Sea Cleaving The men of nets have their ways. Wives and daughters play their part, weave so husbands and sons can leave at dawn, sweep salted waters with lengths of trains that callus their hands. Poverty is obvious. It’s the crisp of skin peeling off the sunburned leather of a sea-weathered neck. The stink of fish too deep beneath the nails to be breached. The way captives will always be clubbed in their traps as if all smaller creatures were made simply to pay a penance—the flimsy body buckling, conferring blood, delivering one last flail after the strike that finally breaks it arrives. There is hunger—too much hunger. Who knows where it comes from. The day you meet him, your insides grind against themselves; he lumbers under a palpable weight of fish from that water — wet, iridescent prizes glistening. You pray they'll crush you. They will. The moment your teeth gnash meat, you christen him your lord. Letters Between Medusa & Poseidon I. Medusa's Hunger What you remind me: I’ve heard these stories before—men who part waves, multiply fish. A flood of thoughts hiss, dissonant, as if my head brims with the water where we met. Have you wondered whom you could be with me? Admittedly, I have imagined two futures bound, though the space for my pair's face sat blank as a page. But now that we've met, my mind veneers yours to hopes so hopeless, I've rarely ever dared to humor them. Is it possible a person can heal a leper through just a single touch, can prevent the sea's crests from overwhelming, can feed this famine from a single fry? II. Poseidon's Thirst The question is, how close will you permit me to approach? You're a cage for yourself, and you'd stay there if I let you. I've known birds like you before, tried my serenades to charm you out of that place and into my arms. You claim that you're gripped by the thought of some version of love, yet you've forged space so far from me, I fear my hands can't reach past these rungs to touch you or even toss you more than a crumb. And how can I save you from any swell when I'm locked outside your gate? It's lonely here, a desert so thirsty it can only think of water. Is it so wrong to long for just a sip? III. Medusa's Dilemma What the sea reminds me: Desires are like sand— crude intruders in a day’s flow that stack and stack until their weight suffocates. I don't know what to do with my past besides steep it silently, slide your hands away from my skin when we come in from the swim I've wished I could take your mind off the water, its tongues tracing all the places you wish to be. I've filled your ears with my best tunes, but you continue circling my body, its salt and scents. I know what you imagine with me, but the thought burns me raw—grains abrading the luster of the image of you I worship. Can there be no such thing as love between us without that? IV: Poseidon's Appeal The way your skin shimmers like the sea now it’s you who cages me and this parched pilgrim seeks more than just mirage wants most those keys you keep from me if only you’d concede sky without sea is incomplete if only you were willing to unlatch bound with me beyond boundaries this is what it means to be we this is the way lovers should be V: Medusa's Lesson at the Ranch What desert reminds me: Secrets can hide from outsiders, but not from my body— its curves consumed by sand, heels up to thighs, back, and clinging sweaty to my neck. What if I say more: Cows don't know they're fed fat. for slaughter. Their calves will forget them. This knowledge won't change the patchwork of hide and land that cloaks daily affairs like the quilt you lie over not under us, gnats swimming in our humidity. What desert reminds me: Secrets can hide from outsiders. But for how long? The hurts my mouth blurts betray but you don't end your quest; the sand is shadowing, turning a bolder version of itself; you're bolstered over me, stained by sweat, sun, dusty stalks of electrified straw. The sun falls and all I can do is try to find something sharper than the pain. Clouds above unravel sky like hides ripped, revealing the red of an animal I can't name. After, I sit in a tub with no water. Then I sit on a porch. It's morning once more. A herd speaks from the distance Too far to see. The land remembers its lot and feeds it. The earth remembers its purpose, continues to break beneath teeth. VI: Poseidon's Recoil Best forget what's happened forget about me your hands can't trap this unbridled tide unleashed inside anything between us has passed like water flees fingers like a word spoken erases from space to make way for others find another to be your waste Transfiguration of Medusa I. Duplicitous Blood Once, my blood moved nothing like red; then, ache cut down to the veins, overthrew the blue liquid my body breathes through; now that fickle drip sticks beneath my skin in purpled pools, confused, seeking a new retreat, as if water or wine could take its place, as if the sun could stretch far enough to touch and warm me, as if red could travel far enough back to resurrect a girl felled in the grass at sunset. II. Defeated Wings My back strains beneath the weight of a black, broke divinity. Holy leaves flap in the breeze, but their words don’t restore me. I can’t flee this body. My mind can’t find a peak to soar to; the weight of memory tethers me. III. Unblinking Eyes I'd saved my gaze to search for a hero only to find a predator's conceit. Now salt singes my sockets. Vigilant beacons forget the comfort of closing, refuse any respite from their watch. IV. Hardened Hands Foolish digits will forget how they almost submitted, cringe at the thought that they once sought another's. Battle-bruised knuckles proved useless, shriek as they bend. A new mold must be poured. I swim my hands in. To burn in gilt now might make me invincible once the heat's depleted. V. Forking Tongue He might say, with this spoiled mouth, I slander. But he split me. My tongue senses the stench he left in stereo. Trespasser treading the end of this plank, you're the venom I retch from. VI. Snaking Mane No body could bear such warfare. My head delivers riddles of persistent hisses forbidden liberation so long— twisted hair springs, slithers, claims my scalp's terrain and crowns my fate— thanks to this man, the oblivious birth of my serpents. Relics The first to set his sights on me after tried hymns, but the dissonance struck too similar— his chords, always choked. The next pledged devotion, but another's portrait dropped from his pocket— his fingers, perpetually outstretched. Then one came who tried to hide beneath my pane, but he didn’t see the glass was already cracked— his fractures, natural. But it’s been so long, and there have been so many, it’s hard now to recall how it first felt to witness the twist seize skin like ivy, realizing I was the root. For a while, I'll admit I could live with hunting understudies; that seemed the best I could do, marked for this dark art, my nemeses too clever, avoiding this perimeter. I'd settle for some substitute for justice, torment under gluttons. ignoring the warnings. I once wished a tender face could exist with me. But now I know better. Men keep advancing; the same gaze awaits; everything petrifies. This is no life. No one wishes for kisses that shock white. Note From the Nadir No savior awaits. These men are predators, and every girl, doomed to be consumed by their smoke and mirrors. I’m testing the edges of shards with my hand, guessing the distance between cold silver, steaming red. My life’s been a feast of smoke and mirrors. Best to slice through that meat with my own hand, put some distance between real and pretend now that I know the hero I sought will never reach me, doesn’t exist. Can I cut through illusion with my own two hands as swiftly and easily as my head sopped up what was fed? I’m certain the dream I chased never existed; there is no great epiphany. Yet my head still ingested what was fed. What can you do when part of the problem is you? You’d think there’d be some epiphany, that the equation could be worked out in one’s head, but there’s nothing you can do when the problem is you. Can you solve that problem with your head? Can you solve that problem in your head? Try to solve any problem in your head when the root of the problem is you. No savior awaits. These men are all the same. That problem lives in and beyond my brain. So thank goodness for sharp shards, steadfast hands.
“Sea Cleaving” (originally published in Paper Nautilus)
“Letters Between Medusa and Poseidon” (originally published in Juke Joint)
“Transfiguration of Medusa” (originally published in Persephone’s Daughters)
“Relics” (originally published in Feral: A Journal of Poetry and Art)
“Note From the Nadir” (originally published in Juke Joint)
Bio: Raegen Pietrucha writes, edits, and consults creatively and professionally. Her chapbook, An Animal I Can’t Name, won the 2015 Two of Cups Press competition; her debut poetry collection, Head of a Gorgon, is forthcoming with Vegetarian Alcoholic Press in 2022; and she has a memoir in progress. She received her MFA from Bowling Green State University, where she was an assistant editor for Mid-American Review. Her work has been published in Cimarron Review, Puerto del Sol, and other journals. Connect with her at raegenmp.wordpress.com and on Twitter @freeradicalrp.