The Solace of Dark Places

by Maura McHugh

Twilight; the crest of summer
breaks upon my back,
my boot heel skids in mud
on the crooked, wooded path.

My dog, a scrap of shadow,
hunts for squirrel trail;
the taste of deliquesced moss
swells within my mouth.

The way ahead curves and bends,
and by a contorted tree,
a doorway stands revealed,
as if conjured by Magritte.

A dewed touch upon my cheek,
and Persephone breathes her dare:
    "Come, open it,
    and see."

Steep steps slip down,
She flits before me, unafraid,
finger bones jab from packed dirt walls
and from below the echoes moan.

At the bottom lies,
Not the Hades I envisioned,
but a dreary, desolate hall,
and at its centre an empty well.

The king straightens his iron crown
and welcomes his wayward queen.
I linger by the cavity's edge;
as their flint gazes scour my face.

She steps, clumsy, from her throne,
Cups my face with withered hand:
    "You require the solace of dark places
    to survive."

A push, and I trip
into the pit.
She shovels dirt,
I do not resist.

Soil stops my mouth,
blankets my flesh,
presses me down,
into ancient, dreaming earth.

I am...

    the turning of the worm
    the latticework of listening roots
    the lost desires of ancestral wights
    the dreadful tombs of hope and might

Eons tick tock.

A movement,
nails scrape my skin free,
Persephone peels back my lids,
and smiles with youthful glee.

    "Once I fought,
    but now I understand the respite of winter;
    I endure its bleak truth
    to arise and forge new splendour."

She tangles fingers in my hair
and yanks me near her terrible whisper:
    "Each burial is a trial that ends,
    but always the seasons wheel again."

She reaps me from the dead land,
kisses her consort farewell,
and we ascend, clay-soaked,
to greet a grey, nebulous dawn.

My dog waits, patient,
licks grime from my chin.
A bird sings, heartbroken
by the sun.

Maura McHugh was born in the USA, but transplanted early to Ireland, where telecommunication masts sprout beside Neolithic graves. Her stories have appeared in Cabinet des Fees, the Fantasy collection edited by Sean Wallace and Paul Tremblay, Shroud Magazine, Pseudopod, Black Static, and Paradox Magazine, and her poetry has appeared in the Jabberwocky 3 anthology, Doorways magazine, and Goblin Fruit. Her graphic novel, Róisín Dubh, will be released in autumn 2010.

Cherries reminds her of "Cherry-Time" by Robert Graves, an appropriate poem for Goblin Fruit. Whenever she thinks of cherries, it's always the purple-black, glossy variety that promise wicked, indulgent flesh.

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