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1519

The Dandelion’s pallid tube
Astonishes the Grass,
And Winter instantly becomes
An infinite Alas—

The tube uplifts a signal Bud
And then a shouting Flower,—
The Proclamation of the Suns
That sepulture is o’er.
But some good Triton-god had ruth, and bare
The boy’s drowned body back to Grecian land,
And mermaids combed his dank and dripping hair
And smoothed his brow, and loosed his clenching hand;
Some brought sweet spices from far Araby,
And others bade the halcyon sing her softest lullaby.

And when he neared his old Athenian home,
A mighty billow rose up suddenly
Upon whose oily back the clotted foam
Lay diapered in some strange fantasy,
And clasping him unto its glassy breast
Swept landward, like a white-maned steed upon a venturous quest!

Now where Colonos leans unto the sea
There lies a long and level stretch of lawn;
The rabbit knows it, and the mountain bee
For it deserts Hymettus, and the Faun
Is not afraid, for never through the day
Comes a cry ruder than the shout of shepherd lads at play.

But often from the thorny labyrinth
And tangled branches of the circling wood
The stealthy hunter sees young Hyacinth
Hurling the polished disk, and draws his hood
Over his guilty gaze, and creeps away,
Nor dares to wind his horn, or—else at the first break of day

The Dryads come and throw the leathern ball
Along the reedy shore, and circumvent
Some goat-eared Pan to be their seneschal
For fear of bold Poseidon’s ravishment,
And loose their girdles, with shy timorous eyes,
Lest from the surf his azure arms and purple beard should rise.

On this side and on that a rocky cave,
Hung with the yellow-belled laburnum, stands
Smooth is the beach, save where some ebbing wave
Leaves its faint outline etched upon the sands,
As though it feared to be too soon forgot
By the green rush, its playfellow,—and yet, it is a spot

So small, that the inconstant butterfly
Could steal the hoarded money from each flower
Ere it was noon, and still not satisfy
Its over-greedy love,—within an hour
A sailor boy, were he but rude enow
To land and pluck a garland for his galley’s painted prow,

Would almost leave the little meadow bare,
For it knows nothing of great pageantry,
Only a few narcissi here and there
Stand separate in sweet austerity,
Dotting the unmown grass with silver stars,
And here and there a daffodil waves tiny scimitars.

Hither the billow brought him, and was glad
Of such dear servitude, and where the land
Was ****** of all waters laid the lad
Upon the golden margent of the strand,
And like a lingering lover oft returned
To kiss those pallid limbs which once with intense fire burned,

Ere the wet seas had quenched that holocaust,
That self-fed flame, that passionate lustihead,
Ere grisly death with chill and nipping frost
Had withered up those lilies white and red
Which, while the boy would through the forest range,
Answered each other in a sweet antiphonal counter-change.

And when at dawn the wood-nymphs, hand-in-hand,
Threaded the bosky dell, their satyr spied
The boy’s pale body stretched upon the sand,
And feared Poseidon’s treachery, and cried,
And like bright sunbeams flitting through a glade
Each startled Dryad sought some safe and leafy ambuscade.

Save one white girl, who deemed it would not be
So dread a thing to feel a sea-god’s arms
Crushing her ******* in amorous tyranny,
And longed to listen to those subtle charms
Insidious lovers weave when they would win
Some fenced fortress, and stole back again, nor thought it sin

To yield her treasure unto one so fair,
And lay beside him, thirsty with love’s drouth,
Called him soft names, played with his tangled hair,
And with hot lips made havoc of his mouth
Afraid he might not wake, and then afraid
Lest he might wake too soon, fled back, and then, fond renegade,

Returned to fresh assault, and all day long
Sat at his side, and laughed at her new toy,
And held his hand, and sang her sweetest song,
Then frowned to see how froward was the boy
Who would not with her maidenhood entwine,
Nor knew that three days since his eyes had looked on Proserpine;

Nor knew what sacrilege his lips had done,
But said, ‘He will awake, I know him well,
He will awake at evening when the sun
Hangs his red shield on Corinth’s citadel;
This sleep is but a cruel treachery
To make me love him more, and in some cavern of the sea

Deeper than ever falls the fisher’s line
Already a huge Triton blows his horn,
And weaves a garland from the crystalline
And drifting ocean-tendrils to adorn
The emerald pillars of our bridal bed,
For sphered in foaming silver, and with coral crowned head,

We two will sit upon a throne of pearl,
And a blue wave will be our canopy,
And at our feet the water-snakes will curl
In all their amethystine panoply
Of diamonded mail, and we will mark
The mullets swimming by the mast of some storm-foundered bark,

Vermilion-finned with eyes of bossy gold
Like flakes of crimson light, and the great deep
His glassy-portaled chamber will unfold,
And we will see the painted dolphins sleep
Cradled by murmuring halcyons on the rocks
Where Proteus in quaint suit of green pastures his monstrous
flocks.

And tremulous opal-hued anemones
Will wave their purple fringes where we tread
Upon the mirrored floor, and argosies
Of fishes flecked with tawny scales will thread
The drifting cordage of the shattered wreck,
And honey-coloured amber beads our twining limbs will deck.’

But when that baffled Lord of War the Sun
With gaudy pennon flying passed away
Into his brazen House, and one by one
The little yellow stars began to stray
Across the field of heaven, ah! then indeed
She feared his lips upon her lips would never care to feed,

And cried, ‘Awake, already the pale moon
Washes the trees with silver, and the wave
Creeps grey and chilly up this sandy dune,
The croaking frogs are out, and from the cave
The nightjar shrieks, the fluttering bats repass,
And the brown stoat with hollow flanks creeps through the dusky
grass.

Nay, though thou art a god, be not so coy,
For in yon stream there is a little reed
That often whispers how a lovely boy
Lay with her once upon a grassy mead,
Who when his cruel pleasure he had done
Spread wings of rustling gold and soared aloft into the sun.

Be not so coy, the laurel trembles still
With great Apollo’s kisses, and the fir
Whose clustering sisters fringe the seaward hill
Hath many a tale of that bold ravisher
Whom men call Boreas, and I have seen
The mocking eyes of Hermes through the poplar’s silvery sheen.

Even the jealous Naiads call me fair,
And every morn a young and ruddy swain
Woos me with apples and with locks of hair,
And seeks to soothe my virginal disdain
By all the gifts the gentle wood-nymphs love;
But yesterday he brought to me an iris-plumaged dove

With little crimson feet, which with its store
Of seven spotted eggs the cruel lad
Had stolen from the lofty sycamore
At daybreak, when her amorous comrade had
Flown off in search of berried juniper
Which most they love; the fretful wasp, that earliest vintager

Of the blue grapes, hath not persistency
So constant as this simple shepherd-boy
For my poor lips, his joyous purity
And laughing sunny eyes might well decoy
A Dryad from her oath to Artemis;
For very beautiful is he, his mouth was made to kiss;

His argent forehead, like a rising moon
Over the dusky hills of meeting brows,
Is crescent shaped, the hot and Tyrian noon
Leads from the myrtle-grove no goodlier spouse
For Cytheraea, the first silky down
Fringes his blushing cheeks, and his young limbs are strong and
brown;

And he is rich, and fat and fleecy herds
Of bleating sheep upon his meadows lie,
And many an earthen bowl of yellow curds
Is in his homestead for the thievish fly
To swim and drown in, the pink clover mead
Keeps its sweet store for him, and he can pipe on oaten reed.

And yet I love him not; it was for thee
I kept my love; I knew that thou would’st come
To rid me of this pallid chastity,
Thou fairest flower of the flowerless foam
Of all the wide AEgean, brightest star
Of ocean’s azure heavens where the mirrored planets are!

I knew that thou would’st come, for when at first
The dry wood burgeoned, and the sap of spring
Swelled in my green and tender bark or burst
To myriad multitudinous blossoming
Which mocked the midnight with its mimic moons
That did not dread the dawn, and first the thrushes’ rapturous
tunes

Startled the squirrel from its granary,
And cuckoo flowers fringed the narrow lane,
Through my young leaves a sensuous ecstasy
Crept like new wine, and every mossy vein
Throbbed with the fitful pulse of amorous blood,
And the wild winds of passion shook my slim stem’s maidenhood.

The trooping fawns at evening came and laid
Their cool black noses on my lowest boughs,
And on my topmost branch the blackbird made
A little nest of grasses for his spouse,
And now and then a twittering wren would light
On a thin twig which hardly bare the weight of such delight.

I was the Attic shepherd’s trysting place,
Beneath my shadow Amaryllis lay,
And round my trunk would laughing Daphnis chase
The timorous girl, till tired out with play
She felt his hot breath stir her tangled hair,
And turned, and looked, and fled no more from such delightful
snare.

Then come away unto my ambuscade
Where clustering woodbine weaves a canopy
For amorous pleasaunce, and the rustling shade
Of Paphian myrtles seems to sanctify
The dearest rites of love; there in the cool
And green recesses of its farthest depth there is pool,

The ouzel’s haunt, the wild bee’s pasturage,
For round its rim great creamy lilies float
Through their flat leaves in verdant anchorage,
Each cup a white-sailed golden-laden boat
Steered by a dragon-fly,—be not afraid
To leave this wan and wave-kissed shore, surely the place was made

For lovers such as we; the Cyprian Queen,
One arm around her boyish paramour,
Strays often there at eve, and I have seen
The moon strip off her misty vestiture
For young Endymion’s eyes; be not afraid,
The panther feet of Dian never tread that secret glade.

Nay if thou will’st, back to the beating brine,
Back to the boisterous billow let us go,
And walk all day beneath the hyaline
Huge vault of Neptune’s watery portico,
And watch the purple monsters of the deep
Sport in ungainly play, and from his lair keen Xiphias leap.

For if my mistress find me lying here
She will not ruth or gentle pity show,
But lay her boar-spear down, and with austere
Relentless fingers string the cornel bow,
And draw the feathered notch against her breast,
And loose the arched cord; aye, even now upon the quest

I hear her hurrying feet,—awake, awake,
Thou laggard in love’s battle! once at least
Let me drink deep of passion’s wine, and slake
My parched being with the nectarous feast
Which even gods affect!  O come, Love, come,
Still we have time to reach the cavern of thine azure home.’

Scarce had she spoken when the shuddering trees
Shook, and the leaves divided, and the air
Grew conscious of a god, and the grey seas
Crawled backward, and a long and dismal blare
Blew from some tasselled horn, a sleuth-hound bayed,
And like a flame a barbed reed flew whizzing down the glade.

And where the little flowers of her breast
Just brake into their milky blossoming,
This murderous paramour, this unbidden guest,
Pierced and struck deep in horrid chambering,
And ploughed a ****** furrow with its dart,
And dug a long red road, and cleft with winged death her heart.

Sobbing her life out with a bitter cry
On the boy’s body fell the Dryad maid,
Sobbing for incomplete virginity,
And raptures unenjoyed, and pleasures dead,
And all the pain of things unsatisfied,
And the bright drops of crimson youth crept down her throbbing
side.

Ah! pitiful it was to hear her moan,
And very pitiful to see her die
Ere she had yielded up her sweets, or known
The joy of passion, that dread mystery
Which not to know is not to live at all,
And yet to know is to be held in death’s most deadly thrall.

But as it hapt the Queen of Cythere,
Who with Adonis all night long had lain
Within some shepherd’s hut in Arcady,
On team of silver doves and gilded wain
Was journeying Paphos-ward, high up afar
From mortal ken between the mountains and the morning star,

And when low down she spied the hapless pair,
And heard the Oread’s faint despairing cry,
Whose cadence seemed to play upon the air
As though it were a viol, hastily
She bade her pigeons fold each straining plume,
And dropt to earth, and reached the strand, and saw their dolorous
doom.

For as a gardener turning back his head
To catch the last notes of the linnet, mows
With careless scythe too near some flower bed,
And cuts the thorny pillar of the rose,
And with the flower’s loosened loneliness
Strews the brown mould; or as some shepherd lad in wantonness

Driving his little flock along the mead
Treads down two daffodils, which side by aide
Have lured the lady-bird with yellow brede
And made the gaudy moth forget its pride,
Treads down their brimming golden chalices
Under light feet which were not made for such rude ravages;

Or as a schoolboy tired of his book
Flings himself down upon the reedy grass
And plucks two water-lilies from the brook,
And for a time forgets the hour glass,
Then wearies of their sweets, and goes his way,
And lets the hot sun **** them, even go these lovers lay.

And Venus cried, ‘It is dread Artemis
Whose bitter hand hath wrought this cruelty,
Or else that mightier maid whose care it is
To guard her strong and stainless majesty
Upon the hill Athenian,—alas!
That they who loved so well unloved into Death’s house should
pass.’

So with soft hands she laid the boy and girl
In the great golden waggon tenderly
(Her white throat whiter than a moony pearl
Just threaded with a blue vein’s tapestry
Had not yet ceased to throb, and still her breast
Swayed like a wind-stirred lily in ambiguous unrest)

And then each pigeon spread its milky van,
The bright car soared into the dawning sky,
And like a cloud the aerial caravan
Passed over the AEgean silently,
Till the faint air was troubled with the song
From the wan mouths that call on bleeding Thammuz all night long.

But when the doves had reached their wonted goal
Where the wide stair of orbed marble dips
Its snows into the sea, her fluttering soul
Just shook the trembling petals of her lips
And passed into the void, and Venus knew
That one fair maid the less would walk amid her retinue,

And bade her servants carve a cedar chest
With all the wonder of this history,
Within whose scented womb their limbs should rest
Where olive-trees make tender the blue sky
On the low hills of Paphos, and the Faun
Pipes in the noonday, and the nightingale sings on till dawn.

Nor failed they to obey her hest, and ere
The morning bee had stung the daffodil
With tiny fretful spear, or from its lair
The waking stag had leapt across the rill
And roused the ouzel, or the lizard crept
Athwart the sunny rock, beneath the grass their bodies slept.

And when day brake, within that silver shrine
Fed by the flames of cressets tremulous,
Queen Venus knelt and prayed to Proserpine
That she whose beauty made Death amorous
Should beg a guerdon from her pallid Lord,
And let Desire pass across dread Charon’s icy ford.
Juliesen Night Mar 2014
As the Night is drawn,
In the spectacles of my mind.
I stand alone,
In the shadows of light.

My eyes turn to the moon,
Whose gaze is pallid and ghastly.
Now they shift,
Becoming Scarlet irsises.

I am a beast of the night,
The nocturnal moon is my call.
To summon from sleep,
And all.

Nocturnal forever.
A girl of the night.
I am the one in the shadows.
I fight for that right.
Rawr Night owl!!!
Melody Nov 2012
Quietly skimmed off the water,
no one bothered to wonder
where it had disappeared to

And the wind, unknown tyrant,
whistled and ambled aimlessly
down the grassy knolls.
In its absence, skies turned
a startling iridescent blue
coagulating with pallid grey

The diaphanous leaves
so thin and transparent in the light,
trembled ever so slightly -

until an odd ripple effect
mercilessly shook entire branches,
birthing simple pattern reflections

And yet -
When lettering in the sand
curled up, aghast,
to reveal buried secrets
Why, the past was blown away
like nothing at all
of significance

And memories, like sea foam,
will someday disintegrate
into nothingness
©MW
THE HOUSE OF DUST
A Symphony

BY
CONRAD AIKEN

To Jessie

NOTE

. . . Parts of this poem have been printed in "The North American
Review, Others, Poetry, Youth, Coterie, The Yale Review". . . . I am
indebted to Lafcadio Hearn for the episode called "The Screen Maiden"
in Part II.


     This text comes from the source available at
     Project Gutenberg, originally prepared by Judy Boss
     of Omaha, NE.
    
THE HOUSE OF DUST


PART I.


I.

The sun goes down in a cold pale flare of light.
The trees grow dark: the shadows lean to the east:
And lights wink out through the windows, one by one.
A clamor of frosty sirens mourns at the night.
Pale slate-grey clouds whirl up from the sunken sun.

And the wandering one, the inquisitive dreamer of dreams,
The eternal asker of answers, stands in the street,
And lifts his palms for the first cold ghost of rain.
The purple lights leap down the hill before him.
The gorgeous night has begun again.

'I will ask them all, I will ask them all their dreams,
I will hold my light above them and seek their faces.
I will hear them whisper, invisible in their veins . . .'
The eternal asker of answers becomes as the darkness,
Or as a wind blown over a myriad forest,
Or as the numberless voices of long-drawn rains.

We hear him and take him among us, like a wind of music,
Like the ghost of a music we have somewhere heard;
We crowd through the streets in a dazzle of pallid lamplight,
We pour in a sinister wave, ascend a stair,
With laughter and cry, and word upon murmured word;
We flow, we descend, we turn . . . and the eternal dreamer
Moves among us like light, like evening air . . .

Good-night!  Good-night!  Good-night!  We go our ways,
The rain runs over the pavement before our feet,
The cold rain falls, the rain sings.
We walk, we run, we ride.  We turn our faces
To what the eternal evening brings.

Our hands are hot and raw with the stones we have laid,
We have built a tower of stone high into the sky,
We have built a city of towers.

Our hands are light, they are singing with emptiness.
Our souls are light; they have shaken a burden of hours . . .
What did we build it for?  Was it all a dream? . . .
Ghostly above us in lamplight the towers gleam . . .
And after a while they will fall to dust and rain;
Or else we will tear them down with impatient hands;
And hew rock out of the earth, and build them again.


II.

One, from his high bright window in a tower,
Leans out, as evening falls,
And sees the advancing curtain of the shower
Splashing its silver on roofs and walls:
Sees how, swift as a shadow, it crosses the city,
And murmurs beyond far walls to the sea,
Leaving a glimmer of water in the dark canyons,
And silver falling from eave and tree.

One, from his high bright window, looking down,
Peers like a dreamer over the rain-bright town,
And thinks its towers are like a dream.
The western windows flame in the sun's last flare,
Pale roofs begin to gleam.

Looking down from a window high in a wall
He sees us all;
Lifting our pallid faces towards the rain,
Searching the sky, and going our ways again,
Standing in doorways, waiting under the trees . . .
There, in the high bright window he dreams, and sees
What we are blind to,-we who mass and crowd
From wall to wall in the darkening of a cloud.

The gulls drift slowly above the city of towers,
Over the roofs to the darkening sea they fly;
Night falls swiftly on an evening of rain.
The yellow lamps wink one by one again.
The towers reach higher and blacker against the sky.


III.

One, where the pale sea foamed at the yellow sand,
With wave upon slowly shattering wave,
Turned to the city of towers as evening fell;
And slowly walked by the darkening road toward it;
And saw how the towers darkened against the sky;
And across the distance heard the toll of a bell.

Along the darkening road he hurried alone,
With his eyes cast down,
And thought how the streets were hoarse with a tide of people,
With clamor of voices, and numberless faces . . .
And it seemed to him, of a sudden, that he would drown
Here in the quiet of evening air,
These empty and voiceless places . . .
And he hurried towards the city, to enter there.

Along the darkening road, between tall trees
That made a sinister whisper, loudly he walked.
Behind him, sea-gulls dipped over long grey seas.
Before him, numberless lovers smiled and talked.
And death was observed with sudden cries,
And birth with laughter and pain.
And the trees grew taller and blacker against the skies
And night came down again.


IV.

Up high black walls, up sombre terraces,
Clinging like luminous birds to the sides of cliffs,
The yellow lights went climbing towards the sky.
From high black walls, gleaming vaguely with rain,
Each yellow light looked down like a golden eye.

They trembled from coign to coign, and tower to tower,
Along high terraces quicker than dream they flew.
And some of them steadily glowed, and some soon vanished,
And some strange shadows threw.

And behind them all the ghosts of thoughts went moving,
Restlessly moving in each lamplit room,
From chair to mirror, from mirror to fire;
From some, the light was scarcely more than a gloom:
From some, a dazzling desire.

And there was one, beneath black eaves, who thought,
Combing with lifted arms her golden hair,
Of the lover who hurried towards her through the night;
And there was one who dreamed of a sudden death
As she blew out her light.

And there was one who turned from clamoring streets,
And walked in lamplit gardens among black trees,
And looked at the windy sky,
And thought with terror how stones and roots would freeze
And birds in the dead boughs cry . . .

And she hurried back, as snow fell, mixed with rain,
To mingle among the crowds again,
To jostle beneath blue lamps along the street;
And lost herself in the warm bright coiling dream,
With a sound of murmuring voices and shuffling feet.

And one, from his high bright window looking down
On luminous chasms that cleft the basalt town,
Hearing a sea-like murmur rise,
Desired to leave his dream, descend from the tower,
And drown in waves of shouts and laughter and cries.


V.

The snow floats down upon us, mingled with rain . . .
It eddies around pale lilac lamps, and falls
Down golden-windowed walls.
We were all born of flesh, in a flare of pain,
We do not remember the red roots whence we rose,
But we know that we rose and walked, that after a while
We shall lie down again.

The snow floats down upon us, we turn, we turn,
Through gorges filled with light we sound and flow . . .
One is struck down and hurt, we crowd about him,
We bear him away, gaze after his listless body;
But whether he lives or dies we do not know.

One of us sings in the street, and we listen to him;
The words ring over us like vague bells of sorrow.
He sings of a house he lived in long ago.
It is strange; this house of dust was the house I lived in;
The house you lived in, the house that all of us know.
And coiling slowly about him, and laughing at him,
And throwing him pennies, we bear away
A mournful echo of other times and places,
And follow a dream . . . a dream that will not stay.

Down long broad flights of lamplit stairs we flow;
Noisy, in scattered waves, crowding and shouting;
In broken slow cascades.
The gardens extend before us . . .  We spread out swiftly;
Trees are above us, and darkness.  The canyon fades . . .

And we recall, with a gleaming stab of sadness,
Vaguely and incoherently, some dream
Of a world we came from, a world of sun-blue hills . . .
A black wood whispers around us, green eyes gleam;
Someone cries in the forest, and someone kills.

We flow to the east, to the white-lined shivering sea;
We reach to the west, where the whirling sun went down;
We close our eyes to music in bright cafees.
We diverge from clamorous streets to streets that are silent.
We loaf where the wind-spilled fountain plays.

And, growing tired, we turn aside at last,
Remember our secret selves, seek out our towers,
Lay weary hands on the banisters, and climb;
Climbing, each, to his little four-square dream
Of love or lust or beauty or death or crime.


VI.

Over the darkened city, the city of towers,
The city of a thousand gates,
Over the gleaming terraced roofs, the huddled towers,
Over a somnolent whisper of loves and hates,
The slow wind flows, drearily streams and falls,
With a mournful sound down rain-dark walls.
On one side purples the lustrous dusk of the sea,
And dreams in white at the city's feet;
On one side sleep the plains, with heaped-up hills.
Oaks and beeches whisper in rings about it.
Above the trees are towers where dread bells beat.

The fisherman draws his streaming net from the sea
And sails toward the far-off city, that seems
Like one vague tower.
The dark bow plunges to foam on blue-black waves,
And shrill rain seethes like a ghostly music about him
In a quiet shower.

Rain with a shrill sings on the lapsing waves;
Rain thrills over the roofs again;
Like a shadow of shifting silver it crosses the city;
The lamps in the streets are streamed with rain;
And sparrows complain beneath deep eaves,
And among whirled leaves
The sea-gulls, blowing from tower to lower tower,
From wall to remoter wall,
Skim with the driven rain to the rising sea-sound
And close grey wings and fall . . .

. . . Hearing great rain above me, I now remember
A girl who stood by the door and shut her eyes:
Her pale cheeks glistened with rain, she stood and shivered.
Into a forest of silver she vanished slowly . . .
Voices about me rise . . .

Voices clear and silvery, voices of raindrops,-
'We struck with silver claws, we struck her down.
We are the ghosts of the singing furies . . . '
A chorus of elfin voices blowing about me
Weaves to a babel of sound.  Each cries a secret.
I run among them, reach out vain hands, and drown.

'I am the one who stood beside you and smiled,
Thinking your face so strangely young . . . '
'I am the one who loved you but did not dare.'
'I am the one you followed through crowded streets,
The one who escaped you, the one with red-gleamed hair.'

'I am the one you saw to-day, who fell
Senseless before you, hearing a certain bell:
A bell that broke great memories in my brain.'
'I am the one who passed unnoticed before you,
Invisible, in a cloud of secret pain.'

'I am the one who suddenly cried, beholding
The face of a certain man on the dazzling screen.
They wrote me that he was dead.  It was long ago.
I walked in the streets for a long while, hearing nothing,
And returned to see it again.  And it was so.'


Weave, weave, weave, you streaks of rain!
I am dissolved and woven again . . .
Thousands of faces rise and vanish before me.
Thousands of voices weave in the rain.

'I am the one who rode beside you, blinking
At a dazzle of golden lights.
Tempests of music swept me: I was thinking
Of the gorgeous promise of certain nights:
Of the woman who suddenly smiled at me this day,
Smiled in a certain delicious sidelong way,
And turned, as she reached the door,
To smile once more . . .
Her hands are whiter than snow on midnight water.
Her throat is golden and full of golden laughter,
Her eyes are strange as the stealth of the moon
On a night in June . . .
She runs among whistling leaves; I hurry after;
She dances in dreams over white-waved water;
Her body is white and fragrant and cool,
Magnolia petals that float on a white-starred pool . . .
I have dreamed of her, dreaming for many nights
Of a broken music and golden lights,
Of broken webs of silver, heavily falling
Between my hands and their white desire:
And dark-leaved boughs, edged with a golden radiance,
Dipping to screen a fire . . .
I dream that I walk with her beneath high trees,
But as I lean to kiss her face,
She is blown aloft on wind, I catch at leaves,
And run in a moonless place;
And I hear a crashing of terrible rocks flung down,
And shattering trees and cracking walls,
And a net of intense white flame roars over the town,
And someone cries; and darkness falls . . .
But now she has leaned and smiled at me,
My veins are afire with music,
Her eyes have kissed me, my body is turned to light;
I shall dream to her secret heart tonight . . . '

He rises and moves away, he says no word,
He folds his evening paper and turns away;
I rush through the dark with rows of lamplit faces;
Fire bells peal, and some of us turn to listen,
And some sit motionless in their accustomed places.

Cold rain lashes the car-roof, scurries in gusts,
Streams down the windows in waves and ripples of lustre;
The lamps in the streets are distorted and strange.
Someone takes his watch from his pocket and yawns.
One peers out in the night for the place to change.

Rain . . . rain . . . rain . . . we are buried in rain,
It will rain forever, the swift wheels hiss through water,
Pale sheets of water gleam in the windy street.
The pealing of bells is lost in a drive of rain-drops.
Remote and hurried the great bells beat.

'I am the one whom life so shrewdly betrayed,
Misfortune dogs me, it always hunted me down.
And to-day the woman I love lies dead.
I gave her roses, a ring with opals;
These hands have touched her head.

'I bound her to me in all soft ways,
I bound her to me in a net of days,
Yet now she has gone in silence and said no word.
How can we face these dazzling things, I ask you?
There is no use: we cry: and are not heard.

'They cover a body with roses . . . I shall not see it . . .
Must one return to the lifeless walls of a city
Whose soul is charred by fire? . . . '
His eyes are closed, his lips press tightly together.
Wheels hiss beneath us.  He yields us our desire.

'No, do not stare so-he is weak with grief,
He cannot face you, he turns his eyes aside;
He is confused with pain.
I suffered this.  I know.  It was long ago . . .
He closes his eyes and drowns in death again.'

The wind hurls blows at the rain-starred glistening windows,
The wind shrills down from the half-seen walls.
We flow on the mournful wind in a dream of dying;
And at last a silence falls.


VII.

Midnight; bells toll, and along the cloud-high towers
The golden lights go out . . .
The yellow windows darken, the shades are drawn,
In thousands of rooms we sleep, we await the dawn,
We lie face down, we dream,
We cry aloud with terror, half rise, or seem
To stare at the ceiling or walls . . .
Midnight . . . the last of shattering bell-notes falls.
A rush of silence whirls over the cloud-high towers,
A vortex of soundless hours.

'The bells have just struck twelve: I should be sleeping.
But I cannot delay any longer to write and tell you.
The woman is dead.
She died-you know the way.  Just as we planned.
Smiling, with open sunlit eyes.
Smiling upon the outstretched fatal hand . . .'

He folds his letter, steps softly down the stairs.
The doors are closed and silent.  A gas-jet flares.
His shadow disturbs a shadow of balustrades.
The door swings shut behind.  Night roars above him.
Into the night he fades.

Wind; wind; wind; carving the walls;
Blowing the water that gleams in the street;
Blowing the rain, the sleet.
In the dark alley, an old tree cracks and falls,
Oak-boughs moan in the haunted air;
Lamps blow down with a crash and ****** of glass . . .
Darkness whistles . . . Wild hours pass . . .

And those whom sleep eludes lie wide-eyed, hearing
Above their heads a goblin night go by;
Children are waked, and cry,
The young girl hears the roar in her sleep, and dreams
That her lover is caught in a burning tower,
She clutches the pillow, she gasps for breath, she screams . . .
And then by degrees her breath grows quiet and slow,
She dreams of an evening, long ago:
Of colored lanterns balancing under trees,
Some of them softly catching afire;
And beneath the lanterns a motionless face she sees,
Golden with lamplight, smiling, serene . . .
The leaves are a pale and glittering green,
The sound of horns blows over the trampled grass,
Shadows of dancers pass . . .
The face smiles closer to hers, she tries to lean
Backward, away, the eyes burn close and strange,
The face is beginning to change,-
It is her lover, she no longer desires to resist,
She is held and kissed.
She closes her eyes, and melts in a seethe of
Brad Lambert Mar 2012
**** me like the ocean would the moon, Dear Amaranthine.
Teach me as you would any abecedarian, slow with pace.
My pallid arms are spread, and feet are crossed.
Crucify me, like one of your French girls.

Your endless frame arched over mine
a vaulting testament to the heat
of your front against my back.
This scene should have been a chapel.

Through hazed musk I can taste the saline
as it tumbles from your dripping brunette tendrils
forming brooks and lagoons the color of flesh
in the glens and about the islands of my spine.

I wish I could write about you in me
while you dance a contemporary beat
ceaseless, indeterminate, untold are
your feats within and upon my person.

For a split moment, seconds shattered in two,
I am completely and totally permeated by you.
I whine for you to vacillate me, I am ******* begging
to be occupied, satiated, by a rhythm akin to the sway of trees.

Love me fast and kiss me slow, Dear Amaranthine.
My palms are red, and feet bloodied, too. I moan.
Call me your poetaster but don't come on my chest;
There's far too much weight there already, my dear.
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping—rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
        Only this and nothing more.”

Ah, distinctly I remember, it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
        Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
“’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;—
    This it is and nothing more.”

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping—tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door:—
      Darkness there and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering,
  fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore!”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”
      Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon I heard again a tapping, somewhat louder than before.
“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—
Let my heart be still a moment, and this mystery explore;—
    ’Tis the wind and nothing more.”

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he: not an instant stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—
    Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no
  craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
      Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door—
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
      With such name as “Nevermore.”

But the Raven, sitting lonely on that placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—
Till I scarcely more than muttered, “Other friends have flown before—
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.”
      Then the bird said, “Nevermore.”

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore—
Till the dirges of his Hope the melancholy burden bore
    Of ‘Never—nevermore.’”

But the Raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird and bust and
  door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
    Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my *****’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
      She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath
  sent thee
Respite—respite aad nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!”
      Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—
On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—
Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!”
    Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”
      Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

“Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked,
  upstarting—
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
    Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
    Shall be lifted—nevermore!
It is full summer now, the heart of June;
Not yet the sunburnt reapers are astir
Upon the upland meadow where too soon
Rich autumn time, the season’s usurer,
Will lend his hoarded gold to all the trees,
And see his treasure scattered by the wild and spendthrift breeze.

Too soon indeed! yet here the daffodil,
That love-child of the Spring, has lingered on
To vex the rose with jealousy, and still
The harebell spreads her azure pavilion,
And like a strayed and wandering reveller
Abandoned of its brothers, whom long since June’s messenger

The missel-thrush has frighted from the glade,
One pale narcissus loiters fearfully
Close to a shadowy nook, where half afraid
Of their own loveliness some violets lie
That will not look the gold sun in the face
For fear of too much splendour,—ah! methinks it is a place

Which should be trodden by Persephone
When wearied of the flowerless fields of Dis!
Or danced on by the lads of Arcady!
The hidden secret of eternal bliss
Known to the Grecian here a man might find,
Ah! you and I may find it now if Love and Sleep be kind.

There are the flowers which mourning Herakles
Strewed on the tomb of Hylas, columbine,
Its white doves all a-flutter where the breeze
Kissed them too harshly, the small celandine,
That yellow-kirtled chorister of eve,
And lilac lady’s-smock,—but let them bloom alone, and leave

Yon spired hollyhock red-crocketed
To sway its silent chimes, else must the bee,
Its little bellringer, go seek instead
Some other pleasaunce; the anemone
That weeps at daybreak, like a silly girl
Before her love, and hardly lets the butterflies unfurl

Their painted wings beside it,—bid it pine
In pale virginity; the winter snow
Will suit it better than those lips of thine
Whose fires would but scorch it, rather go
And pluck that amorous flower which blooms alone,
Fed by the pander wind with dust of kisses not its own.

The trumpet-mouths of red convolvulus
So dear to maidens, creamy meadow-sweet
Whiter than Juno’s throat and odorous
As all Arabia, hyacinths the feet
Of Huntress Dian would be loth to mar
For any dappled fawn,—pluck these, and those fond flowers which
are

Fairer than what Queen Venus trod upon
Beneath the pines of Ida, eucharis,
That morning star which does not dread the sun,
And budding marjoram which but to kiss
Would sweeten Cytheraea’s lips and make
Adonis jealous,—these for thy head,—and for thy girdle take

Yon curving spray of purple clematis
Whose gorgeous dye outflames the Tyrian King,
And foxgloves with their nodding chalices,
But that one narciss which the startled Spring
Let from her kirtle fall when first she heard
In her own woods the wild tempestuous song of summer’s bird,

Ah! leave it for a subtle memory
Of those sweet tremulous days of rain and sun,
When April laughed between her tears to see
The early primrose with shy footsteps run
From the gnarled oak-tree roots till all the wold,
Spite of its brown and trampled leaves, grew bright with shimmering
gold.

Nay, pluck it too, it is not half so sweet
As thou thyself, my soul’s idolatry!
And when thou art a-wearied at thy feet
Shall oxlips weave their brightest tapestry,
For thee the woodbine shall forget its pride
And veil its tangled whorls, and thou shalt walk on daisies pied.

And I will cut a reed by yonder spring
And make the wood-gods jealous, and old Pan
Wonder what young intruder dares to sing
In these still haunts, where never foot of man
Should tread at evening, lest he chance to spy
The marble limbs of Artemis and all her company.

And I will tell thee why the jacinth wears
Such dread embroidery of dolorous moan,
And why the hapless nightingale forbears
To sing her song at noon, but weeps alone
When the fleet swallow sleeps, and rich men feast,
And why the laurel trembles when she sees the lightening east.

And I will sing how sad Proserpina
Unto a grave and gloomy Lord was wed,
And lure the silver-breasted Helena
Back from the lotus meadows of the dead,
So shalt thou see that awful loveliness
For which two mighty Hosts met fearfully in war’s abyss!

And then I’ll pipe to thee that Grecian tale
How Cynthia loves the lad Endymion,
And hidden in a grey and misty veil
Hies to the cliffs of Latmos once the Sun
Leaps from his ocean bed in fruitless chase
Of those pale flying feet which fade away in his embrace.

And if my flute can breathe sweet melody,
We may behold Her face who long ago
Dwelt among men by the AEgean sea,
And whose sad house with pillaged portico
And friezeless wall and columns toppled down
Looms o’er the ruins of that fair and violet cinctured town.

Spirit of Beauty! tarry still awhile,
They are not dead, thine ancient votaries;
Some few there are to whom thy radiant smile
Is better than a thousand victories,
Though all the nobly slain of Waterloo
Rise up in wrath against them! tarry still, there are a few

Who for thy sake would give their manlihood
And consecrate their being; I at least
Have done so, made thy lips my daily food,
And in thy temples found a goodlier feast
Than this starved age can give me, spite of all
Its new-found creeds so sceptical and so dogmatical.

Here not Cephissos, not Ilissos flows,
The woods of white Colonos are not here,
On our bleak hills the olive never blows,
No simple priest conducts his lowing steer
Up the steep marble way, nor through the town
Do laughing maidens bear to thee the crocus-flowered gown.

Yet tarry! for the boy who loved thee best,
Whose very name should be a memory
To make thee linger, sleeps in silent rest
Beneath the Roman walls, and melody
Still mourns her sweetest lyre; none can play
The lute of Adonais:  with his lips Song passed away.

Nay, when Keats died the Muses still had left
One silver voice to sing his threnody,
But ah! too soon of it we were bereft
When on that riven night and stormy sea
Panthea claimed her singer as her own,
And slew the mouth that praised her; since which time we walk
alone,

Save for that fiery heart, that morning star
Of re-arisen England, whose clear eye
Saw from our tottering throne and waste of war
The grand Greek limbs of young Democracy
Rise mightily like Hesperus and bring
The great Republic! him at least thy love hath taught to sing,

And he hath been with thee at Thessaly,
And seen white Atalanta fleet of foot
In passionless and fierce virginity
Hunting the tusked boar, his honied lute
Hath pierced the cavern of the hollow hill,
And Venus laughs to know one knee will bow before her still.

And he hath kissed the lips of Proserpine,
And sung the Galilaean’s requiem,
That wounded forehead dashed with blood and wine
He hath discrowned, the Ancient Gods in him
Have found their last, most ardent worshipper,
And the new Sign grows grey and dim before its conqueror.

Spirit of Beauty! tarry with us still,
It is not quenched the torch of poesy,
The star that shook above the Eastern hill
Holds unassailed its argent armoury
From all the gathering gloom and fretful fight—
O tarry with us still! for through the long and common night,

Morris, our sweet and simple Chaucer’s child,
Dear heritor of Spenser’s tuneful reed,
With soft and sylvan pipe has oft beguiled
The weary soul of man in troublous need,
And from the far and flowerless fields of ice
Has brought fair flowers to make an earthly paradise.

We know them all, Gudrun the strong men’s bride,
Aslaug and Olafson we know them all,
How giant Grettir fought and Sigurd died,
And what enchantment held the king in thrall
When lonely Brynhild wrestled with the powers
That war against all passion, ah! how oft through summer hours,

Long listless summer hours when the noon
Being enamoured of a damask rose
Forgets to journey westward, till the moon
The pale usurper of its tribute grows
From a thin sickle to a silver shield
And chides its loitering car—how oft, in some cool grassy field

Far from the cricket-ground and noisy eight,
At Bagley, where the rustling bluebells come
Almost before the blackbird finds a mate
And overstay the swallow, and the hum
Of many murmuring bees flits through the leaves,
Have I lain poring on the dreamy tales his fancy weaves,

And through their unreal woes and mimic pain
Wept for myself, and so was purified,
And in their simple mirth grew glad again;
For as I sailed upon that pictured tide
The strength and splendour of the storm was mine
Without the storm’s red ruin, for the singer is divine;

The little laugh of water falling down
Is not so musical, the clammy gold
Close hoarded in the tiny waxen town
Has less of sweetness in it, and the old
Half-withered reeds that waved in Arcady
Touched by his lips break forth again to fresher harmony.

Spirit of Beauty, tarry yet awhile!
Although the cheating merchants of the mart
With iron roads profane our lovely isle,
And break on whirling wheels the limbs of Art,
Ay! though the crowded factories beget
The blindworm Ignorance that slays the soul, O tarry yet!

For One at least there is,—He bears his name
From Dante and the seraph Gabriel,—
Whose double laurels burn with deathless flame
To light thine altar; He too loves thee well,
Who saw old Merlin lured in Vivien’s snare,
And the white feet of angels coming down the golden stair,

Loves thee so well, that all the World for him
A gorgeous-coloured vestiture must wear,
And Sorrow take a purple diadem,
Or else be no more Sorrow, and Despair
Gild its own thorns, and Pain, like Adon, be
Even in anguish beautiful;—such is the empery

Which Painters hold, and such the heritage
This gentle solemn Spirit doth possess,
Being a better mirror of his age
In all his pity, love, and weariness,
Than those who can but copy common things,
And leave the Soul unpainted with its mighty questionings.

But they are few, and all romance has flown,
And men can prophesy about the sun,
And lecture on his arrows—how, alone,
Through a waste void the soulless atoms run,
How from each tree its weeping nymph has fled,
And that no more ’mid English reeds a Naiad shows her head.

Methinks these new Actaeons boast too soon
That they have spied on beauty; what if we
Have analysed the rainbow, robbed the moon
Of her most ancient, chastest mystery,
Shall I, the last Endymion, lose all hope
Because rude eyes peer at my mistress through a telescope!

What profit if this scientific age
Burst through our gates with all its retinue
Of modern miracles!  Can it assuage
One lover’s breaking heart? what can it do
To make one life more beautiful, one day
More godlike in its period? but now the Age of Clay

Returns in horrid cycle, and the earth
Hath borne again a noisy progeny
Of ignorant Titans, whose ungodly birth
Hurls them against the august hierarchy
Which sat upon Olympus; to the Dust
They have appealed, and to that barren arbiter they must

Repair for judgment; let them, if they can,
From Natural Warfare and insensate Chance,
Create the new Ideal rule for man!
Methinks that was not my inheritance;
For I was nurtured otherwise, my soul
Passes from higher heights of life to a more supreme goal.

Lo! while we spake the earth did turn away
Her visage from the God, and Hecate’s boat
Rose silver-laden, till the jealous day
Blew all its torches out:  I did not note
The waning hours, to young Endymions
Time’s palsied fingers count in vain his rosary of suns!

Mark how the yellow iris wearily
Leans back its throat, as though it would be kissed
By its false chamberer, the dragon-fly,
Who, like a blue vein on a girl’s white wrist,
Sleeps on that snowy primrose of the night,
Which ‘gins to flush with crimson shame, and die beneath the light.

Come let us go, against the pallid shield
Of the wan sky the almond blossoms gleam,
The corncrake nested in the unmown field
Answers its mate, across the misty stream
On fitful wing the startled curlews fly,
And in his sedgy bed the lark, for joy that Day is nigh,

Scatters the pearled dew from off the grass,
In tremulous ecstasy to greet the sun,
Who soon in gilded panoply will pass
Forth from yon orange-curtained pavilion
Hung in the burning east:  see, the red rim
O’ertops the expectant hills! it is the God! for love of him

Already the shrill lark is out of sight,
Flooding with waves of song this silent dell,—
Ah! there is something more in that bird’s flight
Than could be tested in a crucible!—
But the air freshens, let us go, why soon
The woodmen will be here; how we have lived this night of June!
(To Marcel Schwob in friendship and in admiration)

In a dim corner of my room for longer than
my fancy thinks
A beautiful and silent Sphinx has watched me
through the shifting gloom.

Inviolate and immobile she does not rise she
does not stir
For silver moons are naught to her and naught
to her the suns that reel.

Red follows grey across the air, the waves of
moonlight ebb and flow
But with the Dawn she does not go and in the
night-time she is there.

Dawn follows Dawn and Nights grow old and
all the while this curious cat
Lies couching on the Chinese mat with eyes of
satin rimmed with gold.

Upon the mat she lies and leers and on the
tawny throat of her
Flutters the soft and silky fur or ripples to her
pointed ears.

Come forth, my lovely seneschal! so somnolent,
so statuesque!
Come forth you exquisite grotesque! half woman
and half animal!

Come forth my lovely languorous Sphinx! and
put your head upon my knee!
And let me stroke your throat and see your
body spotted like the Lynx!

And let me touch those curving claws of yellow
ivory and grasp
The tail that like a monstrous Asp coils round
your heavy velvet paws!

A thousand weary centuries are thine
while I have hardly seen
Some twenty summers cast their green for
Autumn’s gaudy liveries.

But you can read the Hieroglyphs on the
great sandstone obelisks,
And you have talked with Basilisks, and you
have looked on Hippogriffs.

O tell me, were you standing by when Isis to
Osiris knelt?
And did you watch the Egyptian melt her union
for Antony

And drink the jewel-drunken wine and bend
her head in mimic awe
To see the huge proconsul draw the salted tunny
from the brine?

And did you mark the Cyprian kiss white Adon
on his catafalque?
And did you follow Amenalk, the God of
Heliopolis?

And did you talk with Thoth, and did you hear
the moon-horned Io weep?
And know the painted kings who sleep beneath
the wedge-shaped Pyramid?

Lift up your large black satin eyes which are
like cushions where one sinks!
Fawn at my feet, fantastic Sphinx! and sing me
all your memories!

Sing to me of the Jewish maid who wandered
with the Holy Child,
And how you led them through the wild, and
how they slept beneath your shade.

Sing to me of that odorous green eve when
crouching by the marge
You heard from Adrian’s gilded barge the
laughter of Antinous

And lapped the stream and fed your drouth and
watched with hot and hungry stare
The ivory body of that rare young slave with
his pomegranate mouth!

Sing to me of the Labyrinth in which the twi-
formed bull was stalled!
Sing to me of the night you crawled across the
temple’s granite plinth

When through the purple corridors the screaming
scarlet Ibis flew
In terror, and a horrid dew dripped from the
moaning Mandragores,

And the great torpid crocodile within the tank
shed slimy tears,
And tare the jewels from his ears and staggered
back into the Nile,

And the priests cursed you with shrill psalms as
in your claws you seized their snake
And crept away with it to slake your passion by
the shuddering palms.

Who were your lovers? who were they
who wrestled for you in the dust?
Which was the vessel of your Lust?  What
Leman had you, every day?

Did giant Lizards come and crouch before you
on the reedy banks?
Did Gryphons with great metal flanks leap on
you in your trampled couch?

Did monstrous hippopotami come sidling toward
you in the mist?
Did gilt-scaled dragons writhe and twist with
passion as you passed them by?

And from the brick-built Lycian tomb what
horrible Chimera came
With fearful heads and fearful flame to breed
new wonders from your womb?

Or had you shameful secret quests and did
you harry to your home
Some Nereid coiled in amber foam with curious
rock crystal *******?

Or did you treading through the froth call to
the brown Sidonian
For tidings of Leviathan, Leviathan or
Behemoth?

Or did you when the sun was set climb up the
cactus-covered *****
To meet your swarthy Ethiop whose body was
of polished jet?

Or did you while the earthen skiffs dropped
down the grey Nilotic flats
At twilight and the flickering bats flew round
the temple’s triple glyphs

Steal to the border of the bar and swim across
the silent lake
And slink into the vault and make the Pyramid
your lupanar

Till from each black sarcophagus rose up the
painted swathed dead?
Or did you lure unto your bed the ivory-horned
Tragelaphos?

Or did you love the god of flies who plagued
the Hebrews and was splashed
With wine unto the waist? or Pasht, who had
green beryls for her eyes?

Or that young god, the Tyrian, who was more
amorous than the dove
Of Ashtaroth? or did you love the god of the
Assyrian

Whose wings, like strange transparent talc, rose
high above his hawk-faced head,
Painted with silver and with red and ribbed with
rods of Oreichalch?

Or did huge Apis from his car leap down and
lay before your feet
Big blossoms of the honey-sweet and honey-
coloured nenuphar?

How subtle-secret is your smile!  Did you
love none then?  Nay, I know
Great Ammon was your bedfellow!  He lay with
you beside the Nile!

The river-horses in the slime trumpeted when
they saw him come
Odorous with Syrian galbanum and smeared with
spikenard and with thyme.

He came along the river bank like some tall
galley argent-sailed,
He strode across the waters, mailed in beauty,
and the waters sank.

He strode across the desert sand:  he reached
the valley where you lay:
He waited till the dawn of day:  then touched
your black ******* with his hand.

You kissed his mouth with mouths of flame:
you made the horned god your own:
You stood behind him on his throne:  you called
him by his secret name.

You whispered monstrous oracles into the
caverns of his ears:
With blood of goats and blood of steers you
taught him monstrous miracles.

White Ammon was your bedfellow!  Your
chamber was the steaming Nile!
And with your curved archaic smile you watched
his passion come and go.

With Syrian oils his brows were bright:
and wide-spread as a tent at noon
His marble limbs made pale the moon and lent
the day a larger light.

His long hair was nine cubits’ span and coloured
like that yellow gem
Which hidden in their garment’s hem the
merchants bring from Kurdistan.

His face was as the must that lies upon a vat of
new-made wine:
The seas could not insapphirine the perfect azure
of his eyes.

His thick soft throat was white as milk and
threaded with thin veins of blue:
And curious pearls like frozen dew were
broidered on his flowing silk.

On pearl and porphyry pedestalled he was
too bright to look upon:
For on his ivory breast there shone the wondrous
ocean-emerald,

That mystic moonlit jewel which some diver of
the Colchian caves
Had found beneath the blackening waves and
carried to the Colchian witch.

Before his gilded galiot ran naked vine-wreathed
corybants,
And lines of swaying elephants knelt down to
draw his chariot,

And lines of swarthy Nubians bare up his litter
as he rode
Down the great granite-paven road between the
nodding peacock-fans.

The merchants brought him steatite from Sidon
in their painted ships:
The meanest cup that touched his lips was
fashioned from a chrysolite.

The merchants brought him cedar chests of rich
apparel bound with cords:
His train was borne by Memphian lords:  young
kings were glad to be his guests.

Ten hundred shaven priests did bow to Ammon’s
altar day and night,
Ten hundred lamps did wave their light through
Ammon’s carven house—and now

Foul snake and speckled adder with their young
ones crawl from stone to stone
For ruined is the house and prone the great
rose-marble monolith!

Wild *** or trotting jackal comes and couches
in the mouldering gates:
Wild satyrs call unto their mates across the
fallen fluted drums.

And on the summit of the pile the blue-faced
ape of Horus sits
And gibbers while the fig-tree splits the pillars
of the peristyle

The god is scattered here and there:  deep
hidden in the windy sand
I saw his giant granite hand still clenched in
impotent despair.

And many a wandering caravan of stately
negroes silken-shawled,
Crossing the desert, halts appalled before the
neck that none can span.

And many a bearded Bedouin draws back his
yellow-striped burnous
To gaze upon the Titan thews of him who was
thy paladin.

Go, seek his fragments on the moor and
wash them in the evening dew,
And from their pieces make anew thy mutilated
paramour!

Go, seek them where they lie alone and from
their broken pieces make
Thy bruised bedfellow!  And wake mad passions
in the senseless stone!

Charm his dull ear with Syrian hymns! he loved
your body! oh, be kind,
Pour spikenard on his hair, and wind soft rolls
of linen round his limbs!

Wind round his head the figured coins! stain
with red fruits those pallid lips!
Weave purple for his shrunken hips! and purple
for his barren *****!

Away to Egypt!  Have no fear.  Only one
God has ever died.
Only one God has let His side be wounded by a
soldier’s spear.

But these, thy lovers, are not dead.  Still by the
hundred-cubit gate
Dog-faced Anubis sits in state with lotus-lilies
for thy head.

Still from his chair of porphyry gaunt Memnon
strains his lidless eyes
Across the empty land, and cries each yellow
morning unto thee.

And Nilus with his broken horn lies in his black
and oozy bed
And till thy coming will not spread his waters on
the withering corn.

Your lovers are not dead, I know.  They will
rise up and hear your voice
And clash their cymbals and rejoice and run to
kiss your mouth!  And so,

Set wings upon your argosies!  Set horses to
your ebon car!
Back to your Nile!  Or if you are grown sick of
dead divinities

Follow some roving lion’s spoor across the copper-
coloured plain,
Reach out and hale him by the mane and bid
him be your paramour!

Couch by his side upon the grass and set your
white teeth in his throat
And when you hear his dying note lash your
long flanks of polished brass

And take a tiger for your mate, whose amber
sides are flecked with black,
And ride upon his gilded back in triumph
through the Theban gate,

And toy with him in amorous jests, and when
he turns, and snarls, and gnaws,
O smite him with your jasper claws! and bruise
him with your agate *******!

Why are you tarrying?  Get hence!  I
weary of your sullen ways,
I weary of your steadfast gaze, your somnolent
magnificence.

Your horrible and heavy breath makes the light
flicker in the lamp,
And on my brow I feel the damp and dreadful
dews of night and death.

Your eyes are like fantastic moons that shiver
in some stagnant lake,
Your tongue is like a scarlet snake that dances
to fantastic tunes,

Your pulse makes poisonous melodies, and your
black throat is like the hole
Left by some torch or burning coal on Saracenic
tapestries.

Away!  The sulphur-coloured stars are hurrying
through the Western gate!
Away!  Or it may be too late to climb their silent
silver cars!

See, the dawn shivers round the grey gilt-dialled
towers, and the rain
Streams down each diamonded pane and blurs
with tears the wannish day.

What snake-tressed fury fresh from Hell, with
uncouth gestures and unclean,
Stole from the poppy-drowsy queen and led you
to a student’s cell?

What songless tongueless ghost of sin crept
through the curtains of the night,
And saw my taper burning bright, and knocked,
and bade you enter in?

Are there not others more accursed, whiter with
leprosies than I?
Are Abana and Pharphar dry that you come here
to slake your thirst?

Get hence, you loathsome mystery!  Hideous
animal, get hence!
You wake in me each ******* sense, you make me
what I would not be.

You make my creed a barren sham, you wake
foul dreams of sensual life,
And Atys with his blood-stained knife were
better than the thing I am.

False Sphinx!  False Sphinx!  By reedy Styx
old Charon, leaning on his oar,
Waits for my coin.  Go thou before, and leave
me to my crucifix,

Whose pallid burden, sick with pain, watches
the world with wearied eyes,
And weeps for every soul that dies, and weeps
for every soul in vain.
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.
1445

Death is the supple Suitor
That wins at last—
It is a stealthy Wooing
Conducted first
By pallid innuendoes
And dim approach
But brave at last with Bugles
And a bisected Coach
It bears away in triumph
To Troth unknown
And Kindred as responsive
As Porcelain.
The steeples are white in the wild moonlight,
  And the trees have a silver glare;
Past the chimneys high see the vampires fly,
  And the harpies of upper air,
  That flutter and laugh and stare.

For the village dead to the moon outspread
  Never shone in the sunset's gleam,
But grew out of the deep that the dead years keep
  Where the rivers of madness stream
  Down the gulfs to a pit of dream.

A chill wind blows through the rows of sheaves
  In the meadows that shimmer pale,
And comes to twine where the headstones shine
  And the ghouls of the churchyard wail
  For harvests that fly and fail.

Not a breath of the strange grey gods of change
  That tore from the past its own
Can quicken this hour, when a spectral power
  Spreads sleep o'er the cosmic throne,
  And looses the vast unknown.

So here again stretch the vale and plain
  That moons long-forgotten saw,
And the dead leap gay in the pallid ray,
  Sprung out of the tomb's black maw
  To shake all the world with awe.

And all that the morn shall greet forlorn,
  The ugliness and the pest
Of rows where thick rise the stones and brick,
  Shall some day be with the rest,
  And brood with the shades unblest.

Then wild in the dark let the lemurs bark,
  And the leprous spires ascend;
For new and old alike in the fold
  Of horror and death are penned,
  For the hounds of Time to rend.
ENDYMION.

A Poetic Romance.

"THE STRETCHED METRE OF AN AN ANTIQUE SONG."
INSCRIBED TO THE MEMORY OF THOMAS CHATTERTON.

Book I

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
Of all the unhealthy and o'er-darkened ways
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits. Such the sun, the moon,
Trees old and young, sprouting a shady boon
For simple sheep; and such are daffodils
With the green world they live in; and clear rills
That for themselves a cooling covert make
'Gainst the hot season; the mid forest brake,
Rich with a sprinkling of fair musk-rose blooms:
And such too is the grandeur of the dooms
We have imagined for the mighty dead;
All lovely tales that we have heard or read:
An endless fountain of immortal drink,
Pouring unto us from the heaven's brink.

  Nor do we merely feel these essences
For one short hour; no, even as the trees
That whisper round a temple become soon
Dear as the temple's self, so does the moon,
The passion poesy, glories infinite,
Haunt us till they become a cheering light
Unto our souls, and bound to us so fast,
That, whether there be shine, or gloom o'ercast,
They alway must be with us, or we die.

  Therefore, 'tis with full happiness that I
Will trace the story of Endymion.
The very music of the name has gone
Into my being, and each pleasant scene
Is growing fresh before me as the green
Of our own vallies: so I will begin
Now while I cannot hear the city's din;
Now while the early budders are just new,
And run in mazes of the youngest hue
About old forests; while the willow trails
Its delicate amber; and the dairy pails
Bring home increase of milk. And, as the year
Grows lush in juicy stalks, I'll smoothly steer
My little boat, for many quiet hours,
With streams that deepen freshly into bowers.
Many and many a verse I hope to write,
Before the daisies, vermeil rimm'd and white,
Hide in deep herbage; and ere yet the bees
Hum about globes of clover and sweet peas,
I must be near the middle of my story.
O may no wintry season, bare and hoary,
See it half finished: but let Autumn bold,
With universal tinge of sober gold,
Be all about me when I make an end.
And now at once, adventuresome, I send
My herald thought into a wilderness:
There let its trumpet blow, and quickly dress
My uncertain path with green, that I may speed
Easily onward, thorough flowers and ****.

  Upon the sides of Latmos was outspread
A mighty forest; for the moist earth fed
So plenteously all ****-hidden roots
Into o'er-hanging boughs, and precious fruits.
And it had gloomy shades, sequestered deep,
Where no man went; and if from shepherd's keep
A lamb strayed far a-down those inmost glens,
Never again saw he the happy pens
Whither his brethren, bleating with content,
Over the hills at every nightfall went.
Among the shepherds, 'twas believed ever,
That not one fleecy lamb which thus did sever
From the white flock, but pass'd unworried
By angry wolf, or pard with prying head,
Until it came to some unfooted plains
Where fed the herds of Pan: ay great his gains
Who thus one lamb did lose. Paths there were many,
Winding through palmy fern, and rushes fenny,
And ivy banks; all leading pleasantly
To a wide lawn, whence one could only see
Stems thronging all around between the swell
Of turf and slanting branches: who could tell
The freshness of the space of heaven above,
Edg'd round with dark tree tops? through which a dove
Would often beat its wings, and often too
A little cloud would move across the blue.

  Full in the middle of this pleasantness
There stood a marble altar, with a tress
Of flowers budded newly; and the dew
Had taken fairy phantasies to strew
Daisies upon the sacred sward last eve,
And so the dawned light in pomp receive.
For 'twas the morn: Apollo's upward fire
Made every eastern cloud a silvery pyre
Of brightness so unsullied, that therein
A melancholy spirit well might win
Oblivion, and melt out his essence fine
Into the winds: rain-scented eglantine
Gave temperate sweets to that well-wooing sun;
The lark was lost in him; cold springs had run
To warm their chilliest bubbles in the grass;
Man's voice was on the mountains; and the mass
Of nature's lives and wonders puls'd tenfold,
To feel this sun-rise and its glories old.

  Now while the silent workings of the dawn
Were busiest, into that self-same lawn
All suddenly, with joyful cries, there sped
A troop of little children garlanded;
Who gathering round the altar, seemed to pry
Earnestly round as wishing to espy
Some folk of holiday: nor had they waited
For many moments, ere their ears were sated
With a faint breath of music, which ev'n then
Fill'd out its voice, and died away again.
Within a little space again it gave
Its airy swellings, with a gentle wave,
To light-hung leaves, in smoothest echoes breaking
Through copse-clad vallies,--ere their death, oer-taking
The surgy murmurs of the lonely sea.

  And now, as deep into the wood as we
Might mark a lynx's eye, there glimmered light
Fair faces and a rush of garments white,
Plainer and plainer shewing, till at last
Into the widest alley they all past,
Making directly for the woodland altar.
O kindly muse! let not my weak tongue faulter
In telling of this goodly company,
Of their old piety, and of their glee:
But let a portion of ethereal dew
Fall on my head, and presently unmew
My soul; that I may dare, in wayfaring,
To stammer where old Chaucer used to sing.

  Leading the way, young damsels danced along,
Bearing the burden of a shepherd song;
Each having a white wicker over brimm'd
With April's tender younglings: next, well trimm'd,
A crowd of shepherds with as sunburnt looks
As may be read of in Arcadian books;
Such as sat listening round Apollo's pipe,
When the great deity, for earth too ripe,
Let his divinity o'er-flowing die
In music, through the vales of Thessaly:
Some idly trailed their sheep-hooks on the ground,
And some kept up a shrilly mellow sound
With ebon-tipped flutes: close after these,
Now coming from beneath the forest trees,
A venerable priest full soberly,
Begirt with ministring looks: alway his eye
Stedfast upon the matted turf he kept,
And after him his sacred vestments swept.
From his right hand there swung a vase, milk-white,
Of mingled wine, out-sparkling generous light;
And in his left he held a basket full
Of all sweet herbs that searching eye could cull:
Wild thyme, and valley-lilies whiter still
Than Leda's love, and cresses from the rill.
His aged head, crowned with beechen wreath,
Seem'd like a poll of ivy in the teeth
Of winter ****. Then came another crowd
Of shepherds, lifting in due time aloud
Their share of the ditty. After them appear'd,
Up-followed by a multitude that rear'd
Their voices to the clouds, a fair wrought car,
Easily rolling so as scarce to mar
The freedom of three steeds of dapple brown:
Who stood therein did seem of great renown
Among the throng. His youth was fully blown,
Shewing like Ganymede to manhood grown;
And, for those simple times, his garments were
A chieftain king's: beneath his breast, half bare,
Was hung a silver bugle, and between
His nervy knees there lay a boar-spear keen.
A smile was on his countenance; he seem'd,
To common lookers on, like one who dream'd
Of idleness in groves Elysian:
But there were some who feelingly could scan
A lurking trouble in his nether lip,
And see that oftentimes the reins would slip
Through his forgotten hands: then would they sigh,
And think of yellow leaves, of owlets cry,
Of logs piled solemnly.--Ah, well-a-day,
Why should our young Endymion pine away!

  Soon the assembly, in a circle rang'd,
Stood silent round the shrine: each look was chang'd
To sudden veneration: women meek
Beckon'd their sons to silence; while each cheek
Of ****** bloom paled gently for slight fear.
Endymion too, without a forest peer,
Stood, wan, and pale, and with an awed face,
Among his brothers of the mountain chase.
In midst of all, the venerable priest
Eyed them with joy from greatest to the least,
And, after lifting up his aged hands,
Thus spake he: "Men of Latmos! shepherd bands!
Whose care it is to guard a thousand flocks:
Whether descended from beneath the rocks
That overtop your mountains; whether come
From vallies where the pipe is never dumb;
Or from your swelling downs, where sweet air stirs
Blue hare-bells lightly, and where prickly furze
Buds lavish gold; or ye, whose precious charge
Nibble their fill at ocean's very marge,
Whose mellow reeds are touch'd with sounds forlorn
By the dim echoes of old Triton's horn:
Mothers and wives! who day by day prepare
The scrip, with needments, for the mountain air;
And all ye gentle girls who foster up
Udderless lambs, and in a little cup
Will put choice honey for a favoured youth:
Yea, every one attend! for in good truth
Our vows are wanting to our great god Pan.
Are not our lowing heifers sleeker than
Night-swollen mushrooms? Are not our wide plains
Speckled with countless fleeces? Have not rains
Green'd over April's lap? No howling sad
Sickens our fearful ewes; and we have had
Great bounty from Endymion our lord.
The earth is glad: the merry lark has pour'd
His early song against yon breezy sky,
That spreads so clear o'er our solemnity."

  Thus ending, on the shrine he heap'd a spire
Of teeming sweets, enkindling sacred fire;
Anon he stain'd the thick and spongy sod
With wine, in honour of the shepherd-god.
Now while the earth was drinking it, and while
Bay leaves were crackling in the fragrant pile,
And gummy frankincense was sparkling bright
'Neath smothering parsley, and a hazy light
Spread greyly eastward, thus a chorus sang:

  "O THOU, whose mighty palace roof doth hang
From jagged trunks, and overshadoweth
Eternal whispers, glooms, the birth, life, death
Of unseen flowers in heavy peacefulness;
Who lov'st to see the hamadryads dress
Their ruffled locks where meeting hazels darken;
And through whole solemn hours dost sit, and hearken
The dreary melody of bedded reeds--
In desolate places, where dank moisture breeds
The pipy hemlock to strange overgrowth;
Bethinking thee, how melancholy loth
Thou wast to lose fair Syrinx--do thou now,
By thy love's milky brow!
By all the trembling mazes that she ran,
Hear us, great Pan!

  "O thou, for whose soul-soothing quiet, turtles
Passion their voices cooingly '**** myrtles,
What time thou wanderest at eventide
Through sunny meadows, that outskirt the side
Of thine enmossed realms: O thou, to whom
Broad leaved fig trees even now foredoom
Their ripen'd fruitage; yellow girted bees
Their golden honeycombs; our village leas
Their fairest-blossom'd beans and poppied corn;
The chuckling linnet its five young unborn,
To sing for thee; low creeping strawberries
Their summer coolness; pent up butterflies
Their freckled wings; yea, the fresh budding year
All its completions--be quickly near,
By every wind that nods the mountain pine,
O forester divine!

  "Thou, to whom every fawn and satyr flies
For willing service; whether to surprise
The squatted hare while in half sleeping fit;
Or upward ragged precipices flit
To save poor lambkins from the eagle's maw;
Or by mysterious enticement draw
Bewildered shepherds to their path again;
Or to tread breathless round the frothy main,
And gather up all fancifullest shells
For thee to tumble into Naiads' cells,
And, being hidden, laugh at their out-peeping;
Or to delight thee with fantastic leaping,
The while they pelt each other on the crown
With silvery oak apples, and fir cones brown--
By all the echoes that about thee ring,
Hear us, O satyr king!

  "O Hearkener to the loud clapping shears,
While ever and anon to his shorn peers
A ram goes bleating: Winder of the horn,
When snouted wild-boars routing tender corn
Anger our huntsman: Breather round our farms,
To keep off mildews, and all weather harms:
Strange ministrant of undescribed sounds,
That come a swooning over hollow grounds,
And wither drearily on barren moors:
Dread opener of the mysterious doors
Leading to universal knowledge--see,
Great son of Dryope,
The many that are come to pay their vows
With leaves about their brows!

  Be still the unimaginable lodge
For solitary thinkings; such as dodge
Conception to the very bourne of heaven,
Then leave the naked brain: be still the leaven,
That spreading in this dull and clodded earth
Gives it a touch ethereal--a new birth:
Be still a symbol of immensity;
A firmament reflected in a sea;
An element filling the space between;
An unknown--but no more: we humbly screen
With uplift hands our foreheads, lowly bending,
And giving out a shout most heaven rending,
Conjure thee to receive our humble Paean,
Upon thy Mount Lycean!

  Even while they brought the burden to a close,
A shout from the whole multitude arose,
That lingered in the air like dying rolls
Of abrupt thunder, when Ionian shoals
Of dolphins bob their noses through the brine.
Meantime, on shady levels, mossy fine,
Young companies nimbly began dancing
To the swift treble pipe, and humming string.
Aye, those fair living forms swam heavenly
To tunes forgotten--out of memory:
Fair creatures! whose young children's children bred
Thermopylæ its heroes--not yet dead,
But in old marbles ever beautiful.
High genitors, unconscious did they cull
Time's sweet first-fruits--they danc'd to weariness,
And then in quiet circles did they press
The hillock turf, and caught the latter end
Of some strange history, potent to send
A young mind from its ****** tenement.
Or they might watch the quoit-pitchers, intent
On either side; pitying the sad death
Of Hyacinthus, when the cruel breath
Of Zephyr slew him,--Zephyr penitent,
Who now, ere Phoebus mounts the firmament,
Fondles the flower amid the sobbing rain.
The archers too, upon a wider plain,
Beside the feathery whizzing of the shaft,
And the dull twanging bowstring, and the raft
Branch down sweeping from a tall ash top,
Call'd up a thousand thoughts to envelope
Those who would watch. Perhaps, the trembling knee
And frantic gape of lonely Niobe,
Poor, lonely Niobe! when her lovely young
Were dead and gone, and her caressing tongue
Lay a lost thing upon her paly lip,
And very, very deadliness did nip
Her motherly cheeks. Arous'd from this sad mood
By one, who at a distance loud halloo'd,
Uplifting his strong bow into the air,
Many might after brighter visions stare:
After the Argonauts, in blind amaze
Tossing about on Neptune's restless ways,
Until, from the horizon's vaulted side,
There shot a golden splendour far and wide,
Spangling those million poutings of the brine
With quivering ore: 'twas even an awful shine
From the exaltation of Apollo's bow;
A heavenly beacon in their dreary woe.
Who thus were ripe for high contemplating,
Might turn their steps towards the sober ring
Where sat Endymion and the aged priest
'**** shepherds gone in eld, whose looks increas'd
The silvery setting of their mortal star.
There they discours'd upon the fragile bar
That keeps us from our homes ethereal;
And what our duties there: to nightly call
Vesper, the beauty-crest of summer weather;
To summon all the downiest clouds together
For the sun's purple couch; to emulate
In ministring the potent rule of fate
With speed of fire-tailed exhalations;
To tint her pallid cheek with bloom, who cons
Sweet poesy by moonlight: besides these,
A world of other unguess'd offices.
Anon they wander'd, by divine converse,
Into Elysium; vieing to rehearse
Each one his own anticipated bliss.
One felt heart-certain that he could not miss
His quick gone love, among fair blossom'd boughs,
Where every zephyr-sigh pouts and endows
Her lips with music for the welcoming.
Another wish'd, mid that eternal spring,
To meet his rosy child, with feathery sails,
Sweeping, eye-earnestly, through almond vales:
Who, suddenly, should stoop through the smooth wind,
And with the balmiest leaves his temples bind;
And, ever after, through those regions be
His messenger, his little
Loose memories
heart's condition,
beating but alone.

A drop, tear, torn
and conditioned,
collected somewhere below.

Silent, sound. . .
...pallid, convenient,
something very slow.

And still. . .
I did, I do,
miss your love.

~You should know.~
Pea Feb 2015
The head losing itself
A rainforest
Lake in the heart

Hundred tombstones
Named Narcissus
They Echo

Icy, bluish lungs
Pallid violet nails
Lips still yet loving

Salty bamboos
Necrophilic whistles
Siren's footsteps

Illegal loggers
Burying selves alive
Love, love that is
Terry O'Leary May 2013
AWAKENING

Sleep and slumber, dreams of wonder... weaving,
morning’s vacuum broke the spell
Pitted pillow, note of parting... leaving,
“from your friend, a fond farewell”
Sunrise throbbing, twilight aching... grieving,
daydreams, flashbacks, nightmares knell
Pale phantasms, visions sneaking... thieving,
plot to fill the empty shell

12 DELIRIA

1st Delirium: COLLAPSES

Fractured sky bolts, billows bursting... rumbling,
heavens tighten, turn the vise
Horsemen saddle shafts of lightning... tumbling,
jagged highways must suffice
Ruptured skyways, hailstones crackling... crumbling,
naked pearls of paradise
Toxic tongues of laughter stinging... stumbling,
ocean buckets choked with ice
Droplets drumming, thunder muzzled... mumbling,
washed out whispers pay the price
Smothered blazes, cinders smoking... humbling,
ashes shaped in sacrifice

2nd Delirium: DESCENTS

Asphalt alleys, ashen faces... frowning,
blowing bubbles, chewing gum
Drinking ale from tavern tankards... downing,
moonlit beads of painted ***
Stony stars and sea misshapen... drowning,
humble rivers’ rhythms hum
Apparitions aspirating... clowning,
diamonds dying , minstrels strum
Incandescent candles conquered... crowning,
vacant vapours, cold and numb

3rd Delirium: FATES

Tempest turmoil, tapered turrets... holding,
dungeons, dragons, chains and racks
Wheels of fortune, Tarot temptress... molding,
Hangmen, Towers, One Eyed Jacks
Sand dune castles, cryptic candles... folding,
warping walls of liquid wax
Idols colder, combed and coddled... scolding,
hide in fissures, peek through cracks

4th Delirium: LOST SOULS

Sunken cities, pilgrims peering... gawking,
squinting eyeballs, blazing sun
Janus facing, shepherds chasing... stalking,
friends embrace before they shun
Tearooms steaming, tumult teeming... talking,
lovers listen, poets pun
Broken stones unanchored, quaking... rocking,
slipping, falling, one by one
Beaten pathways, footsteps marking... mocking,
wedged in webs which spiders spun
Circus shelters, big tops tumbling... locking,
people pacing, soon they’re none
Numbered exits, zeros numbing... knocking,
midnight daylight’s days undone
Moon blood shackles, shivers shaming... shocking,
starlight striders streaking, stun
Hushed but harried hermits waiting... walking,
restless rainbows on the run
Pixies, elves, and echoes bouncing... balking,
fading fast when dawn’s begun
Bantum butterflies are flitting... flocking
sometimes conquered, overrun
Hocus pokus, seers focus... squawking,
voodoo wavered, witchcraft won

5th Delirium: INTROSPECTION

Sundown furnace, fires fading... coughing,
dusky dew drops drain the air
Empty chalice, sipped in silence... quaffing,
thirsting shadows unaware
Looking glass and lattice scorning... scoffing,
local loser gapes and stares
Faces covered, dancing naked... doffing,
peering inside, hope despairs

6th Delirium: THE VOID

Tales of taboos, mystic mythos... missing,
windows shuttered, bolted door
Kindled candles, tongues and anvils... hissing,
heavy hammers, echoes roar
Dark deceivers, raven charmers... kissing,
draging demons from the shore
Hopeless hollows filled with doubters... dissing
standing empty - nevermore

7th Delirium: SEARCHING

Martyred monks haunt runic ruins ... waiting,
banging broken bells below
Vaulted hallways, voided voices... grating,
churning Chinese chimes aglow
Granite graveyards, spectres spooking... skating,
blackened bushes, roses grow
****** dwarfs seek mutant migrants... mating,
packing parcels, ice and snow

8th Delirium: NIGHTTIME

Throbbing drumheads, fingers blazing... steaming,
coins of copper, beggars plea
Rusty residues of resin... streaming,
opal amber filigree
Orphan shades in shallow shadows... teeming,
steeping twigs in twilight tea
Cloister doorsteps, Prophets gaming... scheming,
tracing tracks of destiny
Blacksmiths blanching, horseshoes glowing... gleaming,
partially sheathed in black debris
Phantoms feigning, nightmares scathing... screaming,
dusty dreamers drifting free

9th Delerium: EMPTYNESS

Water wheels in wastelands... turning,
drowning relics in the slum
Rumpled rags of fashioned burlap... burning,
lit by bandits blind and dumb
Pastured prisons, ponies bridled ... yearning,
forest fairies under thumb
Sounds inside of cauldrons coughing... churning,
blaring bugles, tattooed drum

10th Delirium: ALIENATION

Rain unravelling, wistfully weeping... falling,
treacle trickling, fickle sky
Mushrooms sprinkled, visions sprouting... sprawling,
seagulls drowning, dolphins die
Rabble gasping, spirits broken... crawling,
lonely lonesome swallows cry
Babbling brooks and breakers ebbing... bawling
puppies paddle, puppets sigh
People passing ripple past me... calling,
rainbow colours, collars high
Chaos seething, lepers looting... stalling,
stealing stallions on the sly
Pencils pausing, scholars scrambling... scrawling,
scratching scribbles, asking why

11th Delirium: JETSAM

Silver sails sway pallid pirates... prowling,
Jolly Rogers, wind and sound
Parrots perching, tattered feathers... fouling,
tethered talons, tied and bound
Shipwrecked foghorns, trumpets stranded... howling,
spiral springs of time unwound
Magic moonlight, shimmers shaking... scowling,
burnt out matchsticks washed aground
Prairie wolfs, coyotes calling... yowling,
witching hours, midnight hounds
Tightrope walkers, grizzlies grunting... growling,
seeking islands, lost and found

12th Delirium: RELIEF

Slumber shattered, vapours captive... haunting,
chained in mirrors, breaking free
Scarlet skylines, daylight dawning... daunting,
rivers rushing to the sea
Silence softens, sandmen whisper... wanting,
piercing rafters, turning keys
Shadows shudder, notions fluster... flaunting,
moonbeam bullets meant for me
Mind in migraine, meadows trembling... taunting,
sparrows speak in harmony

REAWAKENING

Pitter patter, teardrops paling... pearling,
salting scarves in secret drawers
Mist amongst us, smoke rings rising... curling,
climbing from the ocean floors
See-saw circles, senses swerving... swirling,
swept away with silver oars
Courtyard jesters, sceptres twisting... twirling,
push the past to foreign shores
Passing pangs of passions heaving... hurling,
burning bridges, closing doors
Roses wither, icons waning... whirling,
time decays and time restores
Jade Sep 2018
VI. I, Ophelia
___________________

­{The Drowning}

It was her--
Flower Child.
Weeping Woman.
Crazed Ophelia--
who taught me that the
drowning is in the letting go
and not in the doing.

Ophelia did not flee to the riverside
with the intention of
drowning herself, no--
it was merely a promise of bouquets--
daisies, violet, rosemary,  rue--
of wild, velveteen petals nestled softly
against tear-stained cheekbones;
pine needles--
ticklish--
beneath raw feet
(do you recall how The Little Mermaid
danced upon knives
in the name of true love?);
and the train of her nightgown
a focal point for dewy leaves
and frayed bird feathers.

For it was flying she thought of
as she climbed the scarred willow
and cradled herself atop its highest bough,
severed blossoms in hand,
legs dangling precariously over
blustering currents.

But
when the bough
b r o k e ,
the cradle did   f
                              a
                               ­   l
                                      l,
and down came
mad girl
cradle and all.

But you must understand--
the dismemberment of the
willow's flailing limbs
was not her doing;
when the rapids dragged her down
to the belly of the murky river bed,
she merely gave no struggle
as death lapped at her ribs--
she merely submitted,
allowed the snivelling maw of the river
to swallow her whole.

Now,
I think it suiting
that I ponder the demise of the
Flower Child
(wilted in her ruin);
Weeping Woman
(tears reunited
with the eye of
the water lily);
Crazed Ophelia
(forgotten)
and all she has taught me
of drowning
as I let myself
fall asleep in the bathtub
at three o clock in the morning,
all the while a little drunk
and so very sad.
(You'd might have even thought
I wanted to drown myself. )
__________________
{Th­e Resurrection}

Doused in the pallid wash
of blue stage light,
and the clamour
of imaginary tides
growling in my ears,
I metamorphosize into
Hamlet's Ophelia
and all the other Ophelias
who came before me--
mad.
broken.
lost.
women.

Women who were never
capable of quieting
the sea trembling
in their veins;
the barbaric deluge festering
within their souls;
the siren songs
musing to the cavernous twists
of their hearts,
piercing through artery
with stalagmite precision.

These women succumbed,  
not to the water,
but to the burden of their own
desire.
love.
heartbreak.

None of them survived.

Except for me,
of course.

And, I must admit,
it took my
writing this poem
to finally understand
why that is--
why--
how--
I have managed
to stay alive,
despite dreaming of that
same siren song
that lured my foremothers
to their destructions.

See,
alone,
Ophelia could not weather  
the tempest seething over her.

But I different--
I am not alone.

Because I carry with me the spirits
of all the Ophelias
who came before me,
the fragments of their beings
melding together to create
a brilliant gossamer of hope.

And that is why,
together,
we can breathe underwater.
____________________
{­Blackout}

Ophelia Bows,
her performance immortalized
through the remembrance
of a standing ovation.
Don't be a stranger--check out my blog!

jadefbartlett.wixsite.com/tickledpurple

(P.S. Use a computer for optimal experience)
Ah, Nikolaas, my love for him is not the same, as my love for thee;
My love for thee was once, and may still be, sweeter, purer, more elegant, and free;
But still, how unfortunate! imprisoned in mockery, and liberated not-by destiny;
It still hath to come and go; it cannot stay cheerfully-about thee forever, and within my company.

And but tonight-shall Amsterdam still be cold?
But to cold temper thou shalt remain unheeded; thou shalt be tough, and bold;
Sadly I am definite about having another nightmare, meanwhile, here;
For thy voice and longings shall be too far; with presumptions and poems, I cannot hear.

Sleep, my loveliest, sleep; for unlike thine, none other temper, or love-is in some ways too fragrant, and sweet;
All of which shall neither tempt me to flirt, nor hasten me to meet;
My love for thee is still undoubted, defined, and unhesitant;
Like all t'is summer weather around; 'tis both imminent, and pleasant.

My love for thee, back then, was but one youthful-and reeking of temporal vitality;
But now 'tis different-for fathom I now-the distinction between sincerity, and affectation.
Ah, Nikolaas, how once we strolled about roads, and nearby spheres-in living vivacity;
With sweets amongst our tongues-wouldst we attend every song, and laugh at an excessively pretentious lamentation.

Again-we wouldst stop in front of every farm of lavender;
As though they wanted to know, and couldst but contribute their breaths, and make our love better.
We were both in blooming youth, and still prevailed on-to keep our chastity;
And t'is we obeyed gladly, and by each ot'er, days passed and every second went even lovelier.

But in one minute thou wert but all gone away;
Leaving me astray; leaving me to utter dismay.
I had no more felicity in me-for all was but, in my mind, a dream of thee;
And every step was thus felt like an irretrievable path of agony.

Ah, yon agony I loathe! The very agony I wanted but to slaughter, to redeem-and to bury!
For at t'at time I had known not the beauty of souls, and poetry;
I thought but the world was wholly insipid and arrogant;
T'at was so far as I had seen, so far as I was concerned.

I hath now, seen thy image-from more a lawful angle-and lucidity;
And duly seen more of which-and all start to fall into place-and more indolent, clarity;
All is fair now, though nothing was once as fair;
And now with peace, I want to be friends; I want to be paired.

Perhaps thou couldst once more be part of my tale;
But beforehand, I entreat thee to see, and listen to it;
A tale t'at once sent into my heart great distrust and sadness, and made it pale;
But from which now my heart hath found a way out, and even satisfactorily flirted with it,

For every tale, the more I approach it, is as genuine as thee;
And in t'is way-and t'is way only, I want thee to witness me, I want thee to see me.
I still twitch with tender madness at every figure, and image-I hath privately, of thine;
They are still so captivatingly clear-and a most fabulous treasure to my mind.

My love for thee might hath now ended; and shall from now on-be dead forever;
It hath been buried as a piece of unimportance, and a dear old, obsolete wonder;
And thus worry not, for in my mind it hath become a shadow, and ceased to exist;
I hath made thee resign, I hath made thee drift rapidly away, and desist.

Ah, but again, I shall deny everything I hath said-'fore betraying myself once more;
Or leading myself into the winds of painful gravity, or dismissive cold tremor;
For nothing couldst stray me so well as having thee not by my side;
An image of having thee just faraway-amidst the fierceness of morns, and the very tightness of nights.

And for seconds-t'ese pains shall want to bury me away, want to make me shout;
And shout thy very name indeed; thy very own aggravated silence, and sins out loud;
Ah, for all t'ese shadows about are too vehement-but eagerly eerie;
Like bursts of outspread vigilance, misunderstood but lasting forever, like eternity.

'Twas thy own mistake-and thus thou ought'a blame anyone not;
Thou wert the one to storm away; thou wert the one who cut our story short.
Thou wert the one who took whole leave, of the kind entity-of my precious time and space;
And for nothingness thou obediently set out; leaving all we had built, to abundant waste.

Thou disappeared all too quickly-and wert never seen again;
Thou disappeared like a column of smoke, to whom t'is virtual world is partial;
And none of thy story, since when-hath stayed nor thoughtfully remained;
Nor any threads of thy voice were left behind, to stir and ring, about yon hall.

Thou gaily sailed back into thy proud former motherland;
Ah, and the stirring noises of thy meticulous Amsterdam;
Invariably as a man of royalty, in thy old arduous way back again;
Amongst the holiness of thy mortality; 'twixt the demure hesitations, of thy royal charms.

And thou art strange! For once thou mocked and regarded royalty as *******;
But again, to which itself, as credulous, and soulless victim, thou couldst serenely fall;
Thus thou hath perpetually been loyal not, to thy own pride, and neatly sworn words;
Thou art forever divided in his dilemma; and the unforgiving sweat, of thy frightening two worlds.

Indeed thy godlike eyes once pierced me-and touched my very fleshly happiness;
But with a glory in which I couldst not rejoice; at which I couldst not blush with tenderness.
Thy charms, although didst once burn and throttle me with a ripe vitality;
Still wert not smooth-and ever offered to cuddle me more gallantly; nor kiss my boiling lips, more softly.

Every one of t'ese remembrances shall make me hate thee more;
But thou thyself hath made more forgiving, and excellent-like never before;
'Ah, sweet,' thou wouldst again protested-last night, 'Who in t'is very life wouldst make no sin?'
'Forgiveth every sinned soul thereof; for 'tis unfaithful, for 'tis all inherently mean.'

'Aye, aye,' and thou wouldst assent to my subsequent query,
'I hath changed forever-not for nothingness, but for eternitie.'
'To me love o' gold is now but nothing as succulent',
'I shall offer elegantly myself to not be of any more torment, but as a loyal friend.'

'I shall calleth my former self mad; and be endued with nothing but truths, of rifles and hate;'
'But now I shall attempt to be obedient; and naughty not-towards my fate.'
'Ah, let me amendst thereof-my initial nights, my impetuous mistakes,'
'Let me amendst what was once not dignified; what was once said as false, and fake.'

'So t'at whenst autumn once more findeth its lapse, and in its very grandness arrive,'
'I hopeth thy wealth of love shall hath been restored, and all shall be alive,'
'For nothing hath I attempted to achieve, and for nothing else I hath struggled to strive;'
'But only to propose for thy affection; and thy willingness to be my saluted wife.'

And t'is small confession didst, didst tear my dear heart into pieces!
But canst I say-it was ceremoniously established once more-into settlements of wishes;
I was soon enlivened, and no longer blurred by tumult, nor discourteous-hesitation;
Ah, thee, so sweetly thou hath consoled, and removed from me-the sanctity of any livid strands of my dejection.

For in vain I thought-had I struggled, to solicit merely affection-and genuinity from thee;
For in vain I deemed-thou couldst neither appreciate me-nor thy coral-like eyes, couldst see;
And t'is peril I perched myself in was indeed dangerous to my night and day;
For it robbed me of my mirth; and shrank insolently my pride and conscience, stuffing my wholeness into dismay.

But thou hath now released me from any further embarkation of mineth sorrow;
Thou who hath pleased me yesterday; and shall no more be distant-tomorrow;
Thou who couldst brighten my hours by jokes so fine-and at times, ridiculous;
Thou who canst but, from now on, as satisfactory, irredeemable, and virtuous.

Ah, Nikolaas, farther I shall be no more to calleth thee mad; or render thee insidious;
Thou shall urge me to forget everything, as hating souls is not right, and perilous;
Thou remindeth me of forgiving's glorious, and profound elegance;
And again 'tis the holiest deed we ought to do; the most blessed, and by God-most desired contrivance.

Oh, my sweet, perhaps thou hath sinned about; but amongst the blessed, thou might still be the most blessed;
For nothing else but gratitude and innocence are now seen-in thy chest;
Even when I chastised thee-and called thee but an impediment;
Thou still forgave me, and turned myself back again into elastic merriment.

Thou art now pure-and not by any means meek, but cruel-like thy old self is;
For unlike 'tis now, it couldst never be satisfied, nor satiated, nor pleased;
'Twas far too immersed in his pursuit of bloodied silver, and gold;
And to love it had grown blind, and its greedy woes, healthily too bold.

And just like its bloodied silver-it might be but the evil blood itself;
For it valued, and still doth-every piece with madness, and insatiable hunger;
Its works taint his senses, and hastened thee to want more-of what thou couldst procure-and have,
But it realised not that as time passed by, it made thee but grew worse-and in the most virtuous of truth, no better.

But thou bore it like a piece of godlike, stainless ivory;
Thou showered, and endured it with love; and blessed it with well-established vanity.
Now it hath been purified, and subdued-and any more teaches thee not-how to be impatient, nor imprudent;
As how it prattled only, over crude, limitless delights; and the want of reckless impediments.

Thou nurtured it, and exhorted it to discover love-all day and night;
And now love in whose soul hath been accordingly sought, and found;
And led thee to absorb life like a delicate butterfly-and raiseth thy light;
The light thou hath now secured and refined within me; and duly left me safe, and sound.

Thou hath restored me fully, and made me feel but all charmed, awesome, and way more heavenly;
Thou hath toughened my pride and love; and whispered the loving words he hath never spoken to me.
Ah, I hope thou art now blessed and safely pampered in thy cold, mischievous Amsterdam;
Amsterdam which as thou hath professed-is as windy, and oft' makes thy fingers grow wildly numb.

Amsterdam which is sick with superior lamentations, and fame;
But never adorned with exact, or at least-honest means of scrutiny;
For in every home exists nothing but bursts of madness, and flames;
And in which thereof, lives 'twixt nothing-but meaningless grandeur, and a poorest harmony.

Amsterdam which once placed thee in pallid, dire, and terrible horror;
Amsterdam which gave thy spines thrills of disgust, and infamous tremor;
But from which thou wert once failed, fatefully, neither to flee, nor escape;
Nor out of whose stupor, been able to worm thy way out, or put which, into shape.

But I am sure out of which thou art now delightful-and irresistibly fine;
For t'ere is no more suspicion in thy chest-and all of which hath gone safely to rest;
All in thy very own peace-and the courteous abode of our finest poetry;
Which lulls thee always to sleep-and confer on thee forever, degrees of a warmest, pleasantry.

Ah, Nikolaas-as thou hath always been, a child of night, but born within daylight;
Poor-poor child as well, of the moon, whose life hath been betrayed but by dullness, and fright.
Ah, Nikolaas-but should hath it been otherwise-wouldst thou be able to see thine light?
And be my son of gladness, be my prince of all the more peaceful days; and ratified nights.

And should it be like which-couldst I be the one; the very one idyll-to restore thy grandeur?
As thou art now, everything might be too blasphemous, and in every way obscure;
But perhaps-I couldst turn every of thine nightmare away, and maketh thee secure;
Perhaps I couldst make thee safe and glad and sleep soundly; perfectly ensured.

Ah, Nikolaas! For thy delight is pure-and exceptionally pure, pure, and pure!
And thy innocence is why I shall craft thee again in my mind, and adore thee;
For thy absurdity is as shy, and the same as thy purity;
But in thy hands royalty is unstained, flawless, and just too sure.

For in tales of eternal kingdoms-thou shalt be the dignified king himself;
Thou shalt be blessed with all godly finery, and jewels-which thou thyself deserve;
And not any other tyrant in t'ese worlds-who mock ot'er souls and pretend to be brave;
But trapped within t'eir own discordant souls, and wonders of deceit and curses of reserve.

Oh, sweet-sweet Nikolaas! Please then, help my poetry-and define t'is heart of me!
Listen to its heartbeat-and tellest me, if it might still love thee;
Like how it wants to stretch about, and perhaps touch the moonlight;
The moonlight that does look and seem to far, but means still as much-to our very night.

Ah! Look, my darling-as the moonlight shall smile again, to our resumed story;
If our story is, in unseen future, ever truly resumed-and thus shall cure everything;
As well t'is unperturbed, and still adorably-longing feeling;
The feeling that once grew into remorse-as soon as thou stomped about, and faraway left me.

Again love shall be, in thy purest heart-reincarnated,
For 'tis the only single being t'at is wondrous-and inexhaustible,
To our souls, 'tis but the only salvation-and which is utterly edible,
To console and praise our desperate beings-t'at were once left adrift, and unheartily, infuriated.

Love shall be the cure to all due breathlessness, and trepidations;
Love shall be infallible, and on top of all, indefatigable;
And love shall be our new invite-to the recklessness of our exhausted temptations;
Once more, shall love be our merit, which is sacred and unalterable; and thus unresentful, and infallible.

Love shall fill us once more to the brim-and make our souls eloquent;
Love be the key to a life so full-and lakes of passion so ardent;
Enabling our souls to flit about and lay united hands on every possible distinction;
Which to society is perhaps not free; and barrier as they be, to the gaiety of our destination.

Thus on the rings of union again-shall our dainty hearts feast;
As though the entire world hath torn into a beast;
But above all, they shan't have any more regrets, nor hate;
Or even frets, for every fit of satisfaction hath been reached; and all thus, hath been repaid.

Thus t'is might be thee; t'at after all-shall be worthy of my every single respect;
As once thou once opened my eyes-and show me everything t'at t'is very world might lack.
Whilst thou wert striving to be admirable and strong; t'is world was but too prone and weak;
And whilst have thy words and poetry; everyone was just perhaps too innocent-and had no clue, about what to utter, what to speak.

Thou might just be the very merit I hath prayed for, and always loved;
Thou might hath lifted, and relieved me prettily; like the stars very well doth the moon above.
And among your lips, lie your sweet kisses t'at made me live;
A miracle he still possesses not; a specialty he might be predestined not-to give.

Thou might be the song I hath always wanted to written;
But sadly torn in one day of storm; and thus be secretly left forgotten;
Ah, Nikolaas, but who is to say t'at love is not at all virile, easily deceived, and languid?
For any soul saying t'at might be too delirious, or perhaps very much customary, and insipid.

And in such darkness of death; thou shalt always be the tongue to whom I promise;
One with whom I shall entrust the very care of my poetry; and ot'er words of mouth;
One I shall remember, one I once so frightfully adored, and desired to kiss;
One whose name I wouldst celebrate; as I still shall-and pronounce every day, triumphantly and aggressively, out loud.

For thy name still rings within me with craze, but patterned accusation, of enjoyment;
For thy art still fits me into bliss, and hopeful expectations of one bewitching kiss;
Ah, having thee in my imagination canst turn me idle, and my cordial soul-indolent;
A picture so naughty it snares my whole mind-more than everything, even more than his.

Oh, Nikolaas, and perhaps so thereafter, I shall love, and praise thee once more-like I doth my poetry;
For as how my poetry is, thou art rooted in me already; and thus breathe within me.
Thou art somehow a vein in my blood, and although fictitious still-in my everyday bliss;
Thou art worth more than any other lov
Translation From Catullus.


Equal to Jove that youth must be—
Greater than Jove he seems to me—
Who, free from Jealousy’s alarms,
Securely views thy matchless charms;
That cheek, which ever dimpling glows,
That mouth, from whence such music flows,
To him, alike, are always known,
Reserv’d for him, and him alone.
Ah! Lesbia! though ’tis death to me,
I cannot choose but look on thee;
But, at the sight, my senses fly,
I needs must gaze, but, gazing, die;
Whilst trembling with a thousand fears,
Parch’d to the throat my tongue adheres,
My pulse beats quick, my breath heaves short,
My limbs deny their slight support;
Cold dews my pallid face o’erspread,
With deadly languor droops my head,
My ears with tingling echoes ring,
And Life itself is on the wing;
My eyes refuse the cheering light,
Their orbs are veil’d in starless night:
Such pangs my nature sinks beneath,
And feels a temporary death.
Lexander J Jun 2016
By the time he got out of the front door the morning sun had fully risen. Surrounding it lay a sea of blue sky, light coloured and peppered here and there with trails of white left from distant airplanes. The birds sang in the trees, all in harmony, and a light breeze whispered, left over from the night before.

As he jumped into his car, a dusty red little Citroën, he realised that in his rushed efforts to get ready he'd put his shoes on the wrong feet. A little while ago he'd seen a documentary based on people with abnormal deformities, and there had been an American 30-something year old with two right feet. Right now, looking at his shoes, he looked a little like him; all he needed now was a group of cameras and a well-spoken, polished presenter pretending to care but really just thinking about the paycheck at the end of night. He figured all TV presenters were pretentious, fixated on climbing up the great showbiz ladder rather than helping those in need.

He grabbed them off, scuffed black business shoes to match his tattered jeans and faded blue shirt, and swapped them over. Once both shoes were on correct, he lit up a smoke and set off down the road.

Ahead of him was Lancaster Road, a sprawling stretch of asphalt tarmac that served as the primary mode of navigation through Manchester. If you were to turn left it would take you all the way into the main city, and also a stodge of backed-up traffic, and, if you chose right, to the quiet town of Penitence which was where his works was based. Going right would technically be quicker, as the road to the left led to a series of zig zag-like curves where the road layout had been forced to compensate for the huge cliff several miles to the north. That being said, Will almost always chose left, as the dual carriageway that branched off Lancaster Road was always jammed up with traffic, comprising mainly of angry motorists and haulage lorries driving in from the east. Choosing right would easily add three quarters of an hour onto his journey, and quite frankly he'd rather stare at a wall than be surrounded by blaspheming mouths and ugly red faces.

This time however he went right, joining the steady stream of cars that were already beginning to slow down. There was no apparent reason for this, for over 4 years he must have consistently turned left every morning, but today his mind had thrown a curveball - albeit a stupid one. Already running late, it had chosen to go on the longest route possible.

Good work there mate, brilliant.


50mph - 45mph - 40mph

The speedometer slowly crept down, the shudder of the lower gears gradually increasing. Clouds had now gathered in the sky, not quite bloated nor dark enough to threaten rain but it was enough to dull the sunshine into a pale, white, glow. He was now going slow enough to see the bits of clutter and ******* - discarded newspapers, cans, broken bottles - littering the pavement. Then it suddenly gave way to a rudimentary dirt road and steel crash barriers as he approached the dual carriageway.

35mph - 30mph - 25mph

Sighing, he fumbled for the radio and flicked it on, momentarily averting his gaze from the road to the numbered buttons, tuning for a station.

--- Ssssshhhh ---

Nothing but static.

**** radio! If only I could -

When he glanced up his heart nearly stopped - directly ahead of him, on the highway, stood a man. He stood with his back toward Wills car, shoulders slumped, stock still.

What-?!

Will froze as the car lurched on, the distance between the bonnet and the mans body rapidly closing. No thought came into his brain, his legs distant from his body as if untethered.

Nothing but numbness.

The future series of events played like a stop motion video inside his mind; finding the brakes and jamming them down - only too little, too late. The old man would first lean as the bumper pressed into his lower back, then snap sickeningly in half, the momentum of the car causing his body to jackhammer up the bonnet and roll over the back of the car. There he would fall once again onto the road, spine splintered and blood soaking through his shirt into a puddle on the tarmac.

STOP! Will stop the **** car!!!

He smashed the brakes down and closed his eyes.

Although the first thing taught in driving lessons is to never close your eyes, particularly during an emergency stop, the overwhelming panic threw his nerves into a spasm, and in that split second everything he was told - brake hard, clutch down, don't let the car stall - was forgotten in an instant. He knew what he should do, knew that if the wheels were even slightly turned he could cause the car to skid, or worse, flip.

Brake down, clutch down, engine off, a mantra his instructor had once sang on one of his first lessons. Will had a feeling that if Ruth Carotene could see him, see this, now she'd have some sort of coronary, or maybe an aneurysm. She'd always been set in her ways of teaching, starting each lesson going through her seemingly endless list of checkpoints, and this right here smashed every single rule she'd taught him.
Break, clutch, engine off -
Eyes, open your eyes
He did, the windscreen before him doubling for a second. His heart was pounding away, nervous sweat lining his forehead and arms. The car had stopped, and in his dumb paralysis he hadn't the faintest idea how much it had skid. Safe to say it hadn't flipped over though, unless he was upside down and didn't realise it.
Nope, the sky is still above me, he observed, and it was then he also saw the fat bald-headed guy rapping his hands against the drivers side window. The world washed back slowly, the sun white and the air filled wit beeps and the Ssssshhhhhh static of the radio. He lowered the window, allowing the honking horns to fully enter and consume the inside of the car.
"What the hell are you playing at? I nearly ran into the back of you!" the bald guy barked at him, his pudgy face both pale and angry. Will glanced in the rear view mirror and saw about a dozen or so more cars behind him, scowling faces and gesturing hands sending out messages far from morning greetings or amicable hello's.
"Sorry... There was someone in the road," he croaked, pointing to the blank space in front. Empty, nothing there.
Can't be, he was right there! Stood right there! For a second he thought the figure had been an apparition, or maybe hadn't been there all along, merely a figment of his tired mind. That's when his gaze shifted to the opposite side of the road and the mis-shapen entity clambering over the crash barrier. Whoever it was, they had crossed the road while Will had been in his daze, and it was now he could fully see it in it's ghastly glory.
"I must be ****** blind 'cause to me there ain't nobody there -"
Grotesque was the only word he could think of to describe it. Under the pallid glow of the sun its skin glistened sick-white, partially covered by a tattered grey t-shirt that billowed in the wind like torn flags. It wore shorts, also grey, it's long stick-like legs poking out like splintered tooth picks. And it's face, oh God that face. He only caught a vague view as it glanced over its shoulder, but what he saw reminded him of the ghouls that would creep out of the crypts, the nightmarish beings that stalked late night TV shows such as the Twilight Zone seeking fresh flesh to feast on. But it was human alright - it's normal, albeit disintegrating, clothing the only sign of its former non-twisted self.
Oh God -
"Hey, are you even listening? There ain't no one there *******!"
Will faced the guy, now stood so close his flabby face nearly poked through the window, and then back to the crash barrier. The fiend was gone, much to his relief.
"Sorry it must have been a bird or something, I'm really really sorry mate I thought it was a man, or a kid."
"Yeah yeah whatever, just get going and get out of my way." With that he stormed off, only stopping briefly to exchange disapproving looks with the car behind him. He drove a black sports-like car, probably a Vauxhall, and Will briefly wondered how such a small car could carry an overweight ******* like that.
*******, he muttered to himself as he restarted the engine. Turns out he'd let the car stall as well.
Back to school I guess, what would dear old Ruth say?
Setting off was easy, the fat guy overtook him almost instantly, slamming his horn as he went, but looking over to where the misfit had been was not. He wanted to look, to check in case it hadn't really gone away and was instead lurking, contorting it's swollen lips into a grin.
Grinning at him.
"Gooood evening listeners, this is RADIO XFM!"
Halfway down the radio finally clicked on, interrupting his line of thought - quite mercifully, if he was being honest. The sight of that thing not only made him feel uneasy, but he also couldn't shake off the feeling of foreboding as well. Like it was some sort of warning, a sign.
Of what?
[smashing glass smashing]
He didn't know, didn't dare to think, and as he cantered down the carriageway in the steady stream of traffic he sat silently, the radio singing out its tunes like an uninvited guest. It was an oldie that was on, maybe Boston or Bowie, he wasn't sure, but as it played on he sat in silence, the shadows in the car cutting harsh lines into his face.
Martyn Thompson Aug 2011
i - Introduction:
ii - Lismore Park
iii - The Road to Maidenhead
iv - Town Square
v - Contradiction, contraband
vi - Saturday Afternoon
vii - The Circus Comes to Town (Sunday)
viii - The Show
ix - The ringmaster
x - The Fracas
xi - An incident at Upton Park
xii - No ball games
xiii - New found…
xiv - Nearly done
xv - Another time…

i - Introduction:

Come friendly bombs you’ve still to hit
The place whose name means quagmire
The town, the place that’s left bereft
Of soul, of spiritual fire.
But hurry, hurry, please be fast
For the crack dealer plies his trade
With slight of hand and cunning
A ghetto he’ll have made

The peroxide perms have now all grown
And muster outside shops
To wait for the be-suited sales rep
With his rocks and his alco-pops
They’ve all spawned offspring of their own
Fifteen-year-old cradle pushers
Who sold their souls in return for hope
To thirty year old cradle snatchers

Come friendly bombs it’s plain to see
The vacant, empty faces
The lifeless eyes, the pallid skin
The love that leaves no traces
The love that lasts a knee trembling minute
Outside Harry’s and Sluffs
A love that smells of emptiness
O they cannot get enough

Come with me, look over there
To the sculpture in the mall
The stainless tree with it’s stainless birds
And stainless birdsong call
A bird sings and the town all stops
To see from where this sound will show
A bitter disappointment when learned
It was played on the radio

Community service on the airwaves
To draw the crowd together
A song played, a one hit wonder
Reminds us nothing is forever
The sterile radio station plays on
Opiates to which we should yield
And bare our souls and be grateful for
The song of Bedingfield

ii - Lismore Park

The sight of a child playing in the street
Is one of day’s gone bye
But Lismore Park sees them out in droves
Stealing cars and getting high
The twelve year old sent out to play
Whilst mother takes a knap
But really she’s having it away
For a fiver and a brown wrap

The party at the house next door
That never seems to stop
The men all come and go and paw
Girls in this knocking shop
But halt weary traveller, stop!
Come sit and rest your back
The bench awaits you on the green
And the deluded maniac

The man who knows what’s wrong with you
And how to make it better
As long as he keeps his soul filled up
With cheap White Lightening cider
Six large cans for a five-pound note
From the corner shop near the school
An offer really not to be missed
And to make the drunkards drool

A songbird sits on the climbing frame
And sings his cheerful tales
A tune too much for our dear lush
The maniac exhales
The songbird sings and fills the air
With a loving string of notes
That reminds the sitters on the bench
There may still be a hope

A radio plays ‘that’ song again
Should you dare to forget the rhythm
The bird has flown away now
Fed up with this hypnotism
The airwaves are now filled with dross
Thanks to the flat opposite the green
The weary traveller moves on
“Better days has this place seen”

iii - The Road to Maidenhead

O friendly bombs do try to miss
The sweet blossom, the fragrant smell
The flowers, the green grass of the parks
The havens in this hell
Be careful around the Jubilee River
With it’s wildlife and sculpted hills
For a walk in this very man-made place
Will surely heal your ills

But spare no mercy for the superstores
That pollute and destroy our thoughts
“If it’s not on the shelf, we haven’t got it…”
The familiar assistants’ retort
Take no prisoners with the office blocks
That lay empty year after year
For they clutter up the atmosphere
And have no value here

O friendly bombs, o friendly bombs
The cabbages are all grown
They read the Sun and sing along
To the radio’s dreaded drone
Whilst in their vans they speed on by
Jumping all the lights
To price a job – a small brick wall
Based on a thousand nights

The car showrooms… the car dealers
Stack ‘em high and sell them cheap
Chop-chop salesman, soften ‘em up
The rewards are there to reap
Finance, part exchange or cash
Anyhow you like
“No sir, not me sir…
…I’d prefer to use my bike”

The bustle of the weekend crowds
The steamy traffic queues
Stare too hard at that red car
And suffer the abuse
Overtake the blue one now
And make him toot his horn
See him raise his voice in anger
To satisfy his scorn

iv - Town Square

Saturday morning, seven o’clock
The town begins to wake
A pair of sleeping winos
Dream about their fate
They plan their morning sermon
But who will really care
For what they say means nothing
Less than their icy stare

The busker and the balloon man
Wait to take their turns
To entertain and irritate
And suffer being spurned
By a thousand shady shoppers
Who’ve heard it all before
And probably given hard earned cash
To make them play some more

The trickster and the barra’ boys
Set up all their stalls
Selling mobile phone covers
And fake branded hold-alls
Adorn your phone with logos
Hankies for a pound
“Yes sir, we’re here on Sundays…
…(Providing there’s no police around)”

Grab a baked potato and sit
And watch the folk go by
Some will have you in hysterics
Some will make you cry
The man on his double-glazing stand
In his suit and in his tie
The perspiration on his head
Watch him wilt and fry

The songbird settles on the wall
And sings to our delight
A merry sonnet that will inspire
Dreams we’ll have that night
The wino shouts his sermon now
The bird has paused his song
This post-war sprawling Hooverville
Muddles slowly along

v - Contradiction, contraband

On the steps of the library he screams aloud
Through a mist of smuggled gin
“You’re all fools, the lot of you is ****
I’ve not committed sin…”
“It’s not my fault I’m a lush… a drunk
I don’t choose to live this life”
“You’re all wrong in carrying on
It’s you what’s caused my strife”

In his wretched form he abuses the world
Pooh-poohing this and that
A skunk telling the world it stinks
The polemic polecat
“Society has robbed me of everything
And left me less than whole”
“The only day that’s good is Thursday
When the postman brings me dole”

On Friday he meets his dealer
To fuel his pickled mind
The man with the van on Saturday
With the spirit and the wine
By Monday, he’s all skint and broke
The weekend has passed him by
He takes his place on the library steps
We shake our heads and sigh…

Every week the same routine
The same routine again
Like clockwork his life ticks on by
The suffering and the pain
But he tells us it’s all our fault
We’re the ones not right
But it’s very easy for him to say
The man who’s so contrite

The children watch him puzzled
It’s more than they can bear
“It’s very rude…” their mothers say
“To stand like that and stare”
But what, do they expect their young
To ignore this fool a mumbling?
For they will see it for what it is
A stormy weather warning

vi - Saturday Afternoon

I sit on a wall in Slough with friends
Sharing the Dutch export
Watching and laughing at the world
And it’s variety of sorts
A happy bond that we all share
The joy of simple things
Come friendly bombs and gather round
Watch us while we sing

The friendly bombs you call upon
Are they straight off the shelf?
It’s my belief, my firm belief
The bomb is in yourself
Ticking slowly by and by
Just waiting for the code
To trigger you and trip the switch
To make the bomb explode

We watch the people from where we sit
The hellholes they’ve all made
They don’t live they just exist on
The edge of a razor blade
Stop! Step back and take a look
It’s not too late to change
And become what you really want to be
An icon of your age

Over now to Langley Park
To sit and bathe in the sun
O friendly bombs please wait a while
Until this day is done
But what will tomorrow bring my friends?
And will it come too late?
Something that may save us all
The bombs may have to wait

A sedate sleepy Saturday
Away from all the crowds
Share a joke, a ****, a smoke
And laugh together loud
The sun warms our sombre souls
As on our backs we lie
Staring as the clouds roll by
United under the sky

vii - The Circus Comes to Town (Sunday)

Halt now, wait awhile please
Stop the counting down
Today the air is charged with joy
The circus comes to town
Must have arrived last night we think
Under cover of dark
And settled down and pitched it’s tents
In the grounds of Upton Park

The queue to purchase tickets
Trails far along the road
No. 53 offers cups of tea
From outside her abode
The crowds are mum, they say not a word
As they wait their turns to go
Inside the circus big-top tent
And sit and watch the show

We settle down and take our seats
With an ice-cream and a coke
But wait, where are the circus clowns?
Is this some kind of joke?
A wall of mirrors fades into view
And puts us in a spin
Reflecting all the bright lights
The colours and the din

The ringmaster enters, cracks his whip
And hands out little slips
“Everyone’s a winner” was
On every body’s lips
The clowns they all appear now
With a modicum of fuss
Hold on just a minute now!
The clowns we see are us

A spotlight points up to the gods
At the top of the trapeze
A giant money spider glides
Down with greatest ease
He touches each and everyone
All paralysed with fear
And hands out ten pound notes to all
Then promptly disappears

viii – The show

A strongman strolls out slowly with
A length of iron bar
A leopard spotted leotard and
Moustache sealed with tar
He looks around the big top with
A menace and a sneer
Surveying all the audience
He seeks a volunteer

The white van man he raised his hand
The tattoo on his arm
Said this man must not be crossed
To do so would mean harm
The strongman bent the iron bar
Across the van man’s back
Then invited him to strike him down
An unprovoked attack

The van man clenched his hand and hit
And hurt his mighty fist
A statue of the strong man shattered
Turning into mist
The van man stood and stared in fear
The mist it gathered round
And carried out our hero driver
He hardly made a sound

No-one clapped we all just stared
Our faces ghostly white
The strongman re-appeared and looked for
A second stooge that night
No-one raised a hand in fact
No-one said a thing
The strongman shrugged and vanished…
Empty was the ring

A knife thrower was the next to appear
And seek the help of one
With nerves of solid steel and courage
Secondly to none
Down came a fallen woman
Who said she had no fear
A knife was thrown and pierced her skin
Her right large ear-ringed ear

ix – The ringmaster

A second knife it struck her chest
She didn’t seem to weep
She didn’t seem to be in pain
Although the knife was deep
A third knife struck her arm and then
A fourth it struck her head
The knives that should be missing her
Were hitting her instead

Horrified the crowd looked on
Without a fuss or row
The woman now all full of blades
Politely took her bow
She then went back and took her seat
And never said a word
Not another word she said
And not a word she heard

A magician was the next to charm
And thrill us with his tricks
He pulled a rabbit from his hat
Then sat it on some bricks
He then threw watches at this beast
That grew to a great size
The rabbit caught them all and juggled
Them to our surprise

But here’s the rub when we all looked
At places on our wrists
No watches were there to be seen
A cunning little twist
The magician cracked a whip and put
The rabbit in a stew
Which vanished there before our eyes
Vanished out of view

The magician he announced that he
Alone did have this plan
To mystify and amaze us all
With his clever hand
Indeed he was the ringmaster
That owned this circus troupe
That terrified and petrified
Our frightened little group

x – The Fracas

A swarm of bees engulf us now
And cover us with honey
The ringmaster cracks his whip again
The bees all turn to money
Then suddenly the fight begins
As we grab this flying stash
Filling up our purses now
With the hard-grabbed cash

The ringmaster, a clever man
Calms us with his sigh
“There’s plenty here for everyone
…And more than meets the eye”
Suddenly a flock of doves fly
Sweetly through the air
They then attack the baying crowds
Pulling at their hair

Then with a deafening bang, a crack
A flash of burning light
We all cascade towards the floor
The circus out of sight
Confused we all stare around
Thinking it absurd
This bizarre spectacle should vanish
Gone without a word

I look from face to face to face
Whatever could this mean?
We all are laughing nervously
How stupid have we been?
We talk about the day’s events
We talk and talk some more
A voice booms from out the sky
“I’ve opened up the door”

“I’ve brought you all together now
To pander to your greed
To watch you take from fellow man
Deny him what he needs”
I reach in to my pocket
For the money I did place
It reads “Admission: 1 adult
To The Human Race”

xi – An incident at Upton Park

That week the local paper ran
An exclusive full-page ad
“Faland’s Travelling Circus Troupe”
“The most fun ever had”
But no review was there to read
To tell of our event
The strange encounter with this circus
To which we all went

The following Sunday we meet up
In groups of three or four
Since that incident in Upton Park
The spectacle we can’t ignore
No-one knows quite what it means
I don’t think that we’ll ever
Understand all that happened here
That brought us all together

Perhaps there is a deeper message
Given on that day
Faland may be telling us
That we have lost our way
He simply used us all as tools
To illustrate our folly
That had now become too serious
A risk to things so jolly

Every week now we all gather on
This hallowed piece of land
And this is very odd because
Nobody makes the plan
The idea comes to all of us
A self-ignited spark
And draws each of us in turn
To meet in Upton Park

We picnicked then we all played games
Then talked about the rain
We toasted our new friendships
And vowed to meet again
The bombs, the bombs they’ve all slowed down
Compassion saved the day
This newfound love we now all have
Must surely pave the way

xii - No ball games

The joy did not take long to spread
Across our grimy frowns
And bring a little sunshine
To lighten up this town
Happiness is upon us now
The whole of Slough-kind
Depending on how you look at it
And on your state of mind

The lush upon the library steps
The wino on the bench
The Publican and Landlord
The ***** serving *****
They all wear smiles and laugh a lot
And speak of wondrous things
A songbird perches on the fence
And merrily she sings

The children, o the children
How they sing and dance
Always being friendly
In any circumstance
They have no care for politics
You’ll see it in their face
They want to play with everyone
Who’s in the human race

Meanwhile back in Upton Park
The townsfolk meet again
But there’s no talk of horror
Or suffering and pain
Instead though how a monument
Should be erected in our names
And pulling down the signs
That read ‘No Ball Games’

The bombs have all stopped ticking now
And line up by the wall
And every now and then they clang
Just to remind us all
If we get too complacent
And don’t respect our friends
We’re marking down the seconds
To our bitter end

xiii – New found…

We shared our food and shared our tales
Life stories we all told
They made us laugh they made us cry
Left us warm and cold
The suffering we did speak of
Helped us understand
How fellowman and woman kind
Dwelt in other lands

We laughed at tales of folly
And stories of the past
Stories that we are in awe of
Stories that will last
For another thousand years or more
And travel on the wind
A gentle breeze that talks to us
Thrilling to the end

Gathering momentum
Our stories travel far
Picked up and told by new folk
Under glowing stars
They bring warmth and humanity
Softened by the rain
They travel back to each of us
To be re-told again

Who’d have thought this loving joy
This beacon in the dark
Would begin upon the grass
Of hallowed Upton Park
The greed has gone or mostly so
Now happiness is here
We’ve seen the light and now must spread
Our messages of cheer

Looking back it hardly seems
We could have been that way
Not caring if each other lived
To see another day
This new found near Utopia
Must spread across the land
And we must stand to offer all
Our warm and guiding hand

xiv – Nearly done

The story is now almost told
Of how a strange event
Saved us from our selfish selves
A message heaven sent
With cunning tricks and sleight of hand
The error of our ways
Was written up in greasepaint
Shining through the haze

A strange di
I wrote this in about 2004 - loads of literary influences in this poem. It speaks for itself really. Having read through it, I think I ought to revise / review and re-write some of it, but this is the original.... yay!!
harlon rivers Nov 2017
The nakedness of winter lies heavy upon
the tolling Sunday quietude
Shed  leaves perish into yesterday
and the dream of another
dawning  someday wanes

The  sun ― lay low
the drudging  ashen  skyline  
Barerd emerald moss scaffolds
draw much more distantness
to the pallid shadowed horizon

The evergreens step forth,
roots grasping sacred heart,
soil  and  rock
In the swelling aloneness
you can feel the grain
of  the  heartwood
rooted in your soul

There are no hard feelings
but there's an enduring ache,
like a tree with a rotting limb
languishing  within
its blackened bark sacrifice

It's not just the grinding time
that slips away begrudgingly;
more of the same takes a toll 
as if another unrung belfry hour
in an empty bell tower
without a song rang out in vain,

peeling  reflections
of reluctant hours  c r a w l  by
in the insensible apathy

A so called holiday passes ―
its footprint bears down
hard  and  deep
as if a paling winter rose
grieves its own passing

A dry wishbone unbroken
lay bare the poignant
truth  it  holds;

it takes two to make
this wish come true


.
Written by:  harlon rivers
a winter Sunday
11. 26. 2017

Note : alternative title before
accidentally published
by write/ public/default

"Unlucky Wishbone"
To me eternity lies in thy eyes,
and thy rejection my demise.
If so but accept and heal me likewise;
whilst shun and stab my sore heart, otherwise.
Thou hath always been to me a surprise;
Though a doubtful, but sparkling surprise,
So any dejection of thine shall be odd,
And a thousand times bitterer than a cold rapid retort;
For thou art pure; and sometimes too pure and fine
As how thy immortal soul stayest still, and growest not old
And in toughness and roughness is to remain,
So long as thy dried flesh shall age, and afford;
And with such songs so prolific as prayers
By friendly laudations like bewitching storms
Thou shall forever stay, and newer grow fader
And in such coldness thou shall offer me warmth;
Beside yon raging fire, and about thy manly arms,
Thou shalt but lull and cradle me like a baby-
until sleep comes and whispers dreams onto me,
Thou shalt be far more tender and smart-
Unlike that ungrateful preceding heart,
Which claimed to be civil, but uncivil,
United but then left my unsuspecting heart apart;
So unlike thee, who is but a smart little devil
Thou who earnestly tempted my soul, and lured my blood
Thou returned my blushes, and caught away my heart
Ah, and now-whenever I thinkest of thee,
All pain and gloom shall revert to oneness,
But how still I know not, as whose days remain but a mystery
For everything in which is at times barren and colourless;
But when alive, they are just as simple
as those brief dreams of thine and mine,
With a love but too sufficient, majestic and ample
Delicately shall they turn troubled and unseen,
But caring and healing and blinding and shaking,
taking turns like oceanic birds which go about
swimming and singing and strumming and swinging,
like a painting of prettily sure clarity-but unseen,
or perhaps a pair of loving, yet unforgettable winds.

To thee whom I once loved, and now still do,
To thee towards whom my hardened heart-again, turns soft,
To thee whom my delirium is all kept safe and true,
To thee for whom I canst feel never reproach-and only love,
And to thee-ah, to thee, thee only-by whom
the grandeur of the blue sky shalt melt;
Ah, thee! And betwixt thy gaze,
All fictitious sunsets shalt perhaps become wet-
Just like those azure spirits in thy fair eyes,
Sometimes too indignant but unquestioning,
and too pure-as to whom even the Devil hath no lies;
To thee only, to whom this enduring love is ever assigned,
And forever, even its temptation be mine, and only mine,
Like unforgivable sins, which are sadly left unatoned
In its eternity standing still like a statue;
beside its wrathed, and bloodied howling stone
And to thee merely, to whom this impaired heart shall ever return,
As it now does, with cries and blows that makest my heart churn
And canst wait not 'till the morn, for on morns only,
thou shalt creepest down the stairs, and stareth onto me,
Often with eyes full of questions;
Questions that thou art too bashful to reflect,
So that turn themselves later on, into emotions,
Which withereth and dieth days after, of doom and neglect.
Ah, but still I loveth thee!
For this regret makest me but loveth thee more and more,
and urge my soul greater, to loveth thee better-than ever before.
For 'tis thee who yet stills my cry, and silences my wrath;
The one who kills my death, and reawakens my breath.
Thou on whom my love shall be delightfully poured,
A love as amiable as the one I hold for dearest Lord,
A love for thee, for only thee in whom I'th found comfort,
A comfort that is holier than any heaven, or even His very own divine abode;
Thou art holier than the untouched swaying grass outside,
Which is green, with greenness so handy and indulgent to every sight,
Thou who art madder than madness itself,
But upon Friday eves, makest my joy even merrier,
And far livelier-than any flailing droplet of rain
Showering this earth's clustered soil out there,
Which does neither soften nor flit away my pain
But makest it even worse, as if God Himself shan't solicit, nor care
Like any other hostile love, which thou might kindly find, every where.

To thee whom I once loved, and now still do,
To thee towards whom my hardened heart-again, turns soft,
To thee whom my delirium is all kept safe and true,
To thee for whom I canst feel never reproach-and only love,
And to thee-ah, to thee, thee only-by whom
the grandeur of the blue sky shalt melt;
In my mind thou art the lost eternity itself,
And by its proud self, thou art still even grander,
For thou makest silence not any more silence,
but joy, in return, even a greater joy.
Ah, thee, thou who the painter of my day,
and the writer of my blooming night.
Thou who art the poet of my past,
and the words of my courteous present.
Thou shall ******* flirty orange blossoms,
And cherish its virtue, which strives and lives
As a most sumptuous, and palpable gift-
Until the knocking of this year's gentle autumn.
Ah! Virtue, virtue, o virtue-whose soul always be
a charm, and indeed a very generous charm-
to my harmonious, though melancholy, *****.
Ah, thee; o lost darling-my lost darling of all awesome day and night,
My lost darling before starlight, and upon the pallid moonlight,
My lost darling above the reach of my sight, and height;
Thou art still a song-to my now tuneless leaves,
and a melody to their bottomless graves,
Thou shalt be a cure to their ill harmony;
Thou art their long-betrayed melody.
And even, thou art the spring
my dying flowers needst to taste,
fpr being with thee produces no haste;
and or whom nothing is neither early, nor late;
And whenst there be no fate, thou shalt be
yon ever consuming fate itself-
And by our inane eyes, thou shalt makest it
but adorable and all the way strong,
For thou, as thou now do, nurture it better
than all the other graciousness among;
Thou art the promise it hath hitherto liked; but just
shyly-and justly refuted, for the bareness of pride,
and often inglorious resistance-all along.

To thee whom I once loved, and now still do,
To thee towards whom my hardened heart-again, turns soft,
To thee whom my delirium is all kept safe and true,
To thee for whom I canst feel never reproach-and only love,
And to thee-ah, to thee, thee only-by whom
the grandeur of the blue sky shalt melt;
Ah, thee! Even in undurable haste, thou art still like a butterfly,
fast and rapid flowing about the earth and into the sky;
Thou who art grateful not for this earth's soil;
Thou who saith 'tis only the sky that canst make thou feel.
Thou who cannot sit, thou cannot lay,
but on whose lanes thou always art secure,
as though from now thou shalt live too long
And belong to this rigorous earth
to whom our mortal souls do not belong.
And as to its vigour, death cannot be delayed,
and words of deadness shalt fast always, be said.
Ah, yet but again, I cannot simply be wrong;
for thou art immortal, immortal, and immortal;
To death thou art but too insipid and loyal;
that willing it not be, to take thy soul into its mourning,
and awkward prayers so scornful and worrying.
Thou who needst not be afraid of death;
for breath shalt never leave thee, and thou shan't breath.
Unsaid poems of thine are thus never to remaineth unspoken,
and far more and more thoughts shalt be perfectly carved, and uttered;
Unlike mine; whose several mortal thoughts shalt be silenced, and unknown
And after years passed my name shalt be forgotten, and my poems altered.
But thou! By any earth, and any of its due shape-thou shalt never be defaced,
and whose thoughts shalt never, even only once-be rephrased,
for thou art immortal, and for decades undying shalt be so;
And to life thou remaineth shalt remain chaste, and undetached;
as the divine wholeness whenst 'tis all slumped and wretched,
and white in unsoiled finery, whenst all goes to dirt and waste;
For grossness shalt escape thee, and stains couldst still, not thee fetch.
To every purity thou shalt thus be the best young match;
Ah, just like my mind shalt ever want thee to be;
but thou art missing from my sight-ah, as thou art not here!
Our paths are far whenst they are but near,
and which fact fillest me still, with dawning dread and fear
Unfortunately, as in this poem, my words not every heart shalt hear;
And to my writings doth I ever patiently retreat, the one,
and one only; whom to my conscience so dear.

To thee whom I once loved, and now still do,
To thee towards whom my hardened heart-again, turns soft,
To thee whom my delirium is all kept safe and true,
To thee for whom I canst feel never reproach-and only love,
And just to thee-ah, to thee, thee only-by whom
the grandeur of the blue sky shalt melt;
How fate but still made us here and meet,
That clue shall never makest me blind, and forget!
Now blighted I am, by dire ungladness and regret,
for having abhorred, and slighting thee too much!
For should I still cherish thee before my mortal death,
and be bitter and testy not; much less grim or harsh.
For fate is what fate is, as how love is just it looks;
and God's doings cannot be wrong; and true and faithful
as words I found crafted, and deciphered in old books.
Ah, and God's blessings are to arriveth in time,
and to taste whose due I indeed needst to be patient.
Be patient t'wards the love on which I climb,
ah, as for me-and whenst the right time cometh-
thou shalt be my sole wealth; so dear and sufficient!
And so for thee, no matter how thou hath my heart now torn,
Still I canst, and shalt reward thee not-with scorn;
for thou art my fate, my path, and my salved destiny;
For of which I am assured, definite, and convinced-
with all my degrees of humble pride, and vivid certainty-
Ah, darling, and thou art my humbleness, but also too many a time-my vanity;
For whom I shan't go and venture but anywhere-
As long as thou stayest and last-verily and for yon whole eternity, by me.
Sibyl Vane Mar 2014
"She will dance with me,"
He murmured to himself,
"If I bring her a white rose,
Pure as a snowflake,
And sweet as a summer day."

Sitting there in the garden,
His blue eyes fell shut
As the wind ran her fingers
Through his dark hair.
His lips parted in a sigh,
Enjoying the warm afternoon sun
And the thoughts of the one he loves.

"His is the song I've sung
My entire life,"
Chirped the little nightingale,
"Without knowing it,
I have told his story a thousand times
To the moon and the stars
That light the night sky.
I've sung of hope and joy
And True Love and
Happily Ever Afters
To the trees and the flowers
That in this garden grow."

But the young man cried,
"But I have no rose to give her!"
He covered his face with his hands
And cried.
His whole body shook
As the hope for real love,
The kind that many people
Spend their whole lives looking for
In all the wrong places,
Flew away in the wind.
"She'll never realize I am the one for her,
If I cannot find a white rose
And ask her to dance,"
He cried.

The little nightingale's heart was touched
By the young lover.
She cried out her song for him,
For all the lost loves in the world.
He, she determined, was not going to be one of them.
The nightingale decided that
She would find him a rose,
With which he could woo the girl he so loved.

She flew on delicate wings to the rose bush
That grew beside the fountain.
"If you would give me a pure white rose,
I will sing you my sweetest song
All the nights of my life."
But the rose bush answered,
"I have only yellow roses,
Bright as lemons and sunshine,
And sweet as springtime honey.
Ask my brother who climbs the arbor,
He may give you what you desire."

So the sweet nightingale flew to the rose vine
That was tangled on the arbor.
"If you would give me a pure white rose,
I will sing you my sweetest song
All the nights of my life."
But the rose vine replied,
"I have only pink roses,
Pink as a maiden's blush
On the day she weds her beau.
Ask my brother who grows
Under the young man's window.
He may give you what you desire."

So the nightingale flew to the rose bush
That grew under the young man's window.
"If you would give me a pure white rose,
I will sing you my sweetest song
All the nights of my life."
To which the rose bush replied,
"I have only red roses,
Dark and rich as faerie wine,
Red as the blood of your heart,
Sweeter than stolen kisses under the moon.
But I can give you a white rose."
Filled with hope and joy,
The nightingale replied,
"I will give anything for a white rose,
What must I do?"
The rose bush shook its petals sadly.
"The way is too awful.
I cannot tell you."
The nightingale knew the value of love;
She would do anything for the rose.
"There is a way, little bird.
By moonlight you must come close
And press you breast against my thorns.
Love is sharp and you must not be afraid.
You must sing your sweetest song all night,
And press closer to me,
Until my thorn pierces your heart
And all your heart-blood runs out.
It is the only way."

The nightingale thought about this.
"What price would not be paid for love?
How much greater is the love of this young man
Than the life of a little bird?
This I will gladly do,
For true love's sake."

So the nightingale flew across the garden,
Where the lover had not yet dried
The tears from his eyes.
His cheeks were stained
Pink with his sadness,
His eyes shimmered with tears yet unreleased.
She sang to him to be hopeful,
To believe in his love,
And that all will be well.
The blue-eyed young man
Smiled at the nightingale,
For her song was beautiful,
Though he did not understand.

The nightingale flew about the garden,
Enjoying the beauty of life.
She sang to the oak trees and the daffodils,
And they wept that they would not hear her song again.
They were comforted that she would be silenced for love,
For love has no price too great.

The earth ate the last rays of the sun
And the moon shone
Wan and pallid in the night sky.
She, too, was sad to hear only this one last song
From the nightingale.

Then the bird flew to the red rose bush
And pressed her breast against the thorn.
She sang her sweetest song.
It was so beautiful that all the dead lovers of the world
Shuddered in their graves
With the reminder of the love in life,
The wind joined her voice with the nightingale's
And carried her song to the ends of the the earth,
To the darkest caves where Echo returned it,
To the ocean's waves that kept the time,
To the peaceful moors where the grass danced along,
To the sleeping child to give her sweet dreams.

"Closer, closer!"
Urged the rose bush,
"I must taste your heart's blood
Before dawn,
Or the rose will not be done."

So the nightingale pressed closer still to the thorn
As the rose bush spun the most beautiful rose
It had ever spun.
But red! A red red rose it was.
"Closer still!"
Cried the rose bush,
And the nightingale pressed closer until her heart was pricked.
A bolt of pain struck the nightingale
And her song rang out through the garden,
Her melody, sweet with love and anguish,
Reached the ears of the young man.
He sat up in his bed,
And was so moved by the nightingale's song,
He stayed awake to listen.

As the nightingale's heart-blood poured onto the rose,
The reddest rose washed white as a freshly fallen snow,
Her tears mingled with the blood,
For only blood can wash out blood,
And only tears can heal.
And so the red rose became white,
As dewdrops and starlight,
As the nightingale's voice grew faint.
And she fell to the ground as the first breath of dawn
Shone gray on the horizon.

The whole garden heaved a sigh
As the nightingale's song was done.
A chorus of flowers and crickets and wind
Sang their mournful song
For the little nightingale
Who gave her life for love.

When the sun had risen in the sky,
The young man walked out into the garden
And saw the white rose.
Carefully he cut it, admiring its beauty.
He did not notice the nightingale,
Laying dead on the ground.

He gazed at the rose in awe,
And inhaled its damask perfume.
It smelled of starlight and sweet dreams,
Of mothers' lullabies and midnight kisses,
Of laughter and heartache,
Of True Love and tender death.

"This is the rose for my beloved,"
He said to himself,
And he prepared himself for the ball.

That night, when the sun had set again,
He met his fair lady, whom he so dearly loved.
"This rose is for you, so that you will dance with me."
He handed her the rose, the white rose with no thorns.
She took it gently, breathing in its scent.

"Dear boy, I will dance with you tonight."

He took her hand and led her out onto the floor.
They danced and danced
All through the evening,
More than rules of decency allow.
She smiled and laughed and fell in love.

When the evening closed
And it was time to go home,
She held the white rose close to her heart
And breathed in its sweet perfume.
Her heart was happy
And faintly, a nightingale's song
Seemed to whisper in her ear.
She grabbed the young man by the hand,
The man whom she loved.

"I will dance with you all the nights of my life,
If you so desire," she whispered.
"My darling, I desire no more," the young man smiled,
His blue eyes sparkling in the lamplight.

For love is a silly thing.
It is not half so useful as logic,
But it is twice so important.
True Love tells only things
That are the most true.
It tells of joy and comfort,
But also of sacrifice and pain.
And in this age,
Though to be practical is everything,
Love is the most important of all.
This was inspired by Oscar Wilde's short story, The Rose and the Nightingale, and a couple lines were taken from the Ballad of Reading Gaol, among other works by Wilde. I didn't like how his story ended, so I changed it. It's a story of love and sacrifice now, instead of being a picture of the modern day. It's hope.
robin Jun 2013
bzd
if you were comatose i wouldn't worry so much**

everything i write i write for you so when you read this please stop and
close your eyes and
notice me leaning against your back and reading over your shoulder sometimes i
reread my words and try to imagine how you feel when you
read them
but i read them and i feel so empty i hope you don't feel the same because
people have told me i made them cry but
i find that hard to believe when i just make myself
bored
just know i'm curling around your feet i'm hoping my words will help you when you want to hurt
i'm hoping you know i wrote this for you because
i know you read this in the dark in your room in solitude with
the light of your screen turning you
pallid and blue but
you know
blue is better than red
black words on a white screen i read once that monotony is ataractic but it
just makes me itch and
i hope i'm an anomaly and you're part of the norm because i don't know how to make you feel
something i don't know but
i'm trying everything i can
i want you calm i hope my words can be
a soporific for you they say
that you're not alive unless you hurt unless you never stop moving but
in that case maybe i want you in a coma because
i saw what
being alive
did to you
please sleep they say it isn't art if it doesn't make you
uncomfortable if it doesn't make you itch but
artistry was never in my future anyway i just want you to have my words when
you want to test your nerves to see if they're
picking up any signal at all because
your emotions are flatlining but maybe the physical sensation's still there and
you are so ragged and i hope i smooth your edges at night when you can't sleep and you seek out
the light that makes you pallid and words
written just for you and
maybe that night you won't
itch so bad
i wrote this for you because i know when you're alone with pallid light and music you
want to hurt but please
close your eyes i'm right behind you i'm
leaning over your shoulder and trying not to cry because
you don't need another burden cause
all your thoughts are
the heaviest material on earth but i can make it better
i can make my words meaningless enough that they can lift you up just
a little more you
don't have to stand on your own my words can hold some of the weight because
maybe you grew up too fast or maybe not at all cause
i can tell your body is far too heavy for your heart to support and
sometimes your hands are too far away for blood to reach them
cause a pulse can only do so much and
sometimes it feels like simply living is another type of malaise but
maybe i can ease that just for the minute it takes for you  to read this and
close your eyes and
feel me against your back i
just make myself bored but maybe i can help you
i hope my words are so monochrome they help you sleep
i hope my words are so empty they're like
air sacs to help you stay upright  i
hope nothing i say resonates with you because
the world gives you enough to swallow you don't need one thing more
my words can be your sleeping pills
i wrote this for you so you could sleep easy tonight
and i'll hold your hand and hope you don't dream
There are who lord it o'er their fellow-men
With most prevailing tinsel: who unpen
Their baaing vanities, to browse away
The comfortable green and juicy hay
From human pastures; or, O torturing fact!
Who, through an idiot blink, will see unpack'd
Fire-branded foxes to sear up and singe
Our gold and ripe-ear'd hopes. With not one tinge
Of sanctuary splendour, not a sight
Able to face an owl's, they still are dight
By the blear-eyed nations in empurpled vests,
And crowns, and turbans. With unladen *******,
Save of blown self-applause, they proudly mount
To their spirit's perch, their being's high account,
Their tiptop nothings, their dull skies, their thrones--
Amid the fierce intoxicating tones
Of trumpets, shoutings, and belabour'd drums,
And sudden cannon. Ah! how all this hums,
In wakeful ears, like uproar past and gone--
Like thunder clouds that spake to Babylon,
And set those old Chaldeans to their tasks.--
Are then regalities all gilded masks?
No, there are throned seats unscalable
But by a patient wing, a constant spell,
Or by ethereal things that, unconfin'd,
Can make a ladder of the eternal wind,
And poise about in cloudy thunder-tents
To watch the abysm-birth of elements.
Aye, 'bove the withering of old-lipp'd Fate
A thousand Powers keep religious state,
In water, fiery realm, and airy bourne;
And, silent as a consecrated urn,
Hold sphery sessions for a season due.
Yet few of these far majesties, ah, few!
Have bared their operations to this globe--
Few, who with gorgeous pageantry enrobe
Our piece of heaven--whose benevolence
Shakes hand with our own Ceres; every sense
Filling with spiritual sweets to plenitude,
As bees gorge full their cells. And, by the feud
'Twixt Nothing and Creation, I here swear,
Eterne Apollo! that thy Sister fair
Is of all these the gentlier-mightiest.
When thy gold breath is misting in the west,
She unobserved steals unto her throne,
And there she sits most meek and most alone;
As if she had not pomp subservient;
As if thine eye, high Poet! was not bent
Towards her with the Muses in thine heart;
As if the ministring stars kept not apart,
Waiting for silver-footed messages.
O Moon! the oldest shades '**** oldest trees
Feel palpitations when thou lookest in:
O Moon! old boughs lisp forth a holier din
The while they feel thine airy fellowship.
Thou dost bless every where, with silver lip
Kissing dead things to life. The sleeping kine,
Couched in thy brightness, dream of fields divine:
Innumerable mountains rise, and rise,
Ambitious for the hallowing of thine eyes;
And yet thy benediction passeth not
One obscure hiding-place, one little spot
Where pleasure may be sent: the nested wren
Has thy fair face within its tranquil ken,
And from beneath a sheltering ivy leaf
Takes glimpses of thee; thou art a relief
To the poor patient oyster, where it sleeps
Within its pearly house.--The mighty deeps,
The monstrous sea is thine--the myriad sea!
O Moon! far-spooming Ocean bows to thee,
And Tellus feels his forehead's cumbrous load.

  Cynthia! where art thou now? What far abode
Of green or silvery bower doth enshrine
Such utmost beauty? Alas, thou dost pine
For one as sorrowful: thy cheek is pale
For one whose cheek is pale: thou dost bewail
His tears, who weeps for thee. Where dost thou sigh?
Ah! surely that light peeps from Vesper's eye,
Or what a thing is love! 'Tis She, but lo!
How chang'd, how full of ache, how gone in woe!
She dies at the thinnest cloud; her loveliness
Is wan on Neptune's blue: yet there's a stress
Of love-spangles, just off yon cape of trees,
Dancing upon the waves, as if to please
The curly foam with amorous influence.
O, not so idle: for down-glancing thence
She fathoms eddies, and runs wild about
O'erwhelming water-courses; scaring out
The thorny sharks from hiding-holes, and fright'ning
Their savage eyes with unaccustomed lightning.
Where will the splendor be content to reach?
O love! how potent hast thou been to teach
Strange journeyings! Wherever beauty dwells,
In gulf or aerie, mountains or deep dells,
In light, in gloom, in star or blazing sun,
Thou pointest out the way, and straight 'tis won.
Amid his toil thou gav'st Leander breath;
Thou leddest Orpheus through the gleams of death;
Thou madest Pluto bear thin element;
And now, O winged Chieftain! thou hast sent
A moon-beam to the deep, deep water-world,
To find Endymion.

                  On gold sand impearl'd
With lily shells, and pebbles milky white,
Poor Cynthia greeted him, and sooth'd her light
Against his pallid face: he felt the charm
To breathlessness, and suddenly a warm
Of his heart's blood: 'twas very sweet; he stay'd
His wandering steps, and half-entranced laid
His head upon a tuft of straggling weeds,
To taste the gentle moon, and freshening beads,
Lashed from the crystal roof by fishes' tails.
And so he kept, until the rosy veils
Mantling the east, by Aurora's peering hand
Were lifted from the water's breast, and fann'd
Into sweet air; and sober'd morning came
Meekly through billows:--when like taper-flame
Left sudden by a dallying breath of air,
He rose in silence, and once more 'gan fare
Along his fated way.

                      Far had he roam'd,
With nothing save the hollow vast, that foam'd
Above, around, and at his feet; save things
More dead than Morpheus' imaginings:
Old rusted anchors, helmets, breast-plates large
Of gone sea-warriors; brazen beaks and targe;
Rudders that for a hundred years had lost
The sway of human hand; gold vase emboss'd
With long-forgotten story, and wherein
No reveller had ever dipp'd a chin
But those of Saturn's vintage; mouldering scrolls,
Writ in the tongue of heaven, by those souls
Who first were on the earth; and sculptures rude
In ponderous stone, developing the mood
Of ancient Nox;--then skeletons of man,
Of beast, behemoth, and leviathan,
And elephant, and eagle, and huge jaw
Of nameless monster. A cold leaden awe
These secrets struck into him; and unless
Dian had chaced away that heaviness,
He might have died: but now, with cheered feel,
He onward kept; wooing these thoughts to steal
About the labyrinth in his soul of love.

  "What is there in thee, Moon! that thou shouldst move
My heart so potently? When yet a child
I oft have dried my tears when thou hast smil'd.
Thou seem'dst my sister: hand in hand we went
From eve to morn across the firmament.
No apples would I gather from the tree,
Till thou hadst cool'd their cheeks deliciously:
No tumbling water ever spake romance,
But when my eyes with thine thereon could dance:
No woods were green enough, no bower divine,
Until thou liftedst up thine eyelids fine:
In sowing time ne'er would I dibble take,
Or drop a seed, till thou wast wide awake;
And, in the summer tide of blossoming,
No one but thee hath heard me blithly sing
And mesh my dewy flowers all the night.
No melody was like a passing spright
If it went not to solemnize thy reign.
Yes, in my boyhood, every joy and pain
By thee were fashion'd to the self-same end;
And as I grew in years, still didst thou blend
With all my ardours: thou wast the deep glen;
Thou wast the mountain-top--the sage's pen--
The poet's harp--the voice of friends--the sun;
Thou wast the river--thou wast glory won;
Thou wast my clarion's blast--thou wast my steed--
My goblet full of wine--my topmost deed:--
Thou wast the charm of women, lovely Moon!
O what a wild and harmonized tune
My spirit struck from all the beautiful!
On some bright essence could I lean, and lull
Myself to immortality: I prest
Nature's soft pillow in a wakeful rest.
But, gentle Orb! there came a nearer bliss--
My strange love came--Felicity's abyss!
She came, and thou didst fade, and fade away--
Yet not entirely; no, thy starry sway
Has been an under-passion to this hour.
Now I begin to feel thine orby power
Is coming fresh upon me: O be kind,
Keep back thine influence, and do not blind
My sovereign vision.--Dearest love, forgive
That I can think away from thee and live!--
Pardon me, airy planet, that I prize
One thought beyond thine argent luxuries!
How far beyond!" At this a surpris'd start
Frosted the springing verdure of his heart;
For as he lifted up his eyes to swear
How his own goddess was past all things fair,
He saw far in the concave green of the sea
An old man sitting calm and peacefully.
Upon a weeded rock this old man sat,
And his white hair was awful, and a mat
Of weeds were cold beneath his cold thin feet;
And, ample as the largest winding-sheet,
A cloak of blue wrapp'd up his aged bones,
O'erwrought with symbols by the deepest groans
Of ambitious magic: every ocean-form
Was woven in with black distinctness; storm,
And calm, and whispering, and hideous roar
Were emblem'd in the woof; with every shape
That skims, or dives, or sleeps, 'twixt cape and cape.
The gulphing whale was like a dot in the spell,
Yet look upon it, and 'twould size and swell
To its huge self; and the minutest fish
Would pass the very hardest gazer's wish,
And show his little eye's anatomy.
Then there was pictur'd the regality
Of Neptune; and the sea nymphs round his state,
In beauteous vassalage, look up and wait.
Beside this old man lay a pearly wand,
And in his lap a book, the which he conn'd
So stedfastly, that the new denizen
Had time to keep him in amazed ken,
To mark these shadowings, and stand in awe.

  The old man rais'd his hoary head and saw
The wilder'd stranger--seeming not to see,
His features were so lifeless. Suddenly
He woke as from a trance; his snow-white brows
Went arching up, and like two magic ploughs
Furrow'd deep wrinkles in his forehead large,
Which kept as fixedly as rocky marge,
Till round his wither'd lips had gone a smile.
Then up he rose, like one whose tedious toil
Had watch'd for years in forlorn hermitage,
Who had not from mid-life to utmost age
Eas'd in one accent his o'er-burden'd soul,
Even to the trees. He rose: he grasp'd his stole,
With convuls'd clenches waving it abroad,
And in a voice of solemn joy, that aw'd
Echo into oblivion, he said:--

  "Thou art the man! Now shall I lay my head
In peace upon my watery pillow: now
Sleep will come smoothly to my weary brow.
O Jove! I shall be young again, be young!
O shell-borne Neptune, I am pierc'd and stung
With new-born life! What shall I do? Where go,
When I have cast this serpent-skin of woe?--
I'll swim to the syrens, and one moment listen
Their melodies, and see their long hair glisten;
Anon upon that giant's arm I'll be,
That writhes about the roots of Sicily:
To northern seas I'll in a twinkling sail,
And mount upon the snortings of a whale
To some black cloud; thence down I'll madly sweep
On forked lightning, to the deepest deep,
Where through some ******* pool I will be hurl'd
With rapture to the other side of the world!
O, I am full of gladness! Sisters three,
I bow full hearted to your old decree!
Yes, every god be thank'd, and power benign,
For I no more shall wither, droop, and pine.
Thou art the man!" Endymion started back
Dismay'd; and, like a wretch from whom the rack
Tortures hot breath, and speech of agony,
Mutter'd: "What lonely death am I to die
In this cold region? Will he let me freeze,
And float my brittle limbs o'er polar seas?
Or will he touch me with his searing hand,
And leave a black memorial on the sand?
Or tear me piece-meal with a bony saw,
And keep me as a chosen food to draw
His magian fish through hated fire and flame?
O misery of hell! resistless, tame,
Am I to be burnt up? No, I will shout,
Until the gods through heaven's blue look out!--
O Tartarus! but some few days agone
Her soft arms were entwining me, and on
Her voice I hung like fruit among green leaves:
Her lips were all my own, and--ah, ripe sheaves
Of happiness! ye on the stubble droop,
But never may be garner'd. I must stoop
My head, and kiss death's foot. Love! love, farewel!
Is there no hope from thee? This horrid spell
Would melt at thy sweet breath.--By Dian's hind
Feeding from her white fingers, on the wind
I see thy streaming hair! and now, by Pan,
I care not for this old mysterious man!"

  He spake, and walking to that aged form,
Look'd high defiance. Lo! his heart 'gan warm
With pity, for the grey-hair'd creature wept.
Had he then wrong'd a heart where sorrow kept?
Had he, though blindly contumelious, brought
Rheum to kind eyes, a sting to human thought,
Convulsion to a mouth of many years?
He had in truth; and he was ripe for tears.
The penitent shower fell, as down he knelt
Before that care-worn sage, who trembling felt
About his large dark locks, and faultering spake:

  "Arise, good youth, for sacred Phoebus' sake!
I know thine inmost *****, and I feel
A very brother's yearning for thee steal
Into mine own: for why? thou openest
The prison gates that have so long opprest
My weary watching. Though thou know'st it not,
Thou art commission'd to this fated spot
For great enfranchisement. O weep no more;
I am a friend to love, to loves of yore:
Aye, hadst thou never lov'd an unknown power
I had been grieving at this joyous hour
But even now most miserable old,
I saw thee, and my blood no longer cold
Gave mighty pulses: in this tottering case
Grew a new heart, which at this moment plays
As dancingly as thine. Be not afraid,
For thou shalt hear this secret all display'd,
Now as we speed towards our joyous task."

  So saying, this young soul in age's mask
Went forward with the Carian side by side:
Resuming quickly thus; while ocean's tide
Hung swollen at their backs, and jewel'd sands
Took silently their foot-prints. "My soul stands
Now past the midway from mortality,
And so I can prepare without a sigh
To tell thee briefly all my joy and pain.
I was a fisher once, upon this main,
And my boat danc'd in every creek and bay;
Rough billows were my home by night and day,--
The sea-gulls not more constant; for I had
No housing from the storm and tempests mad,
But hollow rocks,--and they were palaces
Of silent happiness, of slumberous ease:
Long years of misery have told me so.
Aye, thus it was one thousand years ago.
One thousand years!--Is it then possible
To look so plainly through them? to dispel
A thousand years with backward glance sublime?
To breathe away as 'twere all scummy slime
From off a crystal pool, to see its deep,
And one's own image from the bottom peep?
Yes: now I am no longer wretched thrall,
My long captivity and moanings all
Are but a slime, a thin-pervading ****,
The which I breathe away, and thronging come
Like things of yesterday my youthful pleasures.

  "I touch'd no lute, I sang not, trod no measures:
I was a lonely youth on desert shores.
My sports were lonely, 'mid continuous roars,
And craggy isles, and sea-mew's plaintive cry
Plaining discrepant between sea and sky.
Dolphins were still my playmates; shapes unseen
Would let me feel their scales of gold and green,
Nor be my desolation; and, full oft,
When a dread waterspout had rear'd aloft
Its hungry hugeness, seeming ready ripe
To burst with hoarsest thunderings, and wipe
My life away like a vast sponge of fate,
Some friendly monster, pitying my sad state,
Has dived to its foundations, gulph'd it down,
And left me tossing safely. But the crown
Of all my life was utmost quietude:
More did I love to lie in cavern rude,
Keeping in wait whole days for Neptune's voice,
And if it came at last, hark, and rejoice!
There blush'd no summer eve but I would steer
My skiff along green shelving coasts, to hear
The shepherd's pipe come clear from aery steep,
Mingled with ceaseless bleatings of his sheep:
And never was a day of summer shine,
But I beheld its birth upon the brine:
For I would watch all night to see unfold
Heaven's gates, and Aethon snort his morning gold
Wide o'er the swelling streams: and constantly
At brim of day-tide, on some grassy lea,
My nets would be spread out, and I at rest.
The poor folk of the sea-country I blest
With daily boon of fish most delicate:
They knew not whence this bounty, and elate
Would strew sweet flowers on a sterile beach.

  "Why was I not contented? Wherefore reach
At things which, but for thee, O Latmian!
Had been my dreary death? Fool! I began
To feel distemper'd longings: to desire
The utmost priv
Cunning Linguist Jan 2014
I tore the fabric of space
Interrupting my affectionate stalking
Spurts of longing, interspersed
with spasms of premature *****

In vain, hankering to attain that next level rush
Oh you're a ***** girl aren't you
That's when I was discovered...

Her shrieks royally flushing my cheeks with shock
-Superseded by pallid chagrin
I fumble to bail,
Pants entrenched around my ankles

Premeditative,
Of absent-mind, in haste
Prime directive a method of escape
Evasion failing
Detection:
Imminent

Reflecting a grim lack of circumspection,
accursed *******
Trying to conceal my turgid *******

Her father particularly beyond reason
And not fond of my indecency for his daughter
Proceeds pummeling me to death with my beloved binoculars

Devoid of clairvoyance;
I am coincidentally sent
outward toward oblivion
Bon voyage through the portal
Falling facefirst into an abysmal wormhole

Its then I voyaged backward through time
To the moment of Creation
And witnessed the universe
**** itself from naught to existence
Spewing forth such cataclysmic splendor
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voyeurism
Kittridge James Oct 2012
The rays of sunlight are shunned by the drapes pulled tight.
Music is at war with the silence the space once held.
Tears roll down her cheeks and land on her crossed legs.
All she wanted was to be loved in return for hers.

She clutches onto the sharp silver object, ignoring the fact
that the corner is boring into her pale white flesh.
Blood runs down her arms and her abdomen as she wonders
why she tries. Why was she even born?

Her heartbeat speeds up as she lifts the sharp, stainless
object and sees her own frightened reflection.
Her eyes are red and swollen from her tears.

The object is guided to her neck.
Her hands shaking a bit a she begins to drag.
The blood sprays from her pallid canvas as she pushes harder.
Then she sees nothing but darkness.
ConnectHook Sep 2015
Dear diabolic debutante / Spawn of the unfathomable abyss of blackness / Daughter of dreadful dead desire / Black-shrouded sinister sister of celestial gloom before whose imperious gaze the heavens fall silent / Whip-lash girl-child of the graves whose pallid visage kindles the myriad infernal fires / Autocratic vampiress of lunar doom whose winding-cloth enfolds the thousand horrors of blood-drenched nightmare / Thou that wanderest the cypress-crested hills of funereal necropolises / Whose icy glance cracks the ungraven tombstones of utter desolation / Empress of night and madness / Who stalks the locked and shadowed hallways of unhallowed thought / Whose burial-boat glides the still waters over Lethe’s silent depths to the unglimpsed isle of eternal mourning / Whose parapets tower above the fiefdoms of quotidian banality / Whose flying buttresses overlook the Stygian waters of the forgotten drowned denizens of damnation / Whose unshackled dungeons open to worlds of regal splendor / Whose spires pierce dark skies where oblivion buries the ruined cities of revelry under the drifting clouds of leaden time / Oh maiden of melancholic alchemy whose petrified passions transmute base metal into pure gold…

May the gibbous moon of equinox shine its baleful eye upon you; may you tread in sacramental calm the winding starlit paths of somnolent cemeteries; may my unmixed metaphors unveil in delirium their parabolic mysteries before the smoldering altar of your uninterpretable allegory; may the favor of your scorn forever lay me out, embalmed, undead, on the cold stone of merciless reality. Behold: in cryptic script of spectral apparition, in tracery of coded illumination, amidst the dawning rays of torment I write thine unknown name on the threshold of daylight. And from within the mortared wall of self I speak forth from my sepulcher the Sibylline utterance,
unsought, unheard, undreamt:

JUST WANTED TO SAY ‘HI’ !

http://tinyurl.com/og3so8a
♥♥♥
Timothy Oct 2012
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
    While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visiter,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
            Only this and nothing more.”

    Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
    Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow
    From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
            Nameless here for evermore.

    And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
    So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
    “’Tis some visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door;—
            This it is and nothing more.”

    Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
    But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
    And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;—
            Darkness there and nothing more.

    Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
    But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
    And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”—
            Merely this and nothing more.

    Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
    “Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;
      Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—
            ’Tis the wind and nothing more!”

    Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
    Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
    But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—
            Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;
    For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
    Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door—
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
            With such name as “Nevermore.”

    But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
    Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—
    Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before—
On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.”
            Then the bird said “Nevermore.”

    Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store
    Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
    Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore—
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
            Of ‘Never—nevermore’.”

    But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
    Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
    Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
            Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

    This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my *****’s core;
    This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
    On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet-violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
            She shall press, ah, nevermore!

    Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
    “Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee
    Respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    “Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
    Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—
    On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—
Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    “Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—
    Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
    It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    “Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
    Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
    Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
    And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
    And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
            Shall be lifted—nevermore!

**~Edgar Allan Poe 1809—1849~
"Oh yes, I went over to Edmonstoun the other day and saw Johnny, mooning around as usual! He will never make his way."
Letter of George Keats, 18--


Night falls; the great jars glow against the dark,
Dark green, dusk red, and, like a coiling snake,
Writhing eternally in smoky gyres,
Great ropes of gorgeous vapor twist and turn
Within them. So the Eastern fisherman
Saw the swart genie rise when the lead seal,
Scribbled with charms, was lifted from the jar;
And -- well, how went the tale? Like this, like this? . . .

No herbage broke the barren flats of land,
No winds dared loiter within smiling trees,
Nor were there any brooks on either hand,
Only the dry, bright sand,
Naked and golden, lay before the seas.

One boat toiled noiselessly along the deep,
The thirsty ripples dying silently
Upon its track. Far out the brown nets sweep,
And night begins to creep
Across the intolerable mirror of the sea.

Twice the nets rise, a-trail with sea-plants brown,
Distorted shells, and rocks green-mossed with slime,
Nought else. The fisher, sick at heart, kneels down;
"Prayer may appease God's frown,"
He thinks, then, kneeling, casts for the third time.

And lo! an earthen jar, bound round with brass,
Lies tangled in the cordage of his net.
About the bright waves gleam like shattered glass,
And where the sea's rim was
The sun dips, flat and red, about to set.

The prow grates on the beach. The fisherman
Stoops, tearing at the cords that bind the seal.
Shall pearls roll out, lustrous and white and wan?
Lapis? carnelian?
Unheard-of stones that make the sick mind reel

With wonder of their beauty? Rubies, then?
Green emeralds, glittering like the eyes of beasts?
Poisonous opals, good to madden men?
Gold bezants, ten and ten?
Hard, regal diamonds, like kingly feasts?

He tugged; the seal gave way. A little smoke
Curled like a feather in the darkening sky.
A blinding gush of fire burst, flamed, and broke.
A voice like a wind spoke.
Armored with light, and turbaned terribly,

A genie tramped the round earth underfoot;
His head sought out the stars, his cupped right hand
Made half the sky one darkness. He was mute.
The sun, a ripened fruit,
Drooped lower. Scarlet eddied o'er the sand.

The genie spoke: "O miserable one!
Thy prize awaits thee; come, and hug it close!
A noble crown thy draggled nets have won
For this that thou hast done.
Blessed are fools! A gift remains for those!"

His hand sought out his sword, and lightnings flared
Across the sky in one great bloom of fire.
Poised like a toppling mountain, it hung bared;
Suns that were jewels glared
Along its hilt. The air burnt like a pyre.

Once more the genie spoke: "Something I owe
To thee, thou fool, thou fool. Come, canst thou sing?
Yea? Sing then; if thy song be brave, then go
Free and released -- or no!
Find first some task, some overmastering thing
I cannot do, and find it speedily,
For if thou dost not thou shalt surely die!"

The sword whirled back. The fisherman uprose,
And if at first his voice was weak with fear
And his limbs trembled, it was but a doze,
And at the high song's close
He stood up straight. His voice rang loud and clear.


The Song.

Last night the quays were lighted;
Cressets of smoking pine
Glared o'er the roaring mariners
That drink the yellow wine.

Their song rolled to the rafters,
It struck the high stars pale,
Such worth was in their discourse,
Such wonder in their tale.

Blue borage filled the clinking cups,
The murky night grew wan,
Till one rose, crowned with laurel-leaves,
That was an outland man.

"Come, let us drink to war!" said he,
"The torch of the sacked town!
The swan's-bath and the wolf-ships,
And Harald of renown!

"Yea, while the milk was on his lips,
Before the day was born,
He took the Almayne Kaiser's head
To be his drinking-horn!

"Yea, while the down was on his chin,
Or yet his beard was grown,
He broke the gates of Micklegarth,
And stole the lion-throne!

"Drink to Harald, king of the world,
Lord of the tongue and the troth!
To the bellowing horns of Ostfriesland,
And the trumpets of the Goth!"

Their shouts rolled to the rafters,
The drink-horns crashed and rang,
And all their talk was a clangor of war,
As swords together sang!

But dimly, through the deep night,
Where stars like flowers shone,
A passionate shape came gliding --
I saw one thing alone.

I only saw my young love
Shining against the dark,
The whiteness of her raiment,
The head that bent to hark.

I only saw my young love,
Like flowers in the sun --
Her hands like waxen petals,
Where yawning poppies run.

I only felt there, chrysmal,
Against my cheek her breath,
Though all the winds were baying,
And the sky bright with Death.

Red sparks whirled up the chimney,
A hungry flaught of flame,
And a lean man from Greece arose;
Thrasyllos was his name.

"I praise all noble wines!" he cried,
"Green robes of tissue fine,
Peacocks and apes and ivory,
And Homer's sea-loud line,

"Statues and rings and carven gems,
And the wise crawling sea;
But most of all the crowns of kings,
The rule they wield thereby!

"Power, fired power, blank and bright!
A fit hilt for the hand!
The one good sword for a freeman,
While yet the cold stars stand!"

Their shouts rolled to the rafters,
The air was thick with wine.
I only knew her deep eyes,
And felt her hand in mine.

Softly as quiet water,
One finger touched my cheek;
Her face like gracious moonlight --
I might not move nor speak.

I only saw that beauty,
I only felt that form
There, in the silken darkness --
God wot my heart was warm!

Their shouts rolled to the rafters,
Another chief began;
His slit lips showed him for a ***;
He was an evil man.

"Sing to the joys of women!" he yelled,
"The hot delicious tents,
The soft couch, and the white limbs;
The air a steam of scents!"

His eyes gleamed, and he wet his lips,
The rafters shook with cheers,
As he sang of woman, who is man's slave
For all unhonored years.

"Whether the wanton laughs amain,
With one white shoulder bare,
Or in a sacked room you unbind
Some crouching maiden's hair;

"This is the only good for man,
Like spices of the South --
To see the glimmering body laid
As pasture to his mouth!

"To leave no lees within the cup,
To see and take and rend;
To lap a girl's limbs up like wine,
And laugh, knowing the end!"

Only, like low, still breathing,
I heard one voice, one word;
And hot speech poured upon my lips,
As my hands held a sword.

"Fools, thrice fools of lust!" I cried,
"Your eyes are blind to see
Eternal beauty, moving far,
More glorious than horns of war!
But though my eyes were one blind scar,
That sight is shown to me!

"You nuzzle at the ivory side,
You clasp the golden head;
Fools, fools, who chatter and sing,
You have taken the sign of a terrible thing,
You have drunk down God with your beeswing,
And broken the saints for bread!

"For God moves darkly,
In silence and in storm;
But in the body of woman
He shows one burning form.

"For God moves blindly,
In darkness and in dread;
But in the body of woman
He raises up the dead.

"Gracile and straight as birches,
Swift as the questing birds,
They fill true-lovers' drink-horns up,
Who speak not, having no words.

"Love is not delicate toying,
A slim and shimmering mesh;
It is two souls wrenched into one,
Two bodies made one flesh.

"Lust is a sprightly servant,
Gallant where wines are poured;
Love is a bitter master,
Love is an iron lord.

"Satin ease of the body,
Fattened sloth of the hands,
These and their like he will not send,
Only immortal fires to rend --
And the world's end is your journey's end,
And your stream chokes in the sands.

"Pleached calms shall not await you,
Peace you shall never find;
Nought but the living moorland
Scourged naked by the wind.

"Nought but the living moorland,
And your love's hand in yours;
The strength more sure than surety,
The mercy that endures.

"Then, though they give you to be burned,
And slay you like a stoat,
You have found the world's heart in the turn of a cheek,
Heaven in the lift of a throat.

"Although they break you on the wheel,
That stood so straight in the sun,
Behind you the trumpets split the sky,
Where the lost and furious fight goes by --
And God, our God, will have victory
When the red day is done!"

Their mirth rolled to the rafters,
They bellowed lechery;
Light as a drifting feather
My love slipped from my knee.

Within, the lights were yellow
In drowsy rooms and warm;
Without, the stabbing lightning
Shattered across the storm.

Within, the great logs crackled,
The drink-horns emptied soon;
Without, the black cloaks of the clouds
Strangled the waning moon.

My love crossed o'er the threshold --
God! but the night was murk!
I set myself against the cold,
And left them to their work.

Their shouts rolled to the rafters;
A bitterer way was mine,
And I left them in the tavern,
Drinking the yellow wine!

The last faint echoes rang along the plains,
Died, and were gone. The genie spoke: "Thy song
Serves well enough -- but yet thy task remains;
Many and rending pains
Shall torture him who dares delay too long!"

His brown face hardened to a leaden mask.
A bitter brine crusted the fisher's cheek --
"Almighty God, one thing alone I ask,
Show me a task, a task!"
The hard cup of the sky shone, gemmed and bleak.

"O love, whom I have sought by devious ways;
O hidden beauty, naked as a star;
You whose bright hair has burned across my days,
Making them lamps of praise;
O dawn-wind, breathing of Arabia!

"You have I served. Now fire has parched the vine,
And Death is on the singers and the song.
No longer are there lips to cling to mine,
And the heart wearies of wine,
And I am sick, for my desire is long.

"O love, soft-moving, delicate and tender!
In her gold house the pipe calls querulously,
They cloud with thin green silks her body slender,
They talk to her and tend her;
Come, piteous, gentle love, and set me free!"

He ceased -- and, slowly rising o'er the deep,
A faint song chimed, grew clearer, till at last
A golden horn of light began to creep
Where the dumb ripples sweep,
Making the sea one splendor where it passed.

A golden boat! The bright oars rested soon,
And the prow met the sand. The purple veils
Misting the cabin fell. Fair as the moon
When the morning comes too soon,
And all the air is silver in the dales,

A gold-robed princess stepped upon the beach.
The fisher knelt and kissed her garment's hem,
And then her lips, and strove at last for speech.
The waters lapped the reach.
"Here thy strength breaks, thy might is nought to stem!"

He cried at last. Speech shook him like a flame:
"Yea, though thou plucked the stars from out the sky,
Each lovely one would be a withered shame --
Each thou couldst find or name --
To this fire-hearted beauty!" Wearily

The genie heard. A slow smile came like dawn
Over his face. "Thy task is done!" he said.
A whirlwind roared, smoke shattered, he was gone;
And, like a sudden horn,
The moon shone clear, no longer smoked and red.

They passed into the boat. The gold oars beat
Loudly, then fainter, fainter, till at last
Only the quiet waters barely moved
Along the whispering sand -- till all the vast
Expanse of sea began to shake with heat,
And morning brought soft airs, by sailors loved.

And after? . . . Well . . .
The shop-bell clangs! Who comes?
Quinine -- I pour the little bitter grains
Out upon blue, glazed squares of paper. So.
And all the dusk I shall sit here alone,
With many powers in my hands -- ah, see
How the blurred labels run on the old jars!
***** -- and a cruel and sleepy scent,
The harsh taste of white poppies; India --
The writhing woods a-crawl with monstrous life,
Save where the deodars are set like spears,
And a calm pool is mirrored ebony;
***** -- brown and warm and slender-breasted
She rises, shaking off the cool black water,
And twisting up her hair, that ripples down,
A torrent of black water, to her feet;
How the drops sparkle in the moonlight! Once
I made a rhyme about it, singing softly:

Over Damascus every star
Keeps his unchanging course and cold,
The dark weighs like an iron bar,
The intense and pallid night is old,
Dim the moon's scimitar.

Still the lamps blaze within those halls,
Where poppies heap the marble vats
For girls to tread; the thick air palls;
And shadows hang like evil bats
About the scented walls.

The girls are many, and they sing;
Their white feet fall like flakes of snow,
Making a ceaseless murmuring --
Whispers of love, dead long ago,
And dear, forgotten Spring.

One alone sings not. Tiredly
She sees the white blooms crushed, and smells
The heavy scent. They chatter: "See!
White Zira thinks of nothing else
But the morn's jollity --

"Then Haroun takes her!" But she dreams,
Unhearing, of a certain field
Of poppies, cut by many streams,
Like lines across a round Turk shield,
Where now the hot sun gleams.

The field whereon they walked that day,
And splendor filled her body up,
And his; and then the trampled clay,
And slow smoke climbing the sky's cup
From where the village lay.

And after -- much ache of the wrists,
Where the cords irked her -- till she came,
The price of many amethysts,
Hither. And now the ultimate shame
Blew trumpet in the lists.

And so she trod the poppies there,
Remembering other poppies, too,
And did not seem to see or care.
Without, the first gray drops of dew
Sweetened the trembling air.

She trod the poppies. Hours passed
Until she slept at length -- and Time
Dragged his slow sickle. When at last
She woke, the moon shone, bright as rime,
And night's tide rolled on fast.

She moaned once, knowing everything;
Then, bitterer than death, she found
The soft handmaidens, in a ring,
Come to anoint her, all around,
That she might please the king.

***** -- and the odor dies away,
Leaving the air yet heavy -- cassia -- myrrh --
Bitter and splendid. See, the poisons come,
Trooping in squat green vials, blazoned red
With grinning skulls: strychnine, a pallid dust
Of tiny grains, like bones ground fine; and next
The muddy green of arsenic, all livid,
Likest the face of one long dead -- they creep
Along the dusty shelf like deadly beetles,
Whose fangs are carved with runnels, that the blood
May run down easily to the blind mouth
That snaps and gapes; and high above them there,
My master's pride, a cobwebbed, yellow ***
Of honey from Mount Hybla. Do the bees
Still moan among the low sweet purple clover,
Endlessly many? Still in deep-hushed woods,
When the incredible silver of the moon
Comes like a living wind through sleep-bowed branches,
Still steal dark shapes from the enchanted glens,
Which yet are purple with high dreams, and still
Fronting that quiet and eternal shield
Which is much more than Peace, does there still stand
One sharp black shadow -- and the short, smooth horns
Are clear against that disk?
O great Diana!
I, I have praised thee, yet I do not know
What moves my mind so strangely, save that once
I lay all night upon a thymy hill,
And watched the slow clouds pass like heaped-up foam
Across blue marble, till at last no speck
Blotted the clear expanse, and the full moon
Rose in much light, and all night long I saw
Her ordered progress, till, in midmost heaven,
There came a terrible silence, and the mice
Crept to their holes, the crickets did not chirp,
All the small night-sounds stopped -- and clear pure light
Rippled like silk over the universe,
Most cold and bleak; and yet my heart beat fast,
Waiting until the stillness broke. I know not
For what I waited -- something very great --
I dared not look up to the sky for fear
A brittle crackling should clash suddenly
Against the quiet, and a black line creep
Across the sky, and widen like a mouth,
Until the broken heavens streamed apart,
Like torn lost banners, and the immortal fires,
Roaring like lions, asked their meat from God.
I lay there, a black blot upon a shield
Of quivering, watery whiteness. The hush held
Until I staggered up and cried aloud,
And then it seemed that something far too great
For knowledge, and illimitable as God,
Rent th
Valsa George Mar 2018
Far away in ancient Jerusalem
Stood a garden, long, long ago
Home to giant oaks and figs
And plants and shrubs of every kind.

On every season, from time to time
Merrily they would burst into bloom
Filling the air with fragrance sweet
And fuelling the hearts with joy and cheer.

Amid the riot of flashing shades
Where Poppies and Pansies held their heads
In a corner, there a Lily stood,
Sans scent and sans grandeur.

A poor loner never once noticed
Nor skilled to steal the show,
Those, brilliant in shade and shape
With contempt openly quipped

‘It’s such a shame
She grows among us
With such pallid shade
And nothing to rave’,

‘Lilies are such lazy lot
Giving only seasonal blooms’

Rang aloud their haughty comments
Rashly blurted out and blunt

The poor Lily wilted in shame
Wishing she had never been born.

Late that evening, through the garden
Into the newly dug up grave
A band of people came with lights
Bearing someone cut and scathed.
With blood oozing, drop by drop
From wounds, left by piercing nails

The body, carefully wrapped in linen
Was the body of Jesus - Son of God
The one who bore the sins of the world
And courted the most accursed of deaths.

The body embalmed was laid inside
And sealed with a giant block of stone
Soldiers posted to guard the tomb
And every vigil so prudently kept.

Early by dawn, three days hence
While it was still very dark
From inside the tomb had come
Rumbling sounds and a blinding light.

Flowers en masse blinked their eyes
Beheld a man, gently walking out
The wounds still fresh on his palm
And the linen that swaddled, lying behind.

As they watched this queer sight
In awful amazement, they did see
A host of Lilies, white as snow
Far more beautiful than any of them
Bowing their heads in reverential glee
And singing Hosanna to the Lord of Life.

All the flora in silent shock
Sighted from whence the Lilies came
They sprang unforeseen in those spots
Where drops of blood from his body fell

Then onwards, without fail
April sees the grandeur and grace,
Of snowy lilies - those delicate blooms
Sprouting suddenly from the crust of the Earth
Joggling their heads in whiffing breeze,
And giving delight to all who behold.
Wish all my friends a Happy Easter ! Let the resurrected Lord fill joy and peace in every heart!!
Genial poets, pink-faced
earnest wits—
you have given the world
some choice morsels,
gobbets of language presented
as one presents T-bone steak
and Cherries Jubilee.
Goodbye, goodbye,
I don’t care
if I never taste your fine food again,
neutral fellows, seers of every side.
Tolerance, what crimes
are committed in your name.


And you, good women, bakers of nicest bread,
blood donors. Your crumbs
choke me, I would not want
a drop of your blood in me, it is pumped
by weak hearts, perfect pulses that never
falter: irresponsive
to nightmare reality.


It is my brothers, my sisters,
whose blood spurts out and stops
forever
because you choose to believe it is not your business.


Goodbye, goodbye,
your poems
shut their little mouths,
your loaves grow moldy,
a gulf has split
the ground between us,
and you won’t wave, you’re looking
another way.
We shan’t meet again—
unless you leap it, leaving
behind you the cherished
worms of your dispassion,
your pallid ironies,
your jovial, murderous,
wry-humored balanced judgment,
leap over, un-
balanced? ... then
how our fanatic tears
would flow and mingle
for joy ...
The three stood listening to a fresh access
Of wind that caught against the house a moment,
Gulped snow, and then blew free again—the Coles
Dressed, but dishevelled from some hours of sleep,
Meserve belittled in the great skin coat he wore.

Meserve was first to speak. He pointed backward
Over his shoulder with his pipe-stem, saying,
“You can just see it glancing off the roof
Making a great scroll upward toward the sky,
Long enough for recording all our names on.—
I think I’ll just call up my wife and tell her
I’m here—so far—and starting on again.
I’ll call her softly so that if she’s wise
And gone to sleep, she needn’t wake to answer.”
Three times he barely stirred the bell, then listened.
“Why, Lett, still up? Lett, I’m at Cole’s. I’m late.
I called you up to say Good-night from here
Before I went to say Good-morning there.—
I thought I would.— I know, but, Lett—I know—
I could, but what’s the sense? The rest won’t be
So bad.— Give me an hour for it.— **, **,
Three hours to here! But that was all up hill;
The rest is down.— Why no, no, not a wallow:
They kept their heads and took their time to it
Like darlings, both of them. They’re in the barn.—
My dear, I’m coming just the same. I didn’t
Call you to ask you to invite me home.—”
He lingered for some word she wouldn’t say,
Said it at last himself, “Good-night,” and then,
Getting no answer, closed the telephone.
The three stood in the lamplight round the table
With lowered eyes a moment till he said,
“I’ll just see how the horses are.”

“Yes, do,”
Both the Coles said together. Mrs. Cole
Added: “You can judge better after seeing.—
I want you here with me, Fred. Leave him here,
Brother Meserve. You know to find your way
Out through the shed.”

“I guess I know my way,
I guess I know where I can find my name
Carved in the shed to tell me who I am
If it don’t tell me where I am. I used
To play—”

“You tend your horses and come back.
Fred Cole, you’re going to let him!”

“Well, aren’t you?
How can you help yourself?”

“I called him Brother.
Why did I call him that?”

“It’s right enough.
That’s all you ever heard him called round here.
He seems to have lost off his Christian name.”

“Christian enough I should call that myself.
He took no notice, did he? Well, at least
I didn’t use it out of love of him,
The dear knows. I detest the thought of him
With his ten children under ten years old.
I hate his wretched little Racker Sect,
All’s ever I heard of it, which isn’t much.
But that’s not saying—Look, Fred Cole, it’s twelve,
Isn’t it, now? He’s been here half an hour.
He says he left the village store at nine.
Three hours to do four miles—a mile an hour
Or not much better. Why, it doesn’t seem
As if a man could move that slow and move.
Try to think what he did with all that time.
And three miles more to go!”
“Don’t let him go.
Stick to him, Helen. Make him answer you.
That sort of man talks straight on all his life
From the last thing he said himself, stone deaf
To anything anyone else may say.
I should have thought, though, you could make him hear you.”

“What is he doing out a night like this?
Why can’t he stay at home?”

“He had to preach.”

“It’s no night to be out.”

“He may be small,
He may be good, but one thing’s sure, he’s tough.”

“And strong of stale tobacco.”

“He’ll pull through.’
“You only say so. Not another house
Or shelter to put into from this place
To theirs. I’m going to call his wife again.”

“Wait and he may. Let’s see what he will do.
Let’s see if he will think of her again.
But then I doubt he’s thinking of himself
He doesn’t look on it as anything.”

“He shan’t go—there!”

“It is a night, my dear.”

“One thing: he didn’t drag God into it.”

“He don’t consider it a case for God.”

“You think so, do you? You don’t know the kind.
He’s getting up a miracle this minute.
Privately—to himself, right now, he’s thinking
He’ll make a case of it if he succeeds,
But keep still if he fails.”

“Keep still all over.
He’ll be dead—dead and buried.”

“Such a trouble!
Not but I’ve every reason not to care
What happens to him if it only takes
Some of the sanctimonious conceit
Out of one of those pious scalawags.”

“Nonsense to that! You want to see him safe.”

“You like the runt.”

“Don’t you a little?”

“Well,
I don’t like what he’s doing, which is what
You like, and like him for.”

“Oh, yes you do.
You like your fun as well as anyone;
Only you women have to put these airs on
To impress men. You’ve got us so ashamed
Of being men we can’t look at a good fight
Between two boys and not feel bound to stop it.
Let the man freeze an ear or two, I say.—
He’s here. I leave him all to you. Go in
And save his life.— All right, come in, Meserve.
Sit down, sit down. How did you find the horses?”

“Fine, fine.”

“And ready for some more? My wife here
Says it won’t do. You’ve got to give it up.”

“Won’t you to please me? Please! If I say please?
Mr. Meserve, I’ll leave it to your wife.
What did your wife say on the telephone?”

Meserve seemed to heed nothing but the lamp
Or something not far from it on the table.
By straightening out and lifting a forefinger,
He pointed with his hand from where it lay
Like a white crumpled spider on his knee:
“That leaf there in your open book! It moved
Just then, I thought. It’s stood ***** like that,
There on the table, ever since I came,
Trying to turn itself backward or forward,
I’ve had my eye on it to make out which;
If forward, then it’s with a friend’s impatience—
You see I know—to get you on to things
It wants to see how you will take, if backward
It’s from regret for something you have passed
And failed to see the good of. Never mind,
Things must expect to come in front of us
A many times—I don’t say just how many—
That varies with the things—before we see them.
One of the lies would make it out that nothing
Ever presents itself before us twice.
Where would we be at last if that were so?
Our very life depends on everything’s
Recurring till we answer from within.
The thousandth time may prove the charm.— That leaf!
It can’t turn either way. It needs the wind’s help.
But the wind didn’t move it if it moved.
It moved itself. The wind’s at naught in here.
It couldn’t stir so sensitively poised
A thing as that. It couldn’t reach the lamp
To get a puff of black smoke from the flame,
Or blow a rumple in the collie’s coat.
You make a little foursquare block of air,
Quiet and light and warm, in spite of all
The illimitable dark and cold and storm,
And by so doing give these three, lamp, dog,
And book-leaf, that keep near you, their repose;
Though for all anyone can tell, repose
May be the thing you haven’t, yet you give it.
So false it is that what we haven’t we can’t give;
So false, that what we always say is true.
I’ll have to turn the leaf if no one else will.
It won’t lie down. Then let it stand. Who cares?”

“I shouldn’t want to hurry you, Meserve,
But if you’re going— Say you’ll stay, you know?
But let me raise this curtain on a scene,
And show you how it’s piling up against you.
You see the snow-white through the white of frost?
Ask Helen how far up the sash it’s climbed
Since last we read the gage.”

“It looks as if
Some pallid thing had squashed its features flat
And its eyes shut with overeagerness
To see what people found so interesting
In one another, and had gone to sleep
Of its own stupid lack of understanding,
Or broken its white neck of mushroom stuff
Short off, and died against the window-pane.”

“Brother Meserve, take care, you’ll scare yourself
More than you will us with such nightmare talk.
It’s you it matters to, because it’s you
Who have to go out into it alone.”

“Let him talk, Helen, and perhaps he’ll stay.”

“Before you drop the curtain—I’m reminded:
You recollect the boy who came out here
To breathe the air one winter—had a room
Down at the Averys’? Well, one sunny morning
After a downy storm, he passed our place
And found me banking up the house with snow.
And I was burrowing in deep for warmth,
Piling it well above the window-sills.
The snow against the window caught his eye.
‘Hey, that’s a pretty thought’—those were his words.
‘So you can think it’s six feet deep outside,
While you sit warm and read up balanced rations.
You can’t get too much winter in the winter.’
Those were his words. And he went home and all
But banked the daylight out of Avery’s windows.
Now you and I would go to no such length.
At the same time you can’t deny it makes
It not a mite worse, sitting here, we three,
Playing our fancy, to have the snowline run
So high across the pane outside. There where
There is a sort of tunnel in the frost
More like a tunnel than a hole—way down
At the far end of it you see a stir
And quiver like the frayed edge of the drift
Blown in the wind. I like that—I like that.
Well, now I leave you, people.”

“Come, Meserve,
We thought you were deciding not to go—
The ways you found to say the praise of comfort
And being where you are. You want to stay.”

“I’ll own it’s cold for such a fall of snow.
This house is frozen brittle, all except
This room you sit in. If you think the wind
Sounds further off, it’s not because it’s dying;
You’re further under in the snow—that’s all—
And feel it less. Hear the soft bombs of dust
It bursts against us at the chimney mouth,
And at the eaves. I like it from inside
More than I shall out in it. But the horses
Are rested and it’s time to say good-night,
And let you get to bed again. Good-night,
Sorry I had to break in on your sleep.”

“Lucky for you you did. Lucky for you
You had us for a half-way station
To stop at. If you were the kind of man
Paid heed to women, you’d take my advice
And for your family’s sake stay where you are.
But what good is my saying it over and over?
You’ve done more than you had a right to think
You could do—now. You know the risk you take
In going on.”

“Our snow-storms as a rule
Aren’t looked on as man-killers, and although
I’d rather be the beast that sleeps the sleep
Under it all, his door sealed up and lost,
Than the man fighting it to keep above it,
Yet think of the small birds at roost and not
In nests. Shall I be counted less than they are?
Their bulk in water would be frozen rock
In no time out to-night. And yet to-morrow
They will come budding boughs from tree to tree
Flirting their wings and saying Chickadee,
As if not knowing what you meant by the word storm.”

“But why when no one wants you to go on?
Your wife—she doesn’t want you to. We don’t,
And you yourself don’t want to. Who else is there?”

“Save us from being cornered by a woman.
Well, there’s”—She told Fred afterward that in
The pause right there, she thought the dreaded word
Was coming, “God.” But no, he only said
“Well, there’s—the storm. That says I must go on.
That wants me as a war might if it came.
Ask any man.”

He threw her that as something
To last her till he got outside the door.
He had Cole with him to the barn to see him off.
When Cole returned he found his wife still standing
Beside the table near the open book,
Not reading it.

“Well, what kind of a man
Do you call that?” she said.

“He had the gift
Of words, or is it tongues, I ought to say?”

“Was ever such a man for seeing likeness?”

“Or disregarding people’s civil questions—
What? We’ve found out in one hour more about him
Than we had seeing him pass by in the road
A thousand times. If that’s the way he preaches!
You didn’t think you’d keep him after all.
Oh, I’m not blaming you. He didn’t leave you
Much say in the matter, and I’m just as glad
We’re not in for a night of him. No sleep
If he had stayed. The least thing set him going.
It’s quiet as an empty church without him.”

“But how much better off are we as it is?
We’ll have to sit here till we know he’s safe.”

“Yes, I suppose you’ll want to, but I shouldn’t.
He knows what he can do, or he wouldn’t try.
Get into bed I say, and get some rest.
He won’t come back, and if he telephones,
It won’t be for an hour or two.”

“Well then.
We can’t be any help by sitting here
And living his fight through with him, I suppose.”


*****************

­
Cole had been telephoning in the dark.
Mrs. Cole’s voice came from an inner room:
“Did she call you or you call her?”

“She me.
You’d better dress: you won’t go back to bed.
We must have been asleep: it’s three and after.”

“Had she been ringing long? I’ll get my wrapper.
I want to speak to her.”

“All she said was,
He hadn’t come and had he really started.”

“She knew he had, poor thing, two hours ago.”

“He had the shovel. He’ll have made a fight.”

“Why did I ever let him leave this house!”

“Don’t begin that. You did the best you could
To keep him—though perhaps you didn’t quite
Conceal a wish to see him show the *****
To disobey you. Much his wife’ll thank you.”

“Fred, after all I said! You shan’t make out
That it was any way but what it was.
Did she let on by any word she said
She didn’t thank me?”

“When I told her ‘Gone,’
‘Well then,’ she said, and ‘Well then’—like a threat.
And then her voice came scraping slow: ‘Oh, you,
Why did you let him go’?”

“Asked why we let him?
You let me there. I’ll ask her why she let him.
She didn’t dare to speak when he was here.

Their number’s—twenty-one? The thing won’t work.
Someone’s receiver’s down. The handle stumbles.

The stubborn thing, the way it jars your arm!
It’s theirs. She’s dropped it from her hand and gone.”

“Try speaking. Say ‘Hello’!”

“Hello. Hello.”

“What do you hear?”

“I hear an empty room—
You know—it sounds that way. And yes, I hear—
I think I hear a clock—and windows rattling.
No step though. If she’s there she’s sitting down.”

“Shout, she may hear you.”

“Shouting is no good.”

“Keep speaking then.”

“Hello. Hello. Hello.
You don’t suppose—? She wouldn’t go out doors?”

“I’m half afraid that’s just what she might do.”

“And leave the children?”

“Wait and call again.
You can’t hear whether she has left the door
Wide open and the wind’s blown out the lamp
And the fire’s died and the room’s dark and cold?”

“One of two things, either she’s gone to bed
Or gone out doors.”

“In which case both are lost.
Do you know what she’s like? Have you ever met her?
It’s strange she doesn’t want to speak to us.”

“Fred, see if you can hear what I hear. Come.”

“A clock maybe.”

“Don’t you hear something else?”

“Not talking.”
“No.”

“Why, yes, I hear—what is it?”

“What do you say it is?”

“A baby’s crying!
Frantic it sounds, though muffled and far off.”

“Its mother wouldn’t let it cry like that,
Not if she’s there.”

“What do you make of it?”

“There’s only one thing possible to make,
That is, assuming—that she has gone out.
Of course she hasn’t though.” They both sat down
Helpless. “There’s nothing we can do till morning.”

“Fred, I shan’t let you think of going out.”

“Hold on.” The double bell began to chirp.
They started up. Fred took the telephone.
“Hello, Meserve. You’re there, then!—And your wife?

Good! Why I asked—she didn’t seem to answer.
He says she went to let him in the barn.—
We’re glad. Oh, say no more about it, man.
Drop in and see us when you’re passing.”

“Well,
She has him then, though what she wants him for
I don’t see.”
“Possibly not for herself.
Maybe she only wants him for the children.”

“The whole to-do seems to have been for nothing.
What spoiled our night was to him just his fun.
What did he come in for?—To talk and visit?
Thought he’d just call to tell us it was snowing.
If he thinks he is going to make our house
A halfway coffee house ‘twixt town and nowhere——”

“I thought you’d feel you’d been too much concerned.”

“You think you haven’t been concerned yourself.”

“If you mean he was inconsiderate
To rout us out to think for him at midnight
And then take our advice no more than nothing,
Why, I agree with you. But let’s forgive him.
We’ve had a share in one night of his life.
What’ll you bet he ever calls again?”
Emmie van Duren Apr 2017
It's dark outside except for the pale glow of a fingernail moon sailing through the starry sea of night.
The wind has tucked itself to sleep with the birds, weary of bustling about and playing with my hair.
The whippet snuffles his way along the rabbit trails, delighted with this late night walk, white tail wagging in the air.
I wander down by the edge of the swamp, grass all soft and dewy 'neath my feet and spy the pallid uoow reflected upside down,
between the reeds along the creek.  
The constant, shrilling chorus of frogs and crickets drills my ears yet I find it strangely soothing -  a well known voice across the years.

I turn to walk back, whistling the dog and notice in the low fields,  the usual ethereal  fog begin to form.  
I look up at the dark shape of the house and see light from my
kitchen window painting squares upon the lawn.
Amphibean bodies seek the brightness, bellies pressed against the glass and if you warm them with your finger on the other side, they move.  
My man and I  bet kisses on whose frog would move the most -  one of those silly games you play when you're in love.
As I close the door behind me, grabbing logs to feed the fire, the dog flops down upon the hearthrug letting warmth dry swampy mire.
I make cocoa in my blue mug then pull down the kitchen blind - cutting off the froggy light source - abruptly silencing the choir.
© Emmie van Duren  25th April 2017
kk Nov 2013
I wrote a letter to my 12-year-old self and
It went something along the lines of
“Love Yourself”
but counselling office posters read the same
things so I ripped it up.

See, I used to think that I could fly into the
Sun and it would feel like a warm hug, nothing
So drastic as incineration

Then I saw what could happen to pallid skin on
a hot day and my mindset changed.

I wrote a letter to my 10-year-old self and it
Was more like a warning,

(a red light is flashing, don’t fly into that tower)

Don’t let yourself become cynical
Don’t forget to call your grandmother
Don’t get so caught up in making money that
You’ve forgotten what it means to be a kid

You should be doing loop-the-loops around
That tower,
Roll upside-down, see your city like a bird.

Don red, bleach your apron, do something
Radical to it.

This has become the unsung song of your life

You’ve forgotten to live.
For my sister.
Sarita Crandall Oct 2012
Walking along the river bank, a boy found a dress,
Floating in the bleak water.
A colorless bundle of cloth.
In the moon light, he noticed the dress winking back at him.
The beads glistened off the water's reflection.
It looked serene and wholesome, like the sun rising on a cold winter's morning.
The ribbons acted as arms, waving hello.
The garment's creases and folds, revealed a silhouette.
All around, the noise came to a stand still.
The river's touch, made the dress move, twirl,
Dance.
He wanted to reach out and touch it, hold it.
He wanted to dance with it.
To feel the cloth melt at his finger tips.
As he extended his hand to grab the floating mystery,
He fell in.
Devoured by the unforgiving river.
Only a few minutes passed but it seemed like eternity.
Then, drifting upwards from the haunting water,
A pair of faded jeans and a muddy shirt.
They moved as one gliding over to the pallid dress.
A sleeve reached out and met a milk-white waist line.
And guided the colorless dress to the middle of the engaging river,
To dance under the moon light.
Obviously I'm new at this, and my grammar and spelling and punctuating could use A LOT of help, but try to ignore that please! Thanks :)
K Balachandran May 2016
A fine work of art,
in a private collection,
you're a captive song!
In the greenest of our valleys
  By good angels tenanted,
Once a fair and stately palace—
  Radiant palace—reared its head.
In the monarch Thought’s dominion—
  It stood there!
Never seraph spread a pinion
  Over fabric half so fair!

Banners yellow, glorious, golden,
  On its roof did float and flow,
(This—all this—was in the olden
  Time long ago),
And every gentle air that dallied,
  In that sweet day,
Along the ramparts plumed and pallid,
  A winged odor went away.

Wanderers in that happy valley,
  Through two luminous windows, saw
Spirits moving musically,
  To a lute’s well-tuned law,
Bound about a throne where, sitting
  (Porphyrogene!)
In state his glory well befitting,
  The ruler of the realm was seen.

And all with pearl and ruby glowing
  Was the fair palace door,
Through which came flowing, flowing, flowing,
  And sparkling evermore,
A troop of Echoes, whose sweet duty
  Was but to sing,
In voices of surpassing beauty,
  The wit and wisdom of their king.

But evil things, in robes of sorrow,
  Assailed the monarch’s high estate.
(Ah, let us mourn!—for never morrow
  Shall dawn upon him desolate !)
And round about his home the glory
  That blushed and bloomed,
Is but a dim-remembered story
  Of the old time entombed.

And travellers, now, within that valley,
  Through the red-litten windows see
Vast forms, that move fantastically
  To a discordant melody,
  While, like a ghastly rapid river,
  Through the pale door
A hideous throng rush out forever
  And laugh—but smile no more.
PrttyBrd Dec 2013
Reluctant to share
Loathe to believe
Defenses worn thin
Weakened by saccharine kindness
Cliche grandiosity seasoned a bland bland world
Black and white, lost in shades of gray
Colorized emotions drip life into an exsiccated heart
A sunlit spotlight of warmth
Faded painted colors can never return to grayscale
Changed forever by a moment, if not by accident
copyright©PrttyBrd 01/12/2013

— The End —