rose magic

Don’t take this the wrong way, but what could you know about voodoo? That’s not yours to know. Try some other things first: take the train, go out to eat. Grow something good. That’s how you do it. That’s how you stay apposite. My apologies for the rude awakening. Someone needed to tell you.

They say that magic is dead once you hit the city. That’s not true; it just goes to the wires. It’s not voodoo; it’s vodou. Rose magic;  dark devil. Your own people are cutting you up, selling parts of you in the window next to other southern cuts. But they’re not red, and that’s what matters, that’s what gets the flag of the righteous flying, anointing the butchering of other racks of lamb.

The magic is there in the wires; look: the fuzzy television, the sound between stations, the shock when you touch an outlet. Others can call it what they like: empty frequency or an abundance of the thing, life, electricity. It’s all the same—it’s all that thing which makes plants grow, the phosphorous in the soil you came from.

You polish the silver while your neighbors go missing. First the children, then their parents, then the rest. It’s not about you, it’s nothing to do with you. The asphalt’s hot, but you’ve got to go barefoot to get anywhere at all. Your feet bleed in the evenings, so you wrap old cloth around them until the red shows through—straight through—like holding your hand up to the bare light. The stronger plants are starting to sag under their colossal potential, exceeding their natural limits, so you have to start snapping some matches to prop them up again. When they, too, break, you have to start all over. More matches. More weight. More of the familiar rotation of your thumb in the dip of the spoon. It’s not you. It’s nothing to do with you.

You used to wake to the incessant birds, but now you wake to nothing, really; their throats were slit, their song bled out. With them gone, what are we left with? The noiseless wind, the waves breaking on another shore. The taste of dirt in your mouth, always stuck under calcified scales.

Then there’s the theory on broken windows: if a neighborhood has one, the residents will break the rest. When you open your curtains, the room doesn’t get any brighter. When you’re down there, you stay down there. The dirt is your bed, your bread, your butter. When the white god calls, you have no choice but to answer because at least it’s help, even if the birds are gone and the water has all run black. Rose magic; dark devil.

You sit in a white plastic chair with your feet propped up on the flipped garbage can, watching empty streets and listening for the faraway sound of the car that never comes. The trashmen stopped weeks ago, and now your lawn is litter. The matches have snapped and there’s no one left to ask for more. Your feet are red, the light shining through.

Your neighbors; children first, adults later, then the rest. We put them in a different dirt, a different bed, gave them different bread, different butter. They live with us, so we tell them there’s no magic anymore, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

It’s all the same—it’s all that thing which makes plants grow, rich in that inexplicable phosphoric life, with the smell of boiling urine because that’s what you’re down to now. Look: the litter lawn, the hot street, the light shining through. Look: in the iron rails, in the sound on the streets, in the overgrowth of the green around you. The gum tarred to the sidewalk, the noise of birds, the blue above and the metal below. Look and weep: your bones, your hands, it’s nothing, were nothing, are only eggshells. Keep your feet up. The magic is there.

The Year of the Water Rooster

Once there was a girl. Slight undersized for her age, a girl who was clever and brave, who experienced her own periods of sadness, relatively longer than everyone else’s it seemed. She planted seeds in whatever vessels would work and sometimes they grew, other times not. She liked to be alone most of all, but allowed love to come in from time to time.

These moments usually ended quickly, and as the other person walked out she kept their ghost back, guiding it to the room where she kept the lot of them, feeding them thin milk and old bread; not enough to starve them but enough to keep them around. Ghosts get hungry, you see. They would nibble at her fingers, begging for more food, more more always more. Something to stop the deep bellyache of sustaining oneself on scraps.

Ghosts do not die; she learned quickly. The more she smiles with you, the louder they groan. The more you hunger, the more watching someone eat hurts.

“You missed me?” She asks one day, when you’re lying in bed together. You’d just got home, laid down on the sheets in your clothes next to her. “Of course I missed you.” A hand on your mouth. “You love me?” She wants to feel the words when you say: “Yeah, I love you. You know that.”

That was how she started feeding the ghosts. Bits of green tomato, eggshells, pits. The more you held her the fuller she was, the more she left for them. They stopped begging and she stopped listening to them. The whole house slept at night.

Time passed. The quiet was taken for granted, as if it had always been there. The plants were blooming out of all the containers she had collected, greenness warping through old cassette players, radios, glasses. Everything became sacrosanct; the plants, growing for her, the ghosts gone silent, for her, you being there, it was for her. All up to the day when she came home to an empty house, full of crying chis. And she knew it would never be quiet again.

She kept feeding the ghosts. She wanted to starve yours but it just wouldn’t die. Ghosts do not die. Ghosts do not die, and when you played with the others she left you alone. Her life never stopped because you were crying for attention. Her life was just the same, only without you in it—or you were in it, but not the way she wanted. The memory of you followed her, tethered somewhere deep and unreachable.

One day she got tired of feeding when you called. She ripped the brass knob off the door and threw it in the garden. “You want the house,” she asked you all, “then take it,” and sat back down in her chair to finish the tea. At first the ghosts all stood there, wary of new freedom. One by one they left the room, stood in the hall, looked out the windows. A great cry rose up: they ran, gleefully terrifying the cat, smashing plates, hanging from chandeliers. She finished her tea. Got up to wash the dishes.

The ghosts followed, pulling at her hair, try to trip her, screaming at her ankles, at every part of her. She let them scream. “Get it all out now,” she said, “you won’t get another chance.”

So they did.  She left; to go to work, go to the store, go out and experience a life other than the howling loneliness at home. When she returned, the door wouldn’t open.

“This is my home. Let me in.”

The lights were out; windows, door, house, all locked.

“This is my home, too. Let me in.”

She sat outside all night. She wouldn’t leave. When dawn broke, the door opened. Your ghost was there in the doorway; your ghost was sorry. But that’s not enough; she shouldn’t have to forgive you. But she did.

The others were not as kind. Her home was unkempt, a mess save for the green that was spared. They were still howling all hours, howling until finally they began to quiet down. Ghosts can’t keep screaming all night. Well, actually they can, they do, but this particular group lacked the sense of righteousness needed for such a feat.

So they put the house back in order: one would hold up a shattered plate and another would find the other pieces, until everything was righted. While the spirits cleaned, she left for a bath. She saw her stomach in the water for the first time, clear and warm. When she got out, a ghost from years ago held out a towel.

Life when on is an interesting thing. The ghosts were out of the room now; she never put them back in. It was more peaceful than the screaming. She thought: better to let them roam than to keep them in.

Once there was a girl. She’s still there with the ghosts. They tend to the greenness, they keep the house full, they play with the cat. Some nights they are restless, some nights another one joins them, but they are always there, and she will always keep them. They all live in a kind of harmony: a girl, her ghosts, and yours.

5. Titan Southern Polar Ice Cloud

Scientists found another cloud on Titan; a monster in the active weather. They’re talking about the rich, gaseous filling between the void and substance. They’re talking about body.

Your skin was always so clear, save for that red line on the back of your hand. The blue ring around the planet that provides definition against nothingness. The empty fireplace, full of wood.

I stuck my hands under the tap—the cold one. I was trying to coerce feeling back into them. I made fists, but nothing worked until the water warmed up, turning them raw.

I swept the ashes out of the grate. You were lying on the sofa, barefoot and wanting for something neither of us had a name for. When I touched your heel, it felt like cold water. There was a moth flying around, touching our lights, so I took it by the wings and let it outside. You wanted to crush it; you never did like animals.

Braiding blades of grass, stringing the daisies along. You wrap it around my finger, add me to the chain. I’m not sure I mind. I don’t think I do.

What days are you freest in the evenings? I’d imagine it would be when it’s clear out, and warm enough to sit outside. That’s always when you’re here. Where do you go when you’re not around? Nevermind. It’s none of my business.

So, what happens now? We see other people. It can’t be helped; that’s just how we are. You were lying on the sofa, barefoot, with your legs over mine. I don’t think about what happens when they’re not. I just don’t. And you never ask and I never say yes. I never say that within all this laundry I did for you, there are things that aren’t yours mixed in.

One day you came in from the rain. I opened the door and let you in. You were lying on the sofa, barefoot and smoking right down to the filter. I put your clothes in the dryer, tossed the whole pile on you when it was done. You laughed. Your toes curled. I thought you would throw it off once it got cold, but you kept laying there under it all, arm extended as the lit ember kept on going. You never burn your fingers; you always get away with being just dangerous enough.

Titan is a moon. Had I told you that? It orbits around a larger body, apart from the rings of Saturn. Apart from us, it is the only one to have a stable body of water. It is an egg yolk turning around against the black velvet vacuous nothing. In certain light, it looks like us. Its clouds look like ours. The soil there is rendered uninhabitable. We’ll never call it ours, as much as we’d like to.

When they talk of the monster cloud, they’re talking about substance. They’re talking about body. You always had a little of each, and I was always in the middle.