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For Claire Suzanne Elizabeth Cooney

Letter by letter, words trickled through the sand

blown before him on the shore by a wind

that bore the lake's own cool caress;

he failed to read them, eyes drawn skyward

by a lone black-winged speck that etched

lush loops beneath a canvas of clouds.

He came with easel, brush in hand,

himself not unlike a painting, skin

blended gesso pale, long black strokes

of hair. He propped up his own canvas,

paused, stood sculpture-still and marveled,

at a voice threaded through

the whistling breeze, the lapping waves.

Syllables not quite heard in full,

like fingers almost pressed along

the ridge of his cheekbones, against

the pulse beneath his chin, tilted his head,

aimed his gaze at a column, a shimmer

above the water, a figure formed

of sunset light, of fleeting umbral fire,

and that molasses-sweet whisper flowed,

embedded in the shore's wet breathing.

He took a step, another, allowed

the lake to take soft hold of his ankles,

his knees, his thighs, as unnoticed

the black birds gathered above,

writing cursive lines on shifting slate.

Always, her voice, her silhouette of flame

ahead of him, as his feet left the shelf,

as his eyes lost the sky, as the drink

filled him in, as he drowned unknowing,

pursued her murmur down into the deeps.

Past the light's last grasp the space

opened into other realms—stars blinked

below him and swan-white maidens

swam among them, spread gossamer fins

to slip aside, circle him, pluck his clothes.

Their laughter brought no bubbles. Neither

did his protests as he sped his gait.

The fever he chased sported a face,

dark-eyed, a coaxing-ember smile

easier to see in the expanding dark,

receding as a comet races, over plains

of magma murk where spined and shelled

imps bent to their work, harvested

the hollow-eyed dead for cooking pots

and tentpole torture games. They waved

their claws his way but he kept on,

his tapered sylvan feet well out of reach.

In a luminous demesne he at last became

entangled, nearly severed from his star

amidst a tightening lattice of hungry

radiance that craved all his layers

and would not be denied, until black forms

sliced their cursive from below, freed him

from the listless weight of flesh,

filled his arms with hues and shadows,

and lines to sew them in a greeting gift.

He stood before her, naked, reed-slender, blue

as the current that claimed him, black hair

in a cirrus crown, and dared to encroach

upon the corona draped over her shoulders,

the mist cinched at her waist, the aurora

of her tresses, to lay the circlet woven

of his soul's final art upon her brow.

And her speech came clear,

her syllables embraced.

Washed up on the rocks, his body

showed no wear, his dreamy smile

translucent as a half-remembered sunset.

Mike Allen is president of the Science Fiction Poetry Association and editor of the speculative poetry journal Mythic Delirium. With Roger Dutcher, Mike is also editor of The Alchemy of Stars: Rhysling Award Winners Showcase, which for the first time collects the Rhysling Award-winning poems from 1978 to 2004 in one volume. His newest poetry collection, Disturbing Muses, is out from Prime Books, with a second collection, Strange Wisdoms of the Dead, soon to follow. Mike's poems can also be found in Nebula Awards Showcase 2005, both editions of The 2005 Rhysling Anthology, and the Strange Horizons archives.
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