The Flat Lands

She wakes weeping in the middle of the day when the lash of the sun touches her. The salt on her face reminds her of home, of cold grey stones by the beach and the smell of kelp soddenly moldering by the waterline. She buries herself further back under the earth and rocks herself to sleep, willing herself to ignore the pain in her back and her hips, the blisters slowly raising on her skin.

Night.

She kills a lizard and sucks its blood, grateful for the water, past grateful for the salt. The meat is almost an afterthought. It has been weeks since she walked past the treeline, past the last scattered grasses, days since she has had anything in her stomach but black bile. She continues eastward, toward the dawn.

Day.

She finds a hill just as the stars begin to fade, throws herself down the slope and digs like a dog. Her nails are stumps at this point, mere memory, and hard as diamonds. She tunnels in, past earth and stones, then breaks through into a cool dark space fragrant with water. The sun grabs for her heel as she pushes inside and she buries it in the cool, welcoming earth to heal.

A Cloak of Feathers, A Crown of Thorns

Hell was a place without order, the unlit waters over which she had floated for an infinite span before the sun and the moon and the other spheres had spun up to give an order to the days and a direction to existence: toward this, away from that. Returning is like coming home; everything is smaller now, more squalid.

She moves through it, pulls it into some semblance of order with her passage, the way she always has, imposes definition in sheer reference to herself. Before, all points were the same, and now there is before her and below herabove her and behind her. Hell cries out against her presence, and that too is both new and old: she has brought time with her, and sorrow.

She curls into herself again. A sphere is the softest shape here, with only an inside and an outside. Hell quiets slightly, calms itself; the life she has come in search of drifts down the slope of her presence, still bound by gravity, pinioned by time. She swallows it whole, grows warm with a name.

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.

Honeycombs

She has lost all track of time. The light wakes her, cold and shivering, right hip sore from where it has pressed against the concrete. She shouts, bangs her feet against the bars, slaps her hands against the floor. The light has shifted before she gives up and eats the colorless slurry they have left for her. It is faintly sweet, faintly nutty, too evanescent to grow used to or sick of. She has lost count of how often she has eaten; she never seems to gain or lose weight, never loses hair, never bleeds from the gums. Whatever it is.

She exercises for want of anything else to do, the muscles in her arms and legs long and corded. Sometimes she sings, sometimes she tells stories. Sometimes she lies, or confesses, or rages, or pleads: no matter. She hasn’t seen another person for as long as she can remember, nor heard a voice, nor seen her reflection. Irreversible brain damage, she says, that’s what she’s heard, somewhere, sometime, from someone.

Eventually the light changes quality, which might mean the night has ended, or started, or neither. Eventually she sits down, lies down, falls asleep. She dreams of the cage, of iron bars, of ambiguous light and uncertain food. She stands over herself, bends curious toward her forgotten face, but her sleeping traitor body shifts and throws one rebellious arm over its head.

She settles down and waits for herself to wake.

Synanthropic

“Withered branch, you have cut yourself off from all humanity. So let it be.”

And so they marked her, the kiss of iron seared into the nape of her neck; marked her and cast her out, out of all human sympathy and society. She could own nothing beyond the use of it, receive no charity, forge no friendships. They filed her teeth down to dull stumps and mittened her clever, deadly fingers.

“May no one eat of your fruit! Fill your mouth with thistles and with glass.”

Worst of all they pried into her word-hoard, the work of centuries, and stripped her down to bare earth. This, this was painless; a bright light and the moist smell of cotton, but when the light faded and they spoke it was garbage, all garbage, a babel of words she recognized, but could not place.

Here she breaks, screams defiance, heaps invective high upon them, but they just laugh and toss her aside. She cowers before the day’s commute, the ceaseless labyrinth of transit. The maps are scrambled, the signs are nonsense, the comforting hum of a busy life an insectile drone. She eats garbage, speaks nonsense, her tongue heavy as iron boots. They do not see her, just now and then her eyes, flashing, from deep within some greasy dumpster, or crossing the mouth of an alley they, by chance, glance down.