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Of Nightingales and other things

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Words, those languid coquettes flirted from the silken couch of her tongue. The smoky husk of her much trammeled voice caught and twisted its long barbs into the Sultan's ears.

He sprawled before her. Watched her where she sat cross-legged. Dressed for his pleasure in silk and gold and soft perfume. Nothing to match the words. Flesh had no secrets for him. He knew what lay wrapped inside. Blood and viscera. The things that spilled forth with the blades of dawn.

She made a sword of her back and always kept one hand up to guide the path of the tale of the Shen of the sea, who were trapped in a jade bottle carved like an eggplant. Until a foolish servant opened it and let them free. She named each of them and the glittering rocks rolled forth from the bottle. They sparkled into waves on the floor between them.

He watched her across those waves with dark Sultan's eyes. He made a triangle of his arm and cheek to hand as he lay on a soft pile of wedding rugs. Dead brides. All of them. The patterned weave of each plush had a story to tell. Stories muted now in the lamplight that dangled cut glass and metal from the cracked tile ceiling. Love poetry had been written once on those blue-green tiles. Shattered now.

She sat cross legged on the dust of poetry and made each of the Shen waves stones again in the light that streamed long fingers through the open windows. The pregnant moon ate figs with strong white teeth and watched the world. Watched him watching her.

In the moonlight and lamplight, she twisted the weft of her voice on the old Wiseman's name as he mistook a tiger for a donkey and beat the beast with his cane. The tiger's sibilant hiss crept round the room and gleamed around the curve of her bare knee as the tiger mistook the old Wiseman for the angel of Death. For neither the old tiger nor the old Wiseman's eyesight was what it once used to be. The old Wiseman saw a blur of earth and the old tiger saw a blush of lamplight.

For angels are made of light, just as men are made of earth and djinns of smokeless fire. Her hand traced a blue grey line of incense through the air. There are evil djinns, who lead men astray in the desert. From far away, the wind blew the chitter of a thousand voices asking to be named, but she shook her head and the gold in her ears and hair jingled a different light.

She would speak of good djinns, whose names are written in the great book. Who fly in the soft clouds as white doves unless they alight on the earth. Then they slip off their cloaks of feathers to bath naked by milky starlight in remote desert pools where the blue date palm grows.

A soft consonant was a feather that drifted to brush the Sultan's cheek as a young teacher saw a djinn at her bath. The teacher stole her cloak of pale feathers and so gained himself a beautiful bride.

The storyteller named the teacher and she named the djinn, lost to the blue sky. She traced their shapes with her hands and with full round words like beads of water on skin brushed aside by impatient lips.

In a golden cage by the stucco window, shattered of tile poetry, a nightingale sang as if its heart were pierced with a black thorn and its song was the refrain of the djinn as the teacher had his pleasure of her. In her time, she gave birth to a son with eyes as blue as the sky on the first day of spring.

The Sultan spun the white feather between silent fingers as he watched her sit on her pillow of dust, dressed for his pleasure.

She named the boy as a mother will. The storyteller. The djinn. She lifted her hand and told the sultan how one day the djinn found her cloak, as djinns always do. She left only a feather and the blue-eyed boy behind.

Her words fluttered on the fan of her breath. Exhaled out and it was no perfume that pulled the Sultan eyes toward her lips. Rubies, she spoke of rubies the size of a man's fist. She held out her hand, palm up, and let her vowels glimmer red in the long fingered moonlight. She spoke of flesh too wrapped round the gems and rocs. She spoke of giant rocs with black feathers that gulped the gems down like seeds.

So many seeds that sprouted into a trochaic forest of black thorns. At the heart of that curling black wasteland was a mountain made of crystal that collected all the light of the world. At the heart of that mountain was a green dragon, who hoarded the light in long curved gold claws. Her fingers were the dragon's claws. She sliced the air with them. She cut the pregnant moonlight's umbilical cord. She even dared to cut a strand of the rugs upon which the Sultan lay. A single thread really. Nothing. Hardly anything.

Still, she pulled on the thread.

She told the Sultan the spondaic of a brave nightingale, who flew into the dragon's den and sang the song of night. Of dark spaces and tears. Until pierced to the heart with a twisted black thorn, the nightingale died.

The bird in the golden cage fell silent then as the dragon wept at love lost as soon as it was found and let go the light of the world to dwell in darkness ever more. The crystal mountain shattered as her fingers pulled on the threads of the rugs.

An alliteration of falling dust became rain that carried the tears of the djinn to her son, who became a daughter in that glittering felicitous fall. On the far horizon, orange blushed on the cheek of the sky. As the daughter-son flew into that new dawn day, the storyteller fell silent. Threads wrapped around her fingers. She waited with the fan of her lashes on her cheeks; coquettes gone silent. Waited.

The Sultan sighed a long low gust. He let go the white feather. As it fell to the floor, it faded to a freckle of light with the coming of the sun. He waved her away. His watching eyes fluttered their own close and she left him there to sleep with her barbed darkness words working their way down.

Until the next night when she would unravel another set of threads from his rugs. Ravel the name of her own song to their weft. For now she would have tea with lemon and honey and nightingale's tears.