wlw

Cloudy Today: A Vignette

October 1987

I wake up to a loud, panicked knock on my door. I quickly pull on a pair of sweatpants, and opened the door. There is Maggie, tearing up.

“Anna, you’re the only person… I don’t know what to do… Fuck, Anna, I need to talk to someone or I might do something I regret.”

“It’s 2 in the morning.”

Maggie ignores this. “Let’s go somewhere private. The bathroom. C’mon.” She tugs on my arm, and I acquiesce, following her down the dimly lit dormitory corridor.

We sit facing each other in the showers. Her face is red, eyes stained with tears, mascara running. She still looks perfect, and I lean forward, ready with a tissue, and dab at her eyes.

“It’s okay. Tell me what happened.”

Maggie looks up at me with her giant hazel eyes, and a shudder runs down my spine. She gulps.

“I loved that asshole. I fucking loved him. Fuck, I thought I did. Why the fuck do I let people love me?” The tears start again in earnest, and she buries her head in her hands, her whole body racked with sobs.

“What happened?” I ask.

“Fucking guess, Anna,” she snaps. “He goes off for a semester abroad, and insists we can make it work, that long distance isn’t the end, and then I have to hear from his brother that he’s screwing some tramp, some Eastern European slut who can probably bend her legs backwards over her head, and I’m here twiddling my goddamned thumbs, waiting like some pathetic little housewife for him to come back…” she trails off, then looks down guiltily at the floor. Her head turns back up to me. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to explode like that. I found out, like, an hour ago and you were the only person I thought of to tell. Fuck, I know it’s early, I must have paced outside your door for like, twenty minutes, Anna, I did, but I needed to see you, I needed to get this shit out of me, I would have fucking exploded.”

After a few minutes, she pulls away, rooting around in her bag. She removes a cigarette, lights it, closes her eyes, and the smoke curls out of her nostrils. She does everything with such grace even when she’s falling apart. I fall out of my hypnosis and grab the cig from her, stubbing it out on the damp ground.

“What the fuck you do that for?”

“God damn it, you fucking idiot, you can’t smoke in here. You’ll set the alarms off, wake up the whole damn building.”

“Pfft. Like that fucking matters. Like anything fucking matters.”

“Christ, you dummy, yeah, shit matters! I matter! You matter!”

“Fuck it, Anna, of course you matter. I just need a damn cigarette.”

I try to change the subject before she gets herself expelled. “You’ll find someone who deserves you. I told you from the beginning that he didn’t.”

“So what? It’s my fault?”

“Shut up. You know exactly what I’m saying. He was wrong, but he’s not the only one out there.”

“Ehh… I know, but, Anna, I can’t just wait for the right person. What’s the point of a bright future if today is so fucking cloudy?”

I don’t know what to say, so I don’t say anything. I want to dry her tears. I want to put her soft lips against mine. I want to hold her tight and never let her go. A selfish thought crosses my mind: I want her to love me. I want her to know that I am that person, the one who could be right for her, to make her happy, to love her unconditionally.

It’s fucking pathetic. I always said I wouldn’t be the one lusting after the straight girls. And here I am, taking a moment that’s about Maggie, and making it about me.

This is when Maggie leans in and presses her lips against mine. They’re rougher than I imagined them to be. I can’t kiss her back, because before I can even think she’s pulled away again, her expression quickly contorting into a frown.

“What the fuck was that, Anna? I thought we were friends!”

“Mag, you kissed me-”

“Shut up, you dyke! Get away from me!”

She gets up and walks away and it’s like I’ve been punched in the throat because each breath is jagged and I can’t say a single fucking word or do anything useful but smell her lingering scent and hear that heavy bathroom door slam.

swan lake revisited

Image result for swan lake

 

i. drowning

when you have lived so long with feathers, it is difficult to remember that you will not always float. that the benign freshwater will grab onto the tendrils of your hair and pull you down towards the murk and the weeds below, the lady of the lake taking you for a creature of the earth and not the skysea. the water is dirty down here, up there; it stings my eyes, and my throat is perforated with sharpsand, handfuls of shredded stone mincing my lungs. sunlight reminds me of something, scuds winklike flashes in all directions, inconsistent as will o’ the wisps. i have flown and i know now that it is no different from sinking. there is not even a reversal. land and sky, i have always been going the same direction, and i know that i am now about to reach the end.

 

ii. odette & odile

— odile?

— yes?

— you could tell your father no.

odile?

— i wish i could.

— there’s nothing to stop you. he would let you go. you might be the only creature in the entire world that he wouldn’t hurt.

— i know.

— so tell him you won’t. let us be happy.

— i can’t.

— why the hell not?

— because i might be the only creature in the entire world that he wouldn’t hurt.

 

iii. the curse

him, with those gigantic eyes. a beard that rested only on the very edges of his jaw, thick and distinct. a mouth that curled, dark pit above the upper lip, anger in the teeth but none in the gaze. instead, calculation.

please, no.

him, not ugly, but something worse. he who would be beautiful if he were an animal, but who does not fit right into the lines of a human. he with all the universe’s power in nothing more than a glorified twig. him pointing to her, and changing her world. him disfiguring her into something that is beautiful, something more beautiful than she ever would have been otherwise. him reforging her into something that can fly, but only until the atmosphere or her wings run out.

there is too much woman to be contained in these new hollow bones. no words from a mouth that she doesn’t have. now, she is treasured. now, she is pristine. she is the stuff of tapestries and taxidermy, of feast and folk song, and

she cannot speak.

 

 

iv. the hunt

it’s difficult to say what makes the prince hesitate. he has, after all, only ever been taught that beauty is something to be captured and stoppered up; there is no greater way to honor an animal than by mounting it on his wall. he will tell himself later that he knew all along she wasn’t an animal at all, and he will, of course, be wrong in that assumption, but she will be too tired to correct him.

as it is, in this moment, he pauses. his weapon, the bow/rifle/phone/prod/leer, is almost slippery beneath his sweaty fingertips. he looks at her and he wonders, with his tongue at the edge of his lip, whether he can do something more with her than kill.

 

 

v. the ball

i’ve missed you so much, darling.

and i you.

you must know she is different, you must feel she is different, smell it, tell somehow. she is telling you. she is screaming it. look in her eyes. just once, won’t you look her in the damned eyes?

you’re a good dancer.

my father taught me.

(cannot speak.)

 

 

vi. odette & odile

if you are in love, which is doubtful, it is a love born only of circumstance. it is an alliance of her skin and yours. you like the smell of her hair, prefer to sleep with your stomach to her back, so that you can nuzzle near her neck and not think about her eyes, about how they, through no fault of hers, hold everything from which you have been trying to escape.

 

 

vii. drowning

it occurs to you that men have made you their tragedy yet again, and as you die you are furious.

all is as cyclical as the torrent of lake and sky. upwards. you are moving upwards towards the kelp and the sand and the smooth stones in so many subtle colors.

you are unused to the water on your skin, raw, no feathers to armor you. it is very, very cold. too cold, or perfectly cold, but you have no time to measure whether the fire in your chest is born from pain or relief before it — all of it — is extinguished.

Ocean

Her heaving sighs,

the morning rise,

my toes resting

slide onto bare wood.

 

I step into hot sand.

Enveloped, developed, tough grit

exfoliates a broken wing.

 

She tells me to breathe,

I tell her to leave.

The heavy ocean rises and falls,

screaming seagulls make their calls,

I wait behind for news of you.

how to pretend to be straight for her, vol. 1

  1. Ask to borrow her lipstick. Imagine her lips beneath yours, all pink and bright sparks against your skin, willing and soft. Thank her. Know you will only ever get her mouth by stealing it quietly.
  2. When she sleeps over and borrows your shirt to sleep in, don’t think too hard about it. Don’t think about how she looks better in it than you do. Don’t think about how that turns you on instead of makes you jealous. Don’t think. You’re just a teenager. This is normal. This should feel normal. It won’t feel normal.
  3. She’ll leave her shirt from the day before crumpled in a heap next to your bed accidentally. You notice it when she’s brushing her teeth in the morning. Don’t tell her it’s there. When you hug her goodbye, think about her shirt next to your bed, hidden away like a secret you didn’t mean to make. Let go of her sparrow-wing shoulders quicker than you think is necessary. Take her false smile as penance.
  4. Use it as a pillowcase. Hurt yourself by breathing. Let your lungs coat with her flower-scented dryer sheets and hope. Breathe out. Throw the pillow across the room. Scream the hope out.
  5. When you hug her, hold your breath. Don’t bury your head in her hair. It will smell like the pillow you slept on for two weeks until it smelled more like you than her. Let go first. Breathe out. Smile.
  6. Go to a bar and smirk at the first guy who looks at your legs. Make out with him in the bathroom because his hips are thin and fit in your palms like you think hers would. You’ll have to crane your neck too much for it to feel right, but it will be good enough for now.
  7. Write I’m going to ruin you on every scrap of paper you can find. Throw them all away.
  8. She’ll tell you a story about how she kissed a girl when she was drunk. She’ll laugh the whole time, eyes bright. She describes it like kissing her own palm. Laugh and wish you could kiss her palm, too.
  9. Go to a bar and smirk at the first girl who looks at your legs. Make out with her in the bathroom because you want to get even, you want to make sure that you’re going to destroy this in the worst way possible. Hate yourself for loving it. Pull away and pretend like you’re not crying as you run to your car. Drive home faster than you should and hope you crash along the way. You won’t. Instead, you’ll fall asleep listening to the voicemail she left you three weeks ago about how her dog learned a new trick. Tears will fall in time with her laugh. Find new ways to fall in love with the way her mouth holds joy.
  10. The next time you see her, don’t tell her about the girl in the bathroom. Realize that her eyes are your least favorite color. Let that be enough. Find new ways to fall out of love with the way her eyes hold joy.

ορνιθοπανίδα

Trigger warning: descriptions of gore, graphic violence, death, and hate crimes. 

ορνιθοπανίδα | ornithopanída | avifauna;

  1. the birds of a particular region, habitat, or geological period.
  2. hence, the eternality of wings, and of flight, as the hurricane of time rages on.

 

i.

 

It begins when the world is made of stone, and her lips are the warmest thing you’ve ever felt.

Your fingers guide one another. You have no words, but you do not need them: you need only her just-more-than-black eyes, her broad lips, her rough nails, her stringy hair. Together, you kindle fires, and the young ones gather around you, watch the sparks fly with parted mouths.

When you move together in the night, it is almost like language. Her throat and yours convulse, your lungs launch forth desperate questions and proclamations, whispered into her hips, the sandy-rough base of her throat, the scratchy-soft warmth between her legs. You crest with pleasure the color of sunrise, and you wonder, within a mind that craves only sensation, how to tell her that you love her.

 

ii.

 

The men, for men you now may call them, give and take: they are to push and pull and move through musculature’s unjust scrawls, lips crushing lips like grapes for wine. But you take her, her ochre skin and black hair’s waterfall, and you invent a shrine of delicacy: together you lie, she that fain would fly and you eternally rooted, in the cotton-folds of that mist which wreathes the isles of the poetess. It is now, with salt from the sea breathing across the marble floor, that you may speak.

And speak you do, to watch her smile, watch her head tilt fast as a bird’s: upside-down laughter. You cup her soft breasts in your hands, and she murmurs that your fingers are long, perfect for the lyre; you coo back that you are, after all, more Artemis than Apollo, and she scarcely mouths a teasing golden word about chastity before you’re on the ground again, her wordless gasp a memory of broad rock caves. The glassware glimmers in the languishing dollops of endless-afternoon sunlight, stained amaranthine where you carried indulgence to her begging lips.

You trail your tongue and paint verse down her collarbone while her sweet gasps harmonize beneath your hands’ insistence. You are giver and receiver alike; together, you are the unspoken instrument of the moon’s goddess, her bowstring, her star-headed arrows. Eternity sprawls before and behind you, and you hold onto her swan-bone wrists, the beginning and end of the universe.

 

iii.

 

It is a time that will come to be called the Dark Ages, but the aeneous brocade of her skirt against the cold stone floors is light enough to imbue your memory with nothing but sun.

You know each other, this time, through dinner alliances. Long oaken tables groaning like the backs of aging peasants beneath dish and dish and dish of venison, quail, sauce-drenched asparagus: silver platters garnished in sweet red berries and cuttings of pink boars’ flesh thin as parchment. The first time that her father, honored guest, holds his broad silver knife and breaks the flaking crust of one of your pies, she claps with delight, and her eyes sparkle the color of the blackbirds’ feathers as they erupt, flooding the dining hall, earning a cheer of delight all down the long table.

It’s the first of many feasts. Duchess, you christen each other, and smile: her teeth are golden. The dogs whine at your feet. She is her father’s favorite, and she wears only the finest garments, sewn with petals and fleur-de-lis of bronze and silver thread. Her hair is spun straw, something that you forget each time until you see her. Because of her, you at last understand the mournful tunes of the bards. The longest laments and odes, through whose wandering notes you used to doze, now paralyze something just below your breastbone, trapping your breath beneath your throat like the birds beneath the pie crust.

Some misted night, when you are both brushing the age of fifteen and know the names of your husbands, a supper passes in a hurl of light and then you’re both in a corridor near the armory, and both of you are touching the freezing wall and she says, with honey mead falling in clouds from her lips, that she’s cold; you remind her that the fireplace purrs in the banquet hall where your families await, and she half-screams that she seeks no crude flame.

When you look over, pearl tears adorn her powdered cheeks.

You think that this must be the time to tell her that, though you’ve lived in this valley all your life, you can smell the seaside in your dreams; before you whisper three words, she flashes around the corner, and you’ll still be hearing her sobs on your wedding day, when the crown is placed atop your head.

 

iv.

 

You wake next on a new side of the world. She now relishes the outdoors, free from the stone bindings of your swift-fading memories, and spends all of her time striving for softness. She finds the sweetest glens, far from the bustle and clamor of the bright red-and-gold marketplaces, and stretches out on her stomach, chin settled in the moss, eyes cast to the golden ginkgos above.

She proclaims in this new voice—a voice of silver brooks, as silky as the gold-touched inkspill of hair around her slender shoulders—that she loves the birds, and that they remind her of something, though she cannot quite say what. Green shadows dance across her lips and cheekbones; her fingers trail in the pond, bloated by last night’s rain.

Legs crossed, some feet away, you take down what she describes. You do not know how to write, but you need no training for your brush to echo what she claims to see: the velocity of their wing-tips traced in broad arcs of black on cream, careful layers for each feather. They spin through miniature infinities, a flock of them: some large as dragons, some small as the fireflies that soon light upon your hidden grove. They part the air like water or time, invisible trails unfolding from where they’ve glided, and her voice—no longer for your ears—murmurs of how she imagines them to never quite know when it is that they’ve flown through the same cloud: to them, she insists in her star-vast way, there is no language, no constant thought, only that familiarity that lies somewhere between scent and taste and heartache.

When you show her your half-dry paper, she laughs, and at first you expect her to tease you that you haven’t, after all, painted birds. Instead, she kisses you on the lips, both of your eager mouths sharing the same scarlet paint, and declares that she has never seen anyone’s brush and ink capture motion the way yours do.

 

v.

 

The first time that the two of you are allowed to be right in your entirety, through nights and years while the stars track the clouds across the endless sky, it is good enough to feel like fantasy—even as you know, with morning-dew clarity, that this is the surest reality you’ve ever lived.

You are named for a sparrow and she for a fox, and she reminds you, with her sharp little teeth in your throat, of all the old fables. You’re trapped; you’re helpless; your wings are broken, and you weep with relief. You’ve never before seen her this fiery: red edges to her black braids, darting fingertips through still-smoldering ash for the very burn it delivers, following the men out to hunt with her voice raised to the amber autumn sky. She is the favorite of them all, but they know she’s yours alone. You will never have children, but you are nonetheless celebrated, and you twine yourselves together all the same, still fraught with the thick imbuement of smoke as the night’s final sparks glitter up to greet the gods.

She warns you to never fly away, little sparrow. You shoot back that you would hardly be sorry to find yourself between her silken jaws, and that surprises a laugh out of her.

Silver threads your hair, and the two of you watch the world change, and you tell each other stories. She speaks of cold caves and ocean crests; you, of the bats and the gulls. Eventually, even recollection recedes to mist, as you learn that you need nothing but each other and the blue constellations above, the wind’s whisper as the grass drinks up the last heat of the day.

 

vi.

 

Lightning bursts from between your hands and erupts across the battlefield. Red falls in streaks like scarves across thirsty grass, and you can never tell whether the men who fall are your own doing. You’re a different creature out here, not the girl whom your father raised you to be: sweat and starched fabric and hard gray powder tracing the seams of your skin. Heat hazes, casting God’s playful slow-motion, and you clench your teeth and fight harder, shoulders quaking and bucking with every shot, your breasts aching and bruising beneath their hard bandages, neck prickling under the curious sun, come out to watch its subjects play.

A punch in the side. That’s all it takes.

You open someone else’s eyes to see a girl with star-colored hair bent over you, her slim fingers busy at work in the gap that has grown between your ribs. She says, without looking up, that it’s a wonder it took a shot to fell you, with those wrappings around your chest. When you struggle, she smacks the flat of her hand hard into your wrist, paralyzing you with the sting. She tips brandy between your lips, forces up your chin when you try to look down. She has brown eyes. Strange on such a pale girl.

You warn her that if she tells a soul, you’ll kill her. You know how to.

She retorts that your life is in her hands right now, not the other way around, and if she thought you had no value in the battlefield, she wouldn’t be bothering to save it.

When you groan from the pain, she kills it with her mouth on yours. You’re motionless from shock and brandy and her doe-bright eyes. She adds, quite carelessly as she sits back knit your skin back together, that you make a very handsome soldier.

You write home that night that you’re going to fall in love with a nurse—that you haven’t yet, but she saved your life and kissed your lips, and you wonder what a woman is if she’s also a sodomite. You add a note in the margin: the birds, first driven off by cannonfire, are landing around the field again. Surely they can smell the blood, but they don’t seem to mind. Perhaps they’ll come and go through every skirmish, until the war is over and your lives are over and even the dry grass forgets it was once brown with blood.

You burn the letter in the campfire, like all of the others.

 

vii.

 

There’s a clear difference between you and the men who sit around the smoke-opaque cafes, draining whiskey after whiskey after wine, but it’s Paris, the economy is soaring, the nights are endless, and none of them care. They leave you alone, perhaps because they know that they could never have you; you, with your scattering of freckles, tufty hair under that battered green cap, slim suspenders over gray pinstriped button-up—you only have eyes for one, and she is a dancer.

She spins in feather-fledged surrealism, painting new colors with her mahogany fingertips, bedecked in false diamonds from the ankles to the smooth throat. She glints beneath the candles and gaslights, she whirls with the ease of poetry, and once a night, near when the clock strikes one, her eyes find yours—black on black on black—and she tilts that smirk, that smirk that drives you wild and hot in your too-stiff bed at night, floods your dreams with dark rich chills, brings you back to the club each evening with more precious francs and a craving for that music, those cheers, that one o’ clock smirk of erythrean lips on pearl-white teeth.

You write about her, madly, feverishly, running out of pens again and again. Language is a wonder and a gift, the only one you have. Men buy you drinks because they love to laugh with you, and they’ve long since learned to stop complaining when you peel away and find yourself back in your rented attic room, under the sloping ceiling, watching the star-stained rooftops outside as you scrawl frantic verbs, verbs, always verbs—adjectives aren’t enough for her, and a sufficient noun hasn’t been invented, but the verbs carry it all: sway, sigh, tease, swirl, glitter, glint. You don’t know her name, and she doesn’t know yours, but you write verses for her, then lean out your window and let them float away on the post-war wind like handfuls of doves, rippling into the endless smoky sky, carried on your heavy breath and the strains of jazz leaking out of the windows below, new and vivacious and yet somehow salted with the midnight blue prickling of a chest ache you call la nostalgie.

 

viii.

 

After tonight, and after tomorrow, history books will dryly chronicle this evening’s story. Black text on white paper, stamped clean, with notes scrawled in the margins. You don’t know that now, not up against the wall with the man’s snarling face in yours; not when the cold cuffs snap onto your wrists, not when the lights spin from something more than just a couple of drinks.

The word sanctuary rings in your mind, as false as anything in your life. The speed at which your life, lives, life is spinning by is enough for bitterness to flood your mouth and vomit to splatter the pavement in front of you—a slap across your cheek and your spine is shoved back against the bricks as your unfocused eyes seek something in the onslaught of voice and light and chaos, and your heart batters and pecks your chest, and you are looking at the blue shoulders of the men who were never meant to protect people like you, and you are afraid.

Somehow, within all this, your eyes find her, and hers were already on yours, and she smiles, and she’s wearing broad glittering red lipstick tonight, scarlet and vivid, you taste blood in your own mouth, her wig is askew, you know she would hate to be seen like this, you want to touch her again, you want to make promises, you want to get away, you don’t want to fight, not tonight, you want to be with her, you want to be alone.

Sanctuary. You never imagined you were safe, even behind stone walls, and yet you are sick with shock, and the bellows and shrieks inflame your eardrums. You—

She mouths something at you. Red shines on her ivory teeth, flashed with hard blue light.

Shush, little finch.

You want to make promises, but your lips are as mute as your mind.

Her long lashes flash.

 

ix.

 

You watch her break apart into blood and bullet holes, serenaded by screams and machine gun staccato.

You feel death breathing down your neck, and it tastes like metal, and this is what your final thoughts look like, before you are only a name on a list posted to the website of a police division:

You never wanted this. You craved the past; you read the poetry of Sappho and you could smell the salty waves. You thought of the American Revolution, and how you wouldn’t care to find yourself on the wrong end of a rifle if it only meant that you could taste history in the making.

And now you are here, and you are tied up and trapped by whatever sticky substance  those Moirai or Norns are weaving around you, until you can’t breathe.

Love should not be revolution. Love should not be legend. Love should be as simple as the times before you had a word for the fire that grew between your twining bodies.

The bullets take flight. You do not.

 

Written for the 49 eternities cut short by the Orlando nightclub shooting of June 12, 2016.