And so he’s back, my husband,
and the limbo years are over.
Once more the king sits on the throne
of Ithaca. Now the riffraff
is gone from my house,
the floors swept clean of litter
and the pools of blood are mopped.
The stains remain. That is the way
My old life closes over me. No time, now,
for needlework with the man of the house
in place. My days are full—servants
to scold, meals to plan, stores to order—
(Ye gods, how he eats. And drinks!)
I was pleased to see him, yes.
My heart skipped a beat—leapt, in fact,
like a dolphin tumbling in the wine-dark sea—
when he uncloaked himself.
But settled itself quite soon.
Twenty years is a long time.
(I’d forgotten how he snores.
And clears his throat each morning,
hawking and spitting like a galley slave.)
It was so long since I’d been used by a man
that his thrusts hurt me. This pleased
him as a tangible sign of my fidelity.
He’s an enthusiastic lover.
The thing is, he knows new tricks.
I have to wonder who’s had the teaching of him
—Circe, of course. A nymph or three?
Aphrodite I don’t believe—
and what else he might have picked up.
His friends are coming round in droves—
the house is as crowded
as it was with my so-called lovers,
and the wine bill’s even higher.
They acknowledge me as mistress of the house
and then ignore me, as they reminisce,
live it all again,
re-fight each battle, blow by blow
describe each mythic figure encountered
and the cunning tricks
by which my man defeated them.
Great belly laughs they give,
they slap his back, they spit.
Did I say mythic—a slip of the tongue.
Forgive me. I’m sure he doesn’t mean
to exaggerate. But the Hydra? Cyclops?
Sirens singing men to their doom? Men
run quickly enough when women call.
No special songs are needed.
At least while he was gone I had a name.
People came to see me. Let’s see how
Penelope is getting on with her web.
Now I am just his aging wife,
I wish that I could leave, as he did.
It’s my turn, by Hades, to drink life to the lees!
After twenty years confinement
I need my own adventures. My son is grown;
there’ll be no other children.
So why not leave him to his spit-roasted lamb,
stuffed vine leaves, endless skins of wine,
his belches and farts,
his back-slapping boyos?
Would he even notice I had gone?