After the Red Sea

by Sonya Taaffe

 When no one taught me the names of God,
I wrote on your forehead
the one I loved best —
לילית, the night-story
of waste ground and left-handed desires,
the beat of wings like doors thrown open to the wind.
Not for me the wonder-worker's numbers,
my brother's sweet-slate alphabet
or my father's prayer of thanks
not having been born a woman; neither was I,
though no one but my body's crying knew it
and you, the moment your eyes glimmered like moonset
and your arms were cool as a river’s bank,
strong as a broken glass
as I wept into your hair.
Come with me over trains and oceans,
dust of the same dust
my heart was before you found me,
we will play on corners with a red-ribboned violin
and keep books in cherry-black ink
and we will find a shore that grows more
than tears and bones.
Lie over me each night in pride and hunger
and each morning we will leave
the sheets sweeter salt behind us
until the world comes to write above our eyes
ליו-ליו, the night-mother
of harbors and claws
singing us to sleep.

Sonya Taaffe’s short fiction and poetry can be found in the collections Ghost Signs (Aqueduct Press), A Mayse-Bikhl (Papaveria Press), Postcards from the Province of Hyphens and Singing Innocence and Experience (Prime Books), and in anthologies including Aliens: Recent Encounters, Beyond Binary: Genderqueer and Sexually Fluid Speculative Fiction, The Moment of Change: An Anthology of Feminist Speculative Poetry, People of the Book: A Decade of Jewish Science Fiction & Fantasy, The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, The Alchemy of Stars: Rhysling Award Winners Showcase, and The Best of Not One of Us. She is currently senior poetry editor at Strange Horizons; she holds master’s degrees in Classics from Brandeis and Yale and once named a Kuiper belt object. She lives in Somerville with her husband and two cats.

When asked if she were to be given a seed by a stranger to plant, what instructions would accompany it, and what would sprout, Sonya replied as follows:

"The corpse in the garden sprouted, Tom, but I don’t know why you wrote that I should 'cultivate him as the maidens did Adonis in the gardens of Greece' and 'mourn him like the corn.' She opened her eyes and there were ferns crowded in them, moss-lashed with the slow crawl of lichen across her cheek. Spores broke under her nails when I pulled her to her feet and the fragile bars of her spine were armored with white buttons of mushrooms. When she spoke, she sounded like boughs rubbing in the wind, flaking elm-bark and showers of rain. I do not think she needs me to tend her, or mourn her, or wait winterlong for her to rise again. She walked naked into the lane and her bones shone through their flesh like the veins in a green leaf held to the sun. When I looked again, there was nothing but light dancing in the dust of the summer air."

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