Limiting Risk

79 Ulysses + Sirens 060418

Illustration for the poem: Two sirens at the approach of Ulysses, by Jac May, painted for the poem April 2017.  Bamboo pen & wash, Saunders Waterford 200 lbs rough paper, 15x21inches.  

I had the comment on Instagram about this being a feisty siren!  I certainly wasn’t thinking of the local choral society when I planned this, though for all I know….   I wanted to articulate graphically the question I constantly ask myself, as an upright sort of chap, Is there any course in creativity between being tied to convention & being totally wrecked?  This poem is about the way we deal with that tension.



`Limiting Risk’


Ulysses tied himself to the mast

so that he could hear the sirens

yet not be wrecked upon their shore.


Do I not also play safe and hold back,

lashed to forms and conventions,

limiting risk and all my landings evermore?


Yet, like a warrior going a-Viking,

would I not rather voyage through storm

and wind to find a golden hoard


and, failing, be buried under my shield

rather than yield to comfort in my hall

and see the dust settle on my sword.


Damned by doubts, I find I steer a path

between the could and should and would:

I avoid the total risk for which I long


and when I close my eyes and dream

I find hollow spaces in my heart

and silence where there should be song.


Baldur, Eostre, Vor and Thor,

make me wise and fearless for this wording war;

I defy you to untie me from this mast,


–    fumble the knots!  Unleash my lines!  And I will go away like streamers of surf to roar beyond the margins of the page and day, a thousand thoughts set free, rock-bound boats bid by a singing shore –

even if that moment were my last.



Jac May, 2017


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