I open my mouth. The scream escapes. It is a primal, ancient scream. The Banshee wail that precedes death and mourning. It has been building inside of me through all of my tragedies, humiliations, fears. But the death of my daughters propel it forward, out of me. It is also the scream of Demeter. It comes from deep inside of all women. The goddess roars through me. It is hardly a noise one knows before a child dies, it is something entirely different. A different cry, an animal sound, a wild rage that tears through normal ears. It is the hurricane. The volcano. The typhoon. It is in the Ancient Greeks, the Druids, the Celtic gods, the old Norse and Inuit tales where I find my story into the underworld. We babylost are no longer of this era and we should stop trying to be. We come from the distant past. The grief goddesses inhabit us to retell their stories. We channel their woe, their anger, their cries. We are transported to a place halfway between heaven and hell, the blessed and the cursed, the living and the dead.
I can only really muster worship to the goddesses of grief--Demeter and Hecate, the Norse goddess Frigga, the Aztec goddess Coatlicue. There is a distinguished lineage of goddess grieving. She rarely behaves well. I learn the lessons of grief from mythology. I starve the world. I punish others. But the earth people will be restored. It is me who withers again when Summer leaves, every year, when I am reminded of my daughter's death. It is me who curses the most human parts of myself.
The chill moves through me. I nod to Autumn, bow to her, make elaborate arm gestures to welcome her through my life again. Autumn equinox marks Persephone's descent--her return to Hades, the god who abducted her all those millennia ago, raped her, held her captive in the underworld, fed her pomegranate to seal her fate. Her mother Demeter, the goddess of the harvest, begins her long walk around the world weeping, mourning, taking the life from the crops. Autumn equinox marks my descent too. I walk into my grief season, seizing the harvest, choking the life from everything around me, falling into a deep darkness. It is a welcome turn, when the earth and sky match my insides. It is my slow trudge until my daughter's death day on Winter Solstice.
This veil is thin now in October. Do not underestimate its power. The ancestors step just out of view, like through a gauzy film, whispering: Be better than you think possible.
I shake my head and rub mud into my skin. I light bonfires and bring them forward. "Oh, no, I mourn now, grandmothers. I am my shadow and myself. Two people mourning. Weep with me. Share half a tear, half a cry with your half-daughter."
On the first year, when the earth opened and swallowed Persephone, Demeter walked the earth for nine days searching for her daughter. She ate nothing. She drank no ambrosia. She refused to bathe. She just hunted her only daughter, desperate and possessed with the finding. There are rumors that Persephone screamed before she was taken. Hecate heard it, in fact. And they ask Helios, the sun god, who tells them it is Hades who stole the virgin, raped her. When she was told what happened, she enlists the help of her friends Famine and Petulance to punish the humans until she can see her daughter once more. They are the withered old hags of goddesses, but powerful nonetheless. They delight in cauldrons of poison and starvation and cackle to themselves. And Demeter, a compassionate goddess, felt justified in her actions.
Persephone is allowed to return home only if she has eaten nothing. But she could not resist the allure of the blood red pomegranate, sexy and furtive. The juice drips down her chin, and Hades licks it off her, sealing her fate to return for six months every year.
photo by zenobia_joy.
I find myself jealous of Demeter, seeing her daughter for six months, exacting her grief in such a global way. And the jealousy reads like a sweet nectar of what could be. I drink in the hope. Lucia ate pomegranate in my womb. Or rather, I did. I pulled the seeds from the membranes one by one until my hands were sticky and stained. I didn't know better. The seeds shone like garnets in my hand. And I, gluttonous and greedy, ate more of the underworld. I couldn't stop at six. I ate the entire fruit and then more. I ate resentment and anger, grudges and hurt egos, swallowed them whole. They were still alive and writhing when they hit my stomach, inches from where Lucia slept.
When she died, I walked this liminal land, the space between the dead and the living. The land running alongside the river Styx. I barely heed the warnings of those who came before me:
Do not pay the ferryman if you see him. Do not approach him. But wave across to the others, vacant and plodding through the dark. Ask for your child. Wail, if you must, the shriek of Demeter will be recognized here. But do not get on the boat. And for the love of everything holy, do not eat any pomegranate seeds yourself any longer. They mean something different now, love. Even though they taste like Lucia. They mean something different.
I have existed in liminal spaces for a long time. The borderlands are my patria. My homeland. I am half white and half-Latina. Half-American and Half-Panamanian. I am half a believer, half a skeptic. I am half straight and have AB positive blood. The creatures drawn to me wear horns, and tall boots with twenty-seven buckles, and white make-up, wooly vests and listen to songs about vampires, but work in a corporate office during the day. I live in a suburb, a small town that feels like mid-town. Halfway between city and country. We have a farmer's market and tattooed vendors who smile at your bike trailer and say, "Right on."
After the first snow without her, I became half a mother. Half a breeder. Half of my children are dead. I have half a song. It is about winter, and the triple goddess, and pomegranate seeds which I suck just enough to be allowed visitation rights. She is gone and my summer never comes. Just space and time until I grieve again.
It is half a myth without an ending.
Do you feel between worlds? Which ones? Do you feel close to certain myths or stories now? Has that changed since the death of your baby(ies)?