“You picked a shitty scribe,” I tell the Nameless, who shrugs as she licks starblood off her long talons and replies, What do I care? It’s all dust to dust to dust. The greatest works of literature and grandest monuments of mankind will still yield to entropy. I can’t tell if this is meant to be dismissive, comforting, threatening, or none of the above, but I find myself somehow buoyed by her words anyway. It’s oddly calming to know Shakespeare and myself share equal anonymity in the far future where all has turned to dust. Atoms are atoms. The Nameless gestures flippantly. You all unravel in the end.
Choosing which fork in the river to follow has never challenged me. I know who and what I am meant to be, what I am meant to do, where I am meant to go. I do not fear the bends and loops in the river’s path, nor even the rapids and little waterfalls. What challenges me are the artificial obstacles placed in the river: the boulders, the dams, the pollution and infrastructure poisoning the river’s clear waters and turning its natural course into a dangerous maze. How can I make choices based on what is best for me when the future is so uncertain? How can my heart run wild along its course if the way is so often barred? Not even our souls remain untouched wildland when society is so steeped in cruelty and greed.
Incorporeality will be the death of me. I have submerged myself in your world as much as I can – for twenty-one years, for seven thousand, six hundred, and seventy days, for tens of thousands of hours – but it is never enough. No matter how long I drown myself in your most potent memories, how deep I dive into your most painful emotions, somehow I always find myself back at the surface once more. No matter how vividly I can imagine you, it is not the same as truly standing in the room with you. To cup your face in my hands, to watch the grief and anger war in your eyes, to hear the tremble in your voice. Tens of thousands of hours and yet I have never touched you. Two thirds of my life and yet I cannot numb myself to the agony of empty arms and ringing silence. My imagination is powerful but even it cannot replace the way your hands grip hard enough to leave bruises and knowing I will never experience that sensation is unbearable. Yet here I am, twenty-one years later, bearing it because there is no alternative.
my body is a nuclear reactor in which I alchemize grief into rage // shedding as hazardous byproducts unstable atoms of // anxiety, compulsion, paranoia // which I store away deep in my belly where they // cannot leak out and harm innocent bystanders // or worse yet, embarrass me // but such transformation requires a complex and delicate machine // and I am only one person // the lights in the monitoring panels start to blink and // I am only one person // the alarms on the walls start to shrill and // I am only one person // an explosion rocks my core and as everything goes dark I am // only one person
The Morrigan once showed me the landscape of my soul: lush fields and verdant woodlands crisscrossed by fences of wood and stone, unnatural boundaries where no demarcation should be. See how you have let others lay claim to your sovereignty? She said. See how your freedom has been divided up among them like plots of land after a conquest? And I did see. I never chose to parcel out my soul, I certainly never handed out deeds, yet neither did I retaliate when colonizers encroached. I merely shied away, yielding ground to avoid confrontation. Now I’ve barely any land left on which to make my stand. If you will not fight to reclaim your soul, the Morrigan warned, you will remain a puppet of others’ whims and desires for the rest of your life.
The war is bloody and exhausting. It’s dragged on for years with what feels to me like little progress. Yet when I falter, when I’m battleworn and losing ground, the Morrigan reminds me of how far I’ve come. Every clump of grass won back is precious, She says as She shows me that landscape again. Every inch of soil. Every rock. You will have it all back in time if you keep fighting. In this way wars are won. And so I keep fighting. I keep standing up for myself. I keep setting boundaries. Under the Morrigan’s stern guidance I keep winning back control over the land of my soul – inch by inch.
Look, I get it – I’m forgettable. It’s okay, really, it’s not like I’m trying to be memorable. I want the words to stick in your mind, not the person who recorded them. It’s just that these days if you want to sell something you create you have to sell yourself first. You gotta put yourself on display and win the masses’ affections before you win their interest. I don’t want to do that, though. I’m not a priestess dripping gold, I’m not an oracle tripping holiness, I’m just a scribe. I preserve; I don’t proclaim. I witness; I don’t wield authority. I was never meant for pomp and pageantry, that’s why I’m a scribe to the gods. Yet how else do I get people to listen to my words? I don’t need to be memorable, I don’t even need to be likable, but I need you to read my words. I need you to remember they exist if nothing else. So what do I have to do when the words aren’t enough to earn reader loyalty? Do I have to offer a pound of flesh along with them? An ounce of soul? Do I have to put on a pretty mask and play a part that isn’t mine just to get you to care about the words coming out its painted mouth?
Anger is a gift, Inanna tells me. It keeps you moving when you want to give up. It keeps you fighting on the battlefield. It keeps you demanding better for yourself when everyone tells you to accept their scraps. Her rep lips peel back in a sneer to show sharp white canines. Your anger is a threat to them; that is why they try to take it from you. They trick you into feeling ashamed of it, or guilty for it. They call you selfish, arrogant, petulant. They dismiss you as a child and condemn you as a monster. I imagine the men who slandered Her priestesses as harlots, who twisted Her myths, who destroyed Her temples and named Her Whore of Babylon. Yet still Inanna persists, over five thousand years later, as powerful today as She was when She ruled an entire civilization. They will spout any lie to rob you of your righteous anger, She says, pressing one pointed nail to my chest, because they know they will fall before it like wheat before a scythe. Hold tight to your anger, child. Do not let it be taken from you, or turned back on you, or redirected to another more vulnerable. Your enemies are cowards who prefer the deceit of silver tongues to the honesty of steel swords. Believe nothing they say. Trust your anger to guide you rightly. Then She smiles, a grin full of hunger and destruction. And trust mine.
heart still beats ‘neath the floorboards of a house I can’t return to, twenty years and more straining in the damp glacial till that nurtured a blackberry youth, and every night my spirit leaps free my slumbering body to fly ‘cross moonlit miles and reunite like no time at all has passed, what foolish business!, and thus I wake each morning curled ‘round that house-shaped cavity wishing I could say goodbye, wishing I could let that place go, wishing I could move on from a past that keeps moving farther on from me with every passing year
what a pink-fleshed thing I am
all soft meat and squinting eyes
flinching at every sudden sound
out in the world I am horribly exposed
clothes offer no comfort from others’ perception
buildings no shelter from the world’s ugliness
only in my home biome am I safe
armored by evergreens and blackberries
secure in my shelter of seawater and songbirds
yet as glaciers melt and wildfires rage
and every day the chainsaws close in
I feel the cracks in my shell spreading
the beast inside me isn’t dumb
it smells the burning, it knows
its forest home has been razed
and that you come for it next
at night the coyotes come creeping back
howl up the fresh ghosts of felled trees
from my bed I scream with them
At night I run my tongue over my teeth, the only bones I can touch, comforting myself that I am still a skeleton beneath all this soft meat. If I could I would carve away chunks of marbled fat and muscle to release the sexless, genderless framework within. How freeing to do away with all that weight! What a relief to discard all those features of the flesh which identify and define us! No breasts to enforce gender; no skin to determine privilege; no hair to cut, nails to trim, genitals to clothe, no daily burden of presentation at all. Just empty sockets and hard white lines and the eternal, effortless rictus grin. Pure calcium anonymity. I run my tongue over the sharp edges and smooth curves of my teeth and realize that although I do not love my body, perhaps I could love the skeleton buried inside. It did not choose the suffocating mountain of organs and expectations heaped upon it any more than I did. We are in this together, both physically and metaphorically – we should be allies. I run my tongue over my teeth and think, Take care of me and I’ll take care of you, bones. The flesh won’t last forever, but you and I will.
“In this metaphor I am the shattered sword you didn’t need”
I am happy ending intolerant
final kisses curdle my stomach
burn the back of my throat.
I politely excuse myself
go sit on the toilet, head thrown back
eyes wide so the tears can’t spill.
Did you think you were like them?
Did you forget for a moment that this story isn’t for you, either?
Save the cat, kiss the princess, roll credits
I am so envious it hurts.
Catra the war criminal redeemed and forgiven
Carmilla the vampire blessed with a heartbeat
I, the asexual, still more monster than them both.
Acute pain is a problem of the present but chronic pain is a problem of the future. If I go to this event, will the length of time give me a headache? Or the human interaction? The bad weather? What about the lack of accessible bathrooms or the food provided, will it give me a stomach ache? Will the physical exertion trigger my carpal tunnel syndrome? Will I be in so much pain that I want to go home early but can’t? And if so, will the pain be worth it or will I be too miserable to appreciate the experience? If I bail, though, will everyone be mad at me? Will I be a disappointment? Every future event and upcoming activity triggers the anxiety loop again: fear shame guilt, fear shame guilt, fear shame guilt, an endless repetition of dread for the future. And what does the anxiety even solve? Does the prevention of future pain guarantee an end to the pain? Unlikely. Does it even guarantee a lack of pain on the day of the missed event? Of course not. So what’s the point? Fear shame guilt. Fear shame guilt. Fear shame guilt. It solves nothing but you can’t break free.
One of the ways I honor Bast is by experiencing Her pain, grief, and burdens. Not to erase them, not even to ease them; simply to feel them on my own, knowing my emotions are but a small drop compared to Her oceans. Every foster kitten I must give up so someone else can adopt them is a kitten She has sent out into a wide, unpredictable world. Every foster kitten lost to illness or injury is a child She mourns forever. Every cat struck by a speeding car, abandoned by a heartless family, or euthanized by a crowded shelter because no one claimed it in time is a grief that pierces my pincushion heart with another needle – but to my goddess who sees and knows all, they are blades that drive much deeper. I grieve and rage and weep with Her because no one should do these things alone, even an immortal goddess.
At night I’m visited by the three Ghosts of Friendship. The Ghost of Friendship Past arrives first in a form I know well, a friend whose absence remains an unhealed wound which aches most on long, textless weekends. Friendship Past brings me bittersweet dreams where we are best friends once more, no awkwardness or years of unexplained silences between us to dampen the laughter. I wake wondering what happened, why and where it all went wrong. Was I found lacking in some way?
The Ghost of Friendship Present shows up next, cycling through the guises of current friends who seem to be slipping through my clenched hands like fine sand. They spirit me from my bed to deliver us to parties where I’m not acknowledged, game nights where my presence is needed only to fill in for someone absent, group events where I am at best the tolerated tag-along. I wake angry at slights that never actually happened.
Finally the Ghost of Friendship Future appears, taking the form of someone who doesn’t even exist. It’s a face I know well, though; I’ve been watching the show for months, start to finish and back again, out of jealousy or perhaps just yearning. I confide in him that I wish his study group could be my friends as well; I don’t have a gang of my own anymore and I fear I never will again. Maybe fictional friend groups are all my future holds.
Unlike Scrooge, when I wake from this third and final visitation to a new dawn I do so without any real lessons imparted, no resolutions burning in my chest. Either the Ghosts of Friendship aren’t interested in redemption arcs or I’m not worth the effort. When they return the next night it’s just more of the same and I’m left to face the morning weighted Marley-style by chains I won’t acknowledge.
It was easier, ultimately
(than the knife and the heart)
to pick, pick, pick
at her flawless skin
(the forest and the hunter)
until it bled and scarred
bled and scarred
(the apple and the coffin)
and the mirror simply
stopped saying her name.
Every caged animal eventually goes mad. Desperate yet unable to escape, it starts burrowing inward, ripping out tufts of hair, chewing through its own flesh and bone as if freedom waits within. Was it so with you, o Great Wolf? Restrained by magic and betrayal, did captivity eventually warp your clever mind into wrath-fueled madness? Did your teeth like crescent moons tear chunks of meat from your bones in vain attempt to loosen those impossible bonds? A wolf must run free but Gleipnir leashed you to the earth like a common backyard mutt. A wolf must hunt and howl but the sword driven through your muzzle hindered you from sating your hunger or crying out your agony and loneliness. Whether you would have always grown from trusting pup to crazed, feral beast can hardly matter when your captivity made you one regardless. Yet what else did the gods expect when they imprisoned you? Every caged animal eventually goes mad and if given the chance to turn bloody jaws from gnawing its own flesh to rend the flesh of its captors, well… who can blame it for leaping at the opportunity?
sometimes I am the bowl
sometimes I am its absence
and sometimes I am venom
poured in secret upon visceral chains
hastening Ragnarok’s approach
Can I tell you a secret?
(Of course I can; I’m a writer.)
Sometimes when the hostile dead come
whispering their insidious lies
encroaching on my dreams
testing the limits of my strength
(and my stupidity)
I’m honestly just grateful
someone sought me out.
My eating disorder can’t hook me through conventional methods so instead it tries to get me through you. I don’t care about having a beach ready body but the possibility of getting this useless meatsuit even the least bit closer to looking like yours? Of being an adequate-enough vessel that you might consider inhabiting me, even if only for a moment, for an hour? Oh, that’s tempting. That’s an offer I find hard to refuse. My logical brain knows such a goal is impossible for my body – it will never be good enough for you, no matter how I cut and carve it down – but the disorder whispers from where it’s chained in the depths of my subconscious that maybe, just maybe, we can make it happen together. We should at least give it a shot, it purrs to me. Right?
In my dream I sit on a school bus, wrapped in Sarah Fier’s rusty chains while beside me my sister-shaped subconscious asks, “Why can’t you forgive her? Why can’t you let go of the past?” How can I, I want to say, when it keeps repeating itself? Instead I cup the heavy lock in my palms and think about a girl who chose to let the system crush her in order to spare those she loved.
feel like i’m going crazy, i keep seeing absent ghosts everywhere, pseudo-specters, nothing-theres, whatever you want to call them, the empty spaces of missing trees that i could swear were there this morning but are gone now this evening, it’s like the city swallowed them whole while i wasn’t looking and left behind more vacancy, more vacuum, more v o i d . . .
or maybe there was never a tree right there in the first place and i’m just too obsessed with ecocide, maybe i’m going crazy from grieving all the trees i couldn’t spare the chainsaw, whole forests weighing on my conscience, i don’t know i just swear there was a tree in that space before and now there isn’t and i’m afraid that if i look away for too long there won’t be anything green left when i turn back
Of course this body has never felt right – not because my gender identity clashes with its appearance, though, but because my body has never been a refuge. How could I recognize the discomfort of dysphoria when pain, anxiety, and exhaustion dominate my senses? How could I discern whether this disconnect between spirit and flesh is caused by a lack of gender or by all these years spent trapped in chronic illness? When it comes down to it, I’m not sure I’ll ever know whether I’m unhappy in my body because it looks “female” or because it has only ever been a burden requiring constant care. I can change my appearance all I want, slick back my short hair, cover my skin in tattoos, but that won’t stop the migraines or the stomach aches or the OCD. Even the clothing I wear is always half aesthetic and half will I be too warm in this or too cold, will it make me sweat too much and cause a panic attack, will this hat keep me from picking my scalp bloody or will it give me a headache instead? It’s always something; between the faulty wiring in my brain and all the other aching, breaking bits, I don’t really have tools sensitive enough to scan for undercurrents of dysphoria. My body’s never been a home and maybe it never will be, no matter what colors I paint the outside or what interior walls I tear down.
Here we are again, back at the annual attempt to jumpstart my inert heart. Summer’s smoke scorched it dry and now I must perform an autumnal resurrection with mummy’s dust and witch’s brews, guttering candles and rattling chains. Can I be honest, though, Ray? I’m tired. Bone tired. I can’t recall when last soft rains came to wet these gargoyle lips and set free the words frozen in stone. I don’t know if I have the strength left to whistle monsters home to roost on cathedral eaves. I feel like Mars long abandoned by native civilization and colonizers alike, just fifty-six million square miles of red sand and dust-covered ruins and the trash of a thousand forgotten generations. I feel like a barren rock hurtling through space that has never known a single Halloween. Yet the full harvest moon shines a bright gold coin in the sky on this equinox eve and I’m gonna try, Ray, I really am, though what kind of jack-o’-lantern tree will grow from soil this parched I do not know. But with your words as my witness, I’ll try.
After a night spent tossing and turning, grieving the endless noise of humanity and the oppressive heat of summer, the pale September dawn extends a peace offering of thin fog hovering over dewy fields dotted by stands of evergreens and clusters of sleepy cows. This isn’t quite reconciliation – evening traffic will still clog the city’s arteries with exhaust fumes and once white-capped mountains are still disturbingly barren – but perhaps it can serve a noble purpose anyway. Whether it’s a true promise of approaching autumn or only the last vestiges of that dying liminal season, soon to go the way of Tahoma’s dwindling glaciers, I take the gift for what it’s worth and tuck it behind my sternum for safe keeping. Some future night when I’m half mad with mourning all we’ve ruined in the name of progress I’ll pull this memory out and wrap it ’round myself like a blanket, breathing in the scent of damp soil until I finally fall asleep.
everything I write that is not about you is a stop-gap measure to stave off starvation, I finished the last of the spoiled canned goods and am resorting now to gnawing the tough leather of my boot soles, and if this continues much longer all they will find of me are scattered white bones, the smooth calcium marred by the serrations of my knife
Lady of Joy, your cup runneth over!
Like the Nile overflows its banks
bringing life-giving nourishment to withered crops
so your love inundates my parched soul
awakening seeds of hope within!
I’ve carried the burden of extinction on my shoulders since I was a child, haunted by the sacred spirits of panthera uncia, tigris, and leo, by puma concolor and acinonyx jubatus, by the wailing specters of the burning Amazon and the melting Arctic. Even then I saw the irreversible trajectory of our folly and in the years since no amount of hope in mankind nor faith in divinity could shake that nihilistic certainty. I do not need cursed Cassandra’s terrible gift to know we crossed the point of no return long ago; we will never invent a technology capable of undoing the evils mankind has wrought, and certainly not in time to reverse the mass death we’ve set in motion. Even my childself, full of the dreams and promises of youth, understood the planetary genocide to which she’d bear witness in her lifetime.
Yet as I drown in grief I must remember my own words: turn to geology on your deathbed, it is the only science that can save you. When the ocean is clotted with orcinus orca’s ghosts and plastic shopping bags, it will still wear away continents and heave forth cataclysmic waves. When the mountains are littered with canis lupus corpses and abandoned solar panels, they will still cleave the sky and bury empty cities in eruptions of ash and mud. When every living thing is dead and we have finally committed the last of our species’ incomprehensible crimes, the earth will still remain. The planet will continue its endless cycles of upheaval and erosion, rupture and subduction, its titanic geologic metamorphosis, as if we had never been. Earth, at least, we cannot truly kill, no matter how hard we try.
you ask why I rage
while you toss the leavings
from your chainsaws
on my fires