Penelope: A Poem

While I’m off writing on the novel today (a Big Idea piece is coming later in the day, incidentally), here’s something for you to consider: I’ve unearthed a poem that I wrote when I was, I think, 23. It was on a previous iteration of the site, so now is a good a time as any to put it back on. For those of you who don’t know the story of Penelope, here’s some background. I wrote the poem, naturally enough, because I was missing someone.



There is no difference between far and near.
Perspective is all
A mountain and a rock that falls from its incline
Are shaped by the same forces
Separated only by scale
And the attentions of the observer.

I keep this in mind as I unravel my work
And tear it down to its component thread.
Today’s design was a masterpiece
Hours of planning and execution
Done in by a casual pull at the end of the day.
It is no matter.
The action is lost in the larger picture of things
Today’s destruction a building block
For a greater work.

Down the hall voices call to me
Insistent suitors demand my presence.
Soon enough I will join them
Some honest enough, others something less
They will ask about the progress of my work
And I will tell them that it remains unfinished.
We will not be talking of the same work
But it is no matter.
There is no difference between far and near.
Perspective is all.


I don’t know whether to blame you or your stupid war.
It is easiest to blame the war
The insistent beating drum
The pretense of noble purpose
Masking a banality so insipid
As to stagger the observer.
But you were always one of the best
Not the strongest, but the smartest
Not forceful, but with a craft
That became its own definition.
You, who upstaged ten years of anguish
With one night and a gift.
You are magnificent
A prize for poets.

It’s hard to understand how one of your talents
Has managed to stay from me for so long.
I imagined your return so soon after your victory
A homecoming which would shine to the heavens
Pure in emotion and joy.
Yet now you are as far away as when you began
Your arrival a distant dream
Your homecoming unfulfilled.
Your war is over
But you are not home
If there is blame
It is yours.

But it is no matter.
It makes no sense to talk of blame
When circumstances rule the day
No sense for anger
When chance plots your course
Whatever mysteries you hide from me
I know your heart.
Your homecoming lives there
Waiting to come true.
It lives in my heart too
Two views of the same moment
Two dreams with the same end.


My suitors engage me in idle banter.
I am sometimes painted as a noble sufferer
enduring unwanted attentions
But in truth, I enjoy the diversions
My suitors entertain me, amuse me
And no few arouse me
Their endless chatter every now and then
Showing promise of something greater
Of depths that dare to be plumbed.

They appear worthy suitors
And indeed some of them are
But there is not one
Who shines so bright as to dim your memory.
The curves of their arms and legs
Call to mind your own sweet body
Their lips and eyes
Bring your own gentle face
Your voice
Calls distantly from their throats.
Every one that comes to me
To cajole, whisper or impress
Becomes a window
Through which I see you.

I smile frequently when I am with my suitors
And they smile back, convinced that the pleasure in my eyes
Is brought by their form.
But it is not them I see.
Perspective is all.


My work is now unraveled
And my intentions secure for another day.
Tomorrow I will create another
And unravel it, each tomorrow
Until you return to my shore.

It is a difficult task
Building a creation from which
All that is seen is its daily destruction.
It is a work that only I can see
Its completion something only I desire.

It is no matter.
There is no difference between far and near
Perspective is all.
Perhaps from the distance where you are
You can see my larger work.
Use it as your beacon
And have your homecoming at last.

18 Comments on “Penelope: A Poem”

  1. I really wanted to name our daughter Penelope (clever, strong-willed, faithful, cool, etc) but wife knew a Penny in school and didn’t go for it. Ended up with Miriam. Is still an old name with resonance but not quite the same.

    Cool poem!

  2. Wow. That was, um, something. Really. You, uh, really used a lot of words there.

    Apropos of nothing, I stopped telling people I’d been an English major when my real estate agent dropped off a bunch of his poems for me to read, and I discovered he was half-Vogon on his mother’s side.

  3. Wow indeed. I love the human scale of your writing, here, and in The Sagan Diary, which is what the poem somehow reminds me of (I’m sure that would still be true had the poem been by someone else).

  4. Huh. At roughly the same age, I wrote a similar type of poem, though I used a different woman from the Greek canon as the frame: Iphigenia, the daughter of Agamemnon, who is sacrificed by her father (some, including Euripides, say she did so willingly) so that his fleet might set sail once again to Troy and folly. It had a similar structure and arc as well, though if I recall correctly I used five sections instead of four. And yours is better. I occasionally stumble across my “Iphigenia” while going through old stuff, read it, and cringe (though some parts of it, once you can get past the post-adolescent angst, are decent). I never do throw it out, however. It’s a reminder, a snapshot of that particular moment in my life that in some ways is way more accurate than a photograph or even a journal entry could be.

    Anyway: weird kinda-coincidence. What is it about that age and missing (or, more accurately in my case, “yearning for”) someone that lends itself to Greek myth and/or tragedy?

  5. Interestingly, this ties back into my hypothesis on why the music of the Doors failed to age quite so gracefully alongside you.

    I would suggest that
    a) the music holds up better than the lyrics
    b) the reason the lyrics fail to hold up is because Jim Morrison was never able to outgrow being a 28 year old poet, which, while Deep and Meaningful(tm) to the 15-24 year old demographic, fails to impress in the accumulation of life’s experience.

  6. Hey, nice! I especially like this bit:

    Every one that comes to me
    To cajole, whisper or impress
    Becomes a window
    Through which I see you.

    It’s romantic in a very interesting way.

  7. @ #6 bkd69. Funny. iPod just coughed up The Doors Wishful Sinful, from Soft Parade, on ride in to work. Now, I grew up listening to The Doors, to the point of pictures of me less than 2 years old pulling out Soft Parade album for my dad to play. So it’s a good bet I’ve heard this song several hundred times or more but this time, I started listening to it and was amazed at how well it’s held up. Just now looked it up in Wikipedia; written by Robbie Krieger. Go figuh!

  8. I read:

    Use it as your bacon
    And have your homecoming feast.

    Which is all your own damn fault, I am sure. (The bacon is strong in this one.)

  9. This should have been prologue in OMW. It would have increased sales significantly. NOT. Now get back to writing me new military SF, thank you very much.

  10. May have allowed other fandom related entitlement issues to cloud things. If it was a joke, I apologize for misreading it.

  11. Just came across this :)
    I know it’s for your mom and that’s super sweet!!
    on behalf of everyone that shares our name THANKS!!

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