Once upon a time, poetry was my first love (says the girl with bits of poetry tattooed all over her). I wrote poems from the earliest age, thrilling as the words came together, devouring every bit of poetry I could get my hands on, in short: obsessing with the beauty of language in poetic form. But no one seems to be into poetry these days, not like fiction, so though I still wrote poetry, I began to do it mostly for me, dedicating myself to fiction.
I write poetry all the time–it’s what helps me make sense of the world.
One of my favorite things to do is tell stories in verse. I think that they become more immediate this way, more aching. I want to bring at least one story-in-verse over to each month of Project Unicorn, because it’s one of my favorite ways to tell stories, son-of-a-kraken, and I know now that there are a few more people who like poetry than I previously thought, once upon a time, a very misunderstood teenager with volumes and volumes of hand-written lesbian love poetry tucked under her bed. ❤
"Speak of the Devil" is a story told in verse, and I hope you love it. ❤
This poem story is dedicated to my kid sister, Laura Diemer. A few years ago, we went together on an expedition to the Pine Barrens in New Jersey where we stayed a few very haunting nights, searching for the Jersey Devil. We never found it (not for want of trying), or—perhaps—it didn’t want to be found. Either way, it was a wonderful time. Creepy. And wonderful. ❤ This one’s for you, kitty.
"Speak of the Devil,” by Sarah Diemer
Savannah and her mother have a strange obsession with the old folk tale of the Jersey Devil, and–at night–Savannah dreams of the monster. Told in verse, this is the story of an awakening.
(photo by arnybo)
(Part of Project Unicorn: A Lesbian YA Extravaganza, updated twice weekly on Mondays and Thursdays with a free, original, never-before-published YA short story featuring a lesbian heroine. Also, every story is a work of genre fiction [Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Dystopian, Post-apocalyptic, etc.].)
“Speak of the Devil”
by Sarah Diemer
My mother tells me proudly,
Scratching a claw over my face
Down a lengthened jaw distended
Beneath my slit eye, over the roman nose
Reaching up to touch one leathery wing.
Here’s the thing: I’m not religious,
And the stories of the origin are wrong.
So, a long time ago, there supposedly was this woman,
Momma Leeds, who said a prayer
Crying out to god because
Her husband knocked her up the thirteenth time.
“Fuck the child,” she’s to have whispered at her bedside,
Staring up into the air, belly round, heaving,
“He’ll be the devil,” she said, and out came the kid
And he was pretty for about five minutes
Then grew wings and horns and ate up the midwife—
If we’re to believe the story—
And rose out of the house through the chimney
To wreak havoc on New Jersey forever and ever amen.
Congratulations on your new Jersey Devil.
If you’ve heard of the Jersey Devil, you’ve heard the story
And I’m sick of it.
It’s not true.
But I’m even sicker
Because now I’m here, trying to breathe around this grotesque thing
That Mom swears is a mask.
They made me up and I took one glance in the mirror.
I couldn’t stop shuddering.
I’ve had nightmares where
The Jersey Devil descends out of the tree in our backyard.
It never looks like the composite drawings my mother collects,
It doesn’t even look like this mask.
Somehow, impossibly, it’s more hideous,
More real, in the dream.
It looks a little like me.
It doesn’t make sense, I know, but when I look at the mask I’m trapped in
The paint and the prosthetics and the nauseatingly heavy contraption of wings
The dream seems more real.
“I can’t believe,”
I begin, huffing, as I glance sidelong at my mother,
Mommy dearest, dressed to duplicate me,
Hideous mask, hideous makeup and wings,
“That you made me do this,” I tell her,
As I’ve told her countless times,
The words worn smooth with use.
She adjusts the mask with one claw,
Shakes her head at me, disapprovingly,
“You have no head for theater,” she says, and adjusts my right wing,
And then we’re shuffling backstage.
I run into Emilio,
He gives me a thumbs up,
Says, “Looking good, Savannah!”
And I want to maul him. These claws probably could.
But right after him comes Naomi,
Long blonde hair, perfectly straight,
Shy smile as she peers into my mask
Trying to find my eyes. She squints a little,
“Very scary,” she compliments my mother,
But her hand lingers on my grotesque arm
A bit too long
And when she passes me, eyes downcast,
She mouths one word: “after,”
And my heart races, beating, beating,
My mother dragging me after her as we waddle toward the stage
Laden in enough makeup and mask and prop
To make us look devilish.
It’s an avant-garde piece, the play,
My mother wrote it.
She gets a standing ovation,
She made the Devil a sympathetic character.
I struggle out of the mask,
I’m rubbing at my face with a towel
When Naomi opens the door
Of my “dressing room,”
Which is totally a closet
And despite the makeup and the grossness
We make out for fifteen minutes.
“You were so hot onstage,” she says
Which she’s also said to me in dreams.
Sometimes, I have good dreams,
Just not mostly.
“…speak of the devil!” says my mother,
When Naomi and I both appear
At the after party,
Which my mother graciously allowed me to go to
Since I was her “servant of theater” on this school night.
She’s talking to the local reporter from the world’s tiniest newspaper
Who’s staring at my mother with a look I don’t like
As he writes notes down on a napkin with a worn pencil.
“What made you choose the Jersey Devil to craft a play around?”
He asks, leaning forward, eyes intense, staring.
“Why did you make it sympathetic?
All of the stories I’ve ever heard
The monster takes hikers, kills livestock,
And then there was the case of the child in Fair County
A few years back,
Six years old, and no one can find her.
The mother says she watched the Devil take her.”
“Why not make it sympathetic?” asks my mother,
Smiling disarmingly, leaning forward,
Saying in her best stage whisper: “There’s no proof the Devil did any of that.
And aren’t we all just a little devilish?”
His eyes narrow as he writes it down
And my skin crawls.
My mother is getting reckless.
“I’m heading home,” I yawn to her, hours later,
After five Diet Cokes and several meaningful looks from Naomi.
“Okay…I’ll be along soon,” she tells me,
Kissing my forehead,
Hooking her sharp fingers around my elbow,
“Be safe,” she warns me.
She never takes her own advice.
Naomi and I make out in my backseat, because I’m suave like that.
She tastes like Coke, or maybe that’s just me,
And she’s warm, and she’s soft,
And her shirt’s off, now, though I can’t remember how it got unbuttoned.
As I lick her skin
The salt of her,
And when I trace my fingers along her collarbones,
My knuckles seem to change a little, fingers curling,
Curved, sharp, wicked.
I’m self-conscious as I put my mouth at the curve
Of neck and shoulder,
She throws her head back, smiling, hands in my hair,
And there’s something rising in me.
I try to swallow it down.
A knock at the window.
Creepy reporter guy with a holier-than-thou expression.
When he sees that it’s two girls,
Naomi and me,
The “holier” part intensifies,
And he leans against the car, hands balled into fists.
“Thou shalt not…” he begins, like a cartoon,
But then he thinks better of it, spits on the window.
I throw him a “fuck you” as he begins to leave
Not the best idea, but the only one I have,
And he turns, and his eyes are dark.
I crawl into the front seat, Naomi, too,
As he begins to walk briskly back, toward the car,
I can just see the headline he’ll run,
“Local Playwright’s Jersey Devil Play
Really Metaphor for Homosexual Daughter.”
But then there’s a shadow behind him
And I get out of the car, then, stumbling as I stand with my back to Naomi
Blocking her view
As I hold up my hands to the guy
“You’ll rot in hell,” the guy hisses to me.
“You have no fucking clue,” I whisper under my breath
As he turns and leaves
As the shadow fades into the darkness of the wall
My mother disappearing from view,
Her horns, her wings, her fierceness, disintegrating
And then it’s just my mom again
Who cocks her head, her eyes still slitted
And I swallow, sit back down in the car,
Naomi says she had a good night
Even with the “weird douche guy” who interrupted us.
I kiss her cheek,
Mom’s on the porch, waiting for me.
I knew she’d be.
We swing together, back and forth,
I don’t say anything, arms folded.
“You don’t have to watch out for me,” I begin, eventually,
Voice small, quivering,
“I had it covered. He threw a few curses at me.
It wasn’t bad.”
But she shakes her head,
Smiles at me, presses a finger to my lips,
“I’ve kept you safe, haven’t I?” she whispers in her singsong voice
Her shape shifting, though just a little,
Subtle, really, the way the horns curl out of her hair,
The way her eyes slit.
My skin’s cold when she takes my hand, squeezes.
For three hundred years, Momma Leeds has kept me safe.
“Yes,” I whisper, the truth.
More nightmares, that night,
And when I wake, the taste of blood.
My mother smiles over the paper at breakfast
The review for her play glowing,
And on the last page another report of a child missing.
She promises me that, one day, I’ll remember what I devour.
I’ll be able to control it better.
I stare down at my hands, unchanging as they grip the glass.
My mother’s mask of the Jersey Devil sits on the table
If you liked “Speak of the Devil,” you can now enjoy entire months’ worth of stories in the Project Unicorn short story collections on your eReader, and support the project at the same time!
Sarah Diemer is an award-winning author of lesbian young adult (YA), speculative fiction. Her debut novel, The Dark Wife, the YA, lesbian retelling of the Persephone myth won the 2012 Golden Crown Literary Award for Speculative Fiction, and was nominated for a Parsec Award (first two chapters of the audiobook). She writes her lesbian adult fiction under the pen name Elora Bishop, including the Sappho’s Fables: Lesbian Fairy Tales series, which she co-writes with her wife, author Jennifer Diemer.
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