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The First 30

Updated: May 19

A few days ago I was talking to Dorothy about how I've read 30 books so far this year, and we were talking about how a lot of them have really great titles. She said, "You should write a poem using only the titles!" So, I did! I mean, basically. I used more words than ONLY the titles, but anyway it was a fun exercise. Bolded text = book titles.

The First 30


Under the whispering door I hear a rose under fire. The petals flaccid, sapped of the power they once held, they slip from their gilded perch, float gently underneath the crack of the door and onto my palm, puncture-wounded and red.

In the hall, a wind blows. Hestia strikes a match. She is the house girl, and knows how to light the hallways, but she’s never seen a rose before. She wanders into the next room, this girl armed with new knowledge.

She asks if it’s ok that we are bathed in the light of Luna Park? Should we stifle anything illuminated? Like windows in the Great War, should we smother them with cardboard?

No, I say, we’ve already reached the final gambit. The roses are already sacrificed.


Instead, we make our confessions. Everyone in my family has killed someone, she says.

She says, I am like Amy among the serial killers: A for abstruse, M for martyred or merry, Y for a yawn that is never completed.

I am, of course, not sure how to respond. I can’t play the same inheritance games.


Our missing hearts are caught inside what feels like a night circus – something between a party (amusing) and a spectacle (terrifying). Wrapped up like gifts, they’re hidden in the ninth house, forcing us to knock on doors, or to pick up the damn phone, and call already.

It’s attached to the wall, the phone. The last white man has control there, and undoubtedly he is not going to allow the house girl, with her matches, to make so much as a peep. Like a deaf republic, he enforces the absence of sound.

(No wonder she talks to herself while she makes black cake each morning.)

It’s all a problem to decode, the man says, weary in his certitude. It’s his own personal enigma game. He says it gives him so much more than a headache, and no one knows how to drill down deep enough to fix it.


The cartographers stop by to ask for directions to the library. They are hell bent on mapping their way to the bottom of all this.

It’s not just the roses that are deceased. Or the house girl, who is silent now, and covered in flour. Or me, crushed petals in my fists.

It’s the death of Jane Lawrence, and of Kaikeyi, code name Verity – the writers for The Dictionary of Lost Words. They came up with definitions for things like “the Hawthorne legacy” and “pearl thief.” Taken together, the words exposed a tragedy. And so, they too were exposed, both Jane and Verity.


We were told that grief is the thing with feathers, and that, because of this, Olga dies dreaming.

I know. Another woman without a voice.

(Now it’s my turn for confessions:)

Don’t worry, I say. You don’t have to remember her, I say. She’s a good girl, but she’s not part of our veneration of monsters. She didn’t even join us until after we’d learned how to bow to them.


Hestia. Amy. Jane. Kaikeyi aka Verity. Olga. Me.

We are ghosts, like the lost boys. We kneel and stretch and search. They told us "girls are far too clever to fall out of their prams." But here we are, lost. Like ghost boys.


Titles (with links to reviews):

The Cartographers Kaikeyi

Deaf Republic The Light of Luna Park

Grief is the Thing with Feathers Rose Under Fire

Hell Bent Under the Whispering Door

Hestia Strikes a Match The Veneration of Monsters

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