How We Got to Be This Way


Once, in graduate school
I gave my friends a feast—
six gallons of Vino Fino,
cheap rib roast from Hi-Vee.
Next day, half my guests
swore off alcohol,
and two of them joined AA.
Though proud that I had fed
and intoxicated so many
on my TA's salary—
less than the Army paid me
during my tour of duty—
I feared I'd failed as a host.
Like Nestor and Menelaus,
The Odyssey's model hosts,
I'd heaped plates with roast meat,
brimmed goblets full of wine,
fed a stranger who blundered in
(he was looking for his girlfriend).
But unlike Homer's feasters,
who drank and talked till Dawn
spread rosy fingers in the East,
mine staggered, retching, home
at two or three a.m.
Where had I gone wrong?
Or was the fault my guests'
modern, queasy stomachs?
Homer cites the weakness
of his contemporaries,
no two of whom could lift
a stone that Hector picks up
and tosses like a pebble,
so possibly his heroes
drink twice as much as a lush
in Homer's times could drink.
Always hungry and thirsty,
Odysseus gobbles roast pork,
roast lamb, roast goat, roast beef
washed down with wine for breakfast
as well as for lunch and dinner—
and once, for successive dinners
given by rival hosts,
first Agamemnon, then Achilles.
But Homer doesn't claim
that his bronze age heroes eat
and drink two times as much
as his puny fellow Greeks,
who ate as much as they could
in a starving age and drank
what scarce wine they could get.
To them three barbeques
a day washed down with wine
was a golden fantasy,
not headache and indigestion,
followed by remorse,
abstinence, and veganism—
the legacy of my feast
divided among guests and host,
once poor, now almost rich,
sober and solitary,
grim enemies of excess.