September 28, 2021

Dale Kushner

Dear Tribe of Readers, Seekers, and Imaginers,

Nineteen months and the global pandemic continues. Together we are experiencing an unstable present and a future that is difficult to imagine. The pre-COVID world feels like ancient history. The terror in the air is palpable. If you’re like me, a part of your mind hisses frightening words: suffering, mortality, extinction. To banish despair and a sense of powerlessness, I remind myself of these memorable lines by Jack Gilbert in “A Brief for the Defense”—

We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. . . .
We must admit there will be music despite everything.

Risking delight, I pick up the fabulous drum I bought in Taos, New Mexico, and high step around my studio, calling in the help of benevolent forces. I can’t articulate what I believe about the spirit world, but I do know taking this action shifts the leaden energy.

The underworld and overworld. Both exist—in myth, dream, and reality. In our lifetimes we navigate both domains. It’s the yin and yang of our existence.

Thinking of darkness and light, I’m reminded of the Greek myth of the abduction of Persephone, daughter to the earth goddess, Demeter. One day while Persephone is picking flowers in a meadow, the ground beneath her splits open. From it emerges Hades, god of the Underworld. Hades kidnaps the young maiden in his chariot and drags her into the depths.

In the above world, her grief-stricken mother, Demeter, is enraged. Zeus, the mighty sky god and her Olympian brother, has conspired with Hades to permit the rape. Inconsolable, Demeter wanders the earth calling for her disappeared child. As the goddess of harvest and grain, her lamentations cause crops to wither, the earth to go fallow.

But here’s what I’m wondering: What about Persephone, now living in the shades of death?

What does she learn in the darkness? What secrets are visible in the strata beneath the earth? The dark depths are inside of us too, in the subterranean basement of our unconscious. I do believe, as Carl Jung suggested, that despite the sometimes impenetrable murk of depression or anxiety, in the hidden recesses of our psyches, we harbor unmined wisdoms unavailable in the daylight world.

So I read the myth of Demeter and Persephone as particularly relevant at this moment when many of us feel abandoned and lost in new terrain. The myth states that the stolen daughter does not die in Hades. She comes of age, becomes a queen, matures, and thrives. She learns to see in the dark. And so can we. So can I.

As the story plays out, Persephone is allowed to return to her mother for two-thirds of the year, her emergence associated with springtime renewal and the flourishing of the land. Like the natural world, like history itself, don’t we experience cycles of flow and dormancy, depression and aliveness?

The violent separation and ultimate reuniting of Demeter and Persephone is also a story about a mother and daughter. About the complexity of that relationship, about maternal love that is too binding, and about a daughter’s need for maternal love juxtaposed with her need to discover her own resources and strength.

(I explore the story of Persephone and Demeter, mothers and daughters, and the metaphor of descent at greater length in my recent post on Psychology Today, “Necessary Descents: What Myths Reveal About Darkness.”)

How mothers and daughters deal with each other is a theme very much at the core of my newly finished second novel, The Lie of Forgetting. With each draft, I’ve learned more about the complicated entanglement of love and rage, loyalty and betrayal that often occurs between them. Our mother is our first love, and our relationship with her teaches us about generosity and withholding, frustration and forgiveness, fear and trust.

Mothers and daughters also show up in many of my poems. As do themes of war and resilience, desire and loss. I’m excited to announce that my collection of poems M will be available in Winter, 2022. It’s a gorgeous book thanks to my publisher and designer at 3: A Taos Press. Please stay tuned or check my website for updates on both books as well as readings and public events

In closing, I wish you joy and peace and good health, and the courage to face what life offers. If we are living in a time of great tragedy, we are also living at a time of rebirth and renewal.

With care,