“Blue Willow: Persephone Falling” by Alison Townsend

Alison Townsend


                                 “Depression is hidden knowledge.”
                                 —James Hillman

You think it will never happen again.
Then one day in November it does, the narrow,
dusty boards of the trapdoor you fell through
twenty years before cracking apart, a black grin
opening its toothless mouth, darkness seeping out
to fill the dead cornfields rattling around you.
That sound’s back in your head again—
like angry bees or static or rubber bands
breaking. And beneath it a distant hum
you remember being scared was voices
till the doctor explained it was your own brain,
working overtime to understand its disordered signals.

And meanwhile, every sadness on NPR is yours—
from the African country where 30% of the childbearing
women have AIDS, to the Appalachian mother
who sells her great-grandmother’s Blue Willow china
for fifty bucks to feed her kids, to your own
mother, who dies again every autumn, something
wrong when she didn’t come home for Thanksgiving
the way she promised, the torn-sheet dinner napkins
you’d embroidered—“M” for “Mommy”—with ordinary
thread, wrapped in tin foil under the bed, melancholy’s
blue index finger pressed into your forehead, choosing
you for its team. Where it seems you must play for life,

whether you want to or not. Though that’s not
what you’re thinking as you hurtle
through the night, jittery as the rabbit
you swerve to avoid, your head filled
with chattering fog, a glass door sliding shut
between you and the world, that feeling of being
outside yourself so loud you don’t seem real.
Though you are. As you maneuver the car carefully
through the dark, remembering how you willed
yourself to live this way for two years,
synapses flashing like emergency lights
you thought you’d never see again.

But here they are, the medication you’ve ratcheted
down for a year necessary after all, the biochemical
net too small, the darkness you’ve pushed away
for twenty years with what your doctor calls
one hand tied behind you suddenly back.
As you remember setting out your mother’s
Blue Willow on the table every night
as a child—blue people in blue houses
under blue trees—each plate a story you can
walk into, where everything is fine. If it weren’t
so dark inside and you weren’t so scared.
If you could only think how to get there, and what
treasure you are supposed to find when you do.

from Rattle #30, Winter 2008

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