Megan Arkenberg

Speculative fiction writer, poet, and editor

Camlann

The light is different here
on the final slope between
the cliffs and the sea: red,
like constant sun-down
over a sky of purple-blue.
A wind comes down
from the gray plains to the east,
cold as the gusts
from the wings of crows, and in the air
there is the smell of death. The sand,
when it shifts, covers the bodies
of dead men and dying
and scours the blood
from their swords.

I am one of these men, and mine
is the name they die cursing.
I was Mordred, Arthur’s son,
the ill-fated child
of ill-fated parents: I was Mordred,
who walked through life
with shadows on all sides;
I was Mordred, Arthur’s murderer,
as I was doomed to be
before my life, or his, took form.
And at dawn yesterday
when the red light feel on the sand
and bloodied yet-unbloodied swords
I was Mordred, ready
to uphold my destiny.

 Now, I am the man
who sees the daylight coming
from out of the sea, who tastes the wind
filling his lungs with death. I am the man
the sand erodes. Only that. Only me.

Only a man
dying. 

Melusine's Song

When you left, my love,
I wish you would have taken
this mirror with you.
Waking each day
to the sight of this thing--
a white corpse to the waist,
and below, eight black arms
waving, cecaelia-like,
clutching emptily--
I fear such a vision
will, like Medusa,
turn me into stone.

I cannot blame you for leaving this,
nor for calling it "serpent"
and damning it as you went. This thing
is not me--it is a monster,
curse-bred, dredged from Hell
to poison our love.
How could you love this?
My own mother cast it out
and my own eyes are burned
at the sight of my reflection.

Monster! Yes, but lonely
and still in love with you.
I did not choose this shape
and cannot change it; but love,
when you lie in bed with me
just close your eyes
and feel how good it is
to be in my arms.

Cursed mirror! It is all  I have
to keep me company;
and though it has seen monsters
it still remembers
the sight of our loving.

Yes, it still remembers
what now grows cold
in my mind! My love,
come home soon--
this night is very long
and all my arms
are empty. 

I wish you would have taken
this mirror with you.
Waking each day
to the sight of this thing--
a white corpse to the waist, 
and below, eight black arms
waving, cecaelia-like,
clutching emptily--
I fear such a vision
will, like Medusa,
turn me into stone.

The Minstrel Addresses Her Audience

(Six Ways of Looking at a Hero)

Would you be more surprised if I told you
they were prince and princess,
royal, beautiful, born in faraway countries
torn apart by war and doomed—
star-crossed—fated to join in love;
or if I told you
they were simpler folk—an innkeeper’s son,
a blacksmith’s daughter, met by chance
at the village well?

Would you think me a liar
if I said his leaving was destiny,
inescapable fate drawing him
into the claws of the dragon—or if I said
he had a choice in the matter, to flee or fight
or stay home with his wife
in their cottage or castle?

And would it sadden you to know
that, though he never came home to her,
she spent her whole life watching,
graying, waiting for him to return—or that

she didn’t? 

Flesh

If you listen, she talks.

She knows a thousand things;
the shape of the moon
from Venus, the taste
of late autumn clouds,
the things stars dream of
before they die.

She knows, and will tell you,
the forms souls take
when the body is dead;
sparrows sometimes,
and white moths, and wolves
howling in the moonlight.
She tells you this with a smile,
and a long crooked finger
points to something just
over your shoulder
that you can't see.

It is only afterward,
when lying in bed and listening
to the beat of your heart
that you begin to wonder why

it is only the souls
that change.

Jonah

God alone knows
where the Huron went down
that cold November night
maybe a lifetime ago, maybe less.
I only know
that I woke on Superior's red-dust shores,
already blown bare of snow
and cold, so cold,
I could hardly believe
I wasn't still in the water, water
gone dry.
I only know
that no one else made it ashore:
or if they did, it was in bits and pieces
stone-cold and bone-white
no one ever found
against the ice.

God alone knows
what that woman really saw
crowded around the lighthouse door
and what that grandfather really saw
in an abandoned scow
some hundred feet from the shore
and what that child saw
standing at her window
in the first cold storms of November.
I only know
that something follows me,
speaking in the voices of my shipmates,
drawing me ever closer
to the depths of the sweetwater sea.

God alone knows
what I feel building tonight
as I walk these red-dust shores
and call out into the darkness.
God alone knows
the name of the thing
that hears my call and comes
ever closer,
carrying my name on the wind.

I only know
that woman and that grandfather
and that young child
will all sleep safely next November,
and by this time tomorrow
my old shipmates will sleep soundly
in whatever water now serves for their grave.

I only know
how soon I am to join them,
and how gently it falls
from the clear sky overhead--
the ghost of rain.

You, in a microscope

Cloning saved
your hair, perfect
in its not-brown-not-blond color
and the way it curls
at the edges

and your skin
is just like I remember, rough
and smelling of wood dust,
sweet like sunlight, the color
of old paper

but now I see
nothing could translate
the lift of your laughter,
the constant wash of tears that makes
your eyes bright and clear, and

even science couldn’t fix
the pieces of you
too small
for color.