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Persephone in the Underworld

Bethany W. Pope

by POETS' BASEMENT

from Persephone in the Underworld

by BETHANY W. POPE

 

1

Into the Chasm

 

This is what I see from the base of the yew:

Ravelled roots, twisted and hard, springing from soil,

Rich, highly textured, clinging to my fingers.

It has a good smell.

 

The grey stone dormitory, a few yards distant,

Sends out darkness, emits the light of eclipse.

Further still, the social work office, beyond that the barn:

I cannot see the fields.

 

My hands are pale in shadows,

Between my fingers, worms:

Pink, fat, the colour of yew berries,

Luminescent.

 

I do not consider eating them.

I am not particularly hungry.

I smell cows, manure,

The ferment of mulching,

 

The good scent of earth

Undermined

By something.

Metallic and rank, the stench of a cat.

 

I wind the frond-like branches into crowns,

Take the deathwood on my head, listening

To the sound of my own breathing, thinking

Not of the dark descent to the house,

 

Or the hungry creatures in it, but of a tear in the earth,

A pit in a field, disguised by flowers and long grass,

As grown-up women apply their makeup, fix their hair,

Pluck and mould themselves, to cover their gaps.

 

The time is Other, the time is Now. I sit here

Crouched amidst the bracken soil,

Not quite existent,

Not quite yet.

 

Up there, in stone,

Falling from high windows,

The sound of mortals, almost living,

The musical notes

Of a vast paper world.

One that will find me soon

And drag me down.

I haven’t much weight,

 

Not in this world,

My skin still trapped

In the stage before growing,

And their razor fingers

 

Will part the low branches

And close round

My wrists,

As yet unhardened,

 

Tearing me out

Of rich loam – out

Of my place in the roots,

My life from the earth.

 

2

Venus

 

There is a thin line drawn between humour and horror,

A turn of the face, a twist of shadow, and what started out one thing

Becomes quickly another. Life into death, hunger to satiety,

Weakness to strength, and back again, so that all existence

Begins to revolve around a singularity,

One black unit of time that reckons both ends, meaning nothing.

 

She crouched there on her seat, a Neolithic Venus,

Heavy breasts propped up by round belly,

Capped with small hands, rudimentary fingers,

Massive thighs tapering down to pointed feet

Which bore something of the hoof. In this way

We mortals re-enact the mythos.

 

She was a god of consummation: taking all,

All that was offered, and all withheld,

Her generosity limited to her girth.

Like a spider, crouching, the cavern lady

Waited for me in her room where television

Blazed hallelujahs and incense rose from cigarettes

 

That smouldered un-butted in ashtrays

Shaped like seashells. She looked me over

From eyes which glittered

Like cherty set deep in dough, my paperwork

Before her, insubstantial as I felt, crouched

At her knees. I would not bow down.

 

What makes a god of this awful variety?

Power, without the leavening intelligence.

A desire to consume or obliterate

All that does not find its root in itself. And how can

One escape such massive gravity, this force that draws

You in and pulls you apart? She would have eaten me, then.

 

But I had already offered a sacrificial self

On a plate to another: I wore the mark.

And so she lowered her eyes, content with my body,

Ready to take her sustenance there, where I had no defense.

She filled out the forms, smiling with pointed teeth only,

And ringing a bell, had another girl lead me, by the hand, to my room.

 

3

Pomegranate

 

Crouched naked on a nubby carpet,

Pinned between Leesha’s rough knees,

I can feel the fabric of her shorts,

Cheap polyester, donated, behind that the couch,

Gummed over from the sweat of too many bodies.

 

Leesha is talking at the TV.

Jerry Springer is on in his early incarnation,

The guest a fat man, Bacchus-like, bearded.

He has married his ass, has made a special ring

To close round the hoof.

 

Leesha’s fingers, horn-coloured, move through

The ravelled skein of my hair, drawing out tresses,

Occasionally humming, prayer-chanting

Down her throat. The narrow comb moves, parting hairs,

Removing the shells of incipient lice. Six fall to my knee.

 

Parted before me, my legs are bald,

My clothes in a wad, ready to bleach in the sink.

The refrigerator has a padlock on the door.

The kitchen is locked, closed against light.

I think about monkeys. If I were one,

I could eat this food I have grown.

 

She rinses the comb in the bowl by her feet,

The one that smells of urine and water.

Her feet are bare, ashen. I look at her toenails.

‘Girl, if I could grow your hair’, her tongue, red, clucking.

She turns on the electronic clippers. Tooth broken. Chattering.

 

At once, at my feet, a consummation. Hair falls,

Brownish, scab-coloured, smelling of blood,

Air on my scalp. Why, then, did she comb it?

Hair on the floor, suddenly dead: everything,

Dead. All of that life lost, to no cause.

 

Cloth bleached too long loses its weave. Threads cut

But bind nothing. The weft of carpet raises a rash,

Too much flesh-dust, not enough washing. I add to it

My own, wondering how long it takes

A hair to decay out of a half-life.

 

4

Reaping

 

I can’t stop thinking of

That barren-made field,

Alpha in bales, cold earth

Brown and showing –

My own shorn scalp.

 

I can’t stop thinking of

The way the trucks rolled

Five miles an hour, mounted

High on wheels before us

As we kept up on empty stomachs.

 

I can’t stop thinking of

The death in the reaping:

Crushed pheasants caught

In square bales, wings broken,

Bound up in hay and blue plastic twine.

 

I can’t stop thinking of

The pain in my hands,

Ungloved and radiating; lines, which ached

In the beginning and afterwards, but

Never when sweat and blood stained the line.

 

I remember the sky, lapis and leaden,

The eggshells, the worms.

I remember the fresh scent of haying,

The scent of sweat on chilled skin.

I remember hard work and hunger,

The sharp panted breath that drugs you like happiness.

I remember the sleep that comes at noon

When there has been no food,

And the dreams that come resting outside

In the blue smoke of exhaust.

 

Broken wings, a singing throat strangled.

Torn from the nest.

A heart removed from ribcage,

Throbbing, bloody and white.

Fresh bread, steaming in frost.

A beaker filled

With untasted wine.

My burnt-field time, my time in the grass,

In the cleft of the earth. Reaping.

 

“Pomegranate” has previously appeared in New Welsh Review.

 

Bethany W. Pope is an award winning author of the LBA, and a finalist for the Faulkner-Wisdom Awards. She received her PhD from Aberystwyth University’s Creative Writing program. Her first poetry collection, A Radiance was published by Cultured Llama Press in June. Her second collection, Persephone in the Underworld has been accepted by Rufus Books and shall be released in 2016. Her work has appeared in: Anon, Art Times, Ampersand, Blue Tattoo, The Delinquent, De/Tached (an anthology released by Parthian), The Writer’s Hub, New Welsh Review, Every Day Poems, And Other Poems, Sentinel Literary Quarterly, The Quarterly Conversation, Tears in the Fence, Ink, Sweat and Tears and Planet. Her work is due to appear in the next issues of Poetry Review Salzburg, Acumen, Magma, Music& Literature, Anon, and The Screech Owl.

 

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