    Enjoyed both, Brian, esp. the first for imagination, humor and final “aye” and the second for its song.

  6. Paul A. Freeman

    Some Greek home invaders, my, my!
    I caught them to bake in a pie.
    Then one Greco-punk,
    he got me quite drunk
    and poked out my solitary eye.

    Great stuff, Brian, especially on the Mrs Cyclops front. I wish I’d written it myself. A great way to get kids today interested in ‘boring old’ mythology!

    Thanks for the read.

    • Brian A. Yapko

      Paul, your poem had me in stitches! Thank you for the kind comment and the laugh.

    • Julian D. Woodruff

      More effective with kids for Classical myths, I bet, than Spike Jones or Anna Russell for opera!

  7. Margaret Coats

    Brian, only you could have written these varying visionary pieces. Both are very affecting without trying to define your meaning. “Mrs. Cyclops” is your invention; the speaker in “Return to Ithaca” is not necessarily Odysseus. But if so, you are among the happy company of artists who have made him more than he is in Homer. Tennyson and Kazantzakis are extraordinary and so are you, to have composed this love lyric in simple form, yet filled with seeming epic similes. The form of “Mrs. Cyclops” is also most appropriate, with six stanzas of bravely unpropitious closed sextains (abccba). Ben trovate!

    • Brian A. Yapko

      I so appreciate your “visionary” comment, Margaret! I especially appreciate your comment on “Ithaca” — the speaker is indeed meant to be Odysseus/Ulysses and I wonder how elusive is the happy ending that he longs for. I’m especially pleased to be mentioned in the company of Tennyson (who I greatly admire) and Kazantzakis, who you are introducing me to for the first time.

      Thank you for mentioning the “bravely unpropitious” closed sextains of Mrs. Cyclops. There’s a little joke intended here with rhyme-lines a-b-c-c-b-a which, if graphed out, would be ovular — eye shaped. At least that was the theory. The joke would probably have come across better if the rhyme scheme had been a-b-b-c-c-c-b-b-a so that you could better see the progression from small to larger to larger to smaller to small!

    • Margaret Coats

      How elusive is the happy ending he longs for? If you can write it, it’s not impossible. Difficult, maybe. Her skin was probably not as white as sheep’s milk even in her youth, but if he finds her longing for him, he will take those lips and voice. Brian, you are not asking for an impossible return to innocence, but for a return to romance that is well within the potential of imaginations that have maintained fidelity. Your wondering made me review scenes of youthful romance, and I must say, none had the perfection you describe. Perhaps readers with a romantic streak can fancifully imagine and even plan better for the future, and that, I would say, offers promising prospects. The Odysseus figures of Tennyson and Kazantzakis are intriguing, but both had lost unselfish admiration for Penelope. Your creation is worth knowing.

  8. C.B. Anderson

    The Odyssey, as retold by Bullfinch (or maybe Hamilton), was one of my favorite stories when I was a lad. Clever heroes are hard to come by, and I am glad to revisit the parts of that epic you chose to examine more closely. I wonder whether Homer eye-dentified with Cy in any way.

    • Brian A. Yapko

      Ay-ay-ay-ay-ay! I love the eye-dentified pun, C.B. I always enjoyed the story of Ulysses and remember being much affected by the 1954 Kirk Douglas film. In fact, the Cyclops from that movie is the image I see in my imagination.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Brian, what a coincidence. It was that 1954 movie (I was only six) that piqued my interest in ancient mythology. I began to recount the adventures of Odysseus to my classmates at the time, and my parents bought me Bullfinch.

      • Brian A. Yapko

        Joe, you were only six years old and you were already sharing the story of Odysseus!? Now that’s impressive! It’s amazing to consider how a lifelong interest in the Classics can begin with a movie seen by an impressionable child. One never knows where an unexpected seed may sprout.

  9. Joshua C. Frank

    Brian, these are both great! What a great idea, to do first-person poems based on The Odyssey! It’s been said that all literature is but a footnote to Homer, just as all philosophy is a footnote to Plato. I don’t know of anyone else who could have pulled these off as well as you.

    I love the nickname Cy and the puns with “eye.” The line “You’re right to question why I’m known to no one” is interesting; as I recall, Ulysses managed to escape Polyphemus because he had introduced himself as No One, and when other cyclopses asked who blinded Polyphemus, he said, “No One did this!”

    “The Return to Ithaca” is interesting; it’s not clear whether the speaker is Ulysses, but I’m sure many felt as the speaker did after ten years away at war. In fact, it makes me think of a 16th-century French poem “Heureux Qui Comme Ulysse” by Joachim du Bellay, in which the speaker expresses similar sentiments about returning home to his small town in France from the big city of Rome.

    I also find “white as sheep’s milk” interesting; having a cow milk allergy, I’m quite familiar with goat and sheep milk, and both are noticeably whiter and less yellow than cow milk.

    • Brian A. Yapko

      Josh, thank you so much for your generous comment. Even better, you win the subtle allusion discovery prize! Thank you for bring up “no one” because I was hoping somebody would notice that! The Greek word is often translated as “nobody” but is equally validly translated as “no one” — a much easier word to rhyme! And yes, Mrs. Cyclops’ casual mention of the phrase was meant as a reference back to the incident between Ulysses and Cyclops.

      Also, thank you for the comment on Ithaca. Yes, the speaker is meant to be Ulysses and it’s interesting that this name crops up in the French poem that you cite. As for sheep milk… when I think Greece, I think feta. But more than that, there’s something delicate and bucolic about sheep that cannot be said for cows or goats. Shepherds have higher poetic standing, I think, than drovers.

  10. Jeff Eardley

    Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of a great poet. Thoroughly enjoyable Brian with all the “eye” and “Cy” references. Didn’t someone say, it may have been Tom Waits, “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is King?” “Return to Ithaca” is a great folk song lyric with stanza 3 as a chorus. I must put a tune to this. Absolutely well done.

    • Brian A. Yapko

      Thank you so much, Jeff, for this generous comment. I don’t know the Tom Waits quote but it’s a good one!

      Jeff, I would be deeply honored if you did end up setting “Return to Ithaca” to music. I do indeed regard the poem as something of a ballad without the ability to do anything about it since I have greatly limited music composition skills. If you do take this on as a project, I’d be grateful for the opportunity to hear the finished work. But for you to even mention the idea touches me greatly. Thank you for this kind thought.

  11. Julian D. Woodruff

    Hit the bull’s eye you did, Brian, with both. “No one” / “show one” is prize-worthy.

    • Brian A. Yapko

      Thank you very much indeed, Julian! How I wish I’d used “bull’s eye” in the poem! And I am grateful for your praise of the “no one” rhyme — one which I must confess gave me a good snicker when I wrote it.

  12. Shamik Banerjee

    Thank you for these great poems, Brian. Cyclops is funny and a well-structured piece of storytelling, but I’m mesmerised by ‘The Return to Ithaca’. Romantic pieces like this never fail to enchant me. It effortlessly rolls off the tongue, and I wonder how beautiful it would sound if set to music.

    • Brian A. Yapko

      Thank you very much for this generous comment, Shamik! I’m especially pleased by your reaction to “Ithaca”! I would also love to hear this set to music and am keeping my fingers crossed that our fellow poet and accomplished musician Jeff Eardley may actually do so!

  13. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Brian, I love these! ‘The Return to Ithaca’ has me thinking – toe-tapping, literary sea-shanty vested in Greek Mythology. I love the ocean of golden images rolling in on mellifluous waves of poetic aplomb. Wonderful!

    But it’s ‘Mrs. Cyclops’ that has stolen the show for me. What a tour de force of illustrious and hilarious entertainment. This a superb poem demands to be read again and again to ensure an abundance of joy in a joy-sapping world. You have a remarkable ability of inhabiting the characters you create with a first-person perspective that is so real it makes me feel as if I am complicit in every disclosure Mrs. Cyclops, indulges in. Brian this is an instant favorite of mine. This poem is testament to your versatility. Perfect!

    • Brian A. Yapko

      Susan, I’m so pleased to receive this generous comment! Thank you! I’m glad you found this poem entertaining. It was great fun to write.

  14. Monika Cooper

    I’ve always felt sorry for the Cyclops and can’t stand to listen to the whole of Book IX so I’m glad to learn that someone loved him! A wonderful, funny, and tender addition to the Odyssey. Makes me happy.

    • Brian A. Yapko

      Please forgive the delay, Monika… I only just now saw your delightful comment. Thank you so much! I guess even the Cyclops deserve some tenderness sometimes. I’m so glad Mrs. Cyclops pleased you!


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