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Spring 2021 Issue


Welcome to the Spring 2021 issue of Mirror Dance! This issue’s stories focus on secret knowledge – the secrets shared by ghosts and fairies, dragons and wizards, gods and time travelers, nursery rhymes and dreams and (maybe) social media. Enjoy! I hope you all are staying safe and healthy. -MA

     The Man Who Saw Dragons by Anahita Hoose
     Spell 17 by Tristan Beiter
     The Quill and the Queen by Claire Thomas
     The Queen of Elfland’s Lover by Sandi Leibowitz
     The Book of Ravana by Jahnavi Misra
     Children of the Elect by Jennifer Crow
     Here is the Girl Ghost by Gillian Daniels
     A History of Falling by Avra Margariti
     Losing a Treasure by Sandra Unerman
     a word for the day by Elizabeth R. McClellan
     Transplanter X by Douglas Kolacki

The Man Who Saw Dragons

The Man Who Saw Dragons
By Anahita Hoose

It began with an undifferentiated commotion of color and movement and sound, swishing and humming through his brain. Later, he would learn to hear the high buzzing and see before his mind’s eye a cricket proudly perched on a stalk, but for now it was only the voice of summer, mingling with the chatter of his mother and the other women as they worked across the field, bathed in glistening sweat, gathering gleanings. He explored the jungle under a hedgerow, warily sneaking up on the dancing shadows of flower heads. Suddenly a branch creaked; he started, knocking his head against another, setting off an avalanche. A darker, more sinuous shadow was unleashed, painting the bleached grass with a streak of sable. Delicate plumes emerged from its body and spurted at the head. He hardly dared to raise his head. There it was, dancing above his head against the blinding blue, awful and lovely. When he cried, his mother ran to him, but he could only weep and nest in her bosom.

He was a year or two older when he found its portrait painted in oils in a dusty corner of the church. It reared splendidly over the mournful russet-cloaked figure of Jesus, who stood bowed, his gentle mouth frozen in prayer. The tendril of its tail snaked over his sandalled foot. Its scales were green, each edged with a gilt rim that caught the little light. Its eyes were gold too. Like Jesus’, its head was bent, its mouth open as if it were breathing on him. The vicar said it was a dragon and stood for the sin of the world. I saw a dragon in the corn-field, he told his mother, but she first laughed and then shushed. There were new twin babies to be nursed now.

As a gangling youth, walking home from the field as the dusk settled, he would see them swirl in the corner of his eye. He knew now how to make them come and go. When he looked directly at them, they would stiffen into inert foliage, but when he let his mind drift upon the edge of nothing, he could wake them even by the ruthless light of noon, making them twitch with their own energy, catalyzing their thorns into scales. He was no longer afraid of them. They were emissaries whose purpose he did not understand, but who appeared to him in a benevolent spirit. If he had not been a humble soul he would have thought the vicar was wrong. In his heart he suspected the dragons were not sinful, but merely old.

He courted a girl once. She had black curls and clear grey eyes, and she danced with him after the bringing in of the harvest and praised him for how light on his feet he was, for so big and strong a man. When he took her a bunch of mauve daisies, she kissed his hand, and then his cheek, and told him she would not make him a good enough wife. He walked all night, plodding along stream banks, struggling through woodland brakes, ignoring the scratches on his hands and the deepening chill that breathed of coming winter. The night was full of eyes and rustles, but he ignored those too. At last he threw himself down in deepest weariness on the bracken at the wood’s eaves. He must have slept, because when he was next conscious the line of the dawn was spreading itself out along the horizon, the color of the tenderest rose in the vicarage garden. As he watched a dragon upreared itself, salmon and deepest bruise-pink, flaming in majesty against despair. Its wings embraced the world. Flame exploded from its mouth, growing brighter and brighter as the sun vanquished the darkness. 

As he grew older he gained a respected place in the village. Many were fond of him, although he was never a great talker, except sometimes when beer had loosened his tongue and he would tell strange tales of a life flickering in the hedgerows, beyond and beneath the world they all knew of field mouse and hedgehog. Around harvest time he was always moody and abstracted (though he worked as hard as any laborer in the village), as if he was watching for something. He would spend hours standing by the village pond, gazing through the water. Sometimes his favorite niece joined him. Can’t you see them, he asked her, coiling like smoke? She stared as if her gaze could melt the fluid surface. The newts? she inquired. He shrugged tolerantly. You’re not looking right.

There was a year when he fell down in the field and could not move one side of his body. After that he no longer worked, but moved into his niece’s cottage and watched the light change on her flowers. One dawn a bramble scratched on his window, so he went outside, where from the apple tree a sinuous shadow unwound itself at its feet. The twist of its leaves had an inviting cast, so he settled against the trunk and watched the mounting glow of the dawn. After a few minutes he closed his eyes, and was mildly surprised to find that he could see his companions more clearly than ever before. They were all around him in the garden now, and when he looked straight at them they did not decline into twig and leaf. Are you real? he asked. They rustled in amusement. It depends on how you look at it, and who is doing the looking. 

The whole village turned out for his funeral and spoke kind words. His niece wept, and left scarlet poppies on the grave, and never told a soul about the other garland she had found cradling him, the tender green brambles twined lovingly around his arms and shoulders, lifting their pluming leaves into the golden morning sun.   

* * *

Anahita Hoose is originally from England and currently lives in Los Angeles, where she is a PhD student at UCLA (studying ancient languages). She enjoys writing fiction and poetry when not reading voraciously.

What do you think is the attraction of the fantasy genre?

That inevitably varies from reader to reader (and author to author, and day to day…). One facet (celebrated in Tolkien’s essay ‘On Fairy-Stories’) is the way fantasy enables a recovered appreciation of the mundane. I remember a 2016 walk in an area I knew well. Heavy rain had created a topsy-turvy world where gates opened onto a sheet of glass and trees grew from their own reflections. The experience was magic, but the ingredients of the potion were familiar - the unusual combination just enabled me to appreciate them afresh. Fantasy can do this for the world around us.

Spell 17

Spell 17
By Tristan Beiter

Here begin promises and explanations, going in and out of the speech, having desire, having the door to the garden at the back of the house.

I am the crown and the scepter. What does this mean? The red ship and the platform and the summer. The Walker passed over the grave and tamped it.

I shall be purified. Otherwise said: the body shall enter into my body and the good things of this world shall accrete to my flesh.

“When I was in my land, I came into my city” What is it? “It is the horizon of my father Atum.”

Have you been away? Have you written to the one you left behind? Otherwise said: the juggler, the dance. Do we join in; can he keep us safe and sure?

*

The man builds a wall around himself, forgetting the way out. Otherwise said: trees from the flesh, the man with yellow eyes and fish scales.

The lamp knows what it wants and insists upon achievement.

I have come to the blue hills and given myself to the one who lives there. What does this mean? The lady upside down with the lion next to her? Otherwise said: nothing shall make me use the power I have been given as it should never be used.

It is the road to the future, or else to the oasis. What is it? The great City of Cats and Ravens.

The King of Cups. Otherwise said: the waters pour fourth from his hands until there is no more land but only sea.

*

The world has never welcomed him. What does it mean? That Jonah did not know the whale for nothing is known from the inside.

A giant mouse can eat the lead out of stained glass windows; if the church is made of glass, the mouse can devour the church walls into shatterings of color.

“I have seen this sun-god who was born yesterday from the Celestial Cow; if he be well then will I be well, and vice versa. What does it mean? It means these waters of the sky,”

The great war over eggplant. What is it? An absurdist manifesto. Otherwise said: the couch covered in lilies and the inability to sit for fear of ruining the plastic.

All flesh is grass, thus all families are really gardens. What does this mean? When you mow the lawn are you Herod slaughtering the innocents?

*

The Lady of the Lake. Otherwise said: the one who knew where swords would fall over all things in all things.

The day that was given to me was not enough. Otherwise said: the snow covering the skin of the dead lion, causing it to solidify like bad leather.

The earth will allow me its fruits. What does it mean? Rabbit-skin shapes and a bit of gold on the eyelid.

The entrance to the ring of stones; the day you will be asked to return to the house in the City on the Plain. What is it? A pillar, a cedar, a palmful of salt.

I am the one who went forth. Otherwise said: the book written on the line of the bark.

*

The great dish opened its mouth and welcomed me into the world. Otherwise said: everything can be reduced to either an egg sitting on a plate or a grapefruit.

I arrived at the Gate of the Seven. What is it? Is it the palace of the Lord and the entrance into heavens guarded by the sisters of Re?

A hollow pearl is the same as the room of a spacious house. Otherwise said: the door is made of alabaster.

At the peak, you will meet the widow and she will dispense wisdom from the teeth you have lost.

Give the real bird to the great old fish and to the turquoise. Otherwise said: The fish knows to eat or it shall be driven from the pond.

* * *

Tristan Beiter is a speculative poet and fiction nerd originally from Central Pennsylvania. His poems have previously appeared in such venues as Abyss & Apex, Eternal Haunted Summer, GlitterShip, Liminality, Bird’s Thumb, and Twisted Moon. When not reading or writing, he can be found crafting absurdities with his boyfriend, experimenting with needlecraft, and shouting about literary theory. Find him on Twitter at @TristanBeiter.

What do you think is the attraction of the fantasy genre?

I find the attraction of fantasy is that it allows for transformation and association. The magic and possibility of fantasy let me imagine a new world where the connections I’m working through in my writing are not incidental, but rather are built into the nature of the world. Free to populate the poem with spirits and spells, the underlying logic (or illogic) of my thoughts emerges in colors and detail I can’t see when I write realistically.

Correspondences between fantasy and my life are more complicated than metaphor or allegory, so I can always maintain the little bit of distance I need by not only thinking of whatever needs working-out in a poem as a fantastical other but by genuinely writing about that second thing, a transformation which I find grants more perspective than I can maintain when I need to match real-life accuracy or even science-fictional rigor.