Nevertheless

Omphale, world-navel, river’s child, she is sad, sorrowful past bearing, so she returns to her father’s home, wide sandy banks, and lets herself sink down to his depths. The water is clear and the rocks are smooth and her hair goes green as the weeds when her father finds it.

Her dead husband comes to her, side torn open and red from the bull’s passing. “Come home,” he tells her, “this is only a temporary solution.” He cannot cross running water.

A Heracles in women’s trousers comes to her and abases himself. “Come home,” he pleads, “the horses have fallen still, the hawks have come to earth. Come home again.” He passes on.

Dionysus, wine-logged, sea-foamed, slides into the river next to her and runs his fingers through her hair. “Stay,” he says, “or go. A river is a moving place.” He cannot suffer water long, and soon departs.

Her horses come to her in their thousands, black horses and red, piebald and gelded, and crowd her father up past his banks. She rides them down to the sea, to the great band of Ocean whence all horses come, drinks seawater straight from the rock.

She comes to herself, nameless, asking nothing. But still she persists.

William Fitzgerald Becomes A Reluctant Optimist

Work’s been dry lately. Not so much that people are better—in William Fitzgerald’s experience people never change much for the better or the worse—but that no one seems to care about the old things one way or the other. He calls the people in his little book and they laugh at him. Go ahead, they say, let it out. Who cares? Take out an ad in the paper. He tries, he does, but none of the journalists he knows can be bothered. Corruption, incest, addiction, who cares. That stuff won’t even make the back pages.

He’s got money stashed away, so it isn’t like he’s going hungry, but it puts him out of sorts. The time is suddenly in joint with him, and for William Fitzgerald that’s deeply uncomfortable. People are beaten in the street, the wealthy roll through poor neighborhoods with long guns poking out the windows hunting sport, and no one cares. His storehouse of sins is suddenly worthless, common goods, after a life spent collecting vileness.

He is at the corner of 12th and Broadway when traffic stops and a crowd comes growling up towards him, armed with bats and manhole covers, glass bottles and cigarettes. There is blood in their voices, old blood, blood of the old world, and William Fitzgerald, dry old vampire that he is, shudders at the scent of it. He does not join them, but as they pass he picks a stone up off the street and follows.

Neap Tide

Water, and in the distance islands rising blue out of the night.

We have built a fire on the stones near the shore, from wood we bought at a gas station, out of pine wood and cedar, fragrant and damp-smelling. The younger Charlemagne has a joint for the smoking, half a thing, that he stole from his parents. He offers it round, but we are too nervous, us, so we say no and he smokes by himself. Good smell, anyway, blending with the flat brackish tide and the pop of the fire.

The ferries are passing, christmas gods restless on the surface of the water.

The older Charlemagne tells a story, about his parents, about his father and his many, many mothers. How many mothers can one person have? Always one more, he says, and shrugs; he offers to name them for us, if we like, but we have heard that trick before and want no part of it. His father is rich, so rich, with a room full of treasure and a house full of books. He is always reading something rare and wonderful, the older Charles Magnus, books full of herbs no one can find and beasts no one has seen. They are thin on plot, however, which makes them boring to hear about so we never quite listen.

The fire is dying. We kick wet stones over it and head shivering back to the car, point ourselves eastward and head up the hill.

Gaunt

for Robert

This is how we met:

I was sleeping under your porch, tiny teeth kitten-sharp, a wild thing. You could smell me a block away, and for the longest time you thought something had fallen behind the fridge and rotted away. You tore up the floorboards looking for it, and there I was. You drove me out into the night with the end of a broom. For the next six months I and my sisters came back after midnight, city lights reflecting off the slick film at the back of our eyes, scratching at the chicken wire you’d put around the porch to keep us out. Our hands were too weak for digging.

We were bad at speaking, mouths too full of gravel for enunciation. Still, we listened to your voice through the thin walls as you practiced, running a poem over a dozen times, a hundred, to get the phrasing right, the cadence. We mouthed along. You sang, and we sang, a beat late, a measure: good mimics but lousy prophets. You closed the windows and the curtains and we pressed against the walls.

Later we found you during the riots, head bloody on the sidewalk. We stood over you, and sang.

144,000

A season of plague has come to the city and everyone who can has left for the hills and the seaside, hoping a change in air will protect them, hoping their money will serve as enough of a prophylactic.

The rest of us cling to our homes, windows sealed, doors locked, blinds closed, and drown out the roaring of the corpse fires with impromptu concerts, middling voices and terrible raised over an amateur piano or radios tuned so high the speakers crack. Shadows of beasts pass over our blinds at dawn, at noon, at twilight, and we shudder and pray for deliverance.

Fever slips past somehow, and a house cracks open, families scattering through the streets, scratching desperately at locked doors, silent windows, looking for purchase, any purchase, out of the wind, out of the smoke. The beasts catch the unlucky few still out, and in our caves we sing that much louder, waiting for the season to turn.