Friday, July 29

Gray Lady

This hunger always takes me unaware,
pulling me along on reluctant feet.
The wind tangles her fingers in my hair
as I head out to sea.

I conquer navies though I command no fleet,
my strange artilleries comprised of simple air.
Still, your lover prays we might never meet.

If some lonely night, you see me there?
If you're entranced by music sweet?
Shut up your ears, whatever else you dare,
as I head out to sea.

This week's format is the roundel, and mine was inspired (very loosely) by low-country ghosts like the Gray Man of Pawleys Island, SC.  Of course, sirens figure largely in my world, as well...
The lovely runaway sentence. is also participating, even graciously allowing me a few extra days to get my nonsense in order.  You can read her roundel here.  Next week we'll be tackling the quatern.  A quatern is another multi-quatrain French form, but to my relief?  No rhyming required.  Stay tuned.

Thursday, July 28

Gentleman's Choice

Under the first finger of your left hand, there is a button. The slick, slightly grimy surface against the pad of your finger, made for the quick depression and the subtle click. Is it part of a keyboard? Perhaps. Perhaps it is an alarm. It's too dark in here to tell. Just you and the warm plastic hardness of a mysterious button. What will you do? Will you push it? There is no telling what will happen if you do.

There is an old ethics lesson people always reference in situations like this, about choices, I believe. It goes like this: you are alone in a room with a button that will, cleanly and legally, transfer an astonishing amount of money into your bank account each time you press it. The only catch is that you will kill someone every time you do. It probably wouldn't be anyone you know, and they may be a terrible person. Someone on the other side of the world, no doubt, someone you would never meet. You would never have to face the reality of their death--and the best part of the lesson? No one would ever know you did this. Make no mistake, you would be responsible for snuffing out that person's brief candle, simply to make your life a little easier. You would be responsible.

It's a terrible ethical dilemma, if you consider yourself a kind person. You might be the kind of person who refuses to eat meat, buys only ethically sourced and sustainable products, green evangelist who volunteers at hospitals, builds houses for the homeless, and donates money as often as possible, and you will still think about pressing that button. Anyone would. It's human nature, right? We're not programmed to consider other people at the most basic levels. Especially ones we'll never meet, people whose blood we will never see shining wet on the hands that pressed those buttons. These are some of the things she said to me, with her sharp little teeth gleaming in the light from her watch dial. I called her bluff, though, pushing that button without hesitation.

It was just some game, I thought, a stupid prank one of my friends decided to play, getting me back for some ridiculous thing or another. Especially with that weird costume she was wearing when she picked me up at the bar. It was a joke. Until someone behind me in the dark untied me, drove me blindfolded back to the house, dumped me unceremoniously at home. I went inside like any other hangover morning, expecting Emily to be sitting at the kitchen table. Expecting to see her thin fingers clenched grimly around a coffee cup, nervous eyes checking the oven clock, flicking up to meet mine when I finally stumbled in. She always waited up for me, even when she knew I wouldn't be home until the cold blue light of the morning warmed into true day. I told her she didn't need to, that I would call if anything went wrong. I don't think she distrusted me so much as she couldn't think of more to do with herself. I know she had trouble concentrating when I wasn't at home, sleeping.

So I thought she had gone out, finally taking me at my word. I went in, unknotting my tie and flinging it over the desk, pinching at the bridge of my nose and pressing into my temples to move my hangover along. I pulled the cell phone out of my pocket and tossed it after the tie, fumbling to catch it as it began to vibrate midair. Imagine my stupid sleepless face at that very moment, unshaven and bleary-eyed, wide square hands juggling a small blue phone, last night's sharp French cuffs now hanging like broken wings around my thick wrists. Now imagine the look on my face as I check for the vibrating message and find an alert from my bank, confirming a three million dollar deposit to our savings. A payment, it said. From the state lottery.

There was a trail of blood leading into the bathroom, Emily's bathroom. I'd walked through it without even noticing, that's how hungover I was. The door was closed. I don't remember much else of that day. I do remember being surprised at how few questions they asked, how little suspicion ended up centered on me. Isn't it always the husband they look at most thoroughly?

I don't know what happened at home, the night I spent with the girl in the red mask. I may never. Emily's parents stopped calling after the funeral, I remember that. The board looked at me so strangely when I quit the company, the next week. And our friends fell away, couple by couple, one by one. I spent a lot of that money on learning things. Some on a few useful objects. It's been a while, but I think I'm ready now. I'm going to find that girl, with her foxy face and sharp little teeth. That girl with the weird 1980s green-glowing watch and ridiculous skintight jumpsuit. I'm going to find her if it's the last thing I accomplish in this lifetime. When I do, I'm going to find out what she loves, what she cherishes, and how I can get to it. Then I'll give her an ethics lesson. I wouldn't kill her--I like to think of myself as a kind person. I'll just ask her to make a choice.

For this week's Indie Ink challenge, Kat Sidhe offered me a prompt of "You are a superhero.  Tell us about your nemesis."  I think this is more of an origin story than a biography--I hope it does the job.  For my part, I sent Dishwater Dreams off with a nudge toward Alice Through the Looking Glass.  For those of you paying attention to the weekly poetic format challenge, you may have noticed a disruption in the routine.  Family issues precluded a Wednesday post, but it will be up soon.  Thanks for your patience, and as always, for reading.  

Wednesday, July 27


here in the midst
of worry, entertaining

thoughts of a fragile heart,

I want only to touch
the ones I love.

some burdens are too heavy
for one heart to bear.

not this one.  not today.

Tuesday, July 26


Cicadas buzzing,
we rode our bikes up that path
against all endings.

Saturday, July 23

θρίαμβοι, part 2

Part 1 can be found here.

      The ride into town is a quick one, at least. The hangover feeling of sitting empty, half-naked, in the backseat of a police car is not something, I think, to which I will ever grow accustomed. My basket and hair ribbons are locked up in the trunk and I am looking at the road ahead through a metal grille. The contemptuous dark-haired man at the wheel is a friend of my father's, I believe. He would not look at me when he put my belongings in the trunk, only motioned with his hand at the open door. His partner is younger, softer-looking. Still, he won't look me in the eye, either. I do not believe that there is anything wrong with what I have done tonight, and the court never has the nerve to say so, either. This is just an exercise for them, a way to let my group know precisely where we stand among the good Presbyterians and Evangelicals of my tiny hometown.

      The park where we gather permits night use. There are no ordinances that would prohibit us from drumming or dancing, even in the state of undress in which we customarily find ourselves. We are miles from day-care centers or schools or any fragile minds we might endanger. This is nonsense and small-town prejudice. No more, and no less. I curl in the wide vinyl seat, knees against my chest like a child, eyes turned to the night sky I can see just over the mountain.  My bare feet leave prints on the vinyl in fig-scented mud, a last wild presence like a bulwark against the hostility.  I can taste the wine still on my lips.  I know how I look, as if it matters.  I can tell it's disturbing to their delicate sensibilities.

      They know me at this station. This is not the first time I've been picked up, half-dressed and smudged and tired-eyed, put in a holding cell and let out a few hours later. I am not giving them what they want, which would be to leave town or stop holding the gathering. We meet only three times a year, but in this tourist haven an hour from anywhere, where the lowest common denominator is white, upwardly mobile, deeply Christian, and endowed with exactly two point five children? You would think we were a pack of roving Satanists, out to steal souls and trick god-fearing individuals into drinking blood instead of wine.

      When the day breaks through the little window, high above this bench, they will come unlock the door, hand me my belongings, and escort me to the parking lot. I will go home and shower, letting the high notes of incarceration and the low notes of pine and cypress and mud rinse down the drain. I will go to bed for a few hours and sleep well. I will get up at ten, put on subtle makeup and an expensive suit, and head in to work at my father's law firm. Nothing more will be said. I will pay whatever fine they ask, and I will be left alone until the winter closes in, and we are trapped in this routine once more.

      The Lenaia begin in January, and I have plans to invite other covens and circles from nearby towns. We want to be left alone to our worship, it's true--but failing their cooperation, I will be sure that this town is known forever, and for miles around, remembered only for the bacchanal.

Friday, July 22

the former

Red lines
her dark-brown eyes,
where once black kohl smudged hard.
Pale hair showing dark roots and grey,

the word burns her.
Once, the bloody world fell
at her perfectly manicured
pale feet,

but now?
The carnival
sunset over the sea,
signaling marina lights, means

in summer day, grow lewd
crimson faces, leering to draw
lost ones

into things best left
to their elders, if not
their betters, who now only taste

Thursday, July 21


Left or right? Two wrongs don't make a right, but taking too many left turns will. The spindle seems to be out of thread. She said it would lead me to the center of the maze, but there is nothing here. It's not even a large space. I can't imagine that this is where they keep poor Asterion.

There's barely even enough room for me to stand, let alone an eight-foot minotaur. If Paz hadn't sent me down here to keep an eye out for him, I'd be a little concerned about that encounter. Oddly enough, it's that guy sneaking in behind me I'm worried for. Weird kid. I probably should have sent him home with a warning, but he looked harmless. Although now that I've lost track of him in the maze, I'm feeling a little ashamed. What am I going to do if someone finds him and realizes I'd have had to let him in? There goes my pension.
Okay, no panicking. I just turned left two turns ago, so I'll go left now, and make lefts every other turn. That sounds...plausible. Now what am I going to do about the spindle? I know it leads to the entrance, at least, but it won't go on from here. long as I keep my head I can find my way back here, and then from here to the entrance. I guess. That doesn't really seem like a good idea, but what else can I do? My dress is pretty sturdy or I'd tear and drop some scraps. Whatever. I've been down here for hours already. Must be close to the center. Why did they have to move him into a godsdamnned labyrinth, anyway? This was so much easier when he was in the nursery.
Okay, every other left, right, shit. Is that the spindle? Shit. Okay. That's fine. Still able to get out. Right, left, right...why are there so many echoes in here? The ceiling's practically in my face! I am not all that tall, either. How does Asterion get around in here?

Gods, what if I am in the wrong labyrinth? Yeah, I'd say that was silly, too, if I weren't on my fifth circle around the stupid thing. Sixth, maybe? I don't even know. It would explain why the spindle ran out halfway through--oh, Erysichthon's balls, there it is again. This is getting ridiculous. Fine. Just gonna sit here by the spindle for a sec and take a breather. No point in running around, ha ha, in circles. Or something.
Ugh. What am I sitting in? Why is the floor sticky? Why am I even asking myself this when I know there's a six-year-old minotaur wandering around here? Hera only knows if he's even potty-trained yet.
No, wait--it's red. Aw, shit, what is this? This is not going to look good if Asterion has hurt himself while I waltz around out here. Paz will kill me, no joke.
I'll just leave handprints on turns I've taken. That'll work, right? Must make the best of a situation. Maybe it's not a bad situation. Not yet. Maybe he caught that scrawny kid by accident. Maybe I can pass that off as part of this year's tribute. No one comes down here anyway, I can drag the body into one of these side chambers.
That was not an echo. I heard that. Sounded like a kid crying. I think I'm getting close. Have to be, haven't passed any handprints. Except now the floor is sticky again. For crying out loud.
There is the fucking spindle again. Right next to...that weird kid who followed me in, oh shit. With Asterion crumpled at his feet, and I can almost hear his stupid little cow-voice bawling for me, for his Ari. Holy stars, who is this other guy? What kind of an asshole goes out to kill a little kid? I don't care if Asterion wasn't what you'd call entirely human, that still sucks. Where did he even hide that sword? Big fucking hero, cutting off a six-year-old's head. Now what am I going to do?

It's Indie Ink challenge time again, and this week's prompt of "where do we go from here" came from Alyssa.  I challenged Sunshine, whose response can be found here.  


Back pressed hard into
sweat-slick mat, I open up.
I am tree-rooted
arching into the blue sky
muscles fluttering like leaves.

Tuesday, July 19

cyborg shift

copper-wire curls
this deep ocean of feeling
I am no human.

Monday, July 18

no quarter

Come on, then--
I am an easy target.  I defied all
their laws to bring this invention
to the people, this shifting thing

that is danger and beauty in one
flickering compelling gleaming piece.
I never wanted to live forever,
but with that granted, the people

are at their mercy just a little less.
Come in and sit at the hearth,
they can offer, even as you pull
moist and quivering chunks

from my gaping flesh.  It's of no
matter here, where I wait
to see your silhouette
against the day's rising.  Still,
I cherish the flame lodged in my heart

and will remain unrepentant
until I am granted a release.

It's Form Monday over at One-Stop Poetry, and this week's theme is mythology.  Which, if you've been following along at all, you know is very close to my heart.  So I won't call this a challenge, so much as a piece that has been waiting for a place to roost.  

Thursday, July 14


Stacks of words in black,
standing even with my head,
box me in alone.
Even in this self-made cell,
only words can set me free.

Wednesday, July 13


There was an entire town, shops and all, shuttered, at the foot of the temple complex. Worse, though, were the shops with goods still inside, blank-faced statues of gods or guardians she could never even begin to name, temple offerings of candles and incense in neat pyramids along counters behind glass doors, as if the keeper had just stepped out for a drink, or a cigarette, lucky cats waving in endless futility.
They walk through the shops, her hands itching to reach out to the smooth marble faces or fabric frozen into a drape forever, to feel the reality of things under her fingers and dispel the vague sense of having stepped into a photograph. As they draw closer to the entrance, a nasal song rings out from hidden speakers, making both of them jump.
"Sutras," she laughs. "There can't possibly be monks here, though." 
They prowl around the entrance to the temple complex, a vast pair of walkways under cedar-shingled awnings bracketing Brobdingnagian stairs, two guardian statues deposited in the center of the massive marble slabs. The intermittent rain had left a puddle here and there, with bits of pollen and dirt ringing each spot. She pokes at the pollen with her umbrella and skips up the stairs. Three steps across each leaving no way to jump stairs in her ordinary fashion, she settles for speed. The battered, creosote-weeping wooden doors stand open to the courtyard, and she ducks inside as if something is chasing her.
The hall is wider than anything she's ever seen, and almost empty. The walls are latticed and full of recesses that could hold almost anything, plaster and dark wood contributing to the cool that is such a contrast to the moist heat outside, the occasional showers doing nothing to tame the rising temperature. I thought it was supposed to be cooler in the mountains, she had snapped irritably on the walk to the temple. He hadn't even bothered to respond.
Now they were inside, all her annoyance absorbed into the awful emptiness of the mock temple. The distressing unmeaning of each building-sized bodhisattva, cruel mouths agape, an unpleasantly familiar oppressive feeling. She leans back to look up into their faces and finds herself retreating to the entrance, all the way behind the cauldron of sand and the neat pyramids of incense for sale, the main remaining income for this building that some call a front for the gangsters' money-laundering and others refuse to speak of at all. 

Rooting around in her black bag, she pulls out some change and drops it into the slot next to the sand-bowl. She walks around each statue, feeding incense and coins and the roaring emptiness of her prayers to each one, thinking of poor Guanyin, left here to the simple housekeeping of medicine and mercy. She pauses in front of the Great Buddha, whose bland face fails to speak to her, and gives up her last handful of incense.
Behind her, more tourists wander in, the silence descending as the overbearing presence of the statues begins to work upon them the same way. She turns to leave, wondering at this building in the middle of the mountains, empty of every feeling and of anyone but the foreign and the lost.

 On her way out, she lights a candle for Kannon, being sure to do so with the most recently tattooed hand, thinking of the goddess bodhisattva's face in the moon, peach-sweet cheeks drawn with pain. She waits for the peace of remembering the goddess to fall over her, thinking of that luminous face bowed, forced into listening for all the cries from this earthly world. She hopes Kannon will hear her heart crying out to stay in the jade-colored mountains, even as she adds up the sad little number of days she has left to live in her chosen home.
She leaves the temple of rumors and heads over to her partner, standing on the terrace, his face empty of awe or ruin, as empty of regret as she is full of the need to escape, the refusal to accept their shared country as home. She slips her hand into his and tries to press her sadness into his palm like a coin, to push it away from her and breathe the sweet feeling of being as far away as possible for a little while longer.

It's Indie Ink challenge time again.  This week's prompt of "can't go back home again" came from myplaidpants.  I sent Sir a link to Bee Jesus on Judith Klausner's portfolio site and am terribly excited to see the Gospel of Propolis...or whatever he writes.  


match won,
journey's end,
no. None of these fit.
None are appropriate--not yet.

It's One-Shot Wednesday again, with One Stop Poetry, and this week the lovely runaway sentence. wrote TWO Fibonacci poems to show me up...and suckered CDG into it, too, somehow!  And to make it even worse, they had them posted ages ago.  Sigh.  Looks like I'm going to have to step up this game.  Next week?  An aubade.

Tuesday, July 12

to what ends

blue sky, light building
the slow arc of pages falls
swiftly, a deep slice.

Monday, July 11

L'espirit de l'escalier

Light is embroidered on your skin
where the shadows dance against stone walls.
We move, swaddled in music, around
marble pillars, between dripping beeswax
tapers, an ocean of heady honey scent
rising from the dim orange flames
and we are lost in the idea of loving
another person, another twisted
lost soul--just like mine, we think.

Loss is a verdant ocean,
deep and green as your eyes,
now swollen with the days of tears
spent on finding my replacement
on the idea of loving someone
who might understand the echoing darkness
in your head, the music
that could come from anywhere.
Here I am!  Still watching you
from this velvet corner,
waiting, impatient breath held
for the day you cease to mourn.

Love is not always a brilliant blaze,
manufacturer of its own light,
not always something beautiful
and easy to see.
I would give my embers
into your keeping
in a breath, if this empty shade
could still breathe.

Thursday, July 7

Tanabata (七夕)

Oh, gleaming maiden,
reach out your hand to catch mine!
I will not fail you.
Promises are heavy things,
but this love lightens my load.

Wednesday, July 6

Middle Sister

The knock at the door startles them and they mill about, running up and down her torso, scratch scratch scratch. The line of them runs down her leg to answer the opening door, and she turns away. A beetle's carapace is so pretty, liquid colors rolling around in the light like a song from the tongue, but there are so many of them in here that she has ceased to notice how gorgeous they are. Now she treasures them solely for the privacy their presence allows. They move en masse out of her visitor's way, sloshing like puddles of iridescent oil on either side of his built-up bootheels as he stamps his way toward her chair in front of the window.
"Vincent," she says, enunciating wearily. "Not now. No--scratch that, not ever. Go away, I don't want to talk to you." She shifts to one side to allow the resulting pool of insects access to the black lace draperies shrouding her chair and carefully avoids looking at him. She knows what she will see: a man taller than he thinks, with unruly dust-colored hair and longing in his slate-blue eyes. The elevated bootheels are silly on someone of his perfectly normal height, but he insists upon them. She has never seen him barefoot. Although, on further reflection, she can't think of anyone who would enter her rooms less than completely clothed.
She pulls at the green velvet ribbon holding back her messy pile of ash-brown hair, until it gives way under her fingers and the heavy curtain falls to obscure her face. She watches his reflection in the window while the jewel-beetles seethe around them, watches his face twist into its regular dissatisfied lines while he thinks she cannot see. The cool stone walls radiate a comforting chill against the moist, warm air he pulled in as he entered. The beetles treat her as part of the furniture, running in and out of her hair and clothes, constantly seeking. She has never understood what the object of their searches must be.
"Charis, you have to listen to me," he insists. "They found her. Your sister. She--"

She shakes her head, bends it back down toward the window, and sits as immobile as the stones in the wall. He never listens. Why should she care about her frog-mouthed sister, the greedy-guts? It's her sister's fault they are all in this mess. Cerise wouldn't know self-restraint if it jumped up and bit her on the nose.
"I know you're thinking about Cerise. I should have been more specific. They found Cristabel," he says, pulling one reckless hand through his already corkscrewed and cowlicked hair. "She's not doing all that great, I guess? Even if she got the pearls and diamonds treatment. And, Charis, I think she knows where to find the woman who did all this!"
Her hands clench involuntarily on the arms of her chair, relaxing only as she feels the crunch of a beetle's shell between her fingers. His face is lurid and exultant in the gloom. It could be a trick. Cristabel was always playing tricks on the rest of them. She can't quite believe Vincent would play along, though. He has loved her since they were very young, loves her still, even though shining beetles drop from her lips now, instead of kisses or loving words. She stands abruptly, moving cautiously to the sideboard and the decanter of Madeira. The countless beetles move restlessly through her layers of clothing as she carefully pours two deep glasses of the dark caramel-red wine.
She steps down to stand facing him and holds out a goblet, one eyebrow cocked quizzically. An emerald-coated beetle rattles out of her sleeve and ricochets from her hand to the floor, but he steps forward and takes the glass nonetheless. She smiles widely for the first time in a year and sips from her glass. He looks into the depths, pausing before he takes a long draught, just to be safe. No wriggling, shiny insect presents itself, and he tilts the glass almost ceiling-ward, inhaling the honey-sweet wine like rich air.
She waits, patiently, until he looks at her again, his eyes fixed unwillingly on her still-lovely mouth, and says, "I can't remember the last time I heard such delicious news," each multisyllabic word marred by a flood of skittering insects, rushing out of her mouth and down her neck, terrible in their beauty and perfect in their implacable march.

This week's Indie Ink Challenge comes to me from seeking Elevation, who left me a sentence fragment: "I can't remember the last time I".  I challenged illogical being with a definition from the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, and look forward to reading the results!  This is a fragment of what will eventually be a very long, very upsetting fairytale.  I hope you aren't entomophobic.

one, this is one

Orlak, where have you gone? I have searched the shimmering flames
for the timid giant of Medicine River, salesman, king of my secret heart.
His ocean-blue eyes fierce, comings and goings as mysterious as his name.
Surfing the wake of an adagio of hurt, I pile my listed hates into his cart:

Portabella mushrooms, driving to work in the snow, political pundits make me weary.
Ignorant passers-by, heat, the taste of meat, lazy writers, noisy interfering Denis Leary
and the weighted, unanticipated fist of Orlak's child pressed into my leaden womb.

Tuesday, July 5

of note

Music enfolds me
flawless and ripe, morning fruit
still touched with dewdrops.

Monday, July 4


Am I a peach?  I disagree,
though peaches are lovely,
especially in the heat of summer.
I think you are much sweeter.
Nor am I a plum, ice cold
and unexpected, not even
an apple plucked fresh
(straight from the serpent's mouth),
no, none of these.

I think I might be a pumpkin,
carved hollow
by your demanding hands,
left open to the velvet night,
alight with expectation.