Three Poems by Larissa Nash -The Toast

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Lily Maids

The Last of the Lily Maids

“Or when the moon was overhead

Came two young lovers lately wed;
‘I am half sick of shadows,’ said
The Lady of Shalott.”
–Alfred, Lord Tennyson

The ocean spills from my conch shell ears.
I hear only my own sighing, as though
I am still half-submerged—the last of the lily maids,
a creature too destitute for a barge
and bound by whispered words,
the syllables popping like sea foam.

Once conjured, it is my nature—
my curse—to ruin any man I encounter.
I should cast this fisherman into the sea,
but he is gentle, with eyes
like tarnished armor. He listens
when I say I am sick of the water—
of white dresses and swimmer’s ear—
of scaly skin and rotten blooms—
of faraway fires and the demand
for ghost girls.

“I know not what the curse may be.
I have seen the fires. You are more
than offering and incantation—
more than curse. Come inside. It is cold.
You are free.”

The fisherman takes my hand
as he leads me from the rocks.
His palm is warm and rough—barnacle-like.

When the moon bobs above
his crumbling cottage,
I’ll return to the sea—
alone—and break the curse,

the syllables popping like sea foam.

I’ll never be free.

Valley of the Kings                       

 From the perspective of Natacha Rambova, Valentino’s wife

Valentino never took me to Egypt—
the palm trees lining Sunset
were enough.

Gods already, we wandered
rose-scented parlors,
waved smelling salts
to wake
our favorite medium: sweet lovestruck bumpkin
from Kentucky. She never saw
it coming.

I saw the Sahara
in an hourglass
on the mantle—a dust bowl
in the crystal ball. I knew then
we’d never last.

I can almost smell the Nile
in the visitation room.
Outside, women claw off their clothes
and wade into rivers.
Their ghosts crawl into the funeral home—
spice and fire
in the air.
The medium clasps my hand, yet senses

When the funeral director glued
Valentino’s eyelids shut,
what was lost?
I never knew the man
behind the persona—his face
the blue-gold death mask
of Tutankhamun.
I touch a palm frond
shading his coffin, then sigh
and walk into the smoky evening.

Dinosaur Bones

I bought my mother
a fossilized starfish
for her fifty-fifth birthday.

When I first saw it, tucked
behind a pile
of dinosaur bones, I thought,

“What will become of the starfish?

Will someone find it, fused
into the ruby ring

my father and I forgot
in the antique butter churn?

Will all things become trapped
in sandstone, age
an afterthought?”

There is much to do.
A dress to wash.

A package to mail.
If I were to stop time,

I would still age.

The cardinal at the bird feeder
would beat his wings
forever. And my mother

would never know
I remembered her birthday.

About the Illustrator: Stephanie Monohan is an illustrator living in Brooklyn. She is drawn to the sea, the occult, and the occasional cute anime girl. You can see more of her work here and here.

Larissa Nash holds an MFA from Pacific University, where she learned never to turn her back on the sea. Her Viking ancestors couldn't be more proud.

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