Even with a magic wand and wings, the Fractured Fairy on "Rocky and Bullwinkle" could never open The Book all the way. Consider a poet who keeps slipping off, arms limp as old carrots, into the hypnotist's trance, into the Middle World, speaking what were once tongues.
Consider a locked garage, an idling engine, the warm. The warm. The warm in the guts from the vodka, the warm orange dashboard in the dark, the radio stuck on no music La Principesa can comprehend.
The clocks have melted down. The gods are going home. Anne Sexton is stuck in the time machine, swimming backward like a salmon, in a green early-Seventies Ford that billows and belches gray smoke from within. A black pool-sized hose is clamped to the exhaust, and runs in the back window around a blanket and strapping-tape that covers the last three open inches.
Anne is driving like a drunk; or worse, like someone asleep at the wheel and dreaming, drifting all over the flagstone crossroads of this perhaps-land, this Possibly Promised Land. But for once in her life, she doesn't miss her turn.
The sign announcing said turn looms from an odd traffic-circle that almost wants to be a corner, cemented with a stone cairn beneath it, a bench with the imprint of a long-ago leaky body, and sparse weeds trying to bloom anywhere they can. The sign is wooden, burnt black with letters never typed on Earth:
THE STREET OF MERCIES.
Anne mouths the story one last time, and keeps driving.
Once upon a time, in the distant kingdom of Carcosa, there lived the princess Anne of Sexton, who was called Briar Rose, whose father was mad, whose mother dug for gold. Madness ran in that family. Money didn't as much. There was math of some kind involved.
At her christening, he invited only twelve of the thirteen wise-women from the neighboring villages, since the number thirteen was ungodly. More math.
But the thirteenth, an hermaphrodite shaman whose name was Cassilda like their mother's mother, made it in to Town. Cassilda was a sight to behold, with fingers long and thin as femur-bones, eyes burnt by strange herbs. "For every scrap of your genius," Cassilda sang, "Insanity will drown it out. And on your fifteenth birthday will come a pricking. A drop of blood lost to a needle shall send you to sleep. "
To sleep. The King did not protest at first; in fact, looked strangely curious and scheming."None shall spin," he answered slowly when Cassilda had been beheaded. "And every suitor to pass through the door of my castle shall answer my questions three. Come here, little doll-child, and sit on my knee. I have a penny for your thoughts."
That night, the King and his rank mead breath came in a long midnight that was no dream, when Briar Rose woke from the laudanum too early and did not know the hour. She had dreamed red. Her nose bled, and a sea of blood she could never swallow hung in her throat.
She wanted to sleep forever and forget, but never spoke of it, for Sanity was awful enough. She let the bugs crawl into her eyes and keep her awake, and grew to be a goddess, dwelling in the King's rank yellow honeysuckle stench, while the impaled corpses of suitors drew crows to the impenetrable rose-gardens on the King's Preserve.
On her fifteenth birthday, she was playing in a haystack, and found the last spinning-needle in Carcosa. Or more precisely, it found her. When she collapsed, the clocks stopped, and the flies died on the walls.
The King, the Queen, the courtiers, fell into a Silence for one hundred years. The City died, stuck in its own time machine like blood-drenched kudzu vines, the roses swallowed the fief. And in his tattered cloak of jaundiced human skin, the inevitable Prince Charming was no cure when he came and parted the vines with something that might once have been a word, and all the dessicated corpses fell to earth like electrocuted birds.
When the King in Yellow kissed her, Princess Anne woke up crying Daddy, and never slept again, or let herself wake up in a dream. The kiss never stopped. It only pretended to. And no matter what she wrote, she never really woke back up all the way.
Now, wasn't that a nice story, kids?
Do not sleep, for you will flee without strength,
and where You fall, the King in Yellow waits
to sew up your skin.
Do not sleep. The King will go up your nose and make a transplant.
He wants you to walk into him, as into a dark fire.
He wants to open his tattered cloak, and show, beneath,
The two little kids He sucked up like pollen:
Terror and Doubt
Instability and Division
Deformed and Deformer,
Their tongues poverty,
stinky tears like pus,
Sucking with love at the coral,
bobbing like grubs in formalin,
Foetal, half-alive, skinned
soft as avocados,
Dying in their tattered pen.
Up from oysters and weeds
and the wandering tide,
the King comes
into my mouth when I sleep,
And I wake in dead Carcosa,
Nailed into place, and forget
who I am, drinking hundred-proof
blood from my wrists,
Sensual as cold yellow moonlight on the pond
where our bodies floated and bumped in moonwater
and the cicadas called like citharas
and all the toads stopped singing at once
when we came
when we came to Carcosa
I am rowing into Carcosa,
With no more old age or disease,
Wildly but accurately,
Knowing my best route.
I am rowing this fucked-up old green Ford into Carcosa,
With its cruel houses and strange apparitions, tall spires
of the country I misplaced,
The nagging rain, the skin trying to poison itself inside-out,
The saws halving my heart like a magician's assistant,
The people in Carcosa are made of macadam,
and crack. They have no water. They are not
allowed to touch.
Listen. They are bewitched,
Writing down their lives
on a century falling to ruin.
But I'm still rowing.
I never wanted to be this Rhea of evil luck,
longing to become what I could only visit,
Living in the ruins of the mansion I wished I had.
While all the toy villages fall
My eyes are turning purple, my mouth is glue.
Death was entangled into my beginning.
But I'm rowing into Carcosa,
Though The Moon is a blood clot,
the sun a smear of mud, the stars themselves
Though there's blood in the water
And the oarlocks are rusty
Rowing toward the King, the King,
Rowing to see the King,
Driving onto The Street of Mercies
The exhaust smoke inside my car
coats my skin like yellow oil.
Driving toward Mercy.
The flagstones bump and bump
He's waiting up
He knows I'm home
The land becomes blazing pitch
The smoke rises forever. For generations,
It will lie waste, and none shall pass
again, yet I pass through.
I have dreamed the secret door
to #45 Mercy Street.
It is half a mile away.
Half a mile, half a mile on.
Into Lost Carcosa drove
the prodigal daughter, as
the human face moves,
knowing it will be kissed.
Two blocks now.
I see the stained-glass window,
dark as the leathery dead
No one around.
The car slowed to a stop, still smoking. The front door to #45 opened, and down the porch the King In Yellow came.
The seething snakes of His cloak licked the air. He cocked His masked face like a carrion-dog, wanting to eat the newcomer lips and tongue first in a kiss that couldn't halt itself.
Presto. She was out of prison. Queen Briar Rose of Carcosa exited the car, lifting the pallid mask of childhood from her own face, using it to cover her heart.
When Anne did so, the King actually backed up a step. "Yes," she told him, "Yes, I will, yes."
The King In Yellow knelt before this miracle, forgetting its knife.
SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF ANNE SEXTON
~Click gas-mask to read
~ Of Cadence and
appearing only on the FREEZINE
of Fantasy and Science Fiction~