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Holding hands to cross the street
Feel the sand under my feet
The way you twirl me, like a cotton candy man
I feel so girly as you wind each curly strand

When I'm growing up too fast
And the world demands a lady
You remind me of my past,
Though it often might evade me

Summer days and autumn leaves
Wading through the endless trees
The way you hold me when I just can't sleep at night
I lay there coldly as you slowly soothe my mind


After all is said and done,
So thankful you're the one
To bring back the daughter in me
Song lyrics for a country tune, written from the perspective of a husband-seeking daughter grown up.
Black loom the crags of the uplands behind me,
Dark are the sands of the far-stretching shore.
Dim are the pathways and rocks that remind me
Sadly of years in the lost Nevermore.

Soft laps the ocean on wave-polish'd boulder,
Sweet is the sound and familiar to me;
Here, with her head gently bent to my shoulder,
Walk'd I with Unda, the Bride of the Sea.

Bright was the morn of my youth when I met her,
Sweet as the breeze that blew o'er the brine.
Swift was I captur'd in Love's strongest fetter,
Glad to be here, and she glad to be mine.

Never a question ask'd I where she wander'd,
Never a question ask'd she of my birth:
Happy as children, we thought not nor ponder'd,
Glad of the bounty of ocean and earth.

Once when the moonlight play'd soft 'mid the billows,
High on the cliff o'er the waters we stood,
Bound was her hair with a garland of willows,
Pluck'd by the fount in the bird-haunted wood.

Strangely she gaz'd on the surges beneath her,
Charm'd with the sound or entranc'd by the light:
Then did the waves a wild aspect bequeath her,
Stern as the ocean and weird as the night.

Coldly she left me, astonish'd and weeping,
Standing alone 'mid the legions she bless'd:
Down, ever downward, half gliding, half creeping,
Stole the sweet Unda in oceanward quest.

Calm grew the sea, and tumultuous beating
Turn'd to a ripple as Unda the fair
Trod the wet sands in affectionate greeting,
Beckon'd to me, and no longer was there!

Long did I pace by the banks where she vanish'd,
High climb'd the moon and descended again.
Grey broke the dawn till the sad night was banish'd,
Still ach'd my soul with its infinite pain.

All the wide world have I search'd for my darling;
Scour'd the far desert and sail'd distant seas.
Once on the wave while the tempest was snarling,
Flash'd a fair face that brought quiet and ease.

Ever in restlessness onward I stumble
Seeking and pining scarce heeding my way.
Now have I stray'd where the wide waters rumble,
Back to the scene of the lost yesterday.

Lo! the red moon from the ocean's low hazes
Rises in ominous grandeur to view;
Strange is its face as my tortur'd eye gazes
O'er the vast reaches of sparkle and blue.

Straight from the moon to the shore where I'm sighing
Grows a bright bridge made of wavelets and beams.
Frail it may be, yet how simple the trying,
Wand'ring from earth to the orb of sweet dreams.

What is yon face in the moonlight appearing;
Have I at last found the maiden that fled?
Out on the beam-bridge my footsteps are nearing
Her whose sweet beckoning hastens my tread.

Current's surround me, and drowsily swaying,
Far on the moon-path I seek the sweet face.
Eagerly, hasting, half panting, half praying,
Forward I reach for the vision of grace.

Murmuring waters about me are closing,
Soft the sweet vision advances to me.
Done are my trials; my heart is reposing
Safe with my Unda, the Bride of the Sea.
Thom Jamieson Aug 2018
He dreamed he was loved.
A love guarded fiercely, with passion.
A love that was not unconditional.
Not the blank slate love of a child
or an animal so programmed by instinct.
This love was willful and earned.
Having glimpsed an injured brilliance
beneath the flab and sweat and stench she weaned it to health.
Making it stronger, and brighter,
and more prominent with each passing day; until it erupted.
And he was transformed.
to embody that brilliance.
And she protected that embodiment.
Letting nothing call it to question.
She cared for him as he never could for himself.
She soothed and softened
and loved the deep furrow from his brow.
And her passion overwhelmed him.

And he wanted for nothing.

And when he opened his eyes
To **** and filth
with only the kiss of concrete
and the banter of horns
and obscenities
and footsteps.
******* FOOTSTEPS.
Heels pittering purposefully to mask exhausted uncertainty
Brogues, and wingtips clicking; with a cocky juvenile illusion of importance.
Boots plodding heavily under the weight of duty,
to build, and fix, and secure for the others.
And through a fog laid thick and throbbing
by poisons chased dutifully the night before;
he felt her fierce love for a fleeting moment
Guarding, and loving his shining brilliance
until it erupted from him;
With bile and blood, **** and regret
coldly rejected by his concrete companion.
And she was gone once again.
I almost never write in the third person but thought I would give it a try (part of my narcissism therapy ;) )  Feedback welcome  (also part of it...:))
ZinaLisha May 2014
not sure if I am cold
like they believe
or simply numb,
from being treated coldly
for so **** long.

a pretty girl whose smile
is always in rare form
spectators judge
others intriqued
with the quiet storm.

"knock knock,
is anybody home?"
I AM HERE,
but my emotions
are long gone.
1
We, whose lungs fill with the sweetness of day.
Who in May admire trees flowering
Are better than those who perished.

We, who taste of exotic dishes,
And enjoy fully the delights of love,
Are better than those who were buried.

We, from the fiery furnaces, from behind barbed wires
On which the winds of endless autumns howled,
We, who remember battles where the wounded air roared in
paroxysms of pain.
We, saved by our own cunning and knowledge.

By sending others to the more exposed positions
Urging them loudly to fight on
Ourselves withdrawing in certainty of the cause lost.

Having the choice of our own death and that of a friend
We chose his, coldly thinking: Let it be done quickly.

We sealed gas chamber doors, stole bread
Knowing the next day would be harder to bear than the day before.

As befits human beings, we explored good and evil.
Our malignant wisdom has no like on this planet.

Accept it as proven that we are better than they,
The gullible, hot-blooded weaklings, careless with their lives.

2
Treasure your legacy of skills, child of Europe.
Inheritor of Gothic cathedrals, of baroque churches.
Of synagogues filled with the wailing of a wronged people.
Successor of Descartes, Spinoza, inheritor of the word 'honor',
Posthumous child of Leonidas
Treasure the skills acquired in the hour of terror.

You have a clever mind which sees instantly
The good and bad of any situation.
You have an elegant, skeptical mind which enjoys pleasures
Quite unknown to primitive races.

Guided by this mind you cannot fail to see
The soundness of the advice we give you:
Let the sweetness of day fill your lungs
For this we have strict but wise rules.

3
There can be no question of force triumphant
We live in the age of victorious justice.

Do not mention force, or you will be accused
Of upholding fallen doctrines in secret.

He who has power, has it by historical logic.
Respectfully bow to that logic.

Let your lips, proposing a hypothesis
Not know about the hand faking the experiment.

Let your hand, faking the experiment
No know about the lips proposing a hypothesis.

Learn to predict a fire with unerring precision
Then burn the house down to fulfill the prediction.

4
Grow your tree of falsehood from a single grain of truth.
Do not follow those who lie in contempt of reality.

Let your lie be even more logical than the truth itself
So the weary travelers may find repose in the lie.

After the Day of the Lie gather in select circles
Shaking with laughter when our real deeds are mentioned.

Dispensing flattery called: perspicacious thinking.
Dispensing flattery called: a great talent.

We, the last who can still draw joy from cynicism.
We, whose cunning is not unlike despair.

A new, humorless generation is now arising
It takes in deadly earnest all we received with laughter.

5
Let your words speak not through their meanings
But through them against whom they are used.

Fashion your weapon from ambiguous words.
Consign clear words to lexical limbo.

Judge no words before the clerks have checked
In their card index by whom they were spoken.

The voice of passion is better than the voice of reason.
The passionless cannot change history.

6
Love no country: countries soon disappear
Love no city: cities are soon rubble.

Throw away keepsakes, or from your desk
A choking, poisonous fume will exude.

Do not love people: people soon perish.
Or they are wronged and call for your help.

Do not gaze into the pools of the past.
Their corroded surface will mirror
A face different from the one you expected.

7
He who invokes history is always secure.
The dead will not rise to witness against him.

You can accuse them of any deeds you like.
Their reply will always be silence.

Their empty faces swim out of the deep dark.
You can fill them with any feature desired.

Proud of dominion over people long vanished,
Change the past into your own, better likeness.

8
The laughter born of the love of truth
Is now the laughter of the enemies of the people.

Gone is the age of satire. We no longer need mock.
The sensible monarch with false courtly phrases.

Stern as befits the servants of a cause,
We will permit ourselves sycophantic humor.

Tight-lipped, guided by reasons only
Cautiously let us step into the era of the unchained fire.
They have watered the street,
It shines in the glare of lamps,
Cold, white lamps,
And lies
Like a slow-moving river,
Barred with silver and black.
Cabs go down it,
One,
And then another,
Between them I hear the shuffling of feet.
Tramps doze on the window-ledges,
Night-walkers pass along the sidewalks.
The city is squalid and sinister,
With the silver-barred street in the midst,
Slow-moving,
A river leading nowhere.

Opposite my window,
The moon cuts,
Clear and round,
Through the plum-coloured night.
She cannot light the city:
It is too bright.
It has white lamps,
And glitters coldly.

I stand in the window and watch the
moon.
She is thin and lustreless,
But I love her.
I know the moon,
And this is an alien city.
Melody W Nov 2012
Sunlight interrupts shadows
Interspersed throughout the campus lawn,
calmly filters through foliage
And cold stone corners

No open spaces are found here now
A carefully calculated attempt
To prevent student protests
Blood and smoke
Mere wisps of the past -
From pervading the calm atmosphere
Like effervescent bubbles escaping out of
An ocean trembling with suppressed energy

Walk a little ways
Down through the dense concrete forest
with its peaks marked with faceless mirrors

It is not deserted
But rather bustling with energy now

Decades ago it happened
One trembling voice
Pleading one last cause
"In God’s Name, End the War!"
Then collapsing into silence
with a mere puff of smoke
A coldly ironic magician’s trick
Forever etched into the pavement.
Despite these confined spaces
Some stains will always remain

*And one voice will be heard
©MW
tranquil Jun 2014
love is rebel

when maddening rush of waves in sea
pound upon rocks obliterating all reverence
and meekest lilies bud in deserts to destroy
drowsy, shrivelled spirits of arid expanse

winds hum a song

and ballad of crimson bleeds from skylark's beak
as millennia of smoldering agony melt the furnace
of a gasping heart stomped upon by boots of time
weary, tired of burning for this world

i turn to you

chasing the merriest dream shut against an eye
of a frail romance, seeking a moment's solace
in tender touch of your silvery hue
lest my soul discern emptiness of my being

and turn blind without

caress of blissful light streaming down divinity
of a paradise which shall be home to lovers
in a moment something akin to blossoms fair
and be named the marvel of a moonlit sky

but how you only part

with moment lapsing into oblivion like a stream
housing ripples which fade into obscurity
as you flowing ride seaward along noiseless breezes
only to rest in nethers of a watery labyrinth

and doomed to burn

i part ways till my beloved's sleep grieves upon
dark stillness of heart as garish rays burn alight;
fill the land with a curtain of longing;
await your blissful countenance at twilight

beyond a chore of night and day

indulge in gleaming splendour of a festival
witnessed by angels and mortals alike
amid fleeting tenderness that paints our wispy sky
with a rosy blush, we seek each other

wriggling along

emptiness of space and hallucinate
a glittering spread of stars half asleep or coy
while celestial arena dumbfounded by our mutinous flight
gazes at two Gods sailing, sinking in each others arms

do humans plead and pray

wrought with sorrow, wish away the ill omen
turning glorious light to abominable darkness
as if life betrayed the vanquished spirit of
terrorized souls shouting, beating pots and drums

should someone tell the world

and those beseeching mercy from heavens
escape is a wing endowed to dream
through eyes of a lover which turn to riot
illuminate the darkness of a lifetime's longing

tell them dearie, tell them now

to the chanting, screaming vengeful barbarians
we're a tangle of coldly breathed sighs in lonesome nights
a mad rush of blooming desire grew tired of servility
wrapped inside the ring of black burning passion

we are the embrace

frozen in background of a singular nothingness
for which seems like an eternity but which shall
only last for a desperate twinkle of time
while savoured feasts of memories brew in our being

but long as we are bound

baited to the hook of grand order
crunched and gnashed under weight of divine province
we will part in an eye's blink again
like melody turned to a moan

-- the sun
faint and pale, vague as mist
in drowsing depth of shaded sky
gleaming sweet between the hills
you bless me with eternal light

tracing out the spiral steps
tresses silver pave the way
out in garden of my stars
beams of gold do so convey

tales of shiny mistress knocking
a door of white, still rustiness
awaiting night's crescendo
a valiant saviour - nothing less

though momentary interludes
fleeting glimpses, passing glances
shall slip away in an eyes blink
with churning spell of nature's dances

while night sighs of nostalgia
beckoned by call of time
reluctantly we submit
tremble with solemn goodbyes

as slender arms of dreamy beams
leaning dwell in treads of clouds
we'll dress the pitch of emptiness
all in eager lonely shrouds

-- the moon
em Mar 2016
My eyelids seem
to be the strongest part of me.
When the rest of my body
falls
into the ocean
of blankets they
float open upon the white water
atop
the waves of sleep.
This is when you come back.
In this mattress I am a piece
of clay and I can still feel the deep indentations of where your fingers
wrapped themselves like Ivy around my hips.
Hips, that stuck out like white flags of surrender and
fell to the ground in a straight line.
I can still hear
you.
I am a broken record,
and your whispers are the only track that plays at this hour.
“You are fat”
“Look at how flat you are Emma, no boy will ever look at you.”
“You are ugly.”
These are the nights when I can
feel the spiderwebs your words wrapped around my ribs and
listen to the way my heart beats constricted
in its cage, your hand still clenched around it.
Can’t you see me bleeding?
Safety lies
beneath my eyelids but you pull them open
I can feel
your icy touch behind my eyes as I stare
coldly at the ceiling.
you demand to be heard.
Did you mean to put your words
in my pocket when you reached in to steal the sleep that was nestled there like crumpled dollar bills?
Do you realize that you stayed with me?
Can you take your stolen midnight hours back and place them on your pillowcase?
Will your eyelids close?
Or can you still hear my cries of protest as your soundtrack plays into the night?
I don't understand?
Did you think it wouldn't hurt me?
Or did you want to live forever,so you put your
fingerprints where you knew they wouldn't fade.
This is almost the completed version of a poem I am submitting to a contest. Please please please leave feedback and suggestions. I really want this to go somewhere. I believe it is a message that people need to hear.
We went to the movies and I didn't bring a sweater.
But the night was coldly filled with goosebump raising weather.
There were goosebumps on my skin but I didn't have my sweater.
I thought it would be better if we sat closer together.
You wrapped your arms around me and were my warmth spreader.
You made my heart melt and now I will forever be your debtor.
Heavy Hearted Jul 2018
;heart made of metal, you're too hard to soothe
as an iron *****, you coldly shine smooth.
n head full of ember, your trickily burnt  fire-
With its heat licks my lips, scolding hot with desire.
And then
Voice made of water,
may you speak of unknown
rivers lakes- oceans blue
Typhoon and cyclone.

And soul made of moonstone- may
outwardly you shine,
Dance, scintillating- a
pure serpentine.
max Oct 2012
The depression wont be ending soon
I took the blades form you
oh, my dear, do you live in this fear?
I take a deep breath looking around
See through my eyes what i found
oh, my dear, do you live in this fear?
One last breath to say slow down
this is all too fast, i'm scared now
oh, my dear, do you live in this fear?
tall thin black and burnt figure
coming near to be my savior
oh, my dear, do you live in this fear?
he said his name is suicide
he promises me one last fire fight
oh, my dear, do you live in this fear?
see the movement beyond the eclipse
you take my hand, only to rip open my wrists
oh, my dear, do you live in this fear?
sweet lips pressed coldly to mine
you're breathing out, telling me to stay alive
oh, my dear, do you live in this fear?
my pulse begins to fade away
you scream to me, to win this race
oh, my dear, do you live in this fear?
the eclipse takes over, whispers of "i thought you could"
you scream and kick at the dirt
oh, my dear, do you live in this fear?
a rough rope tied with loops
whisper to my ghost "you cant stop this noose"
oh, my dear, do you live in this fear?
tears of soot stream down my face
with one brutal snap, our memories are erased
oh, my dear, do you live in this fear?
My heart crashes to the ground
my one true love, now only a corpse to be found.
oh, my dear, do you live in this fear?
an icy thin white velveteen hand
reaching down to lift me off the burning land
oh, my dear, do you live in this fear?
lifted up to my muse's translucent face
our perfect romance, as love has won this race
oh, my dear, do you live in this fear?
We walk away, together forever
on true love that can never be severed.
Oh, my dear, we no longer live in that fear.
Lianna Walters Jun 2019
!!!!!!Trigger Warning: ****, domestic violence, abuse, suicide!!!!!!!!



When I moved to your hometown, I saw your true colors.
I saw that power meant more, your dominance meant more, your ego and your assertiveness meant more to you than I did.
I tried.
I tried to leave you alone, but like a moth drawn to a flame, time and again I allowed myself to draw nearer to you, shocked when you burned me every time.
Isn’t that the definition of insanity?
Days later, I cut you off. I blocked you. And it felt good. Like I regained some of the control you took away from me. I was starting to feel like myself again until I got home that night.
You busted through the deadbolt lock on my door.
My backpack was missing.
I called your mom in a panic, having not connected the dots until moments after I hung up the phone with her and I heard your voice, calling me from outside my window.
I asked you.
I asked you once.
I asked you twice.
Did you do that to my door?
Your calm, unchanging face didn’t even blink when you answered,
No.
It wasn’t until I put two and two together, you being there, having my backpack, the holes in your story, your unchanging, unsurprised, unsympathetic face, that I realized what you had done.
And when I called you on it, you admitted it.
Why lie to me? Why lie to my face?
So I blocked you, again.
Leave me alone until I give you the word, I said.
Just leave me alone.
Two days later, I was breaking down crying over my inability to be alone, over my inability to love my broke pieces enough to pick myself up and put myself back together
Two days later, I called you.
You told me you were sorry.
And that you sent me roses in the mail, set to arrive sometime before I left, two weeks from then.
And I melted
I caved
I gave up being strong and decided to instead be naïve, oblivious, or simply in denial.
We can make it work at least until I leave, right?
What’s the worst that can happen?
But then the worst started to happen.
Your flashbacks took away your memories of me and replaced them with menacing, intrusive thoughts
Replaced me with other girls
Nameless, faceless, meaningless bodies for you to use as you please
Or a roadblock in the way of you achieving peace at last, kissing death’s sweet lips
The bad guy you worked so hard to bury deep within your subconscious became very, very conscious
Very real
I first noticed it the day we were walking to the park, I said you were less mature than I, a harmless quip meaning no personal injury
You walked on the opposite side of the street as me, refusing to look at me, refusing to acknowledge me, refusing to come back to my side.
But when that car full of guys rolled by me, whistling, yelling various unsolicited, uncomfortable things resembling compliments, you laughed.
You laughed at my fear.
And still wouldn’t walk with me.
It was that day, you got in my face and dared me to put my hands on you so you could lay me on the ground
It was that day, I asked you, why are you talking to me like this?
It was that day, you answered, if I don’t hurt you verbally, it will be physically.
It was moments later, through tears, I begged, why do you treat me like this?
It was moments later, with cold eyes, you answered, to feel powerful
Is it a switch?
Can you flip it on and off?
How can the one who caresses my face so very gently,
The one who calls himself my protector at all costs,
The one who rushes to my side at every beck and call,
The one who opens doors for me
Walks two hours in the rain for me
Spends all his money to send me roses,
Be so cruel?
Three days before I’m supposed to leave, you come spend the night with me
We’re laying down, whispering sweet nothings to each other in the darkness
When I suddenly admit, I’ll miss you.
Don’t go, you say.
But I have to. I have to, my love.
It was then that you grabbed me by the neck, and told me I was not going to leave you.
Baby, please, I can’t breathe.
You’re not leaving. I don’t care if I have to take you away
Then you jolt out of it, looking at me with confusion. Your head hurts.
Just lay on me chest baby, it’s okay
I stroke your hair slowly, softly, calmly
Why is your heart beating so fast?
It’s not baby, close your eyes.
I hear it. What’s wrong?
Nothing, love, I’m fine. Just anxious about the move.
You know, you could stay here with me.
Baby, I already got my plane ticket, I’m leaving in a couple days.
No.
No?
No.
You grab my wrist with one hand.
Baby, let me go.
No.
Babe, you have to let me go. It’s okay.
No. Stop saying that.
Baby, I-
It’s too late. You’re already on top of me, grabbing my other wrist and pinning me down, your dark eyes beating into mind.
Baby, please let go of me, you’re squeezing too tight, you’re hurting me.
Your grip grows even stronger, and I feel the panic rising in my chest again.
Then you jolt out of it. Your head hurts. You need to lay down.
This time, I don’t let you lay on me. This time, I simply watch you lay there.
You reach out for me
I flinch
Concern flickers in your eyes, babygirl what’s wrong? You haven’t flinched around me in months.
It’s nothing.
It’s something, talk to me. What did I do?
You… um.. you pinned me down. You h-held my wrists. You wouldn’t let me go…
You laugh.
I wouldn’t do that, unless you were trying to leave me
Baby, I’m leaving the state in two days.
Your eyes turn cold. You yank my hair, pulling my head back.
You what?
I don’t answer.
You WHAT?
I-I’m leaving in two-
You yank my hair again, harder this time, before letting me go.
Your head hurts.
Really bad, really, really, bad.
Lay down baby, it’s okay.
I kiss your forehead tenderly
You’re okay.
My last day there was the worst.
By far, the worst.
Laying down, we’re past the stage of denial over me leaving.
I’m leaving tomorrow. And I’m so horribly sad to leave you behind.
You’re depressed. You don’t want to be here anymore. You don’t see yourself living without me.
You’re the only thing ******* keeping me here anymore, you say bitterly.
You’re gonna have to be strong for me when I leave, my love. I know you can.
Just die with me, you plead, it’ll be quick. I can choke you to death and **** myself. We’ll never have to be apart again.
We don’t even know what’s on the other side. What if it’s nothing? What if we don’t find each other?
You insist. You beg. You plead. You cry. Until you finally give up convincing me, your hand creeping up towards my neck.
Let me go.
Baby, let me go
Your hand is around my neck. Tightening. It’s getting harder and harder to breathe. There are black spots clouding my vision, like when you stand up too fast after sitting for too long, except they’re everywhere
Please, babe, please just…
Shhhhh babygirl it’s okay, close your eyes, go to sleep
So I do. I close my eyes and you slowly remove your hand from my neck, kissing me tenderly on the forehead, before getting up and going to my window. You open the window and as you’re looking down at the two story drop, my eyelids flutter open.
I reach out for you as you go to climb out the window.
Baby, stop, I whisper weakly.
You’re supposed to be dead.
But I’m not. Just, come here, it’s okay, you don’t have to do this.
I stand slowly and come to you, grabbing your arm to pull you away from the window.
Now it’s your turn to demand that I let you go.
Just let me do this. I need to do this. Leave me alone.
No, you don’t, just come here.
Before I can even blink both of your hands are around my neck and squeezing, lifting me off the ground.
Leave me alone before I make you leave me alone.
Unable to breathe, I nod, and you drop me.
Gasping for breath, I see you going towards the window once again.
Please! Just use the front door. Just walk out the front door, if you go out the front door I swear to god I’ll leave you alone.
You turn towards me, reaching once again for my neck, and I grab your wrists.
You back me up, twisting out of my grip and grabbing onto my wrists.
You keep backing me up, until we’re almost to my closet. I stop and rest against the open door, and you ask coldly,
Why’d you stop backing up? Keep going. Since you don’t know how to leave me the **** alone.
I don’t have much of a choice. You push me into the closet, and turn me around so I’m no longer facing you, placing your arm around my neck in a choke hold and tightening your grip.
I hit your arm once, twice, three, four, five times, and you finally drop me.
Your head hurts.
I turn to face you, with fear in my eyes, cowering under you.
You look at me with confusion.
Why are we in a closet? What’s wrong? Why are you-
You reach out to touch me and I cower and flinch, shaking my head
Please don’t, please, please don’t touch me. Please. I’m sorry. Please.
I break down crying.
You realize what you’ve done.
And you sit in the closet. In your little corner, to punish yourself, as I cower in the corner.
Seconds blend into minutes as they pass by, until you rise from the closet, going to the door. You don’t know where you are. You don’t know who I am. You keep calling me another girl’s name. I don’t know who it is.
Now it’s your turn to cower in the corner.
I can only imagine what’s going on in your head, as you’re crying out with fear and panic over the voices screaming in your head. I let you cry, clinging onto my legs.
It’s okay my love, you’re safe now, you’re not there anymore. Let it out. It’s okay.
My jeans are soaked now. I gently remove you from my legs and go to change my pants. Your face immediately switches to panic.
No, please, I don’t want to have ***. Please. I don’t want to.
Baby, relax. I’m not going to make you. I’m just changing out of these wet pants.
As I change out of my pants and into your oversized basketball shorts, your face changes.
Come here.
I look at you, confused.
Now.
I slowly walk over to the corner where you’re no longer cowering in. I crouch down next to you.
Closer.
You pull me onto your lap.
I gotta tell you something.
I lean over, your lips grazing my ear as you whisper,
I want you
You begin kissing my neck.
Kissing, touching, gently.
I almost didn’t notice anything was wrong. It wasn’t until you looked at me and asked,
What’s your name, girl?
That I realized you weren’t really here. I looked at you, dumbfounded, and you shrugged,
Okay, I guess that doesn’t matter. You’re **** as hell.
I pushed off of you, shaking my head.
I’m your girlfriend. Remember?
You shake your head.
I don’t date girls like you. Why don’t you just take that off?
You stand, walking towards me.
Just relax.
No!
I push you off me, and you laugh coldly.
Babygirl, we can do this the easy way or the hard way. But I love it when they fight back.
You grab me by the neck, kissing me roughly, as your free hand pulls my shorts off.
I’m pushing you. I’m pushing you off of me but you’re too strong.
You grip my ******* tightly and begin pulling them down, but I grip them tighter and keep holding them up.
Stop. Please. Stop.
I use my most authoritative voice and you chuckle with amusement.
Guess we’re doing this the hard way then, hm?
You pick me up and set me on my back on the ground. I go to get up. You pin me back down by my throat, prying yourself between my legs.
You begin to touch me.
I flinch under your touch and keep pushing, keep pushing you off of me.
You pin my hands with both of yours.
You bring my hands together and hold them both with one of your hands.
Stop. Fighting.
You resume touching me.
My body betrays me as I squirm and leak.
You know you like that. Don’t you?
You enter me, and I cry out in pain as you use me for your pleasure.
Call me daddy
You demand, and I shake my head.
You grab me by the throat and begin going harder. Faster. Harder. Faster.
Again, you demand,
Say it.
The word escapes my lips and you grin with satisfaction.
I close my eyes.
I stop fighting.
I do anything I can to take a mental vacation somewhere far, far, away.
I’m not here. This isn’t happening. It’s not. It’s okay. I’m fine. It’s almost over.
You pull out suddenly, and look at me with horror.
No… no… no, no, no, no, no, no
You let go of my neck. Then my hands. You back up and stare at me as if I’m on fire.
Please tell me I didn’t just do what I think I just did.
I wish I could. I wish I could tell you that you didn’t just do what you think you just did, but you did.
Your head hurts.
So ******* bad.
You retreat to your corner in the closet, and I retreat to the corner opposite in the room. Now it’s my turn to cower in the corner.
The next morning, you’re helping me move my stuff out of my room, into your mom’s car. She’s taking me to the airport.
The ride to the airport is silent.
When we arrive, you open the door for me, and scoop me up bridal-style so I don’t get my shoes wet in the puddle you’re standing in.
I hug you tightly, holding back tears.
I kiss you gently, holding back words.
I love you.
I love you, too.
As I walk into the airport, leaving you standing in the rain, I realize:
The roses never came.
This is the real story of how my life has been for the past month. I am safe now, in another state. I escaped but he still lives in my mind. Please no hate or judgement in the comments.
Jeremy Duff Apr 2014
I collect scars.
I show them to people rarely.
Sometimes I think of them fondly,
sometimes I think of them coldly.

I write a lot about the place where (we) met.
Where (we) fell in love.
Where (we) grew apart.

I guess in a way, my memories are scars.
I collect memories.
I share them with people rarely.
Sometimes I think of them fondly,
sometimes I think of them coldly.
As a darkness descends to these troubled lands,
carefully watching are those who feel a cold shrill,
hear with frozen aching,
breathing in the quickening frost...

Growing hoary slowly,
as the rime it seeds,
pressed blades of grass feel the man in need...
This is a toll that must be paid!

Her fleeting thoughts dance with the wind as she twirls about spinning into the winter’s descent...

Darkness falls and so doth she,
her thoughts in brightness, uncoupled glee,
her heart in love and mind carefree...

A sweeping, dashing, vision he shows,
In moon as deep earth,
her sweet heart glows,

“Forget the quickly, approaching fee!”

“Dear Night, oh Darkness; spare this man!”

“I see you, -hear me for I plead too, I’m watching from your ice-gripped troubled land!”

“Take me instead; I’ll pay his cost or your dark soul is truly lost!”

“I twirl with woe, I dance thus so, -wanton abandon…
the shivering cold and this ice I stand in,
Your chill, the frost, the illness and the terrible cost,
...our crops and all our people lost,
and still I shall ignore your hand!"


THEN HE DIES!

“No, your reparations I thus will pay!
Leave us now, unburden this land, your frory wind is not his plan,
God does love us, -he’ll stay your hand!”


“Some sign, an answer, please, oh please!
On frosted grass I press my knees,
will you not hear my lovelorn cries?
Why must you take him, why must he die?
I cannot stand so idly by!”


“How can you torment such good men, our town, our lands, tis ours, our home this place you’re in?"

Frigid heart of icy Dragon,
feels not nothing, mourns no loss,
bears down harder with his frost
and punishes them all for a sin...

“You beastly anger!”

“The cold hand of darkness in my eyes, my heart burns bright with moonlit scorn!”

A trumpet sounds when lightning strikes,
and thunder heard, it splits the night!

“A toll too great I shall not mourn,
Soulless winter’s passing bound,
in frosted days of chilling found,
You maketh tender hearts thus lost.
Your winter brings her frozen frost,
You tear and break frozen land asunder,
destroy our love our hearts you plunder!
Be gone such evil, lest love soon die, my heart he holds, my soul and sky!”


“Your freezing laughter has distended me…”


Storm God

“Clouds of fury, thunders might, upon that moon, clouds cover her light!"

"Sweeping winds, wisps of ice and snowy swirls opaque the night, freeze that man, take his life!”

“Break, then shatter with my cold spells of ice, he, then she, with no respite; I shall forever control the night!"

“Tell tale of love to me in playful fancy?”

“The darkness I bring; cower as your lives in fright, no man shall evade my thunderous might!”

“Sway me not oh fairy dancer from my cold winter in your bones shall arise a chilling cancer!”

“Destroy I must and hear you not, your land in peril with a wind I roar, cry you will in pain and so much more!”

“I am this world’s white awful sore!”

“Beg you shall, whimpering dearly, for darkness cometh so swift, severely!”

“Feel it, hear it, a painful sound my thunder shatters the peace with world renown!”

“As once, as was, forever more and now I smite so deafening score, I deliver you both to death’s door!”

“There is no heart within this storm; there shall be no heart in earth forevermore!”

“Love you say”

“…as if I know?”


“BE GONE NOW CURSED MOONLIT GLOW!”

“No life, no love, no NOT nothing, no, from nothingness I come and to nothingness you go!”

“Thus an answer to your pathetic dancing, your spinning motions, your frivolous prancing,"

“A stronger wind, a tor-na-do, witness the awful power I sow,”

“...my heartless mind to which you sing, out dance that you spineless twinning!”

“Die!”

“Yes, -die!”

“With his dead heart I’ll crush your soul for yours IS my quest to break!”

“Time is such a fleeting flower and Lo, I come with all my power, your time has come this is the hour!”

“I hate your love; die for me, your bond is cur-sed I decree!”

“My children are the Nephilim, their snowy crystals I turn to rain and freeze it quickly about your ankles for you as he, shall not escape, nothing, no one shall escape, all the creatures shall die this time for I am the maker of the flood, I am the abyss, the king of wisdom, the tree of knowledge, the one of action, crowned master of the earthen plane, the king of gods and king of kings and origin of all things, if God there is then he is I and what I create I shall make die! Know this mere mortal, the name of betwixting thing you learn…”

“I am that old God known as *Sah-turn!”

“My toll do I demand from thou!”

“My toll I ask, I DEMAND IT NOW!”



Sobbing sadness as she prostrates her hands to ice, her ankles bound and crying is the only sound...

The ego of the deity is in question, she searches for another way, a path of inquiry to make him stay, for the horrible fate wrought this day and lands of beauty coldly buried away...

For what could change the mind of darkness?

“Master, I see the wheels have ground to a halt and you’ve descended from the heaven’s vault but how can such lowly animals and nature be at fault, for is it not the goblins of the saw that should be punished, that should be sought?”

“Those who chop away at your great tree are the ones who smile with uncoupled glee for they smite your creation and tear it down and care not for your might, your world renown!”

“All nature is but your possession, oh timeless infinity I do not question, your purpose or need but I do ask, nay beg of thee, allow my love to thus be free, let us hold each other if we die, see my supplication, hear my cry!”


“If let go we will with all haste and prudence, your wrath is great and our presence a nuisance, away from this troubled land you’ve made, the frozen tundra of the grave, a night wrapped by your terrible song in this evil place we do not belong,”


"...please let us run!"


“You have cloaked the beauty of the moon,  covered her sky, I beseech you master hear my cry above the thunders of your sky, wrestle free my love from grip, let us pass, let us slip, let us go this night, oh great black wheel and great north wind and wolf and beast and Dragon from the faraway east and master of the air and seas and Lord of all as your voice decrees, I beg here on my dying knees,”


“The toll you demand is a life for a life, save him, put me under the frosty knife!”


Rumble, rumbling pondered thoughts, the wind is ceased and snow dies down and ground gets soft as air warms up and moonlight shines as clouds dissipate while the god of night decides their fate...

Her sobbing subsides as the ice and snow become water and seep into the earth, her dress soaking and hands covered in mud she addresses this king of kings once more. She stands and fills her lungs with warmth and begins to dance a dance of thanks to him who is hidden but a chilly wind shows that it is still forbidden. Her love watches from yonder far hill as she holds back her dance and stands so still, calling out to the color of night, stern her voice has no sign of fright...

“Punish the land and make your mark for that will teach us to give offerings to the dark,”

“Give rage unto that which hath no heart, pummel the earth and sink the ark.”

“Oh he is such a jewel to me, I’ll dance no more, I’ll show no glee, and no happiness to smite your sea in your great debt I thus will be!”

“Call your hordes, all four to thee, let them of wisdom punish me, my dancing finished great Gyges, your ring of darkness; oh wine-dark seas!”

“The four are eager for the flight to crack the seals and split the night, and show the signs, enact the plan, and run dark in blood this troubled land.”

“You see my master? We know your tales and tell our children the wonder and the mystery of our ark that floats upon your sea and all the things we know you make for we teach our children of them for heaven’s sake!”

“As natures hand you make the call, Oh Famine! Oh Pestilence! Oh Plague! Oh Death, -bring them all!”

“Come now in darkness for your master calls, his voice too loud as to be vague…”

“Run we shall, away, away…”

“Your great power, oh great one, the shatterer, thunderer, the bringer of the nightly fall, watch your subjects cringe and crawl, and supplicate on hands and knees with praise upon your mighty awe.”

“Why not bring them? Bring them all?”

“Enforce your toll, make your presence known, reap the seeds of what you’ve sown, our lives have always been yours to own, for you are great upon this land, your fury descends with mighty hand, now and forever shall it be known, no man can seat above your throne!”

“The trees thus stripped of their leaves and these hands are whipped upon our grieves,”

“Save my love from those stinging leaves from wintery chill and icy snows, hand of darkness, north wind that blows,”

“Lightning strikes and deadly throes,”

“In mercy your true power shows,”

“For you are the master, king of night, maker of fear, of horrible fright, the Ouroboros, the clouds your wings, the heaven’s motions, order of all things, the one who rings the magnificent treasure, the source of all our earthly pleasure, one to which we all do pray, -alas Ethiopia, dawn a new day!”

“The moon descends as does your power tis dawn you fool, that is the hour!”

“You can keep your anger and unpaid toll we’ll keep our love, our lives and my gentle soul.”

Storm God

“YOU DARE! YOU DO! YOU MOCK ME STILL?”

“Here comes my weathering, wintry, malicious chill!”

“Child die as your suitor must, this night, this storm, this hour unto my lightning ******! Rain, hail, fury thehowling winds of wolven glory and end I put to this sorrow’s story, down the trees, wash away the lands, rip apart the heavens know my hand!”

“…and what is this nocturnal noise?”

“In my storm are birds chirping? Is that daylight on horizon now? Nature cannot desert me, no, not now!”

“The daybreak shines, undoes my vow, ceases my storm and scatters my clouds; know this mortal is not the end for I shall come back again!Your words and pleas will not save you then, this trickery I shall not forget, your souls I’m coming back to get and when I do you’ll grovel in fear for you’ll know the moment of death is near!”

“On that night you’ll pay my toll, I SHALL NOT REST WITHOUT YOUR SOUL!”
A tribute to my favorite poet. Edgar Allen Poe.
(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.
Maggie Emmett Jul 2015
PROLOGUE
               Hyde Park weekend of politics and pop,
Geldof’s gang of divas and mad hatters;
Sergeant Pepper only one heart beating,
resurrected by a once dead Beatle.
The ******, Queen and Irish juggernauts;
The Entertainer and dead bands
re-jigged for the sake of humanity.
   The almighty single named entities
all out for Africa and people power.
Olympics in the bag, a Waterloo
of celebrations in the street that night
Leaping and whooping in sheer delight
Nelson rocking in Trafalgar Square
The promised computer wonderlands
rising from the poisoned dead heart wasteland;
derelict, deserted, still festering.
The Brave Tomorrow in a world of hate.
The flame will be lit, magic rings aloft
and harmony will be our middle name.

On the seventh day of the seventh month,
Festival of the skilful Weaving girl;
the ‘war on terror’ just a tattered trope
drained and exhausted and put out of sight
in a dark corner of a darker shelf.
A power surge the first lie of the day.
Savagely woken from our pleasant dream
al Qa’ida opens up a new franchise
and a new frontier for terror to prowl.

               Howling sirens shatter morning’s progress
Hysterical screech of ambulances
and police cars trying to grip the road.
The oppressive drone of helicopters
gathering like the Furies in the sky;
Blair’s hubris is acknowledged by the gods.
Without warning the deadly game begins.

The Leviathan state machinery,
certain of its strength and authority,
with sheer balletic co-ordination,
steadies itself for a fine performance.
The new citizen army in ‘day glow’
take up their ‘Support Official’ roles,
like air raid wardens in the last big show;
feisty  yet firm, delivering every line
deep voiced and clearly to the whole theatre.
On cue, the Police fan out through Bloomsbury
clearing every emergency exit,
arresting and handcuffing surly streets,
locking down this ancient river city.
Fetching in fluorescent green costuming,
the old Bill nimbly Tangos and Foxtrots
the airways, Oscar, Charlie and Yankee
quickly reply with grid reference Echo;
Whiskey, Sierra, Quebec, November,
beam out from New Scotland Yard,
staccato, nearly lost in static space.
      
              LIVERPOOL STREET STATION
8.51 a.m. Circle Line

Shehezad Tanweer was born in England.
A migrant’s child of hope and better life,
dreaming of his future from his birth.
Only twenty two short years on this earth.
In a madrassah, Lahore, Pakistan,
he spent twelve weeks reading and rote learning
verses chosen from the sacred text.
Chanting the syllables, hour after hour,
swaying back and forth with the word rhythm,
like an underground train rocking the rails,
as it weaves its way beneath the world,
in turning tunnels in the dead of night.

Teve Talevski had a meeting
across the river, he knew he’d be late.
**** trains they do it to you every time.
But something odd happened while he waited
A taut-limbed young woman sashayed past him
in a forget-me-not blue dress of silk.
She rustled on the platform as she turned.
She turned to him and smiled, and he smiled back.
Stale tunnel air pushed along in the rush
of the train arriving in the station.
He found a seat and watched her from afar.
Opened his paper for distraction’s sake
Olympic win exciting like the smile.

Train heading southwest under Whitechapel.
Deafening blast, rushing sound blast, bright flash
of golden light, flying glass and debris
Twisted people thrown to ground, darkness;
the dreadful silent second in blackness.
The stench of human flesh and gunpowder,
burning rubber and fiery acrid smoke.
Screaming bone bare pain, blood-drenched tearing pain.
Pitiful weeping, begging for a god
to come, someone to come, and help them out.

Teve pushes off a dead weighted man.
He stands unsteady trying to balance.
Railway staff with torches, moving spotlights
**** and jolt, catching still life scenery,
lighting the exit in gloomy dimness.
They file down the track to Aldgate Station,
Teve passes the sardine can carriage
torn apart by a fierce hungry giant.
Through the dust, four lifeless bodies take shape
and disappear again in drifting smoke.
It’s only later, when safe above ground,
Teve looks around and starts to wonder
where his blue epiphany girl has gone.

                 KINGS CROSS STATION
8.56 a.m. Piccadilly Line

Many named Lyndsey Germaine, Jamaican,
living with his wife and child in Aylesbury,
laying low, never visited the Mosque.   
                Buckinghamshire bomber known as Jamal,
clean shaven, wearing normal western clothes,
annoyed his neighbours with loud music.
Samantha-wife converted and renamed,
Sherafiyah and took to wearing black.
Devout in that jet black shalmar kameez.
Loving father cradled close his daughter
Caressed her cheek and held her tiny hand
He wondered what the future held for her.

Station of the lost and homeless people,
where you can buy anything at a price.
A place where a face can be lost forever;
where the future’s as real as faded dreams.
Below the mainline trains, deep underground
Piccadilly lines cross the River Thames
Cram-packed, shoulder to shoulder and standing,
the train heading southward for Russell Square,
barely pulls away from Kings Cross Station,
when Arash Kazerouni hears the bang,
‘Almighty bang’ before everything stopped.
Twenty six hearts stopped beating that moment.
But glass flew apart in a shattering wave,
followed by a  huge whoosh of smoky soot.
Panic raced down the line with ice fingers
touching and tagging the living with fear.
Spine chiller blanching faces white with shock.

Gracia Hormigos, a housekeeper,
thought, I am being electrocuted.
Her body was shaking, it seemed her mind
was in free fall, no safety cord to pull,
just disconnected, so she looked around,
saw the man next to her had no right leg,
a shattered shard of bone and gouts of  blood,
Where was the rest of his leg and his foot ?

Level headed ones with serious voices
spoke over the screaming and the sobbing;
Titanic lifeboat voices giving orders;
Iceberg cool voices of reassurance;
We’re stoical British bulldog voices
that organize the mayhem and chaos
into meaty chunks of jobs to be done.
Clear air required - break the windows now;
Lines could be live - so we stay where we are;
Help will be here shortly - try to stay calm.

John, Mark and Emma introduce themselves
They never usually speak underground,
averting your gaze, tube train etiquette.
Disaster has its opportunities;
Try the new mobile, take a photograph;
Ring your Mum and Dad, ****** battery’s flat;
My network’s down; my phone light’s still working
Useful to see the way, step carefully.

   Fiona asks, ‘Am I dreaming all this?’
A shrieking man answers her, “I’m dying!”
Hammered glass finally breaks, fresher air;
too late for the man in the front carriage.
London Transport staff in yellow jackets
start an orderly evacuation
The mobile phones held up to light the way.
Only nineteen minutes in a lifetime.
  
EDGEWARE ROAD STATION
9.17 a.m. Circle Line

               Mohammed Sadique Khan, the oldest one.
Perhaps the leader, at least a mentor.
Yorkshire man born, married with a daughter
Gently spoken man, endlessly patient,
worked in the Hamara, Lodge Lane, Leeds,
Council-funded, multi-faith youth Centre;
and the local Primary school, in Beeston.
No-one could believe this of  Mr Khan;
well educated, caring and very kind
Where did he hide his secret other life  ?

Wise enough to wait for the second train.
Two for the price of one, a real bargain.
Westbound second carriage is blown away,
a commuter blasted from the platform,
hurled under the wheels of the east bound train.
Moon Crater holes, the walls pitted and pocked;
a sparse dark-side landscape with black, black air.
The ripped and shredded metal bursts free
like a surprising party popper;
Steel curlicues corkscrew through wood and glass.
Mass is made atomic in the closed space.
Roasting meat and Auschwitzed cremation stench
saturates the already murky air.              
Our human kindling feeds the greedy fire;
Heads alight like medieval torches;
Fiery liquid skin drops from the faceless;
Punk afro hair is cauterised and singed.  
Heat intensity, like a wayward iron,
scorches clothes, fuses fibres together.
Seven people escape this inferno;
many die in later days, badly burned,
and everyone there will live a scarred life.

               TAVISTOCK ROAD
9.47 a.m. Number 30 Bus  

Hasib Hussain migrant son, English born
barely an adult, loved by his mother;
reported him missing later that night.
Police typed his description in the file
and matched his clothes to fragments from the scene.
A hapless victim or vicious bomber ?
Child of the ‘Ummah’ waging deadly war.
Seventy two black eyed virgins waiting
in jihadist paradise just for you.

Red double-decker bus, number thirty,
going from Hackney Wick to Marble Arch;
stuck in traffic, diversions everywhere.
Driver pulls up next to a tree lined square;
the Parking Inspector, Ade Soji,
tells the driver he’s in Tavistock Road,
British Museum nearby and the Square.
A place of peace and quiet reflection;
the sad history of war is remembered;
symbols to make us never forget death;
Cherry Tree from Hiroshima, Japan;
Holocaust Memorial for Jewish dead;
sturdy statue of  Mahatma Gandhi.
Peaceful resistance that drove the Lion out.
Freedom for India but death for him.

Sudden sonic boom, bus roof tears apart,
seats erupt with volcanic force upward,
hot larva of blood and tissue rains down.
Bloodied road becomes a charnel-house scene;
disembodied limbs among the wreckage,
headless corpses; sinews, muscles and bone.
Buildings spattered and smeared with human paint
Impressionist daubs, blood red like the bus.

Jasmine Gardiner, running late for work;
all trains were cancelled from Euston Station;  
she headed for the square, to catch the bus.
It drove straight past her standing at the stop;
before she could curse aloud - Kaboom !
Instinctively she ran, ran for her life.
Umbrella shield from the shower of gore.

On the lower deck, two Aussies squeezed in;
Catherine Klestov was standing in the aisle,
floored by the bomb, suffered cuts and bruises
She limped to Islington two days later.
Louise Barry was reading the paper,
she was ‘****-scared’ by the explosion;
she crawled out of the remnants of the bus,
broken and burned, she lay flat on the road,
the world of sound had gone, ear drums had burst;
she lay there drowsy, quiet, looking up
and amazingly the sky was still there.

Sam Ly, Vietnamese Australian,
One of the boat people once welcomed here.
A refugee, held in his mother’s arms,
she died of cancer, before he was three.
Hi Ly struggled to raise his son alone;
a tough life, inner city high rise flats.
Education the smart migrant’s revenge,
Monash Uni and an IT degree.
Lucky Sam, perfect job of a lifetime;
in London, with his one love, Mandy Ha,
Life going great until that fateful day;
on the seventh day of the seventh month,
Festival of the skilful Weaving girl.

Three other Aussies on that ****** bus;
no serious physical injuries,
Sam’s luck ran out, in choosing where to sit.
His neck was broken, could not breath alone;
his head smashed and crushed, fractured bones and burns
Wrapped in a cocoon of coma safe
This broken figure lying on white sheets
in an English Intensive Care Unit
did not seem like Hi Ly’s beloved son;
but he sat by Sam’s bed in disbelief,
seven days and seven nights of struggle,
until the final hour, when it was done.

In the pit of our stomach we all knew,
but we kept on deep breathing and hoping
this nauseous reality would pass.
The weary inevitability
of horrific disasters such as these.
Strangely familiar like an old newsreel
Black and white, it happened long ago.
But its happening now right before our eyes
satellite pictures beam and bounce the globe.
Twelve thousand miles we watch the story
Plot unfolds rapidly, chapters emerge
We know the places names of this narrative.
  
It is all subterranean, hidden
from the curious, voyeuristic gaze,
Until the icon bus, we are hopeful
This public spectacle is above ground
We can see the force that mangled the bus,
fury that tore people apart limb by limb
Now we can imagine a bomb below,
far below, people trapped, fiery hell;
fighting to breathe each breath in tunnelled tombs.

Herded from the blast they are strangely calm,
obedient, shuffling this way and that.
Blood-streaked, sooty and dishevelled they come.
Out from the choking darkness far below
Dazzled by the brightness of the morning
of a day they feared might be their last.
They have breathed deeply of Kurtz’s horror.
Sights and sounds unimaginable before
will haunt their waking hours for many years;
a lifetime of nightmares in the making.
They trudge like weary soldiers from the Somme
already see the world with older eyes.

On the surface, they find a world where life
simply goes on as before, unmindful.
Cyclist couriers still defy road laws,
sprint racing again in Le Tour de France;
beer-gutted, real men are loading lorries;
lunch time sandwiches are made as usual,
sold and eaten at desks and in the street.
Roadside cafes sell lots of hot sweet tea.
The Umbrella stand soon does brisk business.
Sign writers' hands, still steady, paint the sign.
The summer blooms are watered in the park.
A ***** stretches on the bench and wakes up,
he folds and stows his newspaper blankets;
mouth dry,  he sips water at the fountain.
A lady scoops up her black poodle’s ****.
A young couple argues over nothing.
Betting shops are full of people losing
money and dreaming of a trifecta.
Martin’s still smoking despite the patches.
There’s a rush on Brandy in nearby pubs
Retired gardener dead heads his flowers
and picks a lettuce for the evening meal

Fifty six minutes from start to finish.
Perfectly orchestrated performance.
Rush hour co-ordination excellent.
Maximum devastation was ensured.
Cruel, merciless killing so coldly done.
Fine detail in the maiming and damage.

A REVIEW

Well activated practical response.
Rehearsals really paid off on the day.
Brilliant touch with bus transport for victims;
Space blankets well deployed for shock effect;
Dramatic improv by Paramedics;
Nurses, medicos and casualty staff
showed great technical E.R. Skills - Bravo !
Plenty of pizzazz and dash as always
from the nifty, London Ambo drivers;
Old fashioned know-how from the Fire fighters
in hosing down the fireworks underground.
Dangerous rescues were undertaken,
accomplished with buckets of common sense.
And what can one say about those Bobbies,
jolly good show, the lips unquivering
and universally stiff, no mean feat
in this Premiere season tear-jerker.
Nail-bitingly brittle, but a smash-hit
Poignant misery and stoic suffering,
fortitude, forbearance and lots of grit
Altogether was quite tickety boo.



NOTES ON THE POEM

Liverpool Street Station

A Circle Line train from Moorgate with six carriages and a capacity of 1272 passengers [ 192 seated; 1080 standing]. 7 dead on the first day.

Southbound, destination Aldgate. Explosion occurs midway between Liverpool Street and Aldgate.

Shehezad Tanweer was reported to have ‘never been political’ by a friend who played cricket with him 10 days before the bombing

Teve Talevski is a real person and I have elaborated a little on reports in the press. He runs a coffee shop in North London.

At the time of writing the fate of the blue dress lady is not known

Kings Cross Station

A Piccadilly Line train with six carriages and a capacity of 1238 passengers [272 seated; 966 standing]. 21 dead on first day.

Southbound, destination Russell Square. Explosion occurs mi
This poem is part of a longer poem called Seasons of Terror. This poem was performed at the University of Adelaide, Bonython Hall as a community event. The poem was read by local poets, broadcasters, personalities and politicians from the South Australia Parliament and a Federal MP & Senator. The State Premier was represented by the Hon. Michael Atkinson, who spoke about the role of the Emergency services in our society. The Chiefs of Police, Fire and Ambulence; all religious and community organisations' senior reprasentatives; the First Secretary of the British High Commission and the general public were present. It was recorded by Radio Adelaide and broadcast live as well as coverage from Channel 7 TV News. The Queen,Tony Blair, Australian Governor General and many other public dignitaries sent messages of support for the work being read. A string quartet and a solo flautist also played at this event.
Warren Gossett Sep 2011
Snow fell deeply on the graves that night,
falling on both the wealthy and not so,
coating with cleanliness and purity all who
do not deserve and the very few who may.
The snow descended coldly and quietly,
blanketing gravestones and statues alike.
Distinguishable only by their shadows
and heavenward thrusts and stances,
they continue to designate where bodies
lay and bright hopes are finished.
Despite the softness and the silence,
above the solitude and endless white,
the boundless rage of ended dreams
seems to penetrate upward, to shriek.

--
The birches are mad with green points
the wood’s edge is burning with their green,
burning, seething—No, no, no.
The birches are opening their leaves one
by one.  Their delicate leaves unfold cold
and separate, one by one.  Slender tassels
hang swaying from the delicate branch tips—
Oh, I cannot say it.  There is no word.
Black is split at once into flowers.  In
every bog and ditch, flares of
small fire, white flowers!—Agh,
the birches are mad, mad with their green.
The world is gone, torn into shreds
with this blessing.  What have I left undone
that I should have undertaken?

O my brother, you redfaced, living man
ignorant, stupid whose feet are upon
this same dirt that I touch—and eat.
We are alone in this terror, alone,
face to face on this road, you and I,
wrapped by this flame!
Let the polished plows stay idle,
their gloss already on the black soil.
But that face of yours—!
Answer me.  I will clutch you. I
will hug you, grip you.  I will poke my face
into your face and force you to see me.
Take me in your arms, tell me the commonest
thing that is in your mind to say,
say anything.  I will understand you—!
It is the madness of the birch leaves opening
cold, one by one.

My rooms will receive me.  But my rooms
are no longer sweet spaces where comfort
is ready to wait on me with its crumbs.
A darkness has brushed them.  The mass
of yellow tulips in the bowl is shrunken.
Every familiar object is changed and dwarfed.
I am shaken, broken against a might
that splits comfort, blows apart
my careful partitions, crushes my house
and leaves me—with shrinking heart
and startled, empty eyes—peering out
into a cold world.

In the spring I would be drunk!  In the spring
I would be drunk and lie forgetting all things.
Your face!  Give me your face, Yang Kue Fei!
your hands, your lips to drink!
Give me your wrists to drink—
I drag you, I am drowned in you, you
overwhelm me!  Drink!
Save me!  The shad bush is in the edge
of the clearing.  The yards in a fury
of lilac blossoms are driving me mad with terror.
Drink and lie forgetting the world.

And coldly the birch leaves are opening one by one.
Coldly I observe them and wait for the end.
And it ends.
Hannah Currier Nov 2012
the Winds are cruel
and the Fates cold
but not so much as I
once it was coldly taken from me
and cruelly swept away into the dark.
I would not always reason. The straight path
Wearies us with its never-varying lines,
And we grow melancholy. I would make
Reason my guide, but she should sometimes sit
Patiently by the way-side, while I traced
The mazes of the pleasant wilderness
Around me. She should be my counsellor,
But not my tyrant. For the spirit needs
Impulses from a deeper source than hers,
And there are motions, in the mind of man,
That she must look upon with awe. I bow
Reverently to her dictates, but not less
Hold to the fair illusions of old time--
Illusions that shed brightness over life,
And glory over nature. Look, even now,
Where two bright planets in the twilight meet,
Upon the saffron heaven,--the imperial star
Of Jove, and she that from her radiant urn
Pours forth the light of love. Let me believe,
Awhile, that they are met for ends of good,
Amid the evening glory, to confer
Of men and their affairs, and to shed down
Kind influence. Lo! they brighten as we gaze,
And shake out softer fires! The great earth feels
The gladness and the quiet of the time.
Meekly the mighty river, that infolds
This mighty city, smooths his front, and far
Glitters and burns even to the rocky base
Of the dark heights that bound him to the west;
And a deep murmur, from the many streets,
Rises like a thanksgiving. Put we hence
Dark and sad thoughts awhile--there's time for them
Hereafter--on the morrow we will meet,
With melancholy looks, to tell our griefs,
And make each other wretched; this calm hour,
This balmy, blessed evening, we will give
To cheerful hopes and dreams of happy days,
Born of the meeting of those glorious stars.

  Enough of drought has parched the year, and scared
The land with dread of famine. Autumn, yet,
Shall make men glad with unexpected fruits.
The dog-star shall shine harmless: genial days
Shall softly glide away into the keen
And wholesome cold of winter; he that fears
The pestilence, shall gaze on those pure beams,
And breathe, with confidence, the quiet air.

  Emblems of power and beauty! well may they
Shine brightest on our borders, and withdraw
Towards the great Pacific, marking out
The path of empire. Thus, in our own land,
Ere long, the better Genius of our race,
Having encompassed earth, and tamed its tribes,
Shall sit him down beneath the farthest west,
By the shore of that calm ocean, and look back
On realms made happy.

                        Light the nuptial torch,
And say the glad, yet solemn rite, that knits
The youth and maiden. Happy days to them
That wed this evening!--a long life of love,
And blooming sons and daughters! Happy they
Born at this hour,--for they shall see an age
Whiter and holier than the past, and go
Late to their graves. Men shall wear softer hearts,
And shudder at the butcheries of war,
As now at other murders.

                          Hapless Greece!
Enough of blood has wet thy rocks, and stained
Thy rivers; deep enough thy chains have worn
Their links into thy flesh; the sacrifice
Of thy pure maidens, and thy innocent babes,
And reverend priests, has expiated all
Thy crimes of old. In yonder mingling lights
There is an omen of good days for thee.
Thou shalt arise from midst the dust and sit
Again among the nations. Thine own arm
Shall yet redeem thee. Not in wars like thine
The world takes part. Be it a strife of kings,--
Despot with despot battling for a throne,--
And Europe shall be stirred throughout her realms,
Nations shall put on harness, and shall fall
Upon each other, and in all their bounds
The wailing of the childless shall not cease.
Thine is a war for liberty, and thou
Must fight it single-handed. The old world
Looks coldly on the murderers of thy race,
And leaves thee to the struggle; and the new,--
I fear me thou couldst tell a shameful tale
Of fraud and lust of gain;--thy treasury drained,
And Missolonghi fallen. Yet thy wrongs
Shall put new strength into thy heart and hand,
And God and thy good sword shall yet work out,
For thee, a terrible deliverance.
Hilda Nov 2012
What is home without our daughter?
     What then of all those folk we meet?
When her dimpled smile no longer
     Brightens the coming of our feet?
Days drag onward, long nights grow drear
     As time so coldly marches on;
And how we miss her golden cheer!
     When now those carefree days are gone.

Things we prize are quick to vanish,
     Fond hearts we love to pass away;—
And how soon, e'en in life's sorrow
     Yearn we for noisy hours to stay.
Eyes grow sad, fades life's brief glow,
     For golden days longtime have passed,
And it breaks mother's heart to know—
     Gay childhood's day is o'er at last.

Many folk bemoan their trifles,
     Trivial things to pass away,
But a daughter lost to childhood
     Breaks the heart from day to day.
Laid away tired broken toys;
     Her babyish prattle, antics past;
Upon these times we miss her noise.
     She has turned a woman at last.

                  **~Hilda~
© Hilda November 9, 2012.
John-Chris Ward Oct 2014
Small town; country town.
I walk slowly.
As the autumn breeze blows coldly,
Through my clothing.
Small town; golden town.
He found me,
Just when I thought no one was listening.
I was intrigued to see that  he loved me,
More than I loved myself.
And the emotions that I felt,
I couldn't express for myself,
But he felt it for himself all the same.
Small town; old town.
Everyone stopped and starred ,
Because the time was finally near.
The bridegroom was finally  here,
But  their smiles disappear,
And their faces fill with fear.
The bridegroom comes down,
But is not in a gown.
Instead, he stands proud with his man
All I've ever wanted was to be a real boy; fall in love like the rest of the world. :):):(
How Aug 2010
3AM
It's 3AM.
I sit in my room with nothing but the glow of a single
halogen
lamp.
All around me is darkness.
I stare,
coldly,
into the abyss of the space around me,
heated only by
the lamp.

For a second, I wonder.
I wonder about
the lamp.
How it fends off the darkness.
How it radiates a glow into an empty room.
How it doesn't do, or think;
how it just 'is'.

I wonder what it all means,
and I wonder why it matters.

Then, I just sit.
Written this years ago. Been busy, no time for anything. Sorry if you like reading my poetry, I'll get back to it at some point. Promise.

All rights reserved, please contact me if you want to use my work anywhere. Thanks.
The night is darkening round me,
The wild winds coldly blow;
But a tyrant spell has bound me
And I cannot, cannot go.

The giant trees are bending
Their bare boughs weighed with snow,
And the storm is fast descending
And yet I cannot go.

Clouds beyond clouds above me,
Wastes beyond wastes below;
But nothing drear can move me;
I will not, cannot go.
Even if I loved thee a thousand times, still thou'd never be real.
But still, in t'ese dark miseries and dreams of th' night-
ah, just like t'is silent night of ours
And t'ose fierce fairy tales of young hours
Thou'd still be shaken off my realms
As soon as morn comes-and unveils anew, my charms.
O, death, how lush and inviting thou art,
even though at t'is early age thou might
still be asleep and thus soundeth really far.
Thou art but as naughty as t'ose abundant peeping stars,
brimming with locks of divine warmth and wealth
T'ey shalt again, tease up my mind
Whilst capture my rude, hating heart;
and once more shall t'is gruesome life turn into a solitude
Beside promises t'at canst harm souls' benign attitude.
But as soon as thou art gone; thou might just be no longer safe
And to my conscience thy threat is no more than a slave
Thy delicacy is but servile and uninviting
In t'ose choruses of blood and suffering
For which our senses should nay be proud;
but only of our genuine voices and gravity
T'at though sometimes seem virtual,
but still, are crafted within reality.

And yes, my painting, behind thy soul was ever born thy art,
Locked safely within thy summer foliage and forests
But shall I, for your goodwill ever be sketched?
Ah, one swiftly done, and miraculously correct-
yes, one only, my love, for th' very sake of single jests!
For in thy eyes hovers my triumph,
and in t'ose bogs beneath-
yes, th' ones idling about thy feet,
are cuddled-just here like my little heart, my love.
A sacred love t'at is thrown about
But to which my thirst canst never shout.
Ah, as if my voice is hoarse, and not loud-
and soon I step into whose soils, shall be sanely caught.
Caught and swung around thy idyll-though against my will;
amongst heaven's sandy shoals, and t'eir creepy windowsill.
Oh, and be defected with t'ose blades of thy swords, how evil!
Bereft of my sanity, prudence and sometimes too-bitter delicacy
As I dance around to those lands of hurtful mockery.
Be my soul's delighted worry, and mouth-oh, but mouth of blasphemy!
Ah, how of which I'm now devilishly tired!
Though you might be my eternal sire,
and beside whom my virginal soul shall forever feel so sure
As if my pride shall never ever retire,
everything shall altogether be wounded and obscure
But comely and true, just like t'at shimmering white-lipped dew
With breaths so smooth, like one from my feelings for you.

Ah, my prince! T'is craze for thee is an arrogant little devil;
and its longing for thee which gradually eats away my soul
and at times ****** and tells me harshly what to feel.
Just like t'ose ill-hearted fruits of people's minds
For which t'eir villains wouldst even in death bleakly whine
I am but forever bound to thee;
just like thou art already inside of me;
For in majestic times of our days
Thou shall hungrily partake
my fruity; but eager soul, soul away
and marvel about th' visages of my purity
I shall always but love thee once more;
no matter how boastful thou art,
and detestable virginal pain might be!
For thou art always to me as pure,
though unconvincingly art forever in vain-
For t'ose loveless satisfactions thou hath procured-
and premature pain thou hath delightfully endured.
But healthily t'ese senses shall always love thee
And with such tragedies and tears
canst t'ey but forgive thee only
Because, regardless of how untrue thou art;
You lifted my soul when I was down
And cheered me up 'twixt yon last wound
Dark was th' night t'at day, ye' tender was the moon
As both would pass and dusk would fade away soon
And into my blood thou injected th' real meaning of virtue
Whenst I was all wasted and coldly blue
Whilst my thoughts had not even a clue.

Ah, painting, but still, our love is incorrect as a tragedy-
for t'is world is too exhaustive and greedy
And at times elusive whenst but not necessary-
to grant our love th' chance we needst best!
Oh, but hark; hark once more, my love!
Over t'ere are bursts and chants of a heartbroken violin,
Though spurned by heretic hanging clouds,
slandered by boastful chirping winds.
But, no matter; no matter how hard it might seem
Thou art still to me an indescribable story;
and in thy red cheeks lies my stranded vitality
Signs of virtuous tenderness and curtained loyalty
As though thou art but still with no sin;
No sin; and ah! No stain, no stain at all-of
neither viable crossness nor madness
Though thy cleverness is at times no more to be seen
As once thou said, t'at for thee t'ere might just be
no any further happiness.

Ah! And trapped shall I be, within poisonous vileness
Should I not be granted thee
For thou art th' only soul I love, and idolise
Through whom my life was once formed, and characterised.
For love, to me is like a whole pattern;
and thus needst to be complete;
Thereby in t'is sense-loving him is but like denying
my own merit-merit t'at I am part of, and sure of-
for it is not love, though he might; as fate might say;
just as reliable and handsome and sweet.
But still, he is not thee!
And by no chance, is being not thee is but the same,
as being thee!
How fraudulent, and gross-t'is comparison all be!
Ah! And so thou knoweth, t'at he is, too me-
more even not than a stunning evening doll
Like those ones I hath seen so often
strutting about posh malls
Whilst with heartlessness welcoming
and sneering at innocent cold falls
With faces too stern, yellow, and sometimes bold;
Too bold to be true, much less sincere
And wholly unlike thine-amongst those sins;
t'at for thou honestly admit; look still sparkling and keen;
thus so astoundingly charming my veins and curdling my blood
Until thy unread shadows but reach my heart;
With such braveness and th' frankness of a gentleman
Like at that moment-whenst we told each other's life stories, back then.

Ah, and lure, lure my heart, my love!
And play with it soon as we sit 'mongst th' groves;
I would like to lay again about thy breast,
as I whisper once more to thy chest;
t'at it is truly thee that my soul loves;
and invites to love from t'is moment to end.
Ah, but t'is love started I knew not when,
though never have I thought thou art just my friend.
And lie, just lie to me no more,
t'at thou, just like me-but needst me to thy very core,
with a love t'at seems impatient,
but is born still, from pure virtue and resilience.
Oh! How valuable thou art to me, darling!
Thou who art to me such a mindful; soulful treasure,
and betwixt thy impurity thou remaineth but pure;
Thou are a smiling cloud to my blinding sun;
but sunlight to my rain as soon as it is done.

And thick and tough just as yon bough may seem,
thou shall forever be to me more t'an him!
I shall do and always want thee,
it is thy picture t'at I keepest within and about me.
Ah! And to t'is world, I promise, I shall not bluntly surrender
as how my wailing heart it shall never disrupt!
For thee I shall swear with a thousand loves greater,
t'at from actualising thee, I shall never be stopped!

Then please, please me, o my love-once more,
and talk to me and look at me sweetly as just never before.
For I love thee brightly and gently, as how air loves breath;
and so shall I love thee purely and greatly, as how life loves death.
jonni inferno Feb 2017
behold
mine guilt be carved
'pon this furrowed brow
plainly writ
for all to see

i pray thee now
speak softly
fair an' sweet
an' brook no lie
to pass thine ruby lips
those serpent fangs
venom filled
'twould pierce an'
wi' their poison still
this wounded heart
that lay bleeding
lost an' dreaming
far beneath...

where mid-night forest
darkly flows
this raging torrent
swiftly feeds
black rivers
writhing coldly
thru my soul

as faceless voices
darkly speak
urging chaos
mindless screams
nightshades tearing
rending eat
the broken pieces
of this wounded heart
that lay bleeding
lost an' dreaming
far beneath...

where the sun
is but a myth
deep within this
dark abyss
an' the moon
faithless
fades
from memory

alas
speak softly
fair an' sweet
release me from
this dark abyss
that lay bleeding
lost an' dreaming
at thy feet
.
.
Pic Poem
http://oi60.tinypic.com/29kvqs8.jpg
.
.
https://deepundergroundpoetry.com/poems/268738-at-thy-feet/ic to pic/poem
Dreams of Sepia Oct 2015
an anthracite & brown mass undulating seagulls' lost cries
& the summertime fishermen are gone
& you no longer wear that red dress, Carmen
sifting through ***** Sea foam
for periwinkles & pecten raveneli*
no longer barefoot on the Beach
& a child no longer asks for ice cream
the trees,  rabid in their colors,
age creeps in with the increasing litter
& the stars shine coldly now
& the wind is picking up
the drifting remains of love
& packing them away
until Christmas
* periwinkles & pecten raveneli - are different types of Seashell
Anon C Nov 2012
I'm constantly trying to change for you
Yet no matter what I do, it's not right
I have tried every route, nothing will do
Ways to appease you are long out of sight

I do not want to hurt you so I stay
But, if I stay it will slowly **** me
Someday maybe you'll change, Oh God I pray
Someday you won't be so cold, you will see

The mask I'm wearing is cracking slowly
People see what lies beneath, it's empty
Eyes stare in darkly, mine stare out coldly
Loneliness I feel, driving me crazy

All I am asking is to understand
Why do I feel like this, I need God's hand
2009
The birches are mad with green points
the wood’s edge is burning with their green,
burning, seething—No, no, no.
The birches are opening their leaves one
by one.  Their delicate leaves unfold cold
and separate, one by one.  Slender tassels
hang swaying from the delicate branch tips—
Oh, I cannot say it.  There is no word.
Black is split at once into flowers.  In
every bog and ditch, flares of
small fire, white flowers!—Agh,
the birches are mad, mad with their green.
The world is gone, torn into shreds
with this blessing.  What have I left undone
that I should have undertaken?

O my brother, you redfaced, living man
ignorant, stupid whose feet are upon
this same dirt that I touch—and eat.
We are alone in this terror, alone,
face to face on this road, you and I,
wrapped by this flame!
Let the polished plows stay idle,
their gloss already on the black soil.
But that face of yours—!
Answer me.  I will clutch you. I
will hug you, grip you.  I will poke my face
into your face and force you to see me.
Take me in your arms, tell me the commonest
thing that is in your mind to say,
say anything.  I will understand you—!
It is the madness of the birch leaves opening
cold, one by one.

My rooms will receive me.  But my rooms
are no longer sweet spaces where comfort
is ready to wait on me with its crumbs.
A darkness has brushed them.  The mass
of yellow tulips in the bowl is shrunken.
Every familiar object is changed and dwarfed.
I am shaken, broken against a might
that splits comfort, blows apart
my careful partitions, crushes my house
and leaves me—with shrinking heart
and startled, empty eyes—peering out
into a cold world.

In the spring I would be drunk!  In the spring
I would be drunk and lie forgetting all things.
Your face!  Give me your face, Yang Kue Fei!
your hands, your lips to drink!
Give me your wrists to drink—
I drag you, I am drowned in you, you
overwhelm me!  Drink!
Save me!  The shad bush is in the edge
of the clearing.  The yards in a fury
of lilac blossoms are driving me mad with terror.
Drink and lie forgetting the world.

And coldly the birch leaves are opening one by one.
Coldly I observe them and wait for the end.
And it ends.
1

I am a house, says Senlin, locked and darkened,
Sealed from the sun with wall and door and blind.
Summon me loudly, and you'll hear slow footsteps
Ring far and faint in the galleries of my mind.
You'll hear soft steps on an old and dusty stairway;
Peer darkly through some corner of a pane,
You'll see me with a faint light coming slowly,
Pausing above some gallery of the brain . . .

I am a city . . . In the blue light of evening
Wind wanders among my streets and makes them fair;
I am a room of rock . . . a maiden dances
Lifting her hands, tossing her golden hair.
She combs her hair, the room of rock is darkened,
She extends herself in me, and I am sleep.
It is my pride that starlight is above me;
I dream amid waves of air, my walls are deep.

I am a door . . . before me roils the darkness,
Behind me ring clear waves of sound and light.
Stand in the shadowy street outside, and listen-
The crying of violins assails the night . . .
My walls are deep, but the cries of music pierce them;
They shake with the sound of drums . . . yet it is strange
That I should know so little what means this music,
Hearing it always within me change and change.

Knock on the door,-and you shall have an answer.
Open the heavy walls to set me free,
And blow a horn to call me into the sunlight,-
And startled, then, what a strange thing you will see!
Nuns, murderers, and drunkards, saints and sinners,
Lover and dancing girl and sage and clown
Will laugh upon you, and you will find me nowhere.
I am a room, a house, a street, a town.

2

It is morning, Senlin says, and in the morning
When the light drips through the shutters like the dew,
I arise, I face the sunrise,
And do the things my fathers learned to do.
Stars in the purple dusk above the rooftops
Pale in a saffron mist and seem to die,
And I myself on a swiftly tilting planet
Stand before a glass and tie my tie.

Vine leaves tap my window,
Dew-drops sing to the garden stones,
The robin chips in the chinaberry tree
Repeating three clear tones.

It is morning. I stand by the mirror
And tie my tie once more.
While waves far off in a pale rose twilight
Crash on a white sand shore.
I stand by a mirror and comb my hair:
How small and white my face!-
The green earth tilts through a sphere of air
And bathes in a flame of space.
There are houses hanging above the stars
And stars hung under a sea . . .
And a sun far off in a shell of silence
Dapples my walls for me . . .

It is morning, Senlin says, and in the morning
Should I not pause in the light to remember God?
Upright and firm I stand on a star unstable,
He is immense and lonely as a cloud.
I will dedicate this moment before my mirror
To him alone, and for him I will comb my hair.
Accept these humble offerings, cloud of silence!
I will think of you as I descend the stair.

Vine leaves tap my window,
The snail-track shines on the stones,
Dew-drops flash from the chinaberry tree
Repeating two clear tones.

It is morning, I awake from a bed of silence,
Shining I rise from the starless waters of sleep.
The walls are about me still as in the evening,
I am the same, and the same name still I keep.
The earth revolves with me, yet makes no motion,
The stars pale silently in a coral sky.
In a whistling void I stand before my mirror,
Unconcerned, I tie my tie.

There are horses neighing on far-off hills
Tossing their long white manes,
And mountains flash in the rose-white dusk,
Their shoulders black with rains . . .

It is morning. I stand by the mirror
And surprise my soul once more;
The blue air rushes above my ceiling,
There are suns beneath my floor . . .

. . . It is morning, Senlin says, I ascend from darkness
And depart on the winds of space for I know not where,
My watch is wound, a key is in my pocket,
And the sky is darkened as I descend the stair.
There are shadows across the windows, clouds in heaven,
And a god among the stars; and I will go
Thinking of him as I might think of daybreak
And humming a tune I know . . .

Vine-leaves tap at the window,
Dew-drops sing to the garden stones,
The robin chirps in the chinaberry tree
Repeating three clear tones.

3

I walk to my work, says Senlin, along a street
Superbly hung in space.
I lift these mortal stones, and with my trowel
I tap them into place.
But is god, perhaps, a giant who ties his tie
Grimacing before a colossal glass of sky?

These stones are heavy, these stones decay,
These stones are wet with rain,
I build them into a wall today,
Tomorrow they fall again.

Does god arise from a chaos of starless sleep,
Rise from the dark and stretch his arms and yawn;
And drowsily look from the window at his garden;
And rejoice at the dewdrop sparkeling on his lawn?

Does he remember, suddenly, with amazement,
The yesterday he left in sleep,-his name,-
Or the glittering street superbly hung in wind
Along which, in the dusk, he slowly came?

I devise new patterns for laying stones
And build a stronger wall.
One drop of rain astonishes me
And I let my trowel fall.

The flashing of leaves delights my eyes,
Blue air delights my face;
I will dedicate this stone to god
And tap it into its place.

4

That woman-did she try to attract my attention?
Is it true I saw her smile and nod?
She turned her head and smiled . . . was it for me?
It is better to think of work or god.
The clouds pile coldly above the houses
Slow wind revolves the leaves:
It begins to rain, and the first long drops
Are slantingly blown from eaves.

But it is true she tried to attract my attention!
She pressed a rose to her chin and smiled.
Her hand was white by the richness of her hair,
Her eyes were those of a child.
It is true she looked at me as if she liked me.
And turned away, afraid to look too long!
She watched me out of the corners of her eyes;
And, tapping time with fingers, hummed a song.

. . . Nevertheless, I will think of work,
With a trowel in my hands;
Or the vague god who blows like clouds
Above these dripping lands . . .

But . . . is it sure she tried to attract my attention?
She leaned her elbow in a peculiar way
There in the crowded room . . . she touched my hand . . .
She must have known, and yet,-she let it stay.
Music of flesh! Music of root and sod!
Leaf touching leaf in the rain!
Impalpable clouds of red ascend,
Red clouds blow over my brain.

Did she await from me some sign of acceptance?
I smoothed my hair with a faltering hand.
I started a feeble smile, but the smile was frozen:
Perhaps, I thought, I misunderstood.
Is it to be conceived that I could attract her-
This dull and futile flesh attract such fire?
I,-with a trowel's dullness in hand and brain!-
Take on some godlike aspect, rouse desire?
Incredible! . . . delicious! . . . I will wear
A brighter color of tie, arranged with care,
I will delight in god as I comb my hair.

And the conquests of my bolder past return
Like strains of music, some lost tune
Recalled from youth and a happier time.
I take my sweetheart's arm in the dusk once more;
One more we climb

Up the forbidden stairway,
Under the flickering light, along the railing:
I catch her hand in the dark, we laugh once more,
I hear the rustle of silk, and follow swiftly,
And softly at last we close the door.

Yes, it is true that woman tried to attract me:
It is true she came out of time for me,
Came from the swirling and savage forest of earth,
The cruel eternity of the sea.
She parted the leaves of waves and rose from silence
Shining with secrets she did not know.
Music of dust! Music of web and web!
And I, bewildered, let her go.

I light my pipe. The flame is yellow,
Edged underneath with blue.
These thoughts are truer of god, perhaps,
Than thoughts of god are true.

5

It is noontime, Senlin says, and a street piano
Strikes sharply against the sunshine a harsh chord,
And the universe is suddenly agitated,
And pain to my heart goes glittering like a sword.
Do I imagine it? The dust is shaken,
The sunlight quivers, the brittle oak-leaves tremble.
The world, disturbed, conceals its agitation;
And I, too, will dissemble.

Yet it is sorrow has found my heart,
Sorrow for beauty, sorrow for death;
And pain twirls slowly among the trees.

The street-piano revolves its glittering music,
The sharp notes flash and dazzle and turn,
Memory's knives are in this sunlit silence,
They ripple and lazily burn.
The star on which my shadow falls is frightened,-
It does not move; my trowel taps a stone,
The sweet note wavers amid derisive music;
And I, in horror of sunlight, stand alone.

Do not recall my weakness, savage music!
Let the knives rest!
Impersonal, harsh, the music revolves and glitters,
And the notes like poniards pierce my breast.
And I remember the shadows of webs on stones,
And the sound or rain on withered grass,
And a sorrowful face that looked without illusions
At its image in the glass.

Do not recall my childhood, pitiless music!
The green blades flicker and gleam,
The red bee bends the clover, deeply humming;
In the blue sea above me lazily stream
Cloud upon thin-brown cloud, revolving, scattering;
The mulberry tree rakes heaven and drops its fruit;
Amazing sunlight sings in the opened vault
On dust and bones, and I am mute.

It is noon; the bells let fall soft flowers of sound.
They turn on the air, they shrink in the flare of noon.
It is night; and I lie alone, and watch through the window
The terrible ice-white emptiness of the moon.
Small bells, far off, spill jewels of sound like rain,
A long wind hurries them whirled and far,
A cloud creeps over the moon, my bed is darkened,
I hold my breath and watch a star.

Do not disturb my memories, heartless music!
I stand once more by a vine-dark moonlit wall,
The sound of my footsteps dies in a void of moonlight,
And I watch white jasmine fall.
Is it my heart that falls? Does earth itself
Drift, a white petal, down the sky?
One bell-note goes to the stars in the blue-white silence,
Solitary and mournful, a somnolent cry.

6

Death himself in the rain . . . death himself . . .
Death in the savage sunlight . . . skeletal death . . .
I hear the clack of his feet,
Clearly on stones, softly in dust;
He hurries among the trees
Whirling the leaves, tossing he hands from waves.
Listen! the immortal footsteps beat.

Death himself in the grass, death himself,
Gyrating invisibly in the sun,
Scatters the grass-blades, whips the wind,
Tears at boughs with malignant laughter:
On the long echoing air I hear him run.

Death himself in the dusk, gathering lilacs,
Breaking a white-fleshed bough,
Strewing purple on a cobwebbed lawn,
Dancing, dancing,
The long red sun-rays glancing
On flailing arms, skipping with hideous knees
Cavorting grotesque ecstasies:
I do not see him, but I see the lilacs fall,
I hear the scrape of knuckles against the wall,
The leaves are tossed and tremble where he plunges among them,
And I hear the sound of his breath,
Sharp and whistling, the rythm of death.

It is evening: the lights on a long street balance and sway.
In the purple ether they swing and silently sing,
The street is a gossamer swung in space,
And death himself in the wind comes dancing along it,
And the lights, like raindrops, tremble and swing.
Hurry, spider, and spread your glistening web,
For death approaches!
Hurry, rose, and open your heart to the bee,
For death approaches!
Maiden, let down your hair for the hands of your lover,
Comb it with moonlight and wreathe it with leaves,
For death approaches!

Death, huge in the star; small in the sand-grain;
Death himself in the rain,
Drawing the rain about him like a garment of jewels:
I hear the sound of his feet
On the stairs of the wind, in the sun,
In the forests of the sea . . .
Listen! the immortal footsteps beat!

7

It is noontime, Senlin says. The sky is brilliant
Above a green and dreaming hill.
I lay my trowel down. The pool is cloudless,
The grass, the wall, the peach-tree, all are still.

It appears to me that I am one with these:
A hill, upon whose back are a wall and trees.
It is noontime: all seems still
Upon this green and flowering hill.

Yet suddenly out of nowhere in the sky,
A cloud comes whirling, and flings
A lazily coiled vortex of shade on the hill.
It crosses the hill, and a bird in the peach-tree sings.
Amazing! Is there a change?
The hill seems somehow strange.
It is noontime. And in the tree
The leaves are delicately disturbed
Where the bird descends invisibly.
It is noontime. And in the pool
The sky is blue and cool.

Yet suddenly out of nowhere,
Something flings itself at the hill,
Tears with claws at the earth,
Lunges and hisses and softly recoils,
Crashing against the green.
The peach-tree braces itself, the pool is frightened,
The grass-blades quiver, the bird is still;
The wall silently struggles against the sunlight;
A terror stiffens the hill.
The trees turn rigidly, to face
Something that circles with slow pace:
The blue pool seems to shrink
From something that slides above its brink.
What struggle is this, ferocious and still-
What war in sunlight on this hill?
What is it creeping to dart
Like a knife-blade at my heart?

It is noontime, Senlin says, and all is tranquil:
The brilliant sky burns over a greenbright earth.
The peach-tree dreams in the sun, the wall is contented.
A bird in the peach-leaves, moving from sun to shadow,
Phrases again his unremembering mirth,
His lazily beautiful, foolish, mechanical mirth.

8

The pale blue gloom of evening comes
Among the phantom forests and walls
With a mournful and rythmic sound of drums.
My heart is disturbed with a sound of myriad throbbing,
Persuasive and sinister, near and far:
In the blue evening of my heart
I hear the thrum of the evening star.

My work is uncompleted; and yet I hurry,-
Hearing the whispered pulsing of those drums,-
To enter the luminous walls and woods of night.
It is the eternal mistress of the world
Who shakes these drums for my delight.
Listen! the drums of the leaves, the drums of the dust,
The delicious quivering of this air!

I will leave my work unfinished, and I will go
With ringing and certain step through the laughter of chaos
To the one small room in the void I know.
Yesterday it was there,-
Will I find it tonight once more when I climb the stair?
The drums of the street beat swift and soft:
In the blue evening of my heart
I hear the throb of the bridal star.
It weaves deliciously in my brain
A tyrannous melody of her:
Hands in sunlight, threads of rain
Against a weeping face that fades,
Snow on a blackened window-pane;
Fire, in a dusk of hair entangled;
Flesh, more delicate than fruit;
And a voice that searches quivering nerves
For a string to mute.

My life is uncompleted: and yet I hurry
Among the tinkling forests and walls of evening
To a certain fragrant room.
Who is it that dances there, to a beating of drums,
While stars on a grey sea bud and bloom?
She stands at the top of the stair,
With the lamplight on her hair.
I will walk through the snarling of streams of space
And climb the long steps carved from wind
And rise once more towards her face.
Listen! the drums of the drowsy trees
Beating our nuptial ecstasies!

Music spins from the heart of silence
And twirls me softly upon the air:
It takes my hand and whispers to me:
It draws the web of the moonlight down.
There are hands, it says, as cool as snow,
The hands of the Venus of the sea;
There are waves of sound in a mermaid-cave;-
Come-then-come with me!
The flesh of the sea-rose new and cool,
The wavering image of her who comes
At dusk by a blue sea-pool.

Whispers upon the haunted air-
Whisper of foam-white arm and thigh;
And a shower of delicate lights blown down
Fro the laughing sky! . . .
Music spins from a far-off room.
Do you remember,-it seems to say,-
The mouth that smiled, beneath your mouth,
And kissed you . . . yesterday?
It is your own flesh waits for you.
Come! you are incomplete! . . .
The drums of the universe once more
Morosely beat.
It is the harlot of the world
Who clashes the leaves like ghostly drums
And disturbs the solitude of my heart
As evening comes!

I leave my work once more and walk
Along a street that sways in the wind.
I leave these st
May I for my own self song’s truth reckon,
Journey’s jargon, how I in harsh days
Hardship endured oft.
Bitter breast-cares have I abided,
Known on my keel many a care’s hold,
And dire sea-surge, and there I oft spent
Narrow nightwatch nigh the ship’s head
While she tossed close to cliffs. Coldly afflicted,
My feet were by frost benumbed.
Chill its chains are; chafing sighs
Hew my heart round and hunger begot
Mere-weary mood. Lest man know not
That he on dry land loveliest liveth,
List how I, care-wretched, on ice-cold sea,
Weathered the winter, wretched outcast
Deprived of my kinsmen;
Hung with hard ice-flakes, where hail-scur flew,
There I heard naught save the harsh sea
And ice-cold wave, at whiles the swan cries,
Did for my games the gannet’s clamour,
Sea-fowls, loudness was for me laughter,
The mews’ singing all my mead-drink.
Storms, on the stone-cliffs beaten, fell on the stern
In icy feathers; full oft the eagle screamed
With spray on his pinion.
    Not any protector
May make merry man faring needy.
This he little believes, who aye in winsome life
Abides ’mid burghers some heavy business,
Wealthy and wine-flushed, how I weary oft
Must bide above brine.
Neareth nightshade, snoweth from north,
Frost froze the land, hail fell on earth then
Corn of the coldest. Nathless there knocketh now
The heart’s thought that I on high streams
The salt-wavy tumult traverse alone.
Moaneth alway my mind’s lust
That I fare forth, that I afar hence
Seek out a foreign fastness.
For this there’s no mood-lofty man over earth’s midst,
Not though he be given his good, but will have in his youth greed;
Nor his deed to the daring, nor his king to the faithful
But shall have his sorrow for sea-fare
Whatever his lord will.
He hath not heart for harping, nor in ring-having
Nor winsomeness to wife, nor world’s delight
Nor any whit else save the wave’s slash,
Yet longing comes upon him to fare forth on the water.
Bosque taketh blossom, cometh beauty of berries,
Fields to fairness, land fares brisker,
All this admonisheth man eager of mood,
The heart turns to travel so that he then thinks
On flood-ways to be far departing.
Cuckoo calleth with gloomy crying,
He singeth summerward, bodeth sorrow,
The bitter heart’s blood. Burgher knows not—
He the prosperous man—what some perform
Where wandering them widest draweth.
So that but now my heart burst from my breast-lock,
My mood ’mid the mere-flood,
Over the whale’s acre, would wander wide.
On earth’s shelter cometh oft to me,
Eager and ready, the crying lone-flyer,
Whets for the whale-path the heart irresistibly,
O’er tracks of ocean; seeing that anyhow
My lord deems to me this dead life
On loan and on land, I believe not
That any earth-weal eternal standeth
Save there be somewhat calamitous
That, ere a man’s tide go, turn it to twain.
Disease or oldness or sword-hate
Beats out the breath from doom-gripped body.
And for this, every earl whatever, for those speaking after—
Laud of the living, boasteth some last word,
That he will work ere he pass onward,
Frame on the fair earth ‘gainst foes his malice,
Daring ado, …
So that all men shall honour him after
And his laud beyond them remain ’mid the English,
Aye, for ever, a lasting life’s-blast,
Delight mid the doughty.
    Days little durable,
And all arrogance of earthen riches,
There come now no kings nor Cæsars
Nor gold-giving lords like those gone.
Howe’er in mirth most magnified,
Whoe’er lived in life most lordliest,
Drear all this excellence, delights undurable!
Waneth the watch, but the world holdeth.
Tomb hideth trouble. The blade is layed low.
Earthly glory ageth and seareth.
No man at all going the earth’s gait,
But age fares against him, his face paleth,
Grey-haired he groaneth, knows gone companions,
Lordly men are to earth o’ergiven,
Nor may he then the flesh-cover, whose life ceaseth,
Nor eat the sweet nor feel the sorry,
Nor stir hand nor think in mid heart,
And though he strew the grave with gold,
His born brothers, their buried bodies
Be an unlikely treasure hoard.
Victor D López Dec 2018
I stand alone in the dark Fulton Street subway station,
Breathing in the *****-scented air,
Breathing out clouds of steam,
A subway train rushes along,
Not stopping,
Biting at my eardrums,
With the painful percussion,
Of thousands of people,
Silently screaming,

I don’t want to see,
     I don’t want to see,
          I don’t want to see,

The air fanned by each subway car,
Rushes against me,
Pushes the ozone and the smell of burnt brake linings,
Into my nostrils,
Along with the air,
****** through the iron gratings,
Along miles of Brooklyn sidewalks,
Carrying the odor of a *******’s festering sores,
And the cries of a hungry, fatherless child in ***** diapers,
And the hoarse moaning of a city councilman mentoring a young intern,
And the cheap perfume of a fourteen year-old runaway,
Turning $20 tricks in an alley,
Smelling of stale Chinese food and wet dogs,
And . . .

I don’t want to see,
     I don’t want to see,
          I don’t want to see,

. . . the smell of spoiled cabbage soup,
And the rancid remains of a hotdog buried in sauerkraut,
And putrid lilies lying in a gutter,
All assaulting me, forcing me backwards,
Until my back presses against,
The grimy once-white tiles,
That coldly burn their graffiti on my spine:

God is dead,
Bake a ****,
Whitey *****,
**** the *******,

I don’t want to see,
     I don’t want to see,
          I don’t want to see,

The train finally passes,
Its red eyes receding into the dank,
Dark tunnel beyond the platform,
The screeches and screams slowly die out,
Their echoes ******* behind them,
The smell,
Of my,
Warm
*****.
From: Of Pain and Ecstasy: Collected Poems
Amer Pelides Sep 2014
The wind moves coldly among the season beaten leaves
Lives flourish and despair in front of me
Cracked and sullen memories flood my mind,
I look to the horizon and see the burning indigo sunset
Gliding unto emerald grass,
I see a reflection of myself leaking out of suppressed thoughts
I see a lake full of sapphire stones, I stare at the illuminating stream
I jump and dive into the crystal waters, the thoughts wash away
And are replaced with all the beautiful things of this world
The beauty grasps at me and covers the dark and hollow parts of my mind that have troubled me all my life,
Clear blue waters as blue as lapis lazuli bouncing before my being
I feel complete and whole as I leave the warm water
Water droplets trickling between my fingers,
The thick air of melancholy is gone and I feel light and swift-footed
I make my way towards the already settled sun and now the sky is littered with starlight,
Its rosy lights captivate me and I sigh and run towards the everlasting joy awaiting me
The stars cry their approval and I fly again once more
mother died today or maybe yesterday i can’t be sure  the telegram from the home says your mother passed away funeral tomorrow deep sympathy which leaves the matter doubtful it could have been yesterday - “the Stranger” Albert Camus

a misguided partiality exists inside me i feel safer around women maybe i’m fooling myself and women are equally capable of the brutal cruelties i associate with men i don’t know i guess i believe women hold themselves to a higher behavioral standard gentler more nurturing there’s another aspect to my belief women floor me i am totally vulnerable to a pretty woman but it must be stated my tastes run quite peculiar i prefer alternative looks and am put off by classic American glamour i guess the real deal is i’m a guy most comfortable among men watching World Series Sunday Monday Night Football despite the fact that if i were with a woman would be my greatest craving who cares what i think i apologize for opening my mouth

we are stranded by the side of road from out of nowhere a beat up gray truck pulls along side in a cloud of dust we cannot see driver from passenger side stubbly shaven mustached man wearing red bandana under tattered western hat in accented hoarse voice hollers out how much for the girl with terrified expression in her face her hand reaches for my arm i peer coldly into man’s eyes then glance away answering

a. what exactly do you have in mind

b. how much cash do you got on you

c. she’s not for sale

d. we need a ride

e. we’re lost do you have a cell phone

f. please leave us alone

g. all of the above

an extraordinarily attractive member of opposite *** runs into you on street in familiar tone of voice greets you speaking your name it’s been ages you look terrific i was just thinking about you the other day it’s such a wonderful surprise to see you do you have time to stop chat over coffee or drink i live quite near here please come over to my place let’s catch up i’d really love that this person then looks at you in a flirtatious seductive way yet you cannot place or remember where you know them or if you’ve ever known them you answer

a. yes

b. this is embarrassing i’ve forgotten your name

c. how do you know my name where do we know each other from

d. is it possible you’re confusing me with someone else

e. i have no idea who you are or what you want from me

f. all of the above

these are dark times every one acknowledges post-modernism post-911 is bleak jobless homeless callous frightful kali yuga no one nothing nowhere  is safe wars gruesome atrocities piracy blood diamonds **** mutilation theft deceit betrayal school yard bullying assassinations cyber espionage anti-depression drugs vicious video games why aren’t people making positive video games referencing cooperation affection happiness instead of Grand Theft Auto Vice City Call of Duty World at War Mortal Kombat what kind of world are we creating for future generations why does violence sell more than *** why is *** so unkind what kind of people are we better off dead they shoot horses don’t they what happened what’s happening why are we making this hell why aren’t we making better wiser more loving choices i don’t understand

in the late 1960’s early 70’s parents didn’t have money to buy their kids high school graduation gifts or perhaps the notion was not invented yet nobody had cars maybe a few guys i knew owned cars they bought with their own hard earned money everybody i knew who lived off campus and too far to bicycle hitch-hiked to school then hitch-hiked home every day for 4 or more years that’s how we all did it in Hartford i remember sitting in different adult’s cars indebted grateful looking thinking wondering will i grow up to be like him or her projecting connections

when i grew up it was a different time turn on tune in drop out in a way hippies were reactionary to all the modern progress atomic age we winged it by inexact methods that time is gone it is crucial at present to be coherent sober accurate mindful wakeful vigilant wary prepared 24/7 this history being written how will it be told i’ve been around long enough to know how these deceptions work we are all using feeding ripping off each other we give in to whoever wants us become whoever seeks to destroy us we disgust ourselves i’m astonished dumbfounded talk with me who are we please explain i beg you

who if i cried who would hear me among the angels even if one of them pressed me against heart i would be consumed in overwhelming existence for beauty is nothing but beginning of terror we are still just able to bear we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us every angel is terrifying – “2nd Elegy” Rainer Maria Rilke
1

Senlin sits before us, and we see him.
He smokes his pipe before us, and we hear him.
Is he small, with reddish hair,
Does he light his pipe with meditative stare,
And a pointed flame reflected in both eyes?
Is he sad and happy and foolish and wise?
Did no one see him enter the doors of the city,
Looking above him at the roofs and trees and skies?
'I stepped from a cloud', he says, 'as evening fell;
I walked on the sound of a bell;
I ran with winged heels along a gust;
Or is it true that I laughed and sprang from dust? . . .
Has no one, in a great autumnal forest,
When the wind bares the trees,
Heard the sad horn of Senlin slowly blown?
Has no one, on a mountain in the spring,
Heard Senlin sing?
Perhaps I came alone on a snow-white horse,-
Riding alone from the deep-starred night.
Perhaps I came on a ship whose sails were music,-
Sailing from moon or sun on a river of light.'

He lights his pipe with a pointed flame.
'Yet, there were many autumns before I came,
And many springs. And more will come, long after
There is no horn for me, or song, or laughter.

The city dissolves about us, and its walls
Become an ancient forest. There is no sound
Except where an old twig tires and falls;
Or a lizard among the dead leaves crawls;
Or a flutter is heard in darkness along the ground.

Has Senlin become a forest? Do we walk in Senlin?
Is Senlin the wood we walk in, -ourselves,-the world?
Senlin! we cry . . . Senlin! again . . . No answer,
Only soft broken echoes backward whirled . . .

Yet we would say: this is no wood at all,
But a small white room with a lamp upon the wall;
And Senlin, before us, pale, with reddish hair,
Lights his pipe with a meditative stare.

2

Senlin, walking beside us, swings his arms
And turns his head to look at walls and trees.
The wind comes whistling from shrill stars of winter,
The lights are jewels, black roots freeze.
'Did I, then, stretch from the bitter earth like these,
Reaching upward with slow and rigid pain
To seek, in another air, myself again?'

(Immense and solitary in a desert of rocks
Behold a bewildered oak
With white clouds screaming through its leafy brain.)
'Or was I the single ant, or tinier thing,
That crept from the rocks of buried time
And dedicated its holy life to climb
From atom to beetling atom, jagged grain to grain,
Patiently out of the darkness we call sleep
Into a hollow gigantic world of light
Thinking the sky to be its destined shell,
Hoping to fit it well!-'

The city dissolves about us, and its walls
Are mountains of rock cruelly carved by wind.
Sand streams down their wasting sides, sand
Mounts upward slowly about them: foot and hand
We crawl and bleed among them! Is this Senlin?

In the desert of Senlin must we live and die?
We hear the decay of rocks, the crash of boulders,
Snarling of sand on sand. 'Senlin!' we cry.
'Senlin!' again . . . Our shadows revolve in silence
Under the soulless brilliance of blue sky.

Yet we would say: there are no rocks at all,
Nor desert of sand . . . here by a city wall
White lights jewell the evening, black roots freeze,
And Senlin turns his head to look at trees.

3

It is evening, Senlin says, and in the evening,
By a silent shore, by a far distant sea,
White unicorns come gravely down to the water.
In the lilac dusk they come, they are white and stately,
Stars hang over the purple waveless sea;
A sea on which no sail was ever lifted,
Where a human voice was never heard.
The shadows of vague hills are dark on the water,
The silent stars seem silently to sing.
And gravely come white unicorns down to the water,
One by one they come and drink their fill;
And daisies burn like stars on the darkened hill.

It is evening Senlin says, and in the evening
The leaves on the trees, abandoned by the light,
Look to the earth, and whisper, and are still.
The bat with horned wings, tumbling through the darkness,
Breaks the web, and the spider falls to the ground.
The starry dewdrop gathers upon the oakleaf,
Clings to the edge, and falls without a sound.
Do maidens spread their white palms to the starlight
And walk three steps to the east and clearly sing?
Do dewdrops fall like a shower of stars from willows?
Has the small moon a ghostly ring? . . .
White skeletons dance on the moonlit grass,
Singing maidens are buried in deep graves,
The stars hang over a sea like polished glass . . .
And solemnly one by one in the darkness there
Neighing far off on the haunted air
White unicorns come gravely down to the water.

No silver bells are heard. The westering moon
Lights the pale floors of caverns by the sea.
Wet **** hangs on the rock. In shimmering pools
Left on the rocks by the receding sea
Starfish slowly turn their white and brown
Or writhe on the naked rocks and drown.
Do sea-girls haunt these caves-do we hear faint singing?
Do we hear from under the sea a faint bell ringing?
Was that a white hand lifted among the bubbles
And fallen softly back?
No, these shores and caverns are all silent,
Dead in the moonlight; only, far above,
On the smooth contours of these headlands,
White amid the eternal black,
One by one in the moonlight there
Neighing far off on the haunted air
The unicorns come down to the sea.

4

Senlin, walking before us in the sunlight,
Bending his small legs in a peculiar way,
Goes to his work with thoughts of the universe.
His hands are in his pockets, he smokes his pipe,
He is happily conscious of roofs and skies;
And, without turning his head, he turns his eyes
To regard white horses drawing a small white hearse.
The sky is brilliant between the roofs,
The windows flash in the yellow sun,
On the hard pavement ring the hoofs,
The light wheels softly run.
Bright particles of sunlight fall,
Quiver and flash, gyrate and burn,
Honey-like heat flows down the wall,
The white spokes dazzle and turn.

Senlin, walking before us in the sunlight,
Regards the hearse with an introspective eye.
'Is it my childhood there,' he asks,
'Sealed in a hearse and hurrying by?'
He taps his trowel against a stone;
The trowel sings with a silver tone.

'Nevertheless I know this well.
Bury it deep and toll a bell,
Bury it under land or sea,
You cannot bury it save in me.'

It is as if his soul had become a city,
With noisily peopled streets, and through these streets
Senlin himself comes driving a small white hearse . . .
'Senlin!' we cry. He does not turn his head.
But is that Senlin?-Or is this city Senlin,-
Quietly watching the burial of the dead?
Dumbly observing the cortege of its dead?
Yet we would say that all this is but madness:
Around a distant corner trots the hearse.
And Senlin walks before us in the sunlight
Happily conscious of his universe.

5

In the hot noon, in an old and savage garden,
The peach-tree grows. Its cruel and ugly roots
Rend and rifle the silent earth for moisture.
Above, in the blue, hang warm and golden fruits.
Look, how the cancerous roots crack mould and stone!
Earth, if she had a voice, would wail her pain.
Is she the victim, or is the tree the victim?
Delicate blossoms opened in the rain,
Black bees flew among them in the sunlight,
And sacked them ruthlessly; and no a bird
Hangs, sharp-eyed, in the leaves, and pecks the fruit;
And the peach-tree dreams, and does not say a word.
. . . Senlin, tapping his trowel against a stone,
Observes this tree he planted: it is his own.

'You will think it strange,' says Senlin, 'but this tree
Utters profound things in this garden;
And in its silence speaks to me.
I have sensations, when I stand beneath it,
As if its leaves looked at me, and could see;
And those thin leaves, even in windless air,
Seem to be whispering me a choral music,
Insubstantial but debonair.

"Regard," they seem to say,
"Our idiot root, which going its brutal way
Has cracked your garden wall!
Ugly, is it not?
A desecration of this place . . .
And yet, without it, could we exist at all?"
Thus, rustling with importance, they seem to me
To make their apology;
Yet, while they apologize,
Ask me a wary question with their eyes.
Yes, it is true their origin is low-
Brutish and dull and cruel . . . and it is true
Their roots have cracked the wall. But do we know
The leaves less cruel-the root less beautiful?
Sometimes it seems as if there grew
In the dull garden of my mind
A tree like this, which, singing with delicate leaves,
Yet cracks the wall with cruel roots and blind.
Sometimes, indeed, it appears to me
That I myself am such a tree . . .'

. . . And as we hear from Senlin these strange words
So, slowly, in the sunlight, he becomes this tree:
And among the pleasant leaves hang sharp-eyed birds
While cruel roots dig downward secretly.

6

Rustling among his odds and ends of knowledge
Suddenly, to his wonder, Senlin finds
How Cleopatra and Senebtisi
Were dug by many hands from ancient tombs.
Cloth after scented cloth the sage unwinds:
Delicious to see our futile modern sunlight
Dance like a harlot among these Dogs and Dooms!

First, the huge pyramid, with rock on rock
Bloodily piled to heaven; and under this
A gilded cavern, bat festooned;
And here in rows on rows, with gods about them,
Cloudily lustrous, dim, the sacred coffins,
Silver starred and crimson mooned.

What holy secret shall we now uncover?
Inside the outer coffin is a second;
Inside the second, smaller, lies a third.
This one is carved, and like a human body;
And painted over with fish and bull and bird.
Here are men walking stiffly in procession,
Blowing horns or lifting spears.
Where do they march to? Where do they come from?
Soft whine of horns is in our ears.

Inside, the third, a fourth . . . and this the artist,-
A priest, perhaps-did most to make resemble
The flesh of her who lies within.
The brown eyes widely stare at the bat-hung ceiling.
The hair is black, The mouth is thin.
Princess! Secret of life! We come to praise you!
The torch is lowered, this coffin too we open,
And the dark air is drunk with musk and myrrh.
Here are the thousand white and scented wrappings,
The gilded mask, and jeweled eyes, of her.

And now the body itself, brown, gaunt, and ugly,
And the hollow scull, in which the brains are withered,
Lie bare before us. Princess, is this all?
Something there was we asked that is not answered.
Soft bats, in rows, hang on the lustered wall.

And all we hear is a whisper sound of music,
Of brass horns dustily raised and briefly blown,
And a cry of grief; and men in a stiff procession
Marching away and softly gone.

7

'And am I then a pyramid?' says Senlin,
'In which are caves and coffins, where lies hidden
Some old and mocking hieroglyph of flesh?
Or am I rather the moonlight, spreading subtly
Above those stones and times?
Or the green blade of grass that bravely grows
Between to massive boulders of black basalt
Year after year, and fades and blows?

Senlin, sitting before us in the lamplight,
Laughs, and lights his pipe. The yellow flame
Minutely flares in his eyes, minutely dwindles.
Does a blade of grass have Senlin for a name?
Yet we would say that we have seen him somewhere,
A tiny spear of green beneath the blue,
Playing his destiny in a sun-warmed crevice
With the gigantic fates of frost and dew.

Does a spider come and spin his gossamer ladder
Rung by silver rung,
Chaining it fast to Senlin? Its faint shadow
Flung, waveringly, where his is flung?
Does a raindrop dazzle starlike down his length
Trying his futile strength?
A snowflake startle him? The stars defeat him?
Through aeons of dusk have birds above him sung?
Time is a wind, says Senlin; time, like music,
Blows over us its mournful beauty, passes,
And leaves behind a shadowy reflection,-
A helpless gesture of mist above the grasses.

8

In cold blue lucid dusk before the sunrise,
One yellow star sings over a peak of snow,
And melts and vanishes in a light like roses.
Through slanting mist, black rocks appear and glow.

The clouds flow downward, slowly as grey glaciers,
Or up to a pale rose-azure pass.
Blue streams ****** down from snow to boulders,
From boulders to white grass.

Icicles on the pine tree melt
And softly flash in the sun:
In long straight lines the star-drops fall
One by one.

Is a voice heard while the shadows still are long,
Borne slowly down on the sparkling air?
Is a thin bell heard from the peak of silence?
Is someone among the high snows there?

Where the blue stream flows coldly among the meadows
And mist still clings to rock and tree
Senlin walks alone; and from that twilight
Looks darkly up, to see

The calm unmoving peak of snow-white silence,
The rocks aflame with ice, the rose-blue sky . . .
Ghost-like, a cloud descends from twinkling ledges,
To nod before the dwindling sun and die.

'Something there is,' says Senlin, 'in that mountain,
Something forgotten now, that once I knew . . .'
We walk before a sun-tipped peak in silence,
Our shadows descend before us, long and blue.
Give me truths,
For I am weary of the surfaces,
And die of inanition. If I knew
Only the herbs and simples of the wood,
Rue, cinquefoil, gill, vervain, and pimpernel,
Blue-vetch, and trillium, hawkweed, sassafras,
Milkweeds, and murky brakes, quaint pipes and sundew,
And rare and virtuous roots, which in these woods
Draw untold juices from the common earth,
Untold, unknown, and I could surely spell
Their fragrance, and their chemistry apply
By sweet affinities to human flesh,
Driving the foe and stablishing the friend,—
O that were much, and I could be a part
Of the round day, related to the sun,
And planted world, and full executor
Of their imperfect functions.
But these young scholars who invade our hills,
Bold as the engineer who fells the wood,
And travelling often in the cut he makes,
Love not the flower they pluck, and know it not,
And all their botany is Latin names.
The old men studied magic in the flower,
And human fortunes in astronomy,
And an omnipotence in chemistry,
Preferring things to names, for these were men,
Were unitarians of the united world,
And wheresoever their clear eyebeams fell,
They caught the footsteps of the SAME. Our eyes
Are armed, but we are strangers to the stars,
And strangers to the mystic beast and bird,
And strangers to the plant and to the mine;
The injured elements say, Not in us;
And night and day, ocean and continent,
Fire, plant, and mineral say, Not in us,
And haughtily return us stare for stare.
For we invade them impiously for gain,
We devastate them unreligiously,
And coldly ask their pottage, not their love,
Therefore they shove us from them, yield to us
Only what to our griping toil is due;
But the sweet affluence of love and song,
The rich results of the divine consents
Of man and earth, of world beloved and lover,
The nectar and ambrosia are withheld;
And in the midst of spoils and slaves, we thieves
And pirates of the universe, shut out
Daily to a more thin and outward rind,
Turn pale and starve. Therefore to our sick eyes,
The stunted trees look sick, the summer short,
Clouds shade the sun, which will not tan our hay.
And nothing thrives to reach its natural term,
And life, shorn of its venerable length,
Even at its greatest space, is a defeat,
And dies in anger that it was a dupe,
And, in its highest noon and wantonness,
Is early frugal like a beggar's child:
With most unhandsome calculation taught,
Even in the hot pursuit of the best aims
And prizes of ambition, checks its hand,
Like Alpine cataracts, frozen as they leaped,
Chilled with a miserly comparison
Of the toy's purchase with the length of life.
Shalini Nayar Nov 2014
These walls have witnessed too much:
Fallacies hang on chipped paints,
Too weighty for their own self-murders,
Forming a plastic smile, remaining incumbent.
Air conditioned with rife medicinal regrets,
Coldly wafting in its nonchalance,
Armoring itself for another wave.
This time, the finality catches its last breath
Dyeing the molecules with dying grace
Like an ouroboros forking its venomous tongue on its own end,
Tasting not death, but imminent immortality.
Give me truths,
For I am weary of the surfaces,
And die of inanition. If I knew
Only the herbs and simples of the wood,
Rue, cinquefoil, gill, vervain, and pimpernel,
Blue-vetch, and trillium, hawkweed, sassafras,
Milkweeds, and murky brakes, quaint pipes and sundew,
And rare and virtuous roots, which in these woods
Draw untold juices from the common earth,
Untold, unknown, and I could surely spell
Their fragrance, and their chemistry apply
By sweet affinities to human flesh,
Driving the foe and stablishing the friend,—
O that were much, and I could be a part
Of the round day, related to the sun,
And planted world, and full executor
Of their imperfect functions.
But these young scholars who invade our hills,
Bold as the engineer who fells the wood,
And travelling often in the cut he makes,
Love not the flower they pluck, and know it not,
And all their botany is Latin names.
The old men studied magic in the flower,
And human fortunes in astronomy,
And an omnipotence in chemistry,
Preferring things to names, for these were men,
Were unitarians of the united world,
And wheresoever their clear eyebeams fell,
They caught the footsteps of the SAME. Our eyes
Are armed, but we are strangers to the stars,
And strangers to the mystic beast and bird,
And strangers to the plant and to the mine;
The injured elements say, Not in us;
And night and day, ocean and continent,
Fire, plant, and mineral say, Not in us,
And haughtily return us stare for stare.
For we invade them impiously for gain,
We devastate them unreligiously,
And coldly ask their pottage, not their love,
Therefore they shove us from them, yield to us
Only what to our griping toil is due;
But the sweet affluence of love and song,
The rich results of the divine consents
Of man and earth, of world beloved and lover,
The nectar and ambrosia are withheld;
And in the midst of spoils and slaves, we thieves
And pirates of the universe, shut out
Daily to a more thin and outward rind,
Turn pale and starve. Therefore to our sick eyes,
The stunted trees look sick, the summer short,
Clouds shade the sun, which will not tan our hay.
And nothing thrives to reach its natural term,
And life, shorn of its venerable length,
Even at its greatest space, is a defeat,
And dies in anger that it was a dupe,
And, in its highest noon and wantonness,
Is early frugal like a beggar's child:
With most unhandsome calculation taught,
Even in the hot pursuit of the best aims
And prizes of ambition, checks its hand,
Like Alpine cataracts, frozen as they leaped,
Chilled with a miserly comparison
Of the toy's purchase with the length of life.

— The End —