by Catherynne M. Valente

Look at the light, clean as skin.
Look how it sits on the sand, as if it knows a secret;
as if it has swallowed me
and I am sitting
(zazen, of course, I know all the proper forms:
thigh on a glisten of proto-glass,)
in its phosphor-intestine,
painting breasts and axes on the walls
in India-ink.
Say my name.
Say it with spittle and daub,
with glottal abandon,
with a dog-tongue pant. Say it
without Raphaelite hip-vowels or gauzy sibilance—
don't let the stink of their violets
touch my bones—
I deserve better
than Ophelia in her bathtub,
top-full of ice cubes.


Say it leaning up against a bone-column
with a lyre in your teeth,
strumming with incisors,
banging the lower chords with molars—
pluck me out of the red, red sun.
I burst from your mouth like pomegranate juice
like blood from a knuckled punch.
Spit it onto the earth,
a tree will grow from the red, red seed,
and its branches will be full of black pis clapping and phis welt-purple.
I am hard to hold in the mouth.
I pull at the uvula and lie between the lips
like a sacrifice between two stone slabs—
I beg to be crushed,
I beg for the pulverization
of my Orphic bones—
O maid of Phrygia! Pound my calves
with your grape-stained heels!
Punish me with your mouth,
your cat-blood breath—
I have earned dismemberment
under your spasm-limbs! If you loved me,
you would serrate my head
from my shoulders—
should I have less than the ragged larynx,
the gore-spattered clavicle?
(Do not,
do not whisper my syllables
as if they were strands of hair
floating in the salt sea
beneath a bare, black cliff
running silent into the surf.
That body,
breasts stone-battered into grottos,
maze-black eyes gobbled
long since by seabirds,
----was never mine.)

Born in the Pacific Northwest in 1979, Catherynne M. Valente is the author of the Orphan's Tales series, as well as The Labyrinth, Yume no Hon: The Book of Dreams, The Grass-Cutting Sword, and four books of poetry, Music of a Proto-Suicide, Apocrypha, The Descent of Inanna, and Oracles. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and is the winner of the 2006 Tiptree Award. She currently lives in Ohio with her two dogs.

When asked about what she's currently reading, she replied, "Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin."

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