PENELOPE REGRETS HER CAREER CHOICE
And I, chaste Penelope,
modest behind my veil,
praised by all, loyal
as the mangy cur
sniffing out his disguise,
who also sees behind appearances
and knows where his bread is buttered.
Peerless, they say. Imagine
twenty years spent weaving each day,
unraveling each night.
Steadfast, always pining.
To tell the truth
it wasn’t so bad.
It was peaceful,
all the doing and undoing,
not so different from housework.
Daily you cook, you sweep, you clean.
They eat, they mess, they soil.
Next day, you cook, you sweep, you clean.
And my maids, dear girls, sharp-witted most of them,
some gently born, spoils of war from the slave market.
They served me well,
grateful for clean safe work,
and such protection as I could give
against those freeloaders rutting through
Odysseus’ goods and chattels.
They entertained me with market gossip
and news of the ruckus
across the wine-dark sea.
Kept me company unweaving the torch-lit nights.
Enter Telemachus, swaggering petulant brat.
All adolescent hormones and hero-worship.
I hatched him but his father shaped him.
While I slept
he strung up my sweet maids, every one.
As though they could have refused the suitors’
careless bruising lust.
Nightly their twitching feet haunt my dreams.
May their shades curse him.
Daddy must be so pleased.
If I’d had the choice, I’d have flirted more with Paris,
seen the world, tasted power,
though even Helen (a pretty thing, but not too bright)
could not have relished flaming turrets and slaughter,
little Astyanax flung from Troy’s topless towers.
I should have taken off
for Lesbos, joined Sappho,
rested, peaceful in her arms,
limbs loosening in the sacred apple grove,
its drifting blossoms.
I say Yes dear, No dear.
I walk softly, bear my days decorously,
nights determined in the olive tree bed
where he snores and farts.
At times, hollow-eyed, he leans out the doorway
overlooking the harbour, its departing ships.
Darling, I say,
you really should get out more.