you rise from the earth like some radiant Lord Vishnu, your sable locks and sun-kissed skin dusted in a rainbow of flower pollen like vibrant Holi powder, but those who watch your ascent in awe don’t know you’ve covered yourself in this floral beauty to hide the bloodstains beneath, nor what godly corpse may lay hidden in the blooms at your feet
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
On this longest day of the year your priestesses take to the streets to celebrate the Sun triumphant. Clad in flowing silks and precious gems, skin glowing with gold dust, they blend their voices in lilting harmony as they sing your praises. Dancers dip and weave in time to the pounding of drums; tiny bells on their ankles jingle with each minute movement. Despite the heat of the day, torchbearers carry flaming braziers into which your oracles toss incense laced with poppy and nightshade. The procession treads on rose petals thrown by the gathered crowd until the marble boulevard gleams red in the sunlight.
Finally the litter bearing your statue comes into view and the cacophony of chanting, drumming, and clapping reaches a crescendo. Here you are in all your glory, white marble form adorned in gold and shining like a beacon. The writhing incense smoke makes your placid expression appear to flicker through emotions – wrath, sorrow, regret, compassion – as if even cold stone can be moved by the prayers of the masses. Those gathered call out to you as the litter passes, giving praise and begging blessings, or bow their heads and weep for the honor of witnessing your sacred statue with their own eyes.
Only one person who serves your holiness is not at this celebration. Do you notice my absence, Lord Sun? Does it offend you? Or are you pleased at least someone holds vigil with the corpse of your slain lover? Out in the streets they rejoice the godblood dripping on your hands yet only you and I know the truth of it. Let your priestesses and oracles exult in your victory today; your scribe will do right by the fallen Moon, even if I am the only one mourning the death of darkness on the longest day of the year.
“The serpent tries too hard,” the Nameless tells me as she lounges against the oscillations of Egyptian dunes. “It’s almost embarrassing. Do I strive against your desert gods each night in hopes of wresting control of the universe from their grasp? Of course not,” she pops galaxies into her mouth like hothouse grapes, “because I know, as they do, that the ultimate fate of the universe is a return to the primordial chaos from which it first emerged. It’s just a matter of time. Why rush entropy?”
She is right at home on these white hot sands, her monstrous body a black void against the dancing heat waves. In my dream last night she murmured in my ear, “We have always been here,” by which I understood she meant that this dark triad I serve – Chaos, Desire, and Death – is older than even the gods of ancient Kemet. Older than gods themselves, for they are the concepts from which gods are crafted. Thus the Nameless is part of A/pep, just as a shadow of Daren can be found in Set, a fragment of Tanim in Osiris. Their triad belongs to no single place, time, or pantheon but runs through them all, encoded like DNA in every deity that will ever exist.
“You are a slow learner,” the Nameless laughs, licking plasma off her sharp fingernails. “But you get there.”
“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.
I’ve dreamed each night the Moon dead and dying in his lover’s arms (early, isn’t it, this solstice blood filling my mouth) and as I drive to work the Sun admits to me, “I would rather burn him until there is nothing left but ash than cling to the shell he leaves behind”. I can’t blame him, not when my own arms ache from clutching the Moon’s lifeless body so tightly, not when my fingers so vividly recall the sharp edges of his jaw as I cradled his head against my chest. Were we to trade places, the Sun and I, can I say I would choose differently?
Tanim and Daren are gods who balance and oppose each other – sun and moon, summer and winter, light and dark. Yet, while I am certain that Daren is the chosen form of Death, it hasn’t felt right to say that Tanim is therefore the form which Life has chosen to take. He doesn’t feel like Life. Life, at least in opposition to Death, is a thing of creation and fertility, generosity and gentleness, and Tanim doesn’t embody those qualities. While he isn’t Death, he carries a shard of its mercilessness with him, too much to ever associate him with something so bountiful as Life. So I’ve been struggling to figure out what he is, if not Life, and I’ve come up with a two-part answer that (at the moment at least) seems to solve the equation.
First, what if we remove the labels of Life and Death and look simply at the basic drivers of those forces. For Death it’s stagnation, leaving, the ceasing of the beating heart and the sudden stilling from animate to inanimate. Death is inert. For Life, then, it’s growth, survival, advancement, the strangling by one plant of another to ensure its own propagation or the taking of life by a predator to provide sustenance for its cubs. Life is active. So maybe the equation is less Life versus Death and more Desire versus Death, as Desire drives us forward and Death is the moment all desire ceases.
Second, what if the equation was never meant to be a balance of two opposing forces, but three? That would explain why I haven’t been able to solve it yet. So let’s say there’s a third element here that would balance out Desire and Death. What would it be? We have Desire driving purposeful action, and Death as the ceasing of all action, so… what about Chaos as driving action without purpose? What if the Nameless is supposed to form the third corner of this trinity, so to speak? That would explain her presence and her seeming connection with Tanim and Daren, even though she is decidedly not part of their story. She also offers a bit of a counterpoint to their cycle of life/death/rebirth which is perhaps exactly what they’ve been missing. With Chaos included, Death and Desire don’t have to encompass an entire universe.
So that’s where I am as of several sleepless nights in Spring 2021. I don’t think these three are gods so much as forces of the universe taking form to interact with me, but gods is the easiest term so that’s what I use. Daren is Death, Tanim is Desire, and the Nameless is Chaos. This is not at all intimidating or terrifying and I am totally fine.
Your fingers like iron around his neck, your arm a statement of possession around his waist; ah, we return to tread familiar ground! You dance hip to hip beneath a moonless night sky and when the forest’s monsters come sprinting forth to take him down as prey they stop short at his outstretched hand. He reeks of you, of Death, and even these many-fanged and many-clawed beasts flee in fear of that primal entity so much older than they. You watch their retreat over his shoulder with a knife-blade smile, starlight limming the white skull painted on your pale face, and drag his mouth to yours.
they cut your lover from your side, thinking to fell you once and for all, yet you rose again crowned in a blade of shadow, stripped of humanity and laid bare to your immortal intensity beneath, no longer the earthbound godling ruled by the fallibility of the flesh but Death Ascendant rimmed in wings like shards of ice, cold as the knife and hard as the fall
I consult the Oracle while she sweeps the kitchen floor; my spilled guts collect in little piles with the cat hair and the pine needles. Tossing this detritus in the trash, she tells me to let go of the presumption that my gods have abandoned me. She reminds me that I am no more the person I was when I met them half a lifetime ago than they are now the men they were that same fateful day. People grow; why not gods? I cannot expect our relationship to remain static when we three have changed so much, nor can I expect the old methods of communion to yield the same results. I have to discover who and what we have become in the years we’ve walked this shared road, and where we are meant to go from here. To do this I must have faith, the Oracle says. Faith is not a passive state, it is a choice we make actively every day. I must let go of my death grip on the past and choose to have faith in the gods to which I pledged myself, and trust that everything will work out as intended.
The Oracle’s words are wise, I know they are, and I cannot ignore the truth in them. Yet I’m so afraid – too afraid, perhaps, to risk the rest of my wounded heart solely on faith – and so I make a face at her and go back to playing on my phone.
You may be a god, my love, but here on my blade you die like any mortal and here in my forest you rot like any animal. Fear not; I am here with you in your dying, just as I shall be with you in your rotting. I shall be with you when your laboring heart finally spasms and stills (not too long now, you have lost so much blood already). I shall be with you when your cells begin to slowly suffocate en masse, thirty trillion microscopic deaths triggered by your last shallow breath. I shall be with you as your cooling meat begins to spoil. I shall be with you when the coyotes tear at your choicest organs, muzzles stained red and tongues lolling (your godblood tastes so sweet, you know, it is the only drink I have ever hungered for), and the crows bicker over the honor of pecking out your eyes. I shall be with you as your flesh is consumed like holy communion to feed my host of scavengers and decomposers, leaving only your lovely bones behind as grave markers. And I shall be here still when fungi sprout up through the sockets of your whitening skull and wildflowers twine around the bars of your rib cage, nourished on the nutrients of your long forgotten corpse which yet enrich the soil. I am always with you, beloved, so fear neither the blade nor the breaking down. Death has ever been your dearest companion.
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.
As I lay in bed in the dark (click) early hours the preacher man speaks to me over Geiger counter radio crackle (click… click), he tells me if I’m lonely and (click) tired of the silence the dead are always ready to talk, they’re always (click click) so, so hungry and they would love to devour me, too; he shows me the prison down the road like that’s where they live maybe (click… click click), do they congregate there? does the prison (click click) even have a cemetery? I don’t reply to him; instead I bury my face in the pillow and speak to my absent (click) gods, the Sun and Moon, I tell them I will sit in the silence (click click click) as long as it takes for them to answer me because they’re the only ones I want to talk to, not the hungry dead or this creepy preacher ghost-thing, but inside I know I’m afraid if I listen to the dead for too long I won’t be able to stop (click click clickclickclick clickclickclickclickclickclick —).
The solstice approaches and I consider the death of gods. I think of Inanna walking proudly through the underworld’s seven gates to her death on the meat hook, of Odin hanging nine days dead on the world tree and Christ laying three days dead in the tomb. I think of Osiris, Persephone, Proserpina, Dumuzi, Baldr. Of Aphrodite weeping over Adonis and Achilles weeping over Patroclus.
And then there is you, Lord Sun, fairest and most beloved. The solstice approaches, yet you do not drown me in dreams of blood or deafen me with your cacophonous wailing like past years. Your halls are silent, your rooms are empty, and I wonder why. Could it be that you go willingly to your death this time? Have you made some sort of peace with it like those other harvest gods destined for the slaughter, those deities who sacrificed themselves for wisdom or were punished for being too beautiful, too good?
Perhaps this solstice you will bow willingly to you fate, to the dying and the decay, the rot and the long rest. The wheel on which the world turns must be oiled in blood. Yet though the solstice relies on violence, that violence need not be fueled by hatred or ugliness. Death can be beautiful, a gift of mercy or love, and your death on the longest night drives the resurrection of your brother-lover and the fallow time of winter. Thus the Oak King bleeding out in his Holly King’s arms; thus you, Lord Sun, spilling out your shining golden blood in your beloved Moon’s arms.
Maybe this time we can focus on the beauty in your death, not the tragedy. What do you think?
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.
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?
These dreams of you are
Echoes from my subconscious
Just phantom limb pain
You will survive this
the Morrigan pronounces
staring into my dull eyes
bone shards and congealing blood
you took everything)
but the words are no kindness
only Her battlefield prophecy
impassive and immutable
Now I know you are gone, truly gone
because I no longer hear your voice in my head
that subtle blade which you wielded so expertly to reopen old wounds
and when did you ever miss a chance to remind me of my failures?
O prodigal sun, come wash your red hands clean in my fount. Your sins are forgiven, your trespasses forgotten. You who can do no wrong, let your tears fall free to bloom up roses in the dark soil. Bow your head; I will smooth your furrowed brow and straighten your crooked crown. See? Absolution is your birthright. Amnesty is your privilege. O son ascendant, do you not know your flesh is too holy to hold blame?
I understand now. It was never a city – it was your impact crater. You fell so far and hit with such force that shards like skyscrapers erupted all around you, a wasteland of steel and glass spires. He is always finding you broken and bleeding the red blood of mortality in that alley because you fell first, wingless and wounded, and he followed after. You are always dying in his arms because this place is stuck in an endless loop of the falling, the seeking, the finding, the parting. Is this your punishment? Your purgatory? Or your paradise? I suppose it no longer matters after so many millennia.
O trickster! O thief!
Return to me my heart
Given under falsehood!
This least valued of your treasures
Forgotten and unremarkable
What profit can it bring you?
Return it that I might lock it away
And never err again in offering!
The Sun baptizes me in the red lake of his heart, not a lake of fire but blood as bright and hot as molten metal, or perhaps he means to drown me for he holds me under as I scream and thrash, and only after an eternity of agony does he lift me up in his arms (am I dead? am I reborn?) while beside him the Moon casts his indifferent gaze on my charred body and observes, They burn up so quickly.
All things covet whatever state or aspect is so intrinsically their opposite that by definition they can never experience it. Thus does death, ever passive, covet desire, ever active. Thus does desire, ever in motion, covet death, ever inert. Air rushes to fill a vacuum. The black hole draws stars into its embrace. We crush the things we covet in our attempt to make them forever ours and to make ourselves forever them. Is there even a fraction of a second where we become one with the coveted before our immutable nature obliterates it? And if so, is that moment worth the destruction? Experience says no. Selfishness says yes, try again. Crush, crush, crush.
Oh wise Anup who weighs the hearts of the dead, how heavy mine feels today! Be gentle as you hold it else I am sure it will burst from sorrow. How can any heart which beats in these dark times remain lighter than a feather? How can any empathetic heart not soak up all this pain? Even ravenous Ammit would spit out my heart, bitter as it is! Oh chief healer, I beg you take your sharpest knife and lance my septic heart so I may bleed out this toxic isfet. Empty my heart of this impotent rage and never-ending grief, that I may refill it with love and peace!
Maybe we just didn’t understand each other at the beginning and in reality we’re more alike than either of us thought. We are both selfish things, after all, and we both abhor a cage. We nurse our wounds like fine liquor. We wear our grudges like fine jewels. Look back on the things I’ve done; see that I can be as cold and as cutting as you. Have I proven myself to you yet? Do you finally recognize some small kindred shard of yourself in me, enough at least for you to desire its nurturing? There is much that only you could teach me. There is much I understand about you that no other ever will. Must we be at odds? Can we not work together?
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?
You become addicted to the fall, you know. You wake on rooftops, the edges of cliffs, at open windows. You test limits, argue, rebel; self-destruct, self-sabotage, self-fulfill your tragic prophecy. You long for both the sensation of falling – weightless, helpless, careless – and the moment of inevitable impact when all the world shatters around you. Only it is you who shatters and you are grateful for it, for the violence of that sudden fragmentation and the senselessness it brings. And then you wake at the edge of the open window and you lean forward once more.