Friday 28 September 2012

Friday poem

Listen to Craig Arnold read the poem instead

Hymn To Persephone
Craig Arnold

Help me remember this how once the dead were locked
out of the ground and wandered sleepless and sun-blinded
She was the one who took them each by the hand helped them
lay their bodies back in the dark sweet decay
gladly as onto a lover’s bed they call her Koré
the Maiden a dark queen with a crown of blood-colored poppies
her fingers lift the cool coins from a dead girl’s eyelids
her breath in a man’s mouth releases him from memory

There was a man who would play fast and loose with Love
She smiled at first to hear him tossing around her nicknames
like cheap wedding confetti Pretty Butt Manslayer Smile-lover
or mocking the blessed valentine folded up in her lap
petal-pink as a seashell but when he swore he’d never
let Love knock the wind out of him and leave him panting
that set her teeth on edge Love is a cruel justice
she makes us pay for our lover’s sins as well as our own
and she took away the one whose loss would hurt him deepest

Maybe he would have wept but grim determination
came to him more easily than tears and so he followed
the road that only the desperate walk with their eyes open
where the willows bend to comb their fingers through the river
and the long grass cuts the ankles stalks of mullein
stand like tall candles the dead mixed with the living
and spiders weave webs between them glint in the sunlight
the vague gray country where all shadows gather
and the dark queen keeps them safe in her lightless mansion

She was sitting out on her porch peeling a pomegranate
leaning back in her chair feet propped on the railing
her face a cool and cloudless moon ink-black hair
Who are you she called most of my visitors come here
with their arms crossed and pennies laid over their eyes
My eyes are open he answered nothing I do can close them
night after night I lie awake counting my heartbeats
my hands won’t work they can’t seem to hold anything

Come in the house then she held the door half-open
and deep in the dark hallway he thought he could see the faintest
flutter of movement and he was afraid She took his hand
her fingers cool as a cave of water-hollowed limestone
Someone you knew she asked this graceful tender of shadows
My advice to you is to go home and grieve her
Sound the well of your tears as deeply as you can
wipe your eyes and be glad you’re still among the living

Why he demanded you could bring her back in a heartbeat
Maybe she said do you think you’re the first to come here
chasing after someone they lost but you have the guilty
look of a man who tossed away what he loved too lightly
How can I feel sorry for you You don’t know the first
thing about my love he snapped So prove it she said
sing me a love song who is this girl you miss so much
that you come to my house to fetch her out of the shadows

He sang of the first permission of flesh and flesh to entangle
how we abandon the guard of our heart and throw our borders
open and welcome a sweet invader to take possession
the sudden exquisite catch in a throat and the slow hush
of a breath unfettered the sweetest sounds to a lover’s ear
He sang of hands finding shyly at first their way
to another shelf of hips oh how the heart flares
and melts like wax spilling over a candle’s lip

Even the spiders stopped spinning their webs to listen
I like your song she said maybe you’ll come back
and sing it again for me before too long he shivered
Out of her lawn she plucked a withered stem of mullein
Take this and go home and you’ll find her waiting
I’ll give you one more day and night and the morning after
to spend together however you please I warn you though
when the time comes say your goodbyes and don’t look back

That day the cherry-trees in the square had just flowered
making a roof of white blossom over their heads
That day they walked with the awkwardness of the long parted
and sat on either side of a table and shared a pizza
and washed it down with a half-carafe of cheap red wine
and tried to talk their way back into their bodies
and as they left the leaf-buds were a green promise

and when she stopped to put on more lipstick
she’d left it all printed around the rim of her glass
he laughed and said There goes my chance to kiss you
Why she replied would you ever let that stop you
And they took each other’s lips frankly took their faces
between each other’s hands and the tears were shaken out
like raindrops beaded on a branch and they were barely
able to have enough of touching and they kissed each other dry
and over breakfast they smiled so hard that it hurt

They went to make the bed and found the sheets bloody
and so they fished through all their pockets for quarters and walked
down to the corner laundromat where they sat together
holding hands as they waited and watched the dryer tumble
Together they folded linen billowed it out between them
to shake away the wrinkles brought the corners together
in halves in quarters their bodies coming at each fold closer
and smiling at each other over the hot cotton

The clock-hand spun in circles and soon morning was over
and all they had left was the long drive to the airport
the slow walk through the terminal trying to talk each other
out of sorrow their voices bright with desperation
until they stood at the edge of what any words could comfort

Don’t try to follow me this time she said whatever
else happens we made each other happy for a day
Yes he agreed and they turned to walk away from each other
and though he struggled bravely to keep his face together
he cracked he ran tear-broken back through the concourse
and caught her up in his arms until she eased gently
out of his clasp and kissed him one last time and left him

But too late the moment he turned a demon of memory
sat hard on his shoulder and caught hold of his ear
murmuring over and over the words of their final parting
What what would’ve given the story a happier ending

Out in the meadow that day dark purple butterflies
sipped the sweet nectar from yellow cups of blossom
and blundered into the webs where the big spiders waited
to tuck them into the soft silk of their winding sheets
all their legs a wiggle of happy anticipation
What are you doing here she asked him not unkindly
You look awful your eyes are spilling over with memory

The world hurts to look at he said all glitter and sharp edges
I’m sorry she said but didn’t I warn you to take your time
together and let it go at that it would’ve been kinder
Instead you sent your love back to my mansion loaded
with twice the grief she left with her own and yours also
And with that he felt like he’d fallen into a dark lake
and the cold had got his bones and he was slipping under
Let me join her then he said I’m sick of living

No she told him twice you’ve come here uninvited
and before I let you lay yourself in my bed forever
go back to the sunlit world and tell your story
All I can offer you if you aren’t afraid to accept it
is a kind of consolation and then she gave him a look
that was almost shy First would you do me a small favor
Make me another song like the last one you sang me
only this time sing to me of self-effacing
surrender of love that we give knowing we have to lose it

And so he sang of the love that is not so fearful of ending
that fear ends it love that admits the flavor of pain
the pulling apart of ivy-tendrils ripped from a tree
love that lays itself in the grave of another body
sweetened by loss as we lose ourselves in our lover’s arms
given completely over to pleasure the dark flower
that opens petal by petal unfolding us to the utmost
pitch of surrender lost in the joy of self-forgetting

Then he praised the maiden who makes us a gift of grieving
to spill the bowl of our tears when it grows too heavy
the grace to release our beloved kindly into her care
and not to fear the soft tap of her footsteps approaching
her fingers touching our eyelids when she comes to invite us
into her bed and with cool unhurried hands unravels
the milky threads of our thoughts and memories may we part with them
gladly and go more easily into the dark flower

And the girl smiled as if they’d shared a secret
and she broke the mullein-stalk in half and then in quarters
pressed the pieces into his palm and closed his fingers
Throw these to the wind she commanded and he did
and they were lost in the long grass that cuts the ankles
Then she reached on her tiptoes he was a head taller
and breathed into his mouth the scent of mint and violets

And he woke up alone in the other world and he was
walking down a familiar street and it had been raining
all night and the boughs of the trees were black and heavy
and the first cars of the morning passed with their tires hissing
over the blacktop and under his feet he felt the pavement
slither a carpet of petals battered down by the raindrops
and each puddle swirled with a slick of green-gold pollen
and though he couldn’t remember how or when it happened
his heart had been spilled and at its quick was planted a wet
seed that he’d never known before and it was spring

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