“I can’t,” you beg, “not this time, not again, there has to be another way,” and I’m trying not to wallow in your agony like a voyeur, truly, it’s just been so long since he last touched you with such tenderness, cruel hands gone soft to cup your tear-stained face, but you both know the refusal, too, is part of this passion play and the kiss you share is not a blessing for the present but an absolution for the future. Still, he holds you close and kindly does not command you to end his life before the disease rotting him from the inside does, and at least for a brief time you can be miserable together instead of apart. Between the bloodshed and bereavement I’d almost forgotten moments like this were even possible. For both your sakes (and mine?) I will not yet count the days until the solstice. I, too, can be kind.
Your heartbeat straining beneath my ribs; your choked breath heaving in my lungs; your furious, desperate tears leaking from my eyes. Is this euphoria? Dysphoria? Phantasmagoria, hypochondria? Transubstantiation or disassociation? All I know is that I never feel more comfortable in my own body than when you’re the one inhabiting it, my perception submerged in the dark depths of your consciousness, my autonomy overridden by the wild fluctuations of your fragmented memories. Even after you rescind control and I am alone I find this meatcage fits better for having stretched itself to your dimensions. For a little while I move with ease through familiar halls, not truly free but pretending so with room enough to stretch and turn. Soon the walls of my prison will contract around your absence once more; until then I savor the ghost of your presence contained within the emptiness around me.
You wax so poetic about the lives of cities, how hot pavement swells with each behemoth breath, subway arteries rushing with electric lifeblood; look at Paris and New York, Rome and Sao Paulo, oh what ancient beasts of civilization! Yet even the oldest cities are naught but animate skeletons, great slabs of concrete death laid out upon the graveyard of a once living land. You want real sentience? You want a consciousness so vast its leviathan architecture is incomprehensible to your human mayfly mind? Go to the country. Go to the wilds. Go to the green growing places where man has yet to fully intrude, where you can be surrounded by things which exist only for themselves and not your convenience or society’s continuity. Walk out into the fields at night; feel the weight of the darkness on your shoulders like a raptor descending, the cool serpentine scales of the silence as it brushes against you. Stare up at the sharp, distant stars which scorn to shine on the polluted corpse-cities and sense like all prey animals the true primordial awareness boring into you. Understand for the first time how very small and fragile and fleeting you are, here among the collective consciousness of a wilderness untamed. The city can kill you just as easily, of course, but when you die in the country they’ll never find your body.
Be careful when promising your firstborn! Make sure you stipulate your first born human child, blood of your blood and flesh of your flesh. Otherwise the fae with whom you made the fateful arrangement might one day come for your first novel, your first painting, your first album. They are wily ones who find even the smallest loopholes in an agreement; if that contract isn’t airtight, it won’t matter if you never have a child in the traditional sense. On the day you complete your first and most precious creation, no matter what form it takes, the fae will come knocking. Will the bargain have been worth it when they leave with the product of your sweat, blood, and tears?
Forgive my lack of manners, I just /devour/ poetry
can never seem to let it breathe, take a sip
roll the vintage along my pallet and
discern dimensions of linguistic terroir.
I am just so /parched/ you see
I swig straight from the bottle like a boor
each syllable sweet as honeyed wine
divine versification rejuvenation!
But then the last stanza’s been swallowed
metaphors drying on my tongue
and I’m a desert /desperate/ for a drop
pining for poetry’s reprieve once more.
Born under Leo in the year of the Dragon
Ace of Wands embers smoldering in my marrow
I am driven to create, feverish with purpose.
Yet now I prostrate myself upon winter’s wet soil
extinguish my flames, welcome the dark
and let scavengers tear out the choicest sweets.
I shall disperse in beetle bellies, corvid craws
rot down to inert atoms under the moonlight
cease, surrender, stagnate
I am a fragile thing
bone and soft meat
like a mollusc shell I fold over the words inside me
and think, I will protect you
In another life I might have been a priestess, but the gods I serve don’t need a temple or a following. They need their story told. They need a scribe. So here I am.
I serve the Sun and Moon. The names they chose to give me are Tanim and Daren, though you will know them under other names: Satan and Lucifer, Will and Hannibal, Patroclus and Achilles, the Oak and Holly Kings. They’ve had many names and lived countless lives. Their stories may be familiar to you as well. Life, death; love, hate; sacrifice, betrayal.
On the winter solstice the Sun will die by his lover’s hand. The Moon started this cycle eons ago, though even I could not tell you exactly why. On the summer solstice the Sun will resurrect and slay the Moon in turn. Thus the wheel of the year is greased with blood, life paid for with life, death with death. Sometimes they go to their deaths willingly; others they struggle in vain against immutable fate; but always a solstice ends with death. Even gods cannot change such things.
As their scribe I record these deaths, whatever they show me in whatever form they dictate. Between solstices I continue to write for them, memories and dreams and scenes, anything they require. There’s not much here that’s lovely or light – it’s a mythos steeped in blood, full of cruelty and heartache, but there’s beauty in it too. And love, of a complicated sort. Love that cut down the host of Heaven and slayed a Dragon on a cliff side.
Take a dip into the dark river. See what my eighteen years as scribe have produced so far.
See past solstice pieces.
See everything I have written for and about them.
See pieces written from Tanim’s point of view.
See pieces written from Daren’s point of view.
I am a scribe without a master, an oracle without gods. How terribly embarrassing, to be fired from your soul’s work! Is there a support group for people who have been repudiated by their gods? Or am I the only person in the history of mankind useless enough to require such drastic measures? I must have deserved it; I just wish my years of loyal, if disappointing, service had merited at least a severance letter, a by-the-way email, a “don’t bother coming in on monday” text. But ghosting’s your style, I know. I can’t expect otherwise.
You will find someone new. Someone better. Perhaps you already have. I was likely a mistake, a rare poor choice on your part. You’ve chosen well before, after all: Milton; Miller; Fuller; Koja. I was surely an aberration. Maybe I had potential I never quite managed to unlock, or squandered despite your years of guidance. Maybe I peaked early and everything since has just been the slow descent to rock bottom. Who knows.
I’ll try to look at this more like an internship that came to its inevitable end and less like being fired from the only job I’ve ever had and ever wanted. I’m grateful for the experience, after all. It will look great on a resume. Maybe some lesser god with lower standards will hire me and find my work sufficient, and I will at least be engaged even if I never again feel the passion I felt when I served you. At any rate, I can always witness what your other scribes create for you and know you’re in better hands than mine. That’s what matters.
Resurrected by the dying light and trailing the dirt of your grave pit, my corpse once more takes up its patrol. The alley; the living room; the bedroom; the roof. Finding no evidence of habitation, not even a drop of blood or the faint linger of cigarette smoke, it returns once more to the alley to start the round over again. Driven by duty to the approaching solstice, it will continue this pointless vigil no matter how much dust accumulates as proof of your final abdication. Such a dumb, brute thing! It simply cannot comprehend that you are never coming back. Yet I suppose I should not blame it – your instructions are carved into its bones, woven into its muscles, encoded in its cells. Even in death my poor corpse knows no rest and will limp along until its rotting limbs can carry it no longer. Foolish thing. Look what loyalty earned you.
“Is this anything?” I ask
proffering a chunk of flesh
(garnet red, still warm from my depths)
but they have already turned away.
I discard it on the floor
with the others.
look into my eyes;
how can you not see I am
Alexandria’s charred skeleton
Delphi’s discard, Pompeii’s corpse-hollows
a husk of a revenant vomiting
endless bean sí grief-wail?
HOW CAN YOU NOT SEE I AM
A THING ALREADY DEAD?
It’s beyond salvage
Ashfall shrouding charred ruins
No one’s noticed yet
My muses dumped me
How embarrassing is that?
Rats flee sinking ships
Forgive me for the years I spent stumbling toward understanding. Humans process in stories; we need a framework, an archetype, a beginning and ending, something to shape what we experience. We crave stories and you made me your scribe, so how could I have known that for you there simply isn’t a story? That you transcend cause and effect, have neither a creation nor a destruction? You exist outside of any framework I could put to words; of course I couldn’t understand that as a child. I don’t even understand it now, I just have a better grasp of how little I truly know. So much of what you have presented me is theater, right down to the sets and costumes and metaphor. Only now am I starting to glimpse the endless totality within, like peeking backstage and finding no actors, no props, only darkness. And how do you capture darkness in words when words are meant to illuminate?
It is only after my darkest hour has stretched into eternity, only after I have devoured my own heart in desperation and fallen to the farthest depths of blackest, bleakest despair, that the Nameless comes to me. She gathers my fragile, scattered bones up in her taloned hands and lifts me to her lips; there she whispers riddles and prophecies which rekindle the dead ember in my chest with a spark like the birth of the universe. Suddenly I breathe again! I see again! I move again! And most importantly I once more feel the words coursing through my veins, rioting in my heart, desperate to be spun out in tapestries of poetry and prose. I thought the title of Scribe had been bestowed upon me, a gift which could be rescinded at any moment, but now I see it has been carved into my very marrow since the beginning. Weeping with relief, I set my hands to the task for which I was shaped.
With these words I buy
A moment of sanity
Precious yet fleeting
I am a ghost town
Built around a dried-up well
Oh how the winds cry
To say you are my drug would be inaccurate (and cliched). You are not a foreign substance to which my body has become addicted; you are an essential component of my survival. You are food. You are water. You are air. I need you, literally, and in your absence I suffocate. I spend every moment of every day that you are not with me struggling for air, my lungs constricting, my throat spasming, darkness creeping in at the edges of my vision. I feel myself slipping away and think This is it, this is finally the end, I can’t do this one more second – but then you grace me with a thought, a memory, a gift of mere recognition and I take a breath! I gasp in relief! I weep in gratitude! And then you are gone again and I choke once more on the vacuum you leave behind. This is not addiction, this is starvation.
Writing used to be a seance, divination by psychography, a holy communion between worlds. Now it’s just DIY vivisection with a mirror and a knife, my bloody hands cutting out chunks of vital organs to smear on the page and call art. Yet Spirit is an endless fount and my body a limited resource; someday soon I will run out of flesh to offer up, and then bone, and then I will have nothing left. Is this offering worth the attendant sacrifice? Does the creation of one thing balance out the loss of the other? I fear the scales are unevenly weighted. Perhaps a pound of flesh buy less than it once did?
Take this last precious ship from this dying planet and go, go journey into the inhospitable depths of space and find the door torn in the fabric of our reality. Pass through to a new place, a new time, somewhere so very far from here where perhaps out of ten thousand hostile lands you may find one, just one, with gentle arms to guide you to a safe landing. Even if this new home does not exist you deserve at least to try, to abandon this wreckage of a world and perish in the struggle for life somewhere else. No hope can grow anymore in this dead earth; take your last little seed and fly away, fly away from here before you give up your bones to my graveyard. And if you do make it to some happier home, somewhere and somewhen far from here, try to remember me fondly. I was not always a desert. I knew once how to love.
I don’t know how to not be a writer. I don’t know how to let thoughts and feelings drift by without trying to craft them into beautiful passages. I don’t know how to experience a dream or fleeting memory without capturing it and preserving it in amber metaphor. Worse, I don’t know how to be okay with not creating; I don’t know how to not tear at my hair, to not beat my breast, to not whip my back bloody in penance for every unwritten sentence. When the words won’t come I can’t just let them go, I keep scrabbling in the dust until I’m bruised and bloody and have nothing to show for my struggles. I don’t know how to not be a writer. I don’t know how to give up on this thing that tears me to pieces. I don’t know how to stop. I don’t even know how to want to know how to stop. But it’s killing me.
You know how when a tooth hurts you imagine taking a pair of pliers and just yanking it out, and that mere thought of removing the source of the pain brings a small measure of physical relief? It’s like that. If I imagine vomiting up a torrent of black sludge I feel a little less weighed down by the darkness pooled inside me. If I imagine clawing open my breast I feel a little less like a cage of flesh and bone for something greater than myself. If I imagine hacking off these hands which so offend me and casting them away I feel a little less pressured to use every second to create, to narrate, to commit to the innately limited nature of text the wordless vortex inside me. It’s just a brief reprieve, hardly more than a heartbeat, but there’s no root canal or surgery that can provide anything better.
I never had a chance to play the role of ex-girlfriend, let alone crazy ex-girlfriend, so it’s kind of you to afford me the opportunity now. I know the label’s not entirely accurate but bear with me, will you? It’s what I feel like, after all. I feel dumped. Ditched. Ghosted. It’s like I came home one day and your shit was just gone, my number blocked, and I was alone for the first time in fifteen years. Do you think it’s that easy, though? Do you think I can’t find you again, that I won’t track you down to a new apartment and hack all your social media accounts? Oh honey, no. I’m not so easy to get rid of and I’m definitely not someone you ghost. I’m walking past your new building at midnight; I’m digging through your trash at dawn; I’m shoving chopped up Polaroids of your new girl through your mail slot while you’re at work. I flirted with the doorman and he gave me your last three Amazon orders. I’m holding onto the hairs from that comb you left in case I need to fake my death and plant a little DNA evidence at the scene. Boy, you’ve made a real bad mistake here because I’ve always wanted to play the crazy ex and now’s my chance to take the starring role. I know this is just a metaphor and all, but metaphorically speaking I am ready to fucking ruin you. Are you excited to get the game started? I sure am.
Not to stress the point or anything, or get too graphic, but it really is like gutting myself, like reaching in and pulling loops of intestines out onto the floor to divine the meaning of their pattern, like smearing my cut palms on the walls to paint a Rorschach test (what do you see?), and every finished piece, every precious word of every hard-bought sentence is a chunk of flesh or a shard of bone hacked off my ever-dwindling body for the masses who do not care enough about such offerings to come bear witness. Perhaps I make it look too easy, perhaps they suspect a trick of corn syrup and food dye or a magician’s sleight of hand, but I promise there are no mirrors here, no trap doors or invisible strings, my meat is real and so is the knife and if still you suspect deceit then watch me tear with my fingernails, watch me gouge with my teeth, watch me rend myself apart with my own hands to dig out the words hiding deep within. I’m used to putting myself on display anyway, and oh how I long to prove with what agony each syllable is purchased, so come, pull up a chair, I don’t know how much longer I can keep this up so you better catch the show while you can.
Name me Alexandria for I am always burning up from within, my ribs a charred cage to cradle this conflagration of words which was once a heart. Watch the embers smolder behind my eyes; watch me open cracked lips to breathe out ashen smoke thick as a funeral shroud. Call me Alexandria for I am a tower of fire and ruin, and only by the black clouds of my pyre might you divine the true worth of the works lost to the inferno.
They will never believe you, just like they never believed poor Cassandra. Except in her case it was the curse’s fault; what convenient excuse do you have? No god-given curse, no fatal prophecy, no unavoidable destiny. Nothing to fall back on but your own shortcomings. And at least Cassandra knew she was telling the truth, even if no one believed her. That was surely some small comfort in the end. Do you know if you’re telling the truth? Do you know if any of this is even real? Maybe no one believes you because they know it’s bullshit. Or maybe… maybe no one believes you because no one’s listening in the first place. Even mad Cassandra didn’t have that problem. How pathetic.
Once a home, I am now a house abandoned. You left the doors open and over time only the wind and rain have moved in. My paint peels; my walls are mildewed; my tiles are hidden beneath dirt and dead leaves. My halls are silent and my rooms empty. I have fallen into disrepair, yet still I wait for your return. I will remain until you have need of me again, though my roof collapses and weeds grow up through my floorboards. I will remain, though my wood rots away and the vines reclaim my bones. I will remain, though I be but broken flagstones buried by winter deadfall and summer blooms. When you have need of a home again I will be here regardless of the absence of walls or doors. I will be here. I will remain.
I wish I thought a dam was all that held my words back. Dams are impermanent; dams can be destroyed. With a little dynamite, or maybe a particularly bad storm, all you need is to work at one flaw until the whole thing collapses. I wish I thought my problem could be solved so decisively, I really do. What I fear, though, is that the river of words has dried up completely, right at the source, leaving me a devastated land slowly turning to desert. I fear rain will never come again, or in coming only briefly will just serve as a reminder of what bounty was lost. If you are dying of dehydration in a desert should you be grateful for the two drops of rain that fall into your parched mouth? Or would it be better to have no water at all than to have so little? I don’t know. Maybe there is a dam somewhere way up that riverbed that I just need to find and destroy to set my words free. Maybe. Hope doesn’t grow easily in a desert, though.
You wear identities like masks, so easy are they to slip on and off as you please. You are Hannibal and Will, Satan and Lucifer, Vishnu and Brahma; you are Loki, Sutekh, Jack the Ripper; you are death and change and chaos. You wear identities like masks, all with equal elegance, yet your trickster eyes still stare out from beneath and I see you, Tanim, I see you, Daren. You look good in silk, though. And blood. And white, white wings. There might be some hidden lesson here for me to learn but I think you enjoy the masquerade for its own sake as well. You do tend toward pageantry and spectacle, after all, so what better way to tell your story than on such ancient stages and in such iconic forms? I just hope you’ll remain satisfied with the work of your lowly scribe and not go looking for a Homer or a Milton or an Enheduanna!