Stone Telling

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The Vigil

by Alec Austin

The guns have stopped, and so
the necromancer sleeps,
her maimed hand slewed across
a butcher's apron, spattered
with suppurations of the dead.

Her familiar keeps watch,
unstuck in time without
the murder roar, the chorus
of blood-ripe metrics
           (24 pounder, 6 inch gun,
           88 millimeter— a thousand names
           for the dying horse scream,
           for the silence that follows
           the killing thunder)
to replace the rhythms
of an absent heart.

The guns have stopped.

And as their silence grows to drown
the Front in alien stillness,
the engine in his chest cavity
flutters, a broken-winged crow
limping through a minefield
of murdered dreams.

           (Slay dreams with iron,
           he was taught, lest they rise,
           unbidden, to claw away
           the dirt covering their graves.)

The guns have stopped, and as the corpse
surveys his tyrant's features
           (twin swells beneath a manskin coat, temple
           marred by proud flesh, two knuckles
           cauterized to glossy lumps)
he moves to tuck a copper fall
behind her ear, and only revulsion
at the thought of contact, of her
waking, restrains his digits.

Salt stains his cheeks, seeping
from tear ducts dry as winter.
           (The dead need no water,
           though they still thirst.)
His breath, held close, seems ancient now;
fossilized, like an insect
drowned in amber.

There is an eagle scream, a gasp of thunder,
a rain of dirt.

The guns have spoken.

And as his tyrant stirs, the corpse
exhales, wipes his face, and dons
the well-worn mask of habit.

Some feelings, he imagines, are only fit
for the interval between muzzle-flare

and impact.

Alec Austin is a video game designer and a graduate of the Clarion West 2000 writing workshop.  While "The Vigil" is his first published poem, he's TAed for (and discussed fantasy novels with) a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, earned a Masters degree from MIT in Comparative Media Studies, and has fiction forthcoming in Daily Science Fiction. His livejournal, consisting largely of book reviews and essays, can be found at