Persephone’s Return

The roses which bow from a tabletop vase
Remain fake, and the woman searches
Her daughter’s face with the same foreboding
As when she left, detesting that cold smile,
All his. Untouched, the girl hums floating past her,
And she barely has the power to control herself,
Not ask how many bottles, and if he’s lying
About overtime at the plant, still
Seeing that dancer. The lawyer’s fought to end
Visitation, but it’s near impossible in this state.
So off the girl goes each Saturday to a man
So low he has a scar inked in his back
Of a woman going down on a thunderbolt,
No regard for boundaries. But the myth
That a child could feel so needy she’d snack
On the food of hell, well it fits here, snug
As the peeled rind of her jeans, and her father
While innocent of that, doesn’t give a damn
About her, just violating the woman
By remote control, even lost to the world
Her daughter still inside her, brutal
As the brutalized become, deflowered from the roots.
She doesn’t lust after men or fruit,
But satisfaction, simple and raw, the malicious joy
In dominating someone. She’s half his after all,
These her inscrutable depths, her inherited future,
Her nurse’s aide mother affectionate and loyal,
Such her principal flaws, and that she fell
For a jerk like him, let him tempt her, the myth
That there is one myth, one woman, one tragic scene,
When the partaking is constant, desire to hold,
To have, to govern, to break free, to understand…
There are over 600 seeds in a pomegranate,
Not enough to account for all the ways she gives
In to stupid want, the girl just one more.

                                                          —David Moolten

43 comments
  1. Mark said:

    Wow….

    Simply wow….

  2. Deep and so very powerful. It seems to happen so often.

  3. djvorreyer said:

    But the myth
    That a child could feel so needy she’d snack
    On the food of hell, well it fits here, snug
    As the peeled rind of her jeans,

    This part is stunning – it’s the turn of the poem for me – I wasn’t sure at first how the myth would work in, but it’s a wonderful modernization.

    • Thank you so much. I think myths like these are never obsolete, always somehow shed light on the present.

  4. the myth that there is one myth does account for a lot.
    I like your variation. It’s a different hell

  5. wayne said:

    well written as usual David…and really enjoyed your words….thanks

  6. If I said, “WOW!” and stopped there, I wouldn’t be wrong. This is powerful, David.

    I like the way you use the myth to inform non-mythic realities and, in refusing some of the terms of the myth, to give those realities legs of their own that can support the transmitted truths on their own but that now dance in the shapes set by the myth.

    There are over 600 seeds in a pomegranate,
    Not enough to account for all the ways she gives
    In to stupid want, the girl just one more.

    Traditionally rabbis have counted 613 commandments in the Torah. That’s something like one for each seed in a pomegranate. How apt, given your association here between the seeds and ways to give in to “stupid want.” Richly allusive in multiple traditions.

    Outstanding!

    • Thank you Paul. The religious aspects of the pomegranate did occur to me; it’s such an enigmatic fruit. For me, in this, the “commandments” are the internalized wishes of the mother, the ultimately hurtful things she innocently upholds.

  7. James said:

    This is really powerful and so vivid. The images of the tattoo and the peeled rind of the jeans convey such an overwhelming sense of decay. As with a previous commenter, the lines “That a child could feel so needy she’d snack / On the food of hell, well it fits here, snug” really jumped out at me. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Thank you James. I was trying to convey the “hell/underworld” we make for ourselves, or others.

  8. Sometimes words are not enough to reflect the appreciation of art, this poem is art. It seems that is so banal yet the best I can do when confronted with iconic poetry. How subtle are the desires that change ones life. The product of passion’s blind eye does not discriminate the want of innocence. The cloying odor of evil permeates this piece. You so artfully wove into this tragic tale of bad choices in life into a characteristic of the pomegranate. And all of it a mythological story. My, my, you do have time on your hands. There is still controversy over whether Persephone ate only three or 613 seeds. Does it really matter? One was for to many for the old girl. I thoroughly enjoyed this fine poem. I appreciate your intellect.
    Regards,
    DH

    • Hi Donald,

      It’s good to see you active on RWP again. Thanks so much for your as always poetic, insightful and effusive commentary. I felt good writing this (maybe good is the wrong word, perhaps empowered…). Philip Levine I think talks about writing a poem that succeeds as like going out in a thunderstorm and getting struck, a combination of chance and self where the larger forces are suddenly and transiently on your side. I felt a bit of a tingle with this.

  9. I’m trying to visualise how a woman would go down on a thunderbolt
    …must be an American thing! :) Interesting take on Persephone. Falling for the wrong guy and ending up with progeny who have the same despicable qualities is a depressing and realistic concept.

    • Hi Rall,

      Thank you. I’ve seen tattoos get pretty psychotic here, but I’ll stay away from the graphic specifics. The casualties in post-divorce squalor are unfortunately many, with the children and the mothers generally getting the worst of it, especially if they are poor.

  10. Linda said:

    There are multiple metaphors about pomegranates in your poem too, David. The fruits of the family relationships (for generations) that have gone sour, the womb of the girl with the baby, gone sour and the Saturday lowlife without boundaries, that feeds on the girl. Yours too, describes lost innocence, for the baby in the womb, especially. “The peeled rind off her jeans”, aptly describes the family which experiences all of this lack of caring for each other. Even the roses are fake. I like that your poem plays off the myths about pomegranates too. It brings ancient stories to our own worldly experience and I think your poem is art.

    • Hi Linda,

      Thanks for your patient take on my poem. I find writing about myths to be a great way to examine our own lives.

  11. Pingback: Via Negativa

  12. Irene said:

    David, you transposed myth into the modern dysfunctional context perfectly. Before reading the comments, I too picked out these striking lines.

    But the myth
    That a child could feel so needy she’d snack
    On the food of hell, well it fits here, snug
    As the peeled rind of her jeans

  13. Cynthia Short said:

    This was so powerfully sad, making me seethe as I read it…
    The last few lines which encompass, “not enough to count for all the ways she give in to stupid want”. I literally wanted to shake her, and once I did…

    • Hi Cynthia,

      Thank you for your heartfelt response.

  14. A great modern take on the myth, with very vivid details that are unfortunately very true to life. I especially loved these lines: “Her daughter still inside her, brutal / As the brutalized become, deflowered from the roots.”

    • Hi Francis,

      Thank you for reading and for your kind response.

  15. Jeeves said:

    Moves like a brilliant story

  16. Ana said:

    the story flows well. And the images of a contemporary Demeter, Persephone and Hades as in the father from “hell” – wow! The image in the first 5 lines evokes the return of Persephone , but what a nice turn with the fake rose flowers.
    Demeter, the care-giver: a nurse aid…
    And yes the seeds, genetically inherited from the father that bind Persephone to the other world of decay…
    Not to mention the powerful end, a good poem always has a great ending image

    • Hi Ana,

      Thank you for your thoughtful and detailed take on the poem.

  17. My first thought was WOW and I realized others had used the same comment. I still think WOW even as I struggle to explain how shocked I was by all the imagery.Disturbing, dysfunctional and so well written!

  18. iverhyck said:

    Again Persephone, but in a new, your own way.
    Nice.
    Konstantin.

  19. derrick2 said:

    Hi David.,

    A little late to the feast but feast it was, and everyone else has been able to express views more incisively and succinctly than I ever could. Your updating of the myth is excellent and disturbing.

  20. angie said:

    it is amazing how mythology has so much relevance in our lives, still.

    two of your images really strike me — first, the tattoo of the thunderbolt. symbolizing zeus: is it the mother (as the image) or the father (wearing that image) who’s bringing the revenge down from the mountain with the inked taunt?
    and then the ending lines, the notion of the daughter as just another ‘seed.’ I almost feel like the mother is Persephone, the daughter incidental.

    your poems always seem to hit me like lightning.
    just amazing, all the connections therein.

  21. Deb said:

    Archetypes are ageless, as you’ve shown Persephone and her family to be. What makes me happiest is your modern scene setting and internal dialogs. I’m not a student of playwriting, but this has that sense to me. I can see it.

    • Deb,

      Thanks. I don’t have the patience for plays or novels for that matter, so my would be ambitions in those forms end up in my poems.

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