O Marìa, bela Marìa pijèrmi mi…
I catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror and I’m not here.
Everything’s gone sepia, the music from the speakers no longer digital but analogue. Pale gauze curtains sweep across the window in wind turned autumnal.
I stare at my reflection. I’m thinner, younger. The white shirt I’m not wearing is stained but pressed, suspenders holding up trousers sized from when I consumed more than coffee and cigarettes.
He’s not me. But he’s me, and we’re listening together to the music, to the silent stairwell outside the door, waiting for footsteps.
The wind has swept away lingering haze, leaving behind taut anxiety, a body tensed to flee, a mind knowing there’s nowhere to go. He thinks of his friends, I think of my friends. We, together, shake off the sorrow with a brief turn of the head.
We sigh together, and wait.
In your garden is a serpent; make wine from it and give it to him.
Trudging slowly across hot streets in a searing Mediterranean sun, the song rose up. So estranged from the others around me and worried, it felt like an old friend. Maria, beautiful Maria, they sang as I shielded my eyes against the unkind light.
He and I remembering this together, across decades. The others marched off not to the sea but to ashes. I’d heard an echo of his sorrow along those dry, cobbled streets; maybe he’d heard my echo just then, staring at his haggard but beautiful reflection.
I wonder if he got tired like I did when we stood together. Or did I only feel his fatigue across the years? What did he hear, if not the same song as I?
Now more tired than before, I wish to sleep. But he, sepia-stained, awaits there to speak to me.
It took me awhile to notice him as I fucked another, the curtains brushing against our skin like fingers, until the man with flesh turned around.
“I like when you do that,” he said.
“That was the wind,” I answered, happy.
War has killed so many of your children, O Maria, beautiful Sea
There’s a cave somewhere along the southern coast of Spain where a man and his sister lived. Beautiful beyond words, he was said to make imperial oracles fall silent when he passed. He was beheaded, his sister perforated with arrows.
I met him in Toulouse, but not him exactly. In a crypt of the Basilica is said to be a piece of his body, encased in a sculpted bust. A line of red paint across his neck reminds the pilgrim that sharpened steel severed his visage from his virile form, but listening long enough it’s clear the bone inside belonged to someone else.
“Come with me for awhile,” I said to him, and he did.
He was a Cathar, I think. I remember the dream just before, when he and I followed those we thought were friends into some cellar. They were friends, but then weren’t. They bound and tortured us. I’ve been carrying his last screams with me, where they ripped open his bowels and he finally, mercifully, bled out.
There by the Way of the Bull, underneath the Road of the Three Foxes, there’s an ancient temple disinterred and filled in. Saturnine, likewise, would cause oracles to fall silent, and he was dragged to ragged flesh across that street before his death. The Basilica is his, they said, but we know what came before that Basilica, and whose rites were celebrated there.
Empire’s a long charade of shifting stories. Before I met him (or is it them? The dead are not easy to count) I descended a mountain into Catalonia. I didn’t remember him meeting me at the base, but he’s there now, again stained sepia with starry dark shadows lingering just past what eyes take in.
He’s there with me when I kneel.
Your husband will come back from the fields and be thirsty, O Maria, bella Maria.
The dead just don’t go away, do they?
He lives in a small house in a village 800 years old in the region known as the Uckermarck. Poland’s a minute drive east, Berlin an hour and a half train ride south.
He lives there, and I’m there, visiting. “I bet you smell good,” he wrote to me. “I’m not in Berlin much, though—maybe you’d come visit me on my farm?”
“Some people get aroused by sex dungeons and poppers,” I replied, brutally excited. “But farms make me hard.”
I lied a bit. They don’t actually arouse me, but they do fascinate me. Farms in ancient Pagan villages, particularly.
“Come see me.” He said. “If you’re feeling poorish, I’ll buy your ticket.
The train is full. I stand, but on another train I sat. I’m thinking of him, who sat across from me from one village to the next three years before. Wolfish, his work clothes stained, our knees touching, my eyes averting.
We sat this way almost an hour. I’d look up and he met my gaze. I don’t think his grey-blue eyes had ever turned away–only mine had, but we didn’t need eyes to talk, or words.
He stood at the door as the train slowed, two hours from Berlin. I raised my head, chanced a glance. He smiled, nodded, and waved as he left, and smiled again that night, his hand choking my throat.
“I’ll show you how to use this,” he said. We were wolves, his jaw cutting off my air. Arousal turned the fear to desire.
“This is how you use this,” he said, his cock trapped in my body, hooked as I awoke to an empty bed.
I’m on this train to an ancient Heathen village, one of the last to fall in Pomerania to the new princes and their empire. Another man meet me at the station; he sniffs me, and I him.
He’s not the other, nor is he the man who choked me later, shocked how long I did not need to breathe as stars pierced the sky above us. He could not give enough, and Arianrhod laughed as she wheeled, sharing our little secret.
Les Saintes Maries de la mer, we will dance your ring
I’m collecting the dead, the dead are collecting me. Their secrets and mine are each others, rebels across thresholds of grave dust and living ash.
Wearing a crown of stars and lake-soaked boots I was fucked by a mountain and seeded with fire. Waking in a tomb (“you’re happy” said the dreamspeaker, my companion at Newgrange) opened to a city, I laughed, aroused.
Perhaps the dead are of her court, and he’s the bridge to her island. These dead, at least.
We’d cross a bridge where Nazis died, and Alley and I both felt them. The urge to jump maddened until I talked to the river, happy to hear from me.
Upstream’s an ancient necropolis, rain washing the dust of the dead to the sea where another waits. From the sea their mist rises, rains down again upon the world, and we are soaked.
The dead come when you come, their breath erotic raising them when you rise.
None of this seems odd any longer, though I understand little.
I understand little, except that
sex is the only death
we don’t go into
Notes on songs referenced in this piece:
Maria Bella Maria–A song from Piedmont, likely 1300’s. In most versions, a man asks a woman to marry him. As she’s already married, he suggests she poison her current husband, who kills her in the attempt. There is another version, possibly from the gitanes, which Alley Valkyrie and I heard at the pilgrimage of Sainte Sara south of Arles, France, which appears to speak of children dead from war. Luc Arbogast’s version, included above, is my favorite.
Tori Amos, Marys of the Sea–A song that haunted both Alley and I by playing at random times as we prepared to go to France for our pilgrimage. The dead are funny that way.