CHALKMARKS ON STONE
I let the thermometer slide into place,
and think of Persephone waiting for Dis
to tuck another seed under her tongue.
Her mother’s daughter, her own mistress,
from the first implacable thrust she was his.
She tallies their days with chalkmarks on stone.
Circles rings those days they make love.
Anticipation's a form of bliss,
her face tilting up like a baby bird’s.
Red seed, red juice, raw mouths, red kiss:
a new row, the first marks tinged with blood.
She sees that time comes down to this—
endless cycles scratched in stone
that chronicle her barrenness.
The best of Hades’ healers and
the worst line up to treat the Queen
of the Dead behind her lacquered screen.
Some take her pulse; some hold her hand.
One reads the iris of her eye
and gives her drops to feed her blood.
One recommends she bathe in mud.
One flushes out her womb with dye.
Daydreaming over her birth chart,
she looks for clues to “if” and “when.”
She breathes in hope like oxygen,
then holds her breath so the tears won’t start.
Not for all the jewels in her tears,
the sapphires, flawless diamonds, pearls
she so unstintingly pours forth,
would he, by any sign, imperil
his standing as a god, his self-worth,
and let her know how these last years
unmanned him, made him greedy as a child
who's fed, but grabs at any teat,
wailing for his mother’s milk.
He keeps Hades’ coffers stockpiled,
but it's not for Dis to count his gold.
Her long hair's gold, soft as corn silk.
She sleeps while he untangles it.
Such things can’t be bought or sold.
Such things are easily defiled.
He chokes, fighting down self-wrath.
She wakes to an avalanche of tears,
his tears, the minerals for their bath.
Grass, pine, the dangling willow shoots,
elm and aspen leaves in bud,
her mother’s softest rumpled sheets,
her chaste luxurious unmade bed,
the scattered sprouts of crocus—all
the earth done up in gorgeous green,
curtained and carpeted for her arrival,
months before fields turn to grain,
with time to bask in the strong light
of her mother’s solar paneled house,
eating her fruits, happy to let
the sun burn off last winter’s haze.
She knows the dead, knows how they toil
in furnaces, quarries, mines that yield
a flinty harvest beneath the subsoil.
She's seen them let salt run through their hands,
the way they once had sifted through grain.
But where are the unborn concealed?
Night after restless night, search beams
blaze a dead-end trail through lands
whose border-guards patrol her dreams.
Though once, awake, she thought she saw—
unsteady as two newborn fawns—
her children standing in the rain,
waiting for her to come and draw
them in. She reached, and they were gone.
Mornings, in the garden, pulling weeds,
or walking by fields of purple loosestrife,
Persephone thinks back to when,
in love, not caring what would happen,
laughing, she opened her mouth to Dis
to taste his pomegranate seeds
for the first time. Both sweet and tart,
they readied her to be his wife.
She bends to gather fruit that's fallen
ripened in her mother’s lap.
Grapes are browning on the trellis.
She'll be home before the cold snap.
Each year her mother says she won’t part
with her; each year she lets her go.
Dressed in Autumn’s cooling mist,
she carries home a handful of pollen
she culled last spring from the wild meadow
where he first caught her by the wrist.
First published in ‘Chalkmarks on Stone’ (La Alameda Press,