Tasneem Maher

Barter Secrets

A pound of flesh for a key that fits into the mouth of a beast, its stomach a poison no stream of water will heal, holy or otherwise. These days, they sell anything. Money winks between hands then bursts into cold flames like a flashy magic trick. What of the pound of flesh then? A wiser woman would fillet the silverskin off and bury it under steel. Tomorrow, it will be gold. For all the alchemists know, they know nothing of blood because no one has ever excised them. If you cut the top of a mountain, it will bleed a river of moths. If you cut a child, a line of scorpions. No one remembers a wound like a child but a child’s flesh is more precious still. It dissolves into gold beneath your touch, buries itself in the ridges of your fingerprint. You can benevolently stroke the heads of as many animals as you like, it still won’t render you clean. It’s a rumour that hands crack clean off and fly away at death. There are rules to this world: you die with what you’ve done. It’s true that hands crack clean off and choke thieves. There are rules to this world: you die with what you’ve done. Snap the wings off a partridge and it will heat your blood for a year. The cold will never reach you. Give it a bar of song to trill, it will warm your hearth for a night. No one ever speaks of the price of cruelty — not the men on gilded soapboxes, not the ones buried in marble. This you learn from reading the folding skin of the Earth’s hands. When you are given a beast, there is no need to reach into its mouth.

what in heaven

Can I imagine a time before

metaphor? What in heaven

could ever be compared to something else?

I drift between dreams but no one

answers. I have answers

I’d still like to give. Rooms where

my disembodied hand still

waits for the signal to speak.

But here, I’m on my knees and 

I’m looking reverent in front

of a wall of paintings. Call me 

voyeuristic and doom me 

to a life of seeing. I’d like

to be accused and I’d like to be historical.

I can be a paragraph, I promise,

if not a footnote. I’ve been drowning

for years, wanting to reach the lip

of a seafloor volcano. Maybe then

I can make something move.

I can find Atlantis in the belly of the volcano.

Can I offer you a lost civilisation?

After all civilisations are lost,

let me keep looking. Let me witness

what remains after there’s nothing left 

to preserve, not in our hands,

not even in our futile languages.

TW: self harm

Post Mortem Four Years After the Fact

body here I give you the remains of a monsoon / summer that dripped red off all the awnings / & here the unseen scars / like a silver lining / body I am sorry for that night / the one where I used you as a tool / to learn atonement for a mistake / that easily gave forgiveness and faded / locked up in the bathroom / it rained all night / as I grappled with the water slick and shallow / so deep in the water / I couldn’t think of getting dry / there’s more than one way of leaving a mark / & more than one soft place to hurt / I know that now / & the weight of half a dozen bracelets / where scabs no longer hide underneath / the skin four years deep / body I am sorry / for never letting you grow / undisturbed the way you deserved / & the muscle memory of ruin / I kept trying to scratch everything / like a feral cat in a dark room / & the adrenaline biting at the blood / it reaches for every red flag / the biggest ride in the neon rush of an amusement park / it leans to the side of boats until I almost slip off the railing / so I will carry this ocean until / I no longer can / & who was I to declare my suffering like this / & who was I to teach you atonement / body you are the best dry erase board / body you are the best student / & I still have not learned forgiveness / body is it possible that you may teach me / the things I ask of you are too much / I know and yet / could you oblige me / body there are things we owe each other / that I don’t yet know / I thought you owed me evidence / that I’d survived myself / it was something / like so many other somethings / that I thought I deserved / I hadn’t known what silver linings were / until a year after when I kept stretching / the skin of my thighs holding it up / to the sunlight like dough trying to find something / beyond the capillaries / beyond the blood

Tasneem Maher is an Arab writer and poet who encourages theatrics and melodrama of any kind. A Best of the Net nominee, her work has been featured or is forthcoming in Vagabond City Lit, Kissing Dynamite, Flypaper Lit, and Jaffat El Aqlam, amongst others. She is also Fiction and Personal Essays Editor at Sumou Mag. She tweets @mythosgal.