Eurydice was the bride of Orpheus, the famous musician. Their happiness was short-lived, however, because she died from a snakebite. Overcome with grief, Orpheus traveled to the underworld to retrieve her. His sorrowful music convinced Hades to allow Eurydice to return on one condition: Orpheus must walk in front of her and could not look back until they left the underworld. Orpheus set off with Eurydice but, before their exit, he turned back to look at her, which caused her to return to the land of the dead.
Morpheus is in the legs that fall asleep and the eyes you can’t keep open, and the endless cups off coffee that didn’t work, caffeine immunity creeping in. He’s the sand in your eyes the day after an allnighter, coaxing you to pause, letting you know the world can wait a few hours. In the vivid daydreams and dizzy thoughts that conjure themselves into vision even when you don’t close your eyes. He’s the sudden smells that take you back a decade and are gone as quickly as they come.
Hades stands not in graveyards but on every corner and every bridge. He crosses the street with you as you contemplate the oncoming cars. Dutiful accountant, he knows your name, and it waits on his tongue. He’s not there to rush you, nor help you. Perhaps his presence is enough. Even in ideation, Hades is in cold fingers and forgotten teas, crumbled leaves that tell you he’s taken her away again. He’s in the rinds of fruit and discarded husks, the plucked leaves, the end, always waiting at the core of everything.
Persephone is in the fresh fruit, ripe and ready to burst, eating them, destroying them feels like a sin, like delicious betrayal. She’s the first sharp bite and the way the juice rolls down your chin, in the decisions you hold steadfastly onto. she’s in defiant stares and the way you walk in like you own the place, because as long as she’s by your side, you do. When people whisper your name and pretend they don’t see you, she’s there, by your side, lifting your chin. Fear may also be hate, but it is also fear, and that is your power.
Aphrodite is in the crisp line of lipstick, and the boldness of a sharp cateye, but also the next day when it’s smeared and freckled with chipped mascara, the glance in the mirror when you see yourself like this and shrug, ‘not so bad’. She’s in the burst of warmth and weak you feel when you watch a child laugh with its grandmother. She’s there in that moment you fit into those jeans, she’s there when you slip into sweatpants and have a second slice of cake. When you shit talk your ex she’s there, nodding and making sure you know he was no good for you.
Dionysus walks in when your friends do, carrying his revelry on their shoulders. With a bottle of champagne, -a treat-, he's not so much in drinking it as he is shaking it up and popping the cork, the laughter and the mess that ensues, the sticky fingers that last the night. He’s there in the morning next as well, surveying the damage and grinning like a king when you scrape chips off the couch.
I am letting you into the secret of all secrets, mirrors are gates through which death comes and goes. Moreover if you see your whole life in a mirror you will see death at work as you see bees behind the glass in a hive.
Orpheus goes up to the counter and orders a green tea creme frappuccino. He hangs around the counter. The barista tells him he can go sit down, she’ll call his name when it’s ready, and that he shouldn’t hover or watch her make it. He walks away. When the barista turns back around, she realizes that he’s actually just ducked under the counter and is surreptitiously watching her. She asks him to leave the premises. He doesn’t get to drink his coffee.
His name changed when touched
by gravity. Gravity breaking
our kneecaps just to show us
the sky. We kept saying Yes—
even with all those birds.
Who would believe us
now? My voice cracking
like bones inside the radio.
Silly me. I thought love was real
& the body imaginary.
excerpt from, “Eurydice” in The Nation by Ocean Vuong