my cliffed and shining island

a character exercise.


when my voice was born,
my mother knew i would sing:
sing clouds across the moon,
sing fog in from the sea –
sing men to their deaths.
because my mother knew this,
she said to me early:
“beware, my little lovely one,
beware of this gift you have –
beware that it will not bring ruin to you.”

and because i loved my mother,
i made freely to her this promise:
“for as long as the sun kisses the sea at dusk,
and as long as the leaves comb gently through Sister Wind’s hair –
for that long i will not sing.”
so when i gathered lilacs in the night,
i would bind up my mouth with rags:
and also when the fire sought to devour the sky,
and when my grandfather flew to the heavens –
the urge was great, but i did not sing.

but as the years ran breathless ahead,
i learned easy to ignore the beauty in my throat:
i became just another young girl in blue,
just another young woman with sweet eyes –
and my mother smiled to see the ordinariness of me.
it would happen often that i would not speak for days,
when no sound was born from between my lips:
and when i saw bluejays making love,
or pine needles stroking their own dark cones –
there was no great urge in me for song.

but when i met you on that one windy day,
when you smelled my hair and tickled my ear:
bile rose bitter and musty and sour,
and i knew this to be all the unused songs within me –
their necessary life constrained no more.
as my song was severed from me,
it clawed its way up in jagged-edged haste:
and when it emerged pure and clear,
i held it up to Father Sky in joy –
and he rejoiced to hear the beauty in me.

and as i offered up my siren song,
it shone brighter than all the unadorned stars:
your lit and lovely face warmed me,
and i sang to you of honey dripping from our lips –
and of the violets you might have woven through my hair.
and as my song grew in the deepening sky,
i saw the wind rise and the earth turn dark:
i watched clouds tumble across the moon,
and fog flood over the land –
and i remembered the fate bestowed by my mother.

i think of you these days,
i walk the shores and see your pale face:
i remember how i sang for you my deathly song,
and how your grasp crushed my hand –
bruises still linger faint and reproachful today.
my mother tries to coax words from me,
tries to tempt out a whisper:
and i do not speak, but wander by the sea,
and sit in my dark room at night –
and record my songs on these shivering walls.

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