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Michael P Todd Sep 2010
A deep breath—I fill my lungs and close the airway. Submerge my face in a pillow and resolve myself to wait until my lungs burn—I await the pain. My senses screaming, my lungs driving me to let them have the oxygen they so desire—I decline. Funny how I chose that which offers peace to the weary, an item that invites comfort to rob myself of that most archaic means of surviving. I find it interesting how calm I feel while denying myself that which I know I cannot live without. Isn’t it odd how we only become aware of the subtle currents of air that tickle our skin, raising chill bumps where it finds us bare when we deny ourselves its luxury? Luxury. That’s an interesting way to phrase it really—Breathing as a luxury. A gift of power, smug in our abuse and neglect we fail to see what we loose when we breathe. Lying here refusing to give myself life—for that’s what air is really, and breathing is living. I laugh. Oh yes, I find it funny. I catch myself readying to breathe again and I still that notion. Shove it down; subdue it until it is nothing but a stinging memory in my chest. It takes a lot of strength to deny yourself to breathe. But somehow that only drives me to test that strength.
I wonder if I will forget how? Could the muscle memory that pilots such a necessary involuntary act be forgotten? No, of course not. But perhaps the feeling of fresh air full of life could be. Could it? Perhaps not. For even as these words find themselves onto this page I find myself remembering what it feels like to expand my lungs, for the blood to cool as it gathers its fill with oxygen as it travels on its wending cyclical way. I laugh again. The burn begins to spread and I feel my muscles atrophy. Yet they tighten and tense as if under assault, screaming at the atrocity wrought upon them. Though still I refuse to breathe.
I roll away from the pillow, open my face to the still air and feel it tickle as it tries to find a weakness. Denying my lungs for so long I begin to feel my skin breathing. Absorbing oxygen as cellular mitosis continues in spite of my flirtatious dance. Maybe I am just dreaming. I feel the fire subside. As if my body accepts its doom. “No breath for you,” I say. “No easy outs.” And resolve continues.
Amazing how long a person can go without breathing, pushing ever closer to that most primal fear—that of not being able to breathe. But I can. I feel my chest involuntarily expand, demanding the very thing I strenuously withhold. I know by that alone that I can breathe, I can live. But still not once do I begin to inhale the sweetness that I need. I want it now, but the primal is so enticing. After all, it is when we fear that we truly know what it is to live. That’s when we feel life. As if it were a tangible being that we’ve strapped to ourselves so that it won’t escape. I’ve set mine free. I’ve let go. Maybe it will return to me. Maybe it will leave me in my vain attempts to deny myself to continue fickly on to another. But which do it want--Perhaps neither, perhaps something more. Beyond breathing, beyond mere muscle memory, beyond what I cling to. The Pain returns.
I want to breathe. I want to live. I want to feel the rush as all my body awakens and revels in new existence--Rebirth. Its odd how something so ordinary can redefine a person, how something so obviously taken for granted and ignored can make us anew—a Renaissance of living, giving new life to life, helping life live. That’s just funny to say. My chest chuckles--I can’t laugh. I can’t breathe so how could I anyway? I smile. Vanity is alluring. I am vain. I deny that which defines life just to feel alive. Vanity, Luxury, Rebirth, Pain—such is the nature of my breathing, the archaic nature of involuntarily driven muscle memory.
Would I even know how to breathe if it wasn’t burned into the most ancient quadrants of my brain? I don’t even know the part that drives the muscle memory. Perhaps when people die there are a few lingering moments where their lungs contract like the twitching mouth of a decapitated fish, gulping at air to fill dead lungs. Maybe breathing is so primal that it doesn’t end with the rest of the body.
The burn has come. I can feel the fire inside my chest. I welcome its warmth, rubbing my hands over the radiating inferno as if I just came from the dead winter cold without the weathering to block out the chill. The warmth permeates through me. Would breathing feel better than this? Could it? I doubt. Only at the razor edge of life while teetering upon the precipice stealing insecure glances to the other side on the off chance that we may glimpse a greener field do we know what living really is.  So aren’t I living now more so than ever before? Whilst denying myself a breath, aren’t I more aware of what it means to be alive? I laugh. Denying yourself air only leads to an end. No, the end--Death. Yet I appreciate life more so dying than living. I deserve to die. Taking for granted that which is stolen from innocents daily. Innocent? Now that’s a peculiar ideal. They are the same. I wonder if they are aware that they breathe. That’s absurd, of course they are. How could they not be? ******* life, ******* air, but do they know what it means?
I feel my lungs contract again—Pain. That’s all it is now, but why? I know I can breathe, yet I choose not to. Is it the act of forcing myself not to take a fresh breath, or the fact that I have yet to do so that hurts? Maybe it’s because I now know what I’ve been doing all these years. At the brink I realize what it means to live. Was I living before? Yes, but I wasn’t alive. Interesting that, to live without being alive—sounds as if I’m hooked to a load of machines keeping me from decay. That’s all they do really. Awareness, that’s living. Breathing is merely the means. The end is being aware, awakened to the fact that an action which you can’t control is the only thing keeping your head above ground. After all, even when drowning the body wants to breathe.
I open my mouth. I lie to my body. I still fill my lungs with nothing but stubborn desire, desire to delay my breathing. I imagine what it will feel like to take that first breath—a Renaissance of living. I can feel the blood in my veins bubble in anticipation. My body wants to be alive. My heart can’t beat fast enough. Striking a furious pace it pumps my blood through my body spreading life and oxygen to every limb making me light headed and delirious with its purity.
I’ve decided. I’m going to breathe again. I’m going to live. And what’s more, I’m going to be alive.
My mouth still open, my lungs still closed, still screaming, still burning, still tightening in their involuntary way—breathing air that isn’t there, air that they know is there, available to them at their whim. I open my lungs.
I exhale. Now that is interesting. I’ve denied myself the life of breath until my lungs begin to pump out of sheer memory and longing for that which gives them purpose. Denied that which defines life, that which I want—that I need. And I exhale?!? Further delaying what my instinct has told me to take? How is that logical?
Air rushes into my lungs. Funny, I scarce expanded them at all. I feel the life rushing to my fingertips, to my toes, to my ears and eyes—to my kidneys even. I am alive. It’s funny though. Part of me feels like I’ve just died, like I’ve ceased to live. I laugh long and hard, throaty and merry and so brim full of life. I began to live again, became alive at the very instant I ceased to exist. And it is so funny.
Richard Apr 2013
corinth picked up the ball and tossed it up into the air as high as he possibly could. the energy it took for him to do so left him gasping and his muscles stung a little, but to watch the ball arc high above the sky, black against blue, was worth it. when the ball started to sink back down, he ran after it, bumping past athens who had been watching mere inches away.

the enclosure was a backyard to a white building surrounded by concrete walls that cut open hands when rubbed too hard or when scuffles turned sour. in the corner, there was a patch of green grass. the rest was stained yellow from lack of water or from too much sun.

sparta sat in the dust, his hands red with dirt and blood. the stains wrapped around his fingers and wrists and spiraled up to his elbows. he rubbed the pads of his fingers along the dirt, picking up small twigs and stones along the way, as he drew circles around the bird. the bird was dead, long dead, but its brown and grey feathers still stayed in its skin most of the time and the blood was drying so sparta’s hands wouldn’t be red for too much longer. the cracks of flaking blood opened like wounds on small boy's hands: palms big for holding bigger hands and fingers short to keep everything close. sparrow feathers and tears smeared comets into the dust while he cried for his mama even though his mama never came.

corinth ran after the ball, his breath short and his face glowing pink from exertion. as he ran, his hand running along the concrete wall, he started coughing. catching up with the ball started the initial coughing fit that turned into a rattler. he held his hand against the wall, clinging to it with white knuckles, as he hunched over to cough and cough so hard he could feel his throat start to stretch ragged, could feel lunch starting to come up. athens kicked corinth's foot gently before backing away a few feet while corinth continued to cough. when corinth's lungs and throat settled, he stood up straight, grabbed the ball, and threw it up again, this time out of anger rather than play. the ball went sailing backward and athens ran in order to try and get to the ball first, having had a head start. corinth was still faster and managed to shove athens away with a rogue elbow to the ribs in order to claim the ball again. athens didn't argue against the bone.

play continued until the sirens sounded. sparta stopped crying, corinth dropped the ball, and athens picked it up. all three of them hurried quickly and clumsily inside the bunker, shutting the door behind them. as they crawled down the narrow passageway, sparta started to hiccup, a leftover symptom of crying. corinth stopped and glared, and sparta murmured an apology before wiping his sniffles away with the sleeve of his shirt. corinth led the way until the three boys dropped inside the hollowed out room. it was round and the walls were mixtures of concrete, dirt, and chalk drawings. they each had to hunch, especially athens, as the ceiling

they sat in a practiced circle around the center of the room. after a few moments of quiet, hushed breathing, athens began the processions.

“we all here?”

the other two boys raised their hands. sparta’s fingers trembled while corinth raised his arm as high as it could possibly go. his ******* scraped against the ceiling in his earnestness. the three then began the tradition discussion of their names. sparta, forgetting conduct, almost gave away corinth's name, but corinth shut him up quickly. sparta apologized quickly and shoved his fingers in his mouth to keep from saying anything more. dirt and blood mixed with saliva in his mouth, and as he swallowed he ended up choking and gagging on the combination. he coughed and coughed, and corinth slapped him on the back. it didn't help, and the more sparta tried to stop coughing, the harder it lasted. eventually, he had to turn and face away from the other boys as hot bile slid up his throat and onto the floor with a small splat. athens grimaced and edged away.

"alright… show your lungs. everyone."

all three boys began the process of reaching under their shirts and pressing the smooth button under their ribs that unlocked the hatch. the hatch was a small door that ran from the bottom of their ribs up to their collar bone. when they found the smooth button, no bigger than the pad of their thumb, then a small click allowed them to open up their skin. underneath their torsos was a small plastic box that kept everything inside. it helped protect their bones, their heart, and, especially, their lungs. their lungs were frequent targets for doctors; they needed to be accessed quickly. fewer and fewer doctors came by to see the boys recently. corinth wiggled his shirt until he could shove most of it into his mouth, opening his body up and showing gray and green lungs that expanded and collapsed with every breath. his lungs were swollen behind his rib cage, and he experimentally reached in to poke in between his third and fourth ribs. the muscle that was there had been replaced by plastic, and had come loose when he'd pressed the button. his lung shuddered underneath his touch, but he felt the odd relief of pain swoop over him. two blue shirts tumbled to the floor as sparta and athens decided to take off their clothing and help each other find the buttons to unlock their hatches. the boys clung to the small moments of touch when the effects of their touh felt so alien, even after all those years after the surgery.

athens’ lungs were pink and perfect. he coughed and corinth couldn’t help but watch the way his diaphragm moved as he did so, and he felt jealousy pang in his stomach. sparta’s lungs were purple and blue, bruised and small, and they merely fluttered.

“lungs in order,” athens said quietly after a quick inspection of everyone’s insides. sparta immediately closed his hatch, flinching when his finger got caught initially between his inside and his outside, and started to put his shirt back on. corinth stole athens' shirt and slipped it on over the one he currently wore, his other hand slamming shut his lung hatch. athens blinked but let corinth stare at him greedily as he quietly shut his own hatch.

as they waited for the background noise of wailing sirens to disappear, corinth hugged his knees and athens started to draw people in the dirt with his forefinger.
Westley Barnes Mar 2012
The air doesn’t taste so clean anymore.

I can remember being younger and gasping for breath,
the midsummer breeze provided me with plenty,
and I swallowed pintfulls and laughed at the energy it gave
and at the thumping of my heart.
The air was a little milder then.
It was around the same time,
in my childhood
when I remember that it actually snowed for Christmas.
So I almost must have felt the cold,
but temperature does not threaten you
when you are young and your lungs are full.
Not like nowadays,
when the only reason you don't destroy your lungs with smoke
is because you've seen the hospital wards,
heard of loved ones being eaten away because of
a malignant growth,
but that still doesn’t stop you
from taking the odd ****.

It hardly seems to matter anymore,
now that we are all living in denial.
But there was a time in our lives when our lungs were important,
if you didn’t have strong ones you couldn’t keep up with your friends,
and you needed to keep fit if you wanted to be a "soldier" in the "war"
this being before boisterous childish ideals
realised the dull pointlessness
of living in a neutral country,
where you were more likely to die in a car crash,
or by smoking your lungs tar-black.
You always wondered why your mother kept telling you to start
when she could never stop.
Did she not want you to have as much fun as she was having?
Imagine how many extra holidays you could have spent together
had she saved the money instead of spending it on cigarettes
and if your sister had never been born
you could have sailed twice around the world,
gone to Disneyland twice a year
and went skiing in the alps
instead of waiting to grow up in BORING OLD IRELAND,
waiting for school to end and the rain to stop.
Imagine how many years she has wasted,
because each cigarette costs fourteen seconds of your life.

Why does she want to leave you so soon?

Like her own mother, smoking her way to an early grave.

Its funny how you were the one who kept such care of your lungs
and yet it was you who was the first to end up in hospital.
A place where you could see the germs buzzing,
waiting for you as you arrived through the door.
They're going to make you lay in bed for a whole week
and you haven’t even broken your leg.
Yet they're smiling at you now, daft *******.
"I wonder if they'll still be smiling if I never make it out of this mess."

But you have to admit it tastes splendid.
Takes the edge off,
puts things into perspective,
helps the time pass,
and makes you look "interesting."
Nowadays it’s a lot more social anyway.
Presents you with an excellent opportunity
to strike up conversations outside of pubs.
You could meet the love of your life if one day she asks you for a light.
No one really wants to grow old anyway.
******* yourself in the same chair,
your brain unbalanced by the mind-numbing anti-depressants
and the oncoming surge of arthritis.
Brandon Sep 2013
The smoke tasted like Christmas as it sank into her lungs. She swirled her tongue expertly inside of her mouth playing with the simple taste of holiday and pine. It was the first time that she had felt the effects of the herb in a couple of months and she would savor every second. Virginia watched on as the joint rolled with two extra large pieces of raw organic rolling papers burned in the slow drawl the way a Cuban cigar burns. Her lungs filled with the smoke and she continued to breathe in causing her ******* to expand further out word. A smile came onto her face as her lips parted carefully holding the smoke still in her lungs and not let any escaping. She leaned forward and opened her mouth more as if she were going in for a passionate kiss and locked lips with the man in front of her but did not close her mouth for a kiss. She blew the smoke from her lungs into the man's mouth  causing his lungs and chest to expand and fill with the smoke. When Virginia's lungs and ******* had finally sank back to their normal ample capacity she and Nicholas closed their lips for a soft short kiss before pulling their faces away from one another. Nicholas held the smoke in until he needed to breathe again and blew the smoke out of his nostrils. "Shotgunning is by far one of my favorite ways to smoke" Virginia crooned in her sharp Romanian accent. Nicholas did not say anything back but grabbed the joint and inhaled and filled his lungs to their capacity and leaned inward to return the shotgun blast. When the ritual was over they did not remove their lips from each others lips after the first soft kiss. Instead they continued to kiss first with small ones that were soft and barely felt. They moved onto a heavier more passionate kiss and the smoke in Virginia's lungs began to come out and bury both her and Nicholas's faces in the smoke. Both she and him inhaled while kissing more wildly feeling the smoke recirculating between the two of them. The kisses were rough in a lustful way and were accompanied with small sharp bites on the lower lips. The smoke had began to die down and Nicholas leaned back away from Virginia's still eager lips and said "If I ever **** myself with a shotgun, it will be that kind of shotgun."
Jinxx Mar 2018
I fear doing something wrong
Speaking the wrong way
Dressing the wrong way
Acting the wrong way

My lungs fill with rocks
Heat runs through my body
My heart beats too fast
My limbs shake

I fear being in trouble
Talking when I shouldn’t
Doing things when I shouldn’t
Speaking when I shouldn’t

My lungs fill with rocks
Heat runs through my body
My heart beats too fast
My limbs shake

I fear being wrong
Answering incorrectly
Acting incorrectly
Doing incorrectly

My lungs fill with rocks
Heat runs through my body
My heart beats too fast
My limbs shake

I fear judgement
Speaking oddly
Dressing oddly
Acting oddly

My lungs fill with rocks
Heat runs through my body
My heart beats too fast
My limbs shake

I fear commitment
Loving someone forever
Working a job forever
Taking care of a child forever

My lungs fill with rocks
Heat runs through my body
My heart beats too fast
My limbs shake

I fear independance
Feeding myself alone
Doing my taxes alone
Living completely alone

My lungs fill with rocks
Heat runs through my body
My heart beats too fast
My limbs shake

I fear ignorance
Coming off as stupid
Acting like I’m stupid
Speaking like I’m stupid

My lungs fill with rocks
Heat runs through my body
My heart beats too fast
My limbs shake

I fear other people
Their anger towards me
Their judgement towards me
Their love for me


My lungs fill with rocks
Heat runs through my body
My heart beats too fast
My limbs shake
My long *** poem about anxious fears
raw with love Dec 2014
i bought a pack of cigarettes tonight, even though my lungs don't work quite right.
i sat on the stairs in the yard of the old house with its walls crumbling,
with its facade turned to dust.
the air was so cold it stung my fingers, frost licking my face,
turning my cheeks blood-red but nothing hurt
as much as you do.

i smoked a cigarette tonight, even though my lungs don't work quite right.
the smoke filled me up and i feared
it would leak out of all the holes you punched in me.
it didn't. i choked and i coughed and it felt a little like drowning.
like your mouth on my mouth, like your teeth on my neck.
i choked and i coughed and it felt a little like you
so i liked it.
who cares i almost died.

i smoked a second cigarette tonight, even though my lungs don't work quite right.
nicotine ran in my veins,
blue rivers along my pale skin and it felt, it really felt
a lot like love. a lot like you. a lot like us.
galaxies scattered across my skin, poison running in my blood,
yes, it felt a lot like us.
i didn't choke this time, but i think you would have laughed
at the way i ******
on the cigarette ****.

i smoked a third cigarette tonight, even though my lungs don't work quite right.
i swallowed cancer like a drug and it stung
at the back of my throat, and it burned and it burned and it burned
as ash gathered at the burning end
and fell to the ground like snowflakes,
little flakes of ash on my sneakers
and it reminded me of your kisses a little, i didn't choke this time.
i laughed. a bitter laugh.
you hurt at the back of my mind as i put
the cigarette out and i thought about the way
you'd look at me, boldness in your eyes, hair a little all over
the place and your mouth
shaped in a little "o"
as you blew circles of smoke out.

i smoked a fourth cigarette tonight, even though my lungs don't work quite right.
the cold stung but not as much as my lungs burnt and my brain burned
and you hurt.
i blew smoke out but never quite like you did,
and i thought it looked and was a little
ridiculous maybe
to burn the leaves of a plant wrapped in paper
and fill our fragile bodies with the exhausts
we breathe out smoke like broken steam engines,
ain't it funny, haha.
you'd laugh, harshly, you'd bite me, you were always
a little rough.

i smoked a fifth cigarette tonight, even though my lungs don't work quite right.
it's not half as venomous as you were, i decided.
i put it out.
cigarettes are so not worth the hype.
you were.
you are.
igc May 2015
Up
I can feel my lungs collapsing with every shallow breath
And I can't decide if it's the holes left behind from
cigarette smoke burns
Or the pieces of me that followed behind you

It's 10:05 and as much as I keep trying to warp the truth
the minutes tick on leaving me stranded in seconds of long lost times

Wishing from fruitless bones
Remembering could have beens that weren't
And chasing endings that never quite were within reach

And I know cigarette fills don't last
But I can ******* time running out
And my bones refuse to give away hints to weather it's a
countdown or liftoff
The essence never quite strong enough to disguise
the bitter after-taste your words left behind

It's 4:00 am and as smoke fills my lungs
I vaguely remember being told
the only souls awake are the lonely and the loved

Now it's been months since I was introduced to this hour but still
all I feel is nothing.

You told me pretty girls don't light their own cigarettes
but that never stopped my lungs from burning
every time you breathed my way

Leaving scars of razor sharp words never spoken
Pushed down to the hollow of my scorching throat
Thirsting for the oasis of the syllables
they were never quite within reach of quenching.

They say cigarettes curve your hunger.
And I guess they're almost right because
so far all this nasty habit has curved is
My appetite for you

Now it Hurts to realize that the attention
I mean cigarettes
You willingly offered were just cleverly disguised poison
Burning away my insecurities only to reintroduce them in misunderstood exhales of passion

All I have left to feel are my lungs gasping for every last breath
Lungs pulsing for every last breath
Lungs shrinking to accommodate every last breath
You took away from me
LJ Chaplin Mar 2014
Iron cast and weighing me down,
These lungs filled with air,
Take me from the ground,
Lift me up above the clouds,
High above the moon,
The wind and rain are the only sounds.

Anchored to the seabed,
These lungs have filled with water,
Fish and memories swim through my head,
Watch me fall apart and rest,
A shipwrecked soul and covered in coral,
Locked away inside a treasure chest.

A desert storm and I'm still lost,
These lungs are filled with sand,
Each grain inhaled comes at a cost,
Flip me over like an hourglass,
Watch the time fall away,
Lungs die down and breaths never last.
© L.J. Chaplin
Okaybro Nov 2014
lungs
Consisting of elastic sacs with branching passages into which air is drawn so that oxygen can pass into the blood and carbon dioxide be removed

You planted flowers in mine and my body has not adjusted to breathe the different air.

I have forever felt at one with nature  and hold the desire to assimilate myself in to it
But Today my body is not ready
My body will not accepted that as nature  I will be stepped on
My body is A lot stronger then my heart is

I want my chest to be molded to hold all of which you want to give me
I want to say my carbon dioxide receptors will develope
like I can turn by body into something it is not
for you
but truthfully i know better

My body is resistant.
My muscles fight for me when i am on longer doing it on my own
When i don't understand that this is a battle to the death
I wanted to give you something and didn't even contemplate that you could to **** it

I don't think it was intentional
But you have uprooted all of my nourishment and put it in my lungs
and although it is beautiful I cannot digest from my lungs

My life as this is not yet over
I have drawn from my skin all of what it had and more
I have picked at my bones i have tried to push them closer together
I have tried to make my body pretty and artfull

upon finding out that beautiful starts with self acceptance
I worked on believing that i am beautiful
I was coming to peace with loving myself
I had become a garden of my own
flourishing off of what i had around me

When you arrived you began to dig up the roots I was using to cope
swinging your shovel around like you didn't know the importance of what you were doing
WHile you were teaching me that your acceptance of me was more important than that of my own

The mind of which i follow told me that this was okay.
My body called *******, not ready to be stepped on
You had felt me with the rest of your body
And planting the flowers in my lungs was so you could feel me under your feet

Your feet are not the ones i want to be underneath
When my body is ready i will go into the ground
And the bereaved and the grave diggers and distraught will walk across me and my body will become that of another nature

For the first time my body will feel completely solid.
Vladimir s Krebs Nov 2015
i feel like every breath i take when i am angry fill with smoke that takes my soul away.
every mistake i have made brings me and you closer. i want answer's that will tell me the truth.  why do i have a demonic life with smoke that fills my lungs! how angry do you have to make me till i lose control and go on a rampage. how long before i can get my own soul back.i am a demonic being that will take a life and rote it to death. i stand alone with anger that spits all your ******* lies out. im going to lose control and show this world what life with out a soul will be like when all you breath smoke in your lungs that destroy you life roting your mind away wiht only

ANGER
HATRED
DISPISE

smoke filling my lungs with only anger and *******.
i dont stand along with the crowd i stand alone away from societys ***** triks.

my demonic life has nothing but darkness that writes my life storie of what its like to be in hell.



smoke fills my lungs cause thats whats going to happen when you trade your soul for what ever greed needs

so trace my foot steps ill dissapear like the sun dose every day.

smoke fills my lungs cause i'm just a broken soul that has no where to go exept rain hell onto those whoe made my life misrable enstead
like is so pissy with every one so sufficating when yo have to work on a project for school
Hisham Alshaikh Jul 2018
You laugh
Angels weep out of jealousy
Devils have no single conspiracy
Demons dancing in harmony
Men hearts go broken with no remedy
Women eyes tearing continuously
Violins break out of envy terribly
Composers have no more creativity
Music plays with no melody
Silence starts listening joyfully
Happiness laughters left in agony
Beautiful words describe nothing but misery
Tulip flowers become colorless shamefully
Believers lose their faith immediately
Infidels drop their convictions instantly
Hearts start beating rapidly
Lungs oxygenating quickly
Living ones laying listening carefully
The dead come back miraculously

--Hisham Alshaikh
You Laugh. Version 1.
Rockie Apr 2015
Blood, Lungs and Alcohol
Addiction, Hell and Help
How much more
Can Aidan take
Before he decides to die?
Aidan is the main character of something I am currently writing with an alcohol/drug addiction. I've written it here as a poem :)
I stand above my bed
And examine the damage.
Blankets this way and that
Pillows all over
Sheets tangled up around themselves.
Proof of something that
Only hours ago
Left this place empty.
I take in the rubble
And breathe deeply.
I lower myself down to those
Tangled sheets
And backwards bedspreads
And fill my lungs with you.
I pull them up around me
And close my eyes
And wish for this place to be
The same kind of battleground
Again tomorrow.
I am loud,
Demanding attention.
I know when I am being charming
Because I try.
I put on my impressing face
And do my impressing hair
And speak my impressing words.
I tell you my embarrassing drinking stories
And everything else about me
That you probably shouldn’t know.

I am not good at being quiet
Because that’s not who I am.
I am not the sweet girl
Who will leave you with a smile
And a touch
And a glance
Or a single word.
There is nothing of this fashion of romance
About me.

I am the girl who will point out your flaws,
And take you outside to see the stars,
And remind you how human you are,
And what a wonderful thing that is.

I am the girl who will talk about science,
And music and theology and history,
And point out constellations, laughing,
When you don’t know the big dipper’s name.

I am the girl who will make witty references,
To classic literature and science fiction,
And will tell you stories of how I once,
Made a gingerbread replica of a lighthouse.

I am the girl who will stand on a table,
And sing at the top of my lungs on the highway,
And act like a chicken or quail or velociraptor,
Or nuzzle your face like a lion to make a point.

I am the girl who takes too many shots
And then coaxes you to bed on a Russian liver,
And knows all the right places to bite, and tease,
And follows with exceptionally coherent pillow-talk.

I am not a thin silk scarf on the wind.
I am not a thing hard to capture.
You would not spend a perilous journey
Through a wild, perfumed jungle,
Searching for my slender garments
Hung beside a pool
As I wail to the breeze.

Rather, I am the bird who flies overhead
Making too much noise
Distracting from the trail ahead.
A bird whose plumage proves
What an interesting life it must be…
What a colorful life for me…
Perpetually strange
The lone comic relief.

I am many things.
But I am not quiet.
Of this I am sure.
09/07/12




A personal statement.
robin Mar 2013
ah, love,
you're a walking tribute to anarchy
and i love to hear you preach -
boxcutter lips wrapping around
the holiest words of blood and viscera,
rage and fear
that clench in the throat like a diamond called from coal.
in the name of the lord you drink the sun
and the burn is familiar,
an old friend
the father of the righteous fire
that drives you to drag down the sky,
or drag up the earth -
anything to approach
empyrean heights:
in your sermons you scale mountains to break into heaven,
dragging your scars
behind you.
you break glass just to prove that nothing lasts.
every manifesto is another gospel
in your holy book,
your promise
that promises mean nothing.
love me like a miscarriage,
hold me like a cancer -
prescribe diamorphine to the world
and watch it choke on numbness.
those who fear pain
deserve to feel nothing at all,

you say,
those who fear pain
deserve to never die.

bestowing the world with
the worst curse you know.
boxcutter lips
ripping words to shreds.
molotov eyes
and paper lungs.
your paper-lantern lungs
shine through your back
and you smother them with cotton to **** the sickly glow.
the sun you swallowed is still pooled in your lungs,
and it shines like a blasphemous joke -
green light in your sick midnight,
a burn to rival your molotov eyes,
your righteous fire.
you live like steel to forget your paper lungs.
brothers, sisters,
have you heard the good news?
you won't be the first to die.

of course not, love,
we can all see the collision course you're on.
walking tribute to anarchy,
you're crafting your own doom.
{oh, but i'll go down with you, love,
i'll carry all your scars for you
and blow out the sun in your lungs -
let me show you, love,
what i can do.
let me show you how sick i can be -
i've a twisted mind and i'd like to prove it,
like to take all your scars upon myself
and burn down heaven
if they won't hear your sermons.
i am your weapon so wield me well.
i am your weapon
and together
we will bring the heretics
low.}
ah, love,
you're a walking tribute to anarchy
and i want to watch you suffocate
when your fire burns the last of the oxygen.
your footsteps are ashes and broken glass
and i follow
close behind.
you scream
and curse
and cry to heaven
and i smother the sun in your lungs.
in your sick midnight sermons,
heaven pulsates like an open wound
and i stitch you up,
keep the gangrene from your gospels.
ah, love,
in your throat
coal turns to diamond.
rage and fear
behind boxcutter lips.
Rosie Dee Dec 2014
Deoxygenated blood flows from the body to the right side of the heart through the Vena Cava.
From the Vena Cava to the Right Atrium.
From the Right Atrium through the Tricuspid valves.
Through the Tricuspid valves to the Right Ventricle.
Up the Pulmonary Artery.
Through the semi-luner valves.
Out the pulmonary artery.
To the lungs.
Blood becomes Oxygenated
Oxygenated blood flows from the lungs to the left side of the heart through the Pulmonary Vein.
From the Pulmonary Vein to the Left Atrium.
From the Left Atrium through the Bicuspid valves.
Through the Bicuspid valves to the Left Ventricle.
Up the Aorta.
Through the semi-luner valves.
Out the Aorta.
Oxygenated blood is sent around the body.
Blood becomes Deoxygenated
Deoxygenated blood flows from the body to the right side of the heart through the Vena Cava........

SO If you tell me your heart is "literally broken" just don't.
It isn't broken.
It just hurts.
It's just feels horrible.
Painful.
A feeling that hurts you and feels like your heart hurts so much that it's actually broken.
But your heart doesn't actually hurt.
It's just a feeling.
The cycle stills goes on.
It is still functioning.
So, next time you feel your "heart breaking" and literally being "torn apart",

Remember...

Deoxygenated blood flows from the body to the right side of the heart through the Vena Cava.
From the Vena Cava to the Right Atrium.
From the Right Atrium through the Tricuspid valves.
Through the Tricuspid valves to the Right Ventricle.
Up the Pulmonary Artery.
Through the semi-luner valves.
Out the pulmonary artery.
To the lungs.
Blood becomes Oxygenated
Oxygenated blood flows from the lungs to the left side of the heart through the Pulmonary Vein.
From the Pulmonary Vein to the Left Atrium.
From the Left Atrium through the Bicuspid valves.
Through the Bicuspid valves to the Left Ventricle.
Up the Aorta.
Through the semi-luner valves.
Out the Aorta.
Oxygenated blood is sent around the body.
Blood becomes Deoxygenated
Deoxygenated blood flows from the body to the right side of the heart through the Vena Cava.............
So it's been a while since i wrote here..Maybe i just gave you a biology lesson instead of a poem who knows. (also i it is isnt perfect biology wise im sorrrryyyy...i tried-the heart's supposed to be the area i'm good at.kinda ironic really). I got quite angry writing. Lot of strong feelings appeared to come out of me...i wasn't gonna post this because i don't know how i feel about it till but i was encouraged to so here goes. Criticize all you like Opinions are great-good or bad.
Arby Sep 2018
The misty fog outside,
condenses into a speckled bedroom glass.  

Through which,
nestled deep under the blanket,
I hear the orchestra of a rainy 8am life.  

Bothered by the unconducted iso-rhythms
of dripping water droplets,
dropping onto the metal window sill,
I peak my head out from under the duvet
and yawn out the stale air from my lungs.  

I notice the coffee left for me
on the bedside table before she left.  
I grasp the warm little blue cup.  

I hear the birds in the trees somewhere below
warming up their sleepy little lungs.  

I close my eyes and feel the cold air
through the window.  
Hiding under my duvet,
I drift back to sleep.
Ivie Nov 2013
You are like a cigarette** burning in my lungs with a speed of paper turning to raven ash when lighted up,

You flick you lighter, within your fingers, within your lips lies the taste of my blood

This road that we took, this love turned out be threaded together in such a way, that we could never unravel it

You puff out my love like the swirls of smoke disappearing in the thin air; I choke on the hardened state of your words like tar

This road isn’t being paved, it’s being dug unevenly from every breathing space, and the smoke is filling up in my lungs the way your ashtray is with cig butts

Overflowing, like the course of this relationship

Breathe in my lungs something other than acidic bruises, won’t you neutralize it?

Won’t you even stop and look back to all the things that we had, that we lost in the fire,

Look at my burned body and tell me you regret it, look at my cancer filled mouth infected by your diseased words and tell me you never meant to light my lungs on fire

Tell me, ****  tell me, you never meant to steal my voice, and abandon my love, choking me from inside,

My body giving up, lungs collapsing in the harsh winter night underneath the starless sky, the moon lost beyond the clouds, no savior

You are like Lucifer, I never understood the transition, and I could never breathe in the courage inside of my lungs opposing your vacant soul

You are like a cigarette but even at our end you’ll cant burn me out, I’ll be an more than this, I’ll be IV, trying to survive even when my body is more ash than blood
Imperfect Desire Mar 2015
Am I the only one that has their demons feasting upon their souls?
They say it is easy to tie a noose around your mind,
To overcome the urges and temptations of ending your life with a suicide
They don't know the true pain and torment that is going on in my head
An epic battle that leaves me with restless nights in bed
"End your life already" they say, as they prey on me during my weakest hours
Sometimes I give into the voices, carrying the sharp blade to my wrist
Crying as I struggle to mutter three powerful words that keeps me going
Choking on my sobs, my lungs deflate with a desire to say that God loves me
I try to convince myself that God is trying to test my faith
And to just wait, wait and wait
Then my Demons will eventually go AWAY.....



~Imperfect Desire **
Ron Sanders Feb 15
(Glade, World, Master, Boy, Hero)

                                                 GLADE

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

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

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

                                               WORLD

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                              MA­STER

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

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

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

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

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

                                                  BOY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                HERO

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

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

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

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







Copyright 2020 by Ron Sanders.

Contact:  ronsandersartofprose(at)yahoo(dot)com
Sorry about the ghastly copy. This system makes graceful formatting impossible.
Amanda Goodness Dec 2014
You were born on a day
Where the oxygen in the room
Was thick and far from humble.
You were too perfect,
And I was shining with way too much pride
For the suggested serving size.

And you were gasping right before
You took your real first breath.
And I saw myself in you.
Gasping, trying to cry,
Trying to release and experience.
But lungs are made of wood sometimes.

Then you finally breathed in
And started crying hysterically,
Like babies do.
And that was the first thing we had in common.
Wooden lungs.
Our blue eyes were the second.

Sorry about your father,
He was less of a father figure
And more like a father figurine.
Too breakable, and far too easy
To put in the back of closet.

He never had to struggle for the air like we do.
He doesn't know how good that unhumble air tastes.
He didn't have wooden lungs.
And his eyes were brown.
Em Dec 2014
Anxiety
is a breath never released
suffocation of the lungs
and the whole of your mind
Anxiety
is a clock
that never stops ticking
with the constant click, from past to present
Time never ends
and oh darling
nor does anxiety.
AUGUST Nov 2018
Sitting on the corner while Starring
At the glances of your smile all over
Cover the room by your face unveiling
Up to this moment, I want to be near,
(you were a mile from here)

Thinking It was cloudy on my mind,
But when you are here by my side
You are making my day as bright
Showing the beauty behind,
(They have nothing to hide,
nothing to hide.)

How deep is the ocean trenches?
How far is the stars throughout the abyss?
How much warm is your embraces?
How much cold Is your lips to kiss?

l don’t much care about counting all of these,
As long as you are with me, you are my bliss

(I could tell,) heaven’s gate is not the place of happiest
And angels are not those prettiest,
Indeed, God is always be the wisest,
For sending me a fallen angel, I’ve caught the brightest, the brightest

Lately, You stole what between these lungs
You open my chest, You let it pour, my bleeding heart
I cant deny, how i feel, you are my crush
I have been stunned on Your eye lashes, (glances, perfume scents, and blushes)

How deep is the ocean trenches?
How far is the stars throughout the abyss?
How much warm is your embraces?
How much cold Is your lips to kiss?

Do I have to care about all of that anymore,
As long as you are with me, what should I have to ask for?

Emerald, jade, diamond, gold and silver,
I guess nothing is forever, unless me and you
In this world of deception, anyone can be a liar
Just remember, Nothing is to fear, I am always here.
.......I am always here.
Honestly, I did not know what is sonnet and how to make one, but I did it unconsciously. It is true that poets have a universal language in terms of making thier poems.

This was Dedicated for Margaret
Brady D Friedkin Jan 2016
Suffocation; the torture of life without breath
Debt; the torture of being trapped without way of getting out

We signed away our souls and our very livelihoods
So that we might find treasures deep into the earth
In vain we gave ourselves to this cause
We became bankrupted and we became slaves to our toil
We inhaled our work and it poisoned our bodies
We owed our souls to the company for which we worked

We dig deep into the earth
In search of ancient treasures formed long long ago
Seeking to find riches beyond belief and beyond compare
Beginning a noble crusade for good things
But then continuing on to become a misadventure where there is little redemption
Oh what an ignorant odyssey we had begun!

In a manmade cavern, we dig for riches
Our faces becoming covered with black soot
As we invest into the dreams of the treasures for which we dig
And yet then further and further falling into debt
Until we are not only suffocated merely by the soot of coal but also by our debts
And as if the danger of this mine were not enough before the the mines began to fall onto our very heads

We toil for years upon years in this dark mine of coal
Losing all we knew and all we were for the sake of unsatisfying treasure
Our friends die day after day suffocated by the matter of our toil
We inhale our work and our lungs become so filled and poisoned with the soot of the coal
Many could no longer breathe or bear the pain of the poison in their lungs
And then they die in the depths of the dark caves searching for treasure in vain

Not knowing we had signed a death wish
To toil deep into the depths of the mantle of the earth searching for forsaken treasure
Believing that we were searching for good things
That we truly were in the midst of a noble crusade
Not even knowing of the reality in which we stood
That there truly was a terrible hell in which we were living

To this point we knew not of the soot slowly suffocating our lungs
And we knew not of the blood pouring out of our wounds
We knew not of the utter blackness that covered our faces
Or that no oxygen flowed to our ever so needy lungs
We knew only of the importance of our mission
And the necessity to find the treasures for which we were sent out

But the reality of this deep and dark quarry was a hell never before known
And the unknown need of fresh air was as heavy as a newborns need for his mother's milk
Yet we knew not of the need for fresh air
For our eyes were set on the prize
To mine the treasure for which we had so long toiled
And we forgot of our need to live and seek good things

Not knowing the depths of our manmade cavern and our lostness
Our faces so covered with dried soot and blood
Longing for new air to freshen our dying lungs
And longing for Holy Water to wash clean our coal-filled and coal-covered bodies
Yet we knew not any of this
And we knew not of the depths of our pain and our suffering

Yet then one day we break through the surface of the earth
We see the light of the sun, and we see good things
The light of day shines onto us
And a cool breeze blows onto our faces
Then we take a collective breath of the new air
A breath of fresh air more satisfying than a thousand breaths in the depths of the horrid coal mine

We see something we had not seen in years, freedom
And as our eyes set upon the world which we had nearly forgotten
We see the beauty that we had indeed forgotten
We realize the hell that we had clearly been enduring
And in a moment it all becomes clearer than ever before
The treasure of the coal mine had so deceived our hearts and our judgement and our very sanity

For we knew not of the depth and gravity of the terror of the hell we were in
We thought we were simply searching for gold, but we had truly sold our souls
Digging deep into the depths of the planet toward the core
And we lost ourselves in the darkness and depravity of the shaft
Suffering in blindness and lostness, unable to find any good things
Until finally we found the Light from above

Our debts had been cleared and our bodies had been made new
How sweet the wind was upon our sweaty, soot-covered, bloodied faces as we emerged from the cave
And then we were washed clean of all of our pain and suffering
The blood was washed from our faces, and our wounds were healed
The soot from the thick coal was scrubbed from our flesh, and our poisoned lungs were healed
And we were freed from the terror of our suffering

For out of the depths of the earth with squinted eyes and limp limbs
We emerged into great Light never before seen
And as our eyes adjusted, so did our understanding
The understanding of just how lost we had been
And just how close to death we came with each and every day
But the breath of fresh air, and the sight of new light resurrected us

From the great horror of our past we were healed
And from our ever-growing debts we had been released
We were freed from our self-imprisonment and given new life
And not on our own accord in the slightest
But by the great love of Christ Jesus
For Jesus is our great deliverer
A narrative poem about the great love of Christ through even the deepest depths and the darkest darkness
Jasmine Luna Apr 2014
who knew that in about
4 years time,
or maybe
10,000 years lost in
10,000 multi hued tears,
id be on the same trip-
dancing to the same
shimmering inner grove as before-
braiding fresh cut
flowers-
delicate genital-hands, unfolding in prayer
into my subconscious mind
or perhaps into my hair-
saving colored prism fragments
of knowledge or nonsense-
digesting intoxicating
incense smoke into the
deep throated green streaked
laughter chasms
that are my lungs-
spinning vinyl, spun mind
unwinding, undulating
through string music-
contemplating the sunset's sweet
immaculate form, reoccuring
and balancing itself right outside my window-
dressing in shells, bones,
and beads; kaleidoscope fabric dripping from
the ******* like mother Kali in a Fellini
flick-
peeping out at heads slinking down
the ****** pavement streets-
my hairy angelic form grooving
intensely, spastic-
body flung, strung out in
hot patterns of
mirrored arms and legs-
brain brew bubbling; wicked, fantastic-
limbs waving and grabbing at
tangible tasty morsels,
smelling strongly of indigo
and patchouli-
the East smiling on me and
my intrepid journey to the ocean city-
head thrown back in
tranquil madness-
pipe smoke curling like
ancient hound howls from the corners
of my lips-
smiles spread like insanity, a wicked disease
lost in the forgotten finger painted
confounds of creamy
****** milk consciousness-
basking in lamplight
of the golden glistening
                                  Now.
AS Jul 2011
How do you explain

to your children that the

horrors of the world are real?

How will I tell my son, We

found a place you can call home but

your bus might not make it to school.

Do not look too Jewish in this part of town

Do not play in the train station

Do not get used

to the weight

of a machine gun.

Or look my

daughter in the eye and say, someday

you might say “no” and someone stronger than you might

not listen

You will not tell me

Know that this happens a lot

Know that your wrists pinned against a

backboard will

echo in the way you move your hands

for as long as you let it

But

human hands aren’t as heavy as metal shackles

And I’m so sorry

but I won’t be able to

take the weight for you

You’ll wake up in the morning

That I can promise you

You’ll wake up

and your lungs will fill with air

whether you tell them to or not.

One day

I will hold someone

small, with my face

and they’ll cry and I’ll say,

*I know.

I know you’re tied with little yarn strings to the last life

I know it hurts to be here and

(honestly)

you’re never going back

But

the older you get the less you’ll remember

what it was like

before you had a body

when you were made of ash and infinite light

You’ll convince yourself you live here and

that your hands are you,

But remember that once you were boundless

Inside my body, without yours.
Grey Jan 2016
I died for you many times,
blood spilled on more than one occasion.
I could list the times you stole my breath.
With your fingers in my hair, tangled,
I hated my curls.
You called me dearest.
Did you mean it?
You invited me in.
Did she want it?
I was cold. You were warm.
Did you feel it?
In the frost-bitten autumn, lips turning blue
from the cold,
from your kisses,
there was blood on the grass,
shrapnel in your heart.
You worry me.
You don't sleep.
Ink stains your hands like
mud from the battlefield.
It stains your soul,
hides your desires,
murky as the dangerous sea.
Sometimes when you kiss me
it tastes like salt water,
feels like lightning,
gale force winds.
I am not a hurricane.
I could never hurt you.
But I did.
My breath stopped in my lungs,
eyes fixed on yours.
My breath stopped in my lungs,
your hands traveling.
My breath stopped in my lungs,
a bullet in his side.
My breath stopped in my lungs,
the world changed forever.
My breath stopped in my lungs,
you walking away from me, to her.
My breath stopped forever.
You wish my blood would stain your hands,
that you could have been close enough,
that you could have protected the part of yourself that resided in me.
Your breath stopped in your lungs.
I died for you, one final time,
blood spilled on one final occasion.
They stole my breath.
I hated my curls,
but I loved you.
I'm on a train.

One of those red ones with black trimmed windows you can imagine rolling through the suburbs on the way to NYC. Not a subway car but a classier vintage with proper rows of cushioned seats and a lever to pull if there is an emergency. There are sparse shrubberies on one side of the tracks and the ocean on the other. Young trees and bushes stroll by.  A little wind is pushing off the ocean, massaging the car ever so gently back and forth as we move along. A gentle click-clack is on the tips of our ears.

We got on together. I hadn't known you for very long but the connection was stronger than anything I had ever felt or have since. You practically sat on top of me for the first few miles. Couldn't keep your hands off me,  staring in my eyes like you were searching for something lost but you couldn't remember what. The edges of your lips turned upwards permanently as if you were always at the verge of a laugh. You interlaced my fingers with yours and held on like you would be ripped away if your grip loosened for even a second. Slender fingers holding so tightly that they were becoming red.

You were excited to to be riding with me, about where we were going and all the things we would do when we got there. I would see you peer out of the corner of your eye, then lean over to brush your soft cheek against my budding stubble. Kissing and gently biting my lips insatiably. The suns rays coming in at an angle and lighting up your perfect smile and dimple.

I had to remind you we were in public.

I was lost in your blonde curls and the incense of your neck. I had fallen incredibly hard and so fast that my face hurt from smiling and my heart beat with vibrations I had never known. Not even a whiff of anxiety or neurosis. Some of the best memories of my life, as fleeting as they turned out to be.

I yawned and you put your finger in my mouth. I bent over to tie my shoe and you would poke my **** and laugh with your own reflection in the window, like this was the first and best joke of all time. Maybe it was and maybe it is.

The waiter came and informed us that a thing called "the bar car" existed. We both jumped at the idea. I didn't exactly notice at the time, during our excitement, but that's when the train started going faster and everything out the windows began to blur.

The bar car was a wild ride and we took advantage of our lo'cal. All kinds of fine wine, liquors and illicit substances were available. We tried them all. You were beautiful, your laugh infecting everyone around you, I was charming and held a captive audience.   It was a dark, loud and glorious blur. We were the life of the party and it chugged on till dawn.

We woke up in our seats, disheveled and discombobulated. It was dark out already. Did we sleep through the entire day? The train was slowing down, maybe approaching a station. The party was amazing but we were certainly paying the price for the black out. You moved over to the seat across from me to have some more space and lay down. I saw myself in the reflection. My hat, charm and smile from the night before had vanished. I must have left them in the bar car the night before.
      You had changed, beauty uninterrupted but different somehow. I couldn't put my finger on it. Irritated maybe? I invited you to cuddle and battle the hangover together but you ignored me. Like you couldn't hear me or didn't want to. I decided to let you be.

I got up to use the bathroom and thought I would go look for my scattered belongings. Maybe I could find a scrap of leftover dignity while you rested. I inquired to the conductor who directed me to the bartender in the bar car. He hadn't changed a bit, somehow untouched and unaffected by last nights antics that had effected me so dramatically.  Same black suspenders and white pressed shirt with impeccably slicked hair. I asked him what happened and if I had an open tab. While slowly polishing a rocks glass he looked up and made eye contact for a split second before looking away.
He said:  "Oh the bar car takes its toll. In the end we all end up paying one way or another". I still don't know what he meant by that or if he knew.
      I asked him if he found my hat and he said he would check the camera. We walked in to a small back room, while he was reviewing the tape, over his shoulder I noticed a tragedy.

We were drunk. I was going on to a group of new friends on one side of the bar, they were hanging on my words and I was eagerly explaining whatever nonsense they were drooling over. You were in the corner wearing that red dress I love, with your hair up in a tight bun. A few curls had escaped and brushed your high cheekbones, a thin line of pearls dancing delicately across your perfectly symmetrical collar. You were stunning and inebriated, swaying with each bump and motion of the train. A man wearing my hat put his hand on your side to keep you from swaying over and then he left it there.
I took a sharp breath.

It looked like you put your hand on his hand to move it but then it stayed and you both swayed together. As the air left my lungs and the blood drained out of my face I watched your lips touch the strangers. A small piece of my soul slipped away forever. I couldn't watch any further. When I asked the bartender how long it went on he fidgeted for a moment and uncomfortably muttered "quite some time". I never found my hat or the other part of me that left that day.  

The train slowed. I walked to the back, as far away from you as I could get, in utter disbelief. How could you? I thought to myself.
I mourned the loss of the you as I knew you yesterday, quietly and to myself. A tear  escaped my eye and rolled down my now fully formed stubble as I fell in to a random seat in mild shock. There were a few passengers back there so I had to pull together relatively quickly. After gaining some composure I knew it was time to get off. I knew we could never get back to yesterday morning though I would have said or done anything to do so.

The train had stopped. I went back to my seat and you were sleeping. I took my coat and gathered my things. The conductor looked at me confused as to why I would leave something so magnificent, I assume he had no idea what had transpired.   

I walked to the rear of the car and slid the door open slower than required. I stepped to the stairs and put one foot down on the step and the other on the ground. I stopped, rooted with my hand on the railing, lingering between two very different paths.
     I knew that it was time to get off, I knew this was the sensible thing to do, that I couldn't get past this offense regardless of how I had felt earlier the day before. The whistle screamed from the locomotive. The conductor looked at me and shook his head, I'm not sure if he was trying to tell me to stay or go but a decision had to be made.

The train lurched forward and I watched as the station slip away slowly. I sat in between the cars for a while and watched the ocean and birds. With a heavy heart and shoes I walked back to my seat. You were waiting. Crying. You knew. The bartender had told you. You didn't mean do do it, didn't realize what you were doing and thought it was me. He was wearing my hat and the whole world was blurry and dark.

I believed you. Self anguish mixed with alcohol was dripping from your pores. I knew you didn't mean it and were drunk, but could I ever forgive you or trust you again?

I loved you still.

I caught a glimpse of my reflection, a weaker version of myself looked back. As if an invisible chip in my teeth had developed and my shoulders lowered. The charming, confident man from the bar car the day before had been replaced. Something was off but not enough for anyone else to notice, just enough to know a change has happened.
       The train started to pick up speed again as we distanced ourselves from the station.  I second guessed my decision to stay but I didn't look back.

I found the man with my hat and punished him with a few blows in the dark. He knew he ****** up, apologized and took the beating like a man. I never got the hat back.

The engineer announced that we would be going through a tunnel soon and to turn on our lights and keep our hands in the windows.

It would be dark.  

We stayed away from the bar car for a while but the draw was irresistible. After a few hours we were there again but you never left my side.  Then you did. I was looking for you but you would disappear and not answer me when I called you name. The tunnel went deeper and darker and I didn't know where you were and I suspected you liked it that way. The train began to slow down again as we exited the tunnel.

I finally found you back at our seat, you had moved one row away from me. I asked you to come back, tried to hold your hands but you pulled away with vehemence. When I came back from the bathroom you had moved another row farther.
I knew I was losing you.
I begged you to return but you told me calmly that it was time for you to get off. At some point in the tunnel you had decided that you didn't want to go anymore . Your mind was made. You were going to catch another train at the next station.

When the train stopped I thought for sure you would reconsider but you didn't. Didn't even give it a thought. You just grabbed your coat and hat with one big bag under your arm. You kissed me on the cheek like a french stranger and were off. Going somewhere else on a different train. Just like that.

I rode the rails for quite some time by myself , many people getting on and getting off, passing me by. Every once in a while I would think I saw you at a station or in a **** though the window of another train. I often thought I could smell you but when I breathed deeper it was always gone. A ghost dancing on the edge of my senses.

A young girl in a headband got on the train. She was listening to headphones and dancing to herself as she bobbed along. She sat down in the seat next to me flashing a smile. She had a wedding ring on and I dismissed her immediately.  She didn't move from the seat or stop glancing my way. Eventually she confessed that she wanted to talk. I told her I wasn't interested but she persisted.  I hadn't talked to anyone on the train for quite some time and after some more mild persistence, I gave in.

We had a lot in common. We were both riding alone, desperately wanted attention and were thrilled to receive some.  After a few laughs she slid her hand in to mine and interlaced her fingers. I left it there. It was warm, comforting and wrong. She was married but I had been riding alone so long it felt good to have some company. She stayed and we talked. She was broken and I had a knack for fixing things. After a few hours of dramatic conversation I fell asleep with her head on my shoulder.

When I woke up  the train was flying up the track on the side of a mountain. Trees and rocks were a blur of green and grey. The engineer must be trying to make up for lost time I thought to myself.

The girl was asleep with her head on my lap. I looked down at her hand and the rings were gone. I woke her briefly to ask where they went. She said she didn't need them anymore and had thrown  them out the window.  She could of sold them, I said, but she said she just wanted them gone so she could be mine and fell back to sleep.  All of a sudden I couldn't breath. This train was roaring down the tracks, the once gentle click clack had become a loud hum. Suddenly too loud. This girl in my lap who had just gotten on the train wanted to stay. I considered her for a while as she looked up at me with big blue eyes, shining and wet, like a puppy in the shelter, terrified of rejection and desperate to be adopted.

At the peak of the mountain, just when the train began to even out, you waltzed back in to the car with a champagne flute in one hand and your bag in the other.

I don't know when or where you got back on, must have been a few stations ago when I stopped looking for you. Maybe you were wearing a disguise, who knows what you had been up to while you were gone. I'm not sure how long you were away but it was quite some time. That you had been through something was obvious, a new wrinkle had formed on your brow and you're once confident stride had changed to a cautious stroll. What actually happened out there I don't know.  I never asked and I don't want answers.

You looked at me and smiled. It was good to see that smile, like sun on my face on a brisk day.  You took a step toward me and then I looked down in my lap at the girl at the same time you did. I looked up. You and your smile were gone.

Everything I had begun to feel for this broken, head banded girl in my lap dried up like a puddle in  the dessert.  I quietly and gently nudged her awake and told her I had to use the bathroom. She put her head down on my coat and fell back into what ever trance she had been in, eyelids gently fluttering, eyes searching beneath them for what I would never give her.

I dashed up the isle and threw open the door, almost shattering the glass. The conductor glared at me and rolled his eyes as I barged past to the space between the cars.

There you were. Standing on the stairs with your head out the opening. The wind was blowing your perfectly formed curls around your head like a blonde explosion of familiarity. I yelled your name and you dove in to me. My senses erupted, my mind went numb as the train was nearing another station and I inhaled your essence greedily.

We moved to another car. I abandoned my coat with the married girl and never looked back. I hope she found what she was looking for. I  never could have been the answer she was so desperately seeking but I know I  helped steer her towards it.

You told me you had encountered some other people out there on the rails and they had reminded you of what we had when we first left the station. I never forgot.  

The train started to rock and get going again. We were back in the bar car and starting to brown out. We had to get off of this train right ******* now. In a desperate moment we looked at each other and put our hands, together, on the emergency brake cord. I looked in your eyes with your hand on top of mine. You kissed me while yanking down on the cord. Time slowed, the breaks squealed and everything exploded throwing luggage, people and the entire contents of the bar car in to a nondiscriminatory chaos . We got up off the ground, ran to the end of the car, dove off the side in to a soft patch of grass and rolled down a small incline. We watched as the conductor sifted through  the mess and interrogated the passengers, trying to ferret out the party responsible for pulling the brake. He spotted us off the side of the tracks and shook his fist while shouting every conceivable obscenity combination.

We laughed, held each other in the grass and kissed deeply.

We watched the train pick up speed and disappear in to the hills as relief spread over me.

You interlaced your fingers in to mine and we both looked out to where the tracks disappeared into the horizon, wondering how far of a walk it was to the next station.
James Gable Jun 2016
“Sleep after toil, port after stormy seas, Ease after war,
death after life does greatly please.”
—Edmund Spense

|PART ONE|
CUL DE SAC
Courtesy is informing
The gardener he shall not
Be needed next week
As sometime before then
You will fall suddenly dead


Like a blanket...
Yes, like a blanket
Or a shawl if you’ll have it—
A sheet that whispers a weight
Upon your shoulders that rise and fall
And rise and roll and once more rise
And collapse inevitable as relapse or vice,
We arrived as the sun is
Saying its final goodnights

Life spends some empty
Second inside your lungs
And continues on its way, moving on
Perhaps to resuscitate a
Fading gunshot victim
Or shake the hand of a minute

As time ticks furiously by,
A dog licks its teeth
A few sorry times, tastes a residual piece
Of something tasty he earned
In his attempts to learn fully
To roll over,
He rolls over now and then for fun,
In the disapproving face of the sun

But it’s a different thing to roll
Over at the command of your Master—
He who is looking disapprovingly at the world,
Disapproves of all of it
But through a very small window
He had not seen before
About the size of an envelope
It must have sneaked up on him

Most of all he is bored,
With packets of cigarettes,
Lighting themselves each night in
Spectacular repeats bright and brilliant
Pyrotechnics of white-hot potential,
You must shield your eyes, Master,
Heed the warnings of the doctor when he says
You are doing yourself no favours,
Tempting yourself by leaving them
Laying around in plain sight

And...now and then, just now, and
Just then he finished a whole one,
Packet of twenty, and his reflection,
Unshaven and puffy-faced in the
Deep ocean of the bathroom mirror,
Can’t look at him until morning,
And morning is a long time away

Meanwhile time is
Blackening the dog’s sorry gums,
It painted such dark spots on his Master's lungs                                              
That he now coughs impatiently,
The paint grips like superglue to
The walls and though a full exhale could
Betray their function for one,
Deform their shape for two,
Lungs so rarely tenderly embrace
And now his face goes blue,
And blue with many shades of blue,
And a touch of the colour of the just-rising moon


Nothing comes up...
His diaphragm, taut, it stalls,
Struck, retching,
Everything slows
Everything

slows

— stretches of sounds
And moans echoing
The sinister intent of
Turpentine visions.
Each bloodless
Indecision


You can see him doubled over
By the window, even from here,
And you’d think this bird will
Succeed in catching his worm,
Each slowed in turn, nothing changed,
Bird was swooping long before the slowness came,
Whatever happens, whatever happens...
The dog sleeps whilst his ticking legs kick,
But slower —  

A fly is caught between
The unaffected forefinger and
Opportunist thumb
Of a young girl who is well known,
(She once squeezed a cat
So tight that its insides
Got all twisted and burst),
She would not hurt a fly though
Especially not this one
It’s so lethargic, she thinks,

How she blinks at normal speed—
Immune somehow

Other kids are told to keep away from her
By their respective mothers
Who’ve no respect for others
you’ll see them goose-stepping down
streets in stop-motion synchronicity
These mums communicate by phone
Hogging the lines and spitting malicious
Rumours into the telephone wires,
Such poison is said to excite cables
Causing electrical fires and the
Firemen here have been called out
several times to find the same boy
Of about ten, crying *“Help! Pariah Dog!”

He’s shouting it now, calling the emergency
Services on a credit card phone
And his pennies won’t take
—So slow it’s hard to watch

The bow that fastens the little
Girl’s hair keeps falling down,
She kicks it down the sleepy evening streets,
Rumours cruelly spread of shadows
Calling her to where the street sweepers are known
Not ever to sweep

Everything is slow, as before but
Slightly more so,
The Master’s contractions
In such slow motion rhythm,
You couldn’t recognise patterns or
Repetitions with short-term memory
but they’re rhythms of threes and fours
but also nine over eight and
Four-four straight, the
Tempo is so slow it doesn’t register...
Listen closely for a while though:
Jazz is on the radio!

The dog’s legs still kick as it sleeps
As it dreams of jumping the garden gate,
Even slower now,
And life is longer now,
In ways
Of course we do not notice
But the little girl,
Returning home just before dark
How will this affect her future?
Time’s arrow
The tragedy of its trajectory
Leaves us in a state
That is not worse off,
But there is no help in this!
Positivity does not come
From the things which are simply
Not negative

And the worm
In a slow motion crawl,
Indignant, as the bird’s wings
Cast long finger-like shadows
That are shifting, flickering,
Twitching near crisis point,
Those last hundred-yards of the race
Where lactic-acid-spasms
Makes a mess of the atoms
And slow-twitch fibres made of
Matter once constituting
A percentage of the mass
Of a sabre-toothed tiger,
Cowering in the cold,
Feeling the pull of extinction
Weighted eyelids,
Mischievous hands tugging
On the ears
And polishing the fangs in museums
It was ashamed, the atoms told us this
But refused to declare a name for itself
Or the beast

Slinking and curling like a
Shoe sole that bunches up
The shoehorn is no good,
Not a help, but to borrow
Just one word of that line
And introduce the trumpet,
In its considerations of brass
And blues
It blows lipless fanfares for the
Invertebrate class

The worm, with frantic intent,
In search of his hole in the ground,
Profound effort,
See the slinky worm speeding
Across the lawn at the speed of a gravestone,
The bird getting closer,
In it’s time,
It’s a fizz of radio waves
With a fuzzy static outline,
Popping grains and throbbing like
Power surging through the telephone line,
Where voices can be heard warning of high pressure
With a fatalist sigh, and poor weather,
A voice with a regional accent
Sounding authoritative and wise
Intensity in the eyes somehow I imagine,
How we paint pictures of faces and people,
The voices are so telling at times,
You can hear whiskey-burns in the throat
Saying things of the colour
Of a nose, and sweet childlike lisps
Suggest dungarees and freckles,
And a gap between the front teeth,
Why these? What prejudices
Have slipped out weedily from
An imagination that is surely
Out-valued by its frame
Of gold with wooden panels

*“PARIAH DOG!”.....
Part Nine (1) of The Man Who Longed to be an Oyster
Nick Moser Apr 2016
I try to breathe.
Which is a hard task for me.
My life is fading fast.

These new lungs I was given.
Make me feel unforgiven.
My breath will never last.

Life is hard to live.
When all I do is give.
And I receive nothing in return.

The new lungs are fading.
My wrists are blading.
My whole world is ready to burn.

I can't escape this Hell.
I've been deemed "mentally unwell."
I'm ready to be down for the count.

So I just crawl in bed.
And cover my head.
My new lungs are wearing out.
New Lungs
Hannah Southard Oct 2012
Breathe in,
breathe out,
there,
you have just successfully converted oxygen into carbon dioxide,
you have been productive,
you have done enough today to give the trees a job,
like a tired mother,
they go around un-doing everything you've worked so *******,
In,
out,
muscles relaxing,
tension releasing,
carbon dioxide expelled,
diluted by the oxygen,
in,
out,
lungs burning,
legs aching,
quick,
sharp,
inoutinoutinout,
hands on hips,
bent at the waist,
a long red ribbon laying broken at your feet,
inoutin out in  out   in    out,
calming,
slowing until it is normal again,
in,
o-,
your breathe catches,
heart beating faster,
eyes locked,
a great love epic in the making,
the carbon dioxide sitting in your lungs waiting for you to remember to release it,
screaming lungs silenced by a pounding heart,
insides so loud,
outsides completely silent.
OUT,
in,
out,
lungs comforted,
heart calmed by the brain,
continue walking,
normal,
in,
out,
the trees following behind you,
fixing all the air you have ruined,
and giving it back to you, once again.
Toni Seychelle Feb 2013
The ground beneath the stiff leaves is frozen. The cold, brisk air invades my lungs, I exhale, my breath visible. I step over fallen branches and tugged by thorny vines. A red tail hawk screeches overhead, this is a sign of good luck. There is no path, no trail to mark our way, just an old, flat railroad bed surrounded by walls of shale, blown up for the path of the train so long ago. The only ties to remind of the rail are the rotting, moss covered ties that once were a part of a bridge that would have carried the train over a small creek between two steep hills. I see a fox burrow, and it's escape hatch is one of the hollowed railroad ties. I want to be a fox... The trek down this hill is not easy, thorny blackberry bushes and fallen trees impede progress. At the bottom, the small, bubbly creek is frozen at the edges, traveling under rocks and continuing its ancient path. I look up the hill that I just descended, and wonder how the return will go. Keep moving. The next hill will be easier, there are no thorny tangles, just treacherous leaf litter that will give under my feet if I don't find the right footing. The trick is to dig my boots into the ground as if I'm on steps. These hills are steep. Finally at the top, I look back at this little spring valley, I'm not that high up, but what view. Here, there is a dilapidated tree stand, falling apart from years of neglect and weather. Surrounded by deep leaf litter, there is a patch of rich dark earth, a buck has marked his spot, his round pellets are nearby. The saplings catch my hair as I walk by, and at these moments I am thankful for this cold snap that took care of the ticks. A creepy feeling takes over me, so thankful for this snap. A few feet further, as I watch where I am walking, another tussled bit of earth and I notice some interesting ****. It's furry and light grey; I poke it with my stick and find a small skull when I turn a piece over. Owl. I continue my walk, I didn't come here to play with poo. The last time I took this hike was three years ago, on a similar frigid day. It was a lot easier to make it through the shale valleys. Last summer, a wind storm felled trees and took out power for two weeks. The evidence of that derecho is clear here in this untouched forest. I remembered a tree, which now is a fallen giant, that had lost it's bark. The bark had separated and laid around this tree like a woman's skirt around her ankles. Now the tree lies with it's bark. I pass another tree I recognize whose branch extends out but zig zags up and down, as if it had three elbows. The tree signifies my next move, to descend from the flat railroad bed, down to a creek that flows through the tunnel that would have carried the train. The creek is considerably larger than the last creek I could step across. Descending towards the creek leads me over moss covered rocks and limbs, still bearing snow. Outside the tunnel, the hill walls are large stones, covered in a thick layer of moss, some of which has started to fall off due to heaviness. There's a sort of ice shelf in the creek, it's three layers thick and can support my one hundred and twenty pounds. Laying across the creek is another derecho-felled tree. Some sort of critter has crawled on this, using it to avoid the water below and as a short cut up the hill. His claw marks are covering the the limb, a few are more clear, it looks as if the creature almost slipped off. His claw marks show a desperate cling. I walk through the tunnel, in the mud and water; the creek echoes inside. I look above. There are drainage holes lining the ceiling, one is clogged by a giant icicle. I imagine the train that used to ride over this tunnel, I pretend to hear it and feel the rumbling. The last time we were here, we found cow skeletons. We placed a few heads on branches and one over the tunnel. We stuck a jaw, complete with herbivore teeth, into the mossy wall and a hip bone on a sapling. The hip bone reminded us of Predator's mask in the movie. All these bones are turning green. When I was here before, there was a bone half submerged in the creek; I had taken a picture of it but today, it isn't here. I'm sure it was washed away. After our exploration of the previous visit, we turned back. We are cold again, can't stay in one place too long. I climb through the deep leaf litter and over the rocks back to the railroad bed. Passing all the things I've already seen and spotting things I missed. I find two more fox burrows. They utilized the shale rock and burrowed underneath the jutting formations. Hidden coming from the south, the gaping openings seem welcoming from the north. My friends, the spelunkers and climber, want to descend into the darkness but I remind them, it is an hour to sundown, our trek is hard enough with overcast daylight. Wisdom prevails. We pass a tree, we didn't notice before, that was struck by lightening. The cedar tree was split in two and fell down the shale wall. I see the evidence of the burn and a smoldered residue at the base. Nature has a cruel way of recycling. The downed tree still has snow on it and the path of a raccoon is visible, I like the paws of *****. Though the way is flat, the walls of shale tower above us, limiting routes. At one point I can't see through the fallen trees I have to pass through. I have to crab walk under, crawl over, duck again and find my way around the thorny collections of bare black berry bushes. Finally into a clearing, still surrounded by sharp shale, there is another wall covered in inches of thick, healthy moss. I place my hand, taking time to stroke the furry wall. My hand leaves an imprint. I wonder how long that will last.. Back down the steep hill up and up the thorny tangle. I know I'm on the right path up, I see the fox's hole through the railroad tie, and his entrance burrow up the hill. Going down was definitely easier. The summit is literally overgrown with thorns, there is no clear path through. It is, again, impossible to see through the tangle of limbs and saplings and more thorns. Somehow we make it through. We are close to breaking off this path. We know this by the remains of a cow skeleton that more than likely fell from the top of the shale cliff. Femurs and ribs and jaws abound. On the last trip, we placed a hip bone in the "Y" of a sapling. The young tree has claimed it, growing around it. We add a piece of jaw to the tree's ornamentation and move on. We climb down from the railroad bed to our car - parked on the side of the road with a white towel in the window so that no one suspects a group of people walking through private property, past faded NO TRESPASSING signs.

When I undress for bed later, there are many small scratches up and down my legs from those ****** thorny vines. I'm okay with that, it's better than searching for ticks in my head.
I couldn't write a 'poem' about this hike. It was too full of nature.
Morgan Mercury Jun 2014
You lay in a field of flowers counting each bird that passes overhead.
You've erased concern and decided to live for the moment because you always would say, "we might be dead by tomorrow."
Flowers grew from your heart and bloomed across your lungs,
creating a garden that sang the most beautiful hymns,
while my garden was withering.
Each breath you took was never wasted,
but I couldn't help but count mine like they were birds passing overhead.
Every night you would view the stars and moon with pure amazement as if it was your first time seeing them.
You gave all your love to me and each kiss was coined in my pocket.
You fell in love with me every night and I fell for all your hymns.
Soon enough the world would pass us by but I wouldn't blink because I could live off your touch for the rest of my time.
You showed me there is more in life than just one color,
but instead, the world is a whole painting with colors that can't be described.
You showed me just how beautiful the world was.
You taught me how to grow beauty from my eyes but lately, I've been dreaming and falling for stars.
Imagining what it'd be like slow dancing with the planets, getting lost in constellations.
But I'm just not ready to go yet however I do not control time.
You showed me that dying can be beautiful.
That we'll be okay because when we leave we all become one with the earth and one with nature.
So love, love me until time runs out,
until I become one with nature.

And many years later as time starts to fly by and you slowly start to watch your clock tick down, you'll know where to find me, my love.
I'll be up with stars.
Somewhere lost in the cosmos.
I'll be spinning with the planets dreaming about what it would feel like to be able to walk on flowers again.
2014
Bryan Lunsford Aug 2018
It is within an unusually warm and early spring night,
Here, where I begin to feel something ever so unusual while looking deeply into this goddess' eyes,

With her eyes like a pair of diamonds sparkling in the sky,
It's at this moment–in this part of the night–
Love simply didn't need a reply,

With candles lit,
As it's surely to her delight,
And with rose petals all over the bed–
That, surely, was to her surprise,

Though, right now,
Can you really blame me for having this nervous butterfly-feeling whirling around inside?

For this will be the first-ever night that I'll get to hold this beauty tight,

And for such a divine beauty,
Surely I'd make any sacrifice to make sure her every whim and need is perfectly sufficed,

Yes, with our feelings for each other that couldn't be more pure or refined,
I already know, without hesitance, our love would satisfy any god's most delicate appetite inside,

And although, this world may never know how I truly feel inside,
I, myself, know with certainty that I love this woman more than anything I've ever loved in my whole life,

Yet, with nothing more than the sound of crickets chirping within the night,
I proceed to lay this beauty down–
Here, pulling her close to my side (where I tell her)
"I love you, angel, good night",

And even though our love never did need a reply,
She said
"I love you too, sweet dreams baby, don't forget to hold me ever so tight",

And thus with this crazy, whirling, butterfly-feeling, again, that I begin to feel take over inside,
She rolls over unexpectedly and surprises me with a kiss to seal any other reply–
To only roll back over and close her eyes,

Oh, and in the midst of her every action–every move leaving me mesmerized,
She decides to move an inch closer to me,
(Where I wrap my arm around her thighs)
As it's also nearly simultaneously that I hear the clock's stride finally hit midnight,

With a chime that struck once–
Then struck twice,
I begin to hear a set of chimes strike–and strike until they chime twelve times,  
(As these chimes come from this evilly wicked, horrid and heinous clock of mine)

Yes!–with this clock being a clock that through time I have come to slowly hate and despise!

Though, this tower of a clock reminds me of its presence with not the tics nor the tocs–
No, only when the minute hand climbs and the hour's hand meets another notch,

As only then, within that second of the minute, does my mind's thoughts get crossed and rocked–
With my thoughts that become locked within a box
(As it'll be for the next sixty minutes)
I'll just lie there and remain distraught,

Oh, and you ask why?–
Simply because of this chiming noise that won't stop!

With these reoccurring chimes that take my sleep and make most nights a loss–
I can assure you that if I don't go to bed by one or two o'clock,
Any sleep for me will become more and more implausible by every tic of the clock,

Yes, nearly impossible–
For it'll be with the next four or five hours, I'll just lie there, roll, and toss,

Though this is a different night!–
As I'm reminded with our legs crossed and with our fingers interlocked,

Yet, here as I begin to feel the warmth of her body block and fend off any kind or sorts of lingering winter's frost,
I also sense that numerous candles are still glowing bright,
(With the sight of their ambient light flickering off of the bedside's wall from abroad)

And, within this room filled with sentiment as I hear not a sound at all,
I smell the candle's aromatic scents,
With the atmosphere within the air being ever so calm,

Until that is, I hear another chime of a ****–
With it sounding like a melody that's gone ever so wrong–
It's with this tower of a clock, right here, that has just let me know it's now the hour of one o'clock–
And one o'clock, right on the dot,

With only one lone chime that I heard–as everything then simply paused and stopped,

Though, within my mind and with these thoughts that refuse to stop,
I reassure myself–
Knowing that the time is only one o'clock,

For I know I still have an aplenty of time to close my eyes and make these endless lines of thoughts stop,

So to this brilliant mind of mine,
You know that it's clearly time to let these thoughts wander off,

Just close your eyes and let your mind stop–

Though, didn't I just say enough with your thoughts?

Oh, and I can see you might think a lot,
But clearly and obviously you're not thinking about squat!

So just stop or I swear to god,
If you don't stop with these god awful thoughts,
I'll have no other option than to smash and squash your head against these bricks outside of this wall and then leave you there to rot–

For if you don't stop this exact instant then I am almost certain your beautiful woman will become a loss,

And I'm sure you don't want that to happen again, now do you?

So just stop with these thoughts–
Quit fooling around and whatever you do–
Oh, and whatever you do,
Don't let this beauty see that crazed loony side inside of you,

Just fall asleep now and you both can wake up tomorrow around noon,

Yes, just close your eyes and count these sheep jumping over the moon,
And count them jumping one by one–then two by two,

Yet, between one and two,
Surely I knew I was bound to come unglued,
(With the loony that came right out of me as I hear a tune)

With a chime that struck once and then twice,
It left my mind to know not what to do,

Though, that doesn't mean I am confused,
With the duo of chimes that struck–
Only letting me know it's now into the minutes of the night that come directly after two,

And though,
As I begin feeling as if a disaster was nearing in soon,
Still, I knew not what to do–

Because I know nothing as I'm thinking of nothing and just fading away within the scents of her perfume,

(Where I begin fading away within this serenity and hearing not a tune)
I feel the weight of my eyelids begin to feel like a caving-in roof weighing at least a ton or two,

And with just one of a few wondrous thoughts still wandering on through,
I wonder
"Could this be sleep that is nearing in soon?”,

With this feeling of a wonderful tranquil sensation subduing and leaving my whole body consumed,
(As I'm weary and with clearly not a thought left in this room)
I take one last deep breath
(With my lungs swelling like a balloon)

And within a dream is where I have just entered into–:
UNTIL ABRUPTLY I HEAR A SNOOZING OF A TUNE!

Yes!–As I'm awakened and with the insanity within in me being let loose to roam throughout this room,
My mind, then, begins to shift back and forth (like something caught drifting between a typhoon and a monsoon)

Where realizing as I view that I've opened my eyes too soon–
With it being this beauty here of mine that is the one who is creating this horrendous little tune,

And feeling, as I hear–
With every single breath that she breathes rattling the room–the walls–and even the shingles upon the roof,
I feel my mind, here, completely coming all the way unglued–
For all I want to do is make everything within this room mute!

Yes, that's all I want to do!–

For I’m sure I wouldn't even be in such a foul mood if I wasn’t sleep deprived,
And if this beauty here of mine and her snoring roar weren’t the main culprits of keeping me, my mind, and this night alive,

Though, hearing with her roaring of a snore that is beginning to drive me crazy inside–
Yes, as she snores, there!–just an inch or two away from my side–
I hear with her snore only growing more and more–

As I, then, within this second, try to ignore a chord of chimes striking once, and then striking twice,
(With this clock striking three times to remind me once again of the time)

–With this night now being at least 3:03, 3:04, and could possibly even be 3:05,
I know this night is at the most three or four hours away from seeing the sun shine bright through my window blinds,

Oh, and surely I already know I probably would just close my eyes–
Yes, that's probably what I would do!
But this little beauty here of mine is worse than any set of chimes,

And surely indecisive,
(As I move the pillow over my ears while I'm consumed by an irritating form of fright)
I move my body a little to the left and then a few inches to the right,
Where I hear her demon's rumbling from inside,
And screaming as if they're trying to come out and fight–

(Which is where I begin thinking)
“Is waking her up really that much of a crime?”

For if she knew she was snoring at such a high decibel level,
Then I'm sure she wouldn't even mind,

And thus with my decisions that couldn't agree more with my mind,
I decide to slightly lift her head and wiggle her,
(As I nearly tickle her left side)

Whispering to her as I say,
"Baby, wake up, I just had the worst dream of my life!
Oh, baby, wake up, I just need to see those sweet little angel eyes!",

Though motionless–
There, as I try to keep my insane and crazy side inside,
My whisper begins to intensify to a scream
(As she refuses to open her eyes or give me a reply)

I continued to scream–SCREAMED!

"Oh, why, oh, why won't you open your eyes!",

And with her snore being the only reply that she could give me,
It literally drove me crazy inside–
Thus driving me as it drove me to climb on top of her body,
(Where I grab her nose and squeeze)

As it's within the silence and in this exact instant,
Instantly and unbelievably, I see I've hit a stride that I couldn't believe,

Yes, mesmerized!
And content beyond belief–
With her snoring, here, that has finally ceased–

–Casually, I proceed to climb off of her body
(Wherein realization I finally can go back to sleep)

And in the silence, again, as I hear not a peep,
I roll over, close my eyes, and before I could even count one jumping sheep,
I hear a roar once more coming from this treacherous little beast,

And surely with not a second more could I go without sleep,
(As this pillow, right here, has just become my best friend, and the most plausible way to get any sleep)
I decide to move this pillow over her face–with my exertion at first lacking any tenacity,

But what I'd end up hearing would be like a growl or a roar of a wicked beast,

With this sinister snore of hers only increasing more and more with every tic of my heart's beat,
I begin to feel my thoughts shift toward the sentiment of either insane or crazy,

(As my hands push with more and more of an intensity)
I begin sweating–feeling the smothering warmth of her body's heat,

Though, simultaneously as I hear her heart throb and knock an unstoppable and irregular beat,
I begin putting even more weight upon this pillowcase
(With a galore of my sweat dripping upon these sheets)

And surely I have to know,
(For it should be as obvious as could be)
That if I put any more weight upon this pillowcase,
I'd likely break through the toughest of the most unbreakable concretes,

And thus coming to the realization–
With this crazy side of me that has taken over and been unleashed surely not being me,

It's here, against the greatest of restraints
(As I'm barely able to climb off of her body)
I climb off and begin waiting within the silence–

Waiting and hearing not a peep,
Where seemingly prompting myself to say,
Here, as I speak!
"Good night baby–sweet dreams",

Though, I'd hear not a reply–
As a reply was something our love never did need,

Yet, as I roll over to climb under these sheets and close my eyes
(Where simultaneously it all has seemed)
I have fallen fast asleep within a dream while holding my sleeping beauty tight–

Holding her as I squeeze–
Holding her!–
With her heart that holds not a beat–.
The Ripper Dec 2016
These lungs have sighed
   they have gasped
these lungs have yelled
    they have failed
These lungs breath
once more
     for another round
of life
      to be snatched
in the end
       again && again
vvith no end
       to be relished
Scurry hurry
Shaking hands shaped by worry
tie the knot of plastic
A bubble home for the hard green cup
where brown and white
mixed lay married.

Wash rush
Dainty legs in dark blue denim
hasn't time to be romantic
A worn out sister played by hope
shuts the door panting.

  It clings to a robust tree
  head hidden under rosy pink    
  protective shield
  edged in yellow

  The fireflies

  
Sticky webs of empty lies packaged in boxes of deception by the wizard that doesn't work
sit dead on the small bedside table
like the results they provide.

Boxes and boxes of cozy containers
and cards of capsules
47 I counted them
current and extras
They choke my sight
then I am groped by the smooth blue robes worn by the youthful shepherd
posing aside a grey rock looking yonder
into the distance as insta-natural as possible in a pastel painted picture framed in wood against the wall.
  
  Unstable molecules in tiny airtubes,  
  many, breakdown and explode
  like little landmines
  A bio-luminescent lit ***** assaults a  
  dense night flashing brilliant
  to find a mate
  Six strong neon-green throbbing blinks
  Six slow seconds of unimaginable
  wordless dreamless dark.

  are bright.

  
I turn my head
The whole unsettling mass of reality
is torn apart into vibrant colorful morsels,
then reassembled
as my eyes  
settle
on

Her

"Oh God, if you're here, heal her now
and you'll have me. Show me what those confident tongues so eagerly confess.
Please!"

NOTHING
Another sticky empty square
covered in thick black-strap molasses
slapped to the face of the fool
who likes sweet things.

BUT

What happened to the omni-this, omni-that CEO of God enterprises?
"Go on Death" is what that means
"Go on Death do your job" is what it does

"It's your time.
It's to test your faith.
Gods plan."
All slogans for the man
who believes and dies.
  Culture creates the fool
  Hope keeps the fool
  Belief kills the fool
Thanks for doing what all those boxes
and all the pictures
on all the walls of the world do

FOOL

Her face,
a gaunt kind of skin-to-bone sight
a bad flavor
like a meal with no taste

Her mouth,
crack-lipped, framed by dry
delivers deadly blows to a heaving chest
that says; "Give me air"
yet lungs say no

Anguish,
is ****** from the pit of my cold stomach
then up through the spirit of a warm heart
I plaster the feeling in the shape of water.
My eyes puddle

I weep

It sticks

Love,

Falls

Fluttering as a twinkle
through soft beams of sunlight,
the drop glistens
plops
then dies
on the pink and blue checkered blanket.

All I have to offer are busky palms
to soothe this battered body
before you are torn apart by what
puts things like us together.

I swallow her frame

Her calf - bone

Squeeze and move

Her thigh,
my hand wraps completely
pinching a sausage sized piece of muscle
not big enough to walk
between plump thumb
and meaty middle

Squeeze and move

Her hip bone is angular
It fits flush in my hand
like the hard front peak of a cricket cap
when held above the grid

Squeeze and move

My chunky tentacles massage over
wire-thin barely blue throbless veins
that decorate her meatless paws
and twig-like fingers.

Squeeze and move
  
  It's after midnight
  Thick curds of desperation push
  again, through a splendid backside
  a special toosh
  slogging a dancing night-fever
  to beat the two-to-four,
  a beam as bright as a green day
  cuts through the black pitch of night

  

I hold her hand
A thin filling between two slices of mine
I look at her eyes and turn away

Have you ever been pulled from the center of  your heart, ripped head first through the narrow crack of your own chest, tossed aside like a skin-sheet onto a concrete glass-covered floor then squashed beneath the majesty of a billion dancing floor-clapping feet attached to a shapeless void shapeshifting as slideshows  between all things gone, here, and still to come, stopping on the body of a small blue boy that sings in ghostly echo;
"Don't turn away from this.
Look till you see me through the eyes of another because this too
will happen to you
Clap clap clap clap!
I'm coming for you.

Trapped in a square tunnel made of brick, walls wide enough for one bus no brakes to speed through, no escape,
I accept what will squash me
I Face it
I Stand before it

I stare at her eyes staring back at me
A deep dagger stare
Two parts steel
meshed
until there is only steel
It melts

I simmer the room in soft whisper;
"It's okay. It's okay. It's okay."
I hold her hand,
patting the top as I warm the bottom
I smile for her, at me
I smile back, as me
  
  A skillful mimic
  Here I come
  I have light and breath
  I see yours
  I come at night
  Not for genes or ***
  I hunt and gut
  Hawking down I come as death

  
The gaps between her labored breaths become bigger and for a second I drift at the sight reappearing on the sandy dunes of an empty dessert space pushed by a dying wind I can barely feel.

A sharp salty tang toils the tip of my tongue and brings me back to her.

Her eyes

They have changed

Open

But

Soul

   less

     Soulless

     Desolate

   Like

That dessert

And that place where


*The Fireflies Lose their Light
oui Aug 2016
toss turn toss turn toss turn
weight wait weight wait weight
push pull push pull push pull
go stay go stay go stay go stay
fingers throat fingers throat
oh please stay five more minutes
turn the sun switch off and throw
your blue blanket over my eyes
i am drowning in a sea of sheets
and thirty eight daily battles but
you took away my anchor so i've
drifted off the grid with no boat
water lungs water lungs water
water lungs water lungs breathe in
sink sink sink sink sink sink sink
JayceeJellies Oct 2014
Everyone is staring
You're trying so hard to stay standing
But your heart is racing
Instead of walking straight
You start wobbling

Your eyes begin to strain
You start feeling as if you just gained a lot of weight
Your heart sinks as you run away
You have to hide

You musn't let them see
The you that is scared to be seen
You feel like you can't even breathe
Your lungs are tightening
As you sink down against a wall
and take into the fetal postion

Just cry, maybe someday it'll be alright.
Kate Morgan Oct 2013
My lungs are beating like they have swallowed my heart whole.
Divided on who she loved more, they choke my breath so I taste sour gummy bears as I curl over wounded,
a victim of one of loves ****** battles.

As I have fallen in love with every girl I have seen since I was 10.
I saw her in the playground with hair to her waist and we picked daisies like I picked her.
Seeing something beautiful and killing it for the sake of beauty alone.

I stopped falling in love when I chose the scent of musky sweat over the scent of rose blossoms.
It left a stench on my pillow so pungent and powerful I slept by the toilet which I shared my dinner with unwillingly.
Curled over out of no love I spat into the mix of **** and princess shapes and went back to the man who thought my interest in women was a turn on, so I pushed his button to turn him off.
It was that night I left.

It was that night I put down my fork and threw out my two meat and veg into the recycling to go into the arms of another woman's cutlery.

It was that night I stopped dispensing my body like candy from a machine and instead knocked on the door of myself and welcomed her in. Fall in love she said, but with me.
After putting the kettle on I fell in love with the curve between her thighs and the scars upon her arms. I fell in love with her inability to eat spaghetti elegantly and her obsession with trees.

Ever since then I have started living in my body as a home rather than a hotel I can change every week, I have begun to uncurl my spine and untwist my mind.
I now love a girl who smiles at the sky and shares food with her lover rather than an appliance.

But love spreads faster than fire and if you're not careful it can swallow you whole.

I say swallow me whole. Swallow me completely. Rip out my lungs and replace them with trumpets as I refuse to do anything but love, love, love.
A Jan 2015
My heart
Is a happy drunk
A little too open
A little too optimistic
It's over in the corner of the bar
Playing poker
Screaming at the top of it's lungs
I'M ALL IN
When it's never
To this day
Had a winning hand

My heart
Is a sad drunk
A little too lonely
A little too caught up in tears
It's over at the counter
Forcing the bartender to take its keys
Because it would rather not go home
Than go home alone again

My heart
Is a reckless drunk
A little too unbalanced
A little too impaired
It's over by the door
Making everyone nervous
A little too good at scaring people away
A little too far gone

Like you
A little too far gone
Turn your head
Shuffle away and pretend you don't notice
The breakdown of a heart
Too drunk on feelings
To know when to stop
Bouazizi’s heavy eyelids parted as the Muezzin recited the final call for the first Adhan of the day.

“As-salatu Khayrun Minan-nawm”
Prayer is better than sleep

Rising from the torment of another restless night, Bouazizi wiped the sleep from his droopy eyes as his feet touched the cold stone floor.

Throughout the frigid night, the devilish jinn did their work, eagerly jabbing away at Bouazizi with pointed sticks, tormenting his troubled conscience with the worry of his nagging indebtedness. All night the face of the man Bouazizi owed money to haunted him. Bouazizi could see the man’s greasy lips and brown teeth jawing away, inches from his face. He imagined chubby caffeine stained fingers reaching toward him to grab some dinars from Bouazizi’s money box.

Bouazizi turned all night like he was sleeping on a board of spikes. His prayers for a restful night again went unanswered. The pall of a blue fatigue would shadow Bouazizi for most of the day.

Bouazizi’s weariness was compounded by a gnawing hunger. By force of habit, he grudgingly opened the food cupboard with the foreknowledge that it was almost bare. Bouazizi’s premonition proved correct as he surveyed a meager handful of chickpeas, some eggs and a few sparse loaves. It was just enough to feed his dependant family; younger brothers and sisters, cousins and a terminally disabled uncle. That left nothing for Bouazizi but a quick jab to his empty gut. He would start this day without breakfast.

Bouazizi made a living as a street vendor. He hustles to survive. Bouazizi’s father died in a construction accident in Libya when he was three. Since the age of 10, Bouazizi had pushed a cart through the streets of Sidi Bouzid; selling fruit at the public market just a few blocks from the home that he has lived in for almost his entire life.

At 27 years of age, Bouazizi has wrestled the beast of deprivation since his birth. To date, he has bravely fought it to a standstill; but day after day the multi-headed hydra of life has snapped at him. He has squarely met the eyes of the beast with fortitude and resolve; but the sharp fangs of a hardscrabble life has sunken deep into Bouazizi’s spleen. The unjust rules of society are powerful claws that slash away at his flesh, bleeding him dry: while the spiked tendrils of poverty wrap Bouazizi’s neck, seeking to strangle him.

Bouazizi is a workingman hero; a skilled warrior in the fight for daily bread. He is accustomed to living a life of scarcity. His daily deliverance is the grace of another day of labor and the blessed wages of subsistence.

Though Allah has blessed this man with fortitude the acuteness of terminal want and the constant struggle to survive has its limits for any man; even for strong champions like Bouazizi.

This morning as Bouazizi washed he peered into a mirror, closely examining new wrinkles on his stubble strewn face. He fingered his deep black curls dashed with growing streaks of gray. He studied them through the gaze of heavy bloodshot eyes. He looked upward as if to implore Allah to salve the bruises of daily life.

Bouazizi braced himself with the splash of a cold water slap to his face. He wiped his cheeks clean with the tail of his shirt. He dipped his toothbrush into a box of baking powder and scoured an aching back molar in need of a root canal. Bouazizi should see a dentist but it is a luxury he cannot afford so he packed an aspirin on top of the infected tooth. The dissolving aspirin invaded his mouth coating his tongue with a bitter effervescence.

Bouazizi liked the taste and was grateful for the expectation of a dulled pain. He smiled into the mirror to check his chipped front tooth while pinching a cigarette **** from an ashtray. The roach had one hit left in it. He lit it with a long hard drag that consumed a good part of the filter. Bouazizi’s first smoke of the day was more filter then tobacco but it shocked his lungs into the coughing flow of another day.

Bouazizi put on his jacket, slipped into his knockoff NB sneakers and reached for a green apple on a nearby table. He took a big bite and began to chew away the pain of his toothache.

Bouazizi stepped into the street to catch the sun rising over the rooftops. He believed that seeing the sunrise was a good omen that augured well for that day’s business. A sunbeam braking over a far distant wall bathed Bouazizi in a golden light and illumined the alley where he parked his cart holding his remaining stock of week old apples. He lifted the handles and backed his cart out into the street being extra mindful of the cracks in the cobblestone road. Bouazizi sprained his ankle a week ago and it was still tender. Bouazizi had to be careful not to aggravate it with a careless step. Having successfully navigated his cart into the road, Bouazizi made a skillful U Turn and headed up the street limping toward the market.

A winter chill gripped Bouazizi prompting him to zip his jacket up to his neck. The zipper pinched his Adam’s Apple and a few droplets of blood stained his green corduroy jacket. Though it was cold, Bouazizi sensed that spring would arrive early this year triggering a replay of a recurring daydream. Bouazizi imagined himself behind the wheel of a new van on his way to the market. Fresh air and sunshine pouring through the open windows with the cargo space overflowing with fresh vegetables and fruits.

It was a lifelong ambition of Bouazizi to own a van. He dreamed of buying a six cylinder Dodge Caravan. It would be painted red and he would call it The Red Flame. The Red Flame would be fast and powerful and sport chrome spinners. The Red Flame would be filled with music from a Blaupunkt sound system with kick *** speakers. Power windows, air conditioning, leather seats, a moonroof and plenty of space in the back for his produce would complete Bouazizi’s ride.

The Red Flame would be the vehicle Bouazizi required to expand his business beyond the market square. Bouazizi would sell his produce out of the back of the van, moving from neighborhood to neighborhood. No longer would he have to wait for customers to come to his stand in the market. Bouazizi would go to his customers. Bouazizi and the Red Flame would be known in all the neighborhoods throughout the district. Bouazizi shook his head and smiled thinking about all the girls who would like to take rides in the Red Flame. Bouazizi and his Red Flame would be a sight to be noticed and a force to be reckoned with.

“EEEEEYOWWW” a Mercedes horn angrily honked; jarring Bouazizi from the reverie of his daydream. A guy whipping around the corner like a silver streak stuck his head out the window blasting with music yelling, “Hey Mnayek, watch where you push that *******.”

The music faded as the Mercedes roared away. “Barra nikk okhtek” Bouazizi yelled, raising his ******* in the direction of the vanished car. “The big guys in the fancy cars think the road belongs to them”, Bouazizi mumbled to himself.

The insult ****** Bouazizi off, but he was accustomed to them and as he limped along pushing his cart he distracted himself with the amusement of the ascending sun chasing the fleeting shadows of the night, sending them scurrying down narrow alleyways.

Bouazizi imaged himself a character from his favorite movie. He was a giant Transformer, chasing the black shadows of evil away from the city into the desert. After battling evil and conquering the bad guys, he would transform himself back into the regular Bouazizi; selling his produce to the people as he patrolled the highways of Tunisia in the Red Flame, the music blasting out the windows, the chrome spinners flashing in the sunlight. Bouazizi would remain vigilant, always ready to transform the Red Flame to fight the evil doers.

The bumps and potholes in the road jostled Bouazizi’s load of apples. A few fell out of the wooden baskets and were rolling around in the open spaces of the cart. Bouazizi didn’t want to risk bruising them. Damaged merchandise can’t be sold so he was careful to secure his goods and arrange his cart to appeal to women customers. He made sure to display his prized electronic scale in the corner of the cart for all to see.

Bouazizi had a reputation as a fair and generous dealer who always gave good value to his customers. Bouazizi was also known for his kindness. He would give apples to hungry children and families who could not pay. Bouazizi knew the pain of hunger and it brought him great satisfaction to be able to alleviate it in others.

As a man who valued fairness, Bouazizi was particularly proud of his electronic scale. Bouazizi was certain the new measuring device assured all customers that Bouazizi sold just and correct portions. The electronic scale was Bouazizi’s shining lamp. He trusted it. He hung it from the corner post of his cart like it was the beacon of a lighthouse guiding shoppers through the treachery of an unscrupulous market. It would attract all customers who valued fairness to the safe harbor of Bouazizi’s cart.

The electronic scale is Bouazizi’s assurance to his customers that the weights and measures of electronic calculation layed beyond any cloud of doubt. It is a fair, impartial and objective arbiter for any dispute.

Bouazizi believed that the fairness of his scale would distinguish his stand from other produce vendors. Though its purchase put Bouazizi into deep debt, the scale was a source of pride for Bouazizi who believed that it would help his profits to increase and help him to achieve his goal of buying the Red Flame.

As Bouazizi pushed his cart toward the market, he mulled his plan over in his mind for the millionth time. He wasn't great in math but he was able to calculate his financial situation with a degree of precision. His estimations triggered worries that his growing debt to money lenders may be difficult to payoff.

Indebtedness pressed down on Bouazizi’s chest like a mounting pile of stones. It was the source of an ever present fear coercing Bouazizi to live in a constant state of anxiety. His business needed to grow for Bouazizi to get a measure of relief and ultimately prosper from all his hard work. Bouazizi was driven by urgency.

The morning roil of the street was coming alive. Bouazizi quickened his step to secure a good location for his cart at the market. Car horns, the spewing diesel from clunking trucks, the flatulent roar of accelerating buses mixed with the laughs and shrieks of children heading to school composed the rising crescendo of the city square.

As he pushed through the market, Bouazizi inhaled the aromatic eddies of roasting coffee floating on the air. It was a pleasantry Bouazizi looked forward to each morning. The delicious wafts of coffee mingling with the crisp aroma of baking bread instigated a growl from Bouazizi’s empty stomach. He needed to get something to eat. After he got money from his first sale he would by a coffee and some fried dough.

Activity in the market was vigorous, punctuated by the usual arguments of petty territorial disputes between vendors. The disagreements were always amicably resolved, burned away in rising billows of roasting meats and vegetables, the exchange of cigarettes and the plumes of tobacco smoke rising as emanations of peace.

Bouazizi skillfully maneuvered his cart through the market commotion. He slid into his usual space between Aaban and Aameen. His good friend Aaban sold candles, incense, oils and sometimes his wife would make cakes to sell. Aameen was the markets most notorious jokester. He sold hardware and just about anything else he could get his hands on.

Aaban was already burning a few sticks of jasmine incense. It helped to attract customers. The aroma defined the immediate space with the pleasant bouquet of a spring garden. Bouazizi liked the smell and appreciated the increased traffic it brought to his apple cart.

“Hey Basboosa#, do you have any cigarettes?“, Aameen asked as he pulled out a lighter. Bouazizi shook the tip of a Kent from an almost empty pack. Aameen grabbed the cigarette with his lips.

“That's three cartons of Kents you owe me, you cheap *******.” Bouazizi answered half jokingly. Aameen mumbled a laugh through a grin tightly gripping the **** as he exhaled smoke from his nose like a fire breathing dragon. Bouazizi also took out a cigarette for himself.

“Aameem, give me a light”, Bouazizi asked.

Aameen tossed him the lighter.

“Keep it Basboosa. I got others.” Aameen smiled as he showed off a newly opened box of disposable lighters to sell on his stand.

“Made in China, Basboosa. They make everything cheap and colorful. I can make some money with these.”

Bouazizi lit his next to last cigarette. He inhaled deeply. The smoke chased away the cool air in Bouazizi’s lungs with a shot of a hot nicotine rush.

“Merci Aameen” Bouazizi answered. He put the lighter into the almost empty cigarette pack and put it into his hip pocket. The lighter would protect his last cigarette from being crushed.

The laughter and shouts of the bazaar, the harangue of radio voices shouting anxious verses of Imam’s exhorting the masses to submit and the piecing ramble of nondescript AM music flinging piercing unintelligible static surrounded Bouazizi and his cart as he waited for his first customers of the day.

Bouazizi sensed a nervous commotion rise along the line of vendors. A crowd of tourists and locals milling about parted as if to avoid a slithering asp making its way through their midst. The hoots of vendors and the cackle of the crowd made its way to Bouazizi’s knowing ear. He knew what was coming. It was nothing more then another shakedown by city officials acting as bagmen for petty municipal bureaucrats. They claim to be checking vendor licences but they’re just making the rounds collecting protection money from the vendors. Pocketing bribes and payoffs is the municipal authorities idea of good government. They are skilled at using the power of their office to extort tribute from the working poor.

Bouazizi made the mistake of making eye contact with Madame Hamdi. As the municipal authority in charge of vendors and taxis Madame Hamdi held sway over the lives of the street vendors. She relished the power she had over the men who make a meager living selling goods in the square; and this morning she was moving through the market like a bloodhound hot on the trail of an escaped convict. Two burly henchmen lead the way before her. Bouazizi knew Madame Hamdi’s hounds were coming for him.

Bouazizi knew he was ******. Having just made a payment to his money lender, Bouazizi had no extra dinars to grease the palm of Madame Hamdi. He grabbed the handle bars of his cart to make an escape; but Madame Hamdi cut him off and got right into into Bouazizi’s face.

“Ah little Basboosa where are you going? she asked with the tone of playful contempt.

“I suppose you still have no license to sell, ah Basboosa?” Madame Hamdi questioned with the air of a soulless inquisitor.

“You know Madame Hamdi, cart vendors do not need a license.” Bouazizi feebly protested, not daring to look into her eyes.

“Basboosa, you know we can overlook your violations with a small fine for your laxity” a dismissive Madame Hamdi offered.

Bouazizi’s sense of guilt would not permit him to lift his eyes. His head remained bowed. Bouazizi stood convicted of being one of the impoverished.

“I have no spare dinars to offer Madame Hamdi, My pockets are empty, full of holes. My money falls into everyone’s palm but my own. I’m sorry Madame Hamdi. I’ll take my cart home”. He lifted the handlebars in an attempt to escape. One of Madame Hamdi’s henchmen stepped in front of his cart while the other pushed Bouazizi away from it.

“Either you pay me a vendor tax for a license or I will confiscate your goods Basboosa”, Madame Hamdi warned as she lifted Bouazizi’s scale off its hook.

“This will be the first to go”, she said grinning as she examined the scale. “We’ll just keep this.”
Like a mother lion protecting a defenseless cub from the snapping jaws of a pack of ravenous hyenas, Bouazizi lunged to retrieve his prized scale from the clutches of Madame Hamdi. Reaching for it, he touched the scale with his fingertips just as Madame Hamdi delivered a vicious slap to Bouazizi’s cheek. It halted him like a thunderbolt from Zeus.

A henchman overturned Bouazizi’s cart, scatter
Three years ago today Muhammad Bouazizi set himself on fire igniting the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia sparking the Arab Spring Uprisings of 2011.
Moe Jun 2014
My lungs were corrupted by the lies that hang around you.
My heart was torn by the hands that touched them (yours).
I smoke to fill my lungs with something other than the remnants of your lies.
And my heart is locked away so others cannot touch it.
You have destroyed my insides without my consent, so now I will continue the destruction but this time it will be by my own terms.
she has ruined me.

— The End —