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Topher Reed Mar 2016
here's to that new beginning
as we travel across the states
I hope we remember all of the positive memories that we've shared to date
so it's time to say cheer's, let us make a toast
to all of the memories, and for all of those to come, let's make the best of it when we reach the sunset coast
but for now
West Virginia you are the one with the beautiful personality, and the one who's' confident enough with that edgy exterior
you're as strong as your mountains, you make sure they stand tall, even when the fog holds you back from feeling that sunshine exterior
right now it feels so right, and I am beginning to imagine you forever, may I stand with you for the rest of my life
and as the miles become shorter to the beginning of our everlasting love, may we never feel troubled with other folks strife
West Virginia you are the one with the beautiful personality, and the one who's confident enough with that edgy exterior
forever stand tall, just like all of your mountains, even when the fog hold you back from feeling that exterior sun
oh West Virginia, please forever know, you are the one
West Virginia, my exterior sun
Ron Sanders Feb 2020
(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.
Keith J Collard Jun 2013
The Quest for the Damsel Fish  by Keith Collard

Author's  Atmosphere

On the bow of the boat, with the cold cloud of the dismal day brushing your back conjuring goose bumped flesh you hold an anchor.  For the first time, you can pick this silver anchor up with only one hand and hold it over your head. It resembles the Morning Star, a brutal medieval weapon that bludgeons and impales its victims.  Drop it into the dark world beyond the security of your boat--watch the anchor descend.
        Watch this silver anchor--this Morning Star--descend away from the boat and you, it becomes swarmed over with darkness.  It forms a ******-metallic grin at first as it sinks, then the sinking silver anchor takes its last shape at its last visible glimpse.  It is so small now as if it could be hung from a necklace.  It is a silver sword.  
Peering over the side of the boat, the depths collectively look like the mouth of a Cannibalistic Crab, throwing the shadows of its mandibles over everything that sinks down into it--black mandibles that have joints with the same angle of a Reaper's Scythe.  

I am scared looking at this sinking phantasm.  I see something from my youth down there in this dark cold Atlantic.  I see the silver Morning Star again, now in golden armor.  I remember a magnificent kingdom, in a saltwater fish tank I had once and never had again.  A tropical paradise that I see again as I stare down into the depths.  This fish tank was so beautiful with the most beautiful inhabitants who I miss.  Before I could lift the silver anchor--the Morning Star--over my head with only one hand, turning gold in that morning sun-- I was a boy who sat indian style, cross legged--peering into this brilliant spectacle of light I thought awesome.  I thought all the darkness of home and the world was kept at bay by this kingdom of light...

Chapter  1 Begins the Story

The Grey Skies of Mass is the Name of This Chapter.

                                                      ­­                        
    
 Air, in bubbles--it was a world beauty of darkness revealed in slashes of light from dashing fluorescent bulbs overhead this fish tank.
Silver swords of fluorescent energy daring to the bottom, every slash revealing every color of the zodiac--from the Gold of Scorpio to the purple of Libra combining into the jade of the Gemini. 
In the center, like a dark Stonehenge were rocks. The exterior rocks had tropical colors like that of cotton candy, but the interior shadows of the rocks that was the Stonehenge, did not possess one photon of light. The silver messengers of the florescent energy from above would tire and die at their base.  The shadows of the Stonehenge rocks would stand over them as they died.

 
          When the boy named Sake climbed the rickety wood stairs of the house, he did so in fear of making noise, as if to not wake each step.
   Until he could see the glowing aura of his fish tank then he would start down that eerie hall, With pictures of ghosts and ghosts of pictures staring down at him as he walked down that rickety hallway of this towering old colonial home.  He hurried to the glowing tank to escape the black and white gazing picture frames.
                    The faint gurgling, bubbling of the saltwater tank became stronger in his ear, and that sound guided him from the last haunt of the hallway-- the empty room that was perpendicular to  his room.   He only looked to his bright tank as soon as he entered the hallway from the creaky wooden steps.  Then he proceeded to sit in front of this great tropical fish tank in Indian style with his legs folded over one another as children so often would sit.
  The sun was setting.  The reflections from the tank were beginning to send ripples down the dark walls. Increasing  wave after wave reflecting down his dark walls.  He thought they to be seagulls flapping into the darkness until they were overcome as he was listening to the bubbling water of his tank.
                " Hello my fish, hello Angel, hello Tang, hello  Hoomah, hello Clown and hello Damsel … and hello to you Crab...even though I do not like you," he said in half jest not looking at the crab in the entrance of the rocks.  The rocks were the color of cotton candy, but the interior shadows did not possess a photon of luminescence.  All other shadows not caused by the rocks--but by bright swaying ornament--were like the glaze on a candy apple--dark but delicious.  Besides the crab's layer in the rock jumble at the center of the tank which was a Stonehenge within a Stonehenge--the tank was a world of bright inviting light.
                The crab was in its routine,  motionless in the entrance to his foyer, with his scythe-like claws in the air, in expectation of catching one of the bright fish someday.  For that reason the boy tried to remove the crab in the past, but even though the boy was fast with his hand, the optical illusion of the tank would always send his hand where the crab no longer was.  He did not know how to use two hands to rid the crab in the future by trapping and destroying the Cannibal Crab ;  his father, on a weekend visit, gave the Crab to the boy to put into the bright world of the saltwater tank, which Sake quickly regretted.  His father promised him that the Crab would not be able to catch any of the fish he said " ...***** only eat anything that has fallen to the bottom or each other..."

         A scream from the living room downstairs ran up the rickety wood and down the long hall and startled the boy.  His mother sent her shrieks out to grab the boy, allowing her to not have to waste any time nor calorie on her son; for she would tire from the stairs, but her screams would not, allowing her to stay curled up on the couch.  If she was not screaming for Sake, she was talking as loud as screams on the phone with her girlfriends.  The decibels from her laugh was torture for all in the silent house.   A haughty laugh in a gossipy conversation, that overpowered the sound of the bright tropical fish tank in Sake's room that was above and far opposite her in the living room.
               " Sake you have to get a paper-route to pay for the tank, the electricity bill is outrageous," she said while not taking her eyes off the TV and her legs curled up beside her.  He would glad fully get a paper-route even if it was for a made up reason.  He turned to go, and looked back at his mother, and a shudder ran through him with a new thought:  someday her appearance will match her voice.  

              Upon reaching his tank,  Hoomah was trying to get his attention as always.  Taking up pebbles in his big pouty pursed lips and spitting them out of his lips like a weak musket.  The Hoomah was a very silly fish, it looked like one of Sake’s aunts, with too much make up on, slightly overweight, and hovering on two little fins that looked incapable of keeping it afloat, but they did.  The fins reminded him of the legs of his aunt--skinny under not so skinny.’

               The Tang was doing his usual aquanautics , darting and sailing was his trick.  He was fast, the fastest with his bright yellow triangular sail cutting the water.  Next was the aggressive Clown fish, the boy thought she was always aggresive because she didn't have an anemone to sleep on.  The Clown was strong and sleek with an orange jaw and body that was built like a tigress.
  Sake thought something tragic about the body if the  orange Clown and the three silver traces that clawed her body as decoration -they reminded him of the incandescent orange glow of a street lamp being viewed through the rainy back windshield of a car.   The Clown fish was a distraction that craved attention.
The Clown would chase around some of the other fish and jump out of the water to catch the boy's eye. 
                 Next is the Queen Angel fish, she is the queen of the tank, she sits in back all alone, waving like a marvelous banner, iridescent purple and golden jade.  Her forehead slopes back in a French braid style that streams over her back like a kings standard waving before battle, but her standard is of a house of beauty, and that of royal purple.

                    Lastly is the Damsel Fish, the smallest and most vulnerable in the tank.  She has royal purple also, rivaling the queen. Her eyes are lashed but not lidded like the Hoomah.  Her eyes are elliptical, and perhaps the most human, or in the boy’s opinion, she is the most lady like, the Hoomah and the Queen Angel come to her defence if she is chased around by the Clown.  Her eyes penetrate the boys, to the point of him looking away.  

                      Before the tank, in its place in the corner was a painting, an oil painting of another type of Clown donning a hat with orange partial make-up on his face (only around eyes nose and mouth there was ghost white paint) and it  had two tears coming down from its right eye.  The Clown painting was given to him by his mother, it seems he could not be rid of them, but Sake at first was taken in by the brightness of the Clown, and the smooth salacious wet look of the painting. it looked dripping, or submerged, like another alternate reality.  The wet surreal glaze of the painting seemed a portal, especially the orange glow of the Clown's skin without make-up.  .  If he tried to remember of times  before the Clown painting that preceded the Clown fish, he thought of the orange saffron twilight of sunset, and watching it from the high window from his room in the towering house.  How that light changed everything that it touched, from the tree tops and the clouds, to even the dark hallway leading up to his room.  The painting and the Clown fish did not feel the same as those distant memories of sunset, especially the summer sunset when his mother would put him to bed long before the sun had set.  
Sake did not voice opposition to the Clown.
Then he was once again trapped by the Clown.  
            The boy was extremely afraid of this painting that replaced the sunsets , being confined alone with it by all those early bedtimes.
Sake once asked his mother if he could take it down, whereas she said " No."  That clown would follow him into his dreams, always he would be down the hill from the tall house on the hill, trying to walk back to the house, but to walk away or run in a dream was like walking underwater or in black space, and he would make no distance as the ground opened up and the clown came out of the ground hugging him with the pryless grip of eight arms.  He would then wake up amid screams and a tearful hatted clown staring somberly down at him from the wall where it was hung.  Night made him fear the Clown painting more;  that ghost white make-up decorating around the eyes and mouth seeming to form another painting in entirety.  He could only look at the painting after a while when the lights were on, and the wet looking painting was mostly orange from the skin, neck, and forearms of the hat wearing clown.  But the painting is gone now, and the magnificent light display of the tank is there now.  

                Sake pulled out the fish food, all the fish bestirred in anticipation of being fed.  The only time they would all come together; and that was to mumble the bits of falling flakes: a chomp from the Clown, a pucker from the Hoomah, the fast mumble of the Tang, and the dainty chew of the Damsel.  The Queen Angelfish would stay near the bottom, and kiss a flake over and over.   She would not deign herself to go into a friendly frenzy like the other fish; she stayed calm, yet alluring like a flag dancing rhythmically in the breeze, but never repeating the same move as the wind never repeats the same breeze.  She is the only fish to change colors.  When the grey skies of Mass emit through every portal in the house at the height of its bleakness, her colors would turn more fantastic, perhaps why she is queen.

                 He put his finger in the top of the watery world; the warmth was felt all the way up his arm.  After feeding, his favorite thing to do was to trace his finger on the top of the warm water and have the Damsel follow it. She loved it, it was her only time to dance, for the Clown would descend down in somewhat fear ( or annoyance) of the boys finger, and the Damsel and he would dance.  The boy, thought that extraordinary.

                     Sake bedded down that night, to his usual watery world of his room.  The reflective waves running down the walls like seagulls of light, with the rhythmic gurgling sound and it's occasional splash of the Clown, or the Hoomah swooping into the pebbly bottom to scoop up some pebbles for spitting making the sound "ccchhhhh" --cachinging  like a distant underwater register.  The tank’s nocturne sound was therapeutic to the boy.

                      Among waking up, and being greeted by his sparkling treasure tank--that was always of the faintest light in the morning due to the grey skies of Mass coming through every portal to lessen the tropical spectrum-- the boy would render his salutations " Good morning my Hoomah.....good morning Tang, my Damsel, and your majesty Queen Angel.....and so forth.  Until the scream would come to get him, and he would walk briskly past the empty room and the looming family pictures of strangers.  His mother put him to work that day, to "pay for the fish tank" but really to buy her a new cocktail dress for her nightly forays.  The boy did not care, the tank was his sun, emitting through the bleak skies of Mass, and even if the tank was reduced to a haze by the overcast of his life, it only added a log to the fire that was the tropical world at night, in turn making him welcome the dismal day.
                  On a day, when the overcast was so thick, he felt he could not picture his rectangular orb waiting for him at night. He had trouble remembering what houses to deliver the paper.  He delivered to the same house three times.  Newspapers seemed to disappear in his hands, due to their color relation to the sky.   Leaves were falling from the trees—butterfly like—he went to catch one, he missed--a first. For Sake could walk through dense thorned brambles and avoid every barb, as a knight in combat or someone’s whose heart felt the painful sting of the barb before.  He would stand under a tree in late fall, and roll around to avoid every falling leaf, and pierce them to the ground deftly with a stick fashioned as a sword.  He could slither between snow flakes, almost like a fish nimbly avoiding small flakes.  
                  After he finished his paper-route , he went to his usual spot under an oak tree to fence with falling leaves.  As the other boys walked by and poked fun he would stall his imagination, and look to the brown landscape of the dry fall.  The crisp brown leaves of the trees were sword shapes to him.  He held the battle ax shape of the oak leaf over his eye held up by the stick it was pierced through, and spied the woodline through the sinus of the oak leaf lobe.  The brown white speckled scenery, were all trying to hide behind eachother by blending in bleakfully; he pretended the leaf was Hector’s helmet from the Illiad—donned over his eyes.
“ Whatchya doing Sake?” asked a young girl named Summer.  Sake only mumbled something nervously and stood there.  And a pretty Summer passed on after Sake once again denied himself of her pretty company.  He looked to the woodline again, a mist was now concealing the tall apical trees.  It now looked like the brown woodland was not trying to retreat behind eachother in fall concealment, but trying to emerge forth out of the greyness to say "save us."

“ Damgf” he uttered, and could not even grasp a word correctly.  His head lifted to the sky repeatedly, there was no orb, and the shadows were looming larger than ever; fractioned shadows from tree branches were forming scythes all over the ground.
             He entered the large shadow that was his front door, into the house that rose high into the sky, with the simplicity of Stonehenge.  He climbed the rickety petrified stairs and went down the hall.  Grey light had spotlighted every frame on the wall.  He looked into the empty room, nothingness, then his room, the tank seemed at its faintest, and it was nearing twilight.  He walked past the tank to look out the w
AntRedundAnt Jan 2014
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haven't   what's   you'd   they'd   man's   boys'   god's   woman's   fruit's   orion's   newton's   lincoln's   adam's   momma's   ******   jackson's   audis   dulces   disproportionately   charon's   deseos   avocadoes   hailey   eran   beatles'   ingles   he   she   it   rackets   --   hashtag   sixty-three   duct-tape   joysticks   sherman's   15   6th   32   500   7th   2013   extraño   barenaked   tamales   6-year-old   tierras   derpy   ewell   rom-com   themit's   adan   mudpits   puddlepits   war--hell   culp's   shitpits   completaron   chocolatada   levantanse   duraznos   n'sync   huevo   cholitos   levantaron   manzanas   endurece   wozniak's   dispara   nuez   open-endedness   innies   cankles   dunder-mifflin   tunks   buck-toothed   outies   grief-blown   a-gawking
I uploaded all of my past work onto the site already, so everything from here on out will be new and original. This is sort of an experimental idea of mine: take all the words hellopoetry has tracked for me, put it down as if it were a poem, and see how it flows. It actually kind of works sometimes, but I'm not sure. I'm sure it's mostly terrible, but I wanted to try it. Let me know what you think in the comments below!
Silent Sanctuary Jul 2016
As insecure toddlers, we were often told by our parents that inner beauty is more important than outer beauty. This is how they were able to instill in us the confidence we may have today, whenever we represent ourselves in front of other people. However, this is something I find to be quite inaccurate.  If you ask a random person about what they find beautiful and attractive, most of them would probably begin to describe a person’s physical attributes than the internal attributes.

Beauty is defined to be the perfect balance and harmony with nature, which may lead to feelings of attraction and emotional well-being. Since the attraction is subjective, the term “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” takes place. Many individuals would like to believe that looks are never important, and that judgments should be based on a person’s internal well-being instead of its outer counterparts.

In our modern society, external beauty is more favorable since everything becomes more convenient, than when you only have internal beauty. People will always see your external beauty the moment they see you and not that beautiful mind and soul of yours, and that’s what makes them attracted to you. Just like with expensive cars, the moment a car is put into the market, the consumer who will buy them would first look at their exterior first before they would look for its driving ability; no matter how good its performance may be, these people would always look at its exterior. Also, external beauty can help you be successful, it can land you jobs, earn more money, and help you be treated with more respect by strangers than those with internal beauty.

The preference for external beauty than internal beauty is what is wrong in our current society. We live up to the evolved norms of society that we have started to grow backwards. Outer beauty fades, and no matter how beautiful you are on the outside, once people get to know you, you’d be nothing but a simple less attractive human being than you once were. I would leave a wonderful quote here written by a great author: “A tree may look as beautiful as ever; but when you notice the insects infesting it, and the tips of the branches that are brown from disease, even the trunk seems to lose some of its magnificence.”
Raven Jun 2018
He writes poetry
But no one knows

He writes poetry
He writes about love
And loss

He writes about smiles
And frowns

He writes about sorrow
And forgotten towns

He writes about how lost he gets
Caught up in his own mind

He writes poetry to
And about others

But no one knows

Know one knows the depth of his soul
Because they all choose to see the exterior
And that exterior screams

Preppy
And preppy
Don't have souls

Or so they thought
Until the day he was consumed
By his own poetry
On Hellespont, guilty of true love’s blood,
In view and opposite two cities stood,
Sea-borderers, disjoin’d by Neptune’s might;
The one Abydos, the other Sestos hight.
At Sestos Hero dwelt; Hero the fair,
Whom young Apollo courted for her hair,
And offer’d as a dower his burning throne,
Where she could sit for men to gaze upon.
The outside of her garments were of lawn,
The lining purple silk, with gilt stars drawn;
Her wide sleeves green, and border’d with a grove,
Where Venus in her naked glory strove
To please the careless and disdainful eyes
Of proud Adonis, that before her lies;
Her kirtle blue, whereon was many a stain,
Made with the blood of wretched lovers slain.
Upon her head she ware a myrtle wreath,
From whence her veil reach’d to the ground beneath;
Her veil was artificial flowers and leaves,
Whose workmanship both man and beast deceives;
Many would praise the sweet smell as she past,
When ’twas the odour which her breath forth cast;
And there for honey bees have sought in vain,
And beat from thence, have lighted there again.
About her neck hung chains of pebble-stone,
Which lighten’d by her neck, like diamonds shone.
She ware no gloves; for neither sun nor wind
Would burn or parch her hands, but, to her mind,
Or warm or cool them, for they took delight
To play upon those hands, they were so white.
Buskins of shells, all silver’d, used she,
And branch’d with blushing coral to the knee;
Where sparrows perch’d, of hollow pearl and gold,
Such as the world would wonder to behold:
Those with sweet water oft her handmaid fills,
Which as she went, would chirrup through the bills.
Some say, for her the fairest Cupid pin’d,
And looking in her face, was strooken blind.
But this is true; so like was one the other,
As he imagin’d Hero was his mother;
And oftentimes into her ***** flew,
About her naked neck his bare arms threw,
And laid his childish head upon her breast,
And with still panting rock’d there took his rest.
So lovely-fair was Hero, Venus’ nun,
As Nature wept, thinking she was undone,
Because she took more from her than she left,
And of such wondrous beauty her bereft:
Therefore, in sign her treasure suffer’d wrack,
Since Hero’s time hath half the world been black.

Amorous Leander, beautiful and young
(Whose tragedy divine MusÆus sung),
Dwelt at Abydos; since him dwelt there none
For whom succeeding times make greater moan.
His dangling tresses, that were never shorn,
Had they been cut, and unto Colchos borne,
Would have allur’d the vent’rous youth of Greece
To hazard more than for the golden fleece.
Fair Cynthia wish’d his arms might be her sphere;
Grief makes her pale, because she moves not there.
His body was as straight as Circe’s wand;
Jove might have sipt out nectar from his hand.
Even as delicious meat is to the taste,
So was his neck in touching, and surpast
The white of Pelops’ shoulder: I could tell ye,
How smooth his breast was, and how white his belly;
And whose immortal fingers did imprint
That heavenly path with many a curious dint
That runs along his back; but my rude pen
Can hardly blazon forth the loves of men,
Much less of powerful gods: let it suffice
That my slack Muse sings of Leander’s eyes;
Those orient cheeks and lips, exceeding his
That leapt into the water for a kiss
Of his own shadow, and, despising many,
Died ere he could enjoy the love of any.
Had wild Hippolytus Leander seen,
Enamour’d of his beauty had he been.
His presence made the rudest peasant melt,
That in the vast uplandish country dwelt;
The barbarous Thracian soldier, mov’d with nought,
Was mov’d with him, and for his favour sought.
Some swore he was a maid in man’s attire,
For in his looks were all that men desire,—
A pleasant smiling cheek, a speaking eye,
A brow for love to banquet royally;
And such as knew he was a man, would say,
“Leander, thou art made for amorous play;
Why art thou not in love, and lov’d of all?
Though thou be fair, yet be not thine own thrall.”

The men of wealthy Sestos every year,
For his sake whom their goddess held so dear,
Rose-cheek’d Adonis, kept a solemn feast.
Thither resorted many a wandering guest
To meet their loves; such as had none at all
Came lovers home from this great festival;
For every street, like to a firmament,
Glister’d with breathing stars, who, where they went,
Frighted the melancholy earth, which deem’d
Eternal heaven to burn, for so it seem’d
As if another Pha{”e}ton had got
The guidance of the sun’s rich chariot.
But far above the loveliest, Hero shin’d,
And stole away th’ enchanted gazer’s mind;
For like sea-nymphs’ inveigling harmony,
So was her beauty to the standers-by;
Nor that night-wandering, pale, and watery star
(When yawning dragons draw her thirling car
From Latmus’ mount up to the gloomy sky,
Where, crown’d with blazing light and majesty,
She proudly sits) more over-rules the flood
Than she the hearts of those that near her stood.
Even as when gaudy nymphs pursue the chase,
Wretched Ixion’s shaggy-footed race,
Incens’d with savage heat, gallop amain
From steep pine-bearing mountains to the plain,
So ran the people forth to gaze upon her,
And all that view’d her were enamour’d on her.
And as in fury of a dreadful fight,
Their fellows being slain or put to flight,
Poor soldiers stand with fear of death dead-strooken,
So at her presence all surpris’d and tooken,
Await the sentence of her scornful eyes;
He whom she favours lives; the other dies.
There might you see one sigh, another rage,
And some, their violent passions to assuage,
Compile sharp satires; but, alas, too late,
For faithful love will never turn to hate.
And many, seeing great princes were denied,
Pin’d as they went, and thinking on her, died.
On this feast-day—O cursed day and hour!—
Went Hero thorough Sestos, from her tower
To Venus’ temple, where unhappily,
As after chanc’d, they did each other spy.

So fair a church as this had Venus none:
The walls were of discolour’d jasper-stone,
Wherein was Proteus carved; and over-head
A lively vine of green sea-agate spread,
Where by one hand light-headed Bacchus hung,
And with the other wine from grapes out-wrung.
Of crystal shining fair the pavement was;
The town of Sestos call’d it Venus’ glass:
There might you see the gods in sundry shapes,
Committing heady riots, ******, rapes:
For know, that underneath this radiant flower
Was Danae’s statue in a brazen tower,
Jove slyly stealing from his sister’s bed,
To dally with Idalian Ganimed,
And for his love Europa bellowing loud,
And tumbling with the rainbow in a cloud;
Blood-quaffing Mars heaving the iron net,
Which limping Vulcan and his Cyclops set;
Love kindling fire, to burn such towns as Troy,
Sylvanus weeping for the lovely boy
That now is turn’d into a cypress tree,
Under whose shade the wood-gods love to be.
And in the midst a silver altar stood:
There Hero, sacrificing turtles’ blood,
Vail’d to the ground, veiling her eyelids close;
And modestly they opened as she rose.
Thence flew Love’s arrow with the golden head;
And thus Leander was enamoured.
Stone-still he stood, and evermore he gazed,
Till with the fire that from his count’nance blazed
Relenting Hero’s gentle heart was strook:
Such force and virtue hath an amorous look.

It lies not in our power to love or hate,
For will in us is over-rul’d by fate.
When two are stript, long ere the course begin,
We wish that one should lose, the other win;
And one especially do we affect
Of two gold ingots, like in each respect:
The reason no man knows, let it suffice,
What we behold is censur’d by our eyes.
Where both deliberate, the love is slight:
Who ever lov’d, that lov’d not at first sight?

He kneeled, but unto her devoutly prayed.
Chaste Hero to herself thus softly said,
“Were I the saint he worships, I would hear him;”
And, as she spake those words, came somewhat near him.
He started up, she blushed as one ashamed,
Wherewith Leander much more was inflamed.
He touched her hand; in touching it she trembled.
Love deeply grounded, hardly is dissembled.
These lovers parleyed by the touch of hands;
True love is mute, and oft amazed stands.
Thus while dumb signs their yielding hearts entangled,
The air with sparks of living fire was spangled,
And night, deep drenched in misty Acheron,
Heaved up her head, and half the world upon
Breathed darkness forth (dark night is Cupid’s day).
And now begins Leander to display
Love’s holy fire, with words, with sighs, and tears,
Which like sweet music entered Hero’s ears,
And yet at every word she turned aside,
And always cut him off as he replied.
At last, like to a bold sharp sophister,
With cheerful hope thus he accosted her.

“Fair creature, let me speak without offence.
I would my rude words had the influence
To lead thy thoughts as thy fair looks do mine,
Then shouldst thou be his prisoner, who is thine.
Be not unkind and fair; misshapen stuff
Are of behaviour boisterous and rough.
O shun me not, but hear me ere you go.
God knows I cannot force love as you do.
My words shall be as spotless as my youth,
Full of simplicity and naked truth.
This sacrifice, (whose sweet perfume descending
From Venus’ altar, to your footsteps bending)
Doth testify that you exceed her far,
To whom you offer, and whose nun you are.
Why should you worship her? Her you surpass
As much as sparkling diamonds flaring glass.
A diamond set in lead his worth retains;
A heavenly nymph, beloved of human swains,
Receives no blemish, but ofttimes more grace;
Which makes me hope, although I am but base:
Base in respect of thee, divine and pure,
Dutiful service may thy love procure.
And I in duty will excel all other,
As thou in beauty dost exceed Love’s mother.
Nor heaven, nor thou, were made to gaze upon,
As heaven preserves all things, so save thou one.
A stately builded ship, well rigged and tall,
The ocean maketh more majestical.
Why vowest thou then to live in Sestos here
Who on Love’s seas more glorious wouldst appear?
Like untuned golden strings all women are,
Which long time lie untouched, will harshly jar.
Vessels of brass, oft handled, brightly shine.
What difference betwixt the richest mine
And basest mould, but use? For both, not used,
Are of like worth. Then treasure is abused
When misers keep it; being put to loan,
In time it will return us two for one.
Rich robes themselves and others do adorn;
Neither themselves nor others, if not worn.
Who builds a palace and rams up the gate
Shall see it ruinous and desolate.
Ah, simple Hero, learn thyself to cherish.
Lone women like to empty houses perish.
Less sins the poor rich man that starves himself
In heaping up a mass of drossy pelf,
Than such as you. His golden earth remains
Which, after his decease, some other gains.
But this fair gem, sweet in the loss alone,
When you fleet hence, can be bequeathed to none.
Or, if it could, down from th’enameled sky
All heaven would come to claim this legacy,
And with intestine broils the world destroy,
And quite confound nature’s sweet harmony.
Well therefore by the gods decreed it is
We human creatures should enjoy that bliss.
One is no number; maids are nothing then
Without the sweet society of men.
Wilt thou live single still? One shalt thou be,
Though never singling ***** couple thee.
Wild savages, that drink of running springs,
Think water far excels all earthly things,
But they that daily taste neat wine despise it.
Virginity, albeit some highly prize it,
Compared with marriage, had you tried them both,
Differs as much as wine and water doth.
Base bullion for the stamp’s sake we allow;
Even so for men’s impression do we you,
By which alone, our reverend fathers say,
Women receive perfection every way.
This idol which you term virginity
Is neither essence subject to the eye
No, nor to any one exterior sense,
Nor hath it any place of residence,
Nor is’t of earth or mould celestial,
Or capable of any form at all.
Of that which hath no being do not boast;
Things that are not at all are never lost.
Men foolishly do call it virtuous;
What virtue is it that is born with us?
Much less can honour be ascribed thereto;
Honour is purchased by the deeds we do.
Believe me, Hero, honour is not won
Until some honourable deed be done.
Seek you for chastity, immortal fame,
And know that some have wronged Diana’s name?
Whose name is it, if she be false or not
So she be fair, but some vile tongues will blot?
But you are fair, (ay me) so wondrous fair,
So young, so gentle, and so debonair,
As Greece will think if thus you live alone
Some one or other keeps you as his own.
Then, Hero, hate me not nor from me fly
To follow swiftly blasting infamy.
Perhaps thy sacred priesthood makes thee loath.
Tell me, to whom mad’st thou that heedless oath?”

“To Venus,” answered she and, as she spake,
Forth from those two tralucent cisterns brake
A stream of liquid pearl, which down her face
Made milk-white paths, whereon the gods might trace
To Jove’s high court.
He thus replied: “The rites
In which love’s beauteous empress most delights
Are banquets, Doric music, midnight revel,
Plays, masks, and all that stern age counteth evil.
Thee as a holy idiot doth she scorn
For thou in vowing chastity hast sworn
To rob her name and honour, and thereby
Committ’st a sin far worse than perjury,
Even sacrilege against her deity,
Through regular and formal purity.
To expiate which sin, kiss and shake hands.
Such sacrifice as this Venus demands.”

Thereat she smiled and did deny him so,
As put thereby, yet might he hope for moe.
Which makes him quickly re-enforce his speech,
And her in humble manner thus beseech.
“Though neither gods nor men may thee deserve,
Yet for her sake, whom you have vowed to serve,
Abandon fruitless cold virginity,
The gentle queen of love’s sole enemy.
Then shall you most resemble Venus’ nun,
When Venus’ sweet rites are performed and done.
Flint-breasted Pallas joys in single life,
But Pallas and your mistress are at strife.
Love, Hero, then, and be not tyrannous,
But heal the heart that thou hast wounded thus,
Nor stain thy youthful years with avarice.
Fair fools delight to be accounted nice.
The richest corn dies, if it be not reaped;
Beauty alone is lost, too warily kept.”

These arguments he used, and many more,
Wherewith she yielded, that was won before.
Hero’s looks yielded but her words made war.
Women are won when they begin to jar.
Thus, having swallowed Cupid’s golden hook,
The more she strived, the deeper was she strook.
Yet, evilly feigning anger, strove she still
And would be thought to grant against her will.
So having paused a while at last she said,
“Who taught thee rhetoric to deceive a maid?
Ay me, such words as these should I abhor
And yet I like them for the orator.”

With that Leander stooped to have embraced her
But from his spreading arms away she cast her,
And thus bespake him: “Gentle youth, forbear
To touch the sacred garments which I wear.
Upon a rock and underneath a hill
Far from the town (where all is whist and still,
Save that the sea, playing on yellow sand,
Sends forth a rattling murmur to the land,
Whose sound allures the golden Morpheus
In silence of the night to visit us)
My turret stands and there, God knows, I play.
With Venus’ swans and sparrows all the day.
A dwarfish beldam bears me company,
That hops about the chamber where I lie,
And spends the night (that might be better spent)
In vain discourse and apish merriment.
Come thither.” As she spake this, her tongue tripped,
For unawares “come thither” from her slipped.
And suddenly her former colour changed,
And here and there her eyes through anger ranged.
And like a planet, moving several ways,
At one self instant she, poor soul, assays,
Loving, not to love at all, and every part
Strove to resist the motions of her heart.
And hands so pure, so innocent, nay, such
As might have made heaven stoop to have a touch,
Did she uphold to Venus, and again
Vowed spotless chastity, but all in vain.
Cupid beats down her prayers with his wings,
Her vows above the empty air he flings,
All deep enraged, his sinewy bow he bent,
And shot a shaft that burning from him went,
Wherewith she strooken, looked so dolefully,
As made love sigh to see his tyranny.
And as she wept her tears to pearl he turned,
And wound them on his arm and for her mourned.
Then towards the palace of the destinies
Laden with languishment and grief he flies,
And to those stern nymphs humbly made request
Both might enjoy each other, and be blest.
But with a ghastly dreadful
Louise Smith Jun 2014
A glazed fire falls to earth.

A blaze so grand it will destroy your only exterior world.
A spread of rubies is covering the horizon,
so close you could fly to it
so far you can only fly to it.

This fire is our only day
he climbs high for his eternity
and falls
only for a minute

To have a fresh faced man take its place
for he spends brief moments in glory
and the rest in the ground.
Dreamer Apr 2015
The crowd fades away
As chords in every melody
Rings in our ears,
And shivers downs in our body
It vibrates in every muscle
A musical fusion
Almost everything didn’t matter
It’s you, me and the beating rhythm
The graceful posture
The sway of every gesture
It’s a motion adventure.

Feeling the adrenaline pulsing through
Pervading the entity
Beating rhythm pounding, it electrifies the body
into graceful art, emancipating the sound of the music
Captivating the mind, liberating the young, reckless soul
covertly hidden inside an indifferent exterior

A freeing beauty
of movement to the rhythm
A therapy to the mind and body.
Dancing to the music,
feeling every tune
every beat
every breath of every movement,
with Explosions of Euphoria
how about that! :) I'm so proud of us, we did it! I'm having that totally awesome post-poem feeling you know? So incredibly honored to be working with you, dear Pax :) We did a fantastic job, woot woot! (((hug))))
Robin Carretti Aug 2018
Something is
simmering  *  
  ****      
His spice the stars*
His cologne heat up the
woods
Lips and taste boiling
The Green Irish Tweed
Epicurean love at
the Italian
Spice Epic Stadium

Here comes the
Sun the__?
Royal Mayfair

strikingly
My Fair Lady
The spice diction of words
Her name is Sage Lady Bird
You could feel her smile
shimmering

Carnal spice knowledge
Savory animalistic
Spice culture ******
Citrusy fancy dress
Not to panic
His Sunday gravy
Italian sauce garlicky  
She could win so pungent
Spicy lady Pagent

The poor stealing the
rich culture
Sage surrender like the Oz
Like Robin Hood

Spice of life this is our life
Top of the sea salt Spy
scouring
You better have a love
Like a deep pouring
Her Sage Genie bottle
on the stove

Her sheerness lascivious robe

The Meditteranean sea with
Four leaf clovers
freeloaders
These cultures and eyes of
strength feature
There is no time to
break up for the love of a spice
Is this the human race
Fresh linens better company
What a primary
Oh! Hail Mary

Those ethnic spices
what a sensual smell
Sage pretty coffee cup show and tell
What a razzle top of her cake
The media takes over all
painted and swirled
Baked spicy finger she dialed

Through her locket heart sake
Recovered love reconciled
The Teddy Rosevelt or Chicago Bears
tight hugs of cultures


Hairy chest his smooth gestures
Culture rough and tough exterior

Like the smile beautiful mind
creature
Beyond to be seen
The Spices computer
world of devices
Strawberry fields forever
But what is forever more love
Crises

Do we always lose our stripes
Feeling layered with her cereal
Tony the tiger
Whats great about curses
Sage speechless can feel the
roar spicy mouth
Going South or North
Victorian corset sensual
Guity spice dark side of Goth
Hot desire from both
The pine needles
Christmas time
The mistletoe kissing pointing to the star

Wearing herself out with her
pointed pump shoe*
But losing her spirit what to
endeavor
*The Blue Horizon Spice Rub

The  pub the sky has no limits
to the Stars that twinkle
The Gods to their *****
Rip Van Winkle
Dry Vermouth or the Russian Roulette
French spice Crepe Suzette

"Adam I Apple Dante Jubilee
Eve was more like a neigh
Horse spicy slide Colonel Spicy mustard
Meeting General Lee Sage custard

Her handkerchief
with sage cut leaves
Hearing echoes what gives
Anyone's spice rack
of shoes engraves Sage leafs

Noone really knows for sure
She wore spice deep blue velvet
Jade Ring Brittish Colony
Stuck to her beliefs like a magnet

Eating vegetable and fish
Her best China ever find her dish

How the jade chandelier twisted
Became laughing like two musketeers
New York City love Serendipity
The Queen chair so domineer
'What Debutants"
Crazed like spices of mutants
The anger management getting
the evil out
The shoutbox strong clove spice
Sage was never outfoxed
Her **** jaded uniform
The firefighter Smoky the bear
  eyes of candlelight storm
didn't make it this year
Torn to tears like two
vultures of
the haunted night
He peddles fast
But the fear needs to disappear

Fresh lake smells fresh
as her breath
The culture and media
make tons of mistakes
She knows what she wants
Not a jungle of
poisonous snakes
He knows what he doesn't want
to tell her
Perhaps losing his
bark dog naps
The best part engage her on
Sage with a heart
The fruit her
flesh and blood
The blood on his finger
Her medicinal herbs
of China
The mason spice jar is empty
The full heart needs his half
Cream of the crop
Careless love accidentally
spice dropped
Sensual Chin like pine needles
The exception to the rule more leaders
Remember Every September
to leave your scent
We all have needs we want
Drinking all the flavors of Snapple
*Big waves of the ripple don't you
love her amazing dimples
Sage spice mighty divine but when its mixed love can be jinxed watch out. But just keep singing her "Sage way" her garden is magnificent in every way just pray
Nat Lipstadt Mar 2014
Everything in quotations marks and italics was written by TS Eliot.

eyes knowing glossy men,
sheer women, creatures,
not all artists, but artists,
always thus,
centrifugal, simple

from their core,
emanate, resonate,
expand the exterior
with interior precision sculpting

to the interior delve,
via brush or limb,
pen or music,
the exposition, the exploration,
the reconstruction of composing
one's self, creation and destruction
of your own myths

movement of arms and legs,
sparseness of simplicity
subsidiaries of centricity,
tributaries of complexity,
oriented to their locality

the simple purpose of inhalation,
to exhale, after transformation,
the calculus of thought into emotion:

"the tongues of flame are in-folded
into the crowned knot of fire and
the fire and rose are one"


the dancers hear the music:

"so deeply that it is not heard at all,
but you are the music
while the music lasts."


**”Quick now, here, now always –
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well"
"Immature poets borrow, mature poets steal." T.S. Eliot (1888 - 1965)

Inspired this evening by the Martha Graham Company, the words and wisdom of TS Eliot, from whom she took inspiration in her choreography of modern dance
Molly Claire Jan 2012
A queen she is called
Rich with light hair
Bright like the sun
It shines.

And in her eyes
The deepest sea's
Savage waves
Are calmed with the batting of long, dark lashes


Her lips,
Like pomegranate
Together or apart
Keep a perfectly hidden kiss

The skin she occupies:
Immaculate
Like the body
She wears with grace

Yet within this ruler
The flawlessness
Of her exterior
Has vanished.

Inside her brain,
Dark brooding
Thoughts
Roam around.

Senseless ideas
Nestle in her heart
Looking for the passage
To the outside world.

Her locked mind
Has time
To wander
Behind shut lips.

To infest with
Musings of better places,
Of welcome speech,
And worlds beyond this.

Yet,
She cannot
Get through this life
With such thoughts

Soon enough
They begin
To gnaw
Her

Breaking her down
Piece by pretty piece.
The beauty of her face
Will soon be absent,

An ugly exterior
To match
What had been
Flooding her insides.
Raj Arumugam Sep 2012
grotesque old Tomon-go
in that corner he holds in the market
he looks angry, fierce and his open mouth
inside as red as the feet of a fighting ****
Ah, his words fly like arrows helter-skelter
some miss, some strike – he does not know
what missiles he sends, what he throws
and in turn anything he receives he throws back
with quadrupled energy

He looks fierce, he looks mean
all relatives say in hushed tones -
but he’s really nice, a softie with a hard exterior


at the market his face is convoluted
there are a hundred writhing beings that make
up his countenance
(each a contortionist)
the energy of the practised old grumpy men
live in his hands
and he unleashes words that make everyone recall
the last tsunami

He looks fierce, he looks mean
all the women and men in the market say
in whispers -
but he’s really nice, a softie with a hard exterior


Ah, poor Tomon-go, his words and manner isolate him
he hurts others and is hurt in turn
Poor Tomon-go, poor all who come in contact with him
though they might whisper to one another:
*He looks fierce, he looks mean
but he’s really nice, a softie
with a sharp tongue and grotesque exterior
based on caricature art by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (歌川 国芳?, January 1, 1797[1] - April 14, 1862
Akemi Nov 2018
Blanket city run along soaked in rain. Idiot Boy wastes his time visiting a passing crush at the other end of town. Slips between two houses and a metal sheet, communal refrigerator in the middle of the road filed with half-empty soy bottles.

Dead bell stop, mocking red blink of the operator. Father arrives, a mess of wiry muscles and hair.

“Hey. Is Coffin Cat here?”

“Who?” Father squints at Idiot Boy’s cap. Idiot Boy avoids eye contact.

“Um.”

Recessed in the blackness behind Father, a Figure says, “You looking for Coffin Cat?”

Idiot Boy nods.

The Recessed Figure turns. “I’ll go get her.”

Father returns to his parched body on the couch, content.

Indistinguishable forms move back and forth in the kitchen to the right. They stop their pacing and glance at Idiot Boy as he passes. Idiot Boy avoids eye contact and slips into the left-bound arterial vessel.

“So this is the heart chamber I’ve been living in,” Coffin Cat says as Idiot Boy enters her room. There is music gear. “It’s pretty comfy.”

“Oh, sick mic,” Idiot Boy says, pointing at the mic behind Coffin Cat’s head.

“I feel like a ghost,” Coffin Cat replies, falling on her bed.

Idiot Boy settles next to her. Animal distance. Intensely aware of his rain-soaked right shoe. “Same.”

Nothing comes out right, intersubjectivity a false God to mediate the impossible kernel of being, nobody can find nor express. Idiot Boy searches for connection. He glances around the heart chamber, at the music gear, but nothing grips. Four pears sit on a table by the window, their skins garish green in the harsh grey light.

Coffin Cat moves from the bed to the floor. She opens a virtual aquarium on her computer; fish eat pellets dropped from the sky to **** out coins to buy more fish to **** out coins to buy more fish. Capitalist investment and accumulation. Every few minutes a rocket-spewing robot teleports into the aquarium to attack the fish. Ruthless competition in the global marketplace.

“No! Why would you swim there, you ******* fish?” Coffin Cat yells as one if her fish is eaten by the nomadic war machine. “So dumb. ****. Why did it eat my fish?”

A knock at the door. The Recessed Figure from earlier enters the room. “Hey, mind if I join?” Their arms dangle like fine threads of hair.

“I like your music gear,” Idiot Boy says, pointing at nothing in particular.

“Idiot Boy also makes music,” Coffin Cat adds from the floor.

The Recessed Figure does not respond. They are enthralled by their phone, streak of dead pixels along a digital chessboard, minute reflection of their own gaunt face in the glass. After an extended period, they decide to move none of their pieces. A gaping coffee grinder rises out of the rubble at their feet. They begin filling it with tobacco from broken cigarettes.

“I’m surprised you’re still playing this,” Idiot Boy says to Coffin Cat. “I swear this is one of those games designed to ruin your life. Get addicted, stop going to work, become a hikik weaboo.”

“Already there, man,” Coffin Cat laughs. “Nah, this is my new job. I’m going to be a professional gamer.”

“Stream only PopCap games.”

Another knock at the door. Tired squander in an endless pacing of flesh. Strawman enters and nods at the Recessed Figure. “Hey bro.”

“Good to see you, man.” The Recessed Figure plugs the coffee grinder into the wall. “You got any ciggys?”

Idiot Boy points under the table and says “Ahh” with his mouth.

The Recessed Figure empties it into the coffee grinder. The device whirs into motion, creating a centrifugal blur, a mechanical and headless hypnotic repeat.

Idiot Boy and Coffin Cat look for horror movies to watch. The Recessed Figure empties the contents of the coffee grinder onto a metal tray. Strawman repacks it into a ****. White smoke fills the empty column, moves in slow motion like an oceanic rip a mile off coast, surface seething with quiet, impenetrable violence.

Idiot Boy refuses the first round. It’s never done him any good. Face turned to smoke and the wretched weight of a tongue that refuses to speak. Headless carry-on as time ticks through the clock face.

The door bursts open. Everybody turns as Manic Refusal or the Loud Person saunters in.

“I can’t believe it. I can’t ******* believe it. They’re selling me off!” the Loud Person says in exasperation. “First time back in New Zealand in five years and they do this to me!”

“What? What’s happened?” Strawman asks.

“Some rich ****** in Australia has bought me as his wife. I knew it, I knew if I came back, my parents wouldn’t let me leave again. Whole ******* thing arranged!” the Loud Person laughs bitterly, before hitting the ****.

“Oomph, that’s rough,” Coffin Cat quips from the side.

“No, you don’t even understand. This is the first time back, the first time back in five years, and I’m being sold to off some rich ****** who owns all the banks in Australia.”

“But like, who is this guy?” Strawman asks, pointing.

“And he’s been reading all my profiles. He has access to all my information. I don’t even have control over my Facebook profile. Grand Larson’s logged in as me, posting for me,” the Loud Person continues. “I met him once in Australia, clubbing, and now he’s tracked and bought me.”

“That’s creepy as ****,” Idiot Boy says.

“So he’s not a complete stranger?” Strawman asks.

“I can’t believe it. I can’t ******* believe it. First time back in five years and I’m being sold off!”

Idiot Boy decides one hit from the **** wouldn’t be so bad. He packs the cone with chop, lights and inhales. Smoke rushes through the glass channel, a swirl of white ether, more than he’d expected. He quickly passes the **** to Coffin Cat, before collapsing onto the bed, eyes closed. A suffocating sensation fills his body. He sinks into the chasm of himself, further and further into an impossible, infinite depth.

“Still working at . . . ?”

“Yeah, yeah. Management. Hospital. You?”

“Like, property. Motions.”

“Subcontracting? Intonements?”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“Mmm.”

Idiot Boy doesn’t know what’s going on. He feels sick and tries to get Coffin Cat’s attention, but cannot move his body.

“Come on. Sell me drugs, Strawman.”

“Nah. I don’t deal drugs. I don’t deal drugs.”

A strange silence stretches like an artificial dusk, a liminal duration, the hollow click of a tape set back into place in reverse. The Recessed Figure coughs and the Loud Person whirs back into motion.

“I can’t believe it. I can’t ******* believe it. They’re selling me off! First time back in New Zealand in five years and they do this to me!”

The Recessed Figure makes a noncommittal noise.

“I knew it, I knew if I came back, my parents wouldn’t let me leave again. Whole ******* thing arranged!”

Coffin Cat laughs quietly.

“No, you don’t even understand. This is the first time back, the first time back in five years, and I’m being sold off to some rich ****** who owns all the banks in Australia.”

“How about this fella? He doing okay?” Strawman asks, pointing. Everyone turns to Idiot Boy and laughs affectionately.

“Still working at . . . ?”

“Yeah, yeah. Management. Hospital. You?”

“Like, property. Motions.”

“Subcontracting? Intonements?”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“Mmm.”

“Sell me drugs, Strawman.”

“Nah. I don’t deal drugs. I don’t deal drugs.”

Idiot Boy slowly opens his eyes and stares out the window. The same grey light as before. He moves his arm further towards Coffin Cat, but is still too weak to get her attention. The same strange silence stretches. The Recessed Figure coughs and the Loud Person whirs back into motion.

“I can’t believe it. I can’t ******* believe it. . . .”

As the conversation repeats over and again, Idiot Boy begins to think he has become psychotic, or perhaps entered into a psychotic space. He thinks of computer algorithms, input-output, loops without variables, endless regurgitations of the same result. Human machines trapped in their own stupid loop. Drug-****** neuronal networks incapable of making new connections, forever traversing old ones. Short-term memory loss, every repeat a new conversation of what has already been. The same grey light painted upon four pears by the window.

He’s not sure if Coffin Cat’s laugh is getting weaker with each repeat.

Signal-response. The exterior world oversaturated with variables: roadways, rivers, forests, wildlife — an ever changing scene to respond to — the illusion of depth. Automatic response mechanisms reorient to new stimuli. The soul rises like surfactant, objectified fractal diffusion. A becoming without end.

But within the border of this interior world, the light stays grey. No input, no change; the same dead repeat, over and over, until sundown triggers a hunger response. Lined all along the street, a black box ceremony of repeating machines, trapped in their idiot cults, walls of clay and blood.

Idiot Boy finally gets Coffin Cat’s attention. She helps him through the house’s arteries to reach rain and wet stone, overcast skies. As he shakes in shock, Coffin Cat mumbles, “It’s cold.”

Idiot Boy sits silent on the ride home. Travels through himself. Tunnel through the body or Mariana Trench. Loses his footing before a traumatic void. Leaves the car and pukes.
Anthony Terragna Mar 2015
Overwhelming mental congestion for perfection,
Socially influenced blueprints of future attraction.
Constructive criticism given by construction workers,
The labor of family and friends for reassurance.

A solid foundation of first impressions,
Structured walls of growth and development.
Insulation of natural feelings and experiences,
Ventilation to cool down the heated encounters.

Electrical wiring of an emotional and physical connection,
A circuitry of passion and romance with a light switch.
Hardwood flooring for candle lit dinners and ballroom dancing,
Granite kitchen counters for intimate midnight snacks.

An attractive exterior siding to woo the public eye,
A secure lock of commitment on all the doors.
A roof of trust, and a picket fence,
And now, my love,

I’m simply yours.
jovix Jun 2015
puffs so alluring
three dimensional
but you're not
i want to touch your creamy exterior
but all i get is moisture
your shading is ravishing
symmetrical paint thing
wisps of stratus horse tail ice
dusty cumulus marsh of mallow
your nimbus is what i dream
charcoal colored opaque
mixed in with a little blue
you make it hard
not to stare
at you
so eager as light shines off
your behind
you'll soon be mine.
overcast clear
Ryan Bowdish Sep 2013
School was always humuorous to a degree in my opinion because of the underlying idea
that the more damaged you were, the cooler you were in the eyes of the rest of the school.
I have heard numerous conversations that began with something along the lines of, "Oh, you
think YOU got it bad, well my dad blah blah and my best friend blah blah and my life is hell."

I decided to get a little personal and share with you guys something I have never actually
told anyone in entirety yet. I am pretty sure the whole story is still only here in my brain.
I will, out of respect for these people, change their names.

It's October 31, 2012. It's about noon, and all of us sixteen to twenty-two year olds are just waking up.
Brianne woke up probably a few hours ago already to tend to her son, Aaron. He is adorable, one
and a half, blond hair, blue eyes. I have been living here for nearly two months. I am supporting her,
Aaron, and myself with food stamps. I get two hundred dollars a month to basically smoke **** and drink
on the government's budget. Trust me, I'm not proud of it either, and if I could I would pay it back.
Since Brianne is a single mother and an adopted child, she has a single-digit monthly rent (I was *******
baffled to hear this) and receives support from her foster parents. Basically, if I want to stay here forever
with absolutely no consequences save to miss out on a life of my own, I can.

Brandon is putting on clown make-up so he can troll the streets as a juggalo. I find this amusing as I always
liked to mess around with ICP fans, but he's a really cool kid so I let it go and I even help him perfect it.
I notice he has a bottle of Stolichnaya in his backpack and it's practically full. That, to me, is temptation.
I ask if he would mind me taking a few drinks here and there from the bottle and he says it's fine, so I proceed
to get a nice one p.m. buzz. It was always my favorite drunk, very light, and airy, almost like you're still asleep.
Something bogs you down, but it doesn't bother you, somehow it makes you lighter.

For the rest of the day, we hook up with a few friends, go out and trick or treat in the pouring rain, get soaked
and wait for two hours under an overpass while Brianne goes and gets her car. From there, we proceed home.

At this point, everyone is over at Breanne's and we're all making dinner and drinking beer and having a good time
(Aaron is with the grandparents tonight). I guess I started getting angry about the recent events (for about a month,
everyone in our group with the exception of Brandon have been slowly losing items...but they're obviously being stolen.
At a point, a few of us did some research and determined the only person who could possibly have stolen
a good deal of these things has to be Brandon) and I decided I was tired of sitting on the news waiting for no one to make
a move after a solid two weeks of being certain that we had our guy. So I called him out... and proceeded
to begin burning bridges slowly and very surely for the next few days. I am pretty sure a fight would have broken out
if Bri hadn't taken me into her room to relax. When I finally do, it turns out I woke up the upstairs neighbor,
her baby, and everyone in the house has left save for my friend Jeff and his girlfriend Marissa. This concludes night one.

I later learned that Brandon was not actually the person who was stealing from us (unless of course
he just happened to not get caught when we found out who had done most of it) and I feel bad for bringing the whole
thing up because I would have liked to stay in touch with him. We got along swimmingly and he actually did have
a lot of interesting things to talk about. Smart, nice, hilarious... Well, maybe he'll turn up one day.

The next morning, I woke up to find the house empty save for Jeff and Marissa in the next room, but where I am,
it simply appears empty. I don't know what happened but I intuit that I have been sleeping all night without
my girlfriend. This upsets me and I begin to weep like a confused child, which is exactly what you do when you're
helpless and too drunk in the brain to figure out how to pull yourself out of a helpless situation (trust me,
I own the handbook). Marissa walks in and begins to explain to me that I had scared her too much and she slept
on the couch and that she had left to go pick up her son. So I realize I need to calm down, but I can feel
Jeff is not happy with me in the slightest, considering he will not come and talk to me (this is extremely painful
because he is probably one of the best friends I have ever had, with a mind that vastly exceeds that of everyone
I have met save one other, and he's a different story). They leave and I decide to stay in the house all day.

This is a very bad idea. I stay home, watch re-runs of a show I have seen billions of times, and considering
that Brandon and I are no longer on good terms, like a complete *******, I drink the rest of his *****.

In walks Bri, it's around 7. She's not happy. She proceeds to tell me that the night before I asked out a friend of mine
and she said yes. And I was a bit shocked because I couldn't remember it at first. Then it all hit me.

A few days before, Aaron called me "dad." Now remember, this is not my child. I am dark, dark, dark, and she had this kid
about two years after we had any past relationship. I am extremely worried in my mind and I realize I am headed toward nothing.
That I am stagnant and can not even afford to go back to school. This scares me, so I drunkenly asked out Tanya.

Tanya...we had been friends for about five years, and I had tried to get with her so many **** times... she was like
one of those girls you see and you're instantly reminded of an anime character. Tall, thin, beautiful hips, perfect
proportions, lovely hair, eyes, voice, and a personality I can liken to a Disney princess/black metal lumberjack.
The kind of girl who has a tough exterior, but inside, she just wants someone to tell her everything is going to be ok.

After about two hours of pleading with Bri to let me stay, I finally send Tanya a message, and we hang out for the next
two days, whence I whisper in her ear that everything is going to be okay and we proceed to have quite passionate ***
for those nights, where I discovered the secret to making a woman ****** with my tongue (tip: if the underside of your
tongue isn't completely torn apart, you're doing something wrong). But alas, I could not stay.

This is the part I dreaded, because I know I have to go back to Jeff's house and ask him if I can stay there for a while.
And I got the answer I expected.

The words he used...

"I'm *******...extremely ******* at you, and disappointed." It was like a father saying it to you. And him and I
have a very interesting friendship built on such an extreme understanding that I knew exactly how badly I had been spiraling.
I began to leave and he gave me a slice of pizza, with that slight smile that told me "just go find yourself, we'll be fine."

I hobbled off into the night drunk, with one piece of pizza and all my food at Bri's, which could have lasted me another few days,
easing the transition into homeless. And it could have prevented a horrible occurance that took place the following afternoon. I
was crying, because I knew I was dying, but I didn't want to ask either of my parents for help, because this was the first time
I was out on my own and I was far too proud to give up and let the world make me its victim. So I walked...

Sixteen ******* miles...

To the next town. Took me all night because I was dodging traffic, easing into trees, avoiding on and off ramps, trying to stay
away from any police that may exist on the road. When I finally arrived in the next town (where I knew I may have one contact)
I decided to sleep until the morning came so I could have the energy to find my next venture.

It was five thirty am. I had 3 hours until sun-up, I had just walked enough to be burning, and there was plenty of whiskey in my veins.
I had left my sleeping bag with Tanya hours earlier, wishing in the park that I had not been so naiive as to think I would be allowed
back in the house. So I pulled out a pile of ***** clothes and put them over me like blankets, in some random corner of the local
park, under some bushes, hidden from cold and sight, with great hope...

Fifteen minutes pass. My eyes shoot open. I am freezing. The sweat has dried and frozen to my body. This is hell.

I grab my things and with the worst effort I can ever remember myself mustering, I drag myself to the toilet.
When I open it, the first thing I check for is cleanliness. It's spotless. I am so relieved. I sit in the corner of the room,
which my knees to my chest, head in my hands, wrapped in a leather jacket I had gotten from Jeff (ha, he really is my
guardian angel, though he would laugh to hear it).

I catch winks, occasionally looking up to check if the sun is rising. When it finally is, I get up, change my clothes (I had
ONE clean set of clothing and it had been rotting with the rest in the backpack) and immediately head to a thrift store where
a family friend is working.

On my way there, I notice in a little parking lot near the store a sight I had never actually come across but I always thought
would be the most amazing luck, and it was timed in such a spot in my life that it was the ultimate miracle...and a curse in
disguise.

In front of my eyes (this miracle appeared in my path as I was walking looking down, so it startled me) was the worst possible thing
for me: A half finished fifth of Smirnoff, and a half smoked pack of Marlboro 100 Reds. I open the pack and sure enough, the celophane
protected every cigarette inside from any water damage. I am ecstatic. This is not only amazing, but highly unlikely.

So I down the bottle in one go and take the rest of the smokes with me.

When I arrive at the thrift shop, it turns out I am there on a day when my potential savior is not working, so I get her number from the clerk
and head over to a payphone and realize... I have no money. So I decide to go on a quest for dropped pocket change.

Before I even leave the parking lot, I see a young man, no older than 23, sitting on a nice red classic-style Corvette and he's
reading William S. Burroughs. So naturally, I decide to strike up a conversation with the young man. Turns out he's the nicest guy
and his name is Jordan. So him and I got together and decided to go out for a game of disc golf (some may not know what this is;
Imagine frisbee but with a golf theme, so you need to get from a tee pad into a basket. Really fun, centering, and extremely popular
with potheads, Californians, beer-drinkers, and hippies) and before we go, he asks if I would like to snag a few beers first.

I tell him a piece of my story and he can tell I am down on my luck and broke so he decides to help me out. He buys us both some beer
and we proceed to disk.

Turns out he's an ex-****** and has been through quite a bit of hell himself, so we find that we're in a good position to help each
other make some better decisions in life. After the game, we go over to a payphone and he gives me money to call my friend.

Buzz (this the only name I am not changing because her name is ******* badass) answers the phone and unfortunately informs me that
though she would take me in any day of the year, she just moved in to a house with one older lady she takes care of, and its a single
bedroom apartment, so there is just no way it can work.

So I go back to his car and tell him the news, and he says he thinks he may be able to put me up for a few days until I can sort
everything out. We go back out to the store and grab ourselves a fifth of *****.

We end up in the park playing music, talking, performing standup for one another, and I begin to realize I am drinking too fast,
so I try to ease back a little. He was playing a version of a Radiohead song I had never heard before

"Everyone this way. Okay, get your hands against the wall. Spread your legs. Don't move."
The doors clanking, some ******* won't shut up in the next cell over.
More slamming of doors, someone rubbing my body all over trying to find my knives, no doubt.
And my AK 47 I conceal, and my ****, and my ... oh ****, I really did have **** on me.

"Move forward. Turn around. Alright, go to bed."

----------------------------------------------------------­---------------------

"Get up. Come on, slowly... There you go. There's a few more coming in so we got to get you to another cell."

Clank, clank...

"Pick a bed."

----------------------------------------------------------­---------------------

Something is wrong. This bed is not covered. There is no comfort. It's just a mat. And I have no pillow. This is not a house
of any sort, my bag isnt what I am sleeping on. Something is very wrong here.

I am in jail. Oh of course.

I know the answer before I hear it, but I ask anyway: "What are my charges, ma'am?"

"Drunk in public."

-------------------------------------------------------­------------------------

I'm about thirty miles or so North of inner Seattle. Not a bad place to be. I'm working for a Safeway. It's somewhere around
the first of June. I receive word that Bri has been on ******. And I may have left at a crucial time in her life thinking
only of myself, but I needed to go somewhere I could be productive. Yet my decision left her in a position where she turned
to hard drugs...

I can't help but feel I am to blame. I am listening to the dull, stupid words of my ex boss, Rod, who is telling me
that even though I may feel like I need to help her, there is nothing I can do for her, so I should bury myself in my work
instead. He tells me this in about six hundred different ways before I leave the room after twenty minutes. Well great.
I may have no focus here at work today, but at least I killed almost a half hour of the day just listening to someone
*******.

I am at a loss of what to do here, but I eventually get a hold of her, and after a long time not talking, we come to
somewhat of a closure, and she is beginning to sober up herself. I realize we were both in incredibly hard times, and I still
wish with all my heart there could have been some way I could have helped her raise that boy and stayed and been her
love, and at the same time, still go to college, and progress and get a good job...but I was in a small Northern California
town. There was nothing left, all the old shops were out of business. It was time for me to move on then, and we have
all seen better days for it. She looks incredible these days by the way. She lost an insane amount of weight, and I know
a lot of it had to do with the drugs, but if she truly is sober like she says she is, she'll be getting much better.

A few weeks ago 3 people I used to know and hang out with died in the span of a week. It was a terrible tragedy, and I have been
thinking back on all the names of people I used to love very, very much before they got lost in some way.

There's Lorne Holly, who killed himself after a few weeks of detoxing from crank.

Layla Harmon, who died in a car crash, blunt head trauma, with a drunk driver (I have a tattoo for this, I will never drive drunk).

Heavy Eagle, who killed himself after years of drug problems.

Chaz Lipman, who died in a car crash as well.

Ren Rain, who I am still not sure about...

And of course, Tray Beraldi, who was my closest friend's cousin... I wish I were there to mourne with him...

Last night I got a text from my best friend, who said he couldn't sleep and he barely eats anything anymore, and he feels like his throat
is going to explode, and he cant swallow and his neck is killing him constantly. He has been this way for a year, and he is talking constantly
about getting a gun and blowing his head off. And no one believes him because he constantly talks about it because he is in so much pain.
No doctor can diagnose him so far, he has no idea what's wrong with him, he's been tested all over the place, he has no hope, he's barely
cligning and he doesn't know how much longer he can hold on.

All I really want to say is

Lord? What I have done? I don't pray, I never pray, I don't even know who I would pray to. But WHAT ELSE DO I HAVE TO DO?!

I bring myself across hell and I pull myself from the worst depression I h
This is autobiographical...so be prepared for somewhat of a story.
Allyson Walsh Oct 2015
We may have a past,
But "stop" means just that.

I shouldn't have to pull your hands away.
Don't you dare ask me if we're okay.

You may have a hard exterior,
But my body is not inferior.

I am a push-over...
But a four-leaf clover.

And I will not stand
For disobedient hands.
For you and for me

"Myth: ****** harassment is rare."
Nat Lipstadt Mar 2019
letter to elana

for the poet elana bell

~

in a different cafe,
on a Manhattan streetscape where once, years earlier,
violence was the purview of West Side Story gangs,
ruling their internecine non-intersectionality territorial blood lines supremely

nowadays, violence replaced by the frenetic
noises of Lincoln Center theater goers,
student dancers, actors, musicians and poets joining the throng
of those who sup and run,
all hearing their own frantic
curtain calling, saying, announcing,
music dance voices words require your obeisance,
needy for a mutual worshipping reassurance fiat that:

life can be made transcendent
if even for just 90 minutes or 120 pages,
or a 3 minute poem reading


this city of millions requires billions of poems that spoon stirred  
and yet, almost always fail, to squeeze, all of the human essence that is in its ultimate source, clarifying nyc tap water,
containing the storied remnants of a hackable continuous,
single human stanza cell osmosis - a blockchain like no other

two poets sit side by side each in their own lapsed dreams,
she, a published poet of prize and rank, ^
he, a rank amateur whose only prize is his unpublished anonymity,
poetry, is his just a nightly soul cleansing,
an imported remnant of his Marrano piyyutim ancestry

one turns to the other,
in the inexplicable daily crazy miracle
of city fashionistas

in a city where stealing a parking spot, or the
forced squeezing creation of a subway seat space
where physics proves none exists,
are oft the roots of slashing and stabbings faithfully reported
on the 11 o’clock news,  
and trust and/or other encouraging words
are seldom heard and even less demonstrated,
the make-no-eye-contact of Camus’s L’Etranger anomie is the
normative, paranormal, paralysis cloak of we city separatists

“Can you watch over my electronics and stuff?”

Sure says the grayed and grizzled,
an all life long veteran of nyc,
judged to be trustworthy
based on a few seconds of being upsized and downsized,
a car wash (exterior only) perusal
despite a
“no direction home, like a compete unknown, a rolling stone,”  
this signage, yellow star permanently chest-affixed,
conveniently ignored, as it seems impossible
thieves don’t look like me,
don’t likely in their possess,
a distinguished head of gray hair (yeah, sure)

a thank you reward of (or did I imagine it) a lean-in,
a momentary head on a shoulder,
the chit chat now grows earned and earnest,
she confesses her cardinal poetry profession,
eliciting an ‘Oh Boy’ utterance from the poet
of a thousand names
and a thousand textual emendations

a fastidious nyc boundary is brief crossed for one short meal,
till the end when time sensitized IMRL intrudes and
the showtime calls out,
if not now, when? if not me, then who?

I read her poetry later in the praying supine first position of
three AM, and laugh with delight, at the contrast and no compare,
the styles clash and tho the stories told
are both writ in the aleph bet script,
there ends the Ven diagram overlap and
into the night’s coming of a Elvisian blue suede coverlet,
we both disappear, and if not for this recording,
history says, you old man confused, never happened,
just an imaginary poetry ink blot dream breaching...

~

postface:
another poetry book is no longer homeless,
comes to shelter upon my shelf, close to Angelou, far from Whitman,
now all the book’s nooks eyes collectively
reassessing the new old-owner, parsing his syntax,
undecided if his readership is worthy of them,
concluding that all these books are the
man’s owned roughened stones,
to be placed by human hands on the
serpentine curvature of his literary tombstone,
and until all stones fully read,
they all agree,
will they and he
be fully freed,
smoothing his legacy’s edges
Feb. 21 -March 5, 2019
NYC
another true story

^ https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elana_Bell
Zac Walter Apr 2014
Preforations percolated
by heavy waves in the salty sea
Hard exterior coral wins,
protects the lives inside of me
Friends with dorsal fins
and my polyp soul
La Mer Sep 2014
Intellectual, perpetual and found
Evolving sun rises east, and stays a glistening round
Juicy flowing insides and a tightly wrapped exterior
God of Sun believes his belongings left inferior
Hair twisted sideways, and braided to the crown
The Sun God weeps because his people leave a frown
Maintaining inequality, hatred, and delusion
For most souls cannot relate to the hardship and confusion
Skies break neatly so their skin absorbs the Sun God’s Love
Beautiful minds keep faith for there is a life Above.
Minx In Verse Jul 2014
Don't let this self-effacing exterior fool you
I am meglo-maniac in the making
Social media the perfect introvert's mask
Reinventing myself daily
Vanessa Ives, girl-about-town, quirky geek
An attention *****
******* in the digital wind
For a like, a follow, a retweet.
Crystal Erickson Dec 2014
Share with me my pain, my pity
Share with me my loss, my loss
Don't pretend, don't play games
I can see what you hold in
I say nothing to this knowledge
That you hide on the outside
I know what you really think
The secrets you wont share
On the exterior your mask you wear
I will keep your secrets safe
Never let you know, I know
I'll never let you feel ashamed
Thinking what I'll think of you
I will share your pain, your pity
I do feel your loss, your loss
I pretend I can not see within you
I let you wear your mask
I love you either way!

©Crystal Erickson
sash sriganesh Feb 2015
As winter dawns,
United they come,
All at once
Coating the ground
With a perfect layer
Of feathery icing sugar.
Tickling our necks
As they swirl around us
They flutter in the wind                                              
Like graceful butterflies
Thrilled to be free at last.
A simple exterior,
But as we dig deeper
We discover
That on the inside it seems,
Like a spider has woven in each one
The most intricate of patterns
All unique individuals
Different and proud
Like dust from the stars
They glisten in the moonlight
fragile diamonds
That melt at your touch
Thus we can say,
That snowflakes are,
A symbol of purity
Like innocent childlren
To be destroyed by reality.
They put us to sleep,
Singing hushed melodies
As they pass by
Like floating feathers,
Following the wind
In our eyelashes
When we blink
Serene and untouched
Falling from the heavens
God’s children
Blessing the earth.
September Oct 2011
This is a poem                        called "Exterior."**
   I have tried to get your          attention for so long now,
but you have never actua-       lly noticed. So I have been
trying and trying and trying to write something about
you but it never really comes out cute. It just turns
into me whining about how you will not and
never notice me. Oh look, I did it again,
but perhaps if I organize this
into a cute lil' heart you
will kinda may-
be love
me
Oh, centered text placement button, my space bar thanks you.
Tornado’s kicking up dust,
Leaving broken pieces of promises and futures shattered on the ground,
With no one left to pick them up but the people who are broken themselves.

Just when I thought there was no reason to keep on moving forward you came around,
Showing me that maybe I’m not so broken, that maybe the cracks in my exterior are just the challenges I’ve overcome. That the scars on my heart like gaping trenches are only battle wounds that will heal again.

You make me feel beautiful, like maybe my smile is the reason for the sun to shine in the morning, like maybe for once someone sees  in me something that I’ve yet to because I’m too stubborn to see the beauty that’s in the mirror. Look harder you told me once.

They say that to love another person you need to love yourself, but I loved you first. And although I see the dreams that could have been ours in your eyes
I pushed away because the moment I let the walls around my heart crumble like the first hit on demolition day, the moment I let you tear down all of the years I spent hating myself for never being what they wanted me to be, the moment I let you in I shied away.

You can’t love someone who’s uncomfortable in their own skin,
Who wishes everyday that they could start again and although my head is blowing up with the what ifs from yesterday and the possibilities of tomorrow, and although all I could see was grey you were there.

Were you always there?
Waiting on your steed to rescue you from the disaster that I’ve allowed myself to become, an entanglement of empty promises and sadness known all too well.
Tell me, were you hiding there among the stars I counted every night before I slept wishing that one day I’d meet you because
I think you were.

So when you turned to me and said “Who’s going to take care of you when I’m gone”
It felt like bullets ripping their way into the cavity of where my heart used to be and I realize.

I REALIZE that for the first time in my life I’m going to have to fight off the monsters under my bed by myself. That the painful words that get shot my way like arrows from an archers bow will have to be bounced away by the invisible force field I’ve built around my heart, impenetrable with no point of entry to let anyone else  because too much damage has already been caused by the people who I HAD let in.  

This heart is protected
Protected from the tornado’s kicking up dust leaving broken dreams and promises shattered on the ground with no one left to pick them up but the ones who are broken themselves
So when she looks at me and asks “Who’s going to take care of you when I’m gone?”
I look into the eyes that have become my answers in all of the confusion and I respond “I Will”.

I knew then that goodbye wasn’t far away but for one day I wanted to pretend that it wasn’t on its way. That instead of counting down the days until you left, I was counting the moments that you stayed.

I looked at the stars tonight and I counted them twice, once while looking in the sky once while looking into your eyes. And as the tears build up behind my eyes like storm clouds building for days I smile and tell you” I support you’ . I never thought I’d be the one to shoot the arrow.

The storm clouds should have been enough to make you stay but they weren’t and by the time I worked up the nerve to whisper “don’t go” you’ve gone.

**Tornado is my middle name.
I got inspiration for this because of Shane Koyczan who is an amazing Slam Poet.
Nigel Morgan Nov 2013
Think of an imagined orchestra. But there is no resonance hereabouts, so the imagination gives next to nothing for your efforts, and even in surround-sound there’s so little to reflect the dimensions of the space your walking inhabits. Sea hardly counts, having its constant companionship with wind, and sand hills absorb the footfall. A shout dies here before the breath has left the lungs.

Listen, there is a vague twittering of wading birds flocked far out on the sand. The sea rolls and breaks a rhythmic swell into surf. There’s a little wind to rustle the ammophila and only the slight undefined noise of our bodies moving in this strip between land and sea. Nowhere here can sound be enclosed except within the self. There’s a kind of breathing going on, and much like our own, it has to be listened for with a keen attention.

There is such a confusion of shapes making detail difficult to gather in, even to focus upon, and to attempt an imagined orchestration – impossible. We’ll have to wait for the camera’s catch, its cargo to be brought to the back-lit screen. Once there it seems hardly a glimmer of what we thought we saw, what we ‘snapped’ in an instant. It’s too detached, too flat. So thankfully you sketch, and I feel the pen draw shapes into your fingers and their moving, willing hand. On your sketchbook’s page the image breathes and lives.

You can’t sketch music this way because the mark made buries itself in a network that seems to defy with its complexity any image set before you. Time’s like that. You end up with a long low pitch, pulsating; a grumbling sound rich in sliding harmonics. You see, landscape does not beget melody or even structure and form, only tiny, pebbled pockets of random sound. Here, there is no belonging of music. Only the built space can adequately house music’s home. We might ****** a few seconds of the sea’s turn and wash, a bird’s cry, the rub and clatter of boot on stone, and later bring it back to a timeline of digital audio and be ‘musical’ with it, or not.

Where we hold music to landscape is something we are told just happens to be so; it is the interpretation’s (and the interpreter’s) will and whim. It is an illusion. The Lark Ascends in a Norfolk field. We hear, but rarely see, this almost stationary bird high in the morning air. We can only imagine the lark’s eye view, but we know the story, the poem, the context, so our imagination learns to supply the rest.

What is taken then to be taken back? On this November beach, on this mild, windless afternoon,. Am I collecting, preparing, and easing the mind, un-complicating mental space, or unravelling past thoughts and former plans? I can then imagine sitting at a table, a table before a window, a window before a garden, and beyond the garden (through the window) there’s a distant vista of the sea where the sun glistens (it is early morning), and there too in the bright sky remains a vestige of a night’s drama of clouds. But today we shall not put music to picture from a camera’s contents, from any flat and lifeless image.

Instead there seem to be present thoughts alive in this ancient coastline, abandoned here the necessary industry of living, the once ceaseless business of daily life. Instead of the hand to mouth existence governed by the herring, the course strip farming below the castle, the herds of dark cattle, the possible pigs, some wandering sheep, seabirds and their eggs for the ***, the gathering of seaweed, the foraging for fuel: there is a closing down for winter because the visitors are few. We need the rest they say, to regroup, paint the ceilings, freshen up the shop, strengthen the fences, have time away from the relentlessness of accommodating and being accommodating. Only the smell of smoking the herring remains from the distant past – but now such kippering is for Fortnums.

We step out across and down and up the coastal strip: an afternoon and its following morning;  a few miles walking, nothing serious, but moving here and there, taking it in, as much as we can. We fill ourselves to the brim with what’s here and now. The past is never far away: in just living memory there was a subsistence life of the herring fishers and the itinerant fisher folk who followed the herring from Aberdeen to Plymouth. Now there are empty holiday lets, retirement properties and most who live here service the visitors. Prime cattle graze, birds are reserved, caravans park next to a floodlit hotel and its gourmet restaurant. There’s even a poet here somewhere - sitting on a rock like a siren with a lovely smile.

Colours: dull greens now, wind-washed-out browns, out and above the sea confusions of grey and black stone, floating skeins of orange sands and the haunting, restless skies. Far distant into the west hills are sculpted by low-flying clouds resting in the mild air. Wind turbines step out across the middle distance, but today their sails are stationary. As the bay curves a settlement of wooden huts, painted chalets then the grey steep roofed houses of stone, grey and hard against the sea.

Does music come out of all this? What appears? What sounds? What is sounding in me? There is nothing stationary here to hang on to because even on this mild day there is constant change. Look up, around, adjust the viewpoint. There’s another highlight from the sky’s palette reflecting in the estuary water, always too various and complex to remember.

Music comes out of nothing but what you build it upon. It holds the potential for going beyond arrangements of notes. Pieces become buildings, layers in thought. My only landscape music to date begins with a formal processional, a march, and a gradually broadening out of tonality the close-knit chromatic to the open-eared pentatonic. There’s a steady stream of pitches that do not repeat or recur or return on themselves, as so much music needs to do to appease our memory.

In this landscape there seem only sharp points of dissonance. I hear lonely, disembodied pitches, uncomfortable sounds that are pinned to the past. The land, its topography as a score grasping the exterior, lies in multi-dimensional space, sound in being, a joining of points where there is no correlation. There’s a map and directions and a flow of time: it starts here and ends there, and so little remains for the memory.

Yet, this location remains. We walked it and saw it fortunately for a brief time in an uninhabited state. We were alone with it. We looked at this land as it meets the sea, and I saw it as a map on which to place complexes of sound, intensities even,. But how to meet the musical utterance that claims connection? It is a layering of complexes between silences, between the steady step, the stop and view. There is perhaps a hierarchy of landscape objects: the curve of the bay, the sandhills’ sweep, the layerings of sand, and in the pools and channels of this slight river that divides this beach flocks of birds.

Music is such an intense structure, so bound together, invested with proportions so exact and yet weighed down by tone, the sounding, vibrating string, the column of air broken by the valve and key, the attack and release of the hammered string. But there is also the voice, and voices are able to sound and carry their own resonance . . .

. . . and he realised that was where these long drawn out thoughts, this short diary of reflection, had been leading. He would sit quietly in contemplation of it all and work towards a web of words. He would let their rhythms and sounds come together in a map, as a map of their precious, shared time moving between the land and the sea, the sea and the land.
Reece Dec 2013
What steps he took, after losing his edge
Cocky **** running wild in days, never slept
Took drugs, took women, took men
Never slept again

What cliffs she admired, after seeing the edge
Tormented in fuzzy daydream childhood afternoons
She came down and stayed for days
An obsession with time to the point of stasis

I think I'm losing my edge
He thinks he's dead again
She lost the bed again

A faceless man was sat on a bench by the seafront
Hood high, said goodbye
Told me his missed the old style, wants more
Told him I was tired and this is whorish
What vines are these, that bound my ankles
and I was screaming into vacuums, grand clocks, strange houses
Safe houses that become embers
Magic men, shaman, shaggy hair, danced there

To use words in multiple places, placing clues
A whole story, absolute, read it backwards, forewords
iTunes shuffle function, on the poetry of the soul
(if it exists)
But he lost his edge again

Yes he went to Africa, saw the face of God and the Devil, unification
Iboga, uneasy stomach, vomited and killed them all
Watched the world burn, and children dance
Bluebell Lucy on arrival, back home
Taunted the skies, saved the proletariat
Grew wild roots and sang, some seraph

Admittedly not an architect, or a poet or *******
How many people have made these allusions
Sold drugs, killed men, ran home, all there, ghost of government
Hedgerows grew wild, were noticed and cut down
Still praise beatitude, Ginsberg, love-made, Kerouac, still plays

She was Hannah and she was Malcolm, also Marvin
He was them too, all the same, transcendental self-infatuation
Peach trees, coloured blinds, ashy scattered floorboards
Burnt home, music playing, popular culture
All free-form even with formality
A stream of conscious way of life
Outlook unsure

He thought he lost his edge
Turns out s/he never had it
Pyrrha Jul 2018
Your voice scares me
It's as deep and sudden as thunder
Yet when you speak
It's like a mellifluous melody that I can't quite place

I don't know why our eyes always seem to meet
Am I looking for you, or are you looking for me?
Just why do you appear in all my nightmares?
With a smile you always change the scene into a dream

When I think I've finally managed to tear you away
Your eyes stand guard in my mind
As if daring me to ignore you
Daring me to ignore the pounding in my heart

It's always been your eyes
They haven't left me since the moment they met mine

The first time you said my name sent shivers down my spine
I was surprised you knew it since we barely spoke
We were always like that
Just a sentence or two ever so often

That didn't stop me from wondering what you were really like
Behind your cold brooding exterior that made everyone afraid
Everyone but me, I knew you were just misunderstood
I'm sure deep down you are just as scared

You put up the front to keep away the vulnerability
But behind your tall walls you shelter all your insecurity
Allow me to be the first to peer past
I'll let you into my mind if you let me into yours
Sam Bowden Dec 2018
Shucking oysters is a dangerous task.
Only skilled, determined hands may apply.
Why so dangerous a task you ask?
Well, let’s see?
There’s the salt, the grit, the unforgiving need...
the slips, the stabs, the you and the me.
Our boats rock along a forlorn sea.

Sitting on the dock of my mind,
the sun's rays slap me sober,
as it refuses to set for seven hundred thousand nights...

Patiently present in the moment, I am, totally attuned to the task at hand.

She's anything but simple,
this complexly succulent woman I've stumbled upon,
Unearthed I have, with my bare hands.
Rugged exterior, jagged edges,
a clear warning for all to see.
But a gorgeous glory awaits the determined, the brave, the patient,
I have faith...

I have faith in such a glory beyond legend,
in such beauty beyond reason.
Just because something feels like a miracle,
doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
For if jade kissed a pearl as it slipped into the sea,
it still wouldn't rival her beauty.

We are a meeting of minds that could unfurl for all time.
As she lines her eyes in paint,
and stains her lips like crimson art.
She's always ready for war,
launching a thousand ships in my heart.

Like the Greek Odysseus,
I've sailed upon contentment's shore,
sipping your wine and eating your grapes,
now I only want more.
Eros, the bittersweetness, is clawing at my door.
I want to live with you in the gap,
between consumption and desire,
between winter's ice and between summer's fire.

Unknowingly I have,
peeled the wall paper from her frame,
where ancient tapestries shown from beneath,
a secret no man could keep.
The scars cut deep into the fabric,
marks of carelessness in love.
The family ties that tear,
the tears of lovers once here,
now there.

Warmth gives way to wind,
and fire gives way to need.
She pulls me close,
then pushes me back,
rocking along a forlorn sea.

And like the sea,
she breathes life into me.
A great roiling tempest of the heart,
with a fury that blows reason from the mind.

Tame, tame, squeeze...    l e t   g o.
Give it...       t i m e.

Still though,
questions fray at the edges of her mind,
and yet,
with the passage of time,
the sea will settle,
the tide will recede.
I have faith in love.
And faith in me.   

Sure footed I am, even as we,
not yet a "we",
dodging rain drops,
dashing through the city,
hand-in-hand, we don't slip.
I think thoughts, but bite my lip.

And while I sip, I think;
“She's anything but simple,
this dandelion seed,
floating in the wind.
Walls up, head down,
a determined doctor,
a surgeon steeled for the journey,
thawing beneath me she is...”

“The most beautiful immigrant I've ever seen;
On the platform of her mind,
she longs for a home, leagues from her homeland,
while I scratch at the dirt of my own.
Do I belong here?
Does she? Do we?
Where is home? Security? Acceptance? Belonging?
Who knows what the futures holds?
Allahu alam, not you or me.”

Uncertain of answers,
is this a mirage or a dream?
I can’t know for sure,
So I take heart in the Unseen.

I crack the oyster open,
and swallow it inside.
I sip life's ambrosia,
and breathe in the sky.

I'll crack The Pearl of Persia,
one kiss at a time.
An ode to patience in love.
Nat Lipstadt Feb 2016
A Woman's Reflection on Her Reflection (Valence and Value)

one poem, written by two authors


~~~

Ever the analyst,
A mirror functions as surface to
Parse the fleeting constant
Of youth's beauty.

From genetic gift
Of symmetry and bone,
To technological tampering,
Until the equation is solved,
As experience and character
Models and maps the result.

The answer, a reflection,
Of individual valence and value

(written by S.D., a woman)

~~~

(written by N.L., a man)

unbidden and unannounced, a
"not fully formed poem,
but a simple reflection"
inbound missile arrives inbox,
armed with silent power,
the lethality of the
Holy Unexpected

the man reflects
on her mirror-on-the-wall's
fulsome reply,
parsing the words of a
woman's reflection,
while gazing on her own

every human's momentary glass notation,
but an instance of summation,
a human poem, whose editing,
unceasing

a comma here,
a period inserted,
an eye shadowed, an eyebrow tweezed,
a eye dark circle line added,
to tree-mark time's authorship

all  these
but a person's
excerpted extraction,
notarized,
then auto-erased and revised,
as out of date,  
instantaneously compromised

but,

it is upon  the conceptual,
valence and value,
more that the man reflects perpetual,
less on transitory morphing changes of
exterior mortality

while overlooking her
glassine realization from behind,
he concludes:

every reflection,
no matter how oft the snapshot,
the unfleeting constancy
of the combining of the

princes of principles,
valence and value

that he witnesses,
in the calming pool
of her eyes,
(those borrowed windows into her soul's well,)
so well reflect
her unchanging greater finery,

her character

this reflection,
metamorphosis transformed.
into a planetary permanency poem,
high placed in his the firmament
of their conjoined sky
Valence,
as used in psychology, especially in discussing emotions, means the intrinsic attractiveness (positive valence) of an event, object, or situation.

In chemistry, the valence or valency of an element is a measure of its combining power with other atoms when it forms chemical compounds or molecules.

you decide.

hers, two six sixteen,
his, two seven sixteen,
in the wee hours
Yue Wang Yitkbel Nov 2019
Chorus:

In Spring, from my poems, flowers spring
In Summer, a sum of everything green
In Autumn, foliage melancholically falls
In Winter,  my wintry mind gradually thaws

I. Spring:

Always one with nature
The Truth, my mind follows
A wave of pastel colors, returning swallows
Peck the hedges with petals of my soul
Blue and shattered, into the poetry it goes
What is without, escapes, imprints on the folds
Of time and space, as the stream of consciousness flows
Till, without me purposefully noticing
It captures within my thoughts an eternal Spring
And remains
Subtly felt but
Unseen

!

In Spring, from my poems, flowers spring
In Summer, a sum of everything green
In Autumn, foliage melancholically falls
In Winter,  my wintry mind gradually thaws

The Poet's Dream Follows the Season's Calls:

When the world exterior is abundant with
Life and the breathing, palpitating all
I capture in my mind, thoughts and words
With wonders and troubles
Of the nature
Without

When the world exterior crumbles and falls
Hidden and blanketed, asleep by the winter's call
The opening beyond Plato's cave gradually thaws
I am suddenly privy and drawn
To the nature
Within

II. Summer:

Always one with nature
The Truth, my mind follows
Between the boulders of lichens
Upon the emerald streams
Floats the vessel of my soul
Gathering seagrass and pollocks, it goes
What is within, the nature time briefly holds
Is now words of mine, to be told
Before the grass fields are eclipsed by the gold
It captures my thoughts evergreen
And remains
Brilliant with eternal warmth
Read and felt yet
Unseen

!

In Spring, from my poems, flowers spring
In Summer, a sum of everything green
In Autumn, foliage melancholically falls
In Winter,  my wintry mind gradually thaws

III. Autumn:

Always one with nature
The Truth, my mind follows
A twilight dance of leaves and boughs
First it blushes, ruddy, timid but bold
Then, it undresses, melancholy, bare in its fallen maple soul
A chilling gale gloats, pallid night wallows
In the anticipation of the impending revelation
What is without, dreaming its withering dreams,
Is now traversing through the wilting wintry plain
Soon to reach the delusive emptiness above
The hidden valley of invisible plenty
And be captured by my thoughts, reason and faith in harmony
With its dazzling orange and red, cerulean velvet behind emerald fringes
Forever vivid
In my poetry, to remain
Deeply felt, though
Unseen

!

In Spring, from my poems, flowers spring
In Summer, a sum of everything green
In Autumn, foliage melancholically falls
In Winter,  my wintry mind gradually thaws

IV. Winter:

Always one with nature
The Truth, my mind follows
The snow covered barren streets
A tattered overcoat suddenly greets
In a moment, by it I was brought to a place
BLOOMING with intrigue, I navigated this maze
And found the GREEN hedge of will and fate
Rich with HARVEST fruits of reason and faith
Like the SNOWFALL, that steals all
I became a glutton of light, in spite of the shadow wall
What is within, bursts from my mind's seams
And overflows
Not into the nature beyond, without
But nature of my mind and dreams within
And is captured by my words
Mirrored from my thoughts
In my poetry, it remains
Enlightened by and enlightening
All who seek and think, every being
With truth evidently felt
However
Unseen

Conclusion:

The poet of autumn, summer, and spring
To the exterior objective nature sings
The poet of winter, withered and plain
From the interior subjective nature, essence springs

The seasoned poet blossoms regardless
Whenever, wherever, timeless
Among
Fleeting fields of earthly gold
Or eternal pastures of souls
The Seasoned Poet Reaps Truth with His Soul
By: Yitkbel Yue Xing ****
Date of completion: Friday, November 15, 2019 1:38 AM
Started sometime after/around 10:00 PM Thursday, November 14, 2019
There is no need to dwell on the exterior cliche of an injured soldier, the propaganda is superficial. Civilians have only plastic green men, heavy dusty movie set costumes, and Army-of-One heroes to populate stereotypes. Keep your images larger than life, no use touching up a paint-by-number. Mine was banal, foolish, and 19; enough said.

One fence is the fraternity itself, the next is brain injury. No other way to understand but be there. A Solid-American-Made-Dashboard cracked my forehead at 45mph.
Crumpling into the footwell,
unaware that the flatbed's rear bumper
was smashing thru the passenger windshield above me
the frame stopped just shy of decapitating my luckily unoccupied seat.
Our vehicle's monstrous hood had attempted to murderously bury us under,
but the axle stopped momentum's fate and ended the carnage under dark iron.
Shards of my identity joined the slow, pulverized, airborn chaos.
Back, Deep, Gone.

Unconsciousness is the brain's frantic attempt to re-wire neurons, jury rig broken connections, the doctor's desperate attempt to re-attach, stand back and say, good enough. Essential systems limply functioned, but unessential ones were ditched. Years later a military doctor diagnosed an eventual triage: Hypothalimus disconnected from the Pituitary Gland, Executive Function damaged, long pathways for emotional regulation interrupted.

I woke up still kinda bleeding, crusty blood in my hair, a line of frankenstein stitches wandering across my forehead.   My sense of self had literally dissolved into morning dust floating in a sterile hospital sunbeam.  My name was down the hall, words and the desire to speak were on a different floor.  Life became me and also a separate me under constant renovation, a wrecking ball on one half, scaffolding and raw 2x4's the other.

Waking up in the hospital, I realized I needed help to get the blood cleaned up.   A nurse came in, largely glared at me in disregard, and quickly left… for an hour.   She returned and brusquely dropped a useless ace comb and gauze on the blanket over my feet and abandoned me again.  This was my introduction to the shame of a VA hospital.  I minced my way to the bathroom, objectively examined my face in the mirror with shocking stitches above one swollen eye.  Gingerly rinsing my hair, the water ran pink in white porcelain.  I remembered the sound in my skull between my ears when a doctor scraped a metal tool across my skull, cleaning debris before stitching.  I recalled that in the ER I was asking Is he ok, repeating it like a broken record, knowing I should stop but I couldn’t.  There was also perhaps a joke about an Excedrin headache.

It was morning, and since there was no such thing as time or purpose or feelings anymore, I wandered to the hall with my only companion, the IV pole. One side was a wall of windows, and I was, what, 10 or 12 stories up from the streets of a much larger city than where I crashed.  The hall was warm and sunny.  I wheeled my companion to a blocky square vinyl chair to sit next to a pay phone.  I didn’t have any thoughts at all, or care about it.   After about an hour my first name floated up from the void, then with some effort my last name.  It took the rest of the morning to remember I had a brother.  After lunch we resumed our post, and I spent the afternoon in concentration piecing together his phone number.  God had pushed the reset button.

Thirty years ago the doctors didn't understand head injuries; they only recognized the physical symptoms. At first there was good reason to be permanently admitted to the hospital.  My blood pressure was unstable, sometimes so low that drawing blood for tests caused my veins to collapse even with baby needles.  My thyroid had shut down completely, only jump-started again with six months of Synthroid.  I had to learn to live with crashing blood sugar and fluctuating appetite.  For years afterwards, any stress would cause arrhythmias, my heart filling and skipping out of sync, blood pressure popping my skull.  Will the clock stop this time?  

There is always at least one momentous event in every person’s life that becomes punctuation, before and after.  The other side of Before the accident truly was a different me.  I have a vague recollection of who that person may have been, and occasionally get reminders.   Before, I was getting recruiting letters from Ivy League colleges and MIT, a high school senior at sixteen.  After, I couldn’t balance a checkbook or even care about a savings account in the first place.  Before, I had aced the military entrance exam only missing one question, even including the speed math section.  They told me I could chose any rating I wanted, so I chose Air Traffic Control.  Twenty years later, I thumbed through old high school yearbooks at a reunion.   I saw a picture of me in the Shakespeare Club, not recalling what that could have been about.   On finding a picture of me in the Ski Club I thought, Wow, I guess I know how to ski.   A yellowed small-town newspaper article noted I was one of two National Merit Scholars; and in another there’s a mention of a part in the High School Musical.  

This side of After, I kept mixing right with left, was dyslexic with numbers, and occasionally stuttered with word soup.  Focus became separated from willpower, concentration was like herding cats.  The world had become intense.

(chapter 1 continues in memoir)
Simon Oct 2019
Words are less important when there actually never together as one whole. Only a statement for something without thought. Coating different contents rationalizing the formulations of single added words. Words with single letter’s acting like separate components. Vibrating together like energy forming a magnetized exterior. Exposure to something higher than one letter keeping itself away from a fully fleshed out identity. Components away from fully established words, begin to understand faults of all sizes. Are they meant to form into a component beyond its state of letters? Or one single letter meant to form into a better juxtaposition? Cramming letters into words won’t make beneficial glances toward what’s really sounding each component out. Cramming is immature. Full of delicacies. Giving identity to something without time on its hand. The subject of time, will create the illusion of success. Something adopting without fair point involved. An unestablished, unfinished, uncredited maneuvering of stating the obvious blemish in formulations. Formulations become dotted without pattern. Pattern begins to separate juxtapositions away from the vibrations holding it together. Magnetized exterior becomes less wanted for survival. Survival intriguing sense of believe. Believe on the sidelines, acting as a stand-in for potential in-between gaps that focuses blemishes without identity. Formulations become less respected with time swallowing up (describing factors). (Describing factors) becomes less taunted by its own grip. Letting go the seriousness it’s been influenced to act upon. How does anything make sense without (describing factors)? Easy! Don’t think, by feeling. Just act on what you feel. Like instinct is more then words. More then single components. Something auto piloting in-between maneuvers. Juxtapositions lingering as the pattern forming a basin of after thoughts. Instead of thinking words haft to be orchestrated by volumes of thought alone. Fanciness will only make sense with a heart on (overflow)! Full to the brim with nasty, prolific, and incorrigible symptoms in the complexes. The complexes without undesirability, if it’s without merit when honing its balance fruitfully. A heart on (overflow) dumps all the rigid symptoms all over the complexes. Diverting thought for feeling. Feeling revving up different letters in the components that drive its formation proudly. Time swerves around every bend. Prompting the localized fissures of spaces without the muck invading it’s practices. Components of different formations attach the letters to the already imprinted silhouette of magnetized exteriors. Something clicking without measured volume. An instinct rush’s past visuals becoming unkempt and untamed. Never taunted by logic sounding too bland for everyday practices. The heart now empties to a crisp! Shows its formulation as a cauldron that assists the formulations of pure emotion. Emotion being the final victor of formulating words acting as components. Why haven’t we described anything about words acting as components, instead of letters acting as words instead? Simply because you follow a simple manual meant for visuals without thought. What does this imply? It doesn’t. You haft to find a center under the hood of your own (writer’s bug). A bug fueling an (instinctive formulator). One not ruled by thoughts. But by feeling. Feeling coats the improvising stature of a heart on (overflow)! Polishing the cauldron repeating the nasty, prolific, and incorrigible. Undesirably feeling balance rescue your merits without rut blocking visuals by thought. Thought ignores speculation. Taking all pride from feeling. Feeling knows all. As it doesn’t take brain power to figure out regular stimuli taming time before thought has even interpreted details alone. Everything’s been described. BON VOYAGE! To the ones spreading out repeated processes never redeemed by thought alone. Except I deceivingly left out the most important part. What happened to the rest of the fully stacked, brim cauldron of hearts content? It’s necessary when it’s never necessary. Cryptic locals understanding the bad details from the good, are everything wrapped into one bundle. I never said components have to be the littlest fraction in the complex. Describing components not ready for its magnetized exterior that’s already suited to formulation. The (overflow) is secretly the instance of formulation. The (emptying to a crisp), is cleansing every detail in question. Showing components without time attached by statistics. Free to roam willingly. An identity for labeling attires by feeling alone. Thought never abstracting components in a round up of early formulation. Existing close ties in magnetized colours harnessed to each letter in the bunch. Colours surging like a rope hanging on for dear life! Like a soulless thread never understanding what close encounters with the capability is all about. Colours interpreting the non eligible into understanding alone. Except only one (overflow) happened. And another in repeat. And another! Cleansing each component to form into words. Words repeating the constant process of joining into more words. Words acting as single components back to back. An endless cycle of repeating formulations. PS… Are you a letter waiting for it’s other components trying to gain single passage to identity? One rule complicates the (overflow). Do not overflow the heart to a crisp, before it hasn’t even dumped the full brim yet! It will collapse in on itself. Manufacturing a vocabulary too rotten to tell who’s free. Or who’s making up diagrams in the after claims of thoughts distinctly different then what overflow’s the opposite of brimming fully. Or who’s truly still trapped in a fixated rush of thoughts!
Letters full of too much clutter! Vocabulary giving tangled up letters a bad impression to there formulations. Letters as (single components), should be free thinking components.
Manny Arriaga Apr 2017
Red was the glow in his eyes,
The way his tinted lips took my attention
on an early glowing evening.
His sight sparked many shades of red,
And that of orange.

Orange was a layer of a tropical sky,
The sun casting down gently on such a gazeful gent.
As glistening was the pigment of a fine ring,
A mold had shaped his warm summer tan;
His skin a golden yellow.

Yellow was his natural shine,
A daisy in the midst of a patch of posies.
His character shined brighter than the exterior of his sky burnt skin,
And of that of any man I’ve come to know,
His flowery nature lasting among his sun-kissed petals,
Down to his burly stems of green

Green was the field of grass where we grew,
Our souls intertwining in such a lovely concoction.
I’ve never stopped to wonder which way the wind blew,
Or which direction sent the earthy string of nature ablaze,
Each strand flowing in an individual direction.
He held my hand through it all,
Our bodies lain across the patch.
Our hands encased and wrapped together.
Our eyes kept focused at atmosphere’s midnight blue.

Blue was our love.
The color of blood that ran through his veins
in which I knew gave him life,
And gave me mine.
Blue was the color of his jeans which excited me through their texture,
Their scent,
The sole object on him that I’ve come to realize was there the entire time,
From the lavender of a morning sky,
Casted down to the purple of an evening indigo,

Indigo was the night he loved me under the moon,
When the stars shined bright over our faces,
And the touch of his skin shined brighter than the stars themselves,
Among these constellations lying the pavement of a wind sulk violet.

Violet was the essence of his pores,
The essence that lasted longer than the span of life.
His natural aura glowed between us,
The same way a rainbow would shed its own;
A multitude of… colors.

Colors were his eyes.
His skin.
His smile.
His soul.

Colors were our blood.
Our scents.
Our sights.
Our sounds.

Colors were our everything,
From the moment he’d wake in bed,
To the last lovely thought he’d have when drifting into a slumbering sleep.

Colors were his height.
His hair.
His heart.
His hope.

Colors were my mind.
My thoughts.
My wants.
My desires.

Colors were mine.

But just like the Sun won’t last forever,
Until the moon rises above to seize the day and conquer the night,
A rainbow only lasts for as long as you would allow.
A rainbow only lasts for as long as he would allow.

For as long as he’d keep close attention to the surface,
He would only stay colored until his own face would dim into dust.

Suddenly the colors I once knew faded into shades of their own.

Red was the anger in his eyes.

Orange was the smoke,
The trail of his dead skin.

Yellow was the ***** of liquid poison,
The temptations of fermented gold that forever laid upon his tainted breath.

Green was the sickness of a disease,
His once foresty lungs and fiery stems gradually fading into their collapse.

Blue was his dried out veins.

Indigo were the bruises.

Indigo was the color of a midnight sky filled with constant arguing,
Our once amorous souls now unbinding into a useless string.

Violet was the last scent I breathed when he left me.

And soon after,
The departure of that one man,
Was the arrival of terror.

At the slam of the door,
And the silence of the night,
The colors soon faded as fast as he disappeared.

Suddenly, the cast of darker shades,
Darker sights,
Darker thoughts came along,
My feet drowning in the black that was once a puddle,
Now an ocean of thick dark water that spurt its heavy flavor into the throat of my own mouth.

The storm took me over faster than what I could remember;
What was once left a color now drowned in the black of evil emotions.

Memories broke down in the lightening of my mind,
The hope diminishing faster than I could see.
The black took control of who I used to be,
The darkness growing from what he took.

What was once love died into loss,
My heart no longer pumping the same red from before.
No longer glowing from the sky’s orange from before.
No longer warm like the yellow sky from before.
No longer growing in the green from before.
No longer controlled by the blue from before.
No longer resting on indigo night’s from before.
No longer essence of violets from before.

Before, my colors ranged from lights and darks,
But now,
Everything is black.

But just like the Sun won’t last forever,
Until the mood rises above to seize the day and conquer the night,
A storm only lasts for as long as you would allow.
A storm only lasts for as long as I would allow.

Gazing into the pitch black of the sea,
I know of what comes next.

As soon as the last blue tidal wave crashes,
As the glimpse of reds and oranges flow back from the abyss of indigoes and violets,
As the green glistens godly at the sight of the golden, yellow sun,
I come to realize:
The longer a storm crashes down on what you once felt,
The colors of a rainbow arrive faster.

I wait for what brightens again.
He may have drained what was left of the Earth,
But he can’t stop it from replenishing.
Neither… can I.

— The End —