You’re like the desert, parched for life-giving rain, longing for sustenance, yet while a drop of affection dries too quickly on your cracked and dusty surface to provide even a moment’s nourishment, a downpour of love cannot soak through quickly enough and so roars as a deadly flash flood through the gullies and pits of your scars, wiping away what weak green buds have managed to take root in the unforgiving soil.
April 16th, 1912
I have only just now found time to write, it has been so very chaotic the last two days. How lucky I am, little journal, that I carry you with me always! I could not bear to think of you at the bottom of the ocean, all my dreams and secrets lost forever in those cold depths. But oh, how many others were lost in such a manner – so many lives we still do not yet know the full count!
I have never been so frightened, dear journal. At first they would tell us nothing of any use; when I asked if something had happened to the ship the crewmen treated me as if I were a child asking silly questions! Mother and Father told me not to worry, but there were many among us as restless as I. When it was announced that those of us in first class should head onto the deck (think of it! on such a cold night!), many people began to argue and spread rumors. I overheard someone say an engine had died; another that this was simply a drill and would soon be completed; someone even claimed we had hit an iceberg and were sinking!
At first I did not believe such dramatic stories, but then the crewmen announced first class women and children should board the lifeboats. I did not think, even then, that a mere drill would require such drastic actions, especially in the middle of the night. By then my fellow passengers were in a panic, and the rumors became truth – we truly had struck an iceberg and the Titanic, that purportedly unsinkable ship, was foundering beneath our feet. If we did not evacuate, we would surely go down into the black waters as well.
Journal, you will think me foolish for my actions, but I swear I acted without thought. One moment I was standing by Mother in preparation to board one of the lifeboats and the next I was running through the crowd, pushing my way back from the deck and into the dining room. I had to find her, journal. That was my only thought. I had to find the girl I had traded glances with over dinner, smiled to secretly as she placed a plate before me or refilled my glass. I did not know her name, had no way to find her on such a great vessel, but I had to try.
In the dining room, where chairs were overturned and meals left half eaten, the serving maids had gathered in fear. No one had told them what to do; I doubt anyone gave a thought for the staff in such a crisis. And there she was, my angel, my beauty, doing her best to calm her fellows and soothe their fears. I should have left her to her duty, perhaps, but as I said, journal, I could hardly think for fear. I grabbed her hand and pulled her with me, saying nothing to her surprised questions save that she must come with me, that we must escape the doomed ship. I remember little of our flight, only that her hand in mine was very warm.
Somehow we made our way through the crowd and to a boarding lifeboat. The crewman assisting ladies into the boat would have let me pass, but he held his hand out to my companion. Even with the deck tilting beneath our feet, still he refused to let my companion board with me, citing her lower class. You would be proud of me in this moment, at least, journal: I squared my shoulders, put my hands on my hips like any stern matron, and told the man this girl was my servant and that if he expected a lady like me to travel alone, and refused her admittance, then I too would remain on the ship. How white he turned, journal! Sometimes I am quite grateful for my station in life. He let us both pass without another word and we climbed into the lifeboat.
Oh journal, I cannot put to words how it broke my heart to hear the cries of fellow passengers as we watched the ship sink beneath the waves! Surely it shall haunt my dreams for many years. I turned my face into my companion’s shoulder and wept, and we held each other through the long, cold night. I do not know what I would have done, had I not had her by my side. We have been inseparable since.
Those of us who survived the sinking (so strange to call myself that – a survivor!) are on a different ship now, one that shall take us the rest of the way to New York. I have promised my companion she shall have a place in our home, for I cannot bear the thought of parting and swear to keep her close as I may. If this harrowing experience has taught me anything, it is that we must keep close the things we cherish, or risk losing them when least expected.
I will write more soon. You remain as always, little journal, my confidante.
I carry no blade
yet still I shall protect you
my words my weapon
sharpened to a razor edge
forged to pierce the heart and soul
Let it always be this dawn
your gentle fingers grazing my skin
mouth seeking sweetness and heat.
Let it always be this day
your jeweled eyes dancing in the sunlight
joy overflowing in precious tears.
Let it always be this dusk
your head heavy on my shoulder
moon gliding in and out of obscurity.
Let it always be this night
your firm arms drawing me close
body molding itself to my shape.
Let it always be this.
Let us always be this.
worship passed with tongues
pale elixir, honeyed wine
every breath a prayer
You think about it too, don’t you?
I feel helpless, like I came too late; like I failed her.
I’ve felt that guilt as well. It can be… weighty.
What did you do about it?
First I fed it to my sorrow. Then I fed it to my rage.
…how would you do it, if you could?
We’ll never get that chance.
No, most likely not. But for them the willingness counts as much as action. It’s a rage sparked by love, fueled by the urge to protect and avenge. They understand. There’s meaning enough in the desire.
It still haunts you, though, that you weren’t there to save him.
Just as it will always haunt you that you couldn’t keep her safe.
If I ever had the chance…
I know. So would I.
I have seen you, muse, in your gilded cage, the iron bars and patterned glass through which you watch the world. You are safe within that cell, or so at least you’ve convinced yourself to justify the years already wasted in limbo. At least inside the only monsters which can reach you are those of your own devising, the uncertainties and miseries come to plague you nightly. Still, surely you must hear the note of longing in your voice? Sense the tugging of your songs to slip between the bars and ride free upon the wind? You think you need the safety of the cage, yet even I can see how your restless wings shiver in longing for the sky. If I were to unlock that door, open wide your cage, would you burst from your confines and take to the air or would you crouch down on your perch, more afraid of the unknown without than the familiarity of imprisonment? I promise you, dear one, there is beauty and wonder beyond those bars like nothing you could ever imagine. Danger as well, yes, and heartache, but is the gain not worth that struggle? You need not venture forth alone; see, I will sit here just beyond the open door and wait until you step over the threshold so we may go hand in hand into the wide world. I’ve wings strong enough to lift us both until yours remember how to glide.
I would venture into the dark forest for you, brave the monsters of which we do not speak, the old vengeful gods of sacrifice and punishment which leave their marks over our lintels by night, for in the light of day you’ll see they are but creatures of flesh and blood, as easily cut down as us fragile mortals, and cut them down I shall to lay the felled fell beasts at your feet, my hand outstretched, and when you join yours to mine I shall draw you away into the conquered forest where we will reign as kings, gods, lords of the green hall, and never more shall the shadows hold sway over us.
You starved from lack and loss and they buried you in a crossroads grave, nameless, forgotten, but I have always known you and I built a cathedral upon that axis, monument and beacon both, sentinel and soul’s vow, and therein I have waited all these long years. To you, lonely spirit seeking the shelter of belonging, the embrace of completion, my doors are always open, and barred tight against those who mean you harm. Cry sanctuary! and fall into me, let me hold you to my breast and smooth away your tears. Specter no more, take a drop of my blood and a tear from my eye and resurrect like a phoenix from your ashes, sister to my own heartbeat, lover to my own breath. Be reborn as the goddess, the angel, the Valkyrie with blade in hand; and I shall be your temple, your holy ground, your Valhalla.
You call my name as if
I am the first sight of land
the last mountain to climb
the longed for oasis
calm center of the storm.
You gasp my name as if
I am standing on a ledge
staring into traffic
walking away from you
when I should be running toward.
You whisper my name as if
a decibel may shatter me
a breath may scatter me
or the wrong word simply
wake us from this daydream.
If I once had wings, as you say, what have I done with them? None of us seems used to the burden; the one scorns while the other mourns. And I, for my part, cannot even remember their weight, nor the shifting of muscle and the rush of air. No, all I remember is the fall, the endless plunge of which I dream so often. So how are you so sure of the existence of that which left not even scars upon my shoulder blades? How can you name me such a thing of beauty, I who have always been mortal and fallible? I comfort myself by believing love has blinded you, or perhaps you simply see what you need after years of fruitless searching. You cannot see the truth, surely.
And yet I must admit, to you if no one else, there are times when holding you I almost feel… almost recall… could almost swear that more than arms embrace us in this bed.
If my soul is a book, then for years I have been tearing out the pages and feeding them one by one to flames, rivers, the ocean, the wind, ripping and tossing, leaving fragments strewn in my careless wake, and yet now here you come with the scraps, the ashes, the smoothed out remainders of crumpled passages cupped in your hands, clutched to your breast, weeping openly for the beautiful, terrible tragedy of words I could not bear to read.
Do not question my love, nor counsel caution. We are none of us blessed with the gift of foresight, so how dare you feign a knowledge over me of which you have no claim? Blood binds by loyalty, not obligation; clasped hands, not iron fetters. I acknowledge your experience, your desire to impart wisdom, yet do not concede to it my own free will. If nothing else, I am owed the right to suffer or thrive based on the consequences of my own decisions. A proffered heart is the concern of no one but the giver and receiver. If nothing else, trust in my faith that I commit my own into no safer hands than these.
face pressed to your breast
I could weep myself empty
and still be fulfilled
- – -
you are my altar
at your feet I kneel and weep
beware opening locked doors
every name’s a key
Come and hibernate with me, my love, let us dig our den and curl together, arms and legs entangled, breast to breast, breathing in each others’ warm exhalations. We will cover ourselves over with autumn leaves and slumber there as the snow falls to bury us deep, our heartbeats a lullaby in the dark. Above our nestled bodies the sky will turn and turn, the moon dance through its phases, and as we dream the winter will encase the world in ice and melt free. Spring’s first tentative rays will warm our blanket of leaves and yawning we will crawl forth, hair wild and nails long, to walk hand in hand through the waking forest.
take my bandage words
one for every wound you bear
sweet salve for your burns
my palm on your cheek
why can’t this be making love?
Love grows like a wild thing in my chest and oft threatens to break free from its cradle of flesh and bone, ribs creaking as they bend against the pressure of passion, the swell of the ocean against the seawall, and sometimes I long to succumb to this tidal push, crack open my breast, let the sonnets and psalms spill forth and sweep us both up, out, away until we float on strange seas below strange skies.
I wasn’t vying for your attention; I just needed you to notice me. I needed you to need me to notice you. I needed you to see I was crumbling at the edges and couldn’t help myself, didn’t know how to hold together, how to show my true intentions or explain this longing like madness. I didn’t want to lock myself in a tower, but I needed you to be willing to scale the wall of thorns anyway. See through my façade. Draw me in from the rain. Take me away from myself. I needed you to need to rescue me.
No, no, don’t pull away from me; don’t let distance and silence fade me to yet another ghost trailing in your wake, a mere poltergeist knocking in the night. I would be greater and more terrible than any of your specters. I would shake chains of music, howl sonnets, weep lullabies. My fingers would claw memories in the wallpaper. Please, look my way, remember me, don’t leave me here in the past to rot and disperse. You need me. I need you.
dawn’s light worships you
cups your face in golden hands
my earthbound goddess
Dreamer, fear no more. I am virgin flesh, soft and pale as milk, yet these wicked thorns draw no ruby blood, leave no welts or lines, for they part at my command. The briar cage yields to this brave, foolhardy young knight who bears a pen to play the part of sword. Dreamer, sleep no more. You who have forgotten how to breathe, I will give my breath. You who have forgotten how to move, I will give my heartbeat. You who have forgotten how to wake, I will break this ensorcelled slumber with a kiss. Dreamer, mourn no more. You are not dead. You are not gone or forgotten. You are only dreaming, a goddess unknown to herself. But I know you, and I love you, and I will wake you and take you from this place.
Lay down your head, my love. Close your eyes. Leave your worries and fears behind; take your spirit away from this place for a few heartbeats at least. Hear not the low roar of traffic, but the soft susurration of waves along the shore. Taste not the unsatisfying dinner, but the crisp salt tang of a Pacific autumn. Feel not worn blankets or broken springs, but the cool breeze toying with your hair, tugging at your clothes. And see not the walls, the city, the limitations all around you, but the gray ocean, the gray horizon, the weathered cabin nestled against dune grass and hunched pines. This place isn’t ours just yet, though it can be. It will be. So for the time being allow yourself to imagine these things: the driftwood steps leading from shifting beach to sturdy land; the creaking porch boards welcoming you home; the sweet spiced candles drawing you inside. Imagine my waiting arms and the cup of tea, thick with milk and honey, that I press into your hand. You are safe here. We are together here. Let this place be our haven, if only in dreams and longings. For now, at least, it’s something.
I have seen the muse
her sunlit eyes like copper
smile sweet, honey rich
I have heard the muse
voice caressing as velvet
intimate as silk
I have touched the muse
worshipped bronze skin with my lips
I have known the muse
her heart, her scars, her longings
and found her perfect
How is this possible? I have been writing to you for years, for an eternity, and now that I have found you I have no words to capture your true meaning? Have you so stolen my breath that I cannot fill my chest enough to speak? Does my heart pound so loudly I cannot hear my own thoughts, let alone assemble them into something sensible and worthy? You are the goddess in my arms; the guardian at my side; the supplicant at my feet; the wolf at my door whom I have welcomed in to eat at my table and rest at my hearth. I could weep for the beautiful fluidity of identity when everything we were and are and could be come crashing together like waves against the shore. And in a universe where essence can neither be created nor destroyed, every form we assume is a true rendering of you, me, us.
Have I fallen down the rabbit hole?
Have I stepped inside the toadstool ring?
Have I been pulled into the world beyond the mirror?
I thought I’d be the summoner, not the summoned.
I thought I played the acolyte, not Aphrodite.
I thought my role was of fair maiden, not Faerie Queen.
I thought I’d forever seek, yet never be sought.
I don’t understand.
I can’t understand.
I am mortal and fallible and
not nearly deserving enough.
And yet I sense a goddess status,
a stirring beneath my breast bone,
and the old spiced blood beats once more in
a reawakening of someone something sometime long passed.
The moon to light the lone wolf’s path,
the candle to lead you home.
Is this who I am supposed to be?
Is this who you are supposed to make me?
Lay your offerings at my feet, beloved,
and I will kiss your brow in blessing.
Go with my protection.
Go with my guidance.
Go with my love.
[ Scribbled down the first draft of this at 3:30 AM, a time at which every idea seems so much better than it really is. Someone is a bad influence on my sleeping habits. ]
If I were fair Titania
I’d spirit you away
and sorrow’d no more trouble you
among the court of fey
If I were Queen of Elfland
you’d dress in silk and gold
and be the fearless heroine
of every ballad told
Yet I am merely mortal
no royalty am I
and I have naught to offer you
but arms in which to cry
My hands will hold you gently
and wipe away your tears
while from my lips I’ll speak the words
to banish all your fears
I may not rule in Faerie
nor bend earth to my will
yet everything I am is yours
if you will have me still
[ Apparently being in a relationship makes me incredibly saccharine. Whodathunk? Now go read my girlfriend’s poetry. It’s waaaay better than mine. ]
Mage had been in the city four months before she saw the wolf. Four months of pacing the endless streets, searching every dark alley and abandoned building for evidence of the two men she’d been sure she’d find here. Four months of trading haiku and short stories scribbled on the backs of paper scraps for meals and scavenged baubles for a place to spend the night. Four months of disappointment tainting every glimpse of tempest eyes or snow white hair. Four months spent clinging to hope while she tried desperately to pretend this hadn’t been a colossally bad idea. Bordertown, for all its magic, for all its elves and shimmering graffiti and sense of endless possibility, was turning out to be just another crowded, overwhelming city.
And then she met the wolf, and nothing was ever the same.
~ * ~
Another day of failure. Mage dropped onto a street corner and inspected one purple striped tennis shoe, frowning at the spots where the rubber sole had worn through completely. Her quest had taken her up to Dragon’s Tooth Hill again in the hopes one of her boys had taken up residence with the Fair Folk. No luck, though, and after enough cold stares the girl had trooped back down to the friendlier sections of the city. Now, with evening falling and the bright city coming alive for a second time, she turned her attention to acquiring dinner and a safe place to pass the night.
“I lost my life that day and I lost her too / My glass is empty / I drank most of it down / I like the burn coating my throat / As long as I don’t feel the burn I’ve hidden…”
Mage glanced up from digging in her backpack for something worth trading and searched for the source of the music. Her eyes fell on a singer standing on the opposite street corner, an open guitar case at her feet and dark hair falling in her face as she belted out the haunting tune. In one breath Mage was on her tired feet again; in another she was crossing the street, pulled by song and singer both.
“Another memory / Another drink / More truth than lies now / I can’t stop thinking of you, of you / Can’t stop thinking of you…”
Bordertown was filled with musicians plying their trade and Mage had heard it all; rock ballads, rap lullabies, gibberish and mirror words and languages from lands unknown. She’d never heard music like this, though. This music was raw, brutal, vulnerable. Honest. Familiar, even, like something she had never heard but should have, long ago.
“I hate the memories coating my eyes / They won’t stop pouring down, down…”
For a moment their eyes met, ocean gray to rich velvet brown, and Mage felt an unfamiliar flush. Breaking the contact quickly, she reached into her pocket and tossed a doodle into the guitar case before hurrying away – a faceless man with the wings of an angel and a crescent moon held like a scythe in his hand. Maybe it’d be enough to get the girl a cup of tea or something. That was all Mage had to offer; words and doodles and fiction.
~ * ~
With a sigh, Mage turned away from the unnaturally red Mad River. It had been a good idea in theory; the lost and alone were often drawn to the river’s promise of temporary relief and she could picture Tanim seeking its protection from the ghosts in his mind. None of the huddled creatures by the river’s shore or hidden in the shadows beneath the bridges and docks had been him, though, nor his pale companion. As Mage trudged back into the city her broken shoe sole made a desolate flip-flop, flip-flop, flip-flop sound.
“You were so elegant and so tempting / I was so blinded and so wrong / What made me think you wanted me? / What made me think you wanted her? / What made me sacrifice her to you?”
Later on, Mage would wonder whether she had truly been wandering or if her feet had somehow known where she wanted to go even when she herself didn’t have a clue. Evening found her once again on the street corner where the exotic guitarist played another song that spoke of ghosts whom crossing the border hadn’t been enough to shake. Mage paused on the sidewalk and stared. The lyrics moved past and around and through her, speaking to the weary, defeated core of her heart.
“Something strange is coursing through me and I don’t even care / I’m lost in the pull of it all / Something strange is tearing through me and I wish I could care / But I’m lost in the pull of it all…”
Around her people flowed by down the street, Truebloods and halfies and humans, but the girl paid no attention. Every atom of her being focused on what this song, this singer, was trying to tell her. And not just her as the listener – her. Mage. This song had been written for her to hear, for her to understand. And she did.
“I saw what you wanted me to see / I played the part you wrote for me / Why did I think I breathed for you?”
Silence followed the final chords of the song and Mage found herself loathe to break it, too respectful of the mood the girl had set on the warm night air. Finally she worked up the courage to approach, a tanka this time in her hand, and as she let it flutter into the guitar case she asked, voice barely more than a shy whisper, “What’s your guitar’s name?”
The other girl blinked as if she hadn’t expected Mage to speak to her at all, let alone ask something so odd. Then a small smile broke over her face and she replied, “Pharaoh.” A powerful name for a powerful instrument. Mage approved heartily.
“I’m Mage,” She offered the name without hesitation, a first for her in this city of strangest strangers. Mage wasn’t her real name, of course, but she’d done her research before coming to Bordertown and knew what power true names wielded here. They weren’t to be traded lightly. Nicknames could tell just as much about a person yet prevented someone from weaving a spell around you. Spells. At least the stories had been right about those.
“Fenris,” the girl bestowed in return. Mage nodded. Yes, of course that was her name. It suited her perfectly, though Mage didn’t know why. It just felt… right. Fierce and wild and beautiful. A creature longing to be free. Even if you tried to choose a name at random, somehow it always spoke to some sliver of your inner self.
“Can I buy you a cup of tea? I’ve got a short story about a coral city by the sea I think is good enough for two cups, or maybe even some pancakes,”
And thus Mage came to know the wolf.
~ * ~
“There are specters everywhere / Chameleoned in folds of curtains / That are pulled back at six ante meridiem / They always come back / But the fire is so warm / And it cancels out the chill / From the lazy hand of Zeus / Who didn’t want the girl to survive…”
Arms around her legs, head resting against her knees, Mage let the newest song wash over her. This one didn’t want to haunt or condemn; it wanted to comfort, to inspire, to kindle a guttered flame. The sunset sank to chilly darkness but she didn’t notice, too wrapped up in the music and the warm presence sitting beside her on the stone stoop. For the first time since entering Bordertown, Mage felt no urge to wander or search. She felt content simply to be.
“Surprise / She had wings tucked into her jacket / And when she jumped / She knew she would soar…”
The song came to a close but Mage didn’t open her eyes. In the ensuing silence drifted the remnants of those final notes and she let them settle over her like ash. And then even they faded and all that remained was the sound of her heart in her temples and Fenris’ breathing beside her. That was a music of a sort, too, she realized.
“What are you looking for?”
Mage smiled at the question and unfolded as she glanced at her companion. It was rude to ask someone flat out why they had journeyed to Bordertown but everyone came looking for something – a way out, a way in, something stolen or lost or never known – so it was usually safe to ask about that instead. The search for, not the flight from. She considered giving a false answer, something cliché about magic or elves or something, but the fierce sincerity in Fenris’ eyes made her pause. Somehow Mage knew this girl would understand. Giving her a false answer would be more than a mistake – it would be a betrayal of their burgeoning bond.
“It’s silly…” Mage kicked at the pavement, searching for the right words. “I thought… I thought I might find them here. The Sun and Moon. Back in the World I could only see them in text, on paper, in my dreams, and it drove me crazy. I thought maybe here… I mean, this place is full of stuff that’s supposed to just be fiction, so I hoped they’d be…” She shrugged, sighed more heavily than she meant to, and shook her head, the peace of a moment before fled with the reminder of her failure. “It was a stupid idea. I should just stop looking.”
“No!” Fenris’ exclamation was nearly a cry of despair as she took Mage’s cool hand in both of her own. “Anything’s possible in Bordertown,” the musician swore, clutching the hand to her breast. “Your Sun and Moon are here somewhere, I’m sure of it. Don’t give up.” She hesitated, staring down at their clasped hands as if only now realizing what she had done, then turned her sweet, dark gaze back up and asked, “Maybe we can search for them together?”
Together? No one had ever offered such a thing to her. No one had ever understood why she sought, let alone who, nor how the longing drove her like a compass needle embedded in her chest. It had drawn her here, to Bordertown, to a place of danger and beauty and wonder. Could it have led her to this girl as well?
“I…” Mage nodded, swallowing the sudden lump in her throat. “I’d like that. Thank you.” They shared a silent, comfortable moment, and then Fenris freed her hand to take up her guitar once more. Mage watched her calloused fingers wander over the strings, mesmerized by their confidence, their mastery over this familiar landscape. She found herself asking the question before it even formed in her mind. “What are you looking for?”
Fenris just smiled and strummed the last few chords of the song again.
“Surprise / She had wings tucked into her jacket / And when she jumped / She knew she would soar…”