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Simon Oct 2019
Stinging with rage! The skeleton would say. Not figuring out anything if never having layers is a good thing. Why must I have an upkeep in social deficiencies, if I can’t learn myself enough? The skeleton contemplated extensively. I’m too gray! Too…Tooooo… Poised! Being poised is a dampening effect. One revolutionizing logic without circumstance. Circumstance without valid reasons to erupt circumstantial balance. Deeming to involve constraints upon your own systems processes. Strife filling into those processes. Putting a bony skeletal hand to its bony chin. I’m a skeleton. I’m all strife! My bones don’t just sting. They rust! RUST!!! It said yelling with two skeletal arms moving clenching bony fists in the air. Try having rusted edges without completing desirable functions! Releasing edges without rust involved. I move one step, and SNAP! OOPS! Edges be screaming my velocities down the rut! Velocities pit my joints moving with other joints in an unbalanced poised expression. Poised is great. Having good flexible positions in the making. Except for the fact I sent the rusted edges. Which once again, is a catch of being too POISED! Maybe I should have asked for layers when wanting to become poised? But without favor. Favor of not having to worry about any deficiencies. Self deficiencies? It said opening it’s mouth wide. More like social deficiencies! I can’t go anywhere feeling my form is off completely! Skeletal arms in the air while staring up into the atmosphere. Mouth still open wide. What do I DOOOOO???!!! All the sudden, the skeletons stinging edges started to rust more. Huh?! Looking down at its skeletal body. Surprised and a little alarmed. The skeleton notices it wasn’t thinking. Since you sometimes don’t realize you just started thinking without one’s volition. The rusted edges were thinking. Or something sizzling with charisma? Charisma with claim, purpose, and factual statements. I don’t, UHHHHHHHH!!! Pausing deeply. Feeling something burn with rage! The stinging…! It’s getting more intense. I-I, I can’t stop myself from feeling it too much! It wants to envelope me. Wait? The skeleton stops. The stinging stopped all together. Not feeling the burning rage anymore. Whoa! Weird. W-what just happened? Sizzling effort of rust kept on thinking with sizzling charisma. OHHH! I get it now. The skeleton retracting its movements back to its original posture. I’m freaking out! Calling for what it seems to be. I’m detracting my own surface from its original desire. Bony hand against its chin. A claim without focus. The skeleton snaps it’s bony fingers. Feeling the sting rupture between rusted joints sizzling with claim, purpose, and factual statements. Away from the thinking. The skeleton seeing it’s joints become more flexible as two of it’s bony finger tips made contact with one another. Seeing is believing after all. It said smiling wide. Feeling the rusted edges absorb it’s smile into it’s thinking base. More stinging raised multiple alarms along the entire bone structure. The skeleton shook violently! Not feeling despair, concern or fear. But warmth. Warmth giving it an excitability it never sought out before. Probably because it never had to. Until now. I think my social deficiencies will start disappearing now. Feeling calmer. Along with my perfect poise that only existed in this bone structuring stage. I’m awaiting something newer. More affordable now that I’m beginning to understand.
How I would feel when moving without contempt for my own volatile commands. Making myself think being stuck in a rut for too long, was actually a good thing. How wrong was I.
Ron Sanders Feb 2020
(Glade, World, Master, Boy, Hero)

                                                 GLADE

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

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

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

                                               WORLD

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                              MA­STER

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

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

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

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

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

                                                  BOY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                HERO

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

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

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

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







Copyright 2020 by Ron Sanders.

Contact:  ronsandersartofprose(at)yahoo(dot)com
Sorry about the ghastly copy. This system makes graceful formatting impossible.
Kunal Kar Dec 2015
To the distant creator I ask,
The reason to my quest,
Am I just a ***** in a machine?
Or mere a shadow cast by life.

The strokes of a painter's brush,
Swelled upon the canvas to create life,
Am I that painting of yours?
Or just a coincidental biological mess.

In this circular stone I live,
Floating in a space of infinite debris,
Am I just a thinking tree?
Or someone with a greater destiny.

I ask you through my lonesome walks,
With eyes dipped in question,
And heart soaked tired.
What's the purpose for this existence?

How can I fulfill the solace quest?
That my closed eyes had dreamt.
I don't ask for survival tricks,
Just a greater purpose to live my last days.

A mere rusted iron in this oxygenated world,
Excuse the pity brown, I can live with it,
Just find me a tool,
This rusted ***** can fit in,
This rusted ***** can fit in.
Poetic T Jul 2014
My heart rusted unused,
What once beat love
Only has cobwebs of regrets,
It is fragile to the touch
Love rusted away, what once
Gleamed,
Shone,
Beat strong,
Now it hardly moves
An engine of love unused
It needs to be buffed
By love from another heart,
To see what is beneath the tarnish
A broken heart, now in need of use
For now its rusting away,
A heart tarnished where love once beat.
CK Baker Jan 2017
I can’t wait
to be a hundred;
turning over the thoughts
and plots
of Caledon
floating
on Zimmer inserts
and dusted Florsheims
three steps forward
in a dream woven
summer afternoon

Through the
barn doors
and bee keeper flats
assimilating voices
from Sachems
and Forbes
and Hope Healers
coming and going
as the countryman
comes
and goes

You can feel it
in a place like this
the 3 in the tree memories
from Allis Chalmers
to combine parts
of Sundrim poppers
to shallow carp fields
the patterned lawsons
and fading caulk
(on ripped and rolled
frontier seats)

it’s a wishing well
for the peddler
and bold hydrangea...
both peeking their way
through
the rusted
grinders wheel
BarelyABard Nov 2012
Is that what we wake up to every day?

Fast food and gas stations are forever stamped in the corners of my eyes as they are looking through the glass of minimum wage to the red flashing lights of a man hoping to get back to his children safely.

Is life is a pointed dagger then my blade is rusted and dull when I wonder why I even try some days.

Do I dare defend my pride and still demand something more than this? Is this a call for engines in the air or wings made of wax? Death would be more alive than waking up to another day of shampoo commercials and microwave dinners.

You are always whispering in my ear though dear and telling me that you're more than just a particle flown into my imagination from a world so oh very different than ours.

Are your eyes as bright as I imagine? Will the glare from them blind me from the tax collectors whip and will your laughter drown out the screams of onlookers who are throwing peanuts through the bars at my feet?

Will your kiss melt me and cause me to fall into wind like leaves in a storm, a tornado of color and beauty..?

I lay in bed and my eyes close tightly, my breathing slows and thoughts drip into pits men drown themselves in, the murky waters of nihilistic cynicism...

Though my hand will still not be closed around yours when the sun rises, the whisper lets me know you are still awake and searching for me too...
Saint Audrey Jul 2018
Casualty: my interest fading
Once waxing moon now seen waning
And I did concede your irksome warning
And watched as the rest played out

So let bygones be gone, fallen out by the side
Of this road, worn down, still restless, keeping straight
Eyes glinting off token little bits of hospitality
Mother nature being so inclined at times

The stress so unnerving, I hardly doubt it
But tension is eased once it comes to acceptance
And I accept in full, finding time to unwind
Winding stretch of lonely road, dotted here and there by
An occasional landmark
Or a lonely tractor pulling behind it
Iron bars, old and rusted
Found in their hold
Bales of hay or
A small little pond
With a bench beside it
Holding initials carved against the grain

With a heart surrounding

As mine beats slower

At last, the sun begins going down

And the moon grows brighter
Even in its state
And my feet move faster
Though my body is withering
I feel this separation growing
As my mind takes flight and leaves me

Behind, in the twisting twilight
And alone, I walk along
Kimberly Brown Jul 2013
Laughter climbs this brick wall
Rusted and crumbling,
Crumbled and rusting,

Deteriorating, until the laughter itself crumbles,
Lost between its porous exterior.
And what is left behind crawls
Scraping its underbelly against the crumbling
Carried along silken ribbons.

Trapped amidst my curtains
Tossed between, and inside, and among, my white lace curtains.
It comes to rest beside my head,
laid on my pillow, my silken-laced pillow.

Sliding deep into my ear
laughter soon gurgles from my lips.
Crawling along my tongue’s terrain,
leaving its waste for me to taste.

Echoed emptiness resounds.

Laughter. Your sustenance has left this place.
Taking with it happiness, lost along the way.

Taking with it happiness, lost among the bricks
Rusted and crumbling,
Crumbled and rusting.
Savio Apr 2013
Delayed clock
Savio lays underneath unwashed quilts
Grandmother hand made
Savio lays with a woman
“Why are your eyes so Green.”
Savio said to her lips
She had painted them very red
and when they kissed
the lipstick smudged like a charcoal drawing outside in the April rain in Maine
“My eyes flicker green when you kiss me. When you are with me.”
Savio kissed her forehead
It was 1AM
Kansas
Down the street there is a church
the yellowish orange lights are on all night
When Savio buys 3 dollar wine
He walks to the Brick dressed yellowish orange lit Church
Pick up trucks that are thin with metal
rusted at the square gas tank
rusted at the curves of its wheels
rusted at the grill
rusted at the door handles
at the hubcaps
at the bed
at the windshield wipers
at the side view mirrors
at the belt buckles
at the radio dials
at the steering wheels
Flutter by
like children throwing rocks
like Winter
like rain at 7am
Savio sits there
drinking his cold 3 dollar wine
thinking of Mexico
thinking of the magical women he had made love too
kissed
taken out to dinner and lunches and breakfasts
thinking of Long Nights with his brother
Crossing streets with warm bottles of good beer
to Neon lit bars
to bars only lit by cigarettes and tiny radios blasting
Jazz or Rock n' Roll or The Blues or Billie Holiday
Never the news

Savio looked at the woman next to him in his bed
Her eyes were closed
He imagined her closed eye-lids as a moth
With its upright folded gray wings
night
standing underneath the warm breath of a Lamp

Savio liked The Moths
He read about them
He thought of them as the poets
as the painters
as the pianists
as the ballet dancers
as the violinists
of the insects

Savio also liked Boxelder Bugs
they do no harm
they sneak in through the cracks and door openings of homes in winter
They hide underneath sheets of poems
Van Gogh paintings on the walls
Savio woke to a Boxelder Bug on his lips once

The woman that lied with Savio
was beautiful
her clothes were expensive
her body was cruel not to touch
her life was good
Money
***
Beauty
Youth

Savio had none of these
He was handsome
His face was shaded with a few days of hair
His eyes were bright from the many days in the sun as a boy
His eye lashes were long like the docks of rivers from plucking them when he couldnt sleep
Youth was a long time ago for Him
and he sat at parks
watched the kids play
watched Summer
watched April
watched the Roses and the Trees and the Water
grow younger and younger
as He
Stood still as his fingernails grew
and his teeth yellowed by each AM cup of coffee
and each AM cigarette

Savio did not care about Money
he cared about ***, and Beauty, and Youth
yet,
did not wish these upon himself
he
Admired them
like a womans smile
like a Sunrise coasting over a cold morning with white Swans fluttering in the sky
and the Cigarette tastes like purity
and the cigarette has meaning
more meaning than Death
or Life
or being Wise

He admired the woman next to him in bed
he did not feel bad for her
or envy her

He envied on the ease of her sleep
The ease of her happiness
The ease of her
carelessness to beauty
or poetry
or music

He envied the Fools

Savio lied there
Her lips perfectly shaped like clouds
or the designs on a butterfly
or the moon's glow late at night
when the birds are dreaming
when the Dog is fast asleep
when the convict is tired
when the Sun has clocked out
24/7 Sun
like an immigrant

Savio looked at the alarm clock
3AM
the womans Dress and stockings and shoes and Bra and ******* were on the floor
along with her Class Status

Savio has always been poor
He enjoyed it
He liked long days
Reading yesterdays paper that he had found on the road
Counting the numbers of Blue Mini-vans that stop at the red light
He liked going to the park
Climbing a Tree
or sitting at a dock
letting his toes and feet prune
His skin red and the smell of dirt

He liked no Television
He liked his two pairs of pants
His few shirts
His red sweater that his grandmother made him
his pair of shoes
He had a little radio alarm clock
that he had since he was a boy

His father most have stolen it
Given to Savio as a birthday present

His Father was a good man
A bad man facing society
A good man facing his family
He did what he could to get by
He drank

Savio liked to think of himself as a good man
Though he enjoyed the Vices of life
That is why he could never be Religious
Savio was too brave to be told what to do
He was too wild to have his cravings and emotions held down by leather

He liked women
He liked Drinking
He liked cigarettes
He liked Cursing
He liked ***
He liked Humor and Thought about Death
He liked to Fight
He liked to contemplate Life
He liked to contemplate Women
Drinking
Cigarettes
Cursing
***
Humor
Death

Savio
was a good man
He kept to himself
Laughed to himself
walked to bars and parks and highway bridges all to himself

He was a Looker a Searcher a Wonderer a Wanderer

And Life
is a good place to do these things.


Savio got up from his small bed
looked around his small house
opened a small cupboard
grabbed a small coffee mug

Put on his one pair of shoes
Shined them with his old shine shoe case
that his Uncle had given him

He then put on his shirt
it was slightly aged
it was slightly *****
Tho
it was 5AM
and no one would be able too see this

He then put on his jacket
a dark brown swede jacket
it was stained at the shoulder
it was wrinkled
he had spilled gasoline on it last month
and it still had a slight scent of unleaded gasoline
Even though it had rained many times

His pants were strong
They were 5 years old
rough and thick with denim

He felt good
There was no wind being blown
His wine was cold
His eyes were clear
He had a full pack of cigarettes
and a book of matches

This time he walked to the Highway bridge
sometimes on the metal fence
there would be stale roses twisted around the fence

And Savio would pluck them off
dropping them over the highway
onto cars and 18-wheelers headed to Florida

Savio sat at the small cliff
next to the highway bridge
The grass was gold and tall
He took drinks of his wine
slowly the Headlights
turned to Taillights.
Nat Lipstadt Aug 2018
disclaimer: unedited rambling and overly long and frankly, Scarlet, don't give a **** anymore...

Thus spake and quested
another, younger poet to me,
a far better one than I,
but obligations thus provided,
are serious business,
to those who understand
poetic responsibilities, and
under his own Rules of Order,
an answer,
though long in coming, AR,
must be provided.

Well well well
all is not well,
the faucets offers choices....
chrome hot
chrome cold

there is no such thing as
lukewarm truth in
clear waters that
run run,
yet never
run stilled,
birthed at turned-on conception,
to drain death removal,
another daily poetic miracle,
unappreciated by most,
overly consumed by their
own passage on this Earth

peddler wayfarer,
passing through with truth
poem pots and rattling pans
(nowadays, mostly panned),
a historic factoid,
and not what Amazon delivers...
truth is a genetically modified
bitcoin currency, misunderstood,
prone to sometimes useful,
but never ever, to stick or stain,
for I got excuses and who gives a ****,
yesterday is forgotten instantly

The coldest truths,
the confirmation of same
by mirrored image text sent,
(immediacy a necessity,
for though poor, it is 'real')
the twitter that methodically
A-lists your major crimes
B-lists your petty,
hope-you-didn't miss my
exposé of latest misdemeanors

the hot truths,
only whispered,
merely mint hinted
in a hot cuppa,
the heat itself
a cover up,
for what you do not
wish me to plainly speak
or plainly sell,
is accursed truths,
won't sell, even if free

Can't write about moon and June,
alabaster is a fine word,
but white suits me fine,
don't know the diff
tween dragon flys and lullabies

The way I write is
just the way I think, believe,
from my eyes to paper
there is no misdirection,
just silent labor conception

Poor poor real truth
is out of favor these days,
because there is nothing
no one won't cease or hesitate
to expose himself,
flaunt the anguish,
copy other's jive,
but that is real,
but it is not truth

Had a bad day,
You need to know about it
Right away!

Though I meander and excuse,
there is one state of truth,
I need yet to annotate

Too oft when tapped turned on,
it is rusty water and rusted truths
expelled and this, my stuff, my days,
not in vogue, or a top seller

I love the color rust,
overused in my poems,
but compulsion is not a
conditional, but a must

This then is the form
they spill in these,
my final days here

You might think that rust implies
lack of use,
a non-caring
for his voice,
his well practiced instrument

Au contrarie, amigo!

My rust is from overuse,
my eyes don't see
what the popular want nor
could I provide it
even if
it was demanded,
which it is not....

Rusted but unvarnished,
undisguised by fancy words
or silent cries, what you read
is what you get
until I find
a more "authentic" voice,
one that satisfies the world
not just me...he sneers....

Feel for me in the summer breeze,
from whence my best stuff
has always been plucked
sent on its way, to you,
in self-same wind,
to kiss your cheeks,
slap you alert

I used to write
on both feet
upstanding,
then Hillel was asked for
the whole truth
while standing
on just one leg

His reply:
"Love they neighbor as you love thyself"

So I switched
and now compose,
in quiet ignorance,
a wrong footed poet,
left only with his what's left,
and to put his left foot truths
first, forward and foremost,
is what he got, and
what I got, you'll get....

But a cautionary note,
drinking riposte rustys,
bad for the body,
but kindly
for your mental
wealth,
if your have the
only other element
most needed,
in your pocket posses,

courage
Rambling, unedited, and yet fresh so off to the presses..and at 4:21am,
I frankly, Scarlet, don't give a **** anymore...
Ron Gavalik May 2015
In the mid-1990s I worked as a bartender
on the second floor of a local hotdog joint
near the University of Pittsburgh.
I poured beers and mixed simple drinks
for working class drunks.
The felons always had a game or a magic trick
they’d use to milk rubes for a free gin and tonic.
College students mostly stayed away,
but the ones who stumbled in ordered drafts,
paid for by daddy’s allowance
or the petty drug rackets they ran on campus.
In the summer, the best ***** came around,
**** pushed out of their tops,
*** cheeks crept below their skirts.
They knew how to find action
every single night.

Except one overweight girl named Susie
from the all girl’s school down the road.
She’d come to the bar alone,
her lips caked with dark red lipstick.
Like many students, Susie wanted to be older.
She’d order ***** martinis,
drink quietly, and she’d patiently wait
for one of the older drunks to make a move.
It never happened.

Sometimes Susie complained to me
about other girls at her college,
that they were aggressive lesbians.
All of them wanted to eat her ******.
‘Those ******* are as bad as the men,’ she’d say.
But then she’d laugh it off.
‘I really love ****,’ she told me.
‘I think about **** and *** all the time.’

One night Susie owed the bar $27.50.
She always tried to flirt her way past the tab.
I never let her get away with it.
‘Do you like me?’ she said.
I laid down my trademark response,
‘You’re the best.’
‘No, do you really like me?’
I figured she deserved a real compliment.
‘You have the sexiest lips here.’

She climbed off the barstool
and walked to the backdoor, the fire escape.
She then curled her finger at me to join her.
Outside on the small rusted iron landing,
above the roach-filled dumpster,
Susie crouched between my legs.
Both of us worked to unbuckle my belt.
A swarm of hands pulled down my jeans.
I looked up at the few stars between buildings
as those red lips and soft tongue became my drug,
a back alley escape from a ******* life.
When I unloaded, she refused to let go.
She swallowed it all. $27.50 paid in full,
plus tip.

That’s how we went for a while.
I gave Susie small escapes from lesbians.
Susie gave me small escapes from life.
Eventually, she stopped coming around.
I figured she graduated.
Perhaps her classmates finally got their wish.
Either way, I never saw her again.
To be included in my next collection, **** River Sins.
Aparna Sep 2013
Handcuffed to a post, body chained to death.
Rusted irons pulling his spirit towards Hell.

Shackled souls who cry in hope.
His name in blood on white-washed walls.
Wade Redfearn Sep 2018
The first settlers to the area called the Lumber River Drowning Creek. The river got its name for its dark, swift-moving waters. In 1809, the North Carolina state legislature changed the name of Drowning Creek to the Lumber River. The headwaters are still referred to as Drowning Creek.

Three p.m. on a Sunday.
Anxiously hungry, I stay dry, out of the pool’s cold water,
taking the light, dripping into my pages.
A city with a white face blank as a bust
peers over my shoulder.
Wildflowers on the roads. Planes circle from west,
come down steeply and out of sight.
A pinkness rises in my breast and arms:
wet as the drowned, my eyes sting with sweat.
Over the useless chimneys a bank of cloud piles up.
There is something terrible in the sky, but it keeps breaking.
Another is dead. Fentanyl. Sister of a friend, rarely seen.
A hand reaches everywhere to pass over eyes and mouths.
A glowing wound opens in heaven.
A mirror out of doors draws a gyre of oak seeds no one watches,
in the clear pool now sunless and black.

Bitter water freezes the muscles and I am far from shore.
I paddle in the shallows, near the wooden jail.
The water reflects a taut rope,
feet hanging in the breeze singing mercy
at the site of the last public hanging in the state.
A part-white fugitive with an extorted confession,
loved by the poor, dumb enough to get himself captured,
lonely on this side of authority: a world he has never lived in
foisting itself on the world he has -
only now, to steal his drunken life, then gone again.

1871 - Henderson Oxendine, one of the notorious gang of outlaws who for some time have infested Robeson County, N. C., committing ****** and robbery, and otherwise setting defiance to the laws, was hung at Lumberton, on Friday last in the presence of a large assemblage. His execution took place a very few days after his conviction, and his death occurred almost without a struggle.

Today, the town square collapses as if scorched
by the whiskey he drank that morning to still himself,
folds itself up like Amazing Grace is finished.
A plinth is laid
in the shadow of his feet, sticky with pine,
here where the water sickens with roots.
Where the canoe overturned. Where the broken oar floated and fell.
Where the snake lives, and teethes on bark,
waiting for another uncle.

Where the tobacco waves near drying barns rusted like horseshoes
and cotton studs the ground like the cropped hair of the buried.
Where schoolchildren take the afternoon
to trim the kudzu growing between the bodies of slaves.
Where appetite is met with flood and fat
and a clinic for the heart.
Where barges took chips of tar to port,
for money that no one ever saw.

Tar sticks the heel but isn’t courage.
Tar seals the hulls -
binds the planks -
builds the road.
Tar, fiery on the tongue, heavy as bad blood in the family -
dead to glue the dead together to secure the living.
Tar on the roofs, pouring heat.
Tar is a dark brown or black viscous liquid of hydrocarbons and free carbon,
obtained from a wide variety of organic materials
through destructive distillation.
Tar in the lungs will one day go as hard as a five-cent candy.

Liberty Food Mart
Cheapest Prices on Cigarettes
Parliament $22.50/carton
Marlboro $27.50/carton

The white-bibbed slaughterhouse Hmong hunch down the steps
of an old school bus with no air conditioner,
rush into the cool of the supermarket.
They pick clean the vegetables, flee with woven bags bulging.
What were they promised?
Air conditioning.
And what did they receive?
Chickenshit on the wind; a dead river they can't understand
with a name it gained from killing.

Truth:
A man was flung onto a fencepost and died in a front yard down the street.
A girl with a grudge in her eyes slipped a razorblade from her teeth and ended recess.
I once saw an Indian murdered for stealing a twelve-foot ladder.
The red line indicating heart disease grows higher and higher.
The red line indicating cardiovascular mortality grows higher and higher.
The red line indicating motor vehicle deaths grows higher and higher.
I burn with the desire to leave.

The stories make us full baskets of dark. No death troubles me.
Not the girl's blood, inert, tickled by opiates,
not the masked arson of the law;
not the smell of drywall as it rots,
or the door of the safe falling from its hinges,
or the chassis of cars, airborne over the rise by the planetarium,
three classmates plunging wide-eyed in the river’s icy arc –
absent from prom, still struggling to free themselves from their seatbelts -
the gunsmoke at the home invasion,
the tenement bisected by flood,
the cattle lowing, gelded
by agriculture students on a field trip.

The air contains skin and mud.
The galvanized barns, long empty, cough up
their dust of rotten feed, dry tobacco.
Men kneel in the tilled rows,
to pick up nails off the ground
still splashed with the blood of their makers.

You Never Sausage a Place
(You’re Always a ****** at Pedro’s!)
South of the Border – Fireworks, Motel & Rides
Exit 9: 10mi.

Drunkards in Dickies will tell you the roads are straight enough
that the drive home will not bend away from them.
Look in the woods to see by lamplight
two girls filling each other's mouths with smoke.
Hear a friendly command:
boys loosening a tire, stuck in the gut of a dog.
Turn on the radio between towns of two thousand
and hear the tiny voice of an AM preacher,
sharing the airwaves of country dark
with some chords plucked from a guitar.
Taste this water thick with tannin
and tell me that trees do not feel pain.
I would be a mausoleum for these thousands
if I only had the room.

I sealed myself against the flood.
Bodies knock against my eaves:
a clutch of cats drowned in a crawlspace,
an old woman bereft with a vase of pennies,
her dead son in her living room costumed as the black Jesus,
the ***** oil of a Chinese restaurant
dancing on top of black water.
A flow gauge spins its tin wheel
endlessly above the bloated dead,
and I will pretend not to be sick at dinner.

Misery now, a struggle ahead for Robeson County after flooding from Hurricane Matthew
LUMBERTON
After years of things leaving Robeson County – manufacturing plants, jobs, payrolls, people – something finally came in, and what was it but more misery?

I said a prayer to the city:
make me a figure in a figure,
solvent, owed and owing.
Take my jute sacks of wristbones,
my sheaves and sheaves of fealty,
the smell of the forest from my feet.
Weigh me only by my purse.
A slim woman with a college degree,
a rented room without the black wings
of palmetto roaches fleeing the damp:
I saw the calm white towers and subscribed.
No ingrate, I saved a space for the lost.
They filled it once, twice, and kept on,
eating greasy flesh straight from the bone,
craning their heads to ask a prayer for them instead.

Downtown later in the easy dark,
three college boys in foam cowboy hats shout in poor Spanish.
They press into the night and the night presses into them.
They will go home when they have to.
Under the bridge lit in violet,
a folding chair is draped in a ***** blanket.
A grubby pair of tennis shoes lay beneath, no feet inside.
Iced tea seeps from a chewed cup.
I pass a bar lit like Christmas.
A mute and pretty face full of indoor light
makes a promise I see through a window.
I pay obscene rents to find out if it is true,
in this nation tied together with gallows-rope,
thumbing its codex of virtues.
Considering this just recently got rejected and I'm free to publish it, and also considering that the town this poem describes is subject once again to a deluge whose damage promises to be worse than before, it seemed like a suitable time to post it. If you've enjoyed it, please think about making a small donation to the North Carolina Disaster Relief Fund at the URL below:
https://governor.nc.gov/donate-florence-recovery
Snehith Kumbla Aug 2016
what forests are those we pass,
blazing along the railway tracks,
a tree bloom of still cranes,
stream black of ******* bane,

stench of dead city rubble,
factories of rusted cast metal,
distant cotton twilight skies,
sun slide across a bunch of wires,    

passing tunnels echo
lonely platforms, frantic gecko,
looming hillside,
crackle dry wood fire,

a god barred in lock&key, 
blink glimpse of the sea 
one rush of vision,
pebble fling at frisson,

metal-crunch rhythm,
grind music sublime,
spark, grunt, grate,
we arrive, we dissipate...
(As experienced on a train journey undertaken in December 2014)
Claire Jan 2014
One cannot just simply
Replace
The salty tears or scattered pieces
That once contained a heart.
One cannot just simply
Reconstruct
The fallen home or forgotten wishes
Withholding a haven of wonder and
Bittersweet reminiscence.
One cannot just simply
Prosper
When this world has once again come to an
Abrupt halt
The smiles and sentiments have refrained from spinning and
The images have stopped moving.
Where there was once laughter
Now lies an empty silence.
Where there was once life
Now lies an empty body.  
Everything that binded her in rusted chains
Escaped from her desperate grasp and now
She
Is only a memory.
One of my favorites I have written.
ᗺᗷ Nov 2013
The air your lips used to warm
as you'd breathe into mine,
has become too cold
from the space
you left between us.


Now,
I warm my own air
with flames
set from the peelings
of a burning heart
you threw away
in a rusted can.


I don't remember winter ever being so cold.
all i got's a rusty truck
some dreams and my guitar
out of all them three
not one will get me far

the truck don't run
the guitar's out of tune
the day just must get better
it's only ten past noon

i'm building bridges out of sand
with water and some glue
i'm building bridges that won't stand
unless they're built with you
i'm building bridges out of sand
that may not last the night
i'm building bridges out of sand
and with you i'll build them right

my roof is always leaking
my boat won't stay afloat
i'm tone deaf and i stutter
i can not hold a note

the truck has rusted floorboards
they've rusted clear on through
the thing that makes me keep it
is it's where i first kissed you

i'm building bridges out of sand
with water and some glue
i'm building bridges that won't stand
unless they're built with you
i'm building bridges out of sand
that may not last the night
i'm building bridges out of sand
and with you i'll build them right

with your voice there beside me
a new truck and new guitar
the dreams won't seem so distant
we'll be closer to the stars

a good and strong foundation
and belief in what i dream
with two hearts it is stronger
with two hearts, we're a team

i'm building bridges out of sand
with water and some glue
i'm building bridges that won't stand
unless they're built with you
i'm building bridges out of sand
that may not last the night
i'm building bridges out of sand
and with you i'll build them right
Kendra Feener Oct 2014
I never was one to let people in
I was never one to make people feel welcome
When I met you, it was like placing a key into your open palm
One that fit into an old rusted lock
One that I didn't even know exited

I guess I found parts of myself when I found you
They were never welcoming
I don't have many treasures
Instead,
Cobwebs, because I never feared spiders
And wooden walls that leave splinters in your fingertips when you touch them

Seasons have passed
My thoughts have grown
Things have changed
I guess I've realized I've never really felt at home
I've never really had one
I guess that's why I've never been welcoming

You took your time wiggling the key into place
I guess I'm a patient person
In your presence, I count stars
In your absence, I count stars
They remind me of you
I guess it's because some nights you see them
But some nights you don't

I'd wish for a clear sky every night
But I know better
The clouds need love too
Instead I'll wish for your visits on rainy days

I guess what I've learned with these passed, changing seasons,
Is what lies behind the rusted lock is my home
As beautiful as I feel it is
I guess I can understand why someone would not want to stay
October 19th, 11:59PM
I don't really know who I wrote this about
I guess it's about anybody who I've allowed myself to trust, even the ones who chose to break it.
I guess I wrote this for myself, because I really don't know who will stay.
I guess what I'm saying is that I can be hard to love.
I guess that's ok.
My dog has died.
I buried him in the garden
next to a rusted old machine.

Some day I'll join him right there,
but now he's gone with his shaggy coat,
his bad manners and his cold nose,
and I, the materialist, who never believed
in any promised heaven in the sky
for any human being,
I believe in a heaven I'll never enter.
Yes, I believe in a heaven for all dogdom
where my dog waits for my arrival
waving his fan-like tail in friendship.

Ai, I'll not speak of sadness here on earth,
of having lost a companion
who was never servile.
His friendship for me, like that of a porcupine
withholding its authority,
was the friendship of a star, aloof,
with no more intimacy than was called for,
with no exaggerations:
he never climbed all over my clothes
filling me full of his hair or his mange,
he never rubbed up against my knee
like other dogs obsessed with ***.

No, my dog used to gaze at me,
paying me the attention I need,
the attention required
to make a vain person like me understand
that, being a dog, he was wasting time,
but, with those eyes so much purer than mine,
he'd keep on gazing at me
with a look that reserved for me alone
all his sweet and shaggy life,
always near me, never troubling me,
and asking nothing.

Ai, how many times have I envied his tail
as we walked together on the shores of the sea
in the lonely winter of Isla Negra
where the wintering birds filled the sky
and my hairy dog was jumping about
full of the voltage of the sea's movement:
my wandering dog, sniffing away
with his golden tail held high,
face to face with the ocean's spray.

Joyful, joyful, joyful,
as only dogs know how to be happy
with only the autonomy
of their shameless spirit.

There are no good-byes for my dog who has died,
and we don't now and never did lie to each other.

So now he's gone and I buried him,
and that's all there is to it.
Another Day
Another dollar
That's what I get
For, I'm blue collar
Working hard
For all the bosses
Sitting upstairs
In the office

Grab a coffee
On the way
do the same stuff
every day
nothing changes
It's routine
That's the way
It's always been

I am just a working man
Doing the best job that I can
Nine to Five, or Eight to Four
Do my eight and out  the door
Loading trucks to hit the road
Get 'em out with a full load
Doing just the best I can
I am just a working man

Twenty minutes
and two breaks
That is all
The time I take
Sneak a smoke
When I can
This is the life
Of a working man

Old and rusted
two tone truck
Always busted
Just my luck
Working hard
To make a dollar
It's the lot
of a blue collar

I am just a working man
Doing the best job that I can
Nine to Five, or Eight to Four
Do my eight and out  the door
Loading trucks to hit the road
Get 'em out with a full load
Doing just the best I can
I am just a working man
THE RAT AND THE PREGNANT WOMAN


A story poem

BY

Alexander K Opicho
(Eldoret, Kenya;aopicho@yahoo.com)



Dedicated to;
My mother Neddy Nabisino Mayende Kuloba Makhakara
And her mother Maritini Nabengele Nasenya Mulemia Namugugu Ilungu wa Wenwa.
The story telling power of these two ladies is the primary source of my passion and love for humorous and peace bettling stories. I owe them all the recognitions.







OPENING SONG
How do I start telling this story that I got from my
Grandmothers when sited around the fire yard in the evening?
I don’t know how to start surely,
For to day I am very shy; all of your eyes
Are on me, looking at me like ocean of looking organs
But let me embolden my self with the belt
Of a story teller that my grand father gave me
And commanded me to preach peace
Through story telling in every place I go
So my spiritual service to humanity is telling stories
Is to soothe and heal wounds of humanity
By softly telling peaceful stories
Let me then cough to clear my voice and start;

Long time ago, but not very long time
Some where between the centuries of twelve hundred
And seventeen hundred after the death of the other Jewish
Story teller who died without a wife, who died on the cross
But others say he died on the stake, his name was Jesus,
There existed only two kingdoms in land which is known today
As Bukusu land found in the present east Africa or Indian Ocean coastal Africa,
The first occupants of this vast land is the sons and daughters of Babukusu
Or the ones who like selling ironsmith products
And hence the name the people of Bukusu; the people who sell,
The two kingdoms were the Kingdom of muntu and the kingdom of manani
The citizens in the kingdom of muntu were short men and short women
Handsome and beautiful, slender and not assertive in their physical disposition
But the citizens of the kingdom of manani were all cyclopic,
In their everything; the manner of walking, talking farting, micturating
Farming, breathing, snoring, smiling, singing, whispering
Their whisper was a noisy as the tropical thunderclap
They were tall men and tall women, very tall
Their young person was as short as the tallest
Person in the kingdom of muntu,
When one of the citizen of manani snores
All the citizens of Muntu along together with,
Their king Walumoli wa Muntu had no option
But remain awake throughout the night,
Because the cacophony of a snore from
The sleeping courts of Manani was not bearable,

On many occasions Walumoli wa Muntu
The conscientious king of the muntu kingdom
Had arranged to talk to Silinki wa Namunguba
The ostensible king of the Manani Kingdom
About the cacophonous sleep robbing
Snores of daughters and sons in neighbour kingdom of Manani
Only to cow and chicken away in a feat of prudence
Lest Silinki wa Namunguba will suspect him for being
A night runner or a thief of *** perhaps
Who roams his compound during the wee of the night
In hunt of any of Namunguba’s wife maybe
Perchance having gone out for a mid-night *******,
This is how legendary snores of the sons and daughters
Of Silinki wa Namunguba the king of Manani
Has remained unchecked for ever till today,

One time an ugly passer by happened to be seen
Traversing the kingdom of muntu
In the early afternoon some two
Hours after Walumoli the king
Had just cleared the last plate
Of the mid day meal from
His last wife Khatembete Kho Bwibo Khakhalikaha Nobwoya
He always eats her food last in the afternoon
Because it comes on the table steaming youthfulness
He loves his Khatembete wife, the wife of his old age
The wife he married by use and show of the royal regalia
The powers and dignity of the king of muntu
He married her when he his a king, the scepter in his hand,

Going back to the ugly passer by
It was never known where he came from
Not from the east where the Indian Ocean is
Not from the west where the vastness of the land
Of black people of Baganda and Bacongo
Baigbo and Bayoruba or Bafulana of Nigeria
Or the sons of Madiokor Ngoni Diop in the Senegal,
Not from the south from shaka the Zulu and Mandella the wise one
Not from north in the land of Dinka and Nuer, Ethiopian Jewish and the Egyptians,
The passerby was ugly and from no where, in a dress and
A very ***** dress that fumed out a malodorously stenching reek
He was a man in attires of a woman; this was a taboo in the land of muntu
He was left handed and a heavy weight stammerer, with an appalling
Protuberation of   a hunched back, an enormous hunchback
Enmassing entired of his masculine shoulders,
When the wind blew his loose dress followed it
Leaving the man’s thighs and then bossom naked,
Leading bystanders to a strange discovery; he was not circumcised
He was old like any other father, he had beards
But not yet circumcised, his ***** ends in corkscrew of a sheath,
This was a taboo in the land of muntu, in the kingdom of muntu
Which Walumoli wa Muntu the son of Mukitang’a Mutukuika ruled
For the spirits, gods and ancestors as well as foremen of the kingdom
Behooved that all male offsprings of the kingdom of muntu
Whether born in marriage or out of the wedlock
Born the blood or born as a ******* must and must be
Circumcised in the early teen hood
They must be circumcised before they grow the hairs
On the face, on the chest, in the scapula and on the areas
Surrounding the testicles, the **** and the endings of the backbone,
The man again had six fingers on the legs and on the hands
He walks slowly like a porcupine, his dress was in tartars
He was violent to every one he met
Insulting old people and old women with words
Of bad manners not used in the kingdom of muntu,
He terrified and beat young children, including the royal children
And grand children of Walumoli the king of muntu
He again had to beat and chase nine young virgins
Who had come from the palace of Walumoli the king of Muntu
Away from the forest when they picking fire wood
As well as playing a game of hide and seek with other palace lads,
The ugly passer by then chased to get hold of the
Nalukosi the first born daughter of
Khatembete Kho Bwibo Khakhalikaha Nobwoya
The beloved last wife of the king of Muntu
All other virgins ran home, but Nalukosi remained behind
In the inextricable grip of the ugly passer by
She screamed with hysteria of a hypochondriac
She screamed and kicked with her wholesome mighty
The stubborn passer by never left her alone
She gnawed the ugly passer by with
Her girlish claws of her fingernails
But is like the passer by was mentally disordered
He was a ******* of some time
He derived some pleasure and instead
Enjoyed the girlish scratches of his captive,
Before the eight running virgins reached the palace
Together with their companions, the playmate lads
The shrilling scream of the captive Nalukosi
Was sharply heard at the palace, first by King Walumoli
Who called his wife Khatembete Kho Bwibo Khakhalikha Nobwoya
To come out of the hut, the kitchen and help to listen,
Immediately Mukisu wa Mujonji the palace keeper surfaced
His face displayed genuine askance of an adept military man
Whose martial arts have rusted for a week without usage
He confirmed to the king that the cry from the forest
Is of the one from this royal home of your majesty the king
And none other than the ****** princes Nalukosi Mukoyonjo
The pride of her father, the eye of the palace,
Without hesitation the king permitted the wallabying Mukisu ,
Permission to run in a military dint and find out whatever that
Was eating Nalukosi Mukoyonjo the familial heart of the king,
Mukisu wa Mujonji who was clearly known in the kingdom of muntu,
For his swift running like a desert kite, he already twice chased
And gotten single handedly two male gazelles,
Without aid of a dog nor aid of fellow hunters
And delivered them to the king as a present to the palace
Which he achieved because of the speed of his legs,
On this royal permission he unsheathed his matchette
And went away like any arrow from the bow
His shirt trailing behind him like mare’s tail
Or like the flag on the post on a windy day,
Not a lot of time passed.
Mukisu wa Mujonji is at the spot of struggle,
Between Nalukosi and the Ugly passerby
There was no question or talking,
The first thing was Mukisu to sink the Matchette
With all of his mighty into the tummy of the ugly stranger
The bowels of the ugly stranger opened puffwiiii!
He breathed and gasped twice then succumbed to death.
His grip still strong on the leg of Nalukosi Mukoyonjo
The ugly passer by reached the rigor Mortis
When Nalukosi was still strongly gripped in his
Beastly hand, Mukisu wa Mujonji with all the skills
Used a Sharp matchette again; chopped of the hand
Of the ugly dead passer by off, from its torso
At the point of the muscular elbow,
Now Nalukosi was extricated, but not fully
From the grip of the dead ugly stranger,
The chopped off hand is still knotted at her leg
Around her leg, the dead hand also grips.
Nalukosi jumped here and there to throw away
The leg and the dead hand, but it was not easy to throw
The hand still stubbornly gripped around her angle,
*** time passed, each and every one of the kingdom came
Including the king Walumoli wa Muntu himself
And his nine wives, Khatembete Khobwibo Khakhalikha Nobwoya
Came last, as she was energyless due to rudely shocking tidings
Which the escaping virgins and lads had given her
That the ugly passer by had turned into the ogre
And had swallowed her daughter Nalukosi
That he had swallowed her piecemeal without chewing,
People of muntu came and found the ugly passerby dead
The left had chopped off its torso
But still hanging loosely on the leg of Nalukosi
Nalukosi jumping, kicking, screaming
Screaming away the dead hand from the grip of leg
But nothing had forthcame her way,
Walumoli wa Muntu could not afford to see
The hand on the leg of her beloved daughter
What could he tell his wife, is your all know
Dear reader and audience to this song;
Even the mighty and the wise ones
Generously bend when under the pressure of love,
Out of this dint, even before Mukisu wa Mujonji
Could display his next military card
Walumoli wa Muntu grapped the dead hand
That stuck of the leg of her daughter
And pulled it with another force that
No man born of woman has
Never used since the creation of the earth
By the gods and spirits of Muntu,
The hand come off, he throw it
On the cadaver of the ugly stranger,
He clicked and clicked and hissed
With anger like a wild turkey
In the African thorny forest,
He ordered the dead one to be buried
Their without haste, nor ceremony
Mukisu wa Mujonji buried the body
Quickly in a brief moment with precision
As if he was taking notes
From the lines of the poem
OF Pablo Neruda on how
To bury a dog behind the house
This time burying an ugly stranger
Behind the forts of the kingdom,
After all these women, children and men
Of muntu plus their king Walumoli
Went back to their houses hilariously
Broken into a song and a wild *** dance;
Makoe eehe! Makoe !
Nifwe Talangi Makoe !
Talangi!
Khwaula embogo sitella
Nifwe Talangi!
They sang up to midnight before
They all retired to their beds
Respective beds with panting thoraces
From heavy singing and dancing.

There is connection and disconexion between
The living and the dead, the living fear the dead
And dead loves the living,
The dead want the company of the living
For the living to accompany in the land of the dead,
When the ugly stranger was killed
And buried uncircumcised with the hunch
Not plucked out of his back
The gods and the livings dead
In the realm of the ancestors
Of the kingdom of Muntu were not happy,
They never wanted uncircumcised old man
With a hunch back to join them
And worse enough with the six fingers,
The gods and ancestors really god annoyed
That Walumoli wa Muntu has done them bad
He is only caring for the living, the pre-mortals
Especially his last wife and the daughter
But he has neglected the ancestors,
Why trash to ancestors a stark humanity,
They communed among themselves
And resolved to sent Namaroro
The god of dreams, dreams as messages
From the ancestors and dreams from the gods
Namaroro visited Namunyu Lubunda the palace
Prophet in the Kingdom of Muntu to pass
The message vesseling unhappiness of the ancestors
And gods in a blend of gloomy read to execute
A vendetta;
This is when in the wee of the night that Namunyu Lubunda
Dreamed and had a vision of a old man from
The east is warning of the coming long spell of starvation
That will befall the kingdom of Muntu for ten years
                                      That Namaroro told Namunyu Lubunda
As for ten seasons of foodlessness
Behold a begging kingdom
Behold a starving throne,
The scepter of Muntu is a disgrace
To the holder
Then Namunyu Lubunda set forth by dawn
To the Palace to meet Walumoli wa Muntu
In his, palace before any other royal chores come up,
Both good and bad luck combined
Only to have Namunyu Lubunda to get the king at the palace
He got him fresh and relaxed chewing the cup of fortune
In his full ego, all his wives had submitted to the morning dishes
To his dining hall in the palace, he moved his hands from
One plate of food to the other.
Namunyu Lubunda entered with a submissive salutation
To the royal, He bowed and declared the glory of the king
In typical standards of the ethnic composition of the house of Muntu
Walumoli wa Muntu Mukitang’a Mutukuika
Majave Kutusi Mbirira Omwene esimbo ya
Kumukasa,
Walumoli responded with a feat of dignity to Namunyu Lubunda
The palace prophet, as he roared to him; come in
Come in son of Lubunda son of our people,
He did mention the name of Namunyu Lubunda father
As he fears his words may escape with the power
Of his kingdom the scepter of Muntu
To other insignificant families in the kingdom,
Let me announce what brings me here; intoned Namunyu
Go ahead and announce my holiness
s the prophet of this kingdom; responded Walumoli,
Misfortune is awaiting the kingdom
It will eat this kingdom away
Like a ravenous hyena on the ewe’s tail
The ancestors and the spirits of this land
This kingdom of yours the son of Muntu
Are immensely offended with your recent behaviour
In which you commandeered all villages
In your kingdom; from east and west
The **** the innocent passer by
With your owner hands that handle the scepter
You killed and lay to rest the foreigner
A pure omurende to the kingdom of muntu
You buried him uncircumcised without contrite
In the cemeteries of our foremen who asleep and circumcised
Why did you lower the dignity of our forefathers
Who never share a roof with uncircumcised person
To share the ancestral realm; our emagombe
With hunchback foreigner not circumcised?
This kingdom is condemned to all spell of curse of death
Ceaseless hunger famines and starvation
Women dwindle in their reproductive capacity
Rarely will you come across a pregnant woman
Food will be difficulty to put on the table
Even the sweat of your brow will go to naught,
You will not be buried with insignia
Like a pauper you killed will you be buried
The house of your wife Khatembete Kho Bwibo
Khakhalikha no bwoya is a house of no consequences
For even your daughter Nalukosi stands cursed
She will not mature to be wedded into a marriage
She will hover the earth under heavy agonies of hunger,
My assignment is done and over
With or without your permission let me go.









THE FIRST SONG
Our song continues dear brethren
Come join me in arms we sing
Joyous singing of these songs of peace
Telling the world peaceful stories
As we enjoy sitting together around my grandmothers fire yard
Warming our selves to her lovely fire inherent in her good stories,
These songs will sing the glory and success of the king of Manani
It is an irregular Ode to Silinki wa Namunguba the son of Mwangani,
The son of Tunduli, the son of Wajala Njovu, the son of Welikhe, the son
Of manyorori, the son of Chumbe, the son of Kajo, the Son of Mabati, the son of welotia,
The son of sikele sia mulia, the son of Toywa,the son of siruju, the son of Mango, the son of Mulwoni sinyanya Bakhasi, the son of Mbakara , the son of Makhakara wa Nambuya, the son of Mukoye mulala kukhalikha w0nga, the son of Zumba the son of God.
Silinki
Vivian Ienello Apr 2013
You go down the streets you have once know, feeling so alone. A Cornucopia of thoughts like a tide splashing your brain causing riptides in your thought, you rip out the sutures of your heart so you can feel again, being sad has never been so pleasing. Is it in you? Do you have what it takes to be that person you strive for? Is it hard? Is it hard? You think you’re worthless, you think you’re done. Tangents go off in your brain causing you to go insane

WHy do I think like this why do I think like this

Being sad has never been so pleasing, never been so pleasing being so sad.

Tangents going off driving me ******* insane
WE have wooden eyes, we have rusted bones,
WE have wooden eyes we have rusted bones
broken bones and vacant eyes.
Michael Blace May 2014
the yellow sun
was shining down
on grass and sand and waves
it was a place
where children went
to laugh
and dance
and
play.

as molly ran
and wandered off
she found a magic thing
a deep blue house
carved out of stone
in which the wind
would sing.

the other children
climbed about
and gazed into
the cave
and johnny said
“i’ll lead the way”
(because he was most brave)
and tad and tommy
followed him,
for they were big
and strong
while alice chose
to stay outside
but molly tagged along.

the dark was very chilly
and the silence, very wet
johnny shivered and looked back
but couldn’t leave
just yet.
now molly didn’t notice:
awe
and wonder
filled her eyes;
she found a solace
in the stillness,
comfort,
in the pitch black sky.

when suddenly, there came a rustle
from a hundred winged things
as dark as sin
with deep red eyes
shrieking
just like rusted swings.

tommy was the first one out
(his long legs made him fast)
then john and tad
ran into alice
and tumbled on the grass.
and when the world
had settled down,
the quiet had returned
they saw that one
was not around
and they became concerned.


but don’t you worry,
little molly
was fine as fine can be
as she uttered boldly to the dark:
“you never frightened me"
my, body, is, dead.


legs; mechanical and rusted
money is spent.
head is impaired

porch sunrise,
deep conversation,
walks across town early in the mornin'
jane taylor Jun 2016
fly
born in illusory chains
gnarled metal
encrusted in my broken skin
the copper colored dust
of rusted steel
infectiously envelopes

shaving off antiquated layers
of fundamentalist religion
encrusted for generations
unpeeled until raw
an unsophisticated method
unveiling
ancient lodged glass shards
colored with deceit

brought before their court
interrogated
unfathomably skewered
an eerie salem witch trial
in modern times

barbarically they shun me
banished
i wander aimlessly
smelling the rotten decay of deceased community
as splinters pierce my feet
from the crooked wooden plank
i walk alone now

an unfathomable inner ache
kindled a residue within
igniting a wildfire from the darkest shadows
uncontainably erupting
i dance savagely
naked in the orange moonlight
and in every shaded edge
lit my soul ablaze

i am a nomad sheep
‘tho not one of their color
no pasture to contain me
no shepherd i can follow
theological safety nets
no longer there to catch me
bohemian-like
i plunge

free falling
plummeting
stripped wide open
magically
fearlessness
reverses gravitation

floating
untethered
i soar amongst
apricot tinged clouds
my skin still wet from rebirth
and rise with the flaming coral sun

you cannot destroy me
i twisted in your decrepit pencil sharpener
and with fresh mettle
cut through the chains that bound

you can have my ego
but you cannot have my soul

dismantling domestication
transcending limitation
wildly untamed
i fly

©2016janetaylor
my husband and i left the mormon church and lost many friends, family, and community
Rhet Toombs Jul 2015
Translucent
A burned dream
Fingertips at trembling galaxies
Remembering stolen breaths
Dismantled from rusted logic
A steel garden flourishes
Sealed with infectious passion
A reflection of mirrored pain
Emerging bloodless depths
Rising to a caged silhouette
Shrouded in sacrifice
Jessica Giles Feb 2010
It was a once in a lifetime situation
And I blew it,
Twice.
Rusted memories cling to me
Their paint peeling and the outside weathered
But inside is still the same.
I've forgiven
While you've forgotten.
2009
Jordan N Dingle Jun 2016
Those magnificent sunsets, riveting
to the bone.
I walked into the prairie,
and felt like the cool wind on a Saturday night.
I can see the old rusted behemoth.
It sits, lost in the wastebasket of oblivion.
Tall whisky willows, tower in front, their boughs
blocking it's menacing complexion.
A hummingbird approached me.
The shuttering of the old clock in the truck,
fell to a lonesome silence.
Miranda Renea Jul 2014
I grew up in suburbia-
With picket fences as white as the faces
Who say they're godly enough to save babies
(As long as they're not queer)
Because we don't have to live with the fear
Of corpses lining the sidewalks
Of our perfectly landscaped yards
We have no guards firing on peaceful protestors
Because our children are filed into orderly lines
Laid out for them at birth
But for what it's worth, we teach them of racism
From a white textbook that lies about founding fathers
Where segregation is just a word and
Oppression is hardly even mentioned.
Our children, who play at the age of 6
And lose their innocence at the age of 16
Suburbia is a life of it's own,
Gangly arms and legs
Like the teenagers who starve themselves
And steal their parents liquor
Just to get drunk quicker
Ignorant of those on the streets dying of hunger
No wonder I yearn to be far from this hell I call home.

Allen Ginsberg once said
“America I’ve given you all and now I am nothing”
The Wonder Years once said
“Suburbia I’ve given you all and now I am nothing”
But I’ve found fallacies in both of these,
I feel it’s more like
Suburbia I’ve given you all
And now I’m an awkward 20 year old
Who doesn’t know how to talk to black people
Suburbia I’ve given you all
And now I’m way too confident walking around the city at night
Because I forget there are communities
Where people actually have to lock their doors,
Suburbia I’ve given you all
And now I have a 16 year old brother
Who thinks the word *** and **** jokes are funny
Suburbia I've given you all
And now my father hates that I'm for gender equality
Well dear daddy,
I hope this offends you.

Because I am offended
By a community that tells **** victims they were asking for it
I am offended by a community
That tells my best friend Liam
That he's just confused, that
His love for Adam is an abomination
I am offended by a community
That offers equality as thinly veiled oppression,
With houses decorated in the decadence of degradation,
All the while their perfect sons and daughters
Are dying of depression because
The hilt of a gun is so much quicker
Than the drugs of their addiction

Suburbia, you are the seed of suicide
Feeding off of your violent silence,
Your white fences slice our tongues
And leave us mindless.
Suburbia, you have betrayed us.
Taught us ignorance is bliss with
Algebra instead of how to do taxes,
Spent more time worried about
Girls' shoulders instead of *** education,
Taught me not to speak unless
My hand was raised as if praise
Is given to authority without question,
Funny how they forgot to mention
Our country was founded on rebellion.

But suburbia, I forgive you
And so I humbly ask of you,
Find the keys of compassion within the heart and
Shed the lock of ignorance that grips your mind
The door may be rusted but it can open with time
Suburbia, I beg of you
Join us in the war of love
Let us all raise our fists and
Paint peace signs on our wrists,
We are disobedient dandelions swaying in the sun,
Words of kindness rolling off our tongues
Like pacifistic shots of a gun
Firing respect instead of rounds
And burying hate instead of bodies in the ground.
***This is a group piece. The lovely Mary Hamula is the other writer that worked on it with me.
John Jan 2013
Back when I was about ten or eleven, the only friend I had was the most beautiful girl I knew. Her name was Jessica and her and I did everything together. In school we were inseparable, always chit-chatting before, during and after classes. So much so that teachers bestowed upon us the annoying, yet endearing, encompassing nickname of "Jackica" - a combination of our names; Jack and Jessica.
     I was so thankful for her companionship, and thinking back it might have been a pretty uneven relationship, emotionally. I was an overweight and awkward Harry Potter fanboy and she was a cute little auburn-haired thing who could've won any Miss America Junior competition in the world, as far as I was concerned. She had the most piercing powder blue eyes. The kind that made my skin tingle and mouth curl up into a stupid smile at any given moment. I felt like she saw me, like she really saw ME. Not the blubbery flesh that coated my muscle and bones but what I was made of, the real me. And I loved her for that.
     Along with Jessica's physical blessings, she was also given an insatiable appetite for adventure. She loved to go to the park at night,  after the gates were locked and when everything was drenched in darkness. We'd hop the five foot chain-link fence and roam around the grounds. We'd go the water at the edge of the park and sit on the rocks, look up at the stars and take turns telling stories to each other with intent to scare the **** out of the other one.
     One humid night in mid-June, Jessica told a story that succeeded in making my skin-crawl. She always told decent scary stories, she was gifted in the art of fabricating tales of fright right on the spot, but this story really got to my core for some reason. I just felt uneasy as the words spilled from her mouth to my ears and with each sentence my muscles tightened and strained just from the mere tone of her voice as she told the story. She sounded serious, and she rarely did, even when telling these stories, but with this particular one it sounded like she really believed what she was saying was cold, hard truth.
     What she said was that she heard a story that her older brother's girlfriend had told her. It was about a house on the outskirts of town, placed just a few hundred yards from the mouth of the woods that lined our little suburban utopia. She went on to say that in the house was nothing all that scary. She said it was an old house, a very old house, as it was a log cabin that was built in the 1700s, when the town was first being settled. Supposedly, everything in the house was just as it was back then, little kerosene lamps sitting on home-mad oak tables. The maple-wood floors would moan and creak at the slightest hint of any weight being put on them. And then she said that no one had lived in the house since the man who built it died, around 1785.
     Needless to say, Jessica wrapped up the story by proclaiming that we had to find the house. And we had to go inside and see for ourselves what was so creepy about it. Being the scared, chubby little wimp that I was, I immediately rejected the idea. There was no way I was going to try to find a place that would only succeed in making me **** my pants in front of a girl, especially the one whom I'd placed the delusional label of "future girlfriend" on.  But, as I subconsciously expected, Jessica talked me into it with just a few graceful words: "I'll kiss you if you come with me."
    
     The very next Saturday night, Jessica and I put on some dark jeans and t-shirts and took the bus all the way to the last stop, the edge of town. We hopped off and right in front of the stop the woods were already waiting, I took a deep breath as Jessica's eyes lit up. She took my hand and pulled me as she ran, me clumsily waddling along behind her all the way to a little dirt pathway that paved the only marked entrance we could see. She asked me if I was ready and I shrugged, saying something like "I'm as ready as I'm ever going to be." And so we started down the path. As the tall trees swayed in the wind, I dragged my feet with  Jessica always about five feet ahead of me, as eager as ever. We walked for probably ten or twenty minutes before the foot of the cabin was before us.
     At first sight, it was a very old structure. I'd never seen anything like it outside of paintings in my history textbook and this Abe Lincoln documentary I saw on PBS. I never knew houses like that stood the test of time. But there it was before me, two stories high with wooden shutters clad in severely chipped paint and a big oak door that looked stronger than any door I'd ever seen. Jessica took my hand again, smiled enchantingly and rushed me forward.
     Once at the door, I was speechless. It didn't look as old as the rest of the house and whoever made it obviously meant for it to last a very long time, taking extreme care in carving it out impeccably and sanding it until it shined with a professional touch. Without a word, Jessica rapped on the door. Three hard times, and when no one answered after thirty seconds, she rapped again, and again. She shrugged and turned to me, asked if we should just go in. I said no and she frowned.
     "There's no way we came this far just to go back home with nothing," and then she wrapped her hand around the rusted doorknob and turned.
     The door opened with no hesitation as she pushed it all the way in. She stepped inside, and I followed. The first thing I noticed inside the cabin was the creaking floors. They creaked louder and longer with each step, affirming that part of the story, making my blood run cold. We looked around, going from room to room with wide eyes. We were amazed that we made it, that we got inside and now we were actually investigating a place that no one else supposedly had gone before. Truth be told, though, it was nothing special. There wasn't much at all to see, save for a few tables, the creaking floors and some very old paintings on the wall. We were just leaving when we noticed something on a table nearest the big oak door. It was a metal box with a small lock fastened to the front of it.
     "We have to open it," Jessica proclaimed after a second of curious inspection.
     "There's no way were going to find the key," I told her.
     "So we'll break the lock, Jack. Duh," she replied in her sassiest tone.
     I just shook my head as she grabbed the box and began to furiously slam it in the wooden table. The sound echoed through the house, exacerbating it and making me shiver from head to toe.
     "I don't know if you should keep-" but my sentence was cut off my the lock flying off the box and clinking onto the floor below.
Jessica smiled again, very pleased with herself and looked to me.
     "Wonder what's inside...," She said, lifting the top half of the box open.
     After an initial and cough-inducing puff of thick dust subsided, the contents of the box were revealed. It was a letter, written on old-school parchment in heavy ink. In neatly laid Victorian script, the likes of which I had never seen so simultaneously neat and scattered, like it was written in a hurry or during a time of distress, was a love letter. Well, a kind of love letter. It was addressed to a woman named Tania and it was signed by a William. It told the story of how William had loved Tania since they were children, and Tania was now to be married to a Pastor named Hensley. William told Tania how he couldn't bear the thought of her ever being with anyone else and that the fact that she could never truly be his was killing him. Literally. He ended the note by confessing his plan to **** himself.
     I took a step back, but Jessica just stood at the table with her eyes glued to the crumbling parchment in her hands.
     "I'm leaving," I said after a few moments, mulling over the sorrow that this poor man must've felt. I headed out the door, Jessica following. The walk back through the woods to the bus stop I couldn't get this feeling of dread from subsiding. It seemed like I felt what William felt, but not in a sympathetic sort of way. It felt like I was William and the pain he felt was actually my pain. And then I noticed that, rolled up tightly in her fist, Jessica had taken the letter with her.
     "Why'd you take that," I said, sounding thoroughly upset. "That's not yours to take, go bring it back!"
     "No way. There was no way I was going there and coming back with nothing to show for it," she said, gripping the letter tightly, her knuckles almost whitening.
     I knew how stubborn Jessica could be and I knew whatever I said probably wouldn't even phase her in the slightest so I did what I did best and just shrugged it off. I found myself wishing I could shrug off the terrible feeling the letter put deep inside me just as easily as I could Jessica's stubbornness.

     Over time, Jessica and I lost touch, as kids of that age often do. I grew up, lost weight and opened up, making more friends and acquaintances, no longer hanging onto the thought of Jessica being my only love. I didn't talk to Jessica all that much. Just once in a while we'd meet up and have a chat over some coffee or pizza. We had both changed and morphed into young adults with different agendas and dreams and I had no problem with that. But on one such meeting, Jessica began to worry me. She said that every now and then she'd open her desk drawer and take the piece of parchment out and read it. Over and over again. And lately, she had been opening the drawer more and more, she said that she felt drawn to it. Like something about it made her feel this deep-seated dread that no horror movie or scary story had ever made her feel. She said that she felt like the letter was beginning to take a toll on her. And, by the look of her, it didn't seem like she was lying or kidding around like she always used to love to do. She had dark circles underneath her once striking eyes, which were now darker and had taken on an odd and ominous color. I was scared for her. And I told her so but she hugged me and assured me she was alright. I wanted to believe her, and I tried to, hugging her back and telling her I'd talk to her soon. But when she turned her back I knew something was very wrong.

     I'm writing this now because a few weeks ago Jessica's mom gave me a call. When her number came up on my cell phone, I think I knew, deep down, e actor why I was getting this call but I pushed the thought away and said hello. Jessica's mother called to tell me that a few days before Jessica had gone missing. The only indication to her whereabouts was a note she left with the words "cabin at the edge of town", and below that, instructions on how to get there. Her mother said she took the note and hopped in her car immediately, and made it to the cabin. She said she was breathless by the time she got to the cabin but forged on and barged inside and looked around. She said she found nothing and was about to leave when she noticed a small door behind the big oak door she had swung open to get inside. She opened the little door to find a stairwell. She climbed it, calling Jessica's name all the way, sobbing and wiping tears from her eyes. At the top of the stairs was the attic. And she said she almost died herself when she saw Jessica. She was hanging from a wooden rafter on the ceiling. And next to her was a severely decayed skeleton, dangling from a rope only a few inches away.
It's definitely more of a short story but I felt obligated to post it here for some reason.
Nat Lipstadt Apr 2014
Thus spake and quested
another, younger poet to me,
a far better one than I,
but obligations thus provided,
are serious business,
to those who understand
poetic responsibilities, and
under his own Rules of Order,
an answer,
though long in coming, AR,
must be provided.*

Well well well
all is not well,
the faucets offers choices....
chrome hot
chrome cold

there is no such thing as
lukewarm truth in
clear waters that
run run,
yet never
run stilled,
birthed at turned-on conception,
to drain death removal,
another daily poetic miracle,
unappreciated by most,
overly consumed by their
own passage on this Earth

peddler wayfarer,
passing through with truth
poem pots and rattling pans
(nowadays, mostly panned),
a historic factoid,
and not what Amazon delivers...
truth is a genetically modified
bitcoin currency, misunderstood,
prone to sometimes useful,
but never ever, to stick or stain,
for I got excuses and who gives a ****,
yesterday is forgotten instantly

The coldest truths,
the confirmation of same
by mirrored image text sent,
(immediacy a necessity,
for though poor, it is 'real')
the twitter that methodically
A-lists your major crimes
B-lists your petty,
hope-you-didn't miss my
exposé of latest misdemeanors

the hot truths,
only whispered,
merely mint hinted
in a hot cuppa,
the heat itself
a cover up,
for what you do not
wish me to plainly speak
or plainly sell,
is accursed truths,
won't sell, even if free

Can't write about moon and June,
alabaster is a fine word,
but white suits me fine,
don't know the diff
tween dragon flys and lullabies

The way I write is
just the way I think, believe,
from my eyes to paper
there is no misdirection,
just silent labor conception

Poor poor real truth
is out of favor these days,
because there is nothing
no one won't cease or hesitate
to expose himself,
flaunt the anguish,
copy other's jive,
but that is real,
but it is not truth

Had a bad day,
You need to know about it
Right away!

Though I meander and excuse,
there is one state of truth,
I need yet to annotate

Too oft when tapped turned on,
it is rusty water and rusted truths
expelled and this, my stuff, my days,
not in vogue, or a top seller

I love the color rust,
overused in my poems,
but compulsion is not a
conditional, but a must

This then is the form
they spill in these,
my final days here

You might think that rust implies
lack of use,
a non-caring
for his voice,
his well practiced instrument

Au contrarie, amigo!

My rust is from overuse,
my eyes don't see
what the popular want nor
could I provide it
even if
it was demanded,
which it is not....

Rusted but unvarnished,
undisguised by fancy words
or silent cries, what you read
is what you get
until I find
a more "authentic" voice,
one that satisfies the world
not just me...he sneers....

Feel for me in the summer breeze,
from whence my best stuff
has always been plucked
sent on its way, to you,
in self-same wind,
to kiss your cheeks,
slap you alert

I used to write
on both feet
upstanding,
then Hillel was asked for
the whole truth
while standing
on just one leg

His reply:
"Love they neighbor as you love thyself"*

So I switched
and now compose,
in quiet ignorance,
a wrong footed poet,
left only with his what's left,
and to put his left foot truths
first, forward and foremost,
is what he got, and
what I got, you'll get....

But a cautionary note,
drinking riposte rustys,
bad for the body,
but kindly
for your mental
wealth,
if your have the
only other element
most needed,
in your pocket posses,

courage
Rambling, unedited, and yet fresh so off to the presses..and at 4:21am,
I frankly, Scarlet, don't give a **** anymore...
Don't Exist Jul 2014
I  look at myself everyday
in the mirror
looking at my body intensely,looking for errors
my teeth
those monstrous pimples
and those cheap glasses
that hunch-back
who am I?
no,who is this? This body of self defeat?
what is my worth ?
what do my errors add up to?
does it deduct my final value?
Like a rusted guitar or a cheap  rag doll?

So I look at the reflections of many mirrors
I compare myself to them to the point of exhaustion
some mirrors raised my value
some didn't
some lowered my value
and some destroyed my value entirely

at one point I broke my mirror
because I finally realize
that value didn't matter
since all those mirrors came from the same thing
A simple poem (I'm a bit rusty now)
Skypath Sep 2014
It's not simple
It's rusted nails breaking skin
Lightning flashes in a hurricane
The crack of a body hitting the pavement

It's the pinch of nails in your palms
The tremble of your legs when you think they're watching
The ache in your chest when your binding is too tight
But not tight enough

It's not a stormcloud, it's a typhoon
It's not a discomfort, it's torment
Its the steel beams in your chest snapping under pressure
Your skeleton crumbling so maybe your chest will be flat then

But all those rusted nails and steel beams
Heated by the fire and fury of passion
Remold into something new

Someone who can stand a bit straighter
Speak louder
Tip their chin up
And show the world who they are
Who he is.

Dysphoria is a skyscraper crumbling to ash
But it's also scraps of wreckage
Reminded into a safe haven
A place of rest
A place of comfort
Amitav Radiance Jun 2015
Ships won’t be anchored forever
Rusted anchor will break free
Its weight will help sink deeper
With a loud clunk, noise will dissipate
The ship will set sail once again
No weight is heavy enough to overcome
Steered away to distant land
Searching for newer shores and destinations
Away from the land of constraint
Ship will sail safely through deeper waters
Navigating through inclement weather
Forces of nature will test its strength
For the ship shall find the happy shores again
ellis danzel Oct 2013
I am terribly sorry that I ran into you.   I can see that you are a bit puzzled because you think that you know me. Perhaps we have met a time or two or maybe every holiday last year, but I don’t blame you for forgetting. You see, I have changed…quite a bit and I can tell that you are very confused. It’s not the way you are looking at me or the way that I am looking at you, or the way that you are looking at me looking at you or the way that I am looking at you looking at me.  Wait, why are you looking at me? Oh yeah, you are probably wondering whether or not to ask me if I am that sweet little innocent queer barista at the nearby coffee shop down the street or the “****** up ****” that your daughter so disgustingly fell in love with during her crazy high school phase.  Yeah… that may or may not have been me. You know, you might want to tell your daughter to call me because she left some things at my house and I have been trying to get them back to her for years now.

Oh uh…Who am I you ask? It seems that you still aren’t following me. I mean my identity means nothing to you…or at least it shouldn’t, but I will try to enlighten in the best way that I can. You see, my identity has always been the person that you see before you. It’s just that for most of his life, he was trapped under the softly sweet smelling perfumes and make up that tortured him for a good solid 15 years.  His identity masked from everyone around him. The man you see before you is indeed the imaginary boyfriend that your daughter claimed to have all those years of middle school because she refused to bring him home for fear that her parents would call her a lesbian. He may or may not also be the “****” that you refused to acknowledge every night at dinner on every freaking holiday he was at your house every year during high school; Your daughter’s Lesbian friend that was conjoined to her hip 24/7. Little did you know, I was the boy she wanted to marry, the one and only person she ever felt loved her. He hid in plain sight for several years. Yet you never noticed. That is, until the night you caught us.

You see, I am not the Lesbian that converted your daughter. Or even the “****” that ruined her life. I am the boy who has always been by her side through everything. The man who promised to forever remain by her side, through whatever life tossed her way. I fell in love with her on the first day of 6th grade and I haven’t stopped loving her since. She will forever be the love of my life and….Wait why are you crying? I have some news that might cheer you up. You know that sweet boy that your daughter has been seeing, who she has refuses to bring to dinner? Yeah…you may or may not be looking at him. Let me introduce myself, I’m Aimes.
Nat Lipstadt Mar 2015
(I love) Dignity

tearing words apart,
a part
of  a joy I cannot
explain or share exactly


knew a man once,
forty two years gone,
died too soon enough,
soon enough,
he and I will be
the same age

this man
a duck out of water,
a stranger in an adopted land,
trouble-stooped, a hard life, well lived,
never bent,
dignified in every step

I cannot remember him
ever kissing me, tousling my hair,
holding my hand, loving me in
a manner I wanted beyond  desperately

yet here I am, 5:22 am
weeping tears recalling him
in glimpses long ago seen,
adding them all up to get a
single sum

Dignity.

tearing words apart,
a part
of a joy I cannot/explain,
share precisely


dig
in
to
my
chambered memory storage units,
unlocking those rusted locks with freshly oiled
tears
and loving the dignity he exampled

to the son he could not kiss, hand hold,
but taught him the one lesson, digging deep
to respect life and stand apart,
stand with dignity.

all else will follow

the son kissed his children plenty,
in a vain attempt to make up his missed
homework

now the grandfather,
now the grandfather
is still kissing
his last hope, his newest babes,
rolling on the floor,
so silly kissing belly buttons,
smelling their skin repeatedly,

in a manner most
undignified

still weeping
the son,
he tries to sort it out

and forgives and does not forget
the man that taught dignity
in everything,
even, especially,
in slow dying,

forty two years is a long time to wait
to weep.

it takes two hands in the dark
repeatedly
to collect all the waiting patiently
wetness and the
accompanied sniffles,
so undignified,
the son smiles at himself
declaring unabashedly,
digging out from himself
a poem, a self-reflection
on time tarnished reflections
clear enough to make him
sob,
believing

I love dignity.
for my father...
bike's rusted chain
against the walls of my childhood
a new family lives inside
but what they don't see
are the notes of cardamom and burnt orange
rolls of film that my parents and I left behind
capturing sneakers over gravel
along the east river
toward the steel Hell Gate
as dad jogged beside me
his caramel skin
against the sycamores
my first time learning how to ride
they don't feel the bruises and scrapes nor
taste the paella we shared for dinner that evening
they only see what we gave them,
an empty house with matte finish
Miabee Mar 2016
Breathe in some gasoline
As I fly down to greet
Trade my butterfly wings
For a touch of machine
Take my evergreen
Get some new gleam
Your noxious fume spoil
Find some Asfalt sheen  
My freedom I trade
For rusted shackles you see
The rusted shackles are the aderall pill that I take. I got the theme from being bothered by how boring the school bus is

— The End —