I retired from the SUNY Buffalo English Department in 2004. Have published a dozen or so collections of poems. Such my addiction to the sport of squash racquets my headstone is to read: "ONE MORE GAME?" See more of my poems HERE.
Note: “A Crone’s Tale" tells the Circe episode in THE ODYSSEY from her point of view — as a bedtime story told by Circe, now grown old, to her granddaughter.
A CRONE'S TALE
to Françoise Krampf
Tell you of the witch? Well, so I will, child,
as well as ever I remember the story.
Now the witch was an ordinary girl
and not half so pretty as you, and like you
grew up to her life on an island's small place.
And seeing there the changeable wilderness
of water, that plashed and sparkled among rocks
and stroked the sand, then fussing and willful chased
the little boats from their paths, and later
was wide shining distance, indifferent to all
and different from everybody --- seeing this,
why then, she set her heart on the mystery.
And so she stood and called out names to the sea,
every name that ever the girl could think.
Now you must take care, child, what names you say.
Your cry for help, your offer of kindness,
both sup together in the name you speak.
So you must take care to what name you answer.
Now I will tell you the ocean heard her.
As foreign sailormen it came ashore,
well, and every day more of them came and more,
strange hollering things that stood up in the foam
like waterfalls, or on hands and knees trickled
to the windy beach and lay about drying,
or came like spraywater by the stinging wind
blown there, beardy and rough and rimed with salt.
Well, as sailormen the sea came ashore,
as animals it stayed on there, listening
to nice syllables spelled clear in her breath,
they the wild element's soft embodiment,
they enchanted slowly to domestic ways.
Now, child, you have seen the salamander, how
it lies in the winter hearth sunning on coals
and laving off ash with licks of its tongue,
and you have heard the air's sprites in the wood,
and seen the grizzled field lift a green head
and dart the dainty tines of its silent tongue.
Just so in her stable were round strange backs
running like waves under the drover wind
and many snouts were leaping up together
and butty heads slapping the whitewash posts,
and rushes in fury and fright, and patience
nibbling along inside the green centuries.
Many were swine there, and never swine only,
but sheep they were, too, both mister and missus,
yes, hens and horses, geese and goats and cattle
--- now let me see, who is it I have forgot? ---
and whiteface rabbits and many mice as well,
all trampling up the one scatter of straw
and taking molasses, taking stews and slops,
good things to eat she fixed in the kitchen,
green things that in her garden sprouted up.
And came to her running ever she called them,
"You, Henry," "You, Alfred," "You, Charles," and such,
good names all, such names they were as your brothers
would have and kings of the happiest place.
Or came if ever they heard clump of her shoes
or kirtle whisper to the hay's shining raff.
Well she knew it was the sea in her stable
that came to glint there with thousand bright eyes
and pricked up ears and made eager noises, nudged
her hand with moist noses, sucked on her fingers,
that sat down guest at her floor's low table,
that warmed itself in itself in its sleep.
And ever we want, child, the creatures by,
to have the good of them, the milk and mildness,
so must we do with victuals and kind voices.
Oh, if that were enough! But there's more than it.
Here now, I've dropped my thimble, just wait a bit.
Run, sweet, and pick it up where it rolls away
under blue chair, I can just see its gleaming.
There, that's the good child ...
Well, as I was saying, she kept the straw clean,
she freshened the water, she did not scant
the poor sailormen that came to her shore.
But one of them she would by no means feed,
by no means would she call him to her,
but left him to roam the shoreline all day
and wade the white streets of the broken wave.
Him alone she kept a stranger, until
the night long when beasts snugged down in their sleep
he only cried out "Circe, Circe" to her
as if the sea's self with a human voice
at last would single out, would summon her.
And ever all night she was held around,
but she bit back the word, by no means would speak.
She thought she drowned, and then she didn't drown.
I forget what happens next, but no matter.
Now the girl had what most her heart wanted.
She lived on an island, she married the sea.
It may be you shall think one day to marry.
It may be you shall walk beside the water,
hearing it keen the feeling it cannot say.
Then must you put fingers to ears, lock eyes shut
--- or shall in pity cry out names to it,
shall hunt its far shine in every eye comes near.
Or it may be you shall never ...
Here now lay your finger on this knot. Just so.
And from deeps may come to you a daughter.
Perhaps shall call the child for me ...
So now your old grandmother, as fond as old,
gives you her blessing, and a kiss goes with it.
Remember her name in your prayer every night.
So out goes candle now --- now you must go to sleep.
© 2018 Irving Feldman
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