In the morning I birth a sisterhood of sugar birds. Silk-circle throats and beaks made of drachma. We take tea in the aviary converted for this purpose. I instruct the birds to use the bathroom in the corner. Babies never listen. I don crimson lipstick and invite the villagers in to take photos. Invite them into the private velvet of the backroom for my cognac kisses of complicit. I let them use the corner bathroom after. Treat everyone the same.

By afternoon, the birds are teen birds, burrowing for gold in our boudoir garden. A charmer of a garden. A matriarch of gardens. It’s a violet-eyed, debutante afternoon, welcoming us with sweetmeat arms. We grow plump on religion and grease. By late afternoon, we run out of gods and chocolate. Our sugar plum angels melt into syrup. We are out we are out. We form a parade to visit the castle.

Bronze pet peacocks in fake fox fur carry the coins to give to the castle-man. My father is rampant on the throne again, my mother squished between he and his mistress. The sugar birds bow. The peacocks cock. The castle-man calls for a cognac kiss. All of them ignore my sister, the princess, weeping red tears on her tiny gold throne. Her tiny fist of scream frozen in silence.

___

Title after Diane Williams.

13 Comments

  1. Alina Stefanescu

    “In the morning I birth a sisterhood of sugar birds.” And I’m all in.

    “Silk-circle throats and beaks made of drachma.” Gorgeous Lisa.

    Something funny in the next line. “I don crimson lipstick and invite the villagers in to take photos.” My eye read this as “I don’t crimson lipstick” where crimson served as the verb, as something the speaker does to the lipstick and it seemed fabulous. Then I realized I was wrong but I also wanted to tell you this in case you liked it–and in case this speaker is the kind of person who wouldn’t crimon lipstick. 🙂 How people misread is offers opportunties for play. I keep lists of how I’m misheard or misread and sometimes substitute the misreading for the original.

    I love how this moves–and how we get this “matriarch of gardens”–what a ruinous and lovely image.

    I thought I read cognac twice and I might play with another word rather than repeat cognac? Maybe a rum kiss? Sometimes in a short piece the repetition of a very specific description or article starts to feel titular? Just thinking aloud… 🙂

    “My father is rampant on the throne again, my mother squished between he and his mistress. The sugar birds bow. The peacocks cock.” Wow. Just wow. This is a strange and utterly fascincating piece!!! Thank you so much for sharing it with me.

    • Lisa Alletson

      Thanks for the encouragement, Alina. I enjoy verbifying and I’ll play with the character crimsoning (or not) lipstick!

      I love the prompts and your rich reading material. This has opened me up to all kinds of new ideas, particularly around perspective-play. Much appreciated.

      • Alina Stefanescu

        I’m so glad! And yes, perspective is ours to play with. I think sometimes we even crave allegory, and that’s what makes Kafka so fantastic, but it takes a willingness to go wild with strange, to abandon the American first-person somehow, and allow ourselves to inhabit a broader space?

        Loving your work.

  2. Adrian Frandle

    Gorgeous! So struck by the line: “Invite them into the private velvet of the backroom for my cognac kisses of complicit.” – it’s so lush and sensual. I’m getting both eroticism and the allure of the power and privilege of the privateness of the mind (in which you are host and dispenser of invites and complicity-kisses). It queued up my brain and had it waiting eagerly behind the velvet rope to see what was inside.

  3. Len Kuntz

    Hi Lisa,

    This is a brilliant piece of writing. The quirk and magic realism are wonderful throughout and the imagery is so precise and stunning. I also love how you subvert meaning by reworking words. Everything about it is fantastic, but especially those last, choppy five sentences.

    • Lisa Alletson

      Hey Len! Good to see you here. Thank you kindly for these words. I’m so glad you like it. Looking forward to reading what you’ve posted.

  4. Martha Jackson Kaplan

    Lisa, Scissored in between your beautifully sugar-colored lines, are sly humorous asides that I love: “I instruct the birds to use the bathroom in the corner. Babies never listen.” And, “We grow plump on religion and grease. By late afternoon, we run out of gods and chocolate,” and in the last paragraph, “The sugar birds bow. The peacocks cock. The castle-man calls for a cognac kiss” reminds me of a French children’s song Sur le Pont D’Avignon” where the ladies bow and then the men bow, etc. Thank you for this– it was so much fun to read.

    • Lisa Alletson

      Martha, thank you! I’ll look up that song. This was so much fun to write so I’m glad you saw that. Much appreciated!

  5. John Van Wagner

    Lisa
    After the relatively calm (but extremely lush) morning tea party and the ripening of afternoon, fat with chocolate, I feel we’re ready for an outing, and I’m following behind a Surrealist’s parade, and that we may be going to visit Alice’s Red Queen. It’s funny that there’s always a story.
    That is to say, I’m right there with you, the mounting of detail (love the opulence) in each uniquely aggregating sentence is doing its work, and the strangeness is becoming a larger and larger strangeness.
    There’s a burst of energy released in the unpunctuated “we are out we are out”. Around “the sugar birds bow” and then the return of the “cognac kiss” I felt you beginning to sum up and refer back, and I wish you had chosen instead to continue plunging forward never to return, or perhaps it was simply the signaling of the end I had trouble with. But there is the beginning of a new possibility with the introduction of the sister-princess, who’s until now not been heard from despite her ability to shed red tears. The last vital note, “the tiny fist of scream” struck me in two ways that are at odds with each other: as an image, it is quite powerful and echoes, a sustained, dissonant note, but on the story level it has an abruptness and unpreparedness I can’t quite fathom. I mention only this because this piece is situated between (at least) two kinds of form, two styles of narrative and language-image-making, and I wonder, whether or not the story resolves, should the form resolve, and if not to resolve, does it need to re-balance?

    • Lisa Alletson

      OK, wow, I need to buy you a beer, or a cup of tea, to unpack all this. I’m most grateful for the way your mind works in following my little story and showing me the big picture and inconsistencies that I always fail to see as I write. I don’t have formal training but would love to hear what sort of forms, narratives are contained, (poem/prose? – or something more specific). Would giving hints as to why the girl has a fist of scream, resolve the story for you? Would I rebalance it my bringing in little sister earlier? This is all fascinating. I hadn’t planned to do anything with this piece other than use it as a fun exercise for learning purposes.

  6. Jenne Hsien Patrick

    “Silk-circled throats” oh my! One of just so many gorgeous moments in this piece. The rich details, the unexpected word choices and turns (“Babies never listen” and “sweetmeat arms” are a couple favorite moments) are so delightful and rewarding to read on screen and out loud. I admire your attention to all of the senses in this – there are rewarding details that give all of the senses specific things to dig into and the collage it makes creates such a strange enchanting afternoon in the piece!

    • Lisa Alletson

      Hi Jenne,

      Thank you for this lovely, insightful feedback. I was aiming to drop in a few juxtaposing or surprising sentences based on Alina’s teaching, so I’m glad you picked up on that. So thrilled you liked it!

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