Telemachus’s Sister Also Waits
by Emily Cruse

I used to imagine my father returning:
broad-shouldered, broad-smiled,
carrying me back a toy from his travels
like a carved horse, or other knickknack from some hotel giftshop.
But I stopped imagining reunions years ago,
ditto to playing with toys.
Now I mostly lurk in shadowed corners of the great hall,
watching mom’s suitors drink their way through our wine cellar
and try to set their farts on fire.

My brother hung out here too,
pimpled adolescent so desperate to belong
he mistook their hazing for friendship.
That was before he set off to quest for dad,
secretly hoping one of the old man’s friends will finally anoint him
man enough
that he can call off the looking.

It’s quiet in the residential hall with my brother gone.
Only me and mom left, and that crowd of ladies-in-waiting
she keeps to help her run the scam with the weaving and unweaving.
Not like mom and I ever talked much—
just her lectures about the importance of keeping my legs crossed
until she and dad had picked themselves out a son-in-law.
Even those stopped, once preserving her own chastity
became a full-time job.

Sometimes I fantasize about crashing the party downstairs:
getting hammered and singing bad karaoke at the top of my lungs,
or maybe leaping onto a table to do some standup routine.
My comedy’d be really raunchy, too—
like grabbing my crotch and snarking, “I’ve got your axehead right here
to shoot that arrow through!”

Instead, from time to time, one of the hundred-and-eight finds me in the shadows,
grabs my arm, and pulls me with him to some back staircase
or unused storage closet.
As I feel his hot and hasty fingers unthread my private tapestry,
I close my eyes and drift out across my own winedark sea.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I borrowed the idea of Odysseus and Penelope having an unknown daughter—and of wondering what her life might have been like—from Virginia Woolf’s musings about “Shakespeare’s sister” in A Room of One’s Own. In The Odyssey, Telemachus clearly struggles with his own issues around manhood and coming-of-age in his father’s absence. What issues might a young woman have faced in the same household, with not only her father unavailable but her mother also, preoccupied as Penelope was with her own pressing concerns? It seems to me that growing up surrounded by 108 young men all competing to marry your mother (and largely ignoring you because you represent less of a material prize) would be terribly difficult, even if the suitors were not disrespectful freeloaders and your mother a paragon of virtue and fidelity.

IMAGE: “Psyche Opening the Golden Box” by John William Waterhouse (1903).


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Emily Cruse is a Texas transplant to Philadelphia, whose interest in mythological retellings dates back to a chance encounter in high school with Jean Giraudoux’s 1935 play, The Trojan War Will Not Take Place. She has spent her career in education, including as a high school English teacher, adjunct writing professor, tutor in remedial math and reading, and producer of educational videos. Her current focus is on how survivors of trauma can use writing as a tool in their recovery. Emily shares her home with two aging cats—who would both much prefer if her cooking experiments involved more cheese and less lemon curd—and blogs as “Alice Isak” at