What are we to make of such earthly things
as scepters and thrones and imperial maps
except baubles for those Broken Crown Kings
whose glories succumb to Man’s mishaps?
For what is conquest, in its destined course,
but an idle man’s hobby horse?
Near-sighted banty rooster
thinking himself a
to bring fire and fury
to the Middle East,
clawing at his own tailfeathers
and claiming it the work of
as he flies headlong into yet another
entangling himself in the branches
as if they belong to a
bird of prey
equal to his own outsized
sense of self.
Clipped, he flies with
toward the Arabian sun.
Emily sat at an escritoire that resided on the landing between the lower and upper floors of her ancestral home. The lower stairs were to her right, in front of the old grandfather clock, and the upper stairs to her left, both flights shrouded in shadow. At her back was an old chair— lion-pawed and adorned with arabesques, the head of which was a fierce face wreathed in a mane—and beyond it the balustrade overlooking the lower floor’s hall. In front of her, atop the cherry oak escritoire, was vellum, a black ink well, and her pale hands, the left sprawled atop the vellum in a most fragile, yet possessive, fashion, and the other crooked with a quill in its dainty claw. Beyond all this loomed the window, which allowed the moon in as that pallidly polished piece of silver rose above the garden, stretching the shadows of dogwood trees across the lawn. From here, too, could be seen the barn upon the hill, at a greater distance, where the cows slept, its asymmetrical roof angling toward the silent stars.
But none of these observations mattered to Emily. Rather, her thoughts were wholly consumed with one image, and that image was the face of her beloved. She wrote his name several times in ink, and whispered his name all the while. Her parents were abed, as were the slaves in their shack, and so Emily made little sound as she toiled by moonlight. To have seen her working so, her parents would have disapproved—her father because he knew well how ruined a pair of eyes might become by moonlit labors, and her mother because she knew well how ruined a young woman could become by moonlit romances. Emily had at the ready a match and a candlestick, but she was not ready to employ them yet. For the spell to work the preparations had to be properly undertaken. The candlestick and the match lay beside a small, red-edged penknife.
Emily continued writing the name of her intended lover until the vellum was utterly wet with her scrawl. She began to feel faint, swaying as an anemic exhaustion overtook her. The wind blew susurrations through the pink heads of the dogwoods. The latter were all abloom, but black and white by moonlight.
Letting the vellum dry, Emily leaned forward and raised the window. It took great effort, for it was a large window and she felt very weak. At length, it rose and the wind swept in, cool against her wan skin. She collapsed back, her nightgown rustling, but the heavy chair silent and unmoved with the sudden return of her languid weight. Her lips trembled, colorless, and her eyelids fell heavy over her blue irises. Lolling a moment, she roused and rallied herself once more. Her bonnet seemed too great a weight upon her clammy head and so she peeled it off, letting her blonde hair spill down freely.
Emily drifted through a fog of memories. The ritual required sacrifice, and those sacrifices returned to her in inchoate flashes of images. She saw the little calf she had helped deliver and fed and coddled like a childhood playmate. She had slit its throat herself and through her own labors rendered the vellum from its skin. She saw the parrot her father had procured for her, and which she had taught to repeat loving words to her mother. She slit its throat, too, and sharpened its tailfeather into her needful quill. The tallow candle had been gotten from the fat of a farrow of piglets that, like her calf, kept her company for a time.
The vellum had at last dried and so Emily struck the match, its head flaring into a small flame. She lit the candle, holding its waxy tower in her stronger hand. The wax seemed warmer than her own fingers. With her weakened hand she lifted the vellum and, in the moonlight, her scrawl almost appeared black, though it shimmered red as the paper wrinkled and shivered in her unsteady hand. Her wrist stung where the cloth bound back its tide and her grip wavered. Willing her grip tighter, she lifted the vellum higher.
Now came the moment of revelation. She held the vellum by its top corner, letting the bottom corner drag across the candle’s flame. The moon was high as the flame greedily ate the vellum, racing up its whiteness and leaving only ash and flaring embers that drifted out the window, against the wind, and across the field, toward the hill. She held the vellum until the last bit of calfskin paper had been dissolved between the pinch of her blackened forefinger and her thumb. That hand did not matter anymore— it had been rendered useless by the ritual. What mattered now was the face she had seen reflected in the ivy-wreathed window, among the flames and the crimson scrawl. The wind rose once again, trees whispering. Emily heard them say her name. Looking beyond the windowpane, she saw another shadow upon the hilltop where the barn sat. There was a ring of megaliths where there had been none; three to a group, in post-and-lintel arrangement.
Quietly, Emily tiptoed downstairs and slipped out the door. The night air invigorated her, as did the promise of the ritual, and though her arm was numb she did not care. She crossed the garden, passed the dogwoods, and then the field. The only creature that stirred was an old black dog on the porch of the slaves’ shack; and it merely whimpered, trembling incessantly.
As Emily tread uphill she raised her thin nightgown above her head with her good hand, letting it fall to the earth. Clothed only in moonlight, the slender figure entered the ring of standing stones and was never seen again.
Fly away on my flapping wings
to many fanciful, far-fetched things,
whether hard-spined or flexibly soft,
I will hold you safely aloft,
though I may well give you the chills
with the turbulence of my thrills,
it is all for the sake of some fun,
or your own education;
yet, when I rest with my catalogued kin
it will be on a cozy shelf, all nestled in,
and singing silently with a tight-lipped voice
of someone else’s preferred choice—
you see, we share a quiet aviary
which some often call a library.
The stuff of wisdom, this supposedly be,
spoken by a mouth mute beneath the sea.
Foot in mouth, we dig our own graves,
burying ourselves alive beneath the waves.
Cleatus was a man who was without worth,
or so everyone who knew him claimed,
including the woman who gave him birth
and for whose grandfather he was named.
Gambling and drinking and lazy besides,
he had no merit whatsoever,
and whomsoever he crossed, woe betides
as he would forgive no one never.
Then one day Cleatus had a change of heart,
which is to say, his mean heart stopped dead,
and his mother put him in a mule cart
and took him to town to earn her bread.
“For a penny a hit,” she said aloud,
“I’ll let you get in your vengeful licks!”
There soon formed an eager, carnival crowd,
paying for a baker’s dozen kicks.
Men, women, children of every age
gathered together in giddy glee
as if to watch a famed play on stage
or hear words from a divinity.
The priest in the town held up his Bible,
quite ready to put a stop to it,
but then he remembered well the libel
Cleat had spread about the Jesuit.
Cleatus had said that the Catholic priest
made congress with a bullock each night
and then ate the beast at a pagan feast
with the Devil by Harvest moonlight.
The priest grimly offered a full dollar
and put on his thickest farming boots,
rolled up his sleeves, and loosened his collar,
and kicked Cleatus like the other brutes.
But a kick landed squarely in the chest,
literally kick-starting his heart,
reviving Cleatus, as if he was blessed
by Jesus Christ’s Lazarean art.
“What’s the meaning of all this?” Cleatus cried.
“I feel like I’ve been in a stampede!”
His mother tried to explain, but then sighed—
“Son, you’re more want than you are a need.”
His mother raised her heavy-threaded whip,
ready to beat him unto his death,
but Cleatus cried with a sputtering lip,
and compromised ere his final breath.
Nowadays Cleatus is almost worthless,
still living to lie and cheat and sin
but now the townsfolk can kick him mirthless,
paying his mother a dime for ten.