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Bull's Hide

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Anna.

You’re sleeping, Anna, curled up by my thigh, all smooth curves and warm ochre. Even here, even under the Hill, your body remembers to do it, remembers dawn and dusk, the linear and regular progression of time as the sun chased the moon through the sky. You’re sleeping. Or maybe it’s your body remembering to die, the poison in your veins.

(I don’t know. I’m not the nurse, not the home care health specialist. Tell me Anna; what does atropine poisoning look like?)

Anna. You are sleeping, Anna, because if you are not I will tear down this world in my rage. You are sleeping and I find myself talking to you anyway. An old habit, a bad habit, like I’m leaving a message for you again. Anna Limon is not available. At the tone, please record your message. Wrapped in an oak leaf, tied with a catkin, intimidated and willed until it found its way to you.

(Like your voicemails found their way to me. Silver song echoing through the roof, dancing down through the stars.)

You told me once that you weren’t Theseus. The house had given you a book of mythology. He’s kind of a dick, Mabel, he just-- he just gets bored of Ariadne and he leaves her, you told me.

I hate Theseus. If I’m anyone in this story – If I’m anyone, I’m the ball of twine. You told me to keep walking, Anna. Because you were little and sturdy and there in my pocket--- you were an oak leaf, my Anna, golden with fall and full with your words, not a ball of twine--but you promised you wouldn’t leave me there in the dark.

The house left me a book once too. Mythology, like yours, but a different author, a version. Or maybe the same book. The house changes things. Rearranges them. Tells the story it wants when it wants and not before. Theseus leaves because he was forced by the gods. Athena maybe. Or Dionysus. I don’t know why the house showed it to me. Maybe it was trying to make me feel better. That people break promises because they have to.

It didn’t work. Mythology is full of men like Theseus. Men who make promises, who fall in love and swear oaths and then turn tail and run at the beckoning of the Divine. Have you heard about Aeneas, Anna? Pious Aeneas with his father on his back and his son by the hand, fleeing the wreckage of Troy and leaving his wife to burn.

Because the gods told him to.

Aeneas and his crew wrecked on the shores of Carthage, in the realm of Dido, the widowed queen who won a kingdom with her cleverness. Iarbas offered her a pittance; he would give her the land she could cover with a bull’s hide.

(Mythological men, Anna. They leave us for the gods and they forget we can weave.)

Dido made her own ball of thread from the hide of that bull and won herself a city with it, laying out span after span of thread until she had room enough to build her Carthage, the glittering city on the Tunisian coast. And when Aeneas wrecks there, she is magnanimous, that glittering queen, black as night and clever as a witch.

Her open heart is her downfall. She pities Aeneas and his loss and his grief and she takes him in. Into her city and into her heart and he stays there for a time. He wears her nation’s clothes; builds her city’s walls. Son of the goddess of Love, Aeneas should have known better than her play with his mother’s poisons. But he doesn’t. Pious Aeneas calls her his wife.

(Does atropine poisoning feel like love, Anna? Does it stop your heart the same way?)

And then he sails away because the gods told him to and leaves Dido to take her own life. Unlucky Dido, Virgil calls her when her sister finds her bleeding. As if luck had anything to do with it. As if the gods don’t keep aces up their sleeves when they play cards. As if Cupid hadn’t charmed her; as if Juno hadn’t wrecked her lover’s ships; as if Mercury hadn’t descended on winged shoes to send him on his way. As if the sword had lodged in her heart by chance, if the pyre her sister found her own had built itself.

(Another Anna, your name-sister, beautiful and loyal like you. Do you think she sang like you, Anna? Silver-throated and undaunted?)

Fuck that. Fuck them. Gods who aren’t worth worshipping. Men who break their promises and the authors who call the women they leave unlucky.

Anna, my Anna. My sister, my lover. I am as clever and glittering as Dido but I have no open heart. I keep my promises and I defy the gods. I am spite and fire and purpose with a silver-throated song wrapped around my weaknesses. I am a sword and a pyre but I am built for someone else’s death. We will find the king and kill him and we will build a second Carthage under the earth out of bull’s hide and cleverness and your silver voice will charm roses and cucumbers and sweet grapes out of the ground they salted and left for dead.

We will. Anna. I promise.

Please wake up.