- You will be chaperoned always. No exceptions.
- Do not touch her bare skin.
- She eats only what we give her.
- If she is cold, do not offer her your jacket. She cannot be warmed.
- Do not pick at the stitches. Her voice is not for your ears.
- You sacrifice your time to us from now on. Your waking hours are no longer your own.
- There will be no photographs, etchings, portraits, video recordings, or any other attempt to reproduce her likeness.
- Sometimes she will go away and return with the blood of some small animal on her face. It is on you to clean it.
- Her hair must be brushed every day.
- Her teeth must be picked every day.
- Her nails must be clipped on the hour.
- Don’t cry. The salt of your tears is harmful.
- Other women, even those in your family, are now forbidden you. Walk veiled through the town.
- Daylight is a privilege. Privileges can be revoked.
- Tell her you love her, right now.
- And again.
- Her eyes can no longer stand sunlight. You must smoke the glass from now on.
- At times, her shadow will gain features and make sounds. It is on you to burn it back.
- There will be a yearly toll. We will instruct you which animals to bring.
- You cannot go back. Not ever.
- If she shows you the pit in her chest where her heart once beat, do not stick anything inside it.
- You cannot mourn the man you once were.
- If you ever feel the urge to flee set in, remember: we can only dig one hole.
- Occasionally you will bleed. It is because she cannot, and you must provide for her.
- You are her sustenance now.
- You will love her, even as you begin to hate her.
- You will love her long after the spark fades.
- You will love her long after your body withers to dust.
- Your love will be a flower sprouting in a sea of black sand.
- If you even manage the miracle of children, this list will be passed on to you.
Tag Archives: prose poem
This is not how you get a happy ending.
First, you must cast aside every blessing given you. Slam the door on everyone who was present at your christening. Grind luck beneath your heels.
Fortune favors those who set off in search of nothing. So you must look for something. Make it unsavory. Vengeance, perhaps. Spite. Scorn everyone you meet on the road, every fairy in disguise. Steal from beggars. Trick innkeepers so you rest on feather beds while the seventh son of a seventh son slumbers in the barn outside.
Leave to a country where no one knows your face. Invent a life for yourself. Lie frequently and boldly. Care not who you hurt, this is the callous you must form on your soul.
Is there a wonder nearby? Perhaps a flaming bird comes to rest in the tallest tree in the forest. Or a giant buries the eye that can see through rock under a church every night. Or a prince lies wreathed in iron thorns, awaiting the gentle kiss of an understanding woman.
Take this marvel in your hands and warp it so that none can lay hand on it but you. This is power, now. You are feared, whispered about.
In every forest trail, take the most well-lit fork because the easiest path always leads downhill. Yield to temptation. If a fox bids you to bite from a wicked apple, bite. Shun mirrors, because they will tell you the truth. Covet finery. Grasp at debauchery. Pleasure is fleeting so you must dose yourself with increasing highs.
There will come a day when you find a path that does not split but rambles into the darkness. Follow it. Through the muck and the mud, through thickets and brambles and beasts, through all sorts of indescribable horrors…
Until you find a cottage. It will be empty.
Open the door and step inside. Light a fire in the fireplace. Seize the nicest chair for yourself and draw it close to the heat.
Notice how time has taken the flush of health from you, how you’ve bargained away the tautness of your skin.
You are the hag now. And the only fate you have is one you made with your own two hands.
He hadn’t wanted to return to the beach
the memory swilled inside him like a poison, never far, ready to clench his body in remembrance of pain, lash its tongue across his life to let him know:
he hadn’t wanted to go back to work
but they would notice. weeks of gastric upset, of furtive glances and hiding his oozing nipples, but absence was the one thing he could not, would not be able to explain to his coworkers. to avoid clenching when asked the old saw: what did you do for vacation? to lie as he ran his tongue over his teeth, still tasting iron and salt, tasting her, and smiling blandly: went to the beach.
he hadn’t wanted to get out of the car.
he could see from the road the distance he had swum, and now the image made acid back up in his throat. so far, so foolish. there were signs warning of riptide, but that hadn’t been the danger. the danger had been his own misplaced heroism, his idiot impulse to save and be seen. to look up and see what looked like a woman out on the rocks.
he hadn’t wanted to go on living
but something made him do it. he considered taking his own life, before he even considered a doctor, but both trains of thought were abandoned. if he forgot about it, it was like it never happened
except it did
he hadn’t wanted to set foot on the sand
he supposed the first mermaid must’ve been Venus, arising from the foam of Uranus’s severed head to set one virgin white foot on the shore. born of sea-foam, like the later daughters of Neptune, immutable, intractable,
he hadn’t wanted to swim out
too far at first because he feared the riptide. now he missed the world where the worst thing he had to worry about was getting dragged out to sea. a world where the mass he saw on the rocks, far from shore, looked a bit like a woman lounging on her side. where he, caught up in a playfully mythic spirit, called out to her. a world that ended shortly before “she” shifted, and he saw that the figure was only the top of something very, very, very big
he hadn’t wanted to come back
but there was nothing left. it was harder and harder to hide his growing bulk from his coworkers, excuse away the frequent abdominal pain, the vivid red slashes that decorated his back and buttocks as if something had grasped him to stop him thrashing—
he hadn’t wanted to get back in the water
but he did. he shed his shirt and shorts, kicking off his shoes in the tide. he half-hoped there was someone around to see him, someone who would call the police and arrest this indecent exposer, but he was alone. as he began to tread water, alone. as he fell into a simple breast stroke, alone. as the rip tide pulled him not out to sea, but to a familiar gathering of rocks, alone. as the pain became unbearable, alone.
and, as he gave birth in a tide of red foam, he wondered if they would call it Venus.
Eddie. Kindergarten. I did it because it was funny. He had a bad Mohawk his mom had done at home. The other kids giggled and screamed when we kissed. It lasted a day.
I barely knew him. Leaving a friend’s house, winding a scarf around my neck. He stepped in close and I dodged left because I thought he was reaching behind me for something. He caught me with the other arm. I could still smell his cologne on me after.
We were nervous. We were neither very interested in the other. He asked me, as we got our clothes on afterward, whether I thought it was worth it. I said, “sure,” as flippantly as I could.
His nail scraped my knuckle as he withdrew his hand from a doorknob. I had been reaching for the light switch and flinched back when he grazed me. He caught my hand in both of his. “Sorry,” he said, “sorry.” It only bled after he left.
He insulted my tastes, insulted my friends, insulted my family without ever realizing it. I put him on a slow burn, finding thousands of little ways to kill him every day. The thousandth blow was a trip I had alluded to but hadn’t explicitly mentioned. He showed up at my house the day of. I called him from the car.
I don’t know if he even exists, but I find his eyelashes in men I see on the street. Commuters in the morning bear his chin. There are those close enough to him that they could be his brothers, strangers all. I am sick with him for days at a time.
This one seemed so much more than me. My grocery list of dysfunctions was no match for his utter normality. He had come from a place where there were no raised voices. I spilled soda on him during karaoke. While he fetched napkins, I snuck out the side door.
He didn’t even love me. But he couldn’t stand the idea of not having me. I endured slow, steady weeks of poison. I gained a pardon when he fell in with an ex. He kept my stereo as compensation.
He was gay. How could I not see he was gay? Worse, his boyfriend was spectacular. I was denied the luxury of hating either of them.
He told me “I feel like I don’t even know you,” across the table at Denny’s. I had nothing to say to that. I sat staring at the snow outside long after he left.
Have you ever suspended gravity for someone for a brief period of time? It’s never for a good reason, either. They asked you to lift your foot, and you upend the world.
I’m sorry. I really, really, really don’t like the things you like. I can’t keep quiet on them anymore because you keep shoving them in my face. I’m sorry. I don’t even know what I like about you anymore. I can’t stand Madonna, hate spice, and utterly loathe Wes Anderson. Sorry. Not sorry.
We sat on a bridge, I think. Snow was drifting down. After a while he said, “We should go.” Neither of us got up. Eventually my hand found his pocket. He was warm.
The first thing that hits him is the smell. The stench of shit that somebody tried to cover up with a sugary-sweet votive candle. It makes his eyes sweat. He gags, “Jesus,” into his sleeve. Their quarry is, ironically, nowhere near the toilet. Poor bastard swelled ten times his size, and weighs as much as a basketball. The petroglyph’s cord punctures skin, lets out a swell of gas like an exclamation. He does throw up then.
Bodies kink and judder before him. Even without the lasers it would be surreal. His contact is fishing mushrooms from a plastic baggie, dealing to a bunch of suburb kids disguised as ravers. He lowers his balaclava and yells –side hall, men’s room—as if he could be heard over the beat. The contact has more than ears, though. Even when their deal is done, he’s not sure what he saw. The kids stand still as he leaves, mouths open like turkeys in the rain, breathing spores like smoke.
The antiquarian smiles and slops tea over the sides of a Wedgewood cup. It’s a good brew, smells of stiff poison. He’s almost sad he won’t get to drink it. There, the man’s finger points, there and there. There are books, yes, but then anything can be a book. He eyes the paperweight as Latin texts are thrust beneath his nose and fingers his watch. Sigils older than Rome creep under glass. Sometimes meaning transcends language.
Some thoughts spread like wildfire. Others like pox. He catches a little tune on the train to Providence and nearly loses himself to it. It’s everywhere right now. Such a catchy beat nobody notices the tribal rhythm beneath it, the hungry harmonies. He takes a pill to drown it out, but others aren’t so lucky. He disembarks to the news of a rash of sleeping sickness.
The worm that walks is a friendly fellow if you catch him in the right mood. He’s got a smooth pitch and a firm yet yielding handshake. He’s got a healthy following, a good portion of the middle United States leaves their homes to camp hungry and destitute on the road with him. His poison is the unadulterated truth, and leaches into everything.
Light glints from cases of Jasper and Calcite while the sign before him proclaims this limestone block to be the largest Crinoid specimen found in the basin. The odd eye-shaped marks along the stern apparently hadn’t disturbed the man who unearthed them, though presumably they hadn’t blinked as they do now. He walks out with a heavier coat and the theft is never solved.
The word apocalypse means “rending of the veil,” not the end of all things, he tells her, but she is in no mood to bandy semantics. Something immeasurably huge parts the distance and she screams with her whole body, a primal scream that recalls ancestors just beginning to walk upright. He finds her lovelier than anything then, and would give much to preserve this moment just like it is. The sky vomits a blind sun and his wish is granted.
“I’ll meet you through the doors of sleep,” she said.
After the accident I buried her eyes in the desert and headed out west. Seemed the logical thing to do.
You know California was all ocean? Anyone claiming to find a dinosaur bone in the Mojave valley is a goddamn liar.
I found their street front. The brethren were looking a little on the raggedy side, their habits didn’t quite cover their gills.
“Here,” I said, flipping the old almanac their way, “keep the change.”
Burnt motor oil and fish tacos smell surprisingly like grief.
I sat on the hood of my car and watched the sea seethe. Funny how the sun never runs away when you want it to.
I found a working girl watching me. She was a slight thing of pipe cleaners, red hair. Shy.
“I came out here to be in movies,” she tells the floor.
“Aren’t we all?” I ask.
Something like a shuggoth doesn’t leave a skeleton, only a bald, bare patch of oily space where it used to be. Damn nuisances. Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live with ‘em.
For our first date, she took me all the way back.
“I kind of really wanted you to see this,” she says. Dimple in her cheek.
The universe explodes with a sound like “meh.”
I wake up and spit out seawater. My AC never kicked in. That was LA.
Her dad had his ashes scattered in ‘Nam by a pretty hooker. She made me promise not to divide her up so much that she could never come back together. The car did that for me, neatly.
Sometimes I wonder what I would be if I had finished twelfth grade.
Just for funsies, I smoke an entire pack of camels. Homeless dude dressed like a Santa pimp glares at my selfishness. A cop shows up and rattles the fence tines. Do I look homeless?
85 miles to Bodega bay, and my car transcends without me. I sit on my hood with her under my arm. Try to make her voice. “Hush.”
Around Thursday, I realize I haven’t slept in 78 hours. Depth perception goes. Coffee won’t do it anymore. Where is magnetic south?
A dream in the desert is like God touching my tongue. The whisperer shows me a rock where water lives. To stave off death, I cram peyote down my gullet for the trip. It barely makes a dent.
UCLA has their dig here. Some wag found what he called a tyrannic cephalopod. I know God is dead. But God leaves no fossil.
Some of her family walked with kinked necks. She had trouble closing her eyes. I loved her, for all that she was.
The world hasn’t made sense for approximately four days.
I get caught sneaking in under cover of afternoon. They rip her out from under my arm and let her escape into the desert air. My tears dried up somewhere around Texas.
I dream of water. There is a crater when I wake up. Some, somewhere, smiles for no particular reason.
I’m chapped. If there’s anything worth living for between here and a smoking wreck in New Jersey, speak now or forever hold your piece.
I wonder if heaven has a swimming pool.
special thanks to fatesjoke, for his indespensible advice
chosen for your lingual prowess among the University staff
would trade anything to be in their place right now and unmake the last few hours and boil the words from your brain
you smart man
what are you doing here in the mountains?
what possessed you besides the temporary insanity of adventure?
(why oh why oh why did you say yes)
yes you scoffed cigarettes and laughed with the others
laughed like men with no concept of death
you were soft (couch-softened comfort even in your nylon-poly-parka)
you all laughed in your eggshell of glass and steel
(can’t remember what it’s like to laugh forgotten even how to blink)
you struggled up mountain passes rimed with ice so that when the sun touched them they lit up like heaven around you and even running you could spare a thought for how pretty it was until you tripped
and Jennings reached over to catch your clumsy ass (solid academic fat second only to the collection of it in your head)
and Jennings is solid Nordic bone and stiff muscle
Jennings is solid pragmatism and sanity but Jennings runs too
and Jennings went hurtling over the edge and
he fell and
Jennings who shared milky coffee and laughed with you on the ride up (academic like you going up to the summit for god-knows-what)
Jennings who was right behind you
who was right behind Quincy
who was the first to see inside the chamber (open after who knows how long made by who knows what but struck open by you proud pilgrims of science)
opened with a belch of stale air right in Quincy’s face
and he screamed and
only now the sound won’t come out and air feels like ice in your lungs
but in your heart you know it’s over
even before you start running
you are 5 years of university breakfasts slapped over a cold skeleton
you are ice shards and sobbing fear
you are second in line
Quincy was the first in line and
Quincy was the first to get a good look inside the box
it was a box
it was prison bars and locks
it was stones and timbers to keep something in but could not keep you out
you set it free
and Quincy screamed but what was the point
no one else was around to hear it but you
you couldn’t hear it when it really mattered (on the ride up)
when you could’ve turned around and abandoned it to time
but you hadn’t heard and
you came and
you read and
told them how to open (spurred them with your tongue you smart bastard)
you saw the warning but didn’t say
you assumed they knew
they had to know
but Quincy looked awfully surprised and
they scattered like ice shards
but you ran
and you ran
while it occupied itself with the others and
what were you planning to do fly out of here yourself? Jennings was strong and
Jennings was skilled but
Jennings was only a mountaineer
who fumbled for his ice axe as he ran
like you fumbled for words in your mind
and you remembered too late that they only said never to open
never how to put it back
maybe they were sure
no one could be as dumb as you
there is no “Back” to put it in
they were lucky
they knew they were lucky
and you were dumb
doctorate in languages but you were dumb you forgot
dead languages die for a reason
no one is left to keep them alive
no one left with a warning on their tongue
and now you run and
is it gaining? you never saw what it looked like but Quincy did and
Quincy died and he died so hard part of him hit the back of your head as you ran and
you ran and
Quincy was a volunteer firefighter who ran in his spare time
Quincy was a claymore mine of flesh
you didn’t turn back to look behind you at what clutched at your arm
you watched Burbridge by the entrance crumble
he could have run
but his eyes were behind you
your eyes were beyond him
what did he see?
is it behind you?
it’s behind you and
pain splits your side and
you run but you can’t run forever and
there falls Jennings to the crag below
Jennings is white bone and red meat
Jennings is sanity and milky coffee
his life ends in a bright wet splash and you fall
to your knees and grab at breath
surely it must be behind you but you check and nothing’s there
it isn’t behind you
you’re alive and
you want to cry and
you gasp for joy
your lungs burn but you are alive
and in celebration you look down to
there is no below
nothing is swallowing up the mountain
they said never to open they never said how to put back and
they never said what was in the box nothing was in the box Nothing was in the box
and you gasp and
your mind clutches at thought
like Jennings clutched the air
but the fight has leaked out of you
you can’t run
there is nowhere to go
and it’s gaining
but you try anyway
blind panic stirring your feet
you are broken bars and alarms, you are fat fear heaving on the ice
you reach camp
you reach the chopper
and keep going maybe if you run fast enough
and the sun suddenly shows
one last time
and all around you lights up with cold beauty
and you can still spare a thought for how pretty it is when you trip
you are falling and
you are flying and
eternity is yawning up to meet you