Dead motion. A winter that doesn’t lie in wind, but in bones. If it recoils, it is to claw further; it anticipates the sigh of massacre. The cold sinks, falls, turns. Bearing his muscle down. It murders words. Stumbling, already dead, its placed his feet on paths that tear the underside of sound. It hollows. Stripping skin to pages of what has come before, without ink to bare the memory of what becomes. What belongs. He won’t be long. What was an instant sheds itself, embryonic, born to be a cycle and an end. He moves through. And back again. The measure measured by a scale that strips forgiveness from him. The line of will and Other. All silence. This demands more. Half-solid, he finds the wreckage is familiar; it’s all he’s ever known.
He swallows Winter to make it his own.
She drives the Nail into her throat.
Without hope, without words, she knows; the womb remembers, and he responds. Even so divided she murders distance, instinct only a catalyst. One and Other. Flesh and gnosis. Starvation tactics. Consciousness into gold. The moments of this are carved into her bones, a weight of hours and a promise that never leaves the throat. This cycle and her sovereignty are the only things assured; they play for keeps. For immortality. The always that bows to now.
On this night, the Queen of Swords draws her hands around the tower. All steel and scars she speaks into an emptiness that means less than the nothing before dawn. It is a breath, a string of letters, a name, and a pause.
And he laughs, answering, calling down; the sounds dissolve in the space between stars, but she knows, even as he does, that somewhere the words have met and embraced as they would, were Heaven and Hell not endless, and they not points undone, for now.
“I will erase creation for this.”
“CLIMB.” The Nail coils. Nothing is yet forgiven. Nothing is won.
The altar is built on the bones of his re-entry, the demands of a story in some present tense he’ll never know. With fear and lock he trickles forward, dancing on stonework with more reverence than he understands. Now he kneels before the cathedra, before the holiness of what she’s spun between them, before the axis of her catastrophics. Now he comes to whisper and to burn. All in the name of—he silences the rest of it. This is a Holy War without words.
It snaps and snarls, its masked face leprous. A thousand years of penance without a way to stop. The ashes of the orthodox sift from fraying robes. Its breath slides through tongueless mouth, exhaling incense, prophecy, blood. The gilt is edging into rot; night is come. But bright, and perilous, this once-anointed, this Saint of Violence, speaks in turn:
“I will not serve.”
He leaves behind her chamber and her Garden, ash his only measure of what’s to come. The wreckage is a map that fades with every moment. Her edge, a lock, a remnant of what was, coils around his finger as he walks, the compass to his magnetic heart. The key remains to be won. His path is silence and he moves along roads of honey and marrow, on bright veins of undertow. The tides have come to shriek in recognition; it is this, and this, again. The passage sighs and weighs and falls, and when night slips in he takes its place, trailing embers and the knowledge that he’ll be asked what by asking renders him meaningless. Knuckle-deep in too-old wound he drawls and draws and smiles his answer:
“That’s not my name anymore.” Fingers curl to fist.
Mouthless, the sceptre mirrors what’s then said. But he has no time for coins or cartography, for anything but ascent. The first throne fallen, he careens towards the next.
The cage snaps shut, rusted mechanism of sternum and heart, wrapping itself around the Nail that welcomes all sinners and prophets. Hell unfolds between her thighs, and she straddles its horizons unsatisfied but still triumphant. Three days or nine she’s learned to better love the murderous, to cherish atrocity as divine. With cruelty as regalia she slips her eyes in newer sockets, flexes wire and deus vults. A skeletal reminder of as above—
“Build me a tower.”
There is a resonance now, a vibration of two thoughts. Upon a throne of dust the Queen of Swords thrashes stillness into art, and slits her tongue to find the ruin of it all. The foundations cry out for water; she baptises them with spit and blood.
“YOU’VE LEARNED QUICKLY,” the Nail hums.
The sacrament unfurls, a thread of meaning when there is no means to her end. Here forgiveness bleeds out, victim of its own circumstance. But beyond that lies the way through, and so she goes, tracing the ribbons left by all the others who had a taste for letting go. Where they fray she does as well, weaving the ends with promises and skin and just a little bone. The dying is intermittent, and easily ignored. Her body slips, chitinous, snapping at the gravity that demands obeisance, and giving none. A furious something waits, drinking up the unfortunate consequence of the respiration that grows more useless with every inch. And finally, at the cusp:
“WHAT ELSE DID YOU EXPECT?” Not this.
Of her body she is required to relinquish everything; hung upon the Nail her ribs form the cage of heaven. Butchered, she twists, trying to swallow her eyes. She unravels along a circumference that annihilates the possibility of absence. It is then that she sees, tongue around iris.
“All of this is mine,” she says.
Her demand is for Heaven itself; the throne of God laid before her, the blood of Christ in her cup. A little testament. Her carapace extends, a sudden shudder of a thousand years or less. All spit and violence, a witness of Creation in reverse. The vivisection of the blessed. Within the lines of this place he’s pinioned along her axis, Queen and Alchemist, a terrible smile that starts with one and ends the Other. Bruises flower on her thorax. See FIG. 1. With wings in hand he leaves the Garden, and bowing, says:
“In all but blood.” Leaving, of course, the rest out of it.
And so, again, the Queen of Swords has come to descend into Hell, to find the nail and the ink that will write the words that end all of this.
He finds her in the House of Incest, her finger bones stretched along a path of intuition he would have said could not exist. From her spine the chamber coils, petals swimming in the memory of a slaughter they’ve yet to commit. She slips her steel edges forward, inch by inch, winter-bred, to collapse the distance and the debt, and to taste the glass he speaks as softly as she demands. Her wire-frame is poised to welcome and to kill. When he kneels she gives him all the vertigo she’s kept and is answered by the blood of saints and martyrs, his gift. Her commandment. Beyond, the Garden begins to burn as if only holiness had kept it from sparking for so long.
“They will tell you I am not as I am,” the Queen of Swords says. “But they’re dead.”
A ribbon of teeth in skin. “I will take any such Mercy—”
“—Even unto death.”
There’s a pause in me that reaches from one distance to the next, a new azimuth that I can claim as my identity even though there’s nothing in me, nothing that’s holy, nothing but this testament that I’ve been writing but never mind that. I keep the quiet for new skin and when I’ve finished I’m still desperate, I’m still waiting for the curve that I can kill to keep the inverse but instead I get another one of your one-two dedications, your stolen imitations and I can’t believe that I believed you but I did. I’m breathing for the sacred and the heartless. I’m off-center, looking in and wondering what counts now that I’ve traded in my bones for something harder, for a little steel to keep me warm now that I’ve given up the ghost that I had been, an accidental thing here in the Garden because the me I’m taking back is dead. The suffocation is only half of it, the rest caught up in the memory and the echo and the answers that I had when I was seventeen except I was the motion and not the impact. I count backwards and the sky opens up her throat for all my endings and they dissolve as if they meant anything but this. I move like ruin in the aftermath. I prey on what’s left, my voice strung between the streetlights and the glass dust in my hands. Slowkill subtlety on an underneath part of me, I said. The translation isn’t worth this. I want to dream that I’m still there. I want to pretend that inertia is something I can choke to death. I want to mean everything until I can’t, until the rush comes with all the absence that I’ve kept and I speak or I don’t and it’s just that, just the translucence that I’ve been wearing like it’s four am because I know the hour and it’s meaningless. I keep time and keep close and keep still and I won’t be missed, I’m listening to what I had and what I burned to stay immaculate, my body stripped down to that final trump and I was promised more than this. My veins are black and perfect, my veins are absolution and I am waiting for the overdose and the annunciation so I can enter in without forgiveness. When this is over I’ll demand everything back. I’ll gasp along the wireframe that keeps me beautiful so maybe you’ll remember to breathe out into my mouth, to give me at least that. The space between is where I lose and here I am. The day catches like a spark, like the fist you meant as delicate but I know better because the violence in me is precious and I’m just waiting for the accident that will let me immolate what’s left so I can touch the pulse that’s on the other side of this, the flicker and the hollow and an end. You’re gone and I’m here with me, I’m present tense and dancing, I’m measured in the heartbeat I don’t have. There’s a pause and then there’s nothing and the difference is soft enough that you thought you could ignore it even though I’ll have destroyed the want in me by the end of this. The stutter between the words is all that I remember and I’ll drown just to swallow what was taken from me, the ashes and the ecstasy, the angels that I tore between my teeth. I have no reason to desire this, I know the ending and the distance. Eden coils and I echo, again:
I wear their faces to get in. I move inside them like sickness. I’m something different. I remember less and less of what I was before this. We play for keeps but I’m the only one who means it. I slip through the next, my passage miserable and quiet. They let me do this. They don’t understand it. I don’t but I need it, I need the rush and the pause and the exit wound they’ve made out of this. Out of me. I get closer through them. I’m almost at the source and the distance takes everything it can from me until I’m perfect, I’m seamless and smooth beneath the surface, my body is an entrance and I wear their faces even though it hurts. I kill the balance because it was never mine to begin with. I reflect because I’m indistinguishable. I’m replaceable just like they tell me every time they praise my patience. I understand because I’m someone else. I see them with their eyes inside my mouth. I speak to keep them gentle, to keep me safe and inconsequential because my value is dependent on my helplessness. These are the rules. This is what’s wanted. This is how I’m preferred, life-like but not too much. I memorize it all. I learn to be good enough to get their admiration without being dangerous. I pull on their skin over my absence. I fuck on muscle memory. I forget everything except the anticipation of what I have to be to pretend at meaning anything. I slip apart and never notice. I’m watching from the end of this. I’m invisible, my cells dying on the same frequency as the thing that I could have been if I’d been real, if I’d lived, if I’d been worth it. They look away. I tell myself that I want it, that it’s a choice and not the comfort that comes from only knowing violence. I tell myself that this is mine and that it’s holy and I sink my teeth into the next one, into the thing that I’ve become to be anything that wasn’t this. I tell myself I can have it if I’m hard enough.
Our lungs collapse in parallel. The seconds slip in passage from what was to what never made it, a record and a witness that we wear instead of skin. The wheel takes us. It drinks the water from the absence in our side. It keeps our atrocities divine, our agony a holy calculus. The card turns. We’re passive and victorious. A martyr’s crown left in the gutter. Glass that comes apart in recognition of what’s inside us. We shatter on the inverse. We’re practiced. Prophetic. A desaturated consciousness. We move from one shadow to the next just to taste the difference. The stories wait for us in the space between the streetlights, with words that flicker in the neon and the asphalt, words that echo in our footsteps as we try to find the pause. We’re caught up into the pavement. There’s a new heaven and new earth in us. We keep quiet and the sounds fill us, our prayers safe. Unanswered. There’s something deep and cold beneath us, beneath the ocean and concrete, a tidal instant on the cusp of letting go. The City lets us drown. We fill ourselves just to bleed out. We fuck the destination and the impact. We choke on steel and then repeat it. We cry out for the death of air, our bodies sick with permanence. The light blinks out and we proceed, we pass by and keep our eyes down. The spine of this place uncoils. The door is open and we smile. We enter into this. The words follow and we reflect them but there’s no light with us, no distance. We’re measured by the paradise that rejects us. The street crumbles into stillness. We bare our sins like hope before the throne. There is gentleness in this, a kind of understanding that leaves us shaking with a promise that we can never know, the horizon that’s almost. We trade inertia for paralysis and it remembers us, our edges sodium-lit and perilous as we try to find our way through this. We touch the threshold, dip our fingers and anoint ourselves in water and in dust. We’ve come home.