My Small Army of Souls by Deborah J. Brannon

About my wrist coils an army of souls,
spirited and calcite, a shivering constraint
of rage and patience, the tenacity of angels,
the compassion of demons, low-bent humility,
sharp shining hate and, most terrible of all:

I keep them safe against my skin,
smooth carven skulls pressing into my wrist
and their memories, ghost-frail, sinew-strong
seeping across pale flesh to eddy within my blood.
A cacophony of sensualist delirium tangling
my heartbeat, childlike, reminding me of:

her blood and the black windowsill,
her breath against my cheek, so warm,
her cold mirror, shining silver bright,
her hunter, the tang of boar’s blood,
her fingers, nimble, lacing at my breast,
her hands in my hair with a delicate comb,
her eyes, then a red apple, no sweeter than her touch.

I keep them tight against my flesh, those skulls,
captured souls, dull flame-colored beads,
all I have of her: a gruesome relic
of a Wooded life where she courted my death
and I, blossoming, ached toward her touch:
this before the coffin of fragmented light,
this before the kingdom that now is mine.

I stripped it from her bony wrist, atrophied now
with pinch-lipped rage, cupped her still-beautiful cheek
as the woods in my eyes met a windowsill in hers.
I kissed her with lips that recalled the taste of an apple:
her lips felt like glass that would soon melt and run
across a terrible flame: my love.

As I turned away, they brought her my courting gift,
clad her in dancing shoes fire-bright and iron-hot.
My eyes shone like glass and she danced,
her screaming vibrating the souls in my hand
until at last, memories now mine,
they coiled about my pale wrist.

Deborah J. Brannon is a writer, reviewer, and fledgling jeweler with a degree in Mythology. She is currently heading back to graduate school to continue developing a rhetoric for contemporary American mythology and to study the continuing relevance of fairy tales. You can find her reviews online at The Green Man Review and see selections of previously published fiction and poetry at her website:

Image: Lilith Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1867