Song of Penelope, Song of Myself
Cynthia Roth earned her MFA in studio art and poetry from SIU Carbondale, where she studied with Rodney Jones, Allison Joseph, and Lucia Perillo. Her chapbook, Ekphrasis, was published by Dusie Press in 2014. Her poems have appeared in journals including The Pittsburg Quarterly, Dogwood, and Poetry Midwest. She has been awarded numerous awards for her poetry, including an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship. She lives in rural southern Illinois with her husband and son.
I could not say how cold it was
when my period began, nine days late.
Forsworn, spoken for, Je Reviens
is the scent I put on to feel nearer to you.
My neighbor gave me the bottle.
I had brought her pie and flowers, not expecting
a gift; there it was: WORTH, PARIS
wrapped in a small box, blue bow.
When my husband returned,
he wiped out all suitors but you.
Hidden in the loom, loving, threatening
to change my story forever, even my son loved you.
Forsworn, spoken for, how could I mind
other women tearfully confiding your words?
I could not be fair and sent you packing.
When I looked up Je Reviens
in my French dictionary, I couldn't find the verb.
Our last time in bed, I let you in hopefully,
then felt for weeks that this would tie us.
Smarter women have done this stupid thing.
Forsworn, spoken for, yet I felt happy then.
Each month when I bleed,
I think how time does not loosen
the words you called in
to make me feel beholden.
First it was my husband,
forced off to war while
our baby suckled.
Then my son grew strong
and fled in the night
to bring his father home.
My lover was next.
He had to go or die.
I sent him off, knowing
that to see him again
would be my ruin,
and that of this house.
Now, a spirit knocks
in the night, and the sun sings
in its bright monotone
how blessed I am,
but my heart is an empty
city, my bones mere remains.
The concrete gutter waits for rain and leaves.
Grass hides under the few inches of snow
winter brought, while the shirt I gave to you
holds in its pocket every kiss those thieves
The Law and Rightness shook out of my gown.
Waylaid, I sleep in, hope for nothing new.
Always, the air was drinkable
and so quickly warm no thought
was given to wine,
but to whether we would suffocate
the world with our longing.
Time and again we looked up
at the twining branches with awe.
Walls grew dark with hours
and tried to lock us in,
but failed like thunder fails.
Now and then I find myself
holding affection for something:
a finely woven scarf rejected
by sisters for its one moth hole,
cricket song, a line written wiggly
with my left hand while holding
a child in my right. I go to us again,
that room. While there,
I wear the same clothes for days,
like a man. Wear the scarf, crickets,
your shoulders. Time and again,