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Blood, Roses, Song

By Vanessa Fogg in Issue Five, July 2022

Roses without thorns, blooming and wet with dew.
A garden of sweetness
A song without bitterness
A bird pouring out its heart at dawn
Song pure and weightless in the trembling air.

There were songs, there were birds, there was a forest.
A tower that climbed into the sky.
A girl trapped in the tower, leaning out, singing—
She is singing, her long golden hair streaming down—
Eyes closed. She is singing.

We dreamed of flight, of soaring above the trees
Of pouring forth our own songs
Though our throats were choked with stones.

Fe fi fo fum.
Slow, heavy steps up the spiral stairs.
A monster takes his axe.
A girl shakes in her room as she hears her sister dragged off.
Later, she’ll have to clean up the blood.

Blood into bread, meat into pies,
Bones cooked and cracked for marrow.
Here are the bones he did not take
The scraps, the gristle, the waste cast aside.
She carries them up to the tower roof
Spreads them out in the sun to dry
For the birds to take.

Tell me a story, the littlest one of us said. Wind blew against covered windows.
We huddled and held each other tight.
Tell me a story.

We shook at a giant’s steps.
We sang to ourselves, to each other, in the dark.
Each night a new girl taken, devoured.
Each day a new girl captured, brought to the tower.

We sang of sunlight and home
Of loved ones with faces far, far away.
And when we could not bear the memories
We made up new stories of new sunlit lands
Sweet gardens without end
Orchards of honeyed fruit
A world without pain.

Our living sister sweeps.
She places a pot over the fire.
She cleans and bakes and stirs
Salt from her tears seasoning the meat.

There is no softness here.
No roses at the base of this tower.
Only tangled thickets, dry and leafless
Sharp with thorns.

Birds come, a storm of wings
Hundreds of them on the roof.
Harsh caws and cries, but not only the crows
The ravens and vultures and carrion birds
Not only the curved-beak predators
But also the humble and small
Brown sparrow and wren, bright finch and
The yellow oriole.
Even hummingbirds like blurred jewels
Come to sip at what blood remains
To peck and swallow and tear
To carry what they can in talons and beaks
To consume what’s left
To hold murdered bodies within their own
To carry children away to the endless skies.

She watches, the last of us. Waiting for her own turn.

And we are in the sky, flying.
And we are in the dark, telling stories.
And we are at her window, singing
Singing of escape.

And there may be no prince on horseback,
Though we fly throughout the lands seeking him,
No noble brothers to break down the door
No hero to storm the tower
Even as we sing, we sing
And the townspeople turn up their faces in wonder
Hearing without understanding
We sing, we sing
We children with bird voices
Scattering on all the winds of the world.

We return for the next feast. For the next sister who joins us.
And for the one who stays behind, who still lives.

She waits, and we drop seeds past her window.
We drip blood from our beaks.
Where blood and seed mix, roses bloom amid thorns.
We sing of endless roses and honey, of beauty entwined in barbs
And our sister sings back.

© Vanessa Fogg

Vanessa Fogg

Vanessa Fogg dreams of selkies, dragons, and gritty cyberpunk futures from her home in western Michigan. She spent years as a research scientist in molecular cell biology and now works as a freelance medical writer. Her short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Lightspeed, Podcastle, GigaNotoSaurus, The Future Fire, and Neil Clarke’s The Best Science Fiction of the Year: Volume 4. Her short fantasy novelette, The Lilies of Dawn, is available from Annorlunda Books. A complete bibliography and more can be found at her website www.vanessafogg.com. Vanessa is fueled by green tea.

Poetry by Vanessa Fogg
  • Blood, Roses, Song