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Penemue

Penemue
by Sandi Leibowitz


When the Watchers sat in council,
determined to wreak havoc among humankind,
many were the instruments of destruction
we devised.

Azazel licked his lips,
and from one drop of shining spittle molded
curved scimitars sharp as hate,
neat stilettos,
ruby-pommeled sabers,
silver daggers etched with arabesques,
wicked switchblades quick as wit,
enough swords to ensure
an eternity of widows.

Gadriel wrung pigment
from his iridescent wings,  
distilling creams and potions,
kohl and henna,
rouge to turn the wan girl ruddy,  
powder to blanche the dusky, mole-pocked drab,  
gloss to make lips blossom like post-coital roses.
He crowed over his jars,
foreseeing kingdoms ruined by men’s lust,
women wasting themselves over each flaw
they imagined in their mirrors.

I, clever Penemue, plucked out one precious pinion,
scratched my arm deep, and from the opened vein
poured out lapis liquid,
thus fashioning the first ink-filled quill.
I gave God’s children runes and alphabets,
clay for cuneiforms,
tablets and chisels,
inkstones and brushes,
paper and parchment,
pencils and pens,
ipads and styluses.

The Watchers rejoiced, envisioning riots incited,
treaties violated,
lawsuits ruining fortunes and families,
unseemly love letters breaking hearts.
I savored sweeter fare,
the dream-wearied author sunk in poverty,
the lion fearing each hit his last.
I would people palaces, attics, gutters
with blear-eyed poets
gnawing on the sour rind
of each
inadequate
word.  

* * *


Sandi Leibowitz writes fantasy fiction and poetry, often based on myths and fairy tales. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in such places as Strange Horizons, Goblin Fruit, Mythic Delirium and Best Horror of the Year, vol. 5, edited by Ellen Datlow.  She has never met an angel but she frequently and happily sings Hosanna, especially if it belongs in a piece of Renaissance polyphony.

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

It allows one to experience things beyond our mundane, everyday existences--so full of inanities (doing laundry, buying toothpaste, getting the mail, paying the bills...yawn, yawn, yawn). All fantasies don't transport us into worlds filled with beauty, but even the most terrible fantasy worlds allow us to experience other heights, such as heroism. I'm always surprised at the numbers of people who are uninterested in Fantasy, and even by other forms of Fiction. Fiction, and Fantasy in particular, were humans' first explorations in literature--gods and heroes are the stuff of every culture's life-blood. Fantasy is something we all engage in, whether we realize it or not. Who of us doesn't dream? Who doesn't long or aspire? Every aspiration is an engagement with the "What-if" world that doesn't exist, at least not yet. From horror to sci fi to myth to sword and sorcery, Fantasy gets us in touch with the sublime (as Schiller discussed it)--whether in its form of awe-inspiring power or awe-inspiring beauty. I just saw a video of Italian conductor Riccardo Mutti where he said that the conductor's role was to conjure the feeling of the music from the composer through the musician to the audience, and in that way to touch the divine. I think that's what all art aspires to (though we may differ in our definitions of "divine"), and Fantasy does in particular.

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