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Featured Poem • August 2013

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Voyage to a Distant Star

 

C.S.E. Cooney

 
 

1. ABDUCTION

 

Am I an afterthought?
A carcass for his quota?
Until he came for me, I thought
The Beast fastidious.

 

Of the miners, he amassed the tall and strong
Of their women, selected only from the loveliest
Those sinewy of limb and clean
The nimblest of the children, he snatched
The kindle-eyed, the quick of tongue
Plucked like flowers from the open pits
Drawn fast unto his breast, and brought
Into his hold, his silver hall
His tower in the stars.

 

And I—crook-backed and bent—
I who cooked for all the camp and none too well—
I too old to bear a child and never so inclined—
I am here,
Set down among the rest.

 

Outside,
The stars begin to move.
A drowsiness and lethargy has come upon me.

 
 

2. AWAKENING

 

All right, and so, the fight’s not gone as planned.
A standoff.

 

Some of us are saying, “Let him free and set him
To his silver wheel, chain him, put a flame
Beneath his feet and make him guide us back, back
Through blackness and the hurtling stars,
Back home
Where we belong.”

 

Our eyes deep fires in pared-down faces; I think we
Woke too soon.

 

My very bones feel different
As if, while we were sleeping
Each anchored in our crystal crèche,
The Beast reshaped us
Carved us in his image, starting in our innards
Till slowly we began to mirror him
Who is no man.

 

My lungs burn.
Too new.
Oxygen, now, would drown me.

 

John says
(John talks big
Everything about John is big
His rugged frame, his ruddy beard
His rock-breaking hands, his baritone
Such thunder in this hollow, silver place)
John says to all us gathered:

 

“There is no going back
There is us, there is this
There is forward and ahead.”

 

Are these words his, or were they put there?
John, I note, did not partake of our rebellion
He’s been up here the longest, was the first
Perhaps he is a favorite of the Beast.

 

The Beast is in the brig
There hounded by three hundred miners and their kin
He’s locked himself inside
And all our pickaxes won’t dent that silver door.

 

But when John’s Jenny
To wile the tedium of siege
Puts her quill to dulcimer
The Beast begins to slam himself
Against his prison walls.

 

He howls.
I think he’s singing.

 
 

3. SURVIVORS

 

They call her Lionheart, that girl
The last one taken in the raids
They say it was her choice to come—
She bartered with the Beast
For a seat upon his silver ship
Begged and pleaded
Offered up her body as a swap.

 

Oh, they say many sly things
And shun her.

 

But I trust the sadness in her eyes
Bright anthracite, like the seams back home
And her hair’s a thick pour of molasses
Like I’d use in my cornpones
And she misses her sister, and I miss own
And to my sympathies, she makes confession.

 

“I hear the foul things they mutter
But how they are mistaken!
Ma soeur, she had a lover, and he loved her
They were promised to each other
And—but this must be our secret, friend—
She was to bear their child.”

 

Her eyes reflect the silver of these walls
Her eyes, refashioned and refined
In those hundred months or years we slept
Naked and enshrined, alone each in our crèche
Under the Beast’s eye and knife;
Her eyes can see in total darkness.

 

“I almost was too late—
Le Bête—he’d snatched ma soeur already!
Had frozen her in sleep
And too, the babe inside her womb!
No larger than a fingernail.

 

Of course he chose ma soeur
She is an angel.

 

I cried to him:
Take me! Take me instead, sweet monseigneur!

 

I lied to him
I said that she was sick
My sister
I told him it was cancer and the cough
I told him that the coal had crawled into her lungs
That her baby was a tumor who devoured her
I told him I was strong
I begged and hung about his neck
I kissed his metal scales.

 

He laughed—
Do you think that throbbing wail is laughter?—
And loosed her from his rimy sleep
Her rosiness crept in
The frost began to vanish from her face
She breathed.

 

And that was all I saw
Before he took me in his arms
And bore me nightward.”

 
 

4. APPROACH

 

The Beast has passed beyond us.

 

Like a spider spits her silk
Like a worm spins its cocoon
His own secretions have entombed him
He sleeps inside his crystal crèche
We are alone.

 

Nor does his silver wheel budge for us.
It is course-stuck.

 

Jenny plays her dulcimer
The silver walls
Play back to her
A wondrous symphony.
But she cannot play us home
Her eyes are silver shutters, except those times
She looks at John.

 

John speaks of days to come
And soon
Tells tales of the world we are to work
As miners, like we were on Earth
Of creatures yet unknown to man
Who shall be known to us
Of excavation sites the size of cities
The fabled ore we’ll find there

 

This adventure, Johnny says
Will be our genesis story
Our seed of glory.

 

John smiles and speaks, smiles and speaks
And speaks and speaks
First booming, then braying, then rasping
Lately he looks haggard
Like any mouthpiece so used
By his Lord.

 

The Lionheart listens
Though her mouth is grim.
Others conspire in corners to be quit of him.

 

I wander far from them, and range abroad
Room to empty room
Silver wall to silver hall
Attempt to learn this ship that learned our Jenny’s music
It is teaching her, in secret
A few songs of its own—
I’ll never tell.
John is right.
There is us, there is here.
And in the distance how that distant star
Draws ever near.

 

My spine against the silver wall,
I turn from time to time
To scratch these words upon it.

 

Soon, I think
Before we land at last
These walls will start to scratch back.

 
 

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Claire_CooneyC.S.E. Cooney lives and writes in a well-appointed Rhode Island garret, right across the street from a Victorian Strolling Park. Her poetry collection How To Flirt in Faerieland and Other Wild Rhymes and her novella-in-stories, Jack o’ the Hills are available on Amazon.com. Her three most recent novellas may be found online at Black Gate Magazine and GigaNotoSaurus.

Here’s what Claire says about “Voyage to a Distant Star”:

“In the not-so-distant future, author Caitlyn Paxson and I will be writing a novel set in an alternate and far future called Ballads from a Distant Star. There will be an ethnomusicologist space pirate named Sovay. And creepy songs—among them, Caitlyn’s ‘Rare Annie,’ published in a previous Mythic Delirium (Ed. Note: Issue 28, Winter/Spring 2013.) This poem is a part of that book’s backstory.”

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