The rocks know what you did to me, as do the weeds, but you are arrogant enough to think you can silence the whole world.
One of your hands fit clean around my throat, and I had to watch my blood become black before everything else. Before darkness stole across my eyes, depthless and fathomless, like the lake we called our own. So glassy and still, my eyes, as they posed for the moon. And then life, succulent life, left me in a trickle. Not a river, no, you didn’t want to make too much of a mess—your suits were always made of the finest gabardine—but that trickle was enough.
Who do you think you can convince of your innocence?
The swan women?
They will never believe the story you concocted.
They are nightmares turned flesh. They are women cursed, and they are bitter. The light of their gossamer feathers is not a comfort but a rapier through the gut.
The men of the forest, then? Will you go to them? Wolves for heads, they prowl. They snigger. The grasses of the moors bow before them, but I remember how you mocked them for being of a lesser class, for their lack of cultivated intelligence. Around the lake, they would always walk on two legs, but they did not see us. They did not hear.
When you had me on my back, naked, without ever planning to undress yourself.
By the end of everything, my presence in your life became so innate, so expected. No one ever stopped you from writing with my body. No one would question the man using his own hand. Who was I, with you, but dew on deer tines, transparent and moments from evaporation? I can’t remember yet.
The rocks know, though.
The pebble that pressed into the small of my back. The moth that crawled around my mouth.
How you smiled like a sea at storm. How your waves never yielded.
They battered me. You battered me. Society would like me to think I was asking for it. That I goaded you. That I fused myself with your soul of my own volition. And did I, at the beginning?
Yes, I will admit, when you charmed me.
But then yes became no.
No, and no, and no again.
How your tempests frothed. How your salt tasted.
You told me once that I was like the firebird you had as a boy. A phoenix. A legend, a myth, a force you forced into domestication. You reveled in that.
What a marvel, you said. The exclamations danced in your eyes. What a good cry…and your eyes, that color…
And then you reveled in my destruction. The power you knew you could wield over my body.
Your friends were all afraid to talk to me. To help me. What it was they feared, though, was not drowning in your ire, but stepping in its puddle. Wetting their loafers. The cowards.
I stare at you from the apple trees now. I wave to the moon, the stars, those gleaming pinpricks we wished upon as we laid by the lake on our first date. You gave me a flower—a tulip—and tucked it behind my ear. Your smile was supposed to be a gift. Praise, my panacea. You doused water over the bird in my body, and I couldn’t even feel the steam. Everything died before I recognized what life I had inside me.
What glorious, glorious, soul-shaking life.
I was twenty-two.
You are forty.
You still have your money.
You have the support, the job, the life.
I have the apples.
The swan women will not want me. Zombie, they will call me. A man has defiled you, they will say. Hypocrites, but the blame doesn’t fully belong to them. The patriarchy has twisted them like the branches of a wintered tree.
But no longer and never again.
These are not leaves I cover myself with now. They are not green, but black. Black. I coat myself with my own ashes. A cocoon of sorts. The heat is coming. The fire is coming. Because you can kill a phoenix. You can put out a fire with semen, with urine, with earth and stone and a shovel. You can bury a body, but you cannot cage a soul.
And I escaped long ago, rising beyond the grave. My wings sawed through the delicate skin of my back and then through the dirt, but the tear didn’t hurt. I should have exposed them the moment we met.
Our bodies are our own, they belong to us, but we are so used to contorting to the needs of others. We are so used to minimizing to appease.
But no longer and never again.
The branches groan under my weight. The ash falls from me in sheets, in curtains, in a waterfall of cinders and fire, and the tree is burning, and I am burning, and your whole sea of wealth will curl away in a hiss.
The moon is high—silvery and potent—and my body glows. Naked, now, because I choose to bear my skin to the world.
And when I skewer you, it will be slow. When I burn you, I will make sure your bones melt before your brain.
The rocks and weeds, those bards of earth and green growing, will know what I have done, and they will sing to all who pass:
Beware the one who burns the sky.
Beware the one who dries the sea.
Beware the one who wished for freedom, once, upon the stars, and beware the one who was given a second, scorching chance to fly.