Long Gone, Never Been

There is something atavistic in
my bones, my soul: a whisper
of mountains long gone
and glaciers already melted
down the drain of time, of rivers
through caves and woods
by starlight, by candle flame
by fire watched by sleepless ones
in tents made of sky
and walls now crumbling
old dust in new lungs

You might think my writing is
pretentious shit
but really it is fog in the morning,
the memory of wooden fences,
brambles crowding my mind
in the gaps between trees
locked in the halfway places

Other Days

Otherness is a day where you lick the salt off the back of your hand and it tastes of strange ocean tides, a ship coming to steal your tongue and harpoon the words out of your mouth, building from your bones a raft following uncharted currents to foreign castles filled with aimless stories circling back to the roof of your palate, caving in with a sigh so strange to you it crumbles down the stairs of your back, stumbling over fleeing mirages afraid of the quill and slipping down into the dampness of old wells.

Bright.

And she doesn’t walk in starlight, but in the shadow of her own radiance: willful ignorance of the brightness blinding others, just dim enough for her to make out the way out of oblivion, don’t forget her as she forgets the danger, her anger, as she lets go of the only trusted hand and lets go and goes fight another one’s battles, willful ignorance of the future and the knowledge there is none, just another step on a moon beam, just another bullet in the eye of the beholder of willful letting go of the scraps of humanity clinging to a too weak image of herself and she goes and goes on in the storm of dust and tears and the brightness continues beyond her as she dims.

Padre (Short Story Version)

The holy water in the tiny stone basin was icy cold, but it was a welcome pain for a change. Hastily but not without reverence, I dabbed myself in the familiar pattern. Cleansing, my escape, putting aside the home that was not home and entering my sanctuary.

Part of me constantly ruminated on the idea of becoming a nun once I was old enough, but I was done with too many rules and too tight walls. There also was no convent anywhere near, and despite my constant dream of fleeing, I couldn’t bring myself to leave behind this one place where walls and company didn’t mean bad news.

The church was a place of shadows, friendly ones, both real and metaphorical ones. It was a cover I could enter freely, anytime, one of my only accepted pastimes, and no one asking what secrets I kept behind the gate. Almost automatically, I crossed myself before stepping into the wooden perch, kneeling in my accustomed spot in the second row from the back, waiting.

It only took a few minutes today until I heard her approach and whisper into my ear. “How bad is it today?”

I shook my head in reply, my throat to tight with tears and my lips to bruised to trust myself to speak. Carefully, I glanced about, relieved to spy nothing but her ghostly shape – a girl, pale but round-faced, whom I perceived as a little sister – and the priest puttering around near the altar, surrounded by the air of respectfully ignoring us, giving us space. I was pretty sure by now he could see her too, by the tiny telltale smiles and nods of acknowledgement. Padre, our father in spirit.

Like a small touch of a breeze, she tugged at my dress. “Come.” And I followed her along the side of the main ship, towards the small oaken door towards the rooms that were off-limits to most casual visitors. Again, it was unlocked. Again, I suspected it was on purpose, to judge by the almost smirk on the priest’s face as he observed us slip through, from the corner of his eye.

We passed the sacristy, then the cracked old wardrobe holding clerical vestments of all kinds, until we reached the small library with its smells of centuries. Holy and unholy books, some ancient spoils of holy wars – “Not so holy, they were,” she mutters.

Lightly, we treaded and floated between the shelves, caressing leather spines and touching history on yellowed paper. Searching for an unspoken idea, as we have done for weeks.

She stopped in place and her expression shifted. Wordlessly, she tapped the spine of a thin volume slightly protruding from its spot in the shelf, and disappeared to wherever it was she went in such moments. It was my decision to act on whatever coincidence or intent this was, she told me by her absence.

Deep red linen brushed against my fingers, a cover of blood and inked darkness. Ars Transformationis, the art of change. Had the priest left it for me to find? I never knew how much he knew, about me and about the conversations I had with the ghost who haunted his church.

This day, I didn’t see her again, but I felt her lingering close. “Take this,” she whispered, finally, “find a way, and we’ll be our own eternal sisterhood of shadows beaten by false hope. And I’ll share the bell tower with you, the attic. Be a ghost or whatever you like, but be.”

I skimmed the pages by candlelight, ignoring the time that passed. This was important, maybe more important than all that would happen when I returned too late. Maybe nothing else would be of real importance ever again. When I found the part I had been looking for, I did my best to memorise it: the instructions, the arcane symbols. The steps were simple enough, besides one key ingredient; and I had my idea how to get it. The pattern I would need to copy and practice though. For now, I replaced the book and went to find the priest. I had another question.

“Will you be damned?” He laughed, softly, as if it was a slightly ridiculous question asked by an innocent child. “No, I don’t think so. It isn’t what goes into the body that makes us unclean. You know the words of the scripture. You’d still be able to enter this refugium.”

Then, in an unexpected but yet not fully surprising move, he slightly pulled aside his collar. There, on his normally unexposed skin, I saw scars and marks both of war and of night. He let go of the stiff fabric and smiled the faintest trace of a smile, sad and knowing. “I couldn’t save my daughter, but I could join her, here, stay with her in my own way.”

Stunned, I nodded. For the third time this day, I didn’t dare to speak. But I was sure I knew who his daughter was; knew her quite well.

“And we could save others here,” he went on. “In all ways, soul and body and spirit, with hope and bread and refuge.”

“Padre,” I said, desperately, in offering my vulnerable skin.“Padre, be my father, too.”
But he shook his head. “No, not this way. It has to be by your hand alone, I made a vow. But ask what else you need, I’ll give it to you. Is there something I can help you with before you go home?” He was offering the usual, I knew, counsel, confession, blessing. But I had a different need.

“A coffin nail, iron from the ground.”

In my mind, I kept repeating the words from the secret tome, mulling them over and ingraining them while I walked home. Just a few more weeks and I would be free. The instructions became my litany.

Take the nail of a coffin, bury it
under a rowan by new moon, darkness silent
until by full moon you unearth it, take a sprig
of same rowan tree:
let the nail rust in holy water, wait
until another new moon, burn the wood
take rust and ashed, mix with holy water
and a drop of your own blood, pricked by a needle
that never has sewn:
tattoo the magic over your heart
and silently sit in the graveyard
midnight to sunrise, the needle between your lips
until you thread it by sunrise
with a fibre of
the clothes you are wearing
stick the threaded needle into a grave and go home
start turning vampire by nightfall.

I returned the next day with a scrap of paper and a pen, to trace the intricate pattern of circles and lines with beaten fingers. Just a few more weeks, and then the last pain would come from my own hand.
On my way out, I stopped to join the priest in the confessional.
“I have read the words,” I said through the wooden lattice, “will you have me, here?”
And he smiled. “We have waited for you, come home any time you’re ready, just be safe and promise you’ll join our vigil. We’re shadows, but not damned.”

Almost, Void

Almost asleep, in almost winter
reaching for frayed ends of frost
to cover the waking hours
in sheets of ice, ragged and torn
a ghostly castle of snow, dreamed up
in the nothing between calendars
the void of no purpose but being

Padre

So I’m here again, dipping my finger
in Holy Water frozen
almost as solid as my fears
as I enter my only sanctuary:
home more than home

And again I meet my friends, the shadows
both real and figurative:
I’m hiding, tiny below ancient arches
high ceilings in a village to small
to hold both my family and my sanity

And I meet my friends, the shadow ones
kneeling in the back perch I wait, eyes closed
until she taps my shoulder, giggle fleeting:
my ghost, my little sister in spirit
older than my troubles, child-like features

I’ve waited, she whispers, how bad is it today?
And I can’t tell, lips shut by bruised tears
so she beckons to follow, floating shadow
and we sneak away, as sometimes we do
towards the rooms off limits to most

And from the corner of my eye I see
the Padre smiling, knowing what we do,
yet staying motionless, another shadow
who left the tiny oaken door unlocked
and we slip out of sight, shadow girls

In search of solace and books forgotten:
Spoils of Holy War, not so holy it was, she says
right behind my ear, darker than her face betrays
in the silence I step ghost-lightly, almost there
Can’t I be like you, I ask, always here, always safe?

Solemn question folds on ghostly brow: a moment
she might have waited for, feared to face
I hold my breath, try to stop time myself
yet she moves, floating towards shelves
insubstantial fingers brushing spines

Of books old and musty, tarnished gold
by blood and time and evil hands
but her touch a caress, a promise of care:
stopping on a volume thin and dark
jutting out as on purpose (and maybe it was)

She taps it twice, lightly, sad smirk but hopeful eyes
I think only once and follow the lead
pull at linen and come away with a glimpse of magic:
promises of other ways to die and live
by a hand sure and bloodied, but your own

Take this, she whispers, finally, find a way
and we’ll be our own eternal sisterhood
of shadows beaten by false hope
and I’ll share the bell tower, with you, the attic
be a ghost or whatever you like, but be

And I study by candlelight forbidden work
and I come away with hope and questions
Padre, I say, one stormy evening, Padre, is it true
I’ll be damned, can’t enter this refugium?
He laughs, soft wind, unlike my home not home

And he pulls away his collar, shows marks
of war and night: I don’t think so
it isn’t what goes into our bodies
that makes us unclean
you know the words, dear child

I couldn’t, he said, save my daughter
but I could join her, here (you know her)
and we could save others, in all ways
soul and body and spirit
with hope and bread and refuge

Padre, I said, Padre, be my father, too
but he shakes his head, no, not this way
it has to be by your hand alone, I made a vow
but ask what else you need, I’ll give it to you
a coffin nail, I say, iron, from the ground:

Take the nail of a coffin, bury it
under a rowan by new moon, darkness silent
until by full moon you unearth it, take a sprig
of same rowan tree:
let the nail rust in holy water, wait
until another new moon, burn the wood
take rust and ashed, mix with holy water
and a drop of your own blood, pricked by a needle
that never has sewn:
tattoo the magic over your heart
and silently sit in the graveyard
midnight to sunrise, the needle between your lips
until you thread it by sunrise with a fibre of your clothes
stick the threaded needle into a grave and go home
start turning vampire by nightfall.

I have read the words, I said,
will you have me, here? And he smiles,
we have waited for you, come home
any time you’re ready, just be safe
and promise you’ll join our vigil

We’re shadows, but not damned.

 

Foggy Words

Words fogged over: fingers tracing
shadows on a mirror,
rain down the window
running together in a pool of figures,
ideas muddled, huddling
under rocks and lumps of moss
drinking in the cold night
until thoroughly soaked
and swollen to twice their size,
turning blurry, rippling and resting
in frog infested limbo.

Frozen Stories

I age faster than my stories
and each time I put them aside
they stay frozen, stuck in
a time I leave the next day

and my characters outlive
my chances to catch up with them
and I pass them as time passes,
no nods on a busy street,

crossing and gone and
what stays are empty footprints
across unfinished books
of irrelevant ideas about life.

Sleeping Fragments

Locked away in books you sleep
until I awaken you,
open the leather-bound door to
the story of you soul: undying
//
Hidden within files I find you
and send the spark of my fingers
to question your absent presence
and retrieve the words, the images:
digital ghosts
//
In the back of my head you
whisper:
a moment, framed.