In the wake of wind and waves, only grief remains. Old debts and grudges washed away with the bodies and now a community baptized by storm surge must unite in the aftermath or fall apart. Those who cling to dreams of revenge bloody their fists on cinder blocks while the rest of the survivors re-knit the bonds of kinship with ropes of braided tears. In basements and parking garages the film of mud remembers the wails of those trapped by rising floodwaters, but slowly brooms and mops reclaim what the hurricane would make a cemetery.
The red grains of sand remember a time when they were still cliffs being worn slowly away by the winding river, and because the rivers are hers so the sands are hers. The monoliths remember a time when the waves of a vast inland sea gently deposited the rich sediments from which they were born, and because the seas are hers so the monoliths are hers. There are no wolves here but there are bony coyotes with their lolling tongues and clever grins, and so the coyotes are hers. There are no crows here but there are turkey vultures hunched in their fine black drapery and drifting high on invisible thermals, and so the turkey vultures are hers. This land is not the ancestral home of her people but her children are here and so she is as well: in the golden moon hanging low over dry creek beds, in the coiled curves of the waiting serpent, in the beautiful cacti with their long, deadly spines. And she is in the first rains of autumn which bring vital nourishment and a reprieve, however brief, from the daily struggle to survive.
“In the hand of the goddess”
Divine and mortal
Fingers entwined, dark through light
Mother and daughter
In my dream I stand at the edge of a tall cliff overlooking a vast desert, the waves of golden dunes fading on the horizon into darkness as if this desert marks the edge of existence. Two falcons take wing into the cloudless blue sky before me, followed by two more, then a dozen, a hundred, the beating of their wings filling the sky. One passes by wearing the double crown of Egypt – Horus, Lord of the Sky. Behind the flock of falcons follows a massive shallow-bottomed vessel shining with gold and jewels. This must be the Mandjet, the “Boat of Millions of Years” Ra uses to travel across the sky during the day. On the solar barque’s long deck I see an array of kemetic gods, including Hathor, Ra himself, and Set, all hundreds of feet tall and limned in sacred light. I search for my mother among them but don’t see her.
“We are living gods,” an accented voice I am beginning to know well explains over my shoulder. “We die fighting.” I turn to see Bast standing behind me, a proud smile tilting up her full lips and dancing in her dark eyes. As she continues to speak I look back to where the grand procession moves from east to west across the cerulean sky, banners waving in the breeze of its passing, a more glorious sight than any I have seen in dreaming or waking. When it reaches the far horizon and Ra proceeds into the underworld for the night, the gods will battle against chaos to ensure the sun rises on another day. Every night they fight so we might see the morning and have done so since the world was first created. My mother is right; these are the actions of living, breathing gods, not myths from an ancient and defunct religion.
Me: Okay, five gods is definitely the most I should be worshiping at one time. Any more would just be too much.
Yes, that’s right, it’s time for another installment of “guess who has a new god in their life?” and of course it’s meeeeeee. And, perhaps equally unsurprising, she is another lioness goddess and Eye of Ra – his firstborn daughter Tefnut, goddess of moisture and twin sister to Shu, god of air. Instead of coming to me in a dream like most of my gods have done, Tefnut followed Wepwawet’s method of planting herself directly in my brain. Like, I don’t know how else to describe it; a couple of weeks ago I just started saying “Dua Tefnut” whenever it was cloudy or rainy, or praying to her during the heat waves when we needed any moisture to help relieve the dryness. While that’s not too odd in and of itself – I often say blessings of safety to rabbits in Wenut’s name, for example – the suddenness of it seemed significant.
That was just the tip of the iceberg, though. A couple times in the last months I’ve found myself walking in a sudden rain and instead of being flinchy like usual, I was actually quite happy. Then I had a dream in which I desperately wanted to be in the water. I was on vacation or something and I just had this overwhelming need to be in the pool or in the ocean or whatever body of water was nearest. It felt so calming, so comforting, to have the cool pressure of the water all around me. I couldn’t totally shake that feeling when I woke up and since then I’ve yearned to swim somewhere, anywhere, to feel weightless and free yet also cradled and safe. It almost feels like my brain is on fire and I need to dive underwater to cool it down. At the same time I found myself obsessed with the stone larimar. It’s a light blue form of pectolite from the Dominican Republic that, especially when polished, looks like brilliant Caribbean waters captured mid-ripple. I don’t wear blue much, or anything with which I might match a light blue stone, but overnight I suddenly had to have a piece of larimar jewelry. Even just looking at pictures of larimar seems to cool that inner fire.
I suspected Tefnut might be behind these experiences and so I commenced my usual pattern when it feels like a new god has shown up in my life: research, reaching out to folks who actively worship them, looking at art and other things about them to see if I get the “vibes”, that sort of thing. It all seemed to align so I took a leap of faith and bought a statue for her, even though I hadn’t reached out to her formally to confirm the connection. I saw the statue at our local metaphysical store and just knew I had to have it for her. When I got the chance to add it to my Netjeru altar and give Tefnut her own space there, she fit so well and it felt so right that I knew I’d read the signs correctly. A follow-up oracle card reading just confirmed that.
So here we go! Another Netjer has come into my life and seems to have big plans for me (no pressure, haha…. ha). I’m really excited to work with Tefnut, especially given that I live in the Pacific Northwest where we are blessed with abundant water sources and therefore water plays such an important role in our ecosystems. I’ll be interested to see if tsunamis fall under her purview as well. Right now I think she wants me to take up swimming, which may be difficult as there aren’t many options in my town. I’m going to try, though. I need to do something to get me in the water, I seriously feel like I’m going crazy being unable to just swim freely. Maybe I’m turning into a mermaid?
you are an apple, a garden
a single seed
knowledge bought dearly
by sacrificial deed
My astral self wanders as I sleep. I find myself floating above a gathering of five women who sit cross-legged on the floor, their placing like the five points on a pentacle. A pendulum hovers beneath my outstretched left hand, bobbing as if on a string; I have to concentrate to keep it from falling but the focus drains my energy. I look back down to the group beneath me and know instinctively, in the way of dreams, that they are a coven of death witches. Like me.
“How are we, death witches?” I ask, the unspoken half of my question understood by all: how are we, given the shit going on in the world right now?
“How are you?” One of the witches asks in what sounds like a thick Caribbean accent as she looks up to my suspended spirit. I release a weary sigh and sink to a sitting position beside her. My left hand comes to rest on a large chunk of quartz. “Struggling with faith,” I admit. This witch and the one to her left are both African. Their dark skin is covered in swirling gray patterns of painted clay and their long locs clatter and glint with beads, charms, and precious stones. They’re both beautiful, commanding and regal; I wonder if they’re sisters, perhaps even twins.
“I can see that,” the first replies with a kind smile. “But your guides have not left you. They are quiet right now because they are off gathering sweet intel.” She winks conspiratorially. “If you were listening to juicy gossip you would not want someone blabbering in your other ear, distracting you, would you?”
“That makes sense, knowing them…” I murmur, thinking of Tanim and Daren yet also the ancestor spirits who have seemed more distant lately. The African witch begins to speak again but then another witch, the one sitting next to her sister and thus directly across from me, abruptly lurches over the circle toward me. One bony hand darts out from the wool cloak which shrouds her form, gripping my face tightly. I glimpse her hooded face briefly as she looms over me; she’s very old, a crone whose dark eyes stare into mine from a thin, severe face.
And then all I can feel is the witch’s presence in my mind as she divines my soul, rifling through my past, present, and future as if they’re laid out on a table before her. My memories flutter like a deck of cards under her astral fingers, a familiar sensation made strangely invasive. As she examines me, I catch glimpses into her mind of the reading she will give me, potential words or ‘cards’ whispering at the edges of my hearing: The Fool; The Garden; The Wanderer; The Rose; The Temple. I repeat them in my mind so as not to forget but they go by too quickly – before I can be sure of the list or the crone can deliver her reading, I wake up.
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.
June finds us, surprise surprise, back in your palatial living room with its vaulted ceilings and grand windows and the thick white carpet on which you kneel amidst a rose garden of blood stains, his crumpled body still warm in your arms, while I stand to the side and observe the scene in silence, alert to any clues which might reveal the method you used this time, maybe even the string of choices and repercussions which lead to this moment, but all I can think about is how many times we’ve been here, how many years now I’ve cataloged the details of his death first on clay and papyrus, then parchment and computer like a good scribe while you weep at my feet and I know we have both grown so weary of this passion play yet here we are again, again, again, repeating the same old lines, carrying out the same old gestures, not a single solution between us to change the ending, so for once can you just skip the mystery and suspense and show me the knife?
I meet Mnemosyne at a bus stop beside the River Lethe.
White boulders lay scattered along the riverbank, the grooves and hollows worn onto their surfaces by the river’s swift waters making the rocks look like massive skulls. As I walk the shore, careful to stay back from the potent waters, I notice lit candles clustered among the rocks and floating in little bowls. I’m not alone; people kneel in the shallows, weeping quietly over offerings of flowers, bones, and other little gifts. I nod to the makeshift memorials and offer a silent prayer to whomever they’re for: may those who have passed be at peace.
Turning away from the river to let the mourners have their privacy, I walk back toward the bus stop and approach a little wooden stand I hadn’t noticed before. On top sits what looks like a visitors log, the kind you might find at a trailhead or visitors center, only the pages have been laminated and are wet with mist from the river. Anything written on them has been rendered illegible by the water. Sensing someone’s gaze on me, I look up to see a woman watching me through hard, pale eyes. Everything about her is pale, actually – her flawless skin, her pressed lips, her long fall of perfectly straight hair. As with the guestbook pages, her angular body is slightly damp as well, making her look like a marble statue left out in the rain. The woman’s gaze weighs on me, harsh, judging, but when she speaks I know I’ve passed some test with my respect for the mourners at the river.
The words of the mad are not for others’ eyes, she says, indicating the book with its illegible, impermanent writing. They should not be read. They should not be remembered. I take this to mean the people I saw weeping at the edge of the Lethe had gone mad with grief, or perhaps had lost themselves to the memory of their particular dead and couldn’t let go. I realize then who I am speaking with – Mnemosyne, goddess of memory, daughter of Gaia, and mother of the nine muses. She presides over the Pool of Memory, though, not the River of Forgetfulness. Perhaps Her presence here indicates that She protects those who have lost their memory, and thus their minds, to grief or madness.
Then again, is there really much of a difference sometimes?
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?
Queer Joy (is)
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
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.
My gods are living gods. They speak in dreams and divination, in blessings and curses, in all the tongues of man.
My gods are dying gods. Their celestial bodies rot with fate from within; they cough up ichor and vomit starlight.
My gods are dead gods. Their corpses hang on meat hooks. Their temples lay in ruin and dust.
My gods are resurrected gods. They walk out of the underworld with heads held high, summoning spring buds from winter’s rot.
My gods are undying gods. Their names, first uttered millennia ago, are spoken still. Whether we believe or not, we uphold their memory.
My gods are deathless gods. They have always existed and they always will.
One of the ways I honor Bast is by experiencing Her pain, grief, and burdens. Not to erase them, not even to ease them; simply to feel them on my own, knowing my emotions are but a small drop compared to Her oceans. Every foster kitten I must give up so someone else can adopt them is a kitten She has sent out into a wide, unpredictable world. Every foster kitten lost to illness or injury is a child She mourns forever. Every cat struck by a speeding car, abandoned by a heartless family, or euthanized by a crowded shelter because no one claimed it in time is a grief that pierces my pincushion heart with another needle – but to my goddess who sees and knows all, they are blades that drive much deeper. I grieve and rage and weep with Her because no one should do these things alone, even an immortal goddess.
They say if you have a story that needs telling, go to the Scribe. If you are willing to give your story over to them, if you will let them see or hear or experience as much of your story as possible, they will record and tell it for you. They ask no payment for this service for they are honored by your trust in their work. The Scribe will tell anyone’s story; gods and goddesses, demons and angels, spirits and creatures of every realm and type. If you will offer it, the Scribe will tell it. You do not need to be the hero of your story. You can be the villain, the victim, even just the witness, for the Scribe will not judge you. The story need not even be true for the Scribe holds truths and lies of equal value. Whenever you are ready to have your story told, the Scribe is there. They exist in every time, waiting for you to reach out – you just need to find them.
Gods drift through my dreams like oceanic titans swimming near to check out the source of unfamiliar vibrations. Am I food? Friend? Family? Foe? Gaia wraps me in a honeybee embrace; Ix Chel tries to kill me; Loki tries to recruit me. This time it’s Satan, toying with me as I writhe in his bed, tearing at my soft stomach with his nails until I snap at him. I’m not your whore, I growl, I’m your scribe. And you’ll treat me like it. Then he lays against my sleeping body and smooths my hair back as he murmurs secrets in my ear. I can feel his weight through the dream, the grip of his hands around my upper arms fond and possessive and overly familiar. I ask something to which he responds, “Choices.” Later, after I’ve told Satan to provide me with proof if he wishes to work together, I’m attacked in my dream by a pack of hyenas. I don’t know for sure if they’re his, but they feel linked to him somehow. I wake wondering, as always, what it all means. Am I a floundering swimmer drawing predators? A flame in the dark luring wayward moths? Or just a waystation, somewhere to rest for a little while on your journey but never the final destination?
While the skies swirl with the gray storm-cloud nebulae of the approaching apocalypse, The Nameless cradles me in black tendrils of chaos that tingle against my skin like TV static. She calls me Her destroying angel and croons a lullaby about mankind’s destructiveness as I watch the skeletons of ancient beasts awaken to devour the Earth. Creatures created in a false god’s image, She sings, never still, never sated, so full of wrath and greed and misery. You brought this end upon yourselves and now it’s come for you, now it’s come for everything. The inky tentacles coil around me, creeping along my skin toward every orifice. My sweet destroying angel, haloed in disaster, now the end has come. As they cover my face I close my eyes, breathe in, and welcome the chaos into my body. The Nameless is right – we brought this upon ourselves. Why not embrace the end if doing so eases the pain?
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?
The dead begin to forget – that’s why they touch us so often, to remember, to clutch at the memories before they slip away and the past is lost entirely. We have to remind the dead of who and what they were by building monuments and rituals to them. Light a bonfire on the beach and drink cheap beer from a can. Spray her favorite scent on your pillow; reread his favorite battered novel. Hold the worn, well-loved stuffed animals they left behind, wax the car on a sunny weekend, listen to the songs you danced together to all those years ago. This is who you were, you tell them when you do such things. This is who we were together. This is who we are together. The dead begin to forget, just like the living, and just like the living they grieve that forgetting. But they are near to us, so near, and all you need to do is summon them with memory. Remind them. Reconnect them. When they reach out to touch you, reach back.
Pursued through a desert landscape, I try to shift the dream around me to lose my attacker but can’t take control. Next I attempt to leap into the air but the dream won’t let me use this tactic either. Desperate, I cry out for help as I run – first to Bast, then Hathor, Inanna, Venus, Isis, any goddess who will answer – yet I receive no response. The next name I call is Ma’at’s and as I do the goddess appears in the air above me, limned in blazing light. “You already have wings,” She urges me in a voice like thunder. “You just needed to use them.”
With Her words huge golden wings unfold from where they have been wrapped around my stomach. They are long and thin like the stylized wings seen on Egyptian goddesses in ancient paintings. I launch myself into the air and suddenly I’m soaring through a vast starry night sky above ancient Egypt. I can see everything below me with brilliant clarity as if the wings have also gifted me with a hawk’s keen sight. Temples, palaces, pyramids, they all glow with the light of thousands of torches amidst a sea of velvet desert darkness. The pinpoints of fire even look like watery reflections of the stars above as they flicker and bob in the night wind. The roads and open spaces between the great structures are filled with people who cheer and bow as a long procession of royalty, court officials, and priests, headed by the Pharaoh and followed by columns of military infantry, wends down the main causeway.
The sight below me is stunning – this is obviously ancient Kemet at its height of power and prestige, the parade a display of military might – but I don’t want the dream to end until I’ve seen one landmark in particular: the Temple of Bubastis. Beating my long wings, I rise higher and glide along the procession’s winding route. There! I spot Bast’s city nestled among its neat canals beside the Nile, firelight sparkling in the smooth waters and dancing atop the temple’s tall white walls. Per-Bast may not be as grand in stature as the pyramids I just flew over but it is by far the loveliest thing I have ever seen, a little pocket of tranquility amid the lights and noise of the other monuments.
When I’ve had my fill of the beauty below I tuck in my wings and free fall into the cool darkness of the Nile’s waiting waters.
In my dream I’m swimming through the bottom floor of a mall that once housed a gym before it sank beneath the ground. The vast rooms are empty save for a few abandoned pieces of exercise equipment and the open chain link cage where rental equipment was once stored. I’m enjoying the weightlessness of gliding through the illuminated water when I notice a man has appeared on the stairway leading up to the next floor. My heart leaps; he’s bad, I know it instinctively. I turn to search for another exit but everywhere I look more strangers appear, grinning menacingly like they know I have nowhere to run.
As the spirits close in around me, I call out “Duco viribus eicio malum!” (I expel the evil forces) but in my panic I pronounce the Latin wrong and it doesn’t work. I try calling on The Darkness, on Loki, on Nekhbet, but still the evil spirits encroach. They’re almost close enough to grab me when I yell Bast’s name and then, at a loss, simply close my eyes and scream.
Suddenly I’m transported somewhere new. I’m standing near a pillar in a huge chamber filled with banks of computers and other state-of-the-art equipment, its walls painted with elaborate Egyptian murals. Hearing footsteps approach, I duck behind the pillar and peek out to watch as a woman sits down at the computer closest to me. She’s just beautiful, tall and fit with dark caramel skin and a hooked nose over full lips. Her ebony hair is bound up in braids wrapped in the same purple fabric as Her long purple robes. She doesn’t look exactly the way I’ve pictured Her, but I still recognize my soul mother.
“I know you’re there,” Bast says, smiling as She watches me out of the corner of Her eye. She has an accent, one that sounds vaguely like African French. “You can come out.” I do so and She stands up, gesturing to one of the murals. A figure from the painting seems to glow and come to life, stepping down to become a young Egyptian woman who walks over to us. She assists Bast as the goddess uses a piercing gun to give me a daith piercing on my right inner ear, then melts back into the mural.
Bast then asks me, “Will you accept the name Grace as a sacred name to be used between us?” I’m deeply honored, though inwardly I think the name is a funny choice since I lack grace, both the physical kind and the spiritual/moral kind. I formally accept the goddess’ offer by repeating the phrase after Her. After that, as Bast leads me to another section of the room, She says something about how there isn’t much time and She has much to teach me. She puts a garment like a lacy hooded cape over my head the color of red clay. It’s designed to look like a face stares out from the back, much like how the white spots on a tiger’s ears are supposed to look like eyes. Bast wears something similar but much finer and more intricate.
Bast leads me out of Her chamber and suddenly we’re outside under a vast blue sky with activity all around us; people and animals and beings I can’t identify walking along wide, well-maintained dirt roads. I can see palm trees and white-painted buildings in the distance, much like paintings of ancient Egyptian cities. “What is this place?” I ask. Bast’s response sounds like “Pek (or pak) Turki.” I take this to mean this is Bast’s land in the spirit world. She says the gods are building many places like this across the realms. I ask if this is also the Land of the Dead and She says yes – and also something She refers to as “the Land of Hesitation.”
“What does that mean?” I ask. Bast points to a place we’re approaching where a huge palace seems to be building itself out of magically levitating tiles and pillars. “That is [name forgotten]’s Palace,” She replies. I can tell by the name that this person will be a great pharaoh. “He hasn’t been born yet,” Bast continues, “but when he dies this is where he will live.” With this explanation I assume that ‘Land of Hesitation’ means a realm that contains or predicts those who will exist in the future, not just those who have already existed and died.
Bast begins to show me some of the architecture of the palace. Her hairstyle has changed; now Her ebony hair hangs free in a long black sheet and straight cut bangs that fall just above Her expressive golden eyes. I want to ask why I’m here, especially now, but I’m too nervous in the presence of my mother goddess to interrupt. Then Her voice starts to fade and I can tell I’m losing control of the dream, starting to wake up, yet no matter how hard I try to cling desperately to my place in Her land I still end up back in my bed.
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.”
Once I would have thought the little girl a creature from my nightmare – pale, emaciated, her dark hair hanging in long skeins in front of wide, staring eyes and a gaping mouth – but I do not fear her in my dream. I see her for what she truly is. She crawls to where I lay on a cold floor and I open my arms to her. “Come, little spirit,” I say, drawing her fragile body down to my warm chest like parent and child. “It’s okay. You’re safe with me.”
You do not need to know where we are. We could be in the alley, kneeling on cold, wet cement beneath a dying streetlamp; on the roof of the penthouse, perched at the top of a world of glass and steel; in bed, tangled among satin sheets, heartbeats straining beneath the press of hot skin. There are a thousand options yet in the end the setting is unimportant when we have played out this scene so many times. Imagine whatever you prefer.
You do not need to know how we came to be here. I will not recount the full details of the chase; not where it began or down what winding paths it led, nor how many fleeting moments or long hours passed in pursuit. If you must, imagine the way his rapid steps eventually began to slow, to stumble, the way he gasped for air and the frantic glances he threw over his shoulder. Oh, how the chase always sends such a thrill through me. He fights best when he’s desperate and the challenge makes the ending all the sweeter. After all, we do not want to rush things – and I do believe in a fair fight, despite what you might think.
All that is ancillary, however. Merely a prelude. What you need to know is how I do it this time, which is with the knife. It’s a wicked little thing, sharp as a crescent moon, and it slices his meat like silk. What you need to know is how good it feels as his blood spills over my hand and how his body tries to jerk away from the assault even as he clings to me with trembling fingers. The groan he bites down could be one of unbearable pain or unbelievable ecstasy… or both. He has never been good at discerning between them.
What you need to know is that beneath the storm of agony and exhaustion in his gray eyes is relief. And love.
“Happy solstice, darling,” I murmur as I drive the knife deeper and draw his bloody mouth to mine.
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 am the fire; I am the bones.
I am the reed; I am the clay.
I am the ink; I am the papyrus.
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.