FLASH RULE: Every third line must contain an enjambment.
Itlacoanotzalhuan (821 words) The arbors of Mictlan shine an oily blue beneath the ghost of the moon; an anthracite shimmer like the back of a crow’s wing. The stems bleed when cut, but the fruit must be harvested and the vines stripped. It is here in the sweet, black grapeflesh that we find the glass seeds, bitter and lethal, which the god’s blind miller grinds beneath an opal wheel into a fine flour of stars. You and I are the lord’s guests. We walk arm in arm from the daylight dream, as though we were old friends. You totter along on a crutch of hawthorn. I drag palm leaves behind us to make the path forget our passing. The hall has no door. It reeks of dust and jaguar piss. Faceless maids in tattooed peccary skins offer a cup of peppered chocolate, then lead us to a room tiled in turquoise. They stroke the gorge of an amethyst owl’s head. Its beak parts, sluicing green water, steaming, and strewn with orchid petals, into a crystal bath. Silently, they divest us of our rags. They hang your crutch on the owl’s talon; it grasps the offered prey. Naked, we sink back—- our tired, knotted bodies brining in perfumed emerald; sweat licking the road from our skin. You doze, and I study your rutted brow, the hollows beneath, the pinched and seamed ruination of years spent wanting. Your thicketed nostrils flare above slack lips and a flecked stream dribbles into the snowy scrub beneath your chin. I can see why the lord called you; your wheeze and rattle marks you as his. But I am still young enough to hunt, plow, and fight—-to sow as many sons as there are hours —-what claim has he on me? We dry and dress in maguey paper suits, following the maids to the master’s table—-a giant obsidian tortoise shell, overturned. The glassy slats of its belly suck the light from a ring of tallow candles wafting sooty smoke. We stand, listening for the approach of our hosts, but our only reward is the crackle of fatty hempen wicks. A shudder of the air marks their arrival. He is freshly-flayed, slick and resplendent in gold bracelets and a headdress of owl feathers. She, in her aspect as Queen of Bones, wears a gown of purple cornsilk and a beaded onyx sash. For the occasion, a delicate moonflower winks from each socket. You creak to your swollen knees. I follow, pressing my forehead to the tile. In a voice like an empty well, she bids us to rise. Servants bear rich savories for the feast: Rabbits stuffed with cactus and huitlacoche; troughs of acocil in lime; baked duck eggs rolled in chipotle and masa; cool tejocotes; stewed iguana; roasted tapir, rubbed with achiote, on a bed of boiled squash. I do not see who gives me the scorpion pipe, but I suck at its sting, and its venom is a lavish stormcloud in my lungs, driving lightning through my head. You pinch the corner from a tamale and grind it to the floor in honor of Tlaltecuhtli. Our host rolls his eyes. “Idiot!” I hiss. “These lands are beyond the earth; crumbs dropped here cannot ease her suffering!” You bow your withered head in shame. You cur, you wretch—have you no pride? You are a slug-trail pretending to be a man! Show your belly to the ditch-dogs, that they may roll you over and mount you from both ends like a spitted pig! Contempt wrings my guts. I eat without tasting. The lord speaks in a gristle whisper: You may find the next course more toothsome. Then before us, a terracotta morning glory—-red petals huge and folded tight. Masked servants gently peel them away, revealing a pyramid of black glass. Brilliant spirals, brighter than any jewel, rotate lazily within. Perhaps your friend might break the bread? “He is no friend of mine,” I say. “I found him squatting beneath a hawthorn tree, lashing together a crutch from a green bough, and I took pity on him.” Oh? You think him a stranger? Perhaps, but he knows you well. You are the new nation; he is the crumbling ruin. Your scars are scattered jungle trails; his are wide and twisting roads, branching byways, forgotten and faded. But your maps match. In the longest of your possible lives, it is his face you wear when your heart finally forgets how to beat. I give you the meat of my mills, risen in the living fire of the sun, cooled in the space between worlds. If you hate your companion, eat. You will die young and strong, never knowing the indignities of age. If you are brave, though, pass the plate to him. Call him friend. Forgive his infirmities. Rest the crust on his gray gums. He will become as starlight; a burning pulse in the freezing void. Now... choose.
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