Spell For a Friend

A scrap of sky-blue silk; a ball of snow,
hard now and sparkling as the moon,
as distant as the friend I packed it for
in a December freezer, winter’s magic
preserved long past June, as I waited
for him to return from the hospital.
He never did. My promises fail,
one last defense after another
crumpling, fragile as this crust of snow,
while the snowball glows in the freezer,
perfect sphere slowly dwindling,
desiccating one crystal after another,
a thousand twinkling lights unique as the stars
or the snowflakes in that book my husband gave me
one month before deciding on divorce. Let’s toss that in,
while there’s still a flake to feel
the ball melt into tears and hope — perhaps —
for a promise kept.  Stew for thought,
a thin but sustaining broth.
This sky-blue silk once wrapped me in my glory days,
a princess of sorts, my castle a shared dream, yet real enough
to scrape my knees on stones. When I left
to cool my heels in the dust, it disappeared
into the trees like mist. I couldn’t find my way back.
I kept the dress, later cut into little pieces —
a bed for my dead owl finch,
that little mother who broke her heart
over everyone’s abandoned eggs
as she tried to clutch seventeen by herself;
a swath for the bag to hold the ashes of my sweet black cat
who’d purr me to sleep, the only rest I’d have,
his green eyes concerned, arms stretched around my neck
like an embrace, Tino my only friend
in long nights of tears when I thought my husband hated me.
The sky-blue suit my father wore with a buttoniere rose
into his grave: in all ways “heaven’s color, the blue,”
as William Morris’s Guenevere would say.
So many dead; so many friendships fallen
to that bane of modern life, enough time —
and all those dreams that never bore fruit —
now a barren, withered tree.
I don’t fit in here at this medieval feast:
all these princesses rustling past,
red-gold strands coiled perfectly, their gleaming crows
perched on shoulders with a delicate tilt,
their eyes glancing past my roguish cobalt tabard,
black-figured crosses marking me
a champion of the queen.
But the queen is dead.
Gone now, my friends,
to wind and weather, swept beyond me
to warm welcomes and warmer beds,
while even the cats I cared for
have died off one by one.
My husband tells me after he goes
I’ll still have the moon, the stars, his telescope,
owls in the night, cats prowling
through my bed, snow
sparkling bright in the moon,
and Doctor Who.  That if I wonder if I’m worthless
I should ask young Kaitlyn or three-years’ Adam,
mad for owls and trains, or any of my brothers’ kids —
look into their eyes and see the answer.
Their joy does brighten life, the wonderful mischief in their faces
so much like that of my best-friend little brothers, once upon a time —
all those superhero chases I’d thought long gone —
all wonderful, but not enough to ease that hollow place
when that snore, that door, that heavy tread in the night
are gone at last, moved on.
What use are all my stories, all my spells
when that thrill of being met by electric light
has been replaced by dread, an empty house?
All the heart I put in him for the last eleven years
has gone with him, leaving me quite alone,
not even memories for company, for every one contains
a secret room where air pumps suddenly to poison
and vipers strike from archived boxes
and photos tilted toward black light show monsters
and bees have sealed the holes in hollow walls
with honey bitter with lead paint and rotten wood
and ashes from burnt-out dreams.
All these ingredients he leaves me
add up to his love: “You’ll still have the trees
and your father’s manuscripts. You don’t need me.”
But I need someone other than Night
for company. All my love spells won’t do more
than curdle his blood made so sour by our marriage
he’d rather hang from the limb outside my window
till it breaks and spills him into a dog-filled yard
than sit beside me and listen to me speak.
And yet, these comforts he’s handing out like presents
must be worth something. I’m not Faust, not Frankenstein,
no fairytale witch with a vat to boil love,
just a wordsmith used to conjuring friends and monsters
that frighten even me. I need a friend
even if she eats me afterward — at least she’d
leave her mark and I’d know she’d been here,
not some dream, the claws lodged in my heart
like love bites. I’ll break my heart
in seven pieces to throw in with my owls,
my Grandma’s colored scarves,
my five-week-old tabby kitten
like orange marmalade.
My littlest niece’s laugh,
“You’re my favorite visitor, Aunt Adele”
— and pictures of my father, smiling, young,
two years’ beloved dead.
My last memory of my husband’s face
smiling above me, an unplanned moment of bliss
after he’d told me he was already gone.
My heart breaks, crumbles, mixes, blends,
thickens and hardens into fudge,
a treat Mom once made with love,
now only guilt and pain, to buy affection.
Another whole year gone.
I don’t need a mentor, a monitor, a worried Mom,
or even someone to hold my hand through the dark woods.
Just someone to hear my hoots and holler back,
echoing through the long, deepening hollow of the night —
another owl-soul, dark and sweet with stories.
So take this snow, this moon, these owls,
A few hairs from my favorite cats
(they’re all my favorites)
lodged in odd places like watch faces,
cell phones, tissues, and DVDs.
Add in some lines by Dickinson and Poe,
shocked blue by soul-magic and woe.
Turn up the femme-electronica,
weird guitars and harpsichord ghosts.
Throw in those ticklish, bright colors
from all my feathered friends.
Then let her sing, let her write,
let her be Night’s shadow —
but bring me down a friend.

[Adele Gardner is currently painting portals in her hall and building a closet TARDIS.  Home wouldn’t be complete without five cats, five birds, a harpsichord, and two friendly guitars.  She’s had poems and stories in Goblin FruitStrange HorizonsDaily Science FictionSybil’s GarageThe Leading EdgeMythic DeliriumMindFlights, and Star*Line, among others.  She chaired the 2012 Rhysling Anthology.  Her first poetry collection, Dreaming of Days in Astophel, is available from Sam’s Dot Publishing.  Please note: most of this occurred under her previous byline, Lyn C. A. Gardner.]

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