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Ron Sanders Feb 15
(Glade, World, Master, Boy, Hero)

                                                 GLADE

There is a glacier.
Its blue tongue’s tip just tastes a frozen gorge.
There is a gorge, its walls shattered by cold; a once-green thing that, in dying, birthed a thousand aching fissures. It works its jagged way downhill, round ragged rifts and drifts until it comes upon a little frosted wood.
There is a wood, an island locked in ice.
Within this wood the gorge descends. It wanders and it wends; it brakes and all but ends outside a clearing wet with sun. And there, forking, its bent and broken arms embrace a strange, enchanted glade.

There is a glade.
And in this glade the black bears sleep, though salmon leap fat between falls. Here the field mouse draws no shadow, the eagle seeks no prey; they spend their while caressed by rays, and halcyon days are they. Here rabbit and fawn may linger, no longer need they flee. For in this timeless, taintless space, the Wild has ceased to be. (Outside the glade are shadow and prey, are ice and naked death. There blood may run freely. There the eagle, that thief, is a righteous savage, a noble fiend. But once in the glade he is dove, and has no taste for blood, running freely or otherwise).
And in this glade there nests a pool:  a dazzling, blue-and-silver jewel; profoundly deep, pristinely clear. All who sip find solace here, for this is the Eye of Being. They lap in peace, assuming blear, not knowing it is seeing. And ever thus this pool shall peer:  a silent seer, reflecting on—all that Is, and all Beyond.
(Outside the glade there lies a world where rivers ever run, where ghastly calves in random file revile a bitter sun. East, the day is born in mist. West she dies:  her rest, the deep. And North…North the Earth lies mute. Wind gnaws her hide, wind wracks her dreams. Wind screams like a flute in her white, white sleep).
But in the glade are tall, stately grasses, sunning raptly, spinning lore. Roots render the rhythms, blades bend without breeze, as signals ascend from the glade’s tender floor. (In this wise the glade weaves its word, airs its views. All the glade’s flora are bearers of news). They do not wither with fall, for in the glade there is no fall. They do not bind or wilt or brown—they gesture, spreading the mood, the mind; conveying, indeed, the very soul of the glade. As ever they have, as they shall evermore.
Bees do not hum here; they sing. They fatten the dream. Mellow and round are the timbres they sound, sweet is the music they bring. Birds do not sing here—they play. They carry the theme. Dulcet and warm are the strains they perform. Gifted musicians are they. (All in the glade are virtuosi. They were born to create. Melody, harmony, meter…are innate). Now the performance is lively and bright, now full, now almost still. For, though all in the glade may lean to the light, they must bend to the maestro’s feel.
And yet…there was a day, long ago in a dream, when this ongoing opus was torn. And on that day (so the lullaby goes) the wind brought a scream, and Dissonance was born.
There was a noise.
Moose tensed, their coffee eyes narrowed, their patient brows creased. Bees mauled the tempo, birds lost their place. The grass stood *****, all blades pointing east. There was a crash, and a shriek, and a naked, bleeding beast burst stinking through the fern, fell stumbling on its face.
Moose scattered:  unheard of. Sheep brawled, geese burst out of rhyme. The symphony, forever endeavored to soar sublime, fluttered, plunged, and, for all of a measure, ceased.
The pool was appalled…what manner brute—what kind of monster was this? Furless flank to forelimb, hide obscured by blood. As for its face…it had no face; only a look:  of shock frozen in time, of horror in amber. A deep welling rift ran temple to chin, halving the mask, caving it in. Such a grievous wound…the pool watched it stagger, on two legs and four, thrashing about till it came to a rise. There it labored for air, wiped the blood from its eyes, lashed at illusion, looked wildly round. Beholding the pool, the beast tumbled down.
And there this wretch plunged his thirst, drank his fill, fell back on his haunches.
The pool became still.
The two traded stares.
The glass read his features:  that durable eye pondered the wreckage and probed the debris. Revolted, the pool sought the succor of sky. But that thing remained—that face…in all creation…surely there could be…no other creature so ugly as he.
And he gazed in the glass.
Beneath the surface were…images…swimming in currents of shadow and light. He saw half-shapes and fragments…hideous men, exotic beasts…saw blue worlds of water, saw white worlds of ice…it was all so vague and unreal—yet somehow strangely familiar. Deeper he peered, but, as his mangled face neared, the sun smote the pool and the shapes disappeared. The brute pawed the ground and, dreaming he’d drowned, shook his head sharply and slowly looked round:
There were starlings at arm’s-length, transfixed with suspense, their tail feathers trembling, their dark eyes intense. Fantails and timber wolves, stepping in sync, paused for a sniff, stooped for a drink. Bees, pirouetting, threw light in his eyes. Seizing the moment, the pool pressed its hold.
And the glade revolved.
The freak watched it spin—saw the ferns’ greedy fingers reach round and close in, saw the tall grass rise high in an emerald sheen, swaying to rhythms from somewhere obscene. This place was madness; he struggled to stand, but, weak as he was, keeled over cold.
And the glade heaved a sigh, and the tall grass reclined, in curious patterns once rendered in whim. Far off in thunder the hard world replied, as iced pines exploded and screamed on the breeze. Down bore the sun, a chill just behind. The pool, grown blood-red, fended frost from its rim. Details dissolved in the oncoming tide. The pool dimmed to black. Night seeped through the trees.
Now flora found slumber while, pulsing below, the pool was infused with a soft ruby glow.
Soon birds bearing beech leaves, and needles of pine, laid down a spread and returned to the limb. But breath from the North blew their blanket aside. The wind grew in earnest, the air seemed to freeze.
And the wolf and the she-bear, of contrary mind, abhorring their task approached, looking grim. They sniffed him for measure, then, loathing his hide, growled their displeasure and dropped to their knees.
All night these glum attendants flanked his naked quaking form. The rising moon drew dreams in gray.
In time the man grew warm.

Morning swept through the glade in one broad stroke of the master’s brush, dappling the foliage with amber and rose. The pool was roused by the sweet pass of light. He opened his eye and the glade came alive:  into the whirlpool of life a thousand colors swam, chasing the scattering eddies of night. The magic of morning began.
Bluebird and goldfinch descended in rings, primaries clashing with robin and jay. Dollops of sun, repelled by their wings, spattered anew on the palette of day. Banking as one, the hues struck away.
There was a crowd.
And in this crowd that oddity sat, its chin on its chest, its rear pointing west. Its forepaws lay leaning, upturned and at rest. ***** and blood messed its muzzle and breast. Passed overnight. Or perhaps only dozed…tendril by tendril, claw by claw, the crowd decompressed:  the ring slowly closed.
And the stranger cried out and shifted his seat. His eyes sought his feet—rounding the arches, and topping the toes, the tall grass was questing. The little brute froze.
And the fauna took pause, and the flora went slack. Leaves followed talons, stems followed claws. Hooves tromped on paws as the crowd drifted back.
Not a breath taken. Not a move made. Stillness, like fog, enveloped the glade.
Now the grass tugged his feet, now the sea of jade splayed—left hand and right, the slender shafts reared. Gaining momentum, blade followed blade. The green field was torn till a deep swath appeared. The swath hurtled west, reflecting the sun. A hundred yards distant it died. Once more the grass stood, its tips spreading wide. The swath, born again, repeated its run.
Plain was the message, and clearly conveyed. The newcomer gawked. Confusion ensued.
The tall blades were swayed by the pulse of the glade.
But the swath was not renewed.
Something tiny bounced by. He ventured a peek, barely rolling an eye.
A chocolate sparrow, with pinfeathers black, popped past an ankle and paused to look back. The bird cocked its head, rocked in place, hopped ahead. It fluttered. It freaked. It glared and stopped dead. Vexed to its limit, it burst into flight.
The sitting thing watched till it passed out of sight.
Now a breeze bent his back, picked him half off his stern. The wind, done its best, grew flustered at last. It trailed to the west, thrilling lilies it passed. It wound round the willows and didn’t return.
So the fauna repaired to the live oak’s shade.
A strange kind of stupor fell over the glade.
From deep in the wood came a shape through the trees—a pronghorn, perhaps, or an elk swift and sure. But up limped a moose, a flyport with fur, low in the belly and wide at the knees. Wizened he was, scarcely able to see. Neither vision, nor vigor, nor velvet had he. He hobbled abreast, then groveled or died, his nose facing west, his tail flung aside.
The brute merely glazed.
But the glade was unfazed.
Those long shafts reshuffled. A tense moment passed.
The ominous shadows of badgers were cast. Three left their holes, as if to attack. They pedaled like moles and the stranger jumped back. He stumbled, fell flailing, and, kicking his guide, threw out his arms and tumbled astride. First he stepped on his tail, then he stepped on his pride. The moose bellowed twice and shook side to side while the little pest clung to his high, homely hide.
And the old moose unbent to his knees by degrees. He reeled like a drunk down the path of the breeze. Together they lurched through a break in the trees. And all morning long, and on through the day, both beggar and bearer would buckle and sway. The moose lost his temper, but never his way.
And the wind blew the sun to its deep ruby rest; the scrub, in obeisance, inclined to the west. Their slow taffy shadow in slinking would seem to slip round the rocks like a snake in a dream.
And the sun became a beacon, and the underbrush a stream. The wide Earth took their weight in stride, and the wind named him Hero.

                                               WORLD

When the sun was low the old moose began to stumble, at last limping to a halt beside a swift river lined with stunted pines. He’d half-expected a somewhat graceful dismount, but Hero, dug in like a tick, wasn’t about to let go. The moose knelt until his joints objected, shimmied, bucked, and with a sudden whirl sent the little bother flying.
Hero scraped himself out of the dirt and looked up forlornly. The ancient moose, his good eye gone bad, glared a long minute before hobbling away, his bony **** rocking with dignity, his scraggly tail fighting off imaginary flies.
Hero managed a few steps and dropped, staring in disbelief as the moose disappeared between half-frozen pines. He remained on his knees for the longest time, his jaw hanging, waiting for the moose—waiting for anything to show. At last a ruckus to his left snapped him out of it. His head ratcheted around.
Fifteen feet off the bank, three screaming gulls were dancing on an immense stone outcropping, fighting over a rapids-tossed sockeye. Hero was instantly famished. He wobbled to his feet and stumbled twice wading out, only regaining his balance by leaning against the current while rapidly wheeling his arms. The shrieking gulls reluctantly backed off as he stepped in slow-motion through the rushing water. Hero lunged at the slapping fish, cracked an ankle on the rock, and hopped around howling with both hands holding his shin. One foot was as good as none in the surging water. He went right under. Before he knew it he was being swept downriver.
This was glacial meltwater, so cold he quickly lost all sensation. Hero swallowed a mouthful and surfaced fighting for life; too disoriented to combat the current, too numb to realize his waving arm was striking something solid. That solid something turned out to be a swirling clump of rotted birches tangled up in scrub. He embraced one of these trunks as the mass slammed against isolated rocks, kicked his feet wildly, and somehow hauled himself aboard. The raft ricocheted rock to rock until repeated impacts sent it spinning. Giddy from the whirling and soaking, he clung freezing to the trees, retching continuously while the river roared in his ears. Through spray and tears he made out only cartwheeling fragments of the world.
But then the river was widening, its fury dissipating. The raft was approaching the sea. Hero gasped as the seemingly boundless Pacific swallowed the broad red belly of the sun. And as he spun he was treated to a panoramic, breathtaking spectacle:  the great indigo ocean with its slow traffic of driftwood and ice—voiced-over by the dismal calls of foraging gulls, and broken rhythmically by intermittent glimpses of the river’s rocky banks growing farther and farther apart. Whirling as it went, the dying man’s soul was taken by the sea.

At the 59th Parallel in winter, the Pacific coast plays host to numberless floes and minor bergs orphaned from Alaskan coastal glaciers. Hero cruised into a watery gridlock on a boat of ice-glazed birches, one bit of flotsam among the rest.
The cold wouldn’t let him move, wouldn’t let him breathe, wouldn’t let him think. He lay supine, feet crossed and hands clasped, terrified that to budge was to roll. An ice patina grew over the tangled trees like a white fungus—this growth soon webbed his fingers and toes, speckled his chest and thighs, glazed his hair and face, danced and disintegrated with his breath’s tapering plumes.
Floes and frozen-over debris tended to group with passing collisions; Hero’s married birches bit by bit accrued a mostly-submerged tangle of trunks and branches, all becoming fast in a creeping ice cement. Night came on just as resolutely, until land was only a flat black memory. The raft moved silently over the deep, still accepting the occasional gentle impact. And the floes became thicker and wider in a freezing doldrums; soon the proximate sea was all a broken field of packed ice, bobbing infinitesimally with the planet’s pulse.
Long ghostly strands of fog came striding over the torn ice field. They leaned this way and that, their mourners’ skirts tearing and patching and leaning anew. The ghosts were there to seal it:  their locked fingers and gray diaphanous wings were quickly becoming a wholly opaque descending shroud, its boundaries lost in the soughing wind.
Collisions came less and less. Darkness and silence, breaching some previously impenetrable barrier, began to take up residence in Hero’s chilling marrow. From his very center broke a weak little cry of refusal, of denial, as mind mustered frame in one desperate bid for freedom. His skin, frozen to the raft, peeled right off, and at that his inner brave succumbed. Hero’s smashed head arched back. His face contorted frightfully while the little lamp fluttered and paled within.
A raucous chorus slowly worked its way through the mist. It emerged a few hundred yards off—a tiny, terrified barking, growing in clarity as it grew in volume and urgency. It was a sound beacon. Hero strained eagerly, and when for one excruciating minute the beacon was cut off by a large passing body, was certain death had claimed him. Then it was back, and his heartbeat was quickening. He caught a heaving sound…something was moving his way down a wide tributary between floes. Hero could hear a gasping and snorting, accompanied by a hard slapping and splashing. The sounds vanished. In a moment the raft was rocked from below.
A sputtering muzzle blew salt in his eyes. A cold slimy flipper flapped across his chest and slapped about his face. The fur seal barked directly in his ear. Whiskers raked his dead cheek. The seal barked again.
Back below the surface it slipped. Hero listened anxiously as the splashing sound retreated whence it came.
The seal swam off perhaps a hundred feet and began barking hysterically.
From much farther off came a profusion of answering barks.
The seal swam back to Hero’s raft, circling and calling, circling and calling, while the responders approached en masse.
Now a sallow beam could be seen cutting through the fog. Several more showed vaguely along a plane yawing with some huge, barely discernible object.
A herd of northern fur seals burst into sight, barking madly, beating through the ice. They converged on Hero’s raft, really bellowing now.
Those odd yellow beams came in pursuit, and soon were close enough to eerily illuminate a gigantic wooden vessel parting the ice. The seals barked ferociously. Whenever the vessel leaned away, those nearest Hero’s raft would absolutely howl.
The fog deepened, condensed, crystallized, and then the collective light of a dozen lanterns was playing over a low, listing nightmare. Hero could hear the shouts of many aggressive men, but the waterborne seals, rather than scatter, boarded the ice and redoubled their din, fighting their way onto his quickly mobbed raft.
The sealers hurled serrated spears even as they clambered down rope ladders. When these men reached the ice the seals snapped and gnashed madly, refusing to be dislodged. The sealers lost all composure with the thrill of the hunt:  wielding clubs, spears, and hatchets—sometimes using iron bludgeons or any old utensil handed down—they crushed skulls, dragged carcasses, hooked animals still spurting and bleating. Clinging though he was, Hero was flabbergasted by the way the slipping and scampering men went about their butchery, hacking and smashing more with passion than with precision. But not a single seal attempted to flee—throughout the carnage they barked all the louder, egging on their slayers, carcass by carcass drawing the impassioned sealers to Hero’s ice-locked raft.
It was all so hazy and macabre. Hero’s eyes rolled back, and the next thing he knew he was sitting hunched on the vessel’s sopping deck. Two men were rubbing his limbs while another poured warm water down his back. He looked around in shock. The very notion of a boat containing more than one or two individuals—a sort of floating tribe—was way beyond his ken; so to see it, to have it come looming out of nothingness, was an experience almost supernatural.
He remembered some of those fur-covered men force-feeding him mouthfuls of halibut and seal fat, and he recalled a small group standing around him, shouting words that made no sense at all. After that he had a very vivid memory of their angry little chief repeatedly punching him while hollering one angry little word over and over and over. Hero couldn’t make out his inquisitor’s face, for the large feather-lined hood quite engulfed the man’s head, yet he could see those quick eyes flash as they caught the oil lamps’ light. Finally this man stopped boxing Hero’s ear. He stared hard. In these remaining decades of the tenth century it was fully within his power to administer as he saw fit—he could have ordered Hero’s immediate execution and not a man of his crew would have objected. He hesitated only because there wasn’t a hint of resistance in his prisoner’s pinched and frightened eyes. He leaned forward, studying the wound that all but split Hero’s face in two before grunting, raising his right arm, and yanking down its seal hide sleeve. Attached to the stump of his forearm was a primitive prosthesis consisting of a thick oak cap strapped to the arm with lengths of gut, and, hammered squarely into the center of that cap, a broad, cruelly hooked blade chiseled from a narwhal’s tusk. He held this obscenity in front of Hero’s eyes, traced the face’s deep diagonal rift, and once more demanded his captive’s identity. Hero then vaguely remembered being dragged along a tilting deck and thrown into the ship’s tiny hold. He retained a strong mental image of landing in a place of musty odors and dank projections.
There came a soft scuffling in the darkness, and presently a blind and exceedingly old woman felt her way to his side, mumbling as she approached. Her speech was comprised not of words; it was rather a running gibberish of cooing vowels and clucking consonants. The old woman was as mad as her circumstances; sick with sea and solitude, bedeviled by age and confinement. She sat cross-legged, patting her withered palms up his arm until she came to his face. Her strange mumbling soliloquy rose and fell as her bony fingers daintily explored the newly opened wound. Hero let his head fall back in her lap. A pair of hands like emaciated tarantulas scurried through the filth and tiny bodies until they came upon an old otter’s pelt bag that held her secrets. The woman loosened the bag’s cord and extracted an assortment of herbs, sniffing each in succession. She then scooped a handful of blubber from a bowl made of a previous occupant’s skull, kneaded the selected herbs into the blubber, and commenced gently massaging the wound, clucking and cooing while the black rats watched and waited.
For nine interminable days Hero remained in that cold, stinking compartment, rocking back and forth between life and death. The old woman never gave up on him. She clung to him during his seizures, rubbed his limbs vigorously when his blood pressure fell. She gathered various accumulated skins and, using woven strands of her own long hair, sewed him a multilayered, body-length wraparound with arm sleeves and very deep pockets, working by touch with a needle formed of a cod’s rib. By this same method she was able to fashion a pair of heavily lined snug-fitting moccasins. The old woman made him eat; she masticated the cod and halibut their keepers pitched into the hold, then shoved the results down his throat with a long gnarly forefinger. She called into his screaming nightmares, talking him out of sleep and back into their foul little reality. Together they lowed in the dark, while the keel groaned along and the waves beat time.
At the end of those dark nine days his strength was restored, but not his mind. Once again he was taken on deck.
The vessel had reached a chain of remote wind-swept islands, rocky and treeless, naked except for patchy carpets of hardy grass. These islands stretched far to the west, shrouded in mist. The ship was making for the smallest; just a chip on the sea. When they reached depth for anchorage Hero was hustled into a rowboat and lowered over the side. He looked up, saw two men climbing down by rope. These men positioned themselves at the oars and slowly rowed toward the islet. Seated between them, Hero felt like a man being led to his execution. He snuck a peek. The rowers’ heads were lowered, their features completely obscured by the heavy feathered hoods; they had all the somberness of pallbearers. Not a word passed between them as they rigidly worked their oars:  the only sound was the dip-and-purl of wood in water. Hero looked away. Against his will, he found his eyes drawn to that rocky islet waiting in the fog.
Not a bird, not a sea lion, not a shrub. It was lonesome beyond imagination.
Upon landfall one of the men used a spear’s point to **** Hero ashore. While his companion steadied the boat, he removed a skin sack full of half-frozen halibut, followed by a few armloads of precious tinder. These articles he tossed at Hero’s feet. He resumed his place at the oars and, without looking back, used the blunt end of his spear to shove off.
Hero watched the boat moving away, watched the men climbing their ropes, watched the boat being hauled aboard. As the mysterious vessel receded he saw a number of those silent men standing at the stern, stolidly returning his stare. Their hooded forms grew smaller and smaller, finally becoming indistinct. The vessel was swallowed up in fog.
Hero looked around, at a desolate world of rock and drifting ice. In the sunless pools at his feet a few purplish, flaccid sea anemones were waving in a sickly phosphorescence; along the rocks ran a tattered quilt of wild grass and lichen. It was the end of the world. He began to pace in his anxiety, only to crumple bit by bit inside his furs. At last he just sat with his face in his arms and wept. When he could weep no more he raised his head and opened his red, swollen eyes.
There were gulls all around him, staring like statuary in a madman’s garden. Standing in their midst were auks and puffins and murres, absolutely spellbound, unable to lean away. The silence was broken only by a wild, fitfully pursing wind—a wind that seemed, eerily, on the verge of producing syllables. And on that wind a flock of terns was rising slowly, their beady eyes fixed on the lone sitting man. The terns watched as he trembled, and banked as he swooned.
Then, beating as one, they threw back their wings and blew into the sun.

There was a blaze.
Behind that blaze a pair of black, bug-like eyes met his and immediately withdrew. A man wrapped in caribou hides stood abruptly, drawing angry swarms of sparks.
The Aleut peered queerly into the icy Pacific, his craggy profile merging seamlessly with a jumble of rocks showing just beyond his shoulder. The man was very tall, closer to seven feet than to six, and thin almost to emaciation.
He was also a mute. Soon enough he would display a talent for communication through gutturals, but now his body language spoke louder than words. It told the shivering stranger that he was not only disliked—he was feared.
The islander removed the hides he’d piled on the sleeping man. He produced a bone awl and strategically pierced a caribou hide, draped the hide over the old woman’s handiwork, and ran a cord of tightly woven tendons crosswise through his made holes, knotting it at the bottom to create a kind of cloak. He then killed the fire, heaped wood, fish, and remaining hides into Hero’s arms, and led him to a tiny cove where his long skin canoe lay in the grass. This was not the one-man kayak used by his people for centuries, but an actual canoe modeled on the graceful vessels he’d observed under the control of northern coastal tribesmen. After dragging it into the water he perched Hero in the fore, placed the cargo in the middle, and stepped into the rear like a gaunt furry spider. The Aleut dug out a paddle and began pulling with smooth strokes of surprising muscularity, his black eyes trained on his quiet companion’s back.
So began their long island-hopping journey. They stepped the chain one stone at a time, living off the sea. But much as the islander disliked Hero’s vapid company, it was not in his nature to proceed expeditiously; his people, remote as they were, had learned to count not in days but in generations. Given this, the Aleut took his time. He showed Hero how to build shelters of skin and gut; during bad weather the two would sit on an island in utter silence while rain hammered on their stretched seal-intestine window. And one very clear night he pointed out constellations while attempting to demonstrate, using broad gestures, just how the brighter heavenly bodies were in perfect alignment with the Aleutians. Hero followed his guide’s gestures as a pet follows its master’s movements and, like a pet, soon became bored. The Aleut did not grow flustered. He grew ever more wary:  behind that granite, weather-beaten exterior squirmed a very primitive imagination. Superstitious as he was, the Aleut was almost certain Hero could read his mind. So one time, and one time only, he threw a searing look at the back of Hero’s bowed and listing head. After a long minute of vigorous thought-projection he shifted his gaze aside. The brute appeared to feel this shift, and gently turned his head. And both saw the ocean break rhythm, and watched as otters and sea lions surfaced, noted their progress, and slipped without tremor beneath the waves.
In spring the fogs lifted. The grimness gave way to serenity, a generous sun buttered the dappled sea. On the islands grass grew lushly. Wildflowers leapt on the color-starved eye.
And one day the islander’s nape itched. He turned to see a flock of arctic terns casually tracking them under a gorgeous, white-plumed sky. As the day progressed the terns came drifting high overhead, slowly but surely taking the lead.
The Aleut squinted against the sun. He’d never known these birds to pursue a westerly migratory pattern—the terns were distributing themselves into a rough wedge shape, much like geese on the wing.
For a while he let the flock be his guide. Then, to test his stars, he cunningly steered his canoe north. At once the wedge disintegrated. Not until he’d lowered his eyes and pulled purposefully to the west did the disrupted pattern reassert itself. He peered up timidly. The wedge was now in the shape of a perfect arrowhead.
Just so were the fates of mariners and aviators inextricably entwined. At night, once the Aleut had landed his canoe on the nearest pearl, the terns would light in a quiet circle and remain until sunrise. As the Aleut and Hero took to sea, the flock would quickly form that same authoritative pattern.
In time the Aleut paddled his companion clear to the westernmost islands of the Aleutian chain. His people had dwelt, even here, a thousand years and more, but no contemporary islander knew for certain what lay beyond. Legend told of an enormous land mass forever gripped by cold, where a cruel people waylaid innocent seafarers for barbaric sacrificial rites.
So here the islander paused. But even as he vacillated he noticed the terns were veering south.
If the Aleut had been able to curse aloud he would have been vociferous. He was being compelled to follow an even less desirable course—that of the unknown open ocean. Now he looked upon his passenger’s hunched back not with fear but with loathing. He took a deep breath, rolled his shoulders, and defiantly continued west. The wedge broke up immediately. The terns dive-bombed the canoe, whirled around the windmilling Aleut, tore skyward and hovered determinedly. Something huge broke surface behind them, but the Aleut was way too frayed to turn. He dropped his head, a beaten man, and began paddling south. Little by little the birds returned to formation.
The tiny canoe had no business going up against the mighty Pacific. It would soon have been swallowed and smashed, had not the terns veered in close formation whenever the distant sea appeared too rough. Once he’d lost his bearings the Aleut religiously followed their serpentine course.
The days began to warm.
Now the sea’s bounty all but leapt in the canoe.
It seemed the Aleut was forever catching the finest currents, practically sliding down a corridor entirely free of peril. In this manner he was able to safely navigate waters no such craft had mastered before.
They were proceeding south by southwest, awed children of a plenteous, generous sea. The going became easier by the day, the ocean heavier with cod.
Nights the Aleut drifted comfortably, but a lifetime of wariness made him wake off and on. He’d slowly rise to find Hero sitting quietly under the stars, and soon he’d see, pallid in moonlight, a large body neatly pleating the ocean’s surface. The shape would precede them a while, only to vanish without a ripple.
All this strangeness kept the Aleut’s heart in a whirl, though he took pains to maintain his poise.
To allay his fear he kept a flat black stone planted squarely between them. It was his oldest treasure; an oddity he’d taken off the body of a mauled Tlingit woman when he was a child. Who she was, and how she’d come by the stone, were mysteries far beyond him, for no such piece had ever been known to Aleut or Inuk.
The stone was smooth and had been worked perfectly round. Bright yellow specks were scattered about its dull black face.
Long ago someone had etched a quaint and clumsy rune on that flat black surface—it was the crude, universal symbol for sun:  a broad circle surrounded by several rays. When the stone was rubbed against a pelt it possessed the curious property of growing quite warm and bright in the rune’s grooves, while the surface remained cool and dull.
This stone, both friend and overlord, had always “spoken to him”. It caused him to become restless when it was time to move on, and allowed him to relax when a destination had been reached. In this way he’d come to the familiar islet and discovered the unconscious little man. Just so:  the stone, he was sure, was responsible for making him “feel bad” as he watched the stranger shiver, and “feel better” once he’d built him a life-saving fire from the small pile of tinder he’d found nearby.
By now, however, the Aleut was wholly disenchanted with his stone, and deeply regretted having done its mysterious bidding. Never before had he been so long from sight of land, and never before had he felt so very, very small. The unimagined immensity of the Pacific was really starting to get to him when, after all their while at sea, a gray, seductive haze broke the horizon. They had reached another chain of islands, an Asian chain, the dark and smoky Kurils. Here a cold current kept the climate cool and foggy, and the chill, along with the prevalence of otter and seal, made him feel almost at home.
But this place gave him the creeps; he was a stranger, a trespasser somewhere sacred. There was a looming quality to the island mountains that made him extraordinarily aware of his transience, his pettiness, his puniness. He grew more and more cautious, sure their progress was being monitored—he could have sworn he saw wraiths in the trees, and wolves padding warily in the brush. The big islands looked on breathlessly. All along the rocky cliffs, thousands of auks and puffins followed the canoe in dead silence, their heads turning simultaneously, their countless tiny eyes peering redly through the fog. As the weeks passed, the Aleut’s anxiety was manifested in tics and sighs, and he’d cringe each time the crimson sun sank behind those black volcanic summits. In his imagination the mountains would rise right out of the sea, as though to pluck him. But the islands, in all their dignity, would always refuse to acknowledge so meek a stranger, and return their eyes to sea. The Aleut would hang his head, and timidly paddle by.
Then for days and days he pulled his weary canoe west—through a strait parting two mighty islands not part of the chain, and thence across a sea that was a warm, enticing bath. Spring had come to the East Asian coastal waters, and the Ainu, alone and in groups, were venturing deeper in search of increasing bounty. The Aleut, absorbed in his thoughts of sweet climate and bitter fate, was unaware they’d been spotted.
This first meeting between strangers of different worlds was a brief and awkward one. A lone Ainu fisherman, seeing the Aleut come paddling out of the unknown, dropped his net and turned to stone. The Aleut, for his part, instinctively froze with his body turned half-away to make the leanest target possible. Their stares locked. Never had the Aleut seen a face so heavily bearded, and never hair so fair. The Ainu began banging on his bronze catch pail. Other fishers soon appeared from the north and south, effectively cutting off the canoe. The Aleut caressed his stone and looked to the sky. The wedge had vanished. He put down his head and paddled for all he was worth.
With the word out, uncountable fishing craft appeared out of the blue and broke into hot pursuit, their pilots determined to force the canoe ashore.
Suddenly they were in sight of land, and the sea was absolutely riddled with watercraft. A train of small boats cast off from the mainland, even as a posse of two-man coracle-like tubs began to surround the battered skin canoe, their inhabitants calling back and forth in astonishment at the sight of these dark, savage newcomers. But the pursuing little coastal men, banging excitedly on the sides of their boats, were not Ainu. They had very straight black hair, prominent cheekbones, and strangely slanted eyes. And their speech, oddly marvelous as it was, was a rapid series of coos, chirps, and barks. Their boats formed a tight semi-circle around the canoe, forcing the Aleut to approach the mainland. The little men banged their boats maniacally, with more joining in as the canoe neared shore.
A bit farther south was a natural harbor swarming with fishing vessels of every description. As the canoe was forced into this harbor, people along the rocky coast began banging whatever they could get their hands on, until the air was filled with their lunatic percussion.
Tiny brown men came running along a soft yellow cliff overlooking the harbor, gesturing wildly. The canoe was squeezed between a chain of tubs and the shore, and, as it slowed, the tempo and ferocity of the banging decreased accordingly. When the canoe came to a halt the banging and shouting stopped. Hero creaked to his feet. The first North American to set foot on Asian soil stepped out shakily.
There followed the profoundest silence imaginable.
A second later it was as if a dam had burst.
Hundreds of hysterical, yammering voices erupted from hundreds of hysterical, clinging men and women. Hero was spun around, jostled about, handed along. He stared into their astounded, pinched little faces, and the sun, pulsing between their heads as he was turned, repeatedly stabbed his eyes. There came an excited outburst and frantic splashing which could only have been the Aleut’s violent demise, and then Hero was somehow limping alongside a primitive fishing village, blindly following a narrow dirt path that hugged the yellow cliff’s base. The warm spring sun caught the dust as he shambled. He rounded a bend and stopped.
Half a dozen children stood in his way, too fascinated to run. A chatter and scuffle rose behind him. He looked back to see that he was now in the midst of a small crowd of these children, and that more were running up with cries of amazement.
A stone struck his shoulder. As Hero turned another glanced off his chest.
A moment later he was being pelted from all sides, and the giggles and gasps had become something wildly unreal. He dropped to his knees in a hail of hurled rocks, covered his head with his arms, and slithered up the path on his belly.
A new voice broke in; an older, authoritative voice.
The children scampered off squealing.
Hero, shaken to his feet, found himself face to face with a diminutive, shouting, incomprehensible old man. The old man threw his arm around Hero’s waist and, jabbering all the while, led him to a secondary path cut into the cliff’s face. This path sloped gently upward over the waves. Together they picked their way to a place maybe halfway up, where the cliff’s face was honeycombed with natural alcoves and dug-out caves. Most of these spaces were used as one-man shelters; a few, cut deeper in the earth, as family hives. Strange gabbing people slid out of these holes like worms, reaching, but the little old man, who was evidently a little old man of some stature, embraced his find possessively and shouted them back inside.
The path narrowed as they climbed.
At its summit spread the upscale end of the neighborhood. Hero was led to a hovel nestled amid dozens of similar hovels, all scattered around a dainty stream wending between patches of stunted vegetation.
The old man’s place was basically a one-room hut fashioned of earth and salvaged boat hulls, with a slender side-yard surrounded by dry, dusty hedges. But inside it was clean and tidy, with rice paper partitioning and, built into the far earthen wall, a miniature stone fireplace. The old man sat his guest in the exact center of the room. There he fed him scraps from his bowl, using long sticks to pluck out bits of fish and clumps of tiny, starchy white pellets.
He studied the brute closely, watched him chew, walked round and round him. He poked here. He pinched there.
And that night he lit a fire on his crushed-shell hearth.
Hero curled up on a mat where the gossip of flames could reach him. Nearby, at his delicate wicker table, the old man sat in semi-darkness, illuminated only from the waist down.
But his eyes were alive. They spat and darted as they reflected the fire’s light, and, when at last they’d begun to sputter, his scratchy little voice came pattering out of the dark, muttering something vile and oddly modulated, sometimes in a whisper, sometimes in a gathering snarl.
Hero feigned slumber, unable to ignore those paired ominous flashes. Still, the room was cozy, and the fire warm, and the play of light and shadow kicked sleep in his eyes.

In the morning he woke in the old man’s side-yard, his head pounding, a rusty iron clamp securely fastened around his neck. This clamp was attached to the outermost link of a crude three-foot chain, and the link at the other end to a long stake driven into eight inches of solid rock. The chain and stake, like the clamp, were hammered of local iron. The clamp was too tight for comfortable swallowing, the chain too short to make standing possible. Hero could, however, spread out on his chest and stretch an arm to a low row of hedges. By parting the tangled undergrowth he had a limited view of the fishing village below, and of the harbor beyond. As the days passed he was able to tweak himself a view-space discernible only from his peculiar vantage. He accomplished this by gently breaking small branches strategically, then guiding their interrupted growth with the utmost tenderness. It was his secret garden.
He had no memory—none whatsoever—of being staked here. Obviously the old man hadn’t set this up overnight. Hero’s mind prodded timidly…how many others had been chained to this spot, and why?
But over the subsequent weeks and months he went beyond caring. Each day was the same:  just after dawn the old man would storm into the tiny side-yard swinging his reed whip wildly. The lashings were savage and unremitting. The old man, except for his eyes, would be mute. Only his whip need speak. And the snap of his reed had but one message:  when you see this whip you go down, and you go down immediately.
The naked savage, scarred head to foot, learned to go prostrate on the moment. Even so, the old man couldn’t resist the temptation to indulge in the occasional good old, all-out thrashing. And after each session he would toss the prisoner a vile mess of dead fish and rotting leftovers.
Hero lived like this for many months, lost in a confused world of pain and anticipation. Perversely, he came to look forward to the bite of that whip, for, whether he flogged him in passion or just for sport, the old man was always sure to make it personal. It seemed their relationship might go on forever.
But one day there was a great commotion in the sleepy little fishing village. Hero parted the leaves and beheld a small train of oblong coaches at rest near the harbor. Large oxen yoked in pairs lolled between the carriages, immune to the clamor around them. There were dark shaggy horses and colorfully dressed Bactrian camels. The horses and camels were tethered in the rear, but were occasionally paraded around the carriages by little men wielding long painted bamboo poles. The whole affair was exotic and mesmerizing, eccentric and profane. Hero watched all day in amazement, infected by the hubbub, though he was totally mystified by the crowd’s fascination on the carriages’ far side.
And late that afternoon he saw the old man come walking out of that crowd, talking heatedly with another man. The stranger was shorter and broader than the old man, with long stringy hair and long stringy mustaches. He saw them climbing the path, saw them crawl inside a hole lashing furiously. They were lost from view for a minute, then popped up big as life. Hero glowed and curled up eagerly as they approached.
The old man and stranger came into the narrow side-yard still arguing. The old man grabbed Hero by the hair and twisted until he was facing the newcomer.
The stranger had oily, porous skin, and a round but grave countenance. His highly slanted eyes were bright and restless. He studied Hero’s mutilated face with keen interest before borrowing the old man’s reed. When Hero scraped at his feet he grunted and returned the reed.
The stranger pulled out something shiny and hefted it in his hand. He then raised his other hand while considering Hero, as though weighing him too. The old man’s eyes glinted, and for an instant his expression became grotesquely servile. The stranger and old man, facing, nodded curtly in unison. The stranger dropped the shiny thing onto the old man’s itching palm. The old man whipped Hero frantically before taking a small ax to the chain. A few hard blows split a link, the broken link was bent back by the tool’s shaft, and the prisoner was at last released.
The old man handed the stranger a short hempen rope. The stranger bowed deeply. He then tied an end of the rope through one of the remaining links and began dragging Hero along. Hero’s hands sought the old man, who kicked and cursed him all the way to the path. The three stumbled single-file to the bottom. The old man waved his arms and shouted hysterically, trotting behind until he ran out of breath. But he got in a final kick and, before he came to a gasping halt, managed to lash Hero once for old time’s sake, and to spit on him twice for luck.

There were five carriages; a long one in the center hitched to four oxen, and two smaller coaches in the front and rear with a pair of oxen on each. The carriages were old and battered, built of splitting wood slats and rusted iron braces. Various hides, spare wheels, and a hundred odds and ends were tied to the sides and roofs. Hero’s new master, using him as a ram, shoved him through the crowd to the long carriage. He hauled him up the single wood step and watched the crowd’s reaction. Children hid behind mothers, mothers hissed and jeered, men spat in that smashed, disgusting face.
Satisfied, Hero’s master twisted the rope tighter and dragged him through the hide flap that served as the carriage’s rear wall.
A strange ruckus began at their entrance.
Inside the carriage were bulky shapes and quirky movements, yet the immediate and overwhelming impression was one of unbelievable stench. Hero, instantly covered with flies, was kicked and shoved down a foot-wide aisle. The carriage’s walls were riddled with black flecks of old dried blood, the floor coated with standing *****, a variety of small carcasses, and some clinging, indefinable slime. But the living contents of this hell were so horrifying, and so unexpected, that Hero at once dropped to his knees. Observing this, master grabbed a whip off the wall and lashed him along the floor.
A number of bamboo cages lined either side of the carriage, each four feet high, four feet wide, and three feet deep. In the first cage to their left, a quadruple amputee dangled in a leather harness in a cloud of flies, jealously gnawing a chicken carcass balanced on his belly. The second cage held a man who had been burned over ninety per cent of his body, and the third a middle-aged woman with no eyes or tongue, her head shaved. The next cage housed a fully grown black leopard, its bright eyes fixed on the horrified newcomer. Then an empty cage, and finally a cage containing a demented man whose long yellow nails were busily raking a face deeply scarred and bleeding.
The first cage against the opposite wall held two girls rolling in their own excrement. Siamese twins unable to part, they had developed a unique method of locomotion, and now executed a three-quarters cartwheel in Hero’s direction, their mangled, severely bitten hands attempting to reach him through the bars. In the cage next to theirs a naked dwarf glowered menacingly, his eyes following coldly as Hero’s master shoved him down the narrow aisle, occasionally pausing to lash a cage. The hissing and howling increased as each prisoner beheld the new neighbor.
The third cage held an intensely sick adult Bornean sun bear, so confined it was entirely unable to move. Its hide was a patchwork of scraggly fur and grayish skin, glistening with odd eruptions. It rolled its sunken eyes in Hero’s direction, its muzzle twitching feebly.
The next cage contained a man who was frightfully diseased. Broad fungal patches covered his face and limbs, terminating in waxy folds that dangled like a rooster’s wattles. Welling sores spotted his chest and back. His eyes were bugged and sallow; his lower lip drooped below his chin. He barked wetly at Hero’s passing legs.
The second-to-last cage housed a rare, completely hairless Chinese albino, and the last cage a very tall, skeletal woman. The albino snapped at Hero while repeatedly banging his head against the cage. The woman hissed and coiled like a snake, her spine arching amazingly.
Master hauled Hero to the empty cage on his left, swung its door open with his foot, and forced him to his knees by pushing down with all his weight. He kicked and punched until Hero had been squeezed inside, then shut and secured the wide bamboo door.
Master inched his way back down the carriage, hammering the **** of his whip on each cage as he passed. There was a glimpse of daylight as he lifted the flap.
Once he’d departed, the carriage grew eerily silent.
Hero cautiously turned his head. Less than a foot away, the black leopard was frozen in place, one paw waving hypnotically in his face. The beast’s fangs were bared, its ears straight back, its eyes glistening. Hero turned ever so slowly, until he was looking into the eyes of the demented man in the final cage. The man cocked his head quizzically. A second later he was screaming his lungs out in a bizarre downward spiral.
At once the carriage erupted. The freaks shrieked and scrabbled, the leopard spun in place. Directly across the aisle, the albino hurled himself against the bars of his cage. He batted his face with his fists, threw back his head, and just howled and howled and howled. The snake woman curled even tighter, her long scrawny legs entwined behind her head.
Hero sat with breath held, absolutely silent, absolutely motionless. He very, very slowly closed his eyes.

Later that night the flap was flung high. The menagerie came alive as master, weirdly illuminated by moonlight, slowly made his way down the aisle carrying a skin sack oozing blood. He stopped at each cage to toss in a dying chicken and a handful of smelt.
When he reached Hero’s cage he looked down thoughtfully.
He extracted a quivering chicken and held it above the cage so that blood dripped on the brute’s deeply pleated forehead. Hero lowered his eyes. Master’s face darkened. He smashed the bird against the cage, over and over, a vein throbbing in his temple. Finally he hissed and displayed the limp chicken high over the albino’s head. The albino yelped and kicked, thrusting his hand up between the bars and jerking it back to lick away the blood rolling down his forearm.
Master eyed Hero coldly before pointedly dropping the chicken into the albino’s searching hands.
Master hissed again. He slowly made his way out.
Soon there was a commotion outside. The carriage rocked a bit before settling. Hero, turning in his cage to peek through a rift in the wood, saw horses being urged forward. He could hear men shouting. The carriage rocked again. He looked up and saw the gibbous moon suspended in mist. For just a second something wedge-shaped cut across its soft white face.
But then the oxen were grunting, the wheels had been freed, and the horses drawn abreast. Master’s lash spat left and right, and the show proceeded…west.

                                              MA­STER

She was very round and very small, with very short, very shaggy black hair. Her arms bore the scars of numerous bites from beast and man, and around her neck ran long wheals from a particularly savage owner. Hero, having spent the better part of the morning watching master storm in and out of a strange screaming house, now watched him drag the little round woman through the dirt. For a while he listened to the song of his master’s lash, waiting for the woman to break. But there was never a whimper.
It had been a difficult transaction for master, and an altogether difficult morning. For hours he’d paced up and down the main carriage, alternately murmuring affectionately into, and lashing at, each cage he visited. The sun bear, long dead and stuffed, had been taken outside for barter. It had soon been returned.
Master had lingered over Hero’s cage for a good while, staring critically. He’d begun shouting, and three of his men had burst in through the flap, unlatched the demented man’s cage, and dragged him out by the feet for trade, master personally stomping on his torn and groping hands.
And now master was kicking and shoving the little woman down the aisle as his men restrained her by the hair and throat. Upon master’s command these men stripped her naked and commenced pinching and slapping while making threatening faces and mocking noises. The freaks sat right up in their cages.
The woman looked as though she’d fainted:  her arms were lax, her eyes rolled up. Her whole face seemed to purse, and her body, head to toe, began to run blue. Her fingers quivered, arched, and clawed—the woman was self-asphyxiating. Master fairly leaped with delight while the cages rocked around him. He had the men slap her awake. Once she was fully conscious they stuffed her into the demented man’s old cage next to Hero’s.
Master then looked in eagerly, one to the other, his hands balled into fists. The woman buried her odd round face in her forearms as she squeezed herself into her cage’s deepest corner. Hero gazed indifferently and went back to his peephole.
Master exploded. He smacked and kicked the cages over and over, swore up and down, ran the shaft of his whip back and forth against the heavy bamboo bars. Eventually he calmed somewhat. He stared coldly at Hero, made a ***** smile, and spat right in his eyes. A tense minute passed. Master slowly made his way outside.
Hero automatically relaxed. Across the aisle the albino ****** his face between his cage’s bars to sniff the newcomer. The leopard, bobbing rhythmically, emitted a high-pitched squeal that gradually descended to a steadily throbbing growl.
Hero looked the stranger over. Once she’d lowered her hands he saw that her eyes were crossed, her jaw slack, her face as round as the full moon. He looked closer. There were scars all over her throat and arms:  plainly, the small round woman had been treated very badly. Hero instinctively slid a foot between the bars; the woman cried out and scrunched even deeper. Across the aisle the albino quickly extended an arm. Without knowing why, Hero turned on him. The albino flinched, his eyes tearing into Hero’s. A second later he was stamping his feet and grinning wildly. Hero went back to his peephole.
Next morning master and two of his men dismantled the bamboo walls separating Hero’s and the woman’s cages. They bound the frames with broad leather bands, making a single cage of the two.
A common door was fashioned and secured. Master used his broad blade to shear away Hero’s rags. The men hunched around the long cage expectantly.
The naked couple backed away. Master was instantly exasperated—he shouted, lashed furiously, stamped and screamed, jabbed a broken shaft between the bars with malevolent intent, whirled and hurled the shaft at nothing. The carriage’s inmates went out of their minds. At master’s bellowed command a man scurried outside, returning with a long rope of woven leather strands. Master opened the cage and, applying all his weight, pinned Hero and his new mate in an awkward embrace while his men tied them together.
Again master and his men bent over the long cage to watch.
When Hero realized his predicament he made a desperate attempt to reach his peephole.
The men, misreading his struggles, babbled and cheered, but master threw up his hands. He then, through gesture, ordered his men to drape a number of hides over the long cage. Once these hides were in place he very quietly bent to one knee and placed an ear against the cage. After a while he cursed and rose to his feet. He shook the cage and stormed out, whipping and kicking the howling inmates.
In the semi-darkness the man and woman quit fighting their bonds.
A muffled patter began on the hide-covered roof.
Rain, as always, had a calming effect on the carriage’s occupants, causing the freaks and beasts to slip, one by one, into lethargy or slumber. Under such a spell, the attainment of master’s goal was inevitable.
It was a coupling both innocent and vile, without passion or celebration. Occasionally the freaks would surface, register their excitement by shrieking, shaking their cages, or otherwise clamoring…but very quickly the air would stifle them, weighing their heads and confusing their impulses. The atmosphere grew heavier by the minute. And, when night rolled over the carriages, the rain came down in sheets.

Leaning ******* the woman’s cage, master slipped his gnarly hand between the bars and slowly rubbed her belly in a counter-clockwise motion, his sinister features soft in the candle’s light. And he told, in nonsensical cooing whispers, of a lovingly secure and impossibly prosperous future.
How large and promising that belly had become! And how wise was he, the cunning and aggressive master, in his far-reaching business decisions. He turned his affection to the motionless gaping brute; stroked the battlefield of its face, tossed in another lizard. Master rubbed his palms together. From now on it was extra lizards daily, for both the woman and her mate. He remarked, with only passing interest, his star player’s continuing indifference. They didn’t know each other, didn’t need each other.
There’d been months of shows on the road now, broken only recently by this sensible rejoining of the mates at conception.
Hero’s horrible disfigurement was unquestionably top draw; he was a guaranteed crowd pleaser at every stop. So now master looked him straight in the eyes and smiled. He held the reeking candle high. The carriage was absolutely silent. Master smiled again, rose to his feet, tiptoed away.
Hero watched him retreat until the flap had fallen. He returned to his peephole, saw master round the rear of the carriage and slowly crunch by. For a time he could see nothing but the half-shapes of junipers bathed in starlight. There was a tentative movement to his right and a large shape came to obstruct his view.
The horse stood for a minute in profile. It slowly brought its head to rest against the carriage, applying its eye to the peephole. Hero froze. The two remained fixed, eyeball to eyeball, while a breeze played odd tunes on the outer wall’s hanging paraphernalia. The horse’s big dark eye rolled nervously. A long moment passed. Slowly the horse backed off. It stood uncertainly for a while, staring at the peephole. Then it quietly moved away.

Master kicked the cages one by one, left hand and right, as he slowly made his way down the aisle. Into each cage he delivered a personalized warning in passing—a growl, a hiss, a bark—but he was quickly losing control. Animal electricity hopscotched the carriage, cage to cage, ceiling to floor, front to rear and back again. Master froze. Much more of this excitement, he feared, could seriously agitate the woman—with grave consequences for master.
She was splayed on her back, in labor’s throes, her ankles and wrists bound to the long cage. Hero had been removed to give her room, and now sat hunched atop the snake woman’s cage, two men holding him by the throat and legs.
Master gnashed and snarled, listening to the woman scream, watching her stupid round head bounce up and down and back and forth. He knew it! He’d been suckered, hoodwinked, scammed—ripped off like a common rube. The woman was too ******* to handle even something as natural as childbirth. Still…it was too late to second-guess himself—all these months he’d been patient—he’d been supportive and vigilant and now he would not be denied. He flogged one of the men to alleviate his tension.
The blue lady was very slowly, very dramatically arching her spine. Master wiped the sweat from his eyes. When the bars were pleating her big round belly, her shoulders began drumming on the straw-strewn floor.
Master screamed one very colorful expletive.
A razor silence came over the carriage. Not a body moved or breathed.
At last two men tiptoed around their purpling master and leaned into the cage. One obediently ****** a foot between the bars. He pushed ******* her right knee while using a hand to grip the left knee, spreading her legs wide. The other man drew a broad leather strap between her teeth. After lifting the woman’s head he pulled the strap behind her neck, knotted it to make a gag, and yanked a skin sack over her face. He looked up anxiously. Master licked his lips and nodded. The man made a fist and frantically punched the woman’s face until her muffled screams ceased. She moaned gently throughout her contractions.
Master genuflected, brought a spitting candle in tight, and took a deep breath. As he raised his hand the candle’s light bounced off his knife’s chipped and scored eleven-inch blade. Master swore and reached down carefully. He flicked his wrist twice and the menagerie went mad.

The child was a tremendous disappointment.
Master had eagerly anticipated an infant ******* and deformed; something embracing the best qualities of its parents. He had even designed a special cage that could be expanded by degrees as the spawn developed. There also remained the tantalizing option of a family display, though such an undertaking would require the eventual construction of a structure even larger than the cage its parents now shared. Master anguished over the logistics, knowing it would break his heart to have to cut one of his jewels’ throats just to make room for a growing child. Nights he would slowly pace the carriage with all the possessiveness of a jealous suitor, one hand maneuvering a sputtering candle, the other tenderly rapping his whip’s **** against each visited cage.
But the boy was a flawless specimen; a beautiful, undemanding baby. From the moment master angrily tossed the placenta he felt cheated, even betrayed. He grimaced as it peaceably took to its mother’s breast, despite the surrounding horrors. Master hated it, immediately and entirely. The ****** thing was so docile it was almost charming. He drew his knife and was just reaching down, when an overwhelming sense of dread shook him like a rat in the jaws of a mastiff. Sweat poured down his squat, pig-tailed nape. He knew he would live to regret it, but decided to not cut the child’s throat right away. It was the oddest feeling. His knife hand had trembled for the first time in his life, and he had found himself momentarily contemplating right and wrong at the outset of a perfectly simple and commonplace procedure. That was it, then. His business instincts were letting him know there was a good, albeit unknowable, reason to let the sweet baby live. Master left the carriage anxiously, muttering in his ambivalence.
The boy grew to embody his worst expectations. Not only was it a poorly oriented child, clinging to its father rather than its master almost from the moment of weaning, but it soon proved a lousy draw with the patrons. Those who paid to view the child dangling in its special cage inevitably departed unsatisfied, some vocalizing, strangely, an acute sense of shame. So once again master entered the carriage with his knife hand steady, and once again he exited trembling, his heart in his throat and his soul in a whirl. He whipped the dwarf savagely before leaving. What place conscience in the mind of a businessman?
Soon as the boy could walk, master put him to work fetching and feeding. But the brat was slothful in his chores, preferring to hang around his family’s cage while staring wistfully at his father. For their part, the parents were wholly disinterested. Master would fume while Hero gazed for hours out his peephole—even as the mother lolled, perpetually ill. Sometimes that accursed woman’s condition riled poor master to no end. She could teeter at death’s door for months at a time, her body changing hues to the fascination of customers, only to bounce back with a hardiness that was of interest to no one. But at the peak of her performances the blue lady could really hold a crowd. Master produced an entire outdoors extravaganza around her:  within concentric rings of raging torches his men would slowly strip her naked before wild audiences, then allow the dwarf and albino to take her while the leopard strained against a gaily festooned chain. Master circulated his crew through the crowds to encourage his patrons’ cult-like behavior of breath-holding and fainting. No getting around it:  the customers were crazy about her—village to village, master’s Bactrian vanguard’s colorful robes shouted her approaching fame. And Hero’s popularity continued to soar. Many were the nights when master, pacing the perimeter, wondered just what devilry could have produced the lovely boy.
Overall, Hero remained his master’s favorite conceit and hottest property. Part of the little brute’s appeal was, of course, his exoticness. And certainly the ugliness arising from his deformity was compelling…but there was a detachedness about him that fascinated every soul with a fistful of copper cash coins. Whether they ****** him, cudgeled him, or spat in his face, he remained unflappable, staring only at the aching sky. Though many would leave uneasy, master noted with deep satisfaction that they almost invariably returned.
The boy soon evinced an amazing affinity for animals. No matter how agitated an ox or horse became, the child could pacify it with one hand on a lowered brow. This was a source of endless fascination for the crew. Wagers were made. The boy was pitted against oxen whipped to a frenzy. But they would not harm him; they would rather go prostrate and take the lash. Master tried to work this knack into a viable act, but his patrons just weren’t buying. They wanted freaks.
When the lad was a mere five years old, master had him trained in the peripheral art of the pickpocket. The boy worked well alone, and had all the makings of a fine little flimflam artist. Master sighed, his chronic nightmares a thing of the past. As ever, his business instincts were guiding him well.
Then late one afternoon he found the boy squatting outside his parents’ cage. The boy had done the unthinkable:  he had deposited his day’s pickings at the feet of his father instead of bringing the ***** to master. Master flew into a rage and raised his whip to give the little traitor the lashing he deserved. But before he could deliver a single stroke his other hand shot to his chest and he staggered back against the albino’s cage. He blinked down at the boy, who regarded him steadily while scooping the plunder into a little pile.
From that day on the boy placed whatever he could get his hands on at his father’s feet. As time passed he became ever more adroit at thievery, growing into a youngster both admired and despised by master and his crew; admired because theft was a cinch for him, despised because they were all that much lighter in their possessions.
Now, for eleven long years the strange little train had bounced along, sometimes camping outside villages for months, occasionally pausing on connecting roads. The show traversed the heart of Manchuria, skirted the Gobi in the north, and so eventually crossed almost the entire width of Mongolia before proceeding north to the confluence of the rivers Yenisey and Ob’. Much silver and copper had come to master’s coffer, much fame to his name, but he now sat looking over a vast, unmapped Siberian wilderness. The mostly nomadic characters they’d been encountering spoke in tongues unfamiliar even to his personal valet-translator-accountant, and the tone of these nomads had been unmistakably hostile.
Master huddled surlily under a canopy of sopping hides. Night was falling hard during a merciless rain, the wind was picking up, and his supplies coach was bogged in a growing sea of mud. At that moment he accepted the whole end-of-the-line concept, and knew he wasn’t going anywhere but back. And when he got back he was going to shine! He jumped from the coach.
The earth took his weight for a heartbeat—and he was up to his chin in muck, splashing about on his hands and knees, sliding forward on his palms and toes. He did a belly flop into a rain-filled depression and churned to his feet with the devil in his eyes. Wallowing in mud and bile, master stomped to the supplies coach and kicked wildly at the stuck rear wheels.
Somewhere between kicks he lost it completely.
Master broke for his whip. One minute he was blindly lashing his men, the next he’d succumbed to a mindless ferocity. He thrashed about like a berserker; whipping the beasts, the coach, the very night. His men were scarcely able to move in all that mud, but their dread of his savagery kept them hopping. They gathered as one and shoved the coach recklessly; slipping, splashing, shouting. A minute later, three lay splayed underfoot, but the mired wheel had been freed.
Throughout all this the oxen had swayed nervously, while the horses softly tramped their hooves in place. Master had his men turn the oxen about until the rickety train was pointing dead east. He checked the hitches and personally applied the lash. The oxen didn’t budge. Master swore and wiped the rain from his eyes. He had the horses hitched ahead of the oxen, but they were even less obliging. Master flew into a spectacular rage. His men, fearing for their lives, ran liberally with the lash.
The swaying of oxen picked up until the entire train of carriages was rocking. Yet the oxen could not, would not be compelled, under any amount of prodding, to take an eastward step. Master looked around in exasperation.
The night had gone insane.
Horses were fighting hitches, oxen walking on fire.
Master cursed the rain and mud and lashed all the harder. His men, seeking to please, whipped maniacally until the horses and both lead oxen broke their hitches and bolted west. The men immediately embraced the rear oxen, but the hitches shattered and the beasts stormed off. The remaining horses blew it, kicking at everything and nothing.
Inside the long carriage all was chaos. The albino was neighing and screaming, the aged leopard spinning in its cage. Hero stared out his peephole, amazed at the blur of figures stumbling by in the rain.
A pair of clopping blows rattled the opposite wall. Three slats cracked. A tremendous impact, and a huge section collapsed. A thrashing, hysterical mare burst through the breach in a veil of rain.
The horse went mad, killing the albino and snake woman in a flurry of hooves. She fell ******* the near wall, crushing the cages. The leopard shot into the air like a rocket, slashed at the mare’s throat and vanished in the rain. The horse reared above the family cage. She was just coming down in a wheeling storm of hooves when something made her freeze. Her stare locked with Hero’s, and a second later her eyes were rolling in their sockets. The mare kicked crazily and came down ******* her left flank, smashing the long cage’s side. She whirled upright and leaped outside.
For a tense minute the family sat in the rubble, rain bombarding their eyes. Nothing in their years of captivity had prepared them for such a situation. But by the end of that minute the son had taken full command. He rolled onto his back, braced himself, and kicked his parents across the aisle, through the remnants of the opposing cage, and out of the carriage. They all fell about in the mud and rain. To the west, the mare stared back strangely as she splashed into the night. The boy wedged himself between his parents, threw his arms around them, and pushed with all his might. Their bodies found a common center of gravity. Fumbling drunkenly, the family staggered through the rain in the wake of the mare.

The boy was the natural leader.
Master’s innocent-looking little ex-student could quickly assess and exploit almost any situation. He did the foraging and the figuring, slept with one eye open and one fist ready. He got what he wanted by charm or by stealth, slipping off at nightfall, returning at daybreak with small slaughtered animals and chunks of dark peasant bread. He also pilfered any bauble or oddity he could get his paws on, to be placed reverently at his father’s mangled feet. Breadwinner and watchdog, he faithfully held the family together; a nuclear son. He sewed hardy feather-lined cloaks of reindeer hide, and turned a cache of marmot pelts into a kind of side-slung backpack. He was doting nurse during his mother’s episodes, and unbending apportioner of calories in lean times. Dauntless when it meant crossing mighty rivers, relentless when it came to finding mountain passes. But the endless marching, the unreliable diet, and the countless predators made the three wanderers lean, haggard moving targets. There were times when the little lamp of family was all but extinguished, and long stands in places that seemed absolutely impassable. Still, the boy would work things out. He would stoop to any level to feed Hero, and for a stranger to threaten his father was to summon a psychotic, unyielding monster. He was both spear and shield.
The toughest job of all was maintaining a tight unit, meaning he was forced to become a hard-nosed ******* whenever his father was ready to wander off, which always seemed to be whenever the mother was hurting most. She’d become a tremendous impediment to Hero’s compulsion, and therefore her son’s chief nemesis. It wasn’t a big-picture concern anyway; the writing was on the wall. The blue lady’s attacks were increasing spectacularly on the steppe; her world had always been an enclosure of some kind, and the great horizon was proving just too much. Perhaps these intense affairs served as links to Hero’s suppressed memories, for at the onset of each attack he’d turn and hike, and then only exhaustion could curb him. The boy would press his mother on, dragging, shoving, and smacking—he could be mean when necessary, and though circumstances had made him the nucleus, their worlds unquestionably revolved around Hero. Where he sat, they sat. When he rose, they did the same. In this manner they marched for years across the vast steppes, single-file—father, mother, and son, respectively—unmolested, lacking possessions, always following the sun. Long before they could be measured they had drifted into obscurity.
The woman’s end came quickly and dramatically, in a rocky little depression on a half-frozen field. One moment she was responsive to her son’s prompts, the next she was flat on her back, her eyelids fluttering. That night she leapt from fever to chill, from alertness to stupor. The boy, squatting beside their campfire, watched her face and hands run cadaver-blue to fish belly-pale and back again. While he was staring her eyes popped open and her hands came scrabbling. He sweated through the clawing embrace until he could bear it no longer. He oozed out and ran down to fetch his father.
When they got back Hero watched incuriously for a while. His mate’s face was scrunched up and her skin the color of sapphires. She wasn’t breathing.
His gaze became glassy, his eyes returned to the night. As he rose the boy immediately grabbed an arm. Neither moved for minutes. When the boy at last relinquished, his father casually stumbled off.
Strange things were going on in Hero’s world. Some days he would notice how animals regarded him oddly, in a manner that seemed almost personal. He found, for instance, that particular creatures were recognizable even over great distances. A number of times he would sit with one in a stare-down, waiting patiently, until the animal’s natural disposition caused it to bolt. Though the meaning of these encounters was way over his head, he would watch, and he would listen.
In time he noticed an increasing skittishness in some of these familiar creatures. Something had them spooked. He then observed a number of lean gray wolves moving in and out of the picture with an air of complete indifference:  these wolves weren’t hunting; they were loitering—lounging in the grass, lackadaisically padding to the rear, filing by slowly in the distance. Once in a while a lounger would raise its head, yawn cavernously, and drop back out of sight. So unobtrusive was their behavior that even Hero’s ever-vigilant son began to take them for granted. They paused where the family paused, and halted whenever the woman broke down. Perfectly camouflaged by the gray boulders and dire sky, they were completely forgotten in the drama of her passing.
There were other, far subtler events existing for Hero’s senses alone. He could perceive patterns in everything around him; in the manner vegetation gave way wherever his heart was leading, in the way so many animals appeared to be not merely mirroring, but making his course. And wind, rain, running water:  these phenomena had voices. Yet not for everybody. No one—not his mate, not his son, not another soul on the planet could hear this call, for they were all of a sort. They were static, they were temporal. Hero couldn’t have cared less about the lives of his family, or about the mundane goings-on in the encampments and small tribes they skirted. Such beings lived in a world that was defined by the moment. They shouted, they banged, they clamored.
But west—west was music.
For his boy, once again watching Hero shamble off, the moment of truth had arrived. He looked back down, at his mother’s death mask being remade by the dying light of their campfire. As the flames dwindled he could have sworn he saw shadows creep into the wells of her eyes, while others, crawling up around her jawline, drew her bluing lips like purse strings. He hopped to his feet and ran for another handful of tinder. When their little fire provided enough light he dropped to his knees and looked again.
She was sinking right before his eyes, every aspect of her expression in collapse. The boy watched clinically, fascinated. As the flames began to sputter he thought he could see large purple bruises spreading across her cheeks like the seeping limbs of overflowing pools. He bent closer.
From deep in the night came the longest, the leanest, the saddest wail he’d ever heard. He turned to see the starlit ghost of his father, facing away, staring at a low barren hill. Uncountable stars embroidered the spot. The boy made out a low shape moving along the hilltop, cutting off patches of stars as it passed.
The wolf howled again; a mournful, spiraling cry to nowhere and nothing. Hero’s head notched upward. He began to hike.
Halfway to his feet the boy stopped dead.
It took a minute to sense why he’d frozen in place, and a good while longer for his heart to quit pounding. He was aware of a nervous padding, and, once his vision had adjusted, of a lazy stream of eyes gleaming in the dying campfire’s light. The eyes bobbed around him, glared momentarily, returned to the ground.
A massive gasp, and his mother was tearing at his wrist. He watched her hyperventilating, saw her bulbous yellow eyes sinking in a wide violet pool. With a sizzle and pop the last tongue of flame was taken by the night.
Then her clammy hands were all over him, pulling and demanding, caressing and beseeching. He had to pry them off like leeches, had to place them clasped on her shuddering arched belly.
A silky snarl rose almost in his ear.
With a little squeal he sprang to his feet, even as something nearby jumped back in response.
The boy stood absolutely still while the panting thing padded nearer. They stood very close, smelling each other. He instinctively extended a hand, palm forward. But it was no good; his arm was shaking out of control. The snarl rose again, not so tentatively this time. His mother’s nails tore at his ankle.
The boy gently stepped away, only to find himself surrounded by the shifting silhouettes of half a dozen gray wolves. They approached in a calculated manner:  two from the left, one from the right, another from behind. He was being goaded away from his mother; he could hear her fists beating the ground, and a few seconds later the sounds of a nauseating assault and ravaging.
He shakily raised his other hand. Now both arms were extended, and their message was clearly one of defense rather than control. Two snapping wolves stepped aside, leaving him a gateway into the night. A cold wet nose bumped his wrist.
Screaming like a woman, he took off after his father just as fast as his feet would carry him.

                                                  BOY

Alon­g the great Kazakh Steppe a man could wander a lifetime and never meet another of his kind—especially if his kind happened to be Alaskan Inuk, and if he happened to be the teenaged patriarch of a two-man family going nowhere.
Here history is mostly mute.
Upon this continent-spanning steppe, unnamed communities were scattered and rebuilt, lives blown about by the wind. The only centers of humanity a traveler might encounter, far removed from the Silk Road at the very crack of the new millennium, were temporary encampments of civilization at its rudest—shifting holes of cutthroat commerce existing solely for the barter of silk and spices and hapless souls. Life here was revered far less than merchandise, and the longest-lived men were those who kept their distance.
Hero and his boy hiked over permafrost and tundra for years; their meandering course a drunken mapmaker’s scrawl. Chronological entries along this imaginary line would reveal that they’d stopped, sometimes for months at a time, when the father had grown too weak and disoriented to continue. Hero’s internal compass was long-sprung, and his weight had fallen considerably. He’d sit on his lonesome, scarecrow-scrawny, wistfully scrolling a 360-horizon while his boy scouted and scavenged. Then, for no apparent reason, he’d just up-and hike—sometimes northwest, sometimes along a tangential plane that always threatened to spiral. It was brutal:  winters were frigid, summers, by odd contrast, running steamy to baking. Season by season these marches lost their tenaciousness, and eventually their heart. Hero’s obsession was becoming his demise.
Now, to a hypothetical observer, the ratty pair of woolly camels materializing out of the rising August heat might have been mirages.
These beasts were novelties here, and pioneers, for they were way beyond their normal stomping grounds. They’d tramped for months with a mind-numbing monotonousness, a thousand miles and more; round the Urals to the south, and through the hard territory braced by the Volga and Voronezh, avoiding anything that even smelled of men. They’d been wild camels; ugly, ill-tempered, and unpredictable, until the boy tamed them by touch…but this new pattern was a literal change of pace…for weeks the frail little man and his dark teenaged son rose and fell with the animals’ rhythm, lulled by it, sick of it, dreaming of lands far removed from hoarfrost and peat moss. In this manner they were borne clear to present-day Belarus, whereupon the camels’ stupefying march began to quicken. Mile by mile they put on steam, until one day they reached a broad area distinguishable from its bracing terrain only by its many deep surface cracks. Here the camels’ behavior became erratic; they crouched at an angle while tramping, their long necks oscillating, their noses bobbing along the ground. Eventually they came upon a dingy pool nestled in a pebbly depression. The local brush surrounding this pool was situated like iron filings about a lodestone. The boy hauled back his camel’s neck and laid a hand on its brow. The brute slowed to a halt. The other camel imitated its partner, move for move. Simultaneously the animals dropped to their knees.
The boy jumped off, catching Hero as he fell. The camels stood watching stupidly as son maneuvered father, but after a while grew nervous and began tramping their hooves in time. They slowly stepped to the pool’s rim and knelt woozily, their noses poised just above the surface. Their whiskers danced on the pool’s face, their lids became heavy, their hindquarters quivered as they drank. Their nostrils, having fluttered in unison, remained agape. They appeared to be asleep.
The boy began filling skins.
The water was quite warm; he slurped a palmful and almost immediately felt intoxicated.
He flicked it off his fingers; the water was bad.
Three heads were now mirrored in the pool; the camels’ at ten o’clock and two o’clock, the boy’s at six. He watched their reflections continue to ripple, long after the pool had become still. His face, melting and firming, rapidly fluctuated between extremes of age, and between his own recognizable features and those of some…monstrosity. The effect was hypnotic. He felt his joints stiffen; his eyes became weak, his thoughts muddled…his face was irresistibly drawn to the pool’s surface, and for a moment he was in real peril of drowning. He ****** his head aside and creaked to his feet.
Where the camels had knelt were only the prints of their bellies and knees. In the distance they could be seen galloping all-out for the horizon, right back the way they’d come. The boy watched until they were swallowed by their dust, and when he turned around his father was long gone.
Now he knew it was all just a matter of time.
And sure enough, after eleven more days of feebly staggering along, Hero completely ran out of gas. The boy bundled him up in a shawl, like an old woman.
Sitting there, cradling an unresponsive man weighing less than eighty pounds, he couldn’t help but let his morbid fantasies run wild. He was now old enough to realize his father had at some time suffered severe head trauma, and honest enough to accept that the man was rapidly approaching a vegetative state. This understanding accompanied him like a shadow, and that night he questioned, for the very first time, his own convoluted rationale.
He was just beginning to sense that his will was not his own.
He built a semi-permanent camp west of the Desna and foraged in a tight spiral, always returning in a straight line. Some days he came back feeling uneasy, sensing another presence. Then it was every other day. It bugged him to no end. At last, when it became every day, he hauled his father to his feet and began a resolute march to the west.
Again he became anxious, and after only a dozen yards.
He turned slowly while hunching, certain something bulky had just dropped out of sight. Nothing looked suspicious, everything looked suspicious. He walked Hero some more, occasionally peering back over his shoulder. There was…something.
He whirled:  only masses of rock and high brush. Yet, when he really strained his eyes, he was sure, pretty sure, that he could make out a large crouching body continuous with the rocks. Heart in his throat, he began a slow steady creep, only to pause, positive the bulge, whatever it was, had shifted in response. The boy very gradually raised his arm until it was level with his eyes, faced the palm outward, and extended the arm parallel with the ground. He could almost feel some kind of current passing between his itching palm and…nothing. He walked over to Hero, stopped again. There’d been the subtlest sense of traction. The boy propped up his father in a cloud of flies and waited.
In a minute the bulge drew *****.
Out of the brush strolled a furry gray wild ***, her back inclined from countless weary miles; stretching her neck, pausing to nibble, taking her sweet time. Grungy as she was, she fit right in.
At the boy’s first casual step she immediately hit the dirt and remained flat on her belly, one big dark eye staring between her hooves. Another step, and her **** bunched up. The closer he got, the higher her rear end rose. When he was almost at arm’s length she sprang back and danced away, seeming to bound with delight. But not to the east, as she’d come.
To the northwest.
She backpedaled while the boy came on whistling and cooing, matching him step for step. But the moment he threw up his arms in resignation she spun round as though cued, dropped on her belly, and peered over her shoulder.
The boy was first to blink. This time he approached fractionally, keeping movements to a minimum. She rose just as carefully, sauntering northwest in reverse, and at the first sign of hesitation turned, dropped, and cautiously gazed back. The boy glared at that huge mocking **** and broke into a sprint. She easily danced out of reach, plopped down, and continued to stare.
He began hurling stones, with venom and with accuracy, until she’d scurried into the brush.
But on the way back to his father he could feel her tagging along.
Twenty feet behind she halted, looking bemused.
The boy nodded ironically. He walked Hero over, murmuring baby talk all the way, and firmly placed a palm on the animal’s muzzle once her breath grazed his fingers. She stroked his hand up and down with her whiskers, gave a kind of curtsy, and waited on her knees while he helped his father mount.
At Hero’s touch a shudder ran down her body. She stood up straight. Her eyes became set, her back absolutely stiff. She put down her head and began the long trek northwest, never once breaking stride.
It was an amazing march, an impossible feat. For a little over three days and almost four hundred miles she progressed like an automaton, driving herself without rest, without food or water.
After trotting alongside for an hour the boy climbed on and force-fed his father berries and smoked meat, his dark eyes constantly searching the countryside. Occasionally he’d see a run of red foxes to their left, watching intently, padding cautiously. Sooner or later they’d vanish, only to be replaced by a train of feline or equine pursuers. Packs approached and receded while, high overhead, flocks formed triangular patterns that continually broke up and reformed. There was a peculiar rhythmic quality to this ebb and flow that lulled his senses further. The boy shook his head to clear it, but his exhaustion was deeper than he’d supposed—even the brush appeared to be leaning northwest.
That first day he grew numb with the pace, and that night the relentless pounding of her hooves drew him into a miserable slumber. He wrapped his arms around his sleeping father and lay half atop. When he couldn’t keep his eyes open any longer he tore strips from his skins, then looped his tied wrists round her neck, his ankles round her belly.
On the second day she was breathing hard, but her back was still high and she showed no signs of faltering. Her eyes remained focused on the ground dead ahead. She always sensed the best routes; finding mountain passes, fording wetlands.
But by the third day they could feel her ribs quaking against their legs. Her breath exploded as she marched, blood frothed and caked about her nostrils. Still she pushed herself on, her pace so steady it was almost metronomic.
On the fourth day her legs were gone. She veered and stumbled, shuddering every few paces. The boy hopped off for the umpteenth time and tried to bring her to graze, but she wouldn’t be turned. He ran behind her as she staggered along, unwilling, or unable, to rest.
At last a foreleg gave and she went down hard. Sobbing and snorting, she plowed her muzzle back and forth in the soil, the useless leg repeatedly pounding the ground. After a minute she raised her head and brayed at the sky, her neck muscles taut, her head slowly swinging side to side. Her cry went on and on.
With a tremendous effort she pushed herself upright and butted the boy aside. Every part of her body was shaking. From her depths a low moan grew to a steady bray, and finally to a wild, pulsing howl. She came to a rise, but was too weak to climb without sliding. Stamping in frustration, she managed a few feet, reared feebly, slid some more. The boy got behind her and applied his back; it took all he had to assist her almost to the top. With a desperate lunge she crashed on her belly.
Amazingly, she dragged herself on, her howl now a scream, her head whipping left and right. When she could pull herself no farther she ****** forth her neck to its very limit and, with a shudder that ran from the tip of her nose to the tuft on her tail, shoved her muzzle straight into the dirt and died.
The boy hauled off his father and fell back. The animal’s eyes were fixed upwards, seeming, even in death, to be straining for a glimpse of what lay just beyond the rise. The boy half-dragged Hero the last few yards. They collapsed at the top, and together looked over the cold Baltic Sea.

At water’s edge a haggard fisherman sat on his boat’s ravaged deck, blindly staring out to sea. His was a queer vessel; a family structure built more like an aft-cabined barge than like seacraft typical of that period. The fisherman’s boat, like his mind, had been abused beyond repair.
He’d lost much in his life. Time had taken his dreams, pox his face, hardship his back and shoulders. And, more recently, a brawling band of drunken Baltic pirates had ***** his wife and daughter before butchering them along with his two fine sons, while he sat helplessly bound to the mast. Finally, to further their delight, they’d set the boat aflame and sent it crackling against the sun; knowing he could hear their hoots and howls, knowing he would drift undead, accompanied only by this last unspeakable memory.
But a squall, without prelude, had doused the flames and blown his home ashore.
There he’d remained for a full long day, staring at nothing, his shattered life caught on the rocks. On the second day he’d worked himself free and commenced staggering about in his memories, gathering shards. It was a pathetic claim. He made a pile of all the old bedding and linen and usable cords, and set about sewing a sort of mementos sail. All that third day he had sewn, and on the fourth he had hoisted this sail and been moved to see it billowing in a northwest-blowing breeze. Again he just sat and gaped. And later that day he’d become aware of a commotion taking place on the long grade leading down to the water, where a writhing mass of seagulls was proceeding like a tremendous slow-motion snowball. He’d never seen anything like it. It wasn’t uncommon to find gulls in a group of many dozens or more, but there must have been two, maybe three thousand of the birds now swarming toward his boat. They were making an incredible racket. In the midst of this cloud could be seen a couple of slowly walking figures; as they neared he made out a small man accompanying a boy in his late teens, both dressed in odd skins. When they reached the rocks his eyes were drawn to the small man’s face. It was a foreign face, brutish and dark, with a deep cleft running from above the right temple to the jaw’s left side. Whatever instrument had felled this man had been devastating—everything in its path was smashed, and with permanence. The forehead was caved in. There was no bridge to the nose, the left cheek was completely collapsed, one side of the mouth was a mangled mess. The jaw itself had set improperly, so that it jutted to the side. The general impression, especially from a distance, was of some unforgettable circus freak’s countenance puckering at an angle. It was a face right out of a nightmare. But there was nothing frightening about the eyes. They were the eyes of a child.
Maybe half the gulls hopped screaming on the rocks. The rest circled overhead.
The boy considered the fisherman curiously before placing a foot on the charred deck. His gaze went around the boat, lingered on the makeshift sail, returned to the slumped figure. He passed a hand before the eyes. No response. He then leaned in close and placed his fingers on the man’s forehead. Immediately that bleak expression became fluid, brimming over with horror and heartbreak. Tears rolled down the fisherman’s cheeks as he gasped, shuddered, and backed up the scorched mast to his feet. Thus propped, he squinted at his visitors and was overcome by a wave of homesickness so strong he had to turn away. The feeling bewildered him, for this vessel, and this sea, were all the home he’d ever known. He clung to the mast while the boy helped his father board. Once he’d collected himself, the fisherman tore a heavy crossbeam from the toasted cabin. He and the boy used this as a lever, and together they shoved the boat off the rocks. The wind picked up nicely, and the little craft was swept across the water.
Exploding off the rocks, the gulls shot after the boat as if it were brimming with fish, the loudest and orneriest vying for favored positions directly overhead. The melee attracted additional gulls—they came shrieking in their hundreds from all sides, banking and calling in the oddest manner, until the mass grew so thick as to cast a permanent shadow on the boat. All day long the clamor continued, and all that night. The fisherman rolled with the rudder, listlessly, allowing the sea to control him. Eventually he let go, that the wind might bear them where it would. His sail ballooned but held firm, and the boat fairly zipped across a sea somehow smooth as glass, broken only by the vacillating ripples of bottleneck dolphins and migrating humpback whales. The three tiny sailors sat hunched together, motionless, all throughout the next day, until the black coast of Sweden loomed in the twilight.
As the boat neared land the cloud of gulls broke up, shot to shore, and landed in groups of a thousand and more; a dizzying, wildly uproarious reception committee.
The dung-covered boat slammed into the rocks, shattering the fisherman’s trance. He intuitively walked his **** up the mast and, swaying there, watched the boy draw his father over the side and lead him to a clearing at wood’s edge. There in the dusk he made out what appeared to be a hefty spotted runaway heifer hitched to a rickety wood wagon. He saw the cow gallop up to meet them, saw the boy look around warily, saw him help the little man into the wagon and climb in beside him. The animal immediately began picking through the woods, the large brass bell round her neck clanging forlornly.
The clarity of that bell made him realize just how quiet it had become. He craned his neck:  there wasn’t a gull in sight. He fell back against the shot mast and slid onto his tailbone with a clacking of teeth. His eyes were misting up. In the gathering dark a few sail fragments flew past and were ****** into the woods. The boat rocked and relaxed. After that there was only the sound of the receding bell’s sad, monotonous song being batted about by the wind.

The little cow strode through moonlit woods until she came to a path formed by the rutting of wheels over many years. She followed this broken, serpentine track throughout the night, and by morning was passing farms and, occasionally, crossing broader paths that might realistically be defined as roads. All day long she bore down that ragged track, until she came in late afternoon to a clearing near a village. Here many such tracks converged. And here the boy slipped away while she grazed.
Sometime after dark he returned with a load of straw, a couple of pilfered blankets, and a fat iron kettle. Crammed in this kettle were salt, tubers, cheese, a few loaves of rye, legumes, and a plump foot of lamb sausage. Most of this ***** he’d brought in tied to the bowed back of a huge, puffing, highly amenable black pig which, thus laden, now followed the boy’s every step like a fresh convert tracing the heels of the messiah. The boy built a fire under the stars, filled the kettle with creek water, and commenced simmering their dinner. While waiting, he couldn’t help but note an odd feature of the local flora:  plants, especially trees, all seemed inclined to a northwesterly disposition, though no amount of wind could account for it. He shooed the pig. But rather than run along, it backpedaled in a nervous circle, round and round in reverse, until it lost its balance and fell on its ****. There it remained, a yard behind the wagon. The boy fed his father and lined the wagon with straw. They settled in for the night. The boy must have nodded, might have dreamt, but while he was drifting he became aware of a stirring in the woods. He sat up, saw the pig’s eyes gleaming inches from his nose. And there were a number of animals, some wild, some strayed from farmsteads, arranged in a broad circle around the wagon, their eyes glinting with moonlight. Not a rustle, not a peep, was lifted from the woods.
In the morning he woke to find the pig still staring. The fidgeting heifer, impatient to roll, began her long day’s march while Hero and his boy were yet stretching and scratching, and the ******* pig, galloping heavily, fell in close behind. Each new day this routine was repeated. They banged past farms and small communities until the ruts intersected a broad rocky road wending halfway across the kingdom. The cow addressed this road with vigor. They picked up followers—a goat here, a couple of sheep there—which hurried after the wagon as best they could. The cow stomped on with resolve, mile after mile, day after day, her bell keeping steady time. That bell’s peal attracted foals, lambs, and kids into the wagon’s narrowing wake. Hares hopped between hooves and wheels, boars and blue foxes fell in and withdrew. White falcons, normally solo fliers, whirled into wedge shapes high overhead.
At night the entire train would camp on the road while the boy raided proximate farmsteads, always returning fully laden. And as soon as the fire died the colony grew, creature by creature, and the moment the sun broke the horizon the heifer came to life and moved on, but each day a bit more resolutely, as though straining to meet a deadline. The march took on a sense of real urgency. The cow pressed on with attitude, the clang of her bell more strident with each passing mile. Soon her followers numbered in the hundreds, as animals deserted their farms or crept out of the woods to tag along. Tillers and traders stood dumbfounded, amazed by the bizarre flow.
Once they’d crossed into Norway the frothing cow veered hard to the west. The pace really picked up; no longer were Hero and his boy afforded the luxury of a night’s sleep in one spot. Days blurred into a single variegated flow as the bashed and lopsided wagon continued building its entourage; the riders were surrounded dawn to dusk by a confused and confusing scurry. Word of the flow’s weirdness preceded it clear to the Norwegian coast, so that now plowmen and merchants, wearily gathering their goggling families, found themselves lined in anticipation along the king’s highway. Horsemen went pounding to and fro with news of the procession’s progress and particulars, children ran through the streets banging pots in imitation of the cow’s approaching bell. Livestock wheeled and stamped, fowl leaped and crashed.
The slobbering cow broke into a run.
Bystanders trotted behind, calling back and forth excitedly, while the wagon’s permanent following squealed and squawked between their heels. The cow made a hard turn onto a widening swath in the brush. This swath, seeming to strain against the soil, ran straight down to the crest of a low hill overlooking the Atlantic. On either side a crowd had been studying the phenomenon for some time, but now all eyes swung to the dark and disfigured man and his son, clinging to the disintegrating wagon behind the careening spotted cow.
The trailing people traded views as they ran. Most—at the very outset of the new millennium, with Christianity burgeoning throughout Europe—leaned to the miraculous. Others, just as superstitious but prone to a darker point of view, threw looks of horror at the deformed little man. Yet they ran no less eagerly.
The galloping crowd made for the seaside, where only one local event of any moment was brewing:  on the coast a Greenlander Viking was preparing his longship for the rough voyage home. Impetuous son of the great island’s first permanent European settler, he’d just been baptized in Olaf’s court, and was now eager to sail—but not as a warrior—as a missionary. While his spirit remained in a tug-o’-war between his father Erik’s will and that of gods old and new, his duty was clearly to his king. And Olaf had charged him with the Christianization of pagan Greenland.
Something on the wind now made this destined man turn his head. From behind the gentle hill to his rear came a kind of thunder. Heads popped up, followed by a confused explosion of voices, and seconds later a frantic bug-eyed heifer burst into view, dragging the wheel-less skeleton of a shattered wooden wagon. On the wagon’s splayed frame a man and teenaged boy clung for their lives as the spewing animal made a beeline for his ship.
The new missionary, still egocentric enough to assume his Maker might actually toss him a personal, surreptitiously rolled up his eyes. The sky yawned at his arrogance. At his side a smallish cowled man rose irritably, but the missionary sat him right back down. He then snorted, squared his shoulders, and signaled his men to halt their preparations.
Knowing it was expected, he gathered his hard Nordic pride and coolly made his way into the crowd.

The priest clung to port, gagging above the waves.
After a completely uneventful minute he leaned back and stared through tearing eyes at the distant backdrop of gathering mists. Weeks now…a man of his constitution had no business at sea.
Along, too, were a quirky little man and his fiercely devoted son.
Through his pantomime, the boy had been so persistent in begging their passage that refusal, under the circumstances, would have been unbecoming not only a man of God but a man of the world.
So there it was:  a priest who couldn’t hold his lunch, a witless eyesore who couldn’t sit still, and a surly teenaged protector who snarled at the first hard look. This crossing just had to be some kind of divine test—of mortal patience as well as moral values. Norsemen weren’t made for babysitting.
The mists condensed.
And the shifting shape became a hard familiar coast.
And the longship was mooring, and the crew were jostling and clambering, and the big missionary had booted off the haunted little freak and his hypersensitive son, and was condescendingly half-escorting, half-carrying, the green priest ashore.
And they were home.

Priest in tow, Leif quickly took up the Christianization of Greenland’s Western Settlement, as per Olaf’s command. The mangled little man and his son followed him around like dogs, slept outside his door and annoyed his visitors, ultimately proving far easier to adopt than to shake. Barely tolerable shadows…still, the lad was simply amazing with livestock…and though the youth’s useless father seemed time and again to be just begging for a whooping, his son’s presence bore some ineffable quality that always curbed the missionary’s hand. Several times he’d witnessed the father approached by settlers bent on abuse. Each time the boy had stepped in, and each time the troublemakers were mysteriously repelled. The missionary of course didn’t attribute any kind of celestial intervention to these episodes, and certainly the popular notion of devilry was a natural reaction to the pair’s outrageous exoticness, but…in the son’s company, and even under the sharp eyes of his fellow Norsemen, Leif more than once found himself oddly moved to protect the father. And so the deformed man and his boy day by day blent in—as village idiot and mystic guide. And when in time a ****** brought tales of an unvisited land to the west, it was only natural for the restless Greenlander to buy that ******’s boat and, before stalwart comrades, weary family, and whimsical God Almighty, reluctantly accept the eccentric father and son as sort of seagoing mascots.
Hero was from then on irrepressible. During preparations he would pipe and stammer in his half-mute way, brimming with a confounding anxiety that kept him underfoot and at odds with all. On frigid nights he perched on the westernmost rocks, moaning to the horizon in the strangest fashion while his son stood guard. He positively spooked the locals; they’d gossip, nervously and with bile, of an answering wind that came wailing off the sea like a banshee in labor. The whole island wanted rid of him. And when his champing beneficiary, still clinging to the notion of Christian charity, bundled him aboard with his son and a crew of thirty-five, not a single settler was sorry to see him go.
Almost from the moment they cast off everything went wrong, as all attempts to control the longship were met with some kind of unknowable countermanding force. Vikings were not renowned for passive resistance—they fought, squaresail and steering oar, leaning oarsman to oarsman, until the ship rocked on the waves like a bucking bronco. An erratic weather system pursued them, worsening dramatically at each minute variation in heading. The Norsemen doubled down, and when the clouds finally burst wide, the cowling sea went mad. Dervishes whirled about the hull, crisscrossing winds bedeviled the sail. Patches of kelp belonging to much warmer waters came heaving alongside, fouling the work of the oars, while far to the west a humongous fog bank formed, eradicating the navigable field. The lightning-streaked horizon was a throbbing gray slit.
The longship became locked in a slow westerly current.
Fatigued crewmen complained of headaches and hallucinations, and of a nasty, slightly metallic tang to the air. There were numerous walrus sightings; bobbing flippers and snouts amid drifting ice chunks that came prowling the North Sea like a circling pack of famished white wolves.
Worst of all was the boy’s father—instantly agitated by everything and nothing, prey to some primitive impulse that caused him to periodically incline his head, shudder to his feet, and loop his arms as though embracing the sky. Leif would watch him scrabbling at the prow like a cat at a tree, furs snapping in the wind. He’d watch the boy re-seat him for the hundredth time, and for the hundredth time be filled with an immense contempt. By now he’d acknowledged that it takes a special kind of strength to shoulder charity and tolerance. That brown little freak struck him as an enormous malformed barnacle, slowly working its way back up the prow. Trying so hard to go unnoticed, looking and listening so intently, though there was nothing to see other than the growing shelves of fog, and nothing to hear save the rising, almost hysterical voice of the wind.
Leif sniffed the air, his ******’s instincts nagging him. This was a foul current, and a fool's errand; he took a deep breath and tentatively ordered the longship brought about.
The ship kicked twice, as though an enormous submarine hand had seized and released the hull.
A whirl formed in the water, causing the keeling ship to sweep around like a clock’s second hand. All about them, those drift-ice ghosts cruised dangerously near.
But they’d been liberated from that accursed current. Leif fiercely urged on his rowers, and at last the ship broke free. They made a bead due north.
Night came and the temperature plummeted.
Small sheets of ice converged, drifting between the hunks. The Norsemen, instinctively huddling amidships, passed out one by one in a massive pile of fur and flesh. In the freezing silence the floes bumped and recoiled, bumped and gathered, bumped and bonded. The tiny ship, swallowed whole, was dragged along in a labyrinth of black sea and interlocking slabs of ice.

The Norsemen came to in a surly, foul-smelling heap, lost at sea. While they were still groggy a voice cried out that a darker patch was developing in the fog. The men all fell to port. Under the confusion of their voices could be heard a distant rumble.
At this Hero hauled himself up the high curved prow. A half-light began to penetrate the fog, barely illuminating the irregular faces of drifting ice. The missionary stormed forward and indicated by gestures that if the boy didn’t restrain his father he would have the man tied down.
The longship stopped dead in the water.
The men found themselves regarding a perpetually frozen coastline swathed in bluish veils of mist. Directly before them loomed an immense ice cliff hundreds of feet high. Rising beyond this cliff were endless snow fields, where lean violet shadows seemed to drag about of their own volition. And upon those bleak fields a thin howling wind prowled, kicking up brief white dervishes, leaving a strange zigzagging signature.
Even as they stared, a darker shadow high on the ice cliff’s glistening face began to widen, accompanied by a cracking sound that could be felt before it was heard. With the illusion of slow-motion, a stupendous chunk broke out of the cliff and came screaming toward the sea. It hit the water like a bomb. The thunder of its separation and the explosion of its impact took a moment to reach them. Then, out of a spewing crater of crests and spume, the new calf came lunging, tromping the sea so hard the longship, fully a mile to sea, was swept out and ****** back in like a cork. The floundering mountain of ice bobbed and lilted, generating huge waves which continued to rock the ship long after the monster had settled. In a while the roaring in their ears subsided and there remained only the swirling, nerve-wracking howl of the wind.
The missionary’s eyes swept left and right. Whatever this place was, it sure wasn’t the fair shoreline he’d been promised. Hero again scrambled up the prow, and Leif again yanked him down. This time he made good his threat; he had the little nuisance bound, though he was half-tempted to let him take his chances overboard.
From somewhere deep in the haze grew a soulful, otherworldly call. It went on and on, electrifying the air, bottoming out once the ship had merged with that previously fought westerly flow.
By now Leif’s nerves were shot. He ordered the oars raised.
The longship began to drift. Ship and ice were pulled due west.
The clouds fell far behind as the ship embarked upon an amazingly calm sea—so calm its entire visible surface was featureless except for the faint wakes provided by the ship and its hulking ice companions. To the east a huge fog bank appeared on the horizon, and a while later a smaller bank to the north. Then a very dense one to the south. In time these banks converged, imperceptibly becoming a single mass that closed about the ship, bit by bit creating a slowly heaving dome. Tiny beads of water appeared on beards and eyebrows; in a minute everything was soaked. The only sound was that of the dragging steering oar. The men were now sopping ghosts, speaking only with their eyes.
Directly ahead the fog began to dimple. The dimple became a hollow, the hollow a cave, and then ship and ice were being towed through a low, ever-extending tunnel in fog. The current increased its pull. Ship and drifting ice accelerated through the tunnel.
After a while the missionary quietly stepped forward. He stood with one hand on the prow’s neck, listening to the mist, so motionless he might have been a carved extension of the longship’s aggressive design. Not a man breathed. The tunnel’s dilating and contracting bore was producing an all but seamless series of oscillating, near-phonetic sounds. Leif almost tiptoed back. No god, pagan or Christian, could account for the strangeness of this situation.
They were borne on a course that grew more southerly, and the following day beheld an inhospitable shoreline glazed by dazzling white beaches. Their course held. Two days later they came upon a far pleasanter, thickly wooded coast. Here the current released its hold, and here the missionary untied Hero and personally placed him and his son in a tiny oak faering. He was just as sick of them as he was excited by this promising new land. Once the rowboat had been heaved over the side, he and another man stepped aboard and took up the oars. They began rowing with easy, powerful strokes.
When the boat kissed sand the missionary stood unsteadily.
The first European to set foot on North American soil now placed one hand on his crucifix, the other on his sword’s hilt, and awkwardly plunged his leg into the thigh-deep, ice-cold surf. Before he could take another step the boat lurched as Hero leapt headfirst into the water, followed an instant later by his son. The Greenlanders watched sourly as the two splashed their way into a mad dash for the waiting pines. Leif wished them both good riddance and turned to grin wryly at his fellow Norseman. He must have blacked out for a second, must have been blinded by a shaft of sun, for he found he was staring stupidly at a point midway between his companion and the longship. It felt like he’d been kicked between the eyes.
Everything was dissolving.
He studied the beach and pines closely, but saw nothing of the man or his boy. He turned back, disoriented. With what seemed a superhuman effort he took up his oars. He rowed out sluggishly, in a dream, and the fog rolled in to meet him.

The boy broke into the trees and embraced a trunk, fighting for breath. What happened next happened so fast and so unexpectedly he didn’t have a chance to react.
Three savages stepped from behind the pines and beat him to his knees. They twisted his arms behind his back and hauled him to his feet. He’d barely processed the impression of a wild painted face when something sharp struck him ******* the temple and tore down his cheek to the jaw. Two of the assailants manhandled him into an upright position and held him in place while the third brought his weapon down again and again and again.
All but dead, he watched a nightmare countenance shouting through a shot veil of blood, and behind that image a reeling crimson sun. He lay there gushing while the savages went through his rags. They propped him against a pine and shrieked with triumph, tore the hair and gory scalp from his skull, threw back their heads and screamed at the screaming sky. Tooth and nail, they ripped apart his face and throat and, certain he would die, split what bits of fur were left and let his carcass lie.

                                                HERO

The weeks stretched into months while he fought his way back into the light.
He progressed in stages; only half-conscious, stumbling along in a blood-red stupor punctuated by a slow strobe of frequent blackouts. Days loomed and decayed, nights pounced and were gone; the backlit, swirling gray cosmos collapsed and expanded on every missed beat of his pulse. A thousand times he broke down to die, and a thousand times he clawed to his feet, driven to pursue a tiny, ghost-like figure fluttering in his memory.
Everything conspired to check him.
A bay like an immense landlocked sea was skirted over months or years—it was all the same. Cold locked him in, Hunger drove him afield, that rude ***** Wind lashed him blind, wore him like a shoe, screamed for his skin while he worked his way west.
Somehow he ate, somehow he avoided being eaten; the instincts that had served him halfway around the planet were still vital beneath the abused exterior. His simple burrows became sturdy temporary shelters. He relearned the art of fire, and began to cook what he killed. He manufactured crude snares and weapons and, when his recuperation was complete, paid closer attention to the on-again, off-again trail he’d been following…forever.
Sometimes this trail would call to him like a lover. Other times he stood peering uncertainly, trying to recapture meanings and aims. Then the ground would turn spongy and the sky revolve, and once again he’d be lying all but dead in the woods, while from the face of the sun emerged a vile winged horror, its ugly pale head lashing side to side, its cruelly hooked beak dangling something that glistened in the wild pulsing light…then the fat moon, rising like gas against the icy black night…the feel of the wind:  the slashing of her nails, the chafing of her hem…the sound of things crunching and pausing and sniffing…then the sun, blazing anew. And again that thing, descending, its wide black wings beating slowly, metronomically—but none of that mattered any more. For his mind had quit him, had flown howling into ice and pine to roost with things surreal. In the day his madness might muddle and run, or spend the light stalking, cat-like, watching and waiting. But at night it came creeping from all sides. Sometimes it came in waves. It could gnaw like the devil, or wrap around him like a warm second skin. But none of that mattered either.
The only thing that mattered was the trail—whether it was lost for good, or for only a while. He’d been following it through his episodes, always north, wondering just who and where in the world he was, and trying to shake a ridiculous notion of being led on a wild goose chase.
The cold was unbelievable.
The deeper north he delved, the more confused he became. He grew starved for colors and scents, finding nonexistent patterns in the stark contrast of shadow and snow. He thought he could detect a kind of otherworldly design in the overwhelming number of dead ends he encountered, and, too, in the diabolically frustrating locations of natural obstacles. He seemed to be forever fighting the wind—a hulking, despondent snowman, he hiked face down and focused, while another aspect of his attention floated just behind, disembodied, watching his silent pursuers…leaving no tracks, blending perfectly with the environment in their clever winter coats…not predators, but creatures that normally should have been hightailing it away from him. By the time he could turn, they’d become nothing more menacing than snowdrifts. But they pursued him nevertheless.
And so his paranoia increased…had there ever really been a trail…and when did this miserably cold, miserably anemic crusade begin…his long-term memory was falling apart a chunk at a time. It just got colder and colder and colder until at last, one snippet of a day during one blur of a year, he found himself utterly lost, and clueless as to his history or objective. His mind was a blank, as colorless and featureless as the endless world of ice around him. He’d come this far solely to learn that the only trail he’d been following was his own—and now even that trail was succumbing to ice. On all sides there was nothing to see but an infinite field of glaring whiteness, and nothing to hear but the ululating wail of the tubular polar wind. It was the loneliest, the unholiest, the creepiest sound imaginable. But it wasn’t insanity that made him wheel. It was his self-preservation instinct.
And then he was somehow on his knees in the woods, facing a furious setting sun.
Whole seasons had passed from his memory like chalk from a board. His only recollections were those of a broken, haunted animal:  of being perilously sick, of fearing the unseen, of blindly struggling across a solid-white wilderness. That he’d survived such an ordeal meant nothing to him. And that he had in some indecipherable manner stumbled across the cold-as-stone trail did not fill him with amazement or with thankfulness—there simply wasn’t anything visual or emotional left to draw on. A significant part of his life had been whited out.
But now he could focus entirely on the trail. And before he knew it, the fuzzy area between fantasy and reality found a seam. He began to analyze and plan. He paid attention to hygiene, and kept a kind of running mental journal. Things were sorting out. Yet there were nights when the old sickness would resurface, reestablish its hold, and leave him sweating and uncertain under the stars. Then, paradoxically, his perception would become razor-keen. And so he would see, on a distant hilltop, a pair of scrawny silhouettes, one on four legs and one on two, slowly crossing the faintly pocked face of the setting moon. He would become strangely excited, and thereafter retain crystal-clear images of himself, as if seen from above, hurrying with adroitness through the silent, graveyard-like setting of black and blue night and white-frosted trees. Then the fuzzy area would broaden, and it would be the next morning, and he would be staring at the prints of man and elk in snow. And he would see how the elk’s prints doubled back, and how the man’s prints terminated where he had obviously mounted his guide. An unfathomable glow would bring tears to his eyes. But, even as he gathered himself, a fresh snowfall would wipe out the prints. And once again the world would plummet into white. And the wind would howl as the snow hammered his eyes. And he would ***** on.

A haggard animal sat shivering in a small grove of frozen pines, watching his campfire die. His eyes were fixed. Like the fire, he was running out of warmth, running out of fuel. There wasn’t a whole lot of tinder round his bones, and not much feeling left in his limbs. The slowly heaping downfall was burying him alive, but he was too numb to care.
It had taken him six long years to cross an entire continent, and during that time he’d known only cold and excruciating pain. The pain was leaving him now. The cold was making it right. His eyes glazed over.
Along a narrow plain to the west a herd of caribou filed dreamily through the snow, cutting across a panoramic backdrop of dazzling white mountains. The slow-motion parade was hypnotic. After a while it occurred to the drifting man, in a roundabout way, that he was dying, that he was nonchalantly freezing to death. Concurrent with this notion there rose in his chest a wonderful liquid warmth. His eyes slowly closed and, once shut, began to set fast.
He was jolted from within. It was as if he’d been kicked in the heart.
He ****** to his feet, pounded his fists on his thighs, felt nothing. The breath spurted from his mouth in small white clouds as he stumbled downhill after the slow caribou train. He swam through the snow, hallucinating, imagining that certain individuals in the herd were mocking him by slowing and accelerating, while others glanced back with expressions of contempt.
As he burst into their midst the animals stepped aside indifferently. A few galloped ahead to keep up the herd, but most simply sidestepped while he danced there, stamping his feet and smacking his hands. The herd grew thinner, until only the old and infirm were filing by. The man desperately embraced a hobbling female for warmth, but she cried out and kicked, triggering a panic reaction in the herd. Clinging for his life, the man was dragged along beside her as the herd stormed into a maze of flying ice and snow. His weight caused her to stagger sideways until they slammed against the flank of a sick male. The man instinctively threw an arm over the male and, thus draped between them, was borne across the drifted plain for upwards of a mile, his freezing feet alternately dangling above and dragging through the snow. The herd broke into a hard run, forcing him to assume a broken trot. Soon his legs were stinging. Sensation rushed through his body.
Now the herd, still picking up speed, began to contract, jamming him between his bearers. There was a quick jolt to his right and he was lifted clean off his feet, nearly straddling the bucking female. It had become an all-out stampede. Through hard-flung snow he saw the cause:  just ahead, the caribou had run head-on into a solid wall of galloping wood bison, and both frantic herds had blindly veered to the east; were in fact running side by side down a deep, ragged canyon—were pouring over the canyon’s lip like a cataract. He was approaching, at breakneck pace, that very place where the converged herds so abruptly swerved. The hanging man snarled as he was borne inevitably to the point of deflection.
There came a concussion at his left shoulder, followed by a blast of snow. In an instant the ailing male was tumbling head over heels to the east, ****** into the stampede’s plummeting mass by the fury of its descent. The man and female, rebounding from this impact, were shot to the west in a crazy jumble of flailing legs. The caribou lost her footing, flew nose-first into a snowbank, and came up running. Kicking off, the man used the last of his strength to heave himself astride. At first she fought to shake him, but the spell of the run was too strong. She and half a dozen others went pounding in the opposite direction of the stampede, quickly joined by a number of bison that had likewise splintered from their herd. The riding man could make out their huge hulking shapes thundering by in a blizzard of flying ice, could hear their heavy gasps and explosive grunts. One passed so close he felt its massive flank brush his leg. He peered to his right and saw a black, pig-like eye regarding him excitedly, moving up and down like a piston as the beast ran alongside.
The eye shifted, focusing on the gasping, completely obsessed female. The bull dropped its head and slammed into the caribou’s side, sending her and the man careening down a ***** to the west. The caribou brayed hysterically and her backside went down, but she managed, despite the weight of her rider, to return to all fours and frantically continue along the *****. Again the bull charged, crashing into her shoulder. The man and caribou were launched sideways into the white searing air.
He sat up carefully. The huffing bison was straddling him like a bully laying down the ground rules. Its big wiry beard came right up to brush his chin. The stench of its breath was stupefying.
The bull stamped and snorted, thrusting its stubby horns left and right as the man used his elbows and heels to back away. The bull followed, move for move. When the man collapsed under his own impetus the bull shoved him along with its snout, bellowing furiously. Clear down the ***** they lunged, shoving and lurching, until the man lay sprawled on his back; up to his chin in snow, completely helpless. The ton of a bull butted and kicked, but only glancingly:  those hooves could **** with a blow. At last the man, in one clean sequence, spun on his rear, dropped to his side, and went rolling down the ***** using his elbows for ******.
At the bottom ran a narrow fence of frosted saplings marking an ice cliff’s precipice. He lay face down in the snow, too done in to do anything but **** at an air pocket.
And there came a high-pitched crackling, a sound like the protracted gasp of embers in a dead fire. He turned just as those saplings began leaning to the west, their frozen skins cracking with the strain.
The bison bellowed menacingly.
The sprawled man looked back and saw it still standing with legs spread wide, silhouetted against the sky. In a moment it began huffing downhill, lurching side to side, surfing the snow between lunges.
It chased him through the genuflecting saplings straight into a frozen gully where, protected by a few feet of insurmountable verticality, he was able to slide on the ice between its stomping hooves, downhill out of reach, then downhill out of control—spinning just in time to glimpse a breathtaking vista:
Partly framed by the gully-straddling saplings was a vast crescent of jagged white mountains seemingly huddled round a small stretch of snow-draped pines. The little wood these mountains surrounded was isolated in a broad lake of solid ice. Hundreds of fissures radiated crazily throughout this packed ice field, appearing to issue from somewhere near the frozen wood’s center, which was completely obscured by a ring of rising mist. Above this thumbnail panorama the sun showered gold.
Then the gully dipped radically, and he was skidding headfirst, slamming back and forth against its slick white walls. This uncontrollable plunge had the positive effect of getting his blood flowing. Yet it tore him up. Had the gully concluded in a cul-de-sac, or had further progress required a single calorie of uphill effort, his struggle would certainly have ended here. He would have been too weak to move, and death would have been swift.
But there was a glacier—a great river of ice pouring slowly out of the clouds. The gully, terminating in a little scoop formation near the glacier’s base, spat him flailing onto its gnarly glass hide. He went head over heels, bits of skin and fur flying like chips from a band saw. Somehow he gained his footing, and then he was running against his will, tumbling and recovering and tumbling again.
He didn’t catch much of that crazy run. He half-glimpsed whirling walls of ice, felt a fickle surface underfoot, and broke through an assaultive mist that clung to his ankles and arms. He remembered having the ragged hides torn right off his body, and then being skinned alive. And he remembered reaching the glacier’s base and crawling like an animal; round its sweeping drifts, past its peaked moraines, all the way to a twisting frozen gorge.
And he followed this gorge down; ricocheting wall to wall, delirious, small plumes of thrashed snow marking his descent.
Through a freezing wood he fumbled. In a veil of mist he tumbled down a steep and verdant grade. As cold consumed his closing breath, he fell upon, near-blind, near death, a strange, enchanted glade.

There is a pool.
And in this pool a man lay purged, his broken body half-submerged.
The stumbling man stopped. He knelt to weep, but lost his thread. One hand took a bicep, the other, the head. With a twist and pull the corpse emerged.
That visage…that face—misshapen mask, contorted, bleached; of life’s deposits fully leached. Essence dispatched—a void, sodden wretch.
He let it fall and the glass was breached. All a freak, all a stretch:  upon this act his grip detached.
And the bridge collapsed…one vagabond grasp…what were these feelings; recaptured and trashed…a span elapsed…who was this puckered mass…he hauled it by the waist and thighs…slid it in, watched the pool react:  purse and recover, expand, contract. The glass reformed, now silver-backed…a sudden mirror…the man leaned nearer…saw his reflection, just smashed, remade intact.
The pool grew still.
Within its depth a shadow stirred—visions gathered, some distinct, some obscure. What they meant, and who they were, was much too much to fathom. The glass became blurred.
He closed his eyes, let his heavy head fall, fell back on his haunches, felt the sweat seep and crawl. The air was a pall—as he struggled to rise, a nib crossed his wrist.
He opened his eyes.
Between his fingers the blades poked and crept. Round his knuckles they ventured, up his forearm they stepped:  they seemed to be triggered by prompts from the ground. He shook his head slowly and dully looked round.
There were jays grouped about him, their black eyes aglow. Red hens came running, their fat chicks in tow. Gophers engaged in a weird hide-and-seek. Bluebells and buttercups craned for a peek. Sparrows hopped past and, paying no heed, burst into flight. He watched them recede.
Westward they flew.
Bewildered, he slumped.
Bumped from behind, he jumped to his feet, flabbergasted to find an ancient gray moose near-eclipsing the sky, with grit in his snarl and fire in his eye.
The old moose took aim.
The man turned to flee and stumbled, then tumbled and fell on a palm and a knee.

But there lies a world (so the lullaby goes) where rivers ever run.
Poked from behind, pushed out of his mind, he staggered into sun.







Copyright 2020 by Ron Sanders.

Contact:  ronsandersartofprose(at)yahoo(dot)com
Sorry about the ghastly copy. This system makes graceful formatting impossible.
Andrew Ciaciuch Sep 2012
With this ring comes a promise. You must be willing to accept it before you wear it. The promise is to love me for as long as possible as I will you. To love me through all the hard times that are yet to come as I will you. To love me and nurture me back to health on the days where I am sick as I will you. To love me and comfort me when I need it as I will for you. But most of all when the day comes where all that matters to be said is “I do”  when I say those words you will not hesitate to say them back to me.

Our love is not fragile, it is not shallow. Our love is strong and none can fathom how deep.
Our love is not short, it is not passing. Our love is for a lifetime and it is here to stay.
Our love is not one sided, it is not full of doubt. Our love is open and it is built on trust.
Our love is not for you or for me. Our love is for US.


Some say that the journey into life begins when you first enter this world. I have a theory that there are multiple journeys of life in the life that you live. There is obviously the journey into becoming a adolescence and then teenager (it is coupled with school). When that ends there is the journey into adulthood (can be accompanied by but not limited to college, vehicles, taxes, jobs, stress). But I believe the two most important journeys in life are the ones about love. The first one begins when you are first born, the second one begins when you find the right person. The first one is finding the person you belong with that you love with every fiber of your being. The second journey is simply to spend the rest of your life with this person. And as I have went through both of these (the first being a bit rough to start) I ask you  to join me in starting the second journey of love. I want you to be my lifelong partner in exploring the world.


If you choose to make this promise all you have to do is put this ring on your finger, and I will be yours for life.
I wrote this to go with a promise ring that I bought my girlfriend
Alex McQuate May 2018
Great tragedy suffered,
Impossible circumstances conquered,
The warrior walks upon the field flanked path.

The wanderer's armor tells a tale,
Battle scarred and partially rent asunder,
A face of stoicism that hides the haggardness underneath,
Peeking out beneath the mask of a hardened soldier.

The clouds clap ahead, preceded by flashes of light brightly illuminating the world,
Accompanied shortly after by the rainfall.

A trickle becomes a downpour,
The battered individual trudging along as the road becomes a bog of mud and slop,
The message firmly planted within their mind.

Coming upon the dark outline of the castle ahead the warrior picks up pace,
Reflecting upon what would happen to those that the Warrior helped.

The pace is now fueled by a different kind of urgency.

The rain is cold upon the faces of those that it falls on,
The torn edges of metal digging in at places,
Some already wounded and tender,
As the final hilltop between them is crested.

The gates are closed,
And this loyal soldier is for the moment shut out,
A fist is raised,
The declaration of allegience given,
An angry detailing of the warriors achievements and adventures shouted,
And a challenge of one's path,
Building in anger and fury as the dam finally breaks and gushes forth,
Threatening to shatter the gate and doors to splinters and twisted metal.

A long ago promised gift to be rewarded,
For all the things endured,
Things that could be considered so cruel,
The storm picks up in force until it's akin to that of a hurricane,
As if brought forth by the warrior's grief and pain finally being released,
For the first and only time.

These things ringing out dispite the storms roaring wind,
Gathering force,
Perhaps in affirmation of the warriors words.

After a pause the gate begins to lift,
It's metal screeching,
The doors groaning as they begin to swing outward, and the embattered soldier is bathed in light,
Taking the weight from the warrior's shoulders,
As the threshold is finally crossed.
Robin Lemmen Aug 2018
I love company
In the form of anxious thoughts
I am less lonely
Accompanied by twenty screaming voices
Tearing at my every inch of flesh
Pouring pain into my veins
Crying is good for the soul
They laugh in union
As I lie lonely in my bed
Hoping someone will find me
Bruised and broken
And take me into their arms
Hold me like a child
But you are too grown to feel such things
These voices whisper, licking blood
Carefully off their fingers
Spikes poke at my sides leaving no room
For me to move or breathe
I am slowly dying
And yet I tell you I am fine
For if I were to ever admit
That this is how I truly feel
My demons would take form
No longer shadows but figures
Ready to take me whole
RAJ NANDY Dec 2017
THE TRUE STORY OF JERUSALEM IN VERSE :
  FOLLOWING DONALD TRUMP'S RECOGNITION
Dear Readers, to usher in the spirit of Christmas, I wish to
share with you the true Story of Jerusalem in Verse. Based on
Biblical chronology, and several articles about its Early History.
Though the three of our World’s greatest religions have a common
lineage, yet religious bickering and hatred continues to exist in
our present age! Let this Season of Christmas bring peace with
goodwill and love. Let us all pray together for a peaceful World!
If you like this true story, kindly recommend it to all your poet
friends to read this slice of History. Thanks, from Raj Nandy.

   STORY OF JERUSALEM - GOD'S “PROMISED LAND”
                         IN VERSE: By Raj Nandy
                  
                       INTRODUCTION
After reading my ‘Arab Contribution to Science’ and the
downfall of Islam’s Golden Age,
A friend had requested me to write about The Crusades.
Now the Mongol contribution was far greater towards
Islamic Empire’s downfall,
For though the First Crusade besieged the Holy City of
Jerusalem making it fall,
The subsequent Crusades to the Seljuk Turks lost all!
But before writing about the Nine Crusades proper,
To acquaint my readers with the historic city of
Jerusalem becomes my present endeavor.
For Jerusalem is sacred to the Jews, Christian, and the
Muslims alike,
As their holy relics and shrines are housed in that Old
City’s revered sites!
But prior to narrating the story of Old Jerusalem City,
Let me tell you briefly about its early history.
About the patriarch Abraham, whom God led to this
‘Promised Land’.
From where this true story of Jerusalem really began.

                 HISTORICAL  BACKGROUND
The city of Jerusalem was twice razed to the ground.
Besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, captured and
recaptured 44 times, surprising as it all may sound!
In an era of idolatry and multiple gods, Abraham born*
in the ancient City of Ur,# believed in a single God!
(1800 BC)
So God was pleased and in a covenant with Patriarch
Abraham,
Blessed him to become the ‘Father of Many Nations’
in a distant ‘Promised Land’!
Thus Abraham with his wife Sarah and nephew Lot,
Entered the Land of Canaan as promised by God.
But when a famine ravaged the Land of Canaan,
Abraham had moved onto Egypt on his own!
Having suffered there for some ungodly acts, his
return to the Land of Canaan remains a historical fact.
Through Abraham and Sarah’s Egyptian maid Hagar, -
his son Ishmael was born.
From Ishmael descended the ‘Ishmaelites’, to
become the Twelve Arab Tribes later on!
Next, with the blessings of the Lord, to Abraham
and Sarah son Isaac was born.
Isaac’s son Jacob fathered the Twelve Jewish Tribes,
Who became collectively known as the ‘Israelites’.
From the ‘Tribe of Benjamin’ came King Saul, the
first King of united Israel rising tall.
From the ‘Tribe of Judah’ King David, Solomon, and
several Kings of Judah did rise;
As proud forefathers of the Messiah Jesus Christ!
Thus in Judaism both the Arabs and the Christians
find a common lineage;
Yet unfortunately bitter differences continue to
exist even in our present age!
NOTES: Canaan was the ancient name of a large & prosperous
country (at times independent, at others a territory to Egypt),
which roughly corresponds to present day Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Israel. Canaan
was also known as ‘Phoenicia’ between 3200 BC & 539 BC. # Ur = an important
Sumerian city-state in ancient Mesopotamia.


           ORIGINS OF JERUSALEM
Jerusalem has been hailed by many names,
Gets mentioned as ‘Rushalium’ in an ancient
Egyptian text!  (2000 BC)
Also as Salem, Moriah, Jebus and Zion, this capital city
of the Israelites had been known.
Jerusalem as the remnant town of Salem, is also
mentioned in the ‘Book of Joshua’ Chapter Ten.
It was earlier a Jebusite City, which was conquered by  
King David around 1003 BC;
When David shifted his capital to Jerusalem from Hebron.
In Jerusalem he kept the Holy Ark in a sacred Tabernacle,
For which his son King Solomon had built the First Great
Temple.
This Sacred Ark contained the ‘Ten Commandments’,
Which accompanied the Israelites during their 40 years
of desert wandering with Moses, as their guidance!
But since majority of the tribes were hesitant to fight the
Canaanites for their ‘Promised Land’,
God blessed Joshua, the successor of Moses, to lead the
Tribes to their ‘Promised Land’.
NOTE: Jebusite was one of the ancient Canaanite tribes, conquered by
King David.

        TURBULENT HISTORY OF JERUSALEM
Now cutting across several centuries of its dynamic
history, let me continue with Jerusalem’s Story.
The death of King Solomon (931 BC) ended Israel’s
‘Golden Age’,
And this united Kingdom of Israel was split into
Northern and Southern states.
Ten Tribes formed the Northern Kingdom of Israel
with its capital at Samaria;
While Jerusalem became the capital of the Southern
half called Judea.
In unity lies strength, and in division further dissention;
This kingdom of King David and Solomon now becomes
prey to several foreign invasions!
Jerusalem gets attacked by the Egyptians, Assyrians,
Babylonians, Persians, and those imperial Romans, who
had initially built but later destroyed the Second
Jewish Temple!
The cruel King Herod, Judea’s Roman Protector,
Though of unstable mind, was a great builder!
‘The Wailing Wall’ and most of the ruins visible today,
Were built by the despot Herod as Archeologists say!
King Herod enlarged the Temple Mount with a massive
retaining wall around it.
Renovated the Second Temple which finally acquired  
his name!
But in 70 AD the Roman Emperor Titus, razed this
Second Temple to the ground, as Historians inform us!
Jerusalem had some peace under the Christian Byzantine
Emperor Constantine,
Who upheld Christianity, and his mother Helena inspired
the building of many hallowed shrines;
Only to be occupied by the Seljuk Turks later, who
desecrated those shrines!
Till the First Crusade in 1099 captured Jerusalem, to
provide eighty eight years of respite.
Next in 1187 the Seljuk Turk Saladin conquered Jerusalem;
When a peace treaty with Richard ‘The Lion Heart’ allowed
the visit of its ‘Holy Shrines’ by the Christians.
The British captured Jerusalem from the Ottoman Turks
in Nineteen hundred and seventeen;
And in 1948 the State of Israel was born, realizing
Abraham’s dream!
But surrounded by hostile enemies on all sides, Israel
had to fight continuously for its survival as a Nation;
And now I pause to pay my humble tribute to those
valiant Israelites with salutation!

           THE OLD CITY OF JERUSALEM
Nestled on the hollow of the hills of Judea this city
spreads out on a plateau 800 meters above the sea.
With its Dome shining in the sun, dominating  some five
thousand years of history!
The City stretches 0.9 square kilometers surrounded by
retaining walls between 16 to 46 feet in height.
Which includes more than 200 monuments and sacred
sites!
Until the 1860s the Old City had represented entire
Jerusalem collectively.
But later under the initiative of the British, settlements
outside its wall began confidently.
During 1946 when Israel declared its Independence,
The ‘old city’ remained under the control of the Jordanians;
Only to be liberated during the Six Day’s War in 1967!

           OLD CITY GATES AND QUARTERS
The walls around the Old City stretch for 4.5 kilometers,
With its height varying between five to sixteen meters.
It has 43 surveillance towers and eleven gates.
However, only seven gates remain open as on date.
The current wall was built in 1538 by Sultan Suleiman
the Magnificent.
On the southern side of this wall is the Zion Gate, leading
to the Armenian Quarters overlooking Mount Zion outside;
Where lies King David’s tomb, a Holy Site.
The Dung Gate leads to the Jewish Quarters from the south;
And the way to Al-Aksa Mosque inside the Temple Mount.
The Jaffa or the Main Gate is on the west, with its famous
Citadel and the ‘Tower of David’ built by King Herod.
This gate leads to the Christian Quarters inside, while the
road goes to the port of Jaffa outside.
A New Gate was also built further up on the north-western
side,    (in1898)
For entry of the German Emperor William the Second,
through the Christian side!
The Damascus Gate in the middle of the Northern Wall
was the largest and the most heavily defended Gate.
Where excavations have revealed an old ‘Roman Gate’
beneath it.
Through this Gate had entered the Holy Crusade!
Further east on the northern wall is the ‘Herod’s Gate’,
Leading to the Muslim Quarters and the ‘Souk’, – the
Arab markets.
On the East is the Lions Gate, with carved figure of
lions on the gate’s crest;
Both for the Christian and the Jews this gate has a
special significance!
For this gate marks the walk ‘Via Dolorosa’, the path
taken by Jesus from the Garden of Gethsemane to
his Crucifixion Site,
Where stands the Church of Holy Sepulcher built by
the Emperor Constantine.
In 1967 the Israeli 55th Para Brigade entered through this
‘Lions Gate’, after a hand-to-hand fight with the Jordanians.
When they hoisted the Star of David on the Temple Mount  
to reclaim Jerusalem!
Jerusalem was declared as their Capital City,
Concluding a chapter of its turbulent History!

Since the time of the Crusades Jerusalem has remained
traditionally divided into Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and
Armenian sections;
Each with its sacred Synagogues, Churches, and Mosques,
defying the City’s unification!
Yet amidst the gong of church bells, the call of Muezzin,
and recitation of the Torah,
Old Jerusalem reverberates with a unique religious
euphoria!

           SACRED MONUMENTS AND SITES
‘The Wailing Wall’ is the more popular name for that part
of Western Wall built by King Herod during 19 BC,
Around the Second Jewish Temple which he renovated,
for the world to see!
Today only 167 feet of this exposed ‘Wall’ remains,
which is 62 feet high.
As a solitary witness to that once glorious past, which
evokes a deep sighs!
It is the holiest of Jewish shrines today where they
congregate.
To pray in front of this Sacred Wall and to loudly lament,
The loss of their Great Temple which was once made!
Inside the cracks in the wall many folded papers can be
seen;
Coating their petitions to God with prayers from within!

The Temple Mount is perhaps the oldest of all shrines.
Sacred to both the Christians and the Muslims alike!
For here on a rock alter Abraham had bound his son
Isaac,
Ready to sacrifice him when the Lord put him to a test!
Here King Solomon had built the First Jewish Temple;
Which during 587 BC, was destroyed by the King of
Babylon!
The King also took the Jews into captivity lasting nearly
seventy long years;
And Psalm 137 tells us how the Jews remembering Zion
on the banks of River of Babylon, - shed their tears!
That old song by ‘Bonny M’, now rings in my ears!
This was also the site of the Second Temple destroyed
by the Romans.
Who renamed Jerusalem as ‘Aelia Capitolina’, making
the City pagan!
Al-Aqsa Mosque or ‘The Farthest Mosque’, located on the
Mount, was completed around 705 AD they say.
Has been claimed by the Muslims as the site where their
Prophet traveled ‘during the night’ from Mecca to pray;
And from where angle Gabriel accompanied him to
Heaven or ‘Jannat,’ - all the way!
So they constructed the ‘Dome of The Rock’ to mark
this ascension;
Which around 691 AD saw its completion.
The Golden Gate on the east leading to the Temple Mount,
Was sealed by the Muslims during Sixth Century following
their fears and doubts.
For the Jew’s claim their Messiah will enter through this
Golden Gate one day.
Which unnerved the Muslims whatever one may say.
So outside this sealed gate they also built a cemetery;
Let future events gradually unfold in Jerusalem’s Story!

                       CONCLUSION
Now dear readers I conclude this narration, with some
food for thought and contemplation.
‘Jerusalem’ is mentioned in the Jewish Bible 669 times,
and 154 times as ‘Zion’. (‘Land of Israel’)
In the Christian Bible it is mentioned 161 times; but not
once in the Hindu ‘Gita’, the Buddhist Scriptures, or in
the Muslim Koran;
Not forgetting the fact that God is Supreme and One!
The Koran speaks only of “The Furthest Mosque” where  
the Prophet went to pray,
From Mecca we know Holy Medina comes on the way.*
(please see notes below)
The Holy Bible is also a record of Early Civilizations ,
Supported by Archaeological finds, carbon dating, and
countless excavations.
The Jewish claim to the ‘Land of Canaan’ is more than
3000 years old;
And Israel today occupies 75% of that historic piece of
land we know and have been told!
The Old City in 1981 has been declared as UNESCO’s
Heritage Site.
Let the ‘Spirit of Humanity’ overtake all religious divide!
It is true that History has evolved from the Myths and
Legends of the past.
But it is for us to separate the wheat from the chaff.
I have done adequate research of this Ancient History.
Now I leave it to You my Readers for drawing your own conclusions after reading this true Story!
Thank you readers for reading patiently,
From Raj Nandy of New Delhi .
ALL COPY RIGHTS ARE WITH THE AUTHOR ONLY
*** Dear Readers, I have pointed out in the concluding portion that as per all available evidence, claim of the Holy Kaaba on the Temple Mount by the Muslims is not supported by the true History of Jerusalem!
Melissa Koe Nov 2014
The wind blew strongly. Out at sea, the fisherman’s small boat swayed in rhythm with the waves. He stood up and adjusted the sail, in case the wind blew it off. After so many years of earning a living as a fisherman, he has made peace with the sea – he no longer feels sea sick. Oh, but he feels a certain kind of sickness…… a different kind. His eyes filled with tears as he shifted his gaze from his worn out canvas sails to the horizon where the sun is just about to set. The sky above him is slightly orange – but is dulled by the gray of the storm clouds shifting in.

                He thanked the gods for the sky above and the sea below him, albeit the upcoming storm. He has recently lost his daughter, Fatema to the sea. His grief is still fresh, it still cuts deep. He lost his daughter to the tsunami that destroyed the fishing village. He has lost all his belongings – but nothing belonging to him will ever be as valuable as Fatema. Yes, grief makes him sick – and he has a good reason for that. When they found her, her body was trapped between five pieces of driftwood – it was a gruesome sight. How ironic is it? The arms of Neptune have always supported him throughout his life – making sure he earned a living and yet, the same menacing arms betrayed him and took Fatema away.

                For that, he was angry with the gods. How could they take away a life as easily as they gave it? He snapped out of his thoughts and raised the back of his hand to his eyes to wipe away the tears. His musings aren’t going to help. He has to begin sailing to find a shelter from the storm that is rolling in or else he won’t make it through the night. For the past week or so, he has been living in his small boat, making sure his stomach is full by fishing for small fish and crustaceans. He fixed his sail and began to sail in the direction of a small cove he is familiar with which will provide adequate shelter for tonight.

                As he sailed, he started to feel lonely. He reached his hand into his pocket and pulled out a locket with Fatema’s picture in it. He brought it to his face and gently kissed it, gripping it in his hand. As he sailed nearer the cove, moonlight began to illuminate the prow of his boat. When he is near enough to the shore, he skillfully measured the depth with sight alone, and lowered the anchor to make sure his boat remained in that position till dawn.
                As he descended from his boat, he waded through the water. Both of his arms are full of dried driftwood for him to start a fire tonight. He heard the distant sound of crickets and an owl. He walked toward the beach, heading towards a small cave and entered it. He checked the ground to make sure it was dry before he started a fire using the driftwood. The crackling of fire accompanied by the distant rumbling of thunder brought comfort to his ears. The flames that rose and vanished combined with the smell of the smoke left a silage – a lingering presence that soothed him. They reminded him of how he used to read stories of beasts and princesses alike to Fatema when she was a young girl until she fell asleep in his arms. Those days are long gone now. He stood up and headed back to his boat to set up the fishing nets for his meal later on tonight. He fixed the nets close to the shore before walking back to the cave to the warmth of the fire. He did not know what to do. He was supposed to sail back to the mainland by next week but the storm has been slowing him down. He listened to the rhythm of the waves crashing against his boat and drifted off to sleep……

                He opened his eyes. He did not hear any crackling from the fire nor feel the warmth from it. When he looked down, the fire has been extinguished. The moon was so high and bright now he only needed the fire for warmth. Just as he was about to stand up to fetch more wood from the boat, he heard a sound. Yes, there was a slight drizzle but it wasn’t the sound of rain hitting the sand. It was a soft, melodious voice which was….singing.
“May you sail fair to the far fields of fortune,
with diamonds and pearls at your head and your feet
and may you need never to banish misfortune,
may you find kindness in all that you meet.”

                It was the lullaby he sang to Fatema as a young girl. He began to feel excited and ignored the voice at the back of his head telling him he was insane. He looked out and saw her – Fatema, sitting on a rock. He called out to her and she looked back at him, saying something he has been yearning to hear from her – “Papa.” He was speechless and could not believe his eyes. She donned the black dress they found her in, but she barely had any scratches on her; she did not even look wounded. Instead of walking towards him, she flashed her sweetest smile and started walking towards the beach. She beckoned for him to follow her. He ran towards her, constantly calling out to her but she did not reply. She held out her hand for him to hold, and he did.

                One more step and she will reach the water now. “Fatema, what are you doing?” “Papa, just come along with me.” With those few words…..he felt like he was in a trance. There were so many questions running through the back of his mind but he ignored all of them. Was he hallucinating? He turned to his left as they waded nearer to the sea – the fishing net that he placed near his boat had a small crab in it. The moonlight that shone onto the sea reflected on her beautiful features – her curly, black hair and light brown eyes. With every step he took, he felt more nervous, confused, and excited at the same time.

                The water level is up to their chest now.  On the second day after Fatema died, when he was very much in pain, he made an analogy about grief by comparing it to the nearest thing to him. Grief is like the sea. It drowns you while everyone else is swimming. He felt more familiar towards it….. it did not seem as foreign to him anymore. If so, he is “literally” being consumed by grief as they waded deeper into the sea. He did not mind though – this is the story of a man who desperately wants his daughter back. He did not care if he was hallucinating or if she was a ghost. He does not know where she is taking him, but he wants to follow his daughter to who-knows-where; for to him, that is paradise, be it in the depths of the sea or the height of the skies.

                He can no longer see the moon.
An essay I wrote for English exam.
one hour write-up.
*****


Apr 7, 2012, 6:08:21 PM by ~OmegaWolfOfWinter
Journals / Personal




"Name: Amelia Weissmuler. Date of birth: June 6th, 1920. Test subject number 314-X. Specimen: Tiger." Amy heard all of this through a haze of sedatives that had begun to lose their already poor effect. She turned in the direction of the voice and saw a fearsome **** SS General standing behind a white clad scientist with a heavy accent. The general said nothing but listened and watched as Amy was strapped down to a cold metal table, completely **** with various wires, tubes and needles protruding from her flesh. She groaned painfully, the needles were extensive, and the **** scientists had no care of decency or respect. she was hit with another sedative and before she lost consciousness she heard the scientist, who she guessed was Dr. Heismeiller, say, "Name, Mordecai Dansker, former Major of the Third *****. Date of birth: September 19th, 1919. Test subject 14-W. Specimen: Wolf. As you
can see, Heir General, these are both healthy specimens, as are the test subjects." Amy heard a
rattling of cages. Her vison slowly went dark but not before seeing the doctor's face, uncovered and psychotic.
* *
When Amy woke up again, she was being suspended from the floor, the tubes and wires accompanied by menacing electrodes. there was an unnatural blue and white crackling of electricity around her, illuminating the other suspended tables nearby, the bodies in various grotesque positions and levels of decay. she tried to scream but found a machine unceremoniously shoved in her mouth, stretching deep inside her. she looked and saw nothing but obscene machines and various glass tubes of colored bubbling liquids. she tried sluggishly to break free but to no avail. what little strength she had was useless against the torturous devices emplanted in and around her. "Doctor, begin the experiment."
"Yaboe!" She heard a solid click resound through the room and heard a male scream in another room. the screams echoed for a long while, then nothing. she heard a gasp of releif from
the doctor and, "General! Subject 14-W... he has... Survived!"
"Good. now start on the frauline." there was a large thud from outside the room. "Quickly! this facility is under seige!"
"Yes sir, heir general. Test subject 314-X prepped and ready. Begin phase 1." she cried out silently as the needles burned hot inside her and the tubes boiled her insides. the electrodes soon incapacitated her and she fell unconscious.
*
*
"Phase 1 complete, heir general, subject is ready, proceeding to Phase 2."
Amy felt an intense burning around the needles, and an electric fire through her veins. the machine had been taken from her mouth, but she doubted she could scream any more, as her throat was raw from the silent screams of Phase 1. She felt her body shake uncontrollably as more electric shocks were administered. she was left panting and slumped over. "Sequence complete, the bonding process was a success." there was another thud and sediment from the roof fell to the floor. "Get her down now! They will be through soon!" She was lowered to the ground and unstrapped from the table, picked up, and placed on a stretcher. she raised her hands on front her face and nearly fainted, her hands, or paws, resembled that of a tiger, and as she looked, her whole body was covered in a slick orange, black and white fur. She was put into the backseat of an armored car with a simple blanket draped around
her. Amy felt nauseated
as the car sped off. It hit a bump in the road and she moaned painfully, clutching her furry belly and retching. the **** next to her turned away in disgust. the car ride was long and sickening, and she lost consciousness twice, and finally she tried to lay down in the cramped space. when the armored car finally stopped, she was pulled from the back seat and carried over a soldier's shoulder and into a small bunker. Once inside, amy heard a metal door open and was laid down onto a stiff bed with a single pillow and a single cover. There was a small window in the cell, a drab, grey stream of light shining in her eyes. She propped herself up on her elbow and shielded her eyes from the blinding contrast. Once her eyes adjusted, amy noticed that things had a particular sharpness to them and she had an acute awareness of things based on scent. she stood shakily, and noticed she was almost
six inches taller now, and her new tail swished back and forth along the concrete floor. she stepped
forward and grasped the iron bars and peeked out, seeing a black leather messenger bag and a black uniform lined with white. she couldn't quite reach the uniform, but was able to get a claw around the strap of the messenger bag. she pulled it closer to her and saw that her initials were monogrammed into the leather. she pulled it through the bars and opened the bag, pulling out a small, blank, leather bound journal and a pen. still ****, she sat on the bed and practiced writing, tearing out two pages of scratch paper. She began her journal with, "I am no longer the person i once was. i am something new, something... different."
• * *
The **** captain stepped into the bunker and saw amy, half lying, half dangling on the bed, the leather journal clutched close to her chest. he stormed into the cell and backhanded her awake, snatching up the journal as she cowered in the corner, her tail wrapped around her. the captain flipped through the pages of the journal and then closed iit with a snap. he glanced at it and dropped it on the bed. "it is yours now, Frauline. you are very special to the third *****. the fuhrer himself has asked for you to be placed in the Waffen SS and trained." amy glanced at the uniform on the table outside the cell and he nodded, "specially tailored for you, frauline. he stepped outside the cell and grabbed the uniform, setting it down on the bed. "you may Change into your new uniform and join the rest of us outside." he stepped outside and she was alone. she donned the simple uNdergarments then
slipped into the soft black trousers, after which she put on her military boots. next she put on the black and white jacket signature of the SS. the jacket was sleek and menacing, though it did little to flatten her chest, but that, she supposed, was one of her feminine charms. last was her hat and armband, both adorned with the *******. she gathered the leather messenger bag and stepped outside the cell, where a mirror stood, giving her a chance to see what had been done, the black uniform was a dramatic contrast to her brightly colored fur, and her new black stripes added a fierce look to her. she grinned and flashed menacing white teeth. she turned her body, looking at herself from different points of view. she slipped the **** armband onto her right arm and turned to leave. she stopped when she encountered a high pitch noise right next to the door. for the moment she just walked past, opening the door and adjusting her vision to the outside light. the layout was grey and barren,
as it always was in wartime. the captain was waiting for her along with a small squad of SS troops. a
Few laughed and remarked at her appearance, making cat noises and wolf whistling at her. she glared at them with a bright white snarl carved into her soft face. *they will fear me...

she saluted the captain and said, "heil ******." he returned the gesture, "heil. you are now part of the Waffen SS, frauline Amelia."
"please sir, its amy."
he noted her directness and ferocity, "very well, amy. before we assign you a task, though, you must prove yourself." he addressed the squad, "they are all corporal's and sergeants. you are merely a private. you will gain a rank for each one that you ****. however, they have been told that if they do not force you to submit, they will be killed or sent to the russian front. so you best fight your hardest, private amy."
as he finished, the squad set down their Mauser 98K's and MP-40's and stepped closer to her. her eyes widened in shock, then narrowed in ferocious determination. there were twelve of them.
"Fight!"
• *
Amy took a fighting stance and faced her attackers. she attempted a punch at the nearest one but was kneed in the gut, she was thrown back a few feet. she fell to her knees and clutched her stomach with one hand, holding herself upright with the other. tears sprung to life in her eyes and threatened to roll down her cheeks. she fought the tears back and stood, feeling her claws extend. she swiped at a soldier's throat, catching him right in the throat. blood splattered the ground as he choked on his own fluids. the remaining eleven were taken aback slightly, allowing her to pounce another soldier, punching and tearing at his gut with lethal force. her fur was bloodstained and she waited a moment too late, watching the cavity she created fill with blood. she was barreled over, the wind knocked out of her by a sergeant. she lay on her back, gasping for air as the soldiers closed in,
landing a few punches and sending her reeling back. she staggered back, struggling for breath. she
Bumped up against something and realized it was a bunker wall, she was trapped. she thought quickly and decided for a new course of action, she waited for one of them to gather his bravado and throw a solid punch at her, which was useless, she grabbed his wrist and smashed his head against the wall, filling his helmet with blood and brains. in the same move, she had grabbed his Luger and had downed three more of the remaining ten. in their moment of confusion she kicked the closest one in the fork of his legs and followed up with a pistolwhip. the man went down quickly and died by the heel of her merciless boot. the remaining six charged at her, one falling by her last bullet and another caught a swift kick in the ribcage, shattering the bones to peices. the rest of the men were sergeants, and they began to retreat, running into the open field. she was about to chase after them when she
heard another Luger fire. she turned to see the captain shooting the deserters. each fell, one by
One by the captain's gun to her surprise he let a single man go. "you have done very well, frauline amy. you have killed eight out of twelve men, not bad at all."
she was panting, her uniform dirtied, "why.. did you let.. him go?"
the captain smiled, "someone has to spread you're reputation, heir captain."
she gaped at him. "i am... captain?"
"yaboe, heir frauline. you have proved yourself worthy to serve under the fuhrer."
she saluted him, "thank you, heir captain."
*
amy wrote in her journal as they were driven to one of the Stalags: "my promotion to captain has earned me my choice of weapons, ive chosen a few, two long barrel Luger's, a cavalry saber, and a sixteen foot bullwhip. i also carry an automatic Mauser in my messenger bag. other than a few knives carefully hidden on my body, that should be it. ive become the fuhrer's favorite enforcer, though i feel as if i'm forgetting something..."
amy closed the journal and placed it in her bag with a soft snap.
Amy waited for a **** private to open the car door and let her out, tapping her foot impatiently. when he finally came, she had a luger pointed at his chest. "you're late. she got out of the car and shot him, holstering the pistol as he crumpled to the ground. the colonel in charge rushed towards her, "what is the meaning of this?!"
"your man on watch was late, and now he'll never be late again. and also, colonel, as i am a captain in the SS, i am your superior officer and you WILL adjust yourself accordingly or i will replace you with someone who will."
his expression was that of shock, "y-yes, heir captain, please follow me." he escorted her quickly to the main building. amy glanced around at the peering POWs, glaring at them with distaste as they whistled at her. "who's the kitty?" "what the hell is that?"
her hands fell to her lugers and she was ready to fire when she was beckoned inside by the colonel and she followed behind him reluctantly. "you should control your prisoners.
i find an overall lack of order in this camp. you're lucky i'm in a good mood, or i'd have you strung up for incompetence. lets hope my further evaluation of this... facility... does not make me any more inclined to do so."
the colonel stuttered again and dipped his head, "y-yes heir captain."
she stepped outside unopposed by any. she snapped her fingers and a sergeant rushed to her side and saluted. she handed him a journal logbook and he opened it to the page marked with the Stalag number. she entered the closed off areas of the stalag to inspect the barracks.
*
amy's fists were clenched with rag, a prisoner mocked her from within his confines. his fellow prisoners pleaded with him to stop. "she's lethal!" "she killed eight SS sergeants and corporals singelhandedly her first day!"
the prisoner ignored them and began gesturing at her. she snapped her head up and their eyes met for an instant, she growled through a gritted snarl and was over the fence in mere moments. once over,
the prisoner that mocked her was now on the ground, his throat between her fangs. he cried out once and then gurgled blood as she tore out his throat. she spat the flesh onto the dirt and stood, brushing the dusty particles from her uniform. the men around her backed away when she approached them, and watched her cautiously as she stepped back out of the fenceline. amy picked up her cap from the ground and brushed it off. one of the prisoners called for a doctor, and when one of the guards began to look for one, she merely said, "no, he wont survive. leave him be."
the soldier saluted and went back to his post. she walked up to the colonel and said, "your prisoner annoyed me, as do you, colonel. you have three days to turn this place around or you'll end up worse off then your prisoner over there."
the colonel had turned a pale white and whispered, "understood, captain."
she returned to her quarters and listened for a moment as the colonel shouted orders. "that was fun." she remarked.

Amy was asleep in one of the larger rooms in the main  building, her uniform folded neatly on the table near the bed. she kep one luger on her bedside table and the mauser under her pilllow. her other luger, her sword and her whip were next to her clothes. she was clad only in her fur, as she'd found that the most comfortable way to sleep.
she was woken up by a knock at the door. she blinked her eyes a few times. clutching the mauser handle with one hand and holding the blanket to her chest with the other, she said, "what is it?"
"the colonel wishes to speak to you, heir frauline."
she growled, "grrr... fine. tell him to make it quick." she clutched the blanket closer as he opened the door. she held the mauser aimed at him and said, "turn." he did so without hesitation. she slipped cautiously out of the bed and began to dress. "what is it you wished to speak with me about, colonel?" amy put on her undergarments and then pulled her trousers up to her waist, fastening the belt comfortably.
"there is an important telegram for you, heir captain." she pulled on the jacket over her simple shirt, tugging out any wrinkles. "oh? from who?" next came the holster belts, each hanging slightly lower than her first belt. her sword was another belt, and there was a custom clip there for her whip as well.
"Himler, he has special orders for you." her messenger bag was next to last, slung over her shoulder before she slipped into her boots. ""You can turn now. hand them here." she stepped closer to him and took the envelope with her name scrawled on the front. the colonel excused himself so she could read the orders, "captain amelia weissmuler, once you have completed your assignment at Stalag 14, please make haste to stalingrad as there has been a number of our own turning against the *****. see to it that they cause no more problems. -heinrich himler"
she read it through three more times before folding it and placing it in her bag. she hurried outside, grabbing her hat
From the dresser.
* *
amy went about her inspection, seeing nothing wrong today. "the condition of stalag 16 has improved, heir colonel. well done. now send my car around." the colonel grinned and motioned for the car.
the black car adorned with swastikas roared to life, coming up beside her. the d
Rupal Oct 2014
Alone
yet accompanied
by the sea
called humanity
I walk each day.

A step
closer to You.

My loved ones
nothing but
porcelain dolls,
to be
handled with care,
fragile
so easily broken...
i dare not hold
with trembling hands.

Am I your thought,
your desire,
a mantra you chant,
your creation
OR
a figment
of my
own imagination...

ALONE,
yet accompanied...
Rockie Jan 2015
Fat globs
Hit the window
Trickle down the pipe
Watery and cold
Accompanied by wind
And the night
Perishable by the hot midnoon sunshine
Raindrops;
Forgiven for their fat, wet drips
Of cloud tears
Connor Apr 2018
-I-

Adoration-
Somnambulists cast
paradise magic, allowing a thimble to fall
upon the floor of our private heaven
(a perfect disquiet to our loving)

We daily reveal our reclusive
sensitivities, a flash (a lowered head, laughing distinctly)
Trailing close behind German poets/path of devotion, a second summit of their passionate influence, rippling generations ago now:

(vineyards caught by grasping suddenness/placating daytime/fig & flame/false tower of Babel, ornamental ruin/he feels owed the sensations of an active spirit, to repent the contrary forces within him/myself)

-II-
                      & upon my reflection in the Cabaret of Hell,
I see a gate perched at the base of my wondrous
Sehnsucht-apparition

                    BLUE MOON                 WALLFLOWER

(or perhaps the other way around?)

Overtaken by oscillating darkness/hall of mirrors (memories)
distorted flashbulb *** and anger

until the acts become indistinguishable from themselves/doubly
******* tigers brushstroked in animal blood... essence of devour/temper/
captivation, incredible lips, pulp teeth, pure excitement all disfigured
& joyous

-III-

My azzurine goddess, faced away in
shame, no wonder why!

(hair let down in a drowsy spill of
uncertain hours, wavering in a sullen high, thickly feeling,
the immensity/pleasure renounced for a cabbalist subliminity)

Mockery of the dead dead dog/blind in boyhood/while
curious ghosts skate across the ice-peripheral of our dreaming

I feel love, and horror/a frigid hand who's body I have dissolved-
-caressing my back tenderly
bordering terrific malevolence

...Later, in another try at my own eternal return, I find my comfort brother, accompanied by an overhead
divination lantern..

pounding! At the sun skull, for you (my cherished)
are of high order
I tempt soaking the cloth,
to steer the intention

..missing black mass, indulging instead
on feverish Damascus perfume

Splash ramp
down. Flesh, wailing
vampire/poet
hidden by darkly earth to inevitably
decay by their self-solitude

(descent writhes in the milk of heartache
and cusps the night firmly in his *****
withering palms)

I refuse this fate, and
in Western-fashion
fire down the city worshipper which was once
I, too        (unmercifully so)

..burying his bones in the Scottish dirt

Terrarium hydrangeas, pale (yourIrises) lipstick daggers
slashing in the white sleeve-
red with epicurean
baptism

-IV-

Big bad wolf
banished to his hole,
I kiss the winter fruit clean from your mouth (succumbing to pinnacles of fire/your lost domain) ******* on pebbles, trying to crack through the surface
like a dragon's egg for pride
(big bad wolf is hungry)
We wear away the season, memorizing the newspapers
which are tossed carelessly to our door. Ah, the kitchen ballet dancers are finally tired..endowed to the triplicate beauty
that we individually define (takes a bit to get there)

You/I privileged to ******* Venice with our mutual
imagination,                              owing to Calvino

To crave eachother
as an Acrobat craves the

trapeze
PERSONIFICATIONS.

Boys.            Girls.
  January.                February.
  March.                  April.
  July.                   May.
  August.                 June.
  October.                September.
  December.               November.

  Robin Redbreasts; Lambs and Sheep; Nightingale and
  Nestlings.

  Various Flowers, Fruits, etc.

  Scene: A Cottage with its Grounds.


[A room in a large comfortable cottage; a fire burning on
the hearth; a table on which the breakfast things have
been left standing. January discovered seated by the
fire.]


          January.

Cold the day and cold the drifted snow,
Dim the day until the cold dark night.

                    [Stirs the fire.

Crackle, sparkle, *****; embers glow:
Some one may be plodding through the snow
Longing for a light,
For the light that you and I can show.
If no one else should come,
Here Robin Redbreast's welcome to a crumb,
And never troublesome:
Robin, why don't you come and fetch your crumb?


  Here's butter for my hunch of bread,
    And sugar for your crumb;
  Here's room upon the hearthrug,
    If you'll only come.

  In your scarlet waistcoat,
    With your keen bright eye,
  Where are you loitering?
    Wings were made to fly!

  Make haste to breakfast,
    Come and fetch your crumb,
  For I'm as glad to see you
    As you are glad to come.


[Two Robin Redbreasts are seen tapping with their beaks at
the lattice, which January opens. The birds flutter in,
hop about the floor, and peck up the crumbs and sugar
thrown to them. They have scarcely finished their meal,
when a knock is heard at the door. January hangs a
guard in front of the fire, and opens to February, who
appears with a bunch of snowdrops in her hand.]

          January.

Good-morrow, sister.

          February.

            Brother, joy to you!
I've brought some snowdrops; only just a few,
But quite enough to prove the world awake,
Cheerful and hopeful in the frosty dew
And for the pale sun's sake.

[She hands a few of her snowdrops to January, who retires
into the background. While February stands arranging
the remaining snowdrops in a glass of water on the
window-sill, a soft butting and bleating are heard outside.
She opens the door, and sees one foremost lamb, with
other sheep and lambs bleating and crowding towards
her.]

          February.

O you, you little wonder, come--come in,
You wonderful, you woolly soft white lamb:
You panting mother ewe, come too,
And lead that tottering twin
Safe in:
Bring all your bleating kith and kin,
Except the ***** ram.

[February opens a second door in the background, and the
little flock files through into a warm and sheltered compartment
out of sight.]

  The lambkin tottering in its walk
    With just a fleece to wear;
  The snowdrop drooping on its stalk
      So slender,--
  Snowdrop and lamb, a pretty pair,
  Braving the cold for our delight,
      Both white,
      Both tender.

[A rattling of doors and windows; branches seen without,
tossing violently to and fro.]

How the doors rattle, and the branches sway!
Here's brother March comes whirling on his way
With winds that eddy and sing.

[She turns the handle of the door, which bursts open, and
discloses March hastening up, both hands full of violets
and anemones.]

          February.

Come, show me what you bring;
For I have said my say, fulfilled my day,
And must away.

          March.

[Stopping short on the threshold.]

    I blow an arouse
    Through the world's wide house
  To quicken the torpid earth:
    Grappling I fling
    Each feeble thing,
  But bring strong life to the birth.
    I wrestle and frown,
    And topple down;
  I wrench, I rend, I uproot;
    Yet the violet
    Is born where I set
  The sole of my flying foot,

[Hands violets and anemones to February, who retires into
the background.]

    And in my wake
    Frail wind-flowers quake,
  And the catkins promise fruit.
    I drive ocean ashore
    With rush and roar,
  And he cannot say me nay:
    My harpstrings all
    Are the forests tall,
  Making music when I play.
    And as others perforce,
    So I on my course
  Run and needs must run,
    With sap on the mount
    And buds past count
  And rivers and clouds and sun,
    With seasons and breath
    And time and death
  And all that has yet begun.

[Before March has done speaking, a voice is heard approaching
accompanied by a twittering of birds. April comes
along singing, and stands outside and out of sight to finish
her song.]

          April.

[Outside.]

  Pretty little three
  Sparrows in a tree,
    Light upon the wing;
    Though you cannot sing
    You can chirp of Spring:
  Chirp of Spring to me,
  Sparrows, from your tree.

  Never mind the showers,
  Chirp about the flowers
    While you build a nest:
    Straws from east and west,
    Feathers from your breast,
  Make the snuggest bowers
  In a world of flowers.

  You must dart away
  From the chosen spray,
    You intrusive third
    Extra little bird;
    Join the unwedded herd!
  These have done with play,
  And must work to-day.

          April.

[Appearing at the open door.]

Good-morrow and good-bye: if others fly,
Of all the flying months you're the most flying.

          March.

You're hope and sweetness, April.

          April.

            Birth means dying,
As wings and wind mean flying;
So you and I and all things fly or die;
And sometimes I sit sighing to think of dying.
But meanwhile I've a rainbow in my showers,
And a lapful of flowers,
And these dear nestlings aged three hours;
And here's their mother sitting,
Their father's merely flitting
To find their breakfast somewhere in my bowers.

[As she speaks April shows March her apron full of flowers
and nest full of birds. March wanders away into the
grounds. April, without entering the cottage, hangs over
the hungry nestlings watching them.]

          April.

  What beaks you have, you funny things,
    What voices shrill and weak;
  Who'd think that anything that sings
    Could sing through such a beak?
  Yet you'll be nightingales one day,
    And charm the country-side,
  When I'm away and far away
    And May is queen and bride.

[May arrives unperceived by April, and gives her a kiss.
April starts and looks round.]

          April.

Ah May, good-morrow May, and so good-bye.

          May.

That's just your way, sweet April, smile and sigh:
Your sorrow's half in fun,
Begun and done
And turned to joy while twenty seconds run.
I've gathered flowers all as I came along,
At every step a flower
Fed by your last bright shower,--

[She divides an armful of all sorts of flowers with April, who
strolls away through the garden.]

          May.

And gathering flowers I listened to the song
Of every bird in bower.
    The world and I are far too full of bliss
    To think or plan or toil or care;
      The sun is waxing strong,
      The days are waxing long,
        And all that is,
          Is fair.

    Here are my buds of lily and of rose,
    And here's my namesake-blossom, may;
      And from a watery spot
      See here forget-me-not,
        With all that blows
          To-day.

    Hark to my linnets from the hedges green,
    Blackbird and lark and thrush and dove,
      And every nightingale
      And cuckoo tells its tale,
        And all they mean
          Is love.

[June appears at the further end of the garden, coming slowly
towards May, who, seeing her, exclaims]

          May.

Surely you're come too early, sister June.

          June.

Indeed I feel as if I came too soon
To round your young May moon
And set the world a-gasping at my noon.
Yet come I must. So here are strawberries
Sun-flushed and sweet, as many as you please;
And here are full-blown roses by the score,
More roses, and yet more.

[May, eating strawberries, withdraws among the flower beds.]

          June.

The sun does all my long day's work for me,
  Raises and ripens everything;
I need but sit beneath a leafy tree
    And watch and sing.

[Seats herself in the shadow of a laburnum.

Or if I'm lulled by note of bird and bee,
  Or lulled by noontide's silence deep,
I need but nestle down beneath my tree
    And drop asleep.

[June falls asleep; and is not awakened by the voice of July,
who behind the scenes is heard half singing, half calling.]

          July.

     [Behind the scenes.]

Blue flags, yellow flags, flags all freckled,
Which will you take? yellow, blue, speckled!
Take which you will, speckled, blue, yellow,
Each in its way has not a fellow.

[Enter July, a basket of many-colored irises slung upon his
shoulders, a bunch of ripe grass in one hand, and a plate
piled full of peaches balanced upon the other. He steals
up to June, and tickles her with the grass. She wakes.]

          June.

What, here already?

          July.

                  Nay, my tryst is kept;
The longest day slipped by you while you slept.
I've brought you one curved pyramid of bloom,

                        [Hands her the plate.

Not flowers, but peaches, gathered where the bees,
As downy, bask and boom
In sunshine and in gloom of trees.
But get you in, a storm is at my heels;
The whirlwind whistles and wheels,
Lightning flashes and thunder peals,
Flying and following hard upon my heels.

[June takes shelter in a thickly-woven arbor.]

          July.

  The roar of a storm sweeps up
    From the east to the lurid west,
  The darkening sky, like a cup,
    Is filled with rain to the brink;

  The sky is purple and fire,
    Blackness and noise and unrest;
  The earth, parched with desire,
      Opens her mouth to drink.

  Send forth thy thunder and fire,
    Turn over thy brimming cup,
  O sky, appease the desire
    Of earth in her parched unrest;
  Pour out drink to her thirst,
    Her famishing life lift up;
  Make thyself fair as at first,
      With a rainbow for thy crest.

  Have done with thunder and fire,
    O sky with the rainbow crest;
  O earth, have done with desire,
    Drink, and drink deep, and rest.

[Enter August, carrying a sheaf made up of different kinds of
grain.]

          July.

Hail, brother August, flushed and warm
And scatheless from my storm.
Your hands are full of corn, I see,
As full as hands can be:

And earth and air both smell as sweet as balm
In their recovered calm,
And that they owe to me.

[July retires into a shrubbery.]

          August.

  Wheat sways heavy, oats are airy,
    Barley bows a graceful head,
  Short and small shoots up canary,
    Each of these is some one's bread;
  Bread for man or bread for beast,
      Or at very least
      A bird's savory feast.

  Men are brethren of each other,
    One in flesh and one in food;
  And a sort of foster brother
    Is the litter, or the brood,
  Of that folk in fur or feather,
      Who, with men together,
      Breast the wind and weather.

[August descries September toiling across the lawn.]

          August.

My harvest home is ended; and I spy
September drawing nigh
With the first thought of Autumn in her eye,
And the first sigh
Of Autumn wind among her locks that fly.

[September arrives, carrying upon her head a basket heaped
high with fruit]


          September.

Unload me, brother. I have brought a few
Plums and these pears for you,
A dozen kinds of apples, one or two
Melons, some figs all bursting through
Their skins, and pearled with dew
These damsons violet-blue.

[While September is speaking, August lifts the basket to the
ground, selects various fruits, and withdraws slowly along
the gravel walk, eating a pear as he goes.]

      
RAJ NANDY Dec 2015
Dear Readers, to usher in the spirit of Christmas, I wish to
share with you the true Story of Jerusalem in Verse. Based on
Biblical chronology, and several articles about its Early History.
Though the three of our World’s greatest religions have a common
lineage, yet religious bickering and hatred continues to exist
in our present age! Let this Season of Christmas bring peace with
goodwill and love. Let us all pray together for a peaceful World!
If you like this true story, kindly recommend it to all your poet
friends to read this slice of History. Thanks, from Raj Nandy.


   STORY OF JERUSALEM - “THE PROMISED LAND”
                IN VERSE: By Raj Nandy
                  
                       INTRODUCTION
After reading my ‘Arab Contribution to Science’ and the
downfall of Islam’s Golden Age,
A friend had requested me to write about The Crusades.
Now the Mongol contribution was far greater towards
Islamic Empire’s downfall,
For though the First Crusade besieged the Holy City of
Jerusalem making it fall,
The subsequent Crusades to the Seljuk Turks lost all!
But before writing about the Nine Crusades proper,
To acquaint my readers with the historic city of
Jerusalem becomes my present endeavor.
For Jerusalem is sacred to the Jews, Christian, and the
Muslims alike,
As their holy relics and shrines are housed in that Old
City’s revered sites!
But prior to narrating the story of Old Jerusalem City,
Let me tell you briefly about its early history.
About the patriarch Abraham, whom God led to this
‘Promised Land’.
From where this true story of Jerusalem really began.

                 HISTORICAL  BACKGROUND
The city of Jerusalem was twice razed to the ground.
Besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, captured and
recaptured 44 times, surprising as it all may sound!
In an era of idolatry and multiple gods, Abraham born*
in the ancient City of Ur,# believed in a single God!
(1800 BC)
So God was pleased and in a covenant with Patriarch
Abraham,
Blessed him to become the ‘Father of Many Nations’
in a distant ‘Promised Land’!
Thus Abraham with his wife Sarah and nephew Lot,
Entered the Land of Canaan as promised by God.
But when a famine ravaged the Land of Canaan,
Abraham had moved onto Egypt on his own!
Having suffered there for some ungodly acts, his
return to the Land of Canaan remains a historical fact.
Through Abraham and Sarah’s Egyptian maid Hagar, -
his son Ishmael was born.
From Ishmael descended the ‘Ishmaelites’, to
become the Twelve Arab Tribes later on!
Next, with the blessings of the Lord, to Abraham
and Sarah son Isaac was born.
Isaac’s son Jacob fathered the Twelve Jewish Tribes,
Who became collectively known as the ‘Israelites’.
From the ‘Tribe of Benjamin’ came King Saul, the
first King of united Israel rising tall.
From the ‘Tribe of Judah’ King David, Solomon, and
several Kings of Judah did rise;
As proud forefathers of the Messiah Jesus Christ!
Thus in Judaism both the Arabs and the Christians
find a common lineage;
Yet unfortunately bitter differences continue to
exist even in our present age!
NOTES: Canaan was the ancient name of a large & prosperous
country (at times independent, at others a territory to Egypt),
which roughly corresponds to present day Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Israel. Canaan was also known as ‘Phoenicia’ between 3200 BC & 539 BC. # Ur = an important Sumerian city-state in ancient Mesopotamia.


               ORIGINS OF JERUSALEM
Jerusalem has been hailed by many names,
Gets mentioned as ‘Rushalium’ in an ancient
Egyptian text!  (2000 BC)
Also as Salem, Moriah, Jebus and Zion, this capital city
of the Israelites had been known.
Jerusalem as the remnant town of Salem, is also
mentioned in the ‘Book of Joshua’ Chapter Ten.
It was earlier a Jebusite City
, which was conquered by  
King David around 1003 BC;
When David shifted his capital to Jerusalem from Hebron.
In Jerusalem he kept the Holy Ark in a sacred Tabernacle,
For which his son King Solomon had built the First Great
Temple.
This Sacred Ark contained the ‘Ten Commandments’,
Which accompanied the Israelites during their 40 years
of desert wandering with Moses, as their guidance!
But since majority of the tribes were hesitant to fight the
Canaanites for their ‘Promised Land’,
God blessed Joshua, the successor of Moses, to lead the
Tribes to their ‘Promised Land’.
NOTE: Jebusite was one of the ancient Canaanite tribes, conquered by
King David.

            TURBULENT HISTORY OF JERUSALEM
Now cutting across several centuries of its dynamic
history, let me continue with Jerusalem’s Story.
The death of King Solomon (931 BC) ended Israel’s
‘Golden Age’,
And this united Kingdom of Israel was split into
Northern and Southern states.
Ten Tribes formed the Northern Kingdom of Israel
with its capital at Samaria;
While Jerusalem became the capital of the Southern
half called Judea.
In unity lies strength, and in division further dissention;
This kingdom of King David and Solomon now becomes
prey to several foreign invasions!
Jerusalem gets attacked by the Egyptians, Assyrians,
Babylonians, Persians, and those imperial Romans, who
had initially built but later destroyed the Second
Jewish Temple!
The cruel King Herod, Judea’s Roman Protector,
Though of unstable mind, was a great builder!
‘The Wailing Wall’ and most of the ruins visible today,
Were built by the despot Herod as Archeologists say!
King Herod enlarged the Temple Mount with a massive
retaining wall around it.
Renovated the Second Temple which finally acquired  
his name!
But in 70 AD the Roman Emperor Titus, razed this
Second Temple to the ground, as Historians inform us!
Jerusalem had some peace under the Christian Byzantine
Emperor Constantine,
Who upheld Christianity, and his mother Helena inspired
the building of many hallowed shrines;
Only to be occupied by the Seljuk Turks later, who
desecrated those shrines!
Till the First Crusade in 1099 captured Jerusalem, to
provide eighty eight years of respite.
Next in 1187 the Seljuk Turk Saladin conquered Jerusalem;
When a peace treaty with Richard ‘The Lion Heart’ allowed
the visit of its ‘Holy Shrines’ by the Christians.
The British captured Jerusalem from the Ottoman Turks
in Nineteen hundred and seventeen;
And in 1948 the State of Israel was born, realizing
Abraham’s dream!
But surrounded by hostile enemies on all sides, Israel
had to fight continuously for its survival as a Nation;
And now I pause to pay my humble tribute to those
valiant Israelites with salutation!

                              THE OLD CITY
Nestled on the hollow of the hills of Judea this city
spreads out on a plateau 800 meters above the sea.
With its Dome shining in the sun, dominating  some five
thousand years of history!
The City stretches 0.9 square kilometers surrounded by
retaining walls between 16 to 46 feet in height.
Which includes more than 200 monuments and sacred
sites!
Until the 1860s the Old City had represented entire
Jerusalem collectively.
But later under the initiative of the British, settlements
outside its wall began confidently.
During 1946 when Israel declared its Independence,
The ‘old city’ remained under the control of the Jordanians;
Only to be liberated during the Six Day’s War in 1967!

                OLD CITY GATES AND QUARTERS
The walls around the Old City stretch for 4.5 kilometers,
With its height varying between five to sixteen meters.
It has 43 surveillance towers and eleven gates.
However, only seven gates remain open as on date.
The current wall was built in 1538 by Sultan Suleiman
the Magnificent.
On the southern side of this wall is the Zion Gate, leading
to the Armenian Quarters overlooking Mount Zion outside;
Where lies King David’s tomb, a Holy Site.
The Dung Gate leads to the Jewish Quarters from the south;
And the way to Al-Aksa Mosque inside the Temple Mount.
The Jaffa or the Main Gate is on the west, with its famous
Citadel and the ‘Tower of David’ built by King Herod.
This gate leads to the Christian Quarters inside, while the
road goes to the port of Jaffa outside.
A New Gate was also built further up on the north-western
side,    (in1898)
For entry of the German Emperor William the Second,
through the Christian side!
The Damascus Gate in the middle of the Northern Wall
was the largest and the most heavily defended Gate.
Where excavations have revealed an old ‘Roman Gate’
beneath it.
Through this Gate had entered the Holy Crusade!
Further east on the northern wall is the ‘Herod’s Gate’,
Leading to the Muslim Quarters and the ‘Souk’, – the
Arab markets.
On the East is the Lions Gate, with carved figure of
lions on the gate’s crest;
Both for the Christian and the Jews this gate has a
special significance!
For this gate marks the walk ‘Via Dolorosa’, the path
taken by Jesus from the Garden of Gethsemane to
his Crucifixion Site,
Where stands the Church of Holy Sepulcher built by
the Emperor Constantine.
In 1967 the Israeli 55th Para Brigade entered through this
‘Lions Gate’, after a hand-to-hand fight with the Jordanians.
When they hoisted the Star of David on the Temple Mount  
to reclaim Jerusalem!
Jerusalem was declared as their Capital City,
Concluding a chapter of its turbulent History!

Since the time of the Crusades Jerusalem has remained
traditionally divided into Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and
Armenian sections;
Each with its sacred Synagogues, Churches, and Mosques,
defying the City’s unification!
Yet amidst the gong of church bells, the call of Muezzin,
and recitation of the Torah,
Old Jerusalem reverberates with a unique religious
euphoria!

               SACRED MONUMENTS AND SITES
‘The Wailing Wall’ is the more popular name for that part
of Western Wall built by King Herod during 19 BC,
Around the Second Jewish Temple which he renovated,
for the world to see!
Today only 167 feet of this exposed ‘Wall’ remains,
which is 62 feet high.
As a solitary witness to that once glorious past, which
evokes a deep sighs!
It is the holiest of Jewish shrines today where they
congregate.
To pray in front of this Sacred Wall and to loudly lament,
The loss of their Great Temple which was once made!
Inside the cracks in the wall many folded papers can be
seen;
Coating their petitions to God with prayers from within!

The Temple Mount is perhaps the oldest of all shrines.
Sacred to both the Christians and the Muslims alike!
For here on a rock alter Abraham had bound his son
Isaac,
Ready to sacrifice him when the Lord put him to a test!
Here King Solomon had built the First Jewish Temple;
Which during 587 BC, was destroyed by the King of
Babylon!
The King also took the Jews into captivity lasting nearly
seventy long years;
And Psalm 137 tells us how the Jews remembering Zion
on the banks of River of Babylon, - shed their tears!
That old song by ‘Bonny M’, now rings in my ears!
This was also the site of the Second Temple destroyed
by the Romans.
Who renamed Jerusalem as ‘Aelia Capitolina’, making
the City pagan!
Al-Aqsa Mosque or ‘The Farthest Mosque’, located on the
Mount, was completed around 705 AD they say.
Has been claimed by the Muslims as the site where their
Prophet traveled ‘during the night’ from Mecca to pray;
And from where angle Gabriel accompanied him to
Heaven or ‘Jannat,’ - all the way!
So they constructed the ‘Dome of The Rock’ to mark
this ascension;
Which around 691 AD saw its completion.
The Golden Gate on the east leading to the Temple Mount,
Was sealed by the Muslims during Sixth Century following
their fears and doubts.
For the Jew’s claim their Messiah will enter through this
Golden Gate one day.
Which unnerved the Muslims whatever one may say.
So outside this sealed gate they also built a cemetery;
Let future events gradually unfold in Jerusalem’s Story!

                            CONCLUSION
Now dear readers I conclude this narration, with some
food for thought and contemplation.
‘Jerusalem’ is mentioned in the Jewish Bible 669 times,
and 154 times as ‘Zion’. (‘Land of Israel’)
In the Christian Bible it is mentioned 161 times; but not
once in the Hindu ‘Gita’, the Buddhist Scriptures, or in
the Koran;
Not forgetting the fact that God is Supreme and One!
The Koran speaks only of “The Furthest Mosque” where  
the Prophet went to pray,
From Mecca we know Holy Medina comes on the way.
The Holy Bible is also a record of Early Civilizations ,
Supported by Archaeological finds, carbon dating, and
countless excavations.
The Jewish claim to the ‘Land of Canaan’ is more than
3000 years old;
And Israel today occupies 75% of that historic piece of
land we know and have been told!
The Old City in 1981 has been declared as UNESCO’s
Heritage Site.
Let the ‘Spirit of Humanity’ overtake all religious divide!
It is true that History has evolved from the Myths and
Legends of the past.
But it is for us to separate the wheat from the chaff.
I have done adequate research of this Ancient History.
Now I leave it to you for drawing your own conclusions
after reading this true Story!
Thank you readers for reading patiently,
From Raj Nandy of New Delhi .
ALL COPY RIGHTS  ARE WITH THE AUTHOR ONLY
RAJ NANDY Jul 2016
Dear Poet Friends, our World today & especially Europe is threatened with terrorism from the religious fundamentalist groups like the ‘IS’ ! History teaches us that during the Middle Ages the Holy Crusades were launched with the combined forces of Christendom. May be History is repeating itself once again within a span of thousand years! Do kindly read with patience this True Story of the Holy Crusades in Verse, to see events in its proper historical perspective. Concluding portion as Part Two has also been posted here. You will find the portion on ''Motivation & The Medieval Mind'' to be interesting! Kindly take your time to read at leisure. No need to comment in a hurry please! Thanks, - Raj

               STORY OF THE HOLY CRUSADE: (1096-1099)
                                           PART ONE

                                       INTRODUCTION
For thousands of years the Holy Lands of Palestine on the eastern coast
of the Mediterranean Sea had witnessed,
Ferocious battles fought between the Christians, Jews, and the Muslims,
with much bloodshed;
For a strip of land few hundred miles in length and varying between some hundred miles in breadth,
Which they all righteously defended!
There the Ancient City of Jerusalem now stands as a World Heritage Site,
Sacred to the three of World’s oldest Religions and as their pride!
Jerusalem today is a symbol of unity amidst its religious diversity;
For on its Dome of the Rock, in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Synagogues, are etched thousand years of Ancient History.
In 1096, Pope Urban the Second, motivated Christendom and launched the First Holy Crusade,
To liberate Jerusalem from 461 Years of MUSLIM dominance!
Some Historians have listed a total of Nine Crusades in all,
And I commence with the FIRST, being the most important of all;
For it recaptured Jerusalem from the Seljuk Turks making it fall. (in 1099AD)
While subsequent Crusades did not make any appreciable dent at all!
Not forgetting the THIRD, led by King Richard ‘The Lion Heart’, -
Who made the Turk leader Saladin to agree,
For Christian pilgrims to visit the Holy shrines in Jerusalem and the Hills of Calvary.
The Crusades began towards the end of the 11th Century lasting for almost Two hundred years;
Had later turned into a tale of sorrow and tears!
Now to understand the Crusades in its proper perspective let us see,
The brief historical background of Europe during the early parts of
Second Millennium AD.

                         A BRIEF HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
The Normans:
During the first century of the Second Millennium, Europe was in a formative stage,     (11th Century AD)
It had began to emerge from its long period of hibernation called the ‘Dark Age’!
The Viking raids from those northern Norsemen had ceased subsequently,
As they became Christian converts settling in Northern France in the Duchy of Normandy.
In 1035 when Robert the Devil, 5th Duke of Normandy died on his way
to Jerusalem during a Holy Pilgrimage;
His only son William, who was illegitimate, was only seven years of age.
By 1063 AD these Norman settlers had intermingled and expanded their lands considerably,
By conquering Southern Italy and driving the Muslims from the Island of Sicily.
And in 1066 Robert’s son William shaped future events, -
By defeating King Harold at Hastings and by uniting England.
Now William the Conqueror’s eldest son Robert the Duke of Normandy,
Participated in the First Holy Crusade, which has become both Legend
and a part of History!
These Normans though pious, were also valiant fighters,
And became the driving force behind the Crusades from 11th Century
onward !

                     MUSLIM CONQUEST AND EXPANSION
After the death of Prophet Mohammad during 7th Century AD,
Muslim cavalry burst forth from Arabia in a conquering spree!
They soon conquered the Middle East, Persia, and the Byzantine
Empire;
And in 638 AD they occupied the Holy city of Jerusalem and
Palestine entire!
Beginning of the 8th Century saw them crossing the Gibraltar Strait,
To occupy the Iberian Peninsula by sealing ruling Visigoth’s fate!
Crossing Spain soon they knocked on the gates of Southern France,
When Charles Martel in the crucial Battle of Tours halted their rapid
advance!  (Oct 732 AD)
By defeating the Moors, Martel confined them to Southern Spain,
And thereby SAVED Western Europe from Muslim dominance!
Charles Martel was also the grandfather of the Emperor Charlemagne.
The Sunni–Shiite split over the true successor of Prophet Muhammad,
and other doctrinal differences of Faith,
Had weakened the Muslim Empire till the Mongols sealed their fate!

                         THE SELJUK TURKS
Meanwhile around Mid-eleventh Century from the steppes of Central Asia,
Came a nomadic tribe of Seljuk Turks and occupied Persia!
In 1055 they captured Baghdad and took the Abbasid Caliph under their Protectorate.
The Persian poet Omar Khayyam, and the great Rumi the mystic sage,
Had also flourished during this Seljuk Age!
In 1071 at the Battle of Manzikirt the Seljuks defeated the Byzantines
and occupied entire Anatolia,     (now Turkey)
And set up their Capital there by occupying Nicaea!
Deprived of their Anatolian ‘bread basket’ the Byzantine Emperor
Alexius Comnenus the First,
Appealed to Pope Urban II to save him from the scourge of those
Seljuk Turks!
The Seljuk Turks had also occupied Jerusalem and entire Palestine,
And prevented the Christian pilgrims from visiting its Holy Shrines!
The Seljuk, who converted to Islam, became staunch defenders of the
Muslim faith,
And played an historic role during the First Two Holy Crusades!

THE CHURCH AND THE SECULAR STATE (11th Century) :
The ecclesiastic differences and theological disputes between Western (Latin) and Eastern(Greek Orthodox) Church,
And the authority over the Norman Church at Sicily;
Resulted in the Roman and Constantinople Churches
ex-communicating each other in 1054 AD!
This East-West Schism was soon followed by the ‘Investiture Controversy’,
Over the right to appoint Bishops and many other doctrinal complexities;
Between Pope Gregory VII and the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV  
of Germany.
Here I have cut short many details to spare you some agony!
Pope Gregory was succeeded by Pope Urban the Second,
Who was a shrewd diplomat and a great orator as Rome’s Papal Head.
Pope Urban seized this opportunity and responded to the Byzantine
Emperor’s desperate call,
Hoping to add lands to his Papal Estate after the Seljuk Turks fall!
Also to reign in those errant knights and warlords, -
Who plundered for greed and as mercenaries fought!
And finally, by liberating Jerusalem as Christendom’s Religious Superior,
Pope Urban hoped to assert his authority over the Holy Roman Emperor!
It is therefore an unfortunate fact of History, that the news of re-conquest of Jerusalem failed to reach Italy;
Even though Pope Urban died fourteen days later,
on the 29th of July, in 1099 AD!

                 MOTIVATION AND THE MEDIEVAL MIND
The Medieval Age was the Age of Faith, which preceded the Age of Reason;
A God-centred world where to think otherwise smacked of treason!
It is rather difficult for us in our Modern times,
To fully comprehend the Early Medieval mind!
The Church was the very framework of the Medieval Society itself,
With their Monasteries and Abbeys as front-line of defence
against Evil;
While combating the deceptions and temptations of the Devil!
It was a mysterious and enchanted Medieval World where superstition
and ignorance was rife;
Where with blurred boundaries both the natural and the supernatural
existed side by side !
When education was confined to the Clergy and the Upper Class of
the Society exclusively;
In such a world the human mind was preoccupied with thoughts
of Salvation and piety;
And in an afterlife hoping to escape the pains of Purgatory!
So in Nov 1095 at the Council of Clermont in France,
When Pope Urban II made his clarion call to liberate the
Holy Lands from the infidels,
The massive congregation responded by shouting, “God Wills It”,
‘’God Wills It’’,  - which echoed beyond France!
The Crusade offered an opportunity to absolve oneself of sins,
And to even die a martyrs death for a Holy cause, which motivated
them from within!
Now for actual action kindly read the Concluding portion,
I tried to make it short and crisp!


    STORY OF THE HOLY CRUSADE : CONCLUSION
                                 PART TWO

THE  PEASANT’S CRUSADE (April-Oct 1096) :
Even before the First Crusade could get officially organized,
A Peasant’s Crusade of around forty thousand took-off,
taking Pope Urban by surprise!
When these untrained motley body of men led by the French
Lord Walter Sans Avoir, and Peter Hermit reached Constantinople;
They disappointed Emperor Alexius, who for seasoned Norman
Knights had bargained.
So Alexius ferried them to Anatolia across the Bosporus Strait,
Only to be massacred there by the hardy Seljuk Turks who sealed
their fate!
Thus ended the Peasant’s Crusade, also known as “The People’s
Crusade’’.
But Peter the Hermit survived as he had returned to Constantinople
for help,
And participated with the main Crusade, motivating them till the
very end,
With his sermons and prayers till their objectives were attained!

THE CRUSADE LEADERS AND THEIR ROUTES:
Now let me tell you about those Crusade Leaders and their routes,
For this true story to be better understood.
In the Summer of 1096 French nobles and seasoned knights,
along with Bishop Adhemar the Papal Legate,
Set out in large contingents by land and sea routes, forming the
Christian Brigade!
Their rendezvous point being Constantinople, capital of the
Byzantine Empire,
And from there across the Bosporus to enter Turkey then known
as Anatolia;
To finally take on the Seljuk Turks, in response to the request  
made by Emperor Alexius.
Raymond the IV of Toulouse, the senior-most and richest of
the Crusaders,
Was an old veteran who had fought the Moors in Spain was one of
the Crusade leaders.
He brought the largest army and was accompanied by the Papal Legate, and his wife Elvira,
And later played a major role in the siege of Antioch, and Nicea.
Raymond along with the veteran and pious bachelor knight
Godfrey of Bouillon, who became the First Ruler of Jerusalem
after its capture and fall;
Was accompanied by Godfrey’s ambitious brother Baldwin and
a large contingent, -
They followed the land route to Constantinople.
The fierce Norman knight Bohemond of Taranto, along with
Robert II Duke of Flanders, and the Norman knights from
Southern Italy,
Followed the sea route to Byzantium from the Italian port of Bari.
I have mentioned here only a few, to cut short my story!
At Constantinople Emperor Alexius, administered a Holy Oath of
allegiance to the Crusade Leaders;
Hoping to win back his captured lands after the defeat of the
Seljuk Turks.

THE SIEGE OF NICEA (14th May – 19th Jun 1097) :
This captured Byzantine City was then the Seljuk Capital;
With 200 towers its mighty walls was a formidable defence!
Emperor Alexius sent his army to help the Crusaders in the siege,
And by blockading the food supply lines the city was besieged;
In the absence of the City’s ruler who had gone on a campaign
to the East, -
Alexius’ Generals secretly worked out a negotiation of surrender
and peace!
The Crusaders were angry and felt they were being cheated,
But Alexius gave them money, horses, and gifts to get them
compensated!
On the 26th of June the Crusader army was split into two contingents,
And the Turks ambushed and surrounded the vanguard led by Bohemund the Valiant.
Turk cavalry shooting arrows mauled part of the vanguard,
When the rearguard of Godfrey, and Baldwin charged in
and rescued them from the Turks!
Historians call this the Battle of Dorylaeum;  (1st Jul 1097)  
It was the first major battle  which provided a taste of
things to come!

SIEGE OF EDESSA:
Next a three month’s long and arduous march followed
under the sweltering Summer’s heat,
When five hundred lost their lives due to sheer fatigue!
Baldwin lost his wife God Hilda, a rich heiress;
Now with all her wealth going back to her blood line
as per tradition of those days,
Placed ambitious Baldwin under great mental and financial
distress!
So Baldwin with a few hundred knights headed East for the
rich Christian city of Edessa,
With intentions of claiming it as his own after the loss of his
wife Hilda!
The citizens there backed Baldwin and gave him an Armenian
Christian lady to be his wife,
And against their old childless Ruler Thoros, they plotted to
take his life!
It was not a great start for the idealism of the Crusade,
Since motivated by greed Baldwin had carved out his own
State;
While Edessa also became the First State to be established
by the Holy Crusade!

THE SIEGE OF ANTIOCH  (21 Oct 1097- 02 Jun 1098) :
Antioch was an old Roman city built around 300 BC,
Its six gates and towers fortified the city.
Its formidable walls were built by the Byzantine Emperor
Justinian the First,
And twelve years prior to the arrival of the Crusaders,
Antioch had got occupied by the Turks!
In the absence of a Centralised Command, the Crusade leaders
frequently argued and quarrelled;
Since the majority preferred a siege, so Antioch got finally
surrounded.
When food supply ran short during the winter, both
starvation and desertion plagued the Crusaders;
While Antioch’s Governor Yagi-Siyan appealed for
assistance from his distant brothers the Turks.
He tied messages on legs of trained homing pigeon,
A unique postal service of those early days!
End May 1098 brought news of a large Muslim army
commanded by Emir Kerbogha,
Had set course from Mosul to liberate Antioch from
the Crusaders!
The Crusaders now had to break in fast into Antioch,
or face those 75,000 strong Turkish force!
The Twin Towers on the southern side was manned by
an Armenian Christian Muslim convert named Firuz,
Who was bribed by Bohemund to betray Antioch!
Firuz let down rope ladders for the Crusaders to climb
inside,
And a massacre followed late into the ****** night!
Next day Emir Kerbogha’s troops arrived and the
situation got reversed,
The attackers now lay besieged by those Seljuk Turks!
After fifty-two days of trying siege food supply ran out,
Morale of the Crusaders were rather low, and some even
feared a route!
Now buried in the Church of St. Peter, Peter Bartholomew
the French priest found the ‘Holy Lance’,
About which he had a vision in advance!
This find raised the morale of the Crusaders, and some
even went into a spiritual trance!
For Peter claimed this ‘Holy Relic’ had pierced Christ’s body
after his Crucifixion;
And the Crusading army now moved out of the city in full
battle formation!
Soon after the Turkish army of Kerbogha retreated fearing
devastation!
This victory has been attributed to God and His miraculous
intervention!

                     LIBERATION OF JERUSALEM
After the conquest of Antioch in June 1098, the Crusaders
stayed on till the year got completed.
Though the death of the Papal Legate in August got them
rather depressed;
While Bohemund of Taranto took over Antioch, which now
became the Second Crusader State;
And Raymond of Toulouse became the undisputed Leader
of The Crusade!
Next travelling through Tripoli, Beirut, Tire and Lebanon;
To liberate Bethlehem they sent off Tancred, and Baldwin
of Le Bourg.
On the 5th of June they liberated Bethlehem, and on the
Seventh of June they reached the gates of Jerusalem!
Facing acute shortage of food and water their initial attack
failed to materialise,
When priest Peter Desiderius’ vision of the deceased Papal
Legate came as a pleasant surprise!
This vision commanded them to fast, atone for their sins and
make amends,
By walking barefoot in prayer around the Holy City of Jerusalem!
After a final assault on the 15th of July 1099, they broke into
the City,
Killing all Muslims and Jews with impunity!
Pious Godfrey of Bouillon refusing to wear the crown, became
the First Ruler of this Third Crusader State;
And objectives of the Crusaders were finally attained!
With the formation of warrior monks of ‘Hospitallers’ and
‘Knight Templers’, wearing White and Red Crosses respectivel
RELEVANT LESSONS CAN BE DRAWN FROM PAST HISTORY!
ryn Aug 2014
Street lamps play
As they have before
Dim walkway
Leading to a door

Careful steps
Strewn leaves
Breathe between gaps
Skulking like thieves

Rustling trees
Otherwise nothing
Mind at ease
Heart rapidly beating

Usually stops here
Usually I'd stir
But still in slumber
I drew closer

Eyes on door
Familiar scene
Stood here before
This dream I've been

Up the patio
Door was ajar
Accompanied by my shadow
Stretched far

Tunnel vision
Dripping eave
Door handle beckons
Hand raised to receive

Usually stops here
Usually I'd rouse
Allowed to enter
This time... This house

Handle I seize
Door seemed light
It did not freeze
Hinges did not fight

Revealed the insides
Scanned surroundings
Unlit lights
Stairs climbing

Footsteps I heard
Coming my way
Sounds absurd
But yet I stay

Usually stops here
Usually dream is done
But still was clear
It only had begun

Darkened figure
Descending on bare feet
Beauty light as feather
Ever did I meet

She did not see me
Planted at the doorway
Impossible it may be
Nothing did she say

Walked right by
My eyes followed
Seconds fly
In eternity they burrowed

Usually stops here
Usually I'd wake
Yet still I'm here
Chance I'd take

Stood at the fridge
Back towards me
Under siege
My mind set a flurry

Fridge was opened
Light casted her silhouette
Her back darkened
Curiosity grew fat

Illuminating beams
Accentuated her hair
Like golden streams
Flowing with flair

Usually stops here
Usually I'd startle
Connection did not sever
Continue I was able

Spellbound I gawked
Rooted like a tree
Wide-eyed I stalked
This siren before me

She drank
Not knowing I was there
Stiff as a plank
I was locked in a stare

Finally broke free
Shifted my weight
She turned to me
And then said...

Then it ceased
Then I awaken
Surprisingly pleased
Slice of heaven

Who was she?
Silhouetted face
Perpetually...
Mysterious grace

Foreign albeit familiar
Strange but true
Now rings clear...


It is you...
Based on a dream I had.
Hannah Beth Aug 2014
She is the first springtime shower
a fresh promise of something new
The foundation to newfound life around her
a persona of all that is true

Soon, she is a summer downpour
A welcome respite from scorching heat
Every drop i crave, every storm near surrounds me
Her water is soon air, an overwhelming necessity

Later, an autumn storm.
Accompanied by a bite
A wind so harsh and bitter
Makes me forget her first spring life

And lastly, a soft snowfall.
Her floods have turned to ice
Frozen and forgotten
The damage heals with time

Storms must come full circle
none truly have an end
But to have known this girl,
What a privilege.
She was a living monsoon,
a friend.
Make what you want of this, but in my opinion, it is a story about relationships, and the different stages of them that are experienced. It was also inspired by Looking For Alaska, one of my favourite books, and my take on Pudge's relationship with Alaska. So yeah, that's basically it, I'll be quiet now haha
Nigel Morgan Nov 2012
(poems from the Chinese translated by Arthur Waley)

Last night the clouds scattered away;
A thousand leagues, the same moonlight scene.
When dawn came, I dreamt I saw your face;
It must have been that you were thinking of me.
In my dream, I thought I held your hand
And asked you to tell me what your thoughts were.
And you said: ‘I miss you bitterly . . . “

As Helen drifted into sleep the source of that imagined voice in her last conscious moment was waking several hundred miles away. For so long now she was his first and only waking thought. He stretched his hand out to touch her side with his fingertips, not a touch more the lightest brush: he did not wish to wake her. But she was elsewhere. He was alone. His imagination had to bring her to him instead. Sometimes she was so vivid a thought, a presence more like, that he felt her body surround him, her hand stroke the back of his neck, her ******* fall and spread against his chest, her breath kiss his nose and cheek. He felt conscious he had yet to shave, conscious his rough face should not touch her delicate freckled complexion . . . but he was alone and his body ached for her.

It was always like this when they were apart, and particularly so when she was away from home and full to the brim with the variously rich activities and opportunities that made up her life. He knew she might think of him, but there was this feeling he was missing a part of her living he would never see or know. True, she would speak to him on the phone, but sadly he still longed to read her once bright descriptions that had in the past enabled him to enter her solo experiences in a way no image seemed to allow. But he had resolved to put such possible gifts to one side. So instead he would invent such descriptions himself: a good, if time-consuming compromise. He would give himself an hour at his desk; an hour, had he been with her, they might have spent in each other’s arms welcoming the day with such a love-making he could hardly bare to think about: it was always, always more wonderful than he could possibly have imagined.

He had been at a concert the previous evening. He’d taken the train to a nearby town and chosen to hear just one work in the second part. Before the interval there had been a strange confection of Bernstein, Vaughan-Williams and Saint-Saens. He had preferred to listen to *The Symphonie Fantastique
by Hector Berlioz. There was something a little special about attending a concert to hear a single work. You could properly prepare yourself for the experience and take away a clear memory of the music. He had read the score on the train journey, a journey across a once industrial and mining heartland that had become an abandoned wasteland: a river and canal running in tandem, a vast but empty marshalling yard, acres of water-filled gravel pits, factory and mill buildings standing empty and in decay. On this early evening of a thoroughly wet and cold June day he would lift his gaze to the window to observe this sad landscape shrouded in a grey mist tinted with mottled green.

Andrew often considered Berlioz a kind of fellow-traveller on his life’s journey of music. Berlioz too had been a guitarist in his teenage years and had been largely self-taught as a composer. He had been an innovator in his use of the orchestra and developed a body of work that closely mirrored the literature and political mores of his time.  The Symphonie Fantastique was the ultimate love letter: to the adorable Harriet Smithson, the Irish actress. Berlioz had seen her play Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet (see above) and immediately imagined her as his muse and life’s partner. He wrote hundreds of letters to her before eventually meeting her to declare his love and admiration in person. A friend took her to hear the Symphonie after it had got about that this radical work was dedicated to her. She was appalled! But, when Berlioz wrote Lélio or The Return to Life, a kind of sequel to his Symphonie, she relented and agreed to meet him. They married in 1833 but parted after a tempestuous seven years. It had surprised Andrew to discover Lélio, about which, until quite recently, he had known nothing. The Berlioz scholar David Cairns had written fully and quite lovingly about the composition, but reading the synopsis in Wikipedia he began to understand it might be a trifle embarrassing to present in a concert.

The programme of Lélio describes the artist wakening from these dreams, musing on Shakespeare, his sad life, and not having a woman. He decides that if he can't put this unrequited love out of his head, he will immerse himself in music. He then leads an orchestra to a successful performance of one of his new compositions and the story ends peacefully.

Lélio consists of six musical pieces presented by an actor who stands on stage in front of a curtain concealing the orchestra. The actor's dramatic monologues explain the meaning of the music in the life of the artist. The work begins and ends with the idée fixe theme, linking Lélio to Symphonie fantastique.


Thoughts of the lovely Harriet brought him to thoughts of his own muse, far away. He had written so many letters to his muse, and now he wrote her little stories instead, often imagining moments in their still separate lives. He had written music for her and about her – a Quintet for piano and winds (after Mozart) based on a poem he’d written about a languorous summer afternoon beside a river in the Yorkshire Dales; a book of songs called Pleasing Myself (his first venture into setting his own words). Strangely enough he had read through those very songs just the other day. How they captured the onset of both his regard and his passion for her! He had written poetic words in her voice, and for her clear voice to sing:

As the light dies
I pace the field edge
to the square pond
enclosed, hedged and treed.
The water,
once revealed,
lies cold
in the still air.

At its bank,
solitary,
I let my thoughts of you
float on the surface.
And like two boats
moored abreast
at the season’s end,
our reflections merge
in one dark form.


His words he felt were true to the model of the Chinese poetry he had loved as a teenager, verse that had helped him fashion his fledgling thoughts in music.

And so it was that while she dined brightly with her team in a Devon country pub, he sat alone in a town hall in West Yorkshire listening to Berlioz’ autobiographical and unrequited work.

A young musician of extraordinary sensibility and abundant imagination, in the depths of despair because of hopeless love, has poisoned himself with *****. The drug is too feeble to **** him but plunges him into a heavy sleep accompanied by weird visions. His sensations, emotions, and memories, as they pass through his affected mind, are transformed into musical images and ideas. The beloved one herself becomes to him a melody, a recurrent theme [idée fixe] which haunts him continually.

Yes, he could identify with some of that. Reading Berlioz’ own programme note in the orchestral score he remembered the disabling effect of his first love, a slight girl with long hair tied with a simple white scarf. Then he thought of what he knew would be his last love, his only and forever love when he had talked to her, interrupting her concentration, in a college workshop. She had politely dealt with his innocent questions and then, looking at the clock told him she ‘had to get on’. It was only later – as he sat outside in the university gardens - that he realized the affect that brief encounter might have on him. It was as though in those brief minutes he knew nothing of her, but also everything he ever needed to know. Strange how the images of that meeting, the sound of her voice haunted him, would appear unbidden - until two months later a chance meeting in a corridor had jolted him into her presence again  . . . and for always he hoped.

After the music had finished he had remained in the auditorium as the rather slight audience took their leave. The resonance of the music seemed to be a still presence and he had there and then scanned back and forward through the music’s memory. The piece had cheered him, given him a little hope against the prevailing difficulties and problems of his own musical creativity, the long, often empty hours at his desk. He was in a quiet despair about his current work, about his current life if he was honest. He wondered at the way Berlioz’ musical material seemed of such a piece with its orchestration. The conception of the music itself was full of rough edges; it had none of that exemplary finish of a Beethoven symphony so finely chiseled to perfection.  Berlioz’ Symphonie contained inspired and trite elements side by side, bar beside bar. It missed that wholeness Beethoven achieved with his carefully honed and positioned harmonic structures, his relentless editing and rewriting. With Berlioz you reckoned he trusted himself to let what was in his imagination flow onto the page unhindered by technical issues. Andrew had experienced that occasionally, and looking at his past pieces, was often amazed that such music could be, and was, his alone.

Returning to his studio there was a brief text from his muse. He was tempted to phone her. But it was late and he thought she might already be asleep. He sat for a while and imagined her at dinner with the team, more relaxed now than previously. Tired from a long day of looking and talking and thinking and planning and imagining (herself in the near future), she had worn her almost vintage dress and the bright, bright smile with her diligent self-possessed manner. And taking it (the smile) into her hotel bedroom, closing the door on her public self, she had folded it carefully on the chair with her clothes - to be bright and bright for her colleagues at breakfast next day and beyond. She undressed and sitting on the bed in her pajamas imagined for a brief moment being folded in his arms, being gently kissed goodnight. Too tired to read, she brought herself to bed with a mental list of all the things she must and would do in the morning time and when she got home – and slept.

*They came and told me a messenger from Shang-chou
Had brought a letter, - a simple scroll from you!
Up from my pillow I suddenly sprang out of bed,
And threw on my clothes, all topsy-turvey.
I undid the knot and saw the letter within:
A single sheet with thirteen lines of writing.
At the top it told the sorrows of an exile’s heart;
At the bottom it described the pains of separation.
The sorrows and pains took up so much space
There was no room to talk about the weather!
The poems that begin and end Being Awake are translations by Arthur Waley  from One Hundred and Seventy Poems from the Chinese published in 1918.
Vivian Sep 2013
"Murica" "Murica" "Murica"
chants of patriotism ethnocentrism
nationalist sentiments lacquered in blue red white
spangled with stars and candy striped
"enemies both foreign and domestic"
the roar of jet engines accompanied by
crackling sparklers
summer sunlight
glamorous fireworks
red meat burning over charcoal because
the chef is being kissed
"life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"
the roar of jet engines accompanied by
dying children
systematized ****
internment camps
the division along the 38th parallel because
the evil's communism not McCarthyism no never
"my government has a firm policy not to capitulate"
not to terrorists
not to the UN
not to common sense
not to popular opinion
not to love in all it's forms
but
to corruption
to the oil lobby
to racism
to ***
to the Almighty
dollar
"we have reason to believe Iraq has weapons of mass destruction."
No.
No, you don't.
Lying *******.
You *******.
You ruined everything.
*****.
howard brace Aug 2013
"A leisurely breakfast" their mother would admonish, "aids digestion and builds strong bones..." so what with the imposed inactivity every morning, boredom broken only by Sockeye the family Spaniel, whose want of table manners coincided very conveniently with mealtimes... as he paced restlessly under the table, slobbering indiscriminately in his daily scramble to devour every dangling morsel before supply and demand shut up shop for the night and went home, far tastier... he gobbled down the latest offering of egg white, than the remnants of his own dietary allowance, they just had to get the timing right that was all, or risk loosing a finger, or gaining one depending upon who was doing the dangling, or who was doing the gobbling... he gave an indignant sneeze, not so much a hint but more of a... 'what's with the pepper malarky...'  So that it was only with a good deal of snappy hand coordination, lengthy digestion and sturdy bone building that Rocky was finally able to extricate himself from the table and make the most of what little time remained until lunchtime, meagre time indeed for the Rocky's of this world to hang around with their dogs, leaving their little sisters to help mums do, whatever it was that girls usually did when they should have scooted out of the kitchen faster, when it would have been all so much simpler just to grab a handful of biscuits instead...  Meanwhile, laying in wait in the room above, flat out upon the bedroom counterpane, having recently had their insides stuffed to bursting with a full English breakfast's worth of beach and holiday apparal... and that was just the luggage.    

     The contents of which, up until a week last washday had been snoozing fitfully behind 'Do Not Disturb' signs, cautiously peeping out from the gloomier, more remote recesses of the bedroom dresser, or carefully concealed in cupboards and closets... and being in every other respect by no means readily accessible to public scrutiny of any kind... had been left to their own devices some twelve months earlier with a clear understanding to skip bath nights from that moment on and henceforth immerse themselves in the heady, camphorated pungency of mothball, vowing once and for all never to darken portmanteau lids again... but now, after many hours of arduous laundering and de-fumigation... were now being squeezed and unceremoniously shoe-horned into what had recently become nothing short of an overcrowded sanctuary for the dispossessed.  
              
     Meanwhile, all the luggage asked from life other than be detained under section four of the Mental Health Act, 1983 and be found cosy padded accommodation elsewhere... was to have their interiors vacated, their tranquility reinstated... and with a questionable wink from a dodgy Customs official, have their travel permits invalidated... irrevocably, for despite throwing a double six for a spot of well earned convalescence back on top of the wardrobe some twelve months ago, basking in the shade of a warm Summer Sun, striking up the occasional conversation with the floral decor, third bloom from the left currently answering to the name of Petunia, the still over extended luggage, seemingly with little hope of R & R this side of the letter Q, faced the perennial disquiet of vacational therapy, of being knelt on, sat and bounced upon and be specifically manhandled in ways that matching sets of co-ordinated luggage should not...
                                        
     Tina could be heard quite distinctly in the next street concerning her husbands lack of competence, whilst Red it appeared had become just as outspoken as his wife in that particular direction... as the local self appointed busybody, who lived well within earshot of the address in question would bear witness to as she put feverish pen to paper, writing to what had become a regular... and some would say hot bed of intrigue in the local tabloid concerning how vociferous the once tranquil neighbourhood had become of recent and how certain undesirable elements within the community were to be heard carrying on alarmingly at all hours, day and night... and as she diligently weighed her civic duty against simple household economics as to whether to send this latest block busting eye opener by first or second class post, their parents could now be heard broadcasting, if anything to a wider listening audience than the previous newsflash, some of the more sensational episodes of the previous twenty-four hours as to who was pulling whose suitcase zipper now... although in which direction it should be pulled, they both agreed, wasn't for public disclosure at that time... vowing to draw blood well before the day was out, as three lacerated fingers would later testify and that it was only because of the children that they were going at all... but God willing, they would be setting off very shortly with rosy smiles on their faces for the sole benefit of the neighbours, even if it killed them. 

     Spurred to fever pitch  by this latest 'stop-the-press' newsflash, the same public spirited busybody now threw herself wholeheartedly into further award winning journalism and for the second time that morning took to pen and paper, only now directed to the gossip column in the local Parish Gazette, followed by grievous lamentations of impending bloodshed to the incumbent Chief Constable as to how they'd all be murdered in their beds ere long before nightfall.

     By devouring his water bowl, thereby dispensing with the need for it to be washed and by its abrupt and mysterious absence, disposing of all further incriminating evidence as to where the abundant supply of liquid, now surging copiously across the kitchen floor had sprung from... the flash-flood was hastily making its own getaway beneath the kitchen units, leaving Sockeye to his own devices to carry the can on his own, ankle deep in what up until earlier that morning had been sloshing around quite contentedly in Eccup reservoir.

      Having inadvertently released the handbrake in a boyish gesture of bravado, thereby placing himself in sole charge of a runaway vehicle, Sockeye it appeared was not the only member of the Salmon family to have dropped himself right in it that day as Rocky, having unwittingly placed the following ten years pocket money well out of reach and back into the pockets of his parents dwindling resources, had to a far greater extent nominated himself for the same Earth moving experience as the one his mum would shortly be giving Sockeye...

      Having just been granted licence to do whatsoever it pleased, the vehicle began its leisurely rearwards perambulation down the long garden driveway and by way of small thanks for its new found independence took Rocky along for the ride where due to a certain lack of stature on Rocky's part, at no point had he ever been in the slightest position to influence the Holiday threatening train of events which now engulfed him, never thinking to reapply the handbrake... that would be too easy, he perched on the edge of the seat clutching the steering wheel and stretched out his sturdy little legs in an heroic, but futile attempt to reach the pedals as the family car, which up until any second now had been his fathers pride and joy, pitched backwards at what seemed to Rocky, breakneck speed and directly into a very severe and unforgiving brick wall.

     Almost missing this latest round of entertainment above that of her parents most recent exchange, River accompanied by Sockeye scampered outdoors and slap into what could only be described as the most fun she'd had all year as an unsuspecting "what was that noise" muscled its way through the open bedroom window and fell flat on its face in the garden below and which, if that morning to date was anything to go by, then the neighbourhood would soon be tuning in to the latest Salmon family's 'hot-off-the-press' breaking news bulletin.

     Opening her mouth River hesitated as she fine-tuned the speech centres of her young and delicate synapse into full vocal alignment, then adjusting shutter speed from f8 to automatic she closed her mouth... then opened it once again and informed her brother that if the tip of dads size 9 was an Olympic gold, then Rocky would be sure to take first in the 110 metre hurdling event with 'team GB...' and could she have his autograph... with those words of solid encouragement rattling around his ears like the last biscuit in an otherwise empty tin box, River went skipping back into the house to announce the latest newsflash of her parents next financial happening... which she felt certain would prompt further rounds of thought provoking front page journalism.

     A steady two hours drive away, over on the east coast, the inhabitants of a sleepy fishing community were gainfully employed, pretty much as any other, going about their daily business, one such denizen... a baby crustacean, currently marooned by the tide had taken up temporary accommodation in a beachfront rock-pool property of certain distinction, was as yet unaware of a completely different and obscure set of circumstances that would shortly be rearing his slobbering jowls and bring all four paws, the size of dinner plates, crashing down upon the unsuspecting seashore fauna... was determined while she waited to catch the next high tide home, that until such time that the right wave rolled along, would potter about in the little rock-pool, perhaps indulge herself in a leisurely bathe... and catch up on a spot of therapeutic knitting.

     So, placing the days events since breakfast into perspective...  [i]  the vehicle indemnity provider, henceforth to be named 'the party of the first part', who currently weren't cognisant of an impending claim to date, would shortly be laying eggs attempting to squirm out of all liability, due to  [ii]  the automobile, driven by a minor, fortunately for Salmon senior on private land and henceforth, the aforementioned to be called 'the third party, to the party of the second part...' which urgently needed rigorous cosmetic attention to the rear tail light cluster and surrounding bodywork so as to maintain a favourable resale mark-up price.  [iii]  Having been dragged kicking and screaming from the top of the wardrobe, the luggage had rapidly developed cold feet and cried sudden illness in the family, but were being taken to the Wake anyway.  [iv]  Wrapped around the hot water cylinder since the previous Summer, the various sundry items of holiday apparel stood united, resolute as a Union Picket line not be seen dead looking as though they'd never so much as seen the bottom of a flat-iron.  [v]  Both Red and his wife, Tina, despite wearing the same anaemic smile as the one show to the neighbours as they departed, travelling counter clockwise along the crescent so as not to unduly advertise their recent misadventure with the garage wall, were only going for the sake of the children, whilst  [vi]  River and her errant brother didn't want to go anyway dismayed at leaving the television set behind, were already missing their favourite programs, which only really left  [vii]  'mans-best-friend' who, when he wasn't actually hanging over the front seat giving dad big sloppy licks as though... 'are we nearly there yet' or perhaps... 'I need to stop and spend a penny... or you'll all know about it if you don't,' was more than content to be taking up the majority of the rear seating arrangements and with a delinquent wag of his tail, was deliriously happy to be wherever his family were.**

                                                        ­                             ...   ...   ...

a work in progress.                                                        ­                                                                 ­  1862
Roberta Day Feb 2015
Warm laundry gives me the
fuzzies, makes my hands grasp
   majestic purple soaps
to cleanse away the ***** wails
compacted under fingernails
A selection of smell good things
lotions accompanied by fuzzy things
to rub away and radiate the aura
of calm, balance, and tranquility
Lavender is condusive to many
different uses, inhaling the graces
of herbal essence, soothing said coolings
inducing mood peelings of layers of grime
a skin liberative—figuratively speaking
Flowers of passion brew thoughts into actions
silent buds permeating scents
   so invigoratingly innocent
Nigel Morgan Nov 2012
for Jennie in gratitude*

For days afterwards he was preoccupied by what he’d collected into himself from the gallery viewing. He could say it was just painting, but there was a variety of media present in the many surrounding images and artefacts. Certainly there were all kinds of objects: found and gathered, captured and brought into a frame, some filling transparent boxes on a window ledge or simply hung frameless on the wall; sand, fixed foam, paper sea-water stained, a beaten sheet of aluminium; a significant stone standing on a mantelpiece, strange warped pieces of metal with no clue to what they were or had been, a sketchbook with brooding pencilled drawings made fast and thick, filling the page, colour like an echo, and yes, paintings.
 
Three paintings had surprised him; they did not seem to fit until (and this was sometime later) their form and content, their working, had very gradually begun to make a sort of sense.  Possible interpretations – though tenuous – surreptitiously intervened. There were words scrawled across each canvas summoning the viewer into emotional space, a space where suggestions of marks and colour floated on a white surface. These scrawled words were like writing in seaside sand with a finger: the following bird and hiraeth. He couldn’t remember the third exactly. He had a feeling about it – a date or description. But he had forgotten. And this following bird? One of Coleridge’s birds of the Ancient Mariner perhaps? Hiraeth he knew was a difficult Welsh word similar to saudade. It meant variously longing, sometimes passionate (was longing ever not passionate?), a home-sickness, the physical pain of nostalgia. It was said that a well-loved location in conjunction with a point in time could cause such feelings. This small exhibition seemed full of longing, full of something beyond the place and the time and the variousness of colour and texture, of elements captured, collected and represented. And as the distance in time and memory from his experience of the show in a small provincial gallery increased, so did his own thoughts of and about the nature of longing become more acute.
 
He knew he was fortunate to have had the special experience of being alone with ‘the work’ just prior to the gallery opening. His partner was also showing and he had accompanied her as a friendly presence, someone to talk to when the throng of viewers might deplete. But he knew he was surplus to requirements as she’d also brought along a girlfriend making a short film on this emerging, soon to be successful artist. So he’d wandered into the adjoining spaces and without expectation had come upon this very different show: just the title Four Tides to guide him in and around the small white space in which the art work had been distributed. Even the striking miniature catalogue, solely photographs, no text, did little to betray the hand and eye that had brought together what was being shown. Beyond the artist’s name there were only faint traces – a phone number and an email address, no voluminous self-congratulatory CV, no list of previous exhibitions, awards or academic provenance. A light blue bicycle figured in some of her catalogue photographs and on her contact card. One photo in particular had caught the artist very distant, cycling along the curve of a beach. It was this photo that helped him to identify the location – because for twenty years he had passed across this meeting of land and water on a railway journey. This place she had chosen for the coming and going of four tides he had viewed from a train window. The aspect down the estuary guarded by mountains had been a highpoint of a six-hour journey he had once taken several times a year, occasionally and gratefully with his children for whom crossing the long, low wooden bridge across the estuary remained into their teens an adventure, always something telling.
 
He found himself wishing this work into a studio setting, the artist’s studio. It seemed too stark placed on white walls, above the stripped pine floor and the punctuation of reflective glass of two windows facing onto a wet street. Yes, a studio would be good because the pictures, the paintings, the assemblages might relate to what daily surrounded the artist and thus describe her. He had thought at first he was looking at the work of a young woman, perhaps mid-thirties at most. The self-curation was not wholly assured: it held a temporary nature. It was as if she hadn’t finished with the subject and or done with its experience. It was either on-going and promised more, or represented a stage she would put aside (but with love and affection) on her journey as an artist. She wouldn’t milk it for more than it was. And it was full of longing.
 
There was a heaviness, a weight, an inconclusiveness, an echo of reverence about what had been brought together ‘to show’. Had he thought about these aspects more closely, he would not have been so surprised to discovered the artist was closer to his own age, in her fifties. She in turn had been surprised by his attention, by his carefully written comment in her guest book. She seemed pleased to talk intimately and openly, to tell her story of the work. She didn’t need to do this because it was there in the room to be read. It was apparent; it was not oblique or difficult, but caught the viewer in a questioning loop. Was this estuary location somehow at the core of her longing-centred self?  She had admitted that, working in her home or studio, she would find herself facing westward and into the distance both in place and time?
 
On the following day he made time to write, to look through this artist’s window on a creative engagement with a place he was familiar. The experience of viewing her work had affected him. He was not sure yet whether it was the representation of the place or the artist’s engagement with it. In writing about it he might find out. It seemed so deeply personal. It was perhaps better not to know but to imagine. So he imagined her making the journey, possibly by train, finding a place to stay the night – a cheerful B & B - and cycling early in the morning across the long bridge to her previously chosen spot on the estuary: to catch the first of the tides. He already understood from his own experience how an artist can enter trance-like into an environment, absorb its particularness, respond to the uncertainty of its weather, feel surrounded by its elements and textures, and most of all be governed by the continuous and ever-complex play of light.
 
He knew all about longing for a place. For nearly twenty years a similar longing had grown and all but consumed him: his cottage on a mountain overlooking the sea. It had become a place where he had regularly faced up to his created and invented thoughts, his soon-to-be-music and more recently possible poetry and prose. He had done so in silence and solitude.
 
But now he was experiencing a different longing, a longing born from an intensity of love for a young woman, an intensity that circled him about. Her physical self had become a rich landscape to explore and celebrate in gaze, and stroke and caress. It seemed extraordinary that a single person could hold to herself such a habitat of wonder, a rich geography of desire to know and understand. For so many years his longing was bound to the memory of walking cliff paths and empty beaches, the hypnotic viewing of seascaped horizons and the persistent chaos of the sea and wild weather. But gradually this longing for a coming together of land, sea and sky had migrated to settle on a woman who graced his daily, hourly thoughts; who was able to touch and caress him as rain and wind and sun can act upon the body in ever-changing ways. So when he was apart from her it was with such a longing that he found himself weighed down, filled brimfull.
 
In writing, in attempting to consider longing as a something the creative spirit might address, he felt profoundly grateful to the artist on the light blue bicycle whose her observations and invention had kept open a door he felt was closing on him. She had faced her own longing by bringing it into form, and through form into colour and texture, and then into a very particular play: an arrangement of objects and images for the mind to engage with – or not. He dared to feel an affinity with this artist because, like his own work, it did not seem wholly confident. It contained flaws of a most subtle kind, flaws that lent it a conviction and strength that he warmed to. It had not been massaged into correctness. The images and the textures, the directness of it, flowed through him back and forward just like the tides she had come far to observe on just a single day. He remembered then, when looking closely at the unprotected pieces on the walls, how his hand had moved to just touch its surfaces in exactly the way he would bring his fingers close to the body of the woman he loved so much, adored beyond any poetry, and longed for with all his heart and mind.
Edna Sweetlove May 2015
I woke up to a beautiful summer morning. The sun was shining and the rainclouds were far away. I decided I would spend the day on the beach. I always enjoy visiting the beach as it gives me an opportunity to laugh at people's hideous bodies. But where? And then, suddenly, a wonderful idea came to me: why not go to a nudist beach as they always attract the ugliest people with the worst bodies imaginable. And you get to see their naughty bits too, for added humour.

So I rushed to my computer to check the Internet for possibilities and, to my utter amazement, I discovered there was a naturist beach only fifty miles from my beautiful home. As I read the details of the beach and the directions, I had a sense of déja vu; I realised with a frisson of ****** anticipation that it was the very same beach described by Victor the ****** in his wonderful story "Confessions of a ******" which held pride of place on my toilet reading shelf.

I was at the wheel of my incredibly expensive and luxurious car just as soon as my servants had packed my essential requirements: icebox with chilled vintage champagne, lightweight folding gold-plated sun-lounger, vicuna picnic rug and of course my lunch hamper. My chef had rapidly prepared a delicious impromptu luncheon of smoked salmon, steak tartare and a selection of other goodies. I decided to dispense with the services of my chauffeur in the interests of preserving the confidentiality of my destination.

In less than an hour and a half I was there; and the place was exactly as Victor had described it in his immortal novella: a long stretch of mixed sand and pebbles, backed by dunes planted with wild grass, waving romantically in the sea breeze. Idyllic, and crawling with naked perverts as a bonus. I parked my car and transported my equipment to the dunes. I regretted not having brought one of the servants as the hamper and icebox were quite cumbersome and heavy. I was perspiring gently by the time I had unloaded everything and set it all up to my satisfaction.

I took some care in selecting what I felt was the optimum location as I needed to combine the potentially conflicting benefits of wanting to see as many naked people as possible (hopefully including some *** action) with the need for privacy. After all I am famous. I finally chose a spot where there were several ghastly specimens on view for a few laughs and where I could also see a potentially interesting couple who might be exhibitionistic perverts. The man was about 45, shaven-headed, skinny and prematurely wrinkled all over by the sun (yes, I do mean all over) and he had an interesting tattoo on his back: "I love hot ***** ***", which I saw as promising. The woman was plump with pendulous ******* and very prominent buttocks; additionally - how can I put this delicately? - her **** was totally bereft of hair.

Before settling down to my lunch, I felt a little perambulation would not come amiss. So, as bold as brass, off I went for a little **** stroll through the dunes. I will not describe in full detail the visual horrors I encountered: hirsute old men playing aimlessly with wizened, shrunken todgers the size of a thimble; obese old biddies, their rolls of sun-tanned lard hanging round them like rows of bloated udders on a pregnant sow; tattooed bald queens, muscles bulging under lashings of sun-oil, their pierced genitals glinting wickedly in the sunshine; the list was endless. How could such grotesques revel in revealing their corporeal repulsion to the eager world?

And then I saw him! It had to be him! In a dip in the sand dunes lay a middle-aged, paunchy little man, intently watching a couple of old ******* groping each other incompetently. It could only be Victor the One-Legged ******! After all, just how many unipod Peeping Toms are there?

I strolled over to him, coughing discreetly so as to give him a chance to stop his furtive *******. 'Do excuse me for disturbing you,' I said, 'but are you by any chance Victor the famous ****** whose confession I read only last week?'

'Why yes,' he admitted, 'but how on earth did you recognise me?'

I smiled and pointed to the cast-off artificial leg lying next to his beach towel (which, incidentally, was emblazoned by a giant "V", a bit of an identity hint, I felt). He patted his stump ruefully and laughed uproariously so that his average-sized ***** flapped like a pennant in a Force Eight gale. 'I forgot,' he bellowed deliriously.

'I'm just about to have a spot of lunch,' I said. 'My personal Michelin-starred chef, Jean-Claude Anusse, always over-caters ridiculously as he knows I often pick up people on my excursions, so there'll be more than enough. I'm afraid it's nothing special: some smoked salmon and some assorted cold meats, possibly a spot of pâté de foie gras, if I know Jean-Claude. And, naturally, enough champagne to drown a hippo in. Please do say yes, as I have so many questions to ask you about your hobby.'

'That's very kind of you.' mumbled the astonished Peeping Tom, 'I should be very happy to accept your generous offer. Incidentally, to whom have I the honour of speaking?'

I was, frankly, shocked when I realised Victor had not recognised me, and then I remembered I was naked. That explained it. 'Why, I am none other than Edna Sweetlove, poetess to the stars, creator of the Barry Hodges "Memories" poems and biographer to the intrepid and incredible superhero SNOGGO,' I murmured sotto voce, not wishing to be mobbed for my autograph.

'Edna Sweetlove!' he exclaimed, 'you mean THE Edna Sweetlove?' And so saying he glanced down to my genital zone in order to answer the question which so many of my fans have asked over the years. He grinned as he saw the solution to the great mystery.

Victor quickly strapped on his prosthesis and accompanied me (slightly lopsidedly) to my little luncheon site. He helped me unpack our repast and then made himself as comfortable as a naked one legged ****** could reasonably expect to be without a chair.

I must say Chef and his team had excelled himself in the thirty minutes I had given them: smoked salmon roulades, a magnifique plateau de fruits de mer including a three-pound giant lobster, steak tartare, a whole cold pintarde à l'ail, a few dozen sushi rolls, a monster summer pudding, and naturally a Jeraboam of Krug '92. No wonder the hamper had been so ******* heavy. I could see Victor was impressed as I offered him a chilled flute of the most expensive champagne he had ever tasted. 'Better than the pathetic, poverty-stricken muck you were going to gobble, I expect,' I commented in a friendly way.

'Mmmmmmmmm! Absolutely delicious, Edna. I was certainly not expecting this! exclaimed the grateful freak. But before we start on what looks like a truly exquisite nosh-up, I must give you a word of warning.'

'A word of warning? What about, Victor dear?'

'Well, you see, there's no, um....er,' he blushed charmingly.

'No what, Victor? Don't be embarrassed, sweetie. This is Edna you're talking to. Spit it out, baby.'

'Well, um, there's no ******* on the beach, Edna,' explained Victor uncomfortably. 'So, if you need to pump ship, you have to do it native-style "au naturel" in the dunes over there, which can be a bit messy what with all the filth lying about the place in that area, not to mention the lavvo-voyeurs hanging round. Or else you need to swim out a bit and unload into the sea. Judging by what's on offer at your stylish picnic, we'll both be bursting for a good old **** and crap afterwards.'

I shrieked with laughter and explained there was nothing I liked better than a widdle en plein air or a double act dans l'eau. We then tucked into lunch with a vengeance. It was ******* delicious, even though I say so myself. After about fifteen minutes' happy munching, interspersed with witty small talk, Victor suddenly went rigid. 'Look over there!' he hissed and indicated the middle-aged couple by the windbreak.

I looked and I was surprised. The plump woman with the big *** was on her knees in front of her partner, giving him a vigorous *******, and he was lolling back in ecstasy, a broad smile on his face. He seemed to be looking straight at us, almost visibly willing us to watch. He winked repeatedly in a conspiratorial fashion; maybe he had St Vitus’ Dance. Or even worse, he wanted me to get stuck into the action with them.

'They're regulars here, they normally put on quite a good show,' explained Victor excitedly, his hand reaching down automatically to his rapidly stiffening ****.

'Victor!' I admonished him, 'I would prefer it if you didn't **** yourself off during lunch. How about another oyster, you silly old ****?'

'Sorry, Edna, I forgot,' he replied shamefacedly. 'No more oysters thank you; they only make me more randy than I already am. But I'll have another lobster claw if I may. My compliments to your chef.'

So we sipped our champagne and enjoyed our luncheon as we watched the couple give us their little exhibition. After a few minutes *******, the fat lady turned around and leaned forward on her hands and knees and her gnarled bald hubby ******* her doggy fashion from behind with some gusto; this made her beefy buns bounce about like two ferrets fighting in a sack.

I glanced around us and realised that, totally unbeknown to me, the little spectacle had attracted quite an audience. Nine men, young and old, short and tall, fat and skinny, stood staring transfixed by the petite scène erotique before us, all ******* wildly. 'Oi!' I called out. 'Can't you see we're eating?' I admonished them, but to no ******* avail whatsoever.

Victor was visibly torn between his innate desire to watch the copulators and masturbators and with his understandable wish not to offend his lunch companion by manhandling himself unrestrainedly. But, thank God, his natural good manners prevailed and we continued to converse and enjoy our meal in the midst of this Bacchanalian scene of depravity.

I watched dispassionately as the couple came to what sounded like a very satisfactory mutual ******, accompanied by the observers' seminal tributes to their performance. I naturally had filmed the entire scene secretly on my state-of-the-art mobile.

'If you give me your email address, Victor my love, I'll send you a copy of that little show,' I promised. He nodded in gratitude. 'Victor  the ****** at yahoo dot co dot uk,' he mumbled rapidly, 'no dots, Victorthevoyeur is all one word.'

Once we had polished off lunch, I told Victor I would like to interview him with a view to writing a short story about his life's work. He was touchingly flattered and, with a little judicious prompting and probing, told me his saga, which I recorded on my Edna-phone. I naturally don't want to pre-empt my forthcoming mini-biography of Victor, but suffice it to say that Victor told me how and why he became a ******, he regaled me with some of the staggering things he had seen, he gave me a list of some really ace ******* locations, he shared all his best peeping places with me, he gave me the ultimate lowdown on the world of Britain's most celebrated *** snooper and I was touched by his burning honesty. I felt a tear ***** my eye at this tragic tale.

All too soon it was time for us to part. After thanking me profusely and making me promise I would visit him one day so he could repay my generosity, he re-attached his metal leg and limped away towards his beach towel. I knew he was raring to go as the best of the action normally took place in the early evening.

'Farewell, dearest Victor,' I called out as he tripped clumsily over a fellow pervert who had been eavesdropping near us.
Platonic Love
"
A Poem about the purest form of love
"
What Do I Seek,
I seek the purest form of love,
A love that is not formed
out of lust
I seek the purest form of
love
a love that is formed
out of platonic love
A love that is so pure
and chaste,
A love that will not make
you wish you did no wrong,
Where has everyone gone
wrong,
Lust has nothing to do with Love,
The Purest love is platonic love
it is accompanied with a song,
*** is accompanied with love and marriage,
then only is it true and strong,
It will not make you feel as you did
something wrong.

I would rather have the purest form of love
and that is platonic love.
Platonic Love is the purest form of love. One free from any ****** or physical involvement.
Edna Sweetlove Jan 2015
O how I recall with joy a visit to Jackson, proud capital of Mississippi,
The land of the fearless fatties, the glorious land of the uber-obese,
A paradise enjoying amazingly high blood pressure and diabetes rates,
Thanks to the greed and gluttony of its 'proud-to-be-portly' inhabitants.

How delightful to stroll along its leafy boulevards, admiring the advertising
For junk food shops: "Super-Size Your Deep Crust Giant Pizza for only $1!"
"Real Men love our Emperor Size Cheeseburgers, King Size is for Kids!"
And "Come Try Our All Day Giant Breakfast with Triple French Fries!"

How enchanting to see furniture stores offering discounted extra big sofas,
Builders and carpenters with their cut-price floor-strengthening deals,
Tailors' shops with their displays of buffet pants and elasticated jeans,
Realtors promoting houses with double porches and wide internal doors.

And, O the trailer parks, those truly splendid residential areas,
With their giant size immoveable vehicles with spacious entry portals
To allow the immaculately dressed residents to carry in an armful
Of multi-packs of chocolate iced crème flavour filling Krispy Kremes.

But most wondrous of all, the myriad rival Pentacostal Chapels
With their guaranteed reinforced concrete padded sofa-pews
And their portrayals of plump Jesuses to make the fatties feel at home.
And all those "funeral parlors" with their gaping super-wide caskets.

How I loved the blinking stares of the sleep-deprived bible students
As they staggered out of an architectural wonder of a chapel,
Bleary-eyed after an all-night bible study session, and all eager
For a healthy breakfast of a dozen flash-fried sugar encrusted "donuts".

I was there in this glorious world centre of ever-escalating obesity
With my latest gorgeous lady love (at only 140 pounds and five foot two,
possibly the slimmest woman in the entire Jackson Metropolitan Area)
And we decided to try some good ol' Mississippi fine dining as a treat.

Holey Moley! What a feasts on offer: pan-fried catfish, deep-fried catfish,
Steaks the size of an encyclopaedia and all accompanied by unlimited fries!
Sweet potato and pecan pie with butter, sugar, eggs and extra cream,
And Mississippi Mud Pie with its chocolate crust and sticky chocolate filling!

(The chef de cuisine in our upscale diner told us that Southern cooks
had created this wondrous dessert because its sophicated ingredients
were available cheaply and the recipe required only minimal culinary skill,
and what's more it came with a treble serving of supermarket ice cream!)

We declined the bottomless cup of watery coffee with compulsory sugar
And enquired if we might have a bottle of his finest wine. Quel faux-pas!
The dear fatso was mortified and told us his was a Christian establishment
And strong drink was frowned upon. Did we think he was a degenerate?

That night we lay bloated like beached whales in our tasteful motel room
(its bed reinforced with ferro-concrete to deal with the horrid possibility
that any gargantuan visitors might wish to copulate vigorously);
Oh how we burped and farted, longing for a dose of bicarbonate of soda.

All good things come to an end so, after a nessy session on the toilet
(we filled it thrice), we bade farewell to the desk clerk and sloped off.
"Be sure y'all come back real soon," he declared, patting his fat gut,
"Cuz you both sure do look two real skinny Limeys, ya hear me?."

As we drove out of this elegant city that steamy Southern summer morn
In our rented 4X4 super-strong chassis Land Rover, how we smiled
At the scene outside Walmart where the special offer of the day
Was five pounds of free candies with every single assault rifle sold.

But alas! And alack! Tragedy was not so very far away that day:
Some corpulent teenagers toppled off the sidewalk under my auto's wheels
In their indecent haste to take advantage of the latest McDonald's bargain:
A quart of complimentary Dr Pepper's with a whole oven-fried McTurkey.

Oy! What a horrid mess my fender made of their pudgy, mottled flesh
And how wise we were to speed off before the cops arrived
At least, we avoided being beaten us to a pulp for being leftist libtards
Come to laugh at the dear redneck ways south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
Azad Akkash Apr 2015
To Jody;
My five years old friend and nephew

I put down the telephone,
entering a nap of elation,
till the echo of your sweet utterance
On the back of expatriation's wind
Swims away, dims.
By then, medusas of melancholy with their thick sorrow
fill up my throat
and my heart
would blindfolded fall on the knees and
die down…

With good and bad big wolves
tracing lost children or stuffing shaking goat kids into their paunch.
With ravenous bears, malignant hyenas
and crude giants,
garrulous  gracious squirrels, laborious ants
and active voracious hares.
With them, the two of us
had upholstered the land and sky of the wonderland,
and with their voices and whoops all,
we had irritated the dreamland's walls.

No matter how many times
we were building the villages for stories of straw, furze sticks and bricks,
I would only visit your house of mattresses and pillows.

Only for you,
I did revived the dead wolf
in order to revenge the "predatory" lumberjack.
With no regret I kept sending "wolfy" to the roasted chicken's shop
to defeat the hunger,
So that he won't eat the trapped little girl.
And before your smile,
the wolf in walrus moustache would play with the girl till daddy comes and takes her home.

And you are …
popping out, never closing the wide eyes of yours,
waiting for grandpa to take us to the village.
Up from the houses' roofs,
with Qarmeetlak's1 rabbits,
beyond the barbwires and in secret,
we stick the tongues out to the Turkish barracks.
Along with goat kids,
in tracking smugglers' traces,
we fool the landmines,
sneak to the other side of the border.
With smiley faces and hidden bleats,
We ****** the poppies and the grass that grow out from the edges of spring and the craters.
We hide from smuggler's ghosts who
in the  labyrinths of landmines
because of the unclaimed hands and legs are grabbing the collars.
We taunt the jackals' yowling and the patrolmen.
And in front of the rumbling sky, we do our best to look prettier;
Isn't  it "God taking photos of us"?
And like coward puppies we flee and go back to the safe village,
just before the dusk's winds could carry our smell to the angry spirit of Salan2
who is scouring the Kurmanj's Mountain3,
pursuing his endless vengeances.

Till the break of day,
with your slim clever squirreliness,
out of the branches of the most interlocked sorrowful stories,
you were shaking the attached laughs and guffaws
on the  hair of the deceiver Ashrafieh and the grumpy Sheikh Maksood's4 night.
Eventually, in taking its revenge,
the night would stuff you in a small basket and throw you away into the waves of sleep and dream
accompanied with all that eager to see the giants' kingdom and the mice's storehouses,
squirrels' village, their dances and bridals,
the departure will lead you to the waterfalls' cliffs of a dreamy sparrow's new day.
With the beaming love out from our eyes,
you dry up your tousled feathers and
take into the open.

Nevertheless, how simple-hearted the lies were when I kept telling you:
"Dog is a dog, a wolf is a wolf and the kitty is a kitty, and what are we, my Jody?
We are humans!"

I didn't want you to know
how in the world, could a dozen of
rabid armed dogs
smash down the door
and out from your eleven months old eyes,
with a persistent thronged barking,
they did take your dad away to the deepest liars of the ranch of malevolence,
introducing him to all kinds of animality.

How might I explained to you
why in the world, they reduced 'dad' for you
to that thing which every month
from behind a doubled bars
keep sending you a tearful laugh?
Why did they minimized the ancient capital for you into
both of the Political Security Branch and Siednaya's Jail5?

Your fingers had just started taking to writing and drawing.
You had just started
cantering your own stories
along with unsaddled breezes' foals
when herds of jackals with dark mouths
deported 'your Azad' into a fool refuge.
Again,
they
made
you
an orphan.

Inside the brushwood of the story and the wilderness of the epic,
since neither your fingers have become able to rise the sign of victory correctly,
nor could your throat match the letters of 'Kurdistan' properly,
whatever cave you step in,
no matter how shiny is the globe in the witch's hands,
she would never be able to tell you,
these lacrimatory mist and clouds,
with the emerging of every spring,
from which valleys of the ranch of malevolence  
did they come to overflow the Kurdish neighborhoods.
How did they vilely with no permission go up to the third floor
in order to join you in a poisoned feverish soiree.
And since when
the creatures of darkness
that they had brought
have been grazing their hyenas
among our fresh hopes.


Hence…
when I tell you that
I'll come back with the snowfall,
it is nothing but a lie!
When you ask me to come back in summer
in order to hang on my back
and swim together
along with the little fishes,
such an imagination!
When you are not sleeping in my empty bed anymore
Intending to let my pillow and blanket await for
my return,
only a childish dream!!
Yet, when you
in the sweet and soft Afrini accent of yours
say to me
'Ozod, I mithed you thoo thoo thoo much',
my heart
would blindfolded fall on the knees and
die down…

Azad Ekkaş
Roni_alend@outlook.com
Erbil: 3-1-2011
1-The village that Jody's family decsends from. It is located on the very Syrian Turkish borders.
2-  A traditional hero of the region.
3- Kurds in Afrin district in the remote north western corner of Syria call their region the Kurmanj's Mountain
4- The two largest Kurdish neighborhoods in the Syrian city of Aleppo.
5- The largest political and militaty prison in Syria where Jody's father was imprisoned. It is located in namesake town near to the Damascus.
alskawlfe Jul 2018
This is me
In the darken room, in a void hiding from your hands
Don’t touch me
Stop saving me
Let my blood flow
Let these wounds rip
I’m okay
I will be okay.

I’m putting my foot down.
I’ll cut this hair so you’ll stop climbing this tower,
I’ll cover my face for I don’t want to be awake to a true love kiss,
I will let the spindle of the spinning wheel ***** me and surrender to the curse

I’m packing these baggage
The one that’s marked trust issues,
The one with dreams written all over it
I’m bringing it back home
Back home to this ribcage
So please. Let the darkness of this place shine
Allow this sorrow in its heaven
My demons can take it from here

For I am sorry for the way your arms are covered in bruises
Your body became a map of the places you rescued me from
Your eyes dry from trying to stay awake on the nights my demon demand to be accompanied
That you become selfless just because I was selfish

So darling
Let the bulb stay burned
Leave me in my new home
And let your bruises heal

This is my fighting ring
The one I’ve made you bleed for all these years
I will face this nightmare I will let it conquer me
I will fall and fight
And Ill keep fighting
And I will save you from saving me.
Métis, Themis, Ma’at, their banter was for naught.
All the tides and tithings wisdoms and their teachings, Daemonium forgot!

But the heavens cry  manna as Nix cried out reprieve!
An act that loosed the flood, the chaos of her sea.

Her pain arose a champion to tend to all her needs,
Formed of Celestial Ocean he bore down on the freed.

A giant wave of madness, thrusting mist of sadness eradicating gladness... One led the ruthless breed.

Opaque in their beginning, formless shapes in twining.
Conjoined but not together, accompanied the weather.
Thalassa’s stringy tether wrapped them all forever.

Come or go in seasons, live or die in age.
No Spring to Fall in reasons, travailing of the mage?
Black tentacles the streamers, rooted into wave.
Witness the all-wise and snaking phantom phage...

Chiron watches while he prances, his dressage on the shore.
Arising liminal of beings wettened ambiguity of yore.
Even Iblis is impressed, such black rotten to the core!

Merkabah or egg, mountain, belly, tree they squabble.
All elements do I cobble, such are actions of the wobble.
Growly Wolfus Aug 2019
A single raindrop falls from the sky,
depressed in its loneliness as it descends.
It lands and drips down a grassy *****,
alone and forgotten.

A single raindrop falls from the sky.
It falls from dark clouds and gloomy air.
It brings nothing but sadness to the earth below
and desires only to be heard or seen.

A single raindrop falls from the sky,
felt only by a stranger.
It's wiped away, declared a nuisance,
and cast away from existence.

A single raindrop falls from the sky,
mistaken for a tear.
Thought to be from an angel of a lost age.
It merely stirs the dust.

A hundred raindrops fall from the sky,
all lonely but together.
They cause a splash and demand attention.
Still only felt by one.

A hundred raindrops fall from the sky,
unable to quench the earth's thirst.
They disappear, taken by the ground,
embraced for the last time.

A hundred raindrops fall from the sky.
Not a head turns to notice them.
They cry out loudly but cannot be heard,
vanishing as they land.

A thousand raindrops fall from the sky.
The clouds gather to watch the spectacle.
They grow darker as they bunch together,
warning those below of the coming.

A thousand raindrops fall from the sky
and tap people on the shoulder.
"Come watch us," they whisper before leaving.
Few people are left behind.

A thousand raindrops fall from the sky,
looking for an audience.
The people have left and taken their friends
to hide in the buildings they made.

A million raindrops fall from the sky,
and joyously, they sing.
They hit the ground, the cars, the roofs,
and make music for those in hiding.

A million raindrops fall from the sky.
They dance and cheer and smile.
The sun decides it wants to watch.
The light dances with raindrops for awhile.

A million raindrops fall from the sky,
accompanied by rays of gold.
They bring new color to the city of gray
and rejuvenate all of the old.

A gentle rain falls from the sky
and makes art upon the ground.
It quenches the earth's thirst and hums in our ears,
dancing to its own sound.

A gentle rain falls from the sky.
People watch with awe from behind glass.
Ignored by many, precious to captivated few.
They long for it to last.

A gentle rain falls from the sky
and gracefully sways in the breeze.
It brings forth calmness and a sense of peace.
It blesses the green fields and trees.

A gentle rain falls from the sky,
watched by a child with wonder.
It sends the breeze to lift the child
and brings them out from under.

A gentle rain falls from the sky
and splashes on window panes.
It plays with the child and hums sweet tunes
as it makes puddles in the traffic lanes.

A gentle rain falls from the sky
and ripples in the water.
A new world created, impossibly calm.
It makes the child an offer.

A gentle rain falls from the sky
and whispers in the child's ear.
"Wait for me.  I will return.
I won't leave you alone here."

A gentle rain falls from the sky
and sings goodbye to the child.
The clouds dissipate as the sun takes over.
The departing rain simply smiles.

A million raindrops fall from the sky,
murmuring farewells and goodbyes.
Each gives the child a tender hug
as the color returns to the skies.

A thousand raindrops fall from the sky,
then a hundred, then one.
The single raindrop kisses the child
standing alone in the sun.

No longer do raindrops fall from the sky,
but a child waits for them.
To dance and sing and draw and play,
with the gentle rain again.
I LOVE the rain.  I wrote this after a gentle rainfall and listening to one of my favorite songs.
The child in the poem does not necessarily represent age, but more awe and feelings I have when I watch the rain.  It's so peaceful.  I feel like a child whenever I watch it or sit in it.
Kiss the Rain - Yiruma
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=so6ExplQlaY
Nigel Morgan Sep 2013
He had been away. Just a few days, but long enough to feel coming home was necessary. He carried with him so many thoughts and plans, and the inevitable list had already formed itself. But the list was for Monday morning. He would enjoy now what he could of Sunday.

Everything can feel so different on a Sunday. Travel by train had been a relaxed affair for once, a hundred miles cross-country from the open skies of the Fens to the conurbations of South Yorkshire. Today, there was no urgency or deliberation. Passengers were families, groups of friends, sensible singles going home after the weekend away. No suits. He seemed the only one not fixated by a smart phone, tablet or computer. So he got to see the autumn skies, the mountain ranges of clouds, the vast fields, the still-harvesting. But his thoughts were full to the brim of traveling the previous November when together they had made a similar journey (though in reverse) under similar skies. They had escaped for two days one night into a time of being wholly together, inseparably together, joined in that joy of companionship that elated him to recall it. He was overcome with weakness in his body and a jolt of passion combined: to think of her quiet beauty, the tilt of her head, the brush of her hair against his cheek. He longed for her now to be in the seat opposite and to stroke the back of her calf with his foot, hold her small hand across the table, gaze and gaze again at her profile as she, always alert to every flicker of change, took in the passing landscape.

But these thoughts gradually subsided and he found himself recalling a poem he had commissioned. It was a text for a verse anthem, that so very English form beloved by cathedral and collegiate choral directors of the 16th C (and just that weekend he had been in such a building where this music had its home). He had been reading The Five Proofs for the Existence of God from the Summa Theologica by Thomas Aquinas, knowing this scholar to have been a cornerstone of the work of Umberto Eco, an author he admired. He had also set a poem that mentioned these Five Proofs, and had set this poem without knowing exactly what they were. He recalled its ending:

They sit by a lake where dead leaves
Float and apples lie on a table. She
ignores him and his folder of papers

but I found later the picture was called
‘In Love’, which coloured love sepia.
Later still, by the time I sat with you,

Watched your arm on the back of a chair
And your hand at rest while you told me
Of Aquinas and his proofs for the existence

Of God I realised love was not always
Sepia, that these hands held invisible
Keys, were pale because the mind was aflame.

He remembered then the challenge of reading Aquinas, this Dominican friar of the 13C. It had stretched him, and he thought of asking his wordsmith of thirty years, the mother of his daughters, to bring these arguments together in a poetic form for him to set to music. She had delivered such a poem and it took him some while to grasp it wholly. He wondered for a moment if he actually had grasped it. But there was this connection with the landscape he was passing through. She had mentioned this, and now he saw it for his own eyes. She had been to Ely for the day, to walk the length of the great Cathedral, to stare at and be amongst the visible past, the past of Aquinas. He remembered the first verse as only a composer can who has laboured over the scheme of words and rhythms:

The Argument from Motion

Everything in the world changes.
A meadow of skewbald horses grazes
Beneath a pair of flying swans
And the universe is different again.

And no sooner is potency reduced to act,
By a whisker’s twitch or a word,
A word, that potent gobbet of air
Than smiles and tears change places.

And everything has changed. Back
Go the tracks beyond seen convergence
To a great self-sufficient terminus
Which terminus we might call God.

And so it was in such a spirit of reflection that his journey passed. He had joined the Edinburgh express at Peterborough to travel north, and the landscape had subsided into a different caste, still rural, but different, the fields smaller, the horizon closer.

Alighting from the train in his home city on a Sunday afternoon the station and surrounding streets were quiet and the few people about were not walking purposefully, they strolled. He climbed the flights of stairs to his third floor studio, unlocked the door and immediately walked across the room to open the window. Seagulls were swooping and diving below him, feeding off the detritus of the previous night’s partying in the clubs and pubs that occupied the city centre, its main shopping area removed to a mall off kilter with the historic city and its public buildings. What shops there were stood empty, boarded up, permanently lease for sale.

Sitting at his desk he surveyed the paper trail of his work in progress. Once so organised, every sketch and plan properly labelled and paginated, he had regressed it seemed to filling pages of his favoured graph paper in a random fashion. Some idea for the probably distant future would find its way into the midst of present work, only (sometimes) a different ink showing this to be the case. Notes from a radio talk jostled with rhythmic abstracts. He realised this was perhaps indicative of his mental state, a state of transience, of uncertainty, a temporariness even.

He was probably too tired to work effectively now, just off the train, but the sense and the relative peacefulness that was Sunday was so seductive. He didn’t want to lose the potential this time afforded. This was why for so many years Sunday had often been such a productive day. If he went to meeting, if he cooked the tea, if he ironed the children’s school clothes for the week, there was this still space in the day. It represented a kind of ideal state in which to think and compose. Now these obligations were more flexible and different, Sunday had even more ‘still’ space, and it continued to cast its spell over him.

He put his latest sketches into a sequential form, editing on the computer then printing them out, listening acutely, wholly absorbed. Only a text message from his beloved (picking blackberries) brought him back to the time and day. There was a photo: a cluster of this dark, late summer fruit, ripe for picking framed against a tree and a white sky. Barely a week ago they had picked blackberries together with friends, children and dogs and he had watched her purposely pick this fruit without the awkwardness that so often accompanied bending over brambles. He wondered at her, constantly. How was this so? He imagined her now in her parents’ garden, a garden glowing in the late afternoon light, as she too would glow in that late-afternoon light . . . he bought himself back to the problem in hand. How to make the next move? There was a join to deal with. He was working with the seven metrics of traditional poetry as the basis for a rhythmic scheme. He was being tempted towards committing an idea to paper. He kept reminding himself of the music’s lie of the land, the effectiveness of it so far. It was still early days he thought to commit to something that would mark the piece out, produce a different quality, would declare the movement he was working on to be a certain shape.

And suddenly he was back on the train, looking at the passing landscape and the next verse of that Aquinas poem insisted itself upon him with its apt description and tantalising argument:

The Argument from Efficient Causality

We are crossing managed washlands.
Pochards so carefully coloured swim
Where cows ruminated last summer
In a landscape fruit of human agency.

And I think of the heavenly aboriginal
Agent of all our doings in this material
Playground of earth I can pick up,
Hold and crumble and cultivate

And air that is mine for the breathing
And the inhabited waters that cling
As if by magic to a sphere. What cause
Sustains the effects we live among?

For there is no smoke without fire
And as we sow, thus we reap. Nihil
Ex nihil, therefore something Is,
Some being we might call God.

So ‘nothing out of nothing, therefore something is’.  Outside in the city the Cathedral bells were ringing in Evensong. The sounds only audible on a Sunday when the traffic abated a little and the sounds in the street below were sporadic. He thought of going out into the Cathedral precinct and listening to the bells roll and rhythm their sequences, those Plain-Bob-Majors and Grand-Sire-Triples. But he knew that would further break the spell, the train of thought that lay about him.

He sketched the next section, confidently, and when he had finished felt he could do know more. There it was: a starting point for tomorrow. He could now go towards home, walk for a while in the park and enjoy the movements of the wind-tossed trees, the late roses, the geese on the lake. He would think about his various children in their various lives. He would think about the woman he loved, and would one day assuage what he knew was a loneliness he could not quench with any music, and though he tried daily with words, would not be assuaged.
The poetic quotations are from poems by Margaret Morgan. A collection titled Words for Music by Margaret and Nigel Morgan is now available as an e-book from Amazon http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DY8RAGC
Birdy Thyne Oct 2012
As I brush my teeth in the bathroom, a young woman enters- tooth brush and face wash in hand.  I watch her reflection in the large mirror a front the sinks, I put an over-sized glob of tooth paste on my brush.
******* it Danielle, she sees this mistake you’ve made.

I turn the water on and attempt to wash away some of the toothpaste. We start brush at the same time, I smile to myself because these synchronized flukes, such as speaking in unison or laughing simultaneously, make me feel briefly connected to someone. Sounds a little silly, but don’t all ways of relieving loneliness?

My anxiety stirs again as I realize the volume of bristle to tooth.* Can you hear this? Is is disgusting to you? That sound of saliva and paste being ground into my teeth.
I lean forward to spit, inspecting the rusted faucet. I see my face in it’s metal stem, it convoluted my face.

I’d rather be disfigured, so that I’d no longer have to guess and worry about whether people were eying me. I would know. They could clearly see my faults if I had a missing jaw, drooping eye and liver spots mapped across my grey skin. I wouldn’t have to worry about the possibility of being seen in a favorable light.

The possibility of fooling anybody into thinking I’m not repulsive. I would know it.  I stare into the metal, I spit. Blood is all over the sink. I spit again and more blood. Again, blood. It’s pouring out of my mouth. I turn the water on high, panicked that the girl beside me will see. But she leaves, “goodnight” she says as she walks by. I try to say something but I’m choking on the blood. Where the **** is this blood coming from?

I glance up to the mirror, there is no blood in my mouth. Back to the sick- no blood. I am so confused, just moments ago Armageddon was spilling from my mouth; and now it’s vanished?
I stumble back wards into a stall.

“I saw that.”

A voice whispers from within the stall, or was it outside?   I open the door, but nobody is there.
Okay, Danny, calm down. Nobody is here, you’re imagining things.

“No, you heard.”

Confused, the voice, that voice- it’s coming from the stall door. No, doors can’t speak, I open the door but still, I am alone.

I run, bladder still full. Sundries still on the counter, I need to get out of there.
_______________________________
Paranoid Schizophrenia- A mental disorder characterized by a disintegration of the process of thinking and of emotional responsiveness. It most commonly manifests as auditory hallucinations, paranoid or bizarre delusions, or disorganized speech and thinking, and it is accompanied by significant social or occupational dysfunction.*
___________

Within two weeks of my first experience of hallucinations, I was in the Summit Valley Institution for Mental Disorders. Highly medicated, with stitches along my chin and staples in my head.
I’d lost all control, they found me at the bottom of a stairwell after falling 3 stories.

Nurses told me that when I’d been taken in, they found more that one hundred scraps of paper in my pockets, on them were different snipets of conversation I’d heard throughout the day. It was a compulsion, I was told, associated with Schizophrenia.
Sam Winter Feb 2016
O*ne-thirty in the morning, I'm creeping, ever-so-swiftly, to the entrance to my favorite public sculpture park. I don't like the sculptures, but I like their shadows. There's so much hidden meaning in what you see when you look at a shadow.... Thousands of years ago, the sun was worshiped as a life-giver - the ultimate source of everything man needs to survive: food, water, shelter, companionship.

     Shadows are the only thing that light will never reach.

     I don’t have an MP3 player, but I have music. Tonight, my playlist starts with Yellowcard’s *Lights and Sounds
…I sing it lowly to myself as I approach the darkened rebar fence that acts as sentry, guard, arbiter, and jailer to the inanimate zoo they contain. Rebar is always rusty. My hands wrap themselves around two of the bars as I ready myself for the heave overboard.

     I’m over the motor gate, now, and I’m free. The police don’t patrol the park, and there are other cars populating the lot I parked in. Too many people work too late. A girl I know told me that the quality of one’s life is multiplied by two for every three hours of sleep one gets – she told me this at three a.m. after we’d painted the town red. Someone else told me that for every eight hours of sleep one loses in a week subtracts, roughly, a week from one’s life expectancy. If that’s true, and I was supposed to die at seventy, I’ll be dead at sixty. But, honestly? I don’t care how long I live. I’m ready to die now. I mean, I don’t want to die now – it isn’t my preference of events – but, I’m at peace with how I’ve lived my life; so if I do die, I’ll die happy…. What was I talking about? Right, “Too many people…” So, why, if they’re going to die (because even if we distract ourselves, like Mr. Ivan Ilyich, we will die), do they seek these self destructive courses through life? Staying up to finish the quarterly report; dying of hunger to lose some weight; falling asleep at work, and getting assigned more late-night work as punishment; buying things no one will see; dressing up to impress those that don’t matter; dying for that promotion; dying for that car; dying for that girl; dying for that guy….dying.

     I look at my hands as I walk into the shadows of trees and gazebos. Rebar is always rusty…and rust is always red. Now I look as though I’ve killed. My hands are the evidence that I’ve wrung the life out of an innocent metal gate-post. I’d like to plead insanity. I’ll take the ten years in solitary confinement, please.

     I pull a left, then a right, then a left, then a right, then a left, then a right…actually, I’m wandering – no, meandering – through the park, with Hans Zimmer’s Davey Jones Movement roaring in my head; I meander in time with the music. My feet take me to the places I like best. Places where the night looks back at you; where you have to force yourself to set your gaze. Try staring into pitch blackness sometime. It’s not a comfortable feeling. I’ve heard that darkness is where evil resides. I think darkness is misunderstood…like the nature of “evil.” Sit opposite a weird, 20th-century abstract three-dimensional art piece, and stare, hard, into the darkness at its heart. There are stories there. So many unanswered questions can be answered when you ask those things that can’t give you a tangible answer.

     I’ve counseled with the shadows; now for therapy: interpretive dance accompanied by a healthy dose of therapeutic screaming. I sing a lot. You never notice how quietly you have to sing in public until you really need to sing. That’s why there are shadows. They listen very intently, don’t think you’re strange, and soak all pain, pleasure, anger and fear you might sing to release. Something by Vampire Weekend is jamming in my head, and this time, I’m singing along….

     To the shadows.

     Snippets of opera pieces start fluttering through my head. Accompanied by Ugandan chants, and Pawnee ritual songs. And I’m dancing around the shadow of a fire.

     If you never felt pain, how would you know what pleasure felt like? So I celebrate it; by exhaling it in a chorus meant only for the stars, and shadows, and ghosts. I celebrate, dancing in the darkness, waving my arms at the veil of clouds and the stars behind them; I hop to one foot, and wobble in step with the music in my head, and the words on my lips. I hop to the other, and jump at the crescendo of sounds in my mind, those sounds flushing me clean of the hurt, and pain, and grief that plague every creature that may consider why he’s been hurt. In mid flight, I feel the brief weightlessness of flight, hovering in the heavens. Caught between the clouds and the shadows, I close my eyes, and leave my time of arrival a mystery to myself; the last of my cares escapes me, and as I touch the soft, dewed earth, I am delivered.

     Now I can commune, freely, with these dark places. Don’t Let Me Down, by the Stereophonics comes to mind. Have you ever been let down? Of course you have. You are every day. Every hour. I am. Every day, every hour. It’s life. I think we expect too much of ourselves…of others. That animal desire to improve ourselves and our conditions drives us to expect the impossible. And the animal desire to improve our chances of success in life tell us we’ve failed when we, well…fail. The pits of our souls know better, though. They see the whole instead of those precious few real failures. They’re as dark as night, herself. She’s listened to our hearts tear themselves apart. The weight of failure is overwhelming, but the shadows lend shoulders to bear the weight with us…to lighten the load. I’ve told them how it feels to be human, now they show me how it feels to not care.

      “Don’t Let Me Down”, they plead. The bluesy, wailing lyrics fit the moment: all of the emotion of celebration and sorrow wrapped into one tangled poem. My arms climb above my head, wrapping around themselves, snaking through the air, as I dance with the absence of light…as I embrace the objectivity that knows how to evade the sun.

      Wisdom, is wisdom, is wisdom; truth on the lips of the devil is still truth. And I’ve listened.

     Now those great, and wise shadows bear my weight effortlessly, and I can relax. I find myself exhausted, and legs give way to putty; I find myself flat on my back. Now I lie upon the grass, touched by the places where light never will.

      The color black is said to be so because it absorbs all the colors of the spectrum. That it takes, and never gives. Like Salt Lake. It’s said that anything that never gives, dies. Like Salt Lake. But can death die twice? How much more can shadows absorb than colors? What else can shadows absorb? I think black is a wonderful color. Like shadows. And they both give. To give by taking; what a wonderful idea…. They’ve filled a very hard niche to fill in this world.

      My legs and lungs compete in me, burning, exhausted, and happy. I let the veil slip from my face, and the shadows watch me smile; my big, goofy, elated grin thanking them for listening. There’s no fear in my gut, no depression crushing my chest. The doubt and loneliness and helplessness cannot touch me.

     I am the shadow of pain. The shadow of fear. The shadow of the pull and push of life.

     They will never reach me.

     The world would be a better place if we sung to the shadows instead of running from them. You can’t touch one, like you can people; but they can’t hurt you, either – like people can. Someone told me that you can’t depend on people, because they will always let you down. I think I’ll keep trusting, and sing when they do.
Raindrop Jun 2018
I realized I liked you when
our eyes met then I immediately
looked away as if it was the first time
I laid my eyes on you.

I realized I liked you when
I made a list of things we could
talk about but ended up blanking out
when I started talking to you.

I realized I’ve fallen for you when
we were in a concert and you
accompanied me throughout the night.
I knew my heart was pounding not from
the loud speakers but from you
being so close to me.

I realized I’ve fallen for you when
I got nervous and you held my hand,
comforting me with no words said;
contented with how our fingers
interlaced with one another.

I realized I loved you when
I started writing about you and
our happy moments that now have
turned into memories.

I realized I loved you when
I turned you into poetry.
I do have feelings for this person but because I'm being careful not to conclude that "it's love" easily, I kept denying to myself that I 'might' do... until I started writing for and about her and had turned her my muse.
Chorus:
… Wouo wouo..  
...Dindon Dindo
… LyeeYee Lyee
    [1]
Shall we sing this together?
A song from the fishermen,
When sea waves catch up with sea wolfs
And they’re waltzing with the tide,
Have you heard the wind keeps mourning?
Don’t forget to take great care,
the Sea Wolf's share
  
And wasn’t it cheered up to his wounded soul overside
   [2]
... Wouo wouo
...Dindon Dindo
… LyeeYee Lyee Yee…

Sea waves splashes Sea Wolf rides, day by day...

Are those unseen on the crested waves?
And the blue sea wave mists rise from her gray green eyes
When he comes from his salt sea caves.
The fishermen whispers , when storms at night
There will be a great sea bellow and tsunami roars,
Thunder accompanied with sea wolf rides on the plunging tides,
 Can’t you hear his solo tune dashes to sky window
[3]

...Wouo wouo..  
...Dindon Dindo
… LyeeYee Lyee Yee…
Rains
Snows
Storms
Sea wolf struggling ahead, under the sea waves,
listens to a tsunami quartet ensemble
Silently, sea waves are
waiting for the sun returns.
Although storms come with shouting and  yelling
The fishermen whispers,
look, that green eyed sea wolf waits by the sea gateway,
will tomorrow never dawn, is another day
Love to dive into the big blue and listen to A G Minor seawaves dynamic with sea wolfs.
Maxi Jun 2015
I tend to,
Give my all without expectations of receiving something of equal worth
So I end up in bed accompanied by my emptiness
Feeling worth less than the word less
Because I wear my emotions on my face and I can’t seem to separate the
Pain from the passion.
I guess it’s my fault that this happened.
I guess it’s my fault, and since I’m not one to make allegations
I have no patience
I end up accepting less than I deserve, and I’ve always heard
That I can be whatever I want to be, and it’s up to me to turn my daydreams
Into realities, but in reality, the concept of reality is all new to me
I have a problem. I tend to,
Give my all without expectations to, receive something of equal worth
What am I worth?
I’m not sure but my…soul contains the universe
And beauty is in the hush of the trees
Misconceived mix match of half-baked beliefs
But I’m not one to make allegations, I have no patience
Recycled existence of inspiration
I’ve always heard…never judge a book by its cover
So if I’m judged for doing me
That’s another brand new cavity across the meaning of the word humanity
That’s another false rumor spread
Another he said she said text read
Another person’s confidence dead.
But I can solve the California water crisis with the tears that I have not shed.
I wear my emotions on my face, but do not be confused by the lack of emotion that I show.
See, whenever you’re invited to a funeral, we all know that you’re supposed to go, but we do not cry for the ones we do not know
What are you worth?
You are a slave to your mind and can’t see what is, for what it is for.
Helloo, this is the 21st century and we don’t need chains to make slaves out of people anymore.
If you’re lost, insecure, and feeling worthless, give yourself a worth test.
They’ll call you dramatic, but I’ll call you my living protest.

— The End —