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/sarah a. etlinger

What If He Had Offered Her His Heart

What if, instead of a pomegranate, Hades had offered Persephone

his heart, and she took it,

believing we would understand the symbol

and she took it, knowing we who came after

would not mistake it for a simple fruit,

and she swallowed it, trusting we would understand

how such a small thing can become your only sustenance?

Reconciliation / In The Kingdom Of Light

[Hades sits, stage right]

Each morning I wake to the stale hollow sound of death. Even when I turn out the light, it hums like a sea of crickets beneath my feet.

[Persephone, stage left, stands in front of a mirror on a vanity.]

Once I believed that if I swallowed my fear, it would go away. But what was it you said? [she turns towards a bed, as if a person sat there] You cannot find peace by avoiding darkness?

The scent of death seeps into my skin so deep even fire cannot burn it off.

I swallowed those seeds. I was so hungry.

Never in my life had I felt such hunger: its heavy branches spread through me and I didn’t know if I would ever be free from their clutching.

[shaking head] Sometimes you have to smoke things out. Sometimes you have to kill something to see it up close.

[Hades stands and walks toward center stage]

Your pale body, a world inside a world within itself, sings of the white poplar I cannot shake, the white poplar of my memory holding court in its kingdom of light.

[P walks to the bed, lies down]

I didn’t know if I could really believe that to swallow anything would bind me to history and my fate, good daughter that I am.

We love bodies that remind us of other bodies, [as if overcome, P bolts upright, walks to center stage as if to face H] songs that remind us of other songs. Now—I stand on the only anchor [H returns to seat, mimes turning on lamp] between realms.

In darkness, light is a blessing. Against its silhouette, almost anything is possible. Almost anything is possible.

When we get what we hope for, it tastes good. Then it becomes an old dress we try on to see how the mirror ages.

[H gestures towards center stage to P, whom he can’t see] I know how they’ll tell the story– that you shrank from me, from my touch, on the couch– but I knew how hungry you were. [P: bows head] How hungry I was. What if joy happens by another name?

What if joy happens by another name? All I could offer you were those seeds. I didn’t know if you would take them.

[P looks up, turns towards audience] If, when it grows, I take it, it moves like fog, like something with feathers.

[H, pleading, accusatory] Do you think I’m the one who poisoned the world? One cannot stop a heart from breaking

One cannot stop a heart from breaking, but you can’t take it with you into the next life, or the one after that.

[H points towards audience] What do you know of the next life or of death?

Let me tell you: there is no savior among the raucous world, nor beneath.

[H and P turn, simultaneously, to face each other]: Does nothing in this wild world forgive?

Sarah A. Etlinger is an English professor who lives in Milwaukee, WI, with her family. A Pushcart and Best of the Net nominee, she is the author of three books: Never One for Promises (Kelsay Books, 2018), Little Human Things (Clare Songbirds, 2020), and the forthcoming The Weather Gods (Fernwood Press, July 2022). Her interests include cooking, baking, traveling, and spending time by the lake with her family.

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