I had been thinking this was published in one of the Collective Cauldron issues. My notes say it was published in Children of the Shadows in 1998... plus, my essay A Cycle of Transformation was in Collective Cauldron #1 and my story Vacuums Preserve Faith was in Collective Cauldron #2. They all came out (and were written) very close to the same time. I have these publications SOMEWHERE in my house (somewhere... somewhere... somewhere...). So I hope I am correct in saying:

This poem was published in Children of the Shadows in 1998.

Peering Outward Through the Aether

A poem by Jasmine Sailing

I perceived faces floating through the aether,
faces that I thought I might once have known,
glaring out at me through ancient memories,
but when I sought after them they were gone.
So I tracked backward through existing time,
through the fissures of memory in my mind,
seeking traces of anything vaguely familiar,
of further faces that I might once have known.

And instead it seemed that I peered forward,
gazed until the visage I recognized was my own,
reflecting at me through an old cracked mirror,
wrinkling flesh draped loosely over my bones.
I stared at it and screamed for a few moments,
fearing that this could be me here and now,
that perhaps somehow I had aged or perished,
in traversing my thread of splintering dreams.

I looked or ran away from my unnerving fate,
from pillows of darkness consuming my eyes,
assuming that past dreams are easier to accept,
or easier to discount as never having been real.
I sought after any familiar faces but my own,
for any root of knowledge outside of my core,
for anything which could explain who I am,
without any threat of ever truly finding myself.

And in the past I regarded the faces laughing,
huddled around a fire where a body burned,
its charred black flesh wafted smoky reminders,
and as they reached me I recognized the odour.
I knew I was burning on the pyre as they laughed,
I watched as my own skin disintegrated into dust,
stripping away layers of reality and who I am,
cracked flesh threatening to expose my core.

I retreated to the aether and awaited any sign,
of where I should look to finally see outside,
to regard images of anyone but my own self,
to avoid ever witnessing my poisoned interior.
Everywhere I turned held images so familiar,
and inevitably each of them frightened me,
and I fled again and again from who I am,
from the knowledge of who I have become.

Eventually I realized I could no longer run,
and as I did I tried to peer through charred flesh,
tried to peel wrinkled skin from cracking bones,
to finally behold that which existed underneath.
Flesh became walls hiding me from the world,
hiding me from me as I chipped them away,
and when my core was bared I screamed,
the agony of exposure began paralysing me.

My interior appeared so cracked and fragile,
withering from years of isolation and misuse,
its walls encasing a dripping ichor of bitterness,
its foundations charred black and peeling away.
Yet in the middle there still rested a seed of life,
waiting for me to plant it so I could again grow,
but the ichor and black charring surrounded it,
and as ever I feared the taint of my own poisons.

I saw new opportunities for new beginnings,
and their visages taunted me through my fear,
but to attain them appeared unsafe and painful,
so again I erected my walls of isolation and fled.
And in the aether I beheld myriad other faces,
faces familiar yet only as the essence of dreams,
so I followed them toward the past and future,
seeking insight from anywhere outside of me.

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