Volume 42 ~ 2019
What is the Moon?
A rock in outer space
revolving around our planet.
Its light shines in the dark,
creatures of blackness
emerge to glorify its radiance,
howling into the void.
A cool and distant friend,
the moon is stability.
Regardless of waxing or waning,
the moon is constant.
Stealthy figures in the night cracked open the seal of the noble’s tomb. One silhouette remained a guard in the dark while four others entered the hole carved in rock. A couple of torches illuminated the anointed walls of the aristocrat’s final resting place. Depictions of the deceased departing for the afterlife decorated the tomb’s sides. Two of the grave robbers continued to the burial chamber to deface the sarcophagus and pillage its precious metal and gem adornments. The other two remained in the first chamber to rifle through objects left for the deceased’s journey to life in paradise.
“How could they just waste all of this? Some of this could still be useful,” Mandisa scorned as she picked up a decorative comb.
“It’s not wasted. They just wanted to help their loved one get to the afterlife. Is that so shameful?” Msrah teasingly asked as he wrapped his arms around Mandisa’s stomach and rested his chin upon her shoulder. “Besides, their lives weren’t in turmoil because a pharaoh could keep the throne for more than a few months. They could afford to put costly goods in a pit and leave them there.”
She groaned, rolling her shoulders and twisting out of his grip. “We’re working, Msrah,” she whined.
“Yes. We have broken and entered a tomb to steal its valuable paraphernalia left by the family of the deceased. Just a normal day on the job,” Msrah replied, waving the lit torch around.
“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” was the only reply he got from Mandisa as she gathered various small objects from the room and stuffed them in a sack. “Now, would you mind helping me sort all of this junk before we have another close call like last month?”
“What close call?” Msrah asked sweetly.
“The one where we almost got caught because of you, you idiot.”
“Oh, come on. That wasn’t just my fault, you know. It’s as much yours as it was mine,” he countered. Mandisa simply scrunched up her nose at him while she continued to grab pieces of a board game. He sighed and crouched next to her to sift through the walking sticks and hand fans.
“Do you really think this is all a waste? To try to help the people you love have a nice life after this one?” Msrah tilted his head to look at her.
“Sort of,” Mandisa replied.
“What if we had the money to? If it wasn’t a big deal to put some luxury items in a hole and seal it?”
She sighed. “What are you trying to prove?”
“That you love me enough to bury me with riches. To enrobe me in golden garments and rest my head on pillows of pearl,” Msrah responded while Mandisa rolled her eyes.
“I married you; isn’t that enough?”
“Of course it isn’t. I need you to tell me you love me every day!” he exclaimed, jumping to his feet. “I love you beyond the Field of Reeds and the afterlife. Sometimes I feel that you regret marrying me. That I’m not serious enough for you. That I’m too idiotic. I just need you to tell me you love me while we’re raiding a tomb.” He finished his plead with overly dramatic gesticulation to obscure his honesty.
“How could you think that? Of course I lo-”
“We should get out of here, now,” the watchmen called into the tomb. The other two emerged from the burial chamber with bags of gold leaf, gems, and amulets from the mummy’s wrappings.
“What is it?” one yelled.
“Torches in the distance; they’re getting closer,” replied the lookout. The four inside rushed to the opening and saw a growing glow in the valley.
“That’s our cue to leave, I believe,” said one of their voices in the dark.
They loaded their cargo on to their camels while the watchman closed and resealed the tomb. After extinguishing their lights, the tomb raiders mounted their beasts of burden and started their journey in the opposite direction of the torches’ glimmer. A pair of camels walked together a little behind the others.
“We’re not currently raiding a tomb, but I do love you,” Mandisa told her husband.
“I love you too, to the Field of Reeds and back,” Msrah smiled at her, grabbing her hand and kissing her palm.
Empty Prairie Migration
I am from corn, dirt, sweat,
from droughts and floods, yearning for rain and longing for the torrents to cease.
I am from fields surrounding me in every direction,
from blistering, moist heat and frostbitten, dry cold,
from cow manure and rotting corn permeating humid air.
I am from the glint of sunlight refracting off remote grain bins,
from sunsets so breathtaking, photos cannot capture their beauty.
I am from winds speaking on empty prairie,
from thunderstorms filled with ominous anticipation,
from bird songs at sunrise and locust screams at sunset.
I am from my father coming home from working in the fields wearing blood and bruises,
from please and thank you, waving to passing cars, holding doors open.
I am from obsessions with migrational cranes that I’ve never understood. They are just birds.
From driving forty-five minutes to watch movies in an ancient theater every other weekend.
I am from aching to migrate to new homes while never forgetting the original.
Love is a ladder,
to reach the precipice.
The ladder is strong
and sturdy, not swaying
in the loudest gales.
The lover dares
not look down for fear
of falling off, falling
out of love. The rungs
are smooth but easily gripped.
The ladder is perfect.
Once the lover reaches
the top, they look down,
see nothing below.
The rungs creak, splinter
beneath their feet.
All the lover’s climbing
is for naught, the ladder,
the love, is rotten inside.
The lover falls from the ladder
into dark unknown.
"Since it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker."
- C.S. Lewis
Three young girls run through the small grove of trees and brush to the river bank. Laughing and screaming, they race to the running water. They don’t slow even as the twigs scratch their skin, uncaring of cosmetic lacerations, lost in adolescence. Bursting through the edge of the brush, the girls rush to the beach. They toss water in the air like pizza dough and giggle as it falls back on their heads. One of the girls dashes back into the thicket, grabbing long, straight sticks for playing. Her smile as full as her arms, she rushes back to the others, dropping the branches on the narrow beach.
“Pick a stick!” the girl with obsidian spirals for hair exclaims to her friends.
“What for, Alala?” asks Leah, her friend with hair like bittersweet chocolate.
“So we can fight in wars with swords!”
“But we’re girls,” Leah replies, sounding confused and offended.
“So what?” Alala demands.
“Girls don’t fight in wars.” The statement is finite, a conversation ender.
Alala angles her head, grimaces, and squints at her friend. “I think anyone willing to fight a war deserves to be able to fight.”
The third girl, with roasted chestnut hair, speaks up, momentarily stopping the argument between her two friends. “My dad said real wars aren’t fun and we shouldn’t pretend.”
“See! We shouldn’t pretend to be in wars when we’re not,” Leah exclaims to Alala. “Phoebe’s dad says so.”
“Well,” Alala pauses, pondering, “if we don’t pretend now, how will we be prepared for when real wars come our way?”
The other two just look at each other and wrinkle their noses. They grab each other’s hands and walk away through the trees without a backward glance at the girl stabbed with their wooden sword rejection.
Alala makes her way through the thicket, more subdued than when she was a child. She does not run, laugh, or even smile. She carries a burden far heavier than the bundle of sticks she carried so long ago. When she finally reaches the river, she stares at the running water, envying its carefree nature. Water does not know, care, or fear where it is going; it simply goes. Alala picks up a stick from the bed of brown leaves adorning the dirt. The hues remind her of locks of hair from her childhood. She rolls the stick from hand to hand. It is long and straight, exactly the type she would have chosen for a wooden sword years ago. Her hands and jaw clench as she struggles to keep a neutral facade. She throws the stick into the river.
Staring at the ground, Alala frees her obsidian spirals from the military regulated ponytail. The muted browns and greens of her uniform merge into the barren beach. Shoving her hands in the water, she relishes the pain caused by the freezing river running from the mountains to the oceans. Her fingers begin to numb, but she refuses to remove them.
“I’m sorry. I failed you. I tried, though. I tried so hard to prepare you for the world. ‘Girls don’t fight in wars.’” Alala laughs bitterly, grimacing as the pain from her hands becomes stronger. “Everyone fights a war. It’s not always the kind I fight. It’s not always so clear cut.”
Alala practically feels bathroom tiles digging into her knees, the blood of a childhood friend soaking into fabric. Leah had cut the strings off her marionette life with a razor to the wrist and crumpled to the floor. Her bittersweet chocolate hair bathed in crimson.
Alala practically smells the stench of dying rats and alcohol in the alley behind Woody’s Bar. She sees Phoebe’s pale blue face and her only weapon, a glass syringe, still lodged in her vein. She had created her own strings in her addiction to heroin, made herself a puppet to its deadly whims. The rain washed her roasted chestnut hair with garbage.
Alala rips her hands from her self inflicted punishment, rubbing them together and blowing breaths of life back into the purple appendages. She hadn’t been with them, but her imagination substitutes her memories.
“Girls fight in wars every day. Some just to have enough to eat. Some just to have the right to own their body. War isn’t always what you expect it to be. I couldn’t help you understand that fighting isn’t always swords and guns. Our enemies so often aren’t other people.”
Alala rises to her feet, somber but smiling. She walks to the trees and pauses, but she doesn’t look back.