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On Failure's Wings

On Failure's Wings
by Sandi Leibowitz

“Create something beautiful,”
you say.
Never mind how hard it is to break
a form’s desire to remain itself, convince it
to betray its purpose,
knead almost-nothing into a live being.

I stifle the—not excuses!
You’ve never studied
the tripartite Laws of Hermegistus,
the Transformation Modalities,
cannot guess how difficult…

I kneel,
scoop a handful of dirt, spit into my palm,
mold the pellet of mud,
my will forming and enlarging the ball,
I sweat as I kindle from the inert mass
a spark.

It steps forth from my hands,
landing at your feet.

Poor little flop-headed thing,
ugly as an unfledged chick,
no peacock, let alone a phoenix.
Even a year’s maturation
would never lend it grace.
Disappointment slithers across your face.

The Making shudders as if
encountering a cobra.    
It swivels its ungainly neck,
raises mournful, hopeful eyes
to me.

You asked me to make you something beautiful.
I want to ask,
Are we not enough,
this we we’ve built?
Or am I wrong about this, too,
believe myself co-architect
of a gold and many-towered palace,
while I bide alone in an englamoured hut?

Within my breast,
my love sings whole and hale,
more rapturous beautiful
than any magicked Making.
See how it spreads wide its red and golden wings,
and, talons stretched, ruby eyes seeking only you,
flies towards your heart
with a raptor’s unerring navigation?
Can you not feel its flames
ignite the air
that separates your body from mine?

The unfeathered stubs of my Making
shudder and jerk as it flops
its exhausting inches towards me.

it almost speaks,
Accept me as I am.

It flinches even as its eyes plead,
—before I’ve done it,
before you speed through the arbor
like a galleon abandoning a plague port —
my hands snap its neck.

I don’t take time to counsel
this child of my inconsequential powers,
instruct it like a good father should:
Every phoenix, even those ill-formed,
must abide destruction.

Even so each lover
daily must rebuild his dream
out of the ashes of his heart.

* * *

Image: Homunculus by Xavier Tricot (2011).

* * *

Sandi Leibowitz is a school librarian, classical singer and writer of speculative fiction and poetry. Her work appears in Liminality, Stone Telling, Inkscrawl, Mythic Delirium, Ellen Datlow's Best Horror of the Year 5 and other magazines and anthologies. A native New Yorker, she has ridden in a hot-air balloon over the Rio Grande, traveled in the footsteps of medieval pilgrims to Santiago de la Compostella and visited with Arthur in Avalon.

What inspires you to write and keep writing?

I have always loved words.  I was the nerdy kid who relished English assignments like making up sentences that used a given list of adjectives.  As a pre-teen and teen I used to type out favorite poems and passages from novels on my mother's old manual typewriter.  I love the look and sound of words, the way they can move you to tears, incite you to anger, or simply render you breathless.  I have always loved story.  And I have always wanted to be a writer.  It is indeed hard, sometimes, to keep at writing.  I'm beginning to publish a fair amount but it wasn't always so (and in fairness, I didn't submit much; it was hard enough to find the time to write!).  Even so, the rewards are not life-changing.  People do not toss roses before my feet as I stroll down the street.  I don't even think they do that for the likes of J.K. Rowling or Steven King.  What keeps me going is the desire to write the sorts of things I'd like to read--to give the inner dreams life and maybe even wings.