Seasons of grief

A friend, besieged by grief over a struggling relationship introduced me to Kate McGarrigle’s song Proserpina, a song I struggle to get out of my mind. The words pop up all the time, even when I least expect them.



Come home to Mama, come home to your mother now.

It’s a variation of the story of Persephone who was stolen to the underworld by its king, Hades, much to her mother, Demeter’s grief and after the god’s made some sort of deal she, Persephone, (the Greek name for its Roman counterpart, Proserpina) was allowed to return to earth for half of the year.

And so, we have the making of the seasons, winter and autumn for grief and spring and summer the joy of reunion.

When she is gone Proserpina’s mother, Hera or Demeter, which ever you prefer, both sisters of Zeus and one thought to be Proserpina’s mother, also Goddess of agriculture, refuses to do her job:

I shall punish the earth

I shall turn up the heat

I shall take away every morsel to eat

I shall turn every field into stone

While I walk here all alone crying for Proserpina,

Proserpina, come home to your mother now.

If like me, you could constantly hear the music to which these words are set, you too might feel overcome, especially once you’ve seen and heard Martha Wainwright, Kate McGariggle’s daughter,  sing this song.

It’s one that gets to the pit of my gut and reaches into the back of my brain.

It bespeaks a grief that is greater than any grief I have ever known.

Kate McGarrigle wrote the sing once diagnosed with the cancer that killed her and her daughter, Martha sang this version soon after her mother’s death.

And how is this for a poem on grief;


It wasn’t the bees I thought to tell but wasps
the evening you died. Not things that fly
from earth to the underworld bearing sweetness
on their wings: grief made me bitter
and so in bitterness I went to seek
what roots among the mud and leaves, hanging
its home in ashes. I wanted to believe
this world would be our only one.
What other streams could run more cold,
what trees bloom with darker fruit?
I was happy here once, as were you.
I wanted to stay and grieve in the failing world
where we were human together.
Why tell the bees who must be taught of loss?
And so I fell among the wasps, whispering
your name into the hole I scooped
beside the marshy winter creek, where wind
now scours the freezing water. Where reed
on broken reed hums its numb refrain,
and love turns in its mud home, and sleeps.

Paisley Rekdal [winner of the 2018 Narrative Prize]


Contagious music

I have a serious ear worm in my head, Kate McGarrigle’s Proserpina as performed by her daughter Martha Wainwright soon after Kate’s death from clear cell sarcoma in 2010 when she was only 63.

The music refuses to leave me and I imagine if I share it here, you might catch some of it too and take it away from me.

I wake up these words, already in my head as if they never left before I fell asleep. I wake to the song, a variation on the life of Persephone, the goddess of spring, and in Roman known as Proserpina, the daughter of Demeter or Ceres depending on your Greek or Latin, the goddess of grain and agriculture, but at one point in the chorus referred to as Hera, Demeter’s sister and the goddess of women, perhaps because it fits into the rhythm better.

The song begins with a plea from mother to daughter:

Proserpina, Proserpina, come home to momma, words that repeat themselves over and over as if there is a mother out there desperately calling to her daughter, Come home to your mother. Come home to momma, now.

In the story Demeter’s grief is so great she brings forth the winter. Her daughter, stuck underground with Proserpina’s husband Pluto (Hades in Greek, and god of the underworld)  who wants her to stay with him forever.

The call to come home changes to a tirade, Demeter casting pestilence on the world:

I shall punish the earth

I shall turn down the heat

I shall take away every morsel to eat

I shall turn every field into stone

As I walk crying alone crying for Proserpina,

Proserpina come home to Momma.

Come home to momma now.

 And it goes on repeating, the same words the same pain, the angst of loss, the utter grief and you can sense the Martha Wainwright’s grief at losing her mother.

A friend who is suffering heart break put me onto this song, a dear friend and whenever the words repeat in my ears, I think of her sadness and of other losses and I wish I could unleash something of the keening within me for all the losses I’ve endured too but it will not come.

My own grief sits inside me, set aside like so much hardened concrete refusing to budge.

Maybe that’s the lot of writers to stand aside and observe not only the grief of others but their own grief, as though it belongs out there to someone else and they must keep a close eye on it so that it does not slip its moorings and infect them to the point they cannot function.