penelope, of ithaca

I.

Years ago I stood on the shore

as you sailed beyond the horizon line

to claim your destiny, to become more,

to fill your heart and to break mine

 

I stayed until the sky grew dark

wanting to follow you into the night

never believing, even in part,

that you wouldn’t return from this fight

 

If the gods laugh at me,

then let them laugh.

 

II.

Twenty years.

One two three four five six seven eight nine ten

eleven twelve thirteen fourteen fifteen

sixteen seventeen eighteen nineteen

twenty.

 

When you left I was little more than a woman

Our son, a little less than a boy.

 

That part, the songs got right.

 

III.

Every day I prayed for you
every night you were in my dreams

I watched you live, I watched you kill,

I heard your foes fade into screams

 

Up above, the stars shone bright,

your figure not among them yet

They told me that I wasn’t right.

That you were gone. Your mother wept.

 

If the people laugh at me,

then let them laugh.

 

IV.

Telemachus, he asked me,

why I wouldn’t let him challenge Antinous.

 

Your father will finish the job, I told him.

 

How do you know?

 

It is my way. I know.

 

V.

Your ship was gone. Your men were gone.

You lost your victory to the sea.

Even with Athena on your side,

for years you couldn’t get back to me.

 

The men mistook my kindness for

a weakness they would happily use.

Every night they’d drink and roar

about which one of them I would choose.

 

If the men laugh at me,

then let them laugh.

 

VI.

But I was not lost to you. Nor were you lost to me.

While the ocean played its cruel tricks,

I was there.

When you washed up on Circe’s shore, Calypso’s shore,

I knew that your dalliances with goddesses

would be nothing compared to us.

 

The songs, they love to say of me: meek, mild, patient.

Do you think I would have waited for so long

if I thought for even a moment

that one of them could keep you from me?

 

In another lifetime, you wanted me more than Helen.

The most beautiful woman in Greece, you said,

is not the one they are fighting this war over.

 

VII.

Years ago I stood on the shore

I stayed until night turned to day

never believing, even in part,

that you could ever lose your way.

Your woman waits.

She watches, too.

Her body, home,

her spirit, with you.

 

The last laugh

was always going to be mine.