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?
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
(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’