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"No One Comes for Penelope"

  1. The Wayfarer
  2. The Raveled Woman, Earlier
  3. The Battered Man
  4. Dreams
  5. Collision
  6. Find Me
  7. The Shadow And The Son
  8. The Way Home

The Wayfarer

His name is Robbery Rodman,
not the best for a man

who tries to take delusions
that fill lifetimes

from those with nothing
to take their place.

But— always that word:
to help others to the real!

What a godlike gift
to call a world into being

where before
there was no more

than a mirage.
Worth all frustration,

he thinks as the fields
pile up like dirt

a tractor banks,
“Some trick of the light,”

he mutters, and steps on it
so the dark mercedes

arrows towards the asylum,
deadlines instead of

headlines in his head,
budget cuts to come,

mental healthcare
pared to hands just stubs,

all but the violent
to be turned loose.

“They will gibber
on streetcorners,

flocks of something
we think we know

whose looks
will turn us cold.”

Three he hopes
to break the rules for by

throwing them together,
their delusions so alike

he will explode them,
like atoms in a collider

with each other’s madness,
not private but shared,

no current but reality
needed for the shock,

not to arch their spines
or convulse their flesh

or set spittle drooling
but to break into

their attention with
their own desperate need:

to make them recoil
into this world—

maybe—

he brushes doubt aside,
reminds himself

desperate times
call for like measures

to lead them towards
the real sun, earth, wind

off the near Pacific—
to the truth, that pearl—

he catches himself—
that plainest of stones

once part of a burning sea,
or molten river when

everything was young,
until after what upheavals

refined to a small
smooth shape lifted

from the shore,
so simple, so full

of meaning. An adage
floats into mind,

“Things do not change, we do”
though it does not follow.

“There...” The asylum
lifts from the fields,

its white buildings wings
folded between low hills,

mountains rising beyond,
brown now, soon purple,

soon October, so far
from spring...

The Raveled Woman, Earlier

A menace shapes in the far corner
and swells as it moves across the floor
like something with one good leg
it drags behind the other
but no face no limbs, a rod

of darkness alone, herself aware
in her dream that she dreams,
desperate to wake then awake,

her room a reel of shadows,
her tapestry blows as though
in a breeze, then stills, raveled

threads dangle, the promise
to wed when done undone each night.
They let me, better a prize for all

than one to make all losers,
better a kiss stolen in a hallway,
a rough hand between my legs,

my dress lifted like a serving girl’s,
my gasp inflaming an ear
but no more! she thinks, and relives

those touches that build torment
until a single touch makes her
frantic to finish alone on her bed

as she had earlier, then tore at the
tapestry until she could breathe again:
now she wills herself to sleep

again the menace drags towards her
again she swims up from her dream
again awake gasps gulfs of air,

an incomplete woman who tears
at herself by night and by day hides
her loose threads from the men,
unable to close her eyes until at dawn
she plunges into dreamlessness.

The Battered Man

He sponges off the gore and blood,
the suitors a tumble of red rags
in his hall, the last screams
of slaughtered women who solaced

their lust knives to his ears.
He shrug on a fresh tunic,

catches his son’s eye, who nods,
clean in turn— I was slender
steel like him fresh-oiled, gleaming;
she won’t like my first lesson taught him

to kill and kill until none live.
A kaleidioscope twists in his mind—

an arrow with a pop and squelch
burrows into an eye;
a spear shuttles death, stopped
by an“Unh!”as a man topples;
a sword thrusts down a throat’s
pink vulva as legs
jerk like a woman coming,
making death an obscenity—
all with the mingled roars
of challenge and fearful cries
and death rattles, then just
death’s look, fish scales
grown dull out of water.

Whatever we do to others comes home
to us, he thinks, and starts
from his son’s touch, his boy
no boy but as much a man as he

when he walked to the quay,
stepped aboard and gave the order

to bear away, eyes fixed forward...
Yet there is still farther to go...
Will she know me my fingernails
scraped clean as a butcher’s

with a lifetime’s cleaving to wash off?
His eyes, then feral as a hawk’s,

free of mercy, are now just tired,
a man who has seen too much.
He drags his weight into a headwind
the last length of corridor towards her

as though led against his will,
his hunger a lead weight on his heart.

Dreams

First looks... In a flash he:
tired rings
below her eyes, a bad night, years
of bad nights,

I’m no fool, I feel her grief, her anger...
How tall she is, straight, eyes level
with mine, how could I forget?

The child-woman who made herself short
is gone.Her hair is long, its auburn and gold
highlights transport him—

the sun sets in a red-gold haze
as a man with a black mane
lunges under his shield—
he drops his hard,
snaps the man’s spear,
knocks him off balance,
his sword drives into his neck
the man gurgles the man dies
in that redgold light—
warriors
draw apart, clash swords
clash shields, acclaim him— .

He tears his eyes from her hair,
takes in her straight nose, full lips,
compressed, no quiver, eyes steady

I am a maimed thing against her beauty!
And she:
I forgot I am as tall as this stranger,
nose broken, some Trojan blow,

death is in his eyes though she puzzles
a wisdom there—after all he lives, is here,
alone of all those who brushed us aside

to see new lands do savage things
to other men and women.
She takes in his scarred arms,

thickened body and shoulders,
a man ragged as a robe
some madman or rough lover tore

some girl begs her to replace
and wonders if he is worth mending.
“I tried to stay.”

His voice is strange, too.
Though her reproaches hang on her lips
like snow piled on a high slope

ready to sweep all away,
all she says is
“You left.”
“I hid in the fields I plowed

like a slave until they found me.”
“You left.”
“All left, every king, every warlord,

else they would have burned us
before they burned Troy.
I had no choice.”

“You, left!”
He senses he cannot win this.
“Who are you?”

What does he have
to give her, a world wonder of a sack
and treasure hoard he lost?

He never cared about those,
he wanted respect, wanted
to be done, he used his mind

to be free, and for all that wandered
as long again, ships lost, men, lost— .
Some god hated me! he tells himself,

but he no longer believes in any god.
The day’s images flood his mind—
I left her to a hall of men like bad meat.

“Show me the scar.”
He bares where the tusk tore his thigh
the memory alive in his eyes—

the boar eludes his spear
and gouges his flesh as he
turns just enough to live,
sword out he sinks in the pig
full length, then rolls away
from its death throes— .

Lightly she touches the white line
and steps away.
“So. It is you.”

Dully he stares at the tapestry,
a slab of beef who passed inspection,
then focuses on the scenes woven there—

First he plunges his sword
in the boar, next stands
behind a plow, surrounded
by armored men,
flocks of gulls overhead:
then sees his ships
as their doomed crews bend
their backs to the oars
on a windless dawn—
a winedark sea is touched red
on another as they grind
onto Troy’s beach.
Men strain against men
in a crush of shields and spears
under a black rain of arrows
and a splintered sun:
a red pool mingles the fires
of burning Troy
and a horse whose skeleton
is tongued by flames.
His eyes move to himself
lying as though drugged
on a strange shore,
exhausted men around him
lost to their dreams—
then sees his men harpooned
from a ship in a narrow strait
he sailed too near a cliff.
The great whirlpool swirls
where he lost hope yet sailed by,
and where, strapped to the mast,
he listens to women sing
with faces past beauty
but claws under their wings,
Take me from despair and death
stitched to his mouth.
He sees the cave’s trap,
the cannibal huge with
his single urge to eat them,
as though one-eyed,
I blinded him, said I was
No One
he cursed me.
His men stare beastially
at a woman he pumps
like a bull a heifer...
There is the other
who offered endless love,
as if that could exist...
The images rush together—
the last girl so ripe, so
virginal, so torn by
teen-age lust
for the famous man,
then grief when he sailed,
so certain to forget him
utterly.
Stunned, he sees men
feasting in his hall
lie next in their blood,
last how threads dangle
from their own shapes.
How he went to hell
is missing, unless,
he realizes with a start,
that is what these images
show: how a man
deep into killing
sits down with Death
and calls him friend,
blood in his cup
to let him speak...

“These were my dreams. I wove them there.”
“They are my life, all true.”
“My dreams always are.

And become nightmare.”
Doubt floods, he hears the curse
“No One you are No One you will be!”

not sworn as he thought at the cave
but at his birth.
The floor opens beneath him

he plunges downward in fear
he is locked in a room where
he fights someone else’s shadows...

Collision

He imagines the room take shape,
white walls where a thin body pounds
his head against the pads, dazed

muttering to himself, his son in a white
thing with his arms tied in back:
a woman with dull brown hair

stands by a bare bed staring at him,
confused, the same phrase on her lips,
"Who are you are you?" her eyes

moving between himself and a blank place
where no tapestry stands. A seated man
in dark clothes rustles papers on his lap.

"Now is your chance
to grasp the real

before they close this
place down and toss

you on the street,” he says—
“that’s their plan, there is

no more money
no more patience

no more care for you,—
for all they care

you three can dream
your lives away

beneath an underpass
in a cardboard box

as traffic overhead
shakes the ground and

rains dust on your
louse-filled hair— ."

His tone is a raven’s
croak beside his ear.

“You must choose.
The end has come.”

The man’s eyes meet Robbery’s,
troubled, lucid:

Robbery trembles.
“Why do I care

you wonder?
What a rare chance

for change you three offer:
if one wakes, maybe

he can shock another free—
speak to her!

Speak to him!
This chance will not repeat!”

“My years,” he mutters—
“All lost. All dream.”

He stares at the dark man,
imagines being other than he is,
a complete stranger to his life

dragging these in his wake,
calling all he has been and done
a poverty, a waste of dreams,

while a world waits where he would be
a latecomer to the race,
with no chance to catch more

than a laggard or two,
in every sense, no one— —
and even so, better off— — .

He steadies himself against the wall
as the floor rocks, grabs the boy,
who stares at him, his pounding stilled,

eyes fearful—
while the panic in the woman's
breaks his heart. He lets the boy go,

who hangs on his words:
No, no no. He finds his tongue: "No"
and shakes himself,

"You are the dream,
the nightmare,
the doubt in my heart

to break my will,
the dark shape of my despair
always trying to escape

the cave where I blinded you
to where I stand to steal my sight."
He stares across the floor:

it steadies: lifts his eyes:
the tapestry firms, padded walls, man,
and boy disappear...

They are alone, the proud woman, and man...
This was the worst: not Circe, not Calypso,
not lost lives, lost years, spilled blood:

this doubt, this despair at this door.
The silence hums between them
pregnant with unspoken words,

with passion,
with a quiver in the flesh:
with hope.

Find Me

He stares again at the tapestry and knows
what is wrong: nothing of her is there.
He meets her eyes even

as he takes in her hair’s living gleams.
“I have not lived eighteen years.
What would I say, what weave?”

she answers his look, and knows then
why the great pour of words has not come.
“The bed— “

“Carved from a living tree, rooted there.”
“The only roots here...
I dream of you—

you are a black thing that drags towards me
I try to escape even asleep.”
Can this get worse? he wonders, then

how much he must pay—
“You will never be done.”
“You can still read my mind.”

He knows then they are one
to endure, one to do,
the extreme of every husband and wife.

He sits on the bed.
“We must somehow start again.
I meant myself to be my gift,

what else do I have? A fool’s thought,
I know, it kept me going,
force I knew was nothing,

wisdom I learned is nothing,
illusion fed me but is nothing.
I thought I had come here

with nothing else— but that too is wrong,
I am not empty-handed, wife.”
The word is honey, the word is

gall
ashes
vinegar

sugar—
for a moment
he cannot move his tongue.
“I have a gift after all.

Teach me, Penelope— “
he spends her name at last:
“how to cry again.”

Disembodied she sees herself sit by him
and take a hand so unlike the one he slid
up her thigh their wedding night.

“There is more.”
“There always is.”
“There’s an oar I must take
where no one knows its use.”

Startling him, she laughs.
“To me it is a shuttle for weaving
on the loom of my life,

a needle to thread and finish— “
a wave towards the tapestry:
“I am the people

who do not know you,
the girl wife mother
courted abandoned

to a woven life in place of a real;
I am your undiscovered land.
Find me.”

The Shadow and The Son

The house is silent, the cleaning is done,
the survivors silent in their rooms;
the son stands outside the great door
legs spread, shield on one arm, spear
held in the other.
One by one they gather,
fathers, uncles, brothers, cousins of the dead.
They keep their distance.

There will be
rent robes, mothers’ howling, hands on weapons
no one will draw: a rite, some animal’s blood
steams on an altar, blood for blood, blood
to cancel blood, blood is the world’s money.
Placated, they will go home.
He has seen ruthless Helen endured
by her husband to keep her home
so she does not set the land on fire again
and plow men each spring into the ground
like her forbears plowed kings down
to make the grain grow before
the Greeks came with gods to marry
and master hers.
No such woman for me
but some sister to some man killed here,
a peace offering, my life on this island,
plowing my fields, her body, no more.
He hopes his father touches his mother,
God knows she needs to be touched
while she still feels desire: in the end
what we give makes us real, although
it never matches the more we yearn for.
He is not bitter. He has lived too little,
thought too much, you know the kind—
“Silent waters run deep” they said when
he was a child. Now he has his desire, the family
that never was. The sun sets in winter’s colors,
metallic reds layer by layer give way to
gold streaks, crossed swords in a burnished
blue that scums to gray, red darkens
to nightfall— torches sputter, flare,
burn brightly, gutter and flicker out
like ourselves.
We will make peace
when dawn’s hues strengthen
until day is bright as a girl’s jewels
held to the sun: how beautiful that will be.
He never asks when he forgot how to cry,
or to sleep except in short bursts, or to dream,
only wonders if men have meaning
or are sharks stirred now and then
to frenzied feeding, or wet wood
that smolders and smokes until flames
burst out and leave nothing behind: if
men hold only damages when they are done—
last if god sees the world as beautiful, wars,
lovers breathless in one another’s arms,
an infant slaughtered, a hero on his pyre,
a madman locked away, all gems glowing
in the divine crown— and shrugs,
the thought too difficult, and too strange.
He has his father’s shadow. He is content.

The Way Home

The fields peel away,
discarded rinds as he speeds

from the asylum.
Throwing those three together

was the toss of loaded dice
certain to fail,
he thinks wryly

now. One shocked moment
and then...
He passes

fields with laborers
still bent to their work,

and suddenly pulls the
car to the shoulder.

A fog bank fingers
over the flat fields

from the near Pacific:
fifty yards away

in the misting light
the men and women

half crouch, half crawl
to pluck strawberries

from their secret places.
Illegals, from Mexico or...

doing what they must
to live so that Helen

can buy the fruit they pick
without idea or care

from where it comes,
no more than me...

He sees their kitchen,
newly retiled, the great

vintage stove refurbished,
imagines Helen’s cool

acceptance of his return
from another well-paid

day of failure: accounts
race through his head,

bills for furnishings, for
clothes, for tuition for

his children who eat
the sweat of these even

more thoughtlessly than he...
He knows the sea

changes under these clouds
from bright to a winedark hue

these working do not see.
I could be by a field

three thousand years ago,
the same bent shapes

toil for my benefit,
the same superior, tired

indifference in my heart,
thinking ahead

to the evening meal
and entertainment,

some song about long
travels and travails,

no, something lighter
that makes light of all

that is dark.He recalls how
when the man in the asylum

drew the woman down
beside him on the bed,

her eyes grew alert
as he never once saw

in years of therapy:
how she must have

pulled my words apart
each night, like unraveling

a sleeve or hem.
He left them there,

private for the first time,
took the boy to another room,

shaken as he thought
they were better off

colluding in delusion...
Doubt strikes him

sudden as a snake
who has studied its prey

still, coiled, pent
then whips forward

fangs lowered,
venom pulsing, and

strikes—
just as I collude,

as anyone does
in shared lives

so normal to ourselves
so strange to others.

What does it matter
what I think when

there is really only
the one song,

a man and woman’s
journey towards each other,

a homecoming always sought,
always later than we want,

always found on borrowed
time who paces across the years,

a shadow in clear light,
featureless in dream,

a heaviness that will seize
and at last stop my heart.

What value the real
when our lives are like

Helen on the phone,
“Did he?” “Did she?”

They, at least, dream greatly’.
The man’s voice echoes:

“You are the dream,
the nightmare,
the doubt in my heart

to break my will,
the dark shape of my despair
always trying to escape

the cave where I blinded you
to where I stand
to steal my sight.”

He struggles for breath
as the workers move

in lengthening shadows
across the fields,

standing through twilight,
a faceless man

in a world so bare
it must be a bad dream—

Are they my dream?
Am I theirs? or

as his doubt bites bone:
Who is dreaming us?

Now a man seems to him
not an atom to smash

but a diamond’s facet,
or a dimension, or

a universe, each
above, beside, under

entangled, enfolded
with each other

so where he begins
and another ends

can hardly be guessed—
as though the strange

and normal, alien
and familiar, this

and otherworldly
are doughs to knead

in a single loaf,
or each a note in

being’s groundsong
intuited at the edge

of sound, each
man, each woman,

each different, each
a difference to treasure

each part of one
endlessly diverse whole.

Men, stars, stones
on the beach, past

present future reel
in his mind: he gasps

with hunger for size,
for shape, for meaning,

for any sense
of the truth

that does not recede
on the horizon as he nears,

sure only his life
is so much less

than it could be,
at sea, uncompassed,

with no way to find
true north or south,

wholly uncertain
of his way home—

or if that is even
where he wants to go.