A Reading of "its name was Penelope" by the author Judy Malloy
Transcript of the Video
Judy Malloy: “Of these events, Muse, Tell me the story again”
Created with my generative hypertext authoring system, Narrabase II, its name was Penelope explores a women photographer's life through the metaphor of Penelope, the central woman in Homer's Odyssey. As the code shuffles Anne’s memories, echoing the raveling and unraveling of Penelope's weaving, episodes in her life come and go in never-the-same order.
The code with which I created its name was Penelope is well documented in my book chapter in Maria Mencia's #WomenTechLit. The California Bay Area art world in the late 1970’s and 1980’s -- including the impact of the losses of so many Bay Area artists to AIDS -- are also documented in this book chapter.
But I have never disclosed that the childhood memories, that are revealed in the dawn section of its Name was Penelope, are key the narrative. At the heart of Dawn are memories of the years during World War II when after my father shipped out to the European front, he took part in the invasion of Normandy and then was too badly wounded during the Battle of the Bulge to return home immediately. While he was away, my mother and I lived with my grandparent's in their house on the South Shore of Massachusetts. In its name was Penelope, Ithaca, the homeland of Odysseus and Penelope in the Odyssey, is my grandparent’s house in a small seaside town -- with its country driveway surrounded by dense purple wisteria; its setting in a woods of cedar, oak, and birch; its stone-edged fish pond in the front yard; the ornamented silver spoon which my grandmother set at my place; my grandfather’s dinner song (“old dog bow wow at the garden gate”), and my red, blue, and yellow wooden train, whose wheels clacked loudly on the wide wooden planks on the floor.
Echoing the sailing of troop ships across the Atlantic in the 1940’s, I used my Grandfather and Mother’s making and sailing of toy boats as metaphors of Homeric sea departure and return.
I stuck the rusty shovel into the sand
and pushed the sailboat out into the middle of the tide pool.
It was painted bright blue.
The two sails, which my mother had sewn from a torn white sheet,
filled with wind.
The boat sailed peacefully across the long finger
of trapped sea water.
My Mother painted its name
in neat white letters.
across the toy boat's blue stern
Its name was PENELOPE.
In its name was Penelope, Anne’s memories also include the package that my father sent from the Ardennes in Belgium, just before the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944. I was only two years old, but I still clearly remember my Mother unfurling the tricolor flag of Belgium that was in this brown paper-wrapped package. “One by one she took things out of the package -- a red, yellow and black striped flag, made of heavy coarse cotton, a shiny, varnished wooden shoe with pink and green flowers….” (Lexia #402)
I was not told that my father had been wounded. Nor was the carnage of Battle of the Bulge ever mentioned in my hearing. Perhaps this silence is echoed in my own silence on the meaning of the passages in Dawn. However, isolation and the dark moods of my family at this time are reflected in other ways throughout the Dawn section of its name was Penelope.
It was beginning to get dark.
On the edge of the lake, my friends were sitting on rocks
unlacing their skates.
I skated as fast as I could
out into the middle of the lake on the smooth black ice.
No one followed me.
Additionally, in Anne’s childhood memories, there are passages that convey a darker side of my father’s return in circa 1945. These passages are not related to the joy of seeing him but rather allude to the difference between the place where we lived by the sea with my Mother’s family and the Boston-suburban town, where we moved when my father returned.
The river was muddy and smelled of dead fish.
We leaned over the railings of the bridge
and threw in the sticks one by one.
They moved slowly along in the brown water.
We watched them until they disappeared under the bridge.
We leaned over on the other side.
Green paint was peeling off the railings,
and it stuck on the sleeves of my sweater.
Slowly, one by one, the sticks emerged on the other side.
When he came home, as if it was a echo of his own departure and magical return, my Father read the Odyssey to two very young children:
My father sat in the big armchair
in the corner of the room that was lined with bookshelves.
My brother sat on his knee.
I sat on the arm of the chair.
He was reading about how Odysseus
sailed past the singing sirens
Afterwards, the Odyssey was forever in my mind, and in 1988, my father’s reading Homer out-loud to his children led to the writing of its name was Penelope.
“Of these events
Muse, daughter of Zeus
Tell me the story again
Beginning where you will”