Juliet Cook
Red Velvet Cake

Again the red velvet curtains are rustling,
revealing an opening.  They ripple around the warped border
of a tarnished mirror.  A muted doppelganger gapes.

If she drapes the curtains a certain way,
she can almost conceal what wants to take shape;
what aches to escape its flat pane.  Full-bodied
music arranges itself in her head.  The primary instrument
is cryptic.  She blots out the inkling
to give voice to the hum materializing under her tongue.

The rustle begins at night.  Even when she covers
her crevices and vents, the curtains stir like something's
attempt to beckon her into the shifting material.
In the velvet-lined orifice, the unexplainable accrues
until her tongue becomes red.  Traces of red velvet cake crumbs
accumulate.  Bent forks shine from shadowed corners.
Her bedroom assumes the dimensions of a stage set.

In the dream, a table set with two places.  In the middle,
two vessels of steeping tea.  One hand reaches out;
the other hand holds it back.  Escaping steam obscures the face
or are there two?  Is she a twin lost in someone else's dream?
Imposter housed in a secret agent's body?  Two rustling pages
slip through a keyhole.  The lines are half-composed prompts.
A stage whisper from behind the red curtains.
Maybe the pivotal scene will unfold when she responds.
She feels a curious resonance; an inverted recording.
The source is undefined, but it rattles

her windows; emanates from the recesses of her
walls.  It circulates red fabric until the texture shifts.
The time signature doubles.  Unpronounceable stage notes proliferate.
She's speaking in tongues above the insistent tick
of a face that does not display its digits.  A preternatural sensation
invades her fingers until the hands dangle numbly
like the arms are asleep.  Something flickers behind the eyelashes.
Something sibilant tickles the tongue-tip.  Her mouth is ajar;
her chest contains a pair of red dresses, unbuttoning.

Bodiless dresses float around the room, then hang themselves
from the curtain rod and billow.  The head is no longer flat
against her pillow.  Her vision is filtered through
blurry perimeters where mingling outlines lurk on the periphery -
fractured receptacles, musical chairs, contorted instruments
of a chamber orchestra; but who are the musicians? Ventriloquism?
She feels the unseen hand of an understudy, undermining
her performance as she tries to consume a slice of cake
from a glass plate.  The mirror image of the cake stays whole
no matter how fast she swallows the pieces.

A teapot screams like a possessed parrot, the primary instrument
in a duet of backwards music unfolding from the chest.
If this is a dream, then where is her bed?
Why is her head suspended outside the frame
of a mirror taped over with blue construction paper?
Red velvet unreels from the rods to reveal
the only mirror left to look into.  The bent forks are pointing
the way.  She strains to read the lips of the mouth like a peephole.
Her attempts to speak diminish into static;
imperceptible hisses fade out

from behind rustling curtains.  She's traded places with the mute
voyeur.  She gapes as the red-dressed new body makes its entrance
from offstage.  It hums as it unbends the forks; repositions
the lid on the red velvet cake with a click like a hinging trapdoor.
It sweeps stained glass crumbs off the bed, slips under the cover,
places its head upon the pillow.  Then the curtains close.
background by Neddal Ayad