January 31, 2018

The Mountain's Heart - Deborah L. Davitt

He'd known that something
waited there for him...
The miner carved a path to the mountain’s heart,
though everyone said he was mad to think that he’d hit a seam
in this rough, unpromising patch—
not a trace of color in any stone he dredged up from the depths.
But he’d felt something when he first looked at its face,
a tremor in his hands, a twist low in his gut,
and he’d known that something waited there for him.

Nine years he dug, propping and shoring;
spent each night wrapped in the dull ache
of work-sore muscles and delicious exhaustion;
found just enough glistening opals
to pay for the pumps he needed
when the boiling water escaped the rock—
a narrow escape for him, dropping pick
and running up the shaft on scalded feet.

Still, though the mountain seemed intent on his demise,
sometimes trapping him at his claim for months
with a snare of winter’s snow,
and never paid him enough wages to offer
more than a penitent’s diet of bread and beans,
he persevered.

He grew thinner by the year, slower to words
when he went to town; people there
called him a gray ghost, a vagrant,
a lost soul who came down to the valleys
covered in stone dust;
a hermit, but not, to their mind, a holy one;
he never told them of the silent songs
he heard the mountain sing,
of the chorus that water made against rock,
the ringing rhythm of his pick against stone.
He never told them that when the mountain sang to him,
he raised his voice and sang back,
and sometimes, the echoes that he heard,
returned distorted, in some other voice,
calling his name.

In the ninth year, he broke into an open cavern,
a bubble of space deep in the mountain’s bowels,
and as he waited for the foul air to escape,
he felt again that twist in his gut, the itch in his hands,
heard the mountain’s voice
pounding louder in his mind, and hoped that somehow,
through his years of diligence and privation,
to have been found worthy,
as he prepped his lantern for descent.

Deep inside, in a grotto formed of stalactites
and stalagmites, joined together like a grove
of flowing, flowering stone, he found her, growing
like a blossom from their bark, attached
along the long, lithe line of her spine.
Her tangled hair fell like dendrites,
like the swaying branches
of some seared, scarred nerve,
lifting up into the ceiling,
tangling through the branches
of the stone trees;
it gleamed like crystal, unyielding,
flayed his work-rough hand
when he reached to touch it;

When her eyes opened,
he felt neither fear nor surprise,
but met her opaline stare
with dazed wonder.
“Did you call me to free you?” he whispered,
hesitating over the words,
lest the sounds profane the sanctity of the air.

She didn’t reply, but the song rang louder
in his mind, and the sweetness of her sad smile,
was an answer of its own,
as a chill spread through him.

He looked down at his wounded hand,
to find the blood congealing into corundum.
He reached out once more, setting his fingers
against a cheek made of chalcedony,
and endured the poison as it wracked his body
till it reached his heart, as he’d reached the mountain’s,
transforming, transfiguring him,
into rutilated quartz, shot through
with gold, like stars falling from the heavens.

And then his carefully-shored tunnel
collapsed behind him, enwombing them in night.
Deborah L. Davitt was raised in Reno, Nevada, but received her MA in English from Penn State. She currently lives in Houston, Texas with her husband and son. Her poetry has received Rhysling and Pushcart nominations and appeared in over twenty journals; her short fiction has appeared in InterGalactic Medicine Show, Compelling Science Fiction, Grievous Angel, andThe Fantasist.
For more about her work, please see

Cover by Amanda Bergloff