Parting Embrace

(after a painting by Jacques-Louis David called "The Farewell of Telemachus and Eucharis". In the painting she is looking up at him with her arms around him.)

She cannot see
His wayward stare
Like a sailor's eyes peering out from the top-mast.
Beauty hangs about him like a slim white sail.
Her eyes are closed as she
Contemplates the scent of his shoulder,
His arm, warm and modestly muscled,
Her favored pillow.
She breathes him silently,
Full of storm and questions perhaps,
But betraying nothing of this in her
Serene face.

What is he thinking?
Does he hear the cries of "Heave ho!"
And hear the clarions' call?
He dreams as she clasps him
Of distant lands and swords unsheathed,
Of becoming a man like his father,
Of things she cannot comprehend
Though she approves instinctively.
There is sleep in her embrace,
Like the clinging sleep which calls:
"Lover, stay."
But he has awoken.
Yet half-dreaming, he permits her arms to ensnare him,
Even as his father lingers in the arms of Calypso,
But soon, he shall take his leave,
March out with his childhood friends,
Board a swift, wolf-like galleon
And cast off into perilous, turbulent waters.
And as the gales lash him and his comrades,
As Poseidon compels his offerings of drowned human flesh,
And the weight of the sea is in his heart,
And his homeland is a distant star in a foaming, brackish sky.
It is then he will cry her name out to the gods,
Weeping, shouting
As though she might hear him and offer up with her meek spirit
Entreaties to the gods in his name.

George Chadderdon © 1999