by Janet Hanna
Demeter could be demanding
In her sloe-eyed witchcraft ways,
Always threatening to dry up the spring rains
Or divert Zephirus’ warm breath.
You never knew from one year to the next
If she could be trusted to give the pomegranates juice
Or make the sap in the fig trees run.
But then her belly grew ripe
Like the oval melons she nourished,
And all the islanders wondered
What horny Olympian or rough farmer
Had placed his hands on her thighs.
There were wagers, of course.
Siphnos’ patriarchs put their entire fields of grain
Against Crete’s annual venison run
That she’d been coupled by Apollo.
On Santorini they whispered dirty jokes
And the Athenians sent an envoy to Delphi
To seek the ancient wisdom of the old woman
With dried milk on her breasts who sat chewing
Juniper berries in her steamy rock.
Demeter ignored them all
In her haughty superiority and she waited.
This child would be hers and hers alone.
At dawn, she squatted in her vineyard
And dropped her golden-haired girl-child
Onto the soft spring grass.
The child was the goddess’ own fruit,
Nourished in her own womb, fed by her blood.
She called her Persephone.
The year of her birth all of Greece prospered.
The heads of the wheat grew top-heavy with kernels of grain.
The vines sparkled with jewels of dark purple grapes.
As the fruit of Demeter’s dark loins
Gave birth to Persephone’s blonde fairness,
So the rich Grecian soil brought forth plenty
And they built great storehouses to hold their harvests.
There were lush, red tomatoes from Arcadia,
And plates of golden fried squid
Swimming in the clear, golden oil
Of Demeter’s seasoned olive groves.
Minted peas complimented the savory spring lambs
Roasted to a crackling brown.
And freshly baked barley cakes,
Dripping in thick, dark honey,
Were washed down with sweet, amber wines from Nemea.
For Demeter the child was her food and drink.
She thirsted for her daughter’s smile and
Ached with a mother’s hunger for her daughter’s arms.
As one long spring stretched into another,
The land and its tenants grew fat and idle.
Great heaps of overripe fruit lay in island orchards.
Bins full of soured wheat turned green with mold.
Fecund sows groaned with their mild-bloated stomachs.
But the goddess, drunk on her offspring’s milk,
Saw only the springtime of her beautiful Persephone.
When did Hades first cast his shadow on the Greek spring?
Was it when the child was still plump from her mother’s sweets,
Or, later, when she was ripening into a slender woodland nymph?
The mother would nap, lightly, in the hot afternoons.
The springtimes had given way to searing summers and
Now Apollo’s yellow sun had turned the earth brown.
A young woman needs time away from her mother’s breast,
A break from her earth-brown kisses.
The old men of the islands say that it was the girl’s birthday,
They only remember because yet one more feast had been prepared.
One more drunken orgy had begun to celebrate the mother’s womb.
But the goddess’ screams were not those of a human throat.
The child of her loins was gone, dragged off by her golden hair
To Hades’ dark underworld while the mother slept.
In an hour all was frozen with winter’s hoary blast.
Overnight the melon’s seed turned a brackish black
And the vines shriveled ad died.
In the islands the old crones shivered in their barrenness.
On Cephalonia the moist earth dried and cracked.
O, Zeus, where is your Olympian justice?
My mother’s agony turns the rivers brown with my salted tears.
My curses will make your green mountaintop forever cold and bare.
Where is my Persephone? Where is my springtime?
Act, act quickly, old man, or pay my mother’s price.
What glory will you have, horned satyr, when your
Famed seed drops onto hard, icy rock that gives forth nothing.
A bargain, the islanders say, was soon struck.
Hades lusted still for the young girl’s soft flesh,
But he knew that his vile, stinking hell would have to yield.
Against the slime of the dark cave’s putrid walls
Pesephone’s blonde hair and tender curves drove the
God of the underworld mad with a mortal’s longing.
She’d been gathering pomegranates, her favorite,
When she was rudely snatched by Hades’ yellowed hands,
And she clutched one of the red-orange fruits tightly
Trying to remember her mother’s warm spring breath.
When Hades pushed his extremities against her,
Her fingernails tore into the thick-skinned crimson cover
Of the Pomegranate and the blood red juice stained
Her maiden’s tunic and his bare, hairy chest.
Even on the warmest summer day Persephone will not forget
The horny god’s triumphant cry when, clutching her small hand
In his large one, he forced her fingers to her woman’s mouth
And, almost gently, helped her place one crimson berry on her tongue.
The sweetness of the fruit she had always savored turned sour.
Now you are mine for half of eternity, my little Persephone.
While your mother weeps icy tears, you will be mine for sport.
I will crush the red berries in your womb and make you cry for shame.
In your thighs lies Greece’s springtime
And in my ageless lust the country’s wintry ruin.
Eat, eat, my lovechild.
The pomegranate’s bittersweet juice
Is the food of the ancient gods.