Streaks of Scarlet

A Story in 100 Parts


Like Scarlet, Her Royal Highness is very clever, very clever at imitation. If the prince’s particles merge with the girl’s, then off with her head, of course. The queen is also gifted at the decapitation business (Scarlet notes).  


Night again. Camping is hard
on the vertebrae. The prince used to love 
to drive around. When they’d stumble across an accident 
of beauty, he’d shout, somebody remember this! 

She was somebody.
She always remembered it.



The sun rises bloody again. Scarlet looks to the sour light that slopes down in broken-up slats from the mountain peaks. She thinks,
this is not what I wanted, 
not what I intended, 
not what I willed myself to be.



In his heat, moments before her final burn, the prince raised her up to the moon, heavily suspended in the star-scarred sky. be still, she ordered herself. breathe. Midnight, he was deeply immersed in heroin’s heavy-blanketed sleep, dreaming of her. She too dreamed. Her nightmares were thick, distorted, filled with his barbed partings.



Scarlet stares down at her fingers, realizes she doesn’t know what to write. She becomes a bit hysterical. She is possessed of certain practical knowledge, such as stop writing when you don’t know what to write. But she doesn’t. She waits for another damned idea to drench the pages.  



When the lights go out for the fourth time, she begins. tonight, she writes, I will tell you what I have done that you wouldn’t have.



She picks flowers |cut|   She picks selves |cut|   She picks mourning |cut|cut|cut|



The snake hisses her death at her: another familiar, poisoned moment to determine where these new bodyscars will form. As Scarlet returns to the palace, she prepares for her beheading. Meanwhile, the prince has gone back to eating jeweled fish and butterflies. 


When the lights go out for the final time, obscenity outsmiles silence. The night is thick with vermin crawling over garbage / heaps of composted heads, clocks spitting out split time.



[Remnants of darkness. Scarlet arrives at the palace.]

Morning climbs cloud-vines into the sky. The girl knocks at the palace door; the queen greets her with a smile.  



I am ready for my beheading, the girl says. Timing is important. Exactitude is important. It’s true that most natural facts elude her. traitor! screams the queen. She has no feet, but always wears long dresses to conceal it. A choir of dead, footless relatives surround her at all times so as not to betray Her Highness’s perceived deformity.   



In order to repossess her soul, Scarlet believes, she must welcome this / beheading.  



She looks across the clearing. The answer is easy, she knows. Round, almost. Her head must be donated to science to further the study of love. She falls to the beaten earth.  



As she looks toward the words she’s written, the queen closes the door and smiles. I knew you’d be back.  

Of course you did, Scarlet says, neck titled.



And someone else writes, the end.



But it’s not the end. It’s easy to believe this alternative, easy to believe Scarlet will keep her head and reacquire the prince’s love. 

There is no place for her to say her prayers. No temple. No circle of holy stones.  



She thought she would get a goodbye kiss. O, this is a wicked ending, even for her sourblack life.  



The prince peers from behind the scrim. He puts his head to the wall, bites his tongue until he tastes blood. He kisses the stone, pretends it’s Scarlet.



(But the kiss tastes like dust.)



don’t move, she mouths to him, 
don’t dream, 
don’t even breathe 
until I come back from the dead for you.
I will come back from the dead for you.



don’t worry, you will remain in my arms, he whispers to her. I will save your bones. I built you by water, and back by water you shall go. I will cast your ashes by the lake in the woods.



off with her head! cackles the queen.



this may require some dismantling, Scarlet thinks.  



The axe whistles down; her head is gone. Her eyelids blink once, watching her body twitch.



The long sigh the deep sigh the red sigh that leaves her mouth is the final breath he takes before 



he writes his suicide note:
don’t move, don’t dream, don’t even breathe 
until I come back from the dead for you.
I will come back from you.



And did you exist ever did you and pulls out the gun.


Mar 2012-Sept 2014

"Streaks of Scarlet" is excerpted from
Michelle Greenblatt's 2014 book, ASHES AND SEEDS.



Michelle Greenblatt

Michelle Greenblatt (August 21, 1982 - October 19, 2015) was the Poetry Editor for Unlikely Stories: Episode IV and previously served as Co-Editor of Poetry for the now-defunct AND PER SE AND. She was published in literary journals such as Poetry Magazine, Sugar Mule, Free Verse, Altered Scale, Sawbuck, Hamilton Stone Review, Moria, Shampoo, Coconut Poetry, BlazeVOX, X-stream, Counterexample Poetics, Word for/ Word, and Otoliths. Her solo books are brain : storm, (anabasis Press, 2006; Unlikely Books, 2017) and ASHES AND SEEDS (Unlikely Books, 2014). Collaborative books include Ghazals 1-59 and Other Poems with Sheila E. Murphy (Unlikely Books, 2017), Dark Hope with Vernon Frazer (Argotist E-Books, 2011; expanded as Definitions of Obscurity, Unlikely Books, 2016), and jump beast with Jukka-Pekka Kervinian (cPress, 2011). She lived in South Florida with her beloved, Kyle.

You can learn more at our memorial issue.


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Thursday, June 18, 2020 - 21:04