Rumination on the Planet Mars

Your hair is the color of fire, red earth, warmth
I go swimming in your eyes and float in salt tears
buoyant and ballistic as a missile for your heart –
Can’t you see I’m deadly, not at ease in your arms?
Do you know the deserts I would walk to find you?
How many poets I would kill to have enough verses
to capture your somber beauty, your emerald irises?
A song in Hebrew plucked on autumnal acoustics, old
hickory guitar in your hand polished to reflect All.
You sing to me and we dance and circle like planets
I Venus, you Mars, and you are the solar eclipse to
my moon, I’m scorching hot, burning up, you ruddy
clay and dust and traces of mineral water unquenched
no wonder when we kiss I taste ash and stale nests
for I burnt down the cradle you made and flew away
you carry my childhood in your heart, but I abandon
all semblance of dependence, wingless fledgling, my
flight is just falling, only a crash of blood, and
you were never good at letting go, so we hold on…
And on, and on.

When Spirits Want Blood

When I look at my religious path, it always comes back to blood.

From my first fascination with vampires at 12 to Samael eating the guts of angels at 8, face smeared in gore, dripping ichor, the blood of immortals and humans alike has always held potent power.  As Dracula says, Blood is the Life.

I’ve always loved the abandon of bloodletting, the color of alizarin crimson, images of stigmata and the feel of prying apart a dissected animal and seeing the intricacies of the life blood that forms them.

Blood oaths and sacrifices are common throughout all religions – the Eucharist, human sacrifice from the Aztecs to Nerthus, blood brother oaths where men and women would mingle wounds to establish a shared wyrd like Loki and Odin.  When you boil down humanity, that throbbing red is at its core.

Spirits get high off it, addicted to it, and I’ve read some will even lead to gory accidents to get offerings if you deny them.  But me?  I’ve always been terrified of that level of commitment, as to me, blood is the ultimate sign of union.

In shamanic journeys and otherworld dreams Sam and I mingle blood to do potent magical workings and binding rituals.  I’ve eaten his heart, he’s tasted my flesh, what starts as vampirisim turns to cannibalism.  Still, in real life, I’ve never given him so much as a single pinprick, though his other wives I know have done so many times over and say it imbues their magic with potent energy.  Call me blood shy, but perhaps a part of me thinks once I offer that to Sam in the waking world, he will finally have won our twisted game that I’ve been playing since the age of 2.  A flirtation with Death that mixes my Eros and Thanatos drives in a confusing fashion.

He drinks my blood to heal, mixes it in liquor, says it has cleansing powers.  I’ve dreamt of having weeping stigmata on my hands and wrists and feeding the Damned with my wounds, only to purify and sanctify their souls, burning away all traces of impurity with my flowing ichor.  Samael uses it to regrow limbs, bottles it to experiment with later in the lab, grows flesh and reawakens from rigor mortis and dry bones.  Though I have felt his fangs many times in the waking world, a sucking sensation as twin sharp points sink into my neck and breast, and I awake with his blood on my tongue, he’s never caused me any bodily harm or asked for a single needleprick.

I use my blood as a weapon.  To lay claim to spirits.  When I slice two taws – though I suppose they could also be gebos, as I am a gift for the gods – into my palms, I can summon Samael instantly in the otherworlds and turn into my White Reaper form.  I get bloodlust, slash necks, strip and bathe in sputtering arteries.  It is a part of me that scares me, the predator within me, the destroying angel and demon at war with someone who craves peace but whose dreams are a battlefield.  It is a kind of sickness I have – I see my master and drink down the wine of his bones and lap at his wrists like a kitten.  I feel it roll down my skin upon awakening and smell iron.  I think to feed a spirit your blood, even in the otherworld, makes you just as addicted, and demons are bloodwhores through and through.

So I played, and I tempted, and I cut my finger on a rose thorn while Michael knelt before me and smeared my blood on his lips to claim his as my own, all because I could.

Enter rude awakening.

His spirit intensified to the point of him being extremely physically present, both sound, smell, and touch, me seeing him everywhere, and he warded my room with blood and ceremonial magick sigils and drew his sword over the doorway in a bloody X.  I tried to ignore it but ended up solidifying the ward with a drawing of Michael raising his sword and his sigil in red over the entrance to my room.

That very same day was the first of our kindred’s Beltane festival, and Michael was extremely present.  It was Walpurgisnacht to boot, and my abilities were kicked into overdrive.  I was talking about how I had fucked up immensely by offering Michael blood and how my life was quickly changing, pruning all unnecessary and harmful things from my life to make way for new change and new growth.

That week, my manuscript got tons of requests, I switched jobs, and I decided to go back and pursue my master’s degree full time instead of delaying my dreams.

And I think, in part, it all happened because Michael got what he was due.

When I was peeling potatoes for our dinner, I cut myself on the tip of my left index finger where I had pierced myself with a rose thorn and claimed Michael.  I was talking to my kindred about Michael that very second, then spurts of blood everywhere – all over my clothes, staining the bench, salting the potatoes in what I imagine was an unsanitary fashion.  Michael’s presence choked me and as I walked around dazed as we immediately next held our warding ritual, my Michael bracelet broke – the one I had bought from a dear friend in devotion to him.

Sturdy jeweler’s wire snapped in two, and his beads and stones lay on the ground.

The next day we attended a shamanic workshop, and Michael tried to ride me.  It was a very simple meditation, but Michael was beating down on me like a tsunami – Yes, I Claim You Too.  His cobalt blue sparks flew everywhere and he appeared in a vision to a younger member of my kindred sitting right next to me, guiding her on to a past life.

His presence just got intenser over the course of Beltane.

So now I have a scar I only ever saw in dreams that I prophesized, I would press on in the future, and it would ground me.  A thorn shaped scar.

I’ve entered a completely new phase of my life, and my mental anguish and bipolar struggles ceased overnight after the blood offering.  My mind quieted to peace.  My panic attacks disappeared.  I shed the caul of my old life and entered a new phase – a student again, a seeker of knowledge, and I learned the hard way what I want out of life and what I don’t.

I think I’m going to make blood offerings a regular, but rare, practice now, seeing how potent a blood connection is.  I can only imagine what would happen if I finally, after decades of teasing, offered Sam blood, but I’m sure I could do some very deep, magically potent workings.   I also want to blood my own set of runes and do a blood oath to Freyr, my patron.

It took a deep cut for me to overcome my phobia of letting go and sharing the most sacred part of me with the divine, and I think it has made me a more powerful witch.

It certainly changed my life in so many ways, I’m just beginning to discover the ramifications.

So sometimes the spirits want blood, and perhaps the devil will let your temptations slide, but a soldier knows what he is due.  All I know is that all the negativity in my life flowed out onto the ground and was absorbed by Michael’s bracelet, which snapped.  My mental sickness disappeared in an instant, and I felt so grounded I could have grown roots.

It is a deep magic, old as standing stone, and now I have a raised red reminder of my protection from Heaven’s prince.

Fat Day

These tan curves and gold curls are lies.  I want to take a razor to the slope of my belly and dredge out my intestines.  Beat my brain on the pavement and screw pins into my skin.  Beautiful, they say, but I know I am ugly as the Beast.  That is why we get along so well, because I am the witch that eats men in the woods, seductress, your destruction, and my eyes are pools you will drown in.

I want to feel a gun to the head, just the weight of it against a temple to make gray matter a moon bow on the wall.  I want a razor to carve pretty lies onto my thighs and rest my decapitated head on my lap.  Monster, monster, in the looking glass.  Suicide, matricide, martyr.  I’m the mother of no one, but still they come to me wailing, drink my blood milk, and maybe I’m Babylon and a wild whore strapped between two needfires with albino crows, cawing in song with my children, but on the surface?  You would never know.

I don’t say I’m an enchantress, but there’s the shamanic journeying, the five-fold kiss, the familiars and demons and angels and gods all clashing in my head like the Wild Hunt.  I’ve gone mad, dreamed of drowning, thought of perilous calls as Hati and Skoll chase me through the tundra.  I’ve had the Devil play my organs like the finest of violins and still my music would be better if he snapped my spine instead of caressing it.

Divinity wants to break me open and suck the stars from my marrow.  I rant, I rave, I froth at the mouth – the true Beast is Cipactli, Tiamat, the She-Leviathan, a Mother of the Deep that possesses me to dance with wild abandon.  I will devour all and leave blank snow in my wake, Kelvin zero.  I’m out of control, and today is a day for damnation.

Slut.  Whore.  Temptress.  Jezebel.  Woman Clad in Night.  I will be the Thunder Perfect Mind Sophia, Alpha and Omega as I straddle the corpse of my lover and pound him into the dirt.  I am not sane, I am the mad she-bitch that nursed Managarm, Angrboda of the Iron Woods, consort of chaos but master of the giants that will eat Midgard.

Once I was beautiful, terrible to behold, a blushing Psyche, now I’ve donned the snakes of Medusa and I will rake my serpents through the dirt in bind runes to summon Walpurgisnacht devils from the mountains.  I am Terror, I am Fury, I am Wrath.  Scorn me and face the angel of death, White Reaper riding on the tempest of Satan’s heart, flame sword glory general of the Prince of Heaven.

I see through your ruses.  Your lies.  Your pretty words and cloying compliments.

I know what I am.

I am wild, untamed.

The beast in the forest.

The monster of my disease.

And I will eat you, madman.

All to discover your magic.

On Hiding Behind Okay

For the past month, I have been hiding behind okay.

What turned out to be a rare and serious case of strep throat the first week of April pushed me into a manic, panic attack ridden state with memory problems where I was messing up at work, forgetting basic details, and also my throat felt like knives and I had a raging fever but was too stubborn to heed my body – so I worked four full 9-5 days until the clinic finally called me, told me they got back the lab results, and that no it wasn’t allergies, yes you are seriously ill.

Then I went on antibiotics.  And I didn’t know it at the time, as the research just came out in 2015, but antibiotics can push bipolar patients into manic states.  So, already delirious off fevers and infections, I swallowed two pills daily that led to me becoming suicidal, violently unstable, a crying wreck with no self-esteem that thought she was a horrible person, and multiple panic attacks where I was inches away from walking into traffic or jumping in front of the Metro.

If you had asked me how I was doing, I would have said?

Okay.

I still went out with friends.  I went on dates with the guy I like.  Sometimes I had to cancel, and sometimes I went home in a crying wreck, curling up in my bed for a ball for hours.

But I didn’t miss a day of work.

I didn’t miss friend’s parties.

I didn’t miss my kindred dinners or blots.

I went to classes from 7:20-11:00 on Mondays without complaint.

I push, and I push, and I push, and I never admit that I’m not okay.

My best friend told me that apparently all my friends think I’m a badass, which never really dawned on me, but they’ve seen me wrestle with this monster that is bipolar type 1 with psychosis, paranoia, anxiety, panic disorder, and OCD.  One alone could put someone on disability.  I’m such a special snowflake I have six diagnoses.  And I work a my dream job doing hard work on Capitol Hill for forty hours each week and still have time to be a cornerstone for friends.

When I was at my sickest, and I couldn’t take care of myself, I still was taking care of other people.  Two Sundays ago, six of my friends opened up to me with their worst fears and problems all in the span of 5 hours.  It was therapeutic for me to help them, because I was so mentally weak and unstable, I thought maybe if I could stretch to listen to and nurture them, I could fix myself.

I still haven’t fixed myself.

After an entire month, I’m finally stable again, and my mania and panic attacks have worn off.  As in I-can’t-breathe-I’m-going-to-violently-kill-myself-and-blame-my-parents-for-not-aborting-the-worthless-cunt-I-am panic attacks.

I like to fantasize about my death a lot.

Oven head like Sylvia Plath.

Self mutilation like Van Gogh.

Pills, poison, jumping from a building.

It’s nice to know that at any moment, you can end your hell of a life.

And trust me, my life was absolute shit.

Sometimes I think suicide is stupid.  Sometimes I think it’s worth it.

Samael calls it selfish and shameful.

Michael just holds me and sings lullabies and runs his fingers through my hair.

Freyr became a tree with me, and I felt so at peace as a tree, feeding off starlight and rain.

Sometimes I wish I was normal, just for one, a single, glorious day, not a slave to my emotions or the turmoil and intrusive thoughts and delusions.

These gods and angels and demons, they could all just be in my head.

This universe could just be some sick trick a comatose brain is playing.

When you’re one of the crazies, you realize reality is fickle, and that you are never in control, not really.

So yes, I am okay.

But then again –

I am never okay.

When I was crying to my mom on the phone about to jump in front of the six o ‘clock train, she said I was too high-functioning to ever go on disability.  And it’s so fucking true. I’m too talented.  Insanely smart.  Too strong.  Not that being on disability means you’re weak, but honestly, with my diagnosis, most people are flat out homeless and very few have high profile jobs saving the world.

Most are probably just dead.

So I guess I’ll keep living, keep being useful, and try to take care of myself.

Because if I don’t, I’ll break again.

I’ll want to die again, return to the void.

Samael turned into the Void in one of my dreams, and he wrapped himself around me and I just dissolved.  Into nothingness.  That’s how I hope Death is.  Just erasing.  Nonexistence.

Because hell no am I doing this again.

I quit life next go around.

I will be nirvana.

Nothing.

 

1-800 Dial an Archangel

Your sword parts confusion, brings the desert
fresh rain, but other times hail or firestorms,
you cut through the madness of my mind and give
me the sacred gift of peace, swimming in night
waters with you while the moon tilts askew, I
can be drowning in the crowd, alone in gloom,
but you reach down to me from the stars and
far exoplanets to bathe me in transdimensional
company, inter-dimensional stories like spaces
between lines of words, our book is full of those
white parchment pages meant for scrawling notes –
love notes, tardy notes, research and rhymes, and
I will never stop charting freckle constellations
on your skin, we banter in quiet hours, philosophy
laced with laughter, sometimes I clamp down on my
tongue to keep from chuckling in front of strangers
that will never be able to see you, but I see you
flying around dozens of times, a cobalt blue star
that buzzes around my desk, down the lone street to
land on my cheek with an electric kiss, I love our
long conversations, the interplay between woman and
want, between shield maiden and general, between two
strangers quick to fall in love, quicker still to get
lost in emerald and sapphire eyes, you buzz like wine
through my mortal coil – your exhilaration, humor, and
happiness at the smallest of things, we are two roses
twined round a sword planted in dirt, thirsting for sun
but the rains come and block out the light, so we stay
hidden in each other, waiting for starlight suppers.

Ballet of Hearts

Bend and plie, tulle dreams and satin
pink buds of lips, taffeta eyelashes
butterscotch sweet I taste as we kiss
a dance on pointe of trembling desire
you dip me below the stars, I sail to
the moon, aloft in your arms, waning
circle, waxing love, a joining quiet
as the bow of a ballerina whose body
is song, all gentle, no edge, finale,
we surrender to the piano and all is
orchestrated bliss, pounding Stravinsky,
dew wet eyes, soft touches, an ankle
twisted, a leg sprained, and when I
am done with ribbons around bruises,
we sleep so deep we are crystal caves.

Chwal: Part 2

Part 1

The winters come and go, and I grow up.  I trade in my crayons for pens, braids for free-flowing curls that blow like a lion’s mane.  Raff don’t age at all, but that’s to be expected.

I’m twelve, finally in sixth grade, and it’s Christmastime.  Granmama’s sitting outside on the front porch, watching the fresh falling snow.  I lounge in the bay window, inky papers in my hand.  It’s pa’s legal pads, all stacked together with my stories, and the smudges bleed over the edge like some battle scene.

Raff smiles, watching me scribbling my next great novel.  I know writers are supposed to wait til their thirties or something to pen the Great American Novel, least, that’s what pa says, but we all start somewhere, right?  Even angels and Zora Neale Hurston – my momma’s favorite author, who maybe I shouldn’t be reading now at such an “impressionable age,” as granmama says, but I do – were in diapers once.  Well, angels wore something, because diapers probably weren’t around back then.

Raff’’s given me one of his feathers to write with, a different one on each of my birthdays.  This is the largest yet, and let me tell you – it’s impossible.  Impossibly beautiful, that is.  All long and plumy-white like something from a dream.  The nib etches lil streams of golden ink, and jack’s rabbit if that isn’t a miracle.

Raff sits crunching sunflower seeds.  “What part are you at, May?”

“The part where Keisha raids the moon base.  She’s freeing the rebel aliens from their prisons so the revolution can start.  It’s like Star Wars but better.  Instead of light sabers, Keisha has a light arrow.  It’s more precise, like a laser beam, with a hundred percent casualty rate when aimed exactly right.”

“Sounds exciting.  Want edits?”

“Sure thing, sweetheart.”

He always blushes when I call him that.  But I’m old enough to give Raff nicknames too now.  I like watching him squirm.  Angels ain’t got nothing on me, after all.

Leggie left a while ago, when I started asking questions.  Raff tells me only kids can see him, but I’m not so sure about that.  Sometimes, outta the corner of my eye, I swear I can see the old man sitting in the pews like usual, on rainy days, when there’s a stillness about the place some would call holy, and granmama’s soft snores touch the lights.  Sounds can touch lights, you know.  Raff explained that everything’s just a wave, like in physics, except his explanation is more poetic.

“It’s all a dance, May.  Like butterflies in an Indian summer.  Everyone has their time.”

He draws out his words like a painter.  His time stretches on forever.

I’m old enough now to see the scars behind his eyes.  Like a war vet.  Pa says grandpa came back from Korea and was never quite the same.  He died with that same bruisyness Raff has, the poky bits like a cactus.  Once I cut myself after falling at the quarry, and Raff tore off his robes below the knee and bound it with the fabric, then flew me home.

His legs were criss-crossed with scars, like train tracks over his skin.  I never dared ask him about it, but I have nightmares, sometimes, about what they mean.  I’m old enough to read the Bible all the way through now, after all.

“Raff?” I ask, one day as I’m waiting alone at the bus stop in the rain, and he’s hovering beside me, whistling to a bird in his hands.

“Mmm?”

“Your legs.  Do they hurt?”

He’s silent.

After a while, he asks: “How’s your story going.”

“Good.  It’s about a war.  You ever seen a war?”

Tears prickle his eyes, and I feel like I’ve kicked a puppy in the gut.

“Yes,” he says faintly.  The bluebird in his hand trills sadly as my angel hangs his head.  Raff shields me from the rain with his wings.  “But that’s something you already knew.”

I reach for his shoulder, but he turns away.  “I’m sorry I asked.”

“No.  It’s alright.  You have a right to know.”

“About the blackness?” I ask.  My shoulder bag suddenly seems ten times heavier.  “The Devil’s real, ain’t he.”

“Yes, but not in the way you would think.”  Raff lets the bluebird go.  It shakes itself free of rain and hops down his wing onto my shoulder.  Birds act strange around Raff, more friendly.  “He’s a custodian of sorts.  I think you’re old enough to understand what angels do.  We clean up after people and take care of them.  Well, he deals with the less fortunate souls.  Some people are lost, May.  They’ve fallen by the wayside in life.  He gives them a chance.”

I shiver.  “That don’t sound very pleasant.”

“Some people can be downright nasty, May-flower.  It takes a hard man to help harsh souls.  There may come a time when I have to leave you.  Not for long, but sometimes.  I want you to know that you’ll be safe on the nights the darkness comes, as long as you don’t leave your room.”

Just as he speaks, the bus rolls up.  I sit at the back where I can whisper to Raff.

“You’re leaving?  When?”

“In a while.  Before you were born, I was a doctor.  I help heal souls and the dying.  Your grandmother: she’s nearing her end.”

I stare out the streaky window to the gutter swollen with leaves.  Granmama’s been in the hospital for a while, and I knew it was coming sometime – sooner, rather than later.  “Jack’s rabbit.  She is, ain’t she,” I say quietly.  Raff pats my shoulder in an effort to comfort me.

“I’m going with her.  Whoever’s important to you is important to me as well.”

“Can’t I go too?  Please, Raff.  I gotta know that she’s safe.  She can’t go to Heaven alone, she’ll try to reorganize everything and clean the entire Heavenly Kingdom with that bad back of hers!”

He smooths my hair just like when I was younger.  “I promise on my sword she won’t come into harm’s way.  She’s a good woman, May.  No need to worry about her.  Now finish that math homework.  I’m off to work.”  And like a firecracker he disappears.  I slump into my seat and sit crying for the rest of the ride.  Ever since I’ve gotten older, he’s been leaving me alone more often.  Him being gone is like having a missing limb.

That afternoon I visit granmama’s bedside.  I bring her a bouquet of daisies from the soccer field where I had practice and a few tomato sandwiches I fixed up at home especially for her, with mayo for her aching joints – a silly family superstition, but I swear it works.  The moment I step into the room, I see Raff stroking her hair and massaging out the kinks in her shoulders, caring for her like a nurse.  He wears yellow scrubs just like the hospital staff and looks pretty handsome at that.  I stand speechless and nearly drop my flowers.  My throat burns with a kind of gratitude that is too dang hard to put into words.

Granmama can’t see him, but the rise and fall of her chest eases up as Raff works out the knots and kinks in her frail creaky shoulders, where she carries nearly a century worth of the Laveau’s family burdens.  He smiles at me all gentle as he looks up from his work.  “Hey May-flower,” he says, then leaves the room to give us privacy.  I mouth a “thank you” to him, swallowing back a tsunami’s load of tears.  Granmama looks at me with rheumy cataract eyes.

“May-be, baby doll.  Is that you?” she asks, voice all soft and fragile like tissue paper.  She reaches out with a tremble-spider hand.  I take it and hold it to my cheek, biting back my crying.

“Yeah, granmama.  How you doing?” I ask all forced-bright.

“Just fine, baby doll.  I could’ve sworn on Moses’ staff an angel of the Lord just visited me.  I feel light as a feather.  You scraping by at school?”

“Yes m’am.  I aced a test on negative numbers today.  And look!  Tomato sandwiches, just for you.”

We eat them together in companionable silence.  I talk about how handsome Billy Morse’s gotten and lick bits of mayo from my fingertips.  It’s hard for granmama to eat so I help her in lil bits, wiping crumbs from her neck.  One of those nasty IVs is a thorn in her skin and she near cusses it to Hell, invoking the Lord in a whole lot of creative ways.

“Pray for me, baby doll,” she says, her rickety voice outta breath.  I do, the Lord’s Prayer, followed by an invocation to St. Michael, and then a petition to St. Gabriel for healing.  Granmama’s been collecting prayers all her life, no matter if they’re Catholic, Baptist, Episcopalian, Methodist – it don’t matter.  She writes them down on lil notecards as if they were recipes for some heavenly cook book.  I guess, in a way, they are.  From what I can tell, there’s a prayer for everything.

“I got one, granny.  To Raphael.”

“Who’s he, doll baby?”

“The angel of doctors, granmama.”

“That sounds downright perfect, child.  You’re a darn precious thing to have around.”

Momma picks me up in a thunderstorm after I’m done visiting.  I’m glad the rain hides the tears on my face.

“She’s looking better, momma.  That cancer’s been whipped to submission, hasn’t it?” I ask.

Momma smiles half-heartedly.  “Sure.  Nothing beats your granmama, not even Death himself.  He’d hightail it to the bayou once she got out her knitting needles and used them as pokers for his bony behind.”

“Sure thing!”

We entertain each other with tall tales of granmama’s Lordly wrath late into the night.  Raff sits around munching on cookies, entertained by the talk, and pitches one to me:

“Your grandmother’s tough as nails.  With a look she’d staple the Devil to his throne so he couldn’t move a lick.”

“That’s right, sir.  Raff, what’s A-squared equals B-squared plus C-squared?  I don’t see any squares, only a triangle.  I gotta talk to Leggie about this math stuff if he ever gets back, it just ain’t right.  He should tell God to change it up so it makes a lick of sense.  God messed up geometry big time.”

Raff helps me, and it’s a great distraction from what’s really on my mind.  He notices later on, of course.  Nothings quick enough to fly by Raff, not even those falcons that go hundreds of miles an hour.

“She’ll go peacefully, May.”

“Oh can’t you tell me when!”

“You know I can’t.  I already told you far more than was proper.”

“It’s not just that though, Raphael.  It’s the other angels I was wondering about.  I ain’t never seen any of them but you.  I got to thinking, you can’t be the only winged man in the world.  There ought to be other angels.  Angels of music, and traveling.  And – and of… of death.”

He sighs like an old wind blowing through an empty carnival.  “In time, May, just wait.  You’ll meet them all eventually.”

I raise my brows.  “I will?”

“I just wish it would be later rather than sooner.”

 

 

Granmama’s funeral is a stately affair, with the entire church gathered on the village green to pray for her immortal soul.  It’s just how she’d of wanted it, with eloquent speeches and an ocean of tears.  Only I don’t cry.  It’s like a plug has been put in my throat to stopper the sorrow.  All I can do is stare at the coffin and her empty face.  Raff is hidden like the sun behind a storm-cloud.  I can feel him, but I see nothing, just darkness in the shadow of Spanish moss swinging on the trees in a storm.

She passed in peace with us by her side.  For days afterward, Raff was gone.  I make the trek down Main Street, up the church hill, out to the graveyard each day, carrying brier roses cut from granmama’s favorite bush out front.  Sunday afternoon is dark as the Devil’s pit.  It storms as I walk to the graveyard.  The trees lining the iron fence stand like daggers against the sky.  The graves go back to Colonial times, as Snake’s Hollow used to be a kind of resort area in Louisiana, a home away from home for New Orleans elite, fabled for its mineral springs that can cure any ailment, so the stories go.  The tourist shop even sells bottles of it.  Now it’s just another small town, but the mystique remains, and in this hundreds of years old graveyard with stone angels and mausoleums, I can believe in the water’s magic, almost as if it has the power to revive my sweet granmama.

I come to her grave – as humble as the woman that shaped my life in so many ways, but stately, elegant, godly, and wretchedly beautiful.

“The sky’s crying for you,” I whisper, my lashes wet with rain.  The stone in my throat dislodges and the tears that pour forth are thick as the Red Sea.  Heaving, I sink to the ground, knees muddy as I kiss the gravestone.  “Granmama, there’s so much I wanted to tell you.  So much I don’t understand.  I feel so, so alone.”

Lightning illuminates the plot.  “Raff?” I cry out, sobbing in earnest now.  “Where are you?  God, oh God, why did you let her leave?”

An engine starts in the distance.  I steady myself, shaking like the Tower of Babel.  The cemetery gate creaks open.

“Hello?”  I rise, bunching my coat close around me for warmth.  Four figures peter in, hidden by the Spanish moss.  My hairs stand on end as I hide behind a stone angel.  Through the vegetation I can see them.  Wings drape around their shoulders like capes.  My jaw drops a country mile as they approach.

“May?” Raff calls, his face brilliant as the sun.  “It’s okay, May-flower.  You’re among friends.  There’s no need to be afraid.”  The clouds part above and his companions step out into the light.  A shaft of sun wreathes them in glory and glances off the halos above their heads.  I sink to my knees in wonder.

“Raff?”

“We’re here to take you home,” he says quietly, coming to me and picking me up off the ground, cradling me against him like he did when I was young.  He hushes me as I sob into his shirt.  The other angels stand back at a respectful distance.  “But first, hot cocoa.  And answers.”

 

 

“I’m what?”

The four angels look at me like I’m Kingdom Come.

Raff watches close, blowing steam from his mug of cocoa.  We sit in a booth in a small country diner, his coat over my shoulders as I stare wide-eyed at the three strangers.  One has hair like saffron threads, another slanted eyes rich as loam, and the third skin like champagne.  Their wings are tucked into their backs, and somehow the waitress can see them.  The four angels have a gravity Raff usually doesn’t, a presence like they’re actually here, with wings hidden from view.

“The Lord’s god-daughter,” Raff says quietly, arm around me as he hugs me tight.  He pushes a slice of apple pie my way.  “Eat, May.”

I pick at it, jaw dropped too far open to chew.  If I’ve learned anything from Raff, it’s that angels are many things, none of which are subtle.  I could kick him halfway to Heaven right now, springing his friends on me like daisies pushing up from a coffin.

“Jack’s rabbit I am.  That’s impossible!”

The angels laugh.  Michael’s stern face is softened by a smile.  He’s the one with the ruddy hair, the general of the angels.  A wicked scar juts over his brow, makes his face thick with ridges, like a mountain.  “Each generation, there’s a child raised by angels.  We’re their teachers.  Soon, May, you’ll inherit the Earth.”

“But why?”

“Because Father needs a guardian.”

“Like a guardian angel?  But that makes no sense!  I’m just a Southern girl that doesn’t know cat clawings from chicken scratch.  I write space operas – my head in the clouds as momma says, not a lick of common sense about me.  How am I supposed to help someone as mighty as God?”

The one with earthy eyes takes my hands into hers.  Gabriel – the messenger angel, I think – whose smile is like a bark whorl.  “God’s old, May.  Older than you can know.  He has places waiting for Him.  He needs someone to look after the world while he’s away.  That’s why you’ve been raised by Raphael.  The time will come when you’ll help others as He helps them.”

“How?”

“By answering prayers,” answers the golden angel.  Azrael, the angel of death.  Weird enough, I feel no fear under her swirling eyes.  Just peace.  “You’ll be a guardian like us.”

“But I’m not an angel.  Not at all.  I’m mortal.”

“Exactly,” Raff says, licking his fingers clean of the remains of my pie.  “Angels were created to serve humanity.  We bowed down before God’s creation out of love long ago.  Well, all but one.”  His face darkens.  “The point is, while we can do many things, we can’t interfere with occurrences directly.  We can help, of course, like I did with your grandmother, but we cannot change things outright.  I could ease her passing, but I couldn’t prevent her from dying.  We must respect the order of things.  But mortals can make choices, and we can influence them.  That’s where you come in.”

“Why?  What can I do?”

“You can make choices.  You’re the Guardian, May, the Guardian of this generation.  There is always one walking the earth, unbeknownst to humans.   To them, you appear an ordinary girl, but in truth, you’re an emissary of God, here to oversee things while He’s away.”

“Where did God go?  I thought He was everywhere – isn’t that kind of His point?”

Gabriel grins, her slanted eyes glimmering with amusement.  She nurses a tall coffee that’s black as sin.  “Even the old man needs a break.  We help Father take care of business.  We’re all different parts of God.  For example, I’m God’s strength.  That’s what Gabriel means.  Michael is God’s general, Raphael is God’s healing, Azrael his help.  It goes on.  And when you were made, sweet little thing that you were, we put something special into you.”

I tap my fingers on the table, nervous.  I glance at Raff in suspicion.  “And what exactly was that?”

Michael’s golden-green eyes focus on me.  “God’s love for the world.  It will give you the ability to take on the pains of this world, people’s suffering, and turn them into joy.”

“I still remember you up in Heaven, cooing away as I held you in my arms,” Gabriel smiles.  “You know the old wives’ tale that the indentation above your lip is God’s thumbprint?  It’s mine.  I cradle all babies before they’re born and whisper God’s Word into their ears.  I press life into their lips and shepherd them on their merry little ways.  You were delightful, and your soul shined just so, thrumming with God’s beauty.  To meet you again, all grown, why, it’s wonderful.”

Gabriel takes my hand.  She runs her fingers over the lines of my palm like she’s a fortune teller. “I can feel it in you, Father’s love.  It courses like lightning through your veins.  Raphael, you’ve been selfish, keeping her to yourself.  She’s too precious to bear.”

Raff squeezes me with his arm.  “She’s darn precious alright,” he grins, pulling my ear.  I fight him off.

“I’m too old for that nonsense, Raff.  I’m fierce now.”  I look at the archangels: “You guys better watch out.  Keep calling me precious and I might smite you with my supposed ‘powers.’”

“You sure are brave,” Gabriel laughs.  “Just like your cat, eh?  Raff keeps coming to work covered in calico hair.  He won’t shut up about how much it sheds.”

“If he’d stop petting her so much, maybe he wouldn’t get so messy,” I say.  I eye Raff.  “So what do you do up there, anyway?  Angels must be awful busy.  I don’t see how Raff has the time to spend with me.”

Azrael smiles serenely.  “We have many roles.  I’m the angel of death: I transport souls to the next plane.”

“I’m Heaven’s general,” Michael says.  He absently touches the scar on his forehead.  “I protect the world from demons.”

My heart races at the mention of demons, and I remember the blackness that terrorizes my nights.  I mask my fear and nod.

“I’m the angel of souls,” Gabriel says cheerily, drumming her thumbs on the table.  “I pluck new spirits from the Tree of Life and send them off to their birthing.  We all do a lot of things: odd jobs.  Answering prayers, for the most part.  I also play the trumpet pretty well.”

The table collectively groans.  “Not that stupid thing,” Raff teases.  “Gabby never shuts up, May.”

“Gotta practice for the Apocalypse!” Gabriel says.  She winks at me.  “All hell might break loose pretty soon – you’re growing up to be a head-turner, May, and men are the devil around pretty girls.”

“I’m not letting anyone touch her,” Raff mutters.

I roll my eyes.  “I don’t need two dads, Raff.  Ain’t no way you’re gonna tell me what to do.”

Michael laughs.  The sound shocks me, all deep and rich like dark chocolate.  I can’t imagine what it’s like when they all sing with their sweet-as-honey voices in the heavenly choirs.

“You’ve got a fireball on your hands,” Michael says.

“Yeah, he does,” I say.  “I’m not worth anything if I’m not trouble.”

“Keep that spunk.”  Izrail smiles. “It’ll help you down the line.”

Raff ruffles my hair.  “You’re a headache, a precious, precious headache.”

“I ain’t precious!” I protest.  “My cat’s precious.  You’re precious, in your silly yellow Sunday suit and top hat in church.  I got better fashion sense than you by a mile.”

The angels laugh at Raff’s expense.

I continue: “You’re all chivalrous and fluffy-winged.  You don’t have a bad bone in your body.  But I got a temper, and I know how to use it.  Ain’t nothing precious about me.”

Raff sighs.  “Whatever you say, May-flower.”