30 September 2009

Karen Volkman

[from Karen Volkman's Crash's Law, Norton, 1996]

Persephone at Home

No good reflecting on what might have been
if I'd been different -- no straying
after foreign flowers, no hunger
for bitter fruit. In the beginning --

such a child -- I thought it punishment,
not fate. It is daylight I miss
mainly. What we are granted of sun here
is a dim relentless red. I wander

the reeking river, I pat
fat Cerberus on his many manic heads.
The moldy skiff makes its incessant
prompt arrivals, so efficient,

our dutiful Charon growling orders
from the prow. Huge-eyed, uncomprehending,
the new recruits stare round. Wives still
clutching their washing, wailing children,

soldiers blood-stained and battered
from the latest engagement.
Then that blessed briny sip, welcome
oblivion -- they're blank as babies.

All nights the shrieks of the tortured serenade
our marriage bed. Once it lulled
me rigid. For years after that
first celebrated rape,

I lay cold beneath his coldness,
stiff in his stiff embrace.
I'll give no prince to this kingdom.
That thing is dead.

For years, he broke me for it.
For years, I bled and bled.
That was then. Queen
of his blasphemous backwater,

I make my claim. On earth,
I am virginal abundance, fat and full.
Here, bony and empty, I straddle
my killer, my captor, my grief, my bane,

and tear and take
the torn lip, the raked neck, the aching thighs,
that will remind me
through the long black morning

I am alive.

White Lily

Gnomish in its rounded hunch
of greeny folds, three-fourths of the year
it resembles a weed. Now spring's

unseasonable heat
brings vindication. Trumpet
over frilled, frail trumpet

spills its bone-white notes
in April air. Below, in shadow --
shrunken, overawed -- skulks

the novice rosebush
we rooted in the fall. This
spendthrift, who's squandered

brilliant buds for months,
today knows the earthy weight
of morning-after. Our double

hibiscus, also, pinkly plumed,
succumbed to a plumber's truck
that veered too soon. But the lily

in her straight ascetic's
rigid pose, white as the ember
of a low, enduring fire

takes her pleasure like
the wife of the pastor
come to bed -- prim in her cotton frock

throughout the day, precise
in her firm instructions
to the maid, who cradled

in the rough caress of muslin sheets
bares her stoic shoulders to the room
and seizes in her strong white legs

the truant moon.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you very much for the Persphone poems . . . now there's something to ponder . . . bed mate to Death.