Susan Slaviero

Cautioning the Water Nixie Against Child Abduction

Shapeshifting will not unname you. Rhine maiden, dressed in scales or skin. A fishwife offers you three drops of blood in exchange for her firstborn daughter. That flaxen girl, untangling your long, dark hair with her eelspine comb, while her mother snakes along the shore, guessing that every hippo and crocodile is simply you, in animal form. You are foam-born, a Venus of waterhorse and worm. You used to whiten in the sun, take human form on holidays, drinking vodka on Midsummer’s Eve with rough men. Once, a child recognized you by the wet hem of your sleeve, the greenish cast to your lips. Black cats paw at your naked feet until you find your way back to brackish water. You are owed, you think. What’s one little girl? She should love you when you sprout fins from your shoulder blades, slivering gills beneath your ribcage. But she is dry and legbound, knifing her own chest with a serrated leaf. Plumes of heartblood like waterlilies blooming, reddening the surface.

Hives

1. n. structures (natural or manmade) that house colonies of bees. In entomologic terms, the girl lacks the necessary exoskeleton. She soaks in a pool of honey, but the balm slips away, like flesh from boiled bones. She surrounds herself with busy patterns— plaids & paisleys, cabbage roses— to camouflage the blemishes in the drywall. She eats her morning toast with royal jelly, isolates herself in wax rooms, humming as she peels oranges with her beestung mouth. 2. n. allergic skin condition characterized by hot, reddish welts. A man is waiting. He offers the girl a piece of sweet halvah. Blisters form on her tongue. He wears a mesh suit when he handles her. The vast dimensions of his hands, the way they smell of leather and freshly husked corn. There is a scar near the arch of his eyebrow, still sutured with rough black thread. She is more than warm. She is parasitic.

Two Fires at the Library

1. Hypatia She calculates elegant epicycles, explains the density of fluids— saltwater, ravensblood, milk. There is empty space between formulas & stars. Between plundered & burnt. She dreams of fish sputtering among the codices, spines of books spiderwebbed from disinterest. A membrane of dust on an astrolabe. Language is merely twigsnapped bone, an imprecise almanac on the cycles of grain, children who ache for bread & papyrus, for a small spit of earth to call home. How easily they all become disenchanted—she is unskinned, oyster-shelled and pulped. Encircled in spirals of smoke and shreds of vellum. 2. Alexandria, after This null set. Improper fractions of shattered crystal. The remainder of books burned for heating bathwater. There is mist rolling in from the docks, but it sprawls thin, letting the ash reignite at the slightest waft of heat, at the breath of soldiers. The Nile is dry and mudless. The purple moon a devileye hidden in a bound manuscript, the charred pages an omen of men beguiled by paved roads & lusty women. Time is confluent; Hypatia’s ghost still gutters in the stacks, smelling incense and gingerroot, postulating words that fume & smolder.

Susan Slaviero has a B.A. in Creative and Professional Writing from Lewis University. Her work has appeared in Blood Orange Review, Arsenic Lobster, Wicked Alice, The Chimaera, Umbrella Journal, and elsewhere. She is the author of two chapbooks: An Introduction to the Archetypes (Shadowbox Press, 2008) and Apocrypha (Dancing Girl Press, 2009). She designs and co-edits the online literary journal, blossombones.