106 Readings

Book XIX

Old Euryclea carried a broad copper bowl
sang a high song to herself. Her voice came
whispering back from the corners, or perhaps
she had left it in the passageway. Penelope’s
tears (can a woman cry for twenty years?)
rolled like mercury around the room
fetched up against the huge man’s dusty feet
where he sat taut against the chair, soft
fleece beneath him, unfelt. Euryclea’s steps
sure as fate.
                                                                        The goddess, unseen, held her breath.

This firelit room crowded with years, with plans,
with loss, and the flicker of lizards’ tails.
The old woman grasped earthen pitchers
poured cold water like a rattle of hail, then hot
water hissing into the bowl. Through the rope
of her fingers she twisted lavender blossoms,
dropped them into steam. Turned from the fire,
the man’s fingers curled like an infant’s. He kept
his face in shadow, lifted his legs and slowly slid
his torn feet into the bath. The room exhaled.
His back unfurled, briefly he closed his eyes
against his own tears.
               Twenty years of murder still unfinished
               the salt sea dark as blood. Keening
               into Penelope’s breast, quicksilver
               beading in his hair…
                                                           Now on her feet, the goddess flings her cloak                                                                        soft as a cobweb over Penelope’s eyes.

The fleece gave off the scent of sheep in rain.
Euryclea’s hands softly cupped his arch, her eyes
found the moon-bright scar above his knee—
            Time collapsed.
Within her sharp gasp she feels him suckle
at her breast, swaddles him in linen. She feeds
him plums, then sees him hunting lithe as a javelin,
binds his wound from the boar’s tusk, clasps
her mistress’s hand as the sails snap, bearing
him away to war. To herself, again, she sings
how men cover the world in stone, then spend years
of noise and dust with jackhammers, ears bleeding,
unearthing what they cried to have forgotten.
                   She drops his foot.
                                                                  Cradling Penelope, Athena’s hands shake.
The bowl crashes, trembles like a gong. 

Posted 05/10/17
First published in P.Q. Leer, summer, 2012.
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