Group Therapy for the Female Characters
of The Odyssey
I tell them, though they never get it right:
I stood beside that pillar, my full height
(Athena-wrought Pilates) — it was me,
my strength and cunning was the husbandry
that kept our house erect. I used my looks
—I mean both: glances, veilèd, and my hook:
my beauty (if a little wrinkled now)—
but still they wanted me. I was their sow,
domestic; they, the rustic rutting boars
the very root of hybrid, it would seem,
the root also of hubris. Semen, seme:
the men are praised for coming back from wars.
I held our house together, son unharmed,
and I will be remembered for my charms.
I sing a song, dismembering, a charm
both dangerous and diligent. More harm
than good, my reputation — but my song:
a dark and smoky brew, Lapsang Souchong.
I softly croon and whisper [sex] a breath
of elemi that sounds and smells like death.
You’ve tied your stubborn captain to the mast.
You turn away, you warm the wax — Avast!
What if I said I only want your ear,
your full attention, turned toward me, erect.
If you could just oblige I wouldn’t wreck
your ship, your self-esteem, your plans. To hear—
it’s not the same — if you can’t learn to listen,
your bird-pecked skeleton and skull will glisten.
You, peckish, skin-and-bones: I’ll have you glisten-
ing, sweat and pheromones. Come closer: listen.
My island welcomes you, a second home,
by which I mean, you’ll never be alone.
By witch — [you call me bitch?] — I see through you,
your pains, your muscles strained, your psyche bruised.
I offer wine and honey, sex and food.
You, men, you grab my girls, you’re rough and rude
and you have no idea. I know what glisters
is all too often not a precious metal,
not silver, gold. I opt, then, not to settle.
I’ll put you on the spit, and watch you blister,
your incense: fragrant meaty smoke. You swine,
you always knew you’d turn out to be mine.
I’d always hoped you’d turn out to be mine,
you powerful, you handsome, you so fine—
whoever you were: politician, god:
to your high pinnacle I’m just a sod.
Whatever tale you tell, I’m now the beast,
the once-a-beauty, now the thing with teeth,
Picasso-monster, vagina dentata.
So what about you, with your armada
of lawyers, lovers tricked into collusion?
You treat me as the lesser of two evils.
You really want me to go all medieval
on your fine ass, like some foregone conclusion?
You mess with me, it’s all gonna go south.
And mister, master, better watch my mouth.
The mist. The masticated. Watch my mouth:
(I suck it in. I retch. I spit it out.)
They worry when they scuttle through my straits.
(I worry terribly about my weight.)
I taste, I chew, I swallow, then I purge.
It’s violent, it’s swirly, it’s my urge
[there’s nothing tastes as good as being thin]
and so I let you at me, sink and swim.
Oh, long ago, they said, A pretty face—
[control, the water scrolls,
the basin holds what they extol]
at least you have that, darling. Coup de grâce.
The goddess Beauty scratches at my soul.
I’ll heave you, believe me, from pole to pole.
I heaved him from the beach. I had to pull
him in, half-naked, thirsty, sun-mad, full
of sea-salt and nostalgia. When he woke
he said some words, a name, and then he choked
his tears back. I could see it was a game—
no—more a strategy, a way to claim
his presence with me. Then he took my hand
and looked into my eyes —I swear no man
has ever looked so deeply in me since.
He had no clothes. I gave him mine to wear.
I rubbed his skin with oil, I combed his hair.
He smelled of sun-baked juniper and incense.
We laughed and talked. He said he missed his home.
He wished for me I’d never be alone.
Some days, I wished I’d had a different home.
It hurt my heart when every night she’d moan,
no way to know, she’s crying or a dream
had taken her, the men downstairs who seemed
to overpower her despite her will.
I hardly slept at night at all until
I felt him out there, I knew he was near
(but I am old, invisible, my years,
they make me silent). So when he returned—
he nearly kicked my bucket, nearly choked
me right there on the spot. I sputtered, croaked—
I know you more than anyone. I’ve learned
the story isn’t ever black or white.
I tell them, though they never get it right:
Moira Egan’s most recent poetry collections are Olfactorium (Italic Pequod, 2018) and Synæsthesium (New Criterion Poetry Prize, 2017). Her poems and essays have been published in journals and anthologies on four continents. At the end of the last millennium, she lived in Thessaloniki, where she had a view of Mt. Olympos from her balcony. Now she lives in Rome, about 650 meters from the Colosseum. When not gazing at antiquities, she teaches Creative Writing and English at St. Stephen’s School.
Cover Photo Credit: Zoe Charalambous