In May of 2023 I wrote a poem using the titles of the first 30 books I read that year, and called it The First 30. Well, now here is The Final 40! Titles are bolded.
The Final 40
I told them I’d answer tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow - once they let me go. I am wrecked, lost, a battery-less remote control shoved beneath a couch’s sagging cushions. The question they ask is always the same: Who is Maud Dixon?
Of course it comes down to this. Is she someone on the run. Is she someone hiding in secret rooms in distant lands, or right under our noses, living freely with the family upstairs. Is she young, sturdy, does she have a changing destiny or is it already chiseled like fate into marble.
I don’t know any more than they do, but the fragile threads of power must be plucked, regardless.
Now is not the time to panic. It is sufficient, and simple enough, to say that she is the girl who drank the moon. She could be anywhere, dripping moonlight from her cup, breathing and shifting through the night of the short eyes. She won't see you if you don't see her, since you're all in grey.
In the meantime, I remain - kept, collected, tethered - in and near and under Station Eleven. The horse nickers outside. The house keepers whisper. The sun is also a star in the sky that beats down on bare backs. And I am not responsible for the killings at Kingfisher Hill. These are the only things I know for certain.
What was it they used to call me? (Besides shy.) Not my real name, but my alias Emma. Wasn’t I the cat who saved books... Not a feline but a full-bodied person, devouring as I went, keeping company with only fictional book eaters, and chasing something like the freedom to roam. A cat would chase pigeons and other birds. I am not a cat. That’s another thing I know. My hair is very much longer, and my bite is very much wider, and, unlike a cat, I do not start every conversation with a question.
They used to taunt me, too. They pointed, guffawwed, said, “Everyone knows your mother is a witch!” Yes, yes, a witch with a cat.
Scatterlings: persons with no fixed home; wanderers; vagabonds. When you’re solitary you don’t have to worry about which train to jump to take you through the kingdoms. You’re not really riding anyway, just passing by ephemerally, like fireworks at midnight: Brief and bright and bursting. You are the skin and its girl, the skin on the girl - translucent, waiflike skin that covers the girl and her shadow.
You might stop along the seaside on the way, and visit the Whalebone Theatre. The ocean has dried up by now, but it used to be truly astounding. It used to be big and blue, contrasting strikingly with the roads and railways. I can’t explain it. It’s like trying to compare a voluptuous woman to a math problem. You can’t measure it or test it or call it true biz. You can’t calculate how high we go in the dark. Even if the variables were the same, it’s not like the ocean gets bigger the higher you go. It only looks that way.
It’s all just your typical Mexican gothic tale of woe: The water runs dry, the death toll rises, and the seven husbands of Evelyn Hugo haunt the ballrooms of the city. It would be a genuine fraud to say they were here for the parties. Those weyward souls stick around because the barracoon still has not been emptied.
The enslaved don’t offer condolences. They carry a botanist’s guide to parties and poisons, and when the husbands show up, stubbing out their ghostly cigarette butts, the enslaved get their proverbial Shawshank Redemption. They drop their vials of gaseous venom on the cold tiles, and sneak out with the sewage.
So, what else is new? The wheels keep turning. Like Horton’s Miraculous Mechanisms, we all advance to the next checkpoint, traveling throughout the night of the living rez. And when we arrive - shoes missing, bags discarded, fingernails chewed to the quick - well, then only the family remains. And frostbite, of course. And someone named Maud who is missing in moonlight. And a girl with a question-shaped shadow.
TITLES (with links to reviews)
Night of the Short Eyes
The Skin & Its Girl
The Whalebone Theatre
The Shawshank Redemption
Horton’s Miraculous Mechanisms