Omphale, world-navel, river’s child, she is sad, sorrowful past bearing, so she returns to her father’s home, wide sandy banks, and lets herself sink down to his depths. The water is clear and the rocks are smooth and her hair goes green as the weeds when her father finds it.

Her dead husband comes to her, side torn open and red from the bull’s passing. “Come home,” he tells her, “this is only a temporary solution.” He cannot cross running water.

A Heracles in women’s trousers comes to her and abases himself. “Come home,” he pleads, “the horses have fallen still, the hawks have come to earth. Come home again.” He passes on.

Dionysus, wine-logged, sea-foamed, slides into the river next to her and runs his fingers through her hair. “Stay,” he says, “or go. A river is a moving place.” He cannot suffer water long, and soon departs.

Her horses come to her in their thousands, black horses and red, piebald and gelded, and crowd her father up past his banks. She rides them down to the sea, to the great band of Ocean whence all horses come, drinks seawater straight from the rock.

She comes to herself, nameless, asking nothing. But still she persists.


She has lost all track of time. The light wakes her, cold and shivering, right hip sore from where it has pressed against the concrete. She shouts, bangs her feet against the bars, slaps her hands against the floor. The light has shifted before she gives up and eats the colorless slurry they have left for her. It is faintly sweet, faintly nutty, too evanescent to grow used to or sick of. She has lost count of how often she has eaten; she never seems to gain or lose weight, never loses hair, never bleeds from the gums. Whatever it is.

She exercises for want of anything else to do, the muscles in her arms and legs long and corded. Sometimes she sings, sometimes she tells stories. Sometimes she lies, or confesses, or rages, or pleads: no matter. She hasn’t seen another person for as long as she can remember, nor heard a voice, nor seen her reflection. Irreversible brain damage, she says, that’s what she’s heard, somewhere, sometime, from someone.

Eventually the light changes quality, which might mean the night has ended, or started, or neither. Eventually she sits down, lies down, falls asleep. She dreams of the cage, of iron bars, of ambiguous light and uncertain food. She stands over herself, bends curious toward her forgotten face, but her sleeping traitor body shifts and throws one rebellious arm over its head.

She settles down and waits for herself to wake.


“Withered branch, you have cut yourself off from all humanity. So let it be.”

And so they marked her, the kiss of iron seared into the nape of her neck; marked her and cast her out, out of all human sympathy and society. She could own nothing beyond the use of it, receive no charity, forge no friendships. They filed her teeth down to dull stumps and mittened her clever, deadly fingers.

“May no one eat of your fruit! Fill your mouth with thistles and with glass.”

Worst of all they pried into her word-hoard, the work of centuries, and stripped her down to bare earth. This, this was painless; a bright light and the moist smell of cotton, but when the light faded and they spoke it was garbage, all garbage, a babel of words she recognized, but could not place.

Here she breaks, screams defiance, heaps invective high upon them, but they just laugh and toss her aside. She cowers before the day’s commute, the ceaseless labyrinth of transit. The maps are scrambled, the signs are nonsense, the comforting hum of a busy life an insectile drone. She eats garbage, speaks nonsense, her tongue heavy as iron boots. They do not see her, just now and then her eyes, flashing, from deep within some greasy dumpster, or crossing the mouth of an alley they, by chance, glance down.

A Thousand Years A Night

Mornings are dark, dark as pitch, with the sun sailing in his golden barque on the other side of the world. Dangerous times — everything stirring or going to sleep is sharp-toothed and vast and ceaselessly hungry. She has seen her fellow sailors eaten by the dozens, snatched beneath the greasy current by some ophidian bulk. What happens to them? The lucky survivors shout speculations, curses, blasphemies in a thousand thousand languages, but it’s all noise; no one knows for certain.

The walls of the canyon are high, high and sheer, and the river cutting through is fast, fast. She has been drifting for centuries, helpless in the current, buffeted from lotus petal to lotus petal. The river is sunless, by definition, but even dead enough of his radiant splendor has leeched into the rock to limn everything in an uncertain half-light light.

The world rings like a glass bell and her flower snaps closed and she cowers at the bottom. God has died again, and his funeral procession gouges the canyon walls wider. She balls her fists into her eyes and shudders at his transit, her bloodless flesh searing at his presence, even so.

The Boulder Speaks to Sisyphus

She has been born so many times that the experience lacks all novelty. Gush of amniotic fluid, a bright pain that she knows she will later learn as light, the thundering normality of lungs emptying and filling for the first of a hundred thousand breaths. Voices she has heard and loved and forgotten speaking again for the first time.

The slow inevitable ascent of puberty. Crying in the bathroom, the taste of blood on her lip after gym, bad skin and better. The old familiar torments. She wakes up restless and angry and it takes her days to remember the name for what she feels, weeks to recall the names of her mayfly tormentors.

She watches her father die again. Grief is as automatic and empty as a sneeze.

She gives birth, fights with her daughter, sees her married, sees her grandchildren. They blur together. She meets a man in the woods and cannot remember what he is, parent, child, lover, monster. The existence of things has begun to dissolve, a cigarette in the wind.

She dies. Is born. Again and again. Light and sound, calligraphy, meaningless noise.

What will happen when she finally forgets she can’t know for certain, but after infinite time even weariness has its limits.