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Persephone Digs Herself Out

Some years spring comes gently and gracefully. Other years, like this one, it seems we have to fight endlessly for it through snow, slush, mud, wind, and rain. Currently, I long for spring and am wanting to throttle winter. So I wrote this. Other than a mood piece or a really weird short-short story, I'm not sure what you'd call it. But I call it...


Persephone treads the stone passageway under the earth. The jewels in her crown, belt, and sandals light the path for her, surrounding her with a gentle white glow, like those little lights humans string on their houses at winter solstice. (She's never up there that time of year, of course, but she's seen pictures.)

The solstice was three months ago. She's done now with the winter half of the year. She's arranged and co-hosted the Underworld holiday party, supervised all the clean-up, and personally written the thank-you notes. (Honestly, did Hades ever help with those? Good thing he has broad shoulders and a world of jewels to recommend him--and the attractive habit of not talking much.)

Hours ago she locked up her winter wardrobe, kissed her husband goodbye, and set off. She passed the three-headed dog, who whined and yipped and jumped up to lay his heavy paws on her shoulders. She sent him into a stern Down-Stay, scratched all six of his ears, and moved on. She exited the hundred-foot-high gates of the Underworld, wiggled through the dense crowd of ghastly and sad and excited souls crowding for entrance, and set out on the lonely road that sloped gradually upward. A glowing soul, or a regular living cave insect, has sometimes crossed her path, but otherwise it has been nothing but her and the cool black rocks.

Now she feels grit beneath her sandals. Soon it turns to soft soil, and then squishy wet dirt. The smell of earth and mold fills her nose. Before long her foot splashes in a shallow puddle, sloshing cold water over her foot. "Crap," she mutters. She lifts her skirts out of the way and continues forward in the increasing muck, her glowing jewels reflected and twinkling in the puddles. As she advances, the walls of the cave narrow and the ceiling lowers until she has to stoop to keep from hitting her head.

Finally she finds herself at the end of the tunnel: a complete blockage in the form of a huge tangle of tree roots. They corkscrew down from above, covered with grime and dripping with chilly water.

Persephone stops with a sigh, looking up at the gnarly hunk of roots and earth. "I hate this part," she says, then takes a deep breath and ducks into the tangle.

She reaches up, fingers parting the roots to make room for her head. Taking hold of two sturdy, slimy roots, she hauls her body upward into the knot of dirt. She dislodges mud and groundwater, which splatter onto her hair and gown and face. Wincing, she mutters a lively curse Hermes once taught her (in Ancient Greek, even), and pushes her arms further upward into the wet clump. As she fights her way higher, the pressure of roots and earth squeezes her tighter. Pebbles and clods of dirt tumble down the back of her gown and lodge against her rear. Worms and insects crawl over her hands and feet. The roots score scratches in her arms and tear at the hem of her gown. Soil and dead leaves fall into her eyes and land on her lips; she grunts and spits them out, and continues to struggle up--painfully, slowly, up.

Just as she's wondering if this is finally the year some other bastard god or bitch goddess has played a mean trick on her and gotten her trapped in some endless hole, her fingers break through the surface. Through the narrow fissure, white daylight pours onto her skin. With a gust of relief, she shoves one foot against one root, her other foot against another, and stretches both arms into the free air.

Persephone hauls the rest of her body out of the earth and collapses on her back, coughing the dirt out of her lungs, and gulping down the cold fresh air. She's shivering convulsively. Beneath her crackles a crust of snow on top of a carpet of dead leaves. The sky, sensing her presence, parts its clouds and lets the sun spear a beam down onto her. The brightness and hint of warmth make her open her eyes, though she has to shield them for a moment against the glare. She casts a look around from her position on the ground. Beside her rises the massive oak whose roots she just battled. Around her is a forest of similar trees, their branches rising bare and their feet in the snow. Still, her arrival brightens the colors even as she glances about--tree buds swell and turn a deeper red, wildflower bulbs send their green spikes an inch higher, the earliest tiny leaves on a shrub unfurl in brilliant chartreuse.

She drops her hand and looks straight at the sun. "There you are. You'd better warm this place up. It's fricking freezing."

She sits up, and heaves herself to her feet, shaking dirt out of her skirts. "Ugh." She examines her clothes, arms, feet, and hair (which has completely come loose from its tidy twist and is matted with grime now). Her tongue finds a fleck of dead leaf stuck inside her lip, and she spits it out. Where her saliva lands, a clump of daffodils springs up and blooms, delighted to receive such honors.

Persephone plants her hands on her hips and addresses the sun again. "Here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to take a nice long bath in the hot springs, get a massage, and put on a clean gown. Then I'm going to come back out here and start taking care of things. You need to have all this--" She kicks at the crust of snow. "--cleared away by the time I get back. Understood?"

The clouds pull farther away from the sun, letting it shine brighter. Simultaneously, a gentle rain begins to fall, melting the patches of snow.

"That's better." Persephone turns and begins walking toward the rainbow that's appeared beyond the nearest hill. "Also, if you didn't get me a cute massage guy this time, we will have storms of trouble."

In obedience to the goddess of spring, thunder rumbles from dark clouds on the horizon, backing up her threat--but keeping its distance until she should give her orders. As she walks, violets sprout in every spot that her dirty, cold, scratched feet touch the earth.


( 26 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 28th, 2011 12:30 pm (UTC)
I love this, and it feels so damn true. Today it's gonna be 60ish and rainy, and then back to the 40s tomorrow. Dig harder, 'Seph!
Feb. 28th, 2011 05:45 pm (UTC)
Oh, thank you! I'm glad it makes sense to someone other than just me. Man, I'd love one day around 60! We're still hovering around, like, 40. And pouring sleet/rain. Blah. I'm going to get out there with a shovel and help 'Seph out before long here.
Feb. 28th, 2011 01:43 pm (UTC)
Love it. But then I've pretty much loved everything you've done....
Feb. 28th, 2011 05:46 pm (UTC)
You are way too good to me! Thank you for reading. :D
Feb. 28th, 2011 03:04 pm (UTC)
LOVE this! And spring should hurry up already!
Feb. 28th, 2011 05:46 pm (UTC)
Thank you! So glad it resonates with others too. Yeah--I need me some flowers, dang it.
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 28th, 2011 05:48 pm (UTC)
Ah, thank you--I must have hit on a popular sentiment if even you, the champion of winter, agree with it. :)

I'm thinking perhaps La Nina snuck in and turned off Persephone's alarm clock. Then again, much as I HATE to admit it, spring doesn't technically begin for another three weeks. Grumble, grumble.
Feb. 28th, 2011 08:12 pm (UTC)
Thank you. I needed that today.
Feb. 28th, 2011 09:33 pm (UTC)
I'm glad! Thank you for reading it. O come to us, daffodils.

Btw, did the perfume ever arrive safely? I'm never sure, with customs...
Mar. 1st, 2011 12:37 pm (UTC)
Nothing yet! But sometimes these things take a while. :) Thanks for sending it!
Mar. 11th, 2011 05:52 pm (UTC)
GOT IT! Thank you so much. Looking forward to wearing a bit this weekend. (Office has no-scent policy.)
Mar. 11th, 2011 10:40 pm (UTC)
Hurray! If it wasn't smashed in transit, so much the better. I did have a more serious cardboard-and-bubble-wrap system this time.
Feb. 28th, 2011 10:04 pm (UTC)
I loved that. Thanks for posting it. :)
Mar. 1st, 2011 03:33 am (UTC)
Thanks so much! Glad I didn't merely seem weird. :D
Mar. 1st, 2011 12:24 am (UTC)
I loved this! So great!!
Mar. 1st, 2011 03:34 am (UTC)
Thank you most kindly!
Mar. 1st, 2011 05:12 pm (UTC)
I absolutely love this. Then again, I'm a sucker for retelling myths - and reframing the Persephone story as something other than an abduction and rape is always a good deal, in my opinion. I mean...she transforms herself from a goddess almost without work (in a world with no winter, what exactly does the goddess of spring do?) to the friggin' queen of the Underworld and a true goddess in the world above as well. Making her a victim always rubbed me the wrong way.

One of the things I love about this short piece is that you really capture (for me, anyway) the essence of the return of Spring. This whole "return to life" thing is *work*, man. I like that Persephone gets her hands dirty doing the work.

Anyway. I love it. I'll stop gushing now. ;)
Mar. 1st, 2011 05:28 pm (UTC)
Glee! Thank you so much! Yeah, this particular winter-spring transition feels like hard labor, so I figured maybe Persephone has to fight harder to get to the upper world some years.

I am in total agreement about the interpretation of the Hades/Persephone myth! In fact, I wrote an entire novel (someday to be revised) in which I reframed it as a love story between those two, merely misinterpreted as kidnapping by others. Sure, having to hang out in the Underworld could be a somber feature of life, but Hades is *not* Satan, the way some people think. He's never presented that way--he's an equal of his godly siblings, and just has to watch over things Down Below (which is where all the dead go, not just the bad or the good). Anyway, yeah, I'm rambling now too.

Go team Persephone!
Mar. 1st, 2011 06:09 pm (UTC)
Pagan flavored nerd that I am, I've done a fair bit of personal work around the Persephone story, and...yeah. The whole Hades/Satan conflation drives me maaaaad. Thinking of Hades as the god who welcomes us to his realm when our time on earth is complete is rather more pleasant than thinking of him as a tormentor, after all. I'd much prefer to imagine a world where the Underworld isn't, you know, full of torment and suffering.

One of my favorite writers online, Eric Burns, did a lovely job reshaping the Persephone story a few years back. If you haven't seen it before, I reckon you'll dig it: http://tinyurl.com/y8fl5hx.
Mar. 1st, 2011 11:55 pm (UTC)
Thank you! That was delightful! Very Neil Gaiman--I love it when people happily mix modern and mythical. I wish I knew just a bit more mythology so I could feel more comfortable going whole hog on a novel in that style. Or maybe myth is already in us, so it doesn't matter how much you "know"?

I've always liked the Greek myths in general, but am learning more of the world's myths and becoming more a "pagan flavored nerd" the older I get. That's the kind of religion I can live with.
Mar. 3rd, 2011 05:23 am (UTC)
*grins* Some of that old time religion, eh? :) Well, seeing as how a huge number of the rituals practiced in 'modern' religions have their roots in the ancient world, I think most people are working with much older practices than they realize.

Joseph Campbell would certainly agree with your idea that myth is already in us. He suggested (rightly, I think) that certain stories truly are timeless, and did some pretty amazing work showing how many cultures (even ones that were completely unconnected with one another) have these same stories. He also pointed out that Star Wars followed the classic model of the Hero's Journey, which is both true and awesome.

It makes sense, if you think about it. Why wouldn't there be a creation story in every culture? Humans long to know where they came from. Upon realizing that people suffer and die, often without apparent reason, why *wouldn't* there be a fall from paradise story (which, actually, the Persephone story qualifies as - it's a story of where the seasons come from, after all. And therefore it's a story of where both winter and scarcity come from as well)?

It's really easy to think of myth as something that comes from our history, not our present. But I find it helpful to remind myself that "ancient" myth was once...well, current events. :) Or at least contemporary fiction.
Mar. 6th, 2011 10:03 pm (UTC)
*nod* to all that.
I read 'Hero with a Thousand Faces' a few years ago--good stuff. Someday I want to read all of Frazer's 'The Golden Bough' too, but that's a rather heftier proposition. I did recently read and love 'The Moon Under Her Feet' by Clysta Kinstler, which brings the much-needed Goddess side of things back into the Christ story. Beautiful for the pantheistic mindset. I'll have to re-read it, probably more than once in my life.

Edited at 2011-03-06 10:05 pm (UTC)
Mar. 2nd, 2011 02:23 am (UTC)
very interesting.
Mar. 2nd, 2011 10:15 pm (UTC)
also about the hades/persephone myth as a love story, i think the tv show hercules did it that way. the "kidnapping" was because her mother didn't approve of the relationship.
Mar. 6th, 2011 06:23 am (UTC)
That was beautiful...
Mar. 6th, 2011 10:06 pm (UTC)
Many thanks! Glad beauty can be found in the slush and grime. :)
( 26 comments — Leave a comment )