Katabasis

In the darkness
my heartbeat echoes,
then is silent.

I stand before the first gate.
Feathers and dust
fall from my fingers.
I pick up my gifts.
There is doubt behind me,
but none before me
as I nod to the gatekeeper.

He says, “you must.”
I give him my ears.
I step inside.

Here there is a tightrope walk
of sinew. I make my
way across. I cannot hear
the wind howling.

I stand before the second gate
and the gatekeeper says, “you must.”
I give him my throat.
I step inside.

This path is a maze
through holes, through marrow.
I cannot scream.

I stand before the third gate
and the gatekeeper says, “you must.”
I give him my tongue.
I step inside.

This path is a whirlwind of dust.
Though it fills my mouth,
I cannot taste it.

I stand before the fourth gate
and the gatekeeper says, “you must.”
I give him my nose.
I step inside.

Here there are bodies
of every shape and stage of decay,
rotting. I cannot
smell the flesh.

I stand before the fifth gate
and the gatekeeper says, “you must.”
I give him my skin.
I step inside.

Here there are coals,
awkward and shifting
under my feet. They may be
hot or sharp. I cannot
tell; I cannot feel them.

I stand before the sixth gate
and the gatekeeper says, “you must.”
I give him my eyes.
I step inside.

This is a void.
The unknown, to be crossed.
There is darkness I cannot see.

I stand before the seventh gate
and the gatekeeper says, “you must.”
I give him my heart.
He places it in a jar
and hands it back to me.
I step inside.

Here there is a throne.
Here there is a table
adorned with dust.
Here there are servants
adorned with feathers.

My lady Dark,
my dear Ereshkigal,
sits on her throne.

I kneel before her.

“Lady, though you have
come to me a hundred times
on wings and whispers,
I come to you now.
I will go where you send me
only set me on the path.
I will say what you will me
only give me the words.
I will do as you bid me
only show me a plan.”

I laid my head
in the dust at her feet
and I waited.

“Do you know of whom
you ask this?”
she says, finally.

“I ask it of you, my Lady,
Ereshkigal called Irkalla,
Queen of the Land Below,
wife of Nergal,
master of Namtar,
who once knew the sky
and was brought below,
who is now the mistress of bones,
the ruler of the lands
of dust and feathers,
who sits in judgement
of the gods below,
who keeps the dead
and turns the seasons
and ends all things.”

I stand before her throne.
I offer her the first jar.
She opens the lid
and tastes the honey.
Her dark lips smile.

I offer her the second jar.
She opens the lid
and tastes the tears.
Her dark eyes close.

I offer her the third jar.
She opens the lid
and studies my heart.
Her dark face nods.

I watch my heart crumble
to dust in her hands.
I taste ash.
I feel my muscles rotting,
my blood drying,
bones bared.

I whisper “remake me”
through cracked lips.

She nods.

“I was waiting for that.”
And then her hand
is on my head.
And then my bones
are clothed in sinew.
And then my muscles
are clothed in skin.
And then my body
is clothed in feathers.

She bids me “stand.”
I do.
She bids me “go.”
And though I do not understand,
I turn from her.

“Put your path before me,
Lady,” I beg.

Then I fly up
through the seventh and the sixth gate
through the fifth and the fourth gate
through the third and the second gate
through the first gate.

When I turn and look,
the gates have never been there.

In one hand, I hold dust.
It is not the same as that I left with.
In the other, I hold feathers.
They are not the same as those I left with.
In my chest, I hold my heart.
It is not the same as the one I left with.

I close my eyes and I can
see her just–

Katabasis appeared in Into the Great Below: A Devotional to Inanna and Ereshkigal.

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