Penelope

By Gay Greenleaf

 

On this once-festival day

twenty years ago,

the eager ships went forth,

cresting the purple sea,

—gulls wheeling and keening

in the fragrant air—

the winds were fair for Ilium.

 

Day by aching day I weave

the fabric of my life; in the silence

of the wine-dark night unravel

the boastful suitor's arrogance.

I stitch yet again the bright

moment of our first meeting,

—glittering in your bronze armour,

your helmet's plumes bristling

like a young stallion's mane—

the hot nights we mounted and rode,

breathless, into Thessaly,

as the gods laughed at our sport.

 

Even Menelaus has returned

with quarreling Helen,

—shrewish now, her seismic beauty,

that tore apart mens' hearts

leached ineluctably away—

all safely home, save only Ithaca's joy,

who lit proud Achilles' pyre

and sang the victor's song.

 

Twenty solitary years

under faded sheets,

love's odor still lingers.

 

Adamant the secret sea

keeps silence: whether bleached bones

on a forlorn beach are strewn,

lie cradled in Neptune's dark hold,

or lofted by cleansing flames soar

above Olympos' empyrean heights;

—better lost at sea the Argive king

who drowned in his own blood,

by his queen's usurping consort slain—

or whether you still linger captive

bound upon some alien shore.

 

The night's too long to sleep

on a cold bed loveshorn;

I'll threads unwork instead.

 

The restless stallions jog

urgently circling, nip

and jostle in ragged ranks;

the dust is rancid with desire.

None of these shall I mount astride,

—or ever ride

joyful into Thessaly.



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