Megan Grumbling

Persephone’s Chorus, in the Anthropocene: Too Susceptible

It was her own fault, that everything was going wrong. The acid and inundation. The blackouts, the drunken bees, so many green crabs that we raced them in the street. It was her fundamentally erratic personality. Her wildness, which, however attractive, was more than a little inconvenient. Dangerous, even. Anyone who said otherwise was a romantic, a sucker for the most maudlin kind of sentimentality. For bucolics. Bodice-rippers. Others said she was too fragile, too susceptible—too partial, even—to domination. Some said it was our duty. Our chosenness, our charity. Her torpor, her pallor, her choking. The stories went that she binged, that she fasted. That her husband had grown wise. We debated. We swallowed pills. Some crazy old lady kept setting up a joke, two kids and a pile of rat shit. We bet dimes on our favorites in the green crab races, but they all looked the same when they lost.

Or maybe it was her mother’s fault. The fire ants. Our flooded beds and swollen tongues. The farmers’ self-harm. Her mother was to blame for the vandalism. For the unspeakable things left in the river. In the reservoir. Her daughter, meanwhile, was sad. Couldn’t sleep. She stared at us from doorways and the mouths of manholes, curled into the fetal position, slicked her eyelids yellow with yolk. There were bizarre stories, murdered trees. Cannibalism. Genital mutations in frogs, in small mammals. In larger mammals. We were having trouble eating. Acid reflux. Anxious sphincter syndrome. Those are smart pills, one kid says to the other, went the joke. At meals, we wore dark glasses or, over our mouths, small napkin-masks, like the ones worn by those who eat songbirds.

It was her lover’s fault. The landslides, the lymphoma, the food riots. The stories went that he sold real estate, or was opening a bar, or was some kind of artist. Or she. It could have been any of us. Someone had watched them down a manhole. Someone had heard that even her husband liked to watch. Someone had seen all three of them stepping into the sea to their necks, slipping underwater in one tangle of limbs. We imagined their naked moments. The nature of the fetishes, the language used. Try some, they make you smarter. She was marked now with strangely shaped blue bruises, and she stared at them in anything that shone—plate-glass, the standing pools in the streets. Some of the bruises looked like letters. We squinted for which letters. For what they might spell.

There was another explanation. For our heat flashes and chills. Our corrosive hormones. Our cracked and bleeding palms. Maybe her lover was no one of us. Maybe there were many. Couldn’t we all remember a stolen kiss? A fruit crushed against a hipbone in the bath? Three warm bodies underwater? An act performed with mirrors? Go ahead. They juice up the frontal lobe. She was looking at us strangely now. Not at us. Not through us. Eyes cease to adjust. But how could we have resisted loving her, grasping for as much of her as we could get? We looked at our hands, and each of us could align our fingers to a bruise. Each of us could read our own name, coil and urge, in her blue.

Cretaceous–Tertiary Extinction. End–Triassic. Permian/Triassic Extinction. We recited. Late Devonian Extinctions. End–Ordovician. Like nursery rhymes, mneumonic devices, countdowns to Go or It. But then something odd happened. To the words and then to the letters. We had stared and pronounced the words and letters too long, maybe. Because sometimes they stopped working. Failed to conjure all our complicated research and formulation. The clever much. Kid chokes down the whole handful. It can happen to any word you read and say over and over and over. Wing Wing Wing. Irony Irony Irony. Cannot Cannot Cannot Cannot Cannot. Any word can become just sounds in a mouth.


Megan Grumbling’s debut collection, Booker's Point, was awarded the Vassar Miller Prize for Poetry and released by the University of North Texas Press this April. Her work has also been awarded the Poetry Foundation’s Ruth Lilly Fellowship, the Robert Frost Foundation Award, a Hawthornden Fellowship at Hawthornden Castle, Scotland, and a St. Boltoph Emerging Artist Award, and has appeared in Poetry, Crazyhorse, The Iowa Review, Memorious, Best of the Net, Best New Poets, and elsewhere.