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3. "Far From the Best"

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Big Ajax:

"Let me do the talking,"
     Odysseus had said.
          As if the rest of us
     would dare deprive him of his favorite pastime.
          As if the rest of us
     were but a supporting chorus in his play.
          As if the rest of us
     could only mess up his delicate plans.

"Agamemnon sends his regards,"
     this bold son of Laertes opens,
          speaking as a herald
          rather than a friend.
That much honesty,
     Odysseus has.

"Agamemnon sends his pet,"
     Achilles retorts,
          and Odysseus
             puts a hand to his chest
                  as if wounded
               by a thrusted spear.

And I groan 
     at the play,
     at the drama,
     at the pretense of rapport
when a straightforward appeal is always best.

To the annoyance of our self-appointed spokesman,
     I step forward.
"Return with us, Cousin.
   Why grieve alone?
     Myrmidon comrades wish to cheer your return!
Or if sadness is your true desire,
     every man will wail at your request,
     every camp-woman will beat her breast,
     every horse will stand with lowered head,
     every pig will wallow in its pen,
     every rat will retire to its hole-"

"But not I,"
     boasts bow-legged Thersites.

I sputter,
     and lose the procession of my thoughts.
I am far from the best at speeches.
     I never learned to persuade
     when I could stab all my problems away.

My consolation,
     as Thersites claims the voice of our embassy,
is that red-faced Odysseus
          seems even more flustered than before.


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