Elegy for the Self as Villeneuve’s Beast

I work to put away these daggernails of mine
and carve off each stain of the hurt, each line
of the black love that turned my burnished skin to furs
to sweat in, to wear as uniform’d curse—
I won’t lie, I wake up snarling. I want to rend
what turned me so, I want this heat to end.
I want to feel the mem’ry of the thing burst sweet
against incisors. All I do is eat.

It’s funny how nobody asks about the spell,
who uttered it, or why; or why, pray tell,
we guess the boy-turned-beast was always beast-as-boy.
If only bards would warn that bitter joy.
Hell, if I tell it? Sure—‘the black beast wants to clear
his name!’ and no one wants to keep an ear,
and that’s what all her threats would always hope for most,
that each lone howl for help won’t hold a host.

I loved her. This part’s the hardest to reconcile.
It wasn’t me that needed strength or guile
to keep us. First came judgments whispered meek and fae:
I had to love her, but she wouldn’t stay.
Then, dreams she had of blood—her own, or mine, in jaws
and still eyes and dour grit without pause.
If curfew cracked at five, she’d head home and insist
I did the same, for love. There’s one small twist

there: if I still walk the campus greens beyond six,
from then til twilight bore nasty conflicts,
how I’ve abandoned her, and she never loved me
anyway, and what kind of dog would see
her flustered and not change a little in their route.
Surely, this is what most couples bicker about.
Not that it weren’t once dulcet or serene—
the fable opened with sweet picnic scenes

and the stereotyped kisses in pouring rain.
Young lovestruck me had won his only gain
before she threw backpacks, phones, the brief switchblade turn
and cursed me dog, and spoke at every turn
something before a lick of fact could scrape the tongue,
and soon every date turned copper-sweet, stung
us both: her because she feared she’d need firmer hold
and me because it made me frail when told.

“Look at you! A lagahoo, once bruised by a girl?
I should believe the man was not the whirl-
wind?” I don’t know, the words that turn me dog are such
chaotic magic. I can’t do so much.
I wish I could strive to speak a witching-blister.
God, I wish we hadn’t ever kissed. Her
spell worked, even on me. I wake and wonder now
if I dreamt it all up, and why, and how.

The knife that fashions my claws is in a tea tin:
her first claw, the one that did my hope in.
Each trace of her incantations has since been swept
off the inboxes where they were once kept.
Some loved ones even saw the witching cast. They claim
blindness, say my hurt is just a grasp for fame
or something, you know how he is, what else could it
be? What other premise could ever fit?

And here’s the truth: I have these teeth now, and love them.
I want to hold some living thing and thrum
their gristle with my fingers, rage against foibles;
I want to be angry, to make a mess,
I want to do something with all this howling gnashing,
I want to feel like I’m not just crashing
into my own ribcage, like I’ve lost, like I’m all fell.
I want to know what to do, how to quell

myself. I’m not allowed rage, am I? When beasts shout,
townsfolk say that’s all a beast’s about.
It’s funny how nobody asks about the spell,
who uttered it, or why. I’m tired. Sell
me noisy peace, or a god that saves boys, or sleep,
or somewhere to keep all my howls bawled deep.
Tell me I’m the only beast—at least I keep it
with me when my tired breath’s finally quit.

Tell me the dreams aren’t a part of the deal, that they
will fall into fading recall someday.
I’m so damn tired. All I do is eat, and howl,
and bottle what remains behind the jowl.
I cannot put away these daggernails of mine.
They trench reservoirs of torment, divine
some truer me in knots of matte and glowing rage.
I’ve been made a beast, ev’ry single page.

Brandon O’Brien

Brandon O’Brien is a writer, performance poet, teaching artist and game designer from Trinidad and Tobago. His work has been shortlisted for the 2014 Alice Yard Prize for Art Writing and the 2014 and 2015 Small Axe Literary Competitions, and is published in Strange Horizons, Reckoning, and New Worlds, Old Ways: Speculative Tales from the Caribbean, among others. He is also a performing artist with The 2 Cents Movement, and the poetry editor of FIYAH: A Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction.

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