4

The Ocean at the End of the Lane: Darkly Haunting, Wildly Abstract

Penguin2.3

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.

A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly’s wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark.

Fantasy/Horror/Magical Realism
178 Pages
William Morrow Books
Publication Date: June 18th, 2013
Get a copy here!

4.25Penguins
Quick Reasons: Doctor Who meets Stephen King; this book is SO abstract and poetic and gorgeous; disturbing and beautifully haunting in a way only Neil Gaiman can manage; a complex, well-rounded examination of childhood, stories, and the truth about truths

I honestly don’t know why it took me SO LONG to crack this book open, penguins. I really have no excuse, and will therefore not attempt to make or fabricate any. This book has, at the end of it all, created something akin to what might happen if Doctor Who met Stephen King in a dark alleyway after midnight. Neil Gaiman is a masterful storyteller, and this is a poignant, heart-wrenching examination of the ways childhood shapes us all.

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The characters are, as one should ALWAYS expect from the imagination of Neil Gaiman, both enchantingly vibrant and disturbingly horrific in turn. The poetic, lyrical prose is also haunting and creeptastic–both enthralling readers, and still pushing them away. I particularly loved the relationships born between Lettie, her grandparents, and our main character–they were so intricate, and hinged on something deeper than affection–something I couldn’t put a name to even if I tried.

Also, the main character? It wasn’t until just now, as I was attempting to write my review, that I realized we never ONCE are given a name for him. The book is written in first person POV (his POV, in point of fact)…and the rest of the world only ever refers to him as “him” or “he” or “the boy”…or some such other vague descriptor. AND OH MY PENGUINS, guys, I’m pretty sure I now understand exactly why this is, but Neil Gaiman is such a sly genius, I read the entire book before I even realized, before I even put it together. GAH! Neil Gaiman, you are just… you astound me. Sorry, I know that’s so super vague, but MAJOR spoilers afoot there–I can’t tell you, don’t even think to ask!

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Okay, okay. So moving right along. The prose is gorgeous–haunting, lyrical, with just a hint of something dark and otherworldly creeping through. (What is it with me and dark books lately, guys? I sense a growing trend here…) The plot itself is pretty abstract, though–sometimes the descriptions are vague and slip through your fingers like silk, other times they creep up on you only to tackle you HARD.

But it’s the subject matter that hits hardest, for me at least. There’s a poignant, startling examination of childhood going on throughout this book–a deeper look at the ways our experiences shape us, mold us, haunt us throughout our years. The question of, “who am I, and whose fault is it?” pervades the entirety of this journey. There’s also an experimentation with memories–how they change in time, how they shift and fade and rearrange–that had me pondering my own memories, looking back on them in reflection. This book makes you think, abstract as it is at times. This book makes you reexamine everything you think you know about yourself.

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This is a haunting, abstract read, and I am SO glad I finally found the time to pick it up. Neil Gaiman is a sly literary genius; this book took me places I wasn’t expecting, and had me questioning myself throughout the entire journey. I definitely recommend to lovers of lyrical prose, darkly abstract journeys, and close examinations of human nature/the human psyche. This may be my favorite Neil Gaiman book so far!

5

Of Better Blood: This World is Terrifying

Penguin2.3

Of Better Blood

Goodreads Rating: 3.76 Stars
304 Pages
Aw Teen Publishing
Published: February 1st, 2016
Get a copy here!

Teenage polio survivor Rowan Collier is caught in the crossfire of a secret war against “the unfit.” It’s 1922, and eugenics the movement dedicated to racial purity and good breeding has taken hold in America. State laws allow institutions to sterilize minorities, the “feeble-minded,” and the poor, while local eugenics councils set up exhibits at county fairs with “fitter family” contests and propaganda. After years of being confined to hospitals, Rowan is recruited at sixteen to play a born cripple in a county fair eugenics exhibit. But gutsy, outspoken Dorchy befriends Rowan and helps her realize her own inner strength and bravery. The two escape the fair and end up at a summer camp on a desolate island run by the New England Eugenics Council. There they discover something is happening to the children. Rowan must find a way to stop the horrors on the island if she can escape them herself.”

5Penguins
Quick Reasons: life-ruiner!; the world in 1922 was absolutely terrifying, I am so glad I didn’t live there; this historical fiction is SUPER important, even today; lots of focus on human nature and ingrained paranoia; atmospheric, beautiful prose; the main character has a ton of personal growth; snarky, sassy characters made for some entertaining dialogue

HUGE thanks to Susan Moger, Media Masters Publicity, and Aw Teen Publishing for sending me a free copy of this title in exchange for an unbiased review! This in no way altered my read of or opinions on this book.

 

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This book is terrifying. And not in a, “big vicious monsters and alternate worlds” sort of way. No, this book is terrifying in a completely realistic, human-nature and ingrained paranoia way. This book bleeds human nature, seeps each page in ingrained paranoia…and attempts to show readers how such judgments, how such actions, can be hugely damaging in the long-run. This story is packed with morals—and comes out a life-altering, breath-stopping read.

 

I thought, going into this, that the book was going to be nonlinear. The first few chapters are set up just as if it were—they jump times, they switch settings. They took me on a journey, and sucked me in. But once the backstory is established and Rowan’s journey begins, the time-hops stop. I didn’t notice much while reading; I was so focused on the story being woven around me, the trials and tribulations faced by our characters, that I didn’t even notice the world. I do wish the time skips had been kept throughout, even if only sporadically—they helped to show us the many different sides of the characters we grew to know so much about throughout the read. Regardless, I still love this book!

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The prose is gorgeous—poetic, atmospheric, and steeped with historical accuracy. While not every bit of this world is “real,” the ideas, the human-nature shown, all of it is realistic enough to leave me with goosebumps even now, almost a half hour after closing the covers.

 

And the characters! Rowan and Dorchy go through so much, and learn so much from each other—and the world around them. Rowan, especially, is marked by a wide-arcing and inspiring journey of self-discovery and self-love. While some of the other characters fall a bit flat and come off as 1-dimensional, I feel this is not so much a fault of the writing but instead a testament to how little Rowan, our main character, spent with those characters while such traumatizing and horrifying events were occurring. She was, after all, a bit preoccupied with other things. She was more concerned with making it through the events in one piece, and getting as many others out as possible—where Dorchy, her foil, was much more impulsive. Such vast differences helped to shape and mold our characters—and show readers that things are only impossible if YOU think they are.

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In my opinion, this book is SO important. It’s also absolutely terrifying—and wholly realistic. The lengths that people in Rowan’s world went to for the eugenics movement… There are no words to explain how impacted I was by this read, and the characters who so valiantly faced whatever obstacles were thrown at them. This is a life-ruiner, guys—if you’re a lover of historical fiction, stories focused on human nature/ingrained paranoia, or atmospheric prose, this is definitely the book for you! I recommend picking it up, for sure.

23

A Review of A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness

Penguin2.3

A Monster Calls

Goodreads Rating: 4.29 Stars
240 Pages
Walker Children’s Hardbacks Publishing
Get a copy here!

The monster showed up after midnight. As they do.

But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming…

This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.

It wants the truth.

– – – – –

5Penguins
Quick Reasons: oh PENGUINS, this book hurt!; I understand why so many people cry while reading, I almost did myself; beautiful prose; lots of nods to oral narratives/origin stories; the voices are clear and haunting; the “reveal” at the end wasn’t quite what I was expecting; this book broke me so hard

Who am I? the monster repeated, still roaring. I am the spine that the mountains hang upon! I am the tears that the rivers cry! I am the lungs that breathe the wind! I am the wolf that kills the stag, the hawk that kills the mouse, the spider that kills the fly! I am the stag, the mouse, and the fly that are eaten! I am the snake of the world devouring its tail! I am everything untamed and untameable! It brought Conor up close to its eye. I am this wild earth, come for you, Conor O’Malley.

“You look like a tree,” Conor said.

I just… I can’t even wrap my brain around how much this book HURT to read. I have never in my life read a mid-grade novel that broke me into so many tiny pieces. I completely understand now why so many people claim to have cried during this read; several times, I found my own eyes watering! Quite the feat, if I’m being honest–I don’t often cry during books.

The characters throughout are human, believable, and heart-wrenching. Conor, in particular, touched me deeply–his iron-will, his strength in the face of looming tragedy, the stubbornness to “keep it together” even when his world starts falling apart. There are SO many morals layered throughout this read, that teach readers what it means to be human in the face of grief, that let readers know–through the characters, through Conor, through the Monster–just how okay it is to NOT be okay all the time. I just… I can’t even explain the many ways this read touched me; I have a feeling this book will haunt me for years.

You were merely wishing for the end of pain, the monster said. Your own pain. An end to how it isolated you. It is the most human wish of all.

“I didn’t mean it,” Conor said.

You did, the monster said, but you also did not.

Conor sniffed and looked up to its face, which was as big as a wall in front of him. “How can both be true?”

Because humans are complicated beasts, the monster said. How can a queen be both a good witch and a bad witch? How can a prince be a murderer and a saviour? How can an apothecary be evil-tempered but right-thinking? How can a parson be wrong-thinking but good-hearted? How can invisible men make themselves more lonely by being seen?

I do warn potential future readers: this mid-grade book is DARK. There is no real “happy ending” here. This book mimics real life, and the way the world can sometimes go off-kilter; the way life can sometimes let us down. This book will make you stop, eyes filled with tears, and really THINK about the ways you, yourself, cope–and how maybe, just maybe, those things you did in trying times were what was needed all along. This book will make you THINK…but I don’t recommend reading it if that’s not something you’re open to.

This book swept into my life like a hurricane this week…and I adored, and yet somehow despised…every moment of it. I definitely recommend to lovers of oral narratives, abstract stories with killer morals, and life-ruining reads. This is one mid-grade I think everybody should read–there’s just too much to learn from it to pass it by!

7

A Review of Arena, by Holly Jennings

Arena

Goodreads Rating: 3.76 Stars
336 Pages
Ace Publishing
Get a copy here!

A fast-paced and gripping near-future science fiction debut about the gritty world of competitive gaming…

Every week, Kali Ling fights to the death on national TV.
She’s died hundreds of times. And it never gets easier…

The RAGE tournaments—the Virtual Gaming League’s elite competition where the best gamers in the world compete in a no-holds-barred fight to the digital death. Every bloody kill is broadcast to millions. Every player is a modern gladiator—leading a life of ultimate fame, responsible only for entertaining the masses.

And though their weapons and armor are digital, the pain is real.

Chosen to be the first female captain in RAGE tournament history, Kali Ling is at the top of the world—until one of her teammates overdoses. Now, she must confront the truth about the tournament. Because it is much more than a game—and even in the real world, not everything is as it seems.

The VGL hides dark secrets. And the only way to change the rules is to fight from the inside…

– – – – –

4.5Penguins
Quick Reasons: THIS is the type of awesome virtual-gaming read I’ve been looking for!; epic, butt-kicking characters; lots of real-life drama, struggles, and honesty; this read touches on a very important, heavy subject throughout; action-packed, fast-paced from start to finish; lots of great imagery and world-building; just a bit of steamy romance and adorableness thrown in for good measure

Huge thanks go out to Holly Jennings, Berkley Publishing Group, and Netgalley for a free copy of this eARC in exchange for an honest review! This in no way changed my read or opinions of this book.

Crouched high on the tower’s parapet, I overlooked a sea of wheat fields. The scent of lavender and taste of wheatgrass wove together in the air, drifting with the breeze as it swept through my hair. I took a deep breath and smiled at the irony, as thick as the mountain air filling my lungs. Lavender. Wheat fields. Tranquility.

Peace, in a place anything but peaceful.

This was not the read I was anticipating going in. In fact, my expectations were not as high as they probably should have been. I have read a couple of novels with virtual reality recently, and been generally underwhelmed or disappointed by them. THIS book, though? I should have been much more excited about it.

It starts off in the thick of battle, the last before the tournament comes to a head in the virtual gaming world. Right away, Kali struck me as a complex, but selfish, character; throughout the entire beginning of this read, she was so focused on herself, she wasn’t really seeing—or connecting with—the rest of her team. I’ll be honest: I didn’t like her much at first. She was snarky, and confident…but it was the sort of negative attitude I’ve always despised in a character. She wasn’t snarky out of play, but out of meanness. She wasn’t confident in a positive way, but one that came off sort of spoiled and arrogant. She did NOT rub my nerves the right way at first. All of the characters face such trials and awesome growths throughout…but Kali’s stands out most to me. I had goosebumps scaling my skin many times during this read, it’s that powerful.

“You okay?”

“I’m fine.”

“No, you’re not. Most days, you’re so smooth, you move like a freaking ballerina with a sword. Today, you’re a mechanical wind-up toy.”

But like any good character (or wedding cake) Kali began showing her layers bit by bit after tragedy struck close to home. Instead of feeling annoyed by her, I began feeling sympathy and concern. Instead of suffering through the pages because I couldn’t find a way to connect…she leaped out of them, took my face in her hands, and said “you WILL pay attention to me.” And pay attention I did!

The rest of the characters also scream at you while you’re reading. While this remains Kali’s POV and story, there’s so much more happening in the pages. There are real life dramas, realistic relationships, and some heavy-handed, emotionally-charged situations. This book brings a certain taboo to the forefront, and immerses readers so fully into the plot, they won’t even realize they’re making connections to the real world until they close the cover having finished the final page. There are definite parallels to the real world made in this read that hopefully will not go ignored—they’re so important, and so beautifully done.

“There’s a well known Native American story about how we all have two wolves inside us fighting for dominance. One is full of hate, anger, and everything evil. The other is full of peace, clarity, and everything good. The one that wins is the one we feed. I’m not saying the virtual world is evil, but you’ve filled yourself with so much of it, you can’t see anything other than what’s fake.”

I really enjoyed this book—it’s a sort of virtual world of its own, to be honest, dragging readers into the thick of the story and refusing to let them go until the very end. While I didn’t fly through the pages—there are so many poignant, wisdom-heavy scenes pertinent to the read to speed-read—I did finish this in practically one sitting. I definitely recommend to lovers of video games, virtual reality, and crisp fantasy intertwined with heavy, realistic dramas. This is an awesome read!

 

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–

11

A Review of Flawed, by Cecelia Ahern

23438288

The Scarlet Letter meets Divergent in this thoughtful and thrilling novel by bestselling author Cecelia Ahern.

Celestine North lives a perfect life. She’s a model daughter and sister, she’s well-liked by her classmates and teachers, and she’s dating the impossibly charming Art Crevan.

But then Celestine encounters a situation where she makes an instinctive decision. She breaks a rule. And now faces life-changing repercussions.

She could be imprisoned. She could be branded. She could be found FLAWED.

In her breathtaking young adult debut, bestselling author Cecelia Ahern depicts a society where obedience is paramount and rebellion is punished. And where one young woman decides to take a stand that could cost her-everything.

– – – – –
4.75 Stars
Quick Reasons: heavy, hard-hitting story; (mostly) redeemable, engaging characters…except that one villain guy, who’s another President Snow in the making; realistic, terrifying dystopian; well-written, heart-wrenching prose; this entire story is FEELS from start to finish

Huge thanks to Cecelia Ahern, Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, and Netgalley for a copy of this book free in exchange for an honest review!  This in no way altered my opinions or review of this read.

OH MY good golly gee willickers, I can’t even with the feels right now.

No, really. You guys think I’m joking. I can hear you all now, sitting there in your chairs, faces drawn in mild amusement (and perhaps a bit of exasperation, because HELLO, I freak out about books all. the. time, so this is nothing new) But trust me—this book? You’re going to want to read it. You’re going to want to drop everything the day it’s published and pick it up.

I’d go so far as to say this is The Scarlet Letter (Nathaniel Hawthorne) meets The Scarred Letter (Val Muller) meets The Fire Sermon (Francesca Haig)–but don’t let this scare you, or talk you out of reading! Seriously, you do NOT want to miss this book!

Ignorance is bliss. Knowledge is often a responsibility nobody wants.

I think I sputtered and spewed incoherently for a good five minutes after finishing this, so forgive me if my thoughts are just a bit scattered. From the very start of this read, Cecelia Ahern thrusts readers into the midst of the world she’s created, immediately introducing our main protagonist…and the biggest topic of the book.

That topic is heavy. And heart breaking. And gut-roiling, churning, fiery passion-inducing acidic OUCH. This book is intense, and filled with feels, and you will not be able to set it aside once you pick it up, so you might want to make sure you have plenty of time to spare on reading it. I’d recommend, therefore, not starting it just before you go to bed, or in the morning before a huge meeting, or on your daily commute to work. Trust me, this would be a huge mistake.

It’s the branding that does that, and I know it. It dehumanizes me in a way to others. I’m to be stared at and talked about as if I’m not here.

While I admit the prose is, at times, a bit awkward and stilted, you’ll be so wrapped up in the plot you probably won’t even notice it. Because the plot? It’s intense. From the get-go, this read is fast-paced, action-packed, and disgustingly REAL. And I say that meaning it in the best way possible—although also in the, “I was so angry at this book!” way. This book will make you mad. That’s its biggest triumph: it will make you mad, and you will come out of this read a different person for it.

The characters are engaging, mostly redeemable (save a very President Snow -esque villain), and entertaining. You’ll be rooting for our main character before you even really get to know her. Cecelia Ahern put her heart and soul into crafting this debut novel…and she came out a winner in my book. The plot, the characters, the gut-roiling frustration… it all comes together so brilliantly, you’ll find yourself needing the second book ASAP—not because of the cliff-hanger (yes, unfortunately, there is one, but I’m overlooking it because my gosh this book!) but because you care about what happens next.

Crevan’s red robe is the same color as the scar on my hand, and I’m guessing as my foot, chest, and temple. My blood is on his robe. He did this to me. Him. I feel nothing but disgust for him. I used to think that I couldn’t be afraid of someone so human, now I realize it is his humanity that scares me most, because despite having all those traits, having shared the moments we’ve shared, he could still do this to me.

This is not your fluffy, romantic, every day read. There are some heavy subjects happening in these pages, and there are some pretty tough moments to read, so if you’re triggered by torture be warned: one scene in particular is difficult to stomach. But if you’re willing, this book will change you—as a person AND a reader. I’d definitely recommend to lovers of dystopian, human nature, and societal struggles. And now…I’m off to cry in my corner, and wait impatiently for more people to hop on this emotional roller coaster…and for the release of book two (which, you know, is going to be a while.)

0

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—

10

Flawed (Flawed #1), by Cecelia Ahern

23438288

The Scarlet Letter meets Divergent in this thoughtful and thrilling novel by bestselling author Cecelia Ahern.

Celestine North lives a perfect life. She’s a model daughter and sister, she’s well-liked by her classmates and teachers, and she’s dating the impossibly charming Art Crevan.

But then Celestine encounters a situation where she makes an instinctive decision. She breaks a rule. And now faces life-changing repercussions.

She could be imprisoned. She could be branded. She could be found FLAWED.

In her breathtaking young adult debut, bestselling author Cecelia Ahern depicts a society where obedience is paramount and rebellion is punished. And where one young woman decides to take a stand that could cost her-everything.

– – – – –

Rating: 4.75/5 Stars
Quick Reasons: heavy, hard-hitting story; (mostly) redeemable, engaging characters…except that one villain guy, who’s another President Snow in the making; realistic, terrifying dystopian; well-written, heart-wrenching prose; this entire story is FEELS from start to finish

Huge thanks to Cecelia Ahern, MacMillan Children’s Publishing Group, and Netgalley for a copy of this ARC in exchange for an honest review! This in no way altered how I read or reviewed this book.

OH MY good golly gee willickers, I can’t even with the feels right now.

No, really. You guys think I’m joking. I can hear you all now, sitting there in your chairs, faces drawn in mild amusement (and perhaps a bit of exasperation, because HELLO, I freak out about books all. the. time, so this is nothing new) But trust me—this book? You’re going to want to read it. You’re going to want to drop everything the day it’s published and pick it up. I just wish I could explain to you, right now, why. Unfortunately, I have to follow the rules. Keep your eyes peeled for my in-depth review come March!

Until then, I’ll just…be sitting over here in my own little corner of this fandom, all by myself. You know. The usual.

0

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–