Six Things the Owl Said

by Megan Arkenberg

I remember having roots.
I remember pushing my way, bare and raw,
            down into black soil cold as ice
            that never felt the kiss of sunlight
in places damp, heavy, sucking
in places dry and fragile as bones.
Men and women, passing above,
            touched my petals tenderly,
            called me broom and meadowsweet,
            sucked my scent like water
            through thirsting nostrils.
But I knew little of petals. I knew earth.
I was roots.
What is a flower without the earth?
            A flower without the soil is a corpse.
            To drink water through a rootless stem
            is to suck through a slit green throat.
What are a thousand flower-corpses bound together
            with string and enchantment, a gift for a lonely man?
            A thousand dead flowers make a woman
and a beautiful woman makes a wife.
A wife’s body has three scents.
            The first is the scent of meadowsweet,
            of enchantment, hot wax, salt and musk,
            of bare skin and soil sun-warmed.
The second is the scent of marriage,
            of smoke beneath a thatched roof,
            of running hounds, the bloody skins of deer,
            of charring meat on an iron spit;
            the scent that lifts its head at the sound
            of a hunting horn, eyes wide, and daring to hope.
The third is the scent of earth
            which only roots can smell.
Every man can smell the first.
Only two could smell the second.
And I alone know that the third is there,
            deep and out of reach.
My husband thought he knew something of thresholds.
                       I cannot be killed indoors, nor out of doors.
Did he not know that flowers stems
have walls as thick as castles’, that roots
have cells as close and safe as any convent?
                       I cannot be killed on horseback, nor on foot.
A flower’s feet are in the air, our soft
and dancing petals; always moving,
turning with the world, we do not know
what it is to be at rest. Here,
I will tell you the meaning of my husband’s death:
The riverbank is the water that sleeps 
deep within the earth, and 
only I have tasted it.
The bath is the water that a married woman drinks
through a slit throat.
            The billygoat is a husband who eats flowers.
And over all of this, the arch
that bears the thatched roof, watertight,
is the name “woman,” which renders
your roots        invisible.
Never trust in
            prophecies, spears, sows,
            eagles, enchantment, thresholds,
            husbands, lovers, or love.
But especially love.
I had almost reached the river when he caught me:
Father, father-in-law, wielder of string and enchantment.
He said to me: I will not kill you.
                        I will make you
            And I will give you a woman’s eyes
too big and beautiful to look upon the sun.
            And I will give you a flower’s tongue
that yearns for blood and rotting things.
            But never again will you touch the earth.
Never again will you taste
the dampness, the heaviness, the sucking soil.
The other birds, the worm-eaters,
will drive you up into the branches
and your feathers, like a thatched roof,
will cover you from the rain.
I will make you what a woman is
            when she is beautiful.

Megan Arkenberg lives and writes in California. Her work has recently appeared in Daily Science Fiction and the anthologies The End is Nigh, King David and the Spiders from Mars, and Trafficking in Magic / Magicking in Traffic. She procrastinates by editing the fantasy e-zine Mirror Dance. The word "cherry" makes her think of A. E. Housman's "Loveliest of Trees, the Cherry now," because she is not always the most original of thinkers, and also because she loves Housman.

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