women are scared of their own violence.
women are scared of their own violence.
I start by slaughtering
your brothers in front of you
to see if you can stand it.
I’m the fairest thing that ever happened to you. I know because I once saw the whole thing. You could say I asked for it.
“God,” I began.
I was centered in sigil. My spine was straight, although I usually slouch. I usually admonish myself for taking up too much space on my couch; even alone, even in privacy, I shrink. This evening was different. I felt propped by something and sitting up, breathing softly, not nervous and with intention. The gasping I am used to transmuted into long, deep inhales; long, thrumming exhales. That night even the callous on my palm where I lay the plastic straw I can’t let go of, can’t stop twiddling as I walk around the city, felt soft. It felt healed and my hands smelled like cherry blossom from the lotion I rubbed on my knees as I took care of myself, my needs, for once. Once a day, I drink water and rest. Once a day, I pause to smell a honeysuckle. Once in a while, I cease compulsion to drop the straw, pet a dog, move on.
I was melting; suffused with the moonstone resting on my lap, becoming waxing crescent. I was becoming spring. Dust around me tickled my shoulders to remind me: We are here to help you breathe. I immediately became breath. The room rocked like a cradle and I was swathed in her gentle nightlight. I was enveloped. Call the dust what you want, the noise what you want: dirt, fantasy, demons, guides, saints, Lilith and her coven (I light candles to all kinds), they were there that night using my forearms, using my hands, using my throat to sing. My diaphragm rose and fell with ease. God. I asked for breath. Breathe. I became breath. I became nestled in large silk strands.
“God,” I waited and then started again.
I let the fire in my chest build with each name I said until I could feel the slow burning rise to full flame. I waited until I could feel the full pounding of the floor dropping out, until I was hovering in air, until I was on the cloud. It’s the pyre I’ve been waiting for: the charred ribs, the suckled breasts, the ghosts that waft out of the ropes. I waited until I knew who to ask for; until I heard someone say it.
“God,” I started again, and let it be known I was not in fear, I was not shaking, I was not anxious. “Whose answered prayer am I?”
There is no trepidation. You only enter with one affirmation. You only enter with perfect love and perfect trust or you do not enter us. I waited until I heard YES! from a near distance before I made my way towards us.
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and what else?
this is my 12th house.
I wake up in his forearm
biting through his moles
to get to you.
and what else?
you repeat and
I say something cute:
honey, dip a spoon into the
past and you’re going to watch it
your house was yellow.
my house was blue and
a ten by ten box;
a cage and me trapped,
torn between watching them
pack up their stuff
from their own pact to self
and me, dripping virile,
pushing them out.
we needed a spark,
I pounced and
the railing tumbled on my
the basement rattled and the
filling the place with the kind of emptiness
that is so dense
smoke smells a lot like
if we scented time the way we
spray each other.
I hear a bark.
hope the turtle remembers how to
duck and cover.
the cat’s sure got it.
remember me as a black-winged fury
hovering over your bed at night because
there will be nothing left by dawn
except some burning blue
cedar wood and a cheap comb
that found its way buried in the dirt.
the photo albums gone,
dusty cookbooks charred,
vanished remote controls stay hidden
and the asbestos and fiberglass ceilings
imploded despite our fear that was the
thing that would kill us.
I am left with a cancer
that gnaws through the joints
like packs of rats chewing through cables
to take the attic back.
and I need this.
I really miss your hands on me
and the convivial cluster of caterpillars
that swallowed the bark
the day in the orchard
when you held me in sullen incubation
before the devastation of the forest,
before I made way for us,
the parting and somewhere
an empty crib stays unfurnished.
someone starts an engine.
the varnish is melting and so am I.
God gave you a chance and
an unfinished smile.
a smoke alarm malfunctions
mocking your reluctance
to just grin and bare it,
to just open up your arms
and catch me when I jump;
but first here comes the fish tank
catch me with all the fit I threw.
we all look like burnt books
blowing in the breeze
and now, I too,
am wafting with the exhumed memories.
before my legs even hit the dew,
you watch me dwindle to a million floating pieces
in the cradle of tar black trees.
you see the contract ascertained a certain
and I’m too thirsty to complain
about anything but the heat in here.
hold your breath and wait
for some other current to take me.
there are no exits.
All the blades had been painted to match the handle. Even as her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she couldn’t see what was blunt, sharp, welcoming or not. Weighted by a subdued panic, she lingered near the entrance glued to the floor. Her jaw immediately clenched shut. Previously sun had enveloped her; drops of snow had trimmed her coat and as she felt the cold air move effortlessly in and out her lungs, she could also feel tiny streams of warmth cradle her from all sides. She could still feel light was everywhere. Her breathing had been smooth despite the freeze. She could hear her boots crunch the frosted ground each step of the way even thought she couldn’t see. She could feel the goosebumps line her skin underneath her fleece and was she ungrateful? Suddenly constricted by a pitch black chrysalis, she held her breath without intention and wanted the handcuffs back, the rope around her neck, the blindfold, the cigarette and final amends; the quick and easy assassination. She tried to breathe. She waited for a light, a door, a window, any grace to come her way.
Stolid, her body was undulating in waves of light tremble but she herself did not move. Rather, she didn’t make any motions herself. Dozens of feelings catapulted from side to side inside of her but her body stayed firmly planted. Feet squared, she was staid, motionless, burrowing herself in a deep place of carotid armor. Her teeth were grinding themselves but her mind was set on nothing. She did not feel the deep well rushing to meet her. This was instinct come to greet her. Is this the ineffable meditation I have found? Resigned to a sudden phlegmatic state, she couldn’t catch her breath and she couldn’t time her heartbeat. She couldn’t move. Frozen in a final quiver, she couldn’t discern the difference between a thousand knives pointing at her and the one handle she was supposed to grab. You’ll be safer underground. Like the doe letting paralysis sheathe her before the arrow hits, Catarina made no move when the first bomb dropped.
It was the Earth that had to shake her from her statue; remind her this is life or death. The ground’s vibration forced her to tumble. Something skewered her shoulder. The cut was quick and sharp and fleeting like a bee sting; the way you feel it only when the stinger has removed itself, only when it’s gone. You scratch your leg at the sudden welt in shock, mouth agape, betrayed by the hunter’s assiduous maneuver. You didn’t even get a chance to swat or run. You didn’t get a chance to be scared. You just feel the bite, gasp, catch a glimpse of a vibrating yellow and black body far away from you as you wait in line for the snow cone. Don’t scratch! your mother screeches noticing your fascination, the skin turning red in horror, her hand reaching for your bony wrist and this is how the end feels. It was a mixture of memories and physical pain, synaptic-cushioned snapshots flying across her closed eyelids and is this previous trauma dribbling down my shoulder? A trickle made it all the way to her tricep before she could orient herself. Catarina held her hands out.
What was sharper than that first spear was the recall. Not just her mother’s voice at the water park but everything leading up to this moment and the finality of the moment before she was tossed into her pointy bee coffin. He had a sudden gentleness that struck her; a sudden recompense he wanted to give her. The way he carefully turned her around to take her blindfold off right before she walked in. You’ll be safer underground. The way his hands felt on her shoulders; soft, yet utilitarian, feeling up the back of her neck with both salacity and pique. He blew his hot breath at her skin on purpose. Within that breath, he contained a duplicity; a fervid violence that stopped her from moving anymore. To your left. Cutting the wire clamp from the back of her head with some invented urgency, at the time she heard murmurs brimming with contrition, some final show of commiseration– here look and he pushed her. She was standing at the front of a long blade-lined hallway with no light coming from anywhere, no door or window and no choice but to feel her way out. She kept her hands out.
What Catarina remembered first and how she was so acutely aware of what she remembered first was the weight she carried now. The bombs were dropping one after the other in a near distance and she was trying to keep time with her heart. Usually calm, pacified and accurate, it was suddenly racing. Without thinking, she reached her hand to her chest to stop it, to quiet it, to say remember to breathe and felt the metal locket. Catarina grabbed it. He had examined the silver and sapphire urn around her neck, fingering it and looking at it closely, then back at her. His nails were dirty from the woods like hers. His eyes were light brown with a ring of green around the pupil like hers. He moved his sullied black fingers up the chain with a barbarous grin threatening to rip it off of her, not with his words but with his teeth that were gritted and holding a phrase tight between them.
“Your tenacity,” he hissed and dropped the locket so it banged the deep bruise on her sternum, formed from the clunky silver heart hitting her chest everytime she ran. “Is what I admire.It was your low and persistent song that led them. You’re a fearless woman. I admire you for what you tried.”
He let his index finger stroke the bruise. She had been running all of the time.
There were about two short seconds between her standing at the entrance and the first strike. Catarina knew what had pinched her shoulder wasn’t the lever she was looking for. She was three centimeters from the blade that just cut her when the next bomb dropped. She hadn’t moved herself. The floor had continued to push her. Her heart felt a hundred beats in and she couldn’t keep accurate time. Everything was a rush of noise and tremor. Catarina stumbled backwards and the heavy locket suddenly became airy and light, moving, swinging around her throat with ease, his ashes settling in their final betrayal. The chain hung loose and then tightly pulled her backwards onto the knife. It made a high tin sound as it was cut from her body and dropped to the floor. What is sharper was the recall; everything noticed differently last, moments noticed differently in processing without the obsessive cage that kept them in presence. Death is a quiet examination. There is no urgency, no care in the world as you acquiesce to ending. It always feels planned. He had asked her with a smile if she wanted to keep it. Taking her silence as a complicit yes, he let the blindfold drop so she could see what had graved her. He sneered behind her and blew his breath one last time. Look. He had let Catarina keep the memory of him until the end.
Her brother’s ashes had fallen but she was still chained to the wall. As her body was drawn backwards by gravity, her neck curved to enfold the weapon and something thudded at her coccyx. It didn’t sting the way the tear at the shoulder stung or rip the way her throat was ripping open now. It didn’t pierce her. It didn’t mutilate her. It announced it was there so she would know I am lever, touch me and walk through my wall of knives unscathed.
“You will know it because it will not pierce you,” he said.
Catarina settled on the handle and let out a long sigh. It lasted only half a second before she lost her breath. It lasted thousands of fluttering heart beats and that long, embarrassing half a second of a sigh that inexplicably lasted centuries. Thousands of heart beats of relief were released in staggering breath as if she had actually found the exit–as if she had actually succeeded with escape. A pond began to form at the bottom of her throat. There were two seconds between her standing at the entrance of the doorway and one second between the next two strikes and her throat hanging on a knife. To your left and you will know it. Beneath her gallow, her tailbone knocked the knob that swung the door open and as her body settled, she could feel every sword start up her calves and thighs like vines of thorns were climbing her. The pain removed all cognition. She became sensate. You’ll be safer underground.
When his voice filled her: to your left and you will know it because it will not pierce you, it came from a place inside of her that was not of her mind but of her guts; ruptured, each one spilling over. Veins opened and her blood rushed to freedom from every newly cut orifice in her body. Thick, red streams ran down her propped open mouth onto her chin and neck and dripped onto the blade that had torn through her stomach. Her senses were acute, sharpened. Her armor was missing. It was not what she imagined. She felt no real pain but she felt everything flood at once–that memory, those memories and she could hear her own drops of blood hit the metal like a drizzle of rainwater slowly falling from the roof.
“Come on!” he yelled.
She was running behind him but her eyes were focused on the stick in her hand, the one she picked. She made sure to always pick her own.
“HA! YOU CHEAT CAT!” he growled.
It was a small twig. It had one tiny branch sticking out at the top right so she could remember which one it was and keep an eye on it more easily. However, the current was fast. She didn’t account for it being flipped over and over dozens of time. There was no more “top right” after entering the stream. It was all brown blur, rushing water, tiny leaves and sticks in the gutter. The only way Catarina could keep an eye on her stick was to run right next to it and follow it the whole time.
“That one is too small, lion,” he said again.
“No way, it’s a race anyway; the smaller the better, the faster.”
“Whatever.” He tossed his branch and ran ahead.
“Hey! Hey!” Catarina screamed and tossed hers in the gutter and began to run.
He was already halfway up the block near the stop sign and going to round the corner before she got there. He was also right. The rains had been high and so had the winds and the current was taking her stick faster than she planned. Keeping her head down to focus, she didn’t even notice the blue sedan swerving around the corner, her shoes slipping on the slick black asphalt beneath her and her brother, suddenly resurrected inside the neighbor’s bush, grabbing her by the elbow to toss her out of the way of the oncoming car.
Catarina was a river becoming boundless, becoming lake, becoming rising flood in body. In the darkness, she could barely make out the machete-lined tomb but as the wall began to move, a tiny sliver of light bounced off the tips facing her. She could see that every knife pointed at her from only about three feet away. The wall was opening to another hallway. Eyes heavy, spent and twitching, desperately trying to shut, were being willed open by a deep resolve inside of her. It was like fighting sleep on Christmas Eve. Let me see Santa Claus. Let me see what I won.
The only weight she carried with her were the last two words he said: his prediction, not his warning but his knowledge and mercy, a mercy she hadn’t trusted until her final half heartbeat. And fast.
He said, “The exit is to your left and you will know it because it will not pierce you.” As he pushed her inside of her mausoleum, he added, “And fast.”
The things you remember last, you carry these with you as you pass. And fast. The trauma of being stabbed to death with ingenuity that far exceeded her power, she could leave that. The tackle to the ground as he pinned her, she could leave that. Dragging her through the last mile of woods to imprison her, to taunt her, to smile at her with lust and longing and his fucked feelings of entitlement as he recounted her earlier betrayal. You are a sly bitch. She didn’t even try to explain herself to him. They understood each other the way predators understand each other; the way lions kill only with hunger and need, using war for territory and feast. Killing in wilderness is not a sentimental thing. She understood him as the predator understanding herself as the predator. She didn’t fault him. Murder was a word created by humanity to press morality onto us, but animals kill with great speed and precision and there is no sense of guilt or mourning. Killing is a very natural need. In fact, the world demands it. Neither she nor him mourned this passage. This was not sentimental. Yet, there was a feeling.
The way he held the blue and silver heart in admiration and removed her blindfold to show her the trap, Catarina held that in esteem like it was the agape promised by God. You are a sly bitch. The necklace had fallen somewhere on the floor and she was free. You have to be more careful, lion, her brother squeezed her skinny arm so tight in that moment it left a handprint. He dragged her back home and she was wailing about the race and her stick.
“It’s over,” Alex said. “I’m taking you home.”
She was a brat that day, like every day, immediately forgetting her brother just saved her life. She was kicking and screaming and demanding a do-over, another game, another victory.
He let her go and walked home alone. She stood stationary by the giant puddle at the entrance of their court and began yelling his name.
But he didn’t turn around.
“Alex! Come back!” she screeched, hopping up and down, splashing the water on her legs, a new stick gripped tightly in her fist.
The wall had turned all the way around and she was facing another wall of swords hundreds of feet long. She would have never made it. Her eyes finally shut on their own spent volition and she held a tempestuous hazel gaze in her heart; a gaze marked troubled, starving and promising return. And a whisper she felt last: And fast.
“The Woman Who Saw Her Own Death”
“An opportunity for happiness:
earth we cannot possess