Carrington's Ferry

By Mike Allen

What threat

could these scaly oarsmen ever pose?

She dodged Miro's famished halo

of animalcules, Picasso's rutting minotaur,

Tanguy's liquid, probing pebbles.

Deflected Dali's softening emissions.

Sidestepped Duchamp's fractured descent.

Her Cerberus grew far more heads

than most. She kept the one whose kiss

she chose to return, and killed

any others who rashly fought off sleep.

Compared to them, this boatful of lizards,

this hooded ferryman with forked tongue

has no hope in hell of harming her.

She looks back

at the red-gowned women,

the graceful petals of their heads,

pale orchid blooms, nodding

with the rhythm of the wind.

Will they warn her

if her next step goes awry?

She'd first glimpsed them in the English gardens

where she frolicked as a girl, but

they never spoke, offered no chat,

unlike the slow, thoughtful statues

or the stained glass peacocks who

would happily shriek her ears off—

Don't let them send you away, they pleaded,

Come back to us, come back to us.

How she tried, rebelled against her schoolmasters

whether at work or play, kept her attention

focused in other space, the space she meant to see.

How tight the sheets they wrapped her in

to trap her, drag her silent from the hedgerow maze.

No matter how shallow her footprints,

the thunderous black beast sniffed out her path,

the stone of her father's face crowning its shoulders,

battlements shielding his ears, eyes empty

as her hopes of escape. She would be a gift

to the King, a dainty mosaic mortared

in his courtyard, a bauble of fancied flesh.

She attempted epic quests, all the time

the tether-thread coiled around her wrist,

drawing her back to the drawing room.

Until the orchid maids nodded.

The tunnel to their altar opened in his chest,

this silver-haired, sly-smiling German,

rimmed with light, shaded with night,

the passage opening and opening into his

body and beyond, her thread redirected inside,

a guide to navigate a new labyrinth—

she left a chortling hyena in her ballroom clothes

and stole off to Paris, walked naked

past the all-consuming artists' eyes

and told that dirty Spaniard Miro

to fetch his own damn cigarettes.

Her Max, already wed; but he could not

and would not deny her.

And the demons

climbed from blood-soaked soil,

too many to resist, and pried him away;

laughing through dog fangs,

kicking with jackboots,

snarling with panther muzzles,

armored with Panzer hide,

running her down as she fled,

carrying her into the Spanish asylum

where they pinned her down and

racked her with volts, poisoned her brain,

ground against her bucking spirit,

quested to invade the maze, hunting

for the gate she desperately held shut.

Her father sent a rescuer by submarine

but as the taxi rushed the Lisbon streets

a voice heard from the wrong end

of a trumpet whispered new instructions

and she demanded instead the embassy

to Mexico—what chance Picasso's

startled friend would greet her there?

What chance, in the distance past his shoulder,

she'd see pale orchids nod their stately heads?

The Nazis could not reach her anymore,

nor the nouveau riche or the House of Lords.

The hero twins called on her, the hunter

and the jaguar, the grinning monkeys

and the serpent who gifted her

with feathers of every color,

fierce Frida and her monster Diego.

If she ever grew weary from their company,

she could always steal into the hedgerows,

her private garden where mannered harpies

poured tea and priestesses bowed their horns,

attendants in crow masks bathed exquisite vultures

and butterfly-winged sphinxes guarded their eggs

as Tarot trumps walked arm in arm,

witchy trinities mixed spells in flower cups

and faces peered from canopies,

playful ghosts snagged in the trees.

Asked where she birthed the wonders,

she snapped, You overthink. It's about

seeing, about visions into other space.

Both lands loved her in return.

For decades she dreamed, long since freed

of any limits.

Stone touched by her fingertips took flight.

* * *

In the maze, dark waters rise.

The orchid maids watch.

The ferrymen wait.

She snorts at them and turns

the other way.

She walks across the forest, looming

into the sky. The wheatstalks

of her hair channel the sun.

She unfastens her robes, exposes

hieroglyphs etched on her skin.

Birds spill from beneath her breasts,

shade the countryside with outstretched wings.


Mike Allen works as the arts and culture columnist for the daily newspaper in Roanoke, Va., where he lives with his wife Anita, a goofy dog, and two mischievous cats. In his spare time he does a ridiculous number of things, including editing the critically-acclaimed anthology series Clockwork Phoenix and the long-running poetry journal Mythic Delirium. His own poetry has won the Rhysling Award three times, and his fiction has been nominated for the Nebula Award. Apex Publications plans to release his first story collection, The Button Bin and Other Horrors, in late summer or early fall. His stories and verse have appeared recently in Weird Tales, Nebula Awards Showcase 2009, Best Horror of the Year One, Cthulhu's Reign, Steam Powered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories, Apex Magazine, Southern Fried Weirdness: Reconstruction, Ideomancer, Inkscrawl and Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine. Many more of his poems can be found in the Strange Horizons archives.

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