1

Prisoner 1827

*** ©2014-2016 betwixtthepages / Elizabeth Mathis; originally posted on deviantART.com***

“When she exploded, she left nothing behind.  Except she did.”  Trembling, his hands covered in Prisoner 1827’s last breath, Officer Daavie catches the Captain’s eye.  The man’s mouth is stern, cutting deep lines across his face.  This is the tenth time they’ve gone over Daavie’s story.  Not one detail has changed.  Not one detail makes sense.

“That… It just doesn’t add up, Officer.  People don’t just explode–do you see any brains or bones or other human debris splattered across the walls like paint?”

Daavie grimaces, reaching for a bottle of hand sanitizer on the Captain’s desk.  “No.  I know.  But she did.”  He depresses the plunger as he speaks.  Nothing.  After thirty tries, each more frantic than the last, Daavie flings the plastic to the floor and rakes his hands through his thinning hair.

“Okay.”  The Captain sighs, tapping the tip of his pen against yellowing, crooked teeth.  “Take a breath, Officer.  Let’s go over it again.”

Slumping in the hard-backed chair, Daavie glances at the fake Rolex on his wrist.  5:54 am.  They’ve been at this almost fifteen hours.  He takes a sip of coffee and grimaces again as the cold, congealed sludge slips over his tongue.  He should get a warm up.  “It started just like any other call…”

The man is perched almost on the lip of the sloped apartment roof, his bare feet giving him traction.  Officer Daavie and his partner–a rookie–watch from below, the first responders on scene.  A crowd of curious onlookers gather on the sidewalk across the street.  They snap pictures on their cellphones and whisper together, pointing toward the sky.  Pressing the button on his walkie, Daavie turns his head.  “Unit 974 to Dispatch, we’re on scene.  Backup may be needed for crowd control.”

“Copy 974.  Units 526 and 223 en route.”

Swiping a trickle of sweat from his brow, Daavie hooks his thumbs in his belt loops and raises his gaze back to the figure on the roof.  The man balances on one foot, his hands held as if in prayer just past his nose.  Ten stories down, it’s just possible to make out the guy’s strange attire.  “What in tarnations is he–”

“Is he wearing a loincloth?”  The rookie chortles, tugging on his goatee.  His still-crisp uniform is tight across his beer gut; he hasn’t washed it yet.  Just out of the Academy, amused intrigue is still bright in his eyes.  He hasn’t experienced the horrors of the world.  Of their job.  Daavie bites his tongue and tries to remember what it was like, being so innocent.

The wind shifts, a gust toward the south, and the man’s loincloth billows out of place.  The crowd on the sidewalk shrieks and whistles at his naked exposure.  The guy ignores them, wrapping one hand around his foot and stretching his leg further into the air.  The movement is slow and graceful.  Practiced.  “I think he’s doing yoga,” Daavie murmurs.  The rookie snorts.  Spittle glistens on his lips like chapstick.

“In a loincloth.  On a roof.  Idiot.”

Daavie grins, glancing at the yoga man once more.  “Dispatch, Unit 974 again.  Nevermind the backup.  Situation is under control.  False alarm.”

“What a damn waste of time,” the rookie spits, shaking his head.  The crowd across the street breaks.  Bored, the people go their separate ways.

Daavie is adjusting his belt and heading back to the cruiser when chaos erupts.  A woman in black–her hair pulled into a strict bun, errant strands held back by a cat ear headband–barrels out an alleyway.  Bullets tear through brick and glass before hitting her mark.  The man in the loincloth opens his eyes, pulls a hand through the air as if to catch a baseball, and then falls off the edge.

“She wasn’t hard to bring in,” Daavie says, rubbing at his aching eyes.  The pads of his fingers drag dirt and brick dust across the planes of his face.  He wipes them clean on his slacks, staring at the smears.  “Even threw the gun away.”

The Captain licks his lips, scratching at a spider bite on his arm.  “So, she shot the guy and then–”

“She just… Laid down.  I mean, it was weird, but it made things easy.”  A tic starts in the muscles of his right eye; the lid bobs and flutters across his vision, blurring the room.  He presses two fingers over the lid, holding it closed.  The itch is painful, more insistent.  It feels like gravel.  When he moves his fingers moments later, the tips are smeared with gray.

“Okay.”  He makes a note on his clipboard and sets the pen aside, cracking his knuckles.  “So then what?”

“Backup arrived.  We secured the scene, collected evidence, brought her down.  It wasn’t until we got here she even said anything.”  Daavie sighs and glances at his watch again.  6:07 am.  His wife will be up by now, getting ready for the day.  He can see her in the bathroom mirror, nimble fingers weaving a fishtail through her hair.  Is she missing him?  He runs a finger along the rim of his coffee cup, confused and weary.

“What did she say?”  The Captain asks, wrinkling bushy eyebrows peppered with silver threads.  His nose is pockmarked; the makings of a mustache shadow his upper lip.

“Didn’t say anything,” Daavie murmurs, steepling his fingers against his temples.  He imagines Prisoner 1827 as she was in the room down the hall, her shoulders quivering, bright blood trickling down her arm.  So normal a thing, to bleed.  So human.  “She screamed it.”

“They said, they said, they SAID!”  She’s struggling, the handcuffs chaining her to her chair cutting into sun-browned skin.  Getting her out of the cruiser took five men, three wrenches, and a bungee cord.  Getting her into interview room number 10 damn near killed them all.  Through the tinted glass, Daavie studies the freckles dotting the bridge of her nose.  One black bra strap slips out of place, looping a freckled shoulder like a noose.  “When Hercules falls from the sky, they said, it was MY time, and I shot him down. I shot him down.  I watched him fall, a fireball through space, and when I found him I shot him down so why am I still here?!”

Stepping into the room, Daavie brushes donut crumbs from his uniform and tosses a vending machine package on the table.  “Hungry?  Thirsty?”

The woman glares at him, smashing the crackers beneath her fist.  The noise bounces off the concrete walls, ringing through Daavie’s ears.  He grimaces, pulling out a chair and straddling it the wrong way.  It’s been almost six hours since the man in the loincloth was killed.  The lady’s been screaming for three;  her shrill voice crackles on every other word.  Daavie purses his lips, staring her down.  “Hercules?  Like the Disney movie?”

“Hercules.  The constellation.  Are you stupid or somethin’?”

“Ma’am,” Daavie sighs, “the man you shot was not Her–”

“He was, he was, he came from the sky, I saw it!  Last night!”

“Last night?”  Pulling a can of copenhagen from his back pocket, Daavie slips a wad beneath his lip.  The woman is agitated.  Her black knee highs tap against the floor.  Her eyes dart around the room.  She can’t–or won’t–hold his gaze for more than a few seconds.  Reaching up, she yanks the band from her bun.  Thick dark locks fall, just brushing her shoulders.  With a snark, she tugs–strands tangle around her fingers, pulled loose from her scalp.

“Yes.  I saw him.  A star shot through the clouds, bright and burning, and landed there, and Hercules was born, and Hercules was strong, and they called for his death and my will was strong.  He landed there.”

“Landed where?”  Daavie asks, drumming his fingers on the tabletop.  Psych should have been here an hour ago; he’d blame it on a busy day, if it wasn’t Sunday on a holiday weekend.

“On the roof.  He landed on that roof.  And Hercules fell and was made to guard the night, and they said he must be gone so I followed the star and now he is burned out, hollowed down, but there’s still no sign.”  She screams again, an inarticulate sound of frustration.  She’s pulling clumps of hair now, either ignoring the pain of her bleeding skin or not noticing it.  Daavie glances at the mirror, a question in the kink of his eyebrows.  What do I do?  “And they said he must be gone, and he IS, he IS…but he isn’t, Officer.  He isn’t.  He left something in my eye.”

“What do you mean, he–”

She reaches up, then, a jerk of her hand and a flick of her wrist, and rubs at her eye.  Daavie notices small crescents of blood on her palms and wonders how long she’s been fighting the itch of her eyes.  It must have been a while, now.  Her fingers swipe across her eyelashes and for a moment, Daavie imagines the scrape of skin across concrete.  He shudders, then shakes his head.  “He left something, he fell from the sky and he smoldered in a heap and when his light went out, it didn’t GO OUT, he left it behind and it was blown across the breeze and it landed, it landed, it LANDED IN ME!”

“Ma’am, I think you need to just calm do–”

“It hurts, Officer.  Like rocks scraping knees, like dragging your hand across unfinished wood and coming away splintered.  It hurts, make it stop.  Please, make it stop.”  One tear–just one–slips down her cheek and Daavie frowns, following its trail.  It’s off-color.  Thick and oozing, it glows a gray-silver on the brown of her skin.  For a moment, he thinks makeup and cheap parlor tricks, but then she smears it with her fingers and a light flares from behind her pupils.  Daavie goes blind.

He shifts in his chair, tugging at the bunched material of his pants.  Between his shoulders, a dull ache throbs and creeps; he rolls his head, trying to loosen muscles knotted and stiff from sitting in a hard chair for so long.  A whisper keeps rhythm with his pulse, the voice low-pitched and sinister.  It threatens, it snarls, it burdens; with each breath, it takes a little more control.  “When the light faded, Prisoner 1827 was gone.”

“What do you mean, gone, Officer?”  The Captain peers at him, desperation wrinkling his forehead and hollowing his cheeks.

“I mean,” Daavie says, taking a breath.  The air whistles through a gap in his front teeth.  The sound bounces around the room and settles, a phantom, into silence.  The whispers in his veins grow louder.  Feed me.  Be with me.  See me.  “She was gone.  Just gone.  Except she wasn’t.”

“But how?  How does a person just disappear?  How do you explode without leaving a mess behind?”

“It wasn’t a mess, Captain.”  Feed me.  Be with me.  See me.  Daavie rubs his eyes again.  When he pulls his hands away, the ridges of his fingers are caked with black sludge and white specks.  He stares, intrigued.  The white specks churn and dance on his skin.  They turn blue.  Red.  White again.  A purple cloud sweeps across the black abyss and Daavie finally understands.  “She left something behind.”

“But you just said she di–”

“She left space in my eye.”

0

Heartstroke

Filter the impulse,
pulse a hummingbird
flickering paper wings beneath
thin papyrus skin–
a battle of breaths
you can’t hope to win
when hearts crack like drywall
and dry veins cave in
to old habits.

Resist the dreaming,
a scheming resolution
absolving no one–
the deep dark
seeds and breeds jealous,
seething monsters,
an ulcer of want-tos but never-cans
broiling, roiling, coiling like chains
to choke you up and drag you down.

Skip over the moment
you bend, give in–
there’s a life sentence found
in debating fail safes and stalemates,
a stagnant soul mating
the ghosts of burned bridges
like an impasse is over an in instant.

In this moment,
your heart is sparking
and the flames are catching fast.

–Copyright Elizabeth Mathis, February 2016–

6

blackbird poets

this story could be about divorce,
but you are not a ghost, not yet.

you asked me what poets were–
it is the middle of the night
and there is a cheap hotel room
i cannot fathom myself into.

i smoked my first cigarette
the first time i saw you naked,
your lonely colors carved into arcs;
now, my hands are brittle
and your back is an expanse
i will write about
a year from here
where it wears thin
because poetry is for the birds
and i am not made to lead revolutions.

twenty one and imprinted,
i have learned to grovel.

—copyright Elizabeth Mathis, September 2014—
—This is a first line poem originally posted on my deviantart: http://betwixtthepages.deviantart.com/art/blackbird-poets-481211390 —

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Pondering Giraffes

Capture

we watched a giraffe fall five feet into the world.

bleating and blinking,
shivering with cold –
a harsh reality breaking.

“they rarely lie down,” you murmured,
breath fluttering against the conched curves of my ears.

you told me giraffes sleep on their hooves –
and even then, only for two hours.
cowed by their strength, i pondered a life on my feet;
calves burning, heels blistering, back bent forward with cramps.

after ten minutes, the newborn –
fresh faced and spot painted –
plucked hooves from thick tumbleweeds
and ran with the herd
head high, muscles rippling
as if not just thrust from the womb.

“i wonder,” you whispered,
soft fingers trailing the gooseflesh of my skin,
“what it says about humans that animals learn on the run.”

i pondered this
while watching tall shapes turn to silhouettes
in the sunset.

“it means,” i smiled, turning to face you,
“we know less about animals than we think.”

—copyright Elizabeth Mathis, December 2014—

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Counting the Spaces Between (original poem)

Today’s forecast:
sorrow with a chance of supernova.
This update brought to you by Kleenex:
when the silent weight of the spaces in between
drags you down to drown beneath,
count on lotion soft to lift you up!
(partnered with Red Bull–
soft cheeks and heart palpitations guaranteed;
please mix responsibly)

In other news, the Prince of Zombie Hearts
has struck once more — a senseless slaughter.

WARNING: the following footage
is not suitable for young children or the weak-stomached;
please switch the channel now.

On location, Paul is talking pulse-beats with the body.
She’s a few words of warning to our watchers
on how to love and leave over the holidays.
Let’s listen in…

Bridge the gap from minute
to minute moments–
doomed desperation keeps track
with discounted touches
and reaching fingers.

You’re damned, darling,
just a bystander looking in on destiny
set to repeat the crime spree,
set to screw up the crime scene,
set to hopscotch the rocks of your feelings
across the ripples of time,
the fading lines whispering
‘breathing ain’t all it’s cracked up to be
when it’s crackling your love into splinters.’

You’ll skip out on depression,
leave her broken and blurred
heart spurned but still pounding
beneath the paper-thin sheets of winter-wisp beds —
a haunting of names not remembered,
a splicing of shame not forgiven,
a reckless betrayal you grin and bare to the world.

When snow flurries fly sparrow-heavy
in the abyss of your breaths,
you’ll think of her and wonder
how she’s getting on getting by without.

Send your selfish regards
care of vein burbles, care of thought bubbles,
a tic tac toe you can’t win —
keep your sifting, nimble thimble fingers
away from the cutting board
and out of her hourglass heart.

Please, leave her mourning.

It’s far better that
than sleeping peace and waking alone.

–copyright Elizabeth Mathis; November 2015–

4

Driftwood Dreams (original poem)

(for Mel — hopeburnsblue )

Hope, burning, blew
like driftwood across white beaches
as sunrise breached
the distant horizon line.

Life driftwood on white beaches,
sand sullied calm dreams.
The distant horizon line,
turbulent, wailed a mourning.

Sand sullied calm dreams
like a burden we couldn’t shake.
Turbulent, wailing a mourning,
we loosed wishes to the sea.

Like a burden we couldn’t shake,
sunrise breached as
we loosed wishes to the sea:
hope burning blue.

–Copyright Elizabeth Mathis ; Nov 2015–

0

hope floating (original poem)

punch drunk and bewitched,
i’ll cork my heartbeats
and count sweeps of lighthouse dust instead

caked with time, the pivot point creaks–
a soliloquy of strangled breathstrokes

there’s a boat heavy on the horizon
with a hole the size of my fist
seeping water like tears,
cabins dark with dismissal–
the weight of my promises, my dreamaches–

my nightmares sink it quick,
another pendant for Davy Jones’ necklace

empty chest, clenched fingers,
I’ll turn my eyes to coral reefs
and think of Figi, of green pastures,
of reckless indifference
in a world given up long ago

sweep the rust from broken hinges,
put my treasure chest hopes on a shelf
and blow out the light

–Copyright Elizabeth Mathis, Oct 2015–