Penelope to Her Husband
The morning you left
sunlight streamed through the open windows,
warm breezes with the scent of the sea
perfumed the marble hall.
I strung my loom;
each warp thread taut,
with just one golden strand
As my shuttle moved
back and forth,
whisking the weft lines,
I imagined the sound of wooden oars
pulling your ship
across the emerald waters.
The threads changed
azure to turquoise,
cerulean to indigo,
silvered filaments mixed with ivory silk
agleam on the ocean.
For days the tapestry formed the coursing waves,
frothy flumes pearled white,
colorful fish and seahorses
rose; along with porpoises
and whales, exotic sea creatures appeared.
Weeks and months spent with wheel and spindle,
flax and wool and silken thread;
weaving slowed as lethargy
An island of lotus formed from the deep
leaving me dazed and glass-eyed on my cushion.
Waking at the moonless hour
I wandered the hall,
the marble cold under my bare feet.
It was then I drew back the loose
and unraveled years of work
until I reached the clearer waters
of the earliest months.
Then, in the morning light,
I began to thread the loom
As the day’s weaving progressed
line by line, the texture
was rougher, a wind-whipped dark sea.
The iris of a monstrous eye
revealed itself in strands
of obsidian and jet;
line by line and row by row
the pupil dilated in rage.
A red woolen yarn bled onto the warp
blotching the field
as though the lives of your sailors spilled across the cloth.
At that moment my lamp’s wick sputtered
over the loom,
an ember fell onto the wide pupil,
an acrid stench rose from the singed material.
Again, wakening in the darkest hour,
my footsteps hollow in the marbled room,
I crossed to the loom,
pulled the solitary golden thread,
littered the cold floor with the remnants of years
until only the deep sea
Rough flaxen strands
in tarnished silver and violet
spun into spindles of sea
foam; dyed silk from eastern
skeins of scales and shells
until, in the sound of the threads,
a siren’s song is heard,
catches everyone’s ears,
pulls the strings into tangles,
threatens the tapestry’s doom.
I fed tufts of muslin
and heavy cotton into the warp,
muffling the captivating song
until nothing could be heard
but the soft shush of the threaded sea.
Day after day the ocean’s roar
sounds at the loom;
waves and tidal moons
appear, disappear and reappear
in the cresting foam.
A violent whirlpool of thread
fills the ground of linen,
tugging each line down
towards Poseidon’s throne,
catches the wind-filled silk
sails, until it seems the tapestry
itself may be lost to the deep.
Sleepless, I wander
from window to window
longing to see the fire of your ship
drawing again the golden thread,
unraveling the fear of losing
you to years of clear sailing
in the Aegean’s blue silk.
By morning light,
the threading of the loom begins
Clear seas drift across the tapestry
filling the days with sun and blue skies.
I work warp and weft to the sound
of seabirds in the harbor.
As her island appears in the new foreground
and the threads move from dark
to golden in beauty and form,
graceful flora and fauna appear
and make their way to this happy shore.
Every night, for seven years,
I unravel her beauty, try to relinquish her hold.
Each morning the same island appears;
each night its inhabitants’ charm and beauty
is left on the marble floor
until on that fateful morning ,
as traders and Phaeacian ships
make their way into port
and all that is seen across the linen field
are the turquoise sea and pale sands
of a welcoming harbor,
a beggarman with the blue eyes of a sailor and hero,
makes his way into the marbled halls,
searches for my loom, and, reaches for that golden thread,
strings the bow of great Odysseus –
and you are home.
*** Congratulations to anyone who persevered to the end of this poem!
I would like to thank Tony Maude, http://rumoursofrhyme.wordpress.com/. His thoughtful editing made this a much better poem and I am in his debt.