I sat as if a statue,
and Hades brushed my hair
with a comb of iron and asphodel.
I sat as if an icon,
and Demeter brushed my hair
with a comb of crocus and water.
On either side of my candled body,
they held out my hair like wings,
and ran their fingers through it,
oars through black and separate rivers.
And Hades' hand was on my knee, saying:
You are safe here,
where we have brought you.
And Demeter's arms were close on mine, saying:
We only meant the dark
to be a quiet pool
where we can whisper
and remain unheard.
The sky is so bright, and so brazen.
I still clutched shreds
of daffodils and crabgrass in my fists,
and warm salt-sweat
drawn from the well of the sun
lingered in my lashes. My shoulders,
were rosed with sunburn.
You would have squatted bent-knee
on an island in the sea
would have torn out of you
in blue arcs. Your stretch marks
would have been jagged as thunder,
and so white.
They lay me down among the poplars,
the stalks glower-white,
white as standing corpses.
And oh--their voices were steam
rising from black and separate streams.
We brought you past the rivers
where no lightning falls.
The trees here are whole--so tall,
and so white.
I closed my eyes--it made no difference
in the dark. Over one half of me
she lay wheat warm as scarves;
over the windward side,
he draped shrouds thin as gasping
In the corners of the shadows,
I heard the sound of blackbirds passing.
They let my hair fall,
and it covered my skin like a dress.
His hand was shadow;
her hand was corn-light gleaming,
and in each they held out to me
a blaze of wet, red fruit.
Catherynne M. Valente is the author of the forthcoming Orphan's Tales series, as well as The Labyrinth, Yume no Hon: The Book of Dreams, The Grass-Cutting Sword, and three books of poetry, Apocrypha, The Descent of Inanna, and Oracles. She has been nominated for the Rhysling and Spectrum Awards as well as the Pushcart Prize. Her favourite fruit is the strawberry.