Agon at Chalkis – Brandon Marlon

Illustration by Delna Abraham

This was a dreadful mistake, I thought,

as rabid, mobocratic spectators

touted and vaunted the popular favorite

who attitudinized to yet greater acclaim.

For my part, I yawned and turned aside,

scratching my crotch, staring out to sea,

pretending not to notice.

By contrast, I maintained a deportment

throughout betraying little of my nerves,

and even less of my scruples.

To this day I don’t know what I was thinking

in agreeing to a poetry contest between

Homer and I, who are nothing alike:

he wandered high and low and recited;

I tethered myself to the land, stony and uneven,

harvesting wheat strains and nursing olive groves.

He roamed far and wide with walking staff and satchel,

while I trudged back and forth with sickle and scythe.

Yet in that moment we faced one another

with ardent adherents on either side

to determine once and for all

who was poet laureate and who was poetaster.

In the overworld, I fathom, Dionysus and Apollo

themselves took sides. Still, Zeus alone

would ultimately decide one way or the other.

For this reason I calmed before Hellas’ partisans

and declaimed a pragmatic disquisition

on the value of moil, land, and resignation to fate,

growing fervid as I was buoyed on rhetoric’s crest

but giving no thought whatever to the throng’s response,

whether encomium or excoriation.

None was more taken aback when, after

waves of wavering quavered the audience,

the name Hesiod was enounced; as I recall,

I myself shuddered. I shudder even now as I recall.

Homer, to his credit, remained insouciant,

saluting me then moving along as was his wont.

Personally, the agon was momentous, a trice

in which I felt transported to Olympus’ summit,

an instant of mythic proportions, in my lifetime

never before seen, never since surpassed.

Brandon Marlon is a writer from Ottawa, Canada. He received his B.A. (Hon.) in Drama and English from the University of Toronto and his M.A. in English from the University of Victoria. His poetry has been published variously in Canada, U.S.A., England, Ireland, Greece, Romania, Israel, India, Pakistan, and Singapore.

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