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Epistles For Silenced Women

Updated: Mar 12

i. for penelope

O web-weaver, you are in truth

a wily woman, couched in the demeanour

of an ideal wife. behind your loom

you may cower, shirking from the suitors

over which you have no power, these men

who wreak rack and ruin upon your kingdom,

who humiliate you in your husband’s house.

even your scarcely-grown son seeks to silence you!

Is speech not the business of men and men alone?

Return at once to

your sisyphean shroud! Let the grass grow over the

ruins of your household, all you can do now

is bide your time.

the heart of a wife is locked behind the loom,

weaving herself into her husband’s shadow.

weaving herself into the ideal woman--

to be seen, but never heard.

but beneath your facade beats

the heart of a lover devoted--

will your Ulysses return, o Wife?

the heart of a hero is transparent from his muthos--

he sleeps with goddesses, he outwits beasts,

you sing prayers and praises so that the victor may come home,

and sing in turn of fierce battles, galloping horses and guile,

fields and earth where Troy once stood.

yet the victor is absent; the hero famed for his mind

forgets more and more his own. it is you

who is left to silently pick up the pieces he left behind.

ii. for philomela

O sweet-tongued nightingale,

fair sister of Procne,

dear daughter of Pandion,

how could you and your kin have foreseen

the cruel fate that would befall you?

how could you have known

as you rejoiced when your sister was married off

to the illustrious Thracian king?

how could you have known

as you kissed your father goodbye on the docks,

the tears flowing down his face as he begged his son in law

to protect you with a father’s love?

poor girl--

it was not your sister vile Tereus truly longed for.

The wolf lunges at the lamb and claws at her jugular

The trembling dove bleeds shame and guilt,

feathers and fear stain the grass outside the tower

The woods are filled

With the cry of a girl violated,

Run through with red thread against her will.

Tereus now unsheathes his sword

Ties her hands behind her back

He will allow her no longer

to cry out for her father

for her sister

for anyone.

(her tongue’s root quivers, the rest of it lays dead on the grass.)

sweet swallow, your throat drips red with grief!

O nightingale, what has he done to you?

(Was she not asking for it?)

(Should she not have obeyed him?)

(Who is she to have refused the will of a king?)

(Who is she to have refused the will of a master?)

(Who is she to have refused the will of a man?)

O what would your severed tongue say if only it were able?

to your sister you sent a tapestry, a message,

weaving the words of hurt and anger burning inside your heart.

O tongueless nightingale, thou wast not born for death, immortal bird!

they may cut out your tongue, but they may never take your voice.

iii. for echo

O silver-tongued nymph,

(loose-tongued, Juno would call you--)

she whose gifts of speech are powerful

enough to fool even the queen of the Gods,

is it not inevitable that you are the one to suffer for her husband’