Written for for lute and mezzo-soprano, this is a setting of 'Penelope' by Carol Ann Duffy, which is a feminist retelling of the myth of Odysseus through Penelope's eyes. First prize winner in the NCEM composers' competition in 2016.
At first, I looked along the road hoping to see him saunter home among the olive trees,
a whistle for the dog who mourned him with his warm head on my knees.
Six months of this and then I noticed that whole days had passed without my noticing.
I sorted cloth and scissors, needle, thread, thinking to amuse myself,
but found a lifetime’s industry instead.
I sewed a girl under a single star – cross-stitch, silver silk – running after childhood’s bouncing ball.
I chose between three greens for the grass; a smoky pink, a shadow’s grey
to show a snapdragon gargling a bee.
I threaded walnut brown for a tree, my thimble like an acorn pushing up through umber soil.
Beneath the shade I wrapped a maiden in a deep embrace with heroism’s boy
and lost myself completely in a wild embroidery of love, lust, loss, lessons learnt;
then watched him sail away into the loose gold stitching of the sun.
And when the others came to take his place, disturb my peace, I played for time.
I wore a widow's face, kept my head down, did my work by day, at night unpicked it.
I knew which hour of the dark the moon would start to fray, I stitched it.
Grey threads and brown pursued my needle's leaping fish
to form a river that would never reach the sea.
I tricked it. I was picking out the smile of a woman at the centre
of this world, self-contained, absorbed, content,
most certainly not waiting, when I heard a far-too-late familiar tread outside the door.
I licked my scarlet thread and aimed it surely at the middle of the needle's eye once more.