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

                                                 GLADE

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

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

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

                                               WORLD

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                              MA­STER

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

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

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

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

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

                                                  BOY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                HERO

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

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

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

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







Copyright 2020 by Ron Sanders.

Contact:  ronsandersartofprose(at)yahoo(dot)com
Sorry about the ghastly copy. This system makes graceful formatting impossible.
Joel M Frye Jul 2012
Strolling, wistful, through a thousand lives,
across the chasmed centuries gone past,
he calls her name; it never quite arrives
to fall upon her ear.  Just at the last,
she leaves the hall, or shutters windows closed.
The fading echoes rebound, fall, despair
upon the careless earth, alone who knows
how many times he's haunted up her stairs
and stood before her door, unwilling hand
hung limply at his side. The heavy years
passed by them both again; he hadn't planned
that they would not meet. This chance disappears  
to speak the truth he knows she knows as well;
two ancient souls in broken bodies dwell.

Two ancient souls in broken bodies dwell,
a karmic double-helix twists through time.
They spiral 'round, attracted and repelled
by cosmic force, the space between defined
as two arms' lengths apart. Their fingertips
will brush by chance; the spark that generates
ignites the kindling lust, the heated lips
which speak the wildfire words of love. The fates
dictate the places, times where their paths cross;
circumstances, consequences feed
the choices made.  They've chosen fire, the loss
of reason, stoking starving naked need,
dance with abandon, passion, without pride;
they trip light-years fantastic side by side.

They trip light-years fantastic side by side.
The pas de deux began in ancient court
of some small city-state.  He is a knight
sent by his Queen, a diplomatic sort
of mission.  At a dinner hosted by
the local King, the knight, while taking in
who might be helpful or a hindrance spies
a shaken mane of gold, blue eyes within
her stunning face, struck slack with ennui
until she meets his eyes.  An eyebrow lifts,
a corner of her mouth curls up, unseen
by all save the old man beside.  He shifts,
and stands to pound his staff. The hall is still;
bound by an angered mage's curs'ed spell

Bound by an angered mage's curs'ed spell:
"Your burning gaze, Sir Knight...your smile, milass;
returned. You want each other?  Very well!
So mote it be; I'll have it come to pass.
She will be linked to you, eternally
yours, to have, to hold and never love;
to consummate and quench your lust will be
your death. And you shall lust, by Jove above!
I hereby mate your everlasting souls;
condemn you with a love like Hades' fires,
passion's heat incinerates you whole.
You'll take him, child, and **** him with desire.
You'll die for her; she'll bring you to her knees
across uncharted lands, bedragoned seas."

Across uncharted lands, bedragoned seas
uncounted years of wandering, he seeks
asylum from the memory of her eyes.
The softest skin, most gently blushing cheeks,
wildest fingers raking skin from back,
ever-changing hips which ****** and thrash;
the tavern *****, the courtesan, all lack
whatever power it would take to smash
his crushing need.  An aching pilgrimage,
life spent in shameless chase to slake the lust
imposed by jealous wizard in his rage.
Now weak and old, he walks alone through dust
and sandstorm, seeking solace, final rest
in desert's scalding carborundum breath

In desert's scalding carborundum breath
she oversees construction of her tomb.
Her father started it; upon his death,
she left the mage to build the solemn room
of memory. The waves of slaves pour sweat
in rivers onto stones, their muscles scream
and ripple in the undulating heat.
Mirage becomes a staggering man, unseen
by all but her. She mounts and rides to bring
some water, some relief.  When their eyes meet,
their souls enmesh, their spirits start to sing,
his failing body falls about her feet.
They're found again, and still there's no release;
not even end of life can bring surcease.

Not even end of life can bring surcease;
she lived another twenty years beyond.
His final glance of longing gave no peace,
but chained her in the everlasting bond
of arcane condemnation. Her ****** heart
is pierced by passing seconds, every one
a blunted needle, mildly poisoned dart
not strong enough to stop her pulse's run.
The mage's gift to her: the agony
of life remembering her lover's kiss,
then a death too short to set her free.
It sends her toward another fatal tryst,
spun round again the universe's width;
their love a measured minuet with death.

Their love a measured minuet with death,
a dance with destiny.  They wake again
to unfamiliar bodies, unknown paths
meandering across the haunted plain
of time.  A muddy pasture, half a million
blissful stoners join in raucous song:
"...and you make it hard". Among the hills run
****** lovers who can do no wrong,
all sharing bodies, needles 'til the smack
runs out. Her shaking arms strapped 'cross his chest;
he huddles close, awaiting the next stack
of Methadone. He shivers; breathes his last.
She cries and rocks his body, they will spoon
throughout the summer's thundered afternoon.

Throughout the summer's thundered afternoon
as heavy clouds erupt on thirsty soil,
cooler air meets skin on fire, a boon
to Magdalene and lover.  The sweet oil
washes off, the rain obscures the sound
of marching feet.  Centurions approach
and ****** him from her side. "So now you're found
beside this one, whose last ride gave us such
an evil time.  We strung him up, but now
his body's gone, and you were seen beside
the tomb. You'll die just as he did, and how."
She watched another man be crucified.
Supported by her love, he passed in peace
suspended in expectant spring's embrace.

Suspended in expectant spring's embrace,
the royal courtyard at Versailles in bloom
is laid out for the party.  Every face
is rouged, each powdered wig precisely groomed.
The hundred soldiers stand down, raise a toast,
Vive le roi!  One teasing courtier
seduces a queen's guard to leave his post.
Behind a hedge, they make love unaware
of peasants, women milling through the gate
in search of bread and royal blood, not cake.
He runs to save the Queen, and seals his fate;
the mob will **** for revolution's sake.
The oaks a silent witness to his doom
in autumn colors, reds and golds festooned.

In autumn colors, reds and golds festooned,
the twin moons rise and set, reflecting sun
upon the biodomes.  Earth shines down, ruined
by man's neglect, what could not be undone.
The population by law zero sum;
resource conservation held above
the joy of new life.  Parents here must come
to know the anguish of requited love.
She bears his child; they knew too well the chance
they took.  The court will force a choice be made:
the father or the child. A tear, a glance
as he's locked out. She watches as he fades
in cryogenic punishment, life lashed
to winter's icy shackles holding fast.

To winter's icy shackles holding fast
her soul, she proffers prayer, slogs through the sleet
toward her cloistered cell.  One chilling blast
wraps habit 'round her, knocks her off her feet.
The heavy, sodden cloth, the wind prevents
her gaining purchase on the frozen ground.
From monastery cot, the monk could sense
distress.  In thin burnoose he dashed and found
her, cold as stone, yet breathing; swept her up
and rushed her to the hearth.  His warm embrace
brings on familiar heat.  Their pasts stirred up,
relived, decision made within a trace:
"'Tis best this time we live, and never start."
Their minds attuned, yet cleft by broken heart.

Their minds attuned, yet cleft by broken heart;
the aching need grows stronger day by day.
He tends her failing health without regard
to duty, vows.  Her weak voice strains to say,
"I will be gone before you this time. Hear
me out; this may be what we need to break
our curse.  Stay with me as my time grows near;
and love me as the Reaper comes to take
my soul, and finish with me after I
have left.  God will forgive sins we'll commit
for man alone has ****** us.  We must try
or curse ourselves, continue to submit
to endless pain, remain just as we are:
connected, blessed, and doomed to be apart."

Connected, blessed, and doomed to be apart,
they cling to every moment here and now;
the priceless beating of her failing heart,
his passions roil out in unending flow.
He gazes deep in her eternal eyes
as they glaze over, looking past his face
into the hollow stare of death.  She lies
suspended between life and time and space,
to hear an old, familiar voice sound in
her ears.  "To dance with death before him
as you rut...how clever!  Most astounding
that you'd carry out this futile whim.
He dies; you'll live, just as the curse defines;
strolling, wistful, through a thousand lives."

Strolling, wistful, through a thousand lives
Two ancient souls in broken bodies dwell.
They trip light-years fantastic side by side
Bound by an angered mage's curs'ed spell.
Across uncharted lands, bedragoned seas,
In desert's scalding carborundum breath
Not even end of life can bring surcease;
Their love a measured minuet with death.
Throughout the summer's thundered afternoon,
Suspended in expectant spring's embrace,
In autumn colors, reds and golds festooned,
To winter's icy shackles holding fast;
Their minds attuned, yet cleft by broken heart:
Connected, blessed, and doomed to be apart.
For those of you who knew about this...thanks for your patience.  For those who didn't...this is where much of my creative energy has gone for the past 10 months.  This is the first draft;  revisions and refinements will inevitably follow.  I can usually write a sonnet in about an hour; silly me...I thought this would take me a day or two at worst.
Nat Lipstadt Dec 2015
Time: 7:30 pm
Temp.: 68F

~~~
overlooking the runways,
festooned by
accidental heavenly whimsy,
or humanistic whimsical inten-sity,
all the the planes and trucks are flashing
electrifying speckles, of eclectically synced
red and green

it is not my holiday,
but no matter,
like every New Yorker this day,
I am happily celebrating its
double U,
unique, unusual

"record breaking warmth"

yes, the Fahrenheit is outtasight, and by the dawn of
early eve~night,
the Centigrade is spiraling in reverse retrograde,
as the temp eases on down, just below seventy degrees,
on this dewinterized twenty fourth day of
December, two nought and fifteen

traffic is light, the terminal, an unbusy, slim shadow of itself,
the maddening crowds gone, now all are among
the dearly departed and either/or, the newly arrived

so composition of the observational, brings cheer and smiles to my faith,
(I mean my face),
the crowning quietude of clear skies, the absence of street smart
city  bustle and hustle,
the languid atmosphere at the gates,
(where seldom is heard an encouraging word)#
makes me reconsider the true meaning of
the au courant phraseology of this day

"record breaking warmth"

for there is indeed
a calm invisible warmth suffusing all tonite,
chests glowing from fireplaces within,
contentment chamber containers in both hearth and heart,
and I am thinking
miracle,
about all the human warmth
on this celebrated evening,
holy night

indeed,
it is breaking records of
recorded human fusion,
the united commonality of millions warming
his and her stories world-over,
that your personal poet is
warming to record
# but not tonight, as I am
unbelievably,
upgraded!
Ayad Gharbawi Jan 2010
PASSION PLAY

Ayad Gharbawi




Location: Desert Shore, Bitterly Cold Night, next to strong waves from the ocean.
Characters: Man ((M) and his Lover, a Woman (W).

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


W: “Search as I forever do, in manifold ways unknown, I seek but to love thee, and the meagre goodness from Life, with steely ardour - my armour faithful.”
M: “Alone I may be, and still, yes I love thee; these days heavy are and beset I am by burdensome trivialities, but I remain trusting, though my corner so narrow remain.”
W: “My Love! Your speech I hear aloud and thine lips I live within and yet, my Love, all Solitude I am. Man! I am unaided! In this journey of sinful thorns, my love, in this unforgiving journey, this blurred odyssey, I stand alone”.
M: “This trial you speak of, but I do know of it well; so, listen then: within the strength of trusted togetherness we can plough on, though everlasting harm shall do its spiteful tricks, warm to our united truth shall we remain.”
W: (Surprised) “O! My love! This thought I cannot hear! My life, my destiny, is but mine. And all have their own solitary roads of jagged rocks to embrace, like it we or not. We heartbreaking earthly sad beasts, either fiercely clutch at integrity, or we do let it go to perish away.”
M: (Confused) “My Love! I do hear, I do hear. But when Times decide on burdening us, what then can we achieve? To face Reality within the frail arms of solitude is to ignore, to refuse the severe threats of repulsive grins.”
(Silence)
M: (Passionately) “O! My sweet! Only in us, can we envelope, through joined, clasped warmth can we be as one united! The screams that so truly are meant to slice us off, only we, our Unity, can destroy. For mine eyes can only find sleep in your ears, and it is so - for otherwise nothing and no one can be.”
W: (Angry) “My Passion too is bubbling for thine bewildered ears. Am I not your soul? Do we not suffer as one? Do we not reflect as one? Am I not your lover true? Is not our warmth not weighty to our fickle bones?”
(Silence)
W: (Passionate) “But, Lover, this much ought I to formally declare unto thee: For our eyes, and all eyes, envision unequally at one another. Till eternity, in its casual, indifferent flicker, snatches at us all wretched mortals, the gazes from lords to paupers remain veritably mismatched. O my passion! My woeful heart! These words I thunder forth defines love unfeigned, and what mine eyes do pour out unto thine ears is authenticity true.
(Silence)
W: (Passionately) “What joined mem’ries you choose to caress may possess thee, but your exactness for what love is to you, doth not dwell in mine mind. What tears, what weepings you do, fall stormily upon thine own soul’s wildernesses. You choose to be chained by changing visions and indefinite sentiments of light weight – though so poignant at the moment they veritably are?”
M: (Inquiring) “My love! I cherish thee; where hast thou been in thine mind, for now ye talk of that truth you relate to in your heart. Your pronouncements, what depths I do feel! Can it perchance be that my passion has strayed our winds far from me?”
W: “No, my love! Why is anger, I feel, lush on thine tongue?”
M: (Surprised and Frightened) “Anger! I am too distant from that affliction! But yes, I feel my words make only for unstable murmurs in my breath.”
W: (Quietly) “Then, do tell me, lover, who do your murmurs betray - myself or yourself then?”
M: (Quietly) “Perhaps so, perhaps so. But my anxiety wilfully demands of me to eradicate your vision.”
W: (Firmly) “You answer naught from my undemanding question. Or, are mine meanings too violent for you? What aches thee?”
M: (Passionately) “My sweet! In so many moments, I created mysterious planets for thee! Bizarre worlds of contrasts and opposites and musical words of antiquity and sensual ravines. My love! I, my soul, my life, my inner deepest breath, tempted as I am by Fates’ inscrutable cruelties to ashamedly yield, I have yet always expressed to mine eyes’ heart, though they be in bleak darkness, to faithfully fight without pause all shades of vice and still yet - with loving integrity; I have stood with arms of righteousness and love for thee up and never down! Yes, sincere good and venal ill remain joined in life for all to feel, but you knew it was not for me to disentangle them. And so, I pronounce unto thee, still, and yet ever and ever more, my love for thee, though still beholding a thousand mountains before me, I remain sturdy for thee; I remain undisturbed by burly laws, and by exotic dictums, I stand fierce and unhurt, save in your absence.”
W: (With Sadness) “My beloved, your vivid voice stabs the falsehoods for thee, and I say unto thee, unto thee your excessive and unreasonable chains, and for myself my unreasonable and extreme chains remain.”
M: (Shocked) “But I burden thee with no steely chains, nor verbal fetters! For naught I produce for thee save grace, passion and freedom to love for us both to be in Unity Sacred! Dost thou embrace my visions as ‘shackles’, then ‘tis better we agree to class that which we are as but madness! Hear me, for my tears now must truly change their colours!”
W: (Determined) “Your feverish hands clutch only upon mine erratic wings!”
M: (Anger) “Never! Never! For I clutch only to destroy all malevolence; as for thee, Lady of the purest, untouched, guarded, secluded Ponds, I seek to unshackle for you the scattered, scared shadows that yearn for thine sovereignty. And what is this ‘sovereignty’ but our Sacred Union? What curse deemest you I impose? Do you equal my purest passions with atrocities? Murmur unto mine ears, your clearest love for me.”
W: “Ah! You enquire of me my ‘sincerity’ for thee? What demands!”
(Silence)
M: “I see naught but heaving forests of love betwixt us, and yet, you discover my words being ‘demanding’?”
W: (Drily) “Perchance, your visions are indistinct and ever more blurred, through these years cannot be ignored.”
M: (Begging) “My love! All mine life, though it be lengthy, I fought most venal tyranny, and for this moment, you question my righteousness?”
W: (Indignantly) “I have been plunged into seas hostile and I have plunged in a thousand miles of inert minds troubled beyond conceivable comprehension and I have yet to have my Right for my own greedy, ravenous flesh to be vigorously and forcefully embraced by sensuality and serenity. Yes, I do love thee, and yet in our union, as in all unions, I have been adorned with naught, save snickering, gossiping scenes of festive *****, games, chatter and farewells, themselves festooned within silly and sincerely stupid smiles and frowns, and shallow tears and never ending ludicrous chatter unworthy of monkeys conversing. I have met programmed rows of pats, respect and all other so-called decent intents and gestures, but, where, lover that you are of mine, where does my personal heart, throb and manically vibrate, save in your heavenly imaginations?”
(Silence)
W: (Quietly but Determinedly) “My love! I truly thee love and with passions, I tell you, of proportions of precise exactitudes; in your eyes I have witnessed symphonies of exquisiteness; and, I of thee ask: where dwelleth your own love for myself in thine body?”
(Silence)
W: (Passionate) “Do you recognise the changing structures that form this, that I name ‘My Love’? In my solitude eternal, I do evermore and always do pause, and be pensive, and be thinking of questions, such as ‘where’, ‘why’, ‘when’ ‘how’, and ‘which’ should be my path; I am forever and ever more searching, seeking the heavens of every corner, and the irritable tempests, within my changing self as they themselves do try to seek me, and we forever, through inconceivable murkiness, do try to assemble the everlasting entirety of these disorganized puzzles into some measure of comprehensible cohesion that ‘I’ am. That is how the ‘I’ you love is forever changing and thereby formulating itself, and within all these meandering passions, and endless errors, where am I to feel thee? Where? And where do you seek me? In which land? In which forest? You trivialise my beingness as you focus upon my lands as being that which so effortless to find, and yet, you are much too distant from an understanding of my conflicting, emerging civilisations.”
(Silence)
W: (Passionate) If the utterance ‘Never’ is pathetic for thee, then allow me to introduce you to my latest heart: for it screams out that single, protracted utterance! Never! My love, these winds of raging wraths, both within and outside by flesh, must and can only be annihilated by mine own sincerities – were I not to play against my own self. My uncontrolled desires and, yes, thirsty manic passions can only be tempered and thoroughly satiated to the utter brim, by mine own loving, sources of pleasure, my own uncontrollable ecstasies. As for the rest of ****** pleasures, my own erroneous words, speeches and utterances can only be severed and sliced by my tranquillity.”
M: (Resigned) “I hear thine words. Do not abandon me. Do not destroy our civilisation of justice.”
W: “What we share, the bonds, are enjoyment. Listen though to mine lips: enjoyment is what - when it is to be compared with convulsive ecstatic quivers of satisfaction?”
M: (Puzzled) “And what of all our journeys to attain that unity? For all that, is it to be of mere insignificance? And if that be your truth, for what then did we toil and labour for unity of minds and bodies?”
W: (Laughing) “Did you understand from Life itself, that here it was, grandly to proclaim its furtive faces unto thine own awaiting face?! “
M: (Baffled) “It was so far too plain and vastly clear unto me these sceneries we faced before our loving bodies.”
W: “Yes, and I too, did see them with thee. Our four eyes, did see unity for that flicker of time. How true you speak! But, time clocked on, I saw you as you stood there, moving nowhere, unawares that it was your duty to squash onwards whatever vile breaths faced us.”
M: (Desperate) “And did I not? Did I abandon thee in these crushing paths?”
W: (Accusing) “No, you did not. Never, once did you abandon me. I ask of thee; for what sense do we feel a need for a continuation of these gruelling marches? For unity? For love? Or, is love unity? Was that and is this our reason for us to carry on with these shackles?”
M: “For assuredly, yes, and more yes, I tell thee! Toil and gruelling dawns, and unbearable evenings and the whitest of nights are all for the sacred attainment of that heavenly summit of joy I name as blessed ‘Love’.”
W: (Assured) “And, Sire, what if my nerves, blood and ****** hunger tell thee in truth that we, all of us, need no longer, and need never in truth, to undertake these paths, for we find naught that nourishes us at the blessed summit of your definition of what ‘Love’ is?”
M: (Confused & Sad) “So, I falter here and now upon understanding your speech; do I reason from thee that our loving days in unity are frivolously bygone now?”
W: (Calmly & Gracefully) “Do the wandering birds, and do the blind bats, and do the reckless storms, and do the blindly, raging waves and do the supremely arrogant oceans eternally march on in but one direction only with the savage passage of time within their particular lives? You did pronounce that you built planets for our unity; well then, did you not view how planets endlessly revolve along the same path?”
(Pause)
W: (Calmly & with Dignity) “For, Sire, I am not as a Planet - could you not feel that throughout our journeys? You endlessly query and question ‘who’ it is that ‘I’ am? Well, I speak this much on myself; I am as the birds, and the bats, and the storms and the waves and the oceans.”  
M: (Angry) “Woman! I can only then tell of thee that you are naught but feuding clutter and violent disarray!”
W: (Unconcerned) “Those are your words. Not mine. Speak for what you wish, Sire.”
M: (Angry) “And I stand here, before thee, in anger – nay, more, more! In fury!”
W: (Laughing) “For what? For the deeds that created but sticky, and grimy grains of sand for the undoubted pleasure our eyes?”
M: “And so you label our truths, our love so much! Fair indeed, you speak, Woman of Justice.”
W: (Arrogantly) “Man! Express your delights for your own delights. And, alas, there the circle and reality ends – and it ends only for you. That is one morsel of truth for you to ponder. What we ‘created’ and what we ‘loved’ was never and never, ever be the same for you as it is for me. Are you a sincere believer that your personal vision is the same sight all other seeing creatures envision?”
M: (Angry) “Woman, you enrage me! Your arrogance is drenching thine rags.”
W: (Sarcastic) “Tis the Man with no reason who allows his breath and words to be a veritable cesspool of fuming stenches!”
M: “But I, that I am, no longer can define your contours?”
W: (Pointedly) “Precisely, Man, precisely. Perhaps, now you have come closer to the vulnerable shores of reality!”
M: (Confused) “Do you express that you are ever varying and so for that reason there is not a one unified you?”
W: (Calmly) “For we are all ‘varying’, to borrow your word – if you do so allow me, Sire. There was never ‘unity’ of soul, nor mind, nor self, nor of any one personality. This, I desire, that you may understand.”
M: (Aghast) “Then if that be your truth and then, are we naught but multitudes of ever changing confusions, Lady of the Desert?”
W: (Calmly) “Yes and no! For those who are muscular and full of fertile vigour in their flesh, and in their intellects, and those that are severely and strictly scholastic, then they do need and they can succeed in time, in their never ending struggle to bring together the mutually antagonistic factions of that which constitutes our beingness. And, as for the dense brained soulless beings, then, it is equally veritably true that, a descent into madness can be rapidly produced, since from their erratic constituents, they cannot attract together these antagonistic and mutually-hating emotions in some vision of cohesion, and thus mayhem can be fashioned.”
(Silence)
M: (Calmly) “So, pray do tell me, where does Love and Justice and Truth and Morality stand in your universe?”
W: (Serenely) “That has been mine desire to hear the words being produced from your lips, Man!”
(Pause)
W: “So, now perhaps, your sight may be getting clearer, for your question is certainly apt. Foremost, we pathetic mortals, we the be are forever slimy specks of sand that  crumbles, must necessarily seek to survive and flourish within whatever forest, desert, meadow we find ourselves cast upon.”
M: (Startled) “At what cost, Woman? At the expense of Morality?”
W: (Rapidly) “Yes and no.”
M: (Shocked) “Horrendous! How can you spout out such filth?”
W: (Quietly) “Restrain your stupidities, and give more room to your intelligence, Sire.”
(Silence)
W: (Gracefully) “In times of trouble, what can Man do when he be forced to embrace evil, even though he finds the act of the embrace loathsome, but he does what he does for the truth of his vital existence to continue. Only when he need never embrace vile, and then allows himself to commit the act, then he is for certainty to incur the everlasting wrath of God. Evil is thus never one truth to be utterly rejected, perchance you may now see. ”
M: (Calm but Tired) “I follow your words and their ideas therein.”
W: (Gracefully) “When you talk to me on Man and everlasting, conflicting changes within that self-same creature, I tell you with all the earnestness that I possess, of what God has scattered and endowed upon me; for this beast, we all call in unity Man, this creature has far too many a numberless number of mutually self-contradicting, distrusting, loving, hating, inspiring and a never ending number of feelings and emotions that are in constant flow and change – as in any rapid river descending unto its eventual destination, which in its case, is the sea, while in our case, it is Death itself for sure.”
M: (Despair) “And how can this beast ‘love’ anyone within this welter of confusion?”
W: (Rapidly) “He cannot!”
M: (Rapidly, Begging) “But Man and Woman do love with bristling passions! Do you deny that, Woman?!”
W: (Calmly, eyes downwards looking) “Yes, and no. Since the beast has needs, based on his vastly intricate constituents, to ‘love’ his fellow beast, he imagines and believes
Ayad Gharbawi Jan 2010
PASSION PLAY

Ayad Gharbawi




Location: Desert Shore, Bitterly Cold Night, next to strong waves from the ocean.
Characters: Man ((M) and his Lover, a Woman (W).

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



W: “Search as I forever do, in manifold ways unknown, I seek but to love thee, and the meagre goodness from Life, with steely ardour - my armour faithful.”
M: “Alone I may be, and still, yes I love thee; these days heavy are and beset I am by burdensome trivialities, but I remain trusting, though my corner so narrow remain.”
W: “My Love! Your speech I hear aloud and thine lips I live within and yet, my Love, all Solitude I am. Man! I am unaided! In this journey of sinful thorns, my love, in this unforgiving journey, this blurred odyssey, I stand alone”.
M: “This trial you speak of, but I do know of it well; so, listen then: within the strength of trusted togetherness we can plough on, though everlasting harm shall do its spiteful tricks, warm to our united truth shall we remain.”
W: (Surprised) “O! My love! This thought I cannot hear! My life, my destiny, is but mine. And all have their own solitary roads of jagged rocks to embrace, like it we or not. We heartbreaking earthly sad beasts, either fiercely clutch at integrity, or we do let it go to perish away.”
M: (Confused) “My Love! I do hear, I do hear. But when Times decide on burdening us, what then can we achieve? To face Reality within the frail arms of solitude is to ignore, to refuse the severe threats of repulsive grins.”
(Silence)
M: (Passionately) “O! My sweet! Only in us, can we envelope, through joined, clasped warmth can we be as one united! The screams that so truly are meant to slice us off, only we, our Unity, can destroy. For mine eyes can only find sleep in your ears, and it is so - for otherwise nothing and no one can be.”
W: (Angry) “My Passion too is bubbling for thine bewildered ears. Am I not your soul? Do we not suffer as one? Do we not reflect as one? Am I not your lover true? Is not our warmth not weighty to our fickle bones?”
(Silence)
W: (Passionate) “But, Lover, this much ought I to formally declare unto thee: For our eyes, and all eyes, envision unequally at one another. Till eternity, in its casual, indifferent flicker, snatches at us all wretched mortals, the gazes from lords to paupers remain veritably mismatched. O my passion! My woeful heart! These words I thunder forth defines love unfeigned, and what mine eyes do pour out unto thine ears is authenticity true.
(Silence)
W: (Passionately) “What joined mem’ries you choose to caress may possess thee, but your exactness for what love is to you, doth not dwell in mine mind. What tears, what weepings you do, fall stormily upon thine own soul’s wildernesses. You choose to be chained by changing visions and indefinite sentiments of light weight – though so poignant at the moment they veritably are?”
M: (Inquiring) “My love! I cherish thee; where hast thou been in thine mind, for now ye talk of that truth you relate to in your heart. Your pronouncements, what depths I do feel! Can it perchance be that my passion has strayed our winds far from me?”
W: “No, my love! Why is anger, I feel, lush on thine tongue?”
M: (Surprised and Frightened) “Anger! I am too distant from that affliction! But yes, I feel my words make only for unstable murmurs in my breath.”
W: (Quietly) “Then, do tell me, lover, who do your murmurs betray - myself or yourself then?”
M: (Quietly) “Perhaps so, perhaps so. But my anxiety wilfully demands of me to eradicate your vision.”
W: (Firmly) “You answer naught from my undemanding question. Or, are mine meanings too violent for you? What aches thee?”
M: (Passionately) “My sweet! In so many moments, I created mysterious planets for thee! Bizarre worlds of contrasts and opposites and musical words of antiquity and sensual ravines. My love! I, my soul, my life, my inner deepest breath, tempted as I am by Fates’ inscrutable cruelties to ashamedly yield, I have yet always expressed to mine eyes’ heart, though they be in bleak darkness, to faithfully fight without pause all shades of vice and still yet - with loving integrity; I have stood with arms of righteousness and love for thee up and never down! Yes, sincere good and venal ill remain joined in life for all to feel, but you knew it was not for me to disentangle them. And so, I pronounce unto thee, still, and yet ever and ever more, my love for thee, though still beholding a thousand mountains before me, I remain sturdy for thee; I remain undisturbed by burly laws, and by exotic dictums, I stand fierce and unhurt, save in your absence.”
W: (With Sadness) “My beloved, your vivid voice stabs the falsehoods for thee, and I say unto thee, unto thee your excessive and unreasonable chains, and for myself my unreasonable and extreme chains remain.”
M: (Shocked) “But I burden thee with no steely chains, nor verbal fetters! For naught I produce for thee save grace, passion and freedom to love for us both to be in Unity Sacred! Dost thou embrace my visions as ‘shackles’, then ‘tis better we agree to class that which we are as but madness! Hear me, for my tears now must truly change their colours!”
W: (Determined) “Your feverish hands clutch only upon mine erratic wings!”
M: (Anger) “Never! Never! For I clutch only to destroy all malevolence; as for thee, Lady of the purest, untouched, guarded, secluded Ponds, I seek to unshackle for you the scattered, scared shadows that yearn for thine sovereignty. And what is this ‘sovereignty’ but our Sacred Union? What curse deemest you I impose? Do you equal my purest passions with atrocities? Murmur unto mine ears, your clearest love for me.”
W: “Ah! You enquire of me my ‘sincerity’ for thee? What demands!”
(Silence)
M: “I see naught but heaving forests of love betwixt us, and yet, you discover my words being ‘demanding’?”
W: (Drily) “Perchance, your visions are indistinct and ever more blurred, through these years cannot be ignored.”
M: (Begging) “My love! All mine life, though it be lengthy, I fought most venal tyranny, and for this moment, you question my righteousness?”
W: (Indignantly) “I have been plunged into seas hostile and I have plunged in a thousand miles of inert minds troubled beyond conceivable comprehension and I have yet to have my Right for my own greedy, ravenous flesh to be vigorously and forcefully embraced by sensuality and serenity. Yes, I do love thee, and yet in our union, as in all unions, I have been adorned with naught, save snickering, gossiping scenes of festive *****, games, chatter and farewells, themselves festooned within silly and sincerely stupid smiles and frowns, and shallow tears and never ending ludicrous chatter unworthy of monkeys conversing. I have met programmed rows of pats, respect and all other so-called decent intents and gestures, but, where, lover that you are of mine, where does my personal heart, throb and manically vibrate, save in your heavenly imaginations?”
(Silence)
W: (Quietly but Determinedly) “My love! I truly thee love and with passions, I tell you, of proportions of precise exactitudes; in your eyes I have witnessed symphonies of exquisiteness; and, I of thee ask: where dwelleth your own love for myself in thine body?”
(Silence)
W: (Passionate) “Do you recognise the changing structures that form this, that I name ‘My Love’? In my solitude eternal, I do evermore and always do pause, and be pensive, and be thinking of questions, such as ‘where’, ‘why’, ‘when’ ‘how’, and ‘which’ should be my path; I am forever and ever more searching, seeking the heavens of every corner, and the irritable tempests, within my changing self as they themselves do try to seek me, and we forever, through inconceivable murkiness, do try to assemble the everlasting entirety of these disorganized puzzles into some measure of comprehensible cohesion that ‘I’ am. That is how the ‘I’ you love is forever changing and thereby formulating itself, and within all these meandering passions, and endless errors, where am I to feel thee? Where? And where do you seek me? In which land? In which forest? You trivialise my beingness as you focus upon my lands as being that which so effortless to find, and yet, you are much too distant from an understanding of my conflicting, emerging civilisations.”
(Silence)
W: (Passionate) If the utterance ‘Never’ is pathetic for thee, then allow me to introduce you to my latest heart: for it screams out that single, protracted utterance! Never! My love, these winds of raging wraths, both within and outside by flesh, must and can only be annihilated by mine own sincerities – were I not to play against my own self. My uncontrolled desires and, yes, thirsty manic passions can only be tempered and thoroughly satiated to the utter brim, by mine own loving, sources of pleasure, my own uncontrollable ecstasies. As for the rest of ****** pleasures, my own erroneous words, speeches and utterances can only be severed and sliced by my tranquillity.”
M: (Resigned) “I hear thine words. Do not abandon me. Do not destroy our civilisation of justice.”
W: “What we share, the bonds, are enjoyment. Listen though to mine lips: enjoyment is what - when it is to be compared with convulsive ecstatic quivers of satisfaction?”
M: (Puzzled) “And what of all our journeys to attain that unity? For all that, is it to be of mere insignificance? And if that be your truth, for what then did we toil and labour for unity of minds and bodies?”
W: (Laughing) “Did you understand from Life itself, that here it was, grandly to proclaim its furtive faces unto thine own awaiting face?! “
M: (Baffled) “It was so far too plain and vastly clear unto me these sceneries we faced before our loving bodies.”
W: “Yes, and I too, did see them with thee. Our four eyes, did see unity for that flicker of time. How true you speak! But, time clocked on, I saw you as you stood there, moving nowhere, unawares that it was your duty to squash onwards whatever vile breaths faced us.”
M: (Desperate) “And did I not? Did I abandon thee in these crushing paths?”
W: (Accusing) “No, you did not. Never, once did you abandon me. I ask of thee; for what sense do we feel a need for a continuation of these gruelling marches? For unity? For love? Or, is love unity? Was that and is this our reason for us to carry on with these shackles?”
M: “For assuredly, yes, and more yes, I tell thee! Toil and gruelling dawns, and unbearable evenings and the whitest of nights are all for the sacred attainment of that heavenly summit of joy I name as blessed ‘Love’.”
W: (Assured) “And, Sire, what if my nerves, blood and ****** hunger tell thee in truth that we, all of us, need no longer, and need never in truth, to undertake these paths, for we find naught that nourishes us at the blessed summit of your definition of what ‘Love’ is?”
M: (Confused & Sad) “So, I falter here and now upon understanding your speech; do I reason from thee that our loving days in unity are frivolously bygone now?”
W: (Calmly & Gracefully) “Do the wandering birds, and do the blind bats, and do the reckless storms, and do the blindly, raging waves and do the supremely arrogant oceans eternally march on in but one direction only with the savage passage of time within their particular lives? You did pronounce that you built planets for our unity; well then, did you not view how planets endlessly revolve along the same path?”
(Pause)
W: (Calmly & with Dignity) “For, Sire, I am not as a Planet - could you not feel that throughout our journeys? You endlessly query and question ‘who’ it is that ‘I’ am? Well, I speak this much on myself; I am as the birds, and the bats, and the storms and the waves and the oceans.”  
M: (Angry) “Woman! I can only then tell of thee that you are naught but feuding clutter and violent disarray!”
W: (Unconcerned) “Those are your words. Not mine. Speak for what you wish, Sire.”
M: (Angry) “And I stand here, before thee, in anger – nay, more, more! In fury!”
W: (Laughing) “For what? For the deeds that created but sticky, and grimy grains of sand for the undoubted pleasure our eyes?”
M: “And so you label our truths, our love so much! Fair indeed, you speak, Woman of Justice.”
W: (Arrogantly) “Man! Express your delights for your own delights. And, alas, there the circle and reality ends – and it ends only for you. That is one morsel of truth for you to ponder. What we ‘created’ and what we ‘loved’ was never and never, ever be the same for you as it is for me. Are you a sincere believer that your personal vision is the same sight all other seeing creatures envision?”
M: (Angry) “Woman, you enrage me! Your arrogance is drenching thine rags.”
W: (Sarcastic) “Tis the Man with no reason who allows his breath and words to be a veritable cesspool of fuming stenches!”
M: “But I, that I am, no longer can define your contours?”
W: (Pointedly) “Precisely, Man, precisely. Perhaps, now you have come closer to the vulnerable shores of reality!”
M: (Confused) “Do you express that you are ever varying and so for that reason there is not a one unified you?”
W: (Calmly) “For we are all ‘varying’, to borrow your word – if you do so allow me, Sire. There was never ‘unity’ of soul, nor mind, nor self, nor of any one personality. This, I desire, that you may understand.”
M: (Aghast) “Then if that be your truth and then, are we naught but multitudes of ever changing confusions, Lady of the Desert?”
W: (Calmly) “Yes and no! For those who are muscular and full of fertile vigour in their flesh, and in their intellects, and those that are severely and strictly scholastic, then they do need and they can succeed in time, in their never ending struggle to bring together the mutually antagonistic factions of that which constitutes our beingness. And, as for the dense brained soulless beings, then, it is equally veritably true that, a descent into madness can be rapidly produced, since from their erratic constituents, they cannot attract together these antagonistic and mutually-hating emotions in some vision of cohesion, and thus mayhem can be fashioned.”
(Silence)
M: (Calmly) “So, pray do tell me, where does Love and Justice and Truth and Morality stand in your universe?”
W: (Serenely) “That has been mine desire to hear the words being produced from your lips, Man!”
(Pause)
W: “So, now perhaps, your sight may be getting clearer, for your question is certainly apt. Foremost, we pathetic mortals, we the be are forever slimy specks of sand that  crumbles, must necessarily seek to survive and flourish within whatever forest, desert, meadow we find ourselves cast upon.”
M: (Startled) “At what cost, Woman? At the expense of Morality?”
W: (Rapidly) “Yes and no.”
M: (Shocked) “Horrendous! How can you spout out such filth?”
W: (Quietly) “Restrain your stupidities, and give more room to your intelligence, Sire.”
(Silence)
W: (Gracefully) “In times of trouble, what can Man do when he be forced to embrace evil, even though he finds the act of the embrace loathsome, but he does what he does for the truth of his vital existence to continue. Only when he need never embrace vile, and then allows himself to commit the act, then he is for certainty to incur the everlasting wrath of God. Evil is thus never one truth to be utterly rejected, perchance you may now see. ”
M: (Calm but Tired) “I follow your words and their ideas therein.”
W: (Gracefully) “When you talk to me on Man and everlasting, conflicting changes within that self-same creature, I tell you with all the earnestness that I possess, of what God has scattered and endowed upon me; for this beast, we all call in unity Man, this creature has far too many a numberless number of mutually self-contradicting, distrusting, loving, hating, inspiring and a never ending number of feelings and emotions that are in constant flow and change – as in any rapid river descending unto its eventual destination, which in its case, is the sea, while in our case, it is Death itself for sure.”
M: (Despair) “And how can this beast ‘love’ anyone within this welter of confusion?”
W: (Rapidly) “He cannot!”
M: (Rapidly, Begging) “But Man and Woman do love with bristling passions! Do you deny that, Woman?!”
W: (Calmly, eyes downwards looking) “Yes, and no. Since the beast has needs, based on his vastly intricate constituents, to ‘love’ his fellow beast, he imagines and believes
Cné Dec 2017
“T'was the night before Christmas ...”
and Santa was busy.
The reindeer were antsy
the elves in a tizzy.

The missus was tending
the ovens like mad
And turning out cookies
to make children glad.

The wood chips were flying
the sawdust was thick
The workshop was bulging
with toys from St. Nick.

Contractors from Sega,
Nintendo and Sony
Were working on games
(and a robotic pony).

Iphones and Ipads
(with virus removal)
Were packed in their boxes
and stamped "Elf Approval".

Last minute touches
were added with flair
While elf stylists tended
to Santa's white hair.

Elf tailors were making
some last alterations
To Santa's red coat
and his waist tribulations.

The weather was fair
as the weather-elf stated
The routes were approved
and departure was slated.

Bells had been polished
and harnesses buffed
While repairs were addressed
for the hoofs that were scuffed.

The antlers were festooned
with ribbons and bells
And the reindeer were covered
with elf flying spells.

The clock approached
midnight as Santa was seated.
The countdown began
as the flight crew was greeted.

H-hour neared
and the tension was growing.
Outside it grew cloudy
and then, began snowing.

But Santa just grinned
as the weather-elf winced.
"Don't worry, my friend.  
Our time has commenced."

For the weather was nothing
to Santa's conveyance.
His reindeer and sleigh
were immune to"delay-ance".

With a whirl of his whiskers
and a flick of his wrist
The reindeer were launched
in a flash of white mist.

And I heard him exclaim
through his teleport ray:
"ALERT TSA. Tell 'em
I'm on my WAY!"
Joel M Frye Feb 2015
In wistful sojourn through a thousand lives,
across the chasmed centuries gone past,
he calls her name; it never quite arrives
to fall upon her ear.  Just at the last,
she leaves the hall, or shutters windows closed.
The fading echoes rebound, fall, despair
upon the careless ground, alone who knows
how many times he's haunted up her stairs
and stood before her door, unwilling hand
hung limply at his side. The heavy years
passed by them both again; he hadn't planned
that they would not meet. This chance disappears  
to speak the truth they're cursed to know so well;
two ancient souls in broken bodies dwell.

Two ancient souls in broken bodies dwell,
a karmic double-helix twists through time.
They spiral 'round, attracted and repelled
by cosmic force, the space between defined
as two arms' lengths apart. Their fingertips
will brush by chance; the spark that generates
ignites the kindling lust, the heated lips
which speak the wildfire words of love. The fates
dictate the places, times their paths will cross;
circumstances, consequences feed
the choices made.  They've chosen fire, the loss
of reason, stoking starving naked need,
dance with abandon, passion, absent pride;
they trip light-years fantastic side by side.

They trip light-years fantastic side by side.
The pas de deux began in ancient court
of a small city-state.  He is a knight
sent by his Queen, a diplomatic sort
of mission.  At a banquet hosted by
the local King, the knight, while taking in
who might be helpful or a hindrance spies
a shaken mane of gold, blue eyes within
her stunning face, a mask of ennui
until she meets his eyes.  An eyebrow lifts,
a corner of her mouth curls up, unseen
by all save the old man beside.  He shifts,
and stands to pound his staff. The hall is still;
bound by an angered mage's curs'ed spell

Bound by an angered mage's curs'ed spell:
"Your burning gaze, Sir Knight...your smile, milass;
returned. You want each other?  Very well!
So mote it be; I'll have it come to pass.
She will be linked to you, eternally
yours, to have, to hold and never love;
to consummate and quench your lust will be
your death. And you shall lust, by Jove above!
I hereby mate your everlasting souls;
condemn you with a love like Hades' fires,
passion's heat incinerates you whole.
You'll take him, child, and **** him with desire.
You'll die for her; she'll draw you to her knees
across uncharted lands, bedragoned seas."

Across uncharted lands, bedragoned seas
uncounted years of wandering, he seeks
asylum from the memory of her eyes.
The softest skin, most gently blushing cheeks,
wildest fingers raking skin from back,
ever-changing hips which ****** and thrash;
the tavern *****, the courtesan, all lack
whatever power it would take to smash
his crushing need.  An aching pilgrimage,
life spent in shameless chase to slake the lust
imposed by jealous wizard in his rage.
Now weak and old, he walks alone through dust
and sandstorm, seeking solace, final rest
in desert's scalding carborundum breath

In desert's scalding carborundum breath
she oversees construction of her tomb.
Her father started it; upon his death,
she left the mage to build the solemn room
of memory. The waves of slaves pour sweat
in rivers onto stones, their muscles scream
and ripple in the undulating heat.
Mirage becomes a staggering man, unseen
by all but she. She mounts and rides to bring
some water, some relief.  When their eyes meet,
their souls enmesh, their spirits start to sing,
his failing body falls about her feet.
They're found again, and still there's no release; 
not even end of life can bring surcease.

Not even end of life can bring surcease;
she lived another twenty years beyond.
His final gaze of longing gave no peace,
but chained her in the everlasting bond
of arcane condemnation. Her ****** heart
is pierced by passing seconds, every one
a blunted needle, mildly poisoned dart
not strong enough to stop her pulse's run.
The mage's gift to her: the agony
of life remembering her lover's kiss,
then a death too short to set her free.
It sends her toward another fatal tryst,
spun round again the universe's width;
their love a measured minuet with death.

Their love a measured minuet with death,
a dance with destiny.  They wake again
to unfamiliar bodies, unknown paths
meandering across the haunted plain
of time.  A muddy pasture, half a million
blissful stoners join in raucous song:
"...and you make it hard". Among the hills run
****** lovers who can do no wrong,
all sharing bodies, needles 'til the smack
runs out. Her shaking arms strapped 'cross his chest;
he huddles close, awaiting the next stack
of Methadone. He shivers; breathes his last.
She cries and rocks his body, they will spoon
throughout the summer's thundered afternoon.

Throughout the summer's thundered afternoon
as heavy clouds erupt on thirsty soil,
cooler air meets skin on fire, a boon
to Magdalene and lover.  The sweet oil
washes off, the rain obscures the sound
of marching feet.  Centurions approach
and ****** him from her side. "So now you're found
beside this one, whose last ride gave us such
an evil time.  We strung him up, but now
his body's gone, and you were seen beside
the tomb. You'll die just like he did and how."
She watched another man be crucified.
Supported by her love, in peace he passed
between first breath of spring and winter's last.

Between first breath of spring and winter's last,
the royal courtyard at Versailles in bloom
is laid out for the party.  Every face
is rouged, each powdered wig precisely groomed.
The hundred soldiers stand down, raise a toast,
Vive le roi!  One teasing courtier
seduces a queen's guard to leave his post.
Behind a hedge, they make love unaware
of peasants, women milling through the gate
in search of bread and royal blood, not cake.
He runs to save the Queen, and seals his fate;
the mob will **** for revolution's sake.
The oaks a silent witness to his doom
in autumn colors, reds and golds festooned.

In autumn colors, reds and golds festooned,
the twin moons rise and set, reflecting sun
upon the biodomes.  Earth shines down, ruined
by man's neglect, what could not be undone.
The population by law zero sum;
resource conservation held above
the joy of new life.  Parents here must come
to know the anguish of requited love.
She bears his child; they knew too well the chance
they took.  The court will force a choice be made:
the father or the child. A tear, a glance
as he's locked out. She watches as he fades
in cryogenic punishment, life lashed
to winter's icy shackles holding fast.

To winter's icy shackles holding fast
her soul, she proffers prayer, slogs through the sleet
toward her cloistered cell.  One chilling blast
wraps habit 'round her, knocks her off her feet.
The heavy, sodden cloth, the wind prevents
her gaining purchase on the frozen ground.
From monastery cot, the monk could sense
distress.  In thin burnoose he dashed and found
her, cold as stone, yet breathing; swept her up
and rushed her to the hearth.  His warm embrace
brings on familiar heat.  Their pasts stirred up,
relived, decision made within a trace: 
"'Tis best this time we live, and never start."
Their minds attuned, yet cleft by broken heart.

Their minds attuned, yet cleft by broken heart;
the aching need grows stronger day by day.
He tends her failing health without regard
to duty, vows.  Her weak voice strains to say,
"I will be gone before you this time. Hear
me out; this may be what we need to break
our curse.  Stay with me as my time grows near;
and love me as the Reaper comes to take
my soul, and finish with me after I
have left.  God will forgive sins we'll commit
for man alone has ****** us.  We must try
or curse ourselves, continue to submit
to endless pain, remain just as we are:
connected, blessed, and doomed to be apart."

Connected, blessed, and doomed to be apart,
they cling to every moment here and now;
the priceless beating of her failing heart,
his passions roil out in unending flow.
He gazes deep in her eternal eyes
as they glaze over, looking past his face
into the hollow stare of death.  She lies
suspended between life and time and space,
to hear an old, familiar voice sound in
her ears.  "To dance with death before him
as you rut...how clever!  Most astounding
that you'd carry out this futile whim.
He dies; you'll live, just as the curse defines,
in wistful sojourn through a thousand lives."

In wistful sojourn through a thousand lives 
Two ancient souls in broken bodies dwell.
They trip light-years fantastic side by side
Bound by an angered mage's curs'ed spell.
Across uncharted lands, bedragoned seas,
In desert's scalding carborundum breath
Not even end of life can bring surcease;
Their love a measured minuet with death.
Throughout the summer's thundered afternoon,
Between first breath of spring and winter's last,
In autumn colors, reds and golds festooned,
To winter's icy shackles holding fast;
Their minds attuned, yet cleft by broken heart:
Connected, blessed, and doomed to be apart.
For those of you who bought the book...many thanks.  I'd like some of my newer readers to know what I've done.
1

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

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

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

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

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

2

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

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

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

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

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

3

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

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

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

4

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

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

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

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

5

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

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

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

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

6

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

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

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

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

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

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

7

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

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

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

8

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Something there is,' says Senlin, 'in that mountain,
Something forgotten now, that once I knew . . .'
We walk before a sun-tipped peak in silence,
Our shadows descend before us, long and blue.
Joel Frye Jun 2015
In wistful sojourn through a thousand lives,
across the chasmed centuries gone past,
he calls her name; it never quite arrives
to fall upon her ear.  Just at the last,
she leaves the hall, or shutters windows closed.
The fading echoes rebound, fall, despair
upon the careless earth, alone who knows
how many times he's haunted up her stairs
and stood before her door, unwilling hand
hung limply at his side. The heavy years
passed by them both again; he hadn't planned
that they would not meet. This chance disappears  
to speak the truth he knows she knows as well;
two ancient souls in broken bodies dwell.

Two ancient souls in broken bodies dwell,
a karmic double-helix twists through time.
They spiral 'round, attracted and repelled
by cosmic force, the space between defined
as two arms' lengths apart. Their fingertips
will brush by chance; the spark that generates
ignites the kindling lust, the heated lips
which speak the wildfire words of love. The fates
dictate the places, times where their paths cross;
circumstances, consequences feed
the choices made.  They've chosen fire, the loss
of reason, stoking starving naked need,
dance with abandon, passion, without pride;
they trip light-years fantastic side by side.

They trip light-years fantastic side by side.
The pas de deux began in ancient court
of some small city-state.  He is a knight
sent by his Queen, a diplomatic sort
of mission.  At a dinner hosted by
the local King, the knight, while taking in
who might be helpful or a hindrance spies
a shaken mane of gold, blue eyes within
her stunning face, struck slack with ennui
until she meets his eyes.  An eyebrow lifts,
a corner of her mouth curls up, unseen
by all save the old man beside.  He shifts,
and stands to pound his staff. The hall is still;
bound by an angered mage's curs'ed spell

Bound by an angered mage's curs'ed spell:
"Your burning gaze, Sir Knight...your smile, milass;
returned. You want each other?  Very well!
So mote it be; I'll have it come to pass.
She will be linked to you, eternally
yours, to have, to hold and never love;
to consummate and quench your lust will be
your death. And you shall lust, by Jove above!
I hereby mate your everlasting souls;
condemn you with a love like Hades' fires,
passion's heat incinerates you whole.
You'll take him, child, and **** him with desire.
You'll die for her; she'll bring you to her knees
across uncharted lands, bedragoned seas."

Across uncharted lands, bedragoned seas
uncounted years of wandering, he seeks
asylum from the memory of her eyes.
The softest skin, most gently blushing cheeks,
wildest fingers raking skin from back,
ever-changing hips which ****** and thrash;
the tavern *****, the courtesan, all lack
whatever power it would take to smash
his crushing need.  An aching pilgrimage,
life spent in shameless chase to slake the lust
imposed by jealous wizard in his rage.
Now weak and old, he walks alone through dust
and sandstorm, seeking solace, final rest
in desert's scalding carborundum breath

In desert's scalding carborundum breath
she oversees construction of her tomb.
Her father started it; upon his death,
she left the mage to build the solemn room
of memory. The waves of slaves pour sweat
in rivers onto stones, their muscles scream
and ripple in the undulating heat.
Mirage becomes a staggering man, unseen
by all but she. She mounts and rides to bring
some water, some relief.  When their eyes meet,
their souls enmesh, their spirits start to sing,
his failing body falls about her feet.
They're found again, and still there's no release; 
not even end of life can bring surcease.

Not even end of life can bring surcease;
she lived another twenty years beyond.
His final gaze of longing gave no peace,
but chained her in the everlasting bond
of arcane condemnation. Her ****** heart
is pierced by passing seconds, every one
a blunted needle, mildly poisoned dart
not strong enough to stop her pulse's run.
The mage's gift to her: the agony
of life remembering her lover's kiss,
then a death too short to set her free.
It sends her toward another fatal tryst,
spun round again the universe's width;
their love a measured minuet with death.

Their love a measured minuet with death,
a dance with destiny.  They wake again
to unfamiliar bodies, unknown paths
meandering across the haunted plain
of time.  A muddy pasture, half a million
blissful stoners join in raucous song:
"...and you make it hard". Among the hills run
****** lovers who can do no wrong,
all sharing bodies, needles 'til the smack
runs out. Her shaking arms strapped 'cross his chest;
he huddles close, awaiting the next stack
of Methadone. He shivers; breathes his last.
She cries and rocks his body, they will spoon
throughout the summer's thundered afternoon.

Throughout the summer's thundered afternoon
as heavy clouds erupt on thirsty soil,
cooler air meets skin on fire, a boon
to Magdalene and lover.  The sweet oil
washes off, the rain obscures the sound
of marching feet.  Centurions approach
and ****** him from her side. "So now you're found
beside this one, whose last ride gave us such
an evil time.  We strung him up, but now
his body's gone, and you were seen beside
the tomb. You'll die just as he did, and how."
She watched another man be crucified.
Supported by her love, in peace he passed
between first breath of spring and winter's last.

Between first breath of spring and winter's last,
the royal courtyard at Versailles in bloom
is laid out for the party.  Every face
is rouged, each powdered wig precisely groomed.
The hundred soldiers stand down, raise a toast,
Vive le roi!  One teasing courtier
seduces a queen's guard to leave his post.
Behind a hedge, they make love unaware
of peasants, women milling through the gate
in search of bread and royal blood, not cake.
He runs to save the Queen, and seals his fate;
the mob will **** for revolution's sake.
The oaks a silent witness to his doom
in autumn colors, reds and golds festooned.

In autumn colors, reds and golds festooned,
the twin moons rise and set, reflecting sun
upon the biodomes.  Earth shines down, ruined
by man's neglect, what could not be undone.
The population by law zero sum;
resource conservation held above
the joy of new life.  Parents here must come
to know the anguish of requited love.
She bears his child; they knew too well the chance
they took.  The court will force a choice be made:
the father or the child. A tear, a glance
as he's locked out. She watches as he fades
in cryogenic punishment, life lashed
to winter's icy shackles holding fast.

To winter's icy shackles holding fast
her soul, she proffers prayer, slogs through the sleet
toward her cloistered cell.  One chilling blast
wraps habit 'round her, knocks her off her feet.
The heavy, sodden cloth, the wind prevents
her gaining purchase on the frozen ground.
From monastery cot, the monk could sense
distress.  In thin burnoose he dashed and found
her, cold as stone, yet breathing; swept her up
and rushed her to the hearth.  His warm embrace
brings on familiar heat.  Their pasts stirred up,
relived, decision made within a trace: 
"'Tis best this time we live, and never start."
Their minds attuned, yet cleft by broken heart.

Their minds attuned, yet cleft by broken heart;
the aching need grows stronger day by day.
He tends her failing health without regard
to duty, vows.  Her weak voice strains to say,
"I will be gone before you this time. Hear
me out; this may be what we need to break
our curse.  Stay with me as my time grows near;
and love me as the Reaper comes to take
my soul, and finish with me after I
have left.  God will forgive sins we'll commit
for man alone has ****** us.  We must try
or curse ourselves, continue to submit
to endless pain, remain just as we are:
connected, blessed, and doomed to be apart."

Connected, blessed, and doomed to be apart,
they cling to every moment here and now;
the priceless beating of her failing heart,
his passions roil in an unending flow.
He gazes deep in her eternal eyes
as they glaze over, looking past his face
into the hollow stare of death.  She lies
suspended between life and time and space,
to hear an old, familiar voice sound in
her ears.  "To dance with death before him
as you rut...how clever!  Most astounding
that you'd carry out this futile whim.
He dies; you'll live, just as the curse defines,
in wistful sojourn through a thousand lives."

In wistful sojourn through a thousand lives,
Two ancient souls in broken bodies dwell.
They trip light-years fantastic side by side
Bound by an angered mage's curs'ed spell.
Across uncharted lands, bedragoned seas,
In desert's scalding carborundum breath
Not even end of life can bring surcease;
Their love a measured minuet with death.
Throughout the summer's thundered afternoon,
Between first breath of spring and winter's last,
In autumn colors, reds and golds festooned,
To winter's icy shackles holding fast;
Their minds attuned, yet cleft by broken heart:
Connected, blessed, and doomed to be apart.
A re-post of my magnum opus to date, a heroic crown of sonnets.  It was on my original page; now I have to read that page like everyone else due to some glitch.  If you'd like to see some of my older work, look up Joel M Frye.
Now when the child of morning, rosy-fingered Dawn, appeared,
Alcinous and Ulysses both rose, and Alcinous led the way to the
Phaecian place of assembly, which was near the ships. When they got
there they sat down side by side on a seat of polished stone, while
Minerva took the form of one of Alcinous’ servants, and went round the
town in order to help Ulysses to get home. She went up to the
citizens, man by man, and said, “Aldermen and town councillors of
the Phaeacians, come to the assembly all of you and listen to the
stranger who has just come off a long voyage to the house of King
Alcinous; he looks like an immortal god.”
  With these words she made them all want to come, and they flocked to
the assembly till seats and standing room were alike crowded. Every
one was struck with the appearance of Ulysses, for Minerva had
beautified him about the head and shoulders, making him look taller
and stouter than he really was, that he might impress the Phaecians
favourably as being a very remarkable man, and might come off well
in the many trials of skill to which they would challenge him. Then,
when they were got together, Alcinous spoke:
  “Hear me,” said he, “aldermen and town councillors of the
Phaeacians, that I may speak even as I am minded. This stranger,
whoever he may be, has found his way to my house from somewhere or
other either East or West. He wants an escort and wishes to have the
matter settled. Let us then get one ready for him, as we have done for
others before him; indeed, no one who ever yet came to my house has
been able to complain of me for not speeding on his way soon enough.
Let us draw a ship into the sea—one that has never yet made a voyage-
and man her with two and fifty of our smartest young sailors. Then
when you have made fast your oars each by his own seat, leave the ship
and come to my house to prepare a feast. I will find you in
everything. I am giving will these instructions to the young men who
will form the crew, for as regards you aldermen and town
councillors, you will join me in entertaining our guest in the
cloisters. I can take no excuses, and we will have Demodocus to sing
to us; for there is no bard like him whatever he may choose to sing
about.”
  Alcinous then led the way, and the others followed after, while a
servant went to fetch Demodocus. The fifty-two picked oarsmen went
to the sea shore as they had been told, and when they got there they
drew the ship into the water, got her mast and sails inside her, bound
the oars to the thole-pins with twisted thongs of leather, all in
due course, and spread the white sails aloft. They moored the vessel a
little way out from land, and then came on shore and went to the house
of King Alcinous. The outhouses, yards, and all the precincts were
filled with crowds of men in great multitudes both old and young;
and Alcinous killed them a dozen sheep, eight full grown pigs, and two
oxen. These they skinned and dressed so as to provide a magnificent
banquet.
  A servant presently led in the famous bard Demodocus, whom the
muse had dearly loved, but to whom she had given both good and evil,
for though she had endowed him with a divine gift of song, she had
robbed him of his eyesight. Pontonous set a seat for him among the
guests, leaning it up against a bearing-post. He hung the lyre for him
on a peg over his head, and showed him where he was to feel for it
with his hands. He also set a fair table with a basket of victuals
by his side, and a cup of wine from which he might drink whenever he
was so disposed.
  The company then laid their hands upon the good things that were
before them, but as soon as they had had enough to eat and drink,
the muse inspired Demodocus to sing the feats of heroes, and more
especially a matter that was then in the mouths of all men, to wit,
the quarrel between Ulysses and Achilles, and the fierce words that
they heaped on one another as they gat together at a banquet. But
Agamemnon was glad when he heard his chieftains quarrelling with one
another, for Apollo had foretold him this at Pytho when he crossed the
stone floor to consult the oracle. Here was the beginning of the
evil that by the will of Jove fell both Danaans and Trojans.
  Thus sang the bard, but Ulysses drew his purple mantle over his head
and covered his face, for he was ashamed to let the Phaeacians see
that he was weeping. When the bard left off singing he wiped the tears
from his eyes, uncovered his face, and, taking his cup, made a
drink-offering to the gods; but when the Phaeacians pressed
Demodocus to sing further, for they delighted in his lays, then
Ulysses again drew his mantle over his head and wept bitterly. No
one noticed his distress except Alcinous, who was sitting near him,
and heard the heavy sighs that he was heaving. So he at once said,
“Aldermen and town councillors of the Phaeacians, we have had enough
now, both of the feast, and of the minstrelsy that is its due
accompaniment; let us proceed therefore to the athletic sports, so
that our guest on his return home may be able to tell his friends
how much we surpass all other nations as boxers, wrestlers, jumpers,
and runners.”
  With these words he led the way, and the others followed after. A
servant hung Demodocus’s lyre on its peg for him, led him out of the
cloister, and set him on the same way as that along which all the
chief men of the Phaeacians were going to see the sports; a crowd of
several thousands of people followed them, and there were many
excellent competitors for all the prizes. Acroneos, Ocyalus, Elatreus,
Nauteus, Prymneus, Anchialus, Eretmeus, Ponteus, Proreus, Thoon,
Anabesineus, and Amphialus son of Polyneus son of Tecton. There was
also Euryalus son of Naubolus, who was like Mars himself, and was
the best looking man among the Phaecians except Laodamas. Three sons
of Alcinous, Laodamas, Halios, and Clytoneus, competed also.
  The foot races came first. The course was set out for them from
the starting post, and they raised a dust upon the plain as they all
flew forward at the same moment. Clytoneus came in first by a long
way; he left every one else behind him by the length of the furrow
that a couple of mules can plough in a fallow field. They then
turned to the painful art of wrestling, and here Euryalus proved to be
the best man. Amphialus excelled all the others in jumping, while at
throwing the disc there was no one who could approach Elatreus.
Alcinous’s son Laodamas was the best boxer, and he it was who
presently said, when they had all been diverted with the games, “Let
us ask the stranger whether he excels in any of these sports; he seems
very powerfully built; his thighs, claves, hands, and neck are of
prodigious strength, nor is he at all old, but he has suffered much
lately, and there is nothing like the sea for making havoc with a man,
no matter how strong he is.”
  “You are quite right, Laodamas,” replied Euryalus, “go up to your
guest and speak to him about it yourself.”
  When Laodamas heard this he made his way into the middle of the
crowd and said to Ulysses, “I hope, Sir, that you will enter
yourself for some one or other of our competitions if you are
skilled in any of them—and you must have gone in for many a one
before now. There is nothing that does any one so much credit all
his life long as the showing himself a proper man with his hands and
feet. Have a try therefore at something, and banish all sorrow from
your mind. Your return home will not be long delayed, for the ship
is already drawn into the water, and the crew is found.”
  Ulysses answered, “Laodamas, why do you taunt me in this way? my
mind is set rather on cares than contests; I have been through
infinite trouble, and am come among you now as a suppliant, praying
your king and people to further me on my return home.”
  Then Euryalus reviled him outright and said, “I gather, then, that
you are unskilled in any of the many sports that men generally delight
in. I suppose you are one of those grasping traders that go about in
ships as captains or merchants, and who think of nothing but of
their outward freights and homeward cargoes. There does not seem to be
much of the athlete about you.”
  “For shame, Sir,” answered Ulysses, fiercely, “you are an insolent
fellow—so true is it that the gods do not grace all men alike in
speech, person, and understanding. One man may be of weak presence,
but heaven has adorned this with such a good conversation that he
charms every one who sees him; his honeyed moderation carries his
hearers with him so that he is leader in all assemblies of his
fellows, and wherever he goes he is looked up to. Another may be as
handsome as a god, but his good looks are not crowned with discretion.
This is your case. No god could make a finer looking fellow than you
are, but you are a fool. Your ill-judged remarks have made me
exceedingly angry, and you are quite mistaken, for I excel in a
great many athletic exercises; indeed, so long as I had youth and
strength, I was among the first athletes of the age. Now, however, I
am worn out by labour and sorrow, for I have gone through much both on
the field of battle and by the waves of the weary sea; still, in spite
of all this I will compete, for your taunts have stung me to the
quick.”
  So he hurried up without even taking his cloak off, and seized a
disc, larger, more massive and much heavier than those used by the
Phaeacians when disc-throwing among themselves. Then, swinging it
back, he threw it from his brawny hand, and it made a humming sound in
the air as he did so. The Phaeacians quailed beneath the rushing of
its flight as it sped gracefully from his hand, and flew beyond any
mark that had been made yet. Minerva, in the form of a man, came and
marked the place where it had fallen. “A blind man, Sir,” said she,
“could easily tell your mark by groping for it—it is so far ahead
of any other. You may make your mind easy about this contest, for no
Phaeacian can come near to such a throw as yours.”
  Ulysses was glad when he found he had a friend among the lookers-on,
so he began to speak more pleasantly. “Young men,” said he, “come up
to that throw if you can, and I will throw another disc as heavy or
even heavier. If anyone wants to have a bout with me let him come
on, for I am exceedingly angry; I will box, wrestle, or run, I do
not care what it is, with any man of you all except Laodamas, but
not with him because I am his guest, and one cannot compete with one’s
own personal friend. At least I do not think it a prudent or a
sensible thing for a guest to challenge his host’s family at any game,
especially when he is in a foreign country. He will cut the ground
from under his own feet if he does; but I make no exception as regards
any one else, for I want to have the matter out and know which is
the best man. I am a good hand at every kind of athletic sport known
among mankind. I am an excellent archer. In battle I am always the
first to bring a man down with my arrow, no matter how many more are
taking aim at him alongside of me. Philoctetes was the only man who
could shoot better than I could when we Achaeans were before Troy
and in practice. I far excel every one else in the whole world, of
those who still eat bread upon the face of the earth, but I should not
like to shoot against the mighty dead, such as Hercules, or Eurytus
the Cechalian-men who could shoot against the gods themselves. This in
fact was how Eurytus came prematurely by his end, for Apollo was angry
with him and killed him because he challenged him as an archer. I
can throw a dart farther than any one else can shoot an arrow. Running
is the only point in respect of which I am afraid some of the
Phaecians might beat me, for I have been brought down very low at sea;
my provisions ran short, and therefore I am still weak.”
  They all held their peace except King Alcinous, who began, “Sir,
we have had much pleasure in hearing all that you have told us, from
which I understand that you are willing to show your prowess, as
having been displeased with some insolent remarks that have been
made to you by one of our athletes, and which could never have been
uttered by any one who knows how to talk with propriety. I hope you
will apprehend my meaning, and will explain to any be one of your
chief men who may be dining with yourself and your family when you get
home, that we have an hereditary aptitude for accomplishments of all
kinds. We are not particularly remarkable for our boxing, nor yet as
wrestlers, but we are singularly fleet of foot and are excellent
sailors. We are extremely fond of good dinners, music, and dancing; we
also like frequent changes of linen, warm baths, and good beds, so
now, please, some of you who are the best dancers set about dancing,
that our guest on his return home may be able to tell his friends
how much we surpass all other nations as sailors, runners, dancers,
minstrels. Demodocus has left his lyre at my house, so run some one or
other of you and fetch it for him.”
  On this a servant hurried off to bring the lyre from the king’s
house, and the nine men who had been chosen as stewards stood forward.
It was their business to manage everything connected with the
sports, so they made the ground smooth and marked a wide space for the
dancers. Presently the servant came back with Demodocus’s lyre, and he
took his place in the midst of them, whereon the best young dancers in
the town began to foot and trip it so nimbly that Ulysses was
delighted with the merry twinkling of their feet.
  Meanwhile the bard began to sing the loves of Mars and Venus, and
how they first began their intrigue in the house of Vulcan. Mars
made Venus many presents, and defiled King Vulcan’s marriage bed, so
the sun, who saw what they were about, told Vulcan. Vulcan was very
angry when he heard such dreadful news, so he went to his smithy
brooding mischief, got his great anvil into its place, and began to
forge some chains which none could either unloose or break, so that
they might stay there in that place. When he had finished his snare he
went into his bedroom and festooned the bed-posts all over with chains
like cobwebs; he also let many hang down from the great beam of the
ceiling. Not even a god could see them, so fine and subtle were
they. As soon as he had spread the chains all over the bed, he made as
though he were setting out for the fair state of Lemnos, which of
all places in the world was the one he was most fond of. But Mars kept
no blind look out, and as soon as he saw him start, hurried off to his
house, burning with love for Venus.
  Now Venus was just come in from a visit to her father Jove, and
was about sitting down when Mars came inside the house, an said as
he took her hand in his own, “Let us go to the couch of Vulcan: he
is not at home, but is gone off to Lemnos among the Sintians, whose
speech is barbarous.”
  She was nothing loth, so they went to the couch to take their
rest, whereon they were caught in the toils which cunning Vulcan had
spread for them, and could neither get up nor stir hand or foot, but
found too late that they were in a trap. Then Vulcan came up to
them, for he had turned back before reaching Lemnos, when his scout
the sun told him what was going on. He was in a furious passion, and
stood in the vestibule making a dreadful noise as he shouted to all
the gods.
  “Father Jove,” he cried, “and all you other blessed gods who live
for ever, come here and see the ridiculous and disgraceful sight
that I will show you. Jove’s daughter Venus is always dishonouring
me because I am lame. She is in love with Mars, who is handsome and
clean built, whereas I am a *******—but my parents are to blame for
that, not I; they ought never to have begotten me. Come and see the
pair together asleep on my bed. It makes me furious to look at them.
They are very fond of one another, but I do not think they will lie
there longer than they can help, nor do I think that they will sleep
much; there, however, they shall stay till her father has repaid me
the sum I gave him for his baggage of a daughter, who is fair but
not honest.”
  On this the gods gathered to the **
Titanic-Lover Aug 2013
The new ship sails by me,callous with behavior cruel,
Churning up the blackening waves,racing through nights' cool.
Paying not a bit of heed to me waiting by
Who watches their every move with disapproving eye.
They know who I am,they do know my name,
But they sail by me in haughty manner all the very same.
They think I am an old girl,and therefore are not wise,
True,I may be old,but I do not speak of lies.
Those ships would learn a lot from me if they merely heard,
What I would tell them in a few and simple words.
I will tell you new ships what I know in my very heart,
Listen closely to me and my words shall never part.

My decks were long and pleasurable,filled with a gentle breeze,
I was once the most beautiful on all seven seas.
People laughed aboard my decks,stood upon my bow,
But that was so long ago,no one is on me now.
No one gazes out my windows,
No one sweeps down my elegant stairs,
No lady stands before my mirrors to comb her long brown hair.
No men laugh within my parlors,
No one greets in my grand rooms.
No one is aboard me at all,Young Ship,
For I am but a tomb.
Children once laughed within my halls,
Gaily twirling a top,
Young lovers stood on Boat-Deck,wishing I'd never stop.
But,no one laughs within my halls,
Not a soul spins a top,
No lovers stand on Boat-Deck wishing I'd never stop.
The laughter echoes within my halls.
From so long ago,
I think I hear it once again,
Yet,it's the winds' whistling,I know.
I long to hear the children's joy,
The felicity of their glee,
I know though within my sorrowed heart,
No one is here but me.
The haunting call of the wind
Makes me ill at ease.
I do not regard it now as a gentle,pleasurable breeze.
It reminds me no one is with me,
It reminds me I am alone,
It's chilling echoes frighten me
Right down to my old,steel bones.
No one sits to play cards in my Grand Saloon,
No one is with me at all,Young Ship,
I am just a tomb.

No one waltzes gaily
To the pleasures of my band.
No one stands at my stern
To bade farewell to their homeland.
No one sits in deck chairs
Where they'd see the sun the most.
No one is aboard me at all,Young Ship,
I,myself,am a ghost.
No one stands within a room
To qualm a child's fear.
No one is with me at all,Young Ship,
Do not grow uneasy from my tear.
I have cried many times over,
And will for many years more.
I am struck with this painful truth
That settles in my heart's core.
Do not recoil from what
This old 'unwise' girl shall say,
Remember it always as you command the ocean's lay.

I once had people aboard me that thought such happy dreams,
But now my heart echoes with their
Hopeless screams.
I am so very lonely,Young Ship,
I dream of what could of been on distant land,
I dream of being draped with flower garlands
If things had gone as planned.
Why did it happen to me,Young Ship?
Why did I endure such coldhearted fault?
I had a life of promise,
Which drew to a rapid halt.
I sit here upon these wind-whipped waves
Dreaming of the joyful days of yore,
Remembering the grandeur I gave the people
Who are with me no more.
I remember my splendid glory,
Yet,you only see the dregs of time.
I recall my glossy-painted grandness,
You see only the slime.
Young Ship,I once was different,
Than this unpleasentness that greets your eye.
I once was pretty and strong,
Not haunted by despondent cries.
In my heart,I am not festooned with ribbons of rust,
The souls that were with me have not dissolved
To dust.
Within my heart,they are alive,
As life-filled as can be.
They be not anchored by Death
On the bottom of the sea.
My heart may be saddened,
My body may be old,
But,be mindful of any voyage you take,
Be not brash and bold.
Remember it,you Young Ship,
What I say to the letter.
Remember the words of an aged lady,
Whose life has not got better.

No one gazes up at clouds
Or marvels at my steam.
No one is with me at all,Young Ship,
I'm remembering a centuries old dream.
No one stands aft at stern
To smile at the sun.
No one sings of happy days,
For their life and mine is done.
The flash of lightening illumines me
At my forever post.
Then,all darkens yet again
Around my weary ghost.

I remember the clink of glasses,
Of people giving a toast.
Their joyful hearts were so glad,
I felt honored to be their host.
Light glittered like diamonds
From my grand chandeliers.
People marveled at their glimmer,
There was no weight of fear.
My heart grows so happy
When I remember the life I had,
But the sparkle of it's beauty fades when I know the bad.
Then,the picture fades away,
There's no more glimmer or gleam.
I am upon a lonely ocean
Without a power called steam.
I am stuck at the longitude
And latitude of my demise,
'UNSINKABLE!",they said.
They told me nothing but lies.
Young Ship,I could go on forever
About the short pleasures this heart did know.
But,you do not wait for always.
You must leave me and go.
You must leave me,Young Ship,
Alone again-without company.
I will sit still in my place
Gazing out on a endless sea.
I wish you didn't have to be so haughty,
I wish you wouldn't glare and flee,
I wish that you'd be nice to an old ship,
For there are no more ships like me.
But,you are not nice,Young Ship,
Nor are your relatives who confidently ply
The seas I wait over.
They don't even say 'good-bye'.
I watch you as you retreat
To the setting sun.
I have told you all I can tell you,
My message is nearly done.
There is one thing now to retain,
And tell all of your fleet,
About an occasion with an aged lady
That you chanced to meet.

No one gazes out my windows
Or dances in my hall.
Listen,oh,so carefully,to my horn's haunting call.
It speaks to you,Young Ship,
Of a day ended by doom.
A day when a hateful iceberg
Turned me into a tomb.
No faces peer from a window,
No sure hand commands my wheel.
All ended by an iceberg,
Who with the Devil made a deal.
When I started off in life,Young Ship,
I dreamt of where my life may have led,
But terror wracked my very soul with
'ICEBERG
DEAD
AHEAD!!!'
This poem has been written from the heart but also from truth. There have been many instances of modern day cruise ships suddenly having unexplainable engine difficulties,or actually completely stopping for no apparent reason in the vicinity of the 1912 tragedy. In my personal opinion,I believe it is Titanic herself which causes the mishaps. This is what I imagine she would think of the modern liners. Such a different breed they are from her and her sisters.
We look for Satan with the same intensity
that my mom and dad looked for God.

In retrospect
my parents were always pushing me to expand my consciousness
by huffing glue or gasoline
or chewing peyote buttons.
Simply because they'd done their time,
wasted their teen years
lolling in the muddy fields of Vermont
and the salt flats of Nevada,
naked except for rainbow face paints
and a thick coating of sweaty filth,
their heads festooned
with fifty pounds of fetid dreadlocks,
teeming with crab lice
and pretending to find enlightenment...
That does NOT mean I have to make the same mistake.

Sorry, Satan,
once again I've said the G-word.

Without breaking stride,
Leonard nods and points
to indicate the former deities of now-defunct cultures,
now warehoused in the underworld.
Among them: Benoth,
a god of the Babylonians;
Dagon,
an idol of the Philistines;
Astarte,
goddess of the Sidonians;
Tartak,
the god of the Hevites.

My suspicion
is that my parents treasure their sordid recollection
of episodes at Woodstock and Burning Man
not because those pastimes led to wisdom,
but because such folly
was inseparable from a period of their lives
when they were young
and unburdened by obligation;
they had free time, muscle tone,
and their futures still looked like a great, grand adventure.
Furthermore,
both my mother and father had been free of social status
and therefore had nothing to lose by cavorting ****,
their swollen genitals smeared with muck.

Thus,
because they had ingested drugs and flirted with brain damage,
they insisted I should do likewise.
I was forever opening my boxed lunch at school
to discover a cheese sandwich,
a carton of apple juice,
carrot sticks,
and a five-hundred-milligram Percocet.
Tucked within my Christmas stocking
--not that we celebrated Christmas--
would be three oranges,
a sugar mouse, a harmonica,
and quaaludes.
In my Easter basket
--not that we called the event Easter--
instead of jelly beans,
I'd find lumps of hashish.
Would that I could forget the scene at my twelfth birthday party
where I flailed at a piñata,
wielding a broomstick in front of my peers
and their respective
former-hippie, former-rasta,
former-anarchist throwback parents.
The moment the colorful papier-mâché burst,
instead of Tootsie Rolls or Hershey's Kisses,
everyone present
was showered with Vicodins,
Darvons, Percodans,
amyl nitrate ampoules,
LSD stamps,
and assorted barbiturates.
The now wealthy,
now-middle-aged parents
were ecstatic,
while my little friends and I couldn't help
but feel a tad bit cheated.

That,
and it doesn't take a brain surgeon to understand
that very few twelve-year-olds
would actually enjoy attending
a clothing-optional birthday party.

Some of the most gruesome images in Hell
seem downright laughable
when compared to seeing an entire generation of adults
stripped **** and wrestling on the floor,
grasping and panting in frantic competition
for a scattered handful of codeine capsules.
This is a found poem. I found it in Chuck Palahniuk's ******.

Madison is the thirteen-year-old daughter of a movie star and billionaire who wakes up, dead, in Hell. She soon finds herself and her nearby cell mates, who make up an almost Breakfast Club of the ******-like group, journeying through Hell to discover just exactly why they've all ended up there.
Brian Oarr Mar 2012
Summer struck with the fist of Chicxulub,
incinerated spring in a blinding flash.
Abruptly the pond on Chehalis Trail
was topped with water lilies,
where famished families of water fowl had
festooned the serenity of the surface;
now vanished for cool Canadian climes.
Racoon eyes peered in night shade green,
Foxglove and California Poppy brushed
through blades of overgrown grasses.
Crow song battled with Stellar's Jay,
the morning's true American Idols.
I stirred from slumber to impatient cawing,
chiding --- The best of day's awaiting.

I was off to savor summer's sugar,
lest autumn slip in unannounced
on the coats of Quetzalcoatl.
Love is the scent with the lotus born.

It is the silent choirs of petals

Singing the winter’s harmony of uniform beauty.

Love is the song of the soul, singing to God.

It is the balanced rhythmic dance of planets -

   sun and moon lit

In the skyey hall festooned with fleecy clouds –

Around the sovereign Silent Will.

It is the thirst of the rose to drink the sunrays

And blush red with life.

‘Tis the promptings of the mother earth

To feed her milk to the tender, thirsty roots,

And to nurse all life.

It is the urge of the sun

To keep all things alive.



Love is the unseen craving of the Mother Divine

That took the protecting father–form,

And that feeds helpless mouths

With milk of mother’s tenderness.

It is the babies’ sweetness,

Coaxing the rain of parental sympathy

To shower upon them.

It is the lover’s unenslaved surrender to the beloved

To serve and solace.

It is the elixir of friendship,

Reviving broken and bruised souls.

It is the martyr’s zeal to shed his blood

For the well-beloved fatherland.

It is the ineffable, silent call of the heart to another
   heart.

It is the God-drunk poet’s heartaches

For every creature’s groans.



Love is to enjoy the family rose of petal-beings,

And thence to move to spacious fields -

Passing by portals of social, national, international
    sympathy,

On to the limitless Cosmic Home –

To gaze with looks of wonderment,

And to serve all that lives, still or moving.

This is to know what love is.

He knows who lives it.



Love is evolution’s ameliorative call

To the far-strayed sons

To return to Perfection’s home.

It is the call of the beauty – robed ones

To worship the great Beauty.

It is the call of God

Through silent intelligences

And starburst of feelings.



Love is the Heaven

Toward which the flowers, rivers, nations, atoms,
       creatures – you and I

Are rushing by the straight path of action right,

Or winding laboriously on error’s path,

All to reach haven there at last.
Lora Lee Dec 2017
In the floodgates
                of forever
                    I see you standing,
                 arms out, so ready
    the multiple layers
of silky delicious
       that we have created
                           until now
     swirling about us,
a storm of veils
beckoning like sea waifs
     and I am opening up
like never before
       my heart practically
                 out of my chest
                               until it is
                       flying forth,
                        a mythical
             winged creature,
prehistoric birdling
and you,
      with  your strong arms
your third eyelight
turned on
              catch it
                          hold it
                   nuzzle it
            until the rest of me
can reach you
   bursting forward
        through swathes
           of time
           turbulence a mere
                            snippet
and we meld
and merge like oceans
     hearts lit up
in electrical surge
time and place not existing
We are the sea.
We are the Earth.
We are the desert velvet
We are the wonder
in the hallways
of our arteries
We are the bloodflow
                 heartflow
of the universe within us
We reign the
ever changing existence
that keeps us whole
allowing room to breathe
to bloom in mystical
                   wild gardens
                yet binding
through realms
of our light's
endless expansion
our souls embracing
as we dream future visions
upon our tongues
and as I gaze upon you
our eyes a magnet
you ignite my glow,
the king of my citadel
festooned with
             flowerbuds
for your
        queen
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NlXTv5Ondgs
Francie Lynch Jan 2016
Walking the strip
As though I were a pinball
In a giant arcade game.
Showgirls posing,
Gamblers jostling
With over-sized flasks
Hanging around their necks.
The streets are festooned
With picture cards,
As numerous as confetti,
Advertising all the pleasures
And prices of escorts.
Vegas, Baby?
Keep it there,
Not here.
Sin city indeed.
Hal Loyd Denton Jul 2013
Precious may the hard veil of widowhood be drawn back at least for the time you read this

Secret location of Oline Indain sacred ground marriage and burial ceremony  in proximity of Carmel Ca it is a natural place first and foremost but you can see the
Orderliness of man’s hand not much is disturbed it would be foolish to mess with perfection but the sea
Side flowers they stand five feet tall and at the top they plume into the most perfect white well these
Are laced around this half circle horse shoe a perfect concert pavilion and by placing them like military
Troops evenly across and then line after line one in front of the other what trembling glory when the sea
Breeze enters its like it says pardon you won’t mind look at this as it moves ever higher it like seeing the
White gowned saints in worship as they undulate and sway in unison by this great tender moist hand
From deep rich waters what bedevilment is on display that is the back and then across the white sand
Two hundred feet table top smooth this bed that soothes your feet to the point relaxation travels up the
Whole of your body this is a natural fixing of tension dispelling any thoughts of frowns and at both ends
You have identical cliffs that tower in the sky you find yourself in the center looking at one and then the
Other at nature’s perfect handy work I found its good you are standing and are cradled by a soft face of
Sand because as you peer at the lofty heights at times you can have dizziness over take you and you
Topple over know harm now you can set and study the plant life that flourishes as it shares its life with
The rocks especially the scrub bushes how they twist and give a bitter smile through knarled prickly
Shoots but how they amaze when they have such a small tenacious hold and as you find yourself finding
How much you admire them your mind and soul understands and feels how you know the feeling of
Their scraping that has removed some unwanted mire on the order of the barnacles that attach them
Selves to great ships and great fish with this cleaning of negative thought now free you turn to the
Climate of mood stirrings nowhere else can do it like the sea and the haven it provides you bank afire
Outside up against the cliff not in your sea side shack this is the time to muse and it is the time when
Guest come the whispered name of this cove is the cove of lost loves the waves break gently and rush
Over the beach when they approach the water mixes’ with the moon light a different white is mingled
The mystery of all that distance and the darkness it has pierced and then to come to this place in
Particular with the rhythm of eternal knowing that only the sea can know just beyond the breakwaters I
Know they are coming because it is always preceded by a great misty cloud then it appears a schooner
Fast and sleek several sails that draws your mind to them they are there festooned in glory tonight
Someone from home I can’t tell you how but their spirits come this is the breaking waters that have one
Purpose they draw to gather here to touch the broken hearts hear heaven speaks at lands end it
Matches their situation they come bound by tearful sorrow of loss and separation here they wear a
Garland of flowers they are unique and are only found here the moment they are placed on their head
As long as they wear them all memories of death is erased and the only knowledge they have is the
Flood stage of first love how it felt and what it meant Iva and terry has this surging through great
Coursing torrents the sea pulls from one side the land calls with familiar sights and sounds they swirl in
Love’s boundless waters they wear cloth like white terry cloth airy as the thoughts that holds them in
Richest peace you can look in the eyes of the one you love anyplace but when death has laid its heavy
Hand on a life then you need this secret place that is so powerful it can leave Iva at home and leave
Terry peacefully sleeping but here they can move with the eternal rhythms outside normal existence
Breathe taste the sea air it’s uncommon as we really are inland you are confined by a rigid reality come
Among glory first hand it will begin to break earths hold and you can soar and walk hand in hand with
The Acute loss that plagues you holds one another by the fire it is the soul and spirit that we truly love
Look to The sea be renewed on these shadowed calm waters the privacy of them are for you both the
Sea is Generous it provides abundantly now it flows with gentle tenderness it awakens souls that are
Adrift it gives a cherished refreshing to those who the Bain of death has burned with a fiery sorrow here
The sand is more than cool and wet your steps will include visions prepared before the earth cooled it
Will give new stronger perspective brush through the willow that hangs laden with the moisture of the
Sea within its shelter take notice of its spines bending divinely as they create a shelter of benevolence
May you Iva and Terry also find a brief reunited happiness in this sheltered cove in the midst of a golden
State where wonder is possible
I had walked miles that day.
Finding myself in these old
Los Angeles side streets,
was to travel back in time.

Bougainvillea, overflowing
with color, festooned the
weathered cedar cottages.
Heavy trumpet flowers,
sleepy in the filtered light,
stirred beside huge green
leaves, in the easy marine air.
I walked on.  

Evening had come, and with it,
a few stars shone over the ocean.

After a perfect dinner, I still
craved a bit of sweetness
on my tongue.

Walking back from the end
of the pier under deep
cobalt, the night sky held me.

Just ahead, tiny birthday candles,  
and warm, kind faces, welcomed
me into their midst.

Softly, they sang 'Las Mañanitas'
in one voice, and I sang with them.

Someone's hand
reached out to me; a
thin paper cake plate,
heavy with treasure,
was silently offered.

Tres Leches, soaked
with tender love
and milky sweetness.

Heaven could only be
more of this.
('Las Mañanitas' is the lovely, classic Mexican birthday song. Traditionally it is sung in the morning to awaken a loved one on their special day. Tres Leches, the cake of the' three milks', has no equal in moist, sumptuous sweetness. 'Dulce de Vida' means  'The Sweetness of Life'.)
©Elisa Maria Argiro
The ceiling of the grand ballroom
Opens as if it were taking in a deep breath.
All of the golden oil painted negative space
And striped Moorish arches allow the chandelier to shine
Blood red.

The pirates hung from the ceiling,
Each with his wrists bound to his ankles,
Festooned in the shape of a teardrop
Or a bell or a drop of blood.
The Jolly Roger slowly turns
Without even a slight breeze or breath,
Dangling from a single chord of rope.

How jolly Roger used to be before the navy came,
Smiling at the sinking enemy ships set on fire by black powder.
Perhaps he still smiles, even through the darkness,
Even through the gaping, gasping
Cannonball holes you can almost hear moan
On the side of his ship far below the surface of the sea,
And hangs high and proud on his ship’s tallest mast.

Perhaps the pirates hang high too, robust and glorious
Like their billowing flag, shameless and naked
With nothing to hide and everything to be proud of, a trophy
Not for a queen and her navy
But for themselves and the successes of their wanderlust.
John Landry Nov 2013
"They're selling postcards of the hanging" Bob Dylan


Frolicking in the Hague festooned
as if some monarch's golden jubilee
not a room left empty in all the land
queues for miles to get a ringside seat
at what is billed as The Trial of Man
as W, ****, and Rummy sit chained
to the bionic calves of barstools while
Condo Lisa bears witness atop a piano
ferreted throughout the conurbation
breadlines and circuitous routes
recalling the Nicaraguan case
low on the radar of short-term
the disunited states of disarray
vetoes its own trial's outcome
and it is business as usual
Sara L Russell Sep 2013
Sara L Russell*
(inspired by painting "She's Leaving Home" by Mike Kaluta)

High-rolling dunes; the landscape where I fly
With wingbeats of an eagle overhead
While to the east, the ocean's waves roll high
My astral body's light years from my bed.

My magic carpet's hung with golden bells
Festooned with lanterns, steeped in sandalwood;
Carries me higher; as the ocean swells
The sighing of the sea is understood.

A warm wind runs its whispers through my hair
The azure sky is darkening to grey
A stormy ozone crackles in the air
Like laughter, as the eagle soars away.

I cross dimensions, cheat the hand of fate,
As easily as opening a gate.


(To be continued...)
I.

Moonlight silvers the tops of trees,
Moonlight whitens the lilac shadowed wall
And through the evening fall,
Clearly, as if through enchanted seas,
Footsteps passing, an infinite distance away,
In another world and another day.
Moonlight turns the purple lilacs blue,
Moonlight leaves the fountain **** and old,
And the boughs of elms grow green and cold,
Our footsteps echo on gleaming stones,
The leaves are stirred to a jargon of muted tones.
This is the night we have kept, you say:
This is the moonlit night that will never die.
Through the grey streets our memories retain
Let us go back again.

II.

Mist goes up from the river to dim the stars,
The river is black and cold; so let us dance
To flare of horns, and clang of cymbals and drums;
And strew the glimmering floor with roses,
And remember, while the rich music yawns and closes,
With a luxury of pain, how silence comes.
Yes, we loved each other, long ago;
We moved like wind to a music's ebb and flow.
At a phrase from violins you closed your eyes,
And smiled, and let me lead you how young we were!
Your hair, upon that music, seemed to stir.
Let us return there, let us return, you and I;
Through changeless streets our memories retain
Let us go back again.

III.

Mist goes up from the rain steeped earth, and clings
Ghostly with lamplight among drenched maple trees.
We walk in silence and see how the lamplight flings
Fans of shadow upon it the music's mournful pleas
Die out behind us, the door is closed at last,
A net of silver silence is softly cast
Over our thought slowly we walk,
Quietly with delicious pause, we talk,
Of foolish trivial things; of life and death,
Time, and forgetfulness, and dust and truth;
Lilacs and youth.
You laugh, I hear the after taken breath,
You darken your eyes and turn away your head
At something I have said
Some intuition that flew too deep,
And struck a plageant chord.
Tonight, tonight you will remember it as you fall asleep,
Your dream will suddenly blossom with sharp delight,
Goodnight! You say.
The leaves of the lilac dip and sway;
The purple spikes of bloom
Nod their sweetness upon us, lift again,
Your white face turns, I am cought with pain
And silence descends, and dripping of dew from eaves,
And jeweled points of leaves.  

IV.

I walk in a pleasure of sorrow along the street
And try to remember you; slow drops patter;
Water upon the lilacs has made them sweet;
I brush them with my sleeve, the cool drops scatter;
And suddenly I laugh and stand and listen
As if another had laughed a gust
Rustles the leaves, the wet spikes glisten;
And it seems as though it were you who had shaken the bough,
And spilled the fragrance I pursue your face again,
It grows more vague and lovely, it eludes me now.
I remember that you are gone, and drown in pain.
Something there was I said to you I recall,
Something just as the music seemed to fall
That made you laugh, and burns me still with pleasure.
What were those words the words like dripping fire?
I remember them now, and in sweet leisure
Rehearse the scene, more exquisite than before,
And you more beautiful, and I more wise.
Lilacs and spring, and night, and your clear eyes,
And you, in white, by the darkness of a door:
These things, like voices weaving to richest music,
Flow and fall in the cool night of my mind,
I pursue your ghost among green leaves that are ghostly,
I pursue you, but cannot find.
And suddenly, with a pang that is sweetest of all,
I become aware that I cannot remember you;
The ghost I knew
Has silently plunged in shadows, shadows that stream and fall.

V.

Let us go in and dance once more
On the dream's glimmering floor,
Beneath the balcony festooned with roses.
Let us go in and dance once more.
The door behind us closes
Against an evening purple with stars and mist.
Let us go in and keep our tryst
With music and white roses, and spin around
In swirls of sound.
Do you forsee me, married and grown old?
And you, who smile about you at this room,
Is it foretold
That you must step from tumult into gloom,
Forget me, love another?
No, you are Cleopatra, fiercely young,
Laughing upon the topmost stair of night;
Roses upon the desert must be flung;
Above us, light by light,
Weaves the delirious darkness, petal fall,
And music breaks in waves on the pillared wall;
And you are Cleopatra, and do not care.
And so, in memory, you will always be
Young and foolish, a thing of dream and mist;
And so, perhaps when all is disillusioned,
And eternal spring returns once more,
Bringing a ghost of lovelier springs remembered,
You will remember me.  

VI.  

Yet when we meet we seem in silence to say,
Pretending serene forgetfulness of our youth,
"Do you remember but then why should you remember!
Do you remember a certain day,
Or evening rather, spring evening long ago,
We talked of death, and love, and time, and truth,
And said such wise things, things that amused us so
How foolish we were, who thought ourselves so wise!"
And then we laugh, with shadows in our eyes.
Trump and Brexit,
Two beautiful scrolls in a sync
Singing a song of white nationalism
On the crest in the Ivy League station,
Busy Muffling the **** drop sounds
On the bowls of foot-loose beggars,
A lesson for you dark son of Africa
That tomfoolery is no defense before
The rational altar of Trump and Brexit
Riding on followership’s bitter hangover
For the Nostalgia of the waning  glory,
Sired by Machiavelli, groomed by ******,
Festooned by Mussolini into a Jim Crow tor,
But fault not them, that is politics or religion,
Always sweet only in full gear of power-piety,
Then Nurture your tiny ***** for no pawn earns it,
To pile your wood for pharaonic winter is obvious
In paranoia of Brexit and Trumpish megalomania
Coming in a stampede with Tigre’s thorax, only
To worry us for nothing as it is the fear of change
Truly, they are not the first clouds in the sky
Of global terror and politics of self-idolatry,
Soon to vamoose in service to their nature
Of aureate appearing to whimpering fade,
Jessica Thompson Apr 2013
He gave me a ring
With its facets glazed and cracked
Insisting it was once his great-grandmother's
She who
In rot-edged vintage photos
Wore a mink stole and flapper beads.
_____________

She pulls at seams
Takes up and brings down hems,
The stole pushed to the back
Of a web festooned attic
In a steamer trunk slapped with decals:
Moscow
Austria
Monte Carlo
Rio de Janeiro.
On cold days she wears it again
Dancing to old melodies on rough boards
And when she hears the front door slam
It's made to disappear in haste,
Her engagement ring clacking
Against the trunks flip locks.
That night as she makes biscuits
For her breadwinner she sees
The crack, the chip
Through a glaze of milked flour.
Third Eye Candy Oct 2012
this is the news: a strange to do with all strange. some other kiwi in the hissing bliss of a fine day.
the spoils of bounty are ludicrous in disarray. a jumble of lumpkin, festooned in prayer-wheels and Tibet.
a fountain of open hands.
on the brink... on the terrace of counterfeit pantomimes
a man of days
darning socks and ultraviolet, with quasars for aspic.
a drunk pirouette -
bereft.

love is the one jungle you know when you're lost, and the last thing that made sense. All day.
the spoils of bounty are numinous, always. a trundle of frump-kin, immune to what feels like a guess.  
" i refuse to sell my daddy's ranch! "
if you blink... i might tell you where you lost your mind.
an ace of spades
a Goldilocks and ultra violence, with ****** for aspirin.
a defunct smidgen
of less.
L B Feb 2019
Walking by that isle
hope it will not reach its memories
to me
with all that red and pink and bows
festooned with ribbons, Doilies, flapping doves
Cartoon kisses
candy heart...ache
Doubt all the chocolates of

the lovesick world
could fit in those heart-shaped boxes
Crying out for dollars, Perfume, diamond rings
Isle end-caps filled with promises  
carnations, roses
Gaudy sugar pleas –
Be mine!
Be My Valentine!

All the tiny candy hearts in the world
all 8 billion
strung end on end  
could not –

Love U
Hug Me
Be Mine
You Fine
Hey Babe
Lets Rock
Luv Ya
Play Time
Adore
You Rock
Text Me
Hot Boy
Say Yes
Sweet One

The only hope of February – these

Meanwhile
Cupid –drunk, passed out
behind some barren trees
Ironically, there are nearly 8 billion people in the world tonight... a tiny candy heart and loving words for each one.
The company makes 8 billion hearts a year.
Dhaye Margaux Mar 2016
She is the stained girl,  a diffident dreamer
Who looks for the sun and the rain together
Her  panache is to craft blissful memories
Festooned with vivid thoughts, her accessories

She is the stained girl,  a feeble believer
Who relies on a happy ever after
Yet scared to be seen from her cheerful facade,
Something that would charge her of being a fraud

She saunters in the midst of the piqued storms
Resounding the hues of the jaundiced norms
Like a bird highlighted with vibrant plumes
To fly around the walls of perplexing rooms

She wears the best maquillage, old and new
To make everyone away from being blue
She offers her hair, those gilded strands
Yet they exploit her gift with their vicious hands

She is the stained girl who seeks for uprightness
Yet pain has shaped her with creased faithfulness
In front of a looking glass, there I see
That magnificent, stained girl looks like me.
*Stained here is colored or painted.

For the Picture Poem This contest  5. Thank you for bringing back my muse.
afternoon's glint on the mirror-pond,
  a whirling specimen of fire,
   ocher-speckled, Sun's insignia
     vessels deep into the clammy water;

furiously swaying like a pinned down
    beast reluctant to be held—
  Makati traffic jostles the silent grieving
    of the asphalt. simultaneous burst of
      chrome on the metal bodies,
      oh, the coming and going,

  children laughing vibrantly without
    memory of scathing pasts and
      boorish origins— tossing coins
      beckoning the heaven in pursed lips
    and clenched fists tender with years
      dwindling along with the turning of
    the calendar's page, the sudden leap
      of figure lamenting the absence
         of language;

    i walk the street festooned with dried
      leaves and forlorn seasons,
    hurling no amaranth to the entire
       Makati cityscape.
Jade Mikaila Dec 2015
Festooned with the heraldry of doom,
a gilded, wainscoted room,
whose occupants drink ale in an oozing swarm
while harpers harp a solemn tune.

The lioness gives obeisance to the new king
with an offering
of suffering,
and warm droplets of water...
Two fates inseparably soldered
by misfortune,
on this, the longest night
then toward the light
and not beyond.

Again, backwards, repetition, turning.
A yule tide with no pull
from the heavenly orb, burning.
Sara L Russell Jun 2012
She stares into a pool reflecting midnight stars
A scrying glass of mystic mystery
A portal to dimensions where the brave may pass
Without a password or a golden key.

The shimmer of green oceans in the mind's third eye
Reflects a myriad of distant lands
A chalice raised; a sip that brings the lips to sigh
Wingbeating spirit hears and understands.

The trees are hung with lanterns giving amber light
The sky's festooned with stars in veils of cloud
Reflecting in her eyes. In decadent delight
She takes another sip and sighs aloud.

The light green potion lingers lightly on her tonge
Unfolding tastes of mint and aniseed
Promising deeper pleasure while the night is young
Where evening moths and fairies stop to feed.
JP Goss Sep 2014
Just, thought I, to escape a while,
Mundane light in the desk at home
On these splintered, black-tar roads
Marching, festooned in leaf and in rock
Snapping and scattering from underfoot.
My heavy breaths are this odd meter
In-out, in-out on this pavement slap
The knees are strained, down, the stream
Of rheumy little beads—lines! (I sense
Conception of a rare cadence
In which earth finds its synchrony).

‘Round the walls of rustic homes and will
To this walking gallery of the ‘ville
Ancient oaks, they lift their head and grin
To a sky beyond the storm, what with plumes
Unearthly fronds, dark with salmon painted on
Softened, its oil, burnt carnal black
That loose-end feeling holding it back.

Furrowed brow, I run with now
Sweet winds and pirouette
The dancers go amidst the leaves
Hold Hell high ‘bove white hands
Turned in deference and o,’ Arbor!
Your threshold live and saturnine
Entire eternities unfold now, silk scarf on
Goddess Eve, her halo proud
Gold embraced by Pink and now
She strides in by the choral geese
Flown to sing her godhead to sleep
Her rest had blest pain to leave me now
At those gates loud, effervescent
Shimmering, shimmering
In calm disbelief
And on
And on.

Back at the source, that in-between
Bare **** of the Fasick bridge
Magmatic pallets, on faces two
One shared tear drop, a cosmic breadth.
I saw from there the garden of stone
Lonely tombs in blamy play
Fruits sprung in those past lives.
I shared their rest for moment still
And back it goes, the nameless past
Where they exists as dreams, beside me.

Two sides, met then so diverged
I saw their peace where night emerged
Where pink embraced the dark
Went to rest on low horizons.
The world closed its lips and lids
Its eyes and loving heart
Bathed, it all, in low florescence
And lullaby of cicadas.
betterdays Mar 2014
if it were up to me,
i'd wear pyjamas all day
but
social convention dictates,
that while taking the minutes,
of the meeting for
the arts faculty directorate,
thats NOT okay.

if it were up to me,
i'd wear pyjamas all day.
but my boss says,
it might be
difficult to tell a phd student NO to a grant application,
in a bath robe festooned with purple hippos drinking tea.

if it were up to me,
i'd wear pyjamas all day.
but
my husband tells me, POLITELY,
that jeggings,
are not best suited to my ruebenesque frame.

if it were up to me ....
but
apperently it's not.
.....so black pants cream shirt and vest it's to be
We sit together and talk, or smoke in silence.
You say (but use no words) 'this night is passing
As other nights when we are dead will pass . . .'
Perhaps I misconstrue you: you mean only,
'How deathly pale my face looks in that glass . . .'

You say: 'We sit and talk, of things important . . .
How many others like ourselves, this instant,
Mark the pendulum swinging against the wall?
How many others, laughing, sip their coffee--
Or stare at mirrors, and do not talk at all? . . .

'This is the moment' (so you would say, in silence)
When suddenly we have had too much of laughter:
And a freezing stillness falls, no word to say.
Our mouths feel foolish . . .  For all the days hereafter
What have we saved--what news, what tune, what play?

'We see each other as vain and futile tricksters,--
Posturing like bald apes before a mirror;
No pity dims our eyes . . .
How many others, like ourselves, this instant,
See how the great world wizens, and are wise? . . .'

Well, you are right . . .  No doubt, they fall, these seconds . . .
When suddenly all's distempered, vacuous, ugly,
And even those most like angels creep for schemes.
The one you love leans forward, smiles, deceives you,
Opens a door through which you see dark dreams.

But this is momentary . . . or else, enduring,
Leads you with devious eyes through mists and poisons
To horrible chaos, or suicide, or crime . . .
And all these others who at your conjuration
Grow pale, feeling the skeleton touch of time,--

Or, laughing sadly, talk of things important,
Or stare at mirrors, startled to see their faces,
Or drown in the waveless vacuum of their days,--
Suddenly, as from sleep, awake, forgetting
This nauseous dream; take up their accustomed ways,

Exhume the ghost of a joke, renew loud laughter,
Forget the moles above their sweethearts' eyebrows,
Lean to the music, rise,
And dance once more in a rose-festooned illusion
With kindness in their eyes . . .

They say (as we ourselves have said, remember)
'What wizardry this slow waltz works upon us!
And how it brings to mind forgotten things!'
They say 'How strange it is that one such evening
Can wake vague memories of so many springs!'

And so they go . . .  In a thousand crowded places,
They sit to smile and talk, or rise to ragtime,
And, for their pleasures, agree or disagree.
With secret symbols they play on secret passions.
With cunning eyes they see

The innocent word that sets remembrance trembling,
The dubious word that sets the scared heart beating . . .
The pendulum on the wall
Shakes down seconds . . .  They laugh at time, dissembling;
Or coil for a victim and do not talk at all.
Stephen E Yocum Nov 2015
It was my first Cathedral,
Cavernous and nearly silent.
Dark enough that I closed,
My eyes giving them time
To adjust to the depths,
Of it's shadowed blackness.

Languid slanting rays
Of penetrating sunshine,
Alive with moving mists,
Of floating, rotating dust,
The only source of light.

The bittersweet scents,
Of venerable age mixed,
With fodder and animal waste,
Not at all unpleasant to sniff.

Leather tack hung on walls,
Awaiting the call to work.
Long delayed, and overlooked,
Replaced by mechanical steeds,
Wheels and blades of steel.

Neatly festooned wall hooks
Displaying wooden handled
Hard-worn steel hand tools,
Flecked with rust, chipped by use.

The choir was in the rafters,
Pigeons’ and Doves
Cooing Heavenly Hymns.
Occasionally the murmur of,
Feathers flapping on high,
Like the sounds,
Of Angels wings.

I climbed the ladder,
Into the Loft up high,
Followed by a friendly,
Old one eyed Barn Cat,
I recall his name was Cy.

Old Cy who knew,
All the good places,
To explore and secretly hide.
And too, where tasty rodents
Were found in heavenly,
bountiful supply.

That lofty perch,
Among the penetrating
slanting rays of sunlight
Inspired a fathomless hush
of contemplation and inner bliss,
I'd never known before, or since.

We sat silent for many minutes,
In a state of transfixed repose,
Old Cy and I, speaking not a word.  

We crawled among stacked bales,
Of fragrant fresh cut hay,
Like a lofty Fortress built for us,
Playing and imagining,
Endless flights of fantasy,
Long into the eve of day.

Yes, my Grandfather’s
Old wooden Barn,
Was indeed a magical,
Reverent and sacred place,  
As any formal denominational
house, of any faith.

If ever, I truly felt,
The presence of Holy Grace
Surely it was within,
That impressionable
all inspiring place.

Even fleeing memories
of a long ago small boy,
Have not diminished,
That big Cathedral's
Prevailing, exalted space.
Spiritually overseen by,
An old, feline, one-eyed
clergyman named Cy.
Grand old wooden barns are a
disappearing breed.
Standing in various stages of
disrepair and non-use, replaced
by metal clad boring industrial
looking structures.
They are a relic of the past.
But anyone that has memories like
mine, told here will never forget how
grand they were. If you get a chance to
visit one, do so before they are all gone
and see if I was telling the truth.

I was recently in another big old wood
barn and was moved to write about it,
but found this older piece that pretty
much says it all. So it's a re-post.
Third Eye Candy Oct 2015
your paradise is giving me hell... yet -
we bark at the same moon
and all's well. we strike the brass bells of our Wednesday
and keep havoc on a leash. drinking mint tea... pealing anguish
from a flask... stalking clarity with a cowbell -
spoiling ribbons of the sun
with night streaks of blind lemons
coiling in the blue sky of dread reckoning... a periscope
in the marsh, festooned with limp reeds and wild things...
my eyes clunk in the Mcguffin
and go the way of Eastern men with rope tricks
it clicks on the steam in my kettle
where harm has a hammock.
and a gentle breeze typhoons
in a fools mouth.

as the whirligigs of Autumn
preach Spring

in Amsterdam.

i'm left out.
Alexander K Opicho
(Eldoret, Kenya;aopicho@yahoo.com)

My heart has gone out for all families on the street
That came out of the erstwhile street boys and girls
Kudos to your creativity as you make life from nothing
Blessed bye your bravado and sense of oblivion
With which you have held the riches of the world
In which effortlessly swim the powers that be,

Beautified be a street family in the all quarters of the world
Wherever you are kindly be ennobled
Whether in India or Chicago of Americas,
Be it Nairobi, Lagos or Jo’burg the infernos of urchinery
Good times and chances befall you children of the street.

Great beauty with you is condemnation of the tribe
In Africa where ethnicity is the bricks of tribal mall
Your names are conditional but not tribal connotation
They sing songs of exclusion but not chauvinism of ethnicity
I was in Kenya at the city of Eldoret, I visited your platoon
In the suburb of Langas, I derided not in the glory of your nomenclature;
Some of you festooned in the street emperor, as other wallow in mauverick titles
Like; Cop-puncher, ****-cooler, ****** breaker, top sniffer, hotel sentry
And many other accoladic names as you feasted me on your virtuosity.

Royal is your blood as you bivouac in the blizzards
The blood in your vein came from the state panjandrum
During the libidinous hour in the wee of the night
The teats you suckled were of your undergraduate mothers
In the high powered Universities of bourgeoisie education
Never regret in your ego for great is your genetics
It was solely misplaced priorities of your vulnerable mothers
That had you dumped on the street garbage in the oblivion of society
But great you are because 10% you hitherto make
Of the ostentations African population that is whoopingly a billion!
Time is coming for your final say, bivouac wherever you are
For your day is very soon.

— The End —