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To Persephone

by Jussi Melartin

Persephone 1

Descended deep into earth,
felt the constriction of despair,
dwelt in the land of darkness,
did not flower in the time of cold,
tasted of the fruit that gives no quarter,
and bound the limbs with strips of sinew

Then one taste turns all strange,
ignites a mad compulsion to return,
red liquid spreads on chin and clothes,
a carnal feast of hidden treasure,
setting eyeballs black with desire,
hands stained, a compulsion
to hurry back to this place.

The existence of this very moment undoes everything.

Arise, o Persephone, walk freely, enjoy the spring.
Bring the joy of flowers, fruit and seed by your arrival.

Descend, o Persephone, when the time comes.
The fruit that imprisons draws you to
a rebirth in another land.

There, within grasp,
the highest of the high
and lowest of the low,
a heart bursts in your hand;
runs red down your forearms
sweet sour liquid that surrounds
each seed.

Persephone 2

You dawdle around childlike in your mother’s skirts, spend your days wandering the meadows and woods, a nymph, basking in the smile of your doting mother.

Yet your thoughts run to him, waiting there in the dark, under the rock, behind the tree, and the wild ride down screaming in fear and excitement, you were never so alive as then.

Mother calls you to her, yet another task to be done; remembering him your neck tingles and small things chafe, you will steal away from her soon, yet you don’t want to, you must.

She will never understand.

One night after an argument you slide down and out running wild across dark meadow until you find the spot where he waited for you, he is waiting for you even now, ready to take you into his arms and carry you down to the place where only you exist, and he, dusty and sweaty, pale and nocturnal, and you already feel his excitement in your body, lithe and weightless in his arms, as he lifts you with ease, like a doll, like a kitten, like you want.

Eyes black with release you leave him asleep
to walk the halls alone; all you see is suffering
and death here, and the ache of a longing
reaches your body, and you remember your
mother, searching for you up there in the daylight.

Soon the routine sets your teeth on edge with this brute who so mistreats you and makes you hide your head, who takes you to this place where the only pleasure for you is in his body, in his pressure on your skin, and the pomegranate, the scarlet flow on your arms and chest as you hungrily tear the flesh of fruit.

What have I wrought, where is my place here,
amid the decay and wails of souls each clamoring
for my attention, for my mercy, my decisions,
oh why did I ever think I should come here with him,
and leave my poor mother all alone and full of yearning.

Soon enough, after an argument, you slip out the door, and steal along the long path upwards, till the light visible sets you running, rushing to the embrace waiting outside, the mother once more happy and holding you to her breast, telling you that everything will be alright now, you are safe here, you are home.

Persephone 3

I am shy and awkward, never good with love. I make friends not lovers, yet all come to me in the end.

I was told of her, beautiful and on high, wandering the forest and field, she calls out to all in her being. The one who mentioned her mentioned another time how she enticed this fair maiden to go find foxgloves in the vale, and how her young heart secretly yearned. She inflamed my imagination.

You who make friends and not lovers, who must be content with all coming to you unwillingly - You who walk alone are loved by someone who dreams of you in the night. She did not mention the dreams were nightmares. And she searches for you in the day. She did not mention despair.

Hiding beneath a narcissus root I waited for her, I saw her enter the valley and my heart, which never beats, started to ache. Each step she took was a heartbeat. I panicked and nearly ran off but I stayed. She sang and with each note I fell further in love, as I spied on her, she ran her hand across bark and blade, and I willed her closer; she seemed to obey, for she straightened her back, and with a quizzical look around, slowly walked right to where I lay hidden. She reached for the very flower under whose root I lay. As her hand reached down to touch the stalk my hand reached up to touch her wrist.

Persephone 4

She spends her days out - not once does she mention me or think of me or even call. She plays on how tragic she is, a sympathy monger, and I wonder just what she talks about when lunching with Aphrodite, the two of them dodging the paparazzi, making their friends buy the tabloids so they can read the latest gossip about themselves.

Just who is tragic here, who hardly ever gets to go out. Some deal she got, half here half there, not truly a wife to me. And what did I get? Oh, I’m ruler of my realm, true, but death does not take a vacation like her. Each year she spends the summer gallivanting with her fast crowd and not even a postcard.

Once I asked her if she was thinking of me when she wrote about love. Once I asked her if she dreamt of me when she was telling me her dreams. Once I believed she would love me back if only I loved hard enough, if I showed her my need and accepted her the way she is.

It was madness, is all, and loneliness, and I thought she was the most beautiful creature on earth. The others must be laughing behind my back, even Hephaestus, the fool, for the way a wee little arrow brings low the very Lord of Death. I wait each season for the Fall, when she, chastised and afraid comes back to me, and finds it within her to call me husband, and she gets that crooked smile as we remember the old days, and arm in arm we rush to the bed chamber like teenagers, and taste of each other once again, putting aside for one season that which cleaves us.

Persephone 5

People think of corpses lined up in catacombs, at first moist rot feeding the maggots, then dryly going back to dust, when they think of where we live and what we do. Do not believe the stories of how unhappy our marriage is, nor how dark and hopeless is our house. My husband is no funeral director or grave digger. Flesh is not our problem, but you have made your soul our problem. You just don’t prepare.

How can I get you to see? You know the John Lee Hooker song about me? She Long, She Tall, She Shake Like a Willow Tree? That’s me all right: the summer breeze and the glint of sun off the sibilant leaves and the desire that catches up to you in springtime. I’m what makes little kids pick flowers for their moms, and for grown men do the same for grown women. I’m in the sound of fountains in summer, the way sound goes all round and moist on summer evenings. I’m in the fields, moving and encouraging the life that, when sacrificed, is your food. I’ve taken to tattoos in recent years: Crop Circles.

Now do you see? No? Years after your lover dies, or your parent, or child, and you remember the loving and funny things they did or said, you catch yourself with their expression on your face or in your mouth, and you smile. Or when you suddenly find a connection to some long ago ancestor, through a painting or object, when you realize just how similar your lives are, how the two of you could be the same person, like two stalks of grain in the field. Or you find a hand print on the rock or in the sidewalk and as you put your hand to it, you connect in that way to the past, what is it you think you’re connecting to?

The dead. The dead don’t need to live in gray cobwebbed catacombs, you don’t need to keep suffering beyond rivers and in hot plains, no not any more than you need to do so here, where you call yourselves alive but I see you as already dead.

That’s the dreary and tiring part of our jobs, my husband’s and mine, all the people coming to us full of fear and misery, believing all the stories of death, and acting it! Think on it. Please. Think of how you connect to the dead long after the sorrow has receded, think of how I sway across fields about to be cut down, how my flowers soon fade into a mother’s fruits. Then think of your soul in death.

Copyright © 2016 by Jussi Melartin

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