Preamble to My Iliad

Presented with hopes of catching the reader’s fancy and perhaps dollars

Dedication: To All the Girls I Loved Before

I love the song To All the Girls I Loved Before as rendered in duet by Julio Iglesias and Willie Nelson. Iglesias’ suave, exotically accented tones evoke night trains to Paris and the haunting echo of high heels on cobblestones. Nelson’s hard-living whiskey and smoke-roughened voice recalls roadhouse sex, long American road trips and tangled sheets in cheap motels. The song is a true anthem for a ramblin’ man, his longings, and his gratitude for restless women.

Long before I heard them sing it, I heard another song authored and sung by Dory Previn. She was called from the audience to sing it in a Southern California jazz joint called the Lighthouse. Hers was the ballad of a lonely woman asking a new man if he cared to stay till sunrise — it’s completely your decision…it’s just that going home’s such a long lonely ride.

I did not stay till sunrise with the woman who took me to the Lighthouse, on what amounted to an unacknowledged first date. She didn’t invite me to stay that night. Sometimes luck mends such mistakes. We were lucky.

But all beginnings have their endings already written somewhere in time. New love spirals into loss and melancholy — and bittersweet gratitude — as in the song Julio and Willie perform flawlessly. Life moves relentlessly on. A jaded woman told me once men and women should always live separately with occasional conjugal visits. It was her solution to the fundamental rift between two sentient species compelled by biology into symbiosis.

Love nonetheless endures, whether with a proper or improper stranger. This book is my heart’s gift for ramblin’ men and restless women everywhere.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Prologue

Call me Ishmael. Ish will do for short. I was not christened Ishmael. But the name has not been used for an epic character for a couple hundred years, so why not? The best-known Ish is the narrator of Moby-Dick, a fictional character of “mystic and speculative consciousness,” as some would have it. So I believe Ishmael and I share some traits. The Genesis Ish was banished to wander in the desert. Melville’s Ish was self-exiled at sea aboard a doomed whaling ship. Did Melville intend sand-to-seawater irony? The kind of question critics ponder.

“I alone am left to tell the tale” is one of the most resonant sentences in fiction.

I don’t do well in deserts. Mal de mer is a lifelong affliction. But call me the third Ish anyway. Ish has been a nickname of mine for over half a century — from the German Ich, pronounced with a sibilant C. A literary friend compared my roman a clef about my perambulating career to Ishmael wandering after the mythic whale. He suggested an untold Iliad of mythic proportions threaded my own rambling life. I saw his point. And I saw the coincidence of name and nickname, which appealed to my own mystic and speculative consciousness.

I looked Iliad up: defined lately as (1) a series of miseries or disastrous events; (2) a series of exploits regarded as suitable for an epic; or (3) a long narrative in the Homeric tradition. Close enough.

Venus Mons is my mythic symbol for the alien species with which men coexist in uneasy symbiosis on this planet. From an early age I was preoccupied as an exobiologist by this alien species. A once highly popular book cemented the notion of alien cohabitation with the facile suggestion that men are from Mars, women from Venus.

No alien invented in science-fiction or by Hollywood was to me more terrifying — more beguiling — more difficult to know — than Venusians. I alone am left to tell my tale.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Bill Burkett

Professional writer, Pacific Northwest. 20 Books: “Sleeping Planet” 1964 to “Venus Mons Iliad” 2018–19. Most on Amazon for sale. Il faut d’abord durer.