Chainlink was too expensive so we built fences of what we could find: many-times mended chicken wire, corrugated cardboard, rusted pipes, photographs, gravestones. It's said the town witch piled animal bones, some big as my femur. She wasn't always a witch; she used to be a wife. Then the sea came.
It's said the witch knew, but she couldn't because her husband didn't die until the flood. It's said she didn't use salt on their pork that night. It's said she locked the pigs in the attic but they drowned anyway. It's said she slaughtered the pigs the day before. It's said she named the pigs after constellations except Sylvia and ---- who were first. It's said she didn't use salt on their pork that night. It's said she filled the pigs' trough with an infusion of Belladonna grown in her garden that the pigs' pupils dilated that she kept whispering slutslutslutslut. It's said she was born a wife. It's said she gave birth to the pigs but she couldn't because her husband didn't die until she became a witch until the sea
I woke to squealing and flashlight beam.
If I untumbled we'd make a mess in the creekbed—my lady war-paint and boots : your shell casings, hot and brass. We unmapped constellations underneath my dress—became swarm, became fencepost. You, so easy to believe in night's husk. You told me there'd be so many stars I'd run out of wishes, told me to always go under the wire at a property line—which is to say I leave a lot, I spark prime. Call me aim, without readiness or I fossilize. The creek divides, spiders towards the stump where we carved our names with a rust-stained knife. It's burnt now, become bone where sky meets mud a few times a year. Which is to say I left a lot behind.
I knew better when he knocked at the door, but he wore the right colors. Day-turning-night and he had a six-shooter at his hip. His badge, polished, projected the hologram of the neighboring town, what was left. Looked a lot like ours, could have been ours. His teeth were straight, I remember, unlike our fences. At dinner he explained theirs were few, fences, but solid, straight. Our weakness in The City, he leaned too close, is the whorehouse. Say, where's the man of the house, Miss? he asked, still too close. Ain't one, I replied, offering more boiled lettuce, salt. He said, that's the problem with the whorehouse.
The Sheriff zipped his pants, tossed a few coins on the table. Can't be the lady of the house, he said, without a man. You're welcome.
After he left
I threw out
my husband's grave
in coffee grounds,
scrubbed myself out
with pigs' blood.
Some call it lavage.
I drank a draught of tansy and sea water.
She lives nearer the seayard than most, keeps their tentacles for scrap metal. She says worth more dead—and they've been piling up. Sometimes they twitch lightning storms. The man she once loved promised there'd be so many stars she'd run out of wishes. In this junkyard heaped eclipsing she lives alone now, experiments in absorption. Summon a cloud, she has 'til morning. Someone has to keep the weather someone has to keep so
she keeps a garden amaranth violet ylang-ylang sea lily husk sunset yew tansy grave lily tallow in the seayard she keeps a garden spirals dusk sea water fuck swarm she is kept by her garden in the seayard.
She says she used to be a conduit—
water is an awful experience for an
the whorehouse in The City. The men say Madame D— is a so they can't burn it down. The sisters say it's secrets staining sheets, the currency of control. So it's been since the Beyond, since before.
Vimvimrecoil: the men might fire but the sisters pull the trigger. Hangfire. The last recorded possession was before the sea, parabellum. Madame cast the first round by hand. Gunpowder's cheap, cheaper than the girls, than brass. If you got coin, they got
—got none, well, everyone's got secrets
so the Lumberyard will never burn so the Lumberyard will never burn.
These, I keep: nearer the seayard than most I hear the birthing. Skin glacial and gleaming, some I call almost-people, eyes less empty than others. Sometimes I know one as it claws from earth-womb, papery breath rattling from waxen jowls. Sometimes I know one. Then I forget.
These, I keep: my memory a bestiary. I forget who not what. I think I used to visit the sea as a girl. Like now it never smelt of sea but of fish and sick and dead things. One of these a ghost. I write them in my book next to things I remember.
I remember some things not mine to remember. These, too, I keep. The seayard trembles, once the sea now empty lacrimosa. Call this becoming. I write so no one forgets. Nameless most stay. They stare, all, some just eyeholes or gnashing of teeth. Any good gardener knows when to prune.
When I write I mourn. Some born beautiful, head maybe a spray of jasmine blooms. I do not write them in my book. They remain unborn, emissaries to The City. A still birth, I will write. I forget why but have done so for years. Elsewhere: these I keep and they are not mine.
We're gonna need a substantial amount of blood, my sister said. If we follow the metro rails to The City's center, we'll find its heart, I said. I'd heard Madame say it. Some of us still had GPS, I'd always loved antiques, mine was in my right wrist through which my veins would realign, show me what I'm really looking for. What do we need its heart for? my sister asked, concentrating on her palm. I said, you're probably right. We need to buy blood before it sells out, she said. This way. This way.
Underfoot a throbthrobthrobbing the only way to kill it.
When a GPS fails it's said you go mad it's said your flesh swallows it and instead you feel it's said only a Harvester can retrieve it and only with it's said no one can retrieve it because you wished it away it's said you wished her away,
geomancer cut into her breast to find a mortuary accidental splayed her to find the wet and what's left we call aftermath raise your dead raise your dead The City has heart and hole necromancer: grave lilies lavage living from the dead leave a dew-soaked husk after Harvest for the aeromancer foretell slash-and-burn foretell bad weather swales in her wrist ravage balefire pyromancer but her sister reads palms like maps like maps like maps chiromancer
it's said these are the forbidden arts
it's said some read scrap metal read fences read what's left after
she drew a bath before she
The Vault, we called it, where we stored what we Harvested : GPS, blood, teeth, kidneys, lungs, microchips.
Often the men brought gifts and these we stored alongside Collector's finds : ammunition, medicine, scrap metal, books
until she cut off her breasts like she'd read said she'd done the stitches real nice so the men still called on her underneath all the other women she'd been everything she does she takes too far stitched up her core still they found in and to be hole one must lack sutures like a map to silence in front of the mirror she shut her mouth like he told her saw what he saw so she sewed so she sewed and sewed til she couldn't see.
Madame D— found her Seeing
Good men came. Mostly they noticed mismatched wallpaper (tea roses, lilacs) photographs of a family (slaughtered, buried beneath). Her favorite brought her gifts. Madame said he couldn't see her all sewn up, but he insisted. Half-asleep she felt him push on her clavicle. He left her candles.
The last place on earth (some said) and still the men haggled, the good ones for show. When he didn't come she kept a candle lit in her window until the last he left burnt down. How to remember.
Madame D— would accept provisions if they were offered when a family left their girl. These orphans didn't look after the men. Some cleaned, cooked, built, grew, hunted. Most fought. Some had other skills, Seeing or reading or writing or casting. Some tended the garden or horses. A few Collected even fewer Harvested.
Most wouldn't live to make the choice, but if they did, they'd stay.
Sheriff says they're a commune a cult has tried to raid but can't seem to surprise.
Madame says a badge don't make a man and his was picked off a dead one her husband.
19 + Armory + 32, the building, red brick and cream, crumbling but not too much. A year or some other designation, a district, maybe, no one knows now. Madame D— had a treaty, a gentleman's agreement, a few girls for no questions asked and one sack full. The girls would return later, full of story or seed, escorted to The Lumberyard because The City couldn't be trusted. Sometimes a girl would leave after, nod to Madame D— in the market as they passed by the fortune-teller to the flower people or some Collector's swill. Sometimes almost with swell they'd nod and Madame D— could tell. She'd not see her again or not as anything but an exhibit of grief. No questions asked and one sack full.
I do the chain every night
though the window's made of glass.
She is what they call the Historian, Keeper of the Year. An outlier, a witch—even the Sheriff won't defy. Some say she used to Harvest. She keeps time like others keep fences, tends the fire year round. Others bring tinder, bring kindling. Some say she never sleeps. So slight like she's built of fog. The flame always burns. How to not forget. Some say the pigs. Some say she casts. Ever so often a different color: a seafoam flame signals a death, spun sugar slash-and-burn, edged-zaffre a birth. Acceptance of a dowry burns lilac. Some say she still grieves. Some say she's a mother. Some say she gave The City its heart. Amaranth: The Hunt.
Slash-and-burn. Some of us who're left know when to. After a drought gold and smoke. In the Beyond, where sea meets scorch: whimper and flay. Against the sky, against the sky. Some of us who're left know how to. Count the children unless it'll be a rough winter. Say you forgot. Say you thought her inside. Watch the horizon surrender. What it means to keep her screams. Gold gold and smoke. A grave's edge. What is left.
The fence around The City collapsed by sections, as natural a rhythm as the seasons. Men and women worked side by side, laying brick or ramshackle. Though they hurried, they knew: not much use for a fence when no one out wants in, no one in out.
Nearby, the seayard: salt-skinned and birthing them by the dozens. Each of us like you has died once, become unbeautiful with roots torpid. Yew to raise the dead. What pale magic binds you to this place? Taut and howling, grave lilies unbloom. Here, a garden. Here, slaughter. The seayard weeps monsters. Were you cast in or out? O do not grieve for a torn earth. Tonight we'll all die again and again. O, my love, even light it up maybe it can't burn.1
Some say the flower still grows if you know where to look. Will forever. To find and wear one during The Hunt grants immunity, maybe, or maybe a Harvester who wears another's gains their power, or maybe Harvesting amaranth ends The Hunt, trophies, or maybe amaranth is only a color now, a funeral flower in the old stories where funerals still. Only she knows.
Most don't think about it, go underground. Harvesters swarm The City, looking for its heart, maybe, looking for something. Only they know. Most will take anything—GPS, kidneys, liver, blood, eyes, teeth, lungs—but the skilled want the unborn.
When it ends, survivors feast not because they are hungry.
Madame D— used to Harvest. Remembers her firstonly hunt only none of her girls know. Then here was a home. They'd gone to basement motherfathersondaughters. She did the children first so they didn't have to see. The father woke to squealing and She flayed the mother open, live, found a storm inside. Only takes tansy for what some call lavage—
bright flame burns tansy burns this we call lavage a sea flame swarm a steal flame a dead flame a dead flame a dead flame an ink flame flay spackle and storm flame say twister a dusk flame settles raw and tallow to purge to purge for remembrance try tansy burns bright—
should've strung them up as waypoints for The Hunt. Instead she buried, marked the fencepost husk. Sea mist settled over, dead light like stars and Madame D— claimed The Lumberyard.
Every woman knows for love
rose petals bathed in moonlight
a lock of hair
a dram of menstrual blood
a glass vial &
violet for luck
amaranth, heals a broken heart
yew to raise the dead
the unborn to keep him
Every woman knows
keep tansy on hand
Every woman knows for love
maybe they're witches too
maybe they know spells :
call for fresh entrails
to wrap around a photograph
and a lock of hair.
Your intended will never know
the best secret-keepers don't have language
the best are dead
the best bacon crackcrackling in the skillet.
Put water on for oatmeal.
Fresh coffee grounds.
Dump the old where you're growing potatoes, squash.
Too near the pigs' trough :
youowethem youowethem youowethem
name this child after them.
what I want to show you
what I'm showing you.
Beyond: the men fight, die. It is honorable. Most won't return. The outliers might inventory the battlefield, might send word to a fresh widow in The City. Most won't. Times like these. In the Beyond the men fight, die. Most alone: so much space and times like these. Near the seayard, most won't return and alone, widows aren't widows who don't know. All that time in spaces as these, the seayard stretches, great maw birthing horror. A mother not a mother who doesn't know. Honor not honor when no one knows. Underarmed. Beyond the seayard men die. Their last moments stretch forever, unwitnessed except by the mercy of . Maybe they leave behind some casings. Maybe the shell of some worn armor. Rake the battlefield for scrap. Times like these. All the women think they're widows. It is an honorable lonely, unwitnessed. The sky twitches a death count, as if any care to know. Someone long ago mapped this place, committed to paper every scarp and fault.
Dowry, hers : a candle, a gallon of kerosene, some matches.
Still, her sister fetched a few yards of chainlink.