Revival

“Revival” was written after my grandmother told me about going to a snake-handling church when she was younger. This was probably in the 1930s, and the church was in the Appalachian mountains. She wanted me to write her life story, but I don’t think she gets what that entails. Still, I should have done it, and should still try to do it. I loved to listen to her talk to me about her life and the hardships she had endured, and I always wished I had recorded it but I never did. She’s very old now and I know she doesn’t have much time. When she goes it will tear me apart. My mother has been dead for a very long time, and my father is probably dead (and good riddance). Anyway, this poem was published in a magazine called “Penumbra” and collected in my chapbook “Psychoentropy”. I hope you enjoy it.

Revival

They share the taste of strychnine,

liquid faith like crystal purity,

bottled in a mason jar

scented with the ghost

of last year’s peaches.

 

Dusty boots thump,

and patterned skirts swirl,

keeping time with the choir

of shivering tambourines,

as they cry with broken voices

of the rapturous divine.

 

The Reverend handles serpents,

armed with shining words of God,

and preaches fervent sermons

with the cadence of

the hissing snakes,

sliding coils through grasping fingers

scarred with memory of sin.

 

He sways,

moves with strange conviction,

and teaches salvation

to the undulating devout,

singing in blind ecstasy

in obsolete tongues.

 

They dance,

caught in serpentine embrace,

anointed by the Spirit

with sacred revelations,

as the congregation burns,

wrapped in spiraling religion.

 

~Julie Shiel

Fireflies and Twilight

I’m feeling quite melancholy tonight. I try not to think about these things but sometimes I get overwhelmed. I mean other than my normal depression. Sometimes I just get filled with such sadness that it takes my breath away. I keep hoping to see lightning bugs, or fireflies, depending on your part of the county. I haven’t seen them in years. I remember chasing them when I was little, and it’s something every child should be able to do. I remember being maybe five, and having a firefly in a jar. I smeared the phosphorescence on my fingers so that I would glow too. I showed my mother and she told me that I shouldn’t do that. I asked why, and she explained that it hurt the insect. Of course I cried, but I never did it again. I don’t think I even caught them any more after that because I felt so bad and was afraid of hurting another one. Five year old me wanted to glow like the fireflies and I never thought about the insects being harmed.

Earlier tonight I thought I saw a light flashing on the edge of my garden, but no. It was just someone’s house light flickering through. Everyone knows that bees are in serious trouble, or they should. It’s still not being taken seriously enough here in the US, but people are at least aware of it. This year there are hardly any. People are aware of the plight of the bees because we rely on them to eat. What people may not know is that fireflies are in trouble as well. There’s no big money being made from fireflies, and we don’t rely on them to eat so they are relegated to backpage news. However, while bees help us to sustain our bodies, fireflies do the same for our souls. Seeing the flash of fireflies in the night with the sound of frogs and insects singing is a peaceful experience. It’s quiet, but beautiful and it will move you if you have a heart.

There is something about twilight that has always sang to me. The fireflies are part of it, but it’s more than that. It’s a period of “in between”, a time of no time at all really. It’s not day and it’s not night. It is the transition, the shifting of universes, the curtain fluttering between acts. Everything has a blue tint that muffles the world, but it can also accentuate things. It’s like if you’re with someone, that person is a bright cut out against a cloudy sky. Maybe if I ever experience it again I’ll find the words. It sharpens my senses but smoothes my soul, providing me with a clarity that is hard to find otherwise. It makes me hyper-sensitive to magic and things that don’t exist under the blaring sun and that are hidden under the darkness of night. The natural world takes a deep breath

and exhales.

 

 

 

I should be writing a book but battling demons is messy work. Goodnight.

 

“I slept under the moonlight and set my soul free, caged within jars like fireflies”.”
― Prajakta Mhadnak

Story, dialog and Martians

“So in reality, we aren’t walking down this road together,” Rena continued. “In reality, we are in the Martian’s laboratory and they’re just projecting the images we’re seeing.” She had been telling Dawn about the Ray Bradbury story she had just read. They had met up at the clearing in the woods known as “The Place”. They often went there to get away from the prying eyes of adults, to smoke cigarettes and whatever weed they had been able to score, and to tell each other their secrets. Later, they had decided to walk down to the little store for sodas. It was a beautiful Saturday in June and school would be out in a week.
“But I can feel my feet on the road” Dawn said doubtfully.
“Ah, you think you can because they pulled that sensation out of your memory with their telepathic abilities. Actually, we’re walking on the surface of Mars, and it’s like 15 feet lower than we think we are now.”

“So we’re walking in mid-air,” Skeptical now.

“No, we’re walking on Mars, across the Martian desert, but we think we’re walking up this hill on this road in Maryland. We think we see those houses over there, and these trees, and we think we hear those birds, but it’s all an illusion pulled from our memories. In reality, on Mars, it’s completely flat, no hills, and we’re walking across this red plain, but we think we’re on this road going up and down.” Dawn looked around doubtfully.

“But I can feel it,” she said, bending over and touching the pavement. She was high and was a bit wobbly standing back up, grabbing Rena for support and sending the two girls into giggles.

“Pulled from your memories. They perfectly replicated what you would expect to see, feel and hear so you have no reason to suspect that you’re really on Mars.”

“But why?”

“I think it’s an experiment.” She lowered her voice conspiratorially. “They abducted us and now they’re running tests on their pet humans. They lull us into complacency so we think that we’re just living our lives like normal, but the whole time they’re observing us, so act like you don’t know.” Rena was really getting into it now because she could see her friend was starting to get a little freaked out.

“They’re watching us? Well what are they going to do when they’re finished studying us?” Dawn was getting more anxious by the minute.

“In the story they killed them.” She lowered her voice conspiratorially. “They took them back to what they thought were their homes, because it looked just like their homes. The Martians were disguised as their family, people they know, and there was no way to tell.” Dawn had started crying, setting Rena off into another round of giggles.

“Why are you laughing? They’re going to kill us!” It took a herculean effort for Rena to get her giggles down to snickers.

“When we go home we should act like we don’t know. Act like they’re your real family and that everything is normal.”

“We should run,” Dawn whispered. The two girls looked at each other and suddenly sprinted down the rural road, past the disapproving glare of Mrs. Beckerson where she stood in her front yard watering her garden.

“Martian!” Dawn screamed as she ran past the old lady. At that they both burst into laughter, laughing so hard they had to stop outside the store to catch their breath.

They walked into the store under the watchful eyes of Mr. Patel. The friends exchanged glances and smirked. After they paid for their sodas the girls slowly started back. The subject changed to school and their love lives and the girls made plans to meet up again the following day.

“Watch out for Martians!” Rena yelled, walking backwards down the lane. Dawn waved as she headed for home.

 

 

Story

She sat in her room staring at her AC/DC blacklight poster, waiting for the inevitable. Her disassociation was wearing off, letting the sheer panic seep in to her consciousness. She had been caught smoking pot in the school bathroom and her father had picked her up at school. It hadn’t seemed real, sitting in the office with the silence broken by Dawn’s crying. She had worried more about Dawn than herself, and had taken all of the blame, telling them that it was hers and asking them to let Dawn go. In reality, Dawn had come to her at lunch in the school smoking lounge and asked her to get her high. That didn’t absolve her guilt, but Dawn was far from innocent. Regan had always been her best friend’s protector though, and she so had tried her hardest to protect her even then. Her father’s appearance in the principal’s office was like one of her night terrors, her altered consciousness trying to make sense of him in this setting, where he had never been and did not belong. Her mind tried to go away to shield her self and for a little while it worked. The drive home had been silent, Regan staring out the window as she dissociated further, none of it seeming to be real. It was 1986 and she had just started 11th grade. She wasn’t sure she’d make it to the 12th.

The front door slammed, shaking the house, and he came running up the stairs. As she stood and started backing up he shoved the bedroom door open and came for her.

“I am sick of this shit! You are going to straighten up. You are going to go to school and back and that is it, IF you don’t get expelled. ” Regan had backed up against the wall as he advanced. Her father cleared her desk with one angry swipe, strewing her things across the room.

“I am tired of all the black clothes and moody lights and the crap on the walls.” Regan had her room decorated in black light posters and psycho lights above her record player. She felt a pang but knew better than to speak. “You are going to get rid of all of it. You’re a fat slob and all this shit is going to go.” His voice had been rising to where he was almost screaming. Regan had seen this before, many times. He would start off angry and work himself up to violent fury.

When she had come in, she had dropped her belt on the floor. It was her favorite and she had saved up from her job washing dishes to buy it. It was thick leather with a double row of spikes, and the front of it hooked together with a pair of working handcuffs. He picked it up off the floor and doubled it. “You’re going to get rid of this bondage crap too! You’d better not let me catch you smoking cigarettes, let alone pot!” Never mind that he had smoked pot for as long as she could remember.

He advanced on her, beating her with the belt. The metal cuffs struck her arm as she tried to block him, making it go numb. Then he threw them at her, striking her in the chest before descending upon her.

He tossed her to the bedroom floor as she screamed, hitting her with his fists. Her world became broken snapshots of pain and terror as he grabbed her by the throat. Now he was on top of her and she wasn’t sure how exactly that happened, but he was strangling her, his fingers digging into her throat as she tried desperately to pull his hands away so she could breathe, terror infusing every part of her, no longer able to scream as tears ran down her face into her sweaty hair and she couldn’t breathe, eyes wide, the face of her father huge above her as he choked the life out of her.

He released one hand from her throat, but it didn’t help. She still could not breathe and now things were going black and her struggles had lost all strength. Her hands weakly fluttered at his iron grip on her throat, fingers digging into the soft flesh of her neck. He held his fist back, about to punch her in the face before she died, his fist shaking, face red, and suddenly her bladder let go. She was sixteen and she would later be mortified, but she was losing consciousness and she had no control over it.

He released her. She rolled over, choking, gasping for air, instinctively rolling into the fetal position before he could kick her. He did kick her, but it landed on her leg instead of her stomach. She was gulping air, harsh against her bruised throat, but so sweet. Her eyes closed as she sobbed, rolled into a ball on her bedroom floor with her father standing over her. She heard him leave.

“If I don’t get out of here he’s really going to kill me,” she thought as she crawled across the floor, shaking, beaten and in fear for her life.

 

The Hanging Man

Her mother was sad, and sent Reina outside to play. She was filled with anger and helplessness, powerless to help her mother and to fix what was wrong. She ran past the willows and down the overgrown driveway. There was very little pavement left, only crumbling patches here and there among the tall weeds. The Thomsons used to live here with their twins, but after the darkness they had moved away and their house had been torn down. Reina raced up the drive and past the flowering lilac to the old oak. She threw herself down on the carpet of haircap moss that surrounded it, clearing the green of leaves and twigs that had accumulated since she had been here last.

She lay on her back on the plush moss and watched the branches overhead move in the wind, listening to the sound it made as it rattled the leaves. She was not aware she was crying until the acrid tears ran into her ears, wetting her hair where it lay spread across the ground. She dug her fingers into the thick moss, feeling the cool sponginess of the earth beneath. She worried about her mom a lot, and she tried to make her laugh, but sometimes nothing she did seemed to help. During these times, her mother didn’t seem to be all there with her. She was preoccupied and didn’t really hear what Reina had to say. Reina remembered telling her about seeing a snake in the woods and her mother’s disappointing response of “That’s nice”. Reina had thought it was exciting. She had almost died and her mother had been unimpressed!
She rolled over onto her tummy and watched a beetle trundle across her carpet. She moved a twig out of its way absently. She was only six so she didn’t think she was big enough to help her mom out. Reina got to her feet and walked over to where the Thomson’s house used to be.

Her uncle had driven her up here on the back of his dirt bike after the Thomson’s had moved out but before the house was torn down. The front door had been standing open and her uncle stopped the bike across from the house. The front door opened onto a small landing, and stairs led to the upstairs of the old farmhouse. He told her that the man who lived there had died and it was now haunted. Reina, staring wide eyed into the abandoned house, saw the outline of a hanging man through the open doorway. He appeared to be hanging from the unseen upstairs, dangling over the front door landing. She couldn’t see any of his features. She couldn’t see what he was wearing or what his face looked like; she could only see the black man-shape. Reina had been filled with dread and had started to cry. It wasn’t that she couldn’t see his features, it was that he didn’t have any. The hanging man was just a negative space shadow, and the figure of him hanging there through the wide open door was somehow obscene. Her uncle laughed at her, teasing her, but she begged him to leave, half hysterical until he drove her away from the house and sped her through the woods to get her laughing as she clung to his waist.

After that, she did not go to the house again until after they had torn it down. Thinking it safe, she had gone excavating in the demolished house’s basement. It was full of broken brick and beams, and was irresistible to an adventurous six year old. She was down in the basement, pleased at having just found some blue chalk, when she felt she was being watched. She looked up and saw a man standing on the ground above, watching her silently. He did not make a sound, and she did not recognize him, but Reina knew instinctively that he was a ghost. She scrambled to climb out of the ruined foundation while he watched. He did not speak, or threaten her in any way, just gazed at her sadly. Once she extracted herself from the ruins, scraping her leg on a nail as she did so, she ran like a rabbit, hiding in the forest until her heart quit pounding against her chest. After that she was cautious, sneaking around the old property and keeping clear of the ruins until they were filled in.

Today she was preoccupied and was not thinking about the hanging man or the ghost. The cliffs were on the other side of the property, and they fell steeply down to the gravel pit where small pools were filled with tadpoles and snakes hid in the red clay cliffsides. She was not allowed to play down there, but she had been down there often, although normally with her cousins.

Mother is the name of God

“Mother is the name for God in the lips and hearts of little children.”
 – William Makepeace Thackeray

There is a single shining memory she holds close. She protects this memory like the ephemeral thing of beauty that it is to her, only bringing it out in her darkest moments. She was nine, and it was just her and her mother in the bench seat of the old pick up truck. She loved that the beat up old truck sent her bouncing off the seat whenever it hit a pothole, and sent her into giggles while her stomach did flip flops. It was a sunny Spring day and her mother’s hair shone pale blonde in the light. She thought her mom was the most beautiful woman she had ever seen, and the love she felt for her filled her so that there was barely room to breathe. Her mother was laughing and she just wanted this time with her to stretch out, closing a bubble of euphoria around them that would protect them from the world.

Her brother was just a baby and she held him close. He too was laughing at the bouncing truck. She could smell the clean baby scent of him as she stared at her mother. The visits with her mom always went by too fast and she never wanted to go home. Growing up, she had always worried about her mother, as she knew her mom was unhappy. She would hear her mom crying in the bedroom and run out of the house to hide. She had special places in the forest, and she would go there and sit thinking about her mom. Things had changed since her mom had moved out. Her mom was happier and that made her happy, but her mother’s new friends scared her sometimes. Sometimes she was angry that her mom had left her with her father, but she would quickly push that down. None of that mattered at this moment. The Rolling Stones song “Beast of Burden” came on the old radio and her mother sang along, turning up the volume. Holding her baby brother close, watching her mom sing, she wanted everything to stay like this forever.

It was the last precious memory she had of her mom before she died.

Night

I have always loved being out in the night. I grew up in a very rural area and it was never hard to find a place that was truly dark. Living along the Chesapeake Bay, I’ve spent more nights than I can remember listening to the sound of the waves lapping against the beach, scattering driftwood and debris across the rocky sand as the tide rose. The water is inky black at night, with sparks of light from the docks, or the moon, or simply the stars. There is a sound to the night that I’ve always found hard to describe. It’s like noises echo differently in the darkness, but there is also a sort of low pitched hum that sends waves of yearning through me. I never knew for what, but I think it was just adventure, romance, drama, all those things that make you feel alive like nothing else in your life. All those things that make you feel young and electric, and that so many people discard as they grow older. I can feel this hum quickening my blood, filling me with possibilities and making me drunk with need. It’s a little like delirium, bubbling up through me and making me fey.

My friend used to call me the dangerous type, but these nights were the only time I actually felt dangerous. I felt like I was overflowing with possibilities, with sensuality and a certain kind of violence, and I believed that anything could happen. My impulsivity bubbled up and I would let go of the reins just to see what might happen. I think the cover of darkness allowed me to be my real self, my wild core that most never get to touch. That’s where a feral child of the forest still lives. She knows that the world is full of magic and that magic is often dark and razor-edged. That child has rituals to keep the world in order.

It’s not just the sound of darkness, though. It’s all senses being engaged differently at night. The wind on a summer night carries a promise that the daylight lacks, and the feel of it on my skin is soothing even as all my nerve endings are on alert. It promises so much. I miss the moon.