This several years ago my step-mother, Margie Harrison Grant, died. I was able to see her several times in the weeks before she died, and I was glad of that. The last time I saw her, two days before she died, she was weak but still making a quiet joke and enjoyed a slice of chocolate meringue pie that her son sneaked into her room at the nursing home. She was a wonderful lady, and very kind to me.
We had a strange relationship I guess. She had dated my father while I was in high school, and her son was my age, and he and I were close but not the best of friends. He is now a dentist in Katy, Texas, and by what I can tell a good Christian man. Margie did not become my step-mother until I the summer after my freshman year in college. When they married, I think my father was about sixty and Margie was forty-five. Margie continued working after she married my dad. When she did retire as a nurse, my father’s health turned bad and she became his nurse /companion. Then my father’s health turned really bad—cancer and all of that. By this time, the stress of taking care of him had taken its toll on her. My father was a heavy drinker, an alcoholic in some people’s eyes. And Margie became the same.
But after my father died, Margie slowly got herself into better shape, and after my divorce and remarrying and the arrival of two new grandkids, she was the perfect grandmother. This poem is simply a tribute to her.
I began this poem with the first line as you see it and probably wrote half of it before the idea of the title and the overall mythic association came to me. The Hades/Persephone myth seemed appropriate as my father was a miser and sometimes mean spirited. He was older than she. Margie was not a young maiden, but she was younger than he and was a kind and loving woman, who nursed a great many people she did not have to. After I got the idea of Hades/Persephone, then the images of the river/ cavern/ impoverished heart/crocus/winter/ pilgrimage/temple fell into place.
The descriptions of her are from my memories of her on vacations. No, I do not remember the color of the swimming suit. And no, she did not drink tequila sunrises. She drank margaritas and tequila sours. But I liked the “sunrise” idea in there—beginnings and all of that. She did change the sheets, and since my father was partially blind she did read baseball box scores and both he and she got angry over how hard it was.
The closing lines—“Life claimed her.. “ was originally “She claimed life and refused to let go.” I liked the fact that she refused to let go, which was factually true—she was very ill for a couple of months. But there is something more mysterious in “Life claimed her.” I think this is true. There are some people that seem chosen by life to be “alive.” The Calvinists believe in predestination—God chooses us. It seems to me that the life force is strong in some of us and not so strong in some of us.
The structure of the poem as organized by the stanzas is very simple: pre-marriage, marriage, and widowhood. No tricks here. This is also the three faces of the goddess: maiden, mother, crone. I know I am playing with the age of the maiden, and the fact that Margie had already been married. But I thought then and I think now that middle-aged women, mature women are quite sexy.
I don’t know how the title came to me, and it is a kind of strange title. But in some cases in life, when death/grief (Hades) claims a person, he is a gonner. And in other cases, when death claim a person, the person resurrects, redeems. In the story of Hades and Persephone, it is the goddess that redeems the living after she leaves Hell. In Margie’s life, I think after my father died, she did very well at reclaiming the things he stole from her.
Lecture Writing Assignment: Think of the myths or fairy tales you know. Are there incidents in your life, in others’ lives, in the world around you that seem to repeat elements in these myths and stories. Focus the poem on the reality, but include elements, images, bits of language, of the myth in the poem.