Penelope Sails Beyond Security by Alison Hurwitz

A Golden Shovel After William Stafford’s Poem, "Security".

I’m grained with waiting for someone to give me oars. No more. Tomorrow

I will carve my own. His eyes, wine-dark, a sea I leave behind on shore. Will

becomes blank canvas rigged to sail beyond the places known and named. I have

squandered all my younger days with biding, faithful as a dog, just an

other casualty of time. I’ve leviathaned my longing into archipelago, into island

chain. Seismic, it lifts. Soon, it will break the surface. Before

(afraid any move could danger passage: Scylla or Charybdis, or the night),

I kept upon these shores, hearing of the far-off caves my husband plundered. But I

am no golden fleece, to be guarded under lock and key. I wanted, my desire a giant with a single eye, always

punctured, always an unhappy ending. Men come here, watch me hungrily. I resist, yet find

my loyalty directionless: Odysseus keeps no compass for return. I’ve tried to purge the leach of it

with too much resined wine. The truth? He has misplaced the map of me, for he cannot quit horizon. Then

why should I not go? I have scryed for hope in tidepools dark as circles under eyes, on

every serried edge of shore. Now, beneath a map of stars, I abandon sleep in its own wake, to

venture where no would-be suitor slavors for my flesh and wine, no man samples me, the

feast for his ambition. My Telemachus has grown. He will find next

without me. If I remain, I’ll salt this shore until regret has barrened this green island.

No. I’ll paint my ship sea-worthy, sans eyes for blind devotion, for I am finished with these

figureheads, these wooden women wanting nothing. I have done with gods, with mountain places

weighting time, where there’s always one more quest to be completed, one more hidden

twist inside the length of days the fates have spun. I’ll wick my way in

darkness, strike sparks to draft this passage. Soon, I will be signal fire, the

faithful wife no more a flicker in periphery, no longer dusk when he is day

no longer smoored but conflagrating in the wind. Untwined, I separate

my strand from his, become enchantress, swoon men into swine and

burn every other tale they tell to grease their loins. Come

wives who’ve waited far too long, who carry bitter years inside your mouths. Come forward,

leave your empty house with its cold corners, your lonely hearth fires dwindling to ash. If

you go, know your light is boat enough to carry you

Let a new perspective hunger evening’s edge. It will beckon.

You are a story waiting to be told, not strait-laced, unbending, but

something serpentine, who, abused and vilified, sees true, turning all their lies to stone. If you

break your heart, uncage it into beacon, it will burn into an unseen map. You have

many storms inside you. Let them hurricane. Lash your will to mast, go deaf to their excuses. To

frighten you, they’ll say the sea is warped with many monstrous things. They speak of you. Know

that they will siren anything to make you cringe, return, abandon hope. Crying, they

may try to drown you with salt water. Resist, for you are molten, you are

more than this, more than spinning in one place, more than coiling there,

forever winding skeins of weeks and years. Push out your boat and board before

the dark. Let the sea reshimmer you, lambent with the setting sun. Who are they

but shallow men, ego-wrecked with reef? You will find your island, out past twilight. You will say, exist.


Alison Hurwitz has been published in Tiferet Journal, Writing in a Woman’s Voice, Book of Matches, The Shore, Amethyst Review, Rust and Moth, Thimble Magazine, Speckled Trout Review, River Heron Review, Gyroscope Review, The Jewish Writing Project, SWWIM Every Day, Minyan Magazine, Last Leaves Magazine and RockPaperPoem, among others. Her work is forthcoming in Anti-Heroin Chic. Alison lives with her family and rescue dog in North Carolina, officiates weddings and memorial services, and hosts Well-Versed Words, a free monthly online poetry reading. See more here.

Author's note

Although I’m a huge fan of the Odyssey, one of my pet peeves is Penelope’s everlasting patience. This intelligent and dauntless woman manages to keep the literal home fires burning while warding off advances from over-confident braggarts and annoying suitors. She weaves the threads of stability and faithfulness into the warp and weft of her home, but what is her reward? More days of dealing with the avaricious, the leering, and the dull. She has some pleasure in plotting, yes, but there is really nothing new on her horizon. As Michael Grenke writes in his article, "Penelope: The Odyssey’s Creative Thinker", she becomes trapped in her own thinking: she tries to defend her marriage, but what is she defending? The fate of her husband is unknown. No contact for nearly twenty years. What have they shared? What have they done together? Nothing.

In my poem, I wanted Penelope to finally say Enough, to want something more than days and weeks and years at home. I imagined her a voyager in her own right, full of justifiable anger at being abandoned, while Odysseus sails to yet another adventure. I saw Penelope courageously deciding her own fate. My golden shovel utilizes a stanza from master poet William Stafford's poem, "Security", and hopefully, converses with it in ways which amplify Penelope’s strength of personhood, agency and purpose.