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A Poem a Week: “The Washing Place”

Excerpt from Almost Beauty

The Washing Place*

It wasn’t so much the birth
as the days that followed. Remember
Odysseus before Nausikaa found him?
Before he could scrape the scurf of brine
from his shoulders? When he staggered
from the river, unsteady of foot
and uneasy of mind? It was like that,
and it went on like that 

for some time. Lorazepam,
bitter under the tongue. Nausikaa
was sent to him by the gods,
but he was afraid of the girls’ voices
he heard in the trees, and at first
did not know how to speak.

No more did I. Even if there were a word
for what had happened, the salt had torn
it from my throat. I pressed on.
What choice? I too heard the voices
in the trees, and like Odysseus, unclothed,
crusted with dry spray, I finally spoke:
I am at your knees, O queen, have pity.

* Italicized lines are borrowed from Richmond Lattimore’s translation of Homer’s The Odyssey (Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2007).

Excerpted from Almost Beauty. Copyright © 2022 by Sue Sinclair

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