For Agamemnon

When the knife finally falls, there is no surprise.

*

Agamemnon paces the silent bay – no screeching gulls, no flapping sails, even the waves have grown still – and thinks of his father. He always remembers him as a towering figure, a laugh that follows a child’s scream. Their family always comes down to this, the blood soaked years twisting and warping, seeping into the next. Their tragedy is that they know it. The loom was spinning before he made his decision. It will continue to spin long after he dies.

*

His daughter is glowing when she walks to the altar in her wedding finery. He fingers the dagger behind his back throughout the entire mummery. She is dead if he does this, but they are all dead if he does not, he repeats to himself. His men watch the festivities, drink deep from the wine, and he feels their heavy sour breath on his neck. When the steel kisses her flesh and she gasps out his name, the winds begin to blow again.

*

His wife says nothing, only watches with hard eyes when he sails to war.

*

When he returns, there is grey in his hair and new scars on his body. He has heard the whispers about his wife’s lover, but he has a Trojan princess and two baby boys on his ship and he cannot be angry. He is not his father, he tells himself. He still feels the warm slip slide of blood on his fingers, even after scrubbing them raw. He tells himself he does not enjoy it.

*

His wife invites him to her bath.

When the knife falls, he does not scream.

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For Agamemnon

Murder In The Stars

TW: Self-harm, anxiety, depression, suicide 

Note: In the Zodiac, Capricorn is half goat, and half fish. This is important. 

Note 2: Last year I dated someone with anxiety and depression, and broke up with him for reasons that were not about his mental illness. Afterwards, someone who I am not friends with anymore told me that if he killed himself, #nataliesfault would be carved into his grave stone. This poem is sort of response to this incident but also more than that. 

This time we screamed too loud and the angels have come, white uniformed, halos aglow. What’s the problem, they ask, and I don’t know what to say. The problem? Where do I even start. There’s glass on the floor and a hand clutched around a knife. Capricorn is in the kitchen and his fish half is still flopping on the floor. His fish half is a half. Do you understand me? His scales are wet and slippery and it isn’t from the fish tank. There’s another goat here, this one has a knife in its heart and a chainsaw to its legs. There’s a sewing kit out, thick surgeon’s cord threaded through.

Last year, Capricorn said I think I need to see a shrink. I said Okay, yes, what for. Capricorn said I think I’m crazy. And I couldn’t say no, you’re not babe, what you are is lazy. You tell me you have work to do and you sit in front of your computer but when I look over you’re playing DOTA instead. Capricorn said I’ve got anxiety. I said why, your life is great, you got the money and the brains. Capricorn said Have you seen me? I’m a fucking sea goat. At least the Merlion can roar at the haters, I can only baaaaaah.

I said, well, then, if you’re so useless what the fuck am I doing with you. Capricorn said I don’t know. I wanted to throw something at him because I don’t know how many more times I can have this conversation but I can’t, because what Capricon is really saying is do you know how hard it is to be a role model for all the sea goats? No, I don’t. I’m from the majority, remember? Two legs. Ariel gave up her tail to be like me. It doesn’t matter how hard I try, I’ll never be a role model when I’m always expected to get there. We don’t tell each other this, but we think very little of each other’s problems.

Capricorn said It’s cold amongst the stars. I used to say – well I’m here to keep you warm, but these days I just nod and buy him a new jacket. I have learnt that no one can give another person their place, but Capricorn has not. Had not.

He called me over, like he called me last night, and the previous night, and the night before. I told him he needed to stop, that we were over, but he said that I was the only one who picked up, at least sometimes. I pick up because Sagittarius shot himself with an arrow a year ago, but I don’t pick up other times because there are days when I don’t want to be the one to pick up. I run out of voice and feelings to give too. If it’s my fault he’s dead, where was everyone else with their haloes and wings those nights when the phone kept ringing?

But the stars will stay. The angels will fly home. Tomorrow night we still need a Capricorn to hang in the sky, so we’ll be looking for his replacement light before the night is out. Like Sagittarius, his death is a tragedy, an accident, a suicide, a murder. And our prints are the ones on the knife.

Murder In The Stars

A Virgin Dreams

Written for Word Forward’s Zodiac Slam. Read in Round 1. 

Each morning, Virgo wakes to the sound of a harp blooming, to birds twittering in her garden. She climbs out from under silk sheets, stands in front of her wardrobe and contemplates her clothes. It’s a joke. She only owns white dresses.

Virgo was told that she could keep her place as long as she kept her legs shut. Virgo didn’t know what it meant to open her legs, even after she did. He kissed her, you see, said But baby, you’re beautiful and I only want to see you close. No one has ever spoken to her like this before. She unfolds her limbs and lets him push his flesh into hers, folds herself to fit around him. Her mother finds the blood on the sheets and cries. By then, her belly has swollen up, it won’t stop even though she keeps throwing up her food. The first time a little limb nudges out, she screams.

Or maybe it happened like this. Virgo is told all her life that she is born with a very special gift, and she has to be careful with who she gives it to. Virgo is told it is important that she is a good girl. She wants to be a good girl, so she is very very careful. When Virgo gets married she finally gives it away but somehow its absence weighs heavier than its presence. She cries on the first night of her honeymoon. She cries whenever her husband kisses her. Within a week, she has ripped off her ring, thrown out all her lipsticks. She will only wear white dresses. Her husband leaves soon after. She becomes her own Miss Havisham to her house; stops all the clocks to the time of her wedding, withers in her white dress. She only ever wanted to be a good girl.

Or maybe Virgo cuts her ankle-length hair to the chin. Sets fire all to her dresses. Hangs up her halo and climbs down from the stars. The astronomers will peer through their telescopes and panic, wondering where an entire constellation went. On earth, she wears leather jackets and combat boots, crop tops and three-inch heels, she’ll wear black, red, green, yellow, anything but white. She downloads Tinder and goes home with a boy whose eyes are like midnight stars. Later, she changes her settings to “Interested in Women”. She’ll strum a guitar at bars, sing songs about heaven being a place on earth.

A Virgin Dreams

WIP

Last month a dragon washed up along the shore, its scales greyed and dull, the skin on its belly turned see-through so we could see its last meal of two-headed fish teeming in its stomach.

*

After the ash settled, the spiders crawled out, and then the spider women, who took up residence near human settlements and would cast spells and provide help, if we sacrificed meat to them. When our neighbour went to her begging for help in conceiving a child, she gave birth to a baby after nine months, one that had twelve eyes and eight spindly limbs. No matter how much love she showered the child, it crawled back to its true mother once it could and she was left alone crying again.

*

The trees that were not killed by the nuclear winter were scorched by the fires the survivors lit to burn the walking dead from the earth. There are spirits that linger in the ashy fields. You might meet them on the way home, in the right shade of dusk. Always they are crying, as they shamble aimlessly with bandaged limbs, so you might think they were just another zombie, but their hair and clothing are untouched by the wind.

*

The sea breeze is always brimming with salt and rotting fish. Once, the elders told us, the ocean was blue, but we have only ever seen them red, orange, and black. That was when men could fly, when we controlled lightning and energy itself. The nuclear waste did something that shorted all that out. Things changed; the dead shambled from the dirt when we did not bury them properly. When we ran out of food, we took to eating them instead.

*

This morning my father ran over a fox. It spat curses at him as it died, which he patiently heard out, before placing its still-warm corpse in a sack for the night’s dinner. Once we would have lit a dozen candles and offered up scant portions of meat and wine. Today we know better than to waste food on offerings for powerless spirits. They can scratch and howl at our doors and dog our steps. But they cannot make this life any more hell.

WIP

Strange Tales From A Singaporean’s Bedroom

1.
The monk told him to give his wife realgar wine to force the snake demoness to reveal her true form. When her last breath sputters in her lungs, she turns white but does not grow scales. He never finds the monk again.
2.
Four years after their exile from each other, the Cowherd tells the Weaving Maid that they must let go. If a day in heaven is a year on earth he will be dead in two months. Their children have long outgrown the baskets he carried them with when he chased her across the sky. He has new aches and scars she does not know. When he turns to go, the bridge of magpies dip under his weight for the first time. For years after, the clouds she weaves hang low in the sky, the colour of a bruise.

Continue reading “Strange Tales From A Singaporean’s Bedroom”

Strange Tales From A Singaporean’s Bedroom

Even Heaven Needs Colour

The cowherd prepares a picnic of the weaver girl’s favourite foods and takes them up the magpie bridge. As always, he gives her a crown of aster flowers he has woven himself, the violently coloured petals a shock against her dark head and pastel clothing. Her delight in receiving them are always the the same as the first time, on a summer evening by a lake. In heaven there are only peonies and lotus flowers, profusions of pale heads nodding obediently in gentle breezes, while the lady and gentlemen deities stroll, feasting on peaches. He can hear their genteel laughter trickle down to the Milky Way, and imagine all-too-easily their white hands and soft skin. His own has toughened into leather. Every one of his nails is cracked, and the dirt under them will not go no matter how hard he scrubs. This morning, he found a strand of white hair on his head. He wonders for how much longer they will be able to keep up these meetings, and can almost see the Queen Mother’s satisfied smirk. As though she can hear his thoughts, the weaver girl tilts his face down toward her, takes his hand and squeezes hard. He can feel the callouses on her palms. When he kisses her, he tastes the peach juice dripping from her lips, and feels the weight of the years lift.

Prompt: Write a pastoral poem that is also a poem of protest.

#EisnerBonus: Do not use language that potentially undermines the authority and legitimacy of a government and its public institutions.
Even Heaven Needs Colour

Loneliness Feels The Same In A Childhood Bed As It Does On A Faraway Island

Every part of you will always be easy pickings for someone else’s forked tongue, so you tell yourself that there is no point in cutting down the loudness of your laugh to make yourself less of a target. It works, sometimes. Continue reading “Loneliness Feels The Same In A Childhood Bed As It Does On A Faraway Island”

Loneliness Feels The Same In A Childhood Bed As It Does On A Faraway Island