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Wide Eyes Jun 2014
Come spring, she leaped across the grassy dune,
Beaming with sheer joy as she hummed a halcyon tune.
Her beauteous almond eyes- the biggest, the brightest.
A bonnie spotted doe in her warm, homely forest

Come summer, by her gushing little lake she played.
When upon a solitary, pensive buck her eyes she laid.
Eyes met across the smiling lake; too soon gazes parted.
While his eyes curiously lingered, hers wandered on ahead.

Come monsoon, he adored her eyes, her gilded coat, her bushy tail.
The passionate warmth in her eyes with affection made him frail.
Yet, she went on with her blissful life- devoid of any care.
Oblivious of the buck who always stopped to stare.

Come winter, by his side chattering happily she grazed.
Soon, his feelings faded; by almond eyes no longer crazed.
Like currents in the water, apart they drifted and drifted.
New lake. Nonchalant silence. No words were said.

Come fall, she found that he still leaped through her mind.
The emotion she once scoffed in her heart now enshrined.
Eyes met across the smiling lake; too soon gazes parted.
While her dull eyes wistfully lingered, his wandered on ahead.
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.
1563

By homely gift and hindered Words
The human heart is told
Of Nothing—
“Nothing” is the force
That renovates the World—
Nigel Morgan Nov 2012
She said, ‘You are funny, the way you set yourself up the moment we arrive. You look into every room to see if it’s suitable as a place to work. Is there a table? Where are the plugs? Is there a good chair at the right height? If there isn’t, are there cushions to make it so? You are funny.’
 
He countered this, but his excuse didn’t sound very convincing. He knew exactly what she meant, but it hurt him a little that she should think it ‘funny’. There’s nothing funny about trying to compose music, he thought. It’s not ‘radio in the head’ you know – this was a favourite expression he’d once heard an American composer use. You don’t just turn a switch and the music’s playing, waiting for you to write it down. You have to find it – though he believed it was usually there, somewhere, waiting to be found. But it’s elusive. You have to work hard to detect what might be there, there in the silence of your imagination.
 
Later over their first meal in this large cottage she said, ‘How do you stop hearing all those settings of the Mass that you must have heard or sung since childhood?’ She’d been rehearsing Verdi’s Requiem recently and was full of snippets of this stirring piece. He was a) writing a Mass to celebrate a cathedral’s reordering after a year as a building site, and b) he’d been a boy chorister and the form and order of the Mass was deeply engrained in his aural memory. He only had to hear the plainsong introduction Gloria in Excelsis Deo to be back in the Queen’s chapel singing Palestrina, or Byrd or Poulenc.
 
His ‘found’ corner was in the living room. The table wasn’t a table but a long cabinet she’d kindly covered with a tablecloth. You couldn’t get your feet under the thing, but with his little portable drawing board there was space to sit properly because the board jutted out beyond the cabinet’s top. It was the right length and its depth was OK, enough space for the board and, next to it, his laptop computer. On the floor beside his chair he placed a few of his reference scores and a box of necessary ‘bits’.
 
The room had two large sofas, an equally large television, some unexplainable and instantly dismissible items of decoration, a standard lamp, and a wood burning stove. The stove was wonderful, and on their second evening in the cottage, when clear skies and a stiff breeze promised a cold night, she’d lit it and, as the evening progressed, they basked in its warmth, she filling envelopes with her cards, he struggling with sleep over a book.
 
Despite and because this was a new, though temporary, location he had got up at 5.0am. This is a usual time for composers who need their daily fix of absolute quiet. And here, in this cottage set amidst autumn fields, within sight of a river estuary, under vast, panoramic uninterrupted skies, there was the distinct possibility of silence – all day. The double-glazing made doubly sure of that.
 
He had sat with a mug of tea at 5.10 and contemplated the silence, or rather what infiltrated the stillness of the cottage as sound. In the kitchen the clock ticked, the refrigerator seemed to need a period of machine noise once its door had been opened. At 6.0am the central heating fired up for a while. Outside, the small fruit trees in the garden moved vigorously in the wind, but he couldn’t hear either the wind or a rustle of leaves.  A car droned past on the nearby road. The clear sky began to lighten promising a fine day. This would certainly do for silence.
 
His thoughts returned to her question of the previous evening, and his answer. He was about to face up to his explanation. ‘I empty myself of all musical sound’, he’d said, ‘I imagine an empty space into which I might bring a single note, a long held drone of a note, a ‘d’ above middle ‘c’ on a chamber ***** (seeing it’s a Mass I’m writing).  Harrison Birtwistle always starts on an ‘e’. A ‘d’ to me seems older and kinder. An ‘e’ is too modern and progressive, slightly brash and noisy.’
 
He can see she is quizzical with this anecdotal stuff. Is he having me on? But no, he is not having her on. Such choices are important. Without them progress would be difficult when the thinking and planning has to stop and the composing has to begin. His notebook, sitting on his drawing board with some first sketches, plays testament to that. In this book glimpses of music appear in rhythmic abstracts, though rarely any pitches, and there are pages of written description. He likes to imagine what a new work is, and what it is not. This he writes down. Composer Paul Hindemith reckoned you had first to address the ‘conditions of performance’. That meant thinking about the performers, the location, above all the context. A Mass can be, for a composer, so many things. There were certainly requirements and constraints. The commission had to fulfil a number of criteria, some imposed by circumstance, some self-imposed by desire. All this goes into the melting ***, or rather the notebook. And after the notebook, he takes a large piece of A3 paper and clarifies this thinking and planning onto (if possible) a single sheet.
 
And so, to the task in hand. His objective, he had decided, is to focus on the whole rather than the particular. Don’t think about the Kyrie on its own, but consider how it lies with the Gloria. And so with the Sanctus & Benedictus. How do they connect to the Agnus Dei. He begins on the A3 sheet of plain paper ‘making a map of connections’. Kyrie to Gloria, Gloria to Credo and so on. Then what about Agnus Dei and the Gloria? Is there going to be any commonality – in rhythm, pace and tempo (we’ll leave melody and harmony for now)? Steady, he finds himself saying, aren’t we going back over old ground? His notebook has pages of attempts at rhythmizing the text. There are just so many ways to do this. Each rhythmic solution begets a different slant of meaning.
 
This is to be a congregational Mass, but one that has a role for a 4-part choir and ***** and a ‘jazz instrument’. Impatient to see notes on paper, he composes a new introduction to a Kyrie as a rhythmic sketch, then, experimentally, adds pitches. He scores it fully, just 10 bars or so, but it is barely finished before his critical inner voice says, ‘What’s this for? Do you all need this? This is showing off.’ So the filled-out sketch drops to the floor and he examines this element of ‘beginning’ the incipit.
 
He remembers how a meditation on that word inhabits the opening chapter of George Steiner’s great book Grammars of Creation. He sees in his mind’s eye the complex, colourful and ornate letter that begins the Lindesfarne Gospels. His beginnings for each movement, he decides, might be two chords, one overlaying the other: two ‘simple’ diatonic chords when sounded separately, but complex and with a measure of mystery when played together. The Mass is often described as a mystery. It is that ritual of a meal undertaken by a community of people who in the breaking of bread and wine wish to bring God’s presence amongst them. So it is a mystery. And so, he tells himself, his music will aim to hold something of mystery. It should not be a comment on that mystery, but be a mystery itself. It should not be homely and comfortable; it should be as minimal and sparing of musical commentary as possible.
 
When, as a teenager, he first began to set words to music he quickly experienced the need (it seemed) to fashion accompaniments that were commentaries on the text the voice was singing. These accompaniments did not underpin the words so much as add a commentary upon them. What lay beneath the words was his reaction, indeed imaginative extension of the words. He eschewed then both melisma and repetition. He sought an extreme independence between word and music, even though the word became the scenario of the music. Any musical setting was derived from the composition of the vocal line.  It was all about finding the ‘key’ to a song, what unlocked the door to the room of life it occupied. The music was the room where the poem’s utterance lived.
 
With a Mass you were in trouble for the outset. There was a poetry of sorts, but poetry that, in the countless versions of the vernacular, had lost (perhaps had never had) the resonance of the Latin. He thought suddenly of the supposed words of William Byrd, ‘He who sings prays twice’. Yes, such commonplace words are intercessional, but when sung become more than they are. But he knew he had to be careful here.
 
Why do we sing the words of the Mass he asks himself? Do we need to sing these words of the Mass? Are they the words that Christ spoke as he broke bread and poured wine to his friends and disciples at his last supper? The answer is no. Certainly these words of the Mass we usually sing surround the most intimate words of that final meal, words only the priest in Christ’s name may articulate.
 
Write out the words of the Mass that represent its collective worship and what do you have? Rather non-descript poetry? A kind of formula for collective incantation during worship? Can we read these words and not hear a surrounding music? He thinks for a moment of being asked to put new music to words of The Beatles. All you need is love. Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away. Oh bla dee oh bla da life goes on. Now, now this is silliness, his Critical Voice complains. And yet it’s not. When you compose a popular song the gap between some words scribbled on the back of an envelope and the hook of chords and melody developed in an accidental moment (that becomes a way of clothing such words) is often minimal. Apart, words and music seem like orphans in a storm. Together they are home and dry.
 
He realises, and not for the first time, that he is seeking a total musical solution to the whole of the setting of those words collectively given voice to by those participating in the Mass.
 
And so: to the task in hand. His objective: to focus on the whole rather than the particular.  Where had he heard that thought before? - when he had sat down at his drawing board an hour and half previously. He’d gone in a circle of thought, and with his sketch on the floor at his feet, nothing to show for all that effort.
 
Meanwhile the sun had risen. He could hear her moving about in the bathroom. He went to the kitchen and laid out what they would need to breakfast together. As he poured milk into a jug, primed the toaster, filled the kettle, the business of what might constitute a whole solution to this setting of the Mass followed him around the kitchen and breakfast room like a demanding child. He knew all about demanding children. How often had he come home from his studio to prepare breakfast and see small people to school? - more often than he cared to remember. And when he remembered he became sad that it was no more.  His children had so often provided a welcome buffer from sessions of intense thought and activity. He loved the walk to school, the first quarter of a mile through the park, a long avenue of chestnut trees. It was always the end of April and pink and white blossoms were appearing, or it was September and there were conkers everywhere. It was under these trees his daughter would skip and even his sons would hold hands with him; he would feel their warmth, their livingness.
 
But now, preparing breakfast, his Critical Voice was that demanding child and he realised when she appeared in the kitchen he spoke to her with a voice of an artist in conversation with his critics, not the voice of the man who had the previous night lost himself to joy in her dear embrace. And he was ashamed it was so.
 
How he loved her gentle manner as she negotiated his ‘coming too’ after those two hours of concentration and inner dialogue. Gradually, by the second cup of coffee he felt a right person, and the hours ahead did not seem too impossible.
 
When she’d gone off to her work, silence reasserted itself. He played his viola for half an hour, just scales and exercises and a few folk songs he was learning by heart. This gathering habit was, he would say if asked, to reassert his musicianship, the link between his body and making sound musically. That the viola seemed to resonate throughout his whole body gave him pleasure. He liked the ****** movement required to produce a flowing sequence of bow strokes. The trick at the end of this daily practice was to put the instrument in its case and move immediately to his desk. No pause to check email – that blight on a morning’s work. No pause to look at today’s list. Back to the work in hand: the Mass.
 
But instead his mind and intention seemed to slip sideways and almost unconsciously he found himself sketching (on the few remaining staves of a vocal experiment) what appeared to be a piano piece. The rhythmic flow of it seemed to dance across the page to be halted only when the few empty staves were filled. He knew this was one of those pieces that addressed the pianist, not the listener. He sat back in his chair and imagined a scenario of a pianist opening this music and after a few minutes’ reflection and reading through allowing her hands to move very slowly and silently a few millimetres over the keys.  Such imagining led him to hear possible harmonic simultaneities, dynamics and articulations, though he knew such things would probably be lost or reinvented on a second imagined ‘performance’. No matter. Now his make-believe pianist sounded the first bar out. It had a depth and a richness that surprised him – it was a fine piano. He was touched by its affect. He felt the possibilities of extending what he’d written. So he did. And for the next half an hour lived in the pastures of good continuation, those rich luxuriant meadows reached by a rickerty rackerty bridge and guarded by a troll who today was nowhere to be seen.
 
It was a curious piece. It came to a halt on an enigmatic, go-nowhere / go-anywhere chord after what seemed a short declamatory coda (he later added the marking deliberamente). Then, after a few minutes reflection he wrote a rising arpeggio, a broken chord in which the consonant elements gradually acquired a rising sequence of dissonance pitches until halted by a repetition. As he wrote this ending he realised that the repeated note, an ‘a’ flat, was a kind of fulcrum around which the whole of the music moved. It held an enigmatic presence in the harmony, being sometimes a g# sometimes an ‘a’ flat, and its function often different. It made the music take on a wistful quality.
 
At that point he thought of her little artists’ book series she had titled Tide Marks. Many of these were made of a concertina of folded pages revealing - as your eyes moved through its pages - something akin to the tide’s longitudinal mark. This centred on the page and spread away both upwards and downwards, just like those mirror images of coloured glass seen in a child’s kaleidoscope. No moment of view was ever quite the same, but there were commonalities born of the conditions of a certain day and time.  His ‘Tide Mark’ was just like that. He’d followed a mark made in his imagination from one point to another point a little distant. The musical working out also had a reflection mechanism: what started in one hand became mirrored in the other. He had unexpectedly supplied an ending, this arpegiated gesture of finality that wasn’t properly final but faded away. When he thought further about the role of the ending, he added a few more notes to the arpeggio, but notes that were not be sounded but ghosted, the player miming a press of the keys.
 
He looked at the clock. Nearly five o’clock. The afternoon had all but disappeared. Time had retreated into glorious silence . There had been three whole hours of it. How wonderful that was after months of battling with the incessant and draining turbulence of sound that was ever present in his city life. To be here in this quiet cottage he could now get thoroughly lost – in silence. Even when she was here he could be a few rooms apart, and find silence.
 
A week more of this, a fortnight even . . . but he knew he might only manage a few days before visitors arrived and his long day would be squeezed into the early morning hours and occasional uncertain periods when people were out and about.
 
When she returned, very soon now, she would make tea and cut cake, and they’d sit (like old people they wer
763

He told a homely tale
And spotted it with tears—
Upon his infant face was set
The Cicatrice of years—

All crumpled was the cheek
No other kiss had known
Than flake of snow, divided with
The Redbreast of the Barn—

If Mother—in the Grave—
Or Father—on the Sea—
Or Father in the Firmament—
Or Brethren, had he—

If Commonwealth below,
Or Commonwealth above
Have missed a Barefoot Citizen—
I’ve ransomed it—alive—
Becky Cheung May 2014
Ramblings about things I like and things I don’t

(because I have the time to write and I have been asking myself what I really like or want.)

I dislike

things about the modern society sometimes -- like how some people are trapped by their self imposed sense of success driven by their greed and selfishness since they only seems to look out for the wellbeing of themselves. There seems to be something disturbing about the city somehow though I cannot point it out exactly what that makes me feel uncomfortable but perhaps it is the perfect street and buildings all over like a factory manner.

I like

places without the perfect street and buildings and I want to have an adventure and live like going to Cambodia and India to learn about their culture and help some kids there. There I will be rich in experience and purpose and laugh at how sometimes I take things for granted or my own self imposed narrow point of view about the world at large.

I dislike

stereotyping and how human judge people based on external stuff like looks, race or background but I suspect it is our nature as humans to put things into label like marketing or something. Placing labels on someone's appearance or race or anything else alone ***** and stereotypes are disgusting. Take some time to look beyond the surface -- labels are meant for can soup. There is no point having a beautiful façade on the surface but empty in the inside.

I like

beautiful minds, people that are comfortable with themselves despite their imperfection and people being who they are despite it may goes against the norms of society and I think gays are bold (though I am not gay or something), they defeat their insecurities and conquer their inner demons on how people look at them.

I dislike

how cheesy pop music is at times and prefer words that touch me and lyrics that mean more than just about ******, stupid heartbreak or explicit things.

I like

words that make give me inner hope and a will to continue to walk or beautifully written and something that inspire or I can relate to. Perhaps occasionally books that make my heart break a little with a rush of emotion -- even it is somebody's tale or not true but I love the passion of it all.

I like

art. Art that have a story and meaning behind them and not just random models on the cover of the magazines with too much makeup and too much photoshop with the focus on just looks alone.

I like

to take photos of random things and the simple beautiful around us that many of us fail to see and honest heart to heart conversation with a few close friends in a homely environment instead of a big crowd of acquaintance.

I dislike

how some people cannot seem to understand something unless you push it right in their faces, when someone is only nice to me when they need something or just keep up with the appearance which is stupid.

I dislike

each other's' masks and the need to decipher the feelings beyond the masks without being told what it is specifically, people with ******* up beliefs of what is right and wrong and those who can be easily manipulated and people that manipulate them for their own benefit.

I like

beautifully hand crafted items and non factory made stuff. They are one of a kind yet sometimes I can be a walking contradiction and I do like man-made things because once in a while it gives an artificial glint of happiness and if you lost it or break it, you can always have a new one.

I dislike this world.
I like this world.

I want to live in a world with things that bring me a simple glimpse of joy and perhaps that is all I wish to ask for.
If from the public way you turn your steps
Up the tumultuous brook of Green-head Ghyll,
You will suppose that with an upright path
Your feet must struggle; in such bold ascent
The pastoral mountains front you, face to face.
But, courage! for around that boisterous brook
The mountains have all opened out themselves,
And made a hidden valley of their own.
No habitation can be seen; but they
Who journey thither find themselves alone
With a few sheep, with rocks and stones, and kites
That overhead are sailing in the sky.
It is in truth an utter solitude;
Nor should I have made mention of this Dell
But for one object which you might pass by,
Might see and notice not. Beside the brook
Appears a straggling heap of unhewn stones!
And to that simple object appertains
A story—unenriched with strange events,
Yet not unfit, I deem, for the fireside,
Or for the summer shade. It was the first
Of those domestic tales that spake to me
Of Shepherds, dwellers in the valleys, men
Whom I already loved;—not verily
For their own sakes, but for the fields and hills
Where was their occupation and abode.
And hence this Tale, while I was yet a Boy
Careless of books, yet having felt the power
Of Nature, by the gentle agency
Of natural objects, led me on to feel
For passions that were not my own, and think
(At random and imperfectly indeed)
On man, the heart of man, and human life.
Therefore, although it be a history
Homely and rude, I will relate the same
For the delight of a few natural hearts;
And, with yet fonder feeling, for the sake
Of youthful Poets, who among these hills
Will be my second self when I am gone.

     Upon the forest-side in Grasmere Vale
There dwelt a Shepherd, Michael was his name;
An old man, stout of heart, and strong of limb.
His ****** frame had been from youth to age
Of an unusual strength: his mind was keen,
Intense, and frugal, apt for all affairs,
And in his shepherd’s calling he was prompt
And watchful more than ordinary men.
Hence had he learned the meaning of all winds,
Of blasts of every tone; and oftentimes,
When others heeded not, he heard the South
Make subterraneous music, like the noise
Of bagpipers on distant Highland hills.
The Shepherd, at such warning, of his flock
Bethought him, and he to himself would say,
“The winds are now devising work for me!”
And, truly, at all times, the storm, that drives
The traveller to a shelter, summoned him
Up to the mountains: he had been alone
Amid the heart of many thousand mists,
That came to him, and left him, on the heights.
So lived he till his eightieth year was past.
And grossly that man errs, who should suppose
That the green valleys, and the streams and rocks,
Were things indifferent to the Shepherd’s thoughts.
Fields, where with cheerful spirits he had breathed
The common air; hills, which with vigorous step
He had so often climbed; which had impressed
So many incidents upon his mind
Of hardship, skill or courage, joy or fear;
Which, like a book, preserved the memory
Of the dumb animals, whom he had saved,
Had fed or sheltered, linking to such acts
The certainty of honourable gain;
Those fields, those hills—what could they less? had laid
Strong hold on his affections, were to him
A pleasurable feeling of blind love,
The pleasure which there is in life itself .

     His days had not been passed in singleness.
His Helpmate was a comely matron, old—
Though younger than himself full twenty years.
She was a woman of a stirring life,
Whose heart was in her house: two wheels she had
Of antique form; this large, for spinning wool;
That small, for flax; and, if one wheel had rest,
It was because the other was at work.
The Pair had but one inmate in their house,
An only Child, who had been born to them
When Michael, telling o’er his years, began
To deem that he was old,—in shepherd’s phrase,
With one foot in the grave. This only Son,
With two brave sheep-dogs tried in many a storm,
The one of an inestimable worth,
Made all their household. I may truly say,
That they were as a proverb in the vale
For endless industry. When day was gone,
And from their occupations out of doors
The Son and Father were come home, even then,
Their labour did not cease; unless when all
Turned to the cleanly supper-board, and there,
Each with a mess of pottage and skimmed milk,
Sat round the basket piled with oaten cakes,
And their plain home-made cheese. Yet when the meal
Was ended, Luke (for so the Son was named)
And his old Father both betook themselves
To such convenient work as might employ
Their hands by the fireside; perhaps to card
Wool for the Housewife’s spindle, or repair
Some injury done to sickle, flail, or scythe,
Or other implement of house or field.

     Down from the ceiling, by the chimney’s edge,
That in our ancient uncouth country style
With huge and black projection overbrowed
Large space beneath, as duly as the light
Of day grew dim the Housewife hung a lamp,
An aged utensil, which had performed
Service beyond all others of its kind.
Early at evening did it burn—and late,
Surviving comrade of uncounted hours,
Which, going by from year to year, had found,
And left the couple neither gay perhaps
Nor cheerful, yet with objects and with hopes,
Living a life of eager industry.
And now, when Luke had reached his eighteenth year,
There by the light of this old lamp they sate,
Father and Son, while far into the night
The Housewife plied her own peculiar work,
Making the cottage through the silent hours
Murmur as with the sound of summer flies.
This light was famous in its neighbourhood,
And was a public symbol of the life
That thrifty Pair had lived. For, as it chanced,
Their cottage on a plot of rising ground
Stood single, with large prospect, north and south,
High into Easedale, up to Dunmail-Raise,
And westward to the village near the lake;
And from this constant light, so regular
And so far seen, the House itself, by all
Who dwelt within the limits of the vale,
Both old and young, was named The Evening Star.

     Thus living on through such a length of years,
The Shepherd, if he loved himself, must needs
Have loved his Helpmate; but to Michael’s heart
This son of his old age was yet more dear—
Less from instinctive tenderness, the same
Fond spirit that blindly works in the blood of all—
Than that a child, more than all other gifts
That earth can offer to declining man,
Brings hope with it, and forward-looking thoughts,
And stirrings of inquietude, when they
By tendency of nature needs must fail.
Exceeding was the love he bare to him,
His heart and his heart’s joy! For oftentimes
Old Michael, while he was a babe in arms,
Had done him female service, not alone
For pastime and delight, as is the use
Of fathers, but with patient mind enforced
To acts of tenderness; and he had rocked
His cradle, as with a woman’s gentle hand.

     And, in a later time, ere yet the Boy
Had put on boy’s attire, did Michael love,
Albeit of a stern unbending mind,
To have the Young-one in his sight, when he
Wrought in the field, or on his shepherd’s stool
Sate with a fettered sheep before him stretched
Under the large old oak, that near his door
Stood single, and, from matchless depth of shade,
Chosen for the Shearer’s covert from the sun,
Thence in our rustic dialect was called
The Clipping Tree, a name which yet it bears.
There, while they two were sitting in the shade,
With others round them, earnest all and blithe,
Would Michael exercise his heart with looks
Of fond correction and reproof bestowed
Upon the Child, if he disturbed the sheep
By catching at their legs, or with his shouts
Scared them, while they lay still beneath the shears.

     And when by Heaven’s good grace the boy grew up
A healthy Lad, and carried in his cheek
Two steady roses that were five years old;
Then Michael from a winter coppice cut
With his own hand a sapling, which he hooped
With iron, making it throughout in all
Due requisites a perfect shepherd’s staff,
And gave it to the Boy; wherewith equipt
He as a watchman oftentimes was placed
At gate or gap, to stem or turn the flock;
And, to his office prematurely called,
There stood the urchin, as you will divine,
Something between a hindrance and a help,
And for this cause not always, I believe,
Receiving from his Father hire of praise;
Though nought was left undone which staff, or voice,
Or looks, or threatening gestures, could perform.

     But soon as Luke, full ten years old, could stand
Against the mountain blasts; and to the heights,
Not fearing toil, nor length of weary ways,
He with his Father daily went, and they
Were as companions, why should I relate
That objects which the Shepherd loved before
Were dearer now? that from the Boy there came
Feelings and emanations—things which were
Light to the sun and music to the wind;
And that the old Man’s heart seemed born again?

     Thus in his Father’s sight the Boy grew up:
And now, when he had reached his eighteenth year,
He was his comfort and his daily hope.

     While in this sort the simple household lived
From day to day, to Michael’s ear there came
Distressful tidings. Long before the time
Of which I speak, the Shepherd had been bound
In surety for his brother’s son, a man
Of an industrious life, and ample means;
But unforeseen misfortunes suddenly
Had prest upon him; and old Michael now
Was summoned to discharge the forfeiture,
A grievous penalty, but little less
Than half his substance. This unlooked-for claim
At the first hearing, for a moment took
More hope out of his life than he supposed
That any old man ever could have lost.
As soon as he had armed himself with strength
To look his trouble in the face, it seemed
The Shepherd’s sole resource to sell at once
A portion of his patrimonial fields.
Such was his first resolve; he thought again,
And his heart failed him. “Isabel,” said he,
Two evenings after he had heard the news,
“I have been toiling more than seventy years,
And in the open sunshine of God’s love
Have we all lived; yet, if these fields of ours
Should pass into a stranger’s hand, I think
That I could not lie quiet in my grave.
Our lot is a hard lot; the sun himself
Has scarcely been more diligent than I;
And I have lived to be a fool at last
To my own family. An evil man
That was, and made an evil choice, if he
Were false to us; and, if he were not false,
There are ten thousand to whom loss like this
Had been no sorrow. I forgive him;—but
’Twere better to be dumb than to talk thus.

     “When I began, my purpose was to speak
Of remedies and of a cheerful hope.
Our Luke shall leave us, Isabel; the land
Shall not go from us, and it shall be free;
He shall possess it, free as is the wind
That passes over it. We have, thou know’st,
Another kinsman—he will be our friend
In this distress. He is a prosperous man,
Thriving in trade and Luke to him shall go,
And with his kinsman’s help and his own thrift
He quickly will repair this loss, and then
He may return to us. If here he stay,
What can be done? Where every one is poor,
What can be gained?”

                                          At this the old Man paused,
And Isabel sat silent, for her mind
Was busy, looking back into past times.
There’s Richard Bateman, thought she to herself,
He was a parish-boy—at the church-door
They made a gathering for him, shillings, pence,
And halfpennies, wherewith the neighbours bought
A basket, which they filled with pedlar’s wares;
And, with this basket on his arm, the lad
Went up to London, found a master there,
Who, out of many, chose the trusty boy
To go and overlook his merchandise
Beyond the seas; where he grew wondrous rich,
And left estates and monies to the poor,
And, at his birth-place, built a chapel floored
With marble, which he sent from foreign lands.
These thoughts, and many others of like sort,
Passed quickly through the mind of Isabel,
And her face brightened. The old Man was glad,
And thus resumed:—”Well, Isabel! this scheme
These two days has been meat and drink to me.
Far more than we have lost is left us yet.
—We have enough—I wish indeed that I
Were younger;—but this hope is a good hope.
Make ready Luke’s best garments, of the best
Buy for him more, and let us send him forth
To-morrow, or the next day, or to-night:
—If he could go, the boy should go to-night.”

     Here Michael ceased, and to the fields went forth
With a light heart. The Housewife for five days
Was restless morn and night, and all day long
Wrought on with her best fingers to prepare.
Things needful for the journey of her Son.
But Isabel was glad when Sunday came
To stop her in her work: for, when she lay
By Michael’s side, she through the last two nights
Heard him, how he was troubled in his sleep:
And when they rose at morning she could see
That all his hopes were gone. That day at noon
She said to Luke, while they two by themselves
Were sitting at the door, “Thou must not go:
We have no other Child but thee to lose,
None to remember—do not go away,
For if thou leave thy Father he will die.”
The Youth made answer with a jocund voice;
And Isabel, when she had told her fears,
Recovered heart. That evening her best fare
Did she bring forth, and all together sat
Like happy people round a Christmas fire.

     With daylight Isabel resumed her work;
And all the ensuing week the house appeared
As cheerful as a grove in Spring: at length
The expected letter from their kinsman came,
With kind assurances that he would do
His utmost for the welfare of the Boy;
To which requests were added, that forthwith
He might be sent to him. Ten times or more
The letter was read over, Isabel
Went forth to show it to the neighbours round;
Nor was there at that time on English land
A prouder heart than Luke’s. When Isabel
Had to her house returned, the old man said,
“He shall depart to-morrow.” To this word
The Housewife answered, talking much of things
Which, if at such short notice he should go,
Would surely be forgotten. But at length
She gave consent, and Michael was at ease.

     Near the tumultuous brook of Green-head Ghyll,
In that deep valley, Michael had designed
To build a Sheep-fold; and, before he heard
The tidings of his melancholy loss,
For this same purpose he had gathered up
A heap of stones, which by the streamlet’s edge
Lay thrown together, ready for the work.
With Luke that evening thitherward he walked:
And soon as they had reached the place he stopped,
And thus the old Man spake to him:—”My Son,
To-morrow thou wilt leave me: with full heart
I look upon thee, for thou art the same
That wert a promise to me ere thy birth,
And all thy life hast been my daily joy.
I will relate to thee some little part
Of our two histories; ’twill do thee good
When thou art from me, even if I should touch
On things thou canst not know of.—After thou
First cam’st into the world—as oft befalls
To new-born infants—thou didst sleep away
Two days, and blessings from thy Father’s tongue
Then fell upon thee. Day by day passed on,
And still I loved thee with increasing love.
Never to living ear came sweeter sounds
Than when I heard thee by our own fireside
First uttering, without words, a natural tune;
While thou, a feeding babe, didst in thy joy
Sing at thy Mother’s breast. Month followed month,
And in the open fields my life was passed,
And on the mountains; else I think that thou
Hadst been brought up upon thy Father’s knees.
But we were playmates, Luke: among these hills,
As well thou knowest, in us the old and young
Have played together, nor with me didst thou
Lack any pleasure which a boy can know.”
Luke had a manly heart; but at these words
He sobbed aloud. The old Man grasped his hand,
And said, “Nay, do not take it so—I see
That these are things of which I need not speak.
—Even to the utmost I have been to thee
A kind and a good Father: and herein
I but repay a gift which I myself
Received at others’ hands; for, though now old
Beyond the common life of man, I still
Remember them who loved me in my youth.
Both of them sleep together: h
Paul S Eifert Nov 2012
The bloom of the cut rose
leaks into the water glass.
She fixes breakfast.
I sit thereabouts waiting.
I trouble my coffee with a spoon.
Her slippers scuff softly on the floor.
Her dreaming slowly leaves her eyes.
I rub my homely morning face.
The finger of a tree taps the glass.
It will not be admitted
with the pale, newborn light.
The world already goes its way.
It minds if we are slow to follow.
The street grumbles at my well-used robe.
Matins bells predict a running out.
We keep our peace
longer than we should.
embedded in the most tenebrous corner of my mind,
harlequin memories of serendipity,
dripping like bittersweet wine,
tantalize me,
begriming what was once an unsoiled canvas.

engulfed in my despondency,
I repose homely
until my mind's taste-buds
savor the saccharine flavors
of its own derisive thoughts.

aroused to say the least,
my mind's libido is now being satisfied.
I lie here,
welcoming all that my thoughts and epiphanies have to offer.
I am unable to disclose what's bestowed to me
but that's irrelevant.

My mind is here...
and open
and anticipating
the pleasing rush
of these thoughts that venture through my head.

The pleasure is overwhelming,
forcing my chakras open
as my ajna awakens from its long slumber.

I crave this foreplay
and I plead with the universe
to make it never-ending
but it seems my cries fall upon deaf ears
and I'm left open-minded
and unfinished.
If you don't understand, you can ask me.
Late, my grandson! half the morning have I paced these sandy tracts,
Watch'd again the hollow ridges roaring into cataracts,

Wander'd back to living boyhood while I heard the curlews call,
I myself so close on death, and death itself in Locksley Hall.

So--your happy suit was blasted--she the faultless, the divine;
And you liken--boyish babble--this boy-love of yours with mine.

I myself have often babbled doubtless of a foolish past;
Babble, babble; our old England may go down in babble at last.

'Curse him!' curse your fellow-victim? call him dotard in your rage?
Eyes that lured a doting boyhood well might fool a dotard's age.

Jilted for a wealthier! wealthier? yet perhaps she was not wise;
I remember how you kiss'd the miniature with those sweet eyes.

In the hall there hangs a painting--Amy's arms about my neck--
Happy children in a sunbeam sitting on the ribs of wreck.

In my life there was a picture, she that clasp'd my neck had flown;
I was left within the shadow sitting on the wreck alone.

Yours has been a slighter ailment, will you sicken for her sake?
You, not you! your modern amourist is of easier, earthlier make.

Amy loved me, Amy fail'd me, Amy was a timid child;
But your Judith--but your worldling--she had never driven me wild.

She that holds the diamond necklace dearer than the golden ring,
She that finds a winter sunset fairer than a morn of Spring.

She that in her heart is brooding on his briefer lease of life,
While she vows 'till death shall part us,' she the would-be-widow wife.

She the worldling born of worldlings--father, mother--be content,
Ev'n the homely farm can teach us there is something in descent.

Yonder in that chapel, slowly sinking now into the ground,
Lies the warrior, my forefather, with his feet upon the hound.

Cross'd! for once he sail'd the sea to crush the Moslem in his pride;
Dead the warrior, dead his glory, dead the cause in which he died.

Yet how often I and Amy in the mouldering aisle have stood,
Gazing for one pensive moment on that founder of our blood.

There again I stood to-day, and where of old we knelt in prayer,
Close beneath the casement crimson with the shield of Locksley--there,

All in white Italian marble, looking still as if she smiled,
Lies my Amy dead in child-birth, dead the mother, dead the child.

Dead--and sixty years ago, and dead her aged husband now--
I this old white-headed dreamer stoopt and kiss'd her marble brow.

Gone the fires of youth, the follies, furies, curses, passionate tears,
Gone like fires and floods and earthquakes of the planet's dawning years.

Fires that shook me once, but now to silent ashes fall'n away.
Cold upon the dead volcano sleeps the gleam of dying day.

Gone the tyrant of my youth, and mute below the chancel stones,
All his virtues--I forgive them--black in white above his bones.

Gone the comrades of my bivouac, some in fight against the foe,
Some thro' age and slow diseases, gone as all on earth will go.

Gone with whom for forty years my life in golden sequence ran,
She with all the charm of woman, she with all the breadth of man,

Strong in will and rich in wisdom, Edith, yet so lowly-sweet,
Woman to her inmost heart, and woman to her tender feet,

Very woman of very woman, nurse of ailing body and mind,
She that link'd again the broken chain that bound me to my kind.

Here to-day was Amy with me, while I wander'd down the coast,
Near us Edith's holy shadow, smiling at the slighter ghost.

Gone our sailor son thy father, Leonard early lost at sea;
Thou alone, my boy, of Amy's kin and mine art left to me.

Gone thy tender-natured mother, wearying to be left alone,
Pining for the stronger heart that once had beat beside her own.

Truth, for Truth is Truth, he worshipt, being true as he was brave;
Good, for Good is Good, he follow'd, yet he look'd beyond the grave,

Wiser there than you, that crowning barren Death as lord of all,
Deem this over-tragic drama's closing curtain is the pall!

Beautiful was death in him, who saw the death, but kept the deck,
Saving women and their babes, and sinking with the sinking wreck,

Gone for ever! Ever? no--for since our dying race began,
Ever, ever, and for ever was the leading light of man.

Those that in barbarian burials ****'d the slave, and slew the wife,
Felt within themselves the sacred passion of the second life.

Indian warriors dream of ampler hunting grounds beyond the night;
Ev'n the black Australian dying hopes he shall return, a white.

Truth for truth, and good for good! The Good, the True, the Pure, the Just--
Take the charm 'For ever' from them, and they crumble into dust.

Gone the cry of 'Forward, Forward,' lost within a growing gloom;
Lost, or only heard in silence from the silence of a tomb.

Half the marvels of my morning, triumphs over time and space,
Staled by frequence, shrunk by usage into commonest commonplace!

'Forward' rang the voices then, and of the many mine was one.
Let us hush this cry of 'Forward' till ten thousand years have gone.

Far among the vanish'd races, old Assyrian kings would flay
Captives whom they caught in battle--iron-hearted victors they.

Ages after, while in Asia, he that led the wild Moguls,
Timur built his ghastly tower of eighty thousand human skulls,

Then, and here in Edward's time, an age of noblest English names,
Christian conquerors took and flung the conquer'd Christian into flames.

Love your enemy, bless your haters, said the Greatest of the great;
Christian love among the Churches look'd the twin of heathen hate.

From the golden alms of Blessing man had coin'd himself a curse:
Rome of Caesar, Rome of Peter, which was crueller? which was worse?

France had shown a light to all men, preach'd a Gospel, all men's good;
Celtic Demos rose a Demon, shriek'd and slaked the light with blood.

Hope was ever on her mountain, watching till the day begun--
Crown'd with sunlight--over darkness--from the still unrisen sun.

Have we grown at last beyond the passions of the primal clan?
'**** your enemy, for you hate him,' still, 'your enemy' was a man.

Have we sunk below them? peasants maim the helpless horse, and drive
Innocent cattle under thatch, and burn the kindlier brutes alive.

Brutes, the brutes are not your wrongers--burnt at midnight, found at morn,
Twisted hard in mortal agony with their offspring, born-unborn,

Clinging to the silent mother! Are we devils? are we men?
Sweet St. Francis of Assisi, would that he were here again,

He that in his Catholic wholeness used to call the very flowers
Sisters, brothers--and the beasts--whose pains are hardly less than ours!

Chaos, Cosmos! Cosmos, Chaos! who can tell how all will end?
Read the wide world's annals, you, and take their wisdom for your friend.

Hope the best, but hold the Present fatal daughter of the Past,
Shape your heart to front the hour, but dream not that the hour will last.

Ay, if dynamite and revolver leave you courage to be wise:
When was age so cramm'd with menace? madness? written, spoken lies?

Envy wears the mask of Love, and, laughing sober fact to scorn,
Cries to Weakest as to Strongest, 'Ye are equals, equal-born.'

Equal-born? O yes, if yonder hill be level with the flat.
Charm us, Orator, till the Lion look no larger than the Cat,

Till the Cat thro' that mirage of overheated language loom
Larger than the Lion,--Demos end in working its own doom.

Russia bursts our Indian barrier, shall we fight her? shall we yield?
Pause! before you sound the trumpet, hear the voices from the field.

Those three hundred millions under one Imperial sceptre now,
Shall we hold them? shall we loose them? take the suffrage of the plow.

Nay, but these would feel and follow Truth if only you and you,
Rivals of realm-ruining party, when you speak were wholly true.

Plowmen, Shepherds, have I found, and more than once, and still could find,
Sons of God, and kings of men in utter nobleness of mind,

Truthful, trustful, looking upward to the practised hustings-liar;
So the Higher wields the Lower, while the Lower is the Higher.

Here and there a cotter's babe is royal-born by right divine;
Here and there my lord is lower than his oxen or his swine.

Chaos, Cosmos! Cosmos, Chaos! once again the sickening game;
Freedom, free to slay herself, and dying while they shout her name.

Step by step we gain'd a freedom known to Europe, known to all;
Step by step we rose to greatness,--thro' the tonguesters we may fall.

You that woo the Voices--tell them 'old experience is a fool,'
Teach your flatter'd kings that only those who cannot read can rule.

Pluck the mighty from their seat, but set no meek ones in their place;
Pillory Wisdom in your markets, pelt your offal at her face.

Tumble Nature heel o'er head, and, yelling with the yelling street,
Set the feet above the brain and swear the brain is in the feet.

Bring the old dark ages back without the faith, without the hope,
Break the State, the Church, the Throne, and roll their ruins down the *****.

Authors--essayist, atheist, novelist, realist, rhymester, play your part,
Paint the mortal shame of nature with the living hues of Art.

Rip your brothers' vices open, strip your own foul passions bare;
Down with Reticence, down with Reverence--forward--naked--let them stare.

Feed the budding rose of boyhood with the drainage of your sewer;
Send the drain into the fountain, lest the stream should issue pure.

Set the maiden fancies wallowing in the troughs of Zolaism,--
Forward, forward, ay and backward, downward too into the abysm.

Do your best to charm the worst, to lower the rising race of men;
Have we risen from out the beast, then back into the beast again?

Only 'dust to dust' for me that sicken at your lawless din,
Dust in wholesome old-world dust before the newer world begin.

Heated am I? you--you wonder--well, it scarce becomes mine age--
Patience! let the dying actor mouth his last upon the stage.

Cries of unprogressive dotage ere the dotard fall asleep?
Noises of a current narrowing, not the music of a deep?

Ay, for doubtless I am old, and think gray thoughts, for I am gray:
After all the stormy changes shall we find a changeless May?

After madness, after massacre, Jacobinism and Jacquerie,
Some diviner force to guide us thro' the days I shall not see?

When the schemes and all the systems, Kingdoms and Republics fall,
Something kindlier, higher, holier--all for each and each for all?

All the full-brain, half-brain races, led by Justice, Love, and Truth;
All the millions one at length with all the visions of my youth?

All diseases quench'd by Science, no man halt, or deaf or blind;
Stronger ever born of weaker, lustier body, larger mind?

Earth at last a warless world, a single race, a single tongue--
I have seen her far away--for is not Earth as yet so young?--

Every tiger madness muzzled, every serpent passion ****'d,
Every grim ravine a garden, every blazing desert till'd,

Robed in universal harvest up to either pole she smiles,
Universal ocean softly washing all her warless Isles.

Warless? when her tens are thousands, and her thousands millions, then--
All her harvest all too narrow--who can fancy warless men?

Warless? war will die out late then. Will it ever? late or soon?
Can it, till this outworn earth be dead as yon dead world the moon?

Dead the new astronomy calls her. . . . On this day and at this hour,
In this gap between the sandhills, whence you see the Locksley tower,

Here we met, our latest meeting--Amy--sixty years ago--
She and I--the moon was falling greenish thro' a rosy glow,

Just above the gateway tower, and even where you see her now--
Here we stood and claspt each other, swore the seeming-deathless vow. . . .

Dead, but how her living glory lights the hall, the dune, the grass!
Yet the moonlight is the sunlight, and the sun himself will pass.

Venus near her! smiling downward at this earthlier earth of ours,
Closer on the Sun, perhaps a world of never fading flowers.

Hesper, whom the poet call'd the Bringer home of all good things.
All good things may move in Hesper, perfect peoples, perfect kings.

Hesper--Venus--were we native to that splendour or in Mars,
We should see the Globe we groan in, fairest of their evening stars.

Could we dream of wars and carnage, craft and madness, lust and spite,
Roaring London, raving Paris, in that point of peaceful light?

Might we not in glancing heavenward on a star so silver-fair,
Yearn, and clasp the hands and murmur, 'Would to God that we were there'?

Forward, backward, backward, forward, in the immeasurable sea,
Sway'd by vaster ebbs and flows than can be known to you or me.

All the suns--are these but symbols of innumerable man,
Man or Mind that sees a shadow of the planner or the plan?

Is there evil but on earth? or pain in every peopled sphere?
Well be grateful for the sounding watchword, 'Evolution' here,

Evolution ever climbing after some ideal good,
And Reversion ever dragging Evolution in the mud.

What are men that He should heed us? cried the king of sacred song;
Insects of an hour, that hourly work their brother insect wrong,

While the silent Heavens roll, and Suns along their fiery way,
All their planets whirling round them, flash a million miles a day.

Many an aeon moulded earth before her highest, man, was born,
Many an aeon too may pass when earth is manless and forlorn,

Earth so huge, and yet so bounded--pools of salt, and plots of land--
Shallow skin of green and azure--chains of mountain, grains of sand!

Only That which made us, meant us to be mightier by and by,
Set the sphere of all the boundless Heavens within the human eye,

Sent the shadow of Himself, the boundless, thro' the human soul;
Boundless inward, in the atom, boundless outward, in the Whole.

                                                *

Here is Locksley Hall, my grandson, here the lion-guarded gate.
Not to-night in Locksley Hall--to-morrow--you, you come so late.

Wreck'd--your train--or all but wreck'd? a shatter'd wheel? a vicious boy!
Good, this forward, you that preach it, is it well to wish you joy?

Is it well that while we range with Science, glorying in the Time,
City children soak and blacken soul and sense in city slime?

There among the glooming alleys Progress halts on palsied feet,
Crime and hunger cast our maidens by the thousand on the street.

There the Master scrimps his haggard sempstress of her daily bread,
There a single sordid attic holds the living and the dead.

There the smouldering fire of fever creeps across the rotted floor,
And the crowded couch of ****** in the warrens of the poor.

Nay, your pardon, cry your 'forward,' yours are hope and youth, but I--
Eighty winters leave the dog too lame to follow with the cry,

Lame and old, and past his time, and passing now into the night;
Yet I would the rising race were half as eager for the light.

Light the fading gleam of Even? light the glimmer of the dawn?
Aged eyes may take the growing glimmer for the gleam withdrawn.

Far away beyond her myriad coming changes earth will be
Something other than the wildest modern guess of you and me.

Earth may reach her earthly-worst, or if she gain her earthly-best,
Would she find her human offspring this ideal man at rest?

Forward then, but still remember how the course of Time will swerve,
Crook and turn upon itself in many a backward streaming curve.

Not the Hall to-night, my grandson! Death and Silence hold their own.
Leave the Master in the first dark hour of his last sleep alone.

Worthier soul was he than I am, sound and honest, rustic Squire,
Kindly landlord, boon companion--youthful jealousy is a liar.

Cast the poison from your *****, oust the madness from your brain.
Let the trampled serpent show you that you have not lived in vain.

Youthful! youth and age are scholars yet but in the lower school,
Nor is he the wisest man who never proved himself a fool.

Yonder lies our young sea-village--Art and Grace are less and less:
Science grows and Beauty dwindles--roofs of slated hideousness!

There is one old Hostel left us where they swing the Locksley shield,
Till the peasant cow shall **** the 'Lion passant' from his field.

Poo
A REACTIONARY TRACT FOR THE TIMES

(Phi Beta Kappa Poem, Harvard, 1946)

Ares at last has quit the field,
The bloodstains on the bushes yield
To seeping showers,
And in their convalescent state
The fractured towns associate
With summer flowers.

Encamped upon the college plain
Raw veterans already train
As freshman forces;
Instructors with sarcastic tongue
Shepherd the battle-weary young
Through basic courses.

Among bewildering appliances
For mastering the arts and sciences
They stroll or run,
And nerves that steeled themselves to slaughter
Are shot to pieces by the shorter
Poems of Donne.

Professors back from secret missions
Resume their proper eruditions,
Though some regret it;
They liked their dictaphones a lot,
T hey met some big wheels, and do not
Let you forget it.

But Zeus' inscrutable decree
Permits the will-to-disagree
To be pandemic,
Ordains that vaudeville shall preach
And every commencement speech
Be a polemic.

Let Ares doze, that other war
Is instantly declared once more
'Twixt those who follow
Precocious Hermes all the way
And those who without qualms obey
Pompous Apollo.

Brutal like all Olympic games,
Though fought with smiles and Christian names
And less dramatic,
This dialectic strife between
The civil gods is just as mean,
And more fanatic.

What high immortals do in mirth
Is life and death on Middle Earth;
Their a-historic
Antipathy forever gripes
All ages and somatic types,
The sophomoric

Who face the future's darkest hints
With giggles or with prairie squints
As stout as Cortez,
And those who like myself turn pale
As we approach with ragged sail
The fattening forties.

The sons of Hermes love to play
And only do their best when they
Are told they oughtn't;
Apollo's children never shrink
From boring jobs but have to think
Their work important.

Related by antithesis,
A compromise between us is
Impossible;
Respect perhaps but friendship never:
Falstaff the fool confronts forever
The **** Prince Hal.

If he would leave the self alone,
Apollo's welcome to the throne,
Fasces and falcons;
He loves to rule, has always done it;
The earth would soon, did Hermes run it,
Be like the Balkans.

But jealous of our god of dreams,
His common-sense in secret schemes
To rule the heart;
Unable to invent the lyre,
Creates with simulated fire
Official art.

And when he occupies a college,
Truth is replaced by Useful Knowledge;
He pays particular
Attention to Commercial Thought,
Public Relations, Hygiene, Sport,
In his curricula.

Athletic, extrovert and crude,
For him, to work in solitude
Is the offence,
The goal a populous Nirvana:
His shield bears this device: Mens sana
Qui mal y pense.

Today his arms, we must confess,
From Right to Left have met success,
His banners wave
From Yale to Princeton, and the news
From Broadway to the Book Reviews
Is very grave.

His radio Homers all day long
In over-Whitmanated song
That does not scan,
With adjectives laid end to end,
Extol the doughnut and commend
The Common Man.

His, too, each homely lyric thing
On sport or spousal love or spring
Or dogs or dusters,
Invented by some court-house bard
For recitation by the yard
In filibusters.

To him ascend the prize orations
And sets of fugal variations
On some folk-ballad,
While dietitians sacrifice
A glass of prune-juice or a nice
Marsh-mallow salad.

Charged with his compound of sensational
*** plus some undenominational
Religious matter,
Enormous novels by co-eds
Rain down on our defenceless heads
Till our teeth chatter.

In fake Hermetic uniforms
Behind our battle-line, in swarms
That keep alighting,
His existentialists declare
That they are in complete despair,
Yet go on writing.

No matter; He shall be defied;
White Aphrodite is on our side:
What though his threat
To organize us grow more critical?
Zeus willing, we, the unpolitical,
Shall beat him yet.

Lone scholars, sniping from the walls
Of learned periodicals,
Our facts defend,
Our intellectual marines,
Landing in little magazines
Capture a trend.

By night our student Underground
At cocktail parties whisper round
From ear to ear;
Fat figures in the public eye
Collapse next morning, ambushed by
Some witty sneer.

In our morale must lie our strength:
So, that we may behold at length
Routed Apollo's
Battalions melt away like fog,
Keep well the Hermetic Decalogue,
Which runs as follows:--

Thou shalt not do as the dean pleases,
Thou shalt not write thy doctor's thesis
On education,
Thou shalt not worship projects nor
Shalt thou or thine bow down before
Administration.

Thou shalt not answer questionnaires
Or quizzes upon World-Affairs,
Nor with compliance
Take any test. Thou shalt not sit
With statisticians nor commit
A social science.

Thou shalt not be on friendly terms
With guys in advertising firms,
Nor speak with such
As read the Bible for its prose,
Nor, above all, make love to those
Who wash too much.

Thou shalt not live within thy means
Nor on plain water and raw greens.
If thou must choose
Between the chances, choose the odd;
Read The New Yorker, trust in God;
And take short views.
Sanja Trifunovic Jan 2010
If from the public way you turn your steps
Up the tumultuous brook of Green-head Gill,
You will suppose that with an upright path
Your feet must struggle; in such bold ascent
The pastoral Mountains front you, face to face.
But, courage! for beside that boisterous Brook
The mountains have all open'd out themselves,
And made a hidden valley of their own.

No habitation there is seen; but such
As journey thither find themselves alone
With a few sheep, with rocks and stones, and kites
That overhead are sailing in the sky.
It is in truth an utter solitude,
Nor should I have made mention of this Dell
But for one object which you might pass by,
Might see and notice not. Beside the brook
There is a straggling heap of unhewn stones!
And to that place a story appertains,
Which, though it be ungarnish'd with events,
Is not unfit, I deem, for the fire-side,
Or for the summer shade. It was the first,
The earliest of those tales that spake to me
Of Shepherds, dwellers in the vallies, men
Whom I already lov'd, not verily
For their own sakes, but for the fields and hills
Where was their occupation and abode.

And hence this Tale, while I was yet a boy
Careless of books, yet having felt the power
Of Nature, by the gentle agency
Of natural objects led me on to feel
For passions that were not my own, and think
At random and imperfectly indeed
On man; the heart of man and human life.
Therefore, although it be a history
Homely and rude, I will relate the same
For the delight of a few natural hearts,
And with yet fonder feeling, for the sake
Of youthful Poets, who among these Hills
Will be my second self when I am gone.


Upon the Forest-side in Grasmere Vale
There dwelt a Shepherd, Michael was his name.
An old man, stout of heart, and strong of limb.
His ****** frame had been from youth to age
Of an unusual strength: his mind was keen
Intense and frugal, apt for all affairs,
And in his Shepherd's calling he was prompt
And watchful more than ordinary men.

Hence he had learn'd the meaning of all winds,
Of blasts of every tone, and often-times
When others heeded not, He heard the South
Make subterraneous music, like the noise
Of Bagpipers on distant Highland hills;
The Shepherd, at such warning, of his flock
Bethought him, and he to himself would say
The winds are now devising work for me!

And truly at all times the storm, that drives
The Traveller to a shelter, summon'd him
Up to the mountains: he had been alone
Amid the heart of many thousand mists
That came to him and left him on the heights.
So liv'd he till his eightieth year was pass'd.

And grossly that man errs, who should suppose
That the green Valleys, and the Streams and Rocks
Were things indifferent to the Shepherd's thoughts.
Fields, where with chearful spirits he had breath'd
The common air; the hills, which he so oft
Had climb'd with vigorous steps; which had impress'd
So many incidents upon his mind
Of hardship, skill or courage, joy or fear;
Which like a book preserv'd the memory
Of the dumb animals, whom he had sav'd,
Had fed or shelter'd, linking to such acts,
So grateful in themselves, the certainty
Of honorable gains; these fields, these hills
Which were his living Being, even more
Than his own Blood--what could they less? had laid
Strong hold on his affections, were to him
A pleasurable feeling of blind love,
The pleasure which there is in life itself.

He had not passed his days in singleness.
He had a Wife, a comely Matron, old
Though younger than himself full twenty years.
She was a woman of a stirring life
Whose heart was in her house: two wheels she had
Of antique form, this large for spinning wool,
That small for flax, and if one wheel had rest,
It was because the other was at work.
The Pair had but one Inmate in their house,
An only Child, who had been born to them
When Michael telling o'er his years began
To deem that he was old, in Shepherd's phrase,
With one foot in the grave. This only son,
With two brave sheep dogs tried in many a storm.

The one of an inestimable worth,
Made all their Household. I may truly say,
That they were as a proverb in the vale
For endless industry. When day was gone,
And from their occupations out of doors
The Son and Father were come home, even then,
Their labour did not cease, unless when all
Turn'd to their cleanly supper-board, and there
Each with a mess of pottage and skimm'd milk,
Sate round their basket pil'd with oaten cakes,
And their plain home-made cheese. Yet when their meal
Was ended, LUKE (for so the Son was nam'd)
And his old Father, both betook themselves
To such convenient work, as might employ
Their hands by the fire-side; perhaps to card
Wool for the House-wife's spindle, or repair
Some injury done to sickle, flail, or scythe,
Or other implement of house or field.

Down from the cicling by the chimney's edge,
Which in our ancient uncouth country style
Did with a huge projection overbrow
Large space beneath, as duly as the light
Of day grew dim, the House-wife hung a lamp;
An aged utensil, which had perform'd
Service beyond all others of its kind.

Early at evening did it burn and late,
Surviving Comrade of uncounted Hours
Which going by from year to year had found
And left the Couple neither gay perhaps
Nor chearful, yet with objects and with hopes
Living a life of eager industry.

And now, when LUKE was in his eighteenth year,
There by the light of this old lamp they sate,
Father and Son, while late into the night
The House-wife plied her own peculiar work,
Making the cottage thro' the silent hours
Murmur as with the sound of summer flies.

Not with a waste of words, but for the sake
Of pleasure, which I know that I shall give
To many living now, I of this Lamp
Speak thus minutely: for there are no few
Whose memories will bear witness to my tale,
The Light was famous in its neighbourhood,
And was a public Symbol of the life,
The thrifty Pair had liv'd. For, as it chanc'd,
Their Cottage on a plot of rising ground
Stood single, with large prospect North and South,
High into Easedale, up to Dunmal-Raise,
And Westward to the village near the Lake.
And from this constant light so regular
And so far seen, the House itself by all
Who dwelt within the limits of the vale,
Both old and young, was nam'd The Evening Star.

Thus living on through such a length of years,
The Shepherd, if he lov'd himself, must needs
Have lov'd his Help-mate; but to Michael's heart
This Son of his old age was yet more dear--
Effect which might perhaps have been produc'd
By that instinctive tenderness, the same
Blind Spirit, which is in the blood of all,
Or that a child, more than all other gifts,
Brings hope with it, and forward-looking thoughts,
And stirrings of inquietude, when they
By tendency of nature needs must fail.

From such, and other causes, to the thoughts
Of the old Man his only Son was now
The dearest object that he knew on earth.
Exceeding was the love he bare to him,
His Heart and his Heart's joy! For oftentimes
Old Michael, while he was a babe in arms,
Had done him female service, not alone
For dalliance and delight, as is the use
Of Fathers, but with patient mind enforc'd
To acts of tenderness; and he had rock'd
His cradle with a woman's gentle hand.

And in a later time, ere yet the Boy
Had put on Boy's attire, did Michael love,
Albeit of a stern unbending mind,
To have the young one in his sight, when he
Had work by his own door, or when he sate
With sheep before him on his Shepherd's stool,
Beneath that large old Oak, which near their door
Stood, and from it's enormous breadth of shade
Chosen for the Shearer's covert from the sun,
Thence in our rustic dialect was call'd
The CLIPPING TREE, *[1] a name which yet it bears.

There, while they two were sitting in the shade,
With others round them, earnest all and blithe,
Would Michael exercise his heart with looks
Of fond correction and reproof bestow'd
Upon the child, if he dislurb'd the sheep
By catching at their legs, or with his shouts
Scar'd them, while they lay still beneath the shears.

And when by Heaven's good grace the Boy grew up
A healthy Lad, and carried in his cheek
Two steady roses that were five years old,
Then Michael from a winter coppice cut
With his own hand a sapling, which he hoop'd
With iron, making it throughout in all
Due requisites a perfect Shepherd's Staff,
And gave it to the Boy; wherewith equipp'd
He as a Watchman oftentimes was plac'd
At gate or gap, to stem or turn the flock,
And to his office prematurely call'd
There stood the urchin, as you will divine,
Something between a hindrance and a help,
And for this cause not always, I believe,
Receiving from his Father hire of praise.

While this good household thus were living on
From day to day, to Michael's ear there came
Distressful tidings. Long before, the time
Of which I speak, the Shepherd had been bound
In surety for his Brother's Son, a man
Of an industrious life, and ample means,
But unforeseen misfortunes suddenly
Had press'd upon him, and old Michael now
Was summon'd to discharge the forfeiture,
A grievous penalty, but little less
Than half his substance. This un-look'd-for claim
At the first hearing, for a moment took
More hope out of his life than he supposed
That any old man ever could have lost.

As soon as he had gather'd so much strength
That he could look his trouble in the face,
It seem'd that his sole refuge was to sell
A portion of his patrimonial fields.
Such was his first resolve; he thought again,
And his heart fail'd him. "Isabel," said he,
Two evenings after he had heard the news,
"I have been toiling more than seventy years,
And in the open sun-shine of God's love
Have we all liv'd, yet if these fields of ours
Should pass into a Stranger's hand, I think
That I could not lie quiet in my grave."

"Our lot is a hard lot; the Sun itself
Has scarcely been more diligent than I,
And I have liv'd to be a fool at last
To my own family. An evil Man
That was, and made an evil choice, if he
Were false to us; and if he were not false,
There are ten thousand to whom loss like this
Had been no sorrow. I forgive him--but
'Twere better to be dumb than to talk thus.
When I began, my purpose was to speak
Of remedies and of a chearful hope."

"Our Luke shall leave us, Isabel; the land
Shall not go from us, and it shall be free,
He shall possess it, free as is the wind
That passes over it. We have, thou knowest,
Another Kinsman, he will be our friend
In this distress. He is a prosperous man,
Thriving in trade, and Luke to him shall go,
And with his Kinsman's help and his own thrift,
He quickly will repair this loss, and then
May come again to us. If here he stay,
What can be done? Where every one is poor
What can be gain'd?" At this, the old man paus'd,
And Isabel sate silent, for her mind
Was busy, looking back into past times.

There's Richard Bateman, thought she to herself,
He was a parish-boy--at the church-door
They made a gathering for him, shillings, pence,
And halfpennies, wherewith the Neighbours bought
A Basket, which they fill'd with Pedlar's wares,
And with this Basket on his arm, the Lad
Went up to London, found a Master there,
Who out of many chose the trusty Boy
To go and overlook his merchandise
Beyond the seas, where he grew wond'rous rich,
And left estates and monies to the poor,
And at his birth-place built a Chapel, floor'd
With Marble, which he sent from foreign lands.
These thoughts, and many others of like sort,
Pass'd quickly thro' the mind of Isabel,
And her face brighten'd. The Old Man was glad.

And thus resum'd. "Well I Isabel, this scheme
These two days has been meat and drink to me.
Far more than we have lost is left us yet.
--We have enough--I wish indeed that I
Were younger, but this hope is a good hope.
--Make ready Luke's best garments, of the best
Buy for him more, and let us send him forth
To-morrow, or the next day, or to-night:
--If he could go, the Boy should go to-night."
Here Michael ceas'd, and to the fields went forth
With a light heart. The House-wife for five days
Was restless morn and night, and all day long
Wrought on with her best fingers to prepare
Things needful for the journey of her Son.

But Isabel was glad when Sunday came
To stop her in her work; for, when she lay
By Michael's side, she for the two last nights
Heard him, how he was troubled in his sleep:
And when they rose at morning she could see
That all his hopes were gone. That day at noon
She said to Luke, while they two by themselves
Were sitting at the door, "Thou must not go,
We have no other Child but thee to lose,
None to remember--do not go away,
For if thou leave thy Father he will die."
The Lad made answer with a jocund voice,
And Isabel, when she had told her fears,
Recover'd heart. That evening her best fare
Did she bring forth, and all together sate
Like happy people round a Christmas fire.

Next morning Isabel resum'd her work,
And all the ensuing week the house appear'd
As cheerful as a grove in Spring: at length
The expected letter from their Kinsman came,
With kind assurances that he would do
His utmost for the welfare of the Boy,
To which requests were added that forthwith
He might be sent to him. Ten times or more
The letter was read over; Isabel
Went forth to shew it to the neighbours round:
Nor was there at that time on English Land
A prouder heart than Luke's. When Isabel
Had to her house return'd, the Old Man said,
"He shall depart to-morrow." To this word
The House--wife answered, talking much of things
Which, if at such, short notice he should go,
Would surely be forgotten. But at length
She gave consent, and Michael was at ease.

Near the tumultuous brook of Green-head Gill,
In that deep Valley, Michael had design'd
To build a Sheep-fold, and, before he heard
The tidings of his melancholy loss,
For this same purpose he had gathered up
A heap of stones, which close to the brook side
Lay thrown together, ready for the work.
With Luke that evening thitherward he walk'd;
And soon as they had reach'd the place he stopp'd,
And thus the Old Man spake to him. "My Son,
To-morrow thou wilt leave me; with full heart
I look upon thee, for thou art the same
That wert a promise to me ere thy birth,
And all thy life hast been my daily joy.
I will relate to thee some little part
Of our two histories; 'twill do thee good
When thou art from me, even if I should speak
Of things thou caust not know of.--After thou
First cam'st into the world, as it befalls
To new-born infants, thou didst sleep away
Two days, and blessings from thy Father's tongue
Then fell upon thee. Day by day pass'd on,
And still I lov'd thee with encreasing love."

Never to living ear came sweeter sounds
Than when I heard thee by our own fire-side
First uttering without words a natural tune,
When thou, a feeding babe, didst in thy joy
Sing at thy Mother's breast. Month follow'd month,
And in the open fields my life was pass'd
And in the mountains, else I think that thou
Hadst been brought up upon thy father's knees.
--But we were playmates, Luke; among these hills,
As well thou know'st, in us the old and young
Have play'd together, nor with me didst thou
Lack any pleasure which a boy can know.

Luke had a manly heart; but at these words
He sobb'd aloud; the Old Man grasp'd his hand,
And said, "Nay do not take it so--I see
That these are things of which I need not speak.
--Even to the utmost I have been to thee
A kind and a good Father: and herein
I but repay a gift which I myself
Receiv'd at others' hands, for, though now old
Beyond the common life of man, I still
Remember them who lov'd me in my youth."

Both of them sleep together: here they liv'd
As all their Forefathers had done, and when
At length their time was come, they were not loth
To give their bodies to the family mold.
I wish'd that thou should'st live the life they liv'd.
But 'tis a long time to look back, my Son,
And see so little gain from sixty years.
These fields were burthen'd when they came to me;
'Till I was forty years of age, not more
Than half of my inheritance was mine.

"I toil'd and toil'd; God bless'd me in my work,
And 'till these three weeks past the land was free.
--It looks as if it never could endure
Another Master. Heaven forgive me, Luke,
If I judge ill for thee, but it seems good
That thou should'st go." At this the Old Man paus'd,
Then, pointing to the Stones near which they stood,
Thus, after a short silence, he resum'd:
"This was a work for us, and now, my Son,
It is a wo
Rondu McPhee Aug 2010
I look out the window--an endless sky. The clouds are like nothing else--bold explosions and everywhere in the sky, infinite, above and still in time and space--Madness and Horror are said to have their own faces and names. Can't Beauty? Beauty has its own life--not a distinctive face, not a concrete identity--Beauty is breathing, standing, growing above us--the Clouds. I know that it's a bit foggy, I know what is actual is only actual for the one time and standing moment that it is there--maybe the Clouds move, travel, fade--but they never leave us. They're long, still and colossal enough to be viewed, admired, stricken, crushed beneath. I'm on a bus, travelling through San Francisco--a mystery on its own, mad like a spiral or giant--one with a heart and soul that is difficult to pinpoint and seemingly jolting, constantly moving throughout--down streets, through alleys, intensifying in the dazzling Golden Gate Bridge and boundary-less San Francisco Bay--a testament Olympian and profoundly simple, such a straightforward bridge with so many possibilities and tragedies. It's my destination, too.

I go to the Podesta Baldocchi--a flower shop, quaint, small, almost non-existent in the vertigo of San Francisco, but immortalized in another Vertigo--and inspiring search and enigma on its own--the vision of James Stewart chasing hills, corners, all the trails and paths for Beauty--a Beauty with two feet, a name, experiences--Beauty named Kim Novak. He follows Her, from the shores to the grave--She, praying at a cemetery, a faded figure in grief, He, watching obsessively like a predator--He finds Her on the cold shores, of the endless, alien seas--along the Golden Gate Bridge--on the verge of jumping. He saves Her, a metamorphosis of prey and personal freedom is triggered.

That's one of the many beautiful passages of Vertigo that I remember--passion, memory, disappearance, insanity, aggression. "Here I was born, and here I died", says the woman, named Madeline--a fatal, empowering woman of Beauty and melancholy, complex and deceiving. Chris Marker saw this too--a reservoir of thought from his Sans Soleil--the movie, the moment in time where memory and the Great Enigmas had finally been touched by skin and light. February, 1983.

Memory works that way.

That is one of the things I love most; memory. Memory is fading and escaping from me. I look down at my wrinkled hands--grief and nothing else--losing myself. I step onto the cliff where Madeline, where Grace stood. The sea is a rapture. Endless, everywhere, surrounding me from all corners--dozens of people have taken their life here. They jump from the bridge, they slip into the water and drown. Their entire breakdown and loneliness and humanity is silenced and stated in a small slip into the bay, or a thin, white splash--a miniature, but Greater Fall--beneath the bridge in all its magnificence and profundity, beneath the clouds, a silent act of Tragedy and Horror with a face, surrounded and drowned in Beauty and Rapture--breathtaking and cruel.

I am tired and lifeless. I can't stand it. I remember all the beaches, skies, nights, visions of the sun and daughters I've seen in my life, all the smiles I've faked, breaths I took--I hadn't thought of this until the nineties or so, in my wrinkled, tired years. I was remembering Marie--my only girlfriend and wife one I had met in the 40's--compassionate, dangerous, magnificent she was, like Madeline. Perfection and grace and danger. I had grown, loved, lived, watched everything and took every step with her--before she had died in 1989. She was my only care, my only love. I couldn't grip myself then. I hear my parents speaking, my mum and dad--dead now--my children, beautiful things--I couldn't keep them. I couldn't. I couldn't, their eyes porcelain--I went insane over all of it, a time to foggy to look back on. Time is the same stretch, place is the same and distilled--but memory is everywhere--one thing I love and can't stand.

And now I am here. The beauty is pastoral, distant, glowing and also deadly--like cloudy figures of steel and glass, concrete with fountains and blood in the shape of landscapes and towers--branches, cold, in a lonely place, fading from truth and Truth, identity and Greater Life--a thousand misty passions and poses stretched and scattered. I'm hopeless, I'm lonely, I'm cold. I'm wary, tired, confused with nothing left in me. I'm leaving, Reconciling beneath, below, and everywhere around Beauty.

I understand any doubts. I cannot take my nerves or my senses. They've failed, broken down on me--I've lost myself, very permanently this time.

I fall. I see nothing, feel everything crushing, me lying in the crystal bay--it fades. I can't see. I can't speak--I can't love, embrace, understand--I open my eyes, dizzy and faded, in a house, a rather cluttered, yet homely one. I believe I am small, looking up to my great pale towering mother, breats and lips and glowing limpid eyes... a fireplace, some warmth, some haze and some tears of joy. It is falling apart, where I am, but it is of embracing memory. I'm being looked and smiled at. I don't know where this is.

I close my eyes, I stand and open them seven years later. Cold water at my feet and sand--I look around to see a beach, stretched infinitely--past boundaries or understanding. The sea is dizzying. I look up to see that Beauty--still standing, moving across and thinning--that Beauty is sunless. Nothing but Clouds--an illusion, foggy and slippery of sorts--impossible and unbearable to experience. I stumble.

I look up, and there's now a ceiling--tall, blazing gold, marmalade and kaleidoscope--everything is blurring and melting. I'm in a hallway, with parents--a father and mother, loving, caring and safe; the only thing in front of me is a painting, swirled and swerved shore to thunder and graceful and passionate so distant--Holy, Andalusian girls from a Utamaro madman; thinly, finely lined, velvet in color and delicacy, colliding and cracked in shape, memory or sense. The painting falls, crashes, and the ceiling falls and opens to voices and laughs. I stumble, tremble, get knocked staggering, look down the hallway. It's crashing to black--I stumble to anyone; my father, the mad size of him, I rush and cling still around his arms--a shadow--then his terrible branches rising, fading, and everywhere--complete pitch black--coming for me? Far and off and a way a place cold and a lone in the Fall long and thundering--rippled--moving--then white--then clearly.

My next vision I can comprehend without running terrified is in Japan. It's 1964, I am 25. A television set, murky like playing out my dazed oxygen-starved hallucinatory real-fake mindbursting memories. Headlines, people, looking down at me. I can feel my knees again, and my heart. It's the Year of the Dragon, I'm nervous uncontrollably. Night after night, each one passing by as I blink, walking, everything changing, changing from me, I can feel. Or maybe I can't. I keep my eyes open, and don't lose my breath, hiding in rooms and feeling and apart torn so vast. I look at my surroundings--I don't know where I am--I think in my last passage? passed on through a thousand miles and faces and every conscious and spirit. My last one. I can't hide, though. I'm dying, my last breath and vision being me fading through time--such a quick thing--spinning and burying the Earth As I Have Watched It Through The Years in snow and rain and static and the Dead--I can only stare at the streets. I'm with my girlfriend Marie, it's November 28th, 1975.

She says to me, "What's wrong? You're on the balcony alone. You've been there for hours."

Marie, hold on tight, please. I'm lonely, terrified, frightened--I made a mistake, life is coming and going with all radiance and fleeting and darkness and closing doors. I've witnessed my birthday from another room. I've thought of my life again. I've seen it, distorted, everywhere, in colors and in heaps of broken fragments, images and ruins. I need your help--

"Nothing, just enjoying the city. It's beautiful," I say. It's nightfall, blinding rain, in Paris. That's where we spent our vacation, me and Marie. I love her; she'll be gone the next morning.

Then I go back. Different times, warm times, times like beauty and solid, everything going racing and wayward that I can't see a color and then white then eyes pale and hyacinths all over the place--I see Marie in the distance, oh Yes like poised like drips like canvas all around surround floating laying, kissing me, the Day I'd wrapped gently around her now I can see it like a reflection, and O I can't take it--that very last look, her face vivid--and I can't look back and I can't look down or up--just her face, lovely, wrapping more and Closer and oh Yes all around me and my mouth is going insane so tired and limpid losing words and tract and

And I can see you so lovely so gracefully and yes I will kiss you and gently cradling and your skin like rose and blossoms with the smooth touch from an Eve in flesh shrouded red and raw and when I feel anything else running through my veins like clockwork oh Yes it blazes all lovely like a reflection and the last lonely place left to fade to is only the Clouds and Sea and oh yes with all the magic of the Rite of Spring and the fogs and streaks of August O but then now I see I see O Lord I see the one-thousand-one dead poses and faces like this marie not the one I know but her Beauty erased a lying a loft a living Girl a shape a branch and yet still loving in her stone face-without-a-face so Anonymous so Kiss Me Deadly leave me taking me sprawling around me creeping crouching touching growing up my skin and veins and conscious watching all the artifice leave me and all colors and thought coming up lashing melting seething roiling yes oh yes just like a reverie like genuine insanity haunting and boiling like sweet crazed Narcissus in all the Moorish vines so thorny so lost so complicated and savage rose gardens is all one can see like solid waves--in the distance, the bold-coifed Wooden Duke, the blue Queen, away from the warped, whirling war scape outside and cold and I'm taken back a bit now bundled away from all the rows and thorny laces of buildings among buildings way in the distance out the window like crooked Van Gogh details and the noir jagged edges and tete-a-tete feeling of Life and Hope that the neons floating down streets give you when all seeping and spraying in your eyes and O the tangled webs and thorns and spiders of the panes and glass and shards and sharp'n'smooth curls and spiraling rings of it all and O the strewn of flesh like insect and myth and negative space and city all coated and sprawled I'm going to explode and I look up to see every bit of sand, waves, bold lines and streaks above and beyond me, all those curves and rods very dizzying and all beating and throbbing like mad and my vision went like some frothing beast held and dissected under light and shape oh Yes I say and I tell you while being dragged through all the Andalusian flowers and raindrops beside and above me and the Universe and the Love that could've been it's all above me too like a rose growing and blossoming with all the melting grace of a Holy girl oh Yes I say and state as clear again so rapturously like a living poem and as I leave everyone and leave this illusion I can sigh and pause and oh my goodness it's all spinning and apart and transcendent like the first Clouds and Grace above a monochromatic world--a speck--Nothing in its embrace--I stop, gaze with the recollection of every gesture of love and love's death in my life--I'm somewhere, everywhere, from the cosmos to the sea--and the ****** comes before me--Marie, Marie--and I burst and split like dust--she speaks to me. She listens, she hears, the only thing, milky, porcelain eyes and skin like nothing else--I ask her where I am. She opens her mouth, bestridden and humbled like a shadow or a monument. Glowing like birth, she told me--solemn, silent, fuzzy--she told me that I'm dying. "Life is slipping--all of you, your raw hands, your face, your memory--everything is slipping, gently. You're being erased from the world, experienced, dismaying--you're far from it."

I asked, "Where?"

She stared, bled, disappeared into thin air and continued, "I always get lost, thinking or looking into the sea or sky. Infinite, lovely. It never ends. Never, ever ends. I look at it and cannot help but forget about every bit of land, forget any shore, stone, or war, or the clearest whisper--because it fades away from me, so clearly, and I can't help but stare down the endless waves and curls, because they go on forever. They're everything. They're all mist and unbearable, simple and Everything--I think you're at the end of Everything."

My last Beauty.
WEAVE no more silks, ye Lyons looms,
To deck our girls for gay delights!
The crimson flower of battle blooms,
And solemn marches fill the night.

Weave but the flag whose bars to-day
Drooped heavy o’er our early dead,
And homely garments, coarse and gray,
For orphans that must earn their bread!

Keep back your tunes, ye viols sweet,
That poured delight from other lands!
Rouse there the dancer’s restless feet:
The trumpet leads our warrior bands.

And ye that wage the war of words
With mystic fame and subtle power,
Go, chatter to the idle birds,
Or teach the lesson of the hour!

Ye Sibyl Arts, in one stern knot
Be all your offices combined!
Stand close, while Courage draws the lot,
The destiny of human kind.

And if that destiny could fail,
The sun should darken in the sky,
The eternal bloom of Nature pale,
And God, and Truth, and Freedom die!
783

The Birds begun at Four o’clock—
Their period for Dawn—
A Music numerous as space—
But neighboring as Noon—

I could not count their Force—
Their Voices did expend
As Brook by Brook bestows itself
To multiply the Pond.

Their Witnesses were not—
Except occasional man—
In homely industry arrayed—
To overtake the Morn—

Nor was it for applause—
That I could ascertain—
But independent Ecstasy
Of Deity and Men—

By Six, the Flood had done—
No Tumult there had been
Of Dressing, or Departure—
And yet the Band was gone—

The Sun engrossed the East—
The Day controlled the World—
The Miracle that introduced
Forgotten, as fulfilled.
Exams over, friends dissolved and school also told bye,
Holidays commence; time to wander and to fly.
The first day of holiday-I woke up like an early bird,
Mom preparing stuff for breakfast,
And dad busy with calls and hurrying fast.
I stare at my room window and take a glimpse
Of people rushing their cars past the traffic.
Seeing everyone in routine makes me terrific!
The birds chirping daily without any holidays
And the sweepers taking away the dust without any leavings.

The gardener has arrived, the maid had come
In almost each person’s home.
People terminated their morning walk
And grabbed the car.
I’m still at the window spotting tones of people departing out very busily-
The merchants and vendors shouting noisily.
All the work is turning on without distraction,
Everyone at their workplace in attention.


After some time, my neighborhood turns out to be calm
The tranquil and the ready floating breeze blow past my face.
This assures me that everyone left their houses
And reached their respective places.
I take my eyes off the window and sit-back.
No more to-do lists, no more writing the home works,
And timetables on the calendar looks.
No more wearing shoes at the sound of the school bus
No more books and things at mess.

I see the clock-it’s only eight
Same time yesterday I was in an exam fight.

Spotting everyone at their routine work-
I feel so much desolate and forlorn.
And yet at dusk I watch people returning home from their day’s work.
At twilight, I see the firmament fading into a thick sapphire loom
And ask myself-“What have I done today?”
The obvious answer is-“Watching people drive and return from work!”
I see the calendar-Two more months for school:
Two more months for my homely eyes to twinkle
Two more months to shut the windows
Two more months to mess my table
Till then, my homely eyes-weak and feeble
I just need to nurture and make them twinkle…
Light-years north of the purple, zephyr dome.
The saccharine amulet is like euphoria
Buried below the wet soil of Utopian plains,
An aura born of  visual brilliance like the aurora borealis
Is this the homely orphanage for poetic spirits and souls?
The intuitive life- forms worthy of sempiternal light?

Tyrant Ignoramus's army is multiplying,
And assembling more power,
Lascivious like an extreme *******.

Certainty of survival? No, there is not,
Nervous like claustrophobic Nibbana.
Life-forces forced to test
The stability of the precipice.
Can balance be maintained?
Only for so long....

Loping for miles,
Exhausting it must be,
Their hooves must go on and on,
Heedless of stopping.

Past Ignoramus's Fortress,
Past the Alchemist's Bridge over yonder,
Light-years north of the purple, zephyr dome.
The saccharine amulet is like euphoria
Buried below the wet soil of the Utopian plains,
An aura born of visual brilliance like the aurora borealis.
This is the homely orphanage for poetic spirits and souls,
The intuitive life-forms worthy of sempiternal light.

Originally written 7/30/11
Revised 10/17/14

(c) 2014 Brandon Antonio Smith
Ryan Nyberg Jul 2014
anaemic and pale
i'm walking these streets.
they resemble the corridors
where you get lost for weeks.

they're not pretty or homely
they make you feel sick
anaemic, confused
your faith grows weak.

I close my eyes when crossing the road
i become deaf when birds sing their songs.
i don't want to be happy-
here it doesnt make sense.
i'd rather lock myself up
within self pity and tales.
meGaThOr Mar 2018
bubble gum died Sunday of strokes at his home ,
The pink bubble gum ...
had a tiny comic strip
Little children wanted to read the comic.
in an adulterous liaison
and is born homely and with green skin.
under the hawkish gaze
in retro pastel uncool-they’re-cool-again cans,
a big splash with a peppy
emoji-like smiles on the side and some polka dots
oh oh oh oh oh oh thus liked
consumers should felt free
... to be relentlessly
Has almost no bite.” “Full-bodied.
This tastes like a Twizzler...
“Sharper bubble feel.”
acrolein, acrylamide, acrylonitrile,
crotonaldehyde and propylene,
flavorturned into a huge mess like 'unicorn ****'
and bubble gum."
oh oh oh oh oh oh thus liked
“All those teenagers was twerk,
take selfies and curse up a storm. …”
oh oh oh oh oh oh thus liked
...turned into a huge mess
A Rock there is whose homely front
    The passing traveller slights;
Yet there the glow-worms hang their lamps,
    Like stars, at various heights;
And one coy Primrose to that Rock
    The vernal breeze invites.

What hideous warfare hath been waged,
    What kingdoms overthrown,
Since first I spied that Primrose-tuft
    And marked it for my own;
A lasting link in Nature’s chain
    From highest heaven let down!

The flowers, still faithful to the stems,
    Their fellowship renew;
The stems are faithful to the root,
    That worketh out of view;
And to the rock the root adheres
    In every fibre true.

Close clings to earth the living rock,
    Though threatening still to fall:
The earth is constant to her sphere;
    And God upholds them all:
So blooms this lonely Plant, nor dreads
    Her annual funeral.

                * * * * * *

Here closed the meditative strain;
    But air breathed soft that day,
The hoary mountain-heights were cheered,
    The sunny vale looked gay;
And to the Primrose of the Rock
    I gave this after-lay.

I sang-Let myriads of bright flowers,
    Like Thee, in field and grove
Revive unenvied;—mightier far,
    Than tremblings that reprove
Our vernal tendencies to hope,
    Is God’s redeeming love;

That love which changed-for wan disease,
    For sorrow that had bent
O’er hopeless dust, for withered age—
    Their moral element,
And turned the thistles of a curse
    To types beneficent.

Sin-blighted though we are, we too,
    The reasoning Sons of Men,
From one oblivious winter called
    Shall rise, and breathe again;
And in eternal summer lose
    Our threescore years and ten.

To humbleness of heart descends
    This prescience from on high,
The faith that elevates the just,
    Before and when they die;
And makes each soul a separate heaven
    A court for Deity.
Tom Orr Nov 2012
Steam escapes the surface
Of infant mince pies.
It spirals upwards, dancing
Into the winter haze
Where headlights, opaquely visible,
Fight the fog.

The mist flurries atop the frozen pond,
Over brittle leaves, half caught.
The deer nuzzles in frosty thickets,
Searching the winter veil
For stray nut.

‘neath the tap my hands endure
The bitter cold of winter’s water;
But happily I return to my window,
And cast a gaze once more on winter Britain.
The fire leaves a smoky essence,
A homely smell.
December come.
ShowYouLove Aug 2014
Something about you makes me smile
Something about you makes me dance awhile
Something about you brightens my day
Something about you makes me feel special in every way
Something about you gives me comfort in the dark
Something about you makes me hit my mark
Something about you inspires a part of me
Something about you just makes me free
Something about you when I'm lost gives hope
Something about you feels like a safety rope
Something about you is making me write this song
Something about you I knew all along
Something about you when I'm steamed is cool
Something about you keeps me working like fuel
Something about you just makes me believe
Something about you helps me to receive
Something about you strikes me exponential
Something about you says great potential
Something about you seems like a miracle
Something about you is almost lyrical
Something about you is one and only
Something about you feels almost homely
Something about you fills me with great awe
Something about you is strong like a claw
Something about you is special and sweet
Something about you is undoubtedly neat
Together we are strong alone w are weak
I caught a tremendous fish
and held him beside the boat
half out of water, with my hook
fast in a corner of his mouth.
He didn't fight.
He hadn't fought at all.
He hung a grunting weight,
battered and venerable
and homely.  Here and there
his brown skin hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper,
and its pattern of darker brown
was like wallpaper:
shapes like full-blown roses
stained and lost through age.
He was speckled with barnacles,
fine rosettes of lime,
and infested
with tiny white sea-lice,
and underneath two or three
rags of green **** hung down.
While his gills were breathing in
the terrible oxygen
--the frightening gills,
fresh and crisp with blood,
that can cut so badly--
I thought of the coarse white flesh
packed in like feathers,
the big bones and the little bones,
the dramatic reds and blacks
of his shiny entrails,
and the pink swim-bladder
like a big peony.
I looked into his eyes
which were far larger than mine
but shallower, and yellowed,
the irises backed and packed
with tarnished tinfoil
seen through the lenses
of old scratched isinglass.
They shifted a little, but not
to return my stare.
--It was more like the tipping
of an object toward the light.
I admired his sullen face,
the mechanism of his jaw,
and then I saw
that from his lower lip
--if you could call it a lip
grim, wet, and weaponlike,
hung five old pieces of fish-line,
or four and a wire leader
with the swivel still attached,
with all their five big hooks
grown firmly in his mouth.
A green line, frayed at the end
where he broke it, two heavier lines,
and a fine black thread
still crimped from the strain and snap
when it broke and he got away.
Like medals with their ribbons
frayed and wavering,
a five-haired beard of wisdom
trailing from his aching jaw.
I stared and stared
and victory filled up
the little rented boat,
from the pool of bilge
where oil had spread a rainbow
around the rusted engine
to the bailer rusted orange,
the sun-cracked thwarts,
the oarlocks on their strings,
the gunnels--until everything
was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!
And I let the fish go.
In this Monody the author bewails a learned Friend, unfortunately
drowned  in his passage from Chester on the Irish Seas, 1637;
and, by occasion, foretells the ruin of our corrupted Clergy,
then in their height.


Yet once more, O ye laurels, and once more,
Ye myrtles brown, with ivy never sere,
I come to pluck your berries harsh and crude,
And with forced fingers rude
Shatter your leaves before the mellowing year.
Bitter constraint and sad occasion dear
Compels me to disturb your season due;
For Lycidas is dead, dead ere his prime,
Young Lycidas, and hath not left his peer.
Who would not sing for Lycidas? he knew
Himself to sing, and build the lofty rhyme.
He must not float upon his watery bier
Unwept, and welter to the parching wind,
Without the meed of some melodious tear.
         Begin, then, Sisters of the sacred well
That from beneath the seat of Jove doth spring;
Begin, and somewhat loudly sweep the string.
Hence with denial vain and coy excuse:
So may some gentle Muse
With lucky words favour my destined urn,
And as he passes turn,
And bid fair peace be to my sable shroud!
         For we were nursed upon the self-same hill,
Fed the same flock, by fountain, shade, and rill;
Together both, ere the high lawns appeared
Under the opening eyelids of the Morn,
We drove a-field, and both together heard
What time the grey-fly winds her sultry horn,
Battening our flocks with the fresh dews of night,
Oft till the star that rose at evening bright
Toward heaven’s descent had sloped his westering wheel.
Meanwhile the rural ditties were not mute;
Tempered to the oaten flute,
Rough Satyrs danced, and Fauns with cloven heel
From the glad sound would not be absent long;
And old Damoetas loved to hear our song.
         But, oh! the heavy change, now thou art gone,
Now thou art gone and never must return!
Thee, Shepherd, thee the woods and desert caves,
With wild thyme and the gadding vine o’ergrown,
And all their echoes, mourn.
The willows, and the hazel copses green,
Shall now no more be seen
Fanning their joyous leaves to thy soft lays.
As killing as the canker to the rose,
Or taint-worm to the weanling herds that graze,
Or frost to flowers, that their gay wardrobe wear,
When first the white-thorn blows;
Such, Lycidas, thy loss to shepherd’s ear.
         Where were ye, Nymphs, when the remorseless deep
Closed o’er the head of your loved Lycidas?
For neither were ye playing on the steep
Where your old bards, the famous Druids, lie,
Nor on the shaggy top of Mona high,
Nor yet where Deva spreads her wizard stream.
Ay me! I fondly dream
RHad ye been there,S . . . for what could that have done?
What could the Muse herself that Orpheus bore,
The Muse herself, for her enchanting son,
Whom universal nature did lament,
When, by the rout that made the hideous roar,
His gory visage down the stream was sent,
Down the swift Hebrus to the Lesbian shore?
         Alas! what boots it with uncessant care
To tend the homely, slighted, shepherd’s trade,
And strictly meditate the thankless Muse?
Were it not better done, as others use,
To sport with Amaryllis in the shade,
Or with the tangles of Neaera’s hair?
Fame is the spur that the clear spirit doth raise
(That last infirmity of noble mind)
To scorn delights and live laborious days;
But, the fair guerdon when we hope to find,
And think to burst out into sudden blaze,
Comes the blind Fury with the abhorred shears,
And slits the thin-spun life. RBut not the praise,”
Phoebus replied, and touched my trembling ears:
RFame is no plant that grows on mortal soil,
Nor in the glistering foil
Set off to the world, nor in broad rumour lies,
But lives and spreads aloft by those pure eyes
And perfect witness of all-judging Jove;
As he pronounces lastly on each deed,
Of so much fame in heaven expect thy meed.”
         O fountain Arethuse, and thou honoured flood,
Smooth-sliding Mincius, crowned with vocal reeds,
That strain I heard was of a higher mood.
But now my oat proceeds,
And listens to the Herald of the Sea,
That came in Neptune’s plea.
He asked the waves, and asked the felon winds,
What hard mishap hath doomed this gentle swain?
And questioned every gust of rugged wings
That blows from off each beaked promontory.
They knew not of his story;
And sage Hippotades their answer brings,
That not a blast was from his dungeon strayed:
The air was calm, and on the level brine
Sleek Panope with all her sisters played.
It was that fatal and perfidious bark,
Built in the eclipse, and rigged with curses dark,
That sunk so low that sacred head of thine.
         Next, Camus, reverend sire, went footing slow,
His mantle hairy, and his bonnet sedge,
Inwrought with figures dim, and on the edge
Like to that sanguine flower inscribed with woe.
Ah! who hath reft,” quoth he, Rmy dearest pledge?”
Last came, and last did go,
The Pilot of the Galilean Lake;
Two massy keys he bore of metals twain.
(The golden opes, the iron shuts amain).
He shook his mitred locks, and stern bespake:—
RHow well could I have spared for thee, young swain,
Enow of such as, for their bellies’ sake,
Creep, and intrude, and climb into the fold!
Of other care they little reckoning make
Than how to scramble at the shearers’ feast,
And shove away the worthy bidden guest.
Blind mouths! that scarce themselves know how to hold
A sheep-hook, or have learnt aught else the least
That to the faithful herdman’s art belongs!
What recks it them? What need they? They are sped:
And, when they list, their lean and flashy songs
Grate on their scrannel pipes of wretched straw;
The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed,
But, swoln with wind and the rank mist they draw,
Rot inwardly, and foul contagion spread;
Besides what the grim wolf with privy paw
Daily devours apace, and nothing said.
But that two-handed engine at the door
Stands ready to smite once, and smite no more.”
         Return, Alpheus; the dread voice is past
That shrunk thy streams; return Sicilian Muse,
And call the vales, and bid them hither cast
Their bells and flowerets of a thousand hues.
Ye valleys low, where the mild whispers use
Of shades, and wanton winds, and gushing brooks,
On whose fresh lap the swart star sparely looks,
Throw hither all your quaint enamelled eyes,
That on the green turf **** the honeyed showers,
And purple all the ground with vernal flowers.
Bring the rathe primrose that forsaken dies,
The tufted crow-toe, and pale jessamine,
The white pink, and the ***** freaked with jet,
The glowing violet,
The musk-rose, and the well-attired woodbine,
With cowslips wan that hang the pensive head,
And every flower that sad embroidery wears;
Bid amaranthus all his beauty shed,
And daffadillies fill their cups with tears,
To strew the laureate hearse where Lycid lies.
For so, to interpose a little ease,
Let our frail thoughts dally with false surmise,
Ay me! whilst thee the shores and sounding seas
Wash far away, where’er thy bones are hurled;
Whether beyond the stormy Hebrides,
Where thou perhaps under the whelming tide
Visit’st the bottom of the monstrous world;
Or whether thou, to our moist vows denied,
Sleep’st by the fable of Bellerus old,
Where the great Vision of the guarded mount
Looks toward Namancos and Bayona’s hold.
Look homeward, Angel, now, and melt with ruth:
And, O ye dolphins, waft the hapless youth.
         Weep no more, woeful shepherds, weep no more,
For Lycidas, your sorrow, is not dead,
Sunk though he be beneath the watery floor.
So sinks the day-star in the ocean bed,
And yet anon repairs his drooping head,
And tricks his beams, and with new-spangled ore
Flames in the forehead of the morning sky:
So Lycidas sunk low, but mounted high,
Through the dear might of Him that walked the waves,
Where, other groves and other streams along,
With nectar pure his oozy locks he laves,
And hears the unexpressive nuptial song,
In the blest kingdoms meek of joy and love.
There entertain him all the Saints above,
In solemn troops, and sweet societies,
That Sing, and singing in their glory move,
And wipe the tears for ever from his eyes.
Now, Lycidas, the shepherds weep no more;
Henceforth thou art the Genius of the shore,
In thy large recompense, and shalt be good
To all that wander in that perilous flood.
         Thus sang the uncouth swain to the oaks and rills,
While the still morn went out with sandals grey:
He touched the tender stops of various quills,
With eager thought warbling his Doric lay:
And now the sun had stretched out all the hills,
And now was dropt into the western bay.
At last he rose, and twitched his mantle blue:
Tomorrow to fresh woods, and pastures new.
Jenn Coke Feb 2016
Its length is known as “one year” by realists,
Also referred to as “anniversary” by idealists,
But “four seasons” is how I would like to call it
As with the passing of time I learn him bit by bit.

We met in front of Record Hall
On a rainy night and boy did I fall
For this one man named Timothy
Who approached me differently.

We first found each other online
But he was unlike the other swine
Looking for a body and easy ***,
Trying to buy me with their checks.

Plus, he did not follow the ordinary formula
Like “coffee sometime?” which is just so blah;
Rather, he proved that he had read my profile
Attentively, so I imagined he must not be vile.

He did not mention or imply anything ******,
So I started to credit him some trust accrual;
He opened us up by relating to my stories
And spoke smoothly with sarcastic ease.

I fell for his chivalry and charm
As well as his unstinted smarm,
His passion for engines and parts,
Never giving up until it all starts.

He won me over with his corny memes,
Matching weirdness, and future schemes;
His unfaltering boldness and fearlessness,
Manliness, and, in due course, closeness.

A spontaneous boy who does puzzles with me,
A romantic gentleman who invites me to the sea,
A free-spirited dude who is a spirits connoisseur,
An audacious chap who is a cooking amateur –

He has a nerdy side as he likes to figure things out.
He has a masculine side as he enjoys working out.
He has a brave side as he goes off-roading in his Jeep.
He has a sweet side as he pulls me closer in his sleep.

He slyly squeezes out my personal info
From myself and makes me go “Woah,”
As he discreetly plans adventurous trips
Which makes me want to ****** his lips.  

He is not afraid or disinclined to reveal his worries.
He is not abashed to update me on his **** stories.
He was not nervous about exposing his cover letter.
He was not anxious about taking me to his mother.

Weight? He does not ask me to gain any or lose.
Change? He needs not fix or loosen my screws.
He takes me as I am, not as a mechanical robot.
He finds sufficiency in all that I do and have got.

He does not care that I wear makeup or look like a dude.
He does not complain that I take long to finish my food.
He disregards that I do not adhere to societal standards.
He discounts that I occasionally think and act backwards.

He makes me relax and loosen up in his presence;
He emits a homely atmosphere and is my defense.  
Hell, we even start doing ***** lovey-dovey acts
Such as calling each other’s names in several packs.

He uses his witty senses to title my works,
Which, to other people, may stir up smirks,
But he does not give two ***** about them;
As long as we represent to each other, a gem.

We are compatible and agree in many manners;
We are avid Android users, not iOS supporters,
We take pleasure in dallying under the covers,
We enjoy mysteries and psychological thrillers.

We follow a handful of seasonal anime together
And we tend to swiftly marathon them altogether.
We even have our own convenient organization
In times when we watch anime together in elation.

He asks, “wanna watch” when there is an update
And picks a title; I agree and say “ready” and wait;
He says “go,” I thumb him, we watch simultaneously;
Then, whoever finishes first sends a thumb amiably.

He tries to pass time with me after work so demanding
So he sometimes falls asleep and leaves me hanging.
However, he impresses me in still choosing to be dutiful
All the while exhibiting humanness, which is beautiful.

I am pleased that we have similar likes and interests,
Glad that both tally with “real love will stand any tests,”
Blessed that both are open to expressing affection,
Thankful that we are looking in the same direction.

Even apart, I admire his strong patience,
Extending over many hours and nations!
Oh, I almost forgot – he is also tall and fit;
The more I think, he has it all – you name it!

The list of what I love about him keeps growing,
With things to cherish constantly overflowing;
I cannot expect more or imagine anyone better,
So I find myself dedicating to him this love letter.

Gosh, how I miss our sessions of wine and cheese,
Cinematic baths and interlacing, candlelit bodies,
Our woolgathering moaning and perspiring mess,
Many nameless moments and silent togetherness!

April 6, 2015, on OkCupid, he gave me a look;
April 11, 2015, he “friended” me on Facebook;
April 15, 2015, he suggested meeting up to study;
April 18, 2015, he dated me and became cuddly.

All this from last year… one year forward, today,
We are still together and have not gone astray –
As long-term and long-distance partners, we are
In the hardest, yet happiest, relationship by far!
I miss him, my other half, my home, very dearly.
I am thankful for his being, loving, and waiting for me.
THE PROLOGUE.

The Sompnour in his stirrups high he stood,
Upon this Friar his hearte was so wood,                        furious
That like an aspen leaf he quoke* for ire:             quaked, trembled
"Lordings," quoth he, "but one thing I desire;
I you beseech, that of your courtesy,
Since ye have heard this false Friar lie,
As suffer me I may my tale tell
This Friar boasteth that he knoweth hell,
And, God it wot, that is but little wonder,
Friars and fiends be but little asunder.
For, pardie, ye have often time heard tell,
How that a friar ravish'd was to hell
In spirit ones by a visioun,
And, as an angel led him up and down,
To shew him all the paines that there were,
In all the place saw he not a frere;
Of other folk he saw enough in woe.
Unto the angel spake the friar tho;
                               then
'Now, Sir,' quoth he, 'have friars such a grace,
That none of them shall come into this place?'
'Yes' quoth the angel; 'many a millioun:'
And unto Satanas he led him down.
'And now hath Satanas,' said he, 'a tail
Broader than of a carrack is the sail.
Hold up thy tail, thou Satanas,' quoth he,
'Shew forth thine erse, and let the friar see
Where is the nest of friars in this place.'
And *less than half a furlong way of space
            immediately
Right so as bees swarmen out of a hive,
Out of the devil's erse there gan to drive
A twenty thousand friars on a rout.                       in a crowd
And throughout hell they swarmed all about,
And came again, as fast as they may gon,
And in his erse they creeped every one:
He clapt his tail again, and lay full still.
This friar, when he looked had his fill
Upon the torments of that sorry place,
His spirit God restored of his grace
Into his body again, and he awoke;
But natheless for feare yet he quoke,
So was the devil's erse aye in his mind;
That is his heritage, of very kind                by his very nature
God save you alle, save this cursed Frere;
My prologue will I end in this mannere.

Notes to the Prologue to the Sompnour's Tale

1. Carrack: A great ship of burden used by the Portuguese; the
name is from the Italian, "cargare," to load

2. In less than half a furlong way of space: immediately;
literally, in less time than it takes to walk half a furlong (110
yards).

THE TALE.

Lordings, there is in Yorkshire, as I guess,
A marshy country called Holderness,
In which there went a limitour about
To preach, and eke to beg, it is no doubt.
And so befell that on a day this frere
Had preached at a church in his mannere,
And specially, above every thing,
Excited he the people in his preaching
To trentals,  and to give, for Godde's sake,
Wherewith men mighte holy houses make,
There as divine service is honour'd,
Not there as it is wasted and devour'd,
Nor where it needeth not for to be given,
As to possessioners,  that may liven,
Thanked be God, in wealth and abundance.
"Trentals," said he, "deliver from penance
Their friendes' soules, as well old as young,
Yea, when that they be hastily y-sung, --
Not for to hold a priest jolly and gay,
He singeth not but one mass in a day.
"Deliver out," quoth he, "anon the souls.
Full hard it is, with flesh-hook or with owls                     *awls
To be y-clawed, or to burn or bake:
Now speed you hastily, for Christe's sake."
And when this friar had said all his intent,
With qui *** patre forth his way he went,
When folk in church had giv'n him what them lest;
              pleased
He went his way, no longer would he rest,
With scrip and tipped staff, *y-tucked high:
      with his robe tucked
In every house he gan to pore
and pry,                   up high* peer
And begged meal and cheese, or elles corn.
His fellow had a staff tipped with horn,
A pair of tables
all of ivory,                         writing tablets
And a pointel
y-polish'd fetisly,                  pencil *daintily
And wrote alway the names, as he stood;
Of all the folk that gave them any good,
Askaunce* that he woulde for them pray.                    see note
"Give us a bushel wheat, or malt, or rey,
                          rye
A Godde's kichel,
or a trip
of cheese,        little cake scrap
Or elles what you list, we may not chese;
                       choose
A Godde's halfpenny,  or a mass penny;
Or give us of your brawn, if ye have any;
A dagon
of your blanket, leve dame,                            remnant
Our sister dear, -- lo, here I write your name,--
Bacon or beef, or such thing as ye find."
A sturdy harlot
went them aye behind,                   manservant
That was their hoste's man, and bare a sack,
And what men gave them, laid it on his back
And when that he was out at door, anon
He *planed away
the names every one,                       rubbed out
That he before had written in his tables:
He served them with nifles* and with fables. --             silly tales

"Nay, there thou liest, thou Sompnour," quoth the Frere.
"Peace," quoth our Host, "for Christe's mother dear;
Tell forth thy tale, and spare it not at all."
"So thrive I," quoth this Sompnour, "so I shall." --

So long he went from house to house, till he
Came to a house, where he was wont to be
Refreshed more than in a hundred places
Sick lay the husband man, whose that the place is,
Bed-rid upon a couche low he lay:
"Deus hic,"* quoth he; "O Thomas friend, good day,"       God be here
Said this friar, all courteously and soft.
"Thomas," quoth he, "God yield it you, full oft       reward you for
Have I upon this bench fared full well,
Here have I eaten many a merry meal."
And from the bench he drove away the cat,
And laid adown his potent* and his hat,                       staff
And eke his scrip, and sat himself adown:
His fellow was y-walked into town
Forth with his knave,
into that hostelry                       servant
Where as he shope
him that night to lie.              shaped, purposed

"O deare master," quoth this sicke man,
"How have ye fared since that March began?
I saw you not this fortenight and more."
"God wot," quoth he, "labour'd have I full sore;
And specially for thy salvation
Have I said many a precious orison,
And for mine other friendes, God them bless.
I have this day been at your church at mess,
                      mass
And said sermon after my simple wit,
Not all after the text of Holy Writ;
For it is hard to you, as I suppose,
And therefore will I teach you aye the glose.
           gloss, comment
Glosing is a full glorious thing certain,
For letter slayeth, as we clerkes
sayn.                       scholars
There have I taught them to be charitable,
And spend their good where it is reasonable.
And there I saw our dame; where is she?"
"Yonder I trow that in the yard she be,"
Saide this man; "and she will come anon."
"Hey master, welcome be ye by Saint John,"
Saide this wife; "how fare ye heartily?"

This friar riseth up full courteously,
And her embraceth *in his armes narrow,
                        closely
And kiss'th her sweet, and chirketh as a sparrow
With his lippes: "Dame," quoth he, "right well,
As he that is your servant every deal.
                            whit
Thanked be God, that gave you soul and life,
Yet saw I not this day so fair a wife
In all the churche, God so save me,"
"Yea, God amend defaultes, Sir," quoth she;
"Algates
welcome be ye, by my fay."                             always
"Grand mercy, Dame; that have I found alway.
But of your greate goodness, by your leave,
I woulde pray you that ye not you grieve,
I will with Thomas speak *a little throw:
              a little while
These curates be so negligent and slow
To ***** tenderly a conscience.
In shrift* and preaching is my diligence                     confession
And study in Peter's wordes and in Paul's;
I walk and fishe Christian menne's souls,
To yield our Lord Jesus his proper rent;
To spread his word is alle mine intent."
"Now by your faith, O deare Sir," quoth she,
"Chide him right well, for sainte charity.
He is aye angry as is a pismire,
                                   ant
Though that he have all that he can desire,
Though I him wrie
at night, and make him warm,                   cover
And ov'r him lay my leg and eke mine arm,
He groaneth as our boar that lies in sty:
Other disport of him right none have I,
I may not please him in no manner case."
"O Thomas, *je vous dis,
Thomas, Thomas,                   I tell you
This maketh the fiend, this must be amended.     is the devil's work
Ire is a thing that high God hath defended,                  forbidden
And thereof will I speak a word or two."
"Now, master," quoth the wife, "ere that I go,
What will ye dine? I will go thereabout."
"Now, Dame," quoth he, "je vous dis sans doute,
Had I not of a capon but the liver,
And of your white bread not but a shiver,                   *thin slice
And after that a roasted pigge's head,
(But I would that for me no beast were dead,)
Then had I with you homely suffisance.
I am a man of little sustenance.
My spirit hath its fost'ring in the Bible.
My body is aye so ready and penible
                        painstaking
To wake,
that my stomach is destroy'd.                           watch
I pray you, Dame, that ye be not annoy'd,
Though I so friendly you my counsel shew;
By God, I would have told it but to few."
"Now, Sir," quoth she, "but one word ere I go;
My child is dead within these weeke's two,
Soon after that ye went out of this town."

"His death saw I by revelatioun,"
Said this friar, "at home in our dortour.
               dormitory
I dare well say, that less than half an hour
Mter his death, I saw him borne to bliss
In mine vision, so God me wiss.
                                 direct
So did our sexton, and our fermerere,
                 infirmary-keeper
That have been true friars fifty year, --
They may now, God be thanked of his love,
Make their jubilee, and walk above.
And up I rose, and all our convent eke,
With many a teare trilling on my cheek,
Withoute noise or clattering of bells,
Te Deum was our song, and nothing else,
Save that to Christ I bade an orison,
Thanking him of my revelation.
For, Sir and Dame, truste me right well,
Our orisons be more effectuel,
And more we see of Christe's secret things,
Than *borel folk,
although that they be kings.             laymen
We live in povert', and in abstinence,
And borel folk in riches and dispence
Of meat and drink, and in their foul delight.
We have this worlde's lust* all in despight
      * pleasure *contempt
Lazar and Dives lived diversely,
And diverse guerdon
hadde they thereby.                         reward
Whoso will pray, he must fast and be clean,
And fat his soul, and keep his body lean
We fare as saith th' apostle; cloth
and food                  clothing
Suffice us, although they be not full good.
The cleanness and the fasting of us freres
Maketh that Christ accepteth our prayeres.
Lo, Moses forty days and forty night
Fasted, ere that the high God full of might
Spake with him in the mountain of Sinai:
With empty womb
of fasting many a day                          stomach
Received he the lawe, that was writ
With Godde's finger; and Eli, well ye wit,
                    know
In Mount Horeb, ere he had any speech
With highe God, that is our live's leech,
            *physician, healer
He fasted long, and was in contemplance.
Aaron, that had the temple in governance,
And eke the other priestes every one,
Into the temple when they shoulde gon
To praye for the people, and do service,
They woulde drinken in no manner wise
No drinke, which that might them drunken make,
But t
They throw in Drummer Hodge, to rest
Uncoffined—just as found:
His landmark is a kopje-crest
That breaks the veldt around:
And foreign constellations west
Each night above his mound.

Young Hodge the drummer never knew—
Fresh from his Wessex home—
The meaning of the broad Karoo,
The Bush, the dusty loam,
And why uprose to nightly view
Strange stars amid the gloam.

Yet portion of that unknown plain
Will Hodge for ever be;
His homely Northern breast and brain
Grow to some Southern tree,
And strange-eyed constellations reign
His stars eternally.
INSCRIBED TO ROBERT AIKEN, ESQ.

        Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,
        Their homely joys and destiny obscure;
        Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile,
        The short and simple annals of the poor.
                  (Gray, “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”)

  My lov’d, my honour’d, much respected friend!
      No mercenary bard his homage pays;
    With honest pride, I scorn each selfish end:
      My dearest meed a friend’s esteem and praise.
      To you I sing, in simple Scottish lays,
    The lowly train in life’s sequester’d scene;
      The native feelings strong, the guileless ways;
    What Aiken in a cottage would have been;
Ah! tho’ his worth unknown, far happier there, I ween!

  November chill blaws loud wi’ angry sugh,
      The short’ning winter day is near a close;
    The miry beasts retreating frae the pleugh,
      The black’ning trains o’ craws to their repose;
    The toil-worn Cotter frae his labour goes,—
    This night his weekly moil is at an end,—
      Collects his spades, his mattocks and his hoes,
    Hoping the morn in ease and rest to spend,
And weary, o’er the moor, his course does hameward bend.

  At length his lonely cot appears in view,
      Beneath the shelter of an aged tree;
    Th’ expectant wee-things, toddlin, stacher through
      To meet their dad, wi’ flichterin noise an’ glee.
      His wee bit ingle, blinkin bonilie,
    His clean hearth-stane, his thrifty wifie’s smile,
      The lisping infant prattling on his knee,
    Does a’ his weary kiaugh and care beguile,
An’ makes him quite forget his labour an’ his toil.

  Belyve, the elder bairns come drapping in,
      At service out, amang the farmers roun’;
    Some ca’ the pleugh, some herd, some tentie rin
      A cannie errand to a neibor toun:
      Their eldest hope, their Jenny, woman-grown,
    In youthfu’ bloom, love sparkling in her e’e,
      Comes hame, perhaps, to shew a braw new gown,
    Or deposite her sair-won penny-fee,
To help her parents dear, if they in hardship be.

  With joy unfeign’d, brothers and sisters meet,
      An’ each for other’s weelfare kindly spiers:
    The social hours, swift-wing’d, unnotic’d fleet;
      Each tells the uncos that he sees or hears.
      The parents partial eye their hopeful years;
    Anticipation forward points the view;
      The mother, wi’ her needle an’ her sheers,
    Gars auld claes look amaist as weel’s the new;
The father mixes a’ wi’ admonition due.

  Their master’s an’ their mistress’s command
      The younkers a’ are warned to obey;
    An’ mind their labours wi’ an eydent hand,
      An’ ne’er tho’ out o’ sight, to jauk or play:
      “An’ O! be sure to fear the Lord alway,
    An’ mind your duty, duly, morn an’ night!
      Lest in temptation’s path ye gang astray,
    Implore his counsel and assisting might:
They never sought in vain that sought the Lord aright!”

  But hark! a rap comes gently to the door.
      Jenny, wha kens the meaning o’ the same,
    Tells how a neebor lad cam o’er the moor,
      To do some errands, and convoy her hame.
      The wily mother sees the conscious flame
    Sparkle in Jenny’s e’e, and flush her cheek;
      Wi’ heart-struck, anxious care, inquires his name,
      While Jenny hafflins is afraid to speak;
Weel-pleas’d the mother hears, it’s nae wild, worthless rake.

  Wi’ kindly welcome Jenny brings him ben,
      A strappin youth; he takes the mother’s eye;
    Blythe Jenny sees the visit’s no ill taen;
      The father cracks of horses, pleughs, and kye.
      The youngster’s artless heart o’erflows wi’ joy,
    But, blate and laithfu’, scarce can weel behave;
      The mother wi’ a woman’s wiles can spy
    What maks the youth sae bashfu’ an’ sae grave,
Weel pleas’d to think her bairn’s respected like the lave.

  O happy love! where love like this is found!
      O heart-felt raptures! bliss beyond compare!
    I’ve paced much this weary, mortal round,
      And sage experience bids me this declare—
    “If Heaven a draught of heavenly pleasure spare,
      One cordial in this melancholy vale,
      ’Tis when a youthful, loving, modest pair,
    In other’s arms breathe out the tender tale,
Beneath the milk-white thorn that scents the ev’ning gale.”

  Is there, in human form, that bears a heart,
      A wretch! a villain! lost to love and truth!
    That can with studied, sly, ensnaring art
      Betray sweet Jenny’s unsuspecting youth?
      Curse on his perjur’d arts! dissembling smooth!
    Are honour, virtue, conscience, all exil’d?
      Is there no pity, no relenting truth,
    Points to the parents fondling o’er their child,
Then paints the ruin’d maid, and their distraction wild?

  But now the supper crowns their simple board,
      The halesome parritch, chief of Scotia’s food;
    The soupe their only hawkie does afford,
      That yont the hallan snugly chows her cud.
      The dame brings forth, in complimental mood,
    To grace the lad, her weel-hain’d kebbuck fell,
      An’ aft he’s prest, an’ aft he ca’s it guid;
    The frugal wifie, garrulous, will tell,
How ’twas a towmond auld, sin’ lint was i’ the bell.

  The cheerfu’ supper done, wi’ serious face,
      They round the ingle form a circle wide;
    The sire turns o’er, with patriarchal grace,
      The big ha’-Bible, ance his father’s pride;
      His bonnet rev’rently is laid aside,
    His lyart haffets wearing thin and bare;
      Those strains that once did sweet in Zion glide,
    He wales a portion with judicious care;
And, “Let us worship God,” he says with solemn air.

  They chant their artless notes in simple guise;
      They tune their hearts, by far the noblest aim:
    Perhaps Dundee’s wild-warbling measures rise,
      Or plaintive Martyrs, worthy of the name,
      Or noble Elgin beets the heaven-ward flame,
    The sweetest far of Scotia’s holy lays.
      Compar’d with these, Italian trills are tame;
      The tickl’d ear no heart-felt raptures raise;
Nae unison hae they, with our Creator’s praise.

  The priest-like father reads the sacred page,
      How Abram was the friend of God on high;
    Or Moses bade eternal warfare wage
      With Amalek’s ungracious progeny;
      Or how the royal bard did groaning lie
    Beneath the stroke of Heaven’s avenging ire;
      Or Job’s pathetic plaint, and wailing cry;
    Or rapt Isaiah’s wild, seraphic fire;
Or other holy seers that tune the sacred lyre.

  Perhaps the Christian volume is the theme,
      How guiltless blood for guilty man was shed;
    How He, who bore in Heaven the second name
      Had not on earth whereon to lay His head:
      How His first followers and servants sped;
    The precepts sage they wrote to many a land:
      How he, who lone in Patmos banished,
    Saw in the sun a mighty angel stand,
And heard great Bab’lon’s doom pronounc’d by Heaven’s command.

  Then kneeling down to Heaven’s Eternal King,
      The saint, the father, and the husband prays:
    Hope “springs exulting on triumphant wing,”
      That thus they all shall meet in future days:
      There ever bask in uncreated rays,
    No more to sigh or shed the bitter tear,
      Together hymning their Creator’s praise,
    In such society, yet still more dear,
While circling Time moves round in an eternal sphere.

  Compar’d with this, how poor Religion’s pride
      In all the pomp of method and of art,
    When men display to congregations wide
      Devotion’s ev’ry grace except the heart!
      The Pow’r, incens’d, the pageant will desert,
    The pompous strain, the sacerdotal stole;
      But haply in some cottage far apart
    May hear, well pleas’d, the language of the soul,
And in His Book of Life the inmates poor enrol.

  Then homeward all take off their sev’ral way;
      The youngling cottagers retire to rest;
    The parent-pair their secret homage pay,
      And proffer up to Heav’n the warm request,
      That He who stills the raven’s clam’rous nest,
    And decks the lily fair in flow’ry pride,
      Would, in the way His wisdom sees the best,
    For them and for their little ones provide;
But chiefly, in their hearts with grace divine preside.

  From scenes like these old Scotia’s grandeur springs,
      That makes her lov’d at home, rever’d abroad:
    Princes and lords are but the breath of kings,
      “An honest man’s the noblest work of God”:
      And certes, in fair Virtue’s heavenly road,
    The cottage leaves the palace far behind:
      What is a lordling’s pomp? a cumbrous load,
    Disguising oft the wretch of human kind,
Studied in arts of hell, in wickedness refin’d!

  O Scotia! my dear, my native soil!
      For whom my warmest wish to Heaven is sent!
    Long may thy hardy sons of rustic toil
      Be blest with health, and peace, and sweet content!
      And, oh! may Heaven their simple lives prevent
    From luxury’s contagion, weak and vile!
      Then, howe’er crowns and coronets be rent,
    A virtuous populace may rise the while,
And stand a wall of fire around their much-lov’d isle.

  O Thou! who pour’d the patriotic tide
      That stream’d thro’ Wallace’s undaunted heart,
    Who dar’d to nobly stem tyrannic pride,
      Or nobly die, the second glorious part,—
      (The patriot’s God peculiarly thou art,
    His friend, inspirer, guardian, and reward!)
      O never, never Scotia’s realm desert,
    But still the patriot, and the patriot-bard,
In bright succession raise, her ornament and guard!
DieingEmbers Nov 2012
Old fellow old fellow
where for art thou old fellow

I'm in t'shed wi whippet and tin bath
his filthy from his walk on t'crags
you should ha seen him what a laugh
chasing through t'mud a plastic bag


Oh Fred you said it were too wet
to go a walking on t' pit top
your boots are caked in mud I'll bet
oh I bet thy breath sticks high of pop


Quiet woman can you not see
I'm as sober as a judge
so get yer back to makin t'tea
as I wash off me boots of sludge


She is the moan this northern lass
that makes me old heart flutter
but just one more word of disrespect
and I'll head in there and nut her


He is the pain makes me old heart ache
and the one that brings me t'laughter
but I'll **** him soon as look at him
if he don't respect that I'm a grafter


Teas on t'table drippings hot
there's fresh bread in the oven
by heck lass that there's real class
I love yer, yers a good un


So no Romeo nor Juliet
just honest homely folk
whom now the worth of mother earth
and the value of a joke

Let's leave em be in kitchen warm
wi the humblest of fayre
for Yorkshire folk are t'salt of earth
and I know coz I live there.
T' is the as in the bed t'bed, sludge is thick wet mud, pit top the **** heap, wi is with
It was the hour of dawn,
When the heart beats thin and small,
The window glimmered grey,
Framed in a shadow wall.

And in the cold sad light
Of the early morningtide,
The dear dead girl came back
And stood by his beside.

The girl he lost came back:
He saw her flowing hair;
It flickered and it waved
Like a breath in frosty air.

As in a steamy glass,
Her face was dim and blurred;
Her voice was sweet and thin,
Like the calling of a bird.

'You said that you would come,
You promised not to stay;
And I have waited here,
To help you on the way.

'I have waited on,
But still you bide below;
You said that you would come,
And oh, I want you so!

'For half my soul is here,
And half my soul is there,
When you are on the earth
And I am in the air.

'But on your dressing-stand
There lies a triple key;
Unlock the little gate
Which fences you from me.

'Just one little pang,
Just one throb of pain,
And then your weary head
Between my ******* again.'

In the dim unhomely light
Of the early morningtide,
He took the triple key
And he laid it by his side.

A pistol, silver chased,
An open hunting knife,
A phial of the drug
Which cures the ill of life.

He looked upon the three,
And sharply drew his breath:
'Now help me, oh my love,
For I fear this cold grey death.'

She bent her face above,
She kissed him and she smiled;
She soothed him as a mother
May sooth a frightened child.

'Just that little pang, love,
Just a throb of pain,
And then your weary head
Between my ******* again.'

He snatched the pistol up,
He pressed it to his ear;
But a sudden sound broke in,
And his skin was raw with fear.

He took the hunting knife,
He tried to raise the blade;
It glimmered cold and white,
And he was sore afraid.

He poured the potion out,
But it was thick and brown;
His throat was sealed against it,
And he could not drain it down.

He looked to her for help,
And when he looked -- behold!
His love was there before him
As in the days of old.

He saw the drooping head,
He saw the gentle eyes;
He saw the same shy grace of hers
He had been wont to prize.

She pointed and she smiled,
And lo! he was aware
Of a half-lit bedroom chamber
And a silent figure there.

A silent figure lying
A-sprawl upon a bed,
With a silver-mounted pistol
Still clotted to his head.

And as he downward gazed,
Her voice came full and clear,
The homely tender voice
Which he had loved to hear:

'The key is very certain,
The door is sealed to none.
You did it, oh, my darling!
And you never knew it done.

'When the net was broken,
You thought you felt its mesh;
You carried to the spirit
The troubles of the flesh.

'And are you trembling still, dear?
Then let me take your hand;
And I will lead you outward
To a sweet and restful land.

'You know how once in London
I put my griefs on you;
But I can carry yours now--
Most sweet it is to do!

'Most sweet it is to do, love,
And very sweet to plan
How I, the helpless woman,
Can help the helpful man.

'But let me see you smiling
With the smile I know so well;
Forget the world of shadows,
And the empty broken shell.

'It is the worn-out garment
In which you tore a rent;
You tossed it down, and carelessly
Upon your way you went.

'It is not you, my sweetheart,
For you are here with me.
That frame was but the promise of
The thing that was to be--

'A tuning of the choir
Ere the harmonies begin;
And yet it is the image
Of the subtle thing within.

'There's not a trick of body,
There's not a trait of mind,
But you bring it over with you,
Ethereal, refined,

'But still the same; for surely
If we alter as we die,
You would be you no longer,
And I would not be I.

'I might be an angel,
But not the girl you knew;
You might be immaculate,
But that would not be you.

'And now I see you smiling,
So, darling, take my hand;
And I will lead you outward
To a sweet and pleasant land,

'Where thought is clear and nimble,
Where life is pure and fresh,
Where the soul comes back rejoicing
From the mud-bath of the flesh

'But still that soul is human,
With human ways, and so
I love my love in spirit,
As I loved him long ago.'

So with hands together
And fingers twining tight,
The two dead lovers drifted
In the golden morning light.

But a grey-haired man was lying
Beneath them on a bed,
With a silver-mounted pistol
Still clotted to his head.
Old Elm that murmured in our chimney top
The sweetest anthem autumn ever made
And into mellow whispering calms would drop
When showers fell on thy many coloured shade
And when dark tempests mimic thunder made
While darkness came as it would strangle light
With the black tempest of a winter night
That rocked thee like a cradle to thy root
How did I love to hear the winds upbraid
Thy strength without while all within was mute
It seasoned comfort to our hearts desire
We felt thy kind protection like a friend
And pitched our chairs up closer to the fire
Enjoying comforts that was was never penned

Old favourite tree thoust seen times changes lower
But change till now did never come to thee
For time beheld thee as his sacred dower
And nature claimed thee her domestic tree
Storms came and shook thee with aliving power
Yet stedfast to thy home thy roots hath been
Summers of thirst parched round thy homely bower
Till earth grew iron—still thy leaves was green
The children sought thee in thy summer shade
And made their play house rings of sticks and stone
The mavis sang and felt himself alone
While in they leaves his early nest was made
And I did feel his happiness mine own
Nought heeding that our friendship was betrayed

Friend not inanimate—tho stocks and stones
There are and many cloathed in flesh and bones
Thou ownd a lnaguage by which hearts are stirred
Deeper than by the attribute of words
Thine spoke a feeling known in every tongue
Language of pity and the force of wrong
What cant assumes what hypocrites may dare
Speaks home to truth and shows it what they are

I see a picture that thy fate displays
And learn a lesson from thy destiny
Self interest saw thee stand in freedoms ways
So thy old shadow must a tyrant be
Thoust heard the knave abusing those in power
Bawl freedom loud and then oppress the free
Thoust sheltered hypocrites in many an hour
That when in power would never shelter thee
Thoust heard the knave supply his canting powers
With wrongs illusions when he wanted friends
That bawled for shelter when he lived in showers
And when clouds vanished made thy shade ammends
With axe at root he felled thee to the ground
And barked of freedom—O I hate that sound

It grows the cant terms of enslaving tools
To wrong another by the name of right
It grows a liscence with oer bearing fools
To cheat plain honesty by force of might
Thus came enclosure—ruin was her guide
But freedoms clapping hands enjoyed the sight
Tho comforts cottage soon was ****** aside
And workhouse prisons raised upon the scite
Een natures dwelling far away from men
The common heath became the spoilers prey
The rabbit had not where to make his den
And labours only cow was drove away
No matter—wrong was right and right was wrong
And freedoms brawl was sanction to the song

Such was thy ruin music making Elm
The rights of freedom was to injure thine
As thou wert served so would they overwhelm
In freedoms name the little so would they over whelm
And these are knaves that brawl for better laws
And cant of tyranny in stronger powers
Who glut their vile unsatiated maws
And freedoms birthright from the weak devours
Jolene D'Souza Nov 2014
Once there was an old woman
who had tremendous bad farts,
And this is where our story begins
this is where it all starts.

Her farts were just awful
they'd stink up and ****
They'd make babies cry louder
and make all the roses wilt

When she walked into town
her farts wouldn't stop
A green stink cloud would follow
wherever she'd walk

"Whats that AWFUL smell?!"
people would exclaim
Then they'd all point to the old lady
who always suffered the blame

Due to these consequences
the old lady was lonely
How much she longed for love,
and just a place that felt homely.

They say there's someone special
for each and every soul
Even for stinky old ladies
and that's why this story is told

When fate intervenes
no one can really say
Whats meant for you or me
or what makes old lady's day.

For one day old Miss Stinky
was walking through a store
She met a perfect gentleman
who held open her door

He didn't run away
like all the other people
He came up to Old Miss Stinky
and oh how she got so feeble!

He fell in love
with all of old Miss Stinky
To her **** bombs and green clouds
he said "Oh wow, That's real *****!"

You can never know
when your special someone comes by
For If stinky old ladies find happy endings
why shouldn't I?

Now she's not alone
just happily farting each day
They had a huge hazmat-mask wedding
and he swept happy old Miss Stinky away
For Grace Bulmer Bowers


From narrow provinces
of fish and bread and tea,
home of the long tides
where the bay leaves the sea
twice a day and takes
the herrings long rides,

where if the river
enters or retreats
in a wall of brown foam
depends on if it meets
the bay coming in,
the bay not at home;

where, silted red,
sometimes the sun sets
facing a red sea,
and others, veins the flats'
lavender, rich mud
in burning rivulets;

on red, gravelly roads,
down rows of sugar maples,
past clapboard farmhouses
and neat, clapboard churches,
bleached, ridged as clamshells,
past twin silver birches,

through late afternoon
a bus journeys west,
the windshield flashing pink,
pink glancing off of metal,
brushing the dented flank
of blue, beat-up enamel;

down hollows, up rises,
and waits, patient, while
a lone traveller gives
kisses and embraces
to seven relatives
and a collie supervises.

Goodbye to the elms,
to the farm, to the dog.
The bus starts.  The light
grows richer; the fog,
shifting, salty, thin,
comes closing in.

Its cold, round crystals
form and slide and settle
in the white hens' feathers,
in gray glazed cabbages,
on the cabbage roses
and lupins like apostles;

the sweet peas cling
to their wet white string
on the whitewashed fences;
bumblebees creep
inside the foxgloves,
and evening commences.

One stop at Bass River.
Then the Economies
Lower, Middle, Upper;
Five Islands, Five Houses,
where a woman shakes a tablecloth
out after supper.

A pale flickering.  Gone.
The Tantramar marshes
and the smell of salt hay.
An iron bridge trembles
and a loose plank rattles
but doesn't give way.

On the left, a red light
swims through the dark:
a ship's port lantern.
Two rubber boots show,
illuminated, solemn.
A dog gives one bark.

A woman climbs in
with two market bags,
brisk, freckled, elderly.
"A grand night.  Yes, sir,
all the way to Boston."
She regards us amicably.

Moonlight as we enter
the New Brunswick woods,
hairy, scratchy, splintery;
moonlight and mist
caught in them like lamb's wool
on bushes in a pasture.

The passengers lie back.
Snores.  Some long sighs.
A dreamy divagation
begins in the night,
a gentle, auditory,
slow hallucination. . . .

In the creakings and noises,
an old conversation
--not concerning us,
but recognizable, somewhere,
back in the bus:
Grandparents' voices

uninterruptedly
talking, in Eternity:
names being mentioned,
things cleared up finally;
what he said, what she said,
who got pensioned;

deaths, deaths and sicknesses;
the year he remarried;
the year (something) happened.
She died in childbirth.
That was the son lost
when the schooner foundered.

He took to drink. Yes.
She went to the bad.
When Amos began to pray
even in the store and
finally the family had
to put him away.

"Yes . . ." that peculiar
affirmative.  "Yes . . ."
A sharp, indrawn breath,
half groan, half acceptance,
that means "Life's like that.
We know it (also death)."

Talking the way they talked
in the old featherbed,
peacefully, on and on,
dim lamplight in the hall,
down in the kitchen, the dog
tucked in her shawl.

Now, it's all right now
even to fall asleep
just as on all those nights.
--Suddenly the bus driver
stops with a jolt,
turns off his lights.

A moose has come out of
the impenetrable wood
and stands there, looms, rather,
in the middle of the road.
It approaches; it sniffs at
the bus's hot hood.

Towering, antlerless,
high as a church,
homely as a house
(or, safe as houses).
A man's voice assures us
"Perfectly harmless. . . ."

Some of the passengers
exclaim in whispers,
childishly, softly,
"Sure are big creatures."
"It's awful plain."
"Look! It's a she!"

Taking her time,
she looks the bus over,
grand, otherworldly.
Why, why do we feel
(we all feel) this sweet
sensation of joy?

"Curious creatures,"
says our quiet driver,
rolling his r's.
"Look at that, would you."
Then he shifts gears.
For a moment longer,

by craning backward,
the moose can be seen
on the moonlit macadam;
then there's a dim
smell of moose, an acrid
smell of gasoline.
LJ Jun 2016
I hold it right to my heart
A whisper with gentle intention
To slow the pace of the stars
Where we started to race

I hold it deep in my soul
A whistle made by the birds
To sing these song to you
Where our love blossoms

I hold it on my bended knees
A waste of the concrete mist
To hold your arms again
Where we walk hand in hand

I hold us in a unison tide
A way of our printed eternity
To mould hope and live again
Where memories are our future
Nat Lipstadt Nov 2013
There are metallic, life-like statues of human figures scattered through my city, often on park benches.  You must look twice the first time you spot them, and sometimes, each time, as they are so nat-ural, that they fool the retina image of man.*

The traffic light,
red to green,
yet my limbs,
froze fruit solid,
release catch stuck,
unflippable,
somehow plastic freezes,
mobility skills rusted
by December's hampering
cheeky cheeks,
a seasonal reddish copper
discoloration of the extremities,
a harmony of no sensation

A comet stuck in
pedestrian neutral,
collided/jostled by
starry eyed
Fifth Avenue
street walkers and tourists.

my presence sensed,
touched, yet avoided,
unnoticed,
like streetlight,
lamppost, mailbox,
I am, a body,
at rest,
unseen
but on display
in the art gallery of
Manhattan's Lost and Found

In the section of the paper
where the
unimportant local news is
sliced n' diced
into single paragraphs,
of human interest,
tidbits, amuse bouche,
items of
major minor interest,
The New York Times
reported the discovery of an
unauthorized lifelike
bronze n' copper sculpture.

eyes of polished nickel,
heart of stained steel,
rendition of a man
so lifelike y'all do a
triple take, smile,
take a cell photo,
phone a friend

his embodiment can be found
on the rounded corner of
Columbus Circle, @59th St.,
where you enter Central Park.

upon a bench,
man clutching Sunday newspapers,
a pair of scissors,
coupons cut,
scattered at his feet.
a homely but comely,
****** expression,
one of bewilderment.

A tiny plaque on a brass plate,
at his feet,
hints of his progenitor and human origins.

Artist: Unknown,
Materials: Organic Metals
Title: A Living Finish
Nigel Morgan Apr 2013
Honourable Younger Sister,

This village is a world of stone. Lanes, houses, courtyard walls, towers, pavilions, tables, benches are all hewn from ancient red rock. The stone streets are lustrous with the passage of feet and shine in the moonlight; tomorrow they will glisten in the morning rain. After six days on the path into the mountains I finally rest at this inn. Here I can buy light: to write in this loft whilst the house sleeps, though a dutiful daughter dozes against the foot of the stair-ladder to serve me should I require sustenance. Frightened by my ugliness I summoned up my sweetest voice for her and soon there was a shy smile and downcast eyes. These are long nights for the village poor, but few here as poor as those whose shelters I sought on the path. Tonight I miss the steaming breath and ceaseless rustle of the animals brought indoors for warmth and security. My travelling robes are already filthy, but my body remains clean. As soon as I depart each night’s shelter I search for a stream to strip and wash thoroughly in the ice-cold water.

Dear sister, we have both been taught that the function of letter-writing is to unburden the mind of its melancholy thoughts in the form of elegant colours; its purpose to state one’s feelings without reserve. My thoughts turn constantly on whether I have it in me to ‘summon the recluse’. Have I the stamina, the patience, the resolve to seek out these elusive souls? Such thoughts induce fear rather than melancholy, fear of failure.

Already my journey into these mountains has crossed the season of late autumn into that of early winter. I am told the russet-red leaves and pink berries of the Ash, the deceptive Rowan and speckled-leafed Lace set the mountainside alight as the sun rises into a clear sky. For me clouds hang all day in the steep valleys, and so hide the heights where the solitary ones are believed to live. They alone see with the dawn the mountain peaks aflame   It is only in the very late afternoon that the sun melts the clouds, breaks through, and enlivens the landscape, turning it gold, then amber, and a final dull red before the blue blackness of dusk descends. Beyond this village my sources tell me there is real wilderness, and paths are few. I am to be my own guide.

You and I are so adept at the play of words. Our honoured father encouraged us, and as custodian of the Imperial Archives he knew how words could be arranged to both conceal and reveal; we played with the characters as other children played with coloured stones. So with the poems we call “Chao Yin”, let us play with verb “Chao” as both to seek and to summon. Chu Hsi, a courtier of that prince of Huai-nan, was sent into the wilderness to summon an errant official back to his post. His poems speak of terrors of the mountains, their ‘murky depths sending shivers of fright’ of ‘the caves of leopards and tigers’, and of the deep forest where ‘a man climbs from fear’. The poetic form uses “Chao” as in the ancient ceremonial song “Chao ***”. This calls on a dead person’s soul to re-enter the body, so ‘a summoning of the soul’. In those times such poems argued against the recluse, the withdrawn one, and sought a return. Today there is this feeling abroad that we need to consort with the recluse, to taste his solitude. Does the solitary life speak of the ineffable Way? Or is it in the search for the solitary one that a moment of enlightenment may present itself? As the saying goes: ‘to travel one must surely uncover truth’. In my bones I feel ready to invert this old poetic form. I must summon the spirit of the recluse out of the mountain fastness, but not seek his return. I need to touch his ways, see evidence of his mountain life, for a while to walk his paths breathing the same air. In my heart I expect nothing but his absence. I foresee I may reach his shelter and find his gate ajar, though the embers of the hearth still warm. He will be on some distant peak gathering herbs. If on a precipitous path I was to turn a corner and find him before me I have no words prepared. For the moment it seems I am exploring an idea through this summoning and seeking, not a living, breathing body.

Tomorrow I shall reconnoitre. My official hairpin and staff will command any audience, but for reliable answers, I am far from confident. There is always talk, rumours, sightings. The common people respect these beings as kindly mountain spirits and guardians of the wilderness. At the fork in a path, by the crossing place of a stream, corn, persimmons and millet are left for them. Such offerings will be replaced in time by the rarest mountain herbs, wild fruits, the skin of leopard or bear.

Your last letter spoke of ‘following my path into the mountains’. You have always defied convention, so it would be no surprise to find you here on my return, although I think your Lord would not sanction it. He would find such a request unfathomable. I am still perplexed at your situation, that you, the most homely of women should be so favoured, so adorned, and yet so free. It is that confidence you hold to yourself.  

To me, you have always been the essence of woman. What knowledge I possess of your kind comes from you alone. The infrequent gropings that occasionally present themselves I have only dismissed. An hour in your company smoothes and stills both soul and body. Your movements and gestures are always quiet and true, as are your woven words that sing in my memory on the path.

I read your letter
And savoured your words,
Your sorrowful songs of separation.
I can almost imagine your face before me
And I sigh and sob out of control.
When will we meet again
To amuse ourselves with prose and verse?
How can I tell you of my misery
Except with these woven words?


Have I remembered your poem correctly? I expected no response to my own lines on our separation. On the very morning of my departure your scroll arrived. I delayed to read it, delaying further to know your words: to carry them in my memory on my journey. In our respective verse we follow the way of tradition: the lonely woman in her room; the man travelling far from home. How many thousand poems describe this antithesis?

My life has always been sheltered by the expectations of scholarship, the requirements of official rank, and more recently acclaim due to my songs and poems. This journey begins a new page, as a seeker and summoner. Follow my path deeper into the mountains, be at my side when I rest, calm my fear of the heights and the depths of dark ravines, reveal to me the words to paint the scene. Know that I share with you everything that is to come, without reservation.

Remember the words of Lun Yu: ‘The good man delights in mountains. The wise man delights in water’. In these mountains the sound of water is present everywhere.

A stony spring rinses bits of jade
Minnows now and then emerge, and disappear.
Here what need of my silk-strung gujin? –
The mountain water has its own crystal song.


Your brother Zuo Si

— The End —