Monday, May 7, 2012

Work and Penelope . . . or Ulysses?

Last week, I got my contributor copy of Slant.  It contains my poem "Children of Ulysses."  It comes out of a summer of writing poems inspired by the story of Penelope and Ulysses.  You can find my Penelope skin cancer poem here and my poem that thinks about Penelope as muse here.

More recently I've used Penelope to talk about work issues in the modern office, that endless weaving and unweaving and reweaving.  More about that in months to come:  I'll be working on an essay that explores how 21st century female poets use Greek mythology to explore work issues.

In some ways, this poem prefigures the later Penelope poems, since it comes out of my time working in an afterschool program.  I worked there during the summer, when afterschool care became all day care.  It's one of my all-time favorite jobs--except for the pay.

Children of Ulysses

They read the relief in the faces
of their parents, those adventurers
always in a hurry to hop back into suburban
ships, to sail away into the warrior
world of work and the wise talk of adults.

We try to weave a substitute home
in these hours together. We paint murals,
and when we run out of wall space,
we paint over it all and start again.
We learn every art and craft that tiny fingers can master.
We try to keep civility alive, to break
up fights and focus on fun.

The children keep an eye on the clock.
As the sun sinks, they watch the horizon
and daydream of dinner, of family time, of finally
being the focus of fond attention.

Ah, futility. The unfairness of it all.
While they’ve been pining away for their parents,
the parents have had a perfectly fun adventure
without them. Not quite ready to be plunged
back into domesticity, these cunning fighters
keep their weapons sharp, the cell phone charged,
the computer a constant companion.
Dinner is a rushed affair delivered by the drive-through window.

At what point do the children of Ulysses realize
that their Homeric parents will never really return?
Do they smash their looms? Set sail themselves?
How do they weave a happy ending?

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