by Mari Nessread by Amal El-Mohtar
1. The feather falling into your rough hands. 2. The stinging that never quite leaves your skin. The anger you keep so cold, so hidden. 3. The six ashen swans swimming on the lake, a mother sobbing only her heartbreak, the rough rope binding your arms to the stake. 4. Sweet, sweet your brothers' cries. Bitter, bitter a mother's lies. 5. What if you weave only four nettle shirts? Or spend a day wandering in the woods? What if you pause to attend your own hurts? Or spend a day wandering in the woods? What if you weave only four nettle shirts? 6. Which of your brothers would you chose to save? The oldest, nose broken from an old brawl? The youngest, who never learned to behave? The fifth, who once carved you a wooden doll? The third, so clever, if not very brave? Who would you save if you could not save all? 7. And why should this all fall on you? You weren't the one who spoke a spell that needs seven years to undo. You weren't the one to unleash hell. You clothed yourself in bright virtue. You never once thought to rebel — Why is this something you must do? 8. What happens after you finally speak? He has spoken of loving your green eyes But nothing else. He is always oblique. What happens after you finally speak? Soft touches have been your only replies, soft touches that made the future less bleak. What happens after you finally speak? He has spoken of loving your green eyes. 9. No more of these thoughts. You bend to your tasks. Nettles must be crushed. Rough thread must be spun. The juice tightly bottled in leather flasks. You have never liked leaving things undone. My sweet brothers live freely in the sky. You think of the court, its delicate masks, The shimmering gems no princess would shun. How he touches your gloves, but never asks. How he promised to give you a falcon. 10. Here is the spell to save all of them, all: six little shirts woven of nettles a potion of petals in bright copper kettles, strands plucked from your mother's shawl. Soar, swans, soar. Here is the spell that might lead to downfall: an arrowhead forged with fine metals wrapped in a dying swan's last call. Soar, swans, soar. 11. They bind you so gently to the rough stake. Your hands remain unbound, safely concealed in soft silken gloves. They wait for daybreak. A troubled crowd gathers to watch the flames. Your gloved hands tightly clutch the stinging shirts. An archer takes a flaming arrow, aims. Wind and smoke bite the edges of your skirts. You swallow, watching the approaching flames. You are asked once again to speak, to yield. You can only sink into your heartache. You had no real hope that all could be healed. 12. When you met, you were hiding in a tree. You watched him pass by. Your eyes filled with tears. You crouched down, hoping that he would not see. Not a single shirt finished in two years. You watched him pass by, your eyes filled with tears. You wanted to speak. You were so lonely. Not a single shirt finished in two years. You had your task, your loom, and those only. You wanted to speak, you were so lonely — When you met, you were hiding in a tree. You had your task, your loom, and those only. You crouched down, hoping that he would not see. 13. Not easy to leave the palace at night, to find more nettles in the grey moonlight Not easy to set up a simple loom, not even to weave at your brothers' doom And oh how you crave, crave a short respite. Not now, with a future that may be bright: a prince willing to give a silent kiss, a small stone room lined with velvet and gold. Remember, dear sister, our dreadful plight. Not now. Your fingers itch. Tears blur your sight. You pray the prince never discovers this. You gather every nettle you can hold. Remember, dear sister, our dreadful plight. 14. The swans arrive, spiralling, one by one, pushing their wings against the dazzling blaze. You think of all that you have left undone. You throw what you have from those bitter days. Too late. Your skin burns. You hear distant screams. Beaks poke at your hands, your bruises, your eyes. Your wedding ring warms, sears. The bright gold gleams. The ropes fall apart. You feel yourself rise. The swans place you on the unfinished shirts. "Forgive me," you whisper. Beaks touch your face. Feathers stroke your hands, with all their old hurts. You think of the court, of velvets and lace. Surely they will fly to less shadowed lands. A white feather falls into your rough hands.
Mari Ness is the author of Through Immortal Shadows Singing (Papaveria Press), an epic retelling of the story of Helen of Troy. Her poetry and fiction have also appeared in numerous publications, including Tor.com, Clarkesworld, Apex, Strange Horizons and right here at Goblin Fruit. She lives in central Florida, in a house with a zombie rose garden in the front yard that might, at some point, come to full life.
"Feather" is a companion piece to her poem "Snowmelt," which appeared in the Winter 2011 issue of Goblin Fruit. A third in the series, "Demands," is forthcoming in a future issue of Goblin Fruit.
When asked if she believed in ghosts for this bio, she could only say, "Maybe."
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