Megan Arkenberg

Speculative fiction writer, poet, and editor

Come the Tides

 

Come the full-moon tide,

I will have flung your love

like a pebble to the uncaring surf,

like a handful of sand across

the shifting face of the sea.

I will crush it like a shell beneath my hell,

welcoming its sharpness,

the pain of walking on knives.

A hundred nights, I have paced

the soft sand waiting.

A hundred nights, and you did not come.

 

Come the new-moon tide,

the surf will have pounded
your voice from my memory.

I will tire of the light
on your cool green skin,

the waves that make a wild thing

of your weed-dark hair.

Come the spring tide, I will confess

that I never loved the sea.

 

So come, languid tides,

come with your slow cold rush

and drown my footprints on the shore.

Take back the tide pools, the thousand treasures

the earth could never hold. I want
your cool and moist embrace,

your salt as sweet as kisses.
I stand on the shore, a farmer's daughter

who never loved change.

 

How marvelously I will have changed,
come the tides.

The Eldest Princess Wonders

 

After the king became curious:
after the bars appeared on our windows:

after the spy followed us down

to the river-ringed Twilight Kingdom:

after the mystery was solved

what became of him? I dream

so often of that beautiful faerie boy

who smiled and laughed and danced

my shoes to ribbons. His hands

were strong and firm on my waist,

like a violinist’s hands on the body

of his instrument. His eyes were gentle

as wide pale moons. I dream of him now,

weeping.

 

My way is closed to the river-ringed

Twilight Kingdom. I do not know

if the story ever reached him

of little sister’s wedding, of how lovely she looked

in moon-silk and ermine

and slippers hard as glass.

Did he wait for me in the dark birch wood,

calling my name until the lightless dawn?

Did he fear for me? Did he breathe deep,

step across the threshold and creep up

the silent stair, to see

the iron padlock on my door?

 

Or is he waiting for me still

on the Twilight Kingdom’s farther shore,

listening for the whisper-plash of an oar

over that still water, whispering my name,

dreaming of a tattered dancing shoe

and a tear-stained kiss

until the lightless dawn?

Lost

Tragedy--beloved son--so
young, so young, so sad...

The words fly in the room
around her like a swarm of
satellites, demanding reaction
to broadcast to hundreds
of hungry listeners.

They already
know the story--the hundreds
of stories like it. Such a tragedy.
Beloved son dies
in asteroid collision--so young
to be flying on his own; he had
dreams, she said, of owning
his own fleet. He was head
of his class in everything,
the fine-toned mathematics
of flight, the physics
of space-time curves and
how to apply the brakes
yesterday. This time,
something just went wrong.

The ususal suspects
were introduced. Alcohol, common
for one so young. Suicide
was always a possibility, especially
in accidents involving
one so skilled. Anything happen
recently, with his friends, his job,
his schoolwork? What did he watch
on the hologenerators--anything
morbid or depressing?

On and on with the questions.
On and on it goes.

He had dreams, she said.
It is only the ones with dreams
who die. No need to broadcast
the hundreds there must be
who go through life in a haze,
never planning past
tomorrow's launch, in case
of collision, invasion, explosion,
alcohol or suicide--anything
that can put a stop to life.

The dreamless ones never die,
but the dreams themselves
do.

She feels them in the room
around her, stars between
the satellites, pulsing, dying
between the signals:

tragedy--beloved son--so
young, so young, so sad.

The Wind-Wizard's Wife

She wasn’t beautiful, 
they all agreed, any more
than the stone is beautiful
which hides some chip of diamond.

Her hand were rough
sea-worn hands,
and he loved her for them.
History has forgotten—or else
it never knew—if she loved him.

He was clever,
the miner who carved
the diamond from its stone
and his hands were clever
knot-tying hands, unchapped by the sea
or the glare of the sun.
His knots had other purposes.
He did not need to whistle, like sailors did,
to call down the winds;
he held them all on a leash,
north and south wind,
east and west wind,
wind-between and wind-below,
and his clever hands tied
and untied them
to fill his sails as he would.

She never liked the winds,
as she never liked the sea-life,
as—perhaps—she never loved her husband.
She had been a land-daughter, born and bred
to have no use for knots in ropes
or wind in sails. She had no use
for him, the man
who loved her for her hands
but did not, could not
find her beautiful.

In stormy November, when his ships
came home for the season,
she went aboard to find a rope
to put an end to that
which none had use for, none
found lovely.
Her hands were not made for knots
but they untied them:
north wind, south wind,
east wind, west wind,
wind-between and wind-below:
all blew free
and from the top of the mast
the wind-wizard’s wife made a new knot
and hung herself.

That cold season found him
a broken man; he couldn’t find work,
couldn’t make a living
from clever hands
untouched by the sea. December came.
The last anyone saw of him
he was walking by the docks
beneath the place
where she had taken her life;
his clever hands knotted before him,
his white hair whipping
in the wind.

Notes from the Observation of Subjects XX and XY

Human bodies were weak,
they decided, given to suffer
at every change; and suffer they did.
Her eyes, wide and warm as twin suns,
never seemed to leave him. (Humans,
it was concluded, utterly lacked interest
in stars, planets, and such similar things
as flew past their windows.) And he,
steel-hard and steel-cold,
never said a word to her
that was not laced with poison.
They could feel it, even without
full comprehension 
of his curious, two-sided language. 
He froze; she burned.
(Still, neither body seemed sensitive
to changes in temperature.)

Dusk

It’s not that I don’t love you,
the brave warrior whose heart
I hold in my hand. Press your fingers
here, to my breast, and feel
the skip in my heartbeat 
when I think of you gone.

Tell me of the years, the long years
that will gray me as you sail
to distant, clouded worlds. Tell me
of the battles, the blood, and the cold

of my empty bed—I can bear that pain.

But do not ask me for promises;
do not ask me to wait. It is more
than my warrior heart can bear.

It’s not that I wouldn’t sacrifice
every night of dreams
for this one hour of you in my arms.
Swear to return

and I will wait for you forever

but do not ask me for promises;
I’ve never made one
I haven’t broken.

 

A Night in Lamia's Mirror

You must know--you
with your ivory face
and mirror eyes, eyes

that could belong to a lover
a cat
or a snake--your beauty
alone ensures that you know
what I see in my dreams
long after the candles in my eyes
have been dimmed for the night
and my lover--or lovers--have left me.

It takes a thief, they say, and
a thief knows a thief
knows a thief--but let me tell you, darling,
I know what you've stolen form me,
and I know what you see in your dreams.
and tonight I'm here
to take it back.

Your eyes--I still see them, you know,
as they were in that moment
that final moment
when we crossed some line
I never knew existed.
In my last second
as breathing maiden--as virgin life--I saw
your mirror eyes above me
and saw the last
of my reflection.

What do I look like to you?
I think I know. Not this
tattered graveyard thing,
all skin and skull and hair
like little threads of obsidian
like a cloud of grave-mist
wrapped around us--no.
In your eyes I am still
what I was then--young,
innocent, breathing,
dead.

I wasn't hungry then--not like
I am know. It isn't
a clean hunger, this craving,
this disease
you pressed to my lips;
not for blood
or life, or water,
or anything pure and whole some
but for flesh,
the red flesh of the living, the gray
flesh of the dead--and you,
ivory white and hard as bone.
I hunger for you, too

and you must know why I'm here
leaning over your bed in the darkness,
the bead that still smells
deliciously of breath.
You know that I want you
to look up
straight into my mirror-eyes
and maybe, just maybe,
you know what you'll see there

but you don't know--dear god,
you don't know--how much
it's going to hurt.

Meropis


You weren't there when Meropis fell,
when the gods unleashed their wrath upon
the city of silver;
when the clouds came down from the sky
to rain fire
to rain ash
upon the streets of gold, upon
the houses of glass;
when the wind tore the city from the cliffs;
when the waves pounded it to sand.
 
You weren't there to see
the faces they saw in the fire, to hear
the voices they heard
in the wind
in the waves.
 
And you weren't there
to see the orphaned merchant ships
come docking, like homeless birds,
on the barren shores of the world;
and you weren't there
in the weathered dockside tavern
to hear the purple lady speak
of her home
of her children
lost in the storm, and to see
the tears glistening, salty,
in her purple eyes.
 
You weren't there; you couldn't know;
and when you came home to Meropis
in the spring of the year,
while, elsewhere, the birds
were building their nests
and singing...when you came home
to the city of silver
you found nothing there; nothing
but the sand
and the roar of the sea.

Cambion

 

He's still in your bed. After all these months,
even knowing what you know, you
cannot bring yourself
to throw him out—cannot bring yourself
to sleep alone. That black hair,
those eyes as bright
as the rising moon—you cannot imagine
a night without them.
You cannot imagine a day
without him inside you, one way
or another.

 

There aren't many ways
to kill a nightmare, sister—not anymore.
There would have been books for you
in the old days.
Prayers and spells, scared fires
set beneath your pillow
on a chill winter's night—once,
long ago, not now.

 

But still there are ways, if you're willing
to take them—if you're willing to risk
not your life, really, certainly not
what's left of your sanity
what's left of your soul—your heart, maybe
but in years to come
that will matter less and less…Yes!
There are ways! If you're willing,
sister, if you're willing

 

then tomorrow at dawn
when he rolls over to look at you
and smiles—bares
those sharp white teeth—look him
in the eyes and say
I don't love you.

 

Yes, tomorrow,
and the day after that, and the day
after that, and on until
it becomes the truth; and still, sister,
still he will not leave. So look
into those bright eyes and say
I have forgotten you.

Say it until it is true.
Say it until, one morning, you wake
and forget to turn.

 

Say it until you forget
just what it is
you feel so empty without.

And yes, sister, you will be lonely.
Your pillow will be cold
and your flesh will ache for something,
you know not what

 

but your son—ah, sister, you will have a son
and on those long, lonely nights
when the moon never seems to pass the horizon
his son will be enough
to remember him by.

Tautha Dé

It was in a year
when spring came early to the Old World
that they took up what little they had
and crossed the sea to the new one.

She went to escape
the memories—a Midsummer night
in another year of early springs
and slow, cold falls. Things happened,
as they tend to do
on Midsummer nights when the veil is thin
and the Other World is beautiful
and mortals are young.

She was young—seventeen years old
and young for her age.
Like a child, she loved
the dark places in the forest, the hollow
trees, the green pools
beneath their veils of leaves.
Not knowing enough to be afraid
of what she didn’t know—like a fool
she fell in love
with the forest.

Her child was born
in a different spring, a late spring,
and never lived to see the summer.

He went to escape
the guilt, the red specter
who sat every night
at the foot of his bed.
It had been another girl, young
and foolish—but smart enough
to be afraid. Another girl,
another child, another end;
this time on the streets of Dublin,
a city she had grown to love.

He never told her what he knew,
that the dead had no cities.

Their ship sailed in winter,
a winter doomed to briefness.
True ships never sail so early.
They took up what little they had:
memories, guilt, some youth left,
some fear.  They burned
what they could leave behind
and took what was left
to another dark street
in another dark city: a city
already made ancient
with another world’s ghosts.

Epitaph for the Unknown Soldiers, 2514 AD

Was it not enough for us to sacrifice 
our homes, our families, our lives
for you, O Earth? Was it not enough
for us to fight your wars
around a distant sun, to sleep
beneath a scarlet sky 
on stones the shade of blood,
to wake from dreams of Home
and see nothing but red? 
We grew sick of dust, sick of iron,
sick to death
long before the enemy’s bullets
gave us sleep without dreams.
Was that not enough? 
Why do you shake your head?
We do not ask for much.
It would be enough
to come Home again, just once;
to sleep in dirt the color of Earth;
to sleep beneath a blue, 

Was it not enough for us to sacrifice
our homes, our families, our lives
for you, O Earth? Was it not enough
for us to fight your wars
around a distant sun, to sleep
beneath a scarlet sky
on stones the shade of blood,
to wake from dreams of Home
and see nothing but red?
We grew sick of dust, sick of iron,
sick to death
long before the enemy’s bullets
gave us sleep without dreams.

Was that not enough?
Why do you shake your head?
We do not ask for much.

It would be enough
to come Home again, just once;
to sleep in dirt the color of Earth;
to sleep beneath a blue,
blue sky.