Posted tagged ‘Persephone’

Human, once-removed: Psyche

June 25, 2010

The Psyche series, “Once Removed,” can be read on pp. 55-72 of heart speech this (Atropos Press, 2009, ISBN 9 780982 530948).

Oh, Psyche. She hurts to look at, always doing the wrong thing, always given more to do than she has hands to do. Filled with love and confusion, listening to jealousy and fear, humiliated by a moment of doubtful action, a mother-in-law’s grief and anger. They try so hard, these women, to love the men in their care. They fall back on themselves and their undeveloped hearts when left alone.

The Psyche series, Once Removed, begins with someone else’s story, another woman given impossible tasks. The miller’s daughter was locked up and ordered to spin straw into gold. Like Psyche, this nameless woman had to rely on dangerous help and sacrifice who she might become and create in order to have a chance at any future at all.

Then Psyche enters, in the next poem, spilling candle wax on her husband Eros. He is a stranger to her in the day and a dark but loving presence in her nights. The wax burns his skin and wakes him—some strange law of Greek divinity decrees he must leave instantly and never see her again. Sight equals knowledge here, and knowledge and love cannot live together.

Psyche, still shaking from this loss, is now tormented by his mother. Venus appears, not as the goddess of beauty but of justice, and she becomes Nemesis in her pursuit of Psyche’s destruction for shaming her son. Psyche must clean and count; Psyche must pay the unpayable.

And Psyche counts, not seeds but memories and days. Lost in her mind and heart, she finds helpers when and where she least expects, ants and birds to carry and sort. It is not enough. Venus wants more, wants the death of this unwanted, unloved daughter-in-law. So she sends Psyche to meet death, a journey no one but Orpheus has survived. And Psyche is no musician, has no talents but beauty and healing.

Psyche knows she will die if she makes another mis-step. She knows that Eros will never come back if she does not return. The trip to meet Persephone and Pluto is nearly as frightening as the trip to the living world. She must face this dreaded couple who rule the world no waking person sees, and she must ask the Queen of death and spring to share her beauty with the Goddess who breathes beauty from her smile. Woman to woman to woman—Psyche doesn’t stand a chance.

Yet Psyche is surprised. Pluto and Persephone know mismatched and impossible love, mutually exclusive choices. They welcome her and offer the one moment of divine compassion Psyche knows in this entire myth. They give her what she needs. And this love, this mercy, nearly break her—she has prepared herself for pain.

More counting—Psyche keeps herself focused on the journey back by numbering her steps, refusing to look left or right or behind. She has this one last task—to focus—before she can see her husband again. And she has no guarantees. She is a different woman than before. Stronger, sharper, and more sure. Angry even in her hope. Even the bats and spirits cannot shift her feet.

It’s daylight when she emerges. Eros comes to meet her. The first time they have seen each other in the sun since he rescued her from a sea god’s rape. Now she has rescued him although she doesn’t know why he needs rescue, nor where he’s been. And she wants him to feel the pain she has felt. She pierces him with one of his own arrows, reversing the mistake that first brought them together. It is her desire and love that want to be met.

And he bleeds and becomes less than a god, only a man, this time a husband she can see and touch and hold. They weep and laugh together, seeing that in looking at each other after grief and separation, they know the other in themselves and love each other deeply.

Psyche to me is another voiceless myth who has much to say. Her connection with Persephone is key to finding the depth of her pain and the strength in her choices. Lost, abandoned Psyche became the hunter who caught her god and made him lovable. She took away his singular power to choose other’s matches (the original e-Harmony) by choosing him for her own. And in the choosing and the loneliness and the strength, Psyche found her own divinity. Human, once-removed.

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Remedy: Falling and Fighting for Love

March 25, 2010

The Persephone series, “Remedy,” can be read on pp. 35-48 of heart speech this (Atropos Press, 2009, ISBN 9 780982 530948)

There is a torsion in each series of myth-provoked poems, somewhat like Michelangelo’s Prisoners struggling out of stone, reforming themselves even as they remake their origins. In “Remedy”, Persephone turns the tables on Hades, fighting for mastery even as he tears her from the spring she walks upon the grass, the mother who supports her steps.

The myth is one of our most familiar, translated in many cultures to a young man sacrificed in spring, the time of birth and renewal, whose loss brings darkness and famine to those left behind. It is the transition from an eternal beauty and youth to a seasonal rotation, a range of emotions rather than a perpetual bliss. Isn’t this what myth teaches us, to be human rather than divine?

Here, Hades and Persephone, whose voices are scarcely heard in other retellings, form the center of the story. This young, innocent barely woman dragged from one phase of her life into another, suddenly sexualized and violated by a stranger. The older man, seized with desire that overtakes him just as much as the object of his desire is torn from her sense of who she is. Refusing to control desire, desire then violates both the violator and the violated.

Yet here Persephone is not helpless. She fights; she claws; she bruises and bloodies her attacker. And in the contortions of bodies and elements, air to earth, she becomes the victor. She knocks out her opponent, who falls to his unconscious and mortal realm as if concussed, as if dead. What is Hades’ place, who is Hades, if not death and the reminder that anything we imagine can be killed as well as born?

And in the grappling and refusals to let go, to be contained, Persephone and Hades leave desire for something more real. They find compassion for innocence and trauma, for fear and wounds, for what takes them from what they thought of themselves and who they must be. Hades is charmed by Persephone’s first experiences of her hands and mouth and nose in intimate exploration, so different from touching fresh earth, new grass, bright flowers. Persephone crumbles within herself, finding her heart, as she sees the one who stole her now stolen of his senses, now helpless and near dissolution. She learns to love as she learns her own strength, his fragility.

Which becomes grief as she realizes who she is and cannot be as long as her lover is gone from her knowing. Which deepens into bereavement and isolation as she realizes her mother is also lost, is refusing to honor her daughter’s new self and help ease the transition into maturity and pain. The loss of a mother and a lover is only superseded by the loss of a child. And neither of these goddesses, in their compassion for others, have compassion for each other. And so both wander and grieve alone, rage and damage their worlds alone.

Yet Persephone has made her choice. She will mature. It is not a beautiful world for her to rule, this place of death and transition, yet it is the world she is offered. Her spring is not hers; it is a gift of her mother’s, and she cannot come into herself if she does not find a place for herself.