Monstering

Disabled Women and Nonbinary People Celebrating Monsterhood

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Editor's Note

Dearest Monsters,

It’s been some time, hasn’t it? Well, now we’re back, and—in our humble opinion—better than ever. It’s been a gruelling few weeks, and the past few days have gone by in a bit of a hazy, panicky blur, but—here it is: our second issue, Resummoning.

Choosing a name for this issue proved, in the end, a simple thing. There was no theme tying it together. However, the name seemed only appropriate given our return after our long, yawning hiatus. I cannot thank our contributors enough for their patience, understanding and support over the past few months. And I cannot thank you, the reader, enough for, even after all this time, finding something in our humble enterprise to keep coming back to.

This being the very first issue of Monstering I curated as Editor-in-Chief, you can imagine just how nervous I feel to be releasing this into the world. However, I am mostly excited. As with our inaugural issue, we are blessed to feature some absolutely spectacular writers and artists in this issue. Some will be familiar names to our readership already: the works of Cade Leebron, Bei Jie Si, Kamila Rina, Liv Mammone, and Riley Dalca have found a home with Monstering once again—and how glad we are! Their poetry and art proves ever more spell-binding, and we can only hope that they continue submitting to us in the future.

Many of the artists in this issue, however, are new faces to our magazine: Ada Limón makes an appearance, taking us to the banks of “the muddy Mississippi”; Rebecca Cross’ poetry paints a striking portrait of trauma and of disability, a portrait many of us will recognise as familiar; LC Elliott regales us with a tale of a ghostly manor—of changelings, and dark and stormy nights. These wonderful creators are only a handful of the inspired people who have made this issue of Monstering a treasure to behold—and we are sure all of you will agree.

We truly hope that you enjoy this new issue of Monstering. We hope that you glimpse something of yourself in these pieces, and we hope that you will follow us on our journey forward, wherever it may lead.

May this issue signify a new new beginning: we rise again now, and ask you to rise with us.

With monstrosity,

Zara Williams
Editor-in-Chief

Pedestal is just another word for grave, and mine is already projected to be an early death

CW: Violence, ableism

 

Do not put me on a pedestal,
because,
whether wood, metal, or glass,
it will break if dropped
or smashed
or burned
or drowned
or left to rot.

A pedestal is a thing
easily defaced,
struck,
scarred,
sprayed with
piss or
angry, resentful, bitter words that smack of hate and fear
or
scorched colorless under the sun
or settled and buried with dust
and dirt
where no archeologist will ever find it and exclaim
about its beauty and forgotten meanings
but
instead consider it
unremarkable
exhibit 47,906
before finding a home
in a crate in the back of some future museum’s
unwanted artifacts storage unit.

There are already too many pedestals out there for
tokens and well-behaved monsters with
unruly bodies or
unstable minds
or
freedom fighters who died
with justice and love spilling
from fists and lips
more powerful than
whatever my crude thoughts
and halting actions
might imagine.

I need no pedestal.

Besides,
people with statues and monuments
probably have at least something like
a fifty percent or greater chance
of being murdered
than ordinary folk,
either the kind of murder that results in death
or that other kind,
the kind of murder that happens
while still very much alive

But fuck if I know anything.

Once on a pedestal,
though,
I suppose I don't have luxuries like
feeling or
growing or
struggling,
since,
well,
people on pedestals are more
the unmoving, polished wood, metal, or glass,
than flesh
or brain matter.

There are no pedestals for people who
die in the space between
victim and survivor.

(They tell me the average lifespan for
an autistic person is thirty years
shorter than neurotypicals,
and they tell me
the average lifespan for
a transgender person is
only thirty-something.)

If they start to kill me,
and bury me while still living,
with platitudes and empty admiration,
building my pedestal while
I am breathing
and here,
kindly tell them,
for me,
to fuck off.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Headshot of Lydia Brown, young East Asian person, with stylized blue and yellow dramatic background. They are looking in the distance and wearing a plaid shirt and black jacket. Photo by Adam Glanzman.

Headshot of Lydia Brown, young East Asian person, with stylized blue and yellow dramatic background. They are looking in the distance and wearing a plaid shirt and black jacket. Photo by Adam Glanzman.

LYDIA X. Z. BROWN writes about disability, race, and queerness. They are an organizer and advocate for disability justice focused on state-sanctioned violence targeting disabled people at the margins of the margins. In collaboration with E. Ashkenazy and Morénike Giwa-Onaiwu, Lydia is the lead editor of All the Weight of Our Dreams, the first-ever anthology by autistic people of color and otherwise negatively racialized autistic people, published by the Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network. Morénike and Lydia also co-direct the Fund for Community Reparations for Autistic People of Color’s Interdependence, Survival, and Empowerment, which provides direct support and mutual aid to individual autistic people of color. Lydia has received numerous awards for their work, and written for several community and academic publications. Their first published short fiction piece appeared in "Open In Emergency," the Asian American Literary Review's special issue on Asian American Mental Health. In 2018, they were a Teaching Scholar at Grub Street's Muse and the Marketplace literary conference, and in both 2017 and 2018, they were a reader on panels about disability literature at AWP. They are still working on several incomplete novel manuscripts.

After Sodom Burned (Or, From the Prehistory of X-Ray Astronomy)

CW: Death, cannibalism, body horror

 

Paranoia is the sensation of being in two places at once, a particle and a wave. Reduced to a sliver of myself, I ran downstairs on an April morning with snow still on the ground outside. I entered a world transformed, one that belonged to me and me only, someone made of broken leaves and shattered trees.

The Beast of Gévaudan dragged something horrible in through the window and began to eat it on my bed, smearing afterbirth all over my Easter dress. Go away! I yelled at her, surprised by the loudness of my voice, for I was a tiny girl of only four years. You belong to the forest filled with hunger and holiness; run far from here, with your sprouting heart and pelt woven from young women’s beards. The royal huntsmen are coming for you to avenge their daughters; next time we meet face to face, I fear your glass eyes will be reflected in all the mirrors of Versailles.

(Better to be consumed somewhere underground, I figured, by the milk teeth of young wolves in the museum of liverworts and rabbits’ claws, than by my own mother and father, who never saw me as anything more than food. Could you swallow the baby in the blanket? they would ask each other. In my dreams, I am freeing all of the animals from the Jardin des Plantes into the catacombs by the light of a submarine lantern. I picture the hyenas and thylacines feeling especially thrilled upon seeing the bars of their cages transformed into endless boughs of bones, crosshatched femurs and fibulae: the unwound forest, intangible to the eye.)

One evening, the house rose from her knees and leapt away, carrying the astrolabe that I used for navigating the backyard woods in her jaws. With a low growl, her nostrils ejected all of the upholstery in my bedroom into orbit. (My first lover was asleep in the sheets when it happened, and for this she never forgave me.) Wading in memories, I looked back upon the city with the metamorphic perimeter, tracing the route through the maze marked by a handful of salt for one last time, crossing the airborne streets that continuously narrowed. From that time onward, only in dreams would I run down the staircases that led into her stomach, minding her teeth like polished piano keys with my stocking feet

and warbling the voice of the siren who held a mirror to remind us that all is gossamer. I tormented Odysseus inestimable sleeps ago, before he drowned, before the continents were forged and drowned, the Earth’s mantle stretching and contracting like the parchment of the mappa mundi.

I close the curtains and glimpse the last of the sunlight breaking against the glass of the taxidermies’ eyes. My speculative littermates and I are at play in our grandparents’ house, but the floorboards and tiny ceramic furniture are flooded, and everything’s soaked. My breath obscures the mirror, and I have a memory of slipping my hands through the water

the silvered ink on my arms

and there are silver dolphins bathing in the metal, their fins passing in silence over the kitchen tiles, never leaving the hallways of the toy house, poking for clams and fish in the rainstorm sand of windows without glass. Ostensibly, this arrangement will teach us their language. I take the armillary sphere and brass microscopes from their mahogany cabinets and read to them. A meteoric cloud hisses forth from the pots on the stove and collides with the ceiling, which simultaneously happens to be the roof of my mouth. The sullen volumes on the shelves of the library wake up, startled, and gently preen themselves before drifting off once more. I turn around to face the velvet wall, and our Nonna is there, finding none of this strange at all, retouching a dusty canvas of a pride of lions with fur the colour of red and yellow giants that she painted many years ago, the smoke-faded rosettes of the cubs like a border of acanthus leaves, the dark rings from her cigarettes like breaths of the hallucinatory ink that alters the rotation of spiral galaxies.

How she loved visiting the zoo; I think of her joining the other animaliers, looking perplexedly inside the empty pavilions and putting their ears to the ground. Naturally, there are dozens of families with young children out today, albeit hardly noticing the vanished fauves, preferring instead to watch all of the illusionists most famous in those parts: Henri Robin; the Magnetic Lady, with her homing pigeons; and Blanche Wittmann, the Queen of Hysterics, who threw fits and received the stigmata on command…

who replaced her arms and legs with the praying mantis limbs of interplanetary modules after radiative phosphor silenced her unquiet skin. By that time, her hair had long since melted away like autumn, even her lashes, and she thought, I’m all worn out

Yet, remembering by physical sensation the grammar of insect flight, her convulsions sang as she fell to Earth, frozen perfectly in each of her glass eyes.

In the afternoon on Christmas Day, I dream about an enormous asteroid, a planet, or some analogous celestial entity forcefully slamming into the Earth, reducing most of the surface to rubble and sending a great shockwave through the underground room that I am taking shelter in. Although I am immediately experiencing and registering everything, I simultaneously imagine that I am watching a film, so I am detached, both there and not there. The impact does not completely extinguish life, however, and a handful of survivors slowly emerge from their hiding places, although I find myself wondering how long it would be possible for them to breathe an atmosphere rendered toxic by the object’s ensuing exhalation, which heavily resembles a pyroclastic flow. I assume that significantly extended survival is probably futile. Yet, they begin to build a new environment among the ruins of the city, interspersing the walls of decimated highrises with bright bubblegum-plastic shapes resembling pill capsules, oblong balloons, and translucent breasts with veins and protoplasmic forms reminiscent of egg yolks visible inside. In hollows and refuse pits, these shapes appear to gradually overtake the wreckage, accumulating densely in certain places, flattening and forming colourful strata. The absence of natural flora and fauna slightly disconcerts me. Upon waking, I immediately recall the descriptor of “bubblegum-plastic,” which I heard from a woman who I met in the psychiatric hospital (Womb 303, to be exact, deep in the abdomen of Tiamat, the many aisles of beds lining her viscera like beribboned fish roe). She used it with reference to a painting that she was working on at the time. I think of her every so often. I sleep in the shadow of the gaudy toy-like engine floating above the burning city in Alberto Savinio’s Sodom, for I had dreamed about Pasolini’s Salò last year’s Christmas.

Looking out over the bridge through the window, you can see the partially-submerged city of Sodom, filled with cars, derelict subway cabins, train tracks, and highways covered in clay silt beneath a clear layer of water, like crayfish in a shallow pond. My station approaches:

WHITECHAPEL

I fly against the unfolding sky, screaming myself into being. Volcanic ash emerges from a violet bloodstain. I will stay in my body for the rest of this lovely afternoon. The young rider and hunter trailed by a pack of greyhounds leap through the kitchen doorway, following the scent of the Beast of Gévaudan into the Florentine thicket of eternal dream. Passe avant! the hunter shouts.

The hunting party stops to have their luncheon on the grass in the countryside, near a glen of insomniac ferns. After packing again and continuing through the woods that never give way for one hundred thousand years, the horseman comes upon a place where it appears that the curtain of the forest has been opened, exposing a brilliantly-lit sky. He sobs, remembering the isolated and sunless eons without seasons, and the greyhounds pace the edge of the clearing and bark furiously. A large soapstone skull lies before him, a pink dianthus growing from its left eye socket. Just beyond it, a row of satellite dishes stands, like those used by astrophysicists to listen for radio signals from extraterrestrial civilizations; the young rider wonders if they belonged to a structure that stood there before the iridescent rains came. The skull and satellite dishes guard a seemingly endless plain of long, flat megaliths laid out horizontally across the earth, covered in lichens. The rider and the dog handler intuitively realize that their ancestors intended to warn them that this is the place where Jack the Ripper hunts and devours his victims, and they leave immediately, knowing that the forest has been patiently stalking them.

When I am older, I will insist that the architects endlessly add new rooms to my library, until the physical space resembles the shape of my body as accurately as possible. Tomorrow, I swim in the polar sea, making love to permafrost. Today, there are raindrops in the windowsill, looking out onto a vast land of pigeons, loving plains of fire, and Antarctic snails stuck onto the hulls of ships and carapaces of whales. There are no mornings any longer now; only a word formed of water that contains my entire memory. Un mot, une goutte. Only the rose-coloured iron filings that dust the tundra when the gulls, puffins, and gannets that nest in the northern and southern lights sail their way back.

Five million years hence, the rider returns on a path that only grows more treacherous as he advances, the horse’s hooves clattering on unused sidewalks erupting from the rim of an extinct crater cradling a stone sea in her arms. Drawing the mappa mundi in the black sand, he tells me of Gargantuas and women with the heads of boars, gravitational fields that cause the sky to shred its skin, entire cities of which no trace remains except for a single hieroglyph surrounded by unforgiving foliage. Prester John’s wives, he says, are women who never tire of eating, and they are the most splendid creatures. The horse breaks loose, leading me in the direction of the last glacial slope; your expiatory breath pulls me near, reverberating from beneath the atlas apparatus overhanging unfinished buildings. You—the lunar-caustic, surgical-steel empress of arthropods. Magic daguerreotype. For there is nothing more beautiful than the diamond light reflected in your glass eyes as we make love in the forest of gelatin prints and X-rays constituted from the bones in the Paris catacombs.

 

About The Author

Picture shows the head and shoulders of a white woman with medium-length brown hair, seated against a cream-coloured wall. She is wearing round glasses, dark red lipstick, pearls, and a lacy shawl draped over a pale purple blouse. The edges of a framed painting and a lamp can be seen in the background.

Picture shows the head and shoulders of a white woman with medium-length brown hair, seated against a cream-coloured wall. She is wearing round glasses, dark red lipstick, pearls, and a lacy shawl draped over a pale purple blouse. The edges of a framed painting and a lamp can be seen in the background.

VITTORIA LION is a Surrealist writer, painter, lesbian, unrepentant psychiatric survivor, and academic working toward composing her PhD thesis on Surrealist animal representations, speculative evolution, and psychoanalysis. She holds an MA in Art History from the University of Toronto. Her other interests, besides Surrealism and various (un)natural history topics, include medieval art and representations of disability. Her fiction, poetry, visual art, and academic work have been featured in Peculiar MormyridFeral Feminisms, and Knots: An Undergraduate Journal of Disability Studies, and she has authored chapters in two forthcoming scholarly anthologies. 

Serenade to Surrender

serenade.png
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A black-&-white side shot of a young brown woman in a dark grey sweater. There's a ring on her middle finger & her hand is raised, curling her short hair behind her ear. She is smiling slightly & looking downwards.

A black-&-white side shot of a young brown woman in a dark grey sweater. There's a ring on her middle finger & her hand is raised, curling her short hair behind her ear. She is smiling slightly & looking downwards.

TOPAZ WINTERS (they/she) is a poet, essayist, editor, creative director, speaker, scholar, actress, & multidisciplinary artist. Their internationally award-winning & critically-acclaimed creative credits include working as the author of three books (most recently poems for the sound of the sky before thunder, Math Paper Press, 2017), writer & star of the short film SUPERNOVA (dir. Ishan Modi, 2017), creative director & editor-in-chief of the arts organisation Half Mystic (est. 2015), speaker of the TEDx talk Healing Is a Verb (2017), & creator of the digital art installation Love Lives Bot (est. 2018). Their peer-reviewed research on poetry, identity, & the sociopolitical underpinnings of queerness in Singapore is published in the Journal of Homosexuality. They are the youngest Singaporean ever to be nominated for the Pushcart Prize, the youngest writer ever to be published by Math Paper Press, & the youngest scholar ever to be published in the Journal of Homosexuality. They were born in 1999, reside at topazwinters.com, & study literature & film at Princeton University. They enjoy chai lattes, classic rock, wildflowers, & the colour of the sky when nothing is dreaming of it.

. . . Flinch

CW: Abuse

 

When it’s everywhere, you give up/ and what you once called pain,/you start to call yourself.
            – Fleda Brown, “The Devil’s Child”

 

I drag it   around with me
I stow it    in the pocket    of my middle
Like I might    need it later
Like my grandmother    carries   the Depression   
In drawers full   of sugar packets   rubber bands
A marsupial    who thinks pain   
Is her baby   tuck, tuck     there, there     I consume

Coffee    like gasoline   pills
With the most careful   addict's   math   
Counting hours   like a pharmacist...tick...tick
I feel it   percolate
Or is it   the caffeine
Or does the earth    quake
The body learns to cringe    inward

Translates pain
Memory like    tripwire across
The kitchen   my trigger   son who is
Only autistic   not actually
My father   shouting   brother   mother
Pouring out life    by the glass
A body can’t tell   the difference

His face becomes   other   when he doesn’t
Like something
   there was always something
   to shrink from.

I’ve been guarding
Against so much   my eyelids   mimic it
In bed   or in my soft chair   my body
Sparkles like   Christmas lights   left leg   upper left thigh   a flutter
Not mine   like a fetus   right finger   twitch
The whole hand sometimes, stop

In that last hour
Before sleep   before the baby cries
Or the smoke detector   detects   nothing real
Faulty batteries   faulty synapses
Before the cat yowls   the alarm
Or the boy   wanders out
Before my husband wakes   hunching
Into his clothes and I am   afraid
Of the effort    my heart makes

There is no quiet even   in quiet except   
   in that space
Where the house   and the others   are all   at rest
And my body whispers   to itself   
    ... alert…... alert…... danger
   ... flinch.

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

The author is centrally-featured in an whitewashed photo nearly devoid of color except for spikes of auburn hair, a hint of blue eyes, a pink almost-smile (or is it a smirk?) and a red-polished thumb resting on the author's chin (much like an artist surveying their work). The thumb sports a clunky silver ring which, upon closer inspection, reveals itself to be an owl perched upside-down. Abstract lines suggest a shoulder, a plunging neckline, the chain of a necklace, a freckled hand, and the cuff of a sleeve; also, the lines of a face content to gaze directly at the viewer, even as the viewer gazes upon the face.

The author is centrally-featured in an whitewashed photo nearly devoid of color except for spikes of auburn hair, a hint of blue eyes, a pink almost-smile (or is it a smirk?) and a red-polished thumb resting on the author's chin (much like an artist surveying their work). The thumb sports a clunky silver ring which, upon closer inspection, reveals itself to be an owl perched upside-down. Abstract lines suggest a shoulder, a plunging neckline, the chain of a necklace, a freckled hand, and the cuff of a sleeve; also, the lines of a face content to gaze directly at the viewer, even as the viewer gazes upon the face.

Writing by SHANNON CONNOR WINWARD has appeared far and wide in places like Fantasy & Science Fiction, Analog, The Pedestal Magazine, Lunch Ticket, Rogue Agent, Argot, The Monarch Review, Cider Press Review, Literary Mama, and Rivet: the journal of writing that takes risks. She is a Delaware Division of the Arts Emerging Artist Fellow and author of The Year of the Witch (Sycorax Press, 2018) and the Elgin-award winning chapbook Undoing Winter (Finishing Line Press, 2014). Shannon shares her body with chronic illness of the physical and mental persuasions, but her spirit is doing pretty well, all things considered. In between parenting, writing and other madness, Shannon edits Riddled with Arrows Literary Journal. Visit www.shannonconnorwinward.com.

Sick

CW: Oppression; themes of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.

 

The first day, I wore blue pajamas
because I was sick. A woman who worked
in the psych ward softly asked me to change.
There are men here, she said. In the courtyard,
we stretched and did yoga, until a young black man
fainted, hitting his head which dripped with blood.
I offered him my cup of water, and John, a handsome
white man in the ward for drug addiction, made sure
I didn’t take the cup back— he was afraid of AIDS. The doctors
weren’t quick to label me, they asked me about percentages
of certainty when I spoke of the coming apocalypse.
I showered with rose soap my aunt gave me,
and when I set it on the windowsill to dry,
the scent filled the room. A few of us were allowed
to go to a grocery store nearby to shop for ingredients
to bake our own lasagna. I loved creative writing hour,
when a volunteer who said she struggled with something
herself came to teach us and inspire us. I made little gifts
for my new friends before I left. For John, I wrote writing prompts
on strips of paper and placed them in a gold cardboard box.
One was Write from the perspective of a woman.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A smiling blonde woman stood against a plain background looks into the camera. She is wearing a blue top and a grey cardigan. She is wearing a long necklace.

A smiling blonde woman stood against a plain background looks into the camera. She is wearing a blue top and a grey cardigan. She is wearing a long necklace.

Sarah T. Jewell is a Jersey poet who runs a weekly writing workshop as a part of Jersey City Writers. She won The Writer’s Hotel Sara Patton Poetry Prize in June 2018, and her poetry chapbook How to Break Your Own Heart was published by dancing girl press in April 2017. Her poems have appeared in Bird’s Thumb, Halfway Down the Stairs, Barking Sycamores and other journals. Links to her work can be found at www.stjewell.com

the fall

i am defeated by a cat's yawn
by the first long cold breath of morning stealing
     through the gap under the window-pane
by your blueness of eyes

i who swallowed the stars whole & felt them burning
     down the gaping maw of my throat only to suffer & spit
     into nothingness in the quench of my belly
i who drank the black of the night
     like wine, ocean-dark, & sour like old memories or
     the taste of sweat on your skin
i who held the moon in the palm of my hand
     & pulled the tides around me like a long cloak, the hem trailing
     foam & bird-feathers & the distant crashing of waves
     still barely audible beneath my cowl

i held another name:
a powerful invocation
whose syllables could wrap around the globe
& sink venom into the vocabularies of sinners
     & priests
     & starving poets
     & small children looking for beetles in city gutters
          but finding only my name tucked into the earth
          written in veins of glowing ore
a name so vast & heavy upon the tongue
that it would take a year's rotation of an unkind star
to utter in its entirety…
     i have forgotten it now. that name was too large, too uncanny,
     too thunder-&-lightning. i left it behind me.
you knew my name, i think, but you did not know that it was mine,
or of the ancient power that you had robbed me of
to wield, unknowing

i hid my scales from you
& blunted my fangs on the curve of your hipbone
     exchanging wings for wheels, relearning flight
         wanting only to drown in the hot crunch of your laugh
          steadying myself against the muscle of your thigh
          your hand on my brow, trailing through hair like seaweed
     sinking slowly into half-remembered darknesses…

i was no longer the eater of worlds
my soul was quiet, & full, & very small
     i had borrowed it from a bird (which explains
     my fondness for pumpkin-seeds) & the soles of my feet bled only rarely
     glass splinters & shards of obsidian working themselves out of my body
to the beating of my blood  
all loved up

had my blood been quieter
i might have noticed before the wound reopened
your heart leaving me through scar tissue, well-worn grooves, the gouges
     where my wings had withered into black ash
     upon contact with an alien atmosphere
heart falling from my throat, i sank into gravedirt
     touching my hand to my mouth & then
     to my heart again & again

listening & hearing softness in the space between breaths
     knowing defeat in every inch of me & in my core a longing
    for lost heartbeats          & yet knowing one day there will be

      the reflection of moonlight on rushing water &
     birdsong

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Image shows a white genderqueer wheelchair user with rainbow hair reading into a microphone.

Image shows a white genderqueer wheelchair user with rainbow hair reading into a microphone.

ROBIN M EAMES is a queercrip poet and historian living on Gadigal land in Sydney, Australia. Their work has been published in CorditeMeanjinOverlandUncanny Magazine’s Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction, and Deaf Poets Society, among others. They are currently working on a PhD at the University of Sydney examining madness and trans pathologisation.

10 Cent Boots

At night, I dream of girls with 10 cent boots:

that carry the scent of hotel shampoo/
and boys who twirl flowers/between their fingers/
like satin.

In the morning I wake:

to age old bones/muscle fibers that stretch/
like the strings on/the old Yamaha in my/living room/
as the notes dance/out of tune.

If I'm good:

swallow my pills/with just a tiny swish of water/
even though my body always/
seems to crave more.

And if it's good enough:

I can get out of bed/without a feeling/
that everything is speeding/
to a metronome that I haven't set.

And I can ignore:

the subtle crackling in my lungs/
of missing air and the way/I feel like a bellows/
on a bagpipe.

I can ignore the press of bile just behind my throat:

the scissoring of my esophagus/
As the diet of a fastidious toddler’s/wildest dream slides down/
Ignore the way my tongue bristles/
at bright flavors.

A girl walks by:

with coffee bean eyes/and a ring in her nose/
and I feel my heart/heavy in my chest/
craving something new/exciting/
sweet like pomegranates.

But instead I know:

time wouldn't keep us/a warm hearth.

I go to sleep
and dream of girls
with 10 cent boots


 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Person smiling with short purple hair, blue eyes, and hoop earrings.

Person smiling with short purple hair, blue eyes, and hoop earrings.

BRIAR PRONSCHINSKE is a queer undergraduate English and environmental science double major at Indiana University-Bloomington. Briar is a serial pun-maker, wheat enthusiast, and vigilante hole digger who has on multiple occasions been described as fae adjacent. A recent Fibromyalgia diagnosis inspires much of their poetry. They have previously been published in the Lighter.

Wednesday's Child

CW: Childbirth, birth trauma

 

As for giving birth, I know only what my mother told me.
It’s like coming to after your own martyrdom.
Surrounded by blood, excrement, gauze.
No sainthood in your future, but an etherized bliss
if you thought to slip the night nurse a twenty.

It’s pure butchery. The speculum, the hook, the clamps.
It’s a marvel anyone chooses it. She only had the nerve
to do it that once. I am lost in her telling of it.
She recalls the hospital bed. Her wedding ring
on the table. The husband there for decoration only.

The doctors breathing heavily under their masks,
wrestling with something. The butterfly tongs.
Not the mountain that moved between her legs.
That soiled the bed. Not its heft. Not its silence.
Only that after, there was nothing for her

to hold. She’d been split down the middle, and the thing
she was so eager to meet, a black-and-blue lump—
her pound of flesh. Thirteen pounds, to be exact. Taken away
by a nurse. After all that labor she had not a person but a wound,
and no poultice for it.

This is what ruin looks like, she says, touching her body.
Here is her broken tooth. The zipper-shaped scar climbing
from white hair to navel. The shift in her gait. She bled
forty days after. Her bladder tilted and stayed.
What do I know of birth?

I, who have done only the leaving, not the losing?
Who have had no surgeries, no hospital stays?
My very health an insult. What do I know? I know
what it is to be severed. I know the sweetness of milk,
the weight of a hand, the havoc my body brings.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A white woman in her thirties sits at a table in a restaurant. She is smiling at the camera and is raising a cocktail in her left hand. She has short brown hair and is wearing a blue shirt with leopards on it.

A white woman in her thirties sits at a table in a restaurant. She is smiling at the camera and is raising a cocktail in her left hand. She has short brown hair and is wearing a blue shirt with leopards on it.

REBECCA CROSS is a disabled poet who works as an editor in Vermont. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Woven Tale PressBreath and Shadow, and Always Crashing.

Advice for the Marvel

CW: Violence

 

First, know they will take your hair, your nails, maybe your hands.
     They’ll take the wood from the stake you were tied to, the screws
in your coffin, your stockings, your shoes. There will be forgeries:
     the cup you last drank from, the panties you died in. They’ll be
mass produced and sold at exorbitant prices. Multitudes will believe
     these objects have miraculous powers. A farmer’s wife with a lock
of your hair will give birth to rabbits. A single pot stirred with your hand
     will produce enough food for a famine. Your promoter slash husband
will preserve what’s left of your body and display it in Europe. There,
     you’ll be not a saint but a scandal. People will protest your exhibition,
but they’ll still want a peek. All of this will be beyond your control.
     No marvel is in control, in death or life—the second thing you must know.
Third, expect many proposals. They’ll come with bouquets of roses.
     They’ll come stuffed inside beer bottles. They’ll be graffitied onto
your trailer. Full-page ads will be taken out in the paper. There’s something
     about women like us that makes men lose all sense of decorum.
Reject them outright, and you’ll never be rid of them. You must delay
     your response until they lose interest, even if it takes months,
even years. Last, understand you will witness some miracles for yourself.
     Not the kind anyone asks for. A lame child will see resurrection
and be punished with whips. A beautiful girl will cry blood when she
     sees you. And when you ask God for mercy, your own voice will say no.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A white woman in her thirties sits at a table in a restaurant. She is smiling at the camera and is raising a cocktail in her left hand. She has short brown hair and is wearing a blue shirt with leopards on it.

A white woman in her thirties sits at a table in a restaurant. She is smiling at the camera and is raising a cocktail in her left hand. She has short brown hair and is wearing a blue shirt with leopards on it.

REBECCA CROSS is a disabled poet who works as an editor in Vermont. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Woven Tale PressBreath and Shadow, and Always Crashing.

Meeting the Myth

CW: Sexual assault; mention of bodily fluids

 

What a draw!—The Modern Medusa.
Everyone’s heard of the girl
who can stop men dead with her looks.

The barker knows how to sell it, too.
He hands every caller a mirror, tells them,
Don’t look directly. It’s like looking

at the pudenda of God. They enter my tent
backwards, all titter and sweat.
In their mirrors they see sallow cheek,

mud mouth, an ear and dark
writhing hair. They quiet down after that.
They’re imagining what I could do

with my tongue. Husbands blush,
picturing me in their bed. Wives tremble,
wondering how my hair would feel

brushing their thighs. Instead
of fulfilling their fantasies, I tell them
what I know about monsters:

That fishy god, all brine and sperm,
who forced himself on Medusa
on the floor of Minerva’s temple.

The young men, all swagger and heat,
who went to Medusa’s home, intending
to blind her and cut off her head.

It was Ovid who said her looks were
a punishment from Minerva—a myth
from a man who couldn’t believe

a woman might consider ugliness a gift.
Truth is, we’d all love some of that
open-mouthed, serpenty dread—

a repulsiveness that can kill. In all the stories
about her, Medusa never harms a woman—
make of that what you will.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A white woman in her thirties sits at a table in a restaurant. She is smiling at the camera and is raising a cocktail in her left hand. She has short brown hair and is wearing a blue shirt with leopards on it.

A white woman in her thirties sits at a table in a restaurant. She is smiling at the camera and is raising a cocktail in her left hand. She has short brown hair and is wearing a blue shirt with leopards on it.

REBECCA CROSS is a disabled poet who works as an editor in Vermont. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Woven Tale PressBreath and Shadow, and Always Crashing.

I Am the Answer to the Question, What Makes a Body Wrong?

What do you make of me, father?
A child born with ten fingers, ten toes,
but with one hand that’s stuck, fingers curled
as though holding something. What does it hold?

What do you make of me, mother?
My back curves and sways,
my heart is too small.
I am not what you wanted. No poultice at all.

I’ve a mouth that can cry and can kiss.
When I smile, the tongue thrashes inside.
When I laugh, you’re reminded
of bees in their hives.

You’re unnerved when I stand, mouth to mouth,
eye to eye, with my sorry reflection.
I’m proof of something, I must be,
some sort of lesson.

It’s that, you believe, or a curse.
As I age, I only get worse.
Nerves flare and contract, the spine twists,
the hand stiffens and shuts itself tight.

All these years, and what have I proved?
I lie under heaven’s lewd eye and I dream
what it’s like to be lovely,
what it’s like to be loved.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A white woman in her thirties sits at a table in a restaurant. She is smiling at the camera and is raising a cocktail in her left hand. She has short brown hair and is wearing a blue shirt with leopards on it.

A white woman in her thirties sits at a table in a restaurant. She is smiling at the camera and is raising a cocktail in her left hand. She has short brown hair and is wearing a blue shirt with leopards on it.

REBECCA CROSS is a disabled poet who works as an editor in Vermont. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Woven Tale PressBreath and Shadow, and Always Crashing.

Wheelchair

End over end
The boy pivots in slow motion
Airborne
Furled like a flower
In snow
A parabola whose arc begins at shattered windshield
And ends with crack of collagen
On gored asphalt

Now the sirens
Slice the clothes
Haul him through the blue
To the chopping block

The boy lives through pains he won’t remember
Cutting and pasting his body
In a montage of grafted bone
While he dreams of deserts
Whose sands vanish
In vacuous sinkholes

Behold the boy remade
Enthroned on his steed of aluminum
Captaining his broken body
His wheeled ship adrift
As though at sea

I set out into the waves

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ocean writes animist literary fiction, nightmare fairy tales, poetry based on recording devices left by ancient sentient species found in the fossil record, surrealist realism, postcards to no one, erasure novels, and abstract erotic literature, and has lived with a C-6/7 Spinal Cord Injury for the past 18 years .

Some Love Notes on Ableism

CW: Ableism

 

Most first dates tell me I am not
disabled, or they don’t see me
as "handicapped."

I try not to twitch, resist
the urge to see them as
naive. I add their imploring

to the paper cranes I've made
from old lovers' quotes, proving
I am not

broken when naked, or
ugly when standing, or
different. How I should believe

in their fiction, saccharin and easy.
If only I could unspasm my throat.
Maybe I want to believe

that they won’t miss
my legs curling around
the small of their back

when they are just trying  
to fit themselves inside of me,
whispering normal, normal.

That they will not care
if we never dance the samba
in a sweaty night club.
That their eyes do not
crumble like the Berlin Wall
when I fall down. Later,
they’ll insist they fall in love
with the bruising every time
they experience it.

But I know your compliments are just soft lies

your mother taught you. Some offhand lesson
on acceptance she hoped you wouldn’t need
to use.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Author sits on a blue bench in front of some palm trees in Florida. The photo is cropped so you can only see part of her black shirt. She has reddish shoulder-length wavy hair, gray tortoise shell Warby Parker glasses and a toothy smile. 

Author sits on a blue bench in front of some palm trees in Florida. The photo is cropped so you can only see part of her black shirt. She has reddish shoulder-length wavy hair, gray tortoise shell Warby Parker glasses and a toothy smile. 

Natalie E. Illum is a poet, disability activist and singer living in Washington DC. She is a recipient of 2 Poetry Fellowships from the DC Arts Commission, a former Jenny McKean Moore Fellow and a nonfiction editor for The Deaf Poets Society Literary Journal. She was a founded board member of mothertongue, an LGBTQA open mic that lasted 15 years. She competed on the National Poetry Slam circuit and was the 2013 Beltway Grand Slam Champion. Her work has appeared in various publications, and on NPR’s Snap Judgement. She is currently a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee. Natalie has an MFA in Creative Writing from American University and is a Teaching Artist for Poetry Out Loud. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter as @poetryrox, and as one half of All Her Muses. Natalie also enjoys Joni Mitchell, whiskey and giraffes. 

Apple Trees

CW: Trauma; childhood trauma

 

They say if you swallow apple seeds
a tree will take root
in the depths of your gut
and it will grow and grow
until you’re more wood than human
more bark than flesh
and the apple’s acidity
is all you can taste.

It sounds like a transformation
from one whole being
through hybrids, mutations,
to something hard, steadfast
but still alive, still growing.
I’d rather grow in the sunlight
than change beneath
the wolf’s full moon.

Just like the childhood appleseed
my trauma took root
somewhere deep inside
and perhaps my growth has
stunted, stuttered, stopped
or perhaps it’s changed
direction, like the root
that upturns concrete.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

The author is stood in front of a plain wall. They are smiling into the camera. They have brown hair, cut short, and are wearing a white t-shirt with black text and a black hoodie.

The author is stood in front of a plain wall. They are smiling into the camera. They have brown hair, cut short, and are wearing a white t-shirt with black text and a black hoodie.

MAX PERRY is a queer non-binary writer, student, and activist. They have a degree in Politics from the University of Southampton and are currently studying an MA in Conflict, Security, and Development at the University of Sussex. They write poetry, fiction, and non-fiction in their free time, as well as dabbling in cross-stitch and fandom, often at the same time. They are fuelled by chicken nuggets and rage at injustice, and they aspire to change the world through both words and action. Their tweets can be found @maxlper.

Living Ghosts

CW: Death; death imagery

 

This is a poem about my dead friend:
she’s not dead,
not really,
but I was, for a while
and she wouldn’t visit me in hospital.

I think she had a sickness
because her words slide out too easily.
When I see her next
slurred,
mouth too wide
she’s exaggerated
a cartoon in motion.

It’s a while before the dam breaks,
not too long,
I’m still
recovering
and they reveal:
they’ve had a meeting.

It had an agenda,
someone took minutes,
they’re killing me
killing us
placing a clear divide
between life and death
the alive and the dead
and i’m not a part of their puzzle
anymore.

I don’t remember my food
(dead girls can’t taste)
but i remember crying
and how emotionless she was
maybe dead girls can’t feel.

One
or both of us
was missing some senses
severed at the root
to stave off the infection
I felt her death
like a phantom limb
but she’d gone numb
to mine.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

The author is stood in front of a plain wall. They are smiling into the camera. They have brown hair, cut short, and are wearing a white t-shirt with black text and a black hoodie.

The author is stood in front of a plain wall. They are smiling into the camera. They have brown hair, cut short, and are wearing a white t-shirt with black text and a black hoodie.

MAX PERRY is a queer non-binary writer, student, and activist. They have a degree in Politics from the University of Southampton and are currently studying an MA in Conflict, Security, and Development at the University of Sussex. They write poetry, fiction, and non-fiction in their free time, as well as dabbling in cross-stitch and fandom, often at the same time. They are fuelled by chicken nuggets and rage at injustice, and they aspire to change the world through both words and action. Their tweets can be found @maxlper.

Draw Blood

CW: Violence

 

I’ll tell you the truth
that no one else will:
the thing itself
did not hurt as much
as the reality of not being
believed.
No ache compared.
No crucifixion was ever good
enough. They nailed my wrists
to any structure they could find,
Liar, liar, you will never
know.
I will never know
their pain, I know nothing
of my own.
I know broken glass streaming
down the sciatic nerve,
feeling my heartbeat
between my teeth. Can you?
Stick your finger in my mouth
if you think it would prove
anything. Ignore the tears
should they touch your hand.
Gag me. Pry my mouth open,
say ah. Go ahead,
all the doctors have.
Press here: the space between
ignore the screaming.
Do not catch me when I pass
out.
If my body were a temple after
all, would you love it?
Would you pull my hair
out of my face during the fever?
So even then
if my body were holy,
you would not love it.
How could anyone
touch a kneecap tenderly?
I have hidden in
every hospital gown.
My body crumbling, in the squatted
position. Hold the world
above my head, while my mouth
cracks open.
Surgical scars,
fire lines on the inside to
stop the controlled burn. There will never
be another bathing suit.
Not enough silverware
in my kitchen drawers. No child
will ever grace my womb. My children
were never mine. They were the ghosts
I visited with when
under anesthesia. Their faces
look like the other side
of closed eyes. You will never
know.
Even if I wanted it
I would never have it. It matters
not to anyone but me. This loss
I found. Ten fingers, ten toes,
a head full of hair

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

The author in her favorite black dress. She is looking into the camera and smiling. There is a picture on the wall behind her.

The author in her favorite black dress. She is looking into the camera and smiling. There is a picture on the wall behind her.

LYDIA A. CYRUS is a writer and activist living in Indiana. Some say she rides a broom stick, she says that’s hearsay. She loves a good thunder storm and poetry. 

Melusine on a Williamsburg Sunday, 2016

CW: Body horror

 

Melusine is a fae princess of French folklore who is cursed to grow a dragon-like tail each Sunday. In the myth, she marries a mortal prince and hides this from him by locking herself in a marble bath. You can see her now on the logo for Starbucks.


Violet droplets fall as she lifts a virescent question mark
of tentacle from jasmine scented water.

A new bath bomb from her
monthly trip to Lush. All the stores peddle

December, the celebration when
men tore down her mothers’

feast days, took their pain, and called it holy.
She still remembers a wilder world; the calls of mourning

doves. Those ancestors to today’s pigeons,
missing legs and orange eyes.

Dissonance, not unlike herself;
she likes anything chimera. Seven hundred years

and, finally, a small salvation.
She doesn’t  have to look at her fault

line in the painted water. Safety is a toy for big little girls who
find their bodies too much limb, their brains too polluted.

In the morning, when her legs return, there will be glitter hickies
where her suction cups stuck to the sides of the tub.

She has been here since eleven the night before
gripping the faucet handle with a sucker to keep

the water warm. The playlist filled with Santigold
and FKA Twigs will run until just

before morning—only necessary silence
when all these long ends coalesce again.

The cat won’t need to eat
since he smells prey here. He doesn’t leave

the bath mat but will purr when she half-falls
out of the tub tomorrow, equal parts devotion

and hunger. The Mirtrazapine,
in addition to leveling her mood,

makes her sleep even sitting up.
She keeps waiting to drown.

Mel leans her head back. Her nights are always long.
Her door has six locks even with gentrification.

She can smell herself
mingled with the heavy perfume

of the bomb, like koi in a pond
surrounded by cherry blossoms.

Under the ink, her curse
finds the girlhood it forgot, a grotto

amongst kelp fronds. She pushes a tip
inside herself, then two, three…

The bath froths with her lashing.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A smiling woman with glasses and a pink top looks warmly into the camera. She has short pink hair. In the background, there are a pair of brown curtains.

A smiling woman with glasses and a pink top looks warmly into the camera. She has short pink hair. In the background, there are a pair of brown curtains.

LIV MAMMONE is an editor and poet from Long Island, New York. Her poetry has appeared in wordgathering, monstering, Wicked Banshee, The Medical Journal of Australia, and others. In 2017, she competed team for Union Square Slam as the first disabled woman to be on a New York national poetry slam team and appeared in the play The Fall of All Atomic Angels as part of a festival that was named Best of Off Off Broadway by Time Out Magazine. She was also a finalist in the Capturing Fire National Poetry Slam in Washington DC. Her most recent editorial job, Uma Dwivedi’s poetry collection They Called her Goddess; we Named her Girl, was nominated for a Write Bloody book award.

Through History, Changeling

CW: Mild horror, endangered children

 

I will write you back to life, draw you like mould from a drywall and paint over the cracks until no-one but us will be able to see the changes. Are you ready? Do you remember? I do, so let me remind you how it happened.

*

When the winter came we used to visit my grandmother’s house, a tiny stone cottage set in an absentee lord’s estate, somewhere in the north of the country. Speeding out from beneath the city’s high-rise estates in our rented car, I’d press my nose against the window, and feel condensation shiver over my face, and vapour settle across my skin.

The concrete forest closed in on all sides, cars jostled for supremacy on the roads, and then, so gradually you might hardly have noticed it start to happen, the buildings vanished and vast swathes of countryside unfurled themselves around us. I remember that the world seemed infinite in those moments; the sky, bright white and pregnant with snow, and the sun, a droplet of golden ice wreathed in mist, trembling on the tip of the distant horizon.

Those car journeys seemed to last forever. The countryside, crisp and silver with frost, was both timeless and interminable. By the time our tyres crunched over the manor’s gravel driveway, the windows of our car were so thoroughly shrouded with fog, that we could hardly see grandma’s house as it approached in the twilight gloom.

She couldn’t see us from within our frosted time capsule, either, but she was always there, waiting in the cold. A woman, so old to my childish eyes, that the very fact of her existence seemed to be a miracle. The smell she carried with her was gentle with lavender, sharp with citrus, and heavy with pipe smoke. A deep purple shawl covered her hunched shoulders like a cape, and the large square glasses she refused to have replaced, made her eyes appear too small for the drooping parchment jowls of her face.

I loved her, it was true, and in return for my love she showered me with stories, sweets, and independence - a child’s true dream. When my parents had unpacked the car, she’d bundle us into the belly of her slumbering home, where the wooden beams creaked, the fire roared its warmth, and the piercing wind shrieked the memory of long-ago tragedy through the eaves.

“So,” she’d say, her too-small eyes illuminated by firelight. “What new things have you learnt this year?”

And there I’d stand, the dutiful granddaughter bathed in candlelight, and recite for her the newness of my world.

“Caesar was stabbed in the back; Medusa’s eyes could turn a man into stone; the sky isn’t really blue even though it looks like it; PVA glue is like a second skin if you let it dry over your hands; I don’t think I believe in ghosts anymore,” and so on and so on, with all of the babbling pride of a child who’s finally been given the space in which to speak.

What was special about grandma was that she’d always wait for me to finish. Her paper-thin lips would turn upwards into a smile as I spoke, her fingers would tap delightedly against her threadbare chair, and she would nod sagely, with all of the wisdom bestowed upon the old by the eyes of the watching young. But this winter, this special season out of many, she flicked her finger up with unlikely alacrity, and held it a few inches away from my startled lips.

“What do you mean, you don’t think you believe in ghosts?” She asked seriously.

“Well,” I hesitated, my eyes darting towards the ceiling, above which my exhausted parents were already sleeping.

“Well?”

“Well, only babies believe in ghosts,” I said. “And anyway, I’m much too old for ghost stories now.”

A strange noise filled the room. A deep, gurgling, happy, wonderful sound, that bubbled up from within Grandma’s ancient throat, and bounced in diminishing echoes around the night-filled room. The sound of her laughter both thrilled and frightened me.

“Only babies believe in ghosts, eh?”

“That’s right,” I answered, my jaw firmly set. “I’m too old for ghost stories.”

All of a sudden, her face grew hard and serious, and she stared into the flames with an expression I’d never seen before.

“Well, maybe you’re right,” she said eventually. “Perhaps you are too old for ghost stories. But you can never be too old for myths.”

She leant towards me then, the deep folds of her skin submerged in shadows, and took my hand in hers.

“Do you know many myths?”

I nodded hurriedly.

“Of course!” I answered. “Medusa was a myth, and the minotaur, and Pegasus, and-”

“No no no,” she waved my tales away with a sweep of her arthritic hand. “Those are Greek myths; they have no power here. I’m talking about the stories from your own history. The ones you walk through every day. The ones you feel, every time a shiver creeps down your spine, and you’re not quite sure why. What about those, eh?”

I shook my head, my scalp prickling. My history? I didn’t know people like me or grandma had histories, let alone our own myths. Grandma’s chuckle came from deep inside her chest.

“Sit here with me,” she said, pointing to the cushion by the fire. “And I’ll tell you the strange tale, of this estate’s very own Changeling.”

*

The manor wasn’t always abandoned as it is now. When I was young, I travelled here as the wife of the gardener – your grandfather - and was set to work in the kitchens. Those were the days when a woman couldn’t earn her own living without the help of a husband, or a position arranged at a home like this one, and I was lucky enough to have both.

We arrived at the start of a glorious summer. There were garden parties and fêtes every week, with the lords and ladies dressed up in all their finery, playing fairground games, and sipping lemonade, cocktails, and champagne throughout the long hours of daylight. From my position at the sink, where I spent my days scrubbing the pots and pans, I could stare through the window at their peculiar little rituals and their expensive suits and dresses, and marvel to myself quietly.

The women seemed to me to be another breed of female entirely. They were so well powdered, perfumed, and pressed, that they hardly seemed to sweat in the heat. The beating sun was enough to scorch the tops of my arms, in those few moments it took me to carry the platters of food and decanters of drink to their tables, and yet they remained looking impossibly pristine and cool. To this day, I don’t know how they did it, but I suppose that’s just how the world is, sometimes.

Their men, of course, delighted in the passing of we kitchen maids in and out of the crowd. Many’s the time I had to scold one of the younger ones for his crude tongue, or slap the wandering fingers of a young upstart who sought to pinch what no man – aside from your dear grandfather – ought to be pinching. But it was merely the way of things back then, and Lord Dolsen was a better man than most. He and his lady wife, Isabelle, had given all their female staff the express permission to firmly rebuke anyone who tried to interfere with us - or with our duties.

And so that summer was a happy one, until, like most things that for one reason or another turn bad, it suddenly wasn’t anymore. The Lord and Lady Dolsen, you see, were good employers. Oh, they might have been born into silver spoons, fine china, and fancy clothes, but they never treated us as anything less than the people we were. Your mother, for instance, played alongside their little boy, Alastor, for a time, since they were about the same age when we arrived.

While I scrubbed and scoured the crocks at the kitchen window, I’d see the two of them playing havoc together in the garden, with another young local boy who’d been brought by his parents from the town. Your mother – my little Cate - blonde and pretty in her skirts; Alastor, with his head of dark, raven hair, which looked so strange against his pale white skin; and Connor, the little farmer’s boy, who was a couple of years older than the two of them, but had always been small for his age. He didn’t get on too well with the older kids, and Cate and Alastor were happy enough to let him join in with their games.

They had the best of times together that summer. Every evening, Cate would come tumbling in through the front door, carried by your grandfather, and kicking and squealing not to be washed. She’d have rips in her skirts and mud on her face, and she’d spend the whole of dinner telling us tales of fairies hiding in the woods down by the stream, and how Alastor and Connor had gone exploring, and had promised to bring her back one as proof.

“They’ve got green eyes, and they wear little crowns of twigs on their heads, and only the girls have wings. Alastor says he’s going to try and catch one of those, since they’re always flying just out of reach and making fun of us because we can’t fly-” and other such nonsense like that.

Well, she never did manage to bring us back a fairy, but whether or not they really existed didn’t seem to matter much. They existed in the minds of those three, thick as thieves as they were, and that made them real for the summer, at least. It seems a shame to tell of it now, but it was those damn fairy hunts that led to the whole sorry business, if you ask me.

You see, Lord Dolsen, though he was kind and fair to his staff, was also a man who didn’t hold much truck with nonsense. He didn’t believe in fairies, and he didn’t like the flights of fancy that tumbled from the mouths of those three babes, no matter how harmless their imaginings seemed to me. One day, towards the end of summer, I overheard an argument between him and his lady wife, as they passed beneath the window.

“Don’t you try to tell me all of this fairy stuff is harmless. I won’t have my son running around with the farmer’s boy, looking for things that don’t exist!”

“But it is harmless. They’re just exploring, can’t you see that? Why ruin the children’s fun?”

“I’m warning you, Isabelle. Alastor’s got some strange notions in his head already, and I won’t have you or anybody else encouraging him to believe in a world that isn’t real.”

“If you stop him from making friends now he’ll never forgive you. It’s nearly the end of summer, after all. All of these people will have gone back to their homes by this time next week, and you can talk to him calmly then. Can’t you let the boy play at his make-believe for now?”

It wasn’t that I was trying to eavesdrop, you understand. It’s just that Lord Dolsen was raging so awfully, and poor Isabelle, I didn’t like to move out of earshot just in case something untoward were to happen. You can understand that, can’t you? Well, whether you do or not, they lowered their voices after that, and the last I saw of Lord Dolsen in his right mind, he was storming across the garden and heading right towards the stream on the other side of the grounds.

Now, if it hadn’t been for Cate, I’d know as little as the rest of the serving staff about what happened next that day. But I’d heard how angry Lord Dolsen was, and I thought I had a pretty good idea of where that anger might lead. I didn’t want Cate to get caught in the cross-fire of a man like that, particularly when the crimson fog had descended as it had, so I dried my hands on my apron, and followed him across the lawn.

By the gods, anger must have given wings to that man’s feet. By the time I’d hurried out of the house and started running towards the woods, there was no sign of him at all on the horizon. But still, I thought I knew better than him where Cate and those two boys had spent their days playing, so I hoisted up my skirts, and I ran right into the trees just as fast as my feet would carry me.

Well, mark my words, when you get into those woods, you can see quite clearly how three children might convince themselves of something as ridiculous as fairies. The moss grows thick and green there, and the great old oaks and birches crowd beneath sky, until you could almost believe that no world still exists above them. The smell of the undergrowth is strong under there, and even though it had been a blistering summer, the deeper I went beneath the boughs, the soggier the mud grew beneath my feet.

I heard the stream before I saw it, but not a sound of my Cate or of those two little boys reached my ears. I stumbled around in that shadowy green world for what felt like an eternity, and as soon as I reached the water I knew I’d taken too long. The flattened area on the banks, where they’d played for those long weeks, was deserted. All I could see were the little fairy traps they’d made, built of springy twigs, and weaved into miniscule cages that they’d filled with some of the treats they’d managed to scavenge from the adult’s tables.

As I knelt down to examine them more closely – not for signs of fairies, of course, but just out of curiosity - there came a great howling and crashing from the other side of the water, and out of the undergrowth on the opposite bank, ran Cate and Connor as though the devil himself were on their heels. Their little faces were rigid with fear, and when they saw me they waded straight into the water. Before I could even call out a warning, they’d crashed through their fairy traps, and stumbled to the ground at my side.

“He’s gone mad!” They shouted. “Lord Dolsen’s gone mad!”

“Calm yourselves, the both of you!” I said, although their terror had unsettled me a little, as well. “What has he done?”

But at that moment, another crash echoed from the other side of the stream, and both of them would have shot off through the woods, had I not already got hold of Cate’s squirming wrist.

As it was, only Connor fled out into the open, and just as he disappeared behind us, Lord Dolsen and little Alastor came flying into view. That poor boy. He was always so immaculately dressed; always wearing these miniature versions of his father’s black suits, ironed and pressed and without a speck on them. So, you can imagine, it was a frightful shock to see him there, bare chested and frightened, howling and running as if his very life depended on it. His father was right behind him, and as long as I’ve lived, I’ve never seen a man so consumed by rage.

“No son of mine!” He was screaming. “No son of mine!”

Before I could gather my nerves up again, Alastor had raced past me - bare chest and all - and Lord Dolsen was standing quietly on the bank opposite, his wild eyes staring unseeingly after his son.

I was glad to have the water between us when he turned his gaze on me and Cate, let me tell you. I’d never seen such madness poison the face of a man, not before and nor since. He didn’t say a word. He just trembled with his fury, and fixed me with a stare that meant I never, not until now, spoke a word to anyone about what I’d seen down by that stream. Not even to your grandfather.

Well, after he’d stormed off to God knows where, I marched Cate back to the cottage in absolute silence. By the time we made it home, dusk had settled over the lawns, and the lengthening shadows were creeping like ghosts across the grass. She’d snivelled all the while we’d walked, and held tight onto my hand even when I got her inside.

“Now,” I said, prising her hand away from mine. “You’re going to tell me everything that happened, right from the beginning.”

But the poor dear didn’t seem to know herself.

“We were just playing,” she said. “Connor and Alastor were in the bushes together, setting fairy traps, see, and I wasn’t allowed to go because the fairies can smell when a girl’s been around, so I was keeping watch so no fairies would slip past us and see what they were doing.”

A strange thought occurred to me.

“And then?”

“Then I heard this crashing and shouting, and before I could yell a warning to Al and Connor, Lord Dolsen stormed past me and, and-”

I couldn’t get much sense out of her after that. The shock had been a lot for her to take in, and in a short while I packed her off to bed, with promises that no-one would speak about it again, and that she wouldn’t get into any trouble. It turned out, after all, that those were promises I was able to keep.

Nobody ever did talk about what had happened down by the stream, but nothing was ever the same after that final day of summer. Lord Dolsen sent all of the lords and ladies away the very next day, and a fair few of the serving staff, as well. I often think he only kept me around in return for my silence, but no matter the reason, over the next few months, that madness I’d glimpsed on his face by the water spread through his mind like a sickness.

Alastor was kept under lock and key, chaperoned everywhere by his mother or the maids. If ever his child’s name was mentioned in Lord Dolsen’s presence, he’d fall into paroxysms so severe, that no-one could put an end to them for fear of getting hurt.

“He’s not my son!” He’d scream. “He’s a changeling! Give me back my son!”

And he’d barrel through the house looking for the missing child, turning over beds, pulling clothes out of wardrobes, and no amount of sensible words or persuasion could convince him that his frightened son was standing right in front of him, holding tightly onto his lady wife’s hand.

Well, they say that it’s the curse of the hate-filled to be followed by tragedy in return, and as summer turned into autumn, and the smell of wood-smoke and decay filled the air, Lord Dolsen’s anger continued unabated. Finally, as snow began to settle over the estate, his madness reached its inevitable conclusion. One night, when the rest of the house was asleep, he stole the boy from his bed, and carried him off into the woods.

No-one knows what happened next, but I have a feeling that I know better than most, having seen him that day down by the stream. I think that Lord Dolsen had planned to return the changeling to the fairies that night, and beg for his son in return. He took Alastor on the night of the winter solstice - a powerful time of the calendar if you believe in those sorts of things - and once he’d stolen him from his bed, I believe he carried him down to the stream. Heaven knows what that poor boy must have thought, dragged along by his father, who was raving mad by this point, and claiming him to be a curse of the fairy king. I’m sure he struggled. I’m sure he shouted for help. But what can a child do against the force of an adult so crazed?

I have half a notion that when they reached the stream, and no being other than himself and his boy appeared, Lord Dolsen truly lost his mind. One of the serving girls found the lord the next morning, half-naked on the banks of the stream, covered in mud, and shrieking curses into the air. There was no sign of Alastor, and to this day no-one knows what happened to the poor boy. Of course, a search was mounted, the police were called, but he was never found.

All I know, is that Lord Dolsen was carried off to the madhouse, still clinging to a stump of wood he’d torn from the forest floor. He seemed to believe that if he kept hold of it, his son would be returned and placed back into his arms. Poor Isabelle – Lady Dolsen, that is -  she packed up and moved on back to her parents for a time, I believe, and neither lord nor lady have returned here since. But she left a generous stipend for your grandfather and I to stay on, so we could lease the cottage and tend to the house in her absence. Between you and me, I think she did it partly because she hoped one of us would stumble across something here; something in the grounds that might explain what happened to Alastor that night.

Well, I’m sorry to say that I’ve been here fifty years now, and I’ve never turned up anything that could explain how that boy disappeared. But of course, plenty of myths and stories have blossomed around the tale. There are some who say the boy really was a changeling, and that the real Alastor was taken by the fairies to punish his father for his cruelty. Some say you can hear the sound of their music on nights when the frost draws in, and fewer people are there to disturb them. Others say that the spirit of the boy still sits by the water, lonely and forgotten, trying to tempt other children to join him there, and play forever down in the stream.

*

The fire had burned low in the hearth by the time grandma finished her tale, and a strange disquiet had settled over the room.

“What do you think happened to him, grandma? Do you think he’s still there? And the changeling, too?”

She smiled, her face softened by the glow of the fire’s embers.

“Me? I think that madness leaves a mark on a place, and cruelty even more so. It wouldn’t surprise me if the anger of that little boy, or the madness of his father, does still linger here, somewhere in the trees.”

“Do you really mean that?”

“Oh, yes. On winter nights, I’ve often seen the glow of firelight in the windows of the old manor, but no trace of a fire’s been there when I’ve gone to look.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“I don’t believe you,” I said, suddenly wary that the whole long story had been a lie.

“Oh, don’t you?” She said. “Well, what about this then?

“What about what?”

Her eyes narrowed playfully. She leaned in close, her face inches from mine, the smell of pipe smoke and lavender overwhelming.

“Sometimes, when the darkness seems deep although the moon is still full, a person could convince themselves they’ve seen lights moving in that forest, and strange people dancing between the trees.”

I shivered, and my face suddenly felt warm and flushed. The shrieking wind howled around the little house, and for the rest of the evening, I snuck glances towards the blackened windows, for any sign of the ghostly lights moving in the distance.

Later, when I’d laid my head down in the tiny attic room, and bundled the bedcovers up over my head, I dreamt that the changeling was at my window, and the ghost of the pale-skinned Alastor was sobbing under my bed.

*

The next day dawned bright and crisp. The fresh air whistling through the grey-lit house washed away my terrors of the night before, and with nothing ahead of me but time and the deserted grounds, I set out to uncover the mysteries of Changeling Manor. That morning, after breakfast, grandma helped me pack a small rucksack with a sandwich, chocolate, a notebook, pens, a torch, a length of rope, two plasters, and a strip of bandages – just in case. My feet crunched over powdered snow as I trudged out onto the lawns, and I felt the smile in grandma’s eyes follow me all the way to the treeline.

At the threshold of the forest, I paused to look back at the grounds. Grandma’s cottage was dwarfed by the looming façade of the manor, and in the thickening snow flurries, I had the strangest impression that the old house was creeping closer to grandma’s home, like a predator stalking its prey.

Beneath the trees the world was sharp with ice. The bare oaks and trembling birches rose up like frozen sentries, their boughs bent low with snow, and their roots encased in frost. All the world was silver and white. As I walked still deeper between the creaking trunks, the anaemic sunlight flung itself over the snow and dazzled my squinting eyes, until it seemed that no matter where I looked, images followed me like spectres, and the same monochrome photograph imprinted itself across my vision.   

My feet slid and slipped beneath me as I made my way further into the colourless world. Above my head, the branches began to crowd together, until the air was no longer white with snow-light, but muted in tones of softest grey. Shadows leapt and mutated out of the corners of my eyes, and I strained my ears for the sound of the rushing stream.

For a long while there was nothing. The ground was treacherous and the going was slow. And then: a whisper. A breath. And an unmistakable roar. My breath began to rasp in my throat, and my muscles burned in the cold as I quickened my pace. The sound of running water pulled me like a magnet towards it, even as my head was filled with the clamour of Lord Dolsen’s screams, and the frightened eyes of his raven-haired child.

“Nearly there, nearly there,” I whispered into the air, my feet pounding over the hardened ground. What would I find down by the water?

My mind was full of pictures of fairy traps, of three children playing together one long ago summer, of green eyes and a crown made of twigs, and of a voice calling me to come to him and play. All of a sudden, the ground rose into a mound of steep-banked ice, and before I could slow down, my foot caught on a root hidden beneath the snow. For a singular moment, both of my feet went out from under me, and as I reached out for purchase with my arm, a sudden sharp pain glanced through my hand and I hit the forest floor with an echoing thud.

Blood fell in hot droplets onto the snow. I lay perfectly still on my back, staring up at a scrap of white sky, and feeling the trickle of heat drain from my palm and across the frost-bitten ground. Tentatively, I flexed first my fingers, then my toes, and by degrees became certain that nothing was broken. My head pounded where I’d hit it, and the thick ice on the branch I’d grabbed for had torn straight across my palm. Against the bright white of the snow, the redness of my blood seemed a wonder, but although the edges of the cut were jagged, it didn’t seem to be very deep.

“Don’t laugh!” I shouted. “It’s your fault anyway!”

My face burned with embarrassment, and I imagined the fairy king sitting high up in the trees, laughing at my clumsiness and vowing never to allow me sight nor sound of him. Muttering under my breath, I took the bandages out of my rucksack, and wound a cursory strip around my throbbing hand.

“I’m still going to find you!” I shouted. “Don’t you think I won’t!”

Carefully this time, and squirming to dislodge the flurry of snow from my back, I crawled on all fours over the bank of ice, and slid swiftly down the other side. Immediately, the sound of the stream faded into the distance, as though someone had clamped their gloved hands over my ears and muffled the world around me. I cast my gaze around for the source of the water flow, which had seemed so close only moments before, but it was no-where to be seen.

*

I walked for what felt like hours, deeper and deeper into the woods, until the creaking boughs closed in over my head, and the shadows lengthened across the ground. Dusk was fast approaching, and the cold had crept inside my jacket and trickled into my shoes. The day wasn’t fun anymore, and just as I promised myself that with my next step I’d turn back, it seemed as if the forest had heard me; because the very next moment, the stream from grandma’s story came rushing into view, and lit up my vision as though conjured from the air.

My heart leapt in my chest, as I recognised the flattened area at the water’s edge. The water there was crystal clear, and its mirrored surface seemed almost ethereal, as it sliced its way between the snow-white banks. I raced towards it, and stood stock still in the place where the traps had been, imagining my mother as a child weaving the sticks into cages, and Alastor and Connor searching the air for the flurry of beating wings.

Nothing still remained of those long-ago summer games, but a strange sensation of cold prickled at my scalp, and the forest suddenly seemed darker than it had before. What time was it? The crystalline waters caught the light of a deepening mauve sun, and the day seemed to be growing dimmer by the second. Blue-grey shadows leapt over the ground and slunk across the snow, and from the bank opposite, a shrill wind whipped over the pulsing tide. I cleared my throat, suddenly feeling ridiculous. I’d been walking for a whole day, and for what?

“I’m here!” I shouted into the trees.

My voice echoed back to me and the water ran on unabated.

“I came to find you!”

Silence. I stood at the water’s edge, and for a painful second, I couldn’t remember ever having felt more foolish or alone. Of course grandma’s story hadn’t been real! How could a child go missing and no-one ever find him? And how many people really believe in changelings and fairies? My face flushed with anger and I threw a rock into the stream in frustration. How stupid could I have been? The stone sank with a satisfying thunk, so I did it again, and again, and again, until-

-A breath of air pricked at my ears. I stopped in the middle of throwing the largest rock yet; my arm raised straight up towards the sky, and my fingers burning with cold. Music wafted towards me through the trees, almost too softly to be heard, but undeniably there. Slowly, I lowered my arm.

“Hello?” I asked quietly. “Is that you?”

I crouched down and placed the rock on the ground.

“I’m not here to hurt you,” I whispered. “I promise.”

The music grew louder. A haunting, eerie melody, neither flute nor strings, nor any instrument I could name, but somehow gentler and more beautiful than anything I’d heard before.

A dream-like feeling washed over me, and suddenly it didn’t seem so cold anymore. In fact, it was quite warm, and my hand didn’t hurt much, either. Adrenaline surged through my veins, and as the music continued to draw nearer, I felt joy pierce my soul like lightning. On the other side of the stream, somewhere deep beyond the trees, blue-white lights, like spectral fire, danced their way through the darkness.

The fairies.

“Wait!” I called. “Don’t leave me! I’m coming!”

The music was moving on, and the lights with it, pushing deeper into the woods and onwards without me. The thought of the music and the lights abandoning me to the darkness, split my chest with pain. Before I knew what I was doing, I’d waded out into the stream, and began splashing my way through the frigid water.

The current surged around me, tugging at my clothes and forcing me into its slipstream, but I kept my feet planted firmly on the shifting silt, and struggled to make it to the other side. My hands gripped the frozen earth tightly, my fingers scrabbling for purchase, and with strength pulled from somewhere I didn’t know I had, I hauled myself out onto the snow-carpeted ground, and lay there shivering and panting. The music was louder again, and this time accompanied by voices – oh, such voices! – and laughter rising from somewhere in the dark. A flash of movement blurred in the corner of my eye, and in the act of getting to my feet, I froze dead in my tracks.

There he was. A small boy, younger than me, his skin pale as the snow and his hair raven black, standing in the shadows and hiding between the trees. We looked at each other, and I realised too late that I was afraid.

Alastor.

The moment seemed to stretch on for an age. As the lights faded into the darkness, I felt the cold once again bite at my toes, and shivers wracked my body. Night had fallen swiftly, but still he didn’t move.

“I came to find you,” I said at last. “I came to find out what happened to you.”

For a second, nothing happened, and then, quicker than I thought possible, the little boy turned on his heel, and darted through the trees.

“Wait!”

My heart trembled and my feet followed him almost against my will. Low-hanging branches scratched at my face, the ice bit and tore at my shoes, and my chest burned with cold. Up ahead, I could see flashes of movement and patches of black against the ice-warped trees, but my footing was less sure than his, and no matter how much I urged my shivering body onward, my fingers began to cramp and my muscles seized and juddered to a halt.

Just as soon as he’d appeared, the little boy melted back into the darkness. I stamped my feet against the ground and wrapped my quivering arms around my waist. The music had stopped, the lights had dissolved into shadows, and the silence was absolute. Where was the stream? I cast around for it, my panic rising. In the impenetrable night, every tree, silver with frost and eerie with moonlight, looked the same, and no trace of running water reached my ears. I was lost.

Don’t panic.

Grandma, or my parents, would come and find me. I was sure of it. But it was cold, and the water weighing down my sodden clothes was already splintering into frost as I watched. In the darkness, shadows deformed the trees, and gave to their trunks malevolent faces that mutated and grinned at my fear. Wafts of spectral laughter drifted to me on the wind, and every snap of a twig, or thud of falling snow, made my heart start to hammer and my body grow cold.

Don’t panic.

I tried to think clearly. It was impossible to find my way back to grandma’s cottage now that I’d lost the stream, and stumbling around in the dark was too dangerous – I might fall and break my leg, or worse. It dawned on me with creeping horror, that the only thing left to do was to try and keep warm, and wait to be found.

He wasn’t real.

I just had to wait. That was all. Shivering, I slipped to the ground with my back against a tree trunk, and tucked my knees up to my chin. Splinters of ice chipped at my fingers, and the chill seemed to burrow into my skin.

“This is your fault!” I yelled. “I didn’t want to find you anyway!”

Silence. The wind blustered and then quieted.

I was alone.

*

Hours passed. The wind sliced through my frozen clothes and my cheeks stung in flurries of snow. The ringing in my ears as the cold sought its way inside, grew louder until I could hardly bare it. A wave of anger consumed me. Why did I have to come out here in the first place? Why did grandma have to tell me that stupid story? Why did the mad lord have to steal the little boy away anyway? Tears pricked at my eyes as the night stretched on interminably.

“I hate you!” I screamed into the wind. “Do you hear that? I hate you!”

Almost instantly, a feeling of dread engulfed me, and at the whim of some primal instinct I scrambled to my feet, stricken with pain, and pressed my back against the tree.

I felt him before I saw him. The cold touch of his arm at my side sent spasms of terror to the depths of my soul. Before he could fix me with his deadened stare, I screwed my eyes up tight, and turned my face away. Panic rose in my chest, and my hands gripped the ice-blanketed bark so tightly that my fingers started to bleed.

“Look at me,” I heard him say, his voice strange and twisted in the wind. I shook my head.

“I don’t want to!” I answered. “Leave me alone!”

I felt him move still closer, his breath rotten, and colder than the air.

“Open, your eyes,” he hissed.

Inexorably, I felt my eyelids flicker, and the shadow of my future-self passed swiftly in front of my eyes, before fleeing away into the night without me. I stared into his face. I took in the pale coldness of his skin, the unnatural ridge of his monstrous jaw, and then, with a tremor of unbearable fear, I looked deeply into the glowing eyes of the manor’s furious changeling.

*

All I was left with was pain. Great waves of needle-driven agony burrowed deep beneath my skin and drenched my heart in horror. I felt my body, as though it was apart from me, drop to the ground and writhe against the ice. Strange images passed before my glazed eyes: shadows of people formed and broke within the driving snow; great wheels of silver-blue fire burst all around me; the white terror of the changeling’s eyes slipped in and out of my gaze; and the cacophonous screams of a long-dead lord, bored into my skull relentlessly. There was no escape. No him, no me, no history and no joy. I was simply lost.

I don’t know how long I stayed there, or how badly my soul was torn. All I know is that it felt like an eternity, before the horror began to retreat, and soft arms were pulling me up and away from the pain. Frightened voices shouted words I didn’t understand. In a haze of screaming that I thought might be my own, I was carried inside, and the heat from grandma’s fire scalded my face, and sent blood pulsing back to the tips of my frozen fingers.

*

The heat was worse at first than the cold. I screamed and begged to be taken back outside, to be placed into the snowdrift and left there to freeze. But my parents held me down against the floor, as grandma tucked more and more blankets around me, and I was moved ever closer to the agonising flames.

“It’s a fever,” I heard grandma saying. “If it doesn’t break soon I don’t know what we can do.”

I looked past her stricken face, my eyes rolling in their sockets, my body both hot and cold, and every inch of it aflame.

In my delirium, the fire roared like a leviathan. Its eyes were burning coals, and the fingers of flame reached out and lapped at the edges of my consciousness. Thick gasps of snow beat against the window, and the shards of ice were white with the glow of the changeling’s eyes. His fingers scratched relentlessly at the shuddering glass, and when the wind whistled through the eaves, I heard his incandescent screams.

“Stay still,” someone was saying. “Stay still, you’ll be ok.”

But the fever had all but consumed me, and as I lay there, watching the fire beat back his ice, nobody but me noticed the gap beneath the window, where his silver-blue darkness dripped steadily inside, and he crept into the cottage like a sickness.

*

I lay there for hours in my torment, and by the time the morning had finally broken, I knew that I’d been changed; that my old self had been taken and the changeling put in its place. The relief in my parents’ faces proved to me they didn’t know, but when grandma looked into my eyes, I understood that she could see. She, with all her history, had seen the mould inside my bones, and the gaping space within my chest, where my future should have been.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A white woman with cropped auburn hair and dark eyes smiles into the camera, her head tilted slightly to one side against a patterned floral background.

A white woman with cropped auburn hair and dark eyes smiles into the camera, her head tilted slightly to one side against a patterned floral background.

LAURA ELLIOTT is a twenty-something disabled writer and journalist. Her short-fiction has been published by Strix Magazine, Rhythm and Bones Lit, and Vamp Cat Mag, and she hosts the monthly politics and disability podcast, Visibility Today. You can find her screaming into the void on Twitter at @TinyWriterLaura.

The First Lie

When my coworker asks, “How are you?”
I know she really means, “Hello.” Period.
It’s a greeting, not an opening
It’s not meant to be inquisitive
Though the question mark hangs there:
a crooked, crippled body, like mine

I wake up today, but just barely

I wake up every day feeling like gingerbread
Stiff, brittle, itching to run away from life
but determined to offer something sweet
Coffee softens these stone limbs enough
that I can crank myself out of bed
and into a river that licks its lips at me

I wake up today, but just barely

I swallow a circus of pills after struggling
with twist lids and the buttons of my shirt
My fingers feel dainty and helpless
but without the preciousness of both
I brush my teeth, waiting on the medicine
I drive to work, waiting on the medicine
I sit at my desk, waiting on the medicine
Everything aches, until it doesn’t anymore

I wake up today, but just barely

I want to tell her this, that against these odds,
I am here. I am still here. I am still here.
I don’t mean in this office building
I mean in this pain, trudging through all the
“Good Mornings” and “How are yous?”
Biting back a truth that tastes like aspirin

I wake up today, but just barely

If I told her this, she would pretend to care
then gobble me up like the fox in the story
I know this like I know the rain will come
I can feel the certainty in my bones
Instead, I say, “I am well.”
It is the first lie I tell myself today

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Black and white photo of a young woman with medium-length dark hair and glasses. She is in a stooped position alongside a large statue of a roaring lion. Her right hand is in the lion's mouth.

Black and white photo of a young woman with medium-length dark hair and glasses. She is in a stooped position alongside a large statue of a roaring lion. Her right hand is in the lion's mouth.

LANNIE STABILE, a Detroiter, often says while some write like a turtleneck sweater, she writes like a Hawaiian shirt. Works can be found, or are forthcoming, in The HelleboreKissing DynamiteCauldron Anthology, Likely Red Press, and more. She is penning a novel and chapbook and holds the position of Project Manager at Barren Magazine.

 Twitter handle: @LanniePenland 

Writer website: https://lanniepenland.weebly.com