“Demeter’s Wager” by Sara Burnett

Haunting, elongated figure in black, ringed by twisted trees, a crow and falling leaves over an eerie yellowy background.
The Visitor, Jan Price

At first, it didn’t seem horrific.
The earth dying as I felt 
(if I could) like dying. 

I stopped eating, dressing, 
coloring my hair. Then I grew sick 

of the trees—the way they, full
and green, mocked how I felt, 
so I stripped them bare.

After that, it was easier to let go. 
Slowly, I gave away 
my belongings and hers:

shoes, belts, coats 
(still wearing her scent), 
books with their dog-eared pages. 

Then meadows, estuaries, streams, 
forests and their forest creatures—
whole species of birds and fish.

It was almost eerie how light I felt 
when I didn’t care for earth. 

Everyday, no surprise—
the sky the color of lint.

When I thought finally
there’s nothing left 
to save or throw away—

I remembered 
I had all eternity, 
an empty glass to fill. 

I couldn’t shrink it 
so I expanded it: 

the way a bruise on a fruit
rots it entirely.

At some point, we’re all deceived. 
Some days I hear her voice 
in the kitchen, other days 

only my echo. Call it grief
or despair— it doesn’t matter; 
every day I kneel down and feed it.

Bless this rash of fires, this flooded city,
this cracked, parched earth, 

so all the water, all the salt, 
all the spoils of this world

hear me say: I am your daughter too.


Sara Burnett is the author of Seed Celestial, winner of the 2021 Autumn House Press Poetry Prize, forthcoming in fall 2022. She is also the author of Mother Tongue, a poetry chapbook (Dancing Girl Press, 2018) and has published several poems and essays in Barrow Street, Copper Nickel, Matter, PANK, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Maryland, and an MA in English literature from the University of Vermont. Previously, Sara was a public high school English teacher in both Washington D.C. and Vermont and an educator at a non-profit immigration organization working in and with schools. In addition to writing poetry and non-fiction, she also writes picture books. She lives in Maryland with her family.

Jan is not interested in drawing, painting, or soft sculpture unless it depicts  people. She sells her paintings at art shows, her art/greeting cards through gift shops, and her art often appears on poetry journals. Jan also includes her art in self-created poetry books, which she leaves on seats in parks, cinemas, train stations, cafes, libraries and book exchange venues. Jan loves to use a verity of mediums and is always experimenting with new ways to show emotion through her art. An example of her latest work is, to photograph then paint, people through water running down glass. These paintings are very popular. Jan also studies Thought Switching to help people with depression.