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Corn thick as August,
peeling husk like leaves
in your mother’s agèd Almanac—

you see me, don’t you?
crest the hill on my courser black as bee stripes
with honey in my eyes.

Walk with me over the curve of an egg,
footsteps ginger on a hardboiled shell,
and we’ll discuss the merits of pumpkins—

you don’t fear me, do you?
not with my smile in your ear,
a roguish mien for a wrongish fire

that spreads root to fruit
like brokenheartburn,
my balm-charmed breath to stoke the blaze—

you can feel it, can’t you?
the breeze that whispers wordless warm
with lips as though for you, only you.

Your confidence builds, stick on stick, ‘til
we’re turk-neck strutting, fine as fleece.
My coat is threadbare, but the colour’s still aflame—

you don’t mind, do you?
All it means is business is country-fair:
I’m eaten up with riding roughshod;

even the road-dirt and moths
can’t resist, hang on my every word
and cuff and hem—

you want to ride with me, don’t you?
We’ll find a complement to bee stripes, nectar for liquorice,
and ride like bandits, highwaymen,

kicking up clods and oafs, raiding henhouses:
we foxes can set the night afire
while the chickens lie asleep and unafraid—

our naïve expedition, it’s true, makes no sense,
but neither does dance with no music,
nor chairs with no ifs, ands or butts.

The wind’s kisses turn rough; your hair whips your neck
like your courser’s flank; giddy shrieks to giddy-up
send shivers up your neighbours’ cornstalks—

exhilarating, isn’t it?
Spring wrings out the reedy winter chill,
but no dullahan horsemen we:

rivers splash underhoof, our coursers heavy with plunder,
their riders sated on sin and lust, burned out and ragged with moths,
the Bandit King and his consort—

you haven’t noticed, have you?
ten by ten times have the rivers run dry;
ten by ten tithes have been paid in a dazzling of leaves.

The stones in your boots are the rubble of time,
crumbled like a wall of stone around a corn field
that couldn’t protect you—

did your mother’s Almanac talk about me?
my fire and my honey? my irresistible invitation
to a plunging ride over the edge of night?

Did it mention that riding with highwaymen weighs like a chest-squatting devil
as much on your life as your body and mind?
to say nothing of your soul—

your husk rides with me.

August lazes thick. Let’s find another broken heart, another fox,
alone and unafraid, to ride with the Bandit King
and his highwaymen.

Kelly Stewart writes fantasy and horror of various shapes and sizes, and poetry, which has appeared in CV2 and Prairie Fire. Her novella Brain Freeze is the first in the Oddinary series, and she creates a webcomic called KNAVES. Find out more at or on Twitter @rarebitsays.
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19 Feb 2024

That was Father—a storm in a drought, a comet in the night. Acting first, thinking later, carried on not by foresight, but on luck’s slippery feet. And so we were not as surprised as we should have been when, one warm night in our tenth year on the mountain, Father showed us the flying machine.
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