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
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?
They outfit me—accordingly.
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
So this a big fish we’re hauling in
Not the usual riffraff
iron smelters, spear carriers
who only get a cask or two
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
So even a toast of rotgut
out of a tortoise shell
the sandy pawings of some rube
from the outback
give what I crave
of what’s otherwise all too clear
the stipple of faint thorns
thistle on the beach at dawn
I’m therapist, courtesan,
anything but wife
“But you knew that from the first,”
says Hermes, trying to be helpful
or rubbing salt in—
Yuh—how did I forget it
with him muttering Penelope, Penelope
she singing some dove gray lullaby
he tied to the mast
“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
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
but I digress
point is—what looks like mess
is Fascist, under a layer of guile
you didn’t come here for philosophy
you came for a good play
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
but he snores on
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.