I, Persephone

The Return of Persephone by Frederic Leighton (1830–1896). Oil on canvas.

The Return of Persephone by Frederic Leighton (1830–1896). Oil on canvas.

This is poetic prose that I wrote on my train ride from Rochester to New Orleans in mid-November, 2011.

"A myth is a self-conscious lie told in the service of a deeper truth" ~Douglas Brooks

Winter is the time of going under. The time of dark long nights spent seeking warmth, hoping to excite the atoms that pretend to be my skin. Dark long nights contemplating the cycles that make up this life, whirling through an exquisite universe, inside of me. Rediscovering that I am everything. I am this winter with its cold and storms. I am the darkness and the circumference. I am this soul about to go under.

I am the goddess Persephone, riding a train down into the underworld of New Orleans. Passing by harvested fields of corn, towns with crumbling buildings, blanched paint peeling from signs and structures, flocks of birds swarming chaotically in the skies. There is the stain of pomegranate on my lips and fingertips.

Here along the River Styx I watch the sun rise. It is as gorgeous and mundane as any other sunrise I have seen. Trees sprout skyward from swamp waters. Oil towers rise up from cement foundations. Fields of parallel scars left by machines that harvest livestock fodder flash before me. Structures no longer occupied by even the most desperate of hope have become temples for the wind.

Soon the upperworld will become a snowy white icicle dream. The harvest moon will lament my leaving. Yet my departure is always a gift, for the delicate beauty of life lies between the longing for and the reunion. As Demeter begins to mourn Hades rejoices by blooming moonflower lotuses beneath my feet as I cross over.

What draws me to this netherworld? Nowhere have I seen such desperation. The lost come to chase after visions conjured by Bourbon Street spirits. The soil is laden with lead and the mouth of the great river opens into a seven-thousand mile dead zone. Ghosts rise up from the plantations at night. There is malice, poverty, violence and unspeakable pain.

Yet light is only measured by darkness. Seasons turn. Beneath the ground matter rots and nourishes new life. I am maintained by what dies within me. Death and rebirth are moments in a cycle that transcends both. New Orleans rises up from the mud as fecund as any flower, all possibility and charm. For those she has chosen there is no other city like her. She is my underworld, and I her queen.