Persephone, Returned

by Nicole Kornher-Stace

Winter in its crow's coat lies by roadsides,
all in tatters. Demeter decks the ways
with wildflowers; the trees stand fruiting, vaunting,
giddy, in her glee. Spring goes whirling
through the fields full flown, long banished,
long remiss: delirious
with burgeoning and thaw. The whole once-neglected earth's
got up in green.

Meantime, in the background,
nature's wayward daughter slips the nymphs and flees Demeter's
blossoming. Instead she quarries pomegranates --
rips, devours, tearful -- hid away. From underground she's come
both scathed and rarified: she's changed
and now is changeling: this place is not her own.
And so, she'll seek.

In the deeps of wells she hunts him; in crevices,
old woodlands, musty caves. Listening hard
for calls and carriage-wheels, dark galloping,
telltale reverberations in the surely rifting earth.
Signs. But there are none.
As per the pact, she's safe, returned to home and hearth and self:
reverted. Again she sees herself and knows herself
for what she is: she's springtime's scapegrace spinster-maid,
and the bluff she's called's her own.
And what of her?

At home, Demeter curses her for ingrate
while she moons, and goes ignored: her daughter's lost to her,
and to this world. She's got her own. (Though it, now,
shifts from flesh to thought and back -- transubstantiating --
there, at least, at last, she finds herself:
completing and completed and complete. Whole, if nothing more,
in memory.) So Demeter's daughter hurts and nurses, maddening.
His phantom winters summerlong in her.

And she, alone, will waste and suffer,
unforgetting. She lacks acutely: bewildered, humbled by the touch
her skin remembers, the face she carries in her eyes.
The voice that tracks her still. It's true she's been discarded,
but the doing of the deed was at her hand,
and at her whim. Regret unravels her in threads.
She is undone.

Before long she's discovered, brackish and bedraggled,
scrabbling: nails splintered, black with riverbanks,
with garnered fields, with graves.
She knocks at soft mute doors of earth. She keens.
He hears. And hearing, knows:
a gentleman must honor all his promises;
and does not think to let her in.

Nicole Kornher-Stace was born in Philadelphia in 1983, moved from the East Coast to the West Coast and back again by the time she was five, and currently lives in New Paltz, New York, with one husband, two ferrets, the cutest baby in the universe, and many many books. Her short fiction and poetry have appeared or are forthcoming in several magazines and anthologies, including Best American Fantasy, Fantasy Magazine, Ideomancer, GUD, Goblin Fruit, Lone Star Stories, Farrago's Wainscot, Jabberwocky, and Idylls in the Shadows, and have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Her first novel, Desideria, was released in December 2008. She can be found online at her website or her Livejournal. She has yet to meet a fruit she doesn't like, especially if it's local. Or if it's a persimmon.

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