You claim to be the daughters of the witches they could not burn. Fine. Then we are the children of the ones they drowned, witch and falsely accused alike, weighed down with rope and stone and iron chains. The waves of brackish lake water and briny ocean which filled their lungs at the final gasp now lap at the backs of our throats, leaving crusts of dried minerals to grind between our bared teeth. Denied eternal rest, our dead progenitors float in our sepulcher sternums and drive us ever onward with their wailing and thrashing, demanding retribution. You whose ancestors died in comfortable beds and were buried in respectable churchyards, you who breathe easy through cinderless lungs, unhaunted, uninhabited, what could you possibly know of a witch hunt’s inheritance?
Tag Archives: mental health
Researching online degree programs like
which one of these offers a master’s in
longing like a gravity well
grief like a supercell
heart like a lodestone spinning circles
the compass needle that never stops moving
the pendulum swinging yes/no yes/no yes/no
I’m done. It’s time.
Call the priest.
Tell him I am a house choked by ghosts
that they fill every room and I cannot be rid of them
no matter my gnashing and wailing.
Tell him I will gladly submit
to the oil and incense
the psalms and holy water
if he can empty me once more.
If he cannot:
burn me down.
it is not enough to smell the petrichor
I must plunge my limbs into the damp earth
I must dig and writhe until black dirt coats my skin
I must chew the moldering bones of dead creatures
and grind their mineral shards between my teeth
Kneeling in the compost dirt of my future grave, I watch the decomposers at their work and weep with love and awe and fear. Rodents and birds, beetles and fungi and tiny ants who lift a thousand times their own weight – I watch them carry off bits of decaying vegetable peels and nibble discarded fruit and I weep. It’s just so beautiful, this ancient web of connection and symbiosis. Beautiful and fragile.
I am immensely afraid all the time. Afraid I am living through the last era of life on Earth, that I will witness the extinction of all these strange, lovely little creatures who hold our world together. Afraid things will only get worse from here, year after year until every nightmare scenario becomes reality. Afraid I am ultimately helpless to protect even just the ones I love from this mounting apocalypse, let alone rodents and birds and tiny, intrepid ants.
When I die and they cover me over with the dirt of this planet that birthed and raised me, will the decomposers be here to break my flesh back down to its base components? Will there be fungi left to weave their filaments around my bones and clothe me once more in their fruit? Or will it be too late to nurture my fellow organisms, to finally be part of the giving and not just the taking? Is it too late? Am I too late? Are we?
I dreamed an impossibility. An alternate reality. A universe in which you were not gods, not angels, not forces beyond comprehension imprisoned in mortal forms and doomed to replay the same brutal endings over and over again. You were just two men, your souls exactly as young as your bodies, no past lives haunting the spirals of your DNA, and you were… happy.
It feels blasphemous to even speak of such a thing but if I don’t record it now I’ll think it never happened. I saw just one scene, after all, one fleeting moment plucked from this dream that could never be. You sat leaning against each other, completely relaxed, laughing at some joke or amusing story. You were so carefree, so comfortable in each other’s presence. Even more unbelievable, though, was the fact that you weren’t alone. You sat amidst a group of other young adults, a mixed gathering indeed but all obviously queer and on the radical end of progressive with their talk of philosophy and social justice. The joy and passion in the room were palpable. These people weren’t hangers-on or sycophants or worshippers; they were your friends.
Blasphemous, I know. Try as I might, I can’t summon even a whisper of a fragment in which such a scene might make sense, except perhaps to serve as a symbol of what beautiful normality you were both denied. Yet even that feels like a stretch, like I’m not meant to commit it to words at all. Maybe I wasn’t even supposed to see it in the first place. But I did. I glimpsed some version of you that was completely whole, completely free, and I won’t forget that. I promise.
“You picked a shitty scribe,” I tell the Nameless, who shrugs as she licks starblood off her long talons and replies, What do I care? It’s all dust to dust to dust. The greatest works of literature and grandest monuments of mankind will still yield to entropy. I can’t tell if this is meant to be dismissive, comforting, threatening, or none of the above, but I find myself somehow buoyed by her words anyway. It’s oddly calming to know Shakespeare and myself share equal anonymity in the far future where all has turned to dust. Atoms are atoms. The Nameless gestures flippantly. You all unravel in the end.
Choosing which fork in the river to follow has never challenged me. I know who and what I am meant to be, what I am meant to do, where I am meant to go. I do not fear the bends and loops in the river’s path, nor even the rapids and little waterfalls. What challenges me are the artificial obstacles placed in the river: the boulders, the dams, the pollution and infrastructure poisoning the river’s clear waters and turning its natural course into a dangerous maze. How can I make choices based on what is best for me when the future is so uncertain? How can my heart run wild along its course if the way is so often barred? Not even our souls remain untouched wildland when society is so steeped in cruelty and greed.
Are you not tired of fighting? Are you not tired of shouldering that white-knight armor and striding into battle alone, sword held aloft, with no one to guard your back? With no one to carry your corpse from the field? There is only so much war in your veins, soldier. There are only so many victories you can wrest from the jaws of defeat. Do not answer that clarion call again; if you go you will never return. All that was won will be lost. Is that what you want, to throw your hard-earned peace away on one last mad gamble? You must know that even if you succeed, it will not be the last time they come begging for your aid. It never is. When you fight other’s wars you only teach them to start more.
Incorporeality will be the death of me. I have submerged myself in your world as much as I can – for twenty-one years, for seven thousand, six hundred, and seventy days, for tens of thousands of hours – but it is never enough. No matter how long I drown myself in your most potent memories, how deep I dive into your most painful emotions, somehow I always find myself back at the surface once more. No matter how vividly I can imagine you, it is not the same as truly standing in the room with you. To cup your face in my hands, to watch the grief and anger war in your eyes, to hear the tremble in your voice. Tens of thousands of hours and yet I have never touched you. Two thirds of my life and yet I cannot numb myself to the agony of empty arms and ringing silence. My imagination is powerful but even it cannot replace the way your hands grip hard enough to leave bruises and knowing I will never experience that sensation is unbearable. Yet here I am, twenty-one years later, bearing it because there is no alternative.
my body is a nuclear reactor in which I alchemize grief into rage // shedding as hazardous byproducts unstable atoms of // anxiety, compulsion, paranoia // which I store away deep in my belly where they // cannot leak out and harm innocent bystanders // or worse yet, embarrass me // but such transformation requires a complex and delicate machine // and I am only one person // the lights in the monitoring panels start to blink and // I am only one person // the alarms on the walls start to shrill and // I am only one person // an explosion rocks my core and as everything goes dark I am // only one person
The Morrigan once showed me the landscape of my soul: lush fields and verdant woodlands crisscrossed by fences of wood and stone, unnatural boundaries where no demarcation should be. See how you have let others lay claim to your sovereignty? She said. See how your freedom has been divided up among them like plots of land after a conquest? And I did see. I never chose to parcel out my soul, I certainly never handed out deeds, yet neither did I retaliate when colonizers encroached. I merely shied away, yielding ground to avoid confrontation. Now I’ve barely any land left on which to make my stand. If you will not fight to reclaim your soul, the Morrigan warned, you will remain a puppet of others’ whims and desires for the rest of your life.
The war is bloody and exhausting. It’s dragged on for years with what feels to me like little progress. Yet when I falter, when I’m battleworn and losing ground, the Morrigan reminds me of how far I’ve come. Every clump of grass won back is precious, She says as She shows me that landscape again. Every inch of soil. Every rock. You will have it all back in time if you keep fighting. In this way wars are won. And so I keep fighting. I keep standing up for myself. I keep setting boundaries. Under the Morrigan’s stern guidance I keep winning back control over the land of my soul – inch by inch.
Look, I get it – I’m forgettable. It’s okay, really, it’s not like I’m trying to be memorable. I want the words to stick in your mind, not the person who recorded them. It’s just that these days if you want to sell something you create you have to sell yourself first. You gotta put yourself on display and win the masses’ affections before you win their interest. I don’t want to do that, though. I’m not a priestess dripping gold, I’m not an oracle tripping holiness, I’m just a scribe. I preserve; I don’t proclaim. I witness; I don’t wield authority. I was never meant for pomp and pageantry, that’s why I’m a scribe to the gods. Yet how else do I get people to listen to my words? I don’t need to be memorable, I don’t even need to be likable, but I need you to read my words. I need you to remember they exist if nothing else. So what do I have to do when the words aren’t enough to earn reader loyalty? Do I have to offer a pound of flesh along with them? An ounce of soul? Do I have to put on a pretty mask and play a part that isn’t mine just to get you to care about the words coming out its painted mouth?
Some rush into revenge, eager to mete out penance and collect their triumph, yet it’s important to learn all you can about your enemy first. You must observe his habits and patterns closely, not just to discover hidden flaws in his defenses but to best craft the manner of your vengeance. Though bloodshed has its merits, of course, not all retribution need be taken through steel and storm with death as the end goal. After all, the dead cannot suffer. The dead cannot experience shame or guilt or fear. Once you kill someone he is beyond the reach of your machinations. Why set him free so quickly?
No, once you have observed your enemy long enough you may come to realize that the best punishment is to simply leave him to his own devices. You may recognize what a lonely, craven worm he truly is, someone for whom death is a mercy or a martyrdom. Your grand efforts of elaborate revenge are quite frankly wasted on such a pathetic creature. All you really need to do is sit back and watch as he damns himself with his own choices over and over again, his remaining stock of allies dwindling until he is utterly alone. And that is how you leave your enemy – to waste his final years in the gutter, impotent and bitter, with no one to feed his lies or sorrows. There may be less blood that way but the prolonged suffering is well worth the trade-off, I assure you.
Anger is a gift, Inanna tells me. It keeps you moving when you want to give up. It keeps you fighting on the battlefield. It keeps you demanding better for yourself when everyone tells you to accept their scraps. Her rep lips peel back in a sneer to show sharp white canines. Your anger is a threat to them; that is why they try to take it from you. They trick you into feeling ashamed of it, or guilty for it. They call you selfish, arrogant, petulant. They dismiss you as a child and condemn you as a monster. I imagine the men who slandered Her priestesses as harlots, who twisted Her myths, who destroyed Her temples and named Her Whore of Babylon. Yet still Inanna persists, over five thousand years later, as powerful today as She was when She ruled an entire civilization. They will spout any lie to rob you of your righteous anger, She says, pressing one pointed nail to my chest, because they know they will fall before it like wheat before a scythe. Hold tight to your anger, child. Do not let it be taken from you, or turned back on you, or redirected to another more vulnerable. Your enemies are cowards who prefer the deceit of silver tongues to the honesty of steel swords. Believe nothing they say. Trust your anger to guide you rightly. Then She smiles, a grin full of hunger and destruction. And trust mine.
Imagine you are born to run with a pack
yet there is no other like you in all the universes.
Imagine you are born to sing songs with your kin
yet they muzzle you with a sword through your mouth.
Imagine you are born to run, the hunt burning in your veins
yet they bind your legs with unbreakable bonds.
Perhaps this is what they meant
when they said you were born this way:
that you were destined to become a monster
because they never intended any other option for you.
what a pink-fleshed thing I am
all soft meat and squinting eyes
flinching at every sudden sound
out in the world I am horribly exposed
clothes offer no comfort from others’ perception
buildings no shelter from the world’s ugliness
only in my home biome am I safe
armored by evergreens and blackberries
secure in my shelter of seawater and songbirds
yet as glaciers melt and wildfires rage
and every day the chainsaws close in
I feel the cracks in my shell spreading
Gunfire in my dreams, and beyond the canvas tent flaps a humid jungle landscape I will never visit but perhaps lives in me somewhere as ancestral memory. Inside I see my father as a young man, clean shaven and handsome as a movie star. A doctor is telling him his blood pressure is too high and that he’s being honorably discharged. What they can’t say, because they don’t yet understand this phenomenon, is that it’s caused by PTSD. He must have been so ashamed, I say. It’s not bullet wounds, or an amputated limb. Not something visible at all. Our eyes meet and all I can think is how young he looks. Or maybe he was relieved.
the beast inside me isn’t dumb
it smells the burning, it knows
its forest home has been razed
and that you come for it next
at night the coyotes come creeping back
howl up the fresh ghosts of felled trees
from my bed I scream with them
Acute pain is a problem of the present but chronic pain is a problem of the future. If I go to this event, will the length of time give me a headache? Or the human interaction? The bad weather? What about the lack of accessible bathrooms or the food provided, will it give me a stomach ache? Will the physical exertion trigger my carpal tunnel syndrome? Will I be in so much pain that I want to go home early but can’t? And if so, will the pain be worth it or will I be too miserable to appreciate the experience? If I bail, though, will everyone be mad at me? Will I be a disappointment? Every future event and upcoming activity triggers the anxiety loop again: fear shame guilt, fear shame guilt, fear shame guilt, an endless repetition of dread for the future. And what does the anxiety even solve? Does the prevention of future pain guarantee an end to the pain? Unlikely. Does it even guarantee a lack of pain on the day of the missed event? Of course not. So what’s the point? Fear shame guilt. Fear shame guilt. Fear shame guilt. It solves nothing but you can’t break free.
There is a woman named Margaret. Years ago she was young, first the silky pastels of spring and then the bright jewel tones of summer. She is not young now, though, for the years of her prime are far in the past. Autumn laid hold of her for a time and she was the burning oranges and reds of its passion. Then winter came, muted blues and the white and black of bare birch trees, and Paul died.
When the flowers on the doorstep stopped arriving, and neighbors stopped dropping off lovingly prepared home-cooked meals, and the doorbell heralding another kind visitor finally fell silent for good, Margaret joined a group. There was a faded flier tacked to the supermarket bulletin board and she tore off one of the little slips on its edge that listed a date, time, and place. Tuesdays, six o’clock. Snacks will be provided.
It was a nice enough group at the start. Paul had been gone four months and in the group a man’s wife had been gone for two, a mother’s young child for three, another husband for five. Others, like Margaret, bore fresher wounds. On Tuesday evenings for exactly one hour the gathered mourners talked as they sipped instant apple cider and grainy hot chocolate from small Styrofoam cups. Winter passed like this, dreary and indistinct, and Margaret tried not to count the days.
Spring came, then. The group grew smaller. Some healed, as much as one can heal after a loss; enough, at least, to let them go back to their singular lives and move on from the group. Some just stopped coming, unable to face another’s grief head on when it stirred up their own. There was always Margaret, though, with her cup of hot chocolate or burnt coffee. Dependable, punctual Margaret.
The fleeting months of spring and summer passed, bringing autumn, bringing winter. The group changed. The old ones were gone. New ones with new stories, new tragedies, came to spill a little grief from their overflowing hearts. Margaret listened; she was good at listening. Spring. Summer. Fall. Winter. A husband gone two months. A wife gone three weeks. A trio of children, gone in an instant. Paul gone forever. Spring. Summer. Fall. Winter. She watched them come and go with the leaves.
There is a woman named Margaret. Years ago she was young but it’s hard to remember those days, the memories worn smooth by the river of time. The brokenhearted come and go, seeking comfort, giving solace. Margaret stays, finding neither. Tuesdays, six o’clock, snacks will be provided. And always there is Margaret.
At night I’m visited by the three Ghosts of Friendship. The Ghost of Friendship Past arrives first in a form I know well, a friend whose absence remains an unhealed wound which aches most on long, textless weekends. Friendship Past brings me bittersweet dreams where we are best friends once more, no awkwardness or years of unexplained silences between us to dampen the laughter. I wake wondering what happened, why and where it all went wrong. Was I found lacking in some way?
The Ghost of Friendship Present shows up next, cycling through the guises of current friends who seem to be slipping through my clenched hands like fine sand. They spirit me from my bed to deliver us to parties where I’m not acknowledged, game nights where my presence is needed only to fill in for someone absent, group events where I am at best the tolerated tag-along. I wake angry at slights that never actually happened.
Finally the Ghost of Friendship Future appears, taking the form of someone who doesn’t even exist. It’s a face I know well, though; I’ve been watching the show for months, start to finish and back again, out of jealousy or perhaps just yearning. I confide in him that I wish his study group could be my friends as well; I don’t have a gang of my own anymore and I fear I never will again. Maybe fictional friend groups are all my future holds.
Unlike Scrooge, when I wake from this third and final visitation to a new dawn I do so without any real lessons imparted, no resolutions burning in my chest. Either the Ghosts of Friendship aren’t interested in redemption arcs or I’m not worth the effort. When they return the next night it’s just more of the same and I’m left to face the morning weighted Marley-style by chains I won’t acknowledge.
It was easier, ultimately
(than the knife and the heart)
to pick, pick, pick
at her flawless skin
(the forest and the hunter)
until it bled and scarred
bled and scarred
(the apple and the coffin)
and the mirror simply
stopped saying her name.
Every caged animal eventually goes mad. Desperate yet unable to escape, it starts burrowing inward, ripping out tufts of hair, chewing through its own flesh and bone as if freedom waits within. Was it so with you, o Great Wolf? Restrained by magic and betrayal, did captivity eventually warp your clever mind into wrath-fueled madness? Did your teeth like crescent moons tear chunks of meat from your bones in vain attempt to loosen those impossible bonds? A wolf must run free but Gleipnir leashed you to the earth like a common backyard mutt. A wolf must hunt and howl but the sword driven through your muzzle hindered you from sating your hunger or crying out your agony and loneliness. Whether you would have always grown from trusting pup to crazed, feral beast can hardly matter when your captivity made you one regardless. Yet what else did the gods expect when they imprisoned you? Every caged animal eventually goes mad and if given the chance to turn bloody jaws from gnawing its own flesh to rend the flesh of its captors, well… who can blame it for leaping at the opportunity?
sometimes I am the bowl
sometimes I am its absence
and sometimes I am venom
poured in secret upon visceral chains
hastening Ragnarok’s approach
Can I tell you a secret?
(Of course I can; I’m a writer.)
Sometimes when the hostile dead come
whispering their insidious lies
encroaching on my dreams
testing the limits of my strength
(and my stupidity)
I’m honestly just grateful
someone sought me out.
A childhood friend’s mother, dead from cancer since we were teenagers, smiles at me from the front door of an unfamiliar house. “It’s good to see you,” she says. “You’ve let go of all your protective camouflage from back then, especially that fake hair.” With the clarity that comes in dreams I understand she refers to things I did subconsciously as a child to protect myself from a wrath I often saw unleashed upon others. “Yeah, well…” I scuff my shoe on the gravel drive and flash her a wry smile. “Turns out there was a lot about my life back then that was fake.”
My eating disorder can’t hook me through conventional methods so instead it tries to get me through you. I don’t care about having a beach ready body but the possibility of getting this useless meatsuit even the least bit closer to looking like yours? Of being an adequate-enough vessel that you might consider inhabiting me, even if only for a moment, for an hour? Oh, that’s tempting. That’s an offer I find hard to refuse. My logical brain knows such a goal is impossible for my body – it will never be good enough for you, no matter how I cut and carve it down – but the disorder whispers from where it’s chained in the depths of my subconscious that maybe, just maybe, we can make it happen together. We should at least give it a shot, it purrs to me. Right?
I’m in that zone of total exhaustion and no fucks left to give, moon and planets dragging on my subconscious, I feel the slipping the fading the floating out of time and body that untethering of action from consequence that leaves me bold and dizzy swaying on the threshold yelling, Where are you, huh? Why the hiding? Why the silence? That’s not like you, boys, come on now! I’m calling Loki, Satan, Lucifer, Set, I’m calling Death and Desire, the fallen, the forgotten, I’m calling you up, I’m calling you out, Where are you? Come fucking get me, I’m fucking ready, you don’t scare me! and I know it’s a bad idea, you’ve burned me before for boldness, but I’ve always been that person who needs to touch something hot just to know what it feels like, I just gotta know for myself exactly how it’ll hurt and every time you burn me I learn something new from the pain and it makes all the scars worthwhile.