“The Odyssey” by Laura Kasischke

Laura Kasischke


So, she rowed her little boat
back home
to Ithaca, alone, after

not having seen her own
image in a mirror for so
long she couldn’t know
exactly how the sun and salt
had changed her face—no
more enameled cheekbones or
feathered eyelashes, almost

no eyelashes now
at all. And

her lips (once a bloodred bow)
now two scaly strips, chalk
white, thinned, meeting
in a stillborn’s kiss.
And those

others lips, the labia—
withered, stinking, just
like every other flap and fold
of her, spoiled
cat food, woolly fish. And with
her fingers, she could feel
the spillage of the pleats and scraps and
excess that was now her neck. No

mirror was required
to know
what a neck that felt like that
to her own touch
would look like
to a man. Nor
did she need to see her backside
now to know what it meant—
the pain that had grown
sharper and stranger
over the years
when she sat too long, even
in sand, in grass, that

she was no Callipygian now—
although she’d modeled
her buttocks for a sculpture of one
once, in a time that somehow
felt as if it hadn’t
been so long ago.

But still she was so strong! Still, how
swiftly she could row! A man
her age would still—

Well, consider her husband, she supposed.
He’d be gray at the temples
and the testicles, now. Eyes
a permanent, machinating squint. His
voice, wind sifted over inconsistent grit.
But some girls and poets
liked such men. That

sculptor’s antlered hands
on her buttocks as he sculpted them.
Her stupid, candlelit sandals
on his stupid, little rug. She didn’t

kid herself her husband had been
weaving and unweaving a shroud
or anything else
for twenty years while she’d been off
pursuing her career, even if she felt
she’d been doing it as much
for him as for herself.

Or that the dog
was still alive. Or that the swineherd
hadn’t retired. Or that some new war
hadn’t started, to which their son had not
happily sailed off, wearing a thin and shiny
breastplate, as easily pierced by an arrow as dive-
bombed by a gull.

But, like everyone else who’s ever left
what she loved, she’d
woken up every fucking rosy-fingered dawn
and thought of them. And
now, finally, she was

close enough to see
the pale familiar ragged edge
of home, from which
she’d sailed away reluctantly, with so
much hope, and how, even
from this distance
it hadn’t changed a bit.

Yes, there it is.
The oral tradition.
All its
bruising and creaming and blooming
and spuming onto the cliffs
and into the branches of the olive trees
and onto the flat, gleaming bellies
of the naked nymphs—all
our glamorous nonsense.
There it is again.

Of course, if she’d arrived, it would
have astonished all of them. After
all the places she’d been, after
the battles she’d fought, the honors
she’d won, she might have inspired
a hundred generations
of girls to follow her into that distance.

Instead, as
you know, she
slipped herself into the wine
dark sea with her oars.

Of course, this choice was wrong.

So, let’s say she didn’t.
We weren’t there, after all.

Instead, let’s say
a woman of a certain age
washes up on a shore
on a sunny day
instead of her empty boat
after twenty years away. She

steps out, looks
around, and—

well, here, I’m afraid, we
have to pause. In

this case, we have to pause
for centuries, I’m sorry, for
centuries filled with silence, without

because a question occurs to her, just
as it occurs to us, and to which
no answer ever comes:

Where is the bard
who sings this song?

from Rattle #65, Fall 2019


Laura Kasischke: “All the little whispered sentences being passed around in other rooms when I was a child: there were so many things the adults discussed in such hushed tones. I knew I’d never be able to hear them, but I couldn’t ignore them either. Those words were being spoken in a tone that told me that what was being said was too terrible or too dangerous, or too powerful perhaps, to allow some child to hear. So, I filled in the details myself, and I’ve been doing it ever since, and especially now that it feels more urgent and transgressive than ever, since they’re all dead, and together, and they don’t even need a door now to shut me out forever.” (web)

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