“House of Horrors”
I. Labor of Love
” A mermaid has no tears,
and therefore she suffers so much more”
– Hans Christian Anderson, The Little Mermaid.
The Little Mermaid ‘s tongue and tail traded for a pair of legs & a prince’s eye. Syrinx, a river reed plucked to serve as padding for Pan’s lecherous pipes. Sweet music made of mute women. We always talk of his burden, Sisyphus shoving stone up and down the mountain every day, poor guy. No one pities the stone. She got herself into that mess.
In the end we will only remember the girl in a field of negligence, crows plucking eyes from a scarecrow, the girl, crows plucking her eyes, her innocence, plucking her heart-strings like a dulcimer, plucking her heart out in time with the melody, crows and the scarecrow girl, a heart being plucked in time a heartbeat at a time, a girl, a scarecrow, a girl crow plucked by her own kind in time. We’ll remember the girl, and the field of crows and a boy—a shotgun singing harmony from a distance.
III. American Gothic
Weathered hands and calloused hearts mold a hardened, rotted monstrosity from the delicate clay of matrimony. In the heart of Appalachia, where the Rust Belt tightens the Bible Belt, he toils for naught in blue collar sweat. He lives in a perpetual state of shrug, tasting neither the sweetness of joy nor the bitter bite of sorrow. He chews her self-worth with razor sharp teeth, cruel words further bruise her already battered skin. Insult added to injury. Scraps of Scripture falling, floating in mid-air; her hidden Bible unearthed, unbound, a holy cloud of confetti, torn by hand for his ticker tape parade; settling softly, silently beneath their violent embrace. He, the Hunter, mounts his trophy to the wall, his steel trap fists locked around her helpless wrists. Caught, she, his captive prey, his trembling doe. The eyewitness—their hybrid fawn—rent asunder by their woodcut danse macabre . Fearing his mercurial wrath, his hair-trigger shotgun, doe and fawn slipped the trap, backwoods refugees fleeing flesh and blood. They rested in a hidden hollow, a shelter of sympathy. The fawn cradled in strange arms as its mother awaits judgement on unforgiving, dirty Welfare chairs carved of yellow plastic, a modern snare. The doe transformed to domestic, hired help for pampered patrons of the poor. Her new perfume: the smell of bleach. A scent so clean he could not track. A trail so cold he dare not follow.
“Enter Demetrius and Chiron with Lavinia, ravished;
her hands cut off, her tongue cut out
Chiron: if thy stumps will let thee play the scribe”
– Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus , 2.4.1,6.
He stole my tongue in Spring to seal my witness mouth, sawed off my plaintiff hands, so I’ll not play the cook nor feast on vengeance pie. I shall teach myself once more to speak without my tongue, to feel without my fingers. Such horrors visited upon my muted skin, this pile of butchered flesh, this pyre of sacrificial wood. Let my stumps play the scribe and paint in blood every scream he denied me.
V. The Human Tree
“He driven by desire, she (Daphne) by fear…
her hair turned into leaves, her arms into branches”
– Ovid. Metamorphoses. I.525-552.
He dared to call it love. Blind to her desperation. No romance in his relentless pursuit, his hands so desperate for plunder. Her only escape was prayer begging for transformation, as grief hardened the tears of Phaeton’s sisters into amber and bent their bodies into poplar trees. When gnarled branches grew skyward from her ravaged torso, she sighed in relief, bidding goodbye to limbs of flesh, grateful for the blossom of bark upon her skin, for laurel leaves sprouting in her hair, silk tresses turning to twigs, tendrils of rough wood building a kindred nest for wounded birds.
VI. Birds of Prey
“They have taken wings.
One of them, a nightingale, Procne, makes for the woods.
The other, a swallow, Philomela, flies to the eaves “
-Ovid. Metamorphoses. VI:486-674.
He cut so much of me, ripped out my voice to silence me. My secret sorrow shared, a tale of terror woven into a gifted tapestry. Seeking sisterly solace, swift swallow’s sacrifice baked a cruel revenge. A most horrid feast further festers fresh wounds. Fists shaken at sky sprout furious wings. Reborn, we became birds of night, flying far beyond the beastly stars, Callisto’s cursed constellation, a family forever divided and flung across the heavens.
“My soul is wrought to sing of forms
transformed to bodies new and strange”
-Ovid. Metamorphoses . I.1.
Her mouth is a sinkhole swallowing your hometown as you serenely sip tea at a garden party or ride a Ferris wheel with your sweetheart. Blissful ignorance always ends in total destruction. All fairy tales were born of great horror. Sleeping Beauty’s rape by her beloved prince satiated salacious storytellers for centuries long before Polanski’s champagne, Ceelo’s ecstasy & Cosby’s cappuccino chorus line danced the opening number for King Weinstein’s sleazy headlines. Monsters wear masks of men’s faces as their hands and teeth unroll old B-movie reels of secret shame all scratches & out-of-sync audio. Convert to video & upload to YouTube. Her terror is #trending. Stagnant mosquito ponds pool in her vacant eyes, in his violent wake. Defense mechanisms are fragile shields / before the inevitable trauma of a new reality comes crashing into existence, ripping out into grotesque shapes bloody gargoyle births. All we can do is help her wrap the police tape back across her mouth, around the crime scene he made of her body.
VIII: #MeToo (Chorus)
“me too” -Tarana Burke
“If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too.’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem ” -Alyssa Milano
He cannot touch what we have become. He cannot touch what we have become. He cannot touch what We have become. He cannot touch what we have become. He cannot touch what we have become. He cannot touch what we have become.
HE CANNOT TOUCH WHAT WE HAVE BECOME.
V.C. McCabe is a West Virginian poet and music journalist whose work has appears, or is forthcoming, in Poet Lore, Prairie Schooner, Spillway, Tar River Poetry, The Cape Rock, Coldfront, Appalachian Heritage, Appalachian Journal, Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper The Charleston Gazette-Mail, and elsewhere. She can be found online at vcmccabe.com and @vcmpoetry.