Persephone’s Return

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Persephone’s Return

For Diane Middlebrook

           Female: the goddesses Hera, Athena, Demeter and Persephone
           Male: the gods Zeus and Hades

Athena is onstage. Hera enters.

Hera:           There’s been a catastrophe.
                    A girl has been taken.
                    None of us are free of what will follow.

Athena:       Who?

Hera:           Persephone, daughter of Demeter.

Athena:       Persephone! So young and innocent.
                    Demeter scorned the men who wanted her.
                    She kept the girl well-protected.

Hera:           She lingered in fields, gathering flowers.
                    Out of the earth, Hades rode a stallion up
                    And snatched her. Draped across his saddle,
                    Under his arm, he carried her off.

Athena:       Hades – Lord of Death!

Hera:           Demeter is in a rage, scorching
                    The earth that hides both crime and daughter.
                    The crops are burned. Hunger will be brutal.

Demeter enters.

Hera:           Dear! Demeter! How awful!

Athena:       How can we help?

Demeter:      Zeus must get her back. It’s his brother!
                    Persephone is Zeus’s daughter,
                    Taken like a simple slave!
                    He cannot have her torn from me
                    To live in shadows and darkness.
                    I’ll get her back.

Athena:       You will!

All:              She will return!

Demeter:      Where is the foremost of the gods?

Athena:       The old bull, the goat, the swan,
                    The master of misleading?

Hera:           He was pacing an empty palace.

Demeter:      Is he frantic for his daughter?

Hera:           More, he misses the savor of
                    Roasted offerings in prayer.
                    You’ve turned people from the gods.
                    Without their regard, we’re nothing.

Demeter:      My first prayer is for my child.

Enter Zeus.

Zeus:            It is a terrible thing, to take a child.

Demeter:      She’s your own child, Lightning Hurler.

Zeus:            And I gave her to Hades, in marriage.
                    He reached for her with love. He loves her.

Demeter:      You took her from me.

Zeus:            You were too protective. We never
                    Could have made this match with you hovering.

Demeter:      And she’s taken from me forever?

Zeus:            No. As we once agreed to slumber
                    And renew, slumber and renew,
                    We can agree now together.

Athena:       Agree to what?

Zeus:            Agree to my brother as the girl’s good husband.
                    He’s as worthy as me. He just drew
                    The world of death as his domain,
                    A hard fate, and he needs the girl’s comfort.
                    I approved and he acted swiftly.
                    Be gracious as your hopes and make this good:
                    Our daughter queen among the strongest gods.

Demeter:      Accept the waste of all the sunlit world,
                    All your river nymphs parched and dry,
                    The maidens weak with hunger – a hard fate
                    for you, to be barren of worship.

Zeus:            I see in you the hurt I’ve caused you.
                    I went too far. I can’t deny you
                    And all we were together.
                    I’ll make this right with you.

Demeter:      You will at once.

Zeus:            So now I must take the girl,
                    Back from a loving husband, take her
                    Back from my brother.
                    I promised her to him. He longs for her.
                    This may be fatal. You’ll have me cross him?

Demeter:      Your rash actions may be fatal to the gods.

Zeus:            But all depends on this: she cannot have eaten
                    in the long night of death. The fruit of twilight
                    tastes eternal. It seems to satisfy.
                    It tempts but holds and never lets go.
                    No one comes back.

Athena:       Who’s coming now? Can it be?

Persephone and Hades enter.

Persephone: Mother!

Demeter:      Persephone!

Hera:           You’re back with us!

Athena:       We love you!

Persephone: But I’ve completely changed.

Hades:          Persephone is now my queen.

Persephone: As my mother is enamored of the earth,
                    I now enjoy the comforts smothered within
                    My daily engagement to death.
                    He rules multitudes and so many more arriving.
                    All of them wander in silence, musing
                    On their distant pasts and parents,
                    As if all that happened afterward is still now.
                    All they see is that distance to what’s gone.

Athena:       All of them? All of them feel the same?

Persephone: They’re just as I imagine them, so yes,
                    All the dead are soon the same,
                    When there’s no one left to love them still,
                    and that comes for all, a second death.

Hera:           But who is left to know?

Persephone: You will know, because now I’ve told you.

Hades:          You may return among the living, you’re free.

Persephone: But I have tasted power over death and
                    so I’m perverted past this life’s mild spice
                    of the fleeting and their fast departures,
                    their nervous numbering of decline.
                    I snack on seeds of pomegranate
                    Gathered in death’s vast dominion.
                    I bite to burst the bulbs of nectar.
                    I grind the seeds to toughen teeth and bones.
                    Seven seeds are just a beginning.

Demeter:      So you ‘re lost to me?

Persephone: For half the year, I will
                    rule in hell. For half the year,
                    we’ll live together still.

Demeter:      So it will be. And with you all the world
                    will cycle and change. The earth will lie
                    cold in stark shadows or dim while you’re gone.

Hera:           Then let the land bloom with her return.
                    Please let us share in your joy with her.

Demeter:      Yes, gladly.

Persephone: Gladly.

Athena:       Sing we still of flowers and corn silks.

Hera:           Sing we still while berries are ripe.

– after Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book V, translated by Rolf Humphries

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