The Women are Ordered to Clear the Bodies of Suitors Slain by Ulysses

by Traci Brimhall

This is how I betrayed my country—
with each almond I fed them, with each grape’s
red blister. After the war began, there were years
of hunger and fear and our bodies unheld.


When the suitors arrived, they wore weapons
in order to sleep, and I stroked their backs.
I will not defend myself. Bees entered me
when we kissed, stingers clotted my throat.


O harsh, unforgiving kingdom, everyone betrays.
Penelope unwove her shroud and stopped
looking for sails, uttered his name
as she dropped black thread on the floor.


But now the bard who once sang of desire
will be spared and told to sing about mercy.
Praise the ruler who wears disguises.
Praise the ruler who kills for peace.


Even as we wash blood from the table,
I do not regret it. As we toss swords
into the arms of olive trees and scatter hawks roosting
in helmets, I know this is why we love—


so someone will watch us die and carry our body
to the place of our burning. Even as they knot
the ship’s cable and pull our feet from the ground,
I am not sorry I tasted such honey.


Traci Brimhall is the author of Our Lady of the Ruins (forthcoming from W.W. Norton), selected by Carolyn Forché for the 2011 Barnard Women Poets Prize, and Rookery (Southern Illinois University Press), winner of the 2009 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award. Her poems have appeared in Kenyon Review, Slate, Virginia Quarterly Review, New England Review, The Missouri Review, and elsewhere. She was the 2008-09 Jay C. and Ruth Halls Poetry Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing and currently teaches at Western Michigan University, where she is a doctoral associate and King/Chávez/Parks Fellow.