by Doreen Hopwood
I pass beneath
trees heavy with blossom,
their creamy flowering
sheds sweet, musty pollen
into the air, overpowering
as I move along
hedgerows full and overflowing;
wild garlic and bluebells voluptuously
spill out, throwing
a magic carpet beneath the trees,
where I walk
in the soft, spring sunshine,
flowing around a bramble patch,
whose prickled lines
of grasping tendrils catch
at everything in their path,
scratching my legs;
sharp thorns leave
red welts as I fall, blue sky
disappearing behind the weave
and weft of sprouting thicket where I lie
in still confusion,
until I find myself
trudging down and down,
no sign of a white rabbit
pulling out his watch to frown
at passing time, a habit
I am all too familiar with.
I marvel at vertiginous
stalactites, pale and opaque
in the disconsolate gloom, as the libidinous,
pulling, sucking earth takes
my shoes, leaving me barefoot
in the glutinous soil.
I struggle on, hugging the walls of quartz
that line this place,
their faceted prisms providing a glitz
of light deep in this space within space,
where all is familiar, yet strange.
I am ploughing
such a furrow through my being,
pushing aside roots thrusting
their way through the ceiling
of this underworld, trusting
they will find nourishment
in the deep, dark depths;
these Hanging Gardens of Bablyon
in reverse, where strange creatures
eke out their existence upon
the arborescent rootlets, their features
obscured and blurred,
scurrying hither and thither
hiding from the denizens
of this subterranean forest,
predators seeking their end,
blind troglodytes who taste
the air with lascivious tongues,
scenting their prey.
Am I an exiled Queen,
immured in this dark garden
behind the door of my heart? Unseen,
lachrymose and heavy laden,
longing for home?
Abandoned to my fate?
But who is this on the crystal throne?
Crouching naked, eyes excoriating
my flesh to the pale, bleached bone?
I stand in excrutiating
fear and dread,
willing this creature to speak;
for this is no gentle Persephone,
no sweet maiden, meek
and mild, this is my enemy,
Queen of the Dead,
and I trespass
deep within Her domain.
'Hail sister!' Her voice like frosted leaves
beneath my feet; I remain
silent as the words ensnare and freeze
the air around me,
filling my lungs with ice.
'I am Persephone, some may call me Erishkigel,
my husband calls me Wife.'
The glacial tones rasp on as She tells
me tales of a Hellish life
through Her lipless mouth,
skull's teeth gleaming
as She smiles at my discomfiture;
at least I think Her grimace
is imagined as a smile, to lure
me, distract me from her awful face
and putrescent flesh.
Bony fingers snap loudly.
'Cat got your tongue?'
I am jolted out of my torpor
as these icicle words are flung
at me, making me an offer
of possible exculpation
from my transgression
into Her realm, Her dominion.
She watches me impatiently, ophidian eyes
gleaming as She awaits my opinion,
my explanation, my lies
I open my mouth.
She leans forward expectantly,
'I fell down a hole....'
my vocal cords articulate reluctantly.
I look at my feet. 'You stole
I mutter lamely.
'Your shoes? Her tone is imperious,
contemptuous, 'The dead have no need for shoes!'
'Dead? Are you serious?'
She postulates 'Why else should you choose
to stand before Hades' wife?'
'Do you mean to bargain with me?'
She muses, Her breath a sibilant rush
of frigid air. ' You think I'll set you free?
Your journey here a brush
Just a social call?'
I gaze, transfixed by fear,
as worms begin a serpiginous
journey, slithering from her ear,
spreading like a contagious
disease across her cheekbone.
She appears not to notice,
face framed by Stygian
blackness stretching into the void
behind Her chair, labyrinthine
tunnels where the Minotaur toyed
with his victims.
I am no Ariadne
bravely clutching my ball of wool;
I see no Theseus rushing to my rescue
as I stand before this cool,
implacable Goddess who
holds me in Her thrall.
She tosses Her hair,
once luxuriant tresses, now thin and lank,
flop in ropes of grey rats tails
around her shoulders, as a rank
odour of decay assails
making me retch.
'You find my person displeasing?'
She asks, Her querulous tongue
creaking like a glacier easing
its way through far flung
destroying everything in its path.
She rises, gargantuan, from her seat,
looming before me in decrepit omnipotence;
'Did you think Death would meet
you in Shining Magnificence
with angelsong and harp?'
'Waving you through Golden Gates?'
She gestures towards her ruined frame,
'This is the reality of Death,
Death devours and maims,
Death returns you to the Earth,
to sleep the dreamless sleep.
of Life; Birth, Childhood, Adolescence,
Motherhood, the time to procreate,
Middle Age, Old Age and the Absence
delivers you, finally, to Me!'
She cackles gelidly at Her little joke
as I frantically seek a flaw
in her argument, a technical stick to poke
in her decomposing maw,
to crack her bony ribs with.
The silence crackles like breaking ice;
I rack my brain desperately,
forcing my thoughts to push their way
through the icy numbness stealthily
enfolding me in its hoary sway,
closing down my awareness,
freezing the blood in my veins.
I clutch at the first straw presented;
'I have just arrived at the Fifth Gate,
it's too early, you have miscalculated!'
I gabble incoherently, hoping I'm not too late,
'I still have two gates left!'
She chuckles softly,
the sound blankets my head
like snow on a winter's morning,
'All this counting! You have misread
my powers! Clothos is spinning
the thread of life,
Apropos cuts; Mathematics
was never My strong point! Geometry,
Theories of Relativity
Pythagoras and pii,
it's all a mystery to Me!
It's not personal you know.'
She regards me dispassionately.
I sense that I am beginning to bore
Her, as the complete futility
of resistance sinks in.
I am doomed.
'There is no rhyme nor reason,
the scissors snip, and someone dies,
there is no right time, no right season,
no pitiful cries
have ever swayed The Fates, The Moirai!'
She moves towards me,
'Come.' Her sigh a boreal blast
of bleakest desolation.
I accept my fate, aquiescent at last,
moving towards annhiliation
in silent and incomprehending sorrow.
Her smile is wintry,
teeth bared like jagged, snow capped
mountains glittering in the thin,
alpine air. I am trapped
like a fox in a snare, locked within
some unspeakable nightmare.
She ushers me forward,
propelling me towards the murky shadows.
I am jolted out of my somnulent state
when Her mottled, disintegrating hands close
around me, allowing terror to dissipate
as the instinct for survival wins through.
I will not go quietly.
Swallowed by the embrace of darkness,
We move silently through unillumined
halls and down fathomless
steps; I keep pace, determined
by Persephone's grip on my soul,
ears straining to hear Her monologue
as She continues to extol
the virtues of Death and the fog
of non existence,
Her words weaving in and out
of the tenebrous atmosphere,
while I, shamefully, despite my best intentions,
weep, allowing rivers of tears
to flow in bitter lamentation
down my face.
I am not so brave after all.
Unexpectedly, a presence brushes
by me, disturbing the turgid air
around us, as Persephone rushes
onwards, oblivious to my despair,
intent on our destination.
She senses the change,
and in that moment, the gloom
begins to lift imperceptibly
as the cavernous room
explodes with a cacophany
of dithyrambic song,
piercing the dark miasma.
Shadowy figures emerge and surround
their skeletal, decomposing Queen;
they carry silver platters bearing mounds
of slippery red seeds whose luscious sheen
casts a warm glow all around
and for a long moment
appears perplexed, hand raised to hush
the frenzied singing, gangerenous face intent
on the sweet scented fruit
so invitingly offered.
Throwing back Her head
She shrieks aloud a wild ululation
of joy! 'Awaken you souls of the Dead!
Prepare for your resurrection,
you are no longer undone!'
My Mother reclaims Me!
She reaches out and greedily snatches
handfuls of seeds;
I stare in mesmerised fascination as patches
of fresh, new skin rapidly speed
over this ravaged, walking corpse
as She consumes the trophic ambrosia.
I am swept on in the continued plunge
to a point of light shining dimly
in the distance, which begins to expunge
the suffocating darkness grimly
and insidiously intent
on holding me here.
Persephone is no longer walking
in Her disarticulated, cadaverous gait;
she skips along lightly, laughing and talking,
returned to her maidenly state,
breasts high and firm,
hips rounded and sleek, hair a glossy mane,
skin smooth and unlined,
She is ripe and juicy again,
Her smile is serene, Her eyes are kind,
Her voice is musical;
She is bathed in light.
The singing reaches a crescendo,
erupting out of the cave
into a verdant meadow;
Perspehone's Mother rushes to save
Her luminous child.
I am crushed by an unseen force,
air squeezed from my lungs;
I gasp for breath, as heat
merges with tongues of fire
washing up from my feet,
suffusing me in languorous warmth,
boneless and sensual;
nymphs and satyrs
moisten my lips with Persephone's seeds,
as voluptuous desire stirs
my senses, and leads
me into wild erotic fantasies
of hedonistic pleasures.
I am lost to reason, time and space;
if this is Death, I am Her slave,
locked in Dionysis' orgiastic embrace,
I no longer wish to be saved,
oblivious to everything
but the waves of esctatic joy flooding
my body and mind,
the rapturous thudding
of my heart primed
with the pulsating, priapic vigour
of my inamorato.
The wild, abandoned singing is replaced
by the song of a solitary thrush,
the gentle rustle of leaves displaced
by a soft, playful rush
of zephyrs' breath,
high above this Elysian field
of trenchant bliss.
Reluctantly, I open my eyes, yield
to the call of consciousness, the sun's kiss
hot on my brow,
dazzling my gaze
as I blink in the spangled sunshine.
Shimmering shapes hover above me,
enveloped in a coruscating paradigm
of light; through dreamy eyes I see
my lover's smiling face
beneath two curving horns.
Persephone laughs in my ear,
the cadence of her voice an iridescent
sound of crystal clear
of long dead castrati
singing their hearts out
in a mockery of everlasting youth;
'Just like you' I hear myself shout,
'None of this is real, this is not the truth,
not what Death is all about!
Persephone sinks gracefuly by my side
She smiles a coquestish, girlish smile,
and gives me Her hand,
disarming me with her numinous wiles,
'Don't you understand
the purpose of the Great Rite?
The Hieros Gamos?
The Goddess must lie
with Her consort
or Earth will wither and die.'
'Just like me!' I retort.
Her smile is incandescent.
'You descended into the Underworld,
journeyed through darkness,
searched your soul for answers,
passed through the portals
of your own terror,
and embraced your fate.
Your courage has given you freedom,
the Sacred Ritual is done,
the Earth will flourish and bloom,
the seeds of life are sown,
the greening has returned.
Your rebirth is complete.'
the solitary thrush sings on.
Persephone's golden voice fades
into the distance, as long
fingers of sunlight pierce the shade
of the bramble patch,
illuminating my lover's search for my shoes.
©April 2007, Doreen Hopwood