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.
Perhaps your Notre Dame wanted to burn, did you consider that? Perhaps it was tired of its current state of existence, of the centuries of careful preservation made to ensure it never changed, never evolved, and was ready to burn and crumble and decay. Why must you rebuild it? Why must you fight to preserve everything in unchanging stasis? You humans are so frightened by any evidence of time’s passage, so petrified by the potential of losing something to the past. Why? What purpose does your fear serve but to trap you in the ever unravelling cycle of control versus chaos? You must know the chaos always wins out in the end (you do know that, right?) so why not embrace it? Why not let Notre Dame burn and celebrate the beauty of charred timbers and melted glass? You humans are so fearful and it blinds you to the true wonders of your world. It’s a shame, really. Especially given how little time you have left.
The dream takes place in what’s supposed to be one of my childhood homes, only on the inside it looks more like a museum gift shop, different displays of souvenirs and local art arranged around a large open room. I start looking for anything that would make a good offering or altar decoration for any of my gods. One tall stand holds elaborately painted cards with handmade figurines of different deities. I find one of Bast first, Her card painted in rich purples and blues and embellished with gold leaf. Searching through the others, I find a card for Inanna next and am admiring its bright reds and golds when someone comes up behind me.
“No no,” a voice says, “not that one, not right now, there’s someone else you have to look for.” I turn around to face an unfamiliar man. He has a narrow, angular face, pale skin, and short, shaggy red hair over a red mustache and goatee. I can’t quite place his accent; Germanic, perhaps, or maybe Slavic. What’s strange, though, is that although I don’t recognize the man I do sense a familiarity about him. He reminds me of Wepwawet for some reason, despite looking and sounding nothing like an Egyptian god.
The stranger leads me over to another display with a vaguely Wild West aesthetic. It seems to feature items about criminals or other infamous people, with faux wanted posters and old-timey newspaper articles. I look for another card like the first two I saw but can’t find one. Finally the man gestures to this little row of papers that are semi hidden under a shelf. They’re also like little wanted posters, a black and white portrait above a name in big block text. First I see one that says ODIN, then one beside it that says LOKI.
“You’ve gotta be kidding me,” I turn back to the stranger incredulously. “It’s Loki?” He nods with a satisfied smile, then he proceeds to tell me how Loki has been in my life for a while but the timing is just now becoming good for him to make himself known to me. He also says that if “we” set clear boundaries with Loki, he should get along with my other gods pretty well. I start to ask the man who he is, and to confirm if this really means Loki wants to work with me in an official capacity, but the dream ends abruptly before I can get any answers.
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.
I dreamed I stood in a dark forest with the wall of a barn-like building nestled among the trees to my right. Around the far corner of the structure a white light began to glow through the encroaching branches. Creeping through the underbrush around the corner, I came into a small clearing where a door in the barn had been rolled aside. I had expected to find a god waiting there, perhaps Loki, but instead in the doorway sat my black cat Bruno. I tried to move toward him but a white cat appeared between us with a hiss. He appeared to be a domestic cat in size and shape but felt… bigger somehow. Wilder. Like the primal essence of Felidae itself.
“But can she prove herself to me?” the white cat was asking. Then his blazing gold eyes caught mine and he commanded, “Hold my gaze with humility if you’re worthy of working with me; your eyes are always too aggressive.” I knelt down and tried to hold the cat’s fierce gaze, willing my own to remain open and honest. I was succeeding until the white cat began to fade into the darkness, making it hard to keep my unblinking gaze on his. When he suddenly popped back into full view I flinched a bit, blinking accidentally, and the test was over. He laughed scornfully and said something like, “That’s what I thought; we’ll try again later,” and disappeared along with Bruno.
Suddenly cats started streaming out of the barn, rushing up to greet me with head bumps, chin rubs, and belly flops. I pet and hugged them all, rubbing tummies and kissing noses as all around me cats purred. The group had a leader of some sort, a black and white tom who sat watching them from the barn doorway. I overheard him say something to someone else, maybe that white cat, about how, “She has to stop using her son as a crutch”. I asked, “My son?”, wondering if he meant Bruno and concerned my grief might be preventing him from reincarnating, but the black and white cat didn’t elaborate.
Instead, the leader began telling me about the cats who now lay around me and in my lap. He said they had no one to take care of them, that they were completely on their own. I think I asked the little female curled in my lap how she died and she said, “A child never came for me so they took me in the back and put the needle full of cold stuff in me.” I saw the story while she told it as if from her own eyes, watching from behind the cold bars of a cage as a huge shadowy human approached. “Oh little one…” I kissed the top of her head as I fought back tears but she wiggled like an eager kitten and piped in her high voice, “It’s okay now! I have a wife here and a little baby of my own!”
The cats were all clearly happy but their leader was saying something about how they needed support, like money… or maybe offerings? I offered to help but I wasn’t sure how I could when they lived in a different realm. I need to do something, though – maybe if I do, the white cat will give me another chance?
We are all fighting our own separate battles, says the Morrigan, but they are all part of the same great war. Then She cautions me, Don’t run from your battlefield in search of a fight you think is more important. How can you aid someone else in their battle if you haven’t even triumphed over your own yet? She’s right, I know She’s right, but I chafe at the waiting. For years now the Morrigan has been calling up Her warriors to wage war against the global evils of colonialism, capitalism, and fascism, and ever since I heard Her call over two years ago I’ve yearned to learn my role in Her army. It seems, though, that my assignment is still to wage the battles awaiting me on my homefront, to get my house in order before I truly become part of the Phantom Queen’s force. I’m not disappointed because I envision myself a warrior on the front lines, fighting for glory and a hero’s renown – I will happily serve in whatever capacity the Morrigan deems best for me, even if it’s on the sidelines. I’m just eager to help at all, and doing shadow work meant to reclaim my personal sovereignty just doesn’t feel like much immediate help to others. Whoever goes into battle without a clear head goes to their grave, my goddess chastises me as I brood, and I know my time in the Morrigan’s bootcamp is far from over.
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.
There are many kinds of Beloved Dead. There are our ancestors with whom we share blood; those we are connected to by the branching tree of life that stretches back hundreds of thousands of years. There are the ancestors with whom we share identity; spirits who shared our beliefs, our genders and orientations, who lived and struggled because of who they were or how their bodies operated just as we do today. Blood binds us to some Beloved Dead and shared experience, shared worldviews, to others.
There are the place spirits, those who share space with you and with whom you must have a relationship of mutual respect. They may be past tenants of your home or the land on which it sits; animal, insect, and nature spirits who died there or who still live there; or wandering spirits who have come to stay for a time. Proximity ties us to place spirits, as well as our duty to honor the land and home we share with them. We are not the first to live in a location and we should not treat it as solely ours.
And there are the dead taken too soon. They are the disaster dead, the war dead, the dead stolen from us by police brutality, capitalism, climate change, by greed and hubris and hatred. They are often the faceless dead, frequently nameless, their numbers so vast we struggle to keep our heads above the sucking waters of their grief. We are indebted to their past so that their existence may never be forgotten, and burdened by their lost futures so that we may prevent others from sharing their fate.
The Beloved Dead take many forms: human and nonhuman, animal and plant, single and collective. They are strangers and friends, unknowable and familiar, yet all are equally dear. All are equally worthy of remembrance and honor.
I carry the Disaster Dead with me always: Okawa’s precious children, lost to the waves; Pompeii’s huddled masses, lost to the ash; Titanic’s frozen passengers, lost to the cold. And more, so many more taken by pandemics, hurricanes, heatwaves, earthquakes, wildfires, famine. The burden of their unnecessary deaths is a reminder of the necessity of knowledge. Knowledge empowers the uninformed. Knowledge prepares the vulnerable. Knowledge saves lives that might otherwise fall to preventable, or at least mitigable, forces. There are no natural disasters, after all, only natural hazards exacerbated by human action – or inaction. Okawa’s children did not have to die within reach of high ground. Texans did not need to freeze in their homes. The west coast does not have to burn every summer for longer and longer periods until “fire season” becomes a meaningless phrase.
The Disaster Dead are also a reminder of my own self-ordained responsibility to ensure the people of my homeland do not share a similar fate, that we do not doom ourselves to repeat the past simply because we refuse to learn from its most painful lessons. What else can soothe the wailing of the Disaster Dead? What else can truly honor their memory? Never forget is a trite, passive promise when our historical knowledge stretches back thousands of years. We never forgot the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic, but what good did that do us in 2020? Never again is the promise we must make and uphold as a global society. Never again should we allow greed to outweigh the common good. Never again should we ignore experience or science in favor of ignorance. And never again should we allow the loss of lives we could have saved with care, dedication, and preparation.
I carry the Disaster Dead with me always. Some speak louder than others, and some may have come to me sooner, but I carry them all. I mourn them, I honor them, and I try my best to uphold my vow to them – never again.