What Is Owed
by C.S.E. Cooney
For Dominik Parisien
Magpie boy, you've not stealth enough For theft; your black too bold, your blaze too bright, besides Your strut, your stripes, your proud, precipitous tail and raucous hymn — Would you steal what I would give? No. But you would trade for it. Yes, yours, I see, is a world made of bargains 'Twas bargain that begat you, back in the beginning And almost ere you hatched, you spoke of barter I met you on the road once, bent double (I think it was you) In ragged robe and cowl, an old woman croaking fortunes You scanned my palm with eyes like craters But would not speak my future without first tasting silver Silver have I none, said I — and off you flew into a sky That swallowed you, and I went on my way, still ignorant But also wiser, maybe Later, on an errand for the dead, I walked to the riverbank Perhaps to scatter ash or pray the drowned to peace (I misremember) There you were, gaunt as Death but wilier, offering a seat on your boat If I said the proper rite, made the correct gesture, bowed low enough I was never taught those prayers, said I — and away you rowed Into black and white waters, leaving me to sink in the privacy of grief Priceless silence, where tears rained as pennies on a beggars' parade A man in the bar one night, straight-backed, upright In his black hat with long white plume, snapped his deck Of cards, cut and shuffled, restless as a ruffled bird, told me he Might grant my heart's desire for just one lock of my hair Devil, said I, but my soul is braided there! — and he cawed out a laugh Cards spraying from his claws, scattering to land Joker-side up Fifty-two monochrome clowns, giggling with gargoyle mouths I sent my friend a dagger to protect her from the Magpie boys and Kestrel girls who slink and cheat and boast their ways through the Wilderness; she pressed on me a coin, lest with the dagger's edge Our friendship be cut But it was the coin itself that cut, gripped to blood in my fist Oh, Magpie boy, in this hollow-boned world, with your bird's heart beating at its core Even gifts must be paid for.
C.S.E. Cooney lives and writes in a well-appointed Rhode Island garret, right across the street from a Victorian Strolling Park. She is the author of How To Flirt in Faerieland and Other Wild Rhymes and Jack o' the Hills. Her novella "Martyr's Gem" is live at GigaNotoSaurus, and her short story "10 Cigars" appeared at Strange Horizons this July.
She wanted, initially, to say that Bright Star is her favorite film to feature poetry, because, like, KEATS! But then she remembered that she really does prefer that scene in Dangerous Beauty when the courtesan is improvising rhyming couplets while fencing in the palace gardens with her (total bastard) rhyming opponent. And she looks fabulous doing it too.
Previous | Back to Table of Contents | Next