For gifts beguile men’s minds and their deeds as well.
—The Returns, Fragment 5, tr. Hugh G. Evelyn-White
The Nostoi, the lost Greek epic of vets come home, is only still around in what someone worked to save. Some summary, a line or two. For gifts beguile men’s minds and their deeds as well: one shred kept out of five lost volumes, words distilled from our whole huge history of heroes, minds and deeds, our whole idea of home. These days we need some whole ideas. The ground around us shifts for female veterans, fighter drones, black ops, defense contractors, other pairs of words we haven’t reconciled yet. So many now returning from so much. Even Blackwater’s founder—Erik Prince! his name as hard to believe as his Hitler bangs— says his employees aren’t mercenaries, they’re loyal Americans. Forget the fact that sometimes they’re from Chile, Bosnia, wherever. Look at “mercenary.” From the Latin merces: payment, reward, cost. From mercenarius, or “hireling” in King James’ Gospel of John: The shepherd or the hireling, who should we choose to watch over the sheep? Back out of all this now too much for us there was a river, cool and slow and stained with spruce and hemlock. Blackwater River, Great Dismal Swamp. And Prince bought the land, and took the name. Perfect: you can’t make this stuff up. For gifts beguile men’s minds and their deeds as well: so many tried to warn us, give us this gift clear as black water, as minds and deeds and home.