Elisa A. Garza: Philomela Reads Her Weave

"[s]he set up her threads on a barbarian loom and wove a scarlet design on a white ground, which pictured the wrong she had suffered." 
from Ovid, Metamorphoses, Book VI 

Procne, dear sister, into this cloth 
I have woven our sad story, 
but the white wool will dry your tears, 
as it has dried mine. 
I trust these images to you, 
worked on a crude loom 
built from twigs and vines 
pulled through the window. 
Remember our servant, old Oryia, 
how she taught even my stubborn fingers 
to weave a scene with grace? 
Her sharp voice comes back to me in chants: 
The weave tells the woman's life. 
The cloth reveals a woman's quality. 
How we laughed under her stern looks! 
Even her face would smile at such fine fabric, 
a weave smooth and pure as sand. 
You will recognize me in this work, 
in the tight squares of my weave. 

Do you perceive the royal ship and sails 
and your husband's cloak (scarlet against the white)? 
Father always wears stripes. 
I have also outlined myself with red, 
my tunic white with innocence. 
See your husband Tereus charm 
Father on bended knee? 
He convinces Father to allow a visit. 
Eager to see you, I hug my thanks. 
Now I know that the gods 
must be punishing us all. 
The omen of Mother's death is true— 
I have not escaped the tragedy of my birth. 

These red crescents show the ocean— 
our journey on a sea of blood. 
The tower rises, also colored red 
with the shame of Tereus's deeds. 
Sister, I did not know how to display his violence . . . 
I cannot even bear to think of it, 

his heaviness on top of me like a storm. 
Procne, I long to see your face. 
On the voyage, I dreamed of our talks, 
the walks we would take together, 
arms around each other's waists, 
our heads so close they touch. 
Oh, to be girls again, our only trouble 
setting the loom for our next tapestry. 

This next part is not as clear, 
but you must see: I screamed curses 
at your husband for his actions, 
and he cut out my tongue. 
This I show you, and how I bled 
and bled red from my mouth. 
I traded my jewelry for thread, 
and wove this sad message 
under twelve quarter moons. 
Dear sister, my story is told. 
Come quickly, for I am done with weeping.

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