Names a Blessing, Names a Curse

Fair-hared Solace and flame-haired Sorrow, two madrigals
of cherubs born to inherit a mantle of pulsing infinity,
castle towers for the princesses and a spindle for queens.
She labors in the quiet hours on the Holy Day, delivering
twins of leonine majesty, of fox fire and falcon talons.
The red hawk cries, the lioness roars, the red wolf whines.
All of nature’s bounty is Solace’s christening wine, all
of the prayers for broken hearts and unspent dreams Sorrow
will carry – names are blessings, names are curses, and
daughters are stronger than any Sun, daughters are gifts
that grow like saplings into curved birch and weep-willow.
Solace has eyes blue like lakes, Sorrow’s iris meadow green.
Semisweet chocolate, cocoa powder clutched in infant hands,
swaddled in golden light by the Prince of Heaven, carried
to Machonon to roost in the Bell Trees of Memory and grow
under the love and brilliance of the Heavenly Father, Jah
Michael pierces my heart with smiling spear, I am alight,
and I burn, I burn, I burn for my children, my daughters.

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Meet the Girl Messiah

This is quite lovely, she thinks, and I could burn, she thinks, but I would burn for Him.

The Messiah has no name you would recognize, just another small town girl, another Sarah or Rachel or Mary, one in millions, and she goes to an all-girl’s college, one of the Seven Sisters.

She has never known the touch of Man, but oh, has she known His touch, oh sweet lips like dates, and arms thick as oak, her Messenger, her Intercessor before the Lord.

Him, she draws in the margins of her Biology textbook.  Messenger, she thinks, before she comes home to His arms in the field outside her school where the sycamores grow thick and moss hangs from stones in a kind of springy carpet.  He makes her a crown of early spring daffodils to match His halo, and he says, ALL IS WELL WITH YOU, MY PROPHETESS.

A bush on fire speaks to her in the tongue of the Lord on her way to afternoon statistics.  She gives no pause and sends Him straight to voicemail.  She does not like these long chats with God, she is only nineteen, and she can barely handle alcohol, much less the Cosmos Given Voice.

She’s with her sorority sisters out on the town and the purest white dove Creation has ever seen lands on her palm.  The dove says: “Sweetest Miriam, you should be readying for the End Times, not killing time in the arms of cheap liquor and wandering eyes.”  Her sisters do not notice, do not hear the divinity right in front of her.  Miriam, or Rachel, or Sarah, or Elizabeth, or Mary – she laughs and says “Sweet God, I am but a girl, let me have my fun!” and succinctly flips God off.

“You are no child, you have duty,” the dove coos, shits on her, and the shit is gold coins, and she uses it to tip the hazel-eyed bartender.

She comes home drunk and stoned to her hippie school.  Michael, or Gabriel, or Raphael, or is he Uriel? he is waiting.  Her angel of umber skin and blue eyes and golden hair.

YOU ARE NOT READY, MY LOVE.  SOON THE DEVIL WILL COME TO SARAH LAWRENCE.  SOON BEELZEBUB WILL COME TO BARNARD.  SOON MEPHISTOPHELES MARCHES ON MOUNT HOLYOKE.

“Stop shouting, messenger, I’m high as a kite.”

He puts on human skin, her angel who knows no sin, but sins with her.  “Is this better, my love?  I was here to deliver a reprimand from dearest Father, but all I want is a beer and the taste of your mouth on mine.”

She gives him a Yuengling.  “Being the Messiah fucking sucks, Mess,” she says.  “I’d much rather be a stripper, at least they get paid for whoring themselves out, and to men.  I’m a whore for the Lord, a one way ticket to Heaven for the masses, and a slap on the face for those bound for Hell.  Hey, let’s dance to the Smiths.  I could really use some Morrissey.”

Her angel smiles as he sips his beer.  He cues up her old record player.  Bigmouth Strikes Again.  The Lord is her Bigmouth, so bossy, so annoying.  He’s her Father, and he has a shotgun, so no human boy is holy enough for his Daughter.  Only his most esteemed angelic Messenger cuts it.

They dance, and they sing along badly, and they are both just nineteen but immortal, as old as Precambrian fossils, no, older than the Big Bang, when all there was was gaping silence.

God sends the Ark of the Covenant abreast on cherub wings to their bedside after they are done fucking.  “Refresh yourself, Magdalene,” reads the note from their Father.  “Read the Book, study the Covenant, be a Lady of Letters, Leader of the Lord, Holy Holy Holy-”

She tears the note in two and burns it on her angel’s halo.

“Maybe we can wait another decade before I start with this Messiah stuff?” she asks Mess.

Mess smiles with burning teeth and a mouthful of violent violets.  “Father will not like that, which means I think it’s a wonderful plan.”

“Perfect, Mess!  Now let’s go to a coffeeshop and read some Proust.”

 

Cain Whispers: “I Was First”

There’s a gateway to heaven, a stairway to hell
my seal on your thigh to guide you well, a boon,
a curse, this Serpent Line, tines of a pitchfork
brimstone sublime, Satan lashes his Son, blood
like wine, against an oak tree in fields of time,
Cain bleeds out amber in the Plains of Divine,
Mamre infected to flow down the line, ash we eat,
dust in our hair, there’s tears and splinters in
winter cold air, nuclear harvest, we fuck til
we’re dry, and incest keeps lineages infection shy.
The Ichor of the Cobra, Qayin Seed, serpent strikes
deadly to replenish his need, sickle fang throats,
the beast I take to bed, beheaded like Sisyphus,
or was that Atlas? Whatever burden we bear, I Was
The First, Scapegoat, La-Azazel, and sister dear,
weep amber into your golden hair, sweet Eve, rot
in my arms, my poison within you, sound the alarm.

Trickster’s Bride, or The Journey Home

In one week, I got three full requests from the top agents in middle grade!  Happy Valentine’s to me!  Andrea Somberg of Harvey Klinger, Emily van Beek of Folio Jr., Daniel Lazar of Writer’s House all requested it within a week of each other (cue seeing stars!), and Brent Taylor of Triada and Thao Le of Sandra Djistrika all have the fulls.  The partials of my  middle grade are still with a few other agents, and my old novel, Firebird, has a 75 page partial with Joshua Bilmes of Jabberwocky!  This is the most success I’ve ever had querying a novel, but what inspired Chwal?

Chwal is a coming-of-age tale set in the South, New Orleans country specifically, about a girl raised by angels and spirits.  Like May, I was raised by angels, including Raphael, who is her guardian angel, and I knew Kalfou, or Mister Carrefour, the fiery dark horse Petro lwa from the age of two.  His blackness is still a real nightmare-wrangling threat, and he goes by many names: the Witchfather, the Man in Black, the Devil of the Crossroads, Kalfou, Satan – he changes names like the wind changes direction.

Unlike May, I ended up in a maryaj lwa with Kalfou because goddamn do tricksters act forceful when they want your attention.  They can drive you mad if you refuse them or scour you with bad luck, and dealing with the Evil Jazz Man that looks like a Demon Bob Marley with red (or just abyssal) eyes, midnight skin, dreads, a snake pommel cane, pinstripe suit, Cuban cigars at hand, and a sultry baritone serenading you in a dive bar in Hell on the piano is, well, otherworldly, to say the least.

Kalfou and I, we go way back to the age of two, to my first memory.  Samael, when he is not Middle Eastern, is often an African man obsessed with Peabo Bryson, rum, Satchmo, monocles, well-tailored suits and Cuban heels.  He told me early on that “Kalfou is one of my many names.  I have as many names as the wind,” an apt title as he is the samiel wind, and who but the Devil has as many guises as the phases of the moon?

His oldest form, this Man in Black, is this ancient African god of darkness, with eyes like the blankness of space with stars in them, wild dreadlocks, in lion skin loincloth, dealing in death and magic and the wilderness.  I call him Ubuntu as an inside joke.  He was at the core of my psychotic break, the savior that restored my sanity, where I cycled through all of Samael’s forms to the core of his most primal nature.  Ubuntu was the mantra of my psych ward where I was held without razors to shave or shoelaces to strangle, plastered on the walls as a motivational poster, used in therapy.

Ubuntu.  South African, the core of human origin, where millions of years ago a genetic bottleneck occurred and we were descended from all those mitochondrial Adams and Eves on the cape.  I imagine Kalfou was there, as he always is, in the darkness of death and magic of underground caverns, trickster par excellance, venom of the black mamba.

But I know his kindness, and his wrath, and his seduction.  Also, how he has kept me from the lips of death, which are his very own, always denying me his poisonous kiss.

For what is to love someone than to forever lose them?

Ubuntu (Zulu pronunciation: [ùɓúntʼù])[1][2] is a NguniBantu term meaning “humanity”. It is often also translated as “humanity towards others”, but is often used in a more philosophical sense to mean “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity”.[3]

I was pumped full of antipsychotics and mood stabilizers but still my psychosis and mania raged.  I found myself in a dark cavern at the core of the earth, with a fire glowing, snake skin and lion skin around, with Ubuntu cross-legged in a Yogic pose, his eyes black stars, and he was Trickster.  He was Trickster, Trickster, Trickster, and he said I was the Trickster’s Bride.

The Trickster’s Wife is a Trickster herself, heyoka, backwards, Baba Yaga, he said.  My path was the Coyote Road.

All the Tricksters he cycled through.  Tezcatlipoca, the Devil, Loki, Maui, Raven, Coyote, Thunderbird, Hermes, Legba, Kalfou, some so old they did not have names, mad dancers that frothed at the mouth with thunder.  I would walk backwards through this world with Trickster at my side.

Death is the ultimate Trickster, and I am the Bride of Death.  To trick, you must be the Deceiver, the Adversary, the one who when riding a chwal people flee from, your poison pure leaves medicine to some, curses to others.

And so I tasted Death, and I kissed him despite his protestations and a major part of my soul died.

I couldn’t read.

I couldn’t think.

I was a puppet for madness, but the small frightened teen in me still flickered when the medicine was just right, and the spirits called

Enter Zora Neale Hurston’s works.

I was doomed to be a catatonic hallucinating vegetable in a madhouse.  I’m not going to dress my words plainly.  I was a madwoman, I was a bag lady, I was the kind of scary crazy you warn your kids about.

But I still loved to read, and so I taught myself again.  Sandman comics at first, but then, Zora’s short stories.

I promised myself I would not die if I could read my favorite author again.

I could barely hold a book.

But I loved Their Eyes Were Watching God in high school, and Mules and Men, and so I picked up Seraph on the Sewanee and read all hundreds of pages of it by the time spring semester rolled around.

I wasn’t sane yet, I went back to school severely depressed, but Trickster kept whispering in my ear: Dance on.  Us Tricksters, we are storytellers.  Us Tricksters, we got business to do, people to make laugh, dances to perform.

You are a Trickster’s Wife, and so you are able to come back from Death.  For I am Death.  And you are Death.  And Death is the most alive god.  Death is Trickster, Trickster is Death, but we are the most brilliant stars.

So I sipped the wine of life, and I persevered.  I dreamed of my demon, my angel, my god, my crossroads Gebo Tawu madman, the X my marking on my tattooed angel hands.  Perhaps that meant I was his treasure.  He drank my  blood, and I drained him of magic, and years later, I wrote the story of a girl raised by angels, raised by gods, who must drive back the darkness of her own mind –

and find the light.

Iron Love

You have me tethered to your diamond heart
a love strong as iron, arms quickfire forge.

Get you a man with the weight of the ancients.

Find you a lover of bedrock and cooled magma.

You are as beautiful as obsidian, better half.

And I want to drown under your mineral weight.

So pressure my coal into crystal, my mountain.

I am the grass that grows on your cliff, as you
lift me up above life’s debris to the butter sun.

Tree of Death, or Eve Eats the Apple

Tree of Death

Oh heart, my heart, what did you see?

I was a bone girdle on the Devil’s tree.

Oh lover, my lover, what are you now?

I hath become Death, to reap and sow.

Oh seed, what fire now grows in my loin?

Tis the flame of desire, from Hell purloined.

Oh Earth, oh beasts, from me why you run?

You have become human, unfortunate one.

Oh husband, my light, what do you see?

You are but the Reaper, come to claim me.