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Lillian King

The Ghosts of Paris

There is a line drawn across the throat

of the boy who walks the streets of Paris,

feet padding jagged stone and packed soil,

his soles caked black with dirt.

If I reached out I could pull on the strands of his voice

and topple his head,

so deep that gash goes.

 

He roams past cracked barrels of spirits

and piles of hay so strong the fumes

overpower the onions and the carrots

laid out in rows to the street.

 

He walks through the Tuileries in the night,

through broken teacups and shattered china,

and the overthrown memories

of a dead king and queen

who wore smiles on their necks

the way the boy does.

 

He holds a roll dangling loose in his hand,

his skinned fingers pound against anything in reach,

wilded by the days trapped without speech

and nothing but burnt lace and tattered shades,

with no one but me for company

and that only when I am in the mood.

 

The trees are soft around him,

trickling gray the way they only do

after a rain that gentles the leaves

and brings the sewer water

rushing around my ankles.

 

Rose petals litter the brown water

that laps at his bruised knees.

I cannot help but remember

the delicate swirls and intimate pink loveseats

arranged under portraits

with frowns and stiff backs to conceal

cramped bloodlines and dead descendants.

 

His gaze is like melted glass,

glazing him to every sight

as dark water rushes

up the peeling wallpaper

of a broken palace,

his eyes seeing none of it.

 

I stand in refuse that laps at my chest,

his carnation hair, matted and tangled,

a horse’s mane,

flowing in the water,

making no move to stop it.

 

The crowds screamed for the blood of the king,

and they had it, for it creates rivulets

in our quick-filling pond.

They wanted the flesh of the Widow Capet,

and it’s here, obscuring the frames on the wall,

draped over the pictures of triumphs in battle.

They tore out the crystal heart of the little prince,

and it pumps this water streaming over us,

a heartbeat felt deep in my chest.

 

The Incorruptible’s guts,

the Marquis’s finger bones,

the Mayor’s throat,

the necks of the rest,

all lusted for by the crowd;

they are around us,

dishonored ghosts,

cherished remnants.

 

The boy finally trembles,

no longer alone.

 

My blue-veined hands

ache to brush his hair, to bring back

the cacophony of childrens’ voice

I knew before the Revolution

but instead a different music swells

and the water rises,

hiding him from view.

 

 

Recipe for a Beloved Spy—

dedicated to John André

Ingredients:

-a convincing smile      – a rich upbringing       – talent with a quill       -a noose

  1. Be born in London. Make sure to be cradled in silk. Make sure to love your parents dearly, especially your mother. It is essential for you to see the countryside from the saddle of a horse, your thin legs poking out comically from the sides as your wide eyes take in the long rows of rural farms and elegant mansions. It is recommended that you go to school in the long shadow of Buckingham Palace; this can be anywhere in the country, if the right people run the institution.
  1. Go to America when you have finished schooling; you will help end their ill-planned Revolution. Find joy in everything you do. Write letters in a confident hand, ready to send back across the sea when you take your first step onto The New World. Never consider that the letters might not make it; never consider anyone less capable than yourself. Look at the vast stretches of land and feel nothing but the sharp sting of mosquitoes. Be too dignified to slap them away.
  1. Cheerily carry out your duties to the British, even though this means sitting in the cold air of the Hudson, carrying out secret meetings with men you do not think your equal. Make sure not to feel the rocking of the boat or the way it makes sickness rise in your throat. Close your eyes and think of your maid’s stained apron, or maybe the look on your sisters’ faces when you come back a hero. Imagine their soft embraces against your crisp uniform.
  1. Be mesmerized by the rocking of the boat. When you are captured, mesmerize them in turn.
  1. Sit in an inn with dry clothes and warm food. Let your shoulders sag. This will be the only weakness you show as long as you do not remember that you are only just thirty. Arnold will get away, but everyone likes you better, and that will matter for something in the history books. Realize that you did not know you want to be in history books. Remember that you did not always want to be a spy. Forget it just as quickly, as it helps little now.
  1. Be witty. Make the Americans laugh. Be artistic. Draw a self-portrait for them to remember you by. Be so charming that they beg anyone who will listen not to kill you. Ignore the rush in your blood whenever this comes up. Ignore the hard eyes of the few who do not give into your skills. Teach a young Frenchman how to stand straighter than he did in the courts of his queen. Teach whatever you can. Learn nothing, for it will not matter. Watch the Americans fail to save you. Smile so much they seem to care more than you do.
  1. Walk proudly to the gallows. Refuse the blindfold. Hang the noose around your own fingers; do not flinch. These are the only honors afforded to men who are killed for sneaking in the night, and you will be known as one of the few to accept them freely, no matter how your insides tremble. Listen to the sobs of the proud military men around you. Let it comfort you, in the same way that the fleet of King George does. At least they will remember. Focus on the Frenchman crying into his epaulets. One of your sisters has hair that color.
  1. I pray you to bear me witness that I meet my fate like a brave man.

 

Jay

The man with a bird’s name

goes inside

and doesn’t turn on the lights.

If he did he’d have to look

at every crumpled shirt,

every stain and crack and cobweb.

He leaves the cracked bulb alone.

 

(every night he dreams of the Marquis)

(Lafayette, general at nineteen)

(what was he doing at that age?)

 

The man with a bird’s name

unbuttons his shirt

with shaking fingers.

His heaving chest is drenched

with sweat that seeps through

a stained undershirt.

You’re hot, he tells himself.

You’re a catch.

 

(the Marquis dirtied his hands for two countries)

(gasping for air above a sea of dissonance)

(how can he possibly compare to a man like that?)

 

He knows he’s not a catch.

 

(the Marquis spent over five years in prison)

(scratching letters into paper with a toothpick)

(did the noise wake the rats?)

 

The man with a bird’s name

ignores every call on his phone.

Replacing the Marks on the caller ID

with Ambers,

the Philips

with Brittanys.

In that world

he might do the laundry more.

 

(the Marquis loved General Washington)

(like a father, he cried out at his grave)

(but he doesn’t love men like a father, does he?)

 

The man with a bird’s name

doesn’t need to see

to find what he wants.

Shadows shift like fabric as

thick fingers fumble.

Sliding past history books

to find the long smooth neck

of a bottle.

 

Soon it is hanging in his hand

swinging between loose digits.

His shoulders untense.

 

(sometimes he can’t remember if the Marquis was real)

(despite all his books saying otherwise)

(but then is anything but the Marquis real?)

 

The man with a bird’s name

always forgets to put the blinds down.

The sun sears his eyelids while he sleeps.

He wakes to dancing spots,

his head pounding a steady drum.

He wants someone to stay in bed with him.

He wants someone to stay with him.

He doesn’t know how to ask.

 

(the Marquis died holding a photo of his wife)

(clutching it until the very end)

(is that what he wants?)

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Lillian King is a student at Bowling Green State University. She will be published in The Sucarnochee Review and the Packingtown Review, and she recently won third place in the SCCC Creative Writing Award contest. She doubts it will be a surprise to learn that she is studying creative writing and history.

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