Friday, 27 April 2012

The Penelope Letters

Ulysses, absent husband, I am writing to you from the forgotten kingdom, the hidden harbour of Ithaca.

I live in an age of beauty, but it's a passing age, and you have been gone a long time. It's hard to hold it all in your head. All the different ways there are of enjoying your life. Or not enjoying it. Behind me the mountains reflect the dark colour-scheme of the Gods. The tree in our bedroom grows green and full, then sheds its leaves. Each year it bears less fruit. Come home Ulysses.

I think of you out there, pitting your strength against the high seas, or the low churning pitch of the oceans, making your heroic way. I see the salt in your eyebrows. Ulysses, believe me when I tell you I taste it on your lower lip. Meanwhile I rest here; I am left to ravel our lives, feel the slub, the warp and weft of their different textures. All around me the suitors are waiting for their moment. They play cards, roll dice for their fortune. Your old dog nibbles his flank for fleas, thumps his tail weakly. Our body and your wealth are being torn from you.

They are growing unruly these suitors, drinking your fine wines, stealing a stroke of my back now, as they bend to enquire as to my well-being. And have I news of you? The moon grows full and bruised, and looks in at my window to see how I am doing. She sees you too, on your boat. I am usually sure of it. I think of you now, lying out on the salty deck, below the implacable moon, your skin like white marble in this light. Like white stone. You are like a piece of the moon yourself.

The cook says she will do baked figs in honey to sweeten the tempers of the suitors. I hear their voices soaring almost in song as they grow wilder and surer of their deserts. Some of them have carved their initials into the bark of our tree. When I saw this I wept tears as sticky with grief as the beads of resin wept by the cut tree herself.

I am fond of this tree Ulysses. I stroke her, and she comforts me in unfathomable ways. I ask myself: is she Daphne, transformed by the lusts of others into a form unlike her own? If so, the tree and I share something more than simply space here.

What does it mean to wait for you? I cover the space of our domestic lives with my footprints, with the palm of my hand. I am in the threadbare mood of waiting. I count the hours as though it is possible to hoard them, to be as profligate with them as any other form of gold. The light leans in at my bedroom window and lies blocks of gold upon the floorboards. The air itself is aromatic here. I have gold stolen from the hoards of Hesperus. Come home Ulysses. There is treasure enough.

I long for you. I imagine you next to me and my heart cracks in my poor breast to think of you. What can I mean? My heart has no thoughts. It simply does its patient work. It beats its rhythms into my life. My life pulses with the fourfold beat of missing you. I am thickening under this accretion of longing.

Where is the sense in it? Let me tell you each of its senses. It has a bitter taste, this longing. Like the pith of a pomegranate. It is gall in my mouth; it has a low sound, like the deep melancholy boom of the whale, sunk to abysmal depths; it feels as chill and as dear as the kiss of a beloved ghost. I ache for the ghost of Ulysses to come and cover me with your briny kisses, but my moribund body holds me in this palace and I can no more reach you than you can me.

It looks like rain on the distant mountains. A clinging veil of abstracted light, falling slant against the earth's back.I am turned inside out with longing for you Ulysses.  I am beyond recall. Come home. It is time.

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