Night by Callista Buchen


The night and the thief burn with sameness.

Night finds the house, leaves her body and all its voices outside—pig frogs, the shuffle of darkling beetles, the way street lamps click on and off.

She flings sashes about her swelling, boney, molecular self. Mystery like this is black and blue, blue as buttons scattered at the end of a driveway, pits knocked out of dates.

The thief is lonely and looking for the signal. In these moments, he is as large as an egg.

"Warm summer night rain" (photo by Flickr user Jean Goff)


A woman dozes in her little bed, where sleep is only a little like dying. She tosses, anxious with stasis. Her body hears the beetles and worms clearing away a space, preparing to receive it down.

See the thief in the hydrangea bushes? He twitches, trailing the night like a tide or the scent of a hoya flower.

The woman paddles in a sea of mercury, crashing in visions she will choose not to remember in the morning. A sea of little silver tears.

Mercy, I am saying here, mercy. See, how tigers prowl behind little white bars of the woman’s eyes, heavy with containment? Mercy.


Night dabs midnight on fence posts, positions purple under eaves. The thief watches for shades.

See, there, the mosaic forms falling between tree branches? The gaps in growth?

As neighbors sleep, night slips down over the chimney brick to the red of the round front door, over its wide eye. A blink. She wraps the house in fog blankets that come from a mountain where men try at living, but die in the arms of ancient snow.

The thief gropes. Siding and window joints converge with all the brass doorknobs in the universe. Night hovers and he slides in after, over the threshold.

Where are we going? he wants to say.

I want the night to say, Mercy, mercy, see this mercy hung with silver quiet and all your prayer flags. See, she must say to him, see how I read your wishes.

"Goleta Pier, Night" (photo by Flickr user Toby Keller)


The woman leaves her body in the sheets. Everything is so light for this darkness. Air pants with thirst. She sails. Walls observe the thief, straining over him with hidden pockets of old newspapers, rags, skeletons hewn from rocks and trees. The thief touches them and reaches for the way. Fuck, his knotted belly says, fuck this, man. The muscles in his eyelids twitch, twitch.

Fear could be a snake or a fish, but something smooth with jagged edges. Shh. Mercy. He doesn’t know that you see him, pulling his way in the house like a forger stretching metal, thin, thin, dangerously, delicately, thin.

Everything is so quiet for this darkness.

See the vines, the moonflowers opening? The thief makes the most wonderful black lattice while he moves.


Before sleeping, the woman pulls breath from her throat, a long ribbon of many smaller ribbons, as women wearing blue handkerchiefs and sitting in rocking chairs might draw alpaca fibers before a fire.

The thief cups the woman’s breath where it sits on her nightstand, throbbing, ebbing, holding its own. It is lighter than he thinks it should be, twice as holy.

He takes measurements, marks down, and thinks, Soon I will take apart my skin and watch the men hurrying back and forth on the scaffolding of my bones. The thief has to be the opposite of death. The night listens with her ears held out like chocolates, but she doesn’t quite know what he means.

The woman’s breath whispers in and huffs out, wetting the thief with hills of moisture so close together no one can see the inherent mountain range. Fuck, the thief says again, and wipes his hand down the seam of his dark jeans.

"A bit of late night cross processing" (photo by Flickr user purplemattfish)


Breath does not go easily. It knows its home, the cage of the woman’s ribs, cries out for bundling next to the heart, pumping and bright. Wrapped in wool and nestled in a box, breath knows when it has been taken.

Night calls the thief—a flash of violins and cymbals, crinkled elm leaves and their trip, trip pavement dance. What can she say? He goes out, gripping walls, clutching breath.

Silver bubbles, sliver ovals, silver pieces fall from the soft in the thief’s hands.

Mercy, mercy. The tearing of separation. Breath bleeds.


See the weeping of air? There, the tears clinging to each aching blade of grass? And the breaking of his footprints, fast, fast, into the painting, spotted in blood? Silver? Moonlight, the glint of armor? See?

Nights like this are undulating corn, the marks scuffed across herringbone floors.

The thief layers the box between his palms, presses. Shh. Night wears rings of many colors, and metal, coppery and thick, flows from her mouth, a language of sequins and vanishing points of light. He hangs his head on every word.

"Twas the night before..." (photo by John Ryan)


All knees and cheekbones, a huddle of tiny, heaving moons, he stops running, spreads out his sewing needles, rows of silver eyes. The breath is tired when he opens the box, fibers limp in a matted, trembling package. Breath murmurs. The thief murmurs. Night murmurs.

Breath says, There once was mother.
The thief says, There once was moment.
Night says, There once was silver.

The thief uses different needles, first the largest, a hook gilded with metals released during the collapse of a faraway star, later the smallest, a slice of crescent. Night creeps higher while the thief heals the woman’s breath, stitches the wounds, finishes with fine silver hairs.


The thief envelops the breath in his cupped hands, makes a kiln from water rushing over the rocks and turbines inside his veins, tracking the movements of the night. She can’t answer his questions.

Breath smolders. Embroidery hardens. In this moment, the thief is as whole as a cloud. New French knots shine and speckle the woman’s breath, ten tiny crowns, a hundred half-born blooms, a thousand pollen spores, a million letters, all in rows.

The woman calls in her sleep. Here, she says to the phantom stepping around the blue lips of her dreams with candle eyes and heron feet, putting everything in order. Here I am. Mercy. Silver mercy.

Callista Buchen has an MA in literature from the University of Oregon and an MFA in creative writing from Bowling Green State University. She is the incoming editor of Portal del Sol and a staff reader for jmww. Her poems and prose have appeared in Gargoyle, Gigantic, Bellevue Review, and many others, with reviews published in Mid-American Review, The Collagist, and Prick of the Spindle. For more information, visit