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Ron Koertge

Three poems

Hades / Persephone / Demeter


I am not Death. That is Thanatos. However, I rule the dead and my name, Hades, has come to mean my kingdom. Charon brings subjects across the Acheron and I pass judgment. I am, I admit, stern but I am also fair. Really, how bad can I be? I like dogs. My dog, Cerberus, is a watchdog with a long red tongue. Three of them, actually. My brothers are Zeus and Poseidon and after our father Cronus was dethroned we drew lots for the world. I am a bit gloomy by nature. The sky was too bright for me, the ocean too damp and cold. I love the underworld. I love its crows and smoke.

I don’t have to be lonely. Phantoms will do anything to get out of here. They praise the rubies on my shoes, they try and pet my dog, they whisper that their mouths taste like the sweet berries of the Central California.

Actually, they taste like ashes. So when the need arises, I visit the nymphs and naiads, frolicsome under the naked sun, fun for an hour. But not one of them could sit still for ten minutes without giggling.

Persephone seemed different. Was different. Is. I admit I carried her away but I am not the sort to show up at her mother’s house with a bouquet.

No, I took her and then I wooed her. A room of her own, a weekend in Asphodel, I kept my bejeweled hands to myself and the distance between us shrank. She dozed off one afternoon as we cruised the Styx. Her elegant fingers twitched as she dreamed then waking with a start she reached for my wrist and blurted, “I thought you’d be cold, but you’re not.”

That night she came to me of her own free will, took off the disguise of daughter and lay down. Next morning she was queen of the dark.

Nothing last forever even if you’re a god and everything last forever. Demeter would have let the earth die if she didn’t get her daughter back, at least for half a year.

Next morning I watched her dress. Then she put my hand on her heart, kissed the nape of my neck as she liked to do, and disappeared.

I went to my calendar and made the first X of many. Then I ascended my throne. At my feet, the newly dead stopped telling ghost stories. They were naked and frightened. They kissed the hem of my robe and prayed, but only those who said, “For Persephone’s sake, my lord” got even an ounce of mercy.


Here’s the official version:

My mother is Demeter, goddess of bounty. When Hades took me, her sorrow knew no bounds. While she searched, flowers faded and crops failed. Helios, the sun, finally told her I was in Hell. Zeus intervened, a deal was struck, and I got to spend six months in the upper world with my beloved mother.

It’s a fairy tale about the seasons. It’s humbug. It’s a lie. Here’s the naked truth:

I was my mother’s hostage. Her toy. A pet she let loose briefly to gather flowers with her playmates. Ares wooed me (bronze armor, fire-breathing stallions, dangerous) and then Apollo whose beauty warmed the very air around us, but she rejected them and sent me to gather more crocus.

And then one day Hades rose out of the earth, put a sooty hand around my ankle and I woke up in the underworld.

Did I weep? At first. Was I afraid? Who wouldn’t be. But Hades was patient. He wasn’t a rapist, he just didn’t have time for courtship. And I realized that he could have invited anyone, but he chose me!

While Mother searched and the earth parched, he gave me time to adjust and learn about his dark realm. He showed me off to the damned (Tantalus said the sight of me was like pineapple on his tongue), we played tag in the Elysian Fields, and cruised the rivers. Eventually he pulled me down and kissed me. His lips tasted like iron, dark blood I didn’t know I had coursed through my innocent veins and I heard myself gasp, “Kiss me again.”

Then Helios opened his big yap and Zeus got involved and when I knew I couldn’t stay forever, I ate the pomegranate seeds. Half a life is better than nothing.

I had learned to love my kingdom. My husband has a helmet of darkness that makes the owner invisible. I put it on, tip-toe around him, pull on his beard, blow in his ear. When I take it off I’m wearing only a few jewels. I play with Cerberus and stroll through the Fields of Asphodel where the bland live for eternity. Neither good nor evil in life, neither hot nor cold, their punishment is more of the same: a cubicle and a PC. Just the sight of me, just a whiff of my fragrant hair and bare arms, makes them suffer for what might been.

And my mother? We get along now, and her world can be pleasant with its orchestras and Italian restaurants. But I prefer Hades where I am more than just a pretty girl, more than Demeter’s dutiful daughter.

There I am a dark queen, and people fear me.


There I stand with corn on my head and a torch in my left hand. Really, who came up with that hat? The torch I used to search for Persephone, but did anyone help me find her? All they did was whine: “I’m hungry.” “What happened to the rain?” “Why is the wheat falling over on itself?”

Mortals make me sick. They’re like readers dropped into a story they can’t understand.

Here’s a stupid-mortal story: I’m searching high and low, all right? And I decide to disguise myself as an old woman named Doso and rest awhile. I don’t want to be me. Me with the missing daughter, her picture on every half gallon of milk and telephone pole.

The king I’m staying with has a son, Demophon, and I’m baby-sitting him. What a wonderful child: handsome and smart like Persephone was beautiful and smart before… Anyway, I decide to make Demophon live forever by burning away his mortal spirit in the hearth. Hestia approved. She knew what I was up to. So every night I laid him among the coals and every night he was safer from illness and death. Until his mother walked in, saw him there among the embers and screamed. His soul could have been purified from the defilements of flesh. Instead, she took him and ran.

And speaking of defilements and flesh: As it turned out Persephone liked sleeping with the enemy. So I get to imagine Hades’ filthy hands on my daughter’s white flesh. Ungrateful child! Hermes had made the deal. She knew she was coming home. And she ate the pomegranate seeds anyway!

She did that to spite me. After all I’d done. The sacrifices I’d made.

I had the story written: safe forever, at every feast in Olympus Zeus would marvel Which is the mother? They’re both so beautiful! Like sisters for eternity, borrowing each other’s clothes and gossiping.

Well, what I get is a few months in the summer, and then it’s Hades this and Hades that.

I really cannot bear to think about it.

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