Louise Glück

Persephone the Wanderer

In the second version, Persephone
is dead. She dies, her mother grieves—
problems of sexuality need not
trouble us here.

Compulsively, in grief, Demeter
circles the earth. We don’t expect to know
what Persephone is doing.
She is dead, the dead are mysteries.

We have here
a mother and a cipher: this is
accurate to the experience
of the mother as

she looks into the infant’s face. She thinks:
I remember when you didn’t exist. The infant
is puzzled; later, the child’s opinion is
she has always existed, just as

her mother has always existed
in her present form. Her mother
is like a figure at a bus stop,
an audience for the bus’s arrival. Before that,
she was the bus, a temporary
home or convenience. Persephone, protected,
stares out the window of the chariot.

What does she see? A morning
in early spring, in April. Now

her whole life is beginning—unfortunately,
it’s going to be
a short life. She’s going to know, really,

only two adults: death and her mother.
But two is
twice what her mother has:
her mother has

one child, a daughter.
As a god, she could have had
a thousand children.

We begin to see here
the deep violence of the earth

whose hostility suggests
she has no wish
to continue as a source of life.

And why is this hypothesis
never discussed? Because
it is not in the story; it only
creates the story.

In grief, after the daughter dies,
the mother wanders the earth.
She is preparing her case;
like a politician
she remembers everything and admits

For example, her daughter’s
birth was unbearable, her beauty
was unbearable: she remembers this.
She remembers Persephone’s
innocence, her tenderness—

What is she planning, seeking her daughter?
She is issuing
a warning whose implicit message is:
what are you doing outside my body?

You ask yourself:
why is the mother’s body safe?

The answer is
this is the wrong question, since

the daughter’s body
doesn’t exist, except
as a branch of the mother’s body
that needs to be
reattached at any cost.

When a god grieves it means
destroying others (as in war)
while at the same time petitioning
to reverse agreements (as in war also):

if Zeus will get her back,
winter will end.

Winter will end, spring will return.
The small pestering breezes
that I so loved, the idiot yellow flowers—

Spring will return, a dream
based on a falsehood:
that the dead return.
was used to death. Now over and over
her mother hauls her out again—

you must ask yourself:
are the flowers real? If

Persephone “returns” there will be
one of two reasons:

either she was not dead or
she is being used
to support a fiction—

I think I can remember
being dead. Many times, in winter,
I approached Zeus. Tell me, I would ask him,
how can I endure the earth?

And he would say,
in a short time you will be here again.
And in the time between

you will forget everything:
those fields of ice will be
the meadows of Elysium.