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Story by Maya Jewell Zeller (Read author interview) March 18, 2024

Art by Gryffyn M

To make a tilberi you need wool and if you can’t find wool, you can use your husband’s pubic hair, and if you can’t find your husband’s pubic hair because he shaved it all off and fed the remnants to birds, you can use the hair of a whore, and if you can’t find the hair of a whore you can use dryer lint stolen from bougie lake cabins where people leave their dryers on as they depart so that the towels will be all fluffed for the next occupants, Aunt Jane or Uncle Jim, when they bring their affair partners up because no one uses the place on December 23, and your family thinks you are doing last-minute Christmas shopping or meeting a swamped client and you can easily sneak away and boink Julie or Jennifer or Regina or Claire. To make a tilberi you take this wool or hair or other hair or dryer lint and wrap it around the ribs of your newly dead, or if you have no newly dead you can simply borrow a bone from an academic administrator or a corporate CEO, nearly any zombiefied human will do, and if you have no awful bosses then you can use a bone from the skeleton of your decaying marriage, and if you can’t locate your marriage because it’s at the lake with Julie, you can head up there and catch them in the act on the leather couches where your brother-in-law boinked Stefanie with an F before he left his wife for her, for his own deep religious shame, and you can use the bones scattered on the beach of Deer Lake where the animals wandered when their tongues turned blue and they thirsted for more and draped to their knees at the edge of a lake where milfoil and azureweed and quartz thrive, where smoke and hills and oil water and memory – hashtag Making Memories — hashtag FAMILY — go, and you can take any old bones, any old bones will do, as long as they are the bones of America, and you can wrap your dryer lint or hair or other hair or wool around them, and this next step you must follow as religiously as you can, for the Icelandic origins of this spell also hold a curse equal and opposite to the power of making a tilberi; follow this step as perfectly as you can, lest you end up like the men who warrant the full bellies, the men who cause you to Witch Out and Witch On, the men who strike the flint of the fire in the deep cavern of your coven self, do this: steal some of the communion wine in your cheek for three Sundays in a row, and each Sunday, spit it onto your little wool-wrapped bone, and as it wakes you must latch it to the inside of your thigh where you will cut a hole, a nipple for it to suck, and remember do not let it grow too large or you will be sucked to death — which is a lot like marriage, isn’t it, you follow instructions in church until you create a hungry and two-mouthed man who is loyal to your thighs and sucks at you until you die, unless you kill him first, and isn’t it also just so America for him to betray you, for him to mouth the inner legs of some other woman, a woman with no milk, who has never had milk, a woman who knows not milk, and isn’t it just like America to want him to, to cheer on his two heads, to say fuck it all, fuck the witches, it’s all the witches’ fault he did this, it’s his wife, she’s a witch, burn her, kill her, we own this mother fucking place, the lake, the lake, the lake, the lake, let’s go out to the lake la la.

About the Author

Maya Jewell Zeller is the author, most recently, of OUT TAKES/ GLOVE BOX (Nov. 2023), chosen by Eduardo Corral as winner of the New American Poetry Prize; as well as co-author of Advanced Poetry: A Writer’s Guide and Anthology (Bloomsbury Literary, Jan. 2024). Maya is Associate Professor at Central Washington University, and Affiliate Faculty in Poetry and Nature Writing in low-residency MFA at Western Colorado University. She lives in the Inland NW with her children.

About the Artist

Gryffyn M is a photographer from Melbourne, Australia.

This story appeared in Issue Eighty-Three of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Eighty-Three
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