The Poet’s Child

by A.C. Wise

Oranges, Age, and Regret

The poet’s child awoke to dis­cov­er the loss of the word for a fruit so bright its skin is like the set­ting sun, its juice so bit­ter-sweet that it is all of sum­mer and win­ter in one mouth­ful. The child rose and, see­ing the day was already late, went down­stairs. The poet sat with­in the glassed-enclosed porch, cat-curled into a chair before a table placed in the cen­ter of the room.

The room was an eye, and on three sides its win­dows gazed out over rolling grass—painfully green—and trees sway­ing under a sun the thick-gold of weak tea or strong hon­ey. The land sur­round­ed the house like a painting—too beau­ti­ful and unre­al to be true. The poet’s child ges­tured beyond the glass.

“Those trees, I used to know the name of the fruit grow­ing on them.”

The poet looked up, face hold­ing an expres­sion that was per­haps not as remorse­ful as it might have been. The child saw that the poet had been chew­ing the pen again. The bone col­ored quill had splin­tered under the con­stant gnash­ing of teeth. The poet’s lips had been stained black, ink soaked deep into cracks in the skin. 

Slant­i­ng sun­light caught the poet’s hair and illu­mi­nat­ed eyes, which were a green far less painful than the grass, but no less dan­ger­ous. The poet shrugged, a slight move­ment lift­ing wing-like shoul­der bones.

“It’s a poem about the coun­try­side, about this house, and the land,” the poet said, as though no more expla­na­tion or jus­ti­fi­ca­tion was need­ed for the theft of words. The speak­ing showed stained teeth behind stained lips, fis­sures of black scored into panes of ivory.

The poet held the child’s gaze for a moment longer then resumed chew­ing the pen. The glass room, which trapped sun­light and kept out the world, filled with the skritch of quill over paper; it filled with the sound made by the end of the feath­er that had once been buried in a goose’s flesh, breaking.

Watch­ing the poet, the child came to know the loss of a score of oth­er words, like the way for count­ing the num­ber of years one has been alone. The child knew only of being nei­ther too old, nor too young, for heartbreak.

“I used to bring you plums,” the child said, thought­ful, look­ing out over the wide lawn. It hurt, choos­ing words so care­ful­ly. It dug at all the places where the words weren’t, where holes in mem­o­ry had stolen things that mat­tered, things the child used to love. “I used to bring them in a wide ceram­ic bowl, chilled so that they still car­ried the imprint of breath, like frost on their dark skins. Do you remember?”

The poet shrugged once more. The child tried to sum­mon something—a feel­ing for not tak­ing joy in what had been lost, but that word was gone too, devoured by the poet’s pen. The poet didn’t look up, but bent fur­ther to the poem, frac­tured quill scratch­ing paper as thin as skin, stained lips shap­ing words with­out sound. The poet’s child turned, leav­ing the poet and poem alone.

Desire, Sex, Tears, and Rain

The poet’s child walked out beyond the win­dows, look­ing back at the house and the poet bent over the poem. The child climbed up the low hills rolling above the house, buck­ing like the sea. A breeze blew through the olive trees—a fruit with a name the child could still hold on the tongue, like the taste of olives them­selves, salty and soaked in brine. 

The poet’s child remem­bered that fla­vor, lin­ger­ing like a ghost, but had for­got­ten anoth­er word in its place. It was the word for the thing that so often comes between peo­ple, but also brings them togeth­er, clos­er than skin on skin. The word, the poet’s child knew, brought a host of oth­er things tum­bling in its wake—similar, dif­fer­ent, sep­a­rate and not, chro­mo­somes, just slight­ly off kil­ter from each oth­er, cre­at­ing rifts uni­verse-wide, or things so aching­ly the same that every­thing came crum­bling down between them when they touched. 

Every word the child could remem­ber to describe that lost thing was mun­dane, clin­i­cal and cold, express­ing noth­ing at all. There was so much more, some­thing the child could almost touch. A mem­o­ry snagged in the trees, in the leaves flipped sil­ver by the blow­ing wind. Some­one else, maybe more than one per­son, had stood here once. 

The child could almost remem­ber eyes like the poet’s—just as green and just as dan­ger­ous. Where the child stood now, some­one else had stood, close enough to press hand to hand. The poet’s child remem­bered sun-warmed skin, but none of the names spo­ken into the air between the trees. If the wind-sil­vered leaves were frost­ed in the ghost-skin of mem­o­ry, they spoke noth­ing of it and kept their secrets.
The poet’s child had for­got­ten many things.

From that van­tage point on the hill, look­ing away from the house, the poet’s child could just catch a glimpse of the sea. Between the trees, far more dis­tant than the ones whis­per­ing inde­ci­pher­able things over­head, water sparkled—mirrored drops of sil­ver, cast hope­less­ly adrift on the blue. 

Turn­ing, the poet’s child descend­ed to the house. It squat­ted among length­en­ing shad­ows. The hills made a bowl and the house nes­tled in it, like plums in con­cave ceram­ic, set next to a parent’s hand.

The poet still sat at the table, legs bent the same, pen to lips, star­ing. The poet did not look up as the child crossed the room, and the child peered over the poet’s shoulder.

The poem sit­ting on the table was writ­ten on air, a melt­ing insub­stan­tial thing. The paper was made of shed flesh, and snow des­tined to melt. The words were all strange; the child had lost them long ago.

“I used to know a word,” the child said, “for want­i­ng a per­son, or a thing, above any oth­er thing in the world. Only it was more than want­i­ng. The word was a key, heavy on my tongue, tast­ing of brass and iron, mar­row and blood. It unlocked a heart that wasn’t mine.”

The poet didn’t look up, but raised shoul­ders in a bar­ri­cade of bone. The poet hunched clos­er to the poem with shel­ter­ing arms, as though the words drip­ping from the child’s mouth were a rough down­pour that might dam­age the frag­ile thing the poet had cre­at­ed. Silence stretched, press­ing against the glass walls to shat­ter them. When it was too much to bear, the poet final­ly looked up.

“It’s a poem about love,” the poet explained—insufficient, but offer­ing noth­ing more. “It’s a poem about los­ing things, and sad­ness, and let­ting go.”

The poet’s eyes were infinite—the green of deep wells where moss grows and nev­er sees the light. The poet had stolen the words, but lost the essence of their meaning—a lin­guis­tic vam­pire, un-warmed by the blood of oth­ers. There was no pity in the poet’s fath­om­less gaze.

Turn­ing, the poet flicked one hand, dis­miss­ing the child with long, thin fin­gers scarce­ly more than bone. Those fin­gers were the same shade as the quill, stained with as much ink. Poet and pen formed one thing, insep­a­ra­ble, indi­vis­i­ble and absolute. The poet’s skin, the child real­ized, was very much like the paper; the lan­guage writ­ten there just as unknow­able and strange. 

The poet’s child drew back, but at the door, paused and turned. In the room, shad­ows lengthened—plum-skin and bruise pur­ple, lying so thick the poet could scarce­ly be seen.

“There used be another…one, didn’t there?” The child stum­bled over unfa­mil­iar words, tongue ungain­ly in the face of so much loss. It was like try­ing to express a thing nev­er seen, try­ing to see a whis­per in the dark, or try­ing to feel a col­or at the bot­tom of the ocean. “You used to be…not alone.”

The poet looked up, those dan­ger­ous green eyes still vis­i­ble in the dark. They were more than the col­or of moss; they were also the shade of sun­light on a for­est pool. They were gold flecked over deep water, damp­ness and stones. They were the mem­o­ry of things passed and nev­er to be caught again.

The poet shrugged—a favorite ges­ture. It made the child think of flayed skin and exposed bone. 

“I used to bring you fruit that tast­ed like winter,” the poet’s child murmured.

Stars pin-pricked the black as the child climbed the stairs—sky mir­ror­ing the water as seen through the dis­tant trees. The poet’s child was tired, though a mem­o­ry of wak­ing with the dawn lin­gered, a mem­o­ry of not lay­ing down to sleep until long after the moon had crossed the apex of the sky.

“I’m tired all the time now, I sleep all night and all day,” the child said to no one. It was good to speak aloud, words were so pre­cious and few. Yet each word caused pain, bruis­ing lips as they fell into a house of weird silences.

Sit­ting on the bed, the poet’s child could see out the win­dow to the gen­tle hills and the sil­vered olive trees, now star-touched. The place between the trees where no one stood, where absence was a pal­pa­ble thing, shone with moon­light. Alone on the bed, the poet’s child almost felt the touch of a long-gone hand.

Once upon a time, there was a word that went with the word poet—other and together—fitting things into a whole. The poet’s child won­dered what the poet had lost, what else had been giv­en up in ser­vice of the poem. Was it any­thing like what the child had lost?

The child won­dered about eyes the green of olives, and kiss­es with the same salt-brine taste as that fruit. Once upon a time, the child had known a dozen words for good­bye and a dozen rea­sons to say them. But the poet’s child had for­got­ten them now, along with the words for water falling from the sky, or falling from the eyes of some­one who is gone. 

The poet’s child trem­bled, full of frus­tra­tion and the pent up need to express the inex­press­ible. What could be worth this? Would the poet’s scratch­ing pen cir­cum­nav­i­gate the world, bind it in ink and vel­lum skin? Would the poet wrap up all the words ever spo­ken to keep them safe, to ban­ish mem­o­ry and feeling? 

Was it a kind­ness, the poet’s child won­dered, or a cru­el­ty, steal­ing words, one by one, and tak­ing their mean­ing away? In the ter­ri­ble silence of the house, the poet’s child felt the splin­tered pen, goose quill, ink stained, scratch­ing at the walls, scratch­ing over skin and bones.


The poet’s child wakes under the eye of night. It is cold in the house and utter­ly dark. The child can­not remem­ber the last time of wak­ing with­out the sun. The lawn around the house is not green any­more, but black, slaugh­tered by the moon and turned into a fath­om­less sea where they will drift forever—poet and child.

The child ris­es, feet chill on the stone, and creeps down­stairs. Ghosts crowd the space between the walls. The poet’s child slips into the room once suf­fused with sun­light, now heavy with the moon. 

Three glass walls show the poet in sil­ver light, dark hair feath­ered against pale skin, one cheek pil­lowed on a too-long hand. The pen is still, gripped over the vel­lum skin of the page. The tip is utter­ly splin­tered now, and the poet’s lips are as pure black as the sky.

The child crouch­es, catch­ing the poet’s breath as it pass­es sleep­ing lips. There are inky words imprint­ed on the poet’s tongue. The child can almost see them, inhale them like phan­toms, allow­ing under­stand­ing of every­thing lost and gone. 

More words dis­ap­peared in the night—more than sun-bright fruit, and need like a key slipped between skin and bone. The lost words are much more ter­ri­ble now. They encom­pass car­ing for anoth­er per­son enough to pro­tect them even after they have hurt you; they hold pain in the soul, and the word for grow­ing from that pain into some­thing that makes it close to right in the end.

The poet’s child ris­es and slips the poem from beneath the poet’s sleep­ing hand. The poem has almost out­grown the table, spilling onto the floor, and there is still blank space at the bot­tom, a place where more stolen words will go. The shat­tered pen catch­es on the frost-thin sheet, almost but not quite, tear­ing it. There are still a few words the poet’s child remembers—words like match and fire and burn.

The smoke is acrid in the closed room, but not enough to wake the sleep­ing poet who breathes out inky dreams that would turn the col­or of drift­ing ash if they could take sol­id form. The poet’s child turns away, glid­ing out the door like a ghost and out into the world.

Foot­prints mar the dew, mov­ing away from a place of shad­ows cra­dled in a bowl of hills. There is a word the child can almost remem­ber. It is a word spo­ken between peo­ple who have caused each oth­er pain, but are bond­ed by some­thing big­ger than that pain, big enough to swal­low that pain and keep sur­viv­ing in its wake. 

But the poem has devoured that word, steal­ing it from both poet and child. All that is left between them in its absence is this: going away and nev­er look­ing back again.

A.C. Wise was born and raised in Mon­tre­al, and cur­rent­ly lives in the Philadel­phia area. Her work has pre­vi­ous­ly appeared in places like Realms of Fan­ta­sy, Strange Hori­zons, Fan­ta­sy Mag­a­zine and Jab­ber­wocky 3. For more infor­ma­tion, or just to drop by and say hi, vis­it or

Sorry, Comments are closed.