Lupercalia: Poems

by Jessica Halsey

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Rough studio recordings from the author’s poetry collection Lupercalia. Free downloads of the text can be found at Please listen and enjoy :)

Wander through the nameless city full of rebellion, desire, and viciousness. Jessica Halsey’s Lupercalia guides readers through the ruins of stories as they smash against reality.

The city is born, slippery and feral, and then it grows, collects and rejects a multitude of denizens that break and reshape the boundaries of mythology.

These speculative and fantastical poems represent the search for identity and purpose in a world that challenges the endurance of the human spirit. From the fall of Icarus to the loneliness of abandon, these poems represent how every mythological hero and trial are reflections of our daily lives.


released February 26, 2019


all rights reserved



Jessica Halsey Little Rock, Arkansas

Jessica Halsey is the author of The Slaughter Chronicles and The Heart of the Forest Cycle. She lives in the Arkansas and writes urban fantasy, paranormal horror, and experimental poetry (and sometimes science fiction). She earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College, a BA in Sociology from Randolph College, and has a day job where she pokes people with needles. ... more

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Track Name: Lupercalia
Last year the city ran down to the frozen river. She threw her face against the rocks, the tatters of her brain crystallized as they oozed from her broken eyes. When we found her we combed the tangles from her hair and cracked open her skull. Rose quartz stained with a grey sky kept us fed for weeks.

Now what’s left of her slinks through the night like a wolf and you can only see her out of the corner of your eye.

She has not yet forgiven us for the highway stretching forever away, crusted with burnt sugar kudzu and the bones of lovers who will never return.

This year I eat a salt cake in her memory and burn my tongue in the tiny campfire my mother taught me how to make when she and the city were so very young. I pluck out my eyes with the last of the winter roses and let their thorns curl down my cheeks.

Next year, when my voice returns, I will cut it out again.
Track Name: How to Build a Nest
1. As a bird that has no hope.

Embrace the numbness in your hands, the writhing micro-fractures in your ribs as they grow into bright veins of quartz and agate, burst into winged fractals when no one is looking.

2. As a bird that thinks she has a lot of hope but really has none.

Choose the number of vertebrae you’d wish your favorite enemy to take out of your spine and treble it, if you are brave. That is the number of shiny things you must gather to attract a mate and keep yourself sane. Learn to make up the lines of poems you can’t remember. The dead won’t mind and the living are too preoccupied to care.

3. As a bird that has reached that powerful space beyond desperation.

Don’t be afraid to create with your teeth. Blind them with your claws, dive down their throats. This technique may not promise survival but in this way you can make beauty out of whoever tries to kill you.
Track Name: Wife of Lot
What is your real name? I hate being called wife, without a name. I think you do too.

How do you feel with a mouth full of salt instead of the languid, tamarind language of your city? The city that sings to you and you the only one who hears her.

What does she sound like? Soprano or alto? Silk or broken windows? Do the cries of the market slide down her throat like tamarind or salt?

Does the gutter water taste like gutter or peppermint schnapps or bourbon?

I think I could live married to my city as the queen or live lost and alone with no one but my city to comfort me.

When you died, when your city died, you were looking at each other.

What was that like?
Track Name: Mermaid Songbook: A Boat Alone
phosphorous moon
a boat
of eyes and
dancing with
the horizon
the horizon
dancing with
singing of
eyes like
phosphorous moons
over a
boat alone
Track Name: Mermaid Songbook: The Witch’s Song
love is spinning in the deep
mine is mine and
music is music

if you’re wishing for escape
love is love and
knives are knives

love is waiting far away
a song is a song and
sweet is sweet

if you wish for what you aren’t
love is love and
yours is yours

love is love
hate is hate
love is love again

come and see what I’m selling
mine is mine and
music is music

all the wishes you could wish
love is love and
knives are knives

when you regret, regret with your heart
a song is a song and
sweet is sweet

the tide will carry you home
love is love and
yours is yours

love is love
hate is hate
love is love
Track Name: Mermaid Songbook: Dead Mermaid Singing
I can’t give you lapis less I open
a vein and rupture my organs in
just the right way
staining my blood
in a shade that will say:

“I love you more than that hand that gave you your lapis.”

I can’t give you sunset staining a canvas less I open
a vein and clot my obsessions,
fall into dusk
with a gesture that screams:

“I love you more than that hand that painted your sunset.”

When the waves call me back
to dance in the foam
you’ll never know how much
I hate my home.

I can’t give you music less I tear
out my throat and fling all my chords
to the sky-loving storm
to play on her way to crash down your door.
She’s the only one who knows
I do love you more.

The princess is so pretty,
her demeanor is divine
but her love will break in the shadow of mine.

When the waves call me back
to dance in the foam
I would open my veins and my throat
on your shore ever
singing ever singing:

“I do love you more.”
Track Name: Mermaid Songbook: Redemption
the grave sea
breaks and tears
the burning
of all that
has passed,
your fragile
Track Name: Little Girls
They carried the baby bird wrapped in a yellow, flowered handkerchief. Its eyes bulged behind their closed lids and its prickly down barely covered the stubs of its wings. The wrinkly peach flesh was damp with perspiration and plant juice. It choked and twitched feebly, beak broken open. 

“We’re going to operate now,” said the little girl in the red corduroy dress. Her glossy, black shoes were scuffed and muddy and her little white tights had been ripped by the holly bush. There were no lights in the attic but the mother had given them three candles with the stipulation that Make Believe was not allowed to knock the candles over and burn the house down. 

The two girls scooted past boxes and trash bags filled with grown up things and tiny baby things from times they could not remember. They were like bright fishes, easily distracted by strange colors and strange noises. They crawled on three child’s paws: two dirty knees apiece, one dirty hand apiece, tipped with chewed nails.

“On the operating table,” said the little girl in the red dress. She snatched the handkerchief from her companion and slammed it down on one of the boxes.

“Scalpel!” she cried.

Her companion picked up the handkerchief and lifted it to her nose. There was something there that reminded her of earthworms and pill bugs, like the juice that dripped from the knife to the kitchen floor, like the scolding she received when she stayed out in the sandbox past lunchtime. She reached into the pocked of her blue shorts and held out a sprig of holly.
Track Name: Wormwood
She has black dirt on her face.
The ruins of a garden plucked
for winter stain her hands.
She has scratched that greenery free
and bathed in the empty
soil, praying for next year’s harvest
with touches of bare arms and thighs.

She rubs the flesh of the earth,
places stones in her mouth
careful of her teeth
though she knows
this is ritual.
Her tongue rolls in the grit,
hips turn the ground like a spade.
She says, “I will starve myself for the gods
so I can grow poison in the spring.”
Track Name: After the Flood
While Noah’s sighs polluted the ruddy beach
littered with the bones of heretics,
their livestock and their predators;
while he thanked God for the early warning,
the strong timber, and exclusion
from the slaughtered multitude
his women walked around him like he was just another corpse,
bobbing and rooting around piles of driftwood and soggy cloth,
picking out the useful things.
Track Name: Orpheus for your arrogance
I am broken at last...
—HD “Eurydice”

I fell

(a bird’s cry)

stumbled over
the weight of the sky,

(twisted in the air)

all of mortality
smothering us

(joined the liturgy of curses
eaten by the dead).

The cry I plucked
from your lips,
your frown;

(a bird’s cry)

I wanted you that badly

(twisted in the air).

I tripped
over your slow step,
the kudzu vine across the path
or something else
equally absurd

(joined the liturgy of curses
eaten by the dead).

I had to stop myself
from looking sooner,
pushed the wanting down
until it was nothing
but a whisper. Then
the bird screamed.
Track Name: Twisted Myth
They say I took the most beautiful dream in the world and destroyed it. Burned it up and my useless life right along with it. I got exactly what I deserved, what Pride throws out to everyone who fails. Death and shame.

No one remembers we were trapped there too, blind and starving for the open sky. They said, “Give us your magic or else.”

Or else.

Bloody feathers on the floor. But our wings didn’t break and we flew away and YEAH after eons of darkness I flew, unbroken, into that radiant sunrise.

Now they tell you my story with a warning: don’t break the rules or you’ll end up like me. Don’t go too far or you’ll end up like me, don’t get too close to what you love the most or you’ll end up just like me.

Now, because of me they tell you to be cautious, be wary, be afraid.

Remember the stories of the heroes Bravery and Hubris brought safely home? Remember those beloved by the gods? Those who tasted victory instead of defeat?

My story is not their story.

They tell you: never reach for more than what you are capable of catching, never strive to become your dreams.

They do not tell you my only dream was freedom.
Track Name: Mirror Angels
My reflections and I
plot the points of our knees
like stars scratched in the floor,
we can’t hold summer
in our flimsy hands.

I lean my head against the point where two mirrors join together in a museum exhibit and suddenly I am one girl split into three. This is educational. This is sacred division. I whisper softly to us but they don’t answer my prayers for rescue, escape. I can only mimic their arms with my arms and I cannot decipher the secret within our bodies.

The rough stars
join constellations
with Grinning-Face-

I look into the mirrors and there are girls who wear my face but not my memories. I look into the mirrors, I look at us and I am so happy that at least some of us are free. When I stand they turn their backs to me and greet their secret, intangible worlds. I cannot go with them when I walk away.
Track Name: Home
Home scratches at her shingles with tree branch fingers, pulls the air conditioning unit to her moldy, aluminum ribs and keens a whale song of mourning. We found her wandering the tornado snarled wild three months ago, empty and starving. We fed her pieces of dining room table, gas key fireplaces, and cast iron bathtubs, clawed feet first. We gutted her plumbing, ripped out her nerves and re-wired the electricity, reinforced foundation seams that let the water in every time it rained. She did not respond well. We found rot and mold in her corners, force fed her antibiotics and quarantine standard operating procedures while she belched ladder-back chairs, sofa cushions, wind chimes, and broken bookcases. She still has her bad days. After feeding time Home likes to sit back porch facing east and picture window facing west; Home sits and watches the sun set, sits for hours in the dark. She gets regular walks around the wolf pen—let her mingle with the vultures, I said, let her feel useful and clean up the dead, but no one would listen—she shakes every time the tornadoes come through. She has bad memories and, hopefully, maybe a few ecstatic ones. When it rains, Home hitches up her porch and hops from one corner to the other, splashing in the puddles when she can.
Track Name: Things Tourists Love
1. The city went dark, bruised. First pale green at the edges then purple with spots of red where blood burst from the capillary confine and then darker, the black of abused flesh. Flesh left alive to suffer more.

2. We danced in the dust under bare boughs, between the bony cypress knees.

3. Fear is a kind of god, maybe even the oldest god. Fear can make of us one tasty meal despite all the hard work our parents put into the lies they whispered over our cribs about the terrible state of our bodies to gods who only want to eat the most beautiful of children.

4. Some people think vultures are overindulgent. I think they’re just really, really hungry. Their wings choke the sky, fill the atmosphere with feathers but their bellies are never full. One day they’ll eat the world.

5. A voice from the hollow, bound to fingertips of those who reach through the air and feel for what is hiding there.

6. The sunset is beautiful like a jellyfish is beautiful and it kills everything it touches, slowly, with diaphanous, poisonous rays that float through the sky like arms extending for a cruel embrace.