No Bird but an Invisible Thing

by Christian T.S. Crumlish

I reached under the lampshade to turn off the light.

In the real one I'm up late trying not to make any noise.

The story can start anywhere

So is foreknowledge then an essential aspect of the story?


The slave Briseis was left alone in Agamemnon's tent. It was not markedly different from Achilles'. That fool. She could not bear the thought of his acne-scarred face. The legends never mentioned his blemishes. She thought about the legends. His mother (a titan? a nymph?) dipped him in a sacred fire (here the line used to go: "in the river Styx so dark so black"; Homer had tightened it up). How typical. His air of invulnerability. His spoiled pouting. Here he was breaking up the coalition over something petty. It was possible she was flattered but she longed for the opportunity for revenge. This is different from longing for revenge.

The air was dry as tinder. She paced the tent, tossing her long curly brown hair over first one shoulder and then the other. The legends were inconsistent about his heel, she observed, but his feigned nonchalance could not hide his nattering concern. How like a man. Repudiating weakness then obsessing--being eaten alive by fears. Of what? The inevitable of course. It's impossible for him to have that weakness without it being exploited for dramatic irony. Look at Cassandra!

The record is incomplete,

Still I spend the whole day

The characters in the story tell each other

            He is dead.

Trying not to think about money

Please stop crying dear said Agamemnon as soon as the others had left. He was red in the face his thick beard was matted with sweat. Come here to Papa. She rolled her eyes and kept sobbing. This one will take me use me but discard me in the end, she thought. I do not want him. There is no Patroklos here to bind me to him. And she thought of that one as she continued weeping. He had told her he would fight even if Achilles kept sulking. She knew he was rash, loyal. He seemed to love her but selflessly he promised to make things right between her and Achilles. Briseis, he had told her, he will marry you when he takes you home, I'll see to it. You will be his queen.

And she had thought of her destroyed town her husband her three brothers slaughtered, and considered the alternatives. Patroklos would fight, she knew. She hoped Achilles would at least lend him his fabulous armor; he hardly needed it himself. The Trojans believed him invulnerable it was obvious by the way they fell to pieces when he appeared radiant. Perhaps Patroklos could rally the Argives and rout the Trojans. She wept loudly. Agamemnon threw his hands in the air then dragged them through his thick curly beard. I have a splitting headache, he announced.

And what kind of love is it

And if you were always in the now

She came out squinting

Finally it came to me what they saw.

            He is dead.

Only Patroklos mattered, she realized as she wept. With all the tears I've shed why haven't my eyes run dry? First for my husband my brothers then to keep that doddering king at bay (now he has the gall to brag he has not touched me? as if he took an oath and had not simply been afraid of me and driven mad by my keening) and now for brave Patroklos torn with bronze lying here before me. Even his beautiful jet black curls are stained with blood. Those seven other women--they just throw women at Achilles to get him back into the game!--those women of Lesbos weep as well but each for her own reason. I am tired of the haggling of these warriors. I am as a pebble to them or a trinket. This fire's almost burned itself out.

And Achilles. I suppose I am to be happy now that he has regained me, that he will fight again against Troy and perhaps triumph. I can not stand his pouting any longer. It is as if he only truly exists when in battle, otherwise he is turned entirely into himself. Listen to him sing. Where is there any joy? The one bright spot in my darkness is gone, his body broken here before me. He was always kind. I am so tired of Achilles' singing.

What became of Briseis is not written.

Let me tell you how she saved my hand:

            He is dead.