Earth as Eidolon, by Alexander Atreya


Publisher’s Note: this poem is best read on a desktop or tablet, as mobile viewing does not preserve the deliberate formatting of the poem

with eight minutes to spare until the end of the earth, i pull on the string at the hem of your
        shirt, the one that unravels everything.
if it’s foreplay, it’s not my best—and before the starmaker at last lures the night out from
        where it nests in the rush of water between eridanus and deep sea, i will apologize for
        mapping out the contents of your heart on the living room floor year by string-laced
but the trouble lies here, you see—
the earth has put a suicide note and a red pen in my hands and the longer i help
        her rewrite her own eulogy instead of lying beside you the more i am beginning to fear that i have
you on the northern line at one a.m., you in a rush of heavy rain, you staining your mouth
        with day-old strawberries and chasing me in and out of view along your yellow window
        sills as if you’ve stomped it down into paint that might yet stain mine, you—
the earth has eight minutes to spare and the trouble is this—
no one ever sees the bullet until it hits. but by now i should know better than to ignore the
        things i’ll never understand.
you count down the seconds. i toss toilet paper from shelf to shelf in one unending thread and
        pretend we’re snowballs of wrapping paper left beneath the tree on december 26th,
punch-spiked stragglers in the dark gymnasium, waiting out the crepe-paper goodbye—
but not before we curl our promises like pinkies around the ends of your loose string.
where you’re going next, i say—it’s good.
it’s good it’s good it’s good—

it will be left behind in my bedroom, face-down among my burial ground of abandoned
        things—but earth’s suicide note, unblemished by red pen, goes like this—
in the beginning before the world was the world there was a shooting star and a serpent. the
        serpent had scales as big as hillocks and was known among most celestial bodies as
        stareater, for reasons apparent. all through the forever-night
the stareater left its jaws unhinged and slithered across the universe, swallowing every
        constellation and asterism tame or dozy enough to live in ignorance of the danger ahead
and growing larger all the while—but the shooting star was cunning. it had lived through
        yottameters of the stareater’s torment—it had lived through the births, and now the
        deaths, of its kin—
and it was ready to burn. and so the shooting star defied its course—the one that had been
        preordained by the angels—and destroyed the stareater with a collision so fierce that
        the very galaxy
shook, as though it had forgotten that beneath all that light the one whom they called
        starmaker was made of stone. because of the angels, perhaps, starmaker
disruptor of the natural order
could move no more—but the stareater’s body orbited close and in pieces. in boredom—in
        loneliness—starmaker collected each
broken chunk of flesh and made its parts into a ball of clay and water and earth, molded life
and rivers and valleys into the stareater’s corpse, and when at last starmaker was finished it
        took breath and went to rest—
but the earth was cold. so the starmaker grew and grew and
let its light shine upon all the beautiful and quiet things that had yet to pass on that young,
        green earth—but at last they have come and gone and here i tell you—
goodbye! goodbye!
goodbye to the gentle downpour of sunlight through titan-canopies and onto the blades of
        grass that it loves best—the ones destined for the tongue of some twig-legged creature,
        for baskets and their braided bellies
goodbye to the sound of music, second larynxes carved like vertebrates into bits of skin and
        wood and bone so that man could sing in harmony with the birds and the whales before
        he ever thought to speak
to generations of heaven’s design—to the dust-kissed camouflage that will keep the mouse
        safe from the weasel if it can only muster the courage to be silent—be still—
to snow globes, to dioramas, to photographs on pin-sized screens—to any lovestruck venture
        to make a microcosm out of this bottomless universe and cradle it in the palm of a
        single hand
to the first beautiful spring day after every hundred-year winter
to the meals that taste best in the trying
to hot chocolate on upper lips and lipstick on lower necks
to windows painted by rain
to ripe tupelo leaves
to rebellion—to freedom—
to my unmaker
to daydreams
goodbye to first breaths—last kisses—all the idle touches that come in between—goodbye to
        the quiet lapping of oceans
at anticipating feet—
it is the quiet things i will miss the most with our ending only
eight minutes away

when we are lowered into the ground—into darkness, forever darkness, creatures at the heart-
        center of this labyrinth cutting away our string in the darkness until we, fallen stars, at
        last believe that we have only ever dreamed about a life beyond the darkness—i will
        imagine earth’s last words going something like this—
ME AS EARTH: i want you to swallow me whole.
YOU, THE SUN: what a waste of teeth.

Alexander Atreya is a Best of the Net-nominated writer based in Ngunnawal and Ngambri country. Her short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Good For Her (Prismatica Press ’24), Chestnut Review, All Existing Magazine, Panorame Press, and elsewhere. With roots in Malaysia and India, Atreya most often works within the alchemy of all that she loves best about Southeast Asian folklore, anticolonialism, and mythmaking. Find her on Twitter @sashatreya.

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