by Rachel Zucker

At home, the bells were a high light-yellow
with no silver or gray just buttercup or sugar-and-lemon.

Here bodies are lined in blue against the sea.
And where red is red there is only red.

I have to be blue to bathe in the sea.
Red, to live in the red room with red air

to rest my head, red cheek down, on the red table.

Above, it was so green: brown, yellow, white, green.
My longing for red furious, sexual.

There things were alive but nothing moved.
Now I live near the sea in a place which has no blue and is not the sea.

Gulls flock, leeward then tangent
and pigeons bully them off the ground.

Hardly alive, almost blind-a hot geometry casts off
every color of the world. Everything moves, nothing alive.

In the red room there is a sky which is painted over in red
but is not red and was, once, the sky.

This is how I live.

A red table in a red room filled with air.
A woman, edged in blue, bathing in the blue sea.

The surface like the pale, scaled skin of fish
far below or above or away—

“Letter (Persephone to Demeter)” is printed here today with permission from the poet.

Rachel Zucker is the author of seven books, most recently, Home/Birth: a poemic (co-written with Arielle Greenberg) and Museum of Accidents. She lives in New York with her husband and their three sons. Currently she teaches at New York University and is studying to become a childbirth educator.

Editor’s Note: By some accounts Persephone intended to remain a virgin goddess forever, before her kidnapping by the King of the Underworld, Hades. But as she reminisces about those halcyon days in the world above she acknowledges her secret guilt, “My longing for red furious, sexual.” To survive in the Underworld, the virgin must become the whore, but she still misses her mother. The transformation never completes as she vacillates between childhood and womanhood for eternity.

This speaks to life in that our identities constantly shapeshift. How many people are you in a week, depending on where you are, the people around you, or even the kind of shoes you’re wearing? I’m a tomboy in my loafers on the way to work, but twenty minutes later in heels I’m a sex object. And when I walk through the city listening to James Brown on my ipod, I’m pretty sure I’m not even a white girl anymore. Identity is fluid, and when red calls, we must adapt to red.

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  1. Sivan Butler-Rotholz says:

    A fascinating poem! I love that the title informs us it is a letter from Persephone to Demeter, because without those instructions we would be missing a whole layer of depth and framing that add such richness to the piece. I am always taken with mythology, and particularly enjoy modern art’s take on ancient myth. But this is not a straightforward retelling of the story of Demeter and Persephone. Instead it is one woman’s world and internal dialogue, flush with color. Such amazing things she does with color! As much as I enjoyed the poem, I enjoyed your Editor’s Note equally. You added new layers of insight that made the poem shine even brighter. Finally, I challenge you this: Start your next poem with “when red calls, we must adapt to red.” I can’t wait to see what you come up with!

    • lezliemayers says:

      I’ll do it if you do it. Then we can post each other. What a weekend. What she does with color in this poem just kills me..I want to have a slice of lemon meringue pie, wash it down with lemonade and then lose my virginity.

  2. Matt Kaye says:

    (I think the Pursephone is one of this century’s most useful inventions. I can’t believe they used to be two SEPARATE items. DUR!!!) Anyways, this poemtry had so many colors it was like reading a dance club. Yellow, gray, red, blue, green, birds, boners, purple, red, orange, fish. Stop this poem I’m dizzy!!! LOL! J/K! Seriously, though….it didn’t rhyme, so I have to take off points. B-

  3. lezliemayers says:

    Sometimes in life you get the bear..but sometimes the bear gets fingerbanged by the woodcutter.

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