Wiglaf the foot–warrior sat near the shoulder of the king,
wearily sprinkling water on his face to wake him.
He succeeded not at all. —Beowulf
It is the saddest part of a sad story:
a young man in an old man's heavy shirt,
his helmet, arm–rings, all the gold gone dull
and gummed with blood. The gutted dragon lies
there twitching, and cowards—seasoned fighters—
are dragging themselves, shamefaced, from the woods.
Wiglaf's own eyes saw his master's body
caught up by waves of flame, saw long teeth tear
the great one's throat. Through clots of smoke, he
found the weak spot, struck, and found out later
what is worse than dragons. Kings die slowly,
gasping words. Young Wiglaf loved his king
and carried water to him, in his hands.
This story is and isn't old. My half–brother's
sixth–month–born, three–pound daughter was alive
an hour last December, and in spring, he's
saying this, "You haven't seen her room, yet"
although he knows I have, the crib and stack
of folded blankets, silver brush and comb
his wife lifts up to dust beneath and then
puts back. Fat bears and grinning tigers dance
across the wall. Foot–warrior Wiglaf knew
the king was dead, and still he bathed his face
to wake him, sprinkling water, while the others
watched. We are standing in my brother's yard,
where a single mimosa, bloom–decked, leans
in careful arabesque. He's choking, weary,
on his loss, and I see how love, once started,
can become a thing apart from us,
a being all its own, unstoppable,
just watching as we waste our human gestures
on the air, and who can say if it's
the monster or the hero of our lives?
About the Author: Marisa de los Santos grew up in northern Virginia, received a B.A. from the University of Virginia, an M.F.A. from Sarah Lawrence College, and a Ph.D. in English literature and creative writing from the University of Houston. She teaches at the University of Delaware and lives with her family in Wilmington. Her poems have appeared in such publications as Poetry, Chelsea, Western Humanities Review, and Prairie Schooner; and have been collected in From the Bones Out (University of South Carolina Press). She has recently published a well–received first novel, Love Walked In (Plume). To read more of the author’s poetry, visit the Laughing Hermit website.
Copyright © 2000 by Marisa de los Santos. First published in The Antioch Review, the poem also appeared in Santos' collection From the Bones Out and The New American Poets Breadloaf anthology, edited by Michael Collier. It may not be reproduced in any form without the author's express written permission.