Monday, July 11, 2011

the stubborn woman of ithica

One article submitted, on to the next.

writing of the last article was aided by spartan sleep schedule. to bed at 8pm. arise at 2am to begin spinning out words.

this weekend threw off the schedule, and late this morning, I sit on a painfully slow internet connection, listening to a playlist of bollywood soundtracks, hausa nanaye, and eminem.

I have at least three more articles to write and a dissertation, and all i want to write is poetry.

my creative inspiration at these moments of procrastination often comes from mythology, the greek and norse and indian myths i devoured and dreamed about during my teenage years. those ancient half-formed contradictory stories which can be gathered and molded/fused into something new.

recently i have been thinking a lot about penelope and ariadne, both women whose love is embodied in their weaving/spinning--both women who are abandoned by their l

penelope weaves and unweaves a shroud for twenty years while waiting for a strayed odysseus to return to her. odysseus plays his manly war game and then spends years dawdling with circe and calypso before continuing his journey home to his chaste wife grown old with waiting.

ariadne spins a young theseus (who was later the first abductor of Helen) out of a maze, with her red thread, only to be abandoned by him. stories alternatively tell of her dying in child
birth with Theseus's child or being married (by force?) to the god of wine, dionysus. in my s

i cast forward my web of red threadthrough a maze of pages
when i come to the entrance to meet him

i discover he is already gone my thread severed
and stained dark
with blood'

ariadne would have been an appropriate goddess to keep watch over penelope's long nights of unravelling.
when penelope married odysseus, it was after a contest in which he beat her father at a race. her father begs her not to leave with odysseus, but she pulls her veil over her face and follows the lover who will leave her for twenty years before returning to ithica disguised as a beggar to drive off the other suitors she has resisted during his long journey.

i have written about ariadne in the past, and also of that fierce goddess medusa, but this t
ime it is penelope who appeals to me. this stubborn woman, who left her family for odysseus, wh
o refuses every other lover, weaving a never-finished shroud every day and then unweaving every night, while everyone else is sleeping.

what waking dreams did she have in those dark hours? Did she weave them into the shroud
during the day, the stories of her husband lying in the arms of a jealous island mistress--firmly unweaving them at night, reaching out and running her fingers through his dreams so that they become a tangle of unformed memories rewoven and redirected into an urge to leave, leave each mistress, cast himself on the sea to continue the journey back home to ithica.

'these mornings when the sun rises, weary,
i take up my thread again. Ariadne,
guide my fingers,
may he lying in darkness,spent
of lust,
dream of our youth

laughter as we glide free,
on open seas toward ithica,
sweet companions tugging sails

the wind carries us
Odysseus sings
i sway with roll of the ship

dancing questions in my eyes

may he dream
the way i sighed
at his first touch,
springs welling
in our courtyard
those tender months

before he left to lead an army,
through distant cities more glamourous
than ithica,
for women more seductive
than me.


i weave, unweave,
my laugh grows stern
my hair grows grey,

other men are rude shadows,

i go to bed alone,
leave them gambling in drunken competitions
in the feasting hall,

i rise at midnight, slip past tables where they snore
over drying pools of wine,

to unweave your shroud,
unravel your deeds,
pick out the rough threads
of my suitors' proposals,
blunt their swords with harsh

I want to undo it all,
release every thread that wove you away,
I want
to weave the promises of ivory you offered
laughter in the garden
children playing hide and seek
Early mornings of love as dawn's fiery
fingers light the sky

but there are too many years
to undo in one night

dreams are hard to unravel, wayward, drifting things-
not all we glimpse in them will come to pass…*


years you spend, Odysseus, caught
in the grasp of another woman,
a small but jealous,
goddess who turns her lovers to beasts
and devours them
so that they will not leave her
when the song of their first love
comes faint on the wind

listen, love, in the quiet hours
while she sleeps drunk. slip
away on feather-clad feet
past sleeping lions
through gates of polished horn
come back to me


'what does a woman do with a husband
twenty years gone?
a man grown droopy
from years of fat lost at sea,
a man filled with stories
of wars in distant cities, memories
of a hungry goddess he pleasured while
i wove'

the shroud is finished
spread over the bed
i shared with my husband

it slides beneath us now

'i hold you fierce
against my shriveled breasts
you, grey wind-swept
man I do not know'

* This stanza is a quote from (Robert Fagles, 1996, Viking Press translation of The Odyssey 19.630-640) The Odyssey (Penguin Classics Deluxe Editio)

No comments: