#2580

This is no fairy tale, child. He is no charming prince cursed into monstrous form; the man is twisted all the way through and no true love’s kiss will ever change that. If he saved you from monsters worse than he, it is only because he knew it is what the one he loves would have done and would want him to do. Duty to the dead, not pity for the living, moved his hand. You yourself did not particularly factor into the decision and he certainly spared no thought for what might befall you after his timely intervention. One more young soul for the streets to swallow up, just like his. So it goes.

What do you think will happen when you follow him back to the home you imagine as a castle but is in truth merely a tomb? Do you think that if you scrub the dried bloodstains from the once white carpets, if you dust and mop and prove yourself useful, he will let you stay? That he will become like a father to you and raise you up from pauper to princess? There is no love left in him, not now. No kindness. At best you can hope to huddle in his periphery, protected from lesser predators by his presence yet too inconsequential to draw either his effort or his ire. But make no mistake, child, there is no happily ever after for you here. Not for anyone.

#2572

To you who are lost, I say this: follow the morning star, bright burning Venus. It will lead you to the throne of holy Inanna, Queen of Heaven, intersex goddess of women and queers. Inanna ruled over ancient Sumer more than six thousand years ago and she remains today a powerful ally for all those crushed under the bootheel of oppression. Her grand temples were once staffed by transgender clergy and during her festivals people crossdressed and danced in the streets. A goddess of decadence and bloodshed, sensuality and sovereignty, generosity and volatility, Inanna understands intimately what it means to contain multitudes. The Queen of Heaven surrendered everything to face her own death in the underworld and return transformed; she can guide you through the darkness of your own metamorphosis and into the light of rebirth. Call on Inanna and let her inspire you with her ferocious will. Let her empower you with her confidence. Let her place a sword in your hand and teach you to fight for your freedom, for your future, for the person you are destined to become. Call on exalted Inanna, lost one, and trust her to lead you to victory.

#2571

Dear Virginia,

I thought you should know – I found her. The girl you introduced me to all those years ago when I was still so young and confused and full of unfamiliar longing. I had loved her from the first time I read your words, after all, and it broke my heart to imagine her alone somewhere out in the wide, dangerous world, her genius smothered by society’s cruelty. I wasn’t quite so foolish as to imagine myself her rescuer, her charming prince come to wake her with a single kiss, but I knew I could help. I could hold her hand and read her words and remind her she wasn’t alone. Yet when I clawed my hands into the cold clay of that unmarked crossroads grave I discovered no body beneath and so I went looking for her. Took me almost a decade and countless bottled letters thrown into countless seas but I did it. I found her. Shakespeare’s Sister.

She wasn’t dead, not yet, but slowly drowning in a world hostile to every aspect of her being. After all, you need more to ensure your survival than a room of your own to write in when those in power are trying to legislate you out of existence, and all the education in the world can’t protect you from the bigotry enshrined in every facet of society. The country which purported to be her home hated her for being ‘too much’. Her body that I would find so beautiful was too curvy, too muscular, too brown and yet not brown enough. Her mind that would engage and challenge mine was too clever, too literal, too depressed and prone to dwelling on… unladylike topics. Her heart that would capture mine instantly was too queer, too empathetic, too honorable and honest for a society built on cold hard capitalism. She asked too many questions; she dreamed strange dreams. She refused to conform to any expectation or stereotype and you know, Miss Virginia, how much they hate when we won’t conform.

She was fighting to stay afloat, though, despite all the people determined to drag her down, and in her struggles she grabbed onto one of my bobbing bottled notes. That’s how we met, trading words over a digital ocean until we worked up the courage to meet in person. Then it was the U-Haul, wedding rings, a home of our own where such maligned creatures as feral cats, traumatized dogs, and unapologetic queers could find sanctuary. We did our best to heal each other’s wounds with the kind of loving acceptance that can only grow out of adversity, sweeter than the sugary tea we shared on our first date. On the weekends we tended each other’s gardens, weeding out the invasive species of toxic thoughts which grow there, and at night we uncorked old secrets in waterlogged bottles to set them free.

In this home we now work together to build a world which embraces all witches, wise women, and half-mad poetesses, where such things as gender and skin color do not endanger your quality of life – or the length of it. Where creativity flourishes free from judgment and we create for the sake of sharing our passions and dreams with others, not out of desperation to put food on the table or to prove our worth to those who will always believe us worthless. I could not fight for such a future on my own; the cruelties of the world weigh heavily on me, sometimes to the point I can hardly draw breath. I can fight as hard as I do only because Shakespeare’s Sister stands at my side, fierce and unflinching in the face of humanity’s evils. Her strength inspires me, her kindness humbles me, her generosity lifts my burdened heart so I can breathe again.

The world asks, “What is the good of your writing?” and I say it is this. Where before two strangers suffered in silence, alone, as convinced of their aberration as your young Judith Shakespeare once must have been of hers, now they stand united. Words brought them together. Words kindled their love. Words lift them up, day by day, when the world would drown them otherwise. “Someone will remember us,” Sappho wrote over 5,500 years ago, “even in another time.” And we remember. “If we live another century or so,” you wrote over ninety years ago, “then the opportunity will come and the dead poet who was Shakespeare’s Sister will put on the body which she has so often laid down.” And I have found her. And these words we write today? These lives we live so stubbornly, bravely, beautifully, against all odds? In another hundred years they will be remembered by those who follow us. In another thousand. That is their power. That is our power. 

So thank you, Virginia. And thank you to all those who came before. May we build a world worthy of your memories for those who will come after.

#2570

You have never been one to covet power. You value control above all else – the ability to preserve your autonomy, to ensure no one can take choice or action away from you – but you have never cared much for exerting power over others. That feels like such a chore, such a waste of your time and effort. No person has ever caught your interest enough to earn such attention from you. You much prefer the simplicity of being alone.

Until now. Until Tanim.

You are self aware enough to know this will end in tragedy. This is a power you want and this is a power you will abuse. In Tanim’s quest to give you everything you could ever want he has given you far too much, pushed you too close to an edge you’ve avoided this long. Yet now that you’re standing at it, all you want to do is jump over and fall into whatever chaos awaits. You know you shouldn’t. You try to control yourself. But giving into the temptation feels so good and every time you do you just want more. 

Maybe this will end in tragedy, but you’re going to have so much fun until then.

#2569

Daren’s presence in your life hasn’t made you give up your vices. You are no dilettante when it comes to the finer things in life but after years of living alone your standards have dropped. Amytal washed down with absinthe and a couple Black Devils for a chaser? That’s not a party, just your regular nightcap. At some point you stopped caring what you put into your body (or who) and how often. You didn’t have a future so why worry about whether you’d wake up in the morning or not? Things are different now, though, and you can’t bear to have the man you love think you have no taste.

So Daren’s presence in your life hasn’t made you give up your vices – it’s made you refine them. He makes you want to be a better man, after all, and that means raising your standards back up to where they belong. No more nightclub hookups and hardcore barbiturates, no more granite countertops scattered with used needles and burned out cigarettes, no more treating your expensive liquor like corner store beer swigged straight from the bottle. You’re a man of class with a fully stocked wet bar, a closet full of Armani, and too much money for your own good. Time to start acting like it.

Of course, being a better man also means sharing your luxury. All his life, Daren has lacked the wealth you’ve always taken for granted. How could sophistication thrive in such scarcity when the only goal was survival by any means? He is beyond survival now, though, and you take endless joy in introducing him to the finest indulgences money can buy. You worship him between silk sheets and drape him in Gucci and Louis Vitton; in the morning it’s imported coffee and cigarettes, in the evening cocktails mixed with the finest ingredients and served in crystal barware.

Not that he cares, of course. Your wealth is meaningless to Daren and your fancy gifts earn you exactly zero admiration or infatuation. That’s fine, though, because your pleasure is found in the giving itself; you take just as much satisfaction in watching your lover destroy your fine gifts as you do watching him indulge in them. Every time he stubs a cigarette out on your antique velvet furniture or uses your silk tie to clean blood from his knife, you fall a little more in love. You probably shouldn’t – you’re probably encouraging his habit of throwing crystalware at you – but you’ve never been very good at moderating your vices, have you?

#2568 – Summer Solstice 2022

Recipe for a Summer Solstice

Ingredients

2 oz Lock Stock & Barrel 16 Year Straight Rye Whiskey
1 oz Averna amaro
100 mg hydrogen cyanide
2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 dashes orange bitters
1 brandied cherry

Instructions

  1. Add rye whiskey, amaro, bitters, and hydrogen cyanide into a mixing glass with ice and stir until well-chilled. 
  2. Strain into a chilled crystal coupe glass. 
  3. Garnish with a brandied cherry. 
  4. Serve to the man you love as an evening cocktail. 
  5. In the sixty seconds or so you have before the poison hits his respiratory system, take the empty glass from his hand and set it carefully aside. Lift his hand to your lips and kiss his knuckles. Run your thumb along his sharp jawline. For once, resist the urge to kiss him on those thin, sardonic lips.
  6. Tell him you forgive him. You forgive him for wanting to leave, for not trusting you, for not understanding. You forgive him for having less faith than you. Tell him it’s okay. Tell him none of that matters now. Do not kiss him.
  7. Don’t worry when his eyes dart to the empty glass and you watch understanding dawn in their dark depths. It’s too late anyway. By now his hands have begun to tremble as he fights to draw a full breath; he could hardly pull a knife on you, let alone with his usual skill.
  8. Catch him as the first seizure hits and lay him gently on the white carpet. You are not cruel. You chose cyanide for its efficiency, not just because you were loath to ruin good alcohol with a wretched tasting poison. Though cyanide doesn’t offer an easy death, it does offer a swift one. 
  9. When it is done, arrange his crumpled form into a more natural position. He could almost be sleeping, though not even in sleep have you ever seen him so relaxed, so vulnerable. So empty. Kiss his forehead (or if you are very careful, his slack mouth).
  10. Pour yourself a glass of bourbon and relax. Everything is perfect now. You are together and nothing can change that. Nothing can take him from you now. Everything is finally perfect.

#2567

It’s late and you’ve had too much to drink. Daren is a silhouette in the darkness where he stands in front of the tall living room windows, his lean form limned in starlight. The alcohol should ease the tension between you, loosen your tongue at least, yet the minutes stretch on and your muddled mind produces nothing of value. Instead it’s Daren who uncharacteristically breaks the silence first.

“What are we doing?” He turns from the window to face you but you can’t read his expression in the darkness, nor does his low voice betray the meaning behind the question. You fall back on humor to diffuse the tension, your old stand-by, instead of risking a guess. “Right now?” you reply from the couch. “I was just having a nightcap. Well, three. Or four.”

“You know what I mean,” His unseen gaze weighs on you in the darkness, demanding honesty. You two have danced around this topic for months now, never quite touching on it, for your part out of fear of chasing him away. Yet here he is now, in your home, and you can avoid it no longer. “We’re just…” You want to be honest, to be brave, but what if he doesn’t feel the same? You can’t be the one to say it first. “Well, what do you think we’re doing?”

“I don’t know,” There is a hesitation in Daren’s voice you’ve never heard before, an uncertainty that draws out the silence before he continues, “But I’m not myself when I’m with you.” Your heart lurches, starts beating wildly in your chest, your temples, so loudly you’re sure he can hear it from across the room. You have to wet your lips before you manage to respond, and even then your words are strained, breathless. “Then who are you?”

“Someone else,” His figure shifts in the dark. That feeling of weight lifts; he’s no longer looking at you. Maybe he can’t. Your heartbeat is such a cacophony, and Daren’s confession so soft, that you almost miss it completely when he adds, “Someone I could have been, perhaps. In another life.”

“Would it be so bad to be that man with me?” The words tumble out before you can stop them, all pretense abandoned. You have never been good at masking your longing anyway. Daren must know it, too, or at least recognize that desperate hunger in your voice, because he takes a few steps forward and parries your question with one of his own: “What is it you want from me?”

You imagine the slide of silk sheets across hot, sweat-slicked bodies grappling in the dark. Fingers that grip hard enough to leave bruises. A euphoria you can never quite reproduce no matter what combination of drugs and alcohol you try. The possibility that after, when dawn’s just beginning to lighten the sky, the person laying beside you might not leave. But you don’t say any of this. Daren doesn’t want you like that, he couldn’t possibly, and to speak of it might shatter this strange, fragile connection you’ve formed. You can’t risk it. So you smile, though it’s not your best, and reply honestly, “I don’t want anything from you. At least not anything you don’t want to offer freely.”

“And what is it,” Daren takes another step forward, “you hope I’ll offer you freely?” He’s close enough now that you can make out his expression; focused, piercing, as sharp and merciless as that blade he wields with such skill. Only instead of going for the throat, as he favors in paid fights, he seems determined to cut straight to your heart tonight. As usual, his aim is impeccable. “I don’t let myself hope,” you tell the man for whom you have fallen so hard so fast. “I’m not that much of a masochist.”

His hands have wielded deadly blades. His hands have cut throats. His hands are dangerous, quick, cruel, and yet his hands are so gentle when he closes the distance between you, kneels over you on the couch, and draws your mouth up to his. Gentle hands and a brutal kiss that sings through your veins, unlocking every last door you’ve managed to stuff your desire behind. By the time Daren breaks the kiss you’re breathless and desperate for more. “How tragic,” he murmurs as he pulls away, his hands sliding back to tangle in your hair. You could swear there’s a ghost of a smile on his mouth. “Everyone should have a little hope.”

#2563

“She/They”

I am both Notre Dame and the sacred space which fills her vaulted archways.
I am gargoyles and spires and the vibrating silence after the bells have ceased.
I am that which cannot be seen, cannot be touched, cannot be proven;
I am stone, glass, wax.
I am facade and everything it fails to encompass.
I am sanctuary.

#2561

Fever’s got him again, eyes rolling in sunken sockets as he mutters, I never asked you to follow me. Why did you follow me? You were supposed to stay behind, you don’t belong here, you’ve never belonged here. You have no idea what he’s talking about but you rarely do these days; you’re used to this feeling by now, the helpless concern when all you can do is be present with him and make sure those twitching hands don’t reach for anything sharp. I should have commanded you to stay, he hisses, and then his long fingers are fisted in your collar and his gaze is sharp and urgent as it pins you in place. It was my punishment, I never wanted you to follow me down here. Why did you follow me? And then, softer, Don’t you miss it? You have no idea what he’s talking about but you know what your answer would be if you did, so as you gently unclench those deadly, lovely hands you murmur, Of course not, darling. I only ever want to be beside you. I will always follow you. It’s not the answer he wants but he doesn’t argue, the fever’s worn him out. All he does is sink into your arms with a moan and let it pull him under once more.

#2555

Queer Joy (is)

sacred revolution
holy reclamation
defiance of fate and fortitude against death
a communion with those who came before
a covenant with those who come after
a consecration of those who fight and fall beside us

#2543

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.

#2538

Tanim had attended performances of world-renowned ballet companies, private concerts by the greatest sopranos of the last century, exclusive gallery openings featuring rare, priceless paintings, and countless invitation-only galas hosted in some of the most marvelous vacation destinations across the world. He had been raised among opulence and beauty yet he had never seen anything more exquisite than the Ghost’s fights. 

The man moved like the hands of a clock – smooth, practiced, portentous – and when he reached you, your time was up. His speed and skill with a knife remained unmatched by anyone who faced him, even when he fought against multiple opponents, yet what Tanim admired most was his economy of movement. While other fighters wasted time and energy first in posturing, then in wild swings of their fists or flashy kicks, the Ghost remained motionless except when absolutely necessary. Only his dark eyes, expressionless beneath hooded lids framed in pale lashes, moved back and forth as he tracked his opponent’s movements. He dodged attacks with little effort, stepping calmly aside as if the whole thing were a choreographed dance, not a fight to the death. When he grew bored of this and moved in for the kill it was always with one fluid motion that he cut their neck or sliced open an artery.

It seemed a shame the man had to settle for such mediocre opponents, ones who barely tested his skills or offered him any real challenge, not to mention an audience that didn’t fully appreciate those skills and constantly underestimated him. Yet Tanim also recognized that the Ghost belonged more in this illegal fight club held in an abandoned warehouse than he would in an arena surrounded by fans, or even in some private setting with an audience of wealthy elite. Maybe, much like Tanim himself, he didn’t truly fit anywhere.

They had not spoken again since that first night months ago when Tanim had embarrassed himself by asking for the Ghost’s name. After that, he had chosen to simply observe the man each time he was scheduled to fight, hoping both to learn more about him and perhaps earn even a small measure of his respect. Tonight, however, Tanim felt ready to potentially embarrass himself again if it meant taking another step closer to connecting with the Ghost.

After the Ghost finished off his final opponent for the night, Tanim left his customary table and headed for the back door through which the man always exited. They reached it at nearly the same time; the Ghost raised a silver eyebrow when Tanim opened the door for him but proceeded without a word. Tanim followed behind him, grateful to see they were alone in the back alley. It was a clear night, the full moon above casting the alley in stark lines of shadow and light. It limned the Ghost’s sharp jawline as he turned to face Tanim, thin mouth pulled back on one side in a wry expression Tanim found hard to parse.

“Are you here to ask my name again?” The Ghost tilted his head slightly as he asked the question, studying Tanim through narrowed eyes. While he no longer held the small knife he used during his fights, which was slightly comforting, Tanim knew from observation just how quickly it could be back in his hand if desired.

“No, not this time,” Tanim answered with what he hoped came across as a self-deprecatory laugh. “My apologies, I was a brute the last time we spoke. I shouldn’t have been so impolite.” The other man didn’t respond so after a second’s hesitation he forged on. “Actually, I was going to ask if you would, ah… like to go for a drink?” 

If the full moon’s light hadn’t been shining down on them both, Tanim would have completely missed the twitch at that same corner of the Ghost’s mouth. “Drinks?” The man snorted, an unexpectedly human sound. “I suppose there’s no harm in indulging you this one time.” He began to head down the alley, then turned back to Tanim and held out a hand. “The name’s Daren, by the way.” Tanim glanced down to the proffered hand, long fingers still stained with smears of dried blood, and clasped it in his with a grin. “Tanim. Nice to finally meet you.”

“We’ll see about that,” A wry grin flickered over Daren’s face as he turned away.

#2527

Tanim wound his way through the club’s packed floor, skirting small clusters of men avidly discussing the advantages and disadvantages of tonight’s lineup as he headed for one of the standing tables in the back. Something had the crowd especially eager today; the warehouse space already reeked of sweat and alcohol and dozens of separate conversations bounced off the concrete walls in a buzz. “What’s going on tonight?” he asked as he reached the table where Isaac waited. “It’s not usually this busy already.” Tanim flagged down a server and ordered a whiskey as his dealer answered, “There’s a guy on the list tonight who doesn’t fight often. He’s good for business; the amateurs always bet against him because they think he doesn’t look ‘tough enough’ and then those who have seen him fight before rake in the winnings.”

“So he’s a ringer?” Sipping his drink, Tanim watched with disinterest as the center floor cleared for the first fight. While he bet from time to time, and in large enough sums that he remained a favored patron of the club, most of the fights themselves rarely captivated him. Cellar Door might be the best fight club in the city but it was still at its core an underground operation that attracted primarily proponents of the brute force method. Such fights might temporarily satisfy his blood lust but he longed to watch someone with true skill; someone who appreciated the art, not just the money.

“Something like that,” Isaac gave him a knowing smirk. “You should stay for his fight. I think you’ll like it.” He gestured to the envelope sticking out of Tanim’s breast coat pocket. “In the meantime we can complete our business and you can finish your drink.”

By the time the final fight of the night approached the crowd itched for more than blood. Tanim and Isaac were likely the only remaining clientele who weren’t half drunk and either desperate to make up for previous losses or ready to stake it all on one last bet. It was hard to hear anything clearly over the general noise of the crowd but Tanim thought he caught the word ‘ghost’ a number of times as the floor cleared once more. Leaning over to be heard above the din, he asked, “What’s this guy’s name, anyway?” Isaac only shrugged. “Apparently no one knows; the organizer started calling him the Ghost and it stuck. Not much of a talker, I guess. He just shows up, fights a round or two, and leaves.” Tanim couldn’t decide if he found that understandable or egotistic. Or both.

The crowd quieted a bit as the final two fighters stepped into the open space at its center. The first looked much like all the rest had: well-muscled, rough, and with a spark in his eyes that betrayed a delight in cruelty. The other man, however, was nothing like those Tanim had seen fight at Cellar Door. He was tall and thin, pale skin shadowed beneath the sharp angles of his cheekbones and jawline. Despite being close to Tanim’s age, perhaps even a little younger, his short-cropped hair was completely white. What struck Tanim most, though, even from the back of the room, were the man’s eyes. They stared out of sunken shadows, no delineation between the black of the pupils and the black of the irises; a flat, emotionless gaze that seemed completely detached from the surrounding hype. Tanim could see why some might underestimate this so-called Ghost but in the man’s eerie, silent stillness he sensed a far greater capacity for violence.

“He always fights to the death, or so I hear,” Isaac added as they watched the first fighter unsheath a huge Bowie knife. “That’s why he only fights here. None of the other clubs will risk it.” Compared to its six inches of shining blade, the tiny curved knife the Ghost held in the palm of his hand seemed more like a piece of scrap metal than an actual weapon. Tanim bet it was sharp as a scalpel, though, and faster than the big Bowie. “Idiots,” he muttered as many in the crowd laughed at the miniscule blade, including the Ghost’s opponent. Clearly none of them had seen what someone skilled could do with a karambit. Hell, even with a linoleum knife.

The fight began with the usual flexing, posturing, and hurling of insults – another aspect Tanim found distasteful – at least on the side of the Bowie knife’s wielder. The Ghost seemed to have little interest in playing to the crowd or extending the show; he remained resolutely silent, giving nothing away and clearly as far from intimidated by his opponent’s boorish taunting as possible. His obvious boredom seemed only to anger the other fighter into attacking first, a rookie mistake the man must have planned to make up for with sheer strength. Tanim’s mouth twitched in a grim smile.

After a minute or two of idly sidestepping the man’s clumsy slashes and flying fists, the Ghost closed the distance between them with unbelievable speed. The fight concluded in a spray of blood as he neatly cut the other fighter’s throat and let the limp body drop to the cement. As the crowd roared its mix of approval and disbelief, the Ghost leaned down to wipe his knife clean on the dead man’s shirt and walked off to collect his winnings. It had been such a brief encounter, only the most fleeting opportunity to witness true grace and skill, yet Tanim could replay every second of it back with perfect clarity. He had never expected to find someone so ruthless, so beautifully deadly, so-

“Tanim dear, I think you’re drooling,” Isaac grinned and clapped his companion on the shoulder as he donned his coat, shaking him out of his reverie. “I’m out of here; try not to get a knife in your neck when you flirt with him, okay? I’d hate to lose one of my best customers.” Before Tanim could come up with a suitable quip in response, or argue that the Ghost was clearly not a man one simply flirted with, Isaac disappeared into the thinning crowd. 

The white-haired fighter was on his way out as well, heading for one of the back exits to avoid everyone going out the front. Before he could let hesitation freeze him in place, Tanim threw a bill of some sort on the table to cover his drink and hurried to keep up. Beyond the door a long back alley led out to the road, the only source of light a single weak streetlamp down at the far end. Otherwise the heavy clouds above hid what moon or starlight might have illuminated the wet pavement. The Ghost was already halfway down the alley, shoulders hunched against the chill wind.

“Wait!” The word left Tanim’s lips before he had any real plan with which to follow it. The Ghost stopped in his tracks and turned; glow from the streetlight cast his shadow before him, long and thin, and winked off the curved blade still ready in his hand. Tanim tried to read his expression but the man was silhouetted by the light, the sharp planes of his face cast in darkness. 

“It’s your own fault if you lost money on my fight,” Like the knife, the man’s voice was a lovely, dangerous thing. It resonated deep in Tanim’s chest, rich and harsh as bitter coffee. Not a voice used to speaking, that was certain. “It’s not that,” Tanim hurried to explain, fearing the other’s disdain far more than the threat of the blade. He struggled to put into words what had possessed him to follow this violent stranger into the alley but came up uncharacteristically short. “You were phenomenal. Placing a bet on skill like yours, making money on what you did, that would be… sacrilegious.” 

For several agonizing seconds the other man remained silent and Tanim inwardly cursed his impulsivity. Stupid. That had sounded so stupid. When he returned home he would definitely get drunk enough to forget how badly he was embarrassing himself right now. He was half-jokingly considering asking the Ghost to put him out of his misery right then and there when that low, smoky voice finally broke the tension to ask, “Then what do you want?”

“Your name,” This time Tanim did not regret the impulsive words, though they had a certain raw desperation to them that made him wince. Even unable to see the other’s eyes, he could feel the weight of his gaze as the Ghost considered this request. Finally the man gave a derisive snort and pocketed the knife. “Maybe next time,” he replied as he turned away and continued down the alley. 

Tanim found himself grinning like a fool in the chill darkness as he watched the other man walk away. There had been humor in that snort, he would swear his life on it. He could work with that. “Next time,” he repeated under his breath. He would make sure of it.

#2522 – 2021 Book List

This was a good year for reading – or at least better than 2020! I read a total of 73 books, zines, graphic novels, etc. including: 33 with queer characters or by queer authors; at least 24 with POC main characters or by authors of color; 12 poetry collections; and 16 nonfiction books. I even got through most of my physical TBR pile from the beginning of the year, though it’s grown again thanks to holiday gifts. Guess I better get started on my 2022 list! ;)

  1. So Our Idols Are Dead: Empowerment Poems – K.D. Hume
  2. Between Death and the Devil: Tarot Poems – K.D. Hume
  3. Gramarye, a Witch’s Perzine: Issues 1-4 – K.D. Hume
  4. So Happy to See Cherry Blossoms: Haiku from the Year of the Great Earthquake and Tsunami – Ed. Mayuzumi Madoka
  5. She and Her Cat – Makoto Shinkai and Tsubasa Yamaguchi
  6. The Endless Possibilities of Beatrice – Annie Goodyear
  7. Raven Goddess: Going Deeper with the Morrigan – Morgan Daimler
  8. Goddess of the Hunt – Shelby Eileen
  9. Up from the Sea – Leza Lowitz
  10. Tsunami Vs the Fukushima 50: Poems – Lee Ann Roripaugh
  11. Coffee with Orange Sherbet – S.E. Shell
  12. The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota’s Garden – Heather Smith and Rachel Wada
  13. I Survived: The Japanese Tsunami, 2011 – Lauren Tarshis
  14. The Warrior Moon – K. R. Arsenault
  15. Beyond Me – Anne Donwerth-Chikamatsu
  16. Hathor: A Reintroduction to an Ancient Egyptian Goddess – Lesley Jackson
  17. The Guest Cat – Takashi Hiraide
  18. Alanna: The First Adventure (The Lioness Quartet Book 1) – Tamora Pierce
  19. In the Hand of the Goddess (The Lioness Quartet Book 2) – Tamora Pierce
  20. The Guilded Ones – Namina Forna
  21. Cemetery Boys – Aiden Thomas
  22. Educated – Tara Westover
  23. Only the Sea Keeps: Poems of the Tsunami – Ed. Judith Robinson, Joan Bauer, Sankar Roy
  24. The Woman Who Rides Like A Man (The Lioness Quartet Book 3) – Tamora Pierce
  25. How Long Til Black Future Month? – N.K Jemesin
  26. Lioness Rampant (The Lioness Quartet Book 4) – Tamora Pierce
  27. Gramarye, a Witch’s Perzine: Issue 5 – K.D. Hume
  28. Gramarye, a Witch’s Perzine: Issue 6 – K.D. Hume
  29. Gramarye, a Witch’s Perzine: Issue 7 – K.D. Hume
  30. Love Songs for the Sun: Poems – KD Hume
  31. This Precious Life: Buddhist Tsunami Relief and Anti-Nuclear Activism in Post 3.11 Japan – Ed. Jonathan S. Watts
  32. First Test (Protector of the Small Book 1) – Tamora Pierce
  33. Page (Protector of the Small Book 2) – Tamora Pierce
  34. Squire (Protector of the Small Book 3) – Tamora Pierce
  35. Lady Knight (Protector of the Small Book 4) – Tamora Pierce
  36. Valor and the Vain: A Fairytale – K. D. Hume
  37. All Night Long: Haiku, Senryu, and Other Short Poems, and a Haibun on the Great Tohoku Earthquake – Kirby Record
  38. Red Skies: A Creators Response to 2020 – Ed. Rachel Small and Amanda Edwards
  39. The Last Girl Scout – Natalie Ironside
  40. Where the Dead Pause and the Japanese Say Goodbye: A Journey – Marie Mutsuki Mockett
  41. A Constellation of Cats – Ed. Denise Little
  42. Where Shadows Lie (Book One of The Last Gift) – Allegra Pescatore
  43. Find Your Goddess – Skye Alexander
  44. I Sexually Identify As An Attack Helicopter – Isabel Falls
  45. The World that Belongs to Us: An Anthology of Queer Poetry from South Asia – Ed. Aditi Angiras & Akhil Katyal
  46. One Year on T: On Non-binary Sex and Transition – Sage Pantony
  47. 1.5 Years on T: My Non-binary Body, Transition, and Ambivalence – Sage Pantony
  48. Unspeakable: A Queer Gothic Anthology – Ed. Celine Frohn
  49. Coming Off of T: Transition As Cycle – Sage Pantony
  50. Silk and Steel: A Queer Speculative Adventure Anthology – Ed. Janine Southard
  51. Lead and Roses: Love Songs at the End of the World – Natalie Ironside
  52. Full-Rip 9.0: The Next Big Earthquake in the Pacific Northwest – Sandy Doughton
  53. Wild Magic (The Immortals Quartet Book 1) – Tamora Pierce
  54. Wolf-Speaker (The Immortals Quartet Book 2) – Tamora Pierce
  55. The Cruel Sister – KD Hume
  56. Emperor Mage (The Immortals Quartet Book 3) – Tamora Pierce
  57. The Realms of the Gods (The Immortals Quartet Book 4) – Tamora Pierce
  58. Persons of Consequence – KD Hume
  59. Great Goddesses: Life Lessons from Myths and Monsters – Nikita Gill
  60. And the River Flowed As a Raft of Corpses: The Poetry of Yamaguchi Tsutomu, Survivor of Both Hiroshima and Nagasaki – Chad Diehl
  61. Life Everlasting: The Animal Way of Death – Bernd Heinrich
  62. Non-binary: Memoirs of Gender and Identity – Ed. Micah Rajunov, Scott Duane
  63. Who By Water: Reflections of a Tsunami Psychologist – Ronna Kabatznick
  64. The Luminous Dead – Caitlin Starling
  65. From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death – Caitlin Doughty
  66. Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster – Adam Higginbotham
  67. Warning Lines Magazine Issue 2: Echo – Ed. Charlie D’Aniello
  68. Hellebore Issue #1: The Sacrifice Issue – Ed. Maria J Perez Cuervo
  69. Sorrowland: A Novel – Rivers Solomon
  70. Skin of the Sea – Natasha Bowen
  71. Girls of Fate and Fury (Girls of Paper and Fire Book 3) – Natasha Ngan
  72. The Jaguar Princess – Clare Bell
  73. Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster – David Lochbaum and The Union of Concerned Scientists

#2521

maybe he stands on the ledge so often
(just take my hand, darling)
not so you’ll come stop him from jumping
(why don’t you take mine, beloved?)
but so you’ll come give him the opportunity
(his smile a crescent moon)
to push you off
(sharp enough to cut your wrists on)
instead

(what are you afraid of?)

#2516

Tomboy

I was a child who hated dresses yet wore my tangled hair so long it reached the base of my back. I performed in ballet recitals yet despised the makeup they required be plastered on my face. I loved glitter and stuffed animals and motorcycles and wooden swords. I was a princess, but I was one who could rescue herself.

I did not call myself a tomboy, though. The word fit awkwardly in my mouth even then, much like choir dresses and pink tights fit awkwardly on my chubby form. It’s only in adulthood that I understand why I hesitated to claim the label: tomboy implied girl. To be a tomboy meant to be a girl who liked boy things, who was unlike ‘normal’ girls but who still, beneath the mud and the bruises, was a girl. And I was not a girl.

I was frozen pond water. Freshly mown grass. Coyotes howling in the night. I was wild blackberries and ripe apples and library books, wood smoke and Play-Doh and agates. I was thousands of memories and sensations squashed into the jelly bean-shaped body of a human child. They might have been consolidated under a given name and assigned gender but they never truly united into one concept. Yet what child worries about such things when they’re tromping through wetlands or howling at the moon? 

I’ve since shed the last of the dresses and most of my hair, and with them all the labels I once accepted (albeit with resignation) as my default. Replacing them with nothing has left me freer than since I was that blissfully unaware child. Besides, I am still her, still mushrooms and noisy crows and pressed pennies; we just understand us better now.

#2512

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.

#2510

I dream.

Though I cannot hear the violin’s soaring notes, I feel their vibrations shiver outward from the union of string and bow, through my long fingers, and down my flying arms. From my place on the small stage I can see other musicians arranged to my right and left, actors before us haloed under the spotlights, and beyond them the darkness where a rapt audience watches us all. The actors are dressed in clothing from a dozen different time periods across American history: rough colonial homespun, stiff Victorian lace, spiked leather jackets; frock coats and beaded flapper dresses and sequined disco jumpsuits. However, what they all have in common is their heritage. This play requires an entirely African American cast, and specifically one with a diverse range of genders. 

The music swells as the actors waltz together in pairs, one masculine presenting and one feminine presenting to each. They turn in ever faster circles while we pick up speed, costumes swirling, movements erratic, until our instruments come to a cacophonous crescendo and then a jarring halt. The theater goes totally dark for several long seconds. When milky spotlights come back on the actors are standing in their pairs beneath them. The femme of each pair now has streaks of gray powder in their hair and white makeup on one half of their face; they look like ghosts, or dead bodies. The transformation is meant to highlight the intimate partner violence committed mainly against women/femmes in the African American (especially queer) community due to the legacies of colonialism, slavery, and racism. 

The music picks up again, a mournful dirge, and a much slower, sorrowful dance begins. I do not take part in playing this time, just watch the dancers from my vantage point at the back of the stage. The actors begin singing the final song of the show, a haunting coda about restless spirits and breaking generational cycles of pain and grief. The chorus is a swell of voices chanting, “Now I know what I have to do” and “Give my spirit voice”. I recognize the message meant for me and begin to sing along, only I sing, “Give YOUR spirit voice” like a prayer and promise both. As I do, some of the ghostly actors turn into true spirits, their bodies and clothes taking on a shimmering bluish hue. They rush toward me and one reaches out, gripping my hands in her strong, cold grip. I see her so clearly in this moment that I would know her anywhere. She could be Octavia Spencer’s twin; dark skin, a round face framed by loose black curls, full lips open as if in a wail of grief. Our gazes lock, her wide eyes full of urgency, and I instinctively flinch away from the pain in them.

As I do, I jerk awake with a cry in a dim, unfamiliar location. I seem to be laying on cold cement in the entrance hall of a huge building, perhaps an abandoned school or hospital. Ice crystals dust my clothes and the hard floor around me. My wife is nearby and she comes running at my cry to help me sit up. She’s talking to someone outside my field of vision; I get the sense we’re here as a paranormal team. I think I had been attempting to communicate with the spirits here and what I just broke out of was some sort of medium’s trance. 

And then I wake up for real, heart hammering in the 3 AM darkness, and think, I hear you, spirits. I will give you a voice. I will tell your stories.

#2497

Bring your queer loneliness to Bast;
She will take you in Her arms
and claim you as Her own.
Bring your queer shame to Hathor;
She will dance with you in nightclubs
and march with you in parades.
Bring your queer rage to Set;
He will guard your back
as the bricks and tear gas start flying.
Bring your queer grief to Wepwawet;
He will teach you how to carry your dead
without breaking beneath their weight.
Bring your queer love to the Netjeru;
They will embrace you, uplift you, protect you
and you will never walk alone again.

#2493

An Unexpected Meeting

A week or two ago I took advantage of an offer from Aleja of Serendipities to test a new cartomancy spread intended to facilitate communication between clients and the dead. I’ve had an altar to the Beloved Dead for about six months now, and I invite many kinds of benevolent dead to take part in my offerings, so I was eager to see who or what might initiate contact. While I’m good at connecting with gods, my experience with spirits, human or otherwise, is really low.

The entity who reached out identified herself through a card called “Celebration” (Aleja was using the Vintage Wisdom oracle deck, which is just lovely) and agreed this moniker can be used for her until her true name is revealed. Through a combination of cartomancy and the use of a yes/no coin Aleja was able to determine that Celebration is not a blood ancestor of mine but a queer ancestor! I was super excited to hear this because when I reach out to ancestors I always include those “with whom I share identity” (versus blood) and specifically call out to queer, pagan, witch, and chronically ill/mentally ill spirits. Having one reach back and identify themselves as an ancestor provided validation I hadn’t realized I craved; now I know my words are being heard and are considered respectful enough to be reciprocated.

Celebration further indicated that she is proud of the work I’ve been doing to release things that no longer work for me and to stay true to myself. She can also help me with surrendering to the flow of things (something I’m very bad at) to reduce obstacles and minor mishaps in my life. She wants to spend more time with me, and one way I can connect better with her is by standing in my power. When asked if there was anything else she wanted to say, she said we have a lot in common and that’s how she found me – the card she used for this was called “kindred spirits”. 

I asked a few follow-up questions but didn’t want to press too much, as it seemed like the connection was a little tenuous. Aleja shared that Celebration’s energy was somewhat femme, appearance is important to her, and that she’s a bit like a wine aunt who’s secretly a mother hen. The connection wasn’t strong enough to get a great visual image, but Celebration is perhaps from the late 60s or early 70s. (I’ll add a note here that I thought I got a feeling that she might be African or African American but this could just be because her vibe reminded me of Hathor, so I’m taking that with a big grain of salt for now.)

Moving forward, I’m going to try connecting with Celebration using my own oracle deck. She seems hesitant about divination and my particular oracle deck is probably easier to understand than a tarot deck. I’m also going to use a yes/no coin and will maybe try a pendulum, though I’ve never had luck with those myself. Hopefully between offerings and some quality time, she and I will be able to find a communication method that works for her.

[ I found Aleja’s reading to be extremely informative, as have some past readings she’s done for me, so I highly recommend her services! ]

#2492

Look, I’m just the pilot; I don’t have any control over what meatsuit I was assigned. I didn’t get to pick the make or model or color or any of that, I just operate the damn thing. It’s a machine, you know? And this one came off the factory floor full of design flaws and defects so it requires even more work than some others to keep it functioning. I try my best to maintain all the parts, I even call in a mechanic when a task’s above my skill level, but I didn’t choose this 24/7 job and I’m really not that attached to it. The meatsuit doesn’t define me. I don’t identify with any of its individual components or the composite whole. I’m the operator, separate from that which is operated. Try to remember that when you look at me; I’m stuck inside this unit but that doesn’t mean you should judge me by its appearance. After all, what am I supposed to do – trade it in for a new one?

#2489

You cannibalize everything on Earth I value
so I cannibalize everything in myself you value.
You devour trees, swallow rivers
I abolish gender, rescind sexuality.
You consume precious resources
I deny you obedience.
You make the world
unsafe//unwelcome//unkind
so I make myself
unavailable//undesirable//unforgiving.
If you leave me nothing
I will give you nothing.
See? I can be a ravenous beast as well
but I won’t be the one that starves first.

#2488

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.

#2476

The wolf managed to ignore its hunger the first night but tonight it’s ravenous, so desperate for the taste of fresh meat that when it catches the scent of blood on the wind it eagerly tracks the smell through rainy back alleys and dark city streets. It’s new to the hunt but knows enough to stick to the shadows while it discerns the metallic odor beneath layers of gasoline, cigarette smoke, and exhaust. It reaches the source, a pool of fresh blood at the end of a narrow alleyway, just as a body slumps to the wet pavement. 

“Oh. Hello there, lovely beast,” The pale man who stands over the discarded body licks blood from his fingers as he eyes the wolf. Its hackles rise under his flat black stare, growl rumbling out from between bared teeth – no human would dare hold a predator’s gaze so boldly. Instead of shrinking in fear the man smiles, revealing sharp canine teeth. “Aren’t you a fine one with your black fur and blazing blue eyes? Very scary.” He took a step back, gesturing with one hand to the still body. “You look hungry, though. I’m done here if you’d like the rest.”

The wolf hesitates, trying to decipher any lies through the man’s body language, to sift through his strangely indefinable scent for some hint of ulterior motive. Finding none, when the man backs up another step the wolf chooses hunger over wariness and falls upon the body, tearing into the still warm meat with relish. The stranger has disappeared by the time its hunger is finally sated.

Tanim tips his head up, surreptitiously scenting the chill evening air. This basement level apartment seems to be the place, though its unlabelled door and tightly shuttered windows certainly don’t suggest recent occupancy. His new senses haven’t failed him yet, however, so he knocks anyway. After a long moment the door cracks open and familiar dark eyes stare back at him out of a narrow, pale face. Tanim wets his lips; that hard gaze is just as inscrutable up close as it was the night before.

“Hey, I didn’t get a chance to thank you for dinner,” He holds up the bottle of obscenely expensive liquor held in his other hand and offers a tentative smile. “I thought maybe I could pay you back? My name’s Tanim.” 

Those dark eyes bore into him a few agonizing seconds longer before one side of the stranger’s thin mouth lifts in the shadow of a wry smile. He opens the door wider, stepping aside and gesturing for Tanim to enter. “Daren,” he replies. “Come on in.”

#2474

Sometimes it really is this simple: a pile of tangled blankets on the floor, his arm laid across your chest, pale morning light filtering through the half closed curtains. See how gently the dawn limns his strong hands and washes over a brow smoothed by restful sleep. Even you who love to ruin good things are loath to break this fleeting peace and so you lay still, your only movement the slow gliding of your fingers through his sable hair. There will be time later to dwell on the past, to dread the future, to define yourselves by mistakes instead of the good intentions with which they were made. In this finite fragment of your infinite existence you are simply two men, together and in love, and it is enough. May it last.

#2466

I am as much a woman as the unicorn was, imprisoned in a fragile little cage of moon-white flesh she felt rotting around her every second, the last untamed wild thing turned meek and helpless with her dainty woman fingers and her pale brow smooth over wide doe’s eyes, no gleaming horn sharp enough to cut the night, only a face made for poetry and princes, and perhaps I too would choose to throw myself into the foaming ocean or let the bull’s flames roast me to ashes over the slow descent from madness to apathy of the erratic mortal mind subsuming the immortal’s vast complexity into its narrow tedium. Tell me, magic, what is safety over freedom?

#2464

“Ancestors”

you who were judged and found wanting
for whom and how you loved
for what you believed and why
I claim you as my own

you who were cast out unfairly
for the state of your body or how you embraced it
for refusing to keep silent or to yield your power
I claim you as my own

you who were forgotten by history
for not fitting your oppressors’ narrative
for being an inconvenient and incontrovertible truth
I claim you as my own