"The Siege of Hades"
by Isaac Stackhouse Wheeler
Meticulous Demeter’s revenge was slow but vicious;
she bred innumerable souls to choke the underworld
and laced them with her own ethos; her triumphs
sickened its entombed monarch, and soon he was impotent
except when his bedmate taught him another variation
on the word girl, for every earth-incising cut of the plow
made their common ancestor fruitfully divide.
Wily accomplice Persephone teased him through
the whole agricultural revolution with promises of Chaucer
eventually meaning “ignoble children”
by knave girls, whilst men learned to plant seeds,
carry brides across thresholds, and keep close watch over them.
Her lingual subtleties sufficed to coax him through
the whole of the enclosure movement, the mounting yields,
the surplus population going up chimneys and down mines,
plying him with seemingly endless Slavic variations on dyeva,
the two diminutive suffixes that could render it “little girl”
or “young woman.” Dyevitsa, the root with the Muscovite equivalent
of the Roman ix, meaning “girl who thinks she’s hot shit,”
but not presuming she’s either right or wrong, up to the very birth
of the Soviet Union, up through Lysenko and collectivization,
where komsomolka reared its lovely head, bright-eyed and drab-skirted
Communist Youth League activists probing under the black earth
with long iron rods for hidden grain, while the villagers watched,
slim as scarecrows. Things got harder over time; in postwar America,
when appetites had to be retooled to service ration-packing lines,
it was only coed entering general usage that kept him going—
firmly institutional, but laden with implication, like a nightstick.
By the time Monsanto seeds rolled around, she was grasping at slang,
sanitized constructed languages, particles of lost internationalisms.
Hades expressed an interest in learning words for impotence
but his bride was having none of it. Something had to give,
a pact was struck, and back across the threshold
the eager hostage of Hades strolled. Since then,
her king has been unable to watch her quite so closely—
that suited him fine, though, three seasons sunken
in his drowsy court of leaf-veined sycophants,
one with long-limbed Persephone at his side to whip them
into whirling conspiracies for fear that it wasn’t her mother.
Suppose it was this new and overmighty queen all along,
dissecting her distorted mortal reflections into delectable morsels
for the bilious ears of her ill-tempered consort to stew over.
What’s she after? She has not demanded her own throne.
She perches on the arm of his in a sequence of pretty dresses.