8:1: “Lifestory”, by J.C. Runolfson

8:1: “Lifestory”, by J.C. Runolfson

So the god of love cozies up to me
at the bar
feeds me the sob story
how his wife broke faith
burned him with her
lack of trust
drove him away.

I know the tale
but I let him speak
talk himself into going back
defying his mother again
reclaiming the bride he tricked
letting her claim
what love should be.

I get up when he’s done
he never once looked at my face.

I step out into the night
the wind blows
snow and roses down the street
ahead of me walks a woman
in a mermaid dress

dripping blood and seawater
with every step.

I brush past her
hear her silence like a song
rising defiant between buildings
crying out her lover’s name
crying out her liquid courage
she knew when she saw him
what love should be.

I turn a corner while she walks on
never more than an echo to her heart.

There’s a limo driving slowly
its reflection a pumpkin
in the puddles
from this afternoon’s storm
the woman inside shines like a mirror
like cut glass
like tall white candles.

She looks out
with starry eyes
onto streets she’s used to seeing
grimier than this
but she cleans up pretty
she cleans up well
she’ll clean up thorough
what love should be.

I pause under a streetlamp
another shadow in her light.

Gold cascades down
the highrise beside me
green twines up from pavement
hair and beanstalk
a choice for the prince of fools
singing under his breath
as he struts his stuff.

He takes one in each hand
no way to climb
when they go to the same place
the same ending
not worth splitting himself in two
he’ll fall or he’ll learn
what love should be.

I watch him waver between bright choices
a distant darkness on the ground.

Far above a window opens
swans fly out
nightingales and doves
a nightful of feathers
and wild seductive cries
a girl in patchwork skins looks up
and flings wide her arms below.

She has fox-eyes and doe-ears
her hands are fine and white
and callused all at once
a horsehead speaks above her
geese scatter at her feet
three times her mother bled dry
what love should be.

I walk away from her mad purity
a skin she has yet to shed.

Thorns and wrought-iron mark a path
I take inward
to a garden overgrown
lilies and climbing roses
bluebells and forget-me-nots
golden apples strawberries
and pomegranates.

The ripe fruit is on the ground
in the ground
seeds like rubies glowing in the dark
spilled from the mouth of beauty
blessed or cursed to show
her nature with each word
that love should be.

The juice runs red under my feet
the fruit grows over and on.

At the heart of the garden
waits a toad
waits a frog
waits a bloated green beast
floating in the pond
the gold of ring and ball
glimmering in bulging eyes.

Beneath the water’s surface
gleam lovely faces
clasped hands
lost men and women
unchanged from when they fell
drowned or sleeping still
caught in the dream
that love should be.

I sit down at the water’s edge
the beast regards me expectantly.

Every promise and pledge between us
is paid in full
is forever due
We have both worn skin and ring
tasted water and fruit
’til we are ever green bound
wet and gorged.

It’s my time again for skin
and I lean toward him
the smell rich and rotten
sweet and heady
too much and too little
and too many things
that love should be.

I kiss him on the head
my breath full of tales.

The fairest bard rises up from me
in the dark
shakes out his finery
blows me a kiss
the most we have now
without breaking the spell
we took such care to weave.

He takes the ring and leaves me
diving for the ball
walks out of the garden past the fruit
the flowers
the thorns
he takes his turn to reflect
what love should be.

We know what love is well enough
we seek to taste the root.

J. C. Runolfson never grew out of a fascination with fairy tales. She has, in fact, grown further into it. Her work has previously appeared in Lone Star Stories, Reflection’s Edge, and Scheherezade’s Bequest on the Cabinet des Fees website. She currently lives in San Diego at the whim of the Navy.

The concept of this poem was storyteller become story become audience and back again, though not necessarily in that order.

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