The Demon Lover's Child Grows UpI.
I did not think I would remember
when I came back through
the smell of you, of lemongrass and burning,
or your laugh, like a spike in my eye. I had not thought
it worked like that. But there it was:
Oh, those tiny toes! your huge voice cooed;
Oh, that precious hummingbird heart!
and later, wrangling a milky tit
out of that shapeless gown to hush my mouth; and later still,
bending your neck to rock me, like I was
some fiddle that you'd sold your soul to play --
yes, then; by all the outraged angels, then -- I remembered
Don't you? I screamed. Don't you know me?
Oh cold you are. Am I so easily forgot?
What of the moss I crushed your spine into,
the snowdrifts, bluebells, autumn leaves?
What of the words I singed, spark-bright, coal-dark,
into your skin? ("Mark me," you'd said,
"so I know I am not dreaming." I recall!)
You ingrate whore! At the crossroads
in your grass-stained homespun, pockets sodden
with persimmons, witch-nosed, crow-voiced, witless,
ripe enough to peel -- did I turn you away?
May all your stories shrivel on your tongue!
May all your books be blank!
More shushing, then out comes the milk
I almost can't complain.
This really isn't easy.
Watch, you say, the shoelace in your hands,
the chalk against the board as it squeaks out
five-pointed stars from dust: the bird flies through --
Oh, I could draw you stars: such stars
as shatter into tesseracts, a sun and moon
contained in each, and angels wandering the vertices,
wayward as a wish. And if I've tied
a shadow to a phantom's feet, plaited a monster's soul
into a skein of silk, then
I can tie the bloody shoes. But can I
tell you that I can? Not easily: not when
you watch me sidelong with those weasel eyes,
measuring my smile against some shadow in your heart;
or when I page your diary (Go on, you croon,
playing with books is how we learn to read!),
that crab-penned laundry list of vague
suspicions: The way he glares at me! The way he
sinks his teeth in me and laughs! The way
he tries to shove me down the stairs! It's very like --
ah, well. This argument gets nowhere,
as both sides of it are mine.
But every time I try to pen some
brilliant marginalia in -- It's true!
You do recall! I know: it isn't what I had
in mind myself -- the pen is snatched and hidden
in a drawer just out of reach. Safe from me
as ever witch's heart was safe from youngest son.
We don't scribble in books.
You aren't like the other boys, the sharp-toothed girls
all gasp, each breathless, ash-voiced, each
her own soft shade of deshabille --
the idiots. Could I have trusted them
to best a maze? To guess a name? To lay a puzzle
out in parts, a witch-knot teased
to strands? To win the game?
Ah -- but I've no need to: time enough for that
when this shell wearies me; and in between
it's game enough to watch them squirm,
sketching hearts round my initials with those
hungry little hands: so ignorant, so very glad
to learn. And who better to lesson them? I've debauched
priestesses, teased queens, caused empresses
to soak their silks, and dallied with more witches
than these pipsqueak brats have toes. And there you are,
you bitch, never quite out of mind: I cannot touch them
but you leap back out of memory, all mouth
and lap and arms, devouring
as rain. They aren't you, my best love
and my nemesis, but they'll suffice. And who's to say
they couldn't learn the game? They haven't heard
this tale before? They wouldn't memorize
the forms, the paths, the doors?
And maybe I don't care. Maybe I just want
their salt, their tongues. Their breath. And I might
pry your shade from their undancing bones,
send it roving down pale winding-sheets of road,
each step an age, and on until I'm free.
My job's secure; the pay is good. Our house
is well-appointed, with its square of grass,
its rhododendrons, front porch, dishwasher. The wife
and I play Scrabble. Chthonic. Quincunx. Zygote.
She doesn't stand a chance.
On holidays my mother brings
a jug of wine, a jar of jam like clotted blood,
a cairn of apples from her tree
heaped baleful on our countertop. She scares the wife.
A witch. Or something. I don't know.
We make excuses and she goes her way: always
with one glance behind, always at me, as if she crouched
over a hoard of secrets which she dared me
Saturdays, I mow the lawn. The rain
sends up blind rings of mushrooms on the grass:
geometric, everywhere. Then gone. Something
they bring to mind, some tale or dream – a crossroads
and a black-branched tree, perhaps; a dark pavilion
and a mazing dance; a fierce-faced girl
with eyes like gnashing teeth. A bloodletting. A road.
No dance at all.
Then it too fades, obliterate --
the afterimage burned into the eye: it stings
like sand. Above,
the sky shades green and spits, then pisses
rain. I head inside. She's waiting anyway. She calls it
trying for a baby. She says
she's hoping for a boy.
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