Roses on Rot

Camera shutter shade, I am three-fourths drowned,

image in glass slivers of quicksilver mirror, black.

One quarter livid, barely alive, my wine runs dry.

Toe broken, I cannot walk, so I fly past pins and

needles meant to sew filth into my side stitches,

I am a doll, I am a saint, an angel, just a whore!

You are a nightmare dressed in white feathers,

cobra eyes and hiss click of a fanged lisp, I cry

out in the tongues of the Elder Gods, but only

the lonely graves hear my name, as down into

the marrow of the coffin I go, a lily my heart,

a rose my sex, my eyes nightingales, to soar,

to stifle, the Judge is architect of nightmares,

the Lawyer would leave me for a prettier girl,

for the clients he takes are trapdoor spiders,

hiding in glass Snow White cages, poison apple

lips and mouthfuls of worms, down here flesh

is shades of gangrene and dribble of putridity,

pulchritude, multitudes, passing glance at fate.

I seek my Death, I drink my Death, I kiss Death

and as he strangles me with silence and bruises

I wake, I quake, I shake, I make love to myself

and wonder in the midnight hour why he let me

go.

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hell is a pair of hands. heaven is, too. — Allison Marie Conway

i had never come so close to protection like you. with such gravity and depth, such friction i nearly refused my own breathing just to relieve the heat. in the presence of power, the mind is first stripped of itself, followed blindly by the body. we are born undone by love and turned away from […]

via hell is a pair of hands. heaven is, too. — Allison Marie Conway

The Pianoman

His tapered fingers danced across the keys, coaxing a haunting melody from the dusky piano.  I lingered, tucked away into the shadowed corner of the chapel.  Stained glass windows let crisp autumn air pour in.

He did not see me.  Not now, lost in his private reverie, giving all of himself to his music.  I leaned into the stone wall, letting my heavy eyes draw close.  I soaked in the soaring notes, their delicate strains tantalizing.

I could listen to him for eternity.  I did not need to touch him.  Not even see him.  His image could float across my mind, borne by the tides of his beautiful tune.

Self-conscious, I smoothed the pleats of my white dress, ran my fingers through my hair.  I felt unworthy of the music’s majesty, undeserving of its presence-

The music stopped.  I glanced up, startled, to see him peering back at me.

He looked at me with smooth glass eyes.  A soft smile illuminated his face as he twisted his neck, peering over his shoulder.  His eyes were a rheumy blue, almost as if he were blind.

“I wasn’t expecting company,” he said quietly, voice like dark, sweet water.

I blushed.  “I didn’t mean to stay,” I apologized.  “But I heard you from outside, and I couldn’t resist.  You play so beautifully.”

He laughed in a small manner, like the fluttering of a moth’s wing.  “I didn’t expect company.  I never said I didn’t enjoy it.”  He turned, drawing a sweet tune from the keys.  “Tell me what you like.  Songs of love?  Of mourning?  I can play them all.”

“Of dreams,” I said quickly, without thinking. “I like songs of dreaming.  Songs of impossible things.”

He looked at me wryly, folding his hands in his lap.  They were covered in white calfskin gloves.  “Dreams?  That’s something I rarely play.”  He glanced at the piano contemplatively.  “I oft times wonder if I’ve forgotten how to dream.  Tell me.  Can you teach me?”

“To dream?” I asked, taken aback.  I rose from the hollow in the wall, walking slowly to the pew behind him.  He was like an angel cut from stone.

“Yes,” he said, voice tinged with longing.  He gazed out the window at a slice of blue sky.

“Well, I don’t know if I can do that,” I said, hesitant.  “You just close your eyes-“

“Show me.” he whispered, gazing intently at me.  “I want to see exactly what you do.”

“Here, now?” I asked.  His eyes bore into my soul.

“Yes,” he said quietly, letting his finger drift to the piano.  He caressed a single key.  It echoed through the church like the last breath of a dead man.

“Well, like I said, you close your eyes-” I did so, breaking his gaze.  Relief flooded me, for a reason beyond my ken.  I sank back into the pew.  “And then, after you drift off to sleep, you dream.  

It’s as simple as that.”

“Is it?” he asked, voice ripe with challenge.  My skin pricked at his tone.  I shivered unfathomably.

“Yes,” I whispered, beginning to doubt my words.

A wind picked up, kissing my skin.  He gave a small half-smile.  

“Then I will play your dreams.”  

It was as if heaven bled into the room.  The music stirred my heart with warmth; I wanted to lose myself within it.  I couldn’t bear to open my lids.

I gasped, startled, as hands enveloped mine.  They guided me from the pew with quiet forcefulness, cupping my palms as if their owner meant to lead me in a dance.  The piano played, growing malicious in its beat.  The keys, tormented, wailed ever so beautifully.

I shivered.  These dreams were not my own.

“You do not open your eyes?” he asked, voice rich like the light of the moon.

I shook my head, trembling.  “No.  It would ruin the dream.”

He led me in a serpentine dance, my feet guided by a will not my own.  I felt like a satellite, revolving ever so gracefully.

“What if I told you,” he whispered, breath hot on my neck, “that all the world was asleep?”

My fingers were numb with cold.  “Then I would laugh, and I’d call you a fool.”

“What if I said,” he continued, voice almost urgent, “that you are about to be shaken violently awake?”

I laughed, nervous.  “And what?  Wake up in this world again?”

“No.  That you will wake up, with me.”

“But neither of us is asleep.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

He laughed softly.  “For whom, may I ask, do I play?”

“Me,” I said.  My voice faltered.  Dread slowed my step.  

“Yet here I stand, dancing with you.”

I gasped, face paling.  A stone lodged in my throat.  He covered my eyes with soft hands.  “I know you want to open your eyes.  But to do so would be horrible indeed.”

“Why?” I demanded, horrified.

“Because then,” he whispered, lips skimming my temple, “I could not dream you awake.  And dreams are a terrible thing to lose.”

“This isn’t a dream.”  I insisted, voice quaking.  “I’m flesh and blood!”

“You’d think, wouldn’t you?” he sighed.  The piano fell silent, and the void of that emptiness was icier than death.  A cold wind blew through the window, crowning us with frost.  His arms threaded

around me.  “Any moment, I will shatter this dream.  And you, dream-girl, will go with me.”

The stained glass cracked.  Suddenly faint, I collapsed against him.  My senses swam as he gathered me into his arms.  “I remember when I was woken,” he murmured.  “You have nothing to fear.”  Perhaps he looked down at me sorrowfully.  “It’s as easy as falling asleep.”

The piano began to play.

“We speak in music,” he murmured, carrying me out into the unforgiving snow. “We speak in music, where I’m from.”

The door slammed shut behind us.

All faded to black.

Names a Blessing, Names a Curse

Fair-hared Solace and flame-haired Sorrow, two madrigals
of cherubs born to inherit a mantle of pulsing infinity,
castle towers for the princesses and a spindle for queens.
She labors in the quiet hours on the Holy Day, delivering
twins of leonine majesty, of fox fire and falcon talons.
The red hawk cries, the lioness roars, the red wolf whines.
All of nature’s bounty is Solace’s christening wine, all
of the prayers for broken hearts and unspent dreams Sorrow
will carry – names are blessings, names are curses, and
daughters are stronger than any Sun, daughters are gifts
that grow like saplings into curved birch and weep-willow.
Solace has eyes blue like lakes, Sorrow’s iris meadow green.
Semisweet chocolate, cocoa powder clutched in infant hands,
swaddled in golden light by the Prince of Heaven, carried
to Machonon to roost in the Bell Trees of Memory and grow
under the love and brilliance of the Heavenly Father, Jah
Michael pierces my heart with smiling spear, I am alight,
and I burn, I burn, I burn for my children, my daughters.

Cain Whispers: “I Was First”

There’s a gateway to heaven, a stairway to hell
my seal on your thigh to guide you well, a boon,
a curse, this Serpent Line, tines of a pitchfork
brimstone sublime, Satan lashes his Son, blood
like wine, against an oak tree in fields of time,
Cain bleeds out amber in the Plains of Divine,
Mamre infected to flow down the line, ash we eat,
dust in our hair, there’s tears and splinters in
winter cold air, nuclear harvest, we fuck til
we’re dry, and incest keeps lineages infection shy.
The Ichor of the Cobra, Qayin Seed, serpent strikes
deadly to replenish his need, sickle fang throats,
the beast I take to bed, beheaded like Sisyphus,
or was that Atlas? Whatever burden we bear, I Was
The First, Scapegoat, La-Azazel, and sister dear,
weep amber into your golden hair, sweet Eve, rot
in my arms, my poison within you, sound the alarm.

Trickster’s Bride, or The Journey Home

In one week, I got three full requests from the top agents in middle grade!  Happy Valentine’s to me!  Andrea Somberg of Harvey Klinger, Emily van Beek of Folio Jr., Daniel Lazar of Writer’s House all requested it within a week of each other (cue seeing stars!), and Brent Taylor of Triada and Thao Le of Sandra Djistrika all have the fulls.  The partials of my  middle grade are still with a few other agents, and my old novel, Firebird, has a 75 page partial with Joshua Bilmes of Jabberwocky!  This is the most success I’ve ever had querying a novel, but what inspired Chwal?

Chwal is a coming-of-age tale set in the South, New Orleans country specifically, about a girl raised by angels and spirits.  Like May, I was raised by angels, including Raphael, who is her guardian angel, and I knew Kalfou, or Mister Carrefour, the fiery dark horse Petro lwa from the age of two.  His blackness is still a real nightmare-wrangling threat, and he goes by many names: the Witchfather, the Man in Black, the Devil of the Crossroads, Kalfou, Satan – he changes names like the wind changes direction.

Unlike May, I ended up in a maryaj lwa with Kalfou because goddamn do tricksters act forceful when they want your attention.  They can drive you mad if you refuse them or scour you with bad luck, and dealing with the Evil Jazz Man that looks like a Demon Bob Marley with red (or just abyssal) eyes, midnight skin, dreads, a snake pommel cane, pinstripe suit, Cuban cigars at hand, and a sultry baritone serenading you in a dive bar in Hell on the piano is, well, otherworldly, to say the least.

Kalfou and I, we go way back to the age of two, to my first memory.  Samael, when he is not Middle Eastern, is often an African man obsessed with Peabo Bryson, rum, Satchmo, monocles, well-tailored suits and Cuban heels.  He told me early on that “Kalfou is one of my many names.  I have as many names as the wind,” an apt title as he is the samiel wind, and who but the Devil has as many guises as the phases of the moon?

His oldest form, this Man in Black, is this ancient African god of darkness, with eyes like the blankness of space with stars in them, wild dreadlocks, in lion skin loincloth, dealing in death and magic and the wilderness.  I call him Ubuntu as an inside joke.  He was at the core of my psychotic break, the savior that restored my sanity, where I cycled through all of Samael’s forms to the core of his most primal nature.  Ubuntu was the mantra of my psych ward where I was held without razors to shave or shoelaces to strangle, plastered on the walls as a motivational poster, used in therapy.

Ubuntu.  South African, the core of human origin, where millions of years ago a genetic bottleneck occurred and we were descended from all those mitochondrial Adams and Eves on the cape.  I imagine Kalfou was there, as he always is, in the darkness of death and magic of underground caverns, trickster par excellance, venom of the black mamba.

But I know his kindness, and his wrath, and his seduction.  Also, how he has kept me from the lips of death, which are his very own, always denying me his poisonous kiss.

For what is to love someone than to forever lose them?

Ubuntu (Zulu pronunciation: [ùɓúntʼù])[1][2] is a NguniBantu term meaning “humanity”. It is often also translated as “humanity towards others”, but is often used in a more philosophical sense to mean “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity”.[3]

I was pumped full of antipsychotics and mood stabilizers but still my psychosis and mania raged.  I found myself in a dark cavern at the core of the earth, with a fire glowing, snake skin and lion skin around, with Ubuntu cross-legged in a Yogic pose, his eyes black stars, and he was Trickster.  He was Trickster, Trickster, Trickster, and he said I was the Trickster’s Bride.

The Trickster’s Wife is a Trickster herself, heyoka, backwards, Baba Yaga, he said.  My path was the Coyote Road.

All the Tricksters he cycled through.  Tezcatlipoca, the Devil, Loki, Maui, Raven, Coyote, Thunderbird, Hermes, Legba, Kalfou, some so old they did not have names, mad dancers that frothed at the mouth with thunder.  I would walk backwards through this world with Trickster at my side.

Death is the ultimate Trickster, and I am the Bride of Death.  To trick, you must be the Deceiver, the Adversary, the one who when riding a chwal people flee from, your poison pure leaves medicine to some, curses to others.

And so I tasted Death, and I kissed him despite his protestations and a major part of my soul died.

I couldn’t read.

I couldn’t think.

I was a puppet for madness, but the small frightened teen in me still flickered when the medicine was just right, and the spirits called

Enter Zora Neale Hurston’s works.

I was doomed to be a catatonic hallucinating vegetable in a madhouse.  I’m not going to dress my words plainly.  I was a madwoman, I was a bag lady, I was the kind of scary crazy you warn your kids about.

But I still loved to read, and so I taught myself again.  Sandman comics at first, but then, Zora’s short stories.

I promised myself I would not die if I could read my favorite author again.

I could barely hold a book.

But I loved Their Eyes Were Watching God in high school, and Mules and Men, and so I picked up Seraph on the Sewanee and read all hundreds of pages of it by the time spring semester rolled around.

I wasn’t sane yet, I went back to school severely depressed, but Trickster kept whispering in my ear: Dance on.  Us Tricksters, we are storytellers.  Us Tricksters, we got business to do, people to make laugh, dances to perform.

You are a Trickster’s Wife, and so you are able to come back from Death.  For I am Death.  And you are Death.  And Death is the most alive god.  Death is Trickster, Trickster is Death, but we are the most brilliant stars.

So I sipped the wine of life, and I persevered.  I dreamed of my demon, my angel, my god, my crossroads Gebo Tawu madman, the X my marking on my tattooed angel hands.  Perhaps that meant I was his treasure.  He drank my  blood, and I drained him of magic, and years later, I wrote the story of a girl raised by angels, raised by gods, who must drive back the darkness of her own mind –

and find the light.

Iron Love

You have me tethered to your diamond heart
a love strong as iron, arms quickfire forge.

Get you a man with the weight of the ancients.

Find you a lover of bedrock and cooled magma.

You are as beautiful as obsidian, better half.

And I want to drown under your mineral weight.

So pressure my coal into crystal, my mountain.

I am the grass that grows on your cliff, as you
lift me up above life’s debris to the butter sun.