“Rural Folklore” by Lucy Hannah Ryan

Here is where you do not live, the gnarled trunk of the oak tree, where the vibrato of wailing first curves its way around your bones. Collarbone, first, a vibration that makes your breaths shake, a fission through each rib like they’re competing with the heart. Then spine, then hipbone, every stone-solid part of you caught on the hum of the droning song.

Here is where she finds you, then, not at home, where omens come, but in the garden, where paradise tumbles with depravity, a kiss meaning one thing, or another. Against the tree, climbing through it, branches bowing to the same rhythm you quiver to. It’s a death song, a rasping rattle of breath and lullaby, and you dance, because you are living. That’s what the living do.

Here is where her fingers, then, find the jut of your jaw, where it’s tipped up and smiling, where the sun casts it in gold. Here is where your fingers, then, gently part the sea, white hair making way, making waves, teased out and softening. She smiles then, says, I do not soften for anyone. You comb her hair, she softens. You thought the Fair Folk could not lie.

Here is where she tugs, then, in lieu of honesty, pulls the hair that does not belong to her, until your head is tilted up to the sky, pain lighting up each synapse until you ache to snap. You say, I’m not so soft either, lying through your teeth, as hers trace your artery. She skims, collarbone to jaw, her death-hum vibrating through you like a struck tuning fork, and you arch for it, the brush of sharpness, teeth best made for tearing souls.

Here is where bark gives way, then, clover-dusted grass and spine. Tumbled, like the stories, where the pooka play havoc, uprooting mushrooms, dandelions crushed in your fist. Her claws peel the fabric from your skin, baring it for the sunlight, for the cold brush of her fingertips, for her mouth. She touches that mouth to the curve of your stomach, sucking at the skin until it reddens, bruises. Suckles at every place she finds a bend or curve, shoulder, elbow, knee. Suckles at the tanned skin until the colour deepens, makes a sunset of bruising so you match the sky above. She tastes the life on you, warm and quivering. This is like the stories, too.

Here is where the maiden holds death between her palms, where your hands curve around hips and sink in. You want her beneath you, want to hear her song again, pulled from her throat by the movement of your blood-warm hands. Her hair tangles with the daisies, flowers curling and rotting under her touch, and you know what that means, your determined perseverance. You map out sinuous muscle, to the snaking rhythm of her moans, your rough thumbs brushing her pallid chest. Crows drop from the trees like stone.

Here is where you search her body for colour, and then determine to make it, scratch nails across inner thighs until the phantom of pink lines the whiteness, bite at the divot of hip. The garden shakes, for you, for her. You taste death, salt and musk, the same taste as your own skin in the dark, where you bite out sound into the muscle of your arm.

Here is where death quivers for you, then, where her cry makes your heart quiver, your mouth making a meal of her.

Here is where you learn the phrase brush with death, her fingers carding through your hair.

Here is where you do not live, but will carve a place for yourself, warm and able, burning your way through the cold. Mud stains your fingers, your elbows, your knees, marked for death in more ways than one. Your heart will not stop vibrating to the beat of her song.

Lucy Hannah Ryan (She/they)
Lucy Hannah Ryan is a poet, fiction writer and essayist from London. Her work often concerns gender, sexuality, and complex relationships with the body, inspired by lifelong chronic illness. She has had the pleasure of being featured in various publications, including Half Mystic, Closet Cases: Queers on What We Wear, and Corvid Queen, and was a winner of the 2018 City Of Stories competition.