Friday, April 10, 2015

The Dolls of Ash

The Dolls of Ash
Bobby Derie
When the fire mountains woke
Burning ash fell as rain from the sky
So all the people burned
Their houses and animals burned
The sky was dark for days
There was no more day or night
Time was measured only by the falling ash
Which accumulated in great drifts
When the sun came out once more
It was pale and cold
The clouds did not leave the sky
The people huddled around the warm waters
Which bled from the fire mountains
They carried the fire with them in horns
As they traveled farther and farther for food
The Ash-Mother rose up to command the people
Though she was young
The elders were all dead
Except for the Well-Finder
Who had drunk too much of strange waters
The Ash-Mother was strong
Fleet with blessing and curses
She had studied the old ways and made them new again
The old city was torn down and made new again
The ash was pressed into bricks
The bricks were laid and mortared
The walls grew higher and stronger than before
All as the Ash-Mother said
The water was made to flow in the channels
The plants were burned for their salt
The meat was cured with the salt
The fruit was cured with the salt
They ate the salty food for every meal
Washed down with sweet water
For those who had so little for so long
It was good
It was enough
In the days of the Ash-Mother
The dead lived with the living
In their homes
She made of them dolls of clay and ash
She dried their flesh with fire and salt
She plaited their hair and blackened their skin with ointments
They smelled of smoke and sweet herbs
They sat on stools and shelves
They chased away bad spirits
So the Ash-Mother said
No one spoke against her
Not for long
In days and moons the Ash-Mother ruled long
Always the first to tend the fire
Always the first to start the rites
Always the first to taste the grey salt
Bellies swelled after the harvest-rite
Well-Finder spoke a prophecy
Or perhaps a curse
Spat from cracked and bleeding lips
No more to the Ash-Mother
Her daughter was growing in the belly of another
Then Ash-Mother spoke
The stores of salt-meat and salt-fruit were not enough
The sweet water was not enough
No children could be born to the people
Not yet
She gave to the women the bitter herb
She watched them swallow it
Those who would not swallow had their teeth broken
Those who would not swallow had their hair torn
Those who would not swallow had the bitter herb forced between their lips
The children were born dead
The women dared not wail
Ash-Mother dried and cleaned them
Ash-Mother made them as dolls
That the women could carry them around
The Well-Finder was found drowned
All agreed out loud he had drunk too much of the strange waters
All agreed in silence
Ash-Mother grew fat
Her belly swelled
She did not eat the bitter herb
The women watched her
Carrying their dolls
It was hard on Ash-Mother
The women watched but did not help her
Nor would she ask for help
When the time came
Ash-Mother screamed
The women came forward
With their sharp knives
The men stayed in their hut
It was not for them
They heard the screams
For three nights
The Ash-Mother died
Each woman of the people cut a piece from her
They covered it with clay and dried it with fire
They hung the amulets about the necks of their dolls
In this way
Some thought their children would live again

It was not so.

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