Saturday, May 23, 2009
"O, Penelope!" by Lynne Knight
The nuns of Mount St. Mary's loved Penelope, whose skills
they urged us all to emulate: She fought off men. She used
her mind. Long after we'd read the prose version, slightly
sexed down (those nights with Calypso eclipsed),
Penelope was steadily invoked—wily, though not quite
as wily as Mr. Wiliness himself; patient, so that even Job
might take his text from her; discreet in her appetites,
which the nuns chose to ignore, never quizzing us on
the scar (since God forbid we should mention
the man's thigh) or the bed with its highly unusual post.
No, ours was the Penelope of Attic vases,
gowned, accepting gifts from suitors, or sitting
at her loom, elbow on knee, head on hand, thoughtful
Telemachus beside her as she figured out her next move
now that the maids had betrayed her. No more unravelling!
But she was shining among all women, the gods would intervene ...
Heretical, yes, but we mustn't blame the Greeks;
at least [finger wag] they believed in something.
And they liked a good story: Odysseus stringing the bow,
stripping off his rags to guide the fatal arrows
to the suitors until the great hall smoked with blood ...
Not that we were being asked to condone violence.
But anything to preserve virtue! [sigh] Anything!
No wonder so many of us headed straight
for the back seat of a car. Why wait any longer?
We wanted to test our pluck and ingenuity ...
and then, hand sliding down a bare thigh,
whisper, Oh, I'd know you anywhere ...