Penelope

Where are you, my fair-locked husband, on some far shore
in the arms of Calypso as I spin a shawl of faithfulness
you stray on your wanderings with Lily Eaters and Cyclops
I have a thousand suitors at my beck and call, you see?
Waiting on a wanderer is rarely worth the steel gray hairs
and as I take the distaff and part the threads to ashes
I’ve been weaving pictures of you the whole time, you know?
I can’t bear to be parted from you and in dreams we embrace
in my mind’s eye I can still see your swan face, your wit,
your warrior glint and wily touch, but you are with Circe
in the arms of an enchantress now, and I am left lonely,
empty bed where I sleep with an altar to Virgin Goddesses
Athena may be watching over you but the Furies watch me
they are punishing me with silky dreams of your lips
and Mnemosyne is in a bottle by my bedside, wine solace,
I drink to forget you, I drink to remember you, husband –
husband of an old woman now that faded as you evaded
her calling for you to come home, my plea falls on
ears deaf in a windswept sea, and our love is a tree
that will someday in my fever dreams shake with vigor
but the truth is there is no happy ending when your love
is taken by the succubus and La Belle Dame Sans Merci
those of us who are humble and plain tend hearthfires,
we have no magic about us, just simple song and wishes
so here is my prayer, O Gods, please – bring him back.

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Artemis of Ephesus

Gourds or breasts, they decorate your chest
queen of wolves and stags, forest your feet
so dainty-ankled, skin of milk, arms raised
in offerings of birth-balm and moonlight oil
robe of lions, leopards, and bulls, quiver of
silver sweet arrows set aside for peacetidings
you are Virgin yet Mother, Midwife and Maiden
patron of strong women and stronger maidens
we still sing your name in the glens, Artemis
of Ephesus, your quick-footed sprint of stars
is a Milky Way to your hunting lodge, springs
where no man may see you lest he be a beast,
lunar skin like cream, hair brown as a doe,
take this poem and wear it as a mantle, sweet
queen of women, patron of the curious, seeker
of sweet hunts, soft rains, and Leto’s blessing
I raise my amphora to you, wine for your journey
O Muses, sing of the huntress, sing of the Mother
and remember forever her grace, her pride, beauty
thick as butter, eyes amber as a buck, and praise
the mother of witches and guardian of the woods.

Wax

Sometimes you don’t know the face of your lover.

I didn’t, just ghost caresses, phantom servants, a gauzy bed draped in silk where I spilled a single drop of wax.

I waited for a year to see those blond curls, the face between Adonis and Ares, for true love is sweet like flowers but feverish as war, and the skin tan with Grecian sun.

There was a scar on his thigh where it seemed he had poked himself with one of his love arrows, but other than that he was perfect, my Eros.

I died then, and knew the people who left me at the bottom of that cliff were right: I had married Death.  Eros and Thanatos are not so different, both winged fates we all encounter in our dwindling candle flames, and wax is funny in that it doesn’t burn, not really.  Just a little sting like a needle getting past a thimble.

The wax didn’t awake him.  It was my soul leaving my body for just a moment, to join with his and rest at his breast, because mortal forms can’t make love to an immortal, not really.

I love him, I love him, I love him.  That is what I whispered to his heart.  Still he left me.  Men are funny like that.  They ignore heroism in women, us baring our truths to him, and afraid of commitment, he fled.

I sorted seeds.  I met with Pan in my mourning.  I went to the Iron Queen and brought beauty back in a box for his tempestuous mother.  Unlike Orpheus, I wove my bright laurels out of a barren place – I knew he would only love me if I was as beautiful as Aphrodite, and though I was the most glorious of women, gods are still vain creatures.

So I applied the sweet hope Persephone kept on her vanity to my brow, and I died a second time, this time in Eros’ arms.

No god raised me from the dead.  That’s impossible.  Look what happened to Eurydice.  Raising mortals from Hades is ill-advised.  Eros is brilliant, and his arrows sorrowsweet, but even necromancy is beyond his power, no matter how much like Thanatos he is, and I had married the God of Little Deaths.

I raised myself up.  I sang to my stepsisters and the parents that had abandoned me, all dead now, for my travails took ages.

It was a goddess who gave me breath again – sweet Kore, who herself was abducted, and who I regaled with my tale.  We are kindred in that we both married the most dangerous of gods, and had our girlhood stolen too soon – by every sly look from uncles, by every groping of fathers, by every time a king took our adolescent forms on his lap and ran a beer-stinking hand through our curls.

We are spoils of war to them.  I did not want to be just another girl that lost her heart to someone powerful, some fading rose kept in a crystal jar, only to be watered occasionally.

I taught Eros of true love so that no woman would have to suffer at Cupid’s hands like me again.  I did everything for a man so ready to cast me aside like yesterday’s broken amphora.

That’s why I have butterfly wings, not a birds: because in the calyx of my divinity, I stewed in ambrosia a third death, Psyche Triple-Born, and I am more powerful than all the gods combined.

Wax doesn’t burn – it lingers at the back of your mind.

Love doesn’t hurt – only craving for a man unfaithful.

Women aren’t raised from death – they claw back alone.

And though Olympus is full of stars, my bed is very cold.

The Rape of Persephone

Written at 18 and published in William and Mary’s Lips: Expressions of Female Sexuality zine.   My take on the “Rape” of Persephone, one of my favorite myths and mythological couples.

“You look like a wreck in the morning,” I observed drily.

Hades brooded over his ambrosia, slowly raising a cryptic brow at me.  I trembled a bit as his cold, knowing gaze fell upon me.  His eyes, like a snake, drank me in, slipping down my body approvingly.  But I would not submit to this cold god, the uncle I did not know, whose skin, unkissed by the sun, was pale as the moon.  I pursed my lips, crossing my arms defiantly.  Slowly, I took a bite of the baklava before me, blind to the decadence of his chthonic abode.  His dwelling was beautiful beyond compare, filled with the riches of the Earth, yet understated- almost somber in its quiet shades, humble in its beauty.  A flower, of which there were none here, would seem garish in comparison.

How I longed for flowers!  For my gardens above, the haunts of the wild through which Artemis and I roamed.

“I said,” I repeated louder, “that you could at least attempt to dress properly before me!  Or perhaps pay a grain of attention to the impression you’re striking, because if I’m not mistaken, you intend to make me your wife!” I said ruefully, devouring the baklava with a vengeance.

Hades smiled slowly.  “You find me displeasing?” he asked lowly, faintly amused.  He relaxed in his intimidating ebony chair, letting the neck of his robe slip downwards to reveal the immaculate flesh beneath.  I blushed furiously at the ripples of exposed muscle, turning my eyes away.

“You are no gentleman,” I said gratingly, scowling in disapproval.  “You’re crass!  Rude! Insufferable.”  I took my bone handled knife, brandishing it threateningly.  “I loathe you.

Hades shrugged, looking down at his robe apathetically.  “I’ve never cared much for pleasantries.  And I like this…” He fingered his raiment contemplatively.  “It’s comfortable.”

“It’s a bathrobe.  You haven’t shaved since you abducted me, all your furniture is covered with Cerberus’ hair, and you haven’t even attempted to apologize yet.”

The idiot just shrugged again, digging in to his lamb- a black one, no doubt.

“Well?” I demanded.

“What?”

“You, uncle, are as thick as my father’s head!  No wonder you’re brothers.”  I cursed darkly.

“I told you, call me Hades.”

“I’ll call you nothing but uncle or oaf, you hollow-eyed, corpse-fleshed monstrosity!”  I glared at my forceful suitor, anger and shame welling in my chest.  Trembling, I licked my fingers clean of the baklava, stifling a sob.  I hated it here.  Even the food, though immaculate, tasted dead.

Persephone,” he said softly.  “You have upset yourself- come, you’re near tears…”  He was by my side immediately, moving like an owl through the night.  “I will never have you cry in my halls,” he said firmly, grasping me possessively by the shoulders.  He began kneading the knotted muscles, easing the tension within me.  “Relax, fair-haired Persephone,” he said soothingly.

I trembled at his touch.  “Do not touch me, oaf,” I whispered, biting back tears.  To no avail, of course- they slipped down my cheek, pooling on my upturned arms.  He chuckled, running his fingers through my hair.

“Just like your mother’s fields, flaxen and far too beautiful for my realm,” the oaf murmured.  “Tell me, Persephone: how do you look upon yourself in the mirror without going mad from the beauty shining back at you?  It is overwhelming…”

I wanted to break from his touch desperately, to run away screaming and lashing out at my captor.  But it had been a month- a long, dark month, without touch of sun or taste of rain.  I thirsted for something, anything!  Even Hades’ wretched hands.

I bowed my head, face stony.  “How do you look in the mirror, uncle, and not drop dead at your hideous reflection?” I asked acidly.

His grip tightened around the base of my neck.  I felt his breath, hot, on the back of my head.  “I have no mirrors,” he whispered into my skin.  “And I wear bathrobes as I please.  It is not the physical reflection that matters, but the soul.  I care only for the true nature of things.”

“So you’re above the trappings of the material world?” I spat.  “All my useless flowers and greenery mean nothing to you?  You, high lord of the dead, have no appreciation for beauty?”

“You twist my words, lovely girl.”

“I am not a girl!”

“Indeed no.  You are my queen.”

“And I’m certainly not your anything!” I said acidly, breaking away from him.  He looked at me, perplexed by my rage.  I seethed in anger, skin crawling where Hades had touched me.

“No,” he said wistfully, leaning against the table, gazing at the indentation my body had left in the chair as if imagining the same imprint on his own bed.  He looked at me hungrily now, eyes suddenly sparking with lust.  “And after all this time, all my patience and wooing, you will not be my ‘anything,’” Hades said ruefully.  “I built you a garden.  Have exhausted myself trying every possible thing in my imagining to make you feel at home.  I have shown you only kindness, have I not?”

I stood stoically, nodding coldly.  “You have, Hades.  But you are cold.  Love, a flame, needs embers to grow.”

He reeled at my words.  A single tear fell down his face.

I left him then, retreating to my corridors.  They were achingly beautiful, walls painted to look like the fields and forests of home.  The windows had been magicked to look as if I were gazing out father’s palace on the peaks of Olympus.  Prometheus, the maker of man, had even crafted facsimiles of plants.  But they were hollow, like the dead-spirited things in Hades’ gardens.  Stillborns that had been allowed to bloom.

I sunk into my decadent, bowered bed, crying.  After a time, there was a knock at the door.

“Let me be, you slovenly oaf!” I howled.  “I hate you!  You, my father- everyone that has done this to me-”

Persephone,” Hades voice said urgently, opening the door.

What?” I yelled.  “Have you come to make me more miserable?  To push me further into Tartarus’ depths?…”  I fell silent.  There was no one there.  “Where are you, oaf?” I demanded.

Silence.

“Hah!  What?  The drab god of the underworld is a trickster now?  Have you become like my father, changed yourself into a shaft of light?”  I rose, approaching the door in caution.  “Should I run like his poor mortal prey?  Would you have me be at your mercy like them?  For I will only tear and claw at you like a wild thing!  I am your prisoner, uncle, but I am not your toy.”

I recalled his Helm of Darkness, forged by the Cyclops to topple the Titans of old.  I shuddered then, feeling even more hunted.

“Drab?  Is that really what you think of me…” he said, voice like the rustling wind.  A breeze tangled across my flesh, stroking my thigh.  I gasped, and he laughed deeply.  “I am not like my young, impetuous brother, sweet Persephone.  I am the elder god.  I need no toys.  Only you.”

“So you intend to seduce me, then?” I said stonily.  “I’d rather make love to an ass.”

“You certainly think me an ass, though, if I’m not mistaken…”  The wind grew wilder, tearing at my clothes.  I cried out as it pushed me back onto the bed.  He roared with laughter.

“This isn’t funny, you foul, pathetic excuse of a man!”

“On the contrary, it is.  Because, sweet Persephone, you cannot see me, but I can see the glory of you…”  I felt a hand at my breast, playing with the pin of my shawl.

I swatted it away.  “You have no shame!”

“It’s a shame I haven’t been this close to you…”  Suddenly, he pressed against me, pinning me to the bed, his hands locking around my wrists.  My breath grew panicked- gasping, I felt lips at my neck, a hand cradling my head, stroking my hair.  Furious, I lashed out at the invisible rogue.  My hands swiped thin air.

What?” I cried.

He laughed huskily.  “That’s the beauty of it, Persephone.  I, invisible to you, am untouchable.  One cannot touch darkness.  But darkness envelops- it can touch you.”

“Take it off!” I demanded.

“What?  I thought my form displeased you.”

“I never said that-” I choked on my words, cheeks burning.  “I said you were ill-dressed.  That’s all.”

“Yet you called me ‘hollow-eyed, corpse-fleshed monstrosity,’” he teased, breath tantalizing the hollow under my ear.  I shivered.

I avoided his gaze- well, I tried to, considering he was invisible.  “I meant…” I mumbled.  “I just… ah, Furies!” I cursed, realizing my back had arched in response to him.  I was reclining invitingly like Aphrodite beneath him.  “Oh, blight!”

He roared with laughter; the bed’s frame shook.  I scowled back at the air above my head.

“If you’re going to force yourself upon me,” I said through gritted teeth, “then at least have the decency to do it without that insufferable Helm.”

“You won’t drop dead in horror?”

“No!  I’ve been to the Olympic games.  I’ve seen… men… before…”

The cap landed on the ground with a dull thud.  He grinned at me like a wolf.  “Are you willing prey now, my love?”

“I’m not your love!  And you paraded down the hall naked under that dinky hat?”

“Not very drab, eh?”

“No, just disturbing.”  I was taken aback by his handsomeness, biting my lip in awe.  A hot flush painted my cheeks.  “You- you’re- you’re… not… an…”

He looked at me expectantly, grinning crookedly.  “Oaf?” he suggested.

“Yes,” I appraised his form once more.  “Definitely not oafish.”  My ears were burning now.  “Umm.  Well.”

“This is awkward, isn’t it?”

“Yes.  Highly awkward.”

Hades sighed, cursing.  “I knew it.  I knew I could never do this,” he moaned, rolling over onto his side and freeing me.  He watched me balefully.  “I cannot take you against your will, Persephone.  Though Eros has driven me sick with wanting, I cannot bring myself to- I thought I could- by the Styx, I need a drink,” he said lowly, rubbing his temple.  “What am I doing?”

“Trying to seduce me?” I suggested.

“Right.”

“So…?”

“But you won’t have me.  And I will have no pleasure in the act if you are unwilling, my sweet, fair-tressed queen.”

My heart stirred.  I groaned.  “Ugh!  What is with you?” I demanded.  “You kidnapped me!  Get it?  You stole me away to your dark castle in the Underworld, and now you’re concerned about my feelings?”

“I had no choice but to claim you.  Eros had envenomed me too deep.  I could have nothing, save you in my halls.  And though your presence is not enough, the gaping distance between us a most brutal ache, I cannot bring myself to close that gulf, if it is against your will.”

“What do you know of my will, Hades?  What if I willed you to kiss me, eh?”

“Then I’d most happily oblige.  Is this still theoretical?”

“Maybe.  If I asked for the stars, would you give them to me?”

“In a sparkling necklace that would outshine Aphrodite’s girdle.”

“And the moon?”

“Its crescent a boat to ferry you across the Styx.”

“The sun?”

“Your burning torch in the Underworld, so in the darkness you are never alone.”

“Your heart?”

“Cut from my breast, though there is good reason to believe it already dwells within you, sweet cage that you are.”

“You’re good, Hades.  I’ll give you that.”

“Good?” he asked, puzzled.  “I love you.  I speak the truth.”

“How do you know you love me, if you haven’t loved me yet?”

“Am I finally allowed to test that love yet, then?”

“Maybe.”

“You’re a harsh mistress, though I would have no less.  But I’m sick of your coyness, Demeter’s daughter.  I have waited too long.”

“Oh!” I gasped.  His lips met mine with a hunger that stirred my own.  Hades gripped me possessively, hands roaming my body, tearing at my clothes.  I lost myself to Hedone, that blessed child of Eros and Psyche- of lust and the soul- only afterward realizing the moon and sun, even the stars, paled in comparison to what I had.  And I’d found it in the depths of the Underworld, no less.

We lay on our backs, he spent, I recovering from bliss I hitherto hadn’t known existed.  He looked upon me adoringly, cradling my head against his chest as we gazed up at the ceiling as if it was the firmament itself.

“Oh…” I said, dazed.

“Oh, indeed.”

Zeus to Semele

I was on one of my flights of fancy as a broad-backed eagle
you, my little priestess, slaughtering a bull at my altar,
your hands and skin were brown with sun and toil, your mouth
a smirk, like me, you know what it’s like to shed Titan blood,
no one thought Cadmus’ precious daughter had rage, had fire,
no, she was supposed to be demure, an ingenue, but the way
you let the innards spill out on stone, and let your eyes
linger on the offal, burning the meat for my throne above,
you let that blood stain your flesh too long, iron-rich,
then waded into the river Asopus to dye it red as rich wine
you swam like a bright fish, golden armed, glorious with
sacrifice – I could tell you were a woman of iron and lust,
I could tell right then that my little priestess was worthy
of the embrace of the thunderous one, to touch lightning!
Semele, my love, ours was one of claiming, choking, cum,
my seed flowering in your womb in drunk frenzy to Dionysus,
you are the mother of gods, elevated above mortals to Olympus,
not even Hera had the sting of that knife paring kine flesh,
not even Metis’ long threads of memory hair etched themselves
on my loins like your strong fingers, fucking me, ruining me,
tell me if I speak too boldly, but really, you don’t care,
because women who bear the stars in their bellies are legends
and when you asked to see my true Big Bang form, you knew
exactly what you were doing, you craved immolation, the totality
of divine union, to make love to the storm, my lightning girl,
glory-clad in linen like a song, stained with musk and rebirth
my son raised you from the dead, god of wine, women, and song
and we know each other again in grit and gutters, we spill blood
together now on altars in the wild lands, my little priestess,
you have come so far from the girl who asked after her king
summoned thunderheads, tamed them, and became a storm herself.

Nevertheless, She Persisted

Ariadne stepped out of her skin
into the swollen night, Theseus
sailed off from the barren rocks
and too tired from labyrinths and
half-brother bulls whose blood was
hot on her hands, still, days later,
she slept on the sandy shore, hair
a pillow of tangles, chiton fraying
what becomes of the Princess of Crete
when nobody but the bells of maenads
and prowling leopards remember you?
I will tell you: when the hero leaves
you become a goddess, and mad Dionysus
grows sweet on the girl who threads fate
through red string, you become the stars
dancing moon-mad in the forest with Cybele
your thyrsus wet with rain, your consort
and satyr court rambling across the world
fear not when first love leaves you for
bolder adventures await brave maidens who
cast aside comfort for adventure, you will
become a legend in your own time, just wait
the gods will smile upon the lost, but on
that windswept island, Ariadne was not found,
instead, she discovered herself, and when she
made a bed of seagull feathers and seaweed,
she knew, her fiery heart would give warmth
to a girl becoming a goddess, and that she
was never lost to begin with, instead, she
charted her own fate, beat her own drum on
the pearly sand – she summoned Dionysus herself
and now all we remember is the wine-dark girl
who took destiny into her own hands and wove
abandonment into salvation, she who persevered
Ariadne was left, nevertheless, she persisted.

Oceana

Full fathom five dear Oceana lays
in Tethys’ deepest blue embrace
fish scale Nerieds, sisters ten
Neptune’s daughter, silver skin
her court is golden hours of time
with jeweled sea shells, old rhymes
charting the ages of starry flight
pearl necklace, kelp hair, her smile
like a clam, bountiful mother, down
below moon lands of diamond shoals.