Featured Poem • February 2015
Even in Arcadia
Kristine Ong Muslim
Even in Arcadia, the seas do not hold back their overflow. The water currents keep you swimming. The smell of brine taints everything down to the interstices of your river’s upper lip, that ever-shifting wet line that separates water from land. You only see Sandra on your riverbank, Sandra who is a lesser Sandrine, a listless Sandrine who is a real mermaid and not the factory-made disheveled one who needs winding up behind the head so that the fish tail can be spurred to tread water. Even in Arcadia, the very wrongness of things persists, the lopsidedness of creatures not yet fully formed does not subside. But how the insides of lesser creatures tremble with life, how their ribcages fill with red corals, electric eels and jellyfish, tube worms summoned from underwater vents, deep-sea fish with luminescent dorsal fins, all the graceful, glistening combustibles. Even in Arcadia, the insomnias leak from the eyes of strangers. The changelings dwell inside objects that can transmit light. The freshness of the ordinary wafts in, grows wild berries in place of roots. And your thief composes manifold symphonies. And your messenger casts out seasonal maladies. And your power cords are safe in the bottom drawer. And your corpses and starlings rest side by side under the concrete pavement under the street lights. Even in Arcadia, the gatherer of detritus, the pilferer of things past, speaks of nothing but the grisly charm dangling from your necklace. The charm, a most unlikely device with no teeth. The charm, a tip of a deity’s horn you claim to have killed with one blow. He says it is redemption you have been wearing around your neck. He says nothing really ever heals, but still you must apologize for what you cannot mend. Even in Arcadia, Mercury still reigns in his part of the sky over the two-story house your elders built with their hands. Inside the house, a phonograph postures as a one-eared sphinx, conjures with a flick of a needle the menace of a juggernaut. On the floor and bereft of its rails, a toy train sputters and wheezes by, for what good are wheels that resist turning. Outside the house and dancing in a circle are barefoot girls wearing diaphanous dresses. The girls speak in tongues. They can float on water. They can wield pestilence. They can heal the festering holes of the hollow men. Even in Arcadia, the girls are called witches, diviners, medicine women, mothers, gardeners of flame trees. In their cupped palms are golden orbs. They raise the orbs to the sky, and how their little suns swelter the reds of sand, the soft splendid yellows of clay, the rust-colored striations of exposed bedrock. They raise the golden orbs, and you have daylight. Daylight streaks in, colors the walls of your house. Even in Arcadia, the properties of light do not change. In the front yard, you build a fountain to catch the light. After a feeble spurt, the fountain now splashes and foams a million drops of water, a million drops of light. Then you add a collector of rain, a wind vane, a birdbath. And everywhere, birds drown and live forever. And everywhere, wildflowers bloom the darkest of hues.
Kristine Ong Muslim is the author of three books, most recently We Bury the Landscape (Queen’s Ferry Press, 2012) and Grim Series (Popcorn Press, 2012). Her poems and short stories have appeared widely in numerous publications, including a previous issue of Mythic Delirium. She lives in a small farming town in the Philippines and serves as poetry editor for LONTAR: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction. You can read more about her at http://kristinemuslim.weebly.com/.
She explains that “Even in Arcadia” is “the central piece of my in-progress poetry manuscript called Black Arcadia, which is about a quasi-dystopian construct populated by mythical creatures and androids. I even sketched a map for this fun project that unfolds very much like a video game in my mind, leveling up while pacing across three realms—Underworld, Colony, and Prophecies. ‘Even in Arcadia’ is in Underworld, a realm whose unique geography, physical laws, and politics were further examined in these related poems: ‘Little Falls, Arcadia’ in New Welsh Review, ‘This Way to the Tower’ in Euphony, and ‘The Landlord’ in The Nervous Breakdown. Other Black Arcadia poems available online are in Menacing Hedge and ‘Levitation’ in Kitaab.”
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