note: this poem duet is the longest verse work I've ever written, and, fittingly, it also took the longest. If I remember correctly, these two have been in the works for over a year and possibly two years. They are meant to be read together, not separately. :)

--viennacantabile


märchen : one

-

I. cendrillon

after the warning, there is the faint
booming and cracking of noise, and then
out of nowhere comes
the most beautiful sight in the world; etched
starbursts and silhouetted chrysanthemums
sparkling, sparking into the night
dazzling the specks of humanity clustered
in a celestial palace reflected on water.

fireworks. and eyes meet
over a glass of champagne.

dance? he asks, bright smile and golden eyes
glowing in the light. before i can speak
we are gone, swept away,
shimmering sparks of light
refracting in a curio case
of novelties.

i know you. i have already met
your darker-haired cousin, i say
as the king of the revels whirls
me around over marble. his
laugh splinters like carillon bells
on metal.

that foolish man? he asks, hands artfully skimming
over ivory and sky-blue brocade. say no more—
he would offer you endless night, a prison
of darkness disguised as love.
i can give you more.
i can give you more.

he is blinding, dazzling, glittering,
tempting, and i
can't catch my breath.

still moving, he murmurs into my skin. i
will give you the stars fixed
as diamonds around your throat; the universe
laid bare at your feet. choose me,
he says, and you
need never fear the night
again.

his touch is silk
over iron, and i understand exactly
what he says (and doesn't
say). i answer: only
your chains.

what difference does it make? he asks
scornfully. wouldn't you
prefer to be caressed
by the lightest touch, rather
than bound in the cage
of his obsession? he pauses, absently. though
you would make the most beautiful nightingale.

he shakes his head as if to clear it.
enough! he says, this
is my domain, and here
we shall not speak of him.

he touches my face.
unmask, he says, and it is not
a request.

i trace the edges
of his own disguise with my fingertips. it is hard
and cold, borders gleaming
with pinpricks of faceted fire, bleached gold biting
and brilliant against my skin.

and you? i ask.

he grasps my wrists with hands elegantly gloved
in gold-braided white. you know
who i am.

i only know
who you are not, i say. i want to see
your face.

a look before the leap? he asks, bronzed skin settling into a smile
that doesn't reach his eyes. why bother? when you know
the result will be the same.
his fingers continue on their path, tracing
their way past the corner of my mouth
to ivory lace.

silver filigree for the nightingale or gold wire
for the canary, it matters, i answer, raising my hands
to sever cut metal from flesh.

his eyes spark like hard chips
of amber, but a moment later
he is resigned as he slips the delicate scrap
of silk from my face.

thus unmasked, we stare
at each other. and the whispered question
remains: who is hiding now?

-

II. phoebus

the day has faded into night, and the candlelight
makes his eyes glimmer. he looks softer,
gentler.

he moves closer.
you and i were not made for
his darkness, he whispers
into my throat. come away
with me.

a pause.

or, he says idly, eyes
glinting, i could make you come
to me, stay with me. i don't have to leave it up
to you. his voice is honey-sweet, and i
can't tell truth or lie in his tones.

and if i refused? i ask, finally.

he waves his hand. immaterial, he says lightly.

you and i both know that
would be too easy, i say, finally. it is the chase
that spurs you, the pursuit. if i were so easy to win
as your other songbirds, you would not
want me.

he inclines his head in tacit acknowledgement. true.
and yet. you still
hesitate, even though you should be running
as fast as you can in the other
direction.

this is not
what i want, i say, and outside, constellations break
and fade
and fall.
he loves me.

and if that is your only defense, my dear, he says
sardonically,
you are fighting a losing battle.

-

.end.


continued in the next chapter.