A Crow Carriage
Sonnet Double Feature:
Mistress of Malice
Ten miles upon a tufted seat, elm trees
to village path, discreet, a beast will ride
to seaside town. One hooded straggler by
him found, too young this hour to be outside
indecent bodice, brown eyes wide. Fingers
pearl feathers of his crow carriage as if
it ferries death, disguised as marriage, her
savage brain, his baron’s clothes. Rides with
him to the waterfront — a hiss of snakes
above cold sea. She tells him what she wants to be
— mistress of malice, ostrich feather caped,
a bleeding ruby, murdered family.
He leaves her atop a cliff when warm light ascends.
He will come tomorrow for her friends.
Mistress of Malice, art by Amy Alexander
A Saint Shall Come
They tell you that a saint shall come, grade school;
November’s jingle. Glum, believe horned deer
hymns less each holiday. Bruised imprints, cruel,
huge hands, betray stoic stars disappeared;
though lies abide another year inside
a hole too small for your humanity
to crawl. Let it leave in the fall. Old men
you never saw, red velvet finery,
no sack of salves for some who bleed — but then
crow carriage, charcoal steed. No chimneys
but over balustrade, raven haired lord,
acquaintance made, moonlight, last night sublime
returns blade engraved, curlicue, toward
you, handle pointed: Life requires, sometimes,
surgery — intervention, and you succumb.
You have been waiting for a saint to come.
art by Amy Alexander
Annotation of Mistress of Malice and A Saint Shall Come & an introduction to the book and world of Crow Carriage:
I am writing a book about terrible people. Could say I don’t know how that happened but that would be disingenuous, and so herein lies a confession I’ve made before: I watch too much true crime. A week or so ago, I watched a documentary on Jeffrey Epstein and his partner in countless crimes Ghislaine Maxwell. These two appeared to have a dynamic in abusing people and committing crimes that is not at all original to them but always highly disturbing: the female accomplice to a man behaving in the worst ways imaginable.
When I wrote my book Shakespeare for Sociopaths, which is sonnets on true crime, I included one written from the perspective of one of the most terrible men ever Paul Bernardo about his accomplice/wife Karla Homolka. You can read that sonnet here . So this was not my first time ruminating on this particular kind of evil of complicity.
I had a conversation with a friend about it, and we talked about different cases where women had worked in consort with rapists, abductors and killers to feed the appetites of these men by luring or participating in acts of violence against women. When I went to bed that night, I dreamed of this sort of disastrous union, and I dreamed of crows.
The dream of the union is obvious in its origins. The crows came from a different source, a really good person, poet and writer – and I’m glad one of those made it into my head, too. Marisa Crane had put a poll on Twitter asking people to take it to identify what bird they were so that she might know. While I never thought of myself akin to a bird, I took the poll because I admire Marisa and found it fascinating. Turns out, though I didn’t know, I am a crow. Reading about their facts, I totally agreed and was flattered in the comparison.
I learned facts like crows can recognize a mean human and remember the face forever. They will teach other crows to identify and avoid this human. Crows are so intelligent that according to mentalfloss.com, “some zoologists admiringly call them ‘feathered apes.’” They love their families. They actually have funerals when a crow dies “a dead crow tends to a attract a mob of a hundred or more live ones.” While crows have been associated with death and darkness and a group of them is even still technically called a “murder,” I even relate to this.
I write about dark things, but I’m a very complex person and very loving and light on the inside like a lot of horror writers I know. We get the darkness out on the page and live light and free as we can (I’m thinking particular of my friend Kailey Tedesco when I write these words. Kailey also wrote a book I’ll give a shout out to on Lizzie Borden, who is a bit of an inspiration to the character of Mistress of Malice, called Lizzie, Speak .
So with these influences in my head and heart, some very dark sonnets came out of those places, too, about a world called Crow Carriage. Crow Carriage takes place in Victorian times in a village where girls are disappearing and the village is haunted by a terrible lord in who rides through the town in a Crow Carriage. The first sonnet was published recently in Punk Noir Magazine and you can read it here . This sonnet introduces the abducted girls being kept at the estate of The Doctor and how they view what is happening to them. They are unreliable narrators in the sense that they are purposely mislead and even altered chemically to create fear and confusion. They do not know or understand the reasons and intentions of their capture. They are part of a sick experiment intending to induce as much fear as possible for evil scientific rather than prurient purposes. Since this poem is written from their perspective, we the reader see the world as they unfortunately do. As the book goes on and we have poetry from different perspectives, we learn about the particular evil of our main characters from themselves and their own back stories.
The two poems featured today introduce us to the character of Mistress of Malice. The first sonnet named after her, Mistress of Malice, takes place on the night she wanders the streets late at night looking for trouble only to encounter the Crow Carriage. She rides with the The Doctor who listens to a young woman’s tale of abuse and fantasy vengeance that has turned so dark that it mirrors a sociopathy inside himself. Though when she entered Crow Carriage, he may have seen her age and allowed her entry because he saw her as a potential victim, he clearly realizes that instead of a young victim he has found a young accomplice.
The Doctor, we learn, as the story progresses is a nobleman who lives on an estate ten miles outside the village. Like his young accomplice, The Doctor is highly intelligent. Unlike her though, he owns the trappings of privileged adulthood. He has a private home where he carries out evil and experiments without interference of society. He has autonomy and money and class on his side, but he uses all of them for nefarious purposes.
The young girl who wants to be and will become Mistress of Malice agrees in this first poem to trade the promise of vengeance for her services in procuring young women for the terrible experiment. In the second poem, A Saint Will Come, we see a The Doctor’s horrible influence in her life as she sees, a fulfillment of childhood stories of Santa and a savior figure coming with presents.
What we will learn in future poems is that Mistress of Malice lives with relatives who are not her birth family. After her father loses his fortune, commits his own terrible crime and the young girl’s mother perishes, she is sent to live with her father’s brother, Hugo Shaw. Shaw is weathy and has a family with daughters of a similar age, and certainly society would see Mistress of Malice as very lucky to have improved her station in life. However, Hugo Shaw has appetites for violence that are similar to his brother’s and with a new young, powerless female in his home, these are unleashed.
Mistress of Malice lives in, superficially, a privileged world where she is educated with her cousins, but she is also treated as a servant in the home and abused. It’s the continuation of a terrible life story that has led her to a dark place of antagonism for all humankind in her heart. It’s in this unfortunate state she meets the doctor.
In A Saint Shall Come, we understand this is a girl who never had positive connotations of a savior figure in her life, a Santa Claus. On the second night she meets The Doctor, in her bedroom, he appears to be this Santa figure who is finally fulfilling a childhood promise. Unlike Santa Claus, the Doctor doesn’t come in through a chimney or bring a sack of appropriate childhood gifts, dolls and the like. He comes in through her balcony. He brings her a knife. He teaches her to use it.
I told you I was writing a terrible story. It happens to the best of us. It’s just a story though it comes from real-life inspiration, and now you know a little about what those are. Stay tuned for more peeks into Crow Carriage including one tomorrow about the biological father of the Mistress of Malice in a poem called Hole in Rogue Agent Journal.
Special thanks to Amy Alexander who brought her talent to work to Crow Carriage. You can read her bio below about her work in the artistic realm, and she’s a fabulous poet and friend, too.
Amy Alexander is a visual artist and poet. Her illustrations fill her book, “The Legend of the Kettle Daughter” (The Hedgehog Poetry Press). Her fiber art was featured in Venus Envy, a womxn-centric art exhibit with participating galleries from around the country. Her artwork has also appeared at The Shaw Center in Baton Rouge. She illustrated the cover for “Mansion” (Dancing Girl Press) and “Bad Mommy, Stay Mommy” (Fly on the Wall Poetry Press). She lives in Baton Rouge with her husband and two children.