Wednesday, November 23

liturgy of the hours

Where, oh precious, can I find the gate
into that novena-lit and comfort-laced,
steep-staircased tower?

No map yet aims wide enough,
no route traced in jewels,
rivers inked in green or blue,
no arrows point my way.

I am not lost, I am seeking.
I know what I want when I find it,
the twisted tumbler of that one locked chamber
singing in my cathedral heart.


I have an empty
tin can for a mind, through which
the wind rises, scours

oatmeal-colored cell-
stuff from the bony walls, screams
in suffering ears

its manifesto.
I dare not resist.  No good
can come of retreat.

Monday, November 21

Time and a Half

She pulls down the long zipper of her dress, starting at the nape of her neck, holding the pile of her long hair out of the way with her forearm as she presses the neckline flat with her left hand. In her underclothes, she lets the thick bundle of hair fall, and begins to fold her dress. It's black.

 Most of her clothes are, but this is special, an asymmetrical piece of slubbed silk, deeper than midnight. Cocktail dresses are her favorite, and this is a particularly graceful variation on the style. She leans over to release the ankle straps of her seven-inch heels, placing one hand on the bookshelf for balance's sake. Stepping out of her right shoe, and then her left, she stands in stocking feet at the foot of the bed. She leaves her dress folded, neatly, on top of the deep blue counterpane and pads out to the kitchen.

She fills a wide-bottomed glass with whiskey and lights a cigarette, smoking silently, taking little nips at the glass between drags. The clock in the hallway chimes softly, and she heads into the office. The laptop is open, humming the quiet accompaniment of dancing electricity in the empty air. She puts her cigarette out in the desktop ashtray and disconnects all the laptop's cables. Looking at the red light of the built-in webcam, she takes a long swallow of her whiskey and sets down the glass.

"I'm not turning on the speakers, and I won't repeat myself or take any questions, so you had better listen carefully," she says. "I'm not here to make friends. Don't ever try to contact me or interact with me in private life again. This is your only warning." She presses her lips together, narrows her eyes at the red light, and then steps away from the computer.

She pulls the office chair into the hallway, gazing critically at the line of sight into her bedroom, and stacks three thick books on its seat. She steps back into the office, retrieves the laptop, and sets it gently on the stack of books. Heading back into the bedroom, she stops, spins on her heel, and goes back for her drink.

When she is comfortably seated on the floor at the foot of her bed, she pulls a tiny butterfly knife out of its clip at the top of her left stocking, casually manipulating it with one hand, open, and closed. Open. Then closed. With the other hand, she picks up her cell phone, shakes it warningly at the little red light shining from the darkened hallway, and sets it back on the floor beside her right hip, returning her attention to the glass of whiskey. When her phone vibrates against the hardwood floor, she checks the mobile banking alert for the right set of numbers, and begins.

She pulls one garter taut and slashes through it, then the other. With a flashy flip of the blade, she cuts a shoulder strap, right below the collarbone. After two more quick slices, the lace cups of her deep red bra fall slowly to the sides. She slides the flat of the blade along her hipbone and works it under the seam of her matching thong, moving it up and down, in and out, in vicious parody. She raises an eyebrow and smiles, cruelly, the corners of her mouth drawing up in what could be either a smirk, or a snarl. She bares her teeth at the red light of the camera and drags the sharp little blade through each side-seam of her panties.

She stands, abruptly, and the scraps of fabric flutter to the ground, puddling splashes of scarlet next to her still-stockinged feet. She flourishes the blade back into its handle and tosses it on the bed. She moves sinuously toward the laptop in the hallway, and crouches down in front of the chair. When she is at eye-level with the little red light, she pulls her hair up off her neck and arches her back, showing off her chest, then hits the button that turns off the video feed.

She pulls off each stocking and lays them gently over the side of the clothes hamper, leaving the shredded remains of the rest of her underwear in a pile on the floor. She rummages in the top drawer of her dresser and steps into a black satin bikini, fastens the matching bra around her ribcage, and lifts each breast into a plain, but glossy, cup. She works each strap up to her shoulders and steps into the walk-in closet, pulling on a pair of jeans and a black t-shirt, a grey sweater, and thick wool socks. She tucks a bigger knife behind the waistband at the small of her back. She heads out to the hallway and steps into her favorite black boots, tying her hair into a knot at the nape of her neck. She grabs her keys from the table by the front door and hurries to the car, already looking forward to her grandmother's pumpkin pie. 

 "Sorry I'm late," she practices aloud. 

"Some accounts," she will say, "don't pause for Thanksgiving dinner," with a gentle smile. She would bet half of the night's take that for the fourth year in a row, no one will ask exactly what it is she does for a living, now.

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Mera challenged me with "A memory connected to Thanksgiving." and I challenged Hannah with "All caps, no gaps." 

Friday, November 18

four ignoble truths

A whetstone, cold and grey. From my knuckles to my fingertips
   I am rough and red. I have a sharkskin pad for bright green
   wasabi and a yellow porcelain bowl filled with deep pink ginger
   pickled in sweet rice vinegar. I know what is hidden, rooted
   in these cupboards, in the shadows behind the flour and sugar,
   I know my ingredients. I know what I have and what is missing.
   I am full up on the wretched ignorance of samsara, overflowing
   with desperate illusion and the blatant grieving half-life of desire.
   I don't have satori. I have no locks on my aching heart, ground
   under your heel like an inky stone. I have these days and nights.
   I don't have you. Now I sharpen, I grind. I place the chips and
   shards of my heart in the mortar bowl and bear down on the pestle,
   bear down, endless. Are you hungry? Let me feed you.

Thursday, November 17

between the bones

Lemon-peel sour
and sharper than kitchen knives,
that taste in my mouth.
I burned us to ash, swallowed
charred silence and empty years.

Carthago Delenda Est

The arrow-threat of occupation sighted firmly on my high-walled city, a looming specter of dissolution above the harbor. A pyre built of memories and shame. Pile it up, then, throw oil onto my fires and let the world burn as I do. As for you, Tyrians that were, people of my people--lash his children and all his people with your hatred, give me their suffering as a gift, a holy sacrifice to these ashes. Let there be no affection between these peoples, let there be no unbroken treaty between our tribes.

Now the couch that we shared is ablaze, the fragrant oil burning blue where his dark head once rested, the hungry flames advancing to my seat. As I rise to greet the stars at the dawning of the world, may every god bear witness. The sword is sharp. My time is short. Let the shore make war upon the shore, waves against waves, weapons against weapons; let those fools and their descendants be at war forever. Let them rue each smear of char, each drop of royal blood.  

And you, O avenger, unknown. May you rise from my bones and make them regret. Make them remember. With the strength of my hatred arisen from a wretched heart, make them pay this funeral gift.  

Like Tanit I arise to the night in flames, singing of the sea.

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Major Bedhead challenged me with "I don't want the world, I just want your half. - Ana Ng, They Might Be Giants" and I challenged Floreksa with "I hate strategy games."

Queen Elissa of Carthage, more famously known as Dido, makes her most dramatic appearance in Virgil's Aeneid. I found a glorious translation of her final speech (by Mike Salter at Ars Latet Arte), which appears to not only be my favorite part of the whole book, but his as well. If you read that (you ought), you will note that I based this piece heavily upon Mr. Salter's translation, because it was so perfect.  I encourage you to visit his site and read the Latin to yourself, out loud, repeatedly.

Wednesday, November 16


A flower of silk,
well-kept, will never wither.
Well-watered, must fade.

Tuesday, November 15


It was five days from my birthday.  My heart and mind were with you, and I was having trouble sleeping.  There was nothing I could do, nothing I could offer.  I clicked on the video, knowing I would regret it, but needing to hammer this truth home, to offer up my peace of mind as a sacrifice.  It was nothing like a fair exchange for the price you paid.

We only learned about you in bits and pieces, fragments, days after your death.  It was a wildfire in my brain, obliterating all reason.  It roared behind every thought, every second:  the whole world was watching when you were shot, when you lay on the ground, face uncovered to the sky, blood pouring out from behind the hands of the helpful.  The whole world was watching, and nothing was done.  The whole world was watching, and I could not explain to anyone the fury blazing in my heart.

Here, it is not the same.  We are not under the same burdens, but we are still being silenced.  I see the raw energy of my people and I am stalled.  Every day I feel it building, the knowledge that we are paying the price of indifference, the fury and resolve.  I am afraid that we will have our own martyrs, and my heart is breaking.

I will go into the camps, and I will be there for you.  I will march in your memory as I have before, and I dream that it will have more of an effect.  I will carry a picture of you and pray that this is the beginning of a true and lasting change.  I will pray that you do not look down in contempt on a world that appears, superficially, to be the home of a free people.  I will pray that there are no martyrs like you in our midst, and that the appearance of our freedom will remain intact.

These are the nights that I whisper, "the whole world is watching," and remember the lost, and pray that I am not lying to myself.  This is not Iran, and these are not your people, but please know that you are remembered, and your voice is not silenced.  My voice is small, but I raise it for you, despite my terror.  I will not be a coward anymore.

I have stayed out of this conflict for too long, quietly supporting it from the sidelines but never contributing. Now I occupy for the people who inspired these protests.  The Iranians, who still hold my heart.  The Egyptians, whose success encourages us to persevere.  But mostly, I occupy for Neda Agha-Soltan, whose dying face still haunts my dreams and whose memory commands me to fight for the America in which I long to believe.

"Neda, don't be afraid.  Neda, stay with me."

Saturday, November 12

Hijacked Frequencies

(begin transmission)

(radio static fades into sprightly music, slightly fuzzy)

"Hello again, everyone, and welcome to this week's broadcast of Cooking with Rye! I'm Rye Ellison, and tonight we're making soup, just like last week and the week before that! Everyone have their rifles handy? Good.

We'll begin by heading out into the backyard and bagging ourselves a chicken. If you didn't have enough foresight to learn to keep poultry and livestock before the, uh, before last year, any carcass will do. The fresher, the better, though--we want to keep all those nutrients in useful forms.

You shouldn't need your rifle for this, but we never go anywhere without one, right? Good.

I've prepped everything in advance; here we have one large onion, some celery, lots of freshly chopped garlic, and herbs from the garden. I like to use rosemary in just about everything, that brightness really comes through, even if you cook it too long. There's some savory, a little sage, and of course thyme, our Old Reliable.

Once you've dressed out and plucked your chicken, or prepared, uh, your meat of whatever origin, no judgment here, haha, you can drop it in your large stock pot. Cover it up with fresh water, and let it cook until it's done. This will yield not only the meaty centerpiece of your soup, but the delicious broth that binds the whole thing together.

Take that meat and broth and set it aside. In your stock pot, now, you'll want a tiny bit of fat, oil, what have you, to cook those onions in. Saute the onions until transparent, then add your celery and garlic. Let those cook gently for just a few minutes, but don't let them brown. Few things will draw unwelcome, ah, guests like the piercing smell of burning garlic.

Now you can pour that broth back in, skimming off the fat if you prefer, but remember: fat equals energy! Tie your fresh herbs into a bouquet garni, if you have string, and drop it into your stock. Leave this going over low heat while you turn your attention to pulling the meat from all these tiny bones.

Now, when you bury your trash later, be sure to save some of your hollow bones. They make great pens and you can even make jewelry out of some of them! Bones from larger animals can be used for ammo boxes, salt cellars, just about anything.

Soup is just such a reliable, high-energy food for people in our, uh situation, you really can't go wrong--"

(footsteps clattering, a lower voice hesitantly volunteers something, mostly inaudibly)

"Oh, hey there! Hey, Peter! Listen, everyone, this is my friend Peter, he'll be joining us for dinner tonight!"

"Uh, hi, everyone--how are you all doing out there?"

"Everyone inside? Wonderful. Peter, you locked the doors, right? Great. So now we pull that stock pot off the fire, and open some bottles of water for a real treat tonight.

Okay, here's our soup! Wow, it smells just wonderful. I'd love to share some with you, but there's really no more room in the bunker, ha ha--"

(glass crashing, the obscene sound of metal doors being bent inward)

"Oh my God, okay, got your rifle handy? This is where we sign--"

(microphone screeching, the clattering of a table being overturned)

"Oh shit, Peter! Peter, are you okay? Peter! P--"

(multiple gunshots, the dull sound of bullets in flesh, a low moaning)

"NO! NO! Oh my GOD, PLEASE--"

(a revolting lip-smacking sound, then something bubbling through thick liquid...someone gumming mashed potatoes, perhaps.)

(increased feedback from the microphone mingled with full-throated screams, an ear-piercing burst of static)

(end transmission)

Thursday, November 10


I never grudge your
silence, even while it grates
against stitched-up wounds.
I'm loath to throw out these scraps,
remnants that ought to be whole.

Wednesday, November 9


Three tasks: to climb a hill of glass barefoot;
show your iron will by staying awake
to catch the Firebird at thievery;
to build our castle beneath the lake.

These are the riddles I set. To catch me,
you must also survive on stories.


I can never change--I am a mandrake,
rooted in dry and sour soils.


I want a snowdrift
in which to keep you, falling
at my feet, abject--

or just you, writing
ghost stories at the window
in winter.  The cold

can't win out over
the warmth of words, slipping through
interlaced fingers

under a blanket
of snow in muted colors,
this endless feeling.

Monday, November 7


The harbor was a green and fragrant place, a bulwark against the dusty gold of the desert. There were fish and markets, scribes and antiquities. The sheep's-wool and wide-striped coarse cloth of the desert tribes sharing stall-space with the mist-weight silks and fine light linen of the river people, the tumultuous embroideries, sinuous animals and flowers of thread that had traveled from a strange and distant empire.

The scent of the market, nearly indescribable, a riot of offal and onions, thick cakes soaked in spiced honey, studded with nuts and dried fruits. Horses and baking bread, grilled meats and carefully tended vegetables. The endless perfume of flowers mingling with cones and piles of exquisite incense, precious scented oils, attar of rose, balms and fragrances and beeswax candles, the dry scents of papyrus and reed baskets, dried black figs and purple-dyed linen.

The sounds of happy people, amused or wry, light and pleasant, in many languages. The merchants and their customers alike, fat with good living, joking in slippery Greek or dark-spiced Egyptian, with so little of the solemn speech of Roman citizens, and less of the vulgar Latin of the sharp-faced legionnaires.

It was always a mystery, to him, to walk among them and remain unrecognized, to speak to the people in his clumsy Greek without terrifying them into silence. When the sun fell sharp behind the crimson slash of the horizon, and the night rose like a curtain all around us, we drank wine like madder velvet from silver bowls, drank deep. Our lips and fingers stained with pomegranate. Those nights are gone, torn like wet papyrus into shreds against the howling desert wind.

Today my harbor is full of quinqueremes and libernians and there is no bulwark against the legions. Our armies have joined with Octavian's. The remaining men mutter lies to my husband. People fleeing in the streets squeal that I have betrayed him. Hissing like snakes, their whispers tell him that I have abandoned him as I have abandoned all my husbands, condemning him to a traitor's fate. I cannot be here when he returns; how could I face that pain, the wrath of perceived righteousness?

I built the two of us a tomb. I wanted to sleep there with him, forever, the safest place in Alexandria, filled to the roof-beams with the treasures of Egypt and the Ptolemies, the pharaohs of Upper and Lower Egypt, buttery gold and carnelian. Malachite and lapis gleaming in every corner, jasper and turquoise and the silver bowls that once held our wine. I can send another messenger to my husband, can bid him come, meet me in the home I built for our long night together, but will he listen?

I pull away from the wide window, kohl-dark tears smudged along my cheekbones. The view of my desecrated harbor is spur enough to order my maids away, to pull my last pieces of jewelry out of trunks.  I look in the mirror and see, truly, at last. The Pharaoh of Egypt must always descend into the underworld, must weigh a heavy heart on golden scales. I will go to my tomb alone, though it is the last thing I ever wanted to do. I will await my husband, and we will prevail or die. We have no choice.

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Kurt challenged me with "It was the last thing I would ever want to do, but I didn't have any other choice." and I challenged Mary Terrani with "King of Pentacles".

This is tagged "well-mined myth" for a reason. I wouldn't even call it "historical fiction".  Can't hit a home run every week, I suppose.

Friday, November 4


If you missed my article on the awdl gywydd for the Imaginary Garden with Real Toads, Kate Dempsey has graciously reposted it over at's guest blog, Poetic License.  I meant to tell you this last month, but somehow it slipped my mind. Many thanks, Kate!!

Your modestly miraculous Captain,

Thursday, November 3


On the days I find
myself thinking of you, there
might be autumn in
the air, or spring, or any
number of times in between.

Wednesday, November 2


She's killing baby cockroaches with disgusted glee in her shitty third-floor walkup, for what seems like the eight millionth time, when she hears his familiar step on the wrought-iron stairs. She smiles to herself as she washes her hands in scalding hot water from the tap and grabs her good bottle of gin from the top of the refrigerator on her way out the door.

"Hey," she yells down to the second landing, "didn't I tell you I never wanted to see you again?"

He stops dead in his tracks and looks up at her, blue eyes wide and startled in his face as his mouth drops open. "I recall something like that, I guess," he says, unsure but still game.

"Well, I suppose this gin won't drink itself. Got any cigarettes?"

He doesn't answer, but holds up two packs of her favorite. It's a peace offering, of sorts. She grins down at him and slides her bare feet into a pair of ridiculous cork-heeled sandals. She pulls the elastic out of her walnut-brown hair and runs the fingers of her right hand through the locks, primping for just a second while he's still out of sight. She smooths her oversized sweater down over her skirt and then bounds down the last flight of stairs, gin in hand.

He's still waiting on the second-floor landing, holding two cigarettes in his mouth. He watches her run down the stairs and lights both, holding the second one out as she skids to a stop just inches away.

"Hi," she says, leaving a multitude of words unsaid, reaching out to take the cigarette he's offering and smiling up into his endless blue eyes.

"Hey," he replies, and wraps his arms around her as she smokes silently, the two of them leaning on the railing. She pitches the cigarette butt over the side and turns back in, pressing her face into his chest.

"Let's go for a walk," she says, muffled by his jacket. She grabs him by the wrist and begins to pull away, lacing her fingers in his even as she starts to head down the stairs to the street. He finishes his cigarette, flicks the butt away, and lights two more. They walk close together, hands linked, arms touching and shoulders pressed together, until they leave her block. Then they let go, in case someone that knows them might see.  Although it's not so much her friends she has to worry about, but his, or worse, his girlfriend's.  They walk a few blocks in silence, passing the bottle back and forth.

"Could be trouble," he says, finally.

"Could be," she replies, and takes a long swallow of gin.


Panic has no name
in the brightness of the day.
It just lives inside.