Persephone

Persephone wasn’t picking flowers and singing at the edge of the creek. She was burning her doll’s hair and using the ash as kohl for her own eyes. It smelled bad and she liked it, so sick was she of the sweet smelling perfumes that dotted her windowsill, which her mom had gotten someone to make from lilac and jasmine and tuberose. It was another sunny day and Persephone was sick of the sun. She longed for storm clouds and howling winds.

Maybe she could conjure them. After all, she was a daughter of Zeus, and he was always throwing thunderbolts around. She sat up straight. I wish, she thought. No. A wish was too passive, too demure. I desire. No. I Command. She closed her eyes and felt roots connecting her to the earth, as though she were one of the trees her mother so lovingly tended. She felt energy surge up from beneath her, and when it seemed as though sparks could fly from her fingertips, she spoke aloud.

“ I command passage to the underworld.” A deep chasm split the earth before her, and she bowed her thanks to whatever elements had assisted her. After that, she didn’t hesitate. She didn’t think of her mother even once.  She entered the chasm, which she knew would be her tunnel to the underworld.

             Away from her mother’s beautiful garden, it didn’t smell like flowers, but it didn’t smell like burnt doll hair either. It was a new smell, and Persephone liked it, although it made her heart skip a beat. As she descended deeper, thin souls reached out to her, pleading with her in voices she couldn’t hear, asking her for things she couldn’t understand. Not yet. She brushed her fingers through the souls’ diaphanous bodies and though she could not be sure,  it did provide them with some relief. The dark walls of the cavern glimmered a color she’d never before seen in nature. The closest thing she could equate it to was the night sky, but it was as though all the stars had multiplied and smeared themselves around before hiding in each crevice. Persephone continued on. She didn’t know where she was going, but her body seemed to know.

             At the end of a long hall stood a god before a black throne. This was Hades, brother of Zeus and Poseidon. But unlike her father, Hades was young looking, and handsome. He too had black kohl rimmed around his eyes. He was taken aback by her presence.

             “Girl? What are you doing here? You aren’t dead, that much is clear. But only Hermes can travel through the worlds.”

             “Looks like I can too,” Persephone said. “Doesn’t it?”        

             “Well…” Hades looked her up and down. “I mean…okay. I guess, because you’re here. But I’m sorry to tell you, you cannot return to the earth. No one ever returns from this realm.”

             “I’m pretty sure I can do what I want,” Persephone said. “But maybe I will stay down here, for a little while.”

             “No one ever chooses to stay in the underworld. Why would you do such a thing?”

             “I like it here. I like you too.”

             “I’m your uncle.”

             “I don’t think things like that matter in ancient Greece.”

             “Really? How do you know so much?”

             “I read a lot.”

             Hades thought for a minute. “In that case,” he finally said. “I’m in need of a wife. A wise one, such as you. You would help me rule the underworld. You would become my queen. You would have everything you ever dreamed of. All the riches you could imagine. Will you consider it?”

             “I’ll consider it,” Persephone said. “I have some conditions. I don’t want the souls to suffer. I want someone to erect a statue of Medusa holding Perseus’ head. My mother drives me crazy, but I would miss her too much to stay down here all of the time.”

             “I’m sure we can work something out,” Hades said. He couldn’t take his gaze off his beautiful wife to be, nor she him. They embraced consensually, and then they went into his chambers where they made love beneath his pomegranate scented sheets six times. 

The Kid Place

The Kid Place

The kid place was Dunsmore Park, where older girls I didn’t know threw darts into the sky and yelled at me when one of the darts hit the ground beside my foot because I’d been in the way and could have been killed. That pretty much sums up childhood, I think, a constant attempt to get it right, even though something so small as standing on the wrong square foot of grass could mean a dart to the head, and resulted in being told, once again, that I was doing it wrong.

At Dunsmore Park there was a hierarchy of girls and for some reason I felt safe being a little sassy, something I never would have attempted at home. A preppy teenager told me I had “an attitude problem” and though I dared not let her see how much it meant to me,  it felt like a compliment because in reality I was too complacent, too meek and small to have any kind of attitude at all, much less a problematic one.

I remember waiting in line at the drinking fountain at the bottom end of the park. When it was my turn the boys would taunt, “Save some for the fishes.” I was always so thirsty, even then. 

Atlas of a woman

Location:
Cranial Zone
(Head)
Symptoms: Phantom headaches
Cause: unknown, pain began immediately following tubal ligation
(see Childbearing Zone)
Diagnosis: NDPH (new daily persistent headaches, a blanket diagnosis meaning chronic daily headaches of unknown origins)
Attempted treatments: (including but not limited to: Acupuncture, Allergy testing and immunotherapy, Amber jewelry, Bowen, Cardio, Chiropractic, Cranial Sacral, Elimination diets, Eye doctor, Flower essences, Herbs, Massage, Medical intuitive, Meds, Medical Marijuana, Meditation, Neurology, Shaman, Tinctures, Yoga
Duration: Upwards of six years.

Mental Region:
(Chin)
(Why is the chin called the mental region?)
Symptoms: initial pain, supposed but not remembered
Terrain: white scar tissue, thin, thread-like
Cause: 5 yr old subject climbing stairs at mall, looking back at ice cream shop, trauma to mental region by sharp curve of stair
Treatment: Stitches (6?), ice cream, telling of story (1001 Dalmatians) by Mom.

Mountainous Zone
Breasts
Diagnosis: too big
Treatment: Breast Reduction
Terrain: Mostly smoothed out with some thin white scarring
Ability to nurse children: V good
Ability to run, ride bikes, dance, not slump, not wear bras only found at Fredericks of Hollywood: excellent.

Chest Region (Upper East Side) (left)
Diagnosis: Collapsed lung
Cause: Driver side of car T-boned by woman running red light
Treatment : Insertion of chest tube
Follow-up: removal of chest tube
Terrain: Squishy, flabby bit of skin size of coin slot

Abdominal Zone
Diagnosis: Burst appendix
Cause: No one knows and perhaps never will
Treatment: Laparoscopic appendectomy
Coincidence: David Letterman’s appendix bursts nearly simultaneously (exaggeration: possibly slight but also possibly significant.)
Terrain: very pale scar, 2”

Childbearing Zone
(Birth Canal)
Diagnosis: Tearing of rectovaginal septum (lining between rectal and vaginal cavities)
Cause: Soon-to-be-born child supporting her black brothers and sisters in a salute
Treatment: Episiotomy, followed by stitches to put rectovaginal septum back together again
Drugs: None.
Terrain: Unknown. Can’t see it. Probably gruesome and Frankenstein-ish

Witch

When I was a kid, I had a reoccurring dream about a witch sitting in a chair beside my bed watching me sleep. She scared me. Maybe she was a dream. But she felt real. Night after night. Always so real.

When my daughter was little, she slept with me in the same bed at my dad’s house whenever  we went to visit him. Years later, she told me she didn’t like sleeping there because she always dreamed of a witch sitting beside the bed, watching her.

And today, thinking again about the inner child work I need to do, it finally dawned on me, What if that witch was me now?

I feel

July 19, 2020

Today is weird. Maybe it’s because I think I gave myself a slight concussion when I fell off my skateboard the other night, but there’s something else. I go outside and my skin feels different. And then I notice that the color of the roses is their regular watercolor color with extra water. Their color is thinning (fading is definitely not the right word; it is thinning.) I remember snipping roses that color and bringing them into the room where my father lay dying.

He was doing a lot more than dying. He was actually living for the last time. I don’t know how else to say that that seems right.

My dad would have hated being sick in some long, drawn out way. He was more physically active than I am now. He stayed away from foods high in cholesterol and he was mentally sharp as a goddamn sword. He fell and broke his hip and it was revealed that he had stage 4 cancer and he was gone in a month. And I don’t believe he would have wanted it any other way.

That’s not entirely true. He would have wanted more time. He would have liked to ride his mountain bike on more trails and take his dog for more walks and go to his grandchildren’s graduations, to their weddings if they decide to get married. What he would not have wanted was to lay in bed sick.

“I’m ready to go,” he told me three weeks after his diagnosis. Crows began hanging around the trees outside our house. I went outside and picked more watercolor flowers and put them in tiny jars because there weren’t a lot and their stems were so thin. I feel it. I haven’t been able to really feel my dad’s death and I thought it would come sooner than later and then when I felt it on Father’s Day I was relieved because I was worried I was numb.

But here it is again on my skin in the garden. Hot summer days and nights outside watering, trying to keep things alive. The things I can control. I remember feeling spirits in the house, how they frightened me even though I knew they shouldn’t. I remember being disappointed when the crows disappeared, because I knew he was ready to go.

I feel like I am reliving something in a parallel universe. And it doesn’t feel too big and it doesn’t feel too small it feels and I am just so grateful to feel him again

The World

I am taking a 2 week online writing class during this time of social isolation. Every day I will receive a prompt to write from. I figure I might as well put my efforts up here. They are first drafts and not well researched. I am not going to include the prompt because they are from the class and I don’t want to take the teacher’s content. These stories are fresh and raw and I want to share them with you. 

This story was inspired by the following tarot cards: Page of Swords (Reversed), Knight of Swords (Reversed), Death, The World (Reversed).

Was it so much that Lena wanted the world? Yeah, like the whole world, all tucked up and accessible. Like those marbles with a blue swirl inside that would fit inside the smallest pocket. She wanted New Orleans with its Voodoo priestesses and hidden gardens and funeral processions and she also wanted Jodhpur and Patagonia and South Carolina. She was reading a book about South Carolina and there were these lovely descriptions of birds and shells and feathers and she wanted journals filled with everything, like really insightful language and sketches of nature and pressed leaves and flowers and spilled coffee and watercolor smears.

On the night she met Mark, she was at a café writing poems on napkins with a black pen that bled through to the table. He sat with her uninvited in a coat embroidered with butterflies and birds. “Who are you and what are you going to do with your life and can I do it with you?” he asked. She was appropriately disarmed but also there was something about him; something wild and hazardous and a bit out of control. He was ready to cut through all the bullshit and get down to it, for which Lena had a certain appreciation.

They went home to his apartment and burned through the sheets, burned down the curtains and barely made it out alive. They took a plane to Rome even though neither of them could afford it and it was there she realized what out of control really looked like. He was disgusted by her vulnerabilities and always ready for a fight. When she would get too emotional, he would throw his glass of water in her face. “You have to use your head,” he was always saying. He slashed through the pages of her journal with a knife, leaving ribbons of half sketched images and litanies of complaints.

They traveled on to Greece, where one night he gave her his coat of butterflies and birds. She no longer knew if she wanted the world. She only wanted herself back.  She shivered in the embroidered coat and tried to remember her old passions. Something about funerals. Something about feathers. She couldn’t eat and she couldn’t sleep. He was unimpressed by her frailty and spent more time without her. He bought a new jacket. Shiny and black.

One night, she dreamed about a place between two pillars, where the sun shone over a city. “It’s time to move on,” she told herself. But she was feverish, couldn’t get out of bed. She slept for three days and on the fourth day she got up. The little room was empty and everything looked singed. She would buy a new journal, she decided. She abandoned the coat in a heap on the floor and stepped outside into the Grecian sun. She stepped out into the world.

 

Menace to Society

I am taking a 2 week online writing class during this time of social isolation. Every day I will receive a prompt to write from. I figure I might as well put my efforts up here. They are first drafts and not well researched. I am not going to include the prompt because they are from the class and I don’t want to take the teacher’s content. These stories are fresh and raw and I want to share them with you.

 

“Marni , change your shirt. Your wings are poking through the back.”

“Oh. Sorry.” Marni ducked her head and went back upstairs to change. She was stupid to think she could pull off a racerback tanktop. Sure, it was what all the girls were wearing that summer, but she wasn’t all the girls, as her grandma never tired of reminding her. When she’d left the bedroom, her wings had stayed tucked neatly between her shoulder blades, but leave it to them to start poking out the minute she turned around. Stupid things. They had a mind of their own. Marni pulled off the tanktop and stood with her back towards the mirror, trying to look at the wings sternly.

“Could you stop showing off?” she asked them. “Could you just let me be normal for once?”

They didn’t have to say a thing for her to know the answer to that. She would never be normal. She would never be anything but a freak.

Marni couldn’t remember her mother, but she had a letter from her. She found it in a book of fairy tales that had always lived in her bookshelf. “Dear Marni,” the letter said. “You are a miracle. A girl with butterfly wings! What a magical wonderful being you are.” Marni used to read that letter over and over. But one day she made the mistake of telling her grandma about it.

“You’re mom always was a nut,” she laughed. “Should’ve been locked up, that one. Good thing she passed when she did; she was a menace to society.”

Marni knew that she would be a menace to society too, if she were to ever let anyone see her wings. Such things were not acceptable. Best case scenario, she would be locked in a lab and poked and prodded for the rest of her life. Worst case scenario, they’d rip her wings off and burn her as a witch.

She came back downstairs wearing a pink t-shirt that said Arizona in sparkle letters. “Can I meet Rachel and Gina at the mall?” she asked.

Her grandma flicked her blue lighter, lit a cigarette, and waved her off, coughing and leaving a plume of cigarette smoke encircling the air above her. Marni got on her bike and rode through town toward the old mall. Half the stores there were closed and it smelled like mold and stale popcorn, but the AC worked and it was the only thing to do in the heat of summer. Cooling off at the lake wasn’t an option. It was like stepping inside of a vat of sweat, and you never knew when a mutated fish skeleton might float by.

Marni didn’t think it had always been like that. She had a distant memory of getting into the bed of a big truck with a bunch of neighbor kids and going to the lake, and the water had seemed cool and clean. But it was warm and murky this summer, and that’s the way it was last summer too. Things always seemed to be getting worse, but no one wanted to talk about it.

For example, they could no longer eat vegetables for dinner, because of some toxin or something. One morning she had found a piece of fruit in the backyard—she couldn’t remember which kind, but she tossed it into the garbage heap because she was too afraid of what it might do to her. Half the roads were melting and so you never knew when your car might get stuck, and if you did, you had to abandon it forever because it was part of the landscape now. Junked cars lit the byways like cell phone towers of old, almost blending in, almost part of the scenery, but not quite.

In town, Marni watched an old man yelling at a child. She winced and screeched to a stop. Used her leg as a kickstand. Everywhere, horns were honking, drivers sticking their middle fingers out of their windows. “Get out of the way!” A driver yelled at her. She looked again at the kid. He was only three or four and looked so sad and helpless. But she was in the way, allegedly, so she balanced and pedaled away.

At the part of town where the buildings got more broken down and dilapidated, Marni pedaled faster. She didn’t want to read the insults and racial slurs spray painted on the crumbling walls. She closed her eyes. In this part of town, she knew, they kept children in cages, separated from their parents. With her eyes closed, she flipped over a boulder and landed sprawled against the asphalt.

She lay there for a long time. She lay there and a shadow crossed the sun. A bird with white wings. She squinted at the bird. Sat up and shielded her eyes. It was a bird, wasn’t it? Was it a bird, or was it a child with wings?

Could it be so easy? Could she just fly away from this place? It was a question she would keep asking herself all that day. She would ask herself at the mall, when her friends made rude comments about her baggy t-shirt. She would ask herself that night at home, burnt mac n cheese and Grandma shouting at her to scrape the pan good. It was a question she would keep as the world kept dying all around her until finally one day she felt a lift beneath her shoulder blades and answered it herself.

I Was Wrong

I am taking a 2 week online writing class during this time of social isolation. Every day I will receive a prompt to write from. I figure I might as well put my efforts up here. They are first drafts and not well researched. I am not going to include the prompt because they are from the class and I don’t want to take the teacher’s content. These stories are fresh and raw and I want to share them with you. 

 

In my fever, I thought that I had dreamed you.

Shadowed, you perched against my windowsill

strange bird against a sooted sky.

Maps and fortunes encircled your wrists and ankles

I twined myself, painted gold stars above your eyelids.

Charred flesh we burned through bedrooms

Shattered  glass shimmering blood at my ring finger

streaming stars your mouth hot, broken ballerina, my hair brushed the floor.

You swept me up.

Singed kisses blackened my mouth.

Sometimes I wanted to peel off my skin and walk away bones white and unattached.

“You’ll regret this,” you said when I was leaving.

“I don’t think so,” I said as I left.

black feathers

I am taking a 2 week online writing class during this time of social isolation. Every day I will receive a prompt to write from. I figure I might as well put my efforts up here. They are first drafts and not well researched. I am not going to include the prompt because they are from the class and I don’t want to take the teacher’s content. These stories are fresh and raw and I want to share them with you. 

Elizabeth opened her eyes and focused for a moment on the dust motes that seemed to rise against the wall. Ordinarily she would spread out her arms and her legs, just to feel the straw mattress beneath her body. She would make angels in the linens of her parents’ bed. But her skin burned and ached. She held up her hand and her fingernails were still black, blacker than before even.

The plague doctor had stopped coming by, with his terrifying mask and his bag of potions. No one came in anymore, except for her mother, who looked thin and pained, as though her soul had left her body and it was occupied now by something mostly dead. She came and emptied Elizabeth’s bowls of blood and left her with water and the mostly emptied bowl.

Now the door opened and Elizabeth’s mother shoved her littlest brother into the room. “He’s got it now too,” she murmured. “Shove over Lizzy. Make room.”

“I can’t move,” Elizabeth tried to say through tears, but her mother roughly pulled down the blanket and the bed screeched as John lay down beside her, sucking his thumb. “Mama, please stay.”

“You know I can’t. The others need me. Take care of him.” She moved briskly, closing the door behind her.

John was only three years old, and all he ever did was cry and wet the blankets on the floor where the children usually slept. Elizabeth eyed him coldly. He sucked his thumb and looked at her with big brown eyes.

“How do they know you have it?” Elizabeth asked. It hurt to talk, but she also hadn’t realized until now how much she missed it, talking, like she missed the flowers and the clouds and hiding behind the wood piles with her cousins. She missed everything. She had been in this bed forever. That it had once seemed a luxury, this bed. It had now become her prison.

John lifted his arm and she saw it there in his armpit, the plague boil, black and egg shaped. It made her want to cry, but she hadn’t the energy. “Don’t pee the bed,” she said sternly. “If you do you’ll have to sit in it.”

But he would pee the bed. She knew it as she knew that she was going to die, that no doctor and no God could save her, and that it would happen soon, probably before the sun went down. She could already see the black angels in the corners of her vision, pointing, planning. Black wings like crows. They were waiting to carry her away.

“Do you see them too?” she asked John, and he nodded, eyes wide. “They won’t hurt us,” she said, “they’re just here to bring us to heaven.” But she knew there was no heaven. She knew it when she closed her eyes and saw red cows in a field, wide expanses on fire, flames on the inside lids of her eyes. A flurry of black feathers. She knew quite a lot, suddenly. That she would die, and that John would too, and maybe more of them, maybe them all.

But she mustn’t let John know. He was too little. So she told him stories about heaven until his eyes began to close, and when she felt the warm urine at her charred legs, she continued on and on and on.

Just this

I never wrote to purge. Perhaps this has been my weakness. No great glots of self loathing or chalices of hope. I meditate on every word and there is little room for play. Even my earliest journals (grade 4) were sarcastic or ironic and I was never willing to fully bleed glitter and crocodile tears on the page. Maybe this was my practiced blockage; I hold back, I am unwilling afraid to explore, to make a mess, and I am embarrassed about the messes (Oh spilled glitter and macaroni and strands of dusty glue) I have put down. I want to be dignified, but I want to write too, and I hold myself back and that is a road block but it is also the reason I am working toward change.