The only legend I have ever loved is the story of a daughter lost in hell. And found and rescued there. Love and blackmail are the gist of it. Ceres and Persephone the names. And the best thing about the legend is I can enter it anywhere. And have. As a child in exile in a city of fogs and strange consonants, I read it first and at first I was an exiled child in the crackling dusk of the underworld, the stars blighted. Later I walked out in a summer twilight searching for my daughter at bed-time. When she came running I was ready to make any bargain to keep her. I carried her back past whitebeams and wasps and honey-scented buddleias. But I was Ceres then and I knew winter was in store for every leaf on every tree on that road. Was inescapable for each one we passed. And for me. It is winter and the stars are hidden. I climb the stairs and stand where I can see my child asleep beside her teen magazines, her can of Coke, her plate of uncut fruit. The pomegranate! How did I forget it? She could have come home and been safe and ended the story and all our heart-broken searching but she reached out a hand and plucked a pomegranate. She put out her hand and pulled down the French sound for apple and the noise of stone and the proof that even in the place of death, at the heart of legend, in the midst of rocks full of unshed tears ready to be diamonds by the time the story was told, a child can be hungry. I could warn her. There is still a chance. The rain is cold. The road is flint-coloured. The suburb has cars and cable television. The veiled stars are above ground. It is another world. But what else can a mother give her daughter but such beautiful rifts in time? If I defer the grief I will diminish the gift. The legend will be hers as well as mine. She will enter it. As I have. She will wake up. She will hold the papery flushed skin in her hand. And to her lips. I will say nothing.
From In a Time of Violence, published by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1994. Copyright © 1994 by Eavan Boland. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
When Hades decided he loved this girl
he built for her a duplicate of earth,
everything the same, down to the meadow,
but with a bed added.
Everything the same, including sunlight,
because it would be hard on a young girl
to go so quickly from bright light to utter darkness
Gradually, he thought, he'd introduce the night,
first as the shadows of fluttering leaves.
Then moon, then stars. Then no moon, no stars.
Let Persephone get used to it slowly.
In the end, he thought, she'd find it comforting.
A replica of earth
except there was love here.
Doesn't everyone want love?
He waited many years,
building a world, watching
Persephone in the meadow.
Persephone, a smeller, a taster.
If you have one appetite, he thought,
you have them all.
Doesn't everyone want to feel in the night
the beloved body, compass, polestar,
to hear the quiet breathing that says
I am alive, that means also
you are alive, because you hear me,
you are here with me. And when one turns,
the other turns—
That's what he felt, the lord of darkness,
looking at the world he had
constructed for Persephone. It never crossed his mind
that there'd be no more smelling here,
certainly no more eating.
Guilt? Terror? The fear of love?
These things he couldn't imagine;
no lover ever imagines them.
He dreams, he wonders what to call this place.
First he thinks: The New Hell. Then: The Garden.
In the end, he decides to name it
A soft light rising above the level meadow,
behind the bed. He takes her in his arms.
He wants to say I love you, nothing can hurt you
but he thinks
this is a lie, so he says in the end
you're dead, nothing can hurt you
which seems to him
a more promising beginning, more true.
"A Myth of Devotion" from Averno by Louise Glück. Copyright © 2006 by Louise Glück. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.
At home, the bells were a high light-yellow with no silver or gray just buttercup or sugar-and-lemon. Here bodies are lined in blue against the sea. And where red is red there is only red. I have to be blue to bathe in the sea. Red, to live in the red room with red air to rest my head, red cheek down, on the red table. Above, it was so green: brown, yellow, white, green. My longing for red furious, sexual. There things were alive but nothing moved. Now I live near the sea in a place which has no blue and is not the sea. Gulls flock, leeward then tangent and pigeons bully them off the ground. Hardly alive, almost blind-a hot geometry casts off every color of the world. Everything moves, nothing alive. In the red room there is a sky which is painted over in red but is not red and was, once, the sky. This is how I live. A red table in a red room filled with air. A woman, edged in blue, bathing in the blue sea. The surface like the pale, scaled skin of fish far below or above or away—
From Eating in the Underworld by Rachel Zucker. Copyright © 2003 by Rachel Zucker. Reproduced by permission of Wesleyan University Press. All rights reserved.
They are like those crazy women who tore Orpheus when he refused to sing, these men grinding in the strobe & black lights of Pegasus. All shadow & sound. "I'm just here for the music," I tell the man who asks me to the floor. But I have held a boy on my back before. Curtis & I used to leap barefoot into the creek; dance among maggots & piss, beer bottles & tadpoles slippery as sperm; we used to pull off our shirts, & slap music into our skin. He wouldn't know me now at the edge of these lovers' gyre, glitter & steam, fire, bodies blurred sexless by the music's spinning light. A young man slips his thumb into the mouth of an old one, & I am not that far away. The whole scene raw & delicate as Curtis's foot gashed on a sunken bottle shard. They press hip to hip, each breathless as a boy carrying a friend on his back. The foot swelling green as the sewage in that creek. We never went back. But I remember his weight better than I remember my first kiss. These men know something I used to know. How could I not find them beautiful, the way they dive & spill into each other, the way the dance floor takes them, wet & holy in its mouth.
From Muscular Music by Terrance Hayes, published by Tia Chucha Press. Copyright © 1999 by Terrance Hayes. Reprinted by permission of Terrance Hayes. All rights reserved.
Sharp as an arrow Orpheus Points his music downward. Hell is there At the bottom of the seacliff. Heal Nothing by this music. Eurydice Is a frigate bird or a rock or some seaweed. Hail nothing The infernal Is a slippering wetness out at the horizon. Hell is this: The lack of anything but the eternal to look at The expansiveness of salt The lack of any bed but one’s Music to sleep in.
From A Book of Music by Jack Spicer. As printed in The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer from Wesleyan University Press, 2008. Used by permission.