A poem written for Cecilia Tan’s competition for a copy of her book, Spellbinding. Under a cut because it contains one of those forbidden words of power.
I say no
to the stories that tattoo their patterns
in cold copper wiring
under our skins.
To the terrified
to lightning brushing copper,
I say yes.
Love is the law,
chant the man and his dinner,
love under will
and I say no.
No is the law
and the only law
You remember your grandmother’s advice and sprinkle stones, not seeds, so the crows break their beaks and you find your way back from the labyrinth, clutching the princess’s three golden hairs–
You thank the tree that shaded you at midday, and for such a polite traveller it drops a branch bearing golden apples, so you can pay the night lord’s toll–
You stand stock still as the dragon roars and flaps its wings, and so it doesn’t see you, and when it leaves its nest you walk swiftly past, leaving its cursed gold gleaming dully in the dark–
–and when you come back home, only your youngest sister recognizes you–
–and when you come back home, home is no longer anywhere to be found–
–and when you come back home, all those who once laughed at you give you a hero’s welcome–
–but it’s still you who pulls the boots off your sore feet at night, blows out the candle and draws up the sheets; you, who’ll be your own final judge.
possessed, my mother
of miles to
go before I
note: horror genre
1. She swallows mosquitoes by the handfuls, to hear them suffocate in the dried-up hollow of her trailing stomach.
2. She skins the golden tresses off the bone, scrapes the leather clean, drops the flesh into a pot for soup. The empty sockets of her earliest guests keep watch as the house breathes, heavy around her.
3. He smells his old flesh, and trusts the man behind his eyes, and so turns three times around the cracked spruce that whines like a hungry pup. He sheds fur as the world deadens to his senses, and his naked feet sink into needling snow.
4. They climb over each other, in the crushing weight and heat, an inferno inside a sack of meat, pushing against dying skin. Soon they will swarm.
5. History is a maw spewing bile and horror, crawling with soothing words.
blue sky trapped on
when air is
heavy and earth
hot vapour and
progress – for
My body is horror
Foul springs of gold and silver
Treasures in a dead man’s chest
Twixt lung and liver
My womb coughs out
Rot, lice, wizards
The plagues of men
the plague of women.