scales and pigments
never acknowledged even in clear sight.
when i am sinking neck deep in cool
liquid, strange fancies intersect your scaly
archetypal coils gracefully nestled in my head.
from the waist up, icon of lusignan while
below, mysteries of the seas and oceans bring
monsters and madonnas to life, both horror and
veneration spiraling into nausea-induced infomercials
and chemical beauty cures.
your silence and my secrets connect
to characters transformed along the
grapevine, both digitized and vocal.
quiet, they say. gag both the faithful and
the monster in the bathroom. Pass the word
as they push against each other to peek through keyholes. griselda will
flay herself again and again, punishing virtue
with tests meant for her own good. For innocence left
un-tormented may only lead to corruption and rot.
“gather your rosebuds while you may,”
but perhaps we’d rather leave them there
to bloom and wither naturally
under an unveiled sun.
what, you say this “they” is only “he”? I say this “they”
is “he” and many “shes”. croaking promises and fluting
doom, they’ll try to knead you into the mould.
Let’s start by trimming off fur and scales
so that you fit.
some of these goodwives reside above your
waist and in your spine, merlusine-griselda.
you are only griselda in false sunlight, silent, veiled,
as the duke accuses you of killing children.
they never did tell me what your thoughts were as
you struggle through the nets cast by courtiers
amused by your husband’s elaborate games.
will you be faithful still, handmaiden?
have you forgotten you are merlusine too?
will you flay yourself still although the flaying
and hiding has already been done?
ripped and hidden — your silky soft sealskin lies beneath the ground.
spasmodic in memory of past torments, you skin yourself
repeatedly so that you may never again be flayed.
red flowers on white tiles within your dreams.
salvation lies when nothing remains but bone
— you comfort and nestle.
night blooms, moon rises.
she pads into cool chambers, forgotten,
cemented or tiled — slowly disrobes to enter baths:
metal, porcelain, wooden.
matters not, only the consistency of skin remains.
sink into water. watch the dark of the moon
pour onto clammy, rippled thighs.
batwinged, your obeisance of the
day will untangle from hair, fly away to
corners of cobwebbed ceilings
to wait while you turn back into what you were before.
you will sink deeper into
liquid and remember the time when silky dermis brought you
deep into the embrace of mother ocean.
salt drips from you
what taboos will the sight of you
unclothed, unhidden, unpainted, break?
what towers collapse at the sheen of salt upon
naked, unsmoothed, natural, horrifying,
you are serpent, fish, seal-wife.
black swan: flying out of windows
when the skin re-grows. When you un-flay yourself
for your own self you are isis regina,
glorious and proud.
when you are unaware of the nightmare
of the crack of light between door and frame.
she risks exposure every time she allows her skin
to grow, and this is why griselda flays herself. because it
hurts to let the scales grow back over. because they’ll
only remove it again.
because, maybe, just maybe, if you remain skinless
for twenty years, they’ll bring your children back to
court and the duke will finally be satisfied of your worth.
maybe in the end he’ll love you and you’ll gain
the happily-ever-after home at last.
merlusine laughs at this tableau even as
she flows into the sewers
when you’ve unplugged your bath.
My scales and secrets will be waiting when you need them.
we’ll swim into the darkest ocean where salt
will bind our wounds and keep us clean.
crooning her lullaby, merlusine comforts the handmaiden,
coaxes her into dimming velvet.
lulls her unto the break of dawn.
Nin Harris is a Gothic scholar and a senior lecturer at the National University of Malaysia. She is the founder and editor of Delinquent’s Spice & Truancy. Amongst other things, she writes postcolonial Gothic and mythic fantasy fiction and nerdcore post-apocalyptic fiction set in Malaysia. Nin’s publishing credits include: The Harrow, Jabberwocky 3, Goblin Fruit and Alphabet of Embers (forthcoming). She is also a bashful singer/songwriter, and visual artist who sometimes dreams in html/css/php. She suspects she’ll try any storytelling medium at least once, and remains an advocate of the potential of hypertext literature, which she teaches in her undergraduate and M.A. creative writing courses.