Friedrich, The Matchmaker

By Jozef Leyden

“Jake, it’s time you started thinking about a serious relationship,” Uncle Maurice says on the day of my thirty-fifth birthday. “Serious,” he accentuates. 

“You need to find a good person. A good woman!” he stresses.

“Character is more important than riches and beauty.” Uncle Maurice is not averse to clichés. 

He should know, he first married when he was only twenty-one; now, he struggles with his fourth marriage at retirement age. 

It is a Sunday afternoon at my parents’ house; early spring sunshine fills the living room; my mother has baked an apple-strudel; my father has opened a bottle of old Armagnac, all in honour of my birthday. 

Listening in, my mother eagerly nods several times; she seems to agree with her brother. In her mind, she adds to his criteria “preferably Jewish, a doctor or a lawyer;” no doubt about it. My father does not offer any opinion, but his facial expression speaks volumes. He does not think highly of Maurice’s wisdom when it comes to relationships. 

Me, I nod too; only once and unconvincingly. Just to get them off my back. My current status of romantic affairs (they have probably dissected this subject already before my arrival) is uncomplicated ̶ single again. A month ago, Luzia and I had split. Not considered as a tragedy by anyone around the table. Not even by myself. No regrets. 

It was a passionate liaison, flamed up like fireworks. We met by chance at Lisbon airport; a week later, we were a couple, madly in love. She put her microbiology research at the University of Lisbon on hold, arranged a sabbatical and followed me to Canada. 

After a year of fiery love, the flame suddenly went out, as abruptly as it had ignited. She could not stop herself from flirting; or even worse, who knows, with other men. Mistrust killed my affection. 

We had a few harsh altercations; Luzia returned to Lisbon; an ocean came between us. Memories and expired love declaration emails were all that was left. Strangely, I was not heartbroken when she disappeared from my life; I was open to new encounters when the time would come.

“It’s hard to find my ideal match, a girl with spunk, characterful, intelligent, an art-lover, well-read.” I pick up the thread of the birthday-Sunday round-table conversation. 

“Nay, Jake, that would be just a retouched, idealized version of you. Seek a goodhearted better-half; you’ll never get bored,” experienced Maurice preaches again. 

No further comments are uttered; the strudel is consumed in harmony.

“Have to leave now; to look for a clairvoyant matchmaker,” I announce and kiss everyone in the room on both cheeks. A family habit inherited from my East European grandparents.

I did not tell them that a quest for a new amour could not be my priority in the coming months. First, I must finish my badly belated study on algal Photosynthesis, already a year behind; my research grant at the university is as good as depleted. 

The whole summer, I slaved away, browsed through zillions of articles online, mostly penned by researchers desperate to comply with the holy commandment of frequent publishing, a prerequisite for entering the iron gates of the remunerated academic world. I am no exception. 

When autumn came, my scientific creativity was drained; I felt I needed to resume my inspirational trips to the National Art Gallery. And I mean ‘inspirational.’ Photosynthesis and visual arts have got to be correlated; both are essentials of human life; both depend on solar light. My proprietary hypothesis. I might quote it in my dissertation if I ever finish it.

For years now, I have regularly sought my refuge in this glass castle above the river. There are specific pieces on exhibit which I favour for a while for whatever reasons. This fall, an oversized bronze bust of Friedrich Nietzsche is my pick. The old guy’s face fascinates me, implies a trove of human insight behind his arched forehead, sage eyes look off into the space, a grin hidden behind a monumental moustache; his trademark. 

He looks intensely pensive; had probably practised in front of a mirror for this pose; now, immortalized in bronze by the artist-sculptor.  

It is not because of the philosopher’s works that I like the sculpture ̶ my knowledge of philosophy is limited to basics, mostly extracted from reading popular literature ̶ it is the aura of the sculpture. Positioned among European post-impressionist paintings; a sombre face between brightly coloured landscapes ̶ that keeps me captivated for months. 

There is a low wooden bench in front of the sculpture, my vantage point for this season. Gallery guards had taken note. 

After all those years of frequently visiting the Gallery, the guards got used to my fluctuating fascination with specific artworks. First, they watched me with suspicion when I lingered too long and too often in front of a masterpiece; now, they wordlessly greet me in friendly acknowledgment of my presence. I have become a recognized regular.

Along with the aesthetic appeal of my chosen artworks that compels me to return to them, I love to overhear observations and commentaries of other admirers of my ‘darling-pieces.’

‘My Nietzsche’ is a hidden gem, strictly for connoisseurs.  

I keep tabs on Friedrich’s incidental aficionados. Some of them are regulars, just like me. 

Father and daughter; he is in his fifties; she is in her early teens. I have caught them twice already, eyeing the philosopher. Father subtly tries to educate his cherished offshoot; the loving daughter pretends to hear his nuggets of wisdom for the first time.  

“You remember this guy?” the father lectures. “A giant among the thinkers; that’s why this bust is so massive. Look at the moustache; you can’t see the corners of his mouth; there must be a message behind growing such a dense, extended brush.”

“A message?” the daughter disbelieves.

“How about ‘Guess ̶ am I smiling or am I sad?’”

“Or ‘Read my lips, if you can.’” 

An original angle. 

Two students in their low twenties ̶ undergrads, my guess; the university campus is on walking distance from the Gallery. They don’t seem to be a couple; not yet. I wonder who is going to try to impress whom. 

Him: “Here he is, my anchor point, my mental watering hole in this plantation of cultural enlightenment! Let me introduce my friend Frederic N.”

Rather pompous for an opening move.

Her: “Your role model? Frederic, eh? Wouldn’t be mine. He was Hitler’s favourite philosopher. Let me show you my favourites.” 

A clincher; they wander briskly towards the Impressionists. Will Friedrich/Frederic get a second chance with her? Or will her friend readjust his preferences, choose some other sculpture to appease her? Hopefully, not the monstrous female spider of steel, dangerously spreading its eight extended legs close to the entrance of the Gallery. 

Now, I must admit that it is pretty cheap to be derogative. At the same time, I watch and eavesdrop on my fellow Gallery-goers. That’s not why I am here. After the summer, my sittings on the bench have an extra purpose, pursuit of a new flame.  

Casually talking to strangers, making contacts in art galleries and museums is the weapon of my choice when on the dating path. It’s a bare necessity; I am not a bar-goer. A date in a bar does not work for me. Loud music and dim lighting distract me, completely kill my sharp conversational skills, and make me appear an undesirable, dull loser. Either way, I doubt my sought ideal alter-ego would be found in a bar environment.  

Meanwhile, the Nietzsche-bench becomes my lookout to discover and select worthy, long-term relationship candidates. I imagine a young woman interested in the classical philosopher could be my true soulmate, maybe even the chosen one. 

With a bit of luck, such a human gem might even fit within Uncle Maurice’s realm of pristine characters. The combination of a penchant for profound art and a heart of gold should not be unusual among intellectuals, should it?

It’s a dark November afternoon; the icy wind blows dead leaves from the curb toward the tall Gallery windows. Not far from the city, deep in the forests, deer hunting season is in full gear. Hunters shiver in cold hideouts, wait for their prey. At my lookout in the Gallery, I am better off. With my buddy Friedrich, I wait and watch. 

It takes a while before my perseverance is rewarded. A dark-haired girl deliberately steps into the space between my bench and the sculpture. Charcoal rib-knit dress, fashionable eyeglasses, expressive face, about my age, a laptop bag over her shoulder. These are not permitted in the Gallery; she must be an insider. Gallery catalogue in her hand.

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She notices me, looks briefly into my eyes. The moment of truth?

“Nice moustache there.” She directs her comment to Friedrich. 

“Movember prophecy,” I respond from behind. 

“Nothing is known about Nietzsche’s men’s health issues,” she comes back, now looks at me, adds, “Are you a Movember fundraiser-professional? Are you waiting here to ambush potential givers? A donor chaser, so to speak? This bronze thinker is a nice decoy.” 

“Far from it. I’m just a humble scientist resting here. I hope this Friedrich will give me inspiration for my concept of quantum photosynthesis.” 

Ouch, what colossal BS, a pretentious introduction. I need somehow to mend my image, to show some genuine interest in her.

“What about you? Are you a urologist? Are you here investigating sculpted celebrities for signs of mortal diseases?” 

“Close. A dermatologist. And yes, you can learn a lot about mental and bodily ailments from artworks. No doubt about it. It’s a study I work on along with the Gallery curators.  

By the way, I already noticed you sitting here last week and critically watching bystanders. Like a deer hunter on a stakeout.”

“Embarrassing; sorry. Believe me, I’m harmless. I’m just curious to see who would be attracted by this impressive artwork. My champion piece of the season. You said, ‘a hunter?’ More like a trapper, though; this bust is my bait.”

“Trapper, eh? Can I buy you a coffee, trapper?” she responds, smiling.

“Coffee? Why not. They brew decent espresso downstairs in the cafeteria.”

We settle at a table beside a large window facing the river, small cups of espresso in front of us.

Time to properly introduce myself, “Jacob Levin is the name.”

“I am Zarah Bergman. Zarah, not Sarah,” she tells me. 

“My mother was teaching a course on Nietzsche at McGill at the time when I was born. She would have preferred to name me Zarathustra had my father not intervened. Zarah was a compromise. It sounds almost like ‘Sarah,’ my grandmother’s name.” 

She looks at me and, out of the blue, declares, “Internet dating doesn’t work for me; I had some disappointing experience. I prefer direct encounters at places of my choice.”

For a moment, I’m at a loss for words; this Zarah ̶ no beating about the bush.

“Zarah, you caught me here off guard, your openness, so to see, we are both on a quest. About online dating, not my cup of tea either.”

But why me?” 

“Well, Jakob, you seem to fall into the category of ‘right guys.’ I mean, into my category of ‘right guys.’ About my age, a museumgoer interested in thinkers. You don’t look freaky. You seem to be single; I checked your hands. Last but not least, I vaguely remember seeing your face last Rosh Hashanah in the shul downtown. 

Tinder wouldn’t be able to find me a better match. So, why shouldn’t I give it a try?”  

A straight shooter is she, this Zarah. Her directness in the delicate matters of courtship is thrilling; I am sold.  

And thus, we started dating, very conventionally, in phases. What a difference from my previous fiery liaison!

Phase One. 

We see each other once or twice a week, have lunches downtown, go to see avant-garde films in independent movie theatres, and needless to say, regularly pay our respects to Friedrich, the matchmaker. 

We become close, tell our family histories, relish each other’s company, reach a degree of intimacy, intimacy, not passion. 

Phase Two.

I like her, I like her a lot. It shows. She is not hiding her affection either. 

We confess our past loves, triumphs and heartaches.

More than a month has passed when Zarah invites me for a Shabbat dinner at her place. She has made an effort to put a great meal on the table. The soft music of Mussorgsky’s ‘Pictures at an Exhibition in the background. A well-orchestrated evening.

“Zarah, you indisputably beat the culinary accomplishments of my entire clan,” I declare truthfully after dessert. 

“An exquisite five-course dinner with candles and challah; brachot before and bentsching after; the whole nine yards,” I share with my father over the phone later in the week. So far, he is the only one of my kin ‘who knows.’ I don’t tell him that I stayed for the night.

Phase Three. 

Yes, we are now an acknowledged couple. Acknowledged by friends and family. Spend weekends together, my place or her place. Hold hands in public. Admit being in love. A few moderate, controllable disagreements; very civil. 

Rather reluctantly, I have complied with the unwritten code of the step-by-step serious dating course and asked Zarah to meet my parents. For coffee and cake on a Sunday afternoon. 

My smart Zarah, unlike Luzia, has charmed the family panel, smoothly passed the litmus test. 

Do I ever think about my butterfly-Luzia? N-no.

We have been dating for almost four seasons, faithfully follow contemporary social patterns and rituals. Living-apart-together; joint dinners; weekends; visit friends, family; save for a down-payment. 

Her parents, the Zarathustra expert-scholars, live in Vancouver, half a continent away. That gave me some slack to prepare my ‘right guy’ act. We flew to Vancouver for Labour Day weekend. I was approved. 

It is a cold November day, our first anniversary; we pay a visit to our matchmaker. We walk by Friedrich in thankful acknowledgment; we wander from painting to painting, look for our favourite pieces. I feel restless, have an inexplicable urge to provoke my Zarah.  

There is our Mondrian, exhibited in the Dutch painters’ hall; we slow our pace. 

“Don’t you think, Zarah, that our relationship is a bit like this painting; a neat arrangement of rectangular objects in uncomplicated primary colours, straight lines, eye-pleasing?”

Why am I saying this? Am I transmitting that I miss thrilling adventures and fireworks in our intimate association? Zarah looks up, unsettled picks up the gauntlet. She leads me to a large Jan Steen ̶ a messy family gathering tableau.

“Would you rather prefer this metaphor?”

Touché.

Zarah looks agitated; I must have hurt her. She leads me to a Degas, an expressive painting of a young ballerina. She knows that the canvas is one of my favourites. Not hers. 

“If you seek pictorial allegories, would this be your luscious Luzia reminiscence? Do you think you’d be better off with her?

I am startled; try not to show it. Is she right? Have I missed the boat, my Santa María underway to exciting treacherous discoveries of exotic worlds ̶ by letting Luzia go?

Renouncing my stormy affair with Luzia, am I now willingly headed towards the rationality of a well-reasoned ‘tying the knot?’   

The dark clouds above the wintry landscapes on the wall threaten to diffuse into the Gallery’s spaces, to invade and contaminate our comfortably premeditated romance.

Seeking a compromise, neither of us is ready for a caustic argument, we turn to a peaceful Dutch vista ‘Calm at the Mouth of a River.’ The picture of boats with white sails mirrored on unruffled water surface emits pacifying air desperately needed for any reconciliation. The calm before the storm?

In silence, we descend to the cafeteria. 

Mayday, Mayday. God help us.


Jozef Leyden (pseudonym) lives in Ottawa, Ontario. He was born and raised in Bohemia and lived for a few decades in the Netherlands before finding his home in Canada. His writings often reflect on his European roots and his career. He has worked in academia and industry as a physicist, sailor-oceanographer, environmental surveyor, and university professor.

Electric Love

By Fannie H. Gray

Most mornings, I awaken sweat-soaked and coverless. A lumpen heap of pillows and blankets amasses in the vacancy where Patrick, my husband, used to sleep.

I go to the kitchen, followed by a menagerie of animals I began accumulating shortly after the quarantine began, a few days after Patrick’s death. The thought of being alone has always terrified me. Asked the ubiquitous question as a little girl, what do you want to be when you grow up? I always answered, married. Perhaps I was a halved zygote and have yearned a lifetime to feel complete. 

Three once feral cats, a possum recovering from a head wound, and a one-eyed dog follow me into the kitchen. I fill five bowls with Kibble and then sit contentedly amongst the animals, drinking coffee that I boil on the range. When the animals are done, Walt, our dog, follows me into the pantry, and we discuss which pasta we should have today. Penne? Walt barks. Excellent choice, I tell him. Soon, the wine berries on the back fence will be ripe. Fresh fruit pleases everyone. Occasionally, Walt gets wild hair and eats grass, but he always regrets it.

Later, I open the wooden front door, and we six sit behind the glass stormer to watch for any weary souls who might venture out. We wave at the masked citizens who look up while plodding along. There have been fewer coming out. Last week, an angry mask-less young man gave us the middle finger and grabbed his crotch. He took a menacing step onto the front walk, but Walt bared his raggedy teeth. The possum and I laughed as the miscreant ran away.

Sometimes, the power sputters on for a few minutes. Lights and fans, blinking clocks, once the blender I forgot I was using, roar to life. We rejoice, run around the house, turning lamps off or on. Music for the masses, I will yell, and we gather in the study to dance to Lucinda Williams.

Not long ago, perhaps on a Tuesday, there was rain. A menacing sky lowered to the lawn, and Walt refused to go out and relieve himself. The possum and the cats morphed into a fuzzy ball on the sofa. I stood alone at the bay window and watched the rain wash down the abandoned street. A single child–size shoe sailed down the gutter. I suppose that is when I got the idea.

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Before Patrick died, before anyone was sick, when power was a given and socializing was normal, we had electric outlets installed on the façade of the house so we could light it up at Halloween and Christmas. Our house was a beacon for trick-or-treaters and carolers.

So, the day after the rain, I find every power strip we own. I plug outdoor extension cords into the exterior outlets. Then, I gather the lamps and the portable fans, the digital clocks. I pick up the blender and the food processor and set both to On. Walt, the only family member, allowed outdoors, follows me into the yard. The cats and the possum watch dutifully from the storm door. Walt chases his own tail as I plug the appliances in, but I know he keeps his eye wary for any strangers. When I am finished, I sit on the front stoop as Walt rolls on the walkway and survey my handiwork. We have a veritable barricade of electronics ready for our defence. I ask Walt to come inside, and then I let the gang know about my surprise. The animals wait politely at the door as I run down to the basement. He is a little unwieldy, but I manage to get Santa up the stairs. Patrick, who dabbled in welding, made him a few years ago from chicken wire. I painted him and wove the fairy lights into his form. For good measure, I grab a Santa stocking cap Patrick used to wear on Christmas and mash it down over Santa’s chicken wire hat. The animals step aside, and I muscle Santa onto the front porch, where I plug him in. There, I say to my assembled furry family: Walt barks and the possum smiles. The cats never really have much to say, but one weaves in between my legs, so I interpret that as applause.

It is while Walt and I are picking wine berries and gathering dandelion leaves in the backyard that we hear the ruckus. The possum, which we have decided to call Elmo, is scratching at the screen door, smiling at us. Walt and I enter the kitchen, following Elmo, who makes his crooked little way to the front of the house. All three cats are poised on the back of the sofa, fixated on the scene in the front yard.

Every fan, lamp and clock has roared to life. The blender, in a buzz of activity, has fallen onto its side. Santa is divine. Even in the bright, hard light of the midday sun in summer, sheltered as he is between the rhododendrons which flank the front porch, Santa is alive in his electric glory.

Here is the interesting thing, though; if I had thought I was constructing a barricade, I was indeed quite wrong. It turns out our assemblage of appliances has beckoned our dormant neighbours. Little clusters, pods of families and friends who hunkered down together, have gathered in the street. Walt makes happy yelps, and Elmo and I wave as everyone marvels at our display. Most wave back. A few brave children break away from scolding parents and run up to Santa, tap him to make sure he is not an apparition, I suppose.

After 30 minutes, most of the groups have dispersed. It seems the power is back on for good. I turn off all my toys, unplug them and bring them in except for Santa. Walt and Elmo agree; Santa should remain to remind everyone that faith and love are electric.


Fannie H. Gray lives in Montclair, NJ with her husband, two children, Mac the Boston Terrier, and Neo the Tuxedo. Her poem The Trick was included in Beltway Poetry Quarterly’s Langston Hughes Tribute Issue. Her fiction can be found in The Tatterhood Review, Sledgehammer Lit, Sad Girls Club and K’in. She prefers coffee with chicory and a damn fine Rob Roy.

Me and Bobby McGee

By Mark Jackley

The deejay interrupted 
Tears of a Clown to say
Janis was dead, my sweet Lord,
it’s too late baby, though
I’m going out of order, 
Tapestry came later,
after Janis swooned for Bobby, 
windshield wipers slapping time.
Freedom’s just another word 
for nothing left to use,
ask the poet scarred 
by acne and Port Arthur,
found at the Hollywood Motor Hotel 
blue-lipped, clutching a cig. 
She really did try to make it, 
my Lord, I want to see you,
I really want to be with you, 
oh god, please fucking listen—
if there’s a smile on my face, 
it’s only trying to fool the public.


Mark Jackley’s poems have appeared in Fifth Wednesday, Sugar House Review, The Cape Rock, Talking River, Cagibi, and other journals. His book Many Suns Will Rise is forthcoming from The Main Street Rag Press. He lives in Purcellville, Virginia.

The Pomegranate Letters

First Published in “Analogies and Allegories Literary Magazine, Issue 5 “Fate”

By Leslie Benigni

Hades,
My daughter is not another soul to collect.

It started in the field, didn’t it? It was on the edge of our property, and she laid in the tall grass while I tended to the wheat in the next patch over. It was summer, and she was in her daze as she always was. She was traipsing behind me every now and again and singing her song in her proud and wild way.

“Persephone, why don’t you make an effort with this harvest?” I asked, looking over the villagers’ crops as they went back into their homes for dinner. “You know you are the only child of mine that can help me, help them.”

“Why must they make their sacrifices?” she asked. She sighed and plucked wildflowers from the tall grass around her feet.
“That is the unspoken agreement between them and us, god and mortal,” I said. “They held up their end, and we must reciprocate.”
She sighed once more. I knew she did not care.

My most arrogant child responded with absolutely no conviction of her ability, looking at the fields around us and made them grow almost on a whim. Flowers bloomed out of nothing, as did the vibrancy of all things vegetation. Small animals came wandering behind her, deer and rabbits. Even if it is her nature, literally and figuratively, she didn’t care, and I don’t believe she still does.

And then there was you.

I noticed a dark stain in the undergrowth out of the corner of my eye, and I should’ve known better. I knew it was you, and I knew we were near your cave, your lurch into the kingdom below. I merely thought you were silently warning us not to come near, but no. No.

I looked at you and then to my daughter and noticed one of the flowers she was holding between her porcelain fingertips had crispy, wilted edges. I should have taken that image for what it was: an omen. I was broken of my fixation on the flower when she asked a question.

“Mother, who is that man?” Persephone did not face me, and I could easily define the silhouette of her face, the tip of her nose down to her lips.

I told her, “That is Hades.”

She saw what I saw, the darkness that wisped around you, a souvenir of your realm.

“God of the underworld and the dead?” This was the most focused I had seen her.

I nodded. “Correct.”

She left it at that, and we forged ahead unto another. We came back and forth between this rural string of farmlands and Olympus as farmers sacrificed their cattle and goats to turn in our favour over the next several weeks. Persephone lagged behind, my lonely child, separate from her several other siblings because of her similar ability to myself. She gazed off into the undergrowth every now and again with a slight cackle under her breath, like the ravens that plucked their claws from tree branches to fly. That’s when I knew she was already under your spell—what hex was it? What enchantment did you see fit to take my sweet child?

On one of our runs to the mortal world later that week, Persephone went off on her own accord as she did when I didn’t redirect her to help. I went on my own to other village’s fields, helping their harvest, checking to make sure each sacrifice would balance out. At the end of the day, I returned to Mt. Olympus and assumed that she had returned without me, but looking around the great feast table with the other gods, I saw that her seat was empty. No one had seen her. My daughter was gone, and the hard chill of panic entered my being.

“I wanted more. I wanted her, and I would have her.”

I went to every nymph, god, and goddess to tell me what they knew, and all leads went back to you. My suspicions were correct. You fully realized the bind you put me in. You knew that if you took her, I would not be able to retrieve her because I am not allowed to enter your kingdom. You knew all of this; you calculated swine. In fact, you are worse than swine, worse than the dirt that surrounds you down below in your realm. Crooked grins, sly hands, and a dangerous voice: you should be ashamed of yourself.

You’ve had her for too long. Bring her back to me.

Demeter

Demeter,

I would like to start by saying that your daughter is safe if that’s your concern. Know that I apologize for not coming to you sooner to request for Persephone’s hand; please know that I have loved your daughter since the first moment that I saw her, that day in the field, and vow to take care of her for eternity.

A servant came to me earlier that day as I sat alone, just as I have since the beginning of time, in my dark, stone throne room and informed me that you and she were going about your duties to the mortals too close to my realm’s entrance. I sighed as I stood up, knowing that I would have to bear the sunlight of the waning summer day. I could have sent a servant, I could have, but my weary self needed the change from overseeing the souls. An eternity of overseeing and being bound to the bleakness of my realm has turned into one long, dark night. I’m actually thankful that I didn’t send a servant because otherwise, I would have never seen her. 

I emerged from the entrance enclosed by boulders leading out unto the undergrowth and saw you both fulfilling your duties to the mortals that submitted their sacrifices. I knew of your duties, Demeter, but did not know that one of your children possessed such an innate ability to create life from her tiny, fragile fingertips. Not only did her ability enrapture me, but her pure beauty: her lengthy locks that graze over the wheat heads, but is made of golden silk, her naturalness and place among nature and life—it was instant. At that moment, I knew that she was everything I am not, a natural opposite, but a pure, youthful goddess that could bring out the best in me as I her.

When Persephone and I looked at one another, my heart stopped. Before, I was going to speak out a warning but was left utterly speechless. She must have asked you about me, and that’s when her own interest in me began. All of us walked away, but she never stepped out of my thoughts as I returned to my throne. I replayed the moments, though as brief and mundane as they were, over and over in my head. With each passing soul into my realm, I began to notice features in each of the women that could have possibly resembled her, but none ever came close. It was a fool’s wishing because, after all, no one could ever match the sheer quintessence of Persephone; that much I knew was a fact.

It became nonstop, especially as I realized that above my very head that the mortals were persisting in making their sacrifices to you and your daughter for an excellent harvest. That’s when the idea came.

“Furiae,” I called to my three main servants. “Inform me when Goddesses Demeter and Persephone come within close proximity of my realm.” And they did as I asked.

The next time you both came to a string of farmlands that curved in and out beside the undergrowth. I watched you both as I stood in between spindling ancient trees, thinking of what I would say, how I would ask your permission, how I would properly introduce myself to the lovely Persephone. When you both were close, I attempted to call out as a greeting, but a crow flew right past me and nearly made me fall over. It squawked as it flew away, and I noticed Persephone laughing; that was that crackling you heard in her laughter. If my minor embarrassments are works of enchantment, then I would hate to see what you think of my actual powers.

But that bird was perhaps a good omen because, without your noticing, she waved to me, greeted me with a warm, honeysuckle smile that spread a feeling over my being like none I’d felt before.

I wanted more. I wanted her, and I would have her.

As I had instructed days before, my servants called to me to rise above to the mortal land of sunlight, and though I always despised doing so, now I had an absolute purpose. This time, as I strolled through the dark shrubbery and trees, there she stood (of her own free will, mind you) on the very edge of the field and the undergrowth. She knew of the boundary I could not cross and that I cannot cross into the field as it is not part of my realm, only the undergrowth of my entrance and no more. She was waiting for me.

My heart pounded. “Hello,” I said.

“Hello.” Her voice twinkled with warmth.

“I realized that perhaps deeper beneath her beauty, she had iron underneath, a deep, churning metal that made her empathetic.”

We stood in silence, looking each other up and down. Then I took her hand. I couldn’t feel myself reach out to her, and yet her small, doll-like hand was placed perfectly, fitting in mine like two halves of a broken stone tossed around by the blackened sea then somehow washed up next to each other. It was so sudden, even for me, that I thought she would scream for you, run away, or use her powers, but she did none of that, just smiled on and continued to hold my hand back.

“I’m sorry,” I told her, not taking my hand away.

“Why are you apologizing?” she asked. Then, I took my hand back at my side.

“You-You’re incredibly beautiful,” I said. “I never meant to stare or pry, but you have the most graceful powers I’ve seen among all of the goddesses.”

I couldn’t believe I said it. Where is all this spontaneity coming from? I thought. But I knew it was her; she brought that out in me. 

“Well, many thanks, indeed, Hades,” she said my name with an emphasis.

Then she stared at me, bore her pale eyes into my soul like a cat that doesn’t want to blink at some moving, interesting thing. I chuckled a moment.

“Aren’t you afraid of my darkness, dear?” A slight smirk.

“Oh, no,” she said. “You haven’t had a chance to see mine.”

My smile loosened into a line. My heart thudded like great shrine drums.

“I must be going; my mother keeps a watchful eye on me constantly.”

The summer cicadas crescendoed their filmy calls.

She took a few steps close to me, so incredibly close that I could feel her slight breaths from her nostrils. Then she kissed me and tasted like strawberries, something too sweet that I couldn’t take. I almost trembled.

As she broke away, she said, “I will return in a fortnight, and I wish to visit your kingdom.”

She glided away with the wind undulating in the wheat as her locks trailed behind her like a lioness’s tail. I thought hard to believe that such a young goddess, She glided away with the wind undulating in the wheat as her locks trailed behind her like a lioness’s tail. I thought hard to believe that such a young goddess, or any goddess, for that matter, would have any interest in coming to the underworld of their own will, let alone for a ‘visit.’ And then, as I returned home and gazed over the lands of my kingdom, I realized that perhaps deeper beneath her beauty, she had iron underneath, a deep, churning metal that made her empathetic to who I was, what I was ruler over. It seemed she understood that not all darkness is bad because she seemed to have a bit of it in herself. For as fast as it was going, I felt that this had to be destiny, that we were meant to be together. We brought out a different side in each other that was perhaps better for the both of us.

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When a fortnight was upon us, I came above once more and waited. I saw you heading over to a field at the foot of the mountain, out of my reach to call you, and though I should have, it almost felt wrong at this point, like you should not have known. There was something in Persephone’s voice that last time I saw her that internally warned me of that.

Though I saw you, Demeter, I could not catch sight of your daughter across my line of vision. I focused in on a black speck over yonder and thought that it was a crow. Something yanked the sleeve of my robe, and my love had found me.

“We must hurry,” she whispered. “Let us go to your realm.”

She pulled me to walk beside her, and I was astonished at her eagerness to join me. I took one last look at you heading for pearly Olympus as we walked to the entrance of the underworld, large gray boulders leaning on each other in such a way to create a small mouth for souls, etc., to journey down.

Because she naturally had my permission, Persephone was able to enter, but before setting foot in the darkness, she stopped, making me halt with a jolt.

Her face was inscrutable, but I could tell she was thinking hard about something—I assumed the decision she was making to join me in my realm, the choice to stay with me. I would prolong the ‘visit’ as much as I could so that she would want to stay. I stood next to her on the precipice of the darkness and turned to her.

“I tell you such fine music waits in the shadows of hell,” I said.

She took that in with such deep eyes with small glints of black, then took her steps inside.

So, Demeter, your child decided on her own to come with me into my home. I believe she loves me as I love her. It is a shame as I hear the world above has decayed that Persephone’s hard work has gone to waste in order to transform into a wasteland, creating autumn and thus frightening the mortals with their now dead crops. My love has taken the spring and summer with her, and she doesn’t seem to care. She has taken to the darkness, and I believe that she showed her proclivity to this place when I saw the deepness of her eyes, the small inherent darkness that she let me peer into and allows me to peer into now as I show her my duties and all of the lands beneath your feet.

As I said before, I apologize for not asking you before taking your daughter’s hand; she has apparently taken mine on her own. She wears strength and darkness equally well; the girl has always been half goddess, half hell.

Hades

Mother,

Whether or not you believe Hades is none of my concern, but you must take it from me before you wreak havoc onto the mortals’ lands: I am the queen of this realm now. I don’t know why you aren’t surprised by this newfound situation. I was bored of your world, Mother, always bored. You say that what I have is a gift and that it should be shared with those mortals that sacrifice for us, but I disagree. Before I left for this world under your world, the mortals would sacrifice more and more, and we would give more and more. I know it is the agreement, but they do not know hardship, never have. I have nothing personal against them, but I believe that without hardship, how would anyone remember what the good was? How would anyone know that there is a light at the end of a struggle, that there is hope?

I know about these things because you have had me under your thumb since you knew that my abilities matched your own, possibly even surpassed them. Your powers have always been great, but we both know that they wane, and I can make all of the abundant flora and fauna faster and greater than you ever could have. It would seem that even the mortals depend on me more than they do you. You’ve consistently wished me to use my abilities because you know that you will retire, and it will be my time to take on the duties every year for eternity.

You’ve never let me out of your sight or go beyond your general area. These same rules applied that day in the field, but there was something different. He was something different. Hades looked at me like no one had ever looked at me.

“He was handsome, but not in a way that I had seen before.”

Though darkness surrounds him, there was something enchanting about the depth at which he gazed upon me, not that I was just another beautiful face, but that I was something more. Those flowers I picked the day we saw each other were already crisp with death, and it was something so outside of myself, so outside of my knowledge that I knew he had something to offer me—a way out.

I went to him several times, made him mine, enraptured him until he felt it even at the base of his spine. I told him I wanted to visit his kingdom, but I think we both knew it would be much longer than a visit and would involve so much more. As I took his hand and made him lead me to the actual entrance, I did doubt myself. I had never taken a leap like this before, and I wondered if it was worth it.

Then he said to me,” I tell you such fine music waits in the shadows of hell,” and I knew I had to make the plunge. So I did.

His world was all blues and blacks, filled with stone and smouldering spots. I only saw the souls from a distance, but it wasn’t until we boarded the long wooden ferry with the skeletal, hooded Charon that I decided to look into the luminescent river. They looked like cobweb faces, ethereal and almost like stringy tissue swirling around in some potion of a cauldron. I thought it almost looked beautiful. Hades beamed at me.

His personal chambers were filled with music. The Furiae, three female servants, sung their songs and played on ivory flutes to a tune that was so drawn out and sharp that its melancholy almost made me cry. His other servants welcomed me with a feast of meagre food, but it was food. A small roast of a bird, fruit, and wine.

“My dear, what do you think of this place?” he asked me.

As I looked up at cracks along the stones of the walls and the torches that lit every so often between the ribbed pillars, I felt both uneasy and excited.

“I’m not sure,” I said, honestly. Then images of the sun, the warmth of the day, and the flowers I would pick day in and day out. My eyes started to water.

Hades rushed to my side from the head of the table and held my hand, perfectly fitting into his.

“My dear, my dear, it is not so dreadful here,” he said. “Come, I will show you.”

We walked from his stone temple back to the ferryman, but he had another destination in mind this time. We sailed across the glowing river in silence until we came upon the mouth of another cave that had a light at the end of it. With a smooth grind onto the flat rock shore, Hades jumped out first then plucked me from the boat. As we headed into this cave, the unknown source and strangeness of the light made me anxious.

I thought that perhaps this was too fast, and I made a hasty decision with a man that I thought I could make assumptions about. But as he held my hand and we walked further down the tunnelling path, we came unto a clearing of a green pasture seemingly with its own sunlight. There was a forest just beyond, and I thought we were back above ground in a place that was warm and familiar to me.

“Where are we?” I asked.

“This,” he said. “is one of the many lands of my kingdom. Not all souls linger in the river; many end up here, in the In-between.”

“The In-between,” I repeated.

“Many souls are confused on where to go, what decision to make, what change needs to be made.” It was as if he knew what was going on in my mind.

Soon, off lingering by olive trees were fully-embodied ethereal souls, walking around like he and I. They noticed us visiting their land and waved to us, and we did the same. I looked up at him, his dark circles protruding from under his thick eyelashes and thought he was handsome, but not in a way that I had seen before. He was handsome when I first saw him, but he looked beautiful in this artificial underworld sun. A monster trapped in a beautiful body.

From this kind gesture, I knew that I made the right decision. He made me feel at home while I was transitioning quickly to these strange, new surroundings. He knew I missed certain aspects of the world above, the one I knew so well with light and sunsets and land. He took me to a special place down below that would always remind me of above. Perhaps it was through this and more that he did love me, and for that, he became more than a way out, and I then loved him, too. This place will never even be Olympus filled with glorious banquets at the long, shining table with all our gods and all our family, but down here, it is enough because Hades is my family now, and he has all of the festiveness, but in his own way. I think I bring out the light in him as he brings the dark in me. We are strangely the same.

“Encrusted in all the darkness is his bright eyes that are the same colour as the wheat fields above. It’s enough home for me.”

Mother, I was not abducted; I wandered down into his shadowy land of my own volition and fell in love with him.

Therefore, there is no reason for you to rage unnecessary havoc on the mortals above as my absence has already damaged their crops. The Furiae told us of this as we sat at the long stone slab dining table. It had been some weeks since I made my venture, and we were sitting for another meal of a different roasted bird, fruit, and wine.

“My Lord and Lady, Goddess Demeter has brought to the attention of the other gods of Lady’s disappearance from the upper worlds. Goddess Demeter has been denying the mortals’ sacrifices as well as causing famine and disease.”

“Of course you didn’t tell her, as I suspected,” Hades sighed.

“I have told you of my mother!”

He rested his hand on mine. “My dear, you are still such a young goddess, and you still have a mother that loves you. I will send a scroll and do my part, but I’m afraid you must return to her. We have no purpose if no mortals are left alive. You have spent your time here, but you let the mortals have their time of rebirth, their spring unto summer.”

Panic set in. “Hades–”

He lifted a finger. Beside him on a golden plate were blood-red pomegranates sliced down the middle with their numerous jewelled seeds exposed. He grabbed one half with his other hand and gave it to me.

“Eat, and you will always come back to me,” he said. “She can have you for a little while, and it will do you some good, but do not fret because you are mine, and I am yours.”

Mother, I wanted pomegranates, I wanted darkness—I wanted him. I plucked the seeds of my own accord, and Hades did not place my crown upon my head; it was me with my own hands.

Before I planned my departure, Hades had been writing in his scrolls, occasionally burning them because he doesn’t think they’re any good. He never tells me what he’s writing, but I can tell when he doesn’t like something. Encrusted in all the darkness is his bright eyes that are the same colour as the wheat fields above. It’s enough home for me.

He showed me that in the coldest of places, we can make a wonderful home.

Until I return,

Persephone


Leslie Benigni is a current MFA candidate at Bowling Green State University in Ohio though she originally heralds from Pittsburgh, PA. Her work has been published in Perhapped Magazine, :Lexicon Literary Journal, and Athenaeum. Find her on Instagram and Twitter.

Letter out of Belfast, 1972

By RR Ewart

Brother, I dreamt of the strangest thing.
I went to the wall atop O’Connell Hill.
I watched you hit a man and my fists felt the sting.
The mob surrounded you with screams so shrill.

I ran down the hill as fast as I could,
To pull you out of the bloodshed.
In the middle of slaughter, you stood.
The bodies on the ground were already dead.

You looked up at the sky,
Covered in a bloody shroud.
Your arms were stretched high,
I thought you were praying out loud.

The pictures in the paper look like my dream in gray tones,
I fear, brother, that this will only end when we all turn to stone. 


RR Ewart (she/her) is a writer and artist from Reno, Nevada. She works as a high school English teacher, is an accomplished book-hoarder, and a recovering procrastinator. She is completing her first novel and chapbook publication. Follow her to read more of her work on Instagram.

This is what I remember most

By RR Ewart

Granite counter

-White, gray, and yellow

Covered with a dusting of flour,

A bag of brown sugar,

Rectangular butter sitting under a glass lid,

The cookie jar, newly refilled.

The sweet scent of sugar coming from the oven.

This is what I remember most.

The photo of me

-2 or 3 years old,

Stuck under a magnet on the side of the microwave.

The glass cupboards full of the good glasses-

Used on holidays.

Watching a distant lightning storm 

from the window above the sink.

This is what I remember most.

The lake water, shining in the sun.

Me perched on a green vinyl chair

Sharing spoonfuls of coffee flavored ice cream

-Our little secret. 

This is what I remember most.


RR Ewart (she/her) is a writer and artist from Reno, Nevada. She works as a high school English teacher, is an accomplished book-hoarder, and a recovering procrastinator. She is completing her first novel and chapbook publication. Follow her to read more of her work on Instagram.

She kept her life in a box

By RR Ewart

She kept her life in a box always close by.
Her memories and useful things sleeping together 
Under a cardboard lid.
When she was young, the box lived under her bed
Away from the prying eyes of parents and siblings.
Back then it was filled with colorful marbles,
Her favorite wooden pony with painted gold hair,
And the tooth she had lost on the playground at school
That the tooth fairy could not have.

As she got older, the things in the box changed.
A photo of her with her friends,
A dried up flower from the boy who sat behind her in class,
The lipstick she snuck from her mother’s bathroom drawer.

There was a time when she forgot about the box.
Still sitting under her bed waiting for her to come back.
Her mother asked her to clean out her old things and take what
She wanted to keep.
That was when she found the box the top covered with dust
And she remembered the things she had forgotten. 
She did not show it to anyone, just added it to the pile
Of stuff in the back of her car, and drove away with it tucked
Safely on the seat. 

Now the box is old with wrinkles around the corners
And frayed edges.
It lives prominently on a shelf in her sitting room.
It is full of photos of her children, husband and grandchildren.
It contains letters from cherished friends and seashells from past vacations.
She keeps a deck of cards and a small roll of betting money
On top of a Fleetwood Mac CD that she sings along with on Sunday mornings.

Her life is in that box.
Always close by.
Her memories and useful things sleeping together 
Under a cardboard lid.


RR Ewart (she/her) is a writer and artist from Reno, Nevada. She works as a high school English teacher, is an accomplished book-hoarder, and a recovering procrastinator. She is completing her first novel and chapbook publication. Follow her to read more of her work on Instagram.

There’s a Thunderstorm in the Attic.

By RR Ewart

It pounds against the ceiling 
and makes the house shudder.

The rain pours down the walls 
and soaks the carpet.

Swirling clouds seep down to the floors below 
and fill the rooms with cold fog.

Lighting strikes a wooden joist. 

For a second it catches fire

-A small flickering flame

but is quickly extinguished.

The crashing thunder shakes the stacks of boxes 
that fall to the ground
The forgotten contents scattering.

It’s hard to think here with the thunder
And pounding rain.
Music helps a bit
But the storm grows louder 
It wants us to listen to it rage.


RR Ewart (she/her) is a writer and artist from Reno, Nevada. She works as a high school English teacher, is an accomplished book-hoarder, and a recovering procrastinator. She is completing her first novel and chapbook publication. Follow her to read more of her work on Instagram.

Cherry

By A’ Ja Lyons

Like this? He asked as he twirled his tongue
licking my sugary bits and swallowing 
every drop of chocolate syrup 
My cherry burst and juices flowing

I met him on a Saturday and
served him my sundae
Whipped my cream on a field of flowers
Fun on the run as the sun shone down my bare back
As I pulled back, let loose, and let go
My arrow spinning in new directions

I led, he followed,
He followed, I led,

At times we stood still
On a hill
Under a bridge
Over the river
Through the woods
To his house
To my house

No baskets needed at our picnics
Treats lay in feet, faces, and laps

Snack, bites, or a whole meal
Whether but a nibble
Or a gourmand’s fill
We are kind diners
Pleasant patrons
Gracious hosts
Eager to please
Happy to share
Napkins and utensils optional


A’ Ja Lyons has been published in several print and online publications, including Sinister Wisdom, Decolonial Passage, Response,and Lucky Jefferson. 

Woodman Hollow

By A’ Ja Lyons

Preservation serves a purpose, 
for those who propose
But their words ring hollow 
in chasms of the dismissed

Deep ravines and creeks spring
runoffs fed into 
bedrocks of sandstone 
Carving pieces of majesty few bear
witness with feet muddied and muddled

Grand plans of land recognized,
categorized for conservation – forsaken
Promises shallow as the gorge in the heart
of a maze of overgrown parts

Crumbs litter cascades,
Birthing beds of flora
Sustaining ancient oaks
Centuries of history upon entry;
a corridor into formations
of what was forcibly taken
Exposure to erosion
and waste left for want


A’ Ja Lyons has been published in several print and online publications, including Sinister Wisdom, Decolonial Passage, Response,and Lucky Jefferson.