In My Mind- Ariel Long
I wade through the frigid waters of my thoughts.
The murky liquid swirls around my boots,
lapping at my waist.
It wants to swallow me.
I know it wants to swallow me.
What I don't know, is if it wants to swallow me whole and numb
or tear and mash me up, as I lose feelings limb by limb.
As I wade, I find things lost but not forgotten.
Star Wars action figures, toy rockets, and a cheap replica astronaut helmet full of shattered dreams,
the dying breaths of which fog up the glass.
I find old chemistry reports, razor blades, and diary entries,
next to used people and unused condoms.
There's a flash, and I glance up;
Thunder strikes and the Heavens open their eyes,
recovering from the blinding light,
only for tears to rush out in downpour.
I remember what I am here for,
and the water clears,
the rain lightening as the clouds are comforted by my certainty.
It will not swallow me.
I will not let it swallow me.
There is no fear for the one whose thought is not confused.
Like Leaves/ Ember and Flame A Two-Part Fable- Ariel Long
Naïve was beautiful. She knew that. She was the most beautiful woman she'd ever seen; that anyone had ever seen. When she passed through towns, all the animals complemented her hair, her body, her face. It annoyed her that she couldn't converse with them, and it unsettled her that they gawked at her like she was unintelligent, just a thing to coo at. Human-kind didn't possess the same mastery over their thoughts as animals. Their language was primitive and abstract, and she didn't realize the power that words held. When she passed through the forests, the humans would come out of their caves and trees to catcall and brush against her with faint murmurs. She was used to these rough, ugly noises, like leaves rustling.
But as she stood by a river, adoring her reflection, she heard something that disturbed her. The sound was alluring, and it hypnotized her with its intricacy. She glanced around. Are the animals near? She was a day's walk from the nearest village. Surely, it must be the blue bird, or even the badger. They enjoyed the woods. But the blue bird never sang at dusk, and the badger never sang at all. Then she heard the rustling of bushes- the blue bird wouldn't rustle bushes.
Naïve growled, low and deep in the back of her throat, as she turned to face the noise.
From around the creek bend emerged three old crones, two still humming. The witches; Enyo, Pemphredo, and Deino. She noticed the sisters walking on the surface of the water, and that they had white, feathery wings folded like leaves against their backs.
Enyo, the eldest sister, smirked, noticing Naïve's gaze. "She likes your wings, Deino."
"And yours, sister."
At this, Naïve realized the origin of the sound. Those voices, smooth and lovely, were from human mouths. She trilled in curiosity, and took a step back from the creek, towards her familiar forest.
"She likes the voices as well, wants one." The three sisters began circling around Naïve, coaxing her into the stream as Deino spoke. "She wishes to not be treated like a vermin or pest, incapable of conversation. She wishes not to be oppressed because she cannot speak."
Naïve went stiff when her feet hit the cold water, leaving prints in the soft mud below. She gazed down, watching as a leaf rushed by her toes.
"No she doesn't; her thoughts aren't that complex," Pemphredo taunted.
"We know her feelings better than she does," laughed Enyo.
Naïve barked, demanding an explanation.
"Vocal chords," Enyo grinned, lifting her head to reveal a small harp inlayed into her throat. "From the swans. Lovely, I think."
Shocked and aggrieved, Naïve attempted to escape the stream. When Téfra, He Who Came into Being by Himself, had created the earth, he created the swans to be the kingdom's trumpeters. Surely, the witches would be caught and burned if they killed animals of such high importance; surely there'd be a manhunt; surely people would get hurt.
"We didn't harm them, of course. We just..."
"Made a trade," Pemphredo finished.
Naïve warbled, questioningly.
"How? Magic. Much more advanced than anything you could manage," Deino smirked.
Naïve wanted to speak. She wanted to write. She wanted to sing. But she couldn't, and she envied the witches.
"There is one way that doesn't involve magic."
"You'd have to kill the animal. Sew the chords into your throat."
Naïve's strided into the water, and the three witches grinned.
"Hurry. The people of the forest already know. Soon the towns will be ransacked, and there will be no voices left."
Quickly, Naïve absconded to her tree, took her sewing kit and a dagger. She ran, fueled by greed and anger and... pride.
By the time she arrived in town, it was afternoon the next day. There were bodies strewn left and right like leaves wind-blown; carnage everywhere; the mayor owl's house was in ruin, the old beaver had been trampled, and the squirrel had died protecting it's daughter, who also lay on the ground, missing its vocal harp. Blood had dried, caught in eternal drips from every gored throat.
The witches were right; there were no voices to be found here. Soon all the humans of the world would have full control of the vehicle of words.
Exhaling sharply, Naïve ran out of the clearing, strides pushing her deep into the forest like leaves in a breeze. There was a small village nearby, and she knew there'd be some voices left in the quiet little town, unsuspecting in the night.
When she arrived at the village, she stole the voice of the baker, a rabbit. After sewing the tiny lyre into her throat, she tested her new voice, reveling in her new ability of thought and speech. She felt... bigger, as if she herself expanded to encompass a thousand new universes.
But she wasn't satisfied.
It wasn't beautiful enough.
And then, a cry- wild and beautiful, with flute timbre and cello resonance. She looked to the distant east, where the top of the Temple of the Sun crested above the trees. Naïve's breath caught in her throat. It was beautiful, like music, or herself. It was then that she knew what she wanted. She wanted the voice of a phoenix. That's going to be my voice.
But when she reached the temple, stolen the voice of the young phoenix that had been crying, and grown a pair of fiery wings, something went terribly wrong. The witches were there, cackling, and Téfra, the creator of the world, roared terribly. He fell over, bursting into cinders as He hit the final flames of the phoenix whose voice Naïve had stolen. Naïve cared not. After she admired her wings for a moment, she tried her voice again, but now it was rough and awful; as terrible as His had been. She screamed, and her wings’ flames went dark and her feathers went ragged. She was ashamed. She ran past the forests, past the villages, past the flaming land, until she came to a cave. The three witches waited there for her, all grins and giggles.
"Enjoying the voice?" laughed Enyo.
"The wings?" smirked Deino.
"The knowledge?" giggled Pemphredo.
The three cackled, taking Naïve by her hands and pulling her into the water of the in-cave stream. Leaves that had been traveling on the current caught on her feet. "Do you see? You’re like leaves. You float, Naïve. You can walk on water."
"I don't like it; it's not beautiful."
The witches laughed. "Knowledge was never beautiful. Beauty lies in... well, we'll call it naïvety.”
Ember and Flame
Kardiá arose with the sun, stretching her neck and wings as the fire in her belly swelled and spread to her feathers, taking her from smolder to flame. She stood, shaking off the dust of sleep, and went about her chores. She was the youngest, the Last Born of the Great Phoenixes, and so she had more mundane jobs than any of the others. Afterward, she roamed the Temple of the Sun, walking past the many paintings and statues of her people. Above her, older phoenixes perched atop the Temple, soaking in the slanted rays of the still-rising sun. And then, He was there.
He was Téfra, the Ashes, He Who Came into Being by Himself.He created the world and the phoenixes in His image to protect His waters, His sands, His Earth.
Kardiá bowed her head and flapped her wings, fanning her flames in respect. He leered over her and spoke, voice gentle, but wretched and terrifying all the same.
“Child, you must leave. Humans are attacking the villages. The warriors will be leaving the temple to guard the animals, so no one will be here to protect you and the other fledglings. Tell them. Dýnami̱ will lead all of you to safety."
So she left, and as the older phoenixes broke into action; forming platoons and arming soldiers, she reported the encroaching danger to her peers. Dýnami̱, the eldest fledgling, took charge and ordered that they all follow him through the temple tunnels that lead to the ocean city. When it was time to leave, however, Kardiá hid in a nook just past the temple entrance to the tunnels.
She remained there for several hours, wondering what was going on outside. Countless times she thought about leaving her refuge- she wanted to see the battles. She wanted to hear her peoples' war cries, see their flaming banners, smell the sweet ash in the sky. But Téfra commanded her to run, and she already disobeyed that order. And yet, from outside she heard voices sweet and kind, and she was curious.
Slowly and quietly, she left her hideout, and before her she saw three figures. Human women; elderly, in robes, with feathery white wings. They were chanting, and as they did so, spurts of light would lash out of their circle. And then they stopped.
"Hello child. You are Kardiá, are you not? My name is Enyo, and these are my sisters, Pemphredo and Deino," spoke one, gesturing to each of her sisters in turn.
"Come here child," said Deino, "it is safe."
"Téfra has told us about you!" Pemphredo smiled warmly.
"We are to take care of you now, now that the others are dead."
Kardiá didn't believe that she heard right. She flew to the edge of the golden temple roof and beheld the land. As far as she could see, there was fire. There were dead bodies everywhere, and fallen, flaming feathers. Houses were lit up by dead phoenixes, unable to control their fire, even to the south, where the other fledglings hid. Kardiá began to cry, angry and grieving.
In her mourning, Kardiá didn't notice the human woman who came up behind her until her throat had been slit. The woman snatched Kardiá's vocal chords before they could go up in flames and let out a roaring cheer, pulling out a sewing kit and beginning the operation even as the phoenix's body was still burning behind her. Fiery wings burst from her back and she smiled proudly. The witches approached her and congratulated her. Then, Téfra the creator showed up, and they began to snicker.
"Naïve!" said Enyo, "How's that new voice going?”
The woman seemed scared by Téfra's appearance, but given confidence by the witches' presence. She sang a few notes, pleased by the perfection of her new voice.
Suddenly, Téfra bellowed and fell onto the young Kardiá's corpse, His body burst into ashes as Kardiá reared up in flames, the wound in her throat gone. Kardiá screeched, her voice renewed.
The woman was still singing, her beautiful voice filling the air, resonating in the concert hall of surrounding hills, when all of the sudden it became sour and hoarse, gnarled and ugly.
“What? What's happening?” screamed the woman, clawing at her throat. A mangled twang came from the harp as one of the strings snapped.
Crying, the woman ran off, and the witches disappeared, leaving Kardiá to grieve.
Kardiá stayed with Him that night, falling asleep after hours of weeping over his ashes. When the sun woke, she did too, and she watched over the ashes, then rubbed them on her body until she was covered in black. It occurred to her then that she was the last survivor of her race. She was Last Born and Last Lived.
Years went on, and She began to fear Her death and the death of Her species. But when Her time came, and Her flame died out, She found Herself waking, covered in black ash. And so this rebirth continued from then on. And every time She laid herself to rest, the peoples of the world wore black to celebrate the coming of Her new life, and their hearts engulfed in the ashes of loss, loneliness, and frozen idols awoke once again to the warmth of midsummer laughter, campfire songs, and early morning stories.
A quiet, small
rough with wear,
midflight. They land
on our backs,
our warm and sweaty
the scent of sunscreen
over the flowers
in the far field.
As our tan lines deepen
and our skin begins
as weeks and weeks
pass by, we come to
the same spot.
Sometimes our hair
is wet with
with fresh rain.
People pass, often
of our tick and ant
by the water.
but in the open;
of walking trails
could lead any number
of dogs or people
to our location,
but they don’t.
Our secrets are
safe, wrapped up
and melted ice cream
Who Will Save Your Soul?
“What is a soul?
It's like electricity...
we don't really know what it is,
but it's a force that can light a room.”
- Ray Charles.
What is a soul and how do you use it?
Is it the force behind your attack or is it the kindness behind your smile?
What is a soul if not the space between our lifethreads?
When I was a little kid, I used to think souls were blue.
Not that it matters any.
When we were little kids, most of us wanted to save the world.
I still want to save the world, at least a little.
In reality, I can barely manage to save myself, and maybe prop up some others along the way,
with one ton of responsibilities and two tons of old feelings never expressed bending my back into a hunch.
When I was a kid, I went to church.
We learned all about what one had to do to save your soul and go to Paradise.
We never learned about what one had to do in order to be kind.
When we were kids, our schools collected cans for the homeless.
The class with the most cans would get a pizza party.
When I was in middle school, we were taught about the Wars;
the Christian Crusades, Muslim conquests, the Jewish Diaspora.
I never understood why people couldn't just get along.
When we were in middle school, the world got scary;
9/11, Native American genocide, the atomic bomb.
We were taught about all the things the Earth hurt for.
When I was in my sophomore year of high school, I realized
that I didn't know what I was doing at church.
I paid attention, nodded along, then rescheduled my Bible study as many times as possible.
Every day, people spend hours in churches and mosques, synagogues and temples and homes everywhere.
Some gladly give half their possessions to save others.
Some reluctantly relinquish half the time required to save their souls to sitting in pews.
Every day, people march to the defense of their souls.
Some literally, with guns in one hand and holy books in the other,
Others figuratively, with songs in one hand and holy books in the other.
And I say,
What are you doing out there?
I don't know if souls are real.
I like to think they are.
I like to think that I can feel a surge when my energy connects to another's.
I like to think that everything in nature has a metaphorical pulse.
I like to think that I'm not just one in a sea of drifting bodies rambling about how they'll see Paradise one day.
I like to think that this isn't it.
But if it is, what are you doing out there?
If souls don't exist, what is everyone spending so much time and energy protecting, marching for, dying for, killing for?
Is it worth it?
I don't know.
But in any case if out of the one hundred billion people that have lived on Earth
one hundred billion of them spent time in religion or soul-searching
How many minutes have we lost?
How many minutes of laughter, hugs, crying, kisses, have we missed?
Out of those, how many were spent killing, because his version of the soul didn't match up to hers and for some reason all of these things are mutually exclusive in execution?
How many young lives have gone off to war saying that they'll 'be back soon, don't worry' for the sake of religions that tell us to love each other fully and blindly?
Why didn't they come back?
Why won't you come back?
I don't know a lot about anything.
But I think... that if we knew souls didn't exist, we'd stop fighting so much, stop praying so much, get off our asses and actually do something.
It's okay if, in your life, you only save one person's soul,
and it's okay if that person is you.