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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–

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Ocean Swept (original poem)

the ocean is quilted with goodbyes,
a patchwork trove of heart death
breathless and beat lost

lungs rip in the breakwater,
breaks creak in the cracked masts
of stair stepper spines
because the strength you siphoned
from dead haunts and graveyard poets
left warped handholds
and treachery in the falling:
a host of hesitant admittances
you refuse to put your name to
even now

instead, you bask in anonymity

Lucky Laura from Classic Lit
will take the strappy heels you slipped
beneath the fringe of two-ply sheets
home with her, leaving antique heart rust flakes
tucked like treasure payment
into half-empty Advil bottles

it was a swap and shift, a bliss inconsistent
in its reverent impotence–

years from this moment,
you’ll lick your lips after champagne
and swallow the whispers of his name

he was never more than saltwater
in all your open wounds
and
you’ll never break the same

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Desert Phoenix

A setting sun peeks through lacy clouds, silhouetting the raised feather scars ridging my skin in blood-orange light.  I peer down at the sharp lines, the harsh slope of my brow humped above the bridge of my nose.  The breeze whispers, catching at the rumble of my empty stomach.  It’s been days since I was banished to this hellish play at “being human”–I expected it to be more fantastic.  Chipmunks and rattlesnakes won’t sustain me for long, and I don’t dare take on bigger game.  Not that I’ve seen any–the land is bone dry and crowded with tumbleweeds.  Despite the day scorching the soles of my bare feet, I shiver.  I miss the lush tropics of home.  Perhaps I should have learned obedience.  Perhaps I should have begged.  Perhaps…

but no matter now.  The Council is steadfast in their decisions, especially when wrong.

Sighing, I slip long-nails beneath the neckline of my tank and trace my punishment.  To remind me of my sins, the Council left the hole they tore my heart through seeping and unhealed.  Two fingertips come away stained with the fires I can no longer call forward.  My chained feathers shriek, agony shifting across my skin before settling into mourning.  I purse my lips.  They’re going to need to come to terms with this new life.  Without a heart, my body is a prison.

“Wicked ink!”

Startled, I whirl.  Caught up in pity, I missed his approach.  He jostles in his saddle, the long strands of the creature’s white hair tangling across his fingers.  I squint, eyeing the animal warily.  It’s shorter than a camel, shoulders reaching just above my head.  The lack of a hump concerns me.  In this dry heat, where does this mutant keep water?  I frown, puzzled, before realizing the stranger expects an answer.

“Thank you.”  My voice is hard caramel, the melody of a phoenix turned to gravel and dust.  I cough and start again.  “So, your… Um…”  The beast’s name alludes me, so I gesture at it instead.

“Oh, you mean Sabah, my horse!”  He says, bobbing his head and crooning under his breath.

“Of course.  I knew that.  Horse.”  Except I didn’t.  Horses are creatures of myth where I come from, strange four-legged slaves of man.  I grew up hearing the tales:  Black Beauty, Flicka, Seabiscuit.  All doomed to a life of grueling labor and terrible treatment.  Their names flitter through my thoughts, a rapid fire succession of sound, and I cringe.  According to legend, horses died out mere months before humans.  I narrow my eyes, studying the pair.

Close-shaven, his dirty blonde hair grows like prickly weeds across his head.  His skin is sun-rough but smooth, no discernible sign of family heirlooms or magical curses.  His gaze is steady and unnerving, the color of his irises akin to that of pine trees in late fall.  I blink, and his aura comes into focus:  moss green center, a haze of gray around the edges.  For a higher being, nothing about him screams special apart from the black flakes floating around his head.  There’s something cruel lurking beneath his skin, a monster needing chained.  I toss a grin his way, slipping the tip of my tongue across my lips.  “And you…?”

“Wallace,” he says.  “Wallace Balkerson.”

He thrusts his hand toward me, palm flat and fingers open.  I wrack my brain, but the greeting customs I learned in my youth don’t tell me how to proceed.  A funny niggling pushes at the back of my neck; I swat at the spot, chewing on my lip, and ignore his gesture.  He has the skin of a forest nymph, the eyes of a mermaid, and the name of nothing I’ve ever come across.  Confused, I try again.  “Wallace.  Right.  So…where are we, again?”

He half-turns in his seat, slack-jawed and wide-eyed, to gape at me.  “You mean you don’t know?  Didjer boyfriend boot you out the car and leave you stranded, darlin’?”  He chuckles, a different glint stealing across the gaze he roves over my white scars, my bare feet, my low-cut shirt.  None of his words make sense to me.  His actions, on the other hand, speak loudly.  A faint flush steals across his cheeks; I can hear his heart pounding against the cage of his ribs.  It strikes an off-balance beat with his steed’s hooves.  I ignore his question, scooping my long white hair from my shoulders and balling it above the nape of my neck.  “Right.  What’d you say yer name was?”

“Opal,” I purr, reaching the stroke the horse that should not exist.  It’s beginning to dawn on me that the lessons set by the Council are not strictly facts.  Perhaps the Council lied–and not just about the crime I was supposed to have committed.  I glance again at the guy:  chin peppered with stubble, sunburn callusing his arms, flat eyes and erratic aura.  For all I know, he’s a master of disguise–a rogue djinn, or a well-crafted golem.  But that niggling at my skin says he’s something different.  Something evil.

“That’s a pretty name,” he murmurs.  His voice is deeper, a dark and seedy desire leaching over his tongue.  I imagine the circles his thoughts are racing in.  I can almost see the number of young, impressionable women destroyed and bleeding at his feet–a heap of savagery and ugly violence.  This guy is a beast of a different nature–the kind with a penchant for pretty words and cruel fists.  My stomach rumbles again–a loud, angry mewling.  “You sound hungry, siren eyes.”

I wonder if it’s time for me to forge my own path; I’ve been banished to a world that’s no longer supposed to exist, after all.  I might as well make the most of it, right?  I grin, sliding my tongue across my sharp, pointed teeth.  I wonder if the demon running rampant through this man’s veins flavors the flesh.  “Yes.  Yes, I guess I am.”

As night falls across Wyoming, his screams remain unheard.

***copyright Elizabeth Mathis, 2015***

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osteogenesis imperfecta

leave the womb broken
burbling dreams like fault lines in your bones,
a maze of missteps and misdirection
mapped across the ice on your sclera.

scarred and crooked, your skin–
a patchwork of harsh words
and harder silences–
seeks winter to fit in,
snow streaking lips blue
the only gentle you’ve ever known.

coherency goes out the window
when you can’t make your body listen,
when the floor becomes concrete
and casts become prisons;
more like plaster molds and steel corsets,
you’ve been trussed up and mistrusted
since hour one.

you breathe staccato, breaking angular:
a dry rot lullaby leading to a hand-dug grave
you’re not allowed to chisel on your own.

naive dedications
make way for shoestring hopes
and porcelain dolls are made
for things less likely to fray.

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birdsong reminders

blue feathered birdsong, a long pastel
dream growing hazy with time,
your skin ridged like scales–an alligator purse
you can’t pull off your arm–in the cold
of after thoughts and wakeful to-dos

it’s wrong, believing what they’ve all been telling you:
not good enough, not pretty enough, not worth a scrap of salt
on a piece of last week’s finest cut
going to the dogs because it tumbled out of the pan,
off the rack, past the oven door

close those sleep-swept eyes
no longer than five seconds into the downpour,
sweep the lies of your subconscious
out the front door and off the welcome mat
into the dust where it belongs,
take a second to remind yourself there’s more to mornings
than sidestepping the shower head
as the things you’ve planned for years
but still haven’t accomplished
break a sweat and smear your brow

there’s a song on the breeze promising pretty shiny things
and the past is a disease screaming in the key of b-flat;
drive out the sickness, scoop up the mad dash to remembrance,
step off the porch and whisper it again:
you’re perfect, you’re beautiful, you’re worth it

keep breathing