The Real LJ Idol * Season 11 * Week 6 : Solvitur ambulando

Slip off the hard heeled shoes,
peel off the thick wool socks.
Bravely dig your toes
into black soil,
full of blood 
and teeth
to know the 
state of 
rotting things.

Dip your feet into the 
cold stream
to feel the grief 
poured into the
ground water, 
which nurtures
the generations downstream,
weak from the 
disconnect 
to the cycle of 
things. 

When they drag their tongue along your insole,
the world breaks open, and you will see 
everything that lies underneath.

Tendons and sinew tear apart.
A bright light breaks through skulls.
A hot lava spring, 
the salted marsh,
the sturdy roots
of a redwood tree 
in a forest on 
a far away 
coast. 

You are scorching hot,
laid down low, 
connected to a
complex system,
a wide expanse
of canopy
soaking in the sun.

You exhale,
they inhale. 

***

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The poll closes Monday, November 18th at 9pm EST

The Real LJ Idol * Season 11 * Week 5

“My enemies are all too familiar. They're the ones who used to call me friend."

A haunting heavy as 
a winter cloak in 
summer heat,
a lover I raised from the 
graveyard of my past.

Her hands in my hair, 
lips trembling,
I absently fed tender 
morsels of flesh
to sustain her
hollow cheek pressed
against my own. 

The bass drum beat of her 
cautionary lament
thumped through 
my bones, 
her fingernails
dug into
my palms. 

A wielded tongue
sharp as a paring knife
sliced along my carotid artery,
gentle as a kiss.
I tilted my head 
back
lips parted 
the layers 
peeled away
to reveal the 
slick falsities
hidden there,
comforting as the scent 
of saliva on feverish skin.

Pins and needles cascaded 
down my back and
down my thighs,
settling between 
my legs.

I bled, 
a woman
possessed,
seeking an
exorcism. 

***

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The poll will close Friday, November 8th at 9pm EST.

The Real LJ Idol * Season 11 * Week 4: Impossible

“You are a dream 
with teeth,”
they said.

Fragments 
encased in meat,
a sentient biome
composed of mineral and 
rainwater, the scent of 
petrichor still in our hair.

I sunk my teeth in and
I dared to dream
maybe I could have every
thing 
and every
one 
I ever wanted. 

The Universe said,

“Yes, 
I see what you’ve done.
I can tell you are ready.
Your elbows are bruised.
Your blood soaks the
ground
making the soil
rich for the
impossible.

Here is a hand to hold,
Here is a tongue to taste,
Here is a soft place to land.

Scatter the seed and watch
what will grow.
The harvest is going
to feed a village of 
people you
brought together
with uncanny 
serendipity. 

You pluck the strings of hearts
that had no business meeting in this
wide wide
World.

Yet here you are,
connected by fortitude and
radical imagining.”

The world is mostly empty space.
Our atoms pressing against other
atoms to trick us into thinking
we are something 
separate 
and
solid.

But still, there are electric pulses
cascading through our bodies 
when your hand brushes across mine,
fingers intertwining. 

If we breathe just so,
we can feel the expansion
in our
torsos.
It is as if our 
diaphragms
could envelop
the entirety of 
existence.

There were falling stars.
Dust coalesced into 
desperate desire
to get a taste of 
Earth’s atmosphere.
If you look at the 
Cosmos 
just right,
you can see the 
energetic threads
tying us to bodies 
we don’t remember 
ever asking for.
The pain exquisitely
Unexpected. 
We lived.
We kept
living.

***

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The poll will be closing Tuesday, October 29th at 9pm EDT

The Real LJ Idol * Season 11 * Week 3: Everything looks like a nail

You walked over the mountain
and under it.
They mined the ore
and it came
down
in a
landslide.

You cleared the rubble with calloused palms.
Their voices squeezed through your throat.
They nibble with porcelain teeth, they slipped
the iron in.
Your jaw is heavy with it, but still
you stay
to grind your teeth at night.
It doesn’t hurt enough yet.

You dredged the lake and the rivers.
Their hunger clawed at your stomach.
They lick with honeyed tongues, they slipped
the iron in.
Your guts cramp with it, but still
you stay
to be needed and become lean.
It doesn’t hurt enough yet.

You tilled the soil and planted seeds.
They brushed your hair with ivory comb, they
slipped the iron in.
Your clavicle aches with it, but still
you stay
to hold their heaviness in your breast.
It doesn’t hurt enough yet.

You forged the paths into the forest.
They massage with soft finger tips, they
slipped the iron in.
Your heel is inflamed with it, but still
you stay
to guide them despite losing your own way.
It doesn’t hurt enough yet.

You foraged for berries and herbs.
They kiss you all over with cold lips, they
slipped the iron in.
Your skin is feverish with it, but still
you stay
to burn hot to keep them from the chill.
It doesn’t hurt enough yet.

You mapped the new landscape
for them.
Your frail frame grew sinewy tough.
Finally, it hurt enough.
So you
do not stay.
You sink down in the bog to rest, and
they tossed
the iron in
as an offering to the
spirit dwelling there.

Sometimes seen in
uncanny green lights,
and heard in the
murmur of frogs.

***

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The polls will be closing Sunday October 20th at 9pm EDT.

The Real LJ Idol * Season 11 * Week 2 : Living rent-free in your head

I have been putting out a pound of flesh
and a quart of blood for the
ghost in the attic.
I would rather be haunted,
than vacate these twisted bones.

I will keep paying the price
in order to be here,
even while the poltergeist takes the
door knobs and shatters
glass in my hallways.

I dutifully tweeze the biting shards from
the soles of my feet, I wrap them tenderly
and keep walking up and down the steep
stairs because there is clearing to be done.
 
The ghost scrawls messages
whenever another payment is due,
"You can love, but you’ll have to ache."
"You can rest, but you’ll have to break first."

I chew on my gratitude like the first bite of my last meal,
I imbibe my relief like it is my last sip of my first drink.
My head swims with it, my body is lifted and it
feels like the comfort of floating,
but the ceiling is just as unforgiving
As the rest of this house.
The fall is sudden and it bruises.

Sometimes I write my own messages,
I can live
I can live
I can live.
 
****
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The polls will be closing Friday, October 11th at 9pm EDT

The Real LJ Idol * Season 11 * Week 1 : Resolution

The way will not be easy.
You must rest when you can.
There will be moss to lie upon,
soft against your cheek.
You must thank it for its succor.
The streams will be gentle and cool.
Wade into the deep water, and float.

Eat the sun-ripened berries,
caress the bright flowers,
look at the impossible sky.
Remember it when there is
rich soil in your mouth,
and the blue expanse is
no longer above you.
Your skin will itch and rend.
Do not be afraid.

You know what the seed knows.
The fissure in your hide is not
destruction. The journey will be
warm, and this is a coat you
no longer need.
There is a becoming to
undergo. Be undone.

Pins and needles climb your
lithe toes, bite into your arches,
claw at your heels.
You keep walking the path,
In spite of the stinging nettle.
Lick the soles of your feet
for relief. You have
everything you need.

There are beasts at your back.
You acknowledge their snarls,
envision their teeth,
feel their wet hot breath at the
nape of your neck.
You keep walking the path,
In spite of.
You, too, are a beast.
Your mournful howling will be
answered in kind. Be soothed.

The shadows are long,
sharp and brambled.
The luminescent mushrooms will appear
to you in the new moon dark.
If you kiss them, they will tell you
Secrets.

Tell your secrets to the stones.
They know how to hold the weight.

You keep walking,
In spite of.
You keep walking.

*****
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The poll closes Thursday October 3rd at 8pm EDT. The two contestants with the fewest votes will be eliminated.

LJ Idol Week 0: Introduction

Her bones cracked. She would groan, but the mud caked in her mouth, down her throat. Her tongue sluggishly pushed at the muck. It tasted sweet. She clawed forward. She clawed upward. She clawed through. The wet earth felt silky between her cramped fingers. When she broke the surface, there was cool water ready to caress her with reverence. Yes, welcome, Mother alligator has been waiting for you.She was grateful for the soft murky embrace. It was gentle, tugging fondly on her matted hair, loosening the strands, rinsing out her mouth. She sighed. She rested. She floated under the surface, content and heavy with dreaming.

There was work to do, still, her sister’s call was keening. She kicked her way to shore and found her feet, toes digging into the sucking mud, but she quickly came to her knees, bent double. She vomited and coughed up the swamp, the soft things that live underneath. She gasped. The air was warm and sticky, but the breeze was excruciating on her new skin. Mother Alligator took off her coat and draped the heavy scaled armor over the witch. Her enormous jaws closed around the witch's tender body, deftly carrying her while she caught the air in her lungs, licked the old wounds. The witch pressed her cheek into the yielding tongue. She kissed a sharp tooth, for luck. 

***

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LJ Idol Week 31: Why I Should Win LJ Idol/Why My Opponent(s) Should Win

She pulled the plush cloak around her more snugly; her breath was hot, but the breeze was not this far up the mountain. Her hand ran along the soft fabric, black as ink, and her fingertips traced each stitch, an unspoken spell of protection, of encouragement, and of support thoughtfully placed there by her colorful friend, full of bright light and hopeful endings. When she took her first steps on this journey her friend’s insistence was her motivation, her friend’s assurances were the heavy soles on her boots.

The cloak was the protection she needed on a journey that promised to be challenging and arduous one for someone whose stories were found things, pebbles with an interesting shape or color. She’d look through the holes in them and see something she didn’t know before, about herself or someone else. The story would be scribbled on a scrap of paper, an anemic poem, a fleeting monologue, and perhaps a few sets of eyes would look at the symbols. Those eyes were in heads which nodded, “Yes, I see it, too. I’ve felt that,” or those eyes were in heads which shook slightly bewildered, “But what does it mean?”

She stretched out her legs and winced at the soreness spreading from her feet to ankles to thighs. She reached her arms high above her head and leaned slowly onto the ground, her back aching. She looked towards where she knew the moon would be if it were not new, ink black in an ink black sky. She thought about the impossible number of stars which shone in that velvet heaven and all the stories written for them.

There on the southern horizon were the fish connected by a cord, the goddess Aphrodite and her son Eros, who changed form and took refuge in a river to escape the great dragon-headed monster whose hundreds of eyes were aflame. There was the god who hid as a goat from the same monster, who could not transform fast enough as he fled into the river and so became half fish. She saw the water bearer, a kidnapped boy forced to serve the god who stole him, until one day he had enough and poured out the cup, unintentionally drowning all the earth. There was the woman, her limbs splayed out in chains, a sacrifice to appease a sea monster sent to ravage her homeland because of the bruised ego of spurned sea goddesses. She gazed at the great winged horse, born from the neck of a decapitated monster, who was once a beautiful woman, whose only crime was being violated by a god in another deity’s temple.

She gazed at the constellations and she felt the hard dirt at her back, and thought star dust to star dust. She met her own monsters on this journey, criticism, censure, diffidence. She wondered if their eyes were aflame, if they had snakes in their hair. She wondered what their teeth would feel like buried in her skin, and she wondered what her limbs would feel like if they were turned to stone.

The first steps of her journey were halting and unsure. The mountain gave her a stone, and she was asked to shape and polish it into something worthy of the mountain and its community of travelers, who took their own steps: steady or clumsy, excited or full of trepidation. She pulled up the hood of her gifted cloak, and set to work. Week after week she palmed stones of unimaginable form and weight in her hands. The travelers took all sorts of meandering paths and tunnels on the mountain.

They clasped hands briefly and once pairs of hands worked on the same stones, they offered encouraging smiles, warm hugs, sympathetic pats on the back, and mantras to combat the pesky sprites of doubt which bit like mosquitos. Her steps became more sure and enthusiastic due to the promise of another unexpected path up the mountain, another strange stone to make her own. Her appetite was sated on stories and feedback, another palmful of offerings to the mountain.

Each week a traveler would settle where they stood, their journey finished, but they remained present in order to make offerings to those of us still journeying: A juicy peach to fortify, a fire to rest by, an extra set of eyes to gaze upon a stone to validate the preciousness of our gifts. This community of settlers provided aid to help the travelers move up and up and up the steep paths of the mountain, in order for us to continue receiving stones, crafting stones, offering stones, and the myriad of stories contained therein. Then there were three.

messygorgeous took sharp stones and bled, or soft stones and shaped them with fingernails and breath. They gave tiny stones, which felt heavy as boulders. They held keenly simple stories, which left your arms tired and your heart full. She opened wounds and offered them as tribute. She laid out poignant moments while looking unblinkingly into the past, the present, the future, and all the circumstances which those are made of. We were invited in to occupy the space most precious to her.

Messygorgeous unflinchingly showed us slices of herself, her family, and her characters and all the experiences which affect them in her stones. We were welcomed to sit a while and reflect on what it is to be alive. They laid their chest bare and vulnerable, an invitation into a sphere which is personal and triumphant. Their stones are unapologetic for being exactly what they are. They fearlessly offered them back to the mountain and no matter how daunting the task, they kept walking. I am honored to have been alongside such a force of honesty.

penpusher took stones which came from the deep pit of history, ugly and misshapen, and polished them to a high sheen to reflect the larger narrative of where humans have been, where we are heading, and how we came to repeat ourselves.

Penpusher gave stones which looked as big as boulders, but we could balance and turn them in our palms. The curves distorted this or that detail, somehow showing us a truer version than any other lens or mirror could show. Their stones are funhouse mirrors, allowing us to recognize our villains, but able to laugh at the unexpected way they showed up in the stories. This is no easy feat and it takes a stiff upper lip, an unwavering gaze, and a commitment to keep walking. I am honored to have been alongside such a force of scrutiny.

My stones left a phantom weight in the dozens of pockets lining my well-worn cloak. I climbed into skins too tight and too loose. I chanted and danced and offered what I know: magic is real and it is not what it seems. My companions’ stones left a phantom heaviness in my torso, a phantom life I did not live, well-worn stones which leave me fundamentally better than before I took my first steps on the serpentine path. Yet, here we are, together, shaping magic and shaped by it, in the mundane, and extraordinary. Past and present travelers, we are the dwellers of the mountain, meritorius and magnified, tenacious and resolute.

*
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***
****
*****
Thank you to clauderainsrm for fostering this community. Thank you to all those Idolers who welcomed me with open arms, phenomenal stories, and gracious feedback. A particular thanks to my intersection partner lilmissmagic71, who took a chance partnering with a newbie. The most sincere thank you to my dear patron, suesniffsglue, whom without I would never have known what a wonderful experience this bizarre journey could be.
***
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The poll closes Monday, Sept 25th at 9pm EDT.

LJ Idol Week 31: Swan Song

On the seventh day after the tithing was due, Maeve awoke with a heavy weight shifting from her chest to her stomach and back again. It made her seasick. She swung her legs over the edge of the bed and firmly set her sore feet onto the solid ground of her modest home. Her hands wrung the bed sheets. She splashed the coldest water onto her face. Her eyes felt as if they were full of grit, but when Maeve met her reflection’s gaze, her eyes looked clear and grey, same as always. Her fingers efficiently twisted her blond hair into a tidy braid over her shoulder as she studied her face, which looked much the same as it had over the ten years since she made her deal with the tall amber-eyed man. Nothing in her face betrayed her age. She idly wondered if the man had changed, then her breath felt thick in her throat. She swallowed hard, one, two, three times. She clicked her nails on the porcelain counter and chewed her lip. This was the longest week of her life. She rolled her head slowly around the tightness clamping down on her neck. She shrugged her shoulders a few times to test the range of motion her protesting muscles would allow her.

Downstairs, the cat leapt gracefully from her high perch on the corner cabinet. She affectionately butted her head against Maeve’s shin as she entered the kitchen. She sank down to her knees and gave the coal black coat a few long strokes, then scratched the feline under the chin. She was thanked with half-closed eyes and a rumbling purr. The early light pouring in from the window looked the same as always for this time of year, all rose gold and inviting. She poured herself a cup of coffee and the roasted beans smelled comforting as always. She took a long swallow of the black liquid and her frame visibly sank into a relaxed sigh. Today could be a good day; she just had to focus on the performance tonight. She hadn’t danced in her hometown in a very long while; she was always in demand, so the dance company kept her very busy traveling from country to country.

Maeve let the cat outside to prowl the surrounding meadows, and the flowers looked as colorful as usual. She went to the small shelter down the hill which served as her studio. She danced here long before she ever met the amber-eyed man, before she agreed to the exchange, before the bloody ritual ensured she would have ten years of phenomenal success at a performance career which she worked tirelessly toward her whole life. A decade seemed like such a long time back then, but as she practiced, toured, and taught, the years blinked away frightfully fast. She flipped on the various lights around the room, and the beams bounced off the many mirrors lining the walls. She greeted the plants hanging in the generous windows. The studio smelled the same, the light looked the same, and the polished wood beneath her bare feet was just as smooth and grounding as all the years prior. She rehearsed. She danced and screamed and danced and cried and danced. Afterward, she lay flat on her back with her eyes half closed and breathed and breathed and breathed. The cat slipped through the small door cut into the side of the studio and padded over to Maeve’s prostrate form. She climbed onto her ribcage and settled down, tucking her paws beneath her to doze contentedly.

Maeve thought about the night the promise of the tithing was made. The streets had been empty. The breeze was scented like jasmine, it was a hot night after a particularly crushing round of auditions, which yielded no opportunity. The air hung off her exhausted body like clingy strips of soaked muslin. She felt the weight and restriction of it across her face, and all along her limbs. The trees swayed lazily. The moonlight was bright when his slight frame detached from the shadows as if he was a part of them and they were reluctant to see that piece of themselves go. Her heart raced, even as she recognized something familiar about him. His grin was intriguing. She couldn’t shake the feeling he knew a secret about her which amused him to no end. It did not embarrass her. She was immediately comfortable in his magnetizing presence. He looked at her hungrily, but she didn’t feel as if she were in danger. It felt like a game she could win. It felt like a dance she had danced before. If Maeve was good at anything, it was dance.

The evening of the seventh day since the tithing was due was like any other evening in which Maeve performed. She meditated, she received flowers and cards of admiration and encouragement, her dance company mates shouted “break a leg” as they finished up costuming, make up, and warm ups. The stage lights looked the same as they always did, kaleidoscope colors, and an inky black sea beyond the edge of the stage. She entered her domain easily and she danced. She was finally on her own soil, in front of her own people, telling a story they would understand in their ancestral bones. She pounded her heels, swung her hips, contorted her arms, her spine undulated, her legs leapt. She turned and collapsed and rose like something reborn and unstoppable. The audience gasped and sighed and cried and shouted out.

The music swelled and ended, but her body did not stop. Maeve whirled, her arms moved of their own accord. Her eyes grew wide, but her hips did not become still. Her lungs burned, but her legs carried her back and forth across the stage. She felt hot, too hot, then hotter, but her limbs kept telling a story she did not know. Still her body danced. Her toes bled, and her shoulders ached, but still, she moved. Maeve leapt again and again, even as her thighs quivered and her ankles snapped. She could hear people shouting and screaming, until the roar of her own blood in her ears drowned them out like so many twittering birds far off on the horizon. She did not remember anything about the dance; she would not know how the story ended.
***
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The poll will be closing Sunday, Sept 17th at 9pm EDT