Of Penelope and Calypso, ca. 1973

I

 

With driftwood, the sea

touches her, pale and only

for the lean blue nights.

Penny downs

her Odyssey and sleeps

against the crook

 

of his arm, unfired clay.

He has withheld since

returning: this translation

is hard on the eyes, and English

a language of stone.

 

It is no unfamiliar thing

this leaving, this foregoing

the smell of rice paper,

by a woman’s hands traced

and hidden;

in deep accident,

by woman’s hands

found.

 

II

 

He knows one question

will unlock the years,

rust her bitter chastity,

unfork his tongue:

he will tell how he spilt her

name into the sandy stars

and intoned her face

through chalk-charred

northern cliffs,

 

how only unseen delay

kept him breast-pillowed

in a stranger’s cove.

He will say, no, I never

 

loved her so well as you

who weaved and unwove

everyman’s reach,

you who watched the sky,

the shivered horizon, for some

scar of my return.

 

III.

 

From shoulder glancing,

and the search for wild

yarrow trenches,

her tiny hand cuffs

where long hair fell –

 

to Ha Long Bay, a woman

bosomed and bare

washes away the last

of green face-oil, coarse

western cotton

between her thighs, long

cloth rolled to show –

 

dispossessed, an ankle,

in this burned thatch

where a man might –

were he not bound

by one lock of wind, forget

her unanswered covenant,

the why he left, and the way

he shoaled his Calypso.