I: The Pomegranate Seeds.
Proserpina, torn between
love and how she wants to live
weighs the pomegranate seeds
in her warm and living hands
waiting, wanting, choice withheld
sees that still and silent hall
deathly hush and pillared dark,
deeper darkness stretching out
echoed eaves where shadows hang
curl and linger, throng and mass
purposes that haunt the hall
shades who flit the columned aisles
bereft of names.
The seeds are chill, counting them
on her pale palm, clad in white,
she paces through hollow halls,
each footfall on marble.
Can she live in this half place,
between the worlds, life and death
she who is life, up above
whose steps are flowers in life’s realm
up on the green living Earth?
In spacious fields, orchard groves
vines and fruits swelled by the sun,
she loves the work, done in joy,
tending planted terraces
chosing to tame fertile earth
with hedge and plough, next year’s hope,
plant and gather, pluck and grow
sunlight on skin, cool air, rain
the twining green, songs of birds
her mother’s hearth, bright and clear.
She yearns for it.
But loves him.
This is his realm, his domain
these chill veined floors, pillared halls,
dark river’s tides, shores of death,
this dark his dark, these shades his
his charge, his work, what he chose
(though drawn by lot long ago)
his world, his cares, these drear dank
and shadowed halls, these walled ways
this underworld, death below.
Between these streams all folk pass
across the Styx, life to death
through Hades’ realm, then plunge in
through Lethe, to a new life,
forgetting self, to choose chance.
The lingerers must learn here
not to cling on, to let go
and start again naked once more.
He cannot leave, she asked him
telling the names of earth’s joys
beads on a string, her best hopes.
He wept salt tears, shook his head
sunlight hurts him, but his face
is light to her, touched by love.
Still on his throne his face set
he will not speak will be fair
her own free choice but his eyes
plead loneliness and matched love.
Seeing him there her heart moves
to stay and build life with him
life in death’s halls, together.
Slowly with use come to care
for shades of grey for his sake,
not best of all, but worth it.
Her heart pounds at time to choose
the green world or her heart’s lord.
She eats three seeds, starts to choke,
her mouth filled with death and dust
his warm dark eyes, concerned now
his kind hand held out to her
to take the throne by his side
she tries to smile, swallows.
II: The Cornsheaf
Then from afar, drawing near
a new sound, plashing of oars,
Charon is come, out of time
the dark boat crosses Styx stream
no freight of souls, not this trip
a goddess, sure of herself.
Under the throne, Cerberus
growls very low, hackles rise.
Ceres shoes snap on marble
angry and proud, her daughter
belongs to earth, must not stay
in this dark hole, no matter what.
She marches in, ready for war
glowing with light, life and health
no weapons shown, save being here.
No glance she gives the throne room
she walks straight in swift and sure
stands to defy the dark king
and his pale bride on one throne.
Presents demands: “The girl back,
my daughter, please, returned now.”
Straight on to threats without pause,
“Or the world dies, nothing grows,”
in jealous pride, “All laid waste
withers and falls, if she stays,
end to all life, and all hope.”
Proserpina pales, her choice
to leave the world, not slay it.
Vainly she pleads, Ceres smiles
a tight lipped smile, taps a sheaf
of gold corn on marble floor;
“Fool of a girl shall all starve
and the world die for your sake?
In the sunshine I missed you.
I know your heart, what you wish
you are my kin, must come back
who could choose gloom and half-death
when poppies bloom in gold corn?”
Cerberus growls, three heads raise
lips peal from three sets of teeth.
Hades stirs on his dark throne
“By all the laws of all worlds
she is my wife by free choice
she has eaten of death’s food
and so must stay, relent now
you have your world and we ours,
she is my queen, no prisoner
you may see her in sunlight
as she chooses to go forth.”
A pale gold stream her hair falls
as her head turns, her lips part
he grins at her and she laughs.
Laughter’s echoes light the hall
shades draw closer sensing hope
the air seems warm, their hands touch.
Ceres just sneers; “How touching,
you offer her a few crumbs
of my hard work, as your gift.
Not good enough, dead man’s god.
I want her back.”
she says at last, “I ate them,
my lord’s right, I want to stay
by my own choice, and live here.
Let the world be, I love him.”
“What do you know of love’s taste
the honeyed wine of true joy,
you’re a child still, I know best.
You ate three seeds, spit them out,
and we leave now, the boat waits.”
She reaches out one swift hand
to snatch the girl off the throne
and a dog’s jaws snap and close
on Ceres arm, red blood flows,
but falls not far, the shades rush
shroud her in dark, lap the blood
take solid shapes, memory
stirs in their eyes as eyes form.
Ceres recoils, has fed them,
now they are there and will speak
in thin bat-voices, longing.
“Chrysothemis was my name,
I saw such death, such blood fell,
my father slew my sister
then my mother struck him down
my brother and my sister
killed her and both fell then.
Revenge? For what? We’re all dead,
and I as well, it’s no good,
hear me Great Queen, walk your path
as she walks hers, let her go.”
“I was a queen, my lord fell
my son slain, city burned
and then a slave, bore more sons,
sorrow and pain, they died too
now I am here, my name lost.
What will you then, to cause harm?
Children are grief, let her go.”
“A warrior I, in North lands,
lived past my time, saw all die
he vanquished me, let me live
to bear his son, whom he killed.
I give up grief, even my name,
let her be free, let her go.”
“Lady, I died a king’s death,
wed to the plough, my folk thrive,
a noble end, on I go,
passing through here heard your words
consider us suffering
up on the Earth, we weak men
a sacrifice you might make:
put by this grief, let her go.”
“Ah life is sweet, blood is life,
now I am dead, blood is sweet.
I think I was a mariner
sailed far away many seas.
Take up your joy where it falls
and do not bind what goes by,
she made her choice, let her go.”
The chorus rises: “Let her go”
Cerberus’ snarls scarcely heard
above the clamour, the dead,
the whirling shades reaching out
for life, for blood, for memory
for breath to speak one last word
swirl, and are gone to darkness,
off to Lethe, off to life.
Ceres steps back, blood all dried.
Hades sets a gentle hand
upon his dog’s far right head
Cerberus slumps by the throne.
Proserpina, in the calm,
holds her mother’s gaze and says
“I have eaten, I will stay.”
to sacrifice my one child,
if you are here, they’ll join you
all folk be shades whirling through
born just to die with no food.”
“Mother, you’re mad.”
“I mean it.
My grief is great without you.”
Hades’ slow voice. “A compromise.
Half her time here, half above.”
“Then half the time crops will grow.”
“Is that enough?” he asks straight.
Proserpina shakes her head
slow tears fall, then draws breath
Ceres, smiling to herself,
is startled when the girl speaks.
“My father taught, long ago
that with our power comes a trust
to use it for people’s need
the good of folk and not harm
and though they don’t understand
to harm them not by our whim.
They are our kin, and our charge
and we, as they, are bound by fate.
This is your whim, let me go.”
she bites her lip, not all mad,
on that dark throne the two shapes
slip hand in hand and wait words.
At last she speaks: “One third, then!
One third down here, this dark hell
condemned to this, my poor child,
the rest with me, the green world
stops still and waits without you.”
Hades then bows, and his queen
stands tall and straight and steps down
setting the day she comes back
a cool exchange, they touch not.
Their eyes speak what words can’t say.
The boatman rows, looking back,
Ceres serene with a smug smile
she knows her own and hoards it,
and the set-faced queen of hell
the world she loves turned to pain.
III: The Road to Hell
The growing world green and fair
until summer when she leaves
and all scorches without her.
She picks sad flowers in green fields
her mother asks now and then
in plaintive tones without thought
why she works now so very quiet
when before songs were joyful
dismisses all her answers.
Proserpina counts the days
till she can leave the tilled earth
beauty she loves, trees and streams
sunshine that falls on branches
borne down by weight of red fruit
to walk among dark dread halls
where her heart lies with her lord.
And when she comes, time is short
for Ceres’ spite never stops
the growing things bake and droop
and hunger comes up above
their days of joy far too brief
all measured time, a high price,
time ticks by the pillared halls.
They meet and part, meet and part
in joy and love, together.
And while she walks, sorrowing
flowers at her feet, through fair fields
she sighs and stops, her face falls
this is not home, no longer
her mother’s spite poisoned all,
the flow of life, and love’s flow.
a dog howls from three throats
his master’s lap weighed with heads
the king of death strokes six ears
waits like stone for her return.