Clytemnestra

I started writing a story about Clytemnestra years ago. This morning, I woke up thinking about her. Thinking about her name and how difficult it is, how unpretty. You’d have to be a queen of no small stature to pull off such a name. Since she is a fictional character, I feel at liberty to reimagine her, to lift her out of the culture a little bit, enough to consider how terribly the stories treat her. Is Clytemnestra truly the story of the passing of matriarchy as some scholars posit? The Clytemnestra we know most familiarly is the one Aeschylus created out of the older stories. There are many versions of the story. In some, she is exiled instead of executed. In some stories, her sister Helen is Polydeuces twin, in others Polydeuces and Castor are twins. The stories are ambiguous and contradictory as are the most useful mythologies. We have to make them our own. Thread together what makes sense to us and disregard the rest understanding that what we take from these myths are what we comprehend of life and that is an ever-changing mirror.

The following is an excerpt from the first chapter of the story.

Helen and Polydeuces began one night while our mother, Leda, slept in the room that Castor and I shared. It was not uncommon for her to sleep there. She often did so when Father was away looking for allies.
Castor slept in the cradle next to mine. I could see his face clearly because the moon was uncovered and the touch of its light had awakened me. Beyond Castor, I could see the outline of my mother as she slept on her back, one arm flung above her head, her hair a thick black streak falling over the edge of her bed. A shadow crept slowly across the path of the moon. A sudden wind rose and pushed against the outside walls of our room. It funneled in through our window, roughing my cheek as it passed. Then the air pooled and stilled. A great white bird floated down to the windowsill and thrust its long snake neck toward Mother’s face. The bird paused for a moment tilting its eye at me, snapping its beak. The bird spread its wings wide blocking the moonlight before it pushed off the windowsill and dropped toward Mother’s bed. Wings arched back, its great orange webbed feet lit as silent as snow on her breast.

She must have been entranced. Otherwise, she would not have let him lay his long black beak across her face or allowed him to press his tail to her the way he did. But that is what happened. That is what I saw and when I told Father, he believed me.

Very quickly, Mother grew round in the belly and soon she birthed an enormous silver egg. “Let the swan sit on it,” my mother said.

But the egg was not like those you find in chicken roosts. This egg was given to my mother by a god. A great silver egg, such as this one, does not need sitting, but it does bear watching. I put it in my cradle and crawled in beside it to watch it grow.

When it opened, the shell, as if the silver were melting, receded. Ridges formed like the cracking of earth. Then it burst apart and the babies spilled out. Their perfect round heads, crowned with birth fuzz, sparkled with bits of clinging silver shell. Polydeuces rolled away from me, but Helen’s open eyes clasped my face. We met there, eyes pressed to eyes, searching. Our souls, bent together in the first light of her being, bent toward the same moon.

Helen raised one tightly closed fist and flung it open. A cloud of silver danced off her palm into the air and held in place for a moment before drifting out the open window where it formed into hundreds of tiny doves and sailed off into mother night.

Without warning a bolt of lightning broke and thunder shook the room so hard our cradles rocked. Castor wailed in fear, Polydeuces lay still as a stone, and Helen — Helen laughed.

Our mother, answered Castor’s cry. She looked into the cradle, at the new babies and at the broken egg shell. Then she went to Castor and lifted him against her shoulder and took him out of the room.

In a moment, two nursemaids came and one put Helen to her breast, the other Polydeuces. From the first, Helen had a fierce hunger. She fell upon the nipple so hard the nurse cried out in pain.

Lines of Descendance

The Israeli poet is American born. Israel, she says is ancient. Everything is old there, the buildings, the streets, the temples, monuments, cemeteries, hills, the sea — old, old, old. She feels the age of it like a line of descendance. It passes through her now. She is connected to the past and the future through that line. She has a role in the passage of history. A certain future will exist because of her, like those behind her, she is creating worlds.

She lives in the Settlements, so she is also connected to the destruction of worlds. Certain futures will not exist because she is there. She has made a choice to be there, to be part of the making and unmaking of worlds.

For now, she is on the winning side of the wall. Perhaps that is all the justification she requires of herself to remain there.

I look around the world I inhabit. A world I did not choose, but my forebears did and they chose to be the makers and unmakers of their times. They had no regard for the people whose worlds they were unmaking, people who died easily by the touch of breath or skin. People whose weapons were more suited to hunting than war. Ancient history is harder to read here. But it does exist as sandals in a cave, arrowheads, and 15,000 year old stone tools, Though few of us know how to do so, history can also be read in the Willamette Valley which has been cultivated and manipulated for thousands of years. Geologists decipher the pyrocultural record In the strata of soil.

I remain here. Where would I go, a refugee from the sins of my fathers? A DNA test might tell me what European family I have inherited the most genetic material from, but it won’t tell me if I have a place in that family. After all, my ancestors were exiles, either self-imposed or forced. Who welcomes home the exile? Who would make a place for me at their table?

tuesday on Powell

The sun is in the east, backlighting the slender blond haired woman in ponytail cutoff jeans a lightweight jacket over her torso. One leg is bent a the knee, the other straight. She dangles a cigarette from her right hand. A man with a bicycle stands a few feet from, and to the south, of her. The man sits motionless astride the bike, his broad back covered in a black t-shirt, wearing jeans, head bald, skin sun-browned or brown-brown.

As I near them, she bends. I think she is putting out her cigarette, but she is picking something up off the ground. Pennies. And, as I pass, she says, “I’m going to need some luck today.” Or did she say, “everyone needs some luck”?

She might have been a prostitute. Certainly there are those who would make that assumption. But what does that say about who she is really, or even what she is? Her story, her existence is so long and so deep, I can’t say anything about it. I can only see this moment, when she bent from the waist and her ponytail fell down along her arm and the sun lit it up and lit up the line of her forearm as sweetly as a sun ever kissed anyone.

Covert Purple

You drop that little piece of something out the window of the car, covertly, as if to hide it from the driver or anyone who might be watching. As if I were an undercover bicycle cop and the fine for littering might suddenly be enforced and the price too much to pay, but the risk is one you’ll take, carefully.

What impels you to decide that this bit, this small strip of purple nothing, should flutter to the street here instead of to the floor of the car in which you are a passenger?

What bird will find something other than death by eating it? Why should I, or this world, this earth, this street be less important than the interior of that car?

I know nothing about you. Why you were so furtive when you dropped that bit. It might have been a bandaid, or a purple strip of paper with a secret inscribed. You’ve been kidnapped and you are leaving a trail in the desperate hope that someone will follow and find you. You work for the CIA, you’re a spy and you thought I was your contact. The signal conveyed, I should go to the drop site and pick up the latest code, I will decipher the message, uncover betrayal.

I think of this too late. You’re already far down the road. I’ll never be able to give you a sign, to let you know that I am not your confederate. It was a dropped signal in the dark anyway. One you never expected to complete.