The Shaman's Daughter



Her father speaks hushed voices in the dark. His hands beneath the
shears are wet.
Later, the bandages soaking,
he speaks to her of prices
and how even shamans will make devil deals.
She thinks

she hears him whisper sorry in her ear
before he pulls the gauze tight
and she drifts into the dark.

Even shamans will make devil deals,
she hears as she wakes up again in darkness, fire in her nostrils.
Both her hands are perfect pain, tears inside her mind.
As the darkness opens to her eyes,
she can make out curving horns beside her bed,
growing on a head that holds the place of caring.
The horns

are beatific in how they catch shadows in their bends,
silk-slick, silk-soft, silk-light breaking in oily shimmers on them.
Beneath the horns, the devil bends his head
to fathom the depth of her eyes.


She insisted on the ring, but carries it on a chain round her neck
in lack of a more fitting place.
She used to play the lyre once, when she was young,
and losing that voice made her sore so much
that her devil forbade all strings in the Underworld.
That is too harsh, she told him, and like always he gave in,
but still, minstrels have a hard time getting to their throne, she notices.

She used to be a shaman's heir, but now,
the queen of hell, she misses the voices of spirits from above.
Now, she is a witch, and the voices of a thousand demons will come
when she calls. Some even come unbidden, bring her on their moth wings
flowers from the earth, and pollen, cherries just the right shade of red,
a showering of nuts and acorns.
Their fractal eyes and shimmer wings gleam when she thanks them
and she thinks of her husband's bright horns.


One night, a cry of hushed voices wakes her from her sleep.
She pulls her limbs from where they are tangled with his,
pulls out her mangled hands from where they are sheltered in his palms,
and follows that call that she knows is for her.

Stark and stinging, she finds it to come from the Half-and-Half, from
the In-Between.
It takes her a moment, but she recognizes him soon enough, even if his
hair has grown thin
where hers is lush and thick still, even if his face is carved in
wrinkles where hers
is still soft and young as snow in November.

Her dead brother who was traded for and who lived what was not his life to live
up in the world of the living. He holds the shears,
and the memory is sharp in her.

Even shamans will make devil deals,
she thinks, her body a tremor. Behind her, her husband has woken,
wraps a shawl around her shoulders, and tells her to go back to sleep,
nothing anyone can to about it anyway. He will deal with it, he says,
has to, she knows.

She goes back home, prepares tea in the kitchen, three cups. In one,
she puts a drug against the pain. She wonders which room
her dead brother's girl might like, perhaps the one in the east wing
that catches the light of the rising moon and overlooks the lily fields.
She tells the demons to bring out the fresh linens, the ones with the
sunflower smell.
Before her, in her hot hot palms,
one cup of tea's gone bitter brine.