Persephone & Cerberus
I always wanted a dog, but
I never expected this one:
hound of Hades, three heads,
his eyes flash fire. He stands
by the river, allows the dead
to enter but not to leave.
I’ve named him for my own.
I hum him songs my mother
used to sing to me, bend low
to his ear. We are rooted, here.
He is ugly, but he is alive: he squats
to shit on the hard ground, paws
the earth, circles three times round
before he rests. He leans heavy
against my side, three tongues
pink in panting. Hercules arrived
sweaty & disturbed, dragged the dog
to the surface & back, never asked
me for permission. The big oaf
almost strangled his many heads
with chains of adamant, forced
him to walk in the sunshine
like a curse. Now when I go
to the river, Cerberus settles
at my feet on a pillow
of bank moss. Together,
we watch the dead come in.
& after I stepped out under branches &
branches. Oh but it was strange to see them.
Then those acres of bristling brown.
Thorn-caught, I broke the skin of my palm,
wiped my hand across my crisp white shirt,
drew down to sit licked with sweat
on the moss. I walked into these lands
of my father, my mother. Her white house,
shrouded by mist. The moon rose
luminously where it should. Was I
expendable, my loss knocked back
then forgotten, like a shot?
Each return, a reckoning. Now,
the bathroom linoleum reminds me
only of itself: optimistic floral pattern
scrubbed thin. I bare my teeth,
floss, scrub my legs, wash off the clay.
Dress myself: striped t-shirt, soft jeans.
Crab-like, I edge toward the warm, yellow
kitchen, past the sleeping beds, the familiar
objects on the mantle. My sister clatters cream
into coffee. We breathe the lucky air
together, blood fluttering in our veins.
It is said I made mistakes, but what do I
need to explain? Too much to tell:
a miscarriage, the peach tree blown down,
war. & yes I will mourn, my mouth
an O of loss, but later, in the dark.
Sebastian Merrill is an MFA candidate in Poetry at The MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College, where he is a recipient of the Rodney Jack Scholarship and has served as the Friends of Writers Social Media Intern. He is a recipient of the Academy of American Poets Prize for best undergraduate poetry and a scholarship from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. He currently serves as a reader for The Paris Review.