Poetry
by Joy Yourcenar

Penelope

Wiley Odysseus,
I spent twenty years waiting for you.
You were gone so long,
I began to define myself
by your absence.
I watched our son grow up
without you, his clear gray eyes
keeping you in my mind
long after I had forgotten
what you looked like
and why I was waiting for you.
I look up from my weaving
and after twenty years,
you stand there, the king returns
and I instantly shrink
from law-giving Queen
to law-receiving wife.
I cannot hide the wrinkles
or how shouldering your responsibilities
prematurely curved my shoulders.

Silver tongued Odysseus,
Telemachus follows your every move
with shining eyes.
Twenty years care and love,
insignificant, dissipated,
by a rusty suit of armor,
a broken sword and a kindred swagger.
He will sit at your feet
soaking up exploits
like a sponge fallen into a wine cask.

My Lord,
I know you are clever, because you told me.
I know you are brave, because you told me.
I have always believed everything youíve told me. 
Out of curiosity,
in twenty years did you ever
stop and consider me?
I search deep into my heart
to find the welcome you crave.
I turn back to my weaving
searching the warp and weft 
for a pattern, a foundation
I can use to build from this moment
but all I can see
is the unfinished portion.
I am so used to defining myself
by your absence, now that you are here
I donít know who I am.

King of Ithaca,
While you were besieging Ilium,
the well became fouled
and I superintended the digging of a new one.
While you listened to the sirenís song,
I had to listen to serpent tongued suitors
saying I was too beautiful
and Ithaka too valuable
to waste my life waiting.
While you lay in Circeís arms,
my hair turned gray,
my breasts sagged,
hair grew under my chin and 
I slept alone.

Old man,
Poets will compose paeans
to your cleverness and bravery
and write lyrical ballads
praising Helenís beauty.
All my life I have been second
to Ledaís golden-haired daughter.
I knew I was your consolation prize
when Menelaus carried Helen
home to Sparta
and when Paris carried her off to Ilium.
Poets will praise my faithfulness 
as a footnote to her story
but they will never tell
the dark thoughts
that rage in my mind
like winter on this Ithakan rock.
If Paris had whispered words of love
into my ears, I would have followed
the white-hot breath of his passion
to Priamís palace
and if you had come home
when the war ended, 
come home when I was strong,
Clytemnestra wouldnít have been
the only wife
to keep an ax
behind the bathroom door.

Previously published in the Maine Review, 1994

Medusa 

The lick of blood I gave her insufficient
to calm Medusaís raging need for stone,
the proffer of my unflinching gaze more than bitter,
less than gall; she mocked my open hands.

She could not believe I was content 
to sit upon her shore and hear her stories,
coral songs caverns old brilliant with 
the silvered souls of failed heroes.

She could not risk where I saw beauty
seeing only sin and scales, more
loathe to look at her self again and learn
the serpents were her own guilty myth.

Dreaming of Daniel 

Daniel had those Shadrach Meshach indigo eyes
Nebuchadnezzar just wanted to Abednego over. 
Olive oil-scented skin, the confidence of kings, 
innately mystical but still one of the boys, 
not given to weeping on the willows there. 
Dreamy, if you like them with a touch of the prophet, 
given to lions and babbling on. Nebuchadnezzar
idolized him, captivated by his covenanted passion. 
In his undivined dreams, he longed to press Daniel 
against the graffiti-covered wall and write
his own message to Jehovah on protected flesh.

  

©2000 Joy Yourcenar

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