by Amee Nassrene Broumand
ANB: Autumn begins to pulse from leaf to flavescent leaf, beading—here and there—into cardioid splashes of pomegranate. The hum of the forest alters. Over the hills, in a dilapidated garden choked with honeysuckle vines gone wrong, sunbeams curve down upon a mud-eaten shoe. In places such as these, even saints grow timid.
EC: Currents of light and wind thread a passage. I trail my hands through the leaves, and they come away doused in bergamot, verbena, thyme, traces of care still scattered in this tangled place, death not reversed but charmed into a feral green. I crush rosemary needles between my teeth, think how I must have gone wild too early, trying to possess some other shape. The wind pushes me like a weathervane through the bramble, up to the hollow brink where a house once stood. A granite threshold left sunk in the ground marks where ghosts should step. How can it be the only things that seem real to me now are ruins.
ANB: Shadows ripple and quiver upon the broken stones, alive and yet not, quickening with the inanimate breath of primordial earth. Stillness moves, movement stills. A mouse passes through the threshold, morphing into a headless crow. Wings mingle with the wind, with the leaves, with the overgrown sundial hissing in the light. Edacious. The fanged gnomon, green with age, casts an intemperate shadow into the remains of a living room.
EC: I step into the open space, take out my pouch of bones. Perched in the gnarls of an ancient heirloom apple, the crow conjures a face and looks on, burbling softly in its new throat, clicking a glossed beak. They do not always suffice, these old spells woven by old hands. Once upon a time I would think nothing of a purloined hummingbird heart, velvet ears of animals, full moon fingernails of men. But there is too much already stolen, riven, lost. Instead I pluck last year’s owl pellets down to slivers of bone, christening them with names they can barely hold. Above the crow flaps and croaks from branch to crumbling branch. Bark flakes into my hair. I cross the room that is no longer a room, divining the proper point, then shake the bones onto the ground; sparrow ribs, dove keel, vole skull. It takes some time, but at last something flickers into shape: the spindled body of a rocking chair, capacious, thickened out of shadow and dust and whatever recollection still sighs over this place. The crow squawks and lands on an armrest, eyes shining black sparks. An invitation, I think, and so I sit down, offering the beak a rabbit thigh. All around us, the light steeps into rust.
ANB: There’s a hint of dejection in objects, as though reality, having won its fight with the merely possible, gazes upon itself and loses hope, maddened by hints of untold emeralds. Alive, the olive sulks, the rocking chair rocks. Underneath the flesh, the living skull listens to the wind; boulders rock upon cliff tops, longing to fly, eaten into sand. Here in the odd light of evening, a misshapen stone becomes, for a moment, the cradle of the moon. Existence sings a love song to what is not.
EC: These thoughts suffuse into troubled sleep, a gravity gathered around them like celestial shapes spun upon worn ellipses, the echo of a universe growing infinite as long as it does not ripen, does not perfect. The house that once was dreams itself awake behind my eyelids, windows glowing like faces into the dark, spiced cupboards and kitchen steam, a chime of voices and antique glass. Overnight the crow moults into a screech owl, rouses startled enough to cough up a pellet the size and sheen of a pearl before flapping a ragged tremolo into the trees. I pull myself up from the chair that has begun to sag and shred back into ether. It is only a spell after all, a knot tied in time, ephemeral, pieces of what is and what was spliced together just for a while. The way all of this is little more than a spell, I say to the bones as I drop them back into their pouch and the rocking chair wavers, then snuffs out. The screech owl trills a question somewhere in the turning leaves. I palm its nacreous casting, the surface smooth and roiled as an opal, then place it inside my cheek. It is seamless, tasteless, cold. Stooping down, I peel back last autumn’s leafmold with bare hands. A musk of petrichor eddies as I plant the pale orb in the dirt, while up from the undergrowth the wind crackles and spooks, snapping the folds of my sleeves, tugging towards an orange tongue of horizon.
ANB: The edges of the day dissolve in fire, the sparks of dawn seeming to promise the revelation of some deep mystery. But dawn will become midmorning and the sense of mystery will fade as the light grows. Thinking only of nourishment, the robin will pause in the thick of the grass, listening for worms moving through the earth. And the worms will move, unaware of the great beaked death looming beyond them. For us, there’s neither mystery nor revelation in the cock of the robin’s head. But when songbirds nestle to sleep above these ragged grounds, darkness will pause again in the thick of the stars, listening.
EC: I turn towards the light. There’s a chill despite the climbing sun, a sharp-edged sparkle of dew not quite crystallized into frost. The days will be colder now, darker. A ways off in the undergrowth, something rustles and shrills. Feathers whisper. A beak clacks. As I depart this place, I run my hands again through bolted koriander and mint. There will not always be this scent of herbs and soil, these shapes that shift and stalk my trail. One day these bones I have collected will seem as heavy as my own. One day this sunken ground will cave and knit together, loosing a haze of memory like milkweed plumes into the air. For now, I am the one who leaves, following the wind as it coils uphill. But leaving is the spell that is never finished. The planted sphere may still grow into another thing. A tree glinting osseous keys. Translucent nightshade blooms. Or else it may sleep there frozen within the earth, until a time when there is no more earth, only a colossal whirling in darkness that waits, biding away millennia, looking for a pearl upon which to gather and once more become.
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Erin Calabria grew up in rural Western Massachusetts and currently lives in Magdeburg, Germany. She studied literature and writing at Marlboro College in Vermont and radio documentary at the Salt Institute in Portland, Maine. Her writing has been nominated for Best of the Net 2015 and selected as a winner for The Best Small Fictions 2017. You can read more of her work in Sundog Lit, Third Point Press, Five 2 One Magazine, and other places, or find her on Twitter @Erin_Calabria.
Amee Nassrene Broumand has poetry in Word Riot, Sundog Lit, A-Minor Magazine, Rivet, Windfall, & elsewhere. The daughter of an Iranian immigrant, she was born near Los Angeles and homeschooled in Vancouver, Washington. She has a B.A. in Philosophy & English from Boise State University, where she tutored Logic for six semesters. An avid photographer, she currently lives in Portland, Oregon & blogs for Burning House Press. Follow her on Twitter @AmeeBroumand.