Sand. Surf. Scent…

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Fading with the Tide (Primary Panel)


Svengali? Never heard of him. For David she’d kick off her pumps, cook casseroles and carry children. She’d study 50 Shades like scripture, crawl naked on the floor, cudgel clamped in teeth, wax his shoes with her tongue. His name rolls across her tongue. Dah-veed. Blonde, Israeli, two-point-two percent body fat, thighs like oaks, biceps cut from concrete. A voice as deep as thunder from the horizon.

Through her open window
scented summer breezes drift.
Warblers prophesy.

Testing ardor

He opens her door. She swings a bare leg from his ’66 XKE, slips her foot into the sand. His finger intersects his lips, cutting off questions. He spreads the fingers on her right hand, traces his index down her palm then folds her hand into his, pulls her toward the shoreline. Sand resists her toes, clings to her heels. He twists behind her, covers her eyes with her dusk blue Cucinelli scarf. His first gift. He steps back, holding out her scarf like a train. Step into the water. Breathe the ocean air. Name fifty fragrances, he commands.

Waves brush her ankles.
She scents ozone, palm leaves, brine.
Offshore ship’s horn pines.

Proof of love

“Sea salt, coconut, palm leaves, the wet pungency of shoreline sand, urine and ammonia, decay.” He coaxes her into deeper water. She stumbles. Not just on a shell but on her ability to name scents. Never attentive, her mother would say, looking only in the mirror. Her voice fails her, escapes like a crumbling husk. “Is this really how you want me to prove my love?” Proof of love? No, no, no. Proof of will. He loosens the scarf. It kisses her shoulders, silk on skin. His breath brushes past her ear. He whispers, Every scent you name earns you one more moment of life. He twists. She struggles against the dark tide pushing past her thoughts. “Seaweed rotting on the pier, spilled sun tan oil.” The longer it takes her to think, the harder he twists until she sees her mother handing her a dandelion. She’s three years old. Her first trip to the beach. Her father leads her into the water. Up to her neck…

The bone-colored moon
hides eyes as waves pull back. Her
body drifts to sea.

a moment of her time? (Right Panel)

a moment
a fraction
so trivial
so little to ask


in this instant
in this instance
a moment is everything
every remaining moment
too precious to be wasted

and yet

fear of future brings her to this moment
heart slamming ribs to burst free


mother at the corner of her eye
posed under father’s portrait
his face grave
composed of shadows
her legs crossed
her ankle swinging
back and forth
like a pendulum

the pendulum on a clock

ticking counting asking
why did she waste so much time
what did she do with her life
as though this scent with lavender hints
these satin pumps this skirt this scarf with
this shade this texture
all to attract this man whose
child she’d carry
manifest into a brilliant burst of light to
seal in the darkness.

Marginalia (Left Panel)

The role of flagellation in Western society remains untold, reduced to vignettes of pain and bondage: from a crazed murderous monk in search of the Grail to a self-absorbed woman who submits to a man whose motives many readers doubt.[1] To Francis of Assisi, brother of the son and moon, and others who sought to follow God, scourging banished earthly desire and opened the door to the Holy Spirit, proved a yearning for God so fervent that a centuries-long campaign by the Church couldn’t suppress them. The difference between bondage and eroticism may be difficult to discern, and some suggest the orgasmic release of the whip was confused with the sudden indwelling of the Holy Spirit. As a consequence, modern society overlooks the spiritual dimension of bondage — total submission to the Divine — which is why one never finds Bibles in Restraint Stores.

Never equivocate bondage and submission Submission means surrendering one’s will. Bondage means restraint. Too often, however, both lead to pain and “safe word” is little more than metaphor.

Locusta of Galt poisoned several members of Nero’s family in his bid for power, earning her the title of history’s first documented serial killer.[2] However, Locusta seems to be little more than Nero’s mother Agrippina’s hired gun. Roman courts convicted Aspernas for 130 murders a century later and, although the record is slim, he more closely resembles the modern profile. Jack the Ripper remains history’s most famous serial killer, but Herman Mudgett (aka H. H. Holmes) put him to shame, disposing of 200 people during the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.[3] Serial murder fascinated the public imagination long before E. L. James wrote her best-selling novel about bondage. Little doubt remains, however, that serial murder and coerced bondage are motivated by the lust for power, and totally separated from sexual desire.

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[1]: No, I’m not speaking of Melania Trump.

[2]: Livy claims Roman matrons Cornelia and Sergia (with 168 conspirators) poisoned Roman patrons, but historical scholars question his account as hearsay or exaggeration recorded three hundred years after the fact. Other critics argue that if such an event did happen, the women may have been accused in a witch hunt to account for the mysterious deaths of so many men.

[3]: According to popular accounts. The real number may be closer to nine. Erik Larson’s account of Mudgett’s crime spree, The Devil in White City, remains one of my favorite true crime books.

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Living metaphor. Follow me @stephens_pt.

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