Thursday, June 30

message in a bottle

A match struck to light
is no brighter than my eyes,
catching sight of you.
The hurt lies, not in the slight,
but the oversight, a chroí.


The fresh black figs in my basket give off a heady perfume as we walk into the deep forest. I stop to tie back my hair and the darkness under the eaves of the forest wraps itself around my sisters. The fading lantern-light calls me into the grove, set just off the path to the north, and I run lightly on bare feet to catch them. To get to the Mystery, you have to cross the brook, ankle-deep in icy water, filled with mottled carp mailed in polished chain, marked like armor after a vicious battle. The entrance to our bakcheia is delineated by weather-warped silver chimes hanging from the cypress trees, dangling over the mossy rocks. They sing a dissonant song in the midsummer wind, calling me on, faster and faster.

Our god is the god of dancing, of dangerous rhythms, the god who comes. We are fig leaves and he is the sacred vine. We bend over backwards for ekstasis, dance in reverse around a great amphora of deep red wine, unwatered, the color of blood staining our mouths. Our mouths trail along each other like flickering flames, extinguished only by someone else's greedy lips. The drums beat deep in our bodies, the dark pulse moving our feet along predetermined paths into the silvershot night.

The night is full of stars, full of the music of their laughter and the exuberant sounds of loving, happy women. The satyrs rush in, squalling for ripe figs as they snatch at exposed breasts and hips. I put down my basket and drop my robe in the darkness. The drums are in my blood and my head hangs back, hair falling from its ribbons and twining like snakes around my brow. Torchlight rises above my hands and I begin to sing, or perhaps I speak in tongues. I can no longer tell. I cannot say what happens next, I cannot tell you about the Mystery. I can tell you about the face of my god but not his hands, the fruit of the vine but not the depths from which it grows. I cannot say.

The heavy scent of grass and mossy earth mingles with the perfume of fig and wine and there is a sound. The drums beat like hearts against the night, drawing our feet behind them, and there is a sound. My star-blinded eyes focus on the krater of wine in wonder, and there is a sound. Our torches lifted high, we turn to the sound of sirens howling ever nearer, and scream defiance. We are ready to rend the sound straight from the air, ready to tear flesh from bone at a threat, when the touch of our god withdraws slowly.

We are pagans, grown tired of the bland worship of empowerment principles, who have longed for the snakeskin feel of power, like ice and fire wrenched from our hearts, who bow down in the night to the old gods, glorying in abandon. We are poised still to eat living, bloody flesh, but no longer have the power. We are no longer in the hands of our god. Here, in the flashing lights painting our half-naked bodies with blue and red, we are only trespassing.

This week's Indie Ink challenge, "of sirens and maenads", came to me from Supermaren. I was amused to note that it fit perfectly with something else I've been toying with, and glad to post a tiny piece of it on this busy, busy week. I challenged Transplantedx3 with a moody French idiom, and look forward to reading her interpretation this week.

Wednesday, June 29


You take a breath wide as the sky,
Deep as the sea, with ragged edge.
Though sweet sleep around me ebbs,
My body wakes to your wondering eye.

Lean into me now and touch my thigh.
Come cut, come tear the bitter hedge
That on my hateful heart grows etched
When straight from me to her you fly.

Just kiss me until I am gone to dream again,
Caress me until we both can sleep.
Pretend tonight we've spoken only truth,
(this pretense saves face for many men)
Tell me this moment we will keep,
Tell me that we won't regret our youth.

Tuesday, June 28


sandbagged exhaustion
taunts me with blissful fathoms
placed just out of reach.

Saturday, June 25

Level 28 Ranger

"Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question...
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit."*

This is the desk I am leaving unattended today:

O inspiration!

Motivational postcard.

Love and the Muse are very, very good friends.

See also: "Be true...stand. All the rest is darkness", "Always say Yes", and "Omit needless words".

I promise you, my desk remains unattended solely because of this.

"...And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea."*

Or birthday cake, as the case may be.

*Quotations, of course, from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, by T.S. Eliot, not belonging to me in any way, shape or form.

Friday, June 24

The Doctor's Season

They strode up the walk at precisely half-past nine, knowing the doctor would be readying herself for the morning's coffee-table discussion. She was determined to speak to Dr. Marrow in person. The telephone is never sufficient, her editor had shouted yesterday on receipt of yet another telegraphed refusal. Get the statement yourself and don't let anyone turn you away until you get something!

“And here we go again,” Lydia said, “barging in where we're not wanted, right, Sev?”

“Oh, I don't know about that, Lyd—what she don't want and what she don't know she want're two different things, what?”

“I suppose so. Just remember to distract that awful butler of hers so I can get a foot in the door!”

With crossed fingers and bated breath the team advanced to the hulking front door. This wasn't their first assignment by any means, and Lydia would never have let her editor bully her into taking it if she hadn't drawn Sev as her photoplate tech. They were evenly matched in both temperament and stubborn attitude. If they couldn't get a story out of the reclusive Dr. Marrow, no one could.

Lydia rang the enormous bell. Sev lit one of his reeking cigars. Never let a servant catch you smoking in their entryway, people said, but he'd bet his hands that they didn't want the servant to notice them, either. As the door began to move, he exhaled directly into the dim opening.

“I beg your pardon,” the butler sputtered. Lydia discreetly edged the toe of her brown leather pump over the threshold and smiled innocently. “Good morning, Mallory! Here to check in with the good doctor. It is Tuesday, you know.”

“Dr. Marrow is unavailable. It is Tuesday, you know.”

The slight click of heels on the marble floor caught everyone's attention, and all three looked up. Mallory shook his head in apology and stepped away from the entrance. Dr. Marrow continued into the entryway and glanced at her visitors.
“Lydia. Again?”

“Yes, mum. Jules won't let me off the hook this time. Can I get just a statement?”

“I was just on my way to coffee. Can't this wait?”

“Now, Dr. Marrow, I know that you have meetings all afternoon. I brought chocolate croissants this time...”

The doctor sighed and motioned to Mallory. “Get the cigars off the tall one and make me a pot of espresso. Don't admit anyone else, and no calls until further notice, yes?”

The butler made a slight bow, eyeing Sev as he straightened. “You heard the doctor. I'll take those flashplates, too.” Sev grinned, flicking cigar-ash into the umbrella stand as he nodded to the two ladies.

“I'll see you at the pub, then, Lyd?”

“Don't tell Jules, Sev!”
He winked, and headed back down the walk.

Dr. Marrow was a special case, coming as she did on the heels of the winter Season. The town was definitely talking about her, but as no one was sure she was proper conversation, it was a muted chatter. Society made overtures and were swiftly rebuffed in favor of academia. Not the usual lady-doctor's behavior. Society was piqued, but so was their interest.

“Now, Lydia, I can only repeat what I have already pointed out. I am working on too many projects to give the paper a full recounting! It is unconscionable of Jules to keep sending you over here to interrupt my schedule. That said, I am beginning to enjoy your company. Not to mention the croissants.”

“I have to be straight with you, Doctor. I already knew that.” Lydia unpinned her hat and set it on the card-table. Mallory disappeared into the rear kitchen with the croissants and the two ladies headed to the study. Once the coffee was served, Lydia knew, Dr. Marrow could be approached with caution. Until then, it was best to keep the conversation light. She always began by asking about the doctor's latest projects or exhibition. It had been a good week for light conversation, but Lydia was impatient to get on. She felt a slight thaw in the doctor's demeanor. Could this be her break? With one good story she could be promoted, even given a byline, and she was eager to explore how far the doctor's good mood would go.

With an abrupt departure from the usual routine, the doctor turned and said, “Today.”
Lydia's eyes widened. This was really it. She fumbled for the recorder.
“Sit down, Lydia. This will take rather longer than our usual fencing. I am almost done with the new formulations. Without publicity, word will likely never reach the people I am trying for. They are the reason I will break my silence, with you, here. Today.”

“I don't understand, but I'll take it, Dr. Marrow!”

“You're young. Give it a few years. At any rate, I really only want one thing from you in return. Don't let Julian post this as something dreadful like the 'Instructional Anecdote for Young Ladies' I read last week.”

“Well, I don't get to write headlines, yet, but this could change everything. Thank you!”
As Mallory set the coffee-table, the last lady doctor of Provence-Nouveau seated herself carefully in an overstuffed chair.

“Once upon a time,” she mused. “Once upon a time is such an ancient cliché that no-one now is certain where it began. When I was a young girl, I read that its origin was in the first internet, where we learned the breadth of the world and the world's knowledge. I always dreamed, though, of finding the beginnings of things. That may have been the reason I found my aptitude for the sciences. I suspect you are not here to converse about etymology, however, and here is the first thing you are wanting desperately to ask—where did I come from? I will tell you. In the years before the Uprising I was a young lady on the verge of my society debut...”

Okay, my darlings: this is a bit of a trick. I got caught up in a story last night like a whirlwind of fire and failed to post anything. This little excerpt is an exercise I occasionally attempt in order to improve my dialogues. I hope it made you smile, at least, even if you have no interest in Neo-Victorian history, aka steampunk.

Thursday, June 23

A Week Afloat

I've taken to this like a barnacle takes to the ship's belly, my darlings.

I even have a sort of mental schedule. Of course, because I am writing other things, they might take precedence, or I might fall in love with a story and post it instead. I could even decide to post multiple things a day, if I wanted to do nothing other than gaze into this glowing screen.

As it stands, now, though:

One Stop Poetry posts a poetry form for "Form Mondays".
Tuesdays are for my cherished "Haiku Tuesday", the reason I joined Twitter in the first place.
One Stop Poetry also posts "One Shot Wednesdays", for which I intend to work on excruciatingly difficult (for me) poetic formats.
Thursday is the deadline to have posted my response to an Indie Ink challenge prompt.
So, somewhere in the week, I will post my challenge response, yes. But Thursdays are for my other little love, the tanka. Therefore, Tanka Thursday.
Fridays and Saturdays I will post whatever I damned well feel like, probably a short story of some sort. Sundays are for non-blogging things.

The sea is a capricious creature, my loves, and so am I. Don't bother your Captain with complaints if I don't keep to the course--unless you're very good at balancing on a splintery plank.

Let's see how long I keep this up before I have to tack south and head for Tortuga, shall we?

Your prettily painted Captain,


Lovers' ardent words
falling around me like song-
A bird's liquid trill.
In the heat of midsummer
you are leaving me undone!

Wednesday, June 22


What will an autumn girl do in a summer stretched thin,
While red and orange give way to shades of green?
I hope she stays, and paints the autumn colors in.

Some girls are satisfied to let yellow summer win;
Winter girls have run and can scarcely be seen!
What will an autumn girl do, when summer draws in?

Let the sun beat down, with its fearsome hot grin,
While passersby grow desperate, parched and mean!
Watch how she stays, and calls the cool breeze in.

Spring, summer, and winter may be called her kin,
Though how quickly they fade when autumn is queen!
What can an autumn girl do 'til summer grows dim?

Other seasons are far too intemperate for sin,
A well-loved pastime of mine you may try to redeem.
Watch the autumn girl smile, smell her cinnamon skin!

I cannot love those others, too heated, wet, or grim.
And, imagine this world without bright Hallowe'en!
What can an autumn girl do, if summer never gives in,
but watch, dreaming until the equinox rolls again?

For One-Shot Wednesdays, I've decided to work mostly on forms of poetry that are very strict, or that I have trouble writing...since this is a writing exercise blog, after all! The villanelle is a perfect example of challenging poetic form, with strict rhyme and meter, a twisted line scheme, and an insistence upon theme. I sweated hard on this one, and the ending is still a little weak. So I'll be thinking about edits, too!

You may have thought my Twitter handle was a joke, but I am dead serious about autumn. Just ask the Halloween Posse!

So--anyone else up for a Wednesday challenge? Next week...sonnets, I think.

Tuesday, June 21


your short sharp punch drives
straight into my breath, my heart
this is why I run.

Monday, June 20


This is a museum, presumably an empty one. In the halls, sometimes, you hear an echo of a chime, and always a persistent tick, tick, tick. There is no one here to watch you walk down the blue-tiled hall toward the room with the china doorknob. As you head down the empty hall to the last room the ticking grows louder, and sounds somehow dustier. On your right, a stuffed cat with stitched-on wings grins bleakly. Its golden eyes were gouged out long ago, giving it an oddly cheery look that is just a touch piratical. A tiny jade egg-cup filled with tokens rests between its front paws. Take a token and turn the Delft-patterned doorknob, entering the room whose sleeping sounds drew you into this abandoned building.

Remember to take precisely three steps forward. Now, duck under the black ropes surrounding the Oracle. No one is here to stop you from touching the levers, from turning the dials, and no one will find you in the morning, dress tied backward and hat inside-out. If you lean forward just a bit, you will see a standing brass plate with scalloped edges, covered in a thick, oily-looking dust. If you brushed it with your handkerchief, you could almost (but not quite) make out the faint etchings. Still, then your handkerchief would be dirty, and you can already hear your nursemaid muttering dire warnings about dirty handkerchiefs and the girls who carry such things.

The Oracle is nearly four cubits in height, and intimidatingly dense. It is contained in a battered cabinet of gleaming beechwood, the only item in the entire building that has not been layered in dust or dirt. Its gears are brass and iron, heavy things that turn with the gravity of universes, bound with straps of rich red leather. The left lever has a handle of lapis lazuli. Pull it down with your right arm, and stop at your waist. The right lever must be at the level of your head, with its silver tip just behind your ear. Turn the dial at the top of the cabinet to your age. Place your token in the third right palm of the little Indian goddess who sits, smiling, on the middle shelf.

Fix your question firmly in mind and touch the fifth button from the top. If the Oracle judges you properly respectful, if you have been a very good little girl and prepared yourself to the letter, you will see the future. Now close your eyes and turn sixty degrees exactly to the left.


This is the Forest of the Eventual. If you finish the left turn, as most do, continuing the motion they began in front of the Oracle, you will be sent back to the doorway of the empty museum, clothes blown inside out, but no harm done. If you are brave enough and listened to your nursemaid when she told you the rules of this place, you will instead step forward, touching your toes to the round jade cobblestones, which are the seeds of the path to the cauldron of the west. Step lightly on these cobbles; they are frangible, not sturdy like the bricks and stones of your plane. When you reach the fork in the road, turn down the silver path and avoid the gold. While you trip cautiously along, you may encounter a tired-looking woman with brightly colored hair. If she asks for some bread, give her your entire lunch. If she asks for water, give her the flask. Do not antagonize her, or you will be turned back--if you are not turned instead into a small pile of salt. You may encounter a small animal, struggling in a trap. Free the animal if you wish to continue. You may pass a rowan tree heavy with berries, leaves, and flowers all at once. Do not strip a twig from this tree unless it invites you to do so. Remember the things your mother told you.


This is the Grove of the Years. In this grove live the seasons, who gather to share stories at each solstice. You should not be here on the solstice, little girl. If you have followed your heart and your grandmother's instructions, you will find a small patch of strawberries mixed with snowdrop flowers. Step tactfully around this patch. Do not crush the berries or dare to nibble them. Slink through the forest with your teeth bared, like a tiny mink. This is your freedom. Enjoy it until you reach the doorway.


This is the Doorway to the Fates. Lean soulfully forward and whisper your question to the doorknob. Grasp its face firmly in both palms and kiss it gently. Now turn it to the east as if you were breaking a small animal's neck, firmly and decisively. Step through the door backwards, taking a last look at childhood and a world where everything you have ever believed in is real.

This is your future. Lower the veil over your eyes and wait for the wedding march to begin. Don't think about what you could have done or who you could have been; your place in the home awaits, your stairstep children and days of dishwashing and obedience. Place your hand demurely in the crook of your father's arm and step out to the plaintive strings. Step, pause, step. Step, pause, step. Do not let the tears drop into your bouquet. Someone might see.


Or, take the gold path. Share your lunch with the tired-looking lady, and your drink, and ask her where you can find work. Stomp upon the jade cobbles, and break them like hearts. Pluck the animal from the trap and set it free, but never ask it to return your favor. Take the rowan wand and make your vow to whichever deity you please. Forget your nursemaid, your mother, your family, the rules, and run wild in the forest like a tiny mink until you find the strawberry patch. Pluck flowers and weave them into chains and garlands. Sit and eat strawberries and listen to the stories the seasons tell, and sing the songs they teach you. Be sure to laugh at the bawdy ones, and never, ever look through the trees to the Door. Live the rest of your life on your own terms, in a lovely (if sometimes terrifying) tale, and refuse regret. Do not forget to listen to the five-year-old in your heart, struggling to survive. Everything she tells you will be important, but the most vital lessons are the ones you learned from fairytales.

This post is for the Indie Ink Writing Challenge, a response to my prompt from Chelsea, who instructed me to describe the "best advice I've ever received, from a random five-year-old girl who happened to pass me by". Happily, I am the only five-year-old I am likely to encounter, and I never, ever fail to heed her advice.

I challenged Catherine to provide some "advice from the opium den", and I can't wait to read what comes from that.

Saturday, June 18


I want to
eat oil-slick nigiri
strips of fat-ribboned pink flesh
and sharp knives of wasabi
lashed to each perfect pale grain

brought to my greedy red mouth
with manicured fingernails

gleaming bloody
under dark-bright neon,
alone in a country
you will never see.

I want to
love you in languages
long dead or tongue-tying
cruel and remote,
like you,

so far away and unreal.

Friday, June 17


if pain were a small animal
I would tear it to pieces

and lick blood from its fur
shaking my thyrsus

wine-maddened and quick
dancing the dance of my sisters

eyes wide
and glittering in the dim light

teeth bared
against the moon

pain is the source of this madness
let me tear it out at the root.

Thursday, June 16


Today's lesson was supposed to cover ways to describe your eating habits in foreign countries, and we were headed quickly down the list of approved roots and cases, Goidelic, Greek, Latin, and Planetary alike, when it happened. She raised her hand imperiously. Not again, I prayed silently. I ignored her as long as I could, because she is always disruptive, always causing a problem with her outlandish answers. Finally, I had taken answers from as many other students as I could and was forced to let her speak. I asked, "What would you say to someone who doesn't speak your language, Alhambra? What do you think the best description would be?"
She smiled and said "Librivore," and I sighed. The class carefully avoids looking at her. Even a sidelong glance is enough to get you splashed. Alhambra's tank is only four feet deep and her tail is almost that long on its own. At the beginning of last week's class, a girl named Evin muttered something to a friend about the tail and ended up with black water staining her face and mossy, scummy spots on her dress. No one will take a chance on snide looks or comments about the mermaid now.
"Librivore, Alhambra? I know that Marinids have different diets, but I have read that they mostly consume sea vegetation. Some tribes have been documented as...well, not cannibals, but fish-eaters. Are you sure that is the appropriate root?"
Her smile widened. It is hard to look away when she bares her teeth. They look like black freshwater pearls, oily and gleaming. They are not sharp, but somehow I always remember them as fangs. The ink patterns around her mouth scroll madly with her expressions, looping and swirling just under the skin as I try to remember the thread of the lesson.
"Yes," she says, "I eat words. I smear their ink into my mouth. Fiction tastes like vodka and honey but is sharp like rosemary. History tastes of gin and breaks into soft, gummy chunks that reek of lemon peel and fall gently into my throat."
Here, I tried to break in, polite and professional, with a dismissive air. She continued--as she always does--as if my words were nothing more than the whine of a fly, somehow trapped in the room.
"Once, a man wrote me a poem. It was lovely and bloody, reckless and meaty and wild. Every perfect sentence, every precious turn of phrase, I lick dry and then I devour it as fast as I may. I swallow stories and they change to stones in my stomach. Librivore."
I know I should stop her as fast as possible but honestly, she fascinates me. It causes problems in the classroom, I know, but who else has heard such stories from the ocean tribes? My grandfather told me when I was very small about his grandfather, who ran away to the sea as a boy, and I have wondered ever since I learned to speak what he found there. Who he found there. So when it goes like this, even if I know better, I let her confound us all. I wonder if it is a habit of all mermaids, or just this particular maddening one?
"I eat words that change into stones and then I bruise in text. I met a priest who wanted me to say only godly things. He hit me when I twisted them and words rose from my flesh like fish in the dark. Lay your hands upon me, I said, say the word and I shall be healed, O Noun! Baruch hashem adverb. O Eternal Gerund! I do not think he liked my answers. A story is only a synonym for god, you know. Gods are only stories. Of course, the opposite is just as true: stories are only gods. Ceaseless and changing and eternally renewed.
"If someday you wake up hungry for answers, for the story you know didn't end where the author left off? Behind your back, somehow you hear the story going on, infuriating, just quietly enough that you can no longer make it out? Let me help you now. Gather books and stones to hold down their pages. Pile poetry in drifts around your bed. Lessons and script and stories to fill your larder. I say this to prepare you now, because that is how I got here. How I arrived in this place, with this tank, in this class and in your way. The tail, though, and the tank, that is another story."
No one responded. She wet her face casually and smoothed her dripping hair away from her sharp-not-sharp teeth and scaled brow. I knew I should do something, but the silence persisted. It always persists. The bell rang, and I dropped the chalk to the floor. The sound of it breaking, shattering into three pieces, brought the spell to an end. Yet I barely recognized my own voice as it said, "Tomorrow we will review the dative case...and pick up where we left off today. Dismissed."
She smiled at me again as I edged out of the classroom, avoiding the grim puddles around her tank. I don't know what she sees when she looks at me that way. I dream of her black-tattooed face and wake, restless, to write it down.

Wednesday, June 15

red sky at morning

words are shifty things
worse than emotions
slippery in the night
falling from my fingers
like cherry pits
thrown into the wind,

pale plum blossoms
shivering on the tree,

the touch of your skin
at dawn,
too precious to describe.

words and tears pale against 
burning velvet sunrise
like dry leaves
caught up
in the silken breeze.

Tuesday, June 14


wineglass on the sill
your autumn breezes threaten
unpinned hair like leaves.

Along the Shore

This blog is an experiment.  A testing of the waters, so to speak.  If you want to read the inspiration behind this journal, please visit Origami Hour with Nigel ParesisLa Sirene Noirrunaway sentence, and the inimitable Pretty All True.  For proof that talent runs in the family, as well as less comfortable things, visit my amazing sister at All the Things I Am.

What you will see here will not be polished, perfected work.  This is my place to participate in writing experiments and online challenges, and critiques are expected, even encouraged.  If you hurt my feelings, though, you will be keelhauled.  So keep it constructive, because I am cruel, like the sea. 

Your beautifully autocratic Captain,