The Sole-Stitcher, by C. S. E. Cooney

three came to me lately, for the threading:
she for her mother, he for his son, another
for her husband—all newly bereaved,
all walking barefoot on bleeding soles
to be closer to their ghosts.

(ghosts, you know, walk
sole-to-sole with their living
moving in their melting forms
through the underground.)

i’m not what they expect; i don’t have
trinkets, not of brass or glass,
never used a net or knot except
for fishing, and my flensing knife is strictly
for my own private use.

but my lack of folderol, of ritual gimcrack
doesn’t seem to faze them. they just gaze at me
mutely, waiting for my thread and needle.

smart lot. they brought what i bid them—objects
endowed with memory: garden trowel,
jeweler’s loupe, favorite stuffed animal.
bitterness, they brought that too, and plenty:
last will and testament that caused a family riot,
last bottle he drowned right down at the bottom of,
his chemo meds. (what was left of them.)

i took up my thread, spun at world’s end
of a fine acid rain (there was brine in it, and starlight).
i took up my needle, hammered in the giant red heart
of our then-sun, and i pierced their bleeding feet.

(they stood quite still for me.)

their tears dropped on my dusty neck.
i worked, bent,
rattling with objects like a witch-tree.
i did not look up.

probably this was unnecessary.
probably—even threadless—the dead
would have walked on with their living,
walked till raw soles sank into lilies,
till raw soles topsy-turvied into darkness,
and hollow eyes blinked skyward at tectonic drift,
liquid iron, shimmering nickel, and—shining!—
the hard metal moon of our core.

but the living trust me, here on the ground
to do what must be done on the ground.

C. S. E. Cooney ( is the World Fantasy Award-winning author of Bone Swans: Stories. Her short novel The Twice-Drowned Saint can be found in Mythic Delirium’s recent anthology The Sinister Quartet, and her forthcoming novel Saint Death’s Daughter will be out with Rebellion in Spring of 2022. Other work includes novella Desdemona and the Deep, and a poetry collection: How to Flirt in Faerieland and Other Wild Rhymes, which features her Rhysling Award-winning “The Sea King’s Second Bride.” Her short fiction and poetry can be found in Jonathan Strahan’s anthology Dragons, Ellen Datlow’s Mad Hatters and March Hares: All-New Stories from the World of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Rich Horton’s Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy, and elsewhere.

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