This god of the underworld sits on a burnished throne.
I don’t know what to all him, his hands liver-blotched,
veins blue as the calyx of a cornflower or the soul of a flame.
I stand before him within the multitude, do not speak.
He gestures me forward, places a cup in my cold hands.
The cup is empty, incised with scales. A dragon
winds along the rim. Fill it, he commands. I do not know
what the cup is meant to hold, but from below, grey moths
lift their bodies, fog the mouth of the vessel.
A white-winged one folds itself into my mouth. So, He says,
you are a collector of souls. Let the one human soul
who rides your tongue speak. His fingers force my lips to part.
The voice is not my own. Once, the white moth hisses, Alone
on the edge of a forest, I slaughtered birds. I loathed their flight,
their song, live-plucked bright feathers to drive cries of pain.
I wanted to tear them from the sky. I craved silence, wingless
dawns, to know true isolation. I hacked their flesh, savored
its rot. The voice stops. Remove the moth from your tongue.
The god holds it close. This one goes to Circle Five.
A violence against the gentle, he intones, and rubs
powdered scales onto his spotted wrists. Marks fade.
Veins pale. And when I raise my eyes and look, the god
has assumed a raven’s form. The room rises, fills with wings.
I too rise, stretch newly feathered arms. The cup clatters
onto tile. All are transformed. We climb air, feast on sweet
moth souls. The raven perches on a stand of gold and watches
while we birds of the inferno swoop and sing.
Susan Roney-O’Brien curates a monthly poetry venue, is part of 4 X 4, a group of visual artists and poets and is the vice president of programming for the Worcester County Poetry Association. Her poetry has been published widely, translated into Braille and Mandarin and nominated for many Pushcart Prizes. She won the 2020 Stanley Kunitz Medal in Poetry. Publications include chapbooks: Farmwife, the winner of the William and Kingman Page Poetry Book Award, and Earth (Cat Rock Press). Word Poetry published Legacy of the Lost World in 2016. Kelsay Books published Bone Circle, in 2018 and Thira in April, 2020.