Odyssea

This selection is paired with Book 21 of The Odyssey by Homer. Get Issue 22 of NonBinary Review from Zoetic Press.


To end my life with the ending of my life,
I record that I returned to him in January.
The month doesn’t matter. Ten years is
what matters. Ten years of living with
strangers. He asked me if the stars and moon
look like this where I’m from.
I told him winter is turning into spring.
He said we didn’t go into the sea
because he doesn’t know how to swim.
To which I said, I can teach you.


Rebecca Weingart is a high school English teacher in St. Louis, Missouri. She is an MFA candidate at University of Missouri-St. Louis.

 

Siren’s Lament

This selection is paired with Book 12 of The Odyssey by Homer. Get Issue 22 of NonBinary Review from Zoetic Press.


In the twelfth century B.C.E., Odysseus sacked Troy and turned his eyes, thoughts and footsteps toward Ithaca and home. But having bested and blinded Polyphemus in the ninth book with a stake of wood and shit and thereby being cursed by the Cyclop’s father Poseidon to wander in far reaches for a decade, he found himself the most notorious tourist in unknown lands.

For a year he lived with the sorceress Circe on the isle Aeaea, after defeating her spells (with Hermes guidance) and retrieving his crew from her pig troughs. As a parting gift, she warned him in book twelve of the dilemma of Scylla the six-headed cave demon and Charybdis the unescapable whirlpool. His vessel’s path lay by clear fate past one of the two. And she warned him of the island of Thrinacia, where none must eat of the sacred livestock of Helios. And she doubly warned him of the Sirens.

These beautiful and treacherous harpies of wondrous living flesh and feathered wings were the first terrible danger they must encounter on this leg of their extended dark sea voyage. The Sirens destroyed any ships that sailed within earshot of their thrilling, clear and sultry voices raised in pure enchantment. Their songs wafted far from their meadowed shore, and none who caught the lilt of their dulcet and magic tones could avoid letting it lead their keels onto the jagged crags.

Homer never told us of what they actually sang. But Odysseus knew.

The hero stuffed his sailors’ ears with wax and ordered them to bind him to the strongest mast. He thought in this manner he could learn the song of the Sirens in comparative safety. The Sirens found little amusement in such a ploy. Except for one of them. She had followed the exploits of the warrior since the war. She had even carved a perfect tiny replica of a Trojan horse from driftwood with her sharpened talons. Though Homer does not honor us with her name, others have. She was called Ligeia.

Odysseus was trussed up with sailors’ skill and could not hope to loose himself or to communicate with his now deaf crew. What his maps had not shown him was the true distance between Aeaea and Scylla, and what they could not show him was the sphere of influence of the harpies. For many hours he stood wracked with the pain of the rough cutting ropes and with the agony of thirst. His men had forgotten him in their working of the oars through leagues of doldrums. He mused sardonically to himself that this at least should have been expected. His men were brave and strong and loyal—and idiots. Some had never gotten over that swine transformation incident.

As he dwelt on this flaw in his own reasoning, Selene’s night orb rose and the air crackled with an odd form of charge. A humming lurked within the charge. It steadily resolved itself into individual notes, and what perfect tinkling bell-like notes they were.

The moonbeams struck the bone-white sails above him with a silver edge that wavered as the echoes rose and fell. The soft sounds became a tune and at length a song. He was now aware that each chord was made entirely of women’s voices. There were no instruments within the melody, and of course he accepted there were no women. The harmony was unexcelled and the crispness of the wild rhythm physically pulled on his body. He found he was already straining at the ropes.

His jaw went slack and he tilted his head in the direction of the music. Many calls danced in his mind, in many vocal ranges, and all were perfect separately and together, but one voice whispered above the others, eventually dominating his rhapsody.

A fog arose and swirled near the distant sea line; it slowly parted to reveal a ghostly winged form. Odysseus was never able to determine if the moonlight played him a trick or if the maiden occupied more of his mind than of his eyes, but very soon he could study her at his leisure.

He felt no wind, but mad black hair flowed about her form as if in a vortex. He judged its length to match the bright plumed pennate wings that spread around her—both reached to the bottom of her white gossamer gown. She held a long arm toward him; the hand ended in pale fingers and long shiny violet nails.

Her brow was as bloodless as her arm and fingers, though her classic cheekbones were pinkly accented. Her nose was small and perfectly formed, and her eyes were enormous and black and unblinking, though he had never before seen eyes so liquid. Notwithstanding her attitude and expression of perfect contentment, the eyes appeared ready to burst with tears that at length never fell. He was absolutely certain that she was staring at him.

Her ruby lips were parted in a slight smile and from her mouth issued the singing of the dominant line he had heard, and a little later this line was nearly all that made the tune. Then she spoke, still in a type of chime or mellifluous chant, and he glimpsed white teeth that gleamed both perfect and still a touch too sharp.

“Your crewmen’s ears are wax-stuffed, hero of Troy,” she whispered, though he heard all perfectly. “You bring us silly human candles, with wicks instead of wits.”

His chest heaved brutally forward. He wished nothing on earth but to kiss those lips and drink in those words. He beat his head backward against the hard mast to clear it. “Do not torment me, Harpie!” he bellowed. His men naturally heard him not. “We have had our share of monsters ere now.”

She laughed cruelly—even this was intoxicating. “You do not yet know what monsters are, Odysseus.”

He was startled. “You know my name?”

Another laugh. “I could sing your whole biography.”

“Have you a name?” he asked, sincerely curious.

“I am called Ligeia. Generations from now, Homer will inscribe the wonders that are you. But three millennia hence a writer will equate my name with undying love. Do not fear me.”

“I fear nothing!” bellowed Odysseus with a bluster that he did not truly feel.

“Good,” came the chiming reply. “Cut those ropes and come talk with me.”

He motioned to two crewmen who were watching him. They approached, and Odysseus smiled; a smile that faded when the men wrapped more ropes about him, pulled them tight, and moved away.

Ligeia let out a lilting giggle though her eyes still looked full of tears. “Always in command, my fine warrior. Yet not as much in control as you imagine. I have heard things in my dealings with Circe. She’s not in love with you, whatever you believe. She may even hate you in some measure as her efforts to bewitch you failed so utterly. Thank Hermes for your delivery. As an aside, how certain are you of your true wife Penelope’s troth? Or of your boy Telemachus’ respect and love? They may be waiting for you. I am without a doubt. You know this now in your soul. Would you trade a certainty for a question mark?”

“You have pulled the ear of the enchantress a bit too far, methinks.”

“No age of your life is closed to me, Odysseus. Circe’s facts are but a fraction of my understanding. Your men fashioned strong ropes and cords to lash you upright to your main mast to spare you. You sliced a great circle of wax and molded it with your own strong hands and the sun’s heat into earplugs to spare them. You gave some few gold coins to Circe for both the Aeaean rope and cerumen. Circe purchased both from me.”

“Why that cursed little witch!”

“You had two sons to her, I recollect. She has breached no trust, and all her prophecy to you has come true—or shall. She has outlined the twin perils of Scylla and Charybdis in all their accuracy. You will sail past Scylla, and will lose a crewman to each of her six heads. So leave that half dozen you most suspect of thievery or disloyalty nearest the rail. Not that it will matter. You will lose the rest after they slay the livestock of Helios on Thrinacia. Which they will. Does it surprise you that they will eat the sacred cattle?”

“It would not surprise me if they married them. I love my men but they are morons.”

Ligeia laughed. “But I am no danger to you or to your crew, Odysseus, as you surely now realize. Or if I am, you are lashed tightly to your mast, and my dulcet tones and mind’s eye images emanate from a league distant. The ropes and wax I bartered were in no way faulty. There can be no sound reason not to chat while your oarsman pick their way through my milieu with their painfully slow pulling at the paddles. They certainly hear no sound reason. Nor sound of any kind.”

“What power do you hold over us?”

“At this moment—none, I assure you. I cannot bid the sun rise from deepest night and stand straight overhead to melt the cerumen and have it flow forth from their earholes. Why should I wish you harm—or even inconvenience?”

Odysseus pondered this. “Is it not written in stone that your duty—all your mission—is to lure ships and sailors onto the rocks?”

“Perhaps it is written in Circe’s head. What need have we of boats and boatswains? Shall we with all abandon litter the coast of our own blessed flower fields? To what end? If we wish to mate with human males, dead seaman are unlikely to serve our purpose.”

“It is my understanding you prefer our flesh within your mouths.”

“Would that not be a pretty picture? You see my form in your mind. Is it not more than pleasing? Beautiful women possessed of silken wings plucking entrails with greedy distended mouths from the offal left in the wake of a crush of wood and canvas and copper. Is that a picture your sage mind allows?”

“Ah, there you have betrayed a purpose, Ligeia! Did not you or your kind lure Butes the Argonaut, who swam toward your shore till personally saved by Aphrodite? Your feasting is precisely the vision my mind conjures.”

“It is this mind that then betrays you. The legends of dear Butes’ salvation are nonsense. He did hear us above the lute of Orpheus, and he did jump into the sea to make his way to us. I would be a fool to deny our lure. You are feeling it this instant. But no goddess saved that Argonaut. He reached our shore and lived in bliss with one of my sisters for many years, fathering a dozen children.”

“But parts of you are birds!”

“Not any really good parts.”

Selene’s moon disappeared behind a cloud, and all singing went with it.

Ligeia continued, “I will allow I have a deep desire that you will sojourn a time with me. But I only wish your presence, and that only to know you better. Upon my soul I desire no harm to come to you nor to your sailors. They might unstuff their ears this moment to utter safety—and complete silence from me.”

“What of your sisters?”

Now there was a long pause. Finally she whispered, “I do not sing for them.”

“How many are you?”

“More than you think. More than Homer will limn in his sightless artistry. If I retired somewhere with you, their numbers would not miss me.”

“Their numbers? So now you are forced to truth?”

“I have never sang otherwise.”

“If I freed myself from this mast—as I am mightily attempting against my own self-interest—if I came to you, would I be soon destroyed?”

“Not so soon as you imagine,” she replied. “I would earnestly love you in my meadow. In my way. I earnestly love you now. But eventually, yes. There are nonetheless advantages, my beloved. In my land, you get a choice of what destroys you.”

“Let it be knowledge.”

“So it should be. You are a wise and fair creature, Odysseus.”

“As are you, Ligeia. In my mind’s eye I know this. I know this more clearly near these breakers than I have known before.”

“These breakers are my own. Unlike the sun and moon and open sea, they do bend to my will. When a vessel ventures this close, I have my way with it. At this instant, I could dash you board and rag and blood and bone upon the razor rocks. Or I could hold you in a kind of stasis here and interact with you forever. I like things exactly at this spot. Where we are both happy. Now move on, my champion.”

“Don’t you want more of this?”

Ligeia scoffed, “Nah, we wouldn’t be happy for long.” But a sadness melded with her nonchalance. The last vision the warrior had of her, a tear did escape the pool of her eye. She sighed. “I’ll always have that look you gave my image. I felt it. It wasn’t a long look—but it was real. Sail home to your Penelope, my traveler. And fervently pray the gods will be as entranced by you as I.”


John Kiste is a planetarian and Poe impersonator who has been published in A Shadow of Autumn, Modern Grimoire, Dark Fire Fiction, Theme of Absence, NonBinary Review‘s H. G. Wells anthology, and whose work was included in the Unnerving Press release, Haunted Are These Houses, and Camden Press’s anthology, Quoth the Raven.

The Mouth of Charybdis

This selection is paired with Book 12 of The Odyssey by Homer. Get Issue 22 of NonBinary Review from Zoetic Press.


I am the mouth that swallowed your ships and ate your men. They are dead inside of me. You are the only one left, and if you let go of the root you are clinging to, I will eat you too.

But if you hold on until I spit my waters up again, you may find something to float on and you may live. None of the people who have clung to that root before have lived, but you might. Until then, save your breath, and let me speak.

None of this is my choice. I am a monster. I am Charybdis, the dread maelstrom. I can’t change what I am any more than the men on your ship could have turned into birds to escape.

That isn’t true—quite. But if you want to know the truth, you must listen to my story. You must not only listen to it, but you must believe it, and to do that, you should start by believing that lie. This story is more than a story. It’s my one remaining hope.

It’s my plea for mercy. Yes. I want your mercy.

Hold tight to your root, and I will explain myself.

First of all, I am more than a monster, at least more than you think of a monster. I am the child of Gaia, the Earth and Poseidon, the Sea. I am a God.

You laugh. You think Gods are beautiful and splendid. You know very little of Gods.

I had a God’s glory once. Like you, I couldn’t see past it. It made me arrogant. Foolish. I too thought it was what made me a God.

I was wrong. It was not my power either, though once I had that too. It is that we are, and always will be. Everything about us may change, and will change when circumstances demand it, but we cannot stop being. Give a God power and they will become beautiful to fool humans into thinking they deserve it. Chain a God to the bed of the ocean, and she will become what you see before you.

For this reason, Gods will always be either heroes or monsters. So say the wise among us.

Now, as you well know, in the beginning, the world was divided between three brothers. Zeus took the land, Hades took the dead and my father took the waters. You know the balance the three kingdoms have found. But not all balances are eternal. Some are nothing more than two fighters catching their breath between rounds.

In the early days, my father ordered us to send waves upon the Earth, to swallow and eat it. We were full of splendor, and it seemed only natural that our power should extend over the Earth as it did over the oceans. Nothing should exist, we told ourselves, that could say no to us.

Do you think I was a fool? I was a fool. I would give anything to be that fool again, but if I did, I would make the same mistake. And before you judge me, ask yourself, why did you set sail when you knew you could end up where you are? Why trust yourself to the ocean’s mercy if not for the chance to return home its conqueror?

In that spirit I launched the first attack. You should have seen me then. You should have seen me stride upon the waves I brought against the land and its cities. Then, you would have worshipped me. Humans fell to their knees in prayer when my waters crashed down upon them. I was the most beautiful of all Gods then: a God of pure, unmerciful power.

It’s hard to remember that moment now. I regret the rest of my story. I can never regret that moment. Even when I know I should…

In return, Zeus rained his lightning down upon our seas, killing the animals and boiling the water, which he held captive in the clouds. If my father had chosen to fight, I believe he could have won. Too much is meaningless if he couldn’t. But fighting was difficult, and surrendering was easy.

When Zeus chained me to the bottom of the sea, he gave me a curse: thirst. To drink the waters that I brought against the land. The punishments of Gods are eternal, and to seem just, they must appear rational. But it was never the waters that I loved. It was my power. And my crime was not drowning the Earth. It was being the lieutenant in a losing war.

You should have seen me when they first chained me down, when I had lost my power but not my splendor. You would have worshipped me then too. You would have given your life to save me.

If I had wanted to, I could have stayed like that forever. Or so I tell myself. You can only live so long on pity. Then you have to change.

I decided that since Zeus had put me here to drink, I would drink as little as possible and what I did drink, I would vomit forth, to destroy the peace of this small part of my father’s kingdom. I chose to live in spite. At the time, it seemed like power.

Three hours was as long as I could stand it. For the first hour, I ignored the thirst. For the second, I took pride in it. For the third, I endured it. Finally, I drank.

And so my mouth grew, until it was great enough to swallow nearly half this strait. My body grew thick and strong to meet the force of the waters and to pour them forth when I was done. My arms and legs, useless now, faded away.

Every trait you see that makes you call me a monster is my Godhood. They are monuments to the fact that even now, even here, I live. You won’t understand that, but if you did, you would worship me now most of all.

Don’t worry if you can’t understand that. I did, and I was just as repelled by my body as you are. I had to see myself in this coral-crusted shell, as awful as any of the creatures that share the bottom of the ocean with me. I hated this body more than you ever could.

And as I turned into this, you humans turned into something else too. You fell from your golden age to your bronze age. The golden age humans never went sailing on little wooden boats. They were pious and understood their place was the land. They were peaceful and unambitious. Not like you.

The first time I swallowed a boat and its crew in my whirlpool, I understood everything that had happened to you humans. I loved it. I loved you, the way Gods who haven’t been powerless never can. You shared my desperate desire to subdue the world and my anger at the weaknesses that made it impossible. Of all the Gods, only I could understand that about you. Only I could fully love you.

I tried to drink more slowly for you. I didn’t want to hurt you. But my body had already changed. No matter how little I opened my mouth, the water poured in, forced it open, and no matter how gently I tried to push it out, I turned the sea around me white with riptides and whirlpools.

This is the truth of being a monster. Just as the chimera can’t help but burn and the Sphinx can’t help but riddle, I couldn’t help but destroy. What else could be born of monstrous circumstances?

I ate humans gladly then, even though I loved you. As a monster, it felt right that I should destroy what I loved. It felt right to suffer.

Then she came.

To your poets, she is as inevitable as the sun. What even is Charybdis without Scylla? But they are fools. What is more natural to a monster than being alone? Where did she fit in my empty world of water, coral and rotted ships?

She was a paradox. She was exactly like me and nothing like me. If it could just be one or the other, I thought, if she were either familiar or alien, it would be easy. Instead, she hungered where I thirsted. She plucked where I engulfed. And there was something more too.

She was singularly, irreducibly human. What could be more human than Scylla? I watched her birth. I saw the witch Circe put the potion in the water that she bathed in. And for what? The pettiest of all reasons: love. No, pettier than love. Jealousy. A war of Gods brought me to this strait, and she came by way of love. The greatest human achievement: to reach glory through smallness. To be divine and foolish all at once.

Do you understand what I’m trying to tell you about Scylla?

I love her.

Am I a fool to love her? Yes, but for the first time, I accept it. Wisdom is for the powerful. To survive weakness, you must cherish your foolishness.

And besides, she has blessed me. She taught me that I am not a monster. Monsters don’t love, so to call me a monster is to doubt my love.

I can doubt anything but that.

She has blessed me doubly. When I saw her black scaled dog heads swing down on the men who tried her side of the channel, I saw something in her I had never seen in myself. She was beautiful. She was an instrument of hunger, and in her, that hunger seemed as divine as any God’s wisdom ever had. The men she took became a hecatomb offered by herself to herself, and I became her worshipper.

Now I wonder if she sees the same thing in me when I drew in water and spit it out. I felt her power and I wonder if she can feel mine. I see the humanity still in her, and I dream that she can see the God in me.

But her third blessing is the greatest.

A God who swallows the humans she loves to satisfy a forgotten grudge, I realize, is not worthy of Scylla. I can’t be this thing, this evil whirlpool, and hope for her to love me. And I do hope that she loves me, more than anything in the world. And there is only one way for me to show her that.

I am a God. I have become this, and I must become something else.

I will learn to drink slowly and gently. I will find a way not to cast my water out and scar the sea. I’ll find better ways to quench my thirst. I will reshape my body into a form worthy of the love I want.

I will be my own declaration of love to her.

If she loves me as I love her, then, I dream, maybe she will do the same for me. Maybe she can find a kinder way to sate her hunger. Maybe she too can make herself something other than a monster.

But what?

At last we come to my plea.

If you live, and I want you to live, please tell my story. Not of the mouth that devours ships, but of the lover chained across a channel from her beloved. And if you have the imagination in you, tell the story of what she becomes one day.

A God can only be a hero or a monster. That is the wisdom; it is what the stories say. I want to be neither. Both have been too much for me. The only thing left is to become something totally new, something that has never existed in this world before.

Tell my story, and give that something a shape I can grow into. Give me the promise that my shape exists and I can reach it. Give me the story that makes my love possible.

In return, the monsters you lost your ship to will become nothing more than distant myths of a small pass in the ocean. We will be forgotten as rumors or explained away by wise men.

But we will still be here, neither monsters nor heroes.

We will be whatever you have the kindness to imagine us being.

So hold on now. It won’t be long. Hold on so that I can save you and you can save me.

Please hold on.


Lillie Franks is a trans author and playwright living in Chicago, Illinois. She writes about things that could never happen because she can’t think of anything more truthful. You can follow her on Twitter at @onyxaminedlife.

 

Instruction Manual: If Feeling Half-Left Behind Like Young Elpenor

This selection is paired with Book 11 of The Odyssey by Homer. Get Issue 22 of NonBinary Review from Zoetic Press.


If the world is wide and spinning. You could
get a glass, highball, lowball, or rocks.
Pick it up. Look through it. See your future.
Fill it with tequila, the silver. Now take a sip,
breathe, and do not feel in every breath

there must be virtue, virtue is in no way expected
at this time. Now, go ‘head—down the rest!
If daylight, go outside, feel the sun—the rays
of our medium-sized star—feel the intensity of
that star power! Know, this has been felt by all

who’ve been here, by all who are, by all who
will—and with what you’ve seen, you know
the rest. If night, get closer to the sky, stand
on your tiptoes, bring the tip-top of your head
closer to the multitude of stars, do not climb up

on a roof! Use your open eyes for what they’re good
for. Know, that for those few who have gotten closer
to those stars, millions upon millions upon millions
plus one, (in body) have not come any closer
to those mysteries, flickering, than you are now.

And that for those who have put in a lifetime
of work, of erudition, took the tests, did the math,
and subjected their brittle bones and squishy entrails
to mach-23—through that effort—they got closer
to the stars only by an eyelash, in relative distance.

But ignore “the facts,” but ignore “the clock,”
go back inside, and fill your glass halfway,
not with wine, no beer—only the good stuff—
the happy stuff, more tequila! Take a sip.
This could be life? Hot on the tongue, the throat,
in the chest, burning as the clear goes down.


Eric Pierzchala teaches Humanities, is a former professional baseball player, and teaches chess to children. Eric holds an MFA in poetry from Murray State University. His poems have recently appeared in: Plain Spoke, The 2018 Surrealist/Outsider Anthologie, Rue Scribe, Cathexis Northwest Press, The Stirling Spoon, and The International Anthology on Paradoxism.

The Sailors Mutter After Odysseus Orders Them Not to Open the Sack From Aeolus

This selection is paired with Book 10 of The Odyssey by Homer. Get Issue 22 of NonBinary Review from Zoetic Press.


Old windbag, always warning.
What harm can come to us

while the west wind strums melodies
on the zither of the sails?

Kings may grow wise wandering
the way of the mind,

but not I, tooth-short
already, limping and scarred.

It was he who wrenched us away
from the lotus fruit. It gave great

sweetness and rest—do you
remember that time of peace?

Now he guards his gold—
or whatever good thing

may be coiled up hiding
inside this sack.

When we arrive, will his kingliness
keep us in grain and sandals?

The gray-eyed goddess
rewards close counsel;

yet Hermes brings riches
to the quick-acting.

The roofs of Ithaca are spreading
across the horizon—

Loosen the knot, and pull—
What harm can come to us

while the west wind strums melodies
on the zither of the sails?

Kings may grow wise wandering
the way of the mind,

but not I, tooth-short
already, limping and scarred.

It was he who wrenched us away
from the lotus fruit. It gave great

sweetness and rest—do you
remember that time of peace?

Now he guards his gold—
or whatever good thing

may be coiled up hiding
inside this sack.

When we arrive, will his kingliness
keep us in grain and sandals?

The gray-eyed goddess
rewards close counsel;

yet Hermes brings riches
to the quick-acting.

The roofs of Ithaca are spreading
across the horizon—

Loosen the knot, and pull—


Meg Yardley lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her work has appeared recently or is forthcoming in publications including the East Bay Review, Rogue Agent, SWWIM, Peauxdunque Review, and District Lit.

The Lotus Eater Clarifies Her Addiction

This selection is paired with Book 9 of The Odyssey by Homer. Get Issue 22 of NonBinary Review from Zoetic Press.


The petals of the Lotus plant are sweet
like Creten honey or a pink rose of frosting.

And it is true, we who suck its bloom
have no desire for home.

But to say we forget-
you are mistaken.

Not everybody has a mother or a wife
who weaves her frustrations

into elaborate tapestries, waiting
for a husband away at war.

Some mothers were hungry,
and welcomed the men

with glittering pinkie rings and piggy eyes.
They poured the wine and looked away

while those men fat fingers groped
for the nightly feast of tender meat.

The sweetness of the plant, my friend, merely dissolves
the bitter taste of home from our tongues.

Here,
try one.


Andrea Boll is the author of the novella, The Parade Goes on Without You (NOLAFugees Press, 2008). You may find other stories of hers featured in Eye Rhyme, Rio Grande Review, New Orleans Review, Monday Nights: Stories from the Creative Writing Workshop at the University of New Orleans, and most recently in Gravel Magazine. She lives in New Orleans.

Odysseus Alone at Sea

This selection is paired with Book 5 of The Odyssey by Homer. Get Issue 22 of NonBinary Review from Zoetic Press.


Why do I smell hyacinth on the night air—

black upon rising black, ruthless thrum
my aching elbow slipping from splintered plank
this is the end

and yet I lash the sea, ever-deep,
as cavernous as the hollow is
that I felt within my hipbone
as a boy sprinting down the shore of Ithaca
as I saw your hair lift
the first time

I will drown, and yet the tether of you runs down
into my belly, cords about my arrogance
and calls me king
mortal union
the air no god can steal

Salt crusts the edge of this honey-stained mouth
that reaches for you

Ithaca

Blood mists from these sputtered breaths,
though I cannot see it in the blackness

Ithaca
I would know your shape
the shape of unwrapping my wife from blankets,
sheen of warm sleep still on her forehead
the way her arm crooks something close in the shade of sleep
sopping linen ache, raw with sea,
deafening sameness, while my desperate hands
bend this fractured wood into olive bark,
the branches above

and you
you are Ithaca
to whom I will return.


Amy E. Casey writes poetry, poem-comics, and fiction. Her work has been seen in Split Rock Review, Psaltery & Lyre, and Sheepshead Review. She is a 2017 Pushcart Prize nominee. She lives and writes in Wisconsin, near the cold, wild shores of Lake Michigan.

Before Paris Came

This selection is paired with Book 4 of The Odyssey by Homer. Get Issue 22 of NonBinary Review from Zoetic Press.


After the mining methods advanced, the delta changed colors: yellows, chartreuses, coppers, even sick blues all running down the hills and stagnating in the mud. The change confuses the snow geese—they swoop over the marsh in sad loops before, unsure where to land. When I say the water tasted strange my husband (that flinty Menelaus, my cherished Menny) says he could have clean water imported from the hills. I say that sounded like a lot of work.

Helen, Quit complaining, he says.

I’m not complaining, I say.

If I were a man, I might be an alchemist.

Menny asks, why don’t you take up weaving?

I remind him that I weave already, that I made him a shroud.

He says It’s as if you want me dead. Then he says, I can’t read you, Helen. What’s going on in that head of yours?

I think there’s something in his blood itching for battle. This is Sparta, after all.

From the balcony, I watch the boys training in the delta below, running in lines like ants or felling pines, stripping them of bark, building crude little matchbox houses. Sometimes their torches look like signals at night so I stare out the window with a lantern and brush my hair, illuminating my face, so if their captain was to scan up with his binoculars he could see me. Menny pretends to hate this, but he knows there’s no point to marrying the most beautiful woman in the world if no one sees her.

Since my father was a swan, I hatched from an egg, and keep the shell fragments under my bed.

Menny calls them a potential biohazard.

Don’t talk, I say, you come from a pussy.

That’s natural, he says.

So’s cannibalism, I say.

We have this conversation at least once a week.

I learn from a merchant that the mines are for tin and lead. I hope they’re getting what they’re looking for. He says it’s a new technique. Something hydraulic. I ask him to explain it to me and he does—we stay up late at night boiling lobster and talking economics. He draws supply curves in oil on an overturned plate. Luxury goods, he tells me, do not follow the rules. He gives me a look and I know what he means.

Sometimes I tell Menny I’m going out to market by the harbor and when I return he asks why I’ve bought nothing back but the smell of salt in my hair. How can I explain that all I want is to watch the ships unload their crates of saffron and fennel and cardamom, ripe pomegranates, smoked tea, cedarwood from Uruk and drums of olive oil viscous as secrets?

Let’s go see the mines, I say to Menny.

Why? He asks.

I tell him it’s important to understand our reign’s economic status.

He looks strangely at me. That’s an awfully sensible answer, Helen. Not what I’ve come to expect from you.

We ride out to the mines one sun-drenched, hot afternoon. The countryside’s parched, the light flat. Peasants and helots wave and call out as we ride by. The olive trees shake their dull plumage. We wind up the hills to the entrance of tin mine. The Forman greets us and shows us the dig site, the chalky pit and the aqueducts, the workers cleaving away at ore. We pay our respects at the mine’s makeshift shrine to pray for its fertility. These new methods are truly revolutionary, says the Forman.

Haven’t you seen what they do to the water? I ask.

Helen! Says Menny.

On the way here we passed dead fish floating in the reeds, I say.

The foreman is silent.

Menny says, If the hills are fertile then the hills are willing.

That’s why you don’t have a child yet, I say.

The foreman stands there, brow knotted in panic, eyes darting between my face and Menny’s.

Menny breaks into an easy laugh, and I’m relieved. We thank the foreman and ride back. When we’ve had our dinner and are sitting on the veranda I begin to make a catapult from silverware and stringy tulip stems, Menny huffs in exasperation. Helen. Look at you.

He says, you want to go to the mines and then you insult them. You do your hair for an hour every morning. You sit by the window and obsess over the river. You ask me how dark my pee is after drinking various teas. You talk to bees. You build tiny contraptions inside books. You take naps when we have visitors. You get up at two in the morning to cook lobster. You’re bored, Helen.

I’m not bored

You’re bored and you’re contrarian.

I’m not bored, I say. I’m just curious.

Even where the dirt looks dry, there is groundwater.


Elizabeth Wing is a rising sophomore at the Pratt Insitute. Her work has appeared in venues including Hanging Loose Magazine, Up North Lit, The Defiant Scribe, Jet Fuel Review, and Euphony. In 2018 Gordon Square Review nominated her short story “Leda’s Daughters” for a Pushcart Prize. When not at school, she lives in California where she works in a popsicle truck and teaches animal tracking.

Penelope Sends a Love Letter

This selection is paired with Book 3 of The Odyssey by Homer. Get Issue 22 of NonBinary Review from Zoetic Press.


This water will never forgive you.
You may be able to rise from it
but you will never be clean.

You will always notice bits
of kelp on the pillow of
her bed in the morning,

falling out of your clothes
as you peel them off each night.
This water will follow you,

engulf you on dry land,
spray up from your lungs
as you stretch out on the beach,

your memory mixing my scent with
hers. You will always smell
like this water, salt and decay.

Even if you sacrifice six bulls to Poseidon,
even if you cut into your own palm,
offer your wine-dark blood to the waves,

no, not even then will this water forgive you.

I wash our son in the tub,
hold his head in the cup

of my hand to keep his face
above the water line.

I start with his eyes because the nurse
said they are the cleanest part.

His fingers trawl through the warmth
as I work my way to his soft belly.

He laughs, but you will never hear this
because your ears are plugged with sand.


Meghan Trask Smith teaches English at a boarding school in Massachusetts where she lives with her cartoonist husband, indefatigable children, and one very fuzzy dog. She shows up to writing each day with the hope that the Muse will visit. Her work has appeared in Mom Egg Review, Blast Furnace Journal, cahoodaloodaling, Snapdragon: A Journal of Art & Healing, and Quiet Circle Magazine.

Waiting on Odysseus

This selection is paired with Book 2 of The Odyssey by Homer. Get Issue 22 of NonBinary Review from Zoetic Press.


my friend and I were talking about our online dating experiences and he asked me what I was looking for in a man and I said, I am waiting on Odysseus, and he couldn’t stop laughing

they deem themselves Prince Charmings
all sweet and words
pour sugar onto shit
and promise the world

intellectual
caught up in his own smarts
spins out hefty thinking
acts impressed/surprised I understand

soldier/cop/guard
hides his empty under a uniform
thinks my wild is refreshing
until he can’t keep it down

broken men
come up from addictions/afflictions
wonder if I’m home plate
wonder if I can fill the job description of woman wanted

pot-bellied ex-classmates/random strangers
living in broken marriages
see my beautiful and mysterious face as the light
at the end of their boring domestic tunnel

old and young lined up in front of my cage
sticking their dicks through the bars
their pretty words seep
in flood of stink

used to be I’d soak it all up
offer them tea and quiet
massage away their pains
while I considered the possibility

now I pace

in front of the maze I’ve built
with my stories and poems
my kids sheltered far enough inside
they don’t hear the cat-calling

no one
is coming through these bars again
not even Odysseus
with his significant adventures

he waited too long
and I’m no Penelope
waiting waiting waiting
on possibility and hope

I took up with several of the suitors
Eurymachus was the smoothest and the worst
kicked him out too
what kind of man is jealous of a woman’s son?

no more waiting, stitching
the only time past childhood that I stitched
was when I had to lie down for months
so my sons wouldn’t get born too soon

though no Anticlea
it’s the sons I will wait for
Odysseus, this is my home
you are no longer welcome


Laila Halaby is the author of two novels, Once in a Promised Land and West of the Jordan, as well as a collection of poetry my name on his tongue.