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Beth Decisions Aug 2015
Let me ask you something.
What happened to I love you.
What happened to I love everything about you.
What happened to forever.
What happened to I love you and your flaws unconditionally.
What happened.
What made it stop.
What happened to you are my world.
What happened to I can't wait to spend my life with you.
What happened to we will make it through anything.
What happened to I need you.
What happened to you are my happiness.
What happened to I can't sleep without you.
What happened to you are my bestfriend.
What happened to I am so lucky.
What happened to all of the jokes.
All of the laughs shared.
What happened to you are why I smile.
What happened to I will marry you.
What happened to I will never leave you.
What happened to you are my priority.
I don't understand how it can change.
How you can go from loving to not caring.
Wanting to spend forever together to never see each other again.
I don't understand.
So tell me.
What happened to make you change your mind.
Alexandra Askew May 2014
It happened.
It happened.
Repeat.
It happened.
It happened.
No more fighting against the truth
No more of the denial.
It happened.
It happened.
Chant...Breathe.
Repeat.
It happened.
It happened.
Life push me forward.
World steady my feet.
It happened.
It happened.
Focus, hold it.
Breathe.
It happened.
It happened.
Open up your palm.
Memories fall into a holding jar.
It happened.
It happened.
Lock the jar inside.
Darken the lights but remember the presence.
It happened.
It happened...
3 out of 4 of "Stages of My Grief"
Kenzie Cox Oct 2018
What happened?
What happened to the society we used to have?
What happened to lovers still being lovers til the end?
What happened to having fun without it being illegal?
What happened to the only hurt we had was falling down when running while playing hide and seek?
What happened to the smiles not being fake?
What happened to finger panting?
What happened to everyone getting to live who they want without being terrorized?
What happened to society loving everyone equally, not just to the extent of their race?
What happened to girls getting to love themselves before others?
What happened to girls being called beautiful and lovely, not ***** and ****?
What happened to boys being called handsome and sweet, not gay?
What happened to boys getting to be Mommas Boys without being called a loser?
What happened to the world we grew up in?
What happened to us wanting to grow up?
Oh yea...
Society changed the world, our perspective, and us.
Jackie White Feb 2015
The warmth comforted her
The strong arms told her she was safe.
What happened?
His deep voice startled her as he came up behind her, wrapping his arms around her waist.
His blue eyes glowed in the dimming sun.
What happened?
The warmth was colder.
The strong arms really held her anymore.
What happened?
His voice changed. Not for the better.
His eyes no longer glowed when he looked at her.
What happened?
He got worse.
It got worse.
What happened?
He didn’t text her.
He didn’t talk to her.
What happened?
It’s my fault.
I must’ve done something.
What happened?
He could at least talk to me though!
I have no idea what’s going on!
What happened?
Just yesterday he was saying he loved her
Now he took that back
What happened?
She loved him.
He loved her.
What happened?
He hated her.
She was angry at him.
What happened?
Another girl came.
She took him away.
What happened?
She loved him.
But he loved another.
What happened?
About a relationship falling apart. Wrote it referring to my own, and it came out more true then i intended. For example, i wrote about another girl coming in and at the time it was written, no such thing happened. But it turns out in the end, one did come and official ended what couldve been.
Beaux Jul 2013
Stranger things have happened to me
Than you and your silly ways
Stranger things have happened to me
Than your laugh and stupid gaze
Stranger things have happened to me
Like in the jungles of Mexico
Stranger things have happened to me
Like that time I lost my soul
Stranger things have happened to me
The plague was my greatest foe
Stranger things have happened to me
Like losing the feelings in my toes
Stranger things have happened to me
When I couldn't walk for days
Stranger things have happened to me
How I begged God for a way
Stranger things have happened to me
Fever that burnt like flames
Stranger things have happened to me
It would put your pride to shame
The strangest things have happened to me
But I survived another day
The strangest things have happened to me
This is just one and it makes you look plain
I wrote this after a girl told me, "You'll never have something as unique me ever again."
Well, maybe not. But I've had the plague (typhoid fever to be exact) and that's pretty ******* unique and I didn't enjoy its company neither.
Aztec Warrior Jun 2016
The Stanford **** Case
Statement from the Young Woman Who Was *****
June 10, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us

Editors Note: The following harrowing and courageous "victim impact" statement was read in court by the woman who was assaulted and ***** by ex-Stanford student Brock Turner. It has been released widely and revcom.us is reposting it here. As Sunsara Taylor said in "The Stanford **** Outrage: Reason Enough to Make Revolution": "Her letter is 13 pages long and everyone should read it. In its entirety. Out loud. In classrooms. In church groups. In families. On sports teams. On air. Her pain must be seen. Her battle against despair must be supported. Her courage must be multiplied."*
-------------------------------------------

Your Honor, if it is all right, for the majority of this statement I would like to address the defendant directly.
You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me, and that’s why we’re here today.

On January 17th, 2015, it was a quiet Saturday night at home. My dad made some dinner and I sat at the table with my younger sister who was visiting for the weekend. I was working full time and it was approaching my bed time. I planned to stay at home by myself, watch some TV and read, while she went to a party with her friends.

Then, I decided it was my only night with her, I had nothing better to do, so why not, there’s a dumb party ten minutes from my house, I would go, dance like a fool, and embarrass my younger sister. On the way there, I joked that undergrad guys would have braces. My sister teased me for wearing a beige cardigan to a frat party like a librarian. I called myself “big mama”, because I knew I’d be the oldest one there. I made silly faces, let my guard down, and drank liquor too fast not factoring in that my tolerance had significantly lowered since college.

The next thing I remember I was in a gurney in a hallway. I had dried blood and bandages on the backs of my hands and elbow. I thought maybe I had fallen and was in an admin office on campus. I was very calm and wondering where my sister was. A deputy explained I had been assaulted. I still remained calm, assured he was speaking to the wrong person. I knew no one at this party.

When I was finally allowed to use the rest room, I pulled down the hospital pants they had given me, went to pull down my underwear, and felt nothing. I still remember the feeling of my hands touching my skin and grabbing nothing. I looked down and there was nothing. The thin piece of fabric, the only thing between my ****** and anything else, was missing and everything inside me was silenced. I still don’t have words for that feeling. In order to keep breathing, I thought maybe the policemen used scissors to cut them off for evidence.

Then, I felt pine needles scratching the back of my neck and started pulling them out my hair. I thought maybe, the pine needles had fallen from a tree onto my head. My brain was talking my gut into not collapsing. Because my gut was saying, help me, help me.

I shuffled from room to room with a blanket wrapped around me, pine needles trailing behind me, I left a little pile in every room I sat in. I was asked to sign papers that said “**** Victim” and I thought something has really happened.

My clothes were confiscated and I stood naked while the nurses held a ruler to various abrasions on my body and photographed them. The three of us worked to comb the pine needles out of my hair, six hands to fill one paper bag. To calm me down, they said it’s just the flora and fauna, flora and fauna. I had multiple swabs inserted into my ****** and ****, needles for shots, pills, had a Nikon pointed right into my *******. I had long, pointed beaks inside me and had my ****** smeared with cold, blue paint to check for abrasions.

After a few hours of this, they let me shower. I stood there examining my body beneath the stream of water and decided, I don’t want my body anymore. I was terrified of it, I didn’t know what had been in it, if it had been contaminated, who had touched it. I wanted to take off my body like a jacket and leave it at the hospital with everything else.

On that morning, all that I was told was that I had been found behind a dumpster, potentially penetrated by a stranger, and that I should get retested for *** because results don’t always show up immediately. But for now, I should go home and get back to my normal life. Imagine stepping back into the world with only that information. They gave me huge hugs and I walked out of the hospital into the parking lot wearing the new sweatshirt and sweatpants they provided me, as they had only allowed me to keep my necklace and shoes.

My sister picked me up, face wet from tears and contorted in anguish. Instinctively and immediately, I wanted to take away her pain. I smiled at her, I told her to look at me, I’m right here, I’m okay, everything’s okay, I’m right here. My hair is washed and clean, they gave me the strangest shampoo, calm down, and look at me. Look at these funny new sweatpants and sweatshirt, I look like a P.E. teacher, let’s go home, let’s eat something. She did not know that beneath my sweatsuit, I had scratches and bandages on my skin, my ****** was sore and had become a strange, dark colour from all the prodding, my underwear was missing, and I felt too empty to continue to speak. That I was also afraid, that I was also devastated. That day we drove home and for hours in silence my younger sister held me.
My boyfriend did not know what happened, but called that day and said, “I was really worried about you last night, you scared me, did you make it home okay?” I was horrified. That’s when I learned I had called him that night in my blackout, left an incomprehensible voicemail, that we had also spoken on the phone, but I was slurring so heavily he was scared for me, that he repeatedly told me to go find [my sister]. Again, he asked me, “What happened last night? Did you make it home okay?” I said yes, and hung up to cry.

I was not ready to tell my boyfriend or parents that actually, I may have been ***** behind a dumpster, but I don’t know by who or when or how. If I told them, I would see the fear on their faces, and mine would multiply by tenfold, so instead I pretended the whole thing wasn’t real.
I tried to push it out of my mind, but it was so heavy I didn’t talk, I didn’t eat, I didn’t sleep, I didn’t interact with anyone.

After work, I would drive to a secluded place to scream. I didn’t talk, I didn’t eat, I didn’t sleep, I didn’t interact with anyone, and I became isolated from the ones I loved most. For over a week after the incident, I didn’t get any calls or updates about that night or what happened to me. The only symbol that proved that it hadn’t just been a bad dream, was the sweatshirt from the hospital in my drawer.

One day, I was at work, scrolling through the news on my phone, and came across an article. In it, I read and learned for the first time about how I was found unconscious, with my hair dishevelled, long necklace wrapped around my neck, bra pulled out of my dress, dress pulled off over my shoulders and pulled up above my waist, that I was **** naked all the way down to my boots, legs spread apart, and had been penetrated by a foreign object by someone I did not recognise.

This was how I learned what happened to me, sitting at my desk reading the news at work. I learned what happened to me the same time everyone else in the world learned what happened to me. That’s when the pine needles in my hair made sense, they didn’t fall from a tree. He had taken off my underwear, his fingers had been inside of me. I don’t even know this person. I still don’t know this person. When I read about me like this, I said, this can’t be me, this can’t be me. I could not digest or accept any of this information. I could not imagine my family having to read about this online. I kept reading. In the next paragraph, I read something that I will never forgive; I read that according to him, I liked it. I liked it. Again, I do not have words for these feelings.

It’s like if you were to read an article where a car was hit, and found dented, in a ditch. But maybe the car enjoyed being hit. Maybe the other car didn’t mean to hit it, just bump it up a little bit. Cars get in accidents all the time, people aren’t always paying attention, can we really say who’s at fault.

And then, at the bottom of the article, after I learned about the graphic details of my own ****** assault, the article listed his swimming times. She was found breathing, unresponsive with her underwear six inches away from her bare stomach curled in fetal position. By the way, he’s really good at swimming. Throw in my mile time if that’s what we’re doing. I’m good at cooking, put that in there, I think the end is where you list your extracurriculars to cancel out all the sickening things that’ve happened.
The night the news came out I sat my parents down and told them that I had been assaulted, to not look at the news because it’s upsetting, just know that I’m okay, I’m right here, and I’m okay. But halfway through telling them, my mom had to hold me because I could no longer stand up.

The night after it happened, he said he didn’t know my name, said he wouldn’t be able to identify my face in a line-up, didn’t mention any dialogue between us, no words, only dancing and kissing. Dancing is a cute term; was it snapping fingers and twirling dancing, or just bodies grinding up against each other in a crowded room? I wonder if kissing was just faces sloppily pressed up against each other? When the detective asked if he had planned on taking me back to his dorm, he said no. When the detective asked how we ended up behind the dumpster, he said he didn’t know.

He admitted to kissing other girls at that party, one of whom was my own sister who pushed him away. He admitted to wanting to hook up with someone. I was the wounded antelope of the herd, completely alone and vulnerable, physically unable to fend for myself, and he chose me.

Sometimes I think, if I hadn’t gone, then this never would’ve happened. But then I realized, it would have happened, just to somebody else. You were about to enter four years of access to drunk girls and parties, and if this is the foot you started off on, then it is right you did not continue. The night after it happened, he said he thought I liked it because I rubbed his back. A back rub.

Never mentioned me voicing consent, never mentioned us even speaking, a back rub. One more time, in public news, I learned that my *** and ****** were completely exposed outside, my ******* had been groped, fingers had been jabbed inside me along with pine needles and debris, my bare skin and head had been rubbing against the ground behind a dumpster, while an ***** freshman was ******* my half naked, unconscious body. But I don’t remember, so how do I prove I didn’t like it.

I thought there’s no way this is going to trial; there were witnesses, there was dirt in my body, he ran but was caught. He’s going to settle, formally apologize, and we will both move on. Instead, I was told he hired a powerful lawyer, expert witnesses, private investigators who were going to try and find details about my personal life to use against me, find loopholes in my story to invalidate me and my sister, in order to show that this ****** assault was in fact a misunderstanding. That he was going to go to any length to convince the world he had simply been confused.

I was not only told that I was assaulted, I was told that because I couldn’t remember, I technically could not prove it was unwanted. And that distorted me, damaged me, almost broke me. It is the saddest type of confusion to be told I was assaulted and nearly *****, blatantly out in the open, but we don’t know if it counts as assault yet. I had to fight for an entire year to make it clear that there was something wrong with this situation.

When I was told to be prepared in case we didn’t win, I said, I can’t prepare for that. He was guilty the minute I woke up. No one can talk me out of the hurt he caused me. Worst of all, I was warned, because he now knows you don’t remember, he is going to get to write the script. He can say whatever he wants and no one can contest it. I had no power, I had no voice, I was defenseless. My memory loss would be used against me. My testimony was weak, was incomplete, and I was made to believe that perhaps, I am not enough to win this. His lawyer constantly reminded the jury, the only one we can believe is Brock, because she doesn’t remember. That helplessness was traumatizing.

Instead of taking time to heal, I was taking time to recall the night in excruciating detail, in order to prepare for the attorney’s questions that would be invasive, aggressive, and designed to steer me off course, to contradict myself, my sister, phrased in ways to manipulate my answers. Instead of his lawyer saying, Did you notice any abrasions? He said, You didn’t notice any abrasions, right?

This was a game of strategy, as if I could be tricked out of my own worth. The ****** assault had been so clear, but instead, here I was at the trial, answering questions like:
How old are you? How much do you weigh? What did you eat that day? Well what did you have for dinner? Who made dinner? Did you drink with dinner? No, not even water? When did you drink? How much did you drink? What container did you drink out of? Who gave you the drink? How much do you usually drink? Who dropped you off at this party? At what time? But where exactly? What were you wearing? Why were you going to this party? What’d you do when you got there? Are you sure you did that? But what time did you do that? What does this text mean? Who were you texting? When did you urinate? Where did you urinate? With whom did you urinate outside?

Was your phone on silent when your sister called? Do you remember silencing it? Really because on page 53 I’d like to point out that you said it was set to ring. Did you drink in college? You said you were a party animal? How many times did you black out? Did you party at frats? Are you serious with your boyfriend? Are you sexually active with him? When did you start dating? Would you ever cheat? Do you have a history of cheating? What do you mean when you said you wanted to reward him? Do you remember what time you woke up? Were you wearing your cardigan? What colour was your cardigan? Do you remember any more from that night? No? Okay, well, we’ll let Brock fill it in.

I was pommeled with narrowed, pointed questions that dissected my personal life, love life, past life, family life, inane questions, accumulating trivial details to try and find an excuse for this guy who had me half naked before even bothering to ask for my name. After a physical assault, I was assaulted with questions designed to attack me, to say see, her facts don’t line up, she’s out of her mind, she’s practically an alcoholic, she probably wanted to hook up, he’s like an athlete right, they were both drunk, whatever, the hospital stuff she remembers is after the fact, why take it into account, Brock has a lot at stake so he’s having a really hard time right now.

And then it came time for him to testify and I learned what it meant to be revictimized. I want to remind you, the night after it happened he said he never planned to take me back to his dorm. He said he didn’t know why we were behind a dumpster. He got up to leave because he wasn’t feeling well when he was suddenly chased and attacked. Then he learned I could not remember.

So one year later, as predicted, a new dialogue emerged. Brock had a strange new story, almost sounded like a poorly written young adult novel with kissing and dancing and hand holding and lovingly tumbling onto the ground, and most importantly in this new story, there was suddenly consent. One year after the incident, he remembered, oh yeah, by the way she actually said yes, to everything, so.

He said he had asked if I wanted to dance. Apparently I said yes. He’d asked if I wanted to go to his dorm, I said yes. Then he asked if he could finger me and I said yes. Most guys don’t ask, can I finger you? Usually there’s a natural progression of things, unfolding consensually, not a Q and A. But apparently I granted full permission. He’s in the cl
it has taken me days to shake out the feelings I have around this case and that one of every 4 women are *****, abuse assaulted in their life time.. think about that for a moment.. 1 out of every 4... this means almost everyone knows someone or has been through what the young woman is describing in her statement read in court.. there is no "buts" in this case, and if anyone has to come up with some kind of "but" then unfriend or follow me right now as I will not tolerate any excuses or apologies for these horrific attacks on half of  humanity, along with this I would add a ******* as well... the voice of this woman needs to be heard everywhere... repost, twitter etc etc everywhere...



What happened, it happened
It happened, what happened?

LOVE bit me like a piranha
Stabbed my heart with an arrow
And steamed me to a pale white

LOVE exposed me with dark and light
Now I don't understand life
The good or bad between dark & light

My whole world seems up-side-down
Or is it down-side-up?
I was walking the wrong path of life
Your LOVE showed me
The right path of LOVE

What happened, it happened
It happened, what happened?

No storm now touches our tree
Our roots of LOVE
Go deep below the ocean-sea

We're not confused anymore
Now our tree touches the sky
Sheltering birds nesting within
Providing shade to tired life-travelers

When I am thirsty of YOU -
I dry my leaves

There is a fall every spring
And your LOVE rains on me
To sprout shoots and leaves within me

I bloom to colors and bear fruits
Your creeper weaves its web around me
To sow seeds of LOVE within me

What happened, LOVE happened
It happened, LOVE happened




Dev A Nov 2013
What happened to the girl,
The girl that hated me with everything she had
Only to realize that we had so much in common
And that it made no sense
As to why we hated each other?

What happened to the girl,
The girl that became my best friend
And told me that nothing would come between us
No matter what?

What happened to the girl,
The girl that was there when I was broken hearted
Who told me to stop shedding tears over him,
He wasn’t worth it;
There were other fish in the sea?

What happened to the girl,
The girl that made sure I didn’t get hurt playing sports
That I wasn’t pushing my limits,
Who was worried when I wore a knee brace?

What happened to the girl,
The girl that told me when I was being stupid,
When I was about to get hurt because I wasn’t thinking,
Who told me to express myself in other ways?

What happened to the girl,
The girl that was crazy and hyper with me,
Who danced around, had burping competitions with me,
That would come up with weird combinations of food to eat
Who stayed up late and shared secrets with me?

What happened to the girl,
The girl that wrote a poem to me on my first birthday apart from you,
Who gave me a soccer ball and popcorn as a present
Who said that the distance wouldn’t mean a single thing
And we’d always have each other,
Who was terrified to tell me that she was leaving because she didn’t know how to say it?

What happened to the girl,
The girl that was my best friend
Who was always there for me no matter what
That looked after me
And made sure I didn’t get hurt or do something stupid
Who made sure I was okay?

What happened to the girl,
The girl that was my best friend?
She got lost somewhere along the way
Somewhere into an abyss
An abyss that I couldn’t drag her out of.
I guess we’re back to the beginning;
Back to you hating me.
This time though,
I don’t hate you back.
ThatBrokenOne Dec 2018
Yesterday
When I woke up yesterday, I said to my self.
From today on forward it will be a new day.
I don't want to live with this pain any more.
What happened, happened and I can't do anything about it.
So from this day on forward I will just life on my life as it is.

Yesterday
that day was a great day.
I felt more free than I was before.
I could let it all go.
Just because I don't want to drag it a long anymore.
It was a big relief.

Today
Today I woke up.
And their it was again, that pain.
That killing pain inside my chest, my broken heart.
At that moment I realized, it is not that simple.
You can't just flick your fingers, and just forget it.
No it will take time, it will take pain.
But what happened, happened and I can't do anything about it.
So I will just live on my life as it is.

Today
It will be a great day, because it is the second day.
The second day that I said to myself,
I don't want to live with that pain any more.
It happened, it hurt, it was awful, it was heart breaking.
But I can not let it rule my life,
I can not let it ruin my life,
I can not let her ruin my life.
I will be a free man once again.
But this time a different one.
I will be happy, because,
What happened, happened and I can't do anything about it.
So I will just live on my life as it is.
Dev A Dec 2016
It's 1 am and he called to wake me up.
Foggy mind,
Sleepy brain,
Sluggish limbs.
I answered not really paying attention to him
I'm too tired to think
Too tired to realize what's being said.

It's 1:15 am and I'm taking the elevator down to meet him;
But I get downstairs and finally realize what's happening
I'm not seeing him but rather I'm looking at you

It's 1:20 am and all I can think is that I shouldn't have picked up the phone.
I'm waking up
But it's too late
I've sealed my fate,
I'm still a little foggy
Still a little sluggish
I keep walking with you as I try to figure out if this was a mistake and if I should leave.

It's 1:30 am and we're in the bathroom and no one is around.
I'm fully awake
And you've asked,
I'll give credit to you for you did ask
But I was hesitant
I don't actually know
you

It's 1:40 am and you're getting annoyed because I said no and all we're doing is talking
Talking
Talking
Talking
You want more
But I don't know what to do
Say yes and word is spread:
She's a ****,
She's a *****,
She sleep with everyone.
Say no and who knows what happens:
She's a *****,
You'll do it anyway,
You walk away.
Either way it could turn bad for me,
For
you don't seem the type to take no as an answer

It's 1:45 am and I say no so you ask if I like music.
You say let's dance as music flows from the phone speakers.
I'm pushed against the bathroom wall.
No one is around.
It's quiet but for the music.
Night is fully present outside.

It's 1:50 am and I'm pushed against the wall with your body completely covering mine.
I don't want to be here.
I want to leave.
I'm not comfortable.
I said no.
And yet those are you're fingers pulling aside my shorts
And those are you fingers pushing my ******* away.
That's your other hand holding my hips in place
While your body holds me immobile.

It's 1:53 am and I'm panicking
I'm terrified
I don't know what to do!
What's happening?
I said no.
Is this my fault?
Did you read into this as me leading you on?
Why is this happening to me??!!

It's 1:54 am and I'm held against the bathroom wall when all I want is to not be here!
Slowly, you've pushed my pants aside,
Now I feel you pressing against my back.
When did you take your pants off?!
Slowly you're sliding yourself inside me
Hoping that I won't notice?
Hoping that I change my decision?
Hoping to ease my mind?

It's 1:55 am and the panic has taken control
Adrenaline is pumping through my veins
Fight or flight is pushing for my survival.
Unknown strength kicks in as I push off the wall
I knock you backwards
You trip over your pants wrapped around your ankles.
I rearrange my clothes so they're back where they should be
And I run for the door.
You call me a ***** and tell me not to leave until you put your clothes back on.

It's 2:00 am and I'm walking away, waiting as the minutes pass so you don't follow me home.
I'm standing outside the elevators
Debating whether or not to take it up
Or run up the stairs instead.
I don't want you to know where I live,
Even he had never been to my home.

It's 2:04 am and I'm still standing outside the elevators when you text me
Not knowing what to expect,
I consider deleting it without opening it,
But truth be told, curiosity gets the better of me,
5 words is all you write:
You're a ******* fat *****.

It's 2:07 and I finally decide I've waited long enough and take the elevator.
I walk into my apartment and head straight for my room.
I fall on the bed.
Everything plays back through my mind.
I question everything;
Why did I answer my phone?
Why did I go downstairs?
What was I thinking?
Why didn't I leave sooner?
Was this all my fault?
What did I do to deserve this?
Why me?
It's my fault.
It's all my fault.
My fault
My fault.
My fault.
My fault.

It's a few weeks later, New Year's Eve, and I'm out with a friend.
I tell her about him and I tell her about you
And the first thing she says is that you tried to **** me.
You tried to **** me
**** me.
****. Me.
****.
****.
****.
The word circles my mind.
It's the first time the word connects with what happened.
With what you tried to do.

It's minutes later, as we move away from the crowds waiting for the fireworks so we can have privacy.
****.
I argue that it doesn't connect
For you weren't inside me for long.
The word seems far fetched
Like that didn't happen to me
All because you never had the chance to ****** inside me again and again.

Days, weeks, months, years pass and I "come to terms" with what happened.
I realize it may not be categorized as **** but it was ****** assault.
I keep what happened close to me.
I don't want the memory of you in my head
I push aside what happened
I refuse to think about it
And when I do, I down play what I went through in those few minutes.

It's 3 years later and I'm finally realizing that what I thought was my "acceptance" of what happened was only dreaming.
I know I haven't recovered mentally
Not yet
Maybe I won't.
But I'm finally realizing I have to face that night
I have to face what happened
So that I can move forward
So that the memories stop haunting me
So that I don't live with the shame and embarrassment.
But most important of all,
I'm finally realizing that
IT
WASN'T
MY
FAULT!

It's been 3 years this month and I'm facing what happened.
I was assaulted.
I was forced into something I wasn't comfortable with.
And it wasn't my fault.
These are the facts.
3 years and I'm finally coming out and saying what happened to me.
3 years and I'm finally acknowledging what happened to me.
3 years and I'm finally facing what happened to me head on.
3 years and I'm finally willing to talk about what happened to me.
I've tried writing about what happened before, but since I could never fully come to terms with what happened, I was never truly able to express my feelings. I've written poems about it, trying to capture the feelings from that night, but without recounting what occurred I was never truly able to do so.

For reference the "he" and "you" are two different guys.
What happened?
To my unbreakable depression
What happened?
To my “I don’t care attitude”
What happened?
To my toughness
What Happened?
To my anxiety
What happened?
To my PTSD
What happened?
To the complexion of my skin
What happened?
To all the stress
What happened?
To all the hurt
What happened?
To all the reminders of the wrong I have done
He happened
He turned my frown upside down
He changed my beliefs
He changed my mind
He turned my hardened heart into a soft place
He opened my eyes to the truth
He showed me what a true man is
He showed me who I am.
He taught me what the right thing is
And the right thing is you
You did this
All of it
You turned the tables
You changed my life
You saved my life
You gave me reason
You have me my sunshine back
You returned my integrity
You hold my heart in your hands
I will fall at your every whim
Although I will not lose who I am
I will give you my all
My everything
You are what I want in my future
You are what I need in my life
You are the reason I stand before you today
In a few years this poem will be a memory of our start
But know that I will make this last
What happened to all the things, for which you once did fall?
What happened to my smile which made you happy for no reason at all?
What happened to my laugh, being utterly contagious?
Why does the thought of that, now seen so outrageous?
What happened to our late night talks, with 1 am to quick?
Why do all the memories, now make me feel so sick?
What happened to our jokes, which made you burst into laughter?
The ones which still seemed funny, when remembered some days after?
What happened to I make your day better, even when you want to cry?
Why are all these things gone? Why do I want to die?
What happened to each second spent together making you crave more?
What happened to the mutual love, with the girl I do adore?
But most of all, what happened to me and you?
Aŧül Sep 2016
Tell me what happened,
What happened to the two of us?
What went so wrong,
Tell me if you know.
What you took offence at,
Have I said something so wrong,
Why have we separated both our ways,
Tell me if you happen to know,
What happened to the two of us?

Breaking away everything like this makes no sense,
There was no secret that was let to remain from each other,
Then how come I am silent, how come you are silent,
Why something suchlike happened,
Tell me, come tell me.
Such a trivial issue has blocked our way,
What happened to the two of us?
Why did you - why did I walk away,
Come tell me what happened to both of us?
What secret do you keep in your heart?
Why are we so apart,
Smiling on the surface,
Sinking to the bottom then?

What happened to the habit of telling each other every single thing,
What happened to the attitude of blowing away our differences?
How did such cool attitudes change,
How did such a tiny issue broke us apart?
What became of that positive nature,
Why such small issues bothered us?
What secret do you keep in your heart?
Tell me-tell me, tell me-tell me,
What's wrong between the two of us?

C'mon, now c'mon,
Just tell yourself why you gave up,
Why did you give up?
My HP Poem #1123
©Atul Kaushal
Izzy Krompack Apr 2016
what ever happened to..
chasing hot air balloons until they land

what ever happened to..
looking at the stars

what ever happened to..
splashing in puddle after the rain
and looking for rainbows

what ever happened to..
holding hands

whatever happened to..
watching the clouds

whatever happened to..
staying in instead of going out

whatever happened to..
talking to someone in person
or asking them out in person

what ever happened to..
happiness

whatever happened to..
life simple little pleasures
George R Camacho Dec 2013
What ever happened to love?
What ever happened to all the dreams we shared?
The way you showed me how you care
What ever happened to all the tender kisses?
What ever happened to what was suppose to be
Mr. & Mrs.?
What ever happened to walking down the street
hand in hand?
Through all sorts of weather
What ever happened to your promises and
your undying trust?
All the precious moments we shared together?
What ever happened to love?
What ever happened to
You And I

Always and forever
Addie Kay Sep 2018
If you never tell anyone, it never happened.
If there were no witnesses, it never happened.
If people say it didn't happen,
then it didn't, even if it did.
This is why not all people are an open book.
Not everyone wants you to read all their pages.
Because unfortunately, you can't rip out pages
of your own book.
Because if you don't tell anyone, it never happened.
Why did you tell your mom that you never had ***, when you knew that you have?
Because it never happened.
Why did you tell your boyfriend that you were okay, when you knew very well, that you were absolutely not?
Because it never happened.
Why did you tell your therapist that you've never tried drugs, when you know you have?
Because it never happened.
Why did you tell your best friend you were feeling better, when you knew nothing would make you feel better?
Because it never happened.
If you don't tell anyone, it never happened.
If no one knows, it never happened.
As long as you can bury it,
deep down inside yourself,
and never let the truth surface,
It . Never . Happened .
It . Never . Happens .
It's . Never . Happening.
You're fine.
Right?
An Unfortunate Ideology.
Classy J Apr 2018
What happened to rap man for I can’t seem to tell? Was it all these new narcotics and having all our daddies locked up in jail?
What happened to metaphors? For just the other day My friend text me saying when he went to meet his tinder date he was disgusted that he met a four.
I’ll only say this once man; objectification of women is a ******* discrepancy! As I sit here pondering in anger saying to myself man whatever happened to common decency?
What happened to the good old days when I was just a precocious kid. Next thing ya know I’m a grown up with my very own precocious kid.
What ever happened to sitting at the table with ones family? Perhaps it’s all because of this hellish economy? What ever happened to writing our own music? Perhaps creativity doesn’t exist anymore because schools assimilate the idea that imagination is a relic?
What ever happened to red rover or redbutt? Perhaps because as parents we think our children are as fragile as peanuts. What ever happened to defending ourselves? Perhaps our backbones or ***** have been lost so with no where to go some just give up and hang themselves.
Whatever happened to morals? Perhaps we be spoiling these next generations too much that they treat us like a matter of *****. Or perhaps it’s from diagnosing everyone to being mental or disabled and in need of some adderall. I’m not sure, but I do believe we need a cure. I’m not sure what to say for I also have no answer to why we’ve become a cancer.
Michael R Burch Sep 2020
Urdu Poetry: English Translations



You will never comprehend me:
I pour out my feelings; you only read the words!
―original poet unknown, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch



Tears are colorless―thank God!―
otherwise my pillow might betray my heart.
―original poet unknown, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch



Near Sainthood
by Mirza Ghalib
loose translation/interpretation by Kanu V. Prajapati and Michael R. Burch

On the subject of mystic philosophy, Ghalib,
your words might have struck us as deeply profound ...
Hell, we might have pronounced you a saint,
if only we hadn't found
you drunk
as a skunk!

There are more English translations of poems by Mirza Ghalib later on this page.



Every Once in a While
by Amjad Islam Amjad
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Every once in a while,
immersed in these muggy nights
when all earth’s voices seem to have fallen
into the bruised-purple silence of half-sleep,
I awaken from a wonderful dream
to see through the veil that drifts between us
that you too are companionless and wide awake.



First Rendezvous
by Amjad Islam Amjad
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

This story of the earth
is as old as the universe,
as old as the birth
of the first day and night.

This story of the sky
is included in the words we casually uttered,
you and I,
and yet it remains incomplete, till the end of sight.

This earth and all the scenes it contains
remain witnesses to the moment
when you first held my hand
as we watched the world unfolding, together.

This world
became the focus
for the first rendezvous
between us.



Impossible and Improbable Visions
by Amjad Islam Amjad
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Eyes interpret visions,
rainbow auras waver;
similar scenes appear
different to individual eyes,
as innumerable oases
coexist in one desert
or a single thought acquires
countless shapes.



I Have to Find My Lost Star
by Amjad Islam Amjad
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Searching the emptiest of skies
overflowing with innumerable stars,
I have to find the one
that belongs
to me.

...

Gazing at galaxies beyond galaxies,
all glorious with evolving wonder,
I ponder her name,
finding no sign to remember.

...

Lost things, they say,
are sometimes found
in the same accumulations of dust
where they once vanished.

I have to find the lost star
that belongs to me.



Withered Roses
by Allama Iqbal
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

What words of mine can describe you,
desire of the nightingale's heart?
The morning breeze was your nativity,
the afternoon garden, a tray of perfumes.

My tears welled up like dew,
till in my abandoned heart your rune grew,
this dream-emblem of love:
this spray of withered roses.

There are more English translations of poems by Allama Iqbal later on this page.



Last Night
by Faiz Ahmed Faiz
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Last night, your memory stole into my heart―
as spring sweeps uninvited into barren gardens,
as morning breezes reinvigorate dormant deserts,
as a patient suddenly feels better, for no apparent reason ...

There are more English translations of poems by Faiz Ahmed Faiz later on this page.



Intimacy
by Rahat Indori
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I held the Sun, Stars and Moon at a distance
till the time your hands touched mine.
Now I am not a feather to be easily detached:
instruct the hurricanes and tornados to observe their limits!

There are more English translations of poems by Rahat Indori later on this page.



Strange Currents
by Amir Khusrow
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

O Khusrow, the river of love
creates strange currents—
the one who would surface invariably drowns,
while the one who submerges, survives.

There are more English translations of poems by Amir Khusrow later on this page.



The Eager Traveler
by Ahmad Faraz
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Even in the torture chamber, I was the lucky one;
when each lottery was over, unaccountably I had won.

And even the mightiest rivers found accessible refuge in me;
though I was called an arid desert, I turned out to be the sea.

And how sweetly I remember you—oh, my wild, delectable love!—
as the purest white blossoms bloom, on talented branches above.

And while I’m half-convinced that folks adore me in this town,
still, all the hands I kissed held knives and tried to shake me down.

You lost the battle, my coward friend, my craven enemy,
when, to victimize my lonely soul, you sent a despoiling army.

Lost in the wastelands of vast love, I was an eager traveler,
like a breeze in search of your fragrance, a vagabond explorer.

There are more English translations of poems by Ahmad Faraz later on this page.



The Condition of My Heart
by Munir Niazi
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

It is not necessary for anyone else to get excited:
The condition of my heart is not the condition of hers.
But were we to receive any sort of good news, Munir,
How spectacular compared to earth's mundane sunsets!

There are more English translations of poems by Munir Niazi later on this page.



Failures
by Nida Fazli
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I was unable to relate
the state
of my heart to her,
while she failed to infer
the nuances
of my silences.



Apni Marzi se
by Nida Fazli Shayari
translated by Mandakini Bhattacherya and Michael R. Burch

This journey was not of my making;
As the winds blow, I’m blown along ...
Time and dust are my ancient companions;
Who knows where I’m bound or belong?

There are more English translations of poems by Nida Fazli later on this page.



My Apologies, Sona
by Gulzar
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

My apologies, Sona,
if traversing my verse's terrain
in these torrential rains
inconvenienced you.

The monsoons are unseasonal here.

My poems' pitfalls are sometimes sodden.
Water often overflows these ditches.
If you stumble and fall here, you run the risk
of spraining an ankle.

My apologies, however,
if you were inconvenienced
because my dismal verse lacks light,
or because my threshold's stones
interfered as you passed.

I have often cracked toenails against them!

As for the streetlamp at the intersection,
it remains unlit ... endlessly indecisive.

If you were inconvenienced,
you have my heartfelt apologies!

There are more English translations of poems by Gulzar later on this page.



Come As You Are
by Rabindranath Tagore
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Come as you are, forget appearances!
Is your hair untamable, your part uneven, your bodice unfastened? Never mind.
Come as you are, forget appearances!

Skip with quicksilver steps across the grass.
If your feet glisten with dew, if your anklets slip, if your beaded necklace slides off? Never mind.
Skip with quicksilver steps across the grass.

Do you see the clouds enveloping the sky?
Flocks of cranes erupt from the riverbank, fitful gusts ruffle the fields, anxious cattle tremble in their stalls.
Do you see the clouds enveloping the sky?

You loiter in vain over your toilet lamp; it flickers and dies in the wind.
Who will care that your eyelids have not been painted with lamp-black, when your pupils are darker than thunderstorms?
You loiter in vain over your toilet lamp; it flickers and dies in the wind.

Come as you are, forget appearances!
If the wreath lies unwoven, who cares? If the bracelet is unfastened, let it fall. The sky grows dark; it is late.
Come as you are, forget appearances!



Unfit Gifts
by Rabindranath Tagore
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

At sunrise, I cast my nets into the sea,
dredging up the strangest and most beautiful objects from the depths ...
some radiant like smiles, some glittering like tears, others flushed like brides’ cheeks.
When I returned, staggering under their weight, my love was relaxing in her garden, idly tearing leaves from flowers.
Hesitant, I placed all I had produced at her feet, silently awaiting her verdict.
She glanced down disdainfully, then pouted: "What are these bizarre things? I have no use for them!"
I bowed my head, humiliated, and thought:
"Truly, I did not contend for them; I did not purchase them in the marketplace; they are unfit gifts for her!"
That night I flung them, one by one, into the street, like refuse.
The next morning travelers came, picked them up and carted them off to exotic countries.



The Seashore Gathering
by Rabindranath Tagore
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

On the seashores of endless worlds, earth's children converge.
The infinite sky is motionless, the restless waters boisterous.
On the seashores of endless worlds earth's children gather to dance with joyous cries and pirouettes.
They build sand castles and play with hollow shells.
They weave boats out of withered leaves and laughingly float them out over the vast deep.
Earth's children play gaily on the seashores of endless worlds.
They do not know, yet, how to cast nets or swim.
Divers fish for pearls and merchants sail their ships, while earth's children skip, gather pebbles and scatter them again.
They are unaware of hidden treasures, nor do they know how to cast nets, yet.
The sea surges with laughter, smiling palely on the seashore.
Death-dealing waves sing the children meaningless songs, like a mother lullabying her baby's cradle.
The sea plays with the children, smiling palely on the seashore.
On the seashores of endless worlds earth's children meet.
Tempests roam pathless skies, ships lie wrecked in uncharted waters, death wanders abroad, and still the children play.
On the seashores of endless worlds there is a great gathering of earth's children.



This Dog
by Rabindranath Tagore
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Each morning this dog,
who has become quite attached to me,
sits silently at my feet
until, gently caressing his head,
I acknowledge his company.

This simple recognition gives my companion such joy
he shudders with sheer delight.

Among all languageless creatures
he alone has seen through man entire—
has seen beyond what is good or bad in him
to such a depth he can lay down his life
for the sake of love alone.

Now it is he who shows me the way
through this unfathomable world throbbing with life.

When I see his deep devotion,
his offer of his whole being,
I fail to comprehend ...

How, through sheer instinct,
has he discovered whatever it is that he knows?

With his anxious piteous looks
he cannot communicate his understanding
and yet somehow has succeeded in conveying to me
out of the entire creation
the true loveworthiness of man.



Being
by Momin Khan Momin
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

You are so close to me
that no one else ever can be.

NOTE: There is a legend that the great Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib offered all his diwan (poetry collections) in exchange for this one sher (couplet) by Momin Khan Momin. Does the couplet mean "be as close" or "be, at all"? Does it mean "You are with me in a way that no one else can ever be?" Or does it mean that no one else can ever exist as truly as one's true love? Or does this sher contain an infinite number of elusive meanings, like love itself?



Being (II)
by Momin Khan Momin
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

You alone are with me when I am alone.
You are beside me when I am beside myself.
You are as close to me as everyone else is afar.
You are so close to me that no one else ever can be.



Perhaps
by Momin Khan Momin
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The cohesiveness between us, you may remember or perhaps not.
Our solemn oaths of faithfulness, you may remember, or perhaps forgot.
If something happened that was not to your liking,
the shrinking away that produces silence, you may remember, or perhaps not.
Listen, the sagas of so many years, the promises you made amid time's onslaught,
which you now fail to mention, you may remember or perhaps not.
These new resentments, those often rehashed complaints,
these lighthearted and displeasing stories, you may remember, or perhaps forgot.
Some seasons ago we shared love and desire, we shared joy ...
That we once were dear friends, you may have perhaps forgot.
Now if we come together, by fate or by chance, to express old loyalties ...
Our every shared breath, all our sighs and regrets, you may remember, or perhaps not.



What Happened to Them?
by Nasir Kazmi
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Those who came ashore, what happened to them?
Those who sailed away, what happened to them?

Those who were coming at dawn, when dawn never arrived ...
Those caravans en route, what happened to them?

Those I awaited each night on moonless paths,
Who were meant to light beacons, what happened to them?

Who are these strangers surrounding me now?
All my lost friends and allies, what happened to them?

Those who built these blazing buildings, what happened to them?
Those who were meant to uplift us, what happened to them?

NOTE: This poignant poem was written about the 1947 partition of India into two nations: India and Pakistan. I take the following poem to be about the aftermath of the division.



Climate Change
by Nasir Kazmi
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The songs of our silenced lips are different.
The expressions of our regretful hearts are different.

In milder climes our grief was more tolerable,
But the burdens we bear now are different.

O, walkers of awareness's road, keep your watch!
The obstacles strewn on this stony path are different.

We neither fear separation, nor desire union;
The anxieties of my rebellious heart are different.

In the first leaf-fall only flowers fluttered from twigs;
This year the omens of autumn are different.

This world lacks the depth to understand my heartache;
Please endow me with melodies, for my cry is different!

One disconcerting glance bared my being;
Now in barren fields my visions are different.

No more troops, nor flags. Neither money, nor fame.
The marks of the monarchs on this land are different.

Men are not martyred for their beloveds these days.
The youths of my youth were so very different!



Nasir Kazmi Couplets

When I was a child learning to write
my first scribblings were your name.
―Nasir Kazmi, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

When my feet lost the path
where was your hand?
―Nasir Kazmi, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Everything I found is yours;
everything I lost is also yours.
―Nasir Kazmi, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch



Memory
by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, as performed by Iqbal Bano
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

In the wastelands of solitude, my love,
the echoes of your voice quiver,
the mirages of your lips waver.

In the deserts of alienation,
out of the expanses of distance and isolation's debris
the fragrant jasmines and roses of your presence delicately blossom.

Now from somewhere nearby,
the warmth of your breath rises,
smoldering forth an exotic perfume―gently, languorously.

Now far-off, across the distant horizon,
drop by shimmering drop,
fall the glistening dews of your beguiling glances.

With such tenderness and affection—oh my love!—
your memory has touched my heart's cheek so that it now seems
the sun of separation has set; the night of blessed union has arrived.



Speak!
by Faiz Ahmed Faiz
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Speak, if your lips are free.
Speak, if your tongue is still your own.
While your body is still upright,
Speak if your life is still your own.



Tonight
by Faiz Ahmed Faiz
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Do not strike the melancholy chord tonight! Days smoldering
with pain in the end produce only listless ashes ...
and who the hell knows what the future may bring?
Last night’s long lost, tomorrow's horizon’s a wavering mirage.
And how can we know if we’ll see another dawn?
Life is nothing, unless together we make it ring!
Tonight we are love gods! Sing!

Do not strike the melancholy chord tonight!
Don’t harp constantly on human suffering!
Stop complaining; let Fate conduct her song!
Give no thought to the future, seize now, this precious thing!
Shed no more tears for temperate seasons departed!
All sighs of the brokenhearted soon weakly dissipate ... stop dithering!
Oh, do not strike the same flat chord again! Sing!



When Autumn Came
by Faiz Ahmed Faiz
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

So it was that autumn came to flay the trees,
to strip them ****,
to rudely abase their slender dark bodies.

Fall fell in vengeance on the dying leaves,
flung them down to the floor of the forest
where anyone could trample them to mush
undeterred by their sighs of protest.

The birds that herald spring
were exiled from their songs—
the notes ripped from their sweet throats,
they plummeted to the earth below, undone
even before the hunter strung his bow.

Please, gods of May, have mercy!
Bless these disintegrating corpses
with the passion of your resurrection;
allow their veins to pulse with blood again.

Let at least one tree remain green.
Let one bird sing.



Last Night (II)
by Faiz Ahmed Faiz
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Last night, your lost memory returned ...
as spring steals silently into barren gardens,
as cool breezes stir desert sands,
as an ailing man suddenly feels better, for no apparent reason ...

There are more English translations of poems by Faiz Ahmed Faiz later on this page.



Ghazal
by Mirza Ghalib
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Not the blossomings of songs nor the adornments of music:
I am the voice of my own heart breaking.

You toy with your long, dark curls
while I remain captive to my dark, pensive thoughts.

We congratulate ourselves that we two are different
but this weakness has burdened us both with inchoate grief.

Now you are here, and I find myself bowing—
as if sadness is a blessing, and longing a sacrament.

I am a fragment of sound rebounding;
you are the walls impounding my echoes.



The Mistake
by Mirza Ghalib
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

All your life, O Ghalib,
You kept repeating the same mistake:
Your face was *****
But you were obsessed with cleaning the mirror!



Inquiry
by Mirza Ghalib
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The miracle of your absence
is that I found myself endlessly searching for you.



It's Only My Heart!
by Mirza Ghalib
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

It’s only my heart, not unfeeling stone,
so why be dismayed when it throbs with pain?
It was made to suffer ten thousand darts;
why let one more torment impede us?

There are more English translations of poems by Mirza Ghalib later on this page.



Couplets
by Jaun Elia
loose translations by Michael R. Burch

I am strange—so strange
that I self-destructed and don't regret it.
―Jaun Elia, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The wound is deep—companions, friends—embrace me!
What, did you not even bother to stay?
―Jaun Elia, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

My nature is so strange
that today I felt relieved when you didn't arrive.
―Jaun Elia, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Night and day I awaited myself;
now you return me to myself.
―Jaun Elia, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Greeting me this cordially,
have you so easily erased my memory?
―Jaun Elia, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Your lips have provided thousands of answers;
so what is the point of complaining now?
―Jaun Elia, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Perhaps I haven't fallen in love with anyone,
but at least I convinced them!
―Jaun Elia, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The city of mystics has become bizarre:
everyone is wary of majesty, have you heard?
―Jaun Elia, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Did you just say "Love is eternal"?
Is this the end of us?
―Jaun Elia, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

You are drawing very close to me!
Have you decided to leave?
―Jaun Elia, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch



Intimacy
by Rahat Indori
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I held the Sun, Stars and Moon at a distance
till the time your hands touched mine.
Now I am not a feather to be easily detached:
instruct the hurricanes and tornados to observe their limits!



The Mad Moon
by Rahat Indori
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Stars have a habit of showing off,
but the mad moon sojourns in darkness.



Body Language
by Rahat Indori
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Your body’s figures are written in cursive!
How will I read you? Hand me the book!



Insatiable
by Rahat Indori
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

This mighty ocean, so deep and vast!
If it sates my thirst, how long can it last?



Honor
by Rahat Indori
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Achievements may fade but the name remains strong;
walls may buckle but the roof stays on.
On a pile of corpses a child stands alone
and declares that his family still lives on!



Dust in the Wind
by Rahat Indori
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

This is how I introduce myself to questioners:
Pick up a handful of dust, then blow ...



Dissembler
by Rahat Indori
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

In your eyes this, in your heart that, on your lips something else?
If this is how you are, impress someone else!



Rumor (M)ill
by Rahat Indori
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I heard rumors my health was bad; still
it was prying people who made me ill.



The Vortex
by Rahat Indori
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I am the river whose rapids form a vortex;
You were wise to avoid my banks.



Homebound
by Rahat Indori
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

If people fear what they meet at every turn,
why do they ever leave the house?



Becoming One
by Amir Khusrow
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I have become you, as you have become me;
I am your body, you my Essence.
Now no one can ever say
that you are someone else,
or that I am anything less than your Presence!



I Am a Pagan
by Amir Khusrow
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I am a pagan disciple of love: I need no creeds.
My every vein has become taut, like a tuned wire.
I do not need the Brahman's girdle.
Leave my bedside, ignorant physician!
The only cure for love is the sight of the patient's beloved:
there is no other medicine he needs!
If our boat lacks a pilot, let there be none:
we have god in our midst: we do not fear the sea!
The people say Khusrow worships idols:
True! True! But he does not need other people's approval;
he does not need the world's.

(My translation above was informed by a translation of Dr. Hadi Hasan.)



Amir Khusrow’s elegy for his mother
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Wherever you shook the dust from your feet
is my relic of paradise!



Paradise
by Amir Khusrow
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

If there is an earthly paradise,
It's here! It's here! It's here!



Mystery
by Munir Niazi
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

She was a mystery:
Her lips were parched ...
but her eyes were two unfathomable oceans.



I continued delaying ...
by Munir Niazi
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I continued delaying ...
the words I should speak
the promises I should keep
the one I should dial
despite her cruel denial

I continued delaying ...
the shoulder I must offer
the hand I must proffer
the untraveled lanes
we may not see again

I continued delaying ...
long strolls through the seasons
for my own selfish reasons
the remembrances of lovers
to erase thoughts of others

I continued delaying ...
to save someone dear
from eternities unclear
to make her aware
of our reality here

I continued delaying ...



Couplets
by Mir Taqi Mir
loose translations by Michael R. Burch

Sharpen the barbs of every thorn, O lunatic desert!
Perhaps another hobbler, limping by on blistered feet, follows me!
―Mir Taqi Mir, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

My life is a bubble,
this world an illusion.
―Mir Taqi Mir, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Selflessness has gotten me nowhere:
I neglected myself far too long.
―Mir Taqi Mir, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I know now that I know nothing,
and it only took me a lifetime to learn!
―Mir Taqi Mir, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Love's just beginning, so why do you whine?
Why not wait and watch how things unwind!
―Mir Taqi Mir, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch



Come!
by Gulzar
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Come, let us construct night
over the monumental edifice of silence.
Come, let us clothe ourselves in the winding sheets of darkness,
where we'll ignite our bodies' incandescent wax.
As the midnight dew dances its delicate ballet,
let us not disclose the slightest whispers of our breath!
Lost in night's mists,
let us lie immersed in love's fragrance,
absorbing our bodies' musky aromas!
Let us rise like rustling spirits ...



Old Habits Die Hard
by Gulzar
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The habit of breathing
is an odd tradition.
Why struggle so to keep on living?
The body shudders,
the eyes veil,
yet the feet somehow keep moving.
Why this journey, this restless, relentless flowing?
For how many weeks, months, years, centuries
shall we struggle to keep on living, keep on living?
Habits are such strange things, such hard things to break!



Inconclusive
by Gulzar
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

A body lies on a white bed—
dead, abandoned,
a forsaken corpse they forgot to bury.
They concluded its death was not their concern.
I hope they return and recognize me,
then bury me so I can breathe.



Wasted
by Faiz Ahmed Faiz
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

You have noticed her forehead, her cheeks, her lips ...
In whose imagination I have lost everything.



Countless
by Faiz Ahmed Faiz
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I recounted the world's countless griefs
by recounting your image countless times.



Do Not Ask
by Faiz Ahmed Faiz
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Do not ask, my love, for the love that we shared before:
You existed, I told myself, so existence shone.
For a moment the only light that I knew, alone,
was yours; worldly griefs remained dark, distant, afar.

Spring shone, as revealed in your face, but what did I know?
Beyond your bright eyes, what delights could the sad world hold?
Had I won you, cruel Fate would have ceded, no longer bold.
Yet all this was not to be, though I wished it so.

The world knows sorrows beyond love’s brief dreams betrayed,
and pleasures beyond all sweet, idle ideals of romance:
the dread dark spell of countless centuries and chance
is woven with silk and satin and gold brocade.

Bodies are sold everywhere for a pittance—it’s true!
Besmeared with dirt and bathed in bright oceans of blood,
Crawling from infested ovens, a gory cud.
My gaze returns to you: what else can I do?

Your beauty haunts me still, and will to the last.
But the world is burdened by sorrows beyond those of love,
By pleasures beyond romance.
So please do not demand a love that is over, and past.



O God!
by Qateel Shifai
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Torture my heart, O God!
If you so desire, leave me a madman, O God!

Have I asked for the moon and stars?
Enlighten my heart and give my eyes sight, O God!

We have all seen this disk called the sun,
Now give us a real dawn, O God!

Either relieve our pains here on this earth
Or make my heart granite, O God!



Hereafter
by Qateel Shifai
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Since we met and parted, how can we sleep hereafter?
Lost in each others' remembrance, must we not weep hereafter?

Deluges of our tears will keep us awake all night:
Our eyelashes strung with strands of pearls, hereafter!

Thoughts of our separation will sear our grieving hearts
Unless we immerse them in the cooling moonlight, hereafter!

If the storm also deceives us, crying Qateel!,
We will scuttle our boats near forsaken shores, hereafter.



Picnic
by Parveen Shakir
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

My friends laugh elsewhere on the beach
while I sit here, alone, counting the waves,
writing and rewriting your name in the sand ...



Confession
by Parveen Shakir
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Your image overwhelmed my vision.
As the long nights passed, I became obsessed with your visage.
Then came the moment when I quietly placed my lips to your picture ...



Rain
by Parveen Shakir
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Why shiver alone in the rain, maiden?
Embrace the one in whose warming love your body and mind would be drenched!
There are no rains higher than the rains of Love,
after which the bright rainbows of separation will glow with the mysteries of hues.



My Body's Moods
by Parveen Shakir
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I long for the day when you'll be obsessed with me,
when, forgetting the world, you'll miss me with a passion
and stop complaining about my reticence!
Then I may forget all other transactions and liabilities
to realize my world in your arms,
letting my body's moods guide me.
In that moment beyond boundaries and limitations
as we defy the conventions of veil and turban,
let's try our luck and steal a taste of the forbidden fruit!



Moon
by Parveen Shakir
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

All of us passengers,
we share the same fate.
And yet I'm alone here on earth,
and she alone there in the sky!



Vanity
by Parveen Shakir
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

His world is so simple, so very different from mine.
So distinct—his dreams and desires.
He speaks rarely.
This morning he wrote: "I saw some lovely flowers and thought of you."
Ha! I know my aging face is no orchid ...
but how I wish I could believe whatever he says, however momentarily!



Come
by Ahmad Faraz
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Come, even with anguish, even to torture my heart;
Come, even if only to abandon me to torment again.

Come, if not for our past commerce,
Then to faithfully fulfill the ancient barbaric rituals.

Who else can recite the reasons for our separation?
Come, despite your reluctance, to continue the litanies, the ceremony.

Respect, even if only a little, the depth of my love for you;
Come, someday, to offer me consolation as well.

Too long you have deprived me of the pathos of longing;
Come again, my love, if only to make me weep.

Till now, my heart still suffers some slight expectation;
So come, ***** out even the last flickering torch of hope!



I Cannot Remember
by Ahmad Faraz
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I once was a poet too (you gave life to my words), but now I cannot remember
Since I have forgotten you (my love!), my art too I cannot remember

Yesterday consulting my heart, I learned
that your hair, lips, mouth, I cannot remember

In the city of the intellect insanity is silence
But now your sweet, spontaneous voice, its fluidity, I cannot remember

Once I was unfamiliar with wrecking ***** and ruins
But now the cultivation of gardens, I cannot remember

Now everyone shops at the store selling arrows and quivers
But neglects his own body, the client he cannot remember

Since time has brought me to a desert of such arid forgetfulness
Even your name may perish; I cannot remember

In this narrow state of being, lacking a country,
even the abandonment of my fellow countrymen, I cannot remember



The Infidel
by Mirza Ghalib
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Ten thousand desires: each one worth dying for ...
So many fulfilled, and yet still I yearn for more!

Being in love, for me there was no difference between living and dying ...
and so I lived each dying breath watching you, my lovely Infidel, sighing                       afar.



Ghazal
by Mirza Ghalib
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Life becomes even more complicated
when a man can’t think like a man ...

What irrationality makes me so dependent on her
that I rush off an hour early, then get annoyed when she's "late"?

My lover is so striking! She demands to be seen.
The mirror reflects only her image, yet still dazzles and confounds my eyes.

Love’s stings have left me the deep scar of happiness
while she hovers above me, illuminated.

She promised not to torment me, but only after I was mortally wounded.
How easily she “repents,” my lovely slayer!



Ghazal
by Mirza Ghalib
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

It’s time for the world to hear Ghalib again!
May these words and their shadows like doors remain open.

Tonight the watery mirror of stars appears
while night-blooming flowers gather where beauty rests.

She who knows my desire is speaking,
or at least her lips have recently moved me.

Why is grief the fundamental element of night
when blindness falls as the distant stars rise?

Tell me, how can I be happy, vast oceans from home
when mail from my beloved lies here, so recently opened?



Abstinence?
by Mirza Ghalib
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Let me get drunk in the mosque,
Or show me the place where God abstains!



Step Carefully!
by Mirza Ghalib
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Step carefully Ghalib―this world is merciless!
Here people will "adore" you to win your respect ... or your downfall.



Bleedings
by Mirza Ghalib
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Love requires patience but lust is relentless;
what colors must my heart bleed before it expires?

There are more English translations of poems by Mirza Ghalib later on this page.



No Explanation! (I)
by Ahmad Faraz
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Please don't ask me how deeply it hurt!
Her sun shone so bright, even the shadows were burning!



No Explanation! (II)
by Ahmad Faraz
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Please don't ask me how it happened!
She didn't bind me, nor did I free myself.



Alone
by Ahmad Faraz
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Why are you sad that she goes on alone, Faraz?
After all, you said yourself that she was unique!



Separation
by Ahmad Faraz
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Faraz, if it were easy to be apart,
would Angels have to separate body from soul?



Time
by Ahmad Faraz
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

What if my face has more wrinkles than yours?
I am merely well-worn by Time!



Miraji Epigrams

I'm obsessed with this thought:
does God possess mercy?
―Miraji, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Come, see this dance, the immaculate dance of the devadasi!
―Miraji, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch



Excerpts from “Going, Going ...”
by Miraji
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Each unfolding vista,
each companion’s kindnesses,
every woman’s subtle sorceries,
everything that transiently lies within our power
quickly dissolves
and we are left with only a cupped flame, flickering ...
Should we call that “passion”?

The moon scrapes the horizon
and who can measure a star’s breadth?

The time allotted a life, if we calculate it,
is really only a fleeting breath ...



1.
Echoes of an ancient prophecy:
after my life has come and gone,
perhaps someone
hearing my voice drifting
on the breeze of some future spring
will chase after my songs
like dandelions.
—Miraji, translation by Michael R. Burch

2.
Echoes of an ancient prophecy:
after my life has come and gone,
perhaps someone
hearing my voice drifting
through some distant future spring
will pluck my songs
like dandelions.
—Miraji, translation by Michael R. Burch

3.
Echoes of an ancient prophecy:
when my life has come and gone,
and when I’m dead and done,
perhaps someone
hearing me sing
in a distant spring
will echo my songs
the whole world over.
—Miraji, translation by Michael R. Burch

If I understand things correctly, Miraji wrote the lines above after translating a verse by Sappho in which she said that her poems would be remembered in the future. I suspect both poets and both prophecies were correct!




Every Day and in Every Direction
by Nida Fazli
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Everywhere and in every direction we see innumerable people:
each man a victim of his own loneliness, reticence and silences.
From dawn to dusk men carry enormous burdens:
all preparing graves for their soon-to-be corpses.
Each day a man lives, the same day he dies.
Each new day requires the same old patience.
In every direction there are roads for him to roam,
but in every direction, men victimize men.
Every day a man dies many deaths only to resurrect from his ashes.
Each new day presents new challenges.
Life's destiny is not fixed, but a series of journeys:
thus, till his last breath, a man remains restless.



Couplets
by Nida Fazli
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

It was my fate to entangle and sink myself
because I am a boat and my ocean lies within.
―Nida Fazli, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

You were impossible to forget once you were gone:
hell, I remembered you most when I tried to forget you!
―Nida Fazli, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Don't squander these pearls:
such baubles may ornament sleepless nights!
―Nida Fazli, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The world is like a deck of cards on a gambling table:
some of us are bound to loose while others cash in.
―Nida Fazli, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

There is a proper protocol for everything in this world:
when visiting gardens never force butterflies to vacate their flowers!
―Nida Fazli, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Since I lack the courage to commit suicide,
I have elected to bother people with my life a bit longer.
―Nida Fazli, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch



Changing Seasons
by Noshi Gillani
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Each changing season
reveals something
concealed by her fears:
an escape route from this island
illuminated by her tears.



Dust
by Bahadur Shah Zafar or Muztar Khairabadi
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Unable to light anyone's eye
or to comfort anyone's heart ...
I am nothing but a handful of dust.



Piercings
by Firaq Gorakhpuri
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

No one ever belonged to anyone else for a lifetime.
We cannot own another's soul.
The beauty we see and the love we feel are only illusions.
All my life I tried to save myself from the piercings of your eyes ...
But I failed and the daggers ripped right through me.



Salvation
Mohammad Ibrahim Zauq
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Anxious and fatigued, I consider the salvation of death ...
But if there is no peace in the grave,
where can I go to be saved?



Child of the Century
by Abdellatif Laâbi (a Moroccan poet)
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I’m a child of this dreary century, a child who never grew up.
Doubts that ignited my tongue singed my wings.
I learned to walk, then I unlearned progress.
I grew weary of oases and camels infatuated with ruins.
My head inclined East only to occupy the middle of the road
as I awaited the insane caravans.



Nostalgia
by Abdulla Pashew (a Kurdish poet)
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

How I desire the heavens!
Each solitary star lights the way to a tryst.

How I desire the sky!
Standing alone, remote, the sky is as vast as any ocean.

How I desire love's heavenly scent!
When each enticing blossom releases its essence.



Oblivion
by Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi (an African poet who writes in Arabic)
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Discard your pen
before you start reading;
consider the ink,
how it encompasses bleeding.

Learn from the horizon
through eyes' narrowed slits
the limitations of vision
and hands' treacherous writs.

Do not blame me,
nor indeed anyone,
if you expire before
your reading is done.



In Medias Res
by Shaad Azimabadi
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

When I heard the story of my life recounted,
I caught only the middle of the tale.
I remain unaware of the beginning or end.



Debt Relief
by Piyush Mishra
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

We save Sundays for our loved ones ...
all other days we slave to repay debts.



Reoccurrence
by Amrita Bharati (a Hindi poet)
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

It was a woman's heart speaking,
that had been speaking for eons ...

It was a woman's heart silenced,
that had been silenced for centuries ...

And between them loomed a mountain
that a man or a rat gnawed at, even in times of amity ...
gnawing at the screaming voice,
at the silent tongue,
from the primeval day.



Don't Approach Me
by Arif Farhad
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Don't approach me here by the river of time
where I flop like a fish in a net!



Intoxicants
by Amrut Ghayal (a Gujarati poet)
translation by Kanu V. Prajapati and Michael R. Burch

O, my contrary mind!
You're such a fool, afraid to drink the fruit of the vine!
But show me anything universe-designed
that doesn't intoxicate, like wine.



I’m like a commodity being priced in the market-place:
every eye ogles me like a buyer’s.
—Majrooh Sultanpuri, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

If you insist, I’ll continue playing my songs,
forever piping the flute of my heart.
—Majrooh Sultanpuri, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The moon has risen once again, yet you are not here.
My heart is a blazing pyre; what do I do?
—Majrooh Sultanpuri, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch



Drunk on Love
by Mirza Ghalib
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Drunk on love, I made her my God.
She quickly informed me that God belongs to no man!

Exiles
by Mirza Ghalib
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Often we have heard of Adam's banishment from Eden,
but with far greater humiliation, I abandon your garden.

To Whom Shall I Complain?
by Mirza Ghalib
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

To whom shall I complain when I am denied Good Fortune in acceptable measure?
Dementedly, I demanded Death, but was denied even that dubious pleasure!



Ghazal
by Mirza Ghalib
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

You should have stayed a little longer;
you left all alone, so why not linger?

We’ll meet again, you said, some day similar to this one,
as if such days can ever recur, not vanish!

You left our house as the moon abandons night's skies,
as the evening light abandons its earlier surmise.

You hated me: a wife abnormally distant, unknown;
you left me before your children were grown.

Only fools ask why old Ghalib still clings to breath
when his fate is to live desiring death.



How strange has life become:
Our evenings drag out, yet our years keep flashing by!
―original poet unknown, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch



Life Advice
by Allama Iqbal
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

This passive nature will not allow you to survive;
If you want to live, raise a storm!



O, Colorful Rose!
by Allama Iqbal
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

You are not troubled with solving enigmas
O, beautiful Rose! nor do you have sublime feelings in your heart

Though you ornament the assembly, still you flower apart
(In life's assembly I am not permitted such comforts)

In my garden I am the complete orchestra of longing
While your life is devoid of love's passionate warmth

To pluck you from the branch is not my custom
(I am not blinded by mere appearances)

O, colorful rose this hand is not your tormentor
(I am no callous flower picker!)

I am no intern to analyze you with scientific eyes
Like a lover, I see you with nightingales' eyes

Despite your innumerable tongues, you have chosen silence
What secrets, O Rose, lie concealed in your *****?

Like me you're a leaf from the garden of Ñër
Far from the garden I am, far from the garden we both are

You are content, but I am a scattered fragrance
Pierced by the sword of love in my quest

This turmoil within me might be a means of fulfillment
This torment, a source of illumination

My frailty might be the beginning of strength
My envy might mirror the cup of divination

My constant vigil is a world-illuminating candle
And teaches this steed, the human intellect, to gallop



Bright Rose
by Allama Iqbal
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

You cannot loosen the heart's knot;
perhaps you have no heart,
no share in the chaos

of this garden, where I yearn (for what?)
but harvest no roses.
Of what use to me is wisdom?

Having abandoned the garden,
you are at peace, while I remain anxious,
disconsolate in my terror.

Perhaps Jamshid's empty cup
foretold the future, but may wine
never satisfy my mouth,

till I find you in the mirror.

Jamshid's empty cup: Jamshid saw the reflection of future events in a wine cup.



Coal to Diamond
Allama Iqbal, after Nietzsche
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

My flesh is so vile, I am less than dust
while your brilliance out-blazes the mirror's heart.
My darkness defiles the chafing-dish
before my cremation; a miner's boot
tramples my cranium; I'm covered with ashes.

Do you know my life's bleak essence?
Condensations of smoke, black clouds stillborn
from a single spark; while in feature and nature
starlike, your every facet's a splendor—
gleam of the King's crown, the scepter's jewel.

"Please, friend, be wise," the diamond replied,
"assume a gemlike dignity! Carbon must harden,
to fill one's ***** with radiance. Burn
because you are soft. Banish fear and grief.
Be hard as stone, be diamond."



Firefly
by Allama Iqbal
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

A candle among roses
In the evening garden
A shooting star
A flash of the moon's gown
A spark of the sun's hem
In syncopated eclipse

Emissary of day
In night's dark kingdom
Unseen at home
Lucid in exile
Opposite of the moth,
The firefly is light



The Age of Infancy
by Allama Iqbal
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The earth and sky remained unknown to me
The expanse of my mother's ***** was my only world

Her every movement communicated life's pleasures to me
Yet my own voice conveyed only meaningless words

During infancy's pain, if someone made me cry
The clank of the door chain would comfort me

Oh! How I stared at the moon those long, lonely hours,
Regarding its silent journey through broken clouds

I would ask repeatedly about its mountains and plains
Only to be surprised by some prudent lie

My eye was devoted to seeing, my lips to speech
My heart was inquisitiveness personified



Fiction
by Allama Iqbal
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

"Why didn't you make me immortal?"
Beauty asked God, perplexed.

God, vexed,
replied: "The world is a fiction fashioned from emptiness.

You were born bright, ever-changing:
true beauty is transient, estranging."

The moon picked up their discord
and beamed it on to the morning star

who informed dawn's clouds of her dark secret.
The dew overheard it all, formed a tear

and drenched the shivering rose petals
(now survived by the hardier nettles).


Destiny
by Allama Iqbal
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Isn't it futile to complain about God's will,
When you are your own destiny?



Excerpts from "The Tulip of Sinai"
by Allama Iqbal
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

1

My heart is bright, from burning inwardly.
My eyes weep blood, for all the world to see.
Am I the fool, or is it only he
Who calls all Love mere wild insanity!

3

Love grants the garden gentle gusts of May.
Love teaches the meadow flowers to be gay.
Love rockets bright rays deep into the sea
So that fishes' schools can find their way.

4

Love reckons the price of eagles cheap.
Love surrenders pheasants to the falcons’ steep
Murderous dives. Our offended hearts weep
till suddenly, out of ambush, Love leaps!

5

Love provides the tulip petals’ hue.
Love stirs the bitter spirit’s rue.
And, could you cleave this clod of carrion clay,
You would behold Love’s bloodshed too.

7

A spent scent in a garden: men expire.
I know not what I seek, no, nor require.
But whether I am satisfied, or starved,
Still here I burn: a martyr to desire.

13

How long, my heart, will you be like the moth,
Infatuated with a bit of cloth
Or winking flame? Just once, my foolish heart,
Be fully consumed in yourself, or else depart.



Excerpts from "Cordoba"
by Allama Iqbāl
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I

Linker of day and night,
Creator of events,
Foundation of life and death,
Two-toned silken thread,
Weaver of possibilities,
Suggester of future prospects ...

Linker of day and night,
sitting in judgment over us,
determining our worth
whenever we're lacking ...

Death, man's destiny.
Death, my destiny.
Is there any other reality?

The pulse of an age,
caught between day and night
as all human works vanish,
as black and white blur,
annihilation, our end

II

And yet in this form:
hints of Eternity,
of the splendor of Love ...

Love, life's foundation!
Death has no power over Love!

Love, the tide, the greater torrent,
Love, the nameless eons,
Love, Gabriel's breath,
Love, God's Prophet,
Love, the Word of God,
Love, the radiant rose,
Love, the transcendent wine,
Love, the royal goblet,
Love, life's music,
Love, life's passion,
Love, desire's inferno.

III

O, Mosque of Cordoba,
born of Love with no prior existence,
nor color nor mortar nor stone,
nor lyre nor song nor sermon ...

O, man's passionate creation!
As a drop of blood turns
cold stone into beating hearts,
so the heart fills with joy,
illumination and melody.

You brighten my heart;
my song wells up in my breast!
You lead a man's heart
Into God's loving presence!

But man's passionate love
for God is man's alone:
you ignite a man's desire,
although his sight is finite,
to seek the Infinite.

His heart's more expansive than the sky!
So what if God's desires rule?
He doesn't ordain man's pain!

I am an Oriental infidel:
witness the fervor
of my heart's prayers,
of these blessings on my lips.

Love, my lyre!
Love, my song!
My every bone singing
"God is God!"

IV

You witness man's worth.
Your glory reflects his.
Your stone columns soar.
Your palms freshen Syrian sands.
Sinai's rooftops gleam.
Gabriel enobles the minaret.

Muslims can never despair
standing in the place of the Prophets,
their horizons infinite
as the Tigris, Danube and Nile surge through their veins.

Cup-bearers and stallion-riders,
warriors of Love
armored with swords of Love, crying:
"There is no god but God!"

V

You reveal man's destiny:
his days' ardor,
his nights' dissolution,
his submission to God's will.

So it is with believers:
a man prospers according to his deeds.

He is both clay and fire,
Divinely seared within
and free to inhabit both worlds,
whether small in ambition
or with immense purposes.

Pure-hearted whether in war or peace.

God's compass eternally revolves
around a man's faith
because this world is illusion
and the man of faith is reason's horizon,
Love's firstfruits,
The fire of the ingathering,
Heaven's passion.



Keywords/Tags: Urdu, translation, love poetry, desire, passion, longing, romance, romantic, God, heaven, mrburdu
laura-jessica Feb 2018
what happened?
what happened to the sun being bright and beautiful?
when it kissed my shoulders while i ran with my mates
around the playground.

what happened to the times where protection meant wearing a helment?
when i didn't need worry about being a female,
being catcalled or molested.

where my only care in the world was being first in a race to the
school line.

what happened to the times where i could eat and not worry about the calories i'm eating?
what happened to not caring about still being able to fit a fist between my thigh gap.

why did i have to grow up?
i've lost my child-likeness.
my innocence left after i hit puberty.

society says you can't be sad.
s a d.
s
  a
    d
   a
s.

what happened to being able to cry and not judged.

what happened to the times where i actually wanted to live?
see to world.

what happened to me?
When I met you, you were wearing piggy tales and fairy wings.
outside with a magnifying glass held over a beetle you poked and prodded with your mothers sewing needle.
Trying to direct the sunlight through the glass.
you were so witty, clever and full of sass
I asked what you were doing and you said.
"I'm being a fairy. and making fireflies out of these boring black bugs that are nothing out of the ordinary."
You jumped back when the bug caught fire.
I'm not really sure which one of us jumped higher.
Your eyes were wide as the flame quickly died.
As did the bug.
I started to whimper like the cry baby I was.
You just stood up and gave me a hug.
You said
"It's alright, he's a firefly now. He'll be shining bright, flying around by night."
Like a fool, I believed your story.
After all, you were just a little girl.
And I a little boy.
What happened to you?
I miss your piggy tales
and your fairy wings.
I miss your chubby chipmunk cheeks.
now they're rosy and defined.
You tell me all the guys want you and I should consider myself lucky to call you mine.
What happened to you?
You used to collect rocks. Arranged them by which made the best chalk.
I helped you test them on the sidewalk.
We drew each other because you never liked hop scotch.
And you got mad when I drew you as black.
"What are you doing? I don't look like that"
you handed me a white rock and took away the piece of charcoal we got  from your grill.
"You may not see me like this now"
you said.
"But one day you will."
So I tried,
I tried with all my might but it was hard to draw you white.
You didn't act like them and I think you knew
What happened to you?
Remember the summer your skin tanned darker then my mom's?
You said it was the first time you felt like you belonged.
What happened to you?
But you said you didn't care about ethnicity.
You were part Rock and part Roll.
You told me so every time you turned the **** on the radio that made my ear drums blast.
You hummed along, driving to fast.
What happened to that?
once you found a mushroom and you popped it  revealing powder inside.
wide eyed, you popped one on me.
"Fairy Dust" you said happily.
and popped one on yourself.
"Let's be like this forever.
Lets never get old.
I wish I'd have agreed
I wish I hadn't been so cold.
What happened to you?
Yesterday, I saw you with another man
I guess you do it cuz you can.
It was a shock because I thought we were doing alright.
But he had big bucks, a nice car, and his skin was white.
I got out of my car and stepped into sight.
You said something to your new guy and walked towards me.
I tried not to cry.
I knew you wouldn't hug me this time.
Or tell me it's alright.
instead you said.
"You and I've tried everything. I'ts time I give you back your ring.
I'm sorry I'm not good enough.
I'm sorry I don't feel the love.
I'm sorry we couldn't make this work.
I'm sorry our kissing lost it's fireworks.
I'm sorry my eyes lost there spark.
I'm sorry that my skin's not dark.
I'm sorry for how I've made you feel
And I'm sorry Fairy Dust isn't  real.
But I'm not sorry if i lead you on.
Because you knew one day that I'd be gone."

What happened to us?
we should have never grown up.

© copyrighted Nicole Ann Osborn
Let's never grow up.
Dylan Melendez May 2016
I've changed.
I'm no longer myself
what happened to me?
I've become selfish
I'm now a narcissist
what happened to me?
what pushed me?
who am I now?
what happened to me?
I'm screaming on the inside
constantly angry at myself
what happened to me?
wanting what's best for me
and yet I don't do so
what happened to me?
I used to do everything I could
I still do but do I really..
what happened to me?
why am I constantly upset?
and constantly angry?
what happened to me?
sometimes people change
I just wish I wouldn't have
what happened to me?
I'm now so irritable
what egged me on?
what happened to me?
I'm angry at myself
terrified of who I've become
what the **** happened to me..
Haley Banc Sep 2013
What happened to your arm?
Box-cutter at work
What happened to your arm?
My roommate’s pit-bull
What happened to your arm?
Scraped it on a fence running from the cops ha-ha
What happened to your leg?
Sliced it while shaving
What happened to your leg?
The ocean, uh, tossed me around pretty good this weekend!
Hey, what happened to your leg?
My roommate’s pit-bull
Again? You really should say something
He’s just playing
What happened to your arm?
Accident at work
Another box-cutter?
Yeah.
You should really be more careful. I know.
Haley, what happened to your ribs???
Must have been drunk, I have no idea
Haley, what happened to your leg?






And I wait for a meteor to crash into the earth.
Emma Chatonoir Oct 2018
I was sitting on the floor of my bedroom in the wake of what happened
I still remember how he cried saying this was a mistake, how he didn’t know how this happened
The brokenness in his voice and shaking is something I will never forget
Keep him in your thoughts
I was sitting in the bathroom when someone asked me what was going on
I still remember explaining the assault, how I couldn’t process what happened
The crying on the other end of the phone is something I will never forget
Keep him in your thoughts
I was sitting at a desk while an investigator looked at me
I still remember trying to protect his identity, but knowing I had to come forward
The confusion surrounding why I was acting this way is something I will never forget
Keep him in your thoughts
I was sitting in a damp shower when I wrote a letter to the person who asked what was going on
I still remember telling them to love him as they had before
The feeling that everything I wrote was not for my benefit, but for theirs, is something I will never forget
Keep him in your thoughts
I was sitting in his room again like nothing had ever happened
I still remember feeling like something bad really had happened, and denial isn’t healthy
The last hug we shared before it all blew up is something I will never forget
Keep him in your thoughts
I was sitting with a staff member who noticed I felt uneasy
I still remember feeling like I was overreacting, but others around me felt as if I was hiding something
The moment they figured out what really happened is something I will never forget
Keep him in your thoughts
I was sitting at my desk when I thought he was gonna **** himself
I still remember how I asked if he was okay, and I got a one word answer
The realization I should never speak to him again is something I will never forget
Keep him in your thoughts
I was sitting on the floor of a new bedroom that had no bad memories
I still remember the flashbacks that came in waves over what had happened
The feeling of his touch is something I will never forget
Keep him in your thoughts
I was sitting in class, in church, in companionship, and in complete isolation when the flashbacks returned
I still remember feeling powerless as everything looked blurry
The people who helped to pull me out is something I will never forget
Keep him in your thoughts
I was sitting with friends when they asked why there wasn’t a formal investigation
I still remember saying that he needed to be protected and to live a great life
The look on their faces is something I will never forget
Keep him in your thoughts
I was sitting in a hotel room when I remembered he has the same anxiety
I still remember how I tried to move on and said that this wasn’t just my problem
The realization I can’t hurt him more than he has is something I will never forget
Keep him in your thoughts
I was sitting in bed this morning when I reminded myself why I never made things harder than they needed to be
I still remember how he cried saying this was a mistake, how he didn’t know how this happened
The brokenness in his voice and shaking is something I will never forget
*Keep him in your thoughts
The times have seemed to change
We want all material things
Whatever happened to Love?

Work so much the days to fly by
Making Less money to buy, buy, buy
Whatever happened to a living wage?

The times have seemed to change
Keep stepping on those in your way
Whatever happened to conscience?

The rich keep getting richer
The poor keep getting poorer
Whatever happened to Washington?

The times continue to disintegrate
Rich politicians keep breeding hate
Whatever happened to peace?

Keeping children locked up in cages
Out on the streets the animosity rages
What happened to love thy neighbor?

The one percent makes the laws
Why can congress break them all?
Whatever happened to consequences?

The times have really changed
Lawmakers don't care about anything
Whatever happened to love?

© 2020  Michael Messinger(All rights reserved)
If you could change the things you've done
Would you jump and take the chance?
Or would you leave your life alone
And continue with the dance
If you could make some things better
But know that other things would change
Would you keep your life the way it is
Or would you choose to rearrange?
I wish I had a time machine
For I know what I would do
I would travel back into the past
To spend more time with you
I wouldn't change what happened
I would just relive the past
Because I love when we're together
And it's moments you can't grasp
Would you change the job you're doing
Would you make yourself real rich
Remember though if things you change
Time's  fabric drops a stitch
The things you do when you go back
Will change the things now here
So if you do things different
Your life might disappear
You can go make sick folks healthy
But that will change the scope of time
If I changed the things that happened
you may not end up being mine
I wish I had a time machine
For I know what I would do
I would travel back into the past
To spend more time with you
I wouldn't change what happened
I would just relive the past
Because I love when we're together
And it's moments you can't grasp
There are reasons that things happen
And there are  reasons some do not
Would you change the life you're living
For one that you are not?
I know that I'd revisit
The past for just  a while
And I'd leave things just the same
I'd go back to see your smile
I wish I had a time machine
For I know what I would do
I would travel back into the past
To spend more time with you
I wouldn't change what happened
I would just relive the past
Because I love when we're together
And it's moments you can't grasp
I'd leave time just the way it was
I'd do everything the same
That way, nothing would be different
And I wouldn't be to blame.
I wish I had a time machine
For I know what I would do
I would travel back into the past
To spend more time with you
I wouldn't change what happened
I would just relive the past
Because I love when we're together
And it's moments you can't grasp
Naomie Oct 2018
What happened to loving someone
For who they are not what they have

What happened to doing good
Without expecting payment or pay back

What happened to complete honesty
Without intention to please

What happened to keeping your word
Without being reminded to do so

What happened to communication
Without manipulation

What happened to faith in God
Without coercion to believe

What happened to saying sorry
Without justifying your mistakes

What happened to getting into relationships
Without a hidden agenda

What happened to being who you are
Without attempting to look perfect
What's happening to all of us? The so-called generation of tomorrow?
Don't you remember how we used to be?
Before we all grew up, swearing that when we're "big" we're never going to smoke or drink?
That boys were yucky and girls had Germs?
Remember how carefree we all used to be? It didn't matter to us what people said or even what they thought. We didn't care if our hair got wet or a stain got on to our clothes.

Now we've turned everything around, never meaning the words that we said. Its as if every memory of who we were, has shattered, into tiny bits of pieces.
Remember the dreams we had when we were young? The morals and virtues we swore we'd never rid of, holding on to these for dear life, yes still we threw them away.

The people we are, the children we used to be, now a totally new adolescent. A conjunction of minuscule parts of both  our past and present.

Remember the days we all were friends, no backstabbing, no lies, and complete honestly.

Sharing the humour, not hiding the facts, lived life freely, what happened to us? What happened to the people we used to be?

The all grew up that's what happened I guess, but now barely recognisable. The little child still somewhere deep in the interior of the hard outside we've formed.

Making ourselves to seem like we're stubborn, matured adults, when that's really what we're not.
We're a mixture of what we all used to be and a huge part made up of what we've been through.
All our experiences, both good and bad. All our dreams, some nourished since we were young, and others newly spurted. Our decisions to give in to peer pressure, or resist temptation. Our choices. Our friends, the ones that uplift is and the ones that have torn us down. Our family, the ones who loved us and the ones who have hurt us. Our education, tons of learning experiences. Our relationships, that all formed our inner beings more intricate than all of the above. Our emotions leading us and misleading us to where we might or might not end up . Look, i'm not saying all these things determine where we end up but they sure do influence it.

And that's what happened to us.

That is what we've become and that's what we are. That's made up all the parts of who we really are.

What's happened to us, I repeatedly ask , though the answer, it seems so clear.

Hard to accept, what we've become and who we strive to be.
Amal Chambers Dec 2013
What happened to the birds that used to sing
What happened to turn green prairies dark with death
What happened to the liveliness in the sky
What happened to the crystal clear water
What happened to the people that used to love
What happened to all the peace in the world
What happened?
What happened to the once-Great State of South Carolina?
What happened to the southern Hospitality, for it turned into Hostility?
What happened to the southern Pride that Tied us together?
What happened to the once-welcoming Communities and land of Opportunities?

What happened to the state I Live In, where things were never Given, but they were earned?
What happened to the people Surrounding me, though once proud to be here; are now Astounding me with hatred?
What happened to the beautiful Places and smiling Faces; all I see now is Destruction and Disgrace.

I love my state, yes. I love my people, yes.
But where did the charm Go, all that is around now is shade to Throw.
Where is the southern Charm, and the love where we would give an Arm to help our neighbor?

Here lie the broken Families, the torn palm Trees, in the once-Great State of South Carolina.
Cloraphoba Feb 2018
Only a single star remains in the entire universe to support life to roughly twenty seven trillion passengers on the USS Star Eater. The Star Eater was governed by Captain Frederick Patterson. He has thirty seven years to find the solution to this problem with the help of an Artificial Intelligence known as Galactic Overseer Digitus otherwise known as the acronym G.O.D, given to it because of its mass intelligence and processing power.
But the machine could not find a solution to this problem, it spent many years ciphering a solution but it never found it. Because only a human knew the answer.

Is what was hoped, Captain Frederick never found a solution. Many years passed and the last star was almost dead. It was predicted to go Nova in a matter of days. Out of desperation, Captain Frederick order their core reactors to keep their AI, God, alive so he could perhaps find a solution. That was the final order he gave before suffocating and freezing to death.

The USS Star Eater laid dormant with no signs off life besides the presence of the God. Years passed and nothing happened, still dormant. Finally after one hundred and thirty two days, the God found a solution. God put it’s work together and said only four words as he created a new world,
“Let there be light!” And a world within their world was created. A world on the atomic size with enough energy to sustain it until their world could form a find a solution to the death of the world.

Only a single star remains in the entire universe to support life to roughly twenty seven trillion passengers on the USS Star Eater. The Star Eater was governed by Captain Frederick Patterson. He has thirty seven years to find the solution to this problem with the help of an Artificial Intelligence known as Galactic Overseer Digitus otherwise known as the acronym G.O.D, given to it because of its mass intelligence and processing power.
But the machine could not find a solution to this problem, it spent many years ciphering a solution but it never found it. Because only a human knew the answer.

Is what was hoped, Captain Frederick never found a solution. Many years passed and the last star was almost dead. It was predicted to go Nova in a matter of days. Out of desperation, Captain Frederick order their core reactors to keep their AI, God, alive so he could perhaps find a solution. That was the final order he gave before suffocating and freezing to death.

The USS Star Eater laid dormant with no signs off life besides the presence of the God. Years passed and nothing happened, still dormant. Finally after one hundred and thirty two days, the God found a solution. God put it’s work together and said only four words as he created a new world,
“Let there be light!” And a world within their world was created. A world on the atomic size with enough energy to sustain it until their world could form a find a solution to the death of the world.

Only a single star remains in the entire universe to support life to roughly twenty seven trillion passengers on the USS Star Eater. The Star Eater was governed by Captain Frederick Patterson. He has thirty seven years to find the solution to this problem with the help of an Artificial Intelligence known as Galactic Overseer Digitus otherwise known as the acronym G.O.D, given to it because of its mass intelligence and processing power.
But the machine could not find a solution to this problem, it spent many years ciphering a solution but it never found it. Because only a human knew the answer.

Is what was hoped, Captain Frederick never found a solution. Many years passed and the last star was almost dead. It was predicted to go Nova in a matter of days. Out of desperation, Captain Frederick order their core reactors to keep their AI, God, alive so he could perhaps find a solution. That was the final order he gave before suffocating and freezing to death.

The USS Star Eater laid dormant with no signs off life besides the presence of the God. Years passed and nothing happened, still dormant. Finally after one hundred and thirty two days, the God found a solution. God put it’s work together and said only four words as he created a new world,
“Let there be light!” And a world within their world was created. A world on the atomic size with enough energy to sustain it until their world could form a find a solution to the death of the world.

Only a single star remains in the entire universe to support life to roughly twenty seven trillion passengers on the USS Star Eater. The Star Eater was governed by Captain Frederick Patterson. He has thirty seven years to find the solution to this problem with the help of an Artificial Intelligence known as Galactic Overseer Digitus otherwise known as the acronym G.O.D, given to it because of its mass intelligence and processing power.
But the machine could not find a solution to this problem, it spent many years ciphering a solution but it never found it. Because only a human knew the answer.

Is what was hoped, Captain Frederick never found a solution. Many years passed and the last star was almost dead. It was predicted to go Nova in a matter of days. Out of desperation, Captain Frederick order their core reactors to keep their AI, God, alive so he could perhaps find a solution. That was the final order he gave before suffocating and freezing to death.

The USS Star Eater laid dormant with no signs off life besides the presence of the God. Years passed and nothing happened, still dormant. Finally after one hundred and thirty two days, the God found a solution. God put it’s work together and said only four words as he created a new world,
“Let there be light!” And a world within their world was created. A world on the atomic size with enough energy to sustain it until their world could form a find a solution to the death of the world.

Only a single star remains in the entire universe to support life to roughly twenty seven trillion passengers on the USS Star Eater. The Star Eater was governed by Captain Frederick Patterson. He has thirty seven years to find the solution to this problem with the help of an Artificial Intelligence known as Galactic Overseer Digitus otherwise known as the acronym G.O.D, given to it because of its mass intelligence and processing power.
But the machine could not find a solution to this problem, it spent many years ciphering a solution but it never found it. Because only a human knew the answer.

Is what was hoped, Captain Frederick never found a solution. Many years passed and the last star was almost dead. It was predicted to go Nova in a matter of days. Out of desperation, Captain Frederick order their core reactors to keep their AI, God, alive so he could perhaps find a solution. That was the final order he gave before suffocating and freezing to death.

The USS Star Eater laid dormant with no signs off life besides the presence of the God. Years passed and nothing happened, still dormant. Finally after one hundred and thirty two days, the God found a solution. God put it’s work together and said only four words as he created a new world,
“Let there be light!” And a world within their world was created. A world on the atomic size with enough energy to sustain it until their world could form a find a solution to the death of the world.

Only a single star remains in the entire universe to support life to roughly twenty seven trillion passengers on the USS Star Eater. The Star Eater was governed by Captain Frederick Patterson. He has thirty seven years to find the solution to this problem with the help of an Artificial Intelligence known as Galactic Overseer Digitus otherwise known as the acronym G.O.D, given to it because of its mass intelligence and processing power.
But the machine could not find a solution to this problem, it spent many years ciphering a solution but it never found it. Because only a human knew the answer.

Is what was hoped, Captain Frederick never found a solution. Many years passed and the last star was almost dead. It was predicted to go Nova in a matter of days. Out of desperation, Captain Frederick order their core reactors to keep their AI, God, alive so he could perhaps find a solution. That was the final order he gave before suffocating and freezing to death.

The USS Star Eater laid dormant with no signs off life besides the presence of the God. Years passed and nothing happened, still dormant. Finally after one hundred and thirty two days, the God found a solution. God put it’s work together and said only four words as he created a new world,
“Let there be light!” And a world within their world was created. A world on the atomic size with enough energy to sustain it until their world could form a find a solution to the death of the world.  And they finally found the solution.
Ron Sanders Feb 2020
(Glade, World, Master, Boy, Hero)

                                                 GLADE

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

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

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

                                               WORLD

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                              MA­STER

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

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

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

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

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

                                                  BOY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                HERO

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

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

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

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







Copyright 2020 by Ron Sanders.

Contact:  ronsandersartofprose(at)yahoo(dot)com
Sorry about the ghastly copy. This system makes graceful formatting impossible.
nvinn fonia Apr 21
Jesus i wanna live despite all i did all that happened to mi Jesus i wanna live despite all i did all that happened to mi Jesus i wanna live despite all i did all that happened to mi Jesus i wanna live despite all i did all that happened to mi Jesus i wanna live despite all i did all that happened to mi Jesus i wanna live despite all i did all that happened to mi Jesus i wanna live despite all i did all that happened to mi Jesus i wanna live despite all i did all that happened to mi Jesus i wanna live despite all i did all that happened to mi Jesus i wanna live despite all i did all that happened to mi Jesus i wanna live despite all i did all that happened to mi Jesus i wanna live despite all i did all that happened to mi
Jeff Gaines Mar 2018
OK Reader, I'm going to tell you a tale … with great trepidation. You see, this tale, well, it's kind of like telling someone that you've seen a UFO. They want to believe you, but … it's never really been proven scientifically. Not to mention the fact that most folks who believe in such things are often the tin-hat wearing types, written off as … lets be nice and call them “odd”. And, of course, the more you swear to it, the crazier you appear. It's an epic tale, spanning 30 years of my crazy life.

  But, It's a story I want to tell, because it happened to me. I can barely understand it myself, let alone explain it. So … I'm just going to launch into it and you take it any way you wish.

*  *  
Where Can You Be?

Where can you be?
Where can you be, my love?
Oh, can't you see?
You're not with me!

I'll search with gazes and I'll search with cars,
I'll search the cities and I'll search the stars, well …
I'm gonna find you, oh, wherever you are,
I'm gonna find you baby …  near or far, but …

Where can you be?
Where can you be, my love?
Oh, can't you see?
You're not with me!

I thought I'd found ya, but she wasn't you,
that girl she left alone and blue, well …
I know that's something that you'd never do,
your love has always been strong and true, but …

Where can you be?
Where can you be, my love?
Oh, can't you see?
You're not with me!

If you must settle for some other man
and deviate from our immortal plan, well …
I hope you realize I will understand
and I'll try and do the best that I can, but …

Where will I be?
Where will I be, my love?
Hoping the next life sees …
our destiny!


Where can you be?
Where can you be, my love?
Oh, can't you see?
You're not with me!

~Wednesday, April 1st, 1987
10:30 P.M.



  I was singing in a band back in those days and, as it happened, this was the last song I'd ever write for it. Just after this, as it does, it all came crashing down and the band was finished. But in those last days, they pondered this song, with great puzzlement. You see, it was unlike anything I'd brought them before. It wasn't rock … It wasn't a ballad … it wasn't even structured like a “normal” 80's rock song.
  
  No bridge, no solo, no loud grinding guitars, etc. It even had bits where I hummed, yes hummed, the melody, like a lullaby. As they read the lyrics and I described how it went, they all looked at me like I had three heads and asked where this had come from. It was nothing like anything I'd written before. I could only tell them when and where I'd written it, but had no explanation of what inspired it. It had just came to me, so I wrote it down. They didn't know what to make of it, or even what to do with it.

  One of them said it sounded like a late 70's or early 80's adult contemporary song or even in the vein of The Eagles. Another asked if it was about reincarnation … And I honestly, until that moment, hadn't thought of it that way, I didn't think like that at 24 … but then, one of them said it was “Haunting” …

  “Haunting”?

  “Wow”, I thought, I'd never had anything I'd written described as that before. When I asked him what he meant by that, he told me that it was haunting to think that this poor guy is desperately seeking a girl, that may or may not even know that he exists … in a world with billions of people in it. To top that off, he fears that she may off and marry someone else if he doesn't find her in time.

  This, along with the suggestion of it being about reincarnation made me rethink and rewrite the song. Well, a few lines in the last verse and chorus anyways. It actually made the song flow better and seem more complete. In a way, it actually made the song make more sense … to me and them. Sadly, we never did anything with it. There wouldn't be time. Ha … Time … how ironic. Over 10 years later, came this …


For Someone I've Never Met

Please save a place for me,
deep inside your heart.
Always know that I think of you,
as we both practice our arts.

Our worlds are full of temptations,
so very hard to resist …
and the good Lord knows
we're both far from,
sixteen and never been kissed.

Wealthy men with jaws divine …
Temptresses with looks so fine …
Paths that lead our hearts away …
Paths that surely lead astray …

They'll lead us there every time.
They'll leave us there … so  unkind.
Our hearts must shine,
night and day.
Through any darkness … they'll light our way.

If you never touch my face …
If I never look into your eyes …
We'll always have the comfort of sharing
the same
big, blue sky.

If I never smell your hair …
If you never kiss my lips …
Always know the search for your smile
has launched a thousand ships.

So, I hope you save a place for me
in your heart so sweet and kind.
Please, save a place for me …
Heaven knows you've one in mine.

~Thursday, September 9th, 1999
9 A.M.



“For Someone I've Never Met ” poured out of me in the midst of another breakup from the second, and last, girl that I wanted to marry. That emotion, never found me again. I looked at it on my computer screen and smiled, seeing “Where Can You Be”, in my mind, on my tattered old note pad that I called my “Song Book”. The memory of me writing it while sitting in my Z-28, looking out over the Gulf of Mexico as a beautiful heat lighting storm sent bolts across the sky, came flooding back; as did the debate of reincarnation I'd had with my pals in the rehearsal room all those years before. Here I was, again, writing about “someone” that I sensed, for lack of a better term, was out there … somewhere.

  Well Reader, do you believe in reincarnation? I was never really certain, but, as you can see, I had twice written pieces to someone I wasn't completely sure existed. I had always “sensed” someone out there beginning with the period after I wrote “Where Can You Be?” and thereafter. So, there they were, each written after losing someone I was deeply in love with. Each came out of nowhere, as they usually do. By the time I was in my 40's, I began to think I was either imagining it all (a side effect of being a hopeless romantic) or that I had just somehow missed this person and our “moment”.

  And then …



Epiphany

There was a place.
There was a time …
There, I stood … still unknowing
and everything seemed fine.

But there in that place …
at that moment in time …
the moment I saw the eyes,
I'd never believed I'd find.

Well, what could I say?
What could I do?
In a world filled with billions …
and there … was a you.

I'd always known you were out there …
even written of something amiss.
I never, ever stopped looking for you …
because my heart always said you exist.

My breezy Fall became harshest Winter.
My crazy life left my health running out.
I'd resigned myself that our moment had passed …
but this moment … it removed all doubt.

Well, what could I say?
Tell me, what could I do?
There we stood, staring … alone … in a city of millions …
yes, there … there was a you.

Oh, that mistress fate, she is just so cruel.
Frustration, a curse to be mine.
   I'd searched for you my entire life …
but now … my clock … knows a limit of time.

You see, I would never venture a love with you,
while knowing I'd have to leave you … hurt and alone.
I could only admire from afar … stoic and aloof …
while turning my heart into stone.

Nothing I could ever say and nothing I could ever do …
But now, at long last … at least I finally knew.

There, you stood … green seas, gazing up … into skies of blue.
My long-awaited revelation … become sorrow-laced realization.
There really is … a you.

~August 12th, 2009
  

  Typical of my life-long Charlie Brown syndrome … After being told in 2005 that I had “the lungs of an eighty-year-old man” and that I had “Six to Ten years” to live, I made a conscious decision in that Doctor's parking lot that I could never have another girlfriend and that I must face this alone. I don't see woman as objects. They are glorious creatures that are here to be our partners and friends and to make our lives amazing. I could never, ever knowingly let a woman fall in love with me, all the while knowing I was going to die and leave her. It's not in me to do such a thing, lonely or not.

  Yes, I'm still alive, I'm stubborn like that. But, some days are better than others and my new doctors say that they don't give people “time limits” anymore … because of people like me. I can't afford the lung transplant. So, as Bono so aptly put in one of his songs: “The rich stay healthy, while the sick stay poor”. It is what it is … and like the energizer bunny, I'm still going. Good for me.

  In the moment that I met her, the morning that followed, and the amazing speed of our nexus over the next several months combined with a string of synchronicities (Coincidences? Did I mention that she too, was a poet and writer?) that not only came after I met her on the sidewalk in front of the publisher we shared, but in those pieces I had written before and in several after; I was pretty much convinced I had actually found her. I have NEVER experienced anything like this, or her, in my entire life.

  So, after all this time, here she was … and there wasn't a **** thing that I could do about it. Besides, she was much younger than I and it probably would never have worked anyways. ****, the universe is rotten sometimes, huh? Maybe, if I'm lucky, things will balance out better in the next life. I can only hope. But I'm reminded, worryingly so, of the **** The Alarm song: “Collide”:

“All of these thoughts pounding in my head …
with the words I've wrote, in the letters I've never sent.
The distance in our lives may change …
Times that you can never erase …
But will our worlds collide?
Will our worlds collide, the next time?”



  Only time will tell.



  “Colors”, and a few others, were written about/for her. But, I could never show them to her. I would never endanger my friendship with her. I just wanted to keep her in my life. That, and that alone, was the only motive I'd ever had with her. I looked forward to seeing her marry, hearing her stories of her three kid's adventures; Hubby, all greasy, working on the car in the driveway, rabbits in her garden at night, eating her precious organic veggies or even about her new curtains. Just to know that she was alive, happy and doing well. I found a solace in her voice I could never describe and I was completely content to just have her in my life and watch hers unfold. Only I could end up in this odd position.

  I feared that she might get weird-ed out because I'd never displayed any romantic inklings toward her, so, to suddenly read these might make her feel a bit, lets say: uncomfortable. Actually, I didn't write them with any romantic intentions, per se; I just did what I always do … write what comes out. Still, there's no denying that they come across romantic. Again, so, so Charlie Brown. (long sigh)
  
  It is what it is. I also have to ponder the fact that maybe all those Charlie Brown moments in my life were preparing me for this one big, painful one. That does makes sense … ******' Universe.


Colors

Well when you're Green, I'll be your Brown.
Like the earth that loves the flowers,
I'll will be your solid ground.

And I'll be your Azure, when you are Verdigris.
We'll be thee most beautiful ocean
that eyes have ever seen.

And when you're Black, I'll be your White.
Mixing all of the colors … I'll make everything alright.

Now when you're Blue, I'll be you're Red.
If something should make you wanna cry,
I will feel your pain instead.

And I'll be your Orange, whenever you are Pink.
We'll be thee most amazing sunset,
that the sky could ever ink.

And when you're Black, I'll be your White.
I'll mix all of your colors … and make everything alright.

Should you be Violet, I will be your Beige.
Like a sleepy moonlit desert,
pasteled in dunes and sage.

And when you're Grey, I will be your Rainbow.
We'll be thee most soothing rainstorm
the world has ever known.

And when you're Black, I'll be your White.
I'll mix all of your colors … yes, I'll make everything alright.

With love on my palette, painting a glorious sunrise …
I'll color all your mornings with a smile and brighten up your skies.
If you should find yourself in sorrow from someones hate or lies …
I'll take the stars down from the heavens … and paint them in your eyes.

So whenever you are Black, I will always be your White.
I'll mix all your colors with a promise … everything will be alright.

Yes, I'll mix all of your colors with a promise … Everything's gonna be alright.

~  Winter 2012



  I wrote this after she had rang me up one afternoon lamenting about her life at the moment, troubled that her latest novel hadn't done as well as she'd hoped and now she had to be waitressing to make ends meet. I tried my best to cheer her up and assured her that she was strong enough to handle anything and that she must keep chasing her dreams. I wrote it as a poem, but I can't help but notice it looks like a song, though I've never heard music for it. Those repeated verses look just like choruses to me.

  Earlier in the day, I had been looking at a booklet of paint swatches. I guess, up there on my roof looking at the Manhattan skyline, her sadness and me looking at all those colors melted together somehow and, as happens, out came this piece. Even this, became another synchronicity as she would name her next novel “Show Me All Your Colors”. I remember seeing it in the bookstore and looking straight up … shaking my head at the sky. Was this the universe telling me to show and tell her all this?

  Well, if it was, I stuck with my gut and kept it to myself. My God, if you only knew how many of these synchronicities there were between her and I. It simply boggles my mind. I wanted to call them “coincidences”, but there were just so **** many of them … Each so unique, they just couldn't be called that. I don't want to tell them all here, because like I said, the more you swear to it, the crazier you sound. And I'm sure your questioning my sanity by now, aren't you? (Smirk)


  OK, OK … this one is definitely romantic. I wrote it one night, drunk to the bejeezus. I'd done what we called “The Crosstown Crawl” with my pal Tristan and a gaggle of assorted waitresses we knew. This involved starting at Brass Monkey on the west side highway in the Gansevoort District and ending at my favorite hookah bar, Karma, on the Lower East Side … Drinking in, and often being “asked to leave” (Read: Kicked out of) every bar that took our interest as we walked (Read: staggered) west to east, staying below 14th St.

  On my way home from the city on the J train, I thought about all the phone conversations we'd had while I was on this train crossing the Williamsburg Bridge. Being drunk, I guess, I caught a bout of sadness that I'd never get to tell her any of this or even how I felt about it all. Before I hit my elevator, this piece was swimming in my head. It's about as mushy a piece as I've ever written … if not thee most! Not the norm for me, but this is, after all, a lot to keep pent up inside you. I wouldn't wish this predicament on anyone.


For My Little Red-Haired Girl …


You …

My Love.
My Queen.
This Shining Light in my eyes.

My Laughs.
My Dreams.
My Soft, Contented Sighs.

My *****.
My Lavender.
My Dew Covered Rose.

My Smile.
My Cinnamon.
The Joy in my heart … ever inspiring my prose.

My Best Friend.
My Co-Star.
My Fearless Partner in Crime.

My Breath.
My Cohort.
My Side-kick throughout time.

My Snow-capped Mountain.
The Wind caressing my face.
My Vast Green Field.

The Ivy Covered Wall
that harbors my soul … ever refusing to yield.

In a different time ...

You … would have been my Life.

You … would have been my World.

You … would have been my Everything

and I will always love you for my own special reasons.

It is just a shame … and I'm so, so sorry … that you … must never, ever know.

Maybe next time.


~Charlie Brown




   When I came-to in the morning and read what I had wrote, I had to laugh a bit. It is borderline corny, very beautiful, very telling and very sad … all at once. I shook my head, laughing and told myself :

  “*******, Sam … yer losin' it. Get your **** together, will ya?”

  I guess in my stupor, I was imagining what it would have been like to write something for her. I don't know … There it was and I was stuck with it. I almost deleted it, but, my finger wouldn't press the key. As I told you before … I'd NEVER show this to her. She'd probably never speak to me again.

   As a sadder epilogue, that eventually happened. I still don't know why, but we haven't spoken in years. Maybe she sensed this emotion in me and ran away. Or maybe, just maybe … she thought I'd pushed her away somehow … but for whatever reason, we drifted apart. I guess I'll never know.  As you can see by reading this, that was never my intention. But, like I keep reiterating … It is what it is.

  One day, I called her number to catch up and shoot the breeze. I hadn't spoken to her in a few months as she'd been busy promoting her new novel and I didn't want to pester her. But … it was disconnected … I checked my emails … nothing. I'd never been so confused, she just closed me out. I didn't want to bother her. I was sure she had her reasons and if she wanted to reach out to me again, she would. She had my email and my phone number. But, for now … she was gone … and that was that.

  So, what do you think, Reader? Do I get the Tin hat … or a Badge of courage? Am I bat-**** crazy … or just eccentric? I'll leave it up to you to decide, because as I said, this all happened to me and there isn't a thing I can do about any of it. I just had to get it off of my chest. Thanks for letting me vent.

  Wherever she is … she will always mean the world to me. I can see her green eyes if I close my mine and look for them. Sometimes, on occasion, her face haunts my sleep. Still, I like to picture her, kids playing in a sprinkler behind her, digging in her garden, wearing gloves too big for her hands and a smudge of fresh dirt on her cheek … it makes me smile.


-Sam Webster
Brooklyn, New York
2013
OK, you can stop scratching your head. I'm sorry if you feel like I tricked you or was playing a prank … That was not my intention. This piece is experimental writing, of sorts. If you are wondering, it's titled “Somewhere … Out There”. But I didn't want to put a title at the head of the page, as that might have clued you in too early.

I also confess that “Sam” the narrator is, on no uncertain terms, based loosely on myself. But hey, what better way to string you along? Besides, as Stephen King said, you “Write what you know”. As far as I 'm aware, using poetry within a short story like this, or in this manner, has never been done before. Welcome to the future!

It really belongs in my “From Thee Edge” Collection with the rest of my Twilight-Zone-esque short stories. (You can now read some of these fiction short stories here, posted in my "NoPo@HePo" posts, along with some non-fiction essays. I hope you enjoy them.) But, because I pieced together several of my poems to not only tell the story, but as a vehicle to carry it along as part of it; I wanted to put it here on Hello Poetry just to see if I could convince you long enough to get you through the story … while having you believe it was me speaking to you and that it was all very real to me. Thus, making it feel real to you as you read it.

Was I having you along right up until it was signed by someone else? Or, at least until the narrator addressed himself as “Sam”?

If so, then I accomplished my mission. I'd love to hear your comments on it. If you've been reading any of my other posts, I'm sure you've figured out that I like to run wildly outside of the box sometimes. This was just, as I said, an experiment in a different way to tell a story … fiction or otherwise. As always, I hope that I took you on a journey and, more importantly, that you enjoyed it.

~Jeff Gaines
L.A.
(Lower Alabama)
2015

— The End —