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.