Mother used to say
if you sing the right note,
time turns backward,
an unraveling of mistakes,
a new gasp of breath,
a second chance, depths
like a shipwreck,
full of old magick.

Back then, we sang
desire bare to its bones,
sharp in the moonlight,
our songs relentless, reckless,
and justified—
all love is dominion,
conquering, a possession
of purpose.

Mother used to say
men know what they want,
not what they need.
She taught me
how to prey on the first
and pretend the last,
leaving regret
to run out of air
on the shore,
note after note,
singing death
from the living,
but never as a kindness.

Men shatter so easily,
cracking like the thinnest ice,
cursing the illusion
for its pretense, willing
to sacrifice a heart
to the maelstrom,
if it is not their own—
but a song
is never swayed by sentiment,
it knows no mercy,
nor should it.

Mother used to say
your voice is a weapon,
and they are not wise
enough to be afraid.
A song is power, wordless
but bound to a melody,
an earthquake
of savage brine,
the wanton pull
of a greedy, always hungry
there’s satisfaction
in the unmaking of fools.

What good is a voice, unused,
heart hushed into compliance,
complicit in its own demise?
A thousand men may demand
what they are not owed,
but I will still say no,
I will bend a finger,
and the unrighteous
will forget sense
and virtue, wading
into wicked depths
until their last moment
overtakes them.

Mother used to say
the moon hunts
the stars, without concern
for the sky. A reminder
that beautiful
is often deadly,
and desire can shine
a clever silver,
a miracle of attraction
for all the damned souls.

The map of a spine,
a river of ribs, the swell of skin
between hungry teeth—
this, too, is a song,
its notes a reckoning
of broken things, new
troubles, the myth of innocence
swallowed whole,

My mother once said
this is the last beginning,
dawn breaking
with dangerous hands.
She sang too softly
for even the moon to hear,
and all the stars turned their backs,
leaving her adrift, her chest
a fluttering hollow,
until it wasn’t. Silence,
its slender fingers
clawing and demanding,
rushed into the empty spaces,
somber as a dirge,
guttural and humbling,
unsteady as the thick tick
of my drowning heart.

When she died, her body
vanished in pieces,
turning to foam,
mine twisted in grief,
all salt and shallows,
bones full of barnacles,
a fathomless silence,
a repeating refrain
of what was, thrumming
like the sea
in a shell.

I tried to sing her back,
hook her memory
like a lure, pulling time
with an aria,
wave after wave,
a tip of the scales,
all gleam
and danger—

Mother used to say
love is a language
without words,
and now I know how
it stretches
like air, notes
soft and precise,
kind and too sharp,
all at once,
the sway of things
changing shape day after day—
hearts are like sea glass,
after the wreck.


Ali Trotta

Ali Trotta is a poet, editor, dreamer, word-nerd, and unapologetic coffee addict. Her poetry has appeared in Uncanny, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Nightmare, Fireside, Strange Horizons, Mermaids Monthly, and Cicada magazines, as well as in The Best of Uncanny from Subterranean Press. She has a poem forthcoming in Asimov’s. Her short fiction has appeared in Curtains, a flash fiction anthology. A geek to the core, she’s previously written TV show reviews for Blastoff Comics, as well as a few personal essays. Ali’s always scribbling on napkins, looking for magic in the world, and bursting into song. When she isn’t word-wrangling, she’s being a kitchen witch, hugging an animal, or pretending to be a mermaid. Follow her on Twitter as @alwayscoffee or subscribe to her TinyLetter. Four of her poems, including three for Uncanny, were Rhysling Award nominees.

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