Breathless, My Venom Spent, I Lay Down My Weapons
So many winters, dear reader, forging through the snow,
ice-rimed and chiming with cold. So many nights, keeled
in ether, steeped in sleet. Shattered, shackled, craggy,
and daft, I fought, and fought again, with bows and arrows,
with stones. My eyes sewn and swollen, sealed in frost.
My hands wind-torn and slivered. And my bones worn
and whittled, loathed and hollow, frail as moss. I salted
my wounds and walked, I laced my veins with razors,
traced my pulse with knives. Steel-eyed and dreaming
of coal. Reader, I would have done anything to find
the past, that ravaged mass of asters. I had the map,
the lantern, the flag. I wrapped my feet in rags.
The snow was a chant, a hammer, a rain of needles and bees.
Staving off terror, I lay in wait. I carved my path in the dark.
I was beyond reason, reader, my heart snared and bitten, baring
its teeth. My heart, rabid, blistered, heavy with salt. Then,
in the seventh season, I woke in the fevered darkness, spine
on fire, eyes filled with smoke. The past was standing over me,
sloe-eyed stranger in a heavy cloak. He came, as ever,
silent as stars, or singing. He came offering me his city,
its streets unfolding like the sea, its towers, its turrets, its spires
bathed in light. Its ginger and lilies, its rising sun. He smelled
like crushed mint, like cinnamon. His hair was the color of fire.
Reader, I admit I listened, bone-numb and shivering. And reader,
his skin! It glowed like molten glass, like melted honey, like a bolt
of gold. I admit I considered it. But, reader, so many mornings
down on my knees and pleading, my hands filled with ash. Nights
frozen in the slope of silence, its ice. So reader, I married him
to the knife, to the dagger, to the lance. I cast him down the ladder.
To the garden, mauled and fallen. To the loam, to the toads! At last,
the bride unbridled, the queen of ether, little sister death. And then,
breathless, my venom spent, I lay down my weapons and wept.
I’m hoarse from roaring, my sword
gorged with gore. In short, I abhor
you, need I say more? I’ve scorched
the borders, I’ve torched the door,
the boats, the scrolls, the stormy shores.
What’s my reward? Horror, the horror,
the hordes on all fours. I was born for
glory, then ignored. More and more,
a morsel of remorse. The war is over,
the corpses cold, my orders aborted,
fortune told. Lord of fire, hoarding
coal. Gorgeous forger, stolen gold:
I swore you sold my soul for a song. But
what if I forced it? What if I’m wrong?
Sarah Murphy recently moved to Florida, where she is an assistant professor of English at Jacksonville University. She is currently involved in a production of The Orpheus Project, an interdisciplinary performance that explores the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice through music, dance, film, and poetry. Her work is forthcoming in Pleiades and Court Green.