Better Than Both, He Who Never Saw the Sun

It’s been three weeks since Cohen last left the studio. She’s been too busy, and there’s a chemical shower in the corner, and a sub shop that delivers round the clock, and someone left a cot here ages ago, so. She sleeps on decades of sweat from others too busy to leave, maybe, but who cares?

They took her leg when she was fourteen, dead rotting meat. She screamed when they touched raw flesh: she remembers their eyes, all whites behind red lenses, the long edge of their beaks, the ineradicable reek of burning oil. They let her live, that full of scruples.

This her latest is a self-portrait in plaster, a dragon’s nest of left legs hatched from the egg of her hip. She is smeared white with the making. When it is done — done enough, good enough, close enough — she stretches, yawns, longs for fresh air.

They are waiting for her outside, samaritans, eyes red and blank with the setting sun, beaks sharp with borrowed time. They let her live, that full of scruples.

Through Me Tell The Story

Seven long generations since Landing and she sleeps through the alarm, wakes to find herself alone and abandoned in the ruins of Parnassus, no warm line of her brother/sisters pressed against her sides, no cool voice in the bones of her ear, just a sky swept clean of clouds and a half-finished road churned to mud. They went east.

She’s seven long strides in their wake before she thinks to ask herself: why? Why follow them? Why stay? Why was she left? She asks Pythia, and in return only the empty air and the drone of the swarm to the west. Shivers in the cold, hugs herself for warmth, arms a poor substitute for her brother/sisters. What now?

They will follow the road, that much she remembers, the swarm that turns noon to night; even with all the warning Pythia can give there are still dozens that fall when the swarm descends. To chase after is death; alone she can only die soonest. She grabs a webpack from the armory, and her longboots, both waiting for her (planned? or forgotten? either or both? she can’t think it straight) and worms her way into the trees to the south.

Seven long days of blackberries and starvation later Cleo (meaning, history: she remembers) climbs a tree black with spiders. The swarm is a low smudge to the north and west: past her. To the south, a long finger of smoke, where no smoke can be. She boggles at it, and wonders again: forgotten, or planned?

The Black Cat’s Sign

Colleen steps down from the mural into the golden syrup of a late September afternoon, and puts forth a hand to steady herself. There are hands to hold her up (six, with between four and seven fingers each: ninety-three dactyls all together). The wall behind her is all eyes — Argus, the ever-vigilant, closes now one, now another, and watches the seven points of the compass equally. The painted sun in the painted sky is a crown pierced with a sword.

She wanders lost down familiar streets, knowing the bones but learning the skin. How tall the buildings are now! She marvels at the byzantine growth of walls, the renaming of avenues. Rutger has become Powell, and Havard, Wada. Japanese streets now run through Japantown, and Portuguese through Brasilia, but still: the architecture is pressed into her clay. She could no more forget her coming and her going than she could lose count of the hairs (236) on her palm.

“Report,” the Devil says, and she feels one long-boned finger (five dactyls) pressed against her cheek, holding her head from turning. She shivers, and leans into its touch, humming tunelessly. “What have you learned, and what have you made?”

 

For the Director of Music

And again—

There was evening and there was morning: the first day. Cold, killing cold, milk hauled in blocks a foot wide. On the wide circle of the lake, one bony-hipped cow patiently licking at the ice. No birds fly in this killing air. In the lake, beneath that patient, callused, fruitless tongue a face emerges; then another; and a third. One is hungry, one is angry, one is red with blood.

Evening, and endless evening, and morning: the seventh day. A mile deep in the ice, and still going. Column of flesh, frozen hands welded to straining thighs, backs bent beneath the weight. Patient and mindless, the work continues. Ever lower.

Evening and morning: the seven times seventieth day. Ice and more ice. Deep within still bodies, something stirs at the freshening air, something protected, still vital, and caged.

Selah.