lights & beaks & bleak things

by Crystal Sidell


in my experience, the dead are

stubbornly inscrutable, stubbornly

insufferable, maddeningly mundane


pulsing with unbounded energy


I extinguish every light

sweating in the never-quite

pitch that attends city living


anchored with exhaustion, unable to

recognize the paper-thin, bright white

boundary between wakefulness and sleep


first: my dedicated clowder of hellions

arcing, howling and growling, chasing

electrified tails across streetlamp-lit tiles


then: the turning of a brushed-nickel

knob // once-upon-a-time Stepmom 

opening the already-open bedroom door –


doesn’t anyone knock anymore?


gliding toward the disheveled king

bed sliding onto hot sheets next to me

uncannily clear gaze fixed on my face


false teeth accommodating loose tongue

spilling advice I can’t remember before

I’ve even hollowed a space for the record


shouldn’t the dead’s words root deeper than a bee’s sting?


how ANTI-ghost–flicking the light switch

& closing the still-open door behind her

– I perspire into a puddle on the floor


hungry for the humid dark, collapsing

with a sigh, only to discover another

bulb overhead BLINKing-BLINKing on


I can’t rest for all this haunting–


down and up // up and down

standing outside, a portrait of

wing-flaps against a sun-blistered sky:


laughing gulls snatching blue

jays in their maws mid flight

terrible screams, terrible cries


I’m wreckage inside, petrified

when the uneaten breed blood

swoop, swallow Sedge wrens whole


WHO is consuming WHOM?


meanwhile, the cats are riding the funhouse

train & I’m plump, pliable terrain–eyes

popped open, arms shot out, tumbling…


heading back to Grandmother’s

house! except, this isn’t a fairytale

– unless certain grim-truths make it so


oh, I promise I won’t tell


striding up the old drive, through the

old garage: Sister vacuuming in the hall

as fastidious in my dreamscapes


as when she tossed memories

from the yellow-papered toybox

into the trash, no second’s thought


Dad says we can’t return without

supervision, yet Grandma is not his

own mother, who withered beneath


too much toxic shade &

I have been the independent

daughter for more than a decade


at least the Moccasin knows it’s venomous


I want to soar free of cannibalistic

birds // build a nest with chigger-free

moss but the 10:00 a.m. alarm rings:


I’m sorry


the cats are mewling for breakfast

and I’m left blinking back sunlight

thinking of the women in my life


Stepmom, Sister, Grandma


no longer; sucked into the clouding grey –

how they mine the iron from my spine,

bleach the color from my veins


I pull on clothes, sip light roast heavy on

creamer, determined to survive another day

another night–surely, my ghosts, this is enough?


this is…

– is this –



A native Floridian, Crystal Sidell grew up playing with toads in the rain and indulging in speculative fiction. She holds a master of arts in both English and library & information science, moderates two creative writing groups, and has reviewed books for the Florida Library Youth Program. Her work has appeared/is forthcoming in 34 Orchard, Apparition Lit, diet milk, F&SF, opia, Orion’s Belt, Strange Horizons, Under Her Eye, and others. You can find her on Twitter @sidellwrites

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