(After Ulysses, by Alfred Lord Tennyson)
by Jonathon Egan
I never finished the burial shroud.
Sill it sits – testament to his return –
where Melantho exposed my artifice.
See how skillfully woven and how fine
the work? With what care I did and undid
the Pattern? I cannot bear another.
“Weft Face” they called me behind my back – as
no true suitor would – feeling clever in
their slander, while they sought my hand.
You’ll show them, I thought each time raw fingers
picked out the cursed twine. And by Zeus you
did! I laughed in my heart as you slaughtered
all, blood repaying me my wait twenty
No one can shake the olive
tree of memory, our virgin oil pressed
in the oaths of youth. I’m Penelope,
and I kept the hearth. And I’ll keep it still.
“Aged wife?” Did the world ever know such
conceit? Homophrosyne? Had you known
me you could not have left again, faithful
yet to the home you left “to seek to find.”
The western baths, the siren song, they called
us both. Did you not think that I could hear
“How dull to pause.” These last words, of
all words, said to me in careless candor
evinced the truth I could no more ignore:
I am your equal. You were never mine.
Bitter taste under the tongue, behind the
teeth, upon the lips. It rises, twists, breaks,
burns in the throat, overruns me, overflows.
I paraded down the stares for you, stirred
the plot, gave you the hunt. And still to lose
it all? I beg, Athena, pull – fray! – the
strings of Fate and grant a farewell parting.
And knowing thread, I will not ask for more.
Not alone a partner lost, nor simply
gone a mem’ry, but the fiber of the
warp has slipped its tension on the beam. To
what avail my waiting now? To what end
my fidelity? The preservation
of our home? With each element recast,
not just the future broken, but the past.
I am become a name – forever to
be known as your wife. Though it were vile to
you, it was not always so to me.
our son Telemachus my better hopes
remain. And not in him only; I know
my grain, mettle cold forged of pressure and
time insistent. That which I am, I am.
Jonathon Egan recently started writing poetry again after a 25 year hiatus. He's not sure why he stopped, but he is glad to be lost among the words again. He recently had his first poem accepted for publication, to be published this fall. That means he is currently an unpublished poet, but is soon to be a barely-published poet. His wife just finished her doctoral dissertation, and together they are the parents of 5 children.