Skin-Deep

Once upon a time, in a kingdom very far from the sea, there lived a little princess who spent her days scooping up frogs and kissing them full on the mouth (though with very little tongue). This was the destiny bespoke her: that her lips would one day free a prince, who would come to rule her people with justice and grace and love her as deeply and true as only a man with a second chance at life can.

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One day, the little princess noticed a strange thing happening. After each kiss, even as the frogs remained all entirely frog-like, a green splotch would bloom upon her fair skin. Then two splotches. Then three. No amount of lemon juice or pumice stone undid the pigmentation. Soon she grew quite mottled, her once smooth complexion pebbled and waxy to the touch.

“Well, no matter,” she thought to herself, “for isn’t this the essence of love? To transform ourselves without question into that which our Beloved will most desire?”

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Inanna Ascending

“The ordinary response to atrocities is to banish them from consciousness. Certain violations of the social compact are too terrible to utter aloud: this is the meaning of the word unspeakable. Atrocities, however, refuse to be buried.”

~ Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery

“From the great heaven the goddess set her mind on the great below.
Inanna set her mind on the great below and abandoned heaven, abandoned earth…
Who has ever ascended from the underworld,
who has ascended unscathed from the underworld?”

~ from the Sumerian epic Inanna’s Descent to the Underworld

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I. Invocation

Queen of heaven’s ziggurat!
Bringer of war and bestower of lust,
mother of humanity!

If you cannot divine which holy face I turn
towards you from the sky,
remember only this:

You fail to worship me at your peril.

II. Rape Under the Palm Tree

Ask what was I wearing that day
and I will tell you: rags / robes /
nothing at all.

Ask and I will tell you: my sovereignty
flying across the sky like a rainbow.

Ask and I will turn
your blood
to water.

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Porridge

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NPS Photo / Nathan Kostegian

A girl looks into a mirror. Staring back: a feral thing with bloodshot eyes, its matted hair jutting twigs and leaves.

Trick of the light.

She shakes her head and the mirror ripples, then settles, like a pond after a skipping stone. Now, across the glass, the girl sees a matching limpid-eyed child in pigtails. She turns her face to the right and to the left, checking herself in profile, and nods, satisfied.

A final toss of her head, and the girl steps away from the mirror, opens the front door, and walks into the bright morning sun.

Stretching from her feet along the sidewalk behind her, the girl’s shadow rears on two hind legs and snarls at the sky.

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Tree Frog

A rape survivor’s moderately non-literal response
to a country’s monumentally unthinkable decision.

[And yeah, GOP Senators: I’m looking at you.]

* * * *

I would believe myself one of the Stoics, born again, if I could.

I would convince us both, if only I could believe, that the fire I have undergone tempered me like steel, rather than reduced me to bone chips and fragments of teeth. The debris of a mortuary’s kiln.

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Understand: I have long since abdicated belief in humanity’s innate goodness. Our impulses may tend always to sociability, to companions and to tribe. But—friends, a family, a troop of bullies, a rape gang, an army, a Senate… In the end, how is difference measured?

We learn to live with our hungers—to make peace with them—or we never learn to live. The trick is how to soften into one’s fear, whether of connection or abandonment. To sink, to collapse gently, yet still stand tall. I settle myself in the chair and reach for vulnerability. Try to let myself go, to let myself turn soft.

Soft like a paunch, my anger whispers back. Soft and bloated like a liver gone rotten with cirrhosis.

Even after transforming, the butterfly will fear what once made the caterpillar sick.

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Now turns the fallow earth in grief and also light.

I am in the shower tonight.

For over an hour.

Again.

Seems I cannot shower enough during these dark, chilling days of autumn. For reasons I still find curious.

What reasons, you ask.

I could tell you. I could say that I like the heat and how the wet steam rises, or that I am washing off the stench of each day’s ever more rancid news, or that I have a new-found dedication to feminine conventions and shave my legs now twice daily, maybe my pubes too. In fact, I like these answers. I think I will tell you one of them. Or you just pick yourself a favorite, and pretend it’s what I said.

Pretend I did not tell you the truth: that I am still learning what it means to feel, in all the senses of the word and of the senses, and it is only when hot water hits me everywhere and all at once that I can remember the names of human emotion.

Most of the time I spend standing in the shower I am crying. Don’t read too much into that, though.

Showers are a liminal space, is all.

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The Prophet Cassandra Arrives Late to the Dinner Table

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She slouches in, ever the surly adolescent;
slides like a grouch into her chair.
Her father, Priam, last king of the impregnable city
(Lo how the mighty walls of Troy forever fall)
is griping again his common complaints of shifty royal advisers
and tax collectors delinquent for the season.
Queen Hecuba purses her lips and frowns; passes down green beans
instead of the mashed potatoes her daughter asks for.
Heaving a weighty sigh, Cassandra tries to catch the glance
of a close-seated sibling, second eldest among her 50 brothers.
Fails, as expected. (Paris’s eyes already so full of Helen
whose beauty he has yet to see. Hands already so full
with the taste of her, he snatches in practice at scullery maids,
at the cook’s assistant; bears them off unwilling
into closets and dark corners—previews
of the world-ending snatch-and-run yet to come.)

The prophet sees in the distance her own snatching,
how this time next year she’ll be knocked up with the Sun God’s curse—
would-be curse, she corrects herself; disbelief comes as a burden
only to those unaccustomed to being disbelieved
and laughs, distracted—a beat too soon,
interrupting her father’s joke before its punchline.
A minute later, redeems herself from his glare by laughing again,
this time at just the right moment in just the right way.
Under the table, she cups her ever-to-be-unpregnant belly
already swelling with a god’s seed,
already feeling the stories push and flutter beneath her skin.

~a.i.


[For more from the Myth & Fairy Tale Project.]

[Image: detail from The Crystal Ball by John William Waterhouse, public domain.]