Central Coast California Writers Club Contest Winner: Elizabeth Kerlikowske


Persephone

My mother knew this was the day I had ripened,
first blood, nectar of a tea rose. This was the day
Hades would come for me. When I wasn’t looking
from the little cloth she wrung out, the one from
between my legs, she dabbed her pulse points
with the curse of youth. She kissed me hard and
walked off toward the meadow.
______________________

I didn’t know what to say when the town folk
came to the door asking: Where was summer?
What grains were left? Could I make apples?
Only thirteen: what could I know? But inside me
like seeds in the hollow boat of cantaloupe, she
had implanted her knowledge. And there was
her recipe box.
______________________

My first attempts were doomed: dodos and
sunchokes. I’d never seen the world. My
imagination was domestic: leaves shaped like
spatulas and paring knives, skirts of petunia,
dutchman’s breeches, stalks of tampons tipped
with purple blood, lace snowflakes wrenched
from kindergarten scissors, maple leaves--
my hands waving mother home.
______________________

I never stopped missing her. I made nature
in her image: blue birds for her eyes, canaries
of hair, a monarch of lips. Every pansy
a cameo of her face. If she saw herself,
she might remember where she belonged.
I stuffed milkweed pods with fluff like the
down pillows we slept on, like the presents
she’d left on my chair each of the twelve birthdays
she was there. I created prairie in the pattern
of our tablecloth, but by thirty, I knew she
wasn’t coming back.
___________________

I did not make pomegranates, although
I could have. They fit the form my fruits and
animals took. Everything had hide: ugli fruit,
avocados, coconut, armadillos and porcupine,
my finest creation. I knew first hand, being
soft was too painful.
____________________

I never married but wished myself a daughter
to recreate my mother’s love. We spent our days
together naming creatures. I taught her potions
and she showed me new designs for forests,
ways that trees could accommodate the seasons,
which had mostly returned. I wrote a book of
cures she illustrated with poison sumac, cow
parsnip, and angelica.
____________________

That final morning she came to me, her fingers
tipped with blood and a question mark on her
face. Ripe, she was ready to walk the meadow
alone. For the first time in our lives, I said no.
I helped her staunch her little flow and dabbed
drops of that freshening on my pulse points.
I acted nonchalant but inside I was dying
as I left for the meadow.
___________________

I hadn’t been in the clearing a moment when
he snatched me from the sun’s embrace and
plunged us into a colder region. I kept my face
averted so Hades would not see the frets of age
until we’d passed the Styx and there was no return.
But as we bathyscaped into the nether world,
familiar smells were sooty moths fluttering in
the gantry. My heart beat fast and the light of wild
mustard and goldenrod burst into view, and there
was Mother, cleome smile, her loom, arms held
out at last for comfort