In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Soot Face
  • Laurence Lieberman (bio)

Mornings, Norline tries to conceal her fits of nausea, sneaking behind her cottage yard to be sick near the tall fern patch. Quiet spitups . . . like half-smothered sneeze. She rages to stay out of sight, out of earshot when mom’s in deep slumber.

Or safely distant, gone far to market. But Mama Lill picks up the scent of gastric juices on her return stroll through woods path—confirms her early guess, inklings in her bone marrow. No word yet to her pre-nubile lass . . . Next eve, she feigns sleep,

then hides behind curtains near her lovely’s pallet bed. In darkest hour, no least flicker of star light. Or moon glow. She hears the half-familiar wee-hours rustle of late interloper’s approach at doorsill and sees a tall shadow crouch down low over [End Page 184]

Norline’s motionless supine torso. Ah, her child’s arm seems lifted to welcome (not ward off!) that wraithlike amorist . . . Lill plunges her fingers into a tin of fresh gooey black oven char-ash and daubs thick soot smears across the cad’s forehead and cheeks,

even poking some oily gunk in his nostrils, ears, eyes . . . She wields her bold thumbs like branding irons. She howls and prays those stains will sink deep, oh deep, into flesh layers like tattoos, or birthmarks. No washing them out! Satan’s blackestdeep dye.


At daybreak, her teenage son Ellis appears, and proceeds to thrash out his kitchen chores—his moves ungainly, slipshod: his face averted or bowed by every stroke or shove, at table or pantry . . . His mom gasps to catch first glimpse of his raw-scraped ears, nose and cheeks, rosy and near-bloodied from so many failed rough swipes with scrub brush. To no avail! The soot blotches appear sunken to the bone, permanent black scars . . . Ellis, OEllis, thine own sis’s most grislyravener, she fraught with childvenom-curse-spat from her own foul bro’s serpently [End Page 185] loins. Norline, too, shocked— who never guessed her blackout after-dark masked love visitor was her brother his voice unearthly murmurs disguised breath sighs breath grunts blurted welling up from another world: a total stranger he seemed. She’d been fooled, nightly, for months—now with child oddly encumbered . . . All neighbors, friends, distant family (cousins or aunts twice-removed) pointed and scoffed at his soot-blemished face glimpsed upon chance meeting in roadway, farmer’s market, or woods retreat . . . Ellis, thus shunned, could bear no more the taunts and gibes, broke into a wildly bouncing dash a succession of leaps and bounds each one higher as if his body was losing mass growing ever lighter until he magically somersaulted an upswung curve floating over the beholders’ heads finally streaking skyward like a reverse shooting star a fizzle and fading hiss, issuing back to their ears from his long sky trails soon vanishing in the distant upper stratosphere . . .


That night, he reappears as the char-ash besmirched moon (those sparks issuing from his footsoles and heels as he swiftly rose hinted pale near-lit precursor of his soon-to-come lunar rebirth) . . . [End Page 186] From this day forward, parents would alert their small children

to just- risen full moon lifting off sea horizon, chanting as they point. See the brightstaring sky eyes!Our fullmoon is a man with a dirtyface—thinking, for incest shame, young Ellis fled, withdrew to the sky, where he must hang that blotchy

face forevermore . . . But seven months later a son is born to Norline— so beautiful and radiant a child, most folks soon forget he’s progeny of an incest union . . . HIALI (he-has-become-bright), baby’s mother names him. Alas the full moon’s sorrowing face reveals

papa’s deep heartache to any who may be most gifted to read the bleak lunar message. Grief flutters across space gulfs, via low wave frequencies . . . Hummingbird Fou-Fou’s blur-swift wing beat pulse the ideal pickup for those silent moony appeals. One [End Page 187]

misty night, adults all fast asleep, Fou-Fou swishes between child Hiali’s window louvers (opened just...


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pp. 184-189
Launched on MUSE
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