At first I was furtive,
unraveling only at night,
and only by the light of a single oil lamp,
whose mauve shadows
swooned over the surface of the weave,
an affect I only later learned to make,
a secret between myself
and the shuttle’s slow deliberate slide
across the frame.
And who’s to know the shame I felt,
as if each new row I wove
were a promise I would break,
every ripping out a lie in reverse.
My sins, and they were sins,
were sins of erasure,
of abstaining from whole cloth,
and worse, sins of pleasure too:
the feel of a loosened strand,
juddering across the hem,
the way the weft raised itself up lewdly
like a lifted dressing gown.
Sometimes I think the loom looked better
bereft of thread.
The truth is, not long after he left,
the suitors became fewer,
came only to pass the time,
to trade their embellished tales
of hardship and renown,
not to watch a woman weave
in the corner of a room.
The day Odysseus came home to Ithaca,
I swore I’d put away my task,
my journeyman’s loom,
but save that long crimped
strand of thread,
so that when he finally took me to his bed,
I could dream of all those nights
of surreptitious longing.
Just as he would dream of the sea,
the soft tongues of the waves
licking the sides of the hull,
a rope looped tight around his chest,
the Sirens’ call.
“Penolope’s Song” was previously published in The Ledge, #29, Fall 2006.