In Jill Bialosky's second collection, Subterranean, the poems are filled
with images of motherhood and the idea of the "lost" child. Often
utilizing the Demeter and Persephone myth, Bialosky views the situation
from both sides, the mournful mother and the tragic girl, embodying both
loss and temptation.
Quite beautifully, the poet examines the dual states of motherhood, both
having a child and losing one. The early poems in the book focus
primarily on loss. In "Torture," the speaker faces the pain of
miscarriage, admitting "by then/there was no baby/to bring home/and we
could no longer/ live in the place/ she was conceived." In "Shadow Life,"
she mourns the "child between us,/the embryonic/nut floating/lost and
unattached." In "Pumpkin Picking," "it's as if the souls of our lost
children have entered this graveyard/ where in a month's time the fields
will be picked over, pumpkins splayed/ open, smashed, left to rot."
Like Persephone in the myth, the child represents "the dark un-/tamed
place, like thicket in a neglect-/ed wood where I fall to after each new/
loss". In "Landscape with Child," the poet announces, "Here I am for once
on the other side." Even mothers who have their children, however, are in
danger. In "Thanksgiving Primer," the poem expresses guilt over leaving
her child breifly unattended and in danger, much like Demeter.
Subterranean also views the situation from the other side of the
myth. The poems are filled with desire and temptation. In the poem "In
the Fall, "desire was indistinguishable from suffering." In "Raping the
Nest," the young girl steals robin's eggs, rationalizing "because there
was a boy I desired/I did not care what would live or die or one day/
fly into the air like the soul released from the body."
The landscape in the poems are always bleak, a fact that, in itself,
echoes the Persephone myth--Demeter's withholding of spring while her
daughter remained in the underworld. In "Pumpkin Picking," the poet
notices that "loss penetrates every aspect of landscape." While
Bialosky's style is quite minimal in its utilizaton of short,
clean lines, at times, the stanzas are flowing and prose-like.
The poet uses the Demeter myth with skill and poignancy, interweaving it
with the everyday details of female life. Each poem resonates with the
chill of the subterranean world she has created, a world of the living
and the dead.