The Mushroom Maidens
When the first rains pummel the earth
and the rot climbs up the tree trunks
that’s when the maidens are coming.
The villagers deadbolt their doors
and bar their windows
sage and incense ever burning to keep
the spores and tendrils away.
Patchwork shawl around my shoulders
I walk down deserted streets with purpose
to the forest looming sunset-brown against the horizon
past boughs and burrows
under the jade green canopy
never to return as I am.
The mushroom women unearth themselves
under a fat harvest moon
shedding their skin to walk in human form
until the next moon sails the sky
when they will bury themselves back
in amorous clusters under trees and rocks.
It isn’t the first transformation I have witnessed
but this night will mark my maiden burial.
The fuzz on my skin, so very human still, shivers in delight.
I step inside the fairy ring of toadstools
up to my knees in freshly churned earth
then sinking deeper into a pouch
of moist, warm things.
The maidens gather round me in a circle
dancing in a blur of held hands, pulsing gills
and teeth in unusual places
while their fly agaric queen holds herself still and splendid
bare body full of open sores, red hair dewy
with luminescent white growths.
Each time they pass me by giggling like schoolgirls
I am graced with a fungal kiss
supple lips squishy-soft, the taste of a flooded storm cellar;
my tongue chasing their syrupy rot like aged cherry wine.
The fly agaric queen says, You shall be buried
and then you shall be nibbled
and if the forest deems you her daughter
you shall be gifted a skin and born anew.
I sink deeper into the mycelium womb
my limbs turned to fine filaments
sweet, earthly asphyxiation.
My mouth craves one last kiss
one more taste to get me through the darkling solitude
of my very own metamorphosis.
The mushroom maidens stop their dance
growing somber, growing reverent
as their queen kneels down before me
her velvet-scaled lips brushing mine.
She throws the first handful of mossy loam,
her giggling maidens following close behind.
Eyes shut, nestled in the forest’s tender places,
I breathe deep and welcome in my lungs
the spores of change.