The Year We Fell In Love & the Forest Happened Around It / Topaz Winters

A year of wildness in the throat. A year of dream bank. Of sky the sound of swallowing.

The way she tells it, she came home & fought her way through the thicket of thorns that no knight had been able to conquer, found us all asleep & me in the middle of everything. The whole kingdom stopped when I pricked my finger, but she was gone long before that. Wanted to see the world. Kiss the boys & make them die.

But now she was back again, & she’d done what no knight or prince had managed before her: found me helpless & drowning in sleep, nestled in the space between the bones & the breaking. When she kissed me, wildflowers sprouted between our feet & she grinned against my lips. That was the first thing I saw when I woke. Her wolf-smile, the safest possible danger. Didn’t know you could do that, princess, she said, & gestured to the wildflowers on the ground, the wilderness around us. Want to show me again?

Ever since the beginning I was the sort of girl she wanted to take apart – princess Aurora, bright white smile & skin like spider silk & ache coiled deep below the surface.  & maybe I’d always had a bit of crush on her, older girl with fresh bruises, smoking cigarettes I was never allowed to touch, pink & fractured, eating boys’ hearts with a side of fries. I was all clean-cut quiet sun, but she was a dangerous thing, gun before the firing, smile like a promise or a warning: go ahead. Underestimate me.

So when she came back & woke me up to the forest that I’d dreamed into being, it didn’t hurt so much, the way she pulled me into her orbit. A year of remembrance in the space between us. A year of watching as I made trees grow between train tracks, flowers snaking through sidewalk cracks, vines across concrete, overtaking every trace of the kingdom we’d left behind. With the boys too asleep to police us, our bodies were no longer crime scenes, but gardens. Love was something known & breathing still, inevitable as clouds parting after the endless storm.

Two girls are in love, & this is their undoing. Or: two girls are in love, & this is their beginning. A year of bones & birds & brightness. A year of realising that a girl doesn’t need a knife to start a war, doesn’t need to prick her finger to lose her innocence. Sometimes she is the sharpest blade. Sometimes she is the shining spindle. Sometimes she finds you in the forest you created in sleep, the forest she never should have been able to cut through, & she pushes into you & all at once you’re awake, you’re the hunter instead of the hunger, you know the language of becoming.

A year when everyone we’d once known was still fast asleep – the first kiss (true love’s kiss, technically, though we never called it that, never broached subjects as disastrous as love or rebellion) might have woken me up, but it had had no effect on my parents, courtiers, nursemaids, the peasants or teachers or doctors or army. A lovelocked year. A year when we sung the sinew out of our bodies, kissed like our mouths were origin stories, touched like an awakening.

A year of arrows & fresh meat, of you need to learn how to work with your hands, princess, of teach me everything you know & when we’re done here you won’t remember what caution means. When I killed my first deer, I threw up & then cried for hours; she had to hold my shaking hands, kiss my face over & over until I calmed down, until I could breathe without the underbrush of bile. It’s okay, she said, too gentle, too kind, the softest I’d ever heard her or have ever heard her since. There are so many that would die for you. This creature is only fulfilling its destiny.

We could have left the kingdom, could have gone somewhere for help – & I wanted to, was set on it at first – but she talked me out of it with her careless hands & lethal smile, something healing & mourning & burning alive. So maybe the years asleep had turned me into a wild thing, just as I had turned my kingdom into one. Or maybe it was just that she finally had me alone, could do exactly as she liked with the princess, with no one to tell her otherwise. Maybe love made us both a little drunk with power. Maybe the fur & the brambles turned us into villainesses, or maybe they turned us into angels. We knew so many songs & none of them were set to music.

For all the rest of the world knew, I was asleep with the rest of my kingdom, languishing behind my curtain of ivy & treachery, just a pristine ghost story for foolish, headstrong princes to kill themselves over. For all they knew, I was fragile & silent, I was glass apology, curls draped prettily on my pillow, so close to being saved. For all they knew, I was lovely still.

The only trace we left was our longing in the underbrush. The only ones that knew we were there were the trees & the wind, & they weren’t telling. A year of skin & sun, a year earthbound & yearning for horizon. Everything blameless except when the creek dried up & there was nowhere left to drown.

It’s not what the faeries wanted for me, not what they imagined when they bestowed their gifts on me at birth – beauty & strength & grace & wonder. All hazy feathered bleeding things, gifts fit for a princess, better than any tutors could have taught me. My parents had been so proud. But the faeries didn’t realise they were giving me the power of forest, didn’t realise it wouldn’t be Prince Charming who woke me, but a blazing girl, a girl with eyes like a razor, choking on her own aftertaste. They didn’t realise we would make our own home in the tender long-limbed myth of summer, one realer than any kingdom that came before it.

A year of unravelling our girlhood, ankles brittle & rabbit-soft. A year when each buried seed sprung up as a tree with our names carved into its flesh. A year of threats & scars & running. Mouths unlearning concrete.

Here: a year of becoming women from the lips inward.

Breath all soft & damning. Light through the trees. Touching like life could grow from our fingertips.

***

Topaz Winters is a poet, essayist, editor, creative director, speaker, actress, & multidisciplinary artist. Among her internationally award-winning & critically-acclaimed creative credits include working as the author of three books (most recently poems for the sound of the sky before thunder, Math Paper Press, 2017), writer & star of the short film SUPERNOVA (dir. Ishan Modi, 2017), creative director & editor-in-chief of Half Mystic Press (est. 2015), speaker of the TEDx talk Healing Is a Verb (2017), & creator of the digital art installation Love Lives Bot (est. 2018). Her work has been published in Cosmonauts Avenue & DIALOGIST, profiled in The Straits Times & The Business Times, & commended by Button Poetry & the National YoungArts Foundation, among others. She is the youngest Singaporean ever to be nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She was born in 1999, resides at topazwinters.com, & studies literature & film at Princeton University. She enjoys chai lattes, classic films, wildflowers, & the colour of the sky when nothing is dreaming of it.

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Corvid Queen

A new journal of feminist fairy tales from Sword & Kettle Press.