The Start Archive is a collection of featured pieces by some of the AGWC’s most beloved participants. All contents on this page belong to their respective authors.
AlambiqueCiel – I Sacrificed My Heart For Yours
Astaire – Domos Haidou
Astaire – Luky, with the Oculi of Venus
Astaire – The Princess and the Dragon
Kiria – Sight-Singing
Luis – Selene Awakens My Heart By Night
Maki – Mother Fate
ParatoxicAlpocalyptic/TheVoiceOfCreation – Conquer
ParatoxicAlpocalyptic/TheVoiceOfCreation – Relationshits Are Dominant And Submissive In Bed
phantomkitsune – Aurora’d e’entide
Splediferous Masochism – Being On AIM With You
The Love Mutt – ODE TO MORNING BREATH
The Love Mutt – Descending from the Sky
ViRabbit – Luk be a Lady
ViRabbit – Disrupted Cosmos
I sacrificed my heart for yours
Her hair dances in my pyrite eyes,
her silk frame draped across mine.
Plush lips follow the boulevard
of my vertebrae,
she murmurs invocations of god
against the embossed cross on my back.
I am her religion,
and she worships the scars
ingrained in my skin.
They speak to her fingertips
as nails pirouette over the raised edges.
Imprints of psalms linger
on my wrist,
and her tongue traces the shapes,
quaking my bones until
they crumble onto the sheets.
They’re all still singin’, I bet. The old biddies at St. Mary’s, warbling Holy Holies like tired vultures who can’t even lift their heads to pick at a carcass. A congregation of grey souls, begging and praising, begging and praising — people all prayin’ and payin’ their way into Heaven.
pray for us
If I came back to St. Mary’s, I’d tell ’em it ain’t no use to bribe the Judge. All those sweet hymns from sweet old women, the mounds of gifts, the piles of coins — meaningless folderol from the dimension of dust. We all have the same verdict hangin’ over our heads, and we’re on the lam until Mr. Death finally catches us….
rising smoke from long-
I followed Him down the railroad tracks, picking yellow flowers along the way. He turned the bullet over in His hand; offered me some seeds to eat. “The journey is long”, He said. I just blew on a dandelion puff, wishing I could’ve fallen in love instead. I wish, I wish — but He ain’t the kind of man to listen to that.
in late autumn
So, I loved Luky’s dominatrix attitude. Not that I relate, of course… Also, Wing, I noticed that you never use the word “eyes”. You use every synonym imaginable, and you refer to eyes fairly often, so it distracted my inner literary analyst. I’m waiting for you to start using foreign language versions of the word “eyes” to avoid using the word “eyes”. I did poke at that a little bit in my poem, but all in good fun. Finally, I decided on astronomy imagery since you say you’re into physics — sweet deal, man. My man’s in engineering, and he loves that shit. Also, I think the planets and their alignment have that connotation of “fate” to them, which I think really applies here.
Luky, with the Oculi of Venus
Fundamental interactions, supporting
the careful dance of our universe —
the collar La Luna wears
to show the Earth she’s meant
to be his slave.
Wing, the steadfast moon
that rises over my horizon;
oculars pulled away from the sockets
to orbit my body, supporting
perfect gravity, just tantalizingly
far enough away
from the rotation of my hips.
Listen, slave, it’s simple astronomy —
if the pull’s too strong, you’ll crash
right into me, and ruin my sweet
Maybe I’ll risk the craters
and shattering moons
to make you fucking scream —
The Princess and the Dragon
i. Make a list of all persons you have harmed, and become willing to make amends to them all —
There it was, sitting in my inbox. His name hit me like the fragment of a forgotten nightmare. Reading through his letter, I remembered running away, unable to look back; I remembered waking up from that part of my life screaming in terror — the monster, however, had faded from memory until that point.
Even from miles away, from behind a computer screen, the shadows that hung in his deepset sockets were seeping through the pixellated glare. Even if I pretended he was writing to the wrong address, even if I blamed the Spam filter, I knew he could see me. Years ago, that notion would have awoken a terrible fear in me, but in my mind, I saw him, too. I saw a sunken face, grey, hovering like a ghost above a spindly neck and bare shoulders. He faded in and out of the corners of my vision, soundlessly pacing through my thoughts. He followed me as I reached for my keys, followed me to work and back, as if the letter had
somehow summoned his spirit to haunt my mind; it was a clever curse, with only one counter-hex known to remove it.
I’m sorry, too.
He still knew exactly what it took to keep me under his spell.
ii. Make direct amends to such people wherever possible —
Years ago, I had nightmares of an evil dragon who lived in the city. The dragon’s very glance casted shadows for miles, and his dirty, smoke-laced breath bared the subtle traces of hundreds of princesses, all of whom had seen the gruesome and bitter end of their innocence at the hands of this dingy-clawed beast. You see, the dragon was a master
illusion-weaver; he could trick the princesses into seeing whatever their hearts desired — acceptance, self-esteem, escape from their drab, dull kingdoms — and promised them whatever would bring them happiness. It was in this way that he would draw the princesses to his lair, strip them of their titles and clothes, and revel in their destruction.
One night, the dragon made a mistake. When attempting to seduce a young princess with promises of a beautiful castle where she could rule her own Kingdom, he accidently fell in love with her. Unsure of what to do, the dragon weaved his illusions into stronger and stronger fabric, until he was able to create the cloak of a handsome prince with which to enshroud himself. Perhaps, he thought, if she never sees my real face, she will fall in love with me, and she will become mine. The young and naive princess fell in love with this illusion, and she agreed to live with him in the lair that appeared in her deceived vision as a beautiful castle.
For five days and four nights, the dragon slowly starved as the young princess danced and laughed and made love with her handsome prince. In order to feed his insatiable hunger, the dragon decided to leave his lair at night, while his fair princess was asleep, and devour the flesh he craved. In the morning, he would return to his princess in the guise of the handsome prince. For a while, this trick worked; princesses from across the land once again learned to fear the dragon, while the princess slept soundly in her bed, unaware of the blood her lover was smearing across the pale face of the moon.
Eventually, the princess grew older, and her mind began resisting her lover’s illusions. The glittery paths leading to the bedchambers became trails of blood. The dancing, singing jester transformed into the writhing, screaming prisoner who was to become her lover’s next meal. The face of her prince — the face of the man that she had loved for so many years — became that of a monster.
The dragon knew that the princess had seen him under the moon, his dull, black scales absorbing its feeble light. He knew that he could no longer tie her gently to his bed with strings woven from illusion. Afraid of losing the only thing he ever loved, he resorted to what was most natural for him — forcibly trapping his princess with the shackles of fear and pain.
I woke up before I knew what happened to the princess next. Maybe she died of a broken heart (or a broken neck). Maybe she packed her bags and fled on a moonless night.
Maybe the dragon never loved the princess at all; perhaps that, too, was an illusion.
iii. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps —
The tree in front of the Oxford house grows in bitter rebellion to the suburban sprawl around it. The sidewalk is showing faultlines from emerging roots, and the street suffocates under a blanket of fallen leaves. Even in the face of fallen bretheren constructed into pitiful dwellings for their brutal murderers, the tree keeps growing. The tree embraces my form as I silently move behind the sturdy trunk, sneaking a look at the dragon’s new lair.
That man was not beneath me, and I hated when friends would say it — when every day I was so afraid of him slipping beneath my dirt-stained knees. My heart would bear his name, would mark his grave — a tombstone. Every twitch, every lit pipe, every whore he took home, was another letter in his name being etched.
In between hero and monster is the dirt: the earth-born man from which both good and evil grow. In the hours of sunset and sunrise, between day and night, I could almost see him: the smiling, gentle man I fell in love with, who was neither reality nor illusion.
Somewhere, he is in there — in the house, near the tree, trapped in that terrible body — and I will always be somewhere else, saying I’ll drop by, saying I’ll give him a call, pretending I’m not tiptoeing around his shattered life like a guilty child — my husband and I have the room; we could let him stay, give him a place, but —
As night falls, I run home. I do not look behind me for fear of seeing his emaciated ghost, helplessly limping after me.
I must now see the world through your songs, corazón,
for my eyes are both blinded by age and decay.
Your melodious voice paints the places you’ve known,
each a leitmotif wholly unique. Every day,
you sing sunrise in Lydian, bright as the hay
in the summer-sweet meadows before it is mown.
If my sight is the price of your music, I’ll pay:
I must now see the world through your songs, corazón,
and the world is more beautiful when I am shown
how the melody runs through the wind on the bay,
through the sun on my face, and resounds in my bone,
for my eyes are both blinded by age and decay.
The harmonic progression of time cannot stay
its relentless pursuit of a cadence – you’ve grown
in a counterpoint theme I can hear when you play –
your melodious voice paints the places you’ve known.
Every sandstone formation carved out like a throne
is a regal processional, while a soufflé
rising golden and fragrant is jazz on trombone,
each a leitmotif wholly unique. Every day
brings a musical sight, like a kite being flown
in a wind-ruffled sky, or a lonely Monet
hanging dusty, forlorn and forgotten. My own
consolation in darkness is music, the way
I must now see the world.
Selene Awakens My Heart By Night.
Land grazes sight as if it were ink
pressing itself on paper as it leaks
its fluid-like shadows down ravines.
Its shape of wilderness suppresses
all light, reminiscent of oil on water:
imperfections by skeletal conifers
that paint shadows, reclining down
beds of nightly canvases of nature.
Meniscus illusions force my psyche
to believe delusions that every weave
surrounding focus is my beloved moon.
In my subconscious, she wears white
robes with a crescent on her face,
igniting a pale torch, representing truth
when I think of us on rocks of Miletus.
Distance forces my longing longevity
below her bellowing bawls when I dream:
one years, two months, four days too long.
I’ve ceased counting hours that induce
loneliness when every fiber of my being
wishes to reach her fingers; to breathe
her arid summer’s gasp, permeating
off lips with apprehension when she sings.
Inhabited by eyes reading and studying
my confines, she lifts her veil and leers
with a luminous stare — travels fields
of Mount Latmus with her silver chariot
to breathe a kiss down my spine during visits.
Three shrouded women stood over the universe, picking and prodding the strings, entwining some, while cutting others. Two of the women, the withered ones, toyed with one string, and the third figure, who had a creased face that still retained youth, looked fairly bored. This string, in particular, was just a simple man trying to survive on his dying farm. The fates kept throwing horrible things at him such as droughts and famines, and they laughed when the man had to butcher his beloved cow just to survive. The younger Fate just did not care for the life that the others toyed with.
She wanted a life with a little more adventure; one with a spark. She wanted someone to have a life that stimulated her interest, and she meandered to the part of the world where magic was very common as a result of the Fates’ wandering interest. She watched as chaos ensued on this land, magic erupting and cascading as demons were released and then, again, sealed away.
“Madra, leave the magic world alone,” one of the older Fates called. The young Fate looked at them as they began to create a new soul. It was something Madra was not experienced in, but she watched as the figure pulled the air, stretched it into a sizable line, and attached it to another string, showing this new soul’s birth. She could already hear her sisters’ plan for this soul.
“This one is a king, Ona,” one of them said.
“Should we have him be graced, or doomed, my dear Ciel?” the one who
yelled at Madra asked.
The two sisters seemed fixated on this king they created, but Madra did not care for this new person who would most likely be cursed. Her focus turned back to this new world, one that has long been ignored. The Fate wanted to add something to this new place. A soul, perhaps. Madra began to think of the man this soul would become. He would grow up handsome, strong, and powerful.
Madra focused on this image as she pulled at the air, stretched it, but the string was feeble and the life inside would not have lasted a week. She let the string fall, and it shattered on the ground; a life saved from death.
The fate went back to gazing at this land, and there was a fight. Magic was being hurled all over the place, and the powers of one were shattered, the fragments falling and fading into the world. Madra quickly snatched the fragments of this one’s magic and began to create a life. Of course, it was a child, but she began to weave in special things to keep this one alive. She added a flame to this soul, a strong magic that would protect him or help him fight; a magic he would develop and use. She cupped this string in her hands and whispered to it, “Trigger.” The name he would have.
The Fate pushed back her hood to examine a proper place for her creation. She looked for the warmer colors that signified a loving mother, but every time Madra tried to attach the string, it was deflected with an audible ping. She worried her sisters would hear and take Trigger from her, so she had to be careful. Obviously, this soul was too different, too special to be born from a mother. Perhaps it was because of the magic that was used to create him, or because Madra had given him so much to possess, but the boy could not be carried in a mother.
Madra needed her creation to live in this world where he belonged. She
found another soul: a father who also had a son. The life of this other boy seemed promising, and Madra thought this man could raise her child like the other. She tied the soul to the man, Sparks McCallister, and she watched as her chosen father found her boy.
“Madra! Come here and help us spread a drought over this country,” Ona yelled. Droughts could be difficult to generate, and Madra did not want her sisters to know of her creation, thus she obeyed immediately. They sprinkled the brown dust over this country and the strings tied to it. When the dust rested on some strings, they snapped, coiling around themselves. Madra’s sisters laughed and clapped as each string broke. Death was the sisters’ favorite part.
Madra began to walk around the room again, trying to be inconspicuous as she wandered back to Trigger. The string was already getting stronger, thicker, and more colorful than those around it. The Fate could see that her creation was bound for great things.
Trigger was a fighter. He was getting into battles with other children, even at a young age. He questioned authority already, and Madra giggled at this fact, seeing some of herself in her son, but she did not notice the cacophony of her sisters’ cackles had stopped. They heard the joy of their sister and came to see what she was doing at the magic world.
It did not please them.
They had abandoned this world long ago, realizing that magic interfered with them too much. Deaths were avoided, sicknesses were cured, and weather disasters were averted. Yes, there was chaos, but the Fates did not cause it, and that bothered them.
They examined the life string their sister had created, and they saw the
power. There were more colors to this string than any other in the universe, and they could not allow this abomination. Madra pleaded with them to leave it alone as they brought the scissors over. She tried to grab the shears, but Ciel pushed her away, knocking over a city in another world. Madra quickly fixed it to be the fault of an avalanche, but when she turned back, her sisters were already closing the scissors over the string.
If the Fates could cry, Madra would have, though her wails of torture filled the space. She looked away as the blades closed in on the string, but there was no snap of a life cut short. She glanced back as her sisters continued to open and close the scissors over the string; too strong to be cut. Ona and Ciel were frustrated. They threw the blades down and went over to the world Madra had grown to love. They worked together to create a new string, one colorful and thick like Trigger, but lacking just slightly. It was a brother, and they attached it along Trigger’s beautiful string, but the fates could see that the siblings would get along, their magic binding. They wanted to change this life, but they could not. Once a string was made, it could not be changed. Ona and Ciel could not live with this.
They searched the land for a strong and evil power and attached this to the new string, Defy. The evil controlled the brother, pitting him against Trigger. It forced the brothers to fight, causing them both stress, and in turn, Madra agonized over the situation. Ona and Ciel saw that this conflict would continue till one was dead, and either death would cause Trigger pain. Their work was done, but they continued to hover by, wanting to be there in case Madra should interfere again.
How is it possible that her sisters destroy all forms of love? Why did they have to revel in pain, chaos, and death? Why did they have to ruin things that Madra cared for? The youngest fate did not know, but she could not let the sisters ruin Trigger’s existence. She needed to give the soul something special, something that Fate could not tamper with. Madra knew just the thing she needed.
She waited for her sisters to become distracted, and then she found another string. It was relatively colorful compared to others, and this one was a pretty different. She could see the power in this one, and she could see the beauty this soul possessed. She almost seemed too perfect for Madra’s Trigger. But now, he would be Lutti’s Trigger.
That is, if he could stay out of trouble.
Trigger continued to fight, and he was too stubborn to put away the wars to pay attention to Lutti. Madra didn’t mind though. It was in Trigger’s nature to do this, and it was only a matter of time till things worked out in the Fate’s favor.
It had been years in the world, but it only seemed to be a few minutes to the Fates. Time was different for the two, and Madra was grateful for that. She didn’t have to wait years to finally see things happen between the Trigger and Lutti, but, like she planned, true love began to blossom, and Madra watched as the strings began to entwine themselves into a colorful prism of hope. Their lives were now one. Whatever happened to one soul, the other would feel. Best of all, Ona and Ciel could not ruin the love between the two for it was pure.
Trigger and Lutti were happy, and Ona and Ciel noticed when Madra looked joyful once more. And, of course, the two had to interfere.
The two sisters were more experienced than Madra. They knew what pain could be caused when a Fate became too involved with a soul it created. The Fates needed to bask in horror since that was all that happened in the universe. Every life ended. Wars were won, but someone always lost, and pain was inescapable. It was just safer for the Fates if they loved the pain instead of the happiness. Ona and Ciel knew this, and they were trying to teach that to Madra.
They could see the love that had formed in the middle of this land, but they could not end it, but they could hinder it. They devised a plan, giving the powerful man, who controlled Defy, strength and knowledge, but they also gave the same to Trigger. Madra’s creation learned about the man, Conrad, and went to end his life. The three sisters could see how it would end, much to Madra’s horror. She did try to give Trigger strength, but, in her haste, the powder was weak and ineffective. Ona and Ciel laughed as the end came near. It was inevitable, and they went back to their games with the volcano over Pompeii.
Trigger left Lutti, but she followed into the trap that was set for them. The two tried to surprise the puppet master by taking a path through a forest, but Conrad saw the attack and acted quickly. He had a fire set across the woodland area and it quickly traveled to the lovers, trapping them inside the inferno. There was nothing they could do, and Madra could not avert their end. She could only help it pass. She created a powder of sleep, dusting it over the strings.
“Sleep,” Madra said to her child.
Trigger looked to the sky, hearing her voice. It was a gentle sound that
could have been mistaken for a warm breeze rustling the leaves, but he
knew it was the voice of the loving Fate.
And he reluctantly tumbled into a deep slumber soon after Lutti. They could not feel as the fire charred their skin, as the smoke smothered them. They died without the pain, but Madra could not let it end this way.
The strings snapped, coiling around themselves, but Madra snatched the souls before they could vanish into the afterlife. They didn’t have a chance to live as they should have. She found two lives starting that night. Madra used all the power she possessed to combine this infant soul with Trigger’s, and the other soul with Lutti’s. Somehow, it was successful, and Madra finally had hope. The lives of her child and his love would go on inside the other humans. It was the least that Mother Fate could do.
My subliminal message detector infiltrates the conscious
string of DVI wires you’ve pulled from my lips–
insidious images of my stage the last time
you strutted your stuff with subtle steps across it,
like the illusion of scarves from a magician’s sleeve.
The only thing is– you’re not as successful in awing me
as he is with his susceptible audience.
You’re setting off my smoke alarms, blaring
in my brain to the thrum of a heart
beating wildly. In the midst of circulatory chaos,
I’ve got an SYS (Save Your Soul)
on my hands, because my heart is sizzling.
But you’re still behind that magician. He’s setting off
cheers and screams at his show– louder
than the crackle of a thousand Optical wires,
popping against my cerebellum and warming it
just enough to fuel his tugging.
I’ll give you one, thing, though: You’re good
with stealthy entrances– showing up
when least wanted and least needed, always
finding ways to rub my nerves raw
with the warming friction of your hands.
The sensual way in which your electricity flows
through the battered wire veins running through my body
feels like the explosion at the end of a cut wire.
Everything shrieks to a maddening halt, building up
until it falls over the edge.
You’re always breaking things
I never knew you had access cards to– This time
you must have hacked the security system in my heart
(I always knew those wires could never get
thick enough to keep you from tearing them to pieces.)
or found a back door someone else left unlocked.
You are nostalgic nightmares
as you enter my mind’s last chambers– seeping
through my fortress and lacing your spidery fingers
into my screaming subconscious
to create a prickling irritation at the back of my neck.
Now that you’re in, you are a tempting source,
an overwhelming urge to submerge myself in your
unwelcome presence. I think you took your wire cutters
and drove them into the computer chip in my brain
programmed especially to hate you.
Maybe my walls were more like teflon than the steel bricks
double stuffed with cement I thought they were,
because the closer you get to where I’ve retreated,
the more I begin to familiarize myself
with the inside of my eyelids while your lullaby slips
through the spaces in my barbed wire eyes.
Maybe you’re more like the magician
than I first gave you credit for– just a little slower
and a lot more magical than he’ll ever be.
Now all I can do is point to the white sheet
wound tightly around my waist and hope
that it doesn’t fry too many more of my circuits
when you pull it from me. Surrender
is worth your pleasantries.
Relationshits Are Dominant And Submissive In Bed
She gagged my will
and drugged it, hog-tied it in the scent of Amor
clouding over her bedroom floor.
Her nails poured precip-tipped lightning bolts
down the side of my face, charging me
She laid me like a sleet storm,
out of reach; I pulled curtain sheets over my eyes
for a moment, closing off the sweat running down the sides
of my bed, and she poured her liquid body into me
until I cracked like a whipping boy
with the frozen-over eyes of one who wears shorts
in the winter– body so numb– I couldn’t hold her
steady enough to read the fine-printed words
brimming over the ledges of her watery, gray pupils:
I’m the only thing knocking on your windows.
When she inhaled, she exhaled them
against my ear; I felt her chest against mine.
She light[eningl]ly traced
nipply, temp[tr]est teeth down my pulse
and drew a breasts for me– bold exclamation points
that made the blinds on my windows
–as close to dark as it gets this far north–
any perceived brightness a mere matter of snowglare
light-starved crystals glittering with all their might
that the dim shimmer might pass for luminosity
and draw all attention
Being On AIM With You
My fingers become bulimic sharks in a feeding frenzy,
letters purged into paragraphs
you should see when
the ipecac enter key swims in their stomachs.
But instead fingerprint cheeks flush pale red,
sit coated with sweat- blood from a swatted fly, smeared down skin
by scratching naive fingers.
My hands are shaking,
[tic]king bombs blasting backspace
until my reply become a white-painted wind,
its breeze blowing my fingers around the keyboardlittered valentines in a hurricane,
landing far from the eye of the storm
but still putting on its airs.
I like you
but I can’t write it to your face.
The Love Mutt
ODE TO MORNING BREATH
I roll over this morning
and breathe in the sickly scent of
yesterday. That rank, odorous gust of
stale air, wallowing in the back of your
throat startles my nose into full gear.
I can hear the phlegm rumbling up,
churning its way to block your nasal
passage, and we both cough up last night.
The rot of our sweat rises up
and our stomachs set heavily, reminding us
to enjoy a shower for two.
Perhaps a good ole cup o’
Joe, a mug of instant Tar, will
get those wheels a-turnin’.
We both wipe clear the eye-snot
cementing our lashes and you
sluggishly scratch your ass. Just
one quick “iloveyou” stifled by
our lips, connected,
and you’re out the door-
I yawn, and smile at my fortune
to gag at someone else’s
nauseating puff of dead wind.
Descending from the Sky
She turned away from me as the towel fell. Through the haze of incense burning, I met the pointed stare of a phoenix. It moved as she bent, singing a melody too beautiful for me to hear. It was a phoenix of red and gold, with blue streaks along its edges, and it covered her entire back side, nape to left heel. I asked her why. She sighed, melancholy and smiled, as she turned to me. It was hard to say who was more beautiful- Skye or her phoenix.
She bent to the incense, breathing in deeply, touched the pendant resting around her neck, and began to explain. “The phoenix is a miracle, crash-and-burning to the ground to rise anew, stronger and more wondrous than in its previous life. It is a symbol of Jesus, risen from the grave, or the karmic circle, or reincarnation in the works. I am the phoenix,” she said, “or, I mean to be.”
I mean to be… What could she mean by that? Her life was easy. She wrote the days away, smelled of nag champa incense and danced like a goddess. She performed Tarot readings on alternating nights at a New Age store down the road and spent her breaks at the Cafe that her engaged friends, Halle and Joe, owned.
“You only know the ‘risen-from-the-ashes’ me, Jane. Three years ago, I was homeless. I saw ghosts in my peripheral vision, and I was in and out of rehab centers across the East Coast. Tarot, runes, incense… those were my saving graces. Halle found me,” she said, “and read my cards. It was as if someone had drawn my life, my mind, onto these little cards. She just… knew.”
My eyebrows raised to question marks and I told her I didn’t understand. She paused.
“I’ll show you,” she told me. She leaned over me, breasts lightly brushing just beneath my lips, and lit the sage next to the bed. We both inhaled, savoring the scent of calm, as she drew a silk-wrapped package from the bottom drawer of the nightstand. Skye carefully unfolded the silk square, removing a Tarot deck, and held the cards out to me. “Shuffle.”
“For how long?” I asked.
“However you long you need to.”
The deck was the length of my hands, palm base to fingertips, and stretched from pinky to pointer. The back was a dark blue spotted with silver stars, calling to us like the night sky and promising dreams and other mysteries. I mixed the cards, pulling some from behind and letting them fall into place. After a time of fixating on the hypnotic deck, I chose instead to quietly admire Skye. She was leaning against the headboard, eyes closed and her hand supporting her chin. She breathed deeply, heavily, meditating. She had drawn the sheet around her, warming her legs and stomach, and just barely covering her breasts. My shuffling slowed as I became mesmerized by a more natural beauty than the cards.
“Have you finished?” Skye opened her eyes.
I muttered, “Uh…Yeah.” Did she see me staring?
She asked me to cut the deck into three piles with my left hand. I did, moving right to left and forming three uneven, misshapen stacks, which she then swept together, moving left to right. She caught my eyes, whispered, “Are you ready?” and waited for my quiet nod. Using her left hand, she slid the top four cards forward, flipping them sideways to reveal their faces. “I don’t turn them top-ways,” she explained, “because then it would reverse the card and change the entire meaning.”
My first card was upside down. There was a nude woman, beautiful and young, kneeling among trees in the light of the stars. In each hand, she held a carafe, blue in her right and red in her left. The blue pitcher emptied water into a small pool where her right foot was submerged, and the red poured down in a wave to her left. Her fair hair was long, wavy, and luxurious, and her eyes were half-closed and content. “The Star,” she read to me. “Reversed. You were sick in your past, both physically and mentally. Your body was run-down by stress, and your mind by the narrow-minded stubbornness of those close to you. You became mistrusting of others, cynical and pessimistic, and you lost on a number of opportunities because of that.” Without waiting for a response, her hand grazed the next card. In my head, though, I saw another beautiful blonde.
“The Page of Pentacles, upright.” A young man stood gazing at an orange and red landscape, with trees, a lake, and mountains in the distance. He donned a red cap, proud, with a pheasant’s feather protruding from a brazen clasp upon it. His tunic was an earthy red and brown, and on his arm, much like a shield, hung a large coin- the pentacle. Skye continued, “You’re practical. You work slowly but steadily, and you’re very focused on what you do. You are serious, yet sincere, and you love the simplicity and satisfaction of working with your hands.” I couldn’t think of what to say. I watched Skye’s fingers tracing the image on the card, and she looked up at me. “Am I on the right track?” She asked me.
I gulped. “Yeah.” I wanted to see how this would pan out. I tried to keep my face as blank as possible, and I nodded to her. Go on.
The third card was an aureate celebration; four rods made pillars that bore a garland of roses, grapes, and beautiful ribbons. In the near horizon, just within reach lay a castle, set high upon a hill. “The Four of Wands, Reversed. You’ve begun to realize the weight of your past, and how the negativity has burdened you. You need to start letting go, forgive your friends, maybe family, for hurting you before. Whether their beliefs have changed or not, you can still lead your own life. You’ve begun to trust again, and have learned that life can be good to you, good for you. Focus less on why or how they have let you down, and more on what’s to come, what adventures lie in store for you, what people are waiting for you to find them and lead their lives away with you.”
That’s just it, I thought, and I glanced at her with shaky lips and damp eyes.
“And finally,” Skye smiled, “the-”
I sat there for a few minutes, staring at the card, trying to push back the images of the blonde girl, trying to think of Skye instead.
“Jane? Are you okay? I can put the cards away-”
“Seventeen.” No. No, of all the things I could croak out, why that?
“Seventeen what?” Now Skye was the confused one.
I was shivering. Everything that had been bothering me, nagging me, pushing down on me was right there, on her lips and in those cards. It burst out of me. “I was seventeen when my parents left me. They turned their backs. Couldn’t have a gay for a kid. They kicked me out, and my best friend’s family took me in.”
“Oh.” She remained silent for a moment, and then added, “I’m sorry, Jane.” She moved to clear the cards, and I let out a small yelp.
“No, please. Not yet.”
“Ok.” Her hand hovered ever so briefly over the final card, waiting to be revealed, before withdrawing to her lap.
I chewed on my lips. Skye and I had shared a lot over the past few weeks, but it had been light-hearted chatter, like what music we enjoyed or our favorite foods. She was too confident a person; I had wondered if I had set my sights too high when Skye had walked out of that shower with the towel barely covering her, either ignorant of the way my gaze had devoured her, or simply too accustomed to the treatment to care.
We were just friends, I thought, and new ones at that.
There was something about the way she looked at me, though. I tried to figure out how she had pierced my defenses so easily already, and tried to figure out how her deck had known so much.
She interrupted my thoughts.
“We can stop the reading if you’d like. We could talk, or if you’d prefer, we could go to bed. I can get the pillows and extra blankets-“
“No, I want to hear the last card.”
“If you’re sure?”
I hesitated slightly, but she looked so worried that I nodded.
She turned over the last card, and smiling, explained, “The Ace of Cups. My favorite card.”
The card was stunning. From a sky and sea of a radiant blue, out of clouds pointed a fist clasping a golden chalice overflowing with water, and from which rose a halo of sunlight. Overlooking the cup was a white dove, wings outstretched, and in the foreground grew a pink lotus, petals wide and reaching.
“This card represents new beginnings, hope, love, joy. It is budding relationships, it is family, and it is friends. You have happiness in store for you, excitement and inspiration. Keep yourself open to them. You’ve started regaining trust; here’s where you can let it roam. Open your heart to new ideas, to new energies, to new loves.” Her gaze lifted to mine, and she smiled, her eyes searching mine.”What do you think?”
“I think…” I paused, and I saw Skye. I did not see the blonde girl haunting my memories. I did not see my family, with forlorn and dark faces, standing at the doors like security guards to our house. Their house. I did not hear insults being thrown at me. I did not hear the words “I’m not gay. Sorry.” I saw Skye, heard Skye, and knew it was only Skye. “I think,” I tried again, “that maybe it’s my turn to tell the story.”
“After my parents disowned me, I tried to stop being gay. I dated a few guys, but it didn’t work. My dates caught me staring at the girls and it was pretty clear where my mind was. A year and a half later, I kissed her.”
“Anna. She was nineteen and was studying to be a surgeon. We met in Bio 101 and drew funny pictures of our professor with these crazy ass mustaches. First loves fall hard, and I fell down, down, down, loving with more and more of my heart each day.” I paused, my fingers soothed by the smoothness of the cards. “At least, that was the case until she stopped sitting with me in class. Until she stopped answering my phone calls, stopped even looking at me when I pled with her. She decided: She didn’t like girls anymore. She couldn’t.”
“Oh, Jane,” Skye crooned, her hand reaching for mine. I wasn’t quite ready yet, and my hand pulled back towards me. I shook my head, No, and took a deep breath to continue.
“I wasn’t with anyone else for a long time after that, and even then, it was never anything serious.” Skye said nothing now, but sat there, holding my gaze, with her arm partially outstretched- a reminder, I’m right here, if you need me. “I studied more, looked for another job, and just kept on working. I had enough money to pay rent, buy food, and splurge on books. I could read. I could write. I could bake. I realized I hated what I was studying, so I dropped out. I figured out what it took to be a baker, and enrolled in a culinary institute. I baked and baked and baked and baked. I needed a coffee shop to retreat to, and I stumbled upon Halle’s Café. It was just what I had wanted, so I visited there for my morning espresso jumps. Halle told me when Joe proposed, so the next day, I made her a cake to celebrate. That’s when she offered me the job. Making pastries and cakes for her coffee shop.” I took a long, deep breath, letting the sage wash its calm over me, and finished, “So yeah… Here I am.”
Skye’s fingers reached closer to mine, moving slowly, gently; with one little inch at a time, our hands became entwined. We started slow, our hands dancing, meeting officially for the first time. Her other hand eased to my cheeks, embracing them like long-lost dear ones, glad to be home. I was becoming ever more aware of her every touch. The minute hairs on my face rose to meet her skin; her hands called out to my flesh, bringing color to my cheeks and warmth to my entire face. Her fingers moved from my cheeks to my hair, combing with such a soft weight that it was easy to drift into sleep; but I refused to fall into the depths of dreams. My free hand now traveled to Skye’s face, long and unmarred. It traced the contours of the tip of the phoenix’s beak, peaking just over her shoulder as a reminder it was there.
“I think I understand now,” I said, and I gathered the cards, replacing the deck to its satiny embrace on the nightstand. I drew her to me. I kissed each elegant hand of hers, first her left, and then her right. I turned her palms upwards, cradling them in each of my own, and told her what I saw in them. Beauty. Creativity. Sensuality. Inspiration. Love. Most importantly, love. I kissed each palm, tracing each long line, and drew her arms around me. I guided her to the pillow, and began tracing the contours of her phoenix and of her spine. She guided my lips to section after section of her back, a certain feather or beak line, as she whispered everything she had left behind.
“The Beak”. Her parents fought, often and violent. Sometimes he was drunk; other times she was. Sometimes it was about Skye. When they were both drunk and had exhausted their issues with each other, they would hear her, hidden behind a door. They turned on her. Lazy, they had called her. Unappreciative. Spoiled. Rude. She became silent until she left them. She was sixteen.
“The Wings. At nineteen, I was homeless. I quit my job,” she said, “because I was sick of the hypocrites I worked with and I thought I deserved better. Turned out ‘better’ was eating out of trash cans and sharing needles with the guy with no teeth and too much hair. It was all I could do to stay warm. Christmas Day, I found myself tip-toe balancing along the bridge by city hall. I had faced the water and spread my arms out like a great, giant bird ready to take flight. I saw my father, mother, the empty handles of alcohol; I saw prescription bottles rattling in angry fists, saw tattooed stomachs and flaccid penises begging, saw red and black and grey and –” Skye stopped, her voice caught somewhere in her chest, and she could only whisper. “I saw fire, from my feet, tingling up to my scalp, and then I danced, turning and crying and falling, all the way back to life.”
“The Tail. Twenty-one.” She almost remembered meeting Halle and Joe in front of the library when she was shaking from withdrawal and cold, saving her. She remembered Halle reading her palms, her cards, her runes. She remembered when Halle and Joe gave her that first deck, her favorite deck, the one with the midnight sky on its back. She remembered spending hours in the library stacks, reading about mythology and Tarot and Wicca and magick, remembered cleaning Halle’s apartment and cooking dinners in thanks, remembered Halle calling her ‘roommate’ for the first time. She remembered reading her cards for the first time, reading Halle and Joe’s cards for the first time. Reading the cards without the books and notes. She remembered the day they told her to open up a Tarot corner at their Cafe, and remembered too, when a spot opened up at the New Age store where she bought all her incense. She remembered burning the letter her father sent her after 5 years of nothing, and remembered blowing the ashes out of the apartment window, pinch by pinch.
“The Feet. The Claws. That was just last year. I published my first book,” she said, “Poems. My mother died. I kept on writing. I wrote, and wrote, and wrote. Around New Year’s, I sent my father a letter; I forgive you, I said. I wrote. I hid my smile when Joe knelt down and Halle shrieked “Yes, yes, oh my god, yes!”; I still won’t tell Halle that he let me know ahead of time. I wrote about how I wished for what they had, for someone of my own to trust. I bought a dress, dark red like Halle had asked, and wrote down the store names and prices of all of the white dresses that Halle continued to flip-flop between. I went to that party. I met Jane.”
I pulled myself under the sheet, smoothing it over my body, and she helped cotton meet flesh. We joined bodies then, matching phoenix to breast and hand to hand, hand to hair and lips to mouth. We stripped away the past, rising to the present, and read each other. I saw fire then, too, like Skye had on the bridge, and her long dark hair wrapped around us, leading me in my own dance. We emerged from my ashes the next morning, and I ascended into my own life.
Luk be a Lady
If I was to do another curtsy and restitch my smile
where it’s beginning to fray, I think the sugar
glazing my irises would crack and crease
and bleed down my cheeks like syrupy tears.
Then the screams clogging my throat
might dislodge, ripping the threading
from my mouth so vomit could pour loose.
I’m sick of frills and lace and good day to you sirs
and locking my aching face into cheer
when a corset’s sinking its jaws in my ribs.
And I’m sick of lingering by the battlefield helpless
while your agony’s flooding my ears
and images shove past my eyelids of you, limp
and broken in dirt. They get stuck to my pupils and no matter
how many times I wring my eyes out, the images stain.
We can trade, you know.
All I need is shining armor and a steed.
You can flutter your eyelashes and swoon.
I’ll play your prince; climbing towers and fighting dragons,
coming back home to breathe fire through your lips.
Then I can kneel by your feet and press my mouth
to your hand; weave the ring through your fingers.
We can curl like cats on the throne and rule the skies.
Upside down heroes with nine lives ahead of us:
king and queen. Quing and keen.
So slip on my stockings and hand me you sword,
we’ll have our own topy-turvy happily ever after.
before the Moon eclipsed the Sun’s light,
she used to build castles in the sky
out of wishful thinking, leaning close enough
to the Sun for her eyelashes to singe;
she didn’t care.
his flame imprinted on her corneas
as smoke smoldered in her mouth
and she loved it.
but when his gravity lured her in
and she shadowed his glow,
he shoved her back in the graveyard night,
propped against stars and pinned alongside
lost space shuttles and burnt-out comets.
now the Sun dusts the Moon’s eyes
in twilight ashes, hoping his embers
singe her retinas before they see
past the pyre and into the inferno.
but while he’s charring craters in her skin,
he doesn’t think of the phoenix blood
pumping through her veins.
he never thought she’d reemerge
from her ashes, ready his flame
with her own.
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