Excerpt from

Four Riffs for a Sailor—Calypso

by Monica Raymond


Down the way where the nights are gay
And the sun shines daily on the mountain top
I took a trip on a sailing ship
And when I reach ba bum bum I made a stop

Was it Jamaica, my island? No, don’t think so.

Ba bum bum
Ba bum bum

Some three syllable island—come on, quiz kids in the audience, press that buzzer.

Was it Jamaica, my island?

No, I don’t think so, though on one side it had the plateau of faintly sloping sand beaches of Jamaica. Was it Sicily? On one side, the rocky outcrops and thyme nibbling goats. Sardinia—no fishermen hauling nets? Samos, Patmos, Skyros, Santorini—no volcanos, no murals, no eclipses, the curve of the shore which is the eyelash curve of sleep, the island which a man and woman make on a sheet—

An undiscovered island

I don’t think you will find it. Nor do you need to.


It’s not on any chart
You must find it with your heart…

Of necessity, I will be a pastiche, I’ll have to show you the way to the place you can’t get to, through a series of riffs, gests, gestures, hands, butts, bits—

You wake up to find a man in your bed, the rustling walls let in blue night, the tent top open to the moon

Asleep, unshaven, full lips,
black curls, rimed with gray and salt
bandy legged

Feet calloused almost thick, like a faun’s

And how do I know that, you wonder.

Yes. And yes.

And others. Yes.
Use your imagination.

Did I mess around as a girl?
Yes, if you must know.

I’m on an island.

What do you think comes my way? Or should I say who?

Use your imagination.

Dolphin and squid from the water.
Gods descend from the air.

Was I always on an island?
Sometimes it feels that way, yes.

I don’t know how to
answer that question.

And sometimes in my bed, a specimen, skeleton, I don’t know
how he got there, how long he’ll stay, when he’ll leave

My Love and nourishment
both come from the sea

One night I’ll caress every tentacle,

And next morning, I’ll fire up the brazier,
grill him over branches

a girl’s gotta eat

The wild goats know better than to get within shouting distance.
I pull their hair from the thorns.

He sleeps like someone drugged past midday,
the stubble on his face rising and falling with his breath
like some hairy sea urchin moved by the tides

He’s wrapped in white cloth, unspeckled
That’s got to be Athena’s doing

Like a newborn
little bundle of joy

I run a hospice for the gods—
Maybe that’s not the right word
intensive care unit?
detox center?

They outfit me—accordingly.
But sporadically.

Three years of scraping hide for pillows
and gathering dandelion duff for down
like a housewife at any meager outpost
remote from the affairs of state

when one day, weeks before this sailor’s arrival,
a load of Indian silk
dyed Tyrian purple
drops from the blue

among the conch and tortoise shells
on the beach, the boulders—
gold tankards, incised with vines
and long scenes of faithfulness

thankfulness and forgetfulness

that’s Hephaestus’ work
and at his best

no thrift store goblets
bitter residue in the corners
abrasives will never scrub out

these untouched, like candy
still in the wrapper

and in the storeroom, amphoras fill
with new green olive oil
and honeyed wines
I have not tasted in many a year

mead and oloroso
amber, velvets

So this a big fish we’re hauling in

Not the usual riffraff
iron smelters, spear carriers

who only get a cask or two
of retsina

Not that they’re not grateful for it

And I as well

I’m no winemaker
though I’ve been known, when desperate
to suck at the wrinkled teats
of the wild grapes

hoping for some sweet knowledge
of dissolution
So even a toast of rotgut
out of a tortoise shell
the sandy pawings of some rube
from the outback
give what I crave
a blurring
woozy meltdown

of what’s otherwise all too clear
the stipple of faint thorns
on wildflowers
thistle on the beach at dawn

the sky
implacable blue

I’m therapist, courtesan,
anything but wife

“But you knew that from the first,”
says Hermes, trying to be helpful
or rubbing salt in—
maybe both.

Yuh—how did I forget it
with him muttering Penelope, Penelope

she singing some dove gray lullaby
he tied to the mast
and twitching

“Cut me down,” he’s saying
“You bastards, none of you’s worth
the pittance it costs to feed you! Cut me down
and I’ll swim back to Ithaka
the three pronged glyph
at the heart of the Siren’s song

Ithaka, Ithaka

riding the gray backs of  dolphins—

Cut me down! Cut me down!”

He thrashed in bed like something tied
and trying to peel free
frantically this way and that,
the memory of those bonds
stronger than the ample air around him

“Penelope, Penelope,” he cried.
But I didn’t know it at first.
I thought he was saying
“Envelop me! Envelop me!”
So I did.

I’m the whore of peace
and this is the brothel of peace.

The gods knew what they were doing
when they put us at such a remove

That Zeus, he’s damn clever
And all that tabloid bullshit he does
fucking swans or whatever

is just to make him come off
like some randy man of the people

it’s thought through, believe me
than juiced up and scrambled
to appear

but I digress

point is—what looks like mess
is Fascist, under a layer of guile
and wistfulness

you didn’t come here for philosophy
you came for a good play
or lay

but you see
it’s not your day

it is Odysseus’ day

I straddle him and say
“wake up it’s time
you’re not where you were

not where you think you are

this island is unknown
in Ithaka”

but he snores on
a train
stowed in the railyard

that can’t forget its rough

And so, another day in his long sleep
which seems to have its own rhythm—

now baby sleep in which the knitted brow
grows sheer as muslin
years lift from his face
and I see the bright boy who first set out

now labored breathing
fits, dream fragments—
muttered or stuttered words
“My name is NO MAN”—existentialist—
even in sleep, the trickster.

I know who you are, you are Odysseus,
nine years storm-tossed from home.
I’m your last shot before oblivion,
before the gods give up on you for good.