by Nicole Kornher-Stace
Between them all, the children
recognize perhaps five written letters
from their native tongue; not one
can spell her name — and yet
with voices older than their flesh they sing
the culling-songs, unwinding-songs,
fleet-fingered songs: one hoarse-voiced
where the ivy had once reached green fingers
round her throat and snugged up
to the bright fire of her breath (in a whirl of blades
they'd rescued her, but the scars stay); another with
a mangled knife-hand where a tendril,
in an eyeblink, grew clean through.
Their native tongue's obliterate. Their cradle tongue
is bones. Each with her apple-basket,
milk-pail, apron-front, they gather yellowed skulls,
some whole (why, the better to drink your health
from!), most deconstructed in the grasp
of vines and time to orbits,
frontals, maxillae — mosaic tesserae
destined for a rose window, a breastplate,
an intarsia-topped gueridon, a clutch of poison rings.
Their pockets stuffed with metatarsals,
eyeteeth, vertebrae (hedgewitch runestones,
swordhilt fripperies and prayer-beads), they braid
the useless fragments through their greasy hair
with fingers swollen from the wrenchings
where the slick green leaves
fight back. They sing, but not to keep
from weeping: where nice little girls hoard
dolls and seashells, they hoard tales, gaze up
through the green, and know
that every ruined tower has its princess —
and a harp pieced of her royal bones
might buy them passage
to the sea.
Nicole Kornher-Stace was born in Philadelphia in 1983, moved from the East Coast to the West Coast and back again by the time she was five, and currently lives in New Paltz, NY, with one husband, two ferrets, one Changeling, and many many books. Her short fiction and poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in several magazines and anthologies, including Best American Fantasy, Clockwork Phoenix 3, Fantasy Magazine, Ideomancer, GUD, Goblin Fruit, Lone Star Stories, and Farrago's Wainscot. Her poems have been nominated for the Rhysling Award and her short fiction has been longlisted for the British Fantasy Awards and nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She is the author of one novel, Desideria, and her featured poems from the Summer 2009 issue of Goblin Fruit are collected in the lusciously-illustrated chapbook Demon Lovers and Other Difficulties. For further miscellany, check out her blog.
If a mask were to choose her, it would probably have lots of teeth. Fret not your pretty head, though: she's herbivorous. Unless you happen to be an apple. In which case, abandon hope.
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