Persephone in Hades

Poppies have never been my favorite flowers.
Here they bloom all year long, if one can say
a year in Hades, where no seasons pass,
where summer never fades. Ironic, that—
a land of death where nothing ever dies.

I have almost forgotten how it feels
when snowflakes fall and melt against my cheeks,
when frost spreads her white veil across the landscape,
covering the hills, decorating the leaves
that rattle on the trees with intricate lace.
I miss that time of year when autumn fires
bloom in the household hearths. Here, no fires burn.
Instead, among the wheat, the poppies sway:
an endless field to drug men into sleep,
relieve their pains or worries for a while,
here, in this silent land where all are welcome.

As silent as my husband, Hades himself,
who sits all day in his library reading scrolls
lost to the world above us. “Why did you bring me
to this stagnant country,” I ask him, “if not to talk?
To sit and brood in a chair made out of bones,
or stare out the window at the unchanging garden,
in which only yew trees grow, and never speak?
Why abduct the daughter of Demeter?
Why not some other girl?” He shakes his head
and sighs. He would be handsome, if not so lost
in his own dreams. Or if he would trim his beard.
“I saw your hair lift in the wind,” he says,
“and thought of it blowing back against my face,
but there is no wind down here. I saw your mouth
and thought perhaps it would kiss me, or whisper poems
into my ears. Perhaps then I’d wake up
from this endless sleep, this abyss of timelessness.
I thought you might love me in time, forgetting that love
cannot live in this land.” He looks at me, frowning.
“You’ll never love me, will you, Persephone?”
“Not,” I say, “as long as you keep me here,
while above us frost and snow blanket the earth—
away from death, among the endless dead.”
“Yet how can I let you go?” His eyes plead with me,
I suppose to be forgiven or understood,
but I turn away, unsympathetic. He should
know better: you cannot have love on such terms.
Even the gods, selfish as children, know that.

It is useless, here, to count the days, and yet
a day will come, a day without a dawn,
when I will feel that ache within my chest,
as though a string were tied around my heart,
and know, with crocuses and hyacinths,
it’s time to push my way through the dark soil
into the sunlight, into my mother’s arms.
It’s time to blossom like the olive trees,
be born again into mortality
for a little while, laugh and shake water drops
from my hair, dance across the sunlit meadows
sprinkled with daisies and cornflowers, forget the land
of death and poppies, at least for a little while.

To forget, for a little while, the silent husband
who waits implacably at summer’s end.

(Editors’ Note: “Persephone in Hades” is read by Erika Ensign on the Uncanny Magazine Podcast Episode 22A.)

Theodora Goss

Theodora Goss is the World Fantasy, Locus, and Rhysling Award-winning author of the Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club novels, including The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman, and The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl (forthcoming October 2019), as well as short story and poetry collections In the Forest of Forgetting, Songs for Ophelia, and Snow White Learns Witchcraft. She has been a finalist for the Nebula, Crawford, Seiun, and Mythopoeic Awards, as well as on the Tiptree Award Honor List. Her work has been translated into twelve languages. She teaches literature and writing at Boston University and in the Stonecoast MFA Program.

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