Cloudless by Anna Lea Jancewicz


Anna Lea Jancewicz

Cloudless, the sky above on the day he came.

Cloudless he said Because on this day, nothing obscures the eye of God.

His god came from the sky.

Cloudless, because no rain would fall to slake what would smolder. But the sky would fall, feather by feather, until there was nothing left, nothing but the sorrowing song and the black tattoos that covered his body.

She stood in her garden, buttressed by rosemary bushes to show she was the queen of her house, to show that she remembered the dead and the way they do yearn to rise and reckon. She wore an old dress and underneath, her used purpled nipples hung as always like dowsing twigs toward the earth, toward the hunger, toward the mouths of all and every living thing.

His boots crushed her vervain.

They called us witches, but what did they know of it? We were Listeners, Lovers, Mothers speaking the mother tongue, speaking of rough linen and soap and all the fluids that compose a human child. We stanched little red rindles with creamy clusters of yarrow, bound bit fingers in plantain’s grooved leaves. We fed them all with apples and goat stew. We brought on their milk with fenugreek, held hipbones as they became open gates. We washed their dead, washed them clean and kissed their roseless cheeks. We washed them with the salt and water of our own eyes. We gave them over, bellies weighted with stones to keep them down below. And then we would know silence.

Preacher, they called him that, that’s how he spoke, how his mouth made him known, but he called himself a doctor, too. He came with word of plague, came with the knuckles of law where before there was none. He wore a black suit, a black suit with a zipper bright as a comet.

We’d never seen a zipper, we’d never seen a syringe.

She stood in her garden, a baby clutching her shins, a baby barely yet walking, with plushy flags of catnip bruised between his toothless gums. Her legs were like dried sunflower stalks, rawboned, but she was aproned with fat above. Her pale and threadbare yellow eyes beheld the gleam-toothed comet.

And Preacher spoke: I hear tell you are the oldest here.

And she answered: That I am.

Your old bones must be very wise.

Then he spoke of the fevers to come, the sweat that would flow. He spoke of the littlest ghosts that the wind would bear up and disperse like seeds into the lungs and hearts of children.

And she spoke of the way we had always kindled fevers, stoked them instead of dousing them down. The way we blessed the in-fires that would clean a body of little ghosts, burn sickness to ash so it could pass into the soil.

He laughed like a horse. It was a laugh more bitter than dandelion, more bitter than wormwood. His voice was big. The mugwort trembled.

And he left her there, in her garden, the neighbors’ wash hanging behind her on the clothesline, flapping like the damp wings of discerning birds.

Some of them took his medicine, their arms pierced. Some of those died, some did not. But when the first of ours fell, his voice got even bigger and it filled ears. It left no room for doubt or its shadow. Their ears brimmed and overflowed with word. None sought silence anymore. Bonfires were built, stakes stabbed into the dirt. They called us witches, but what did they know of it?

Our old bones burned.

They were left to wash their own dead. They sorrowed, keening, but they stumbled over the sounds. They hoisted bodies high to get them closer to his god, and the birds came. Feather by feather, they were buried by the sky.

And Preacher left town on the palsied road, his strange carriage moaning like a mandragora uprooted. He had a leather sack. A sack of bone black.

He’d reach the next village on a cloudless day, bringing his medicine with him, just a halfstep ahead of the little ghosts.

Cloudless he would say Because on this day, nothing obscures the eye of God.

He’d have more black tattoos.


© Anna Lea Jancewicz

Anna Lea JancewiczAnna Lea Jancewicz lives in Norfolk, Virginia, where she homeschools her children and haunts the public libraries. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming at Bartleby Snopes, The Citron Review, Jersey Devil Press Magazine, theNewerYork, and elsewhere. Yes, you CAN say Jancewicz: Yahnt-SEV-ich. More at