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

When I undress for bed later, there are many small scratches up and down my legs from those ****** thorny vines. I'm okay with that, it's better than searching for ticks in my head.
I couldn't write a 'poem' about this hike. It was too full of nature.
Chris D Aechtner Apr 2010
frontline soldiers
march through the melting snow—
rows of wet saplings
(4/6/5 syll count)
March 25th, 2010
he saplings in the yard are in first leaf

their spring has now begun but it is late

maples they are and ruddy in relief



we ask the world for hope and no mischief

to strike us as we come out through the gate

the saplings in the yard are in first leaf



the pleasant season but we know it's brief

yet we are forced each year to a long wait

maples they are and ruddy in relief



time strikes us now as a harsh nasty thief

we look in pain at every passing date

the saplings in the yard are in first leaf



but life's revival brings no great relief

we're in the season of pain and debate

maples they are and ruddy in relief



all they can do now is recall hard grief

not reconcile us to eventual fate

the saplings in the yard are in first leaf

maples they are and ruddy in relief
Tryst Jan 2015
From hordes of fresh cut saplings that abound
The hunter will devise a trusted bow
Discarded remnants rot above the ground

In early spring when winter chills rebound
The hunter builds a shelter in the snow
From hordes of fresh cut saplings that abound

Through summer months, the hunter's meal is found
By streams and brooks that through the forest flow
Discarded remnants rot above the ground

As summer wanes and autumn comes around
The hunter lets his stock of arrows grow
From hordes of fresh cut saplings that abound

At autumn's end, two mighty kings are crowned
Their armies feast before the final throw
Discarded remnants rot above the ground

In winter when the archers' drums resound
And hunters pull the string and loose the blow
From hordes of fresh cut saplings that abound
Discarded remnants rot above the ground
First published 13th Jan 2015, 20:35 AEST.
With patient hands, and caring heart,

a mother's love was shown

in the tender, stubborn saplings,

she loved enough to grow.

She listened to their tearful woes,

she kissed their hurts away;

She offered up the best advice

and tried to show the way.

She taught them well,

and scolded when they failed;

She laughed with them and played with them

and watched them blaze a trail.

She let them fall, she let them choose,

she watched them from the dark;

for a mother's greatest heartache

is watching them depart.

If not for the strength of mothers,

if not for their watchful eyes

the saplings would have shriveled,

curled up,

and died.

So here is to the mothers.

the ones that try their best;

know that we saplings love you,

to this we can attest.
Ron Sanders Feb 15
(Glade, World, Master, Boy, Hero)

                                                 GLADE

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

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

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

                                               WORLD

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                              MA­STER

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

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

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

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

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

                                                  BOY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                HERO

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

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

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

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







Copyright 2020 by Ron Sanders.

Contact:  ronsandersartofprose(at)yahoo(dot)com
Sorry about the ghastly copy. This system makes graceful formatting impossible.
Miranda Lopez Dec 2013
For many years we were planted in this soil together.
We grew from seeds to saplings, our roots entangled.
Now there are thick forests separating us,
and I have been replanted into such foreign ground.
Sporadically I catch your leaves on a gust of wind.
They tell of how you are no longer a young seedling.
They tell of  how you are thriving in our soil,
even with my roots no longer intertwined into yours.

We have learned to blossom in our own earth.
And someday we will become only stumps of what we once were.
We will no longer flourish with fruits and flowers on our branches.
But my roots will still know yours,
and they will remember where they were once interlaced in our beginnings.
Sunny Johnson Sep 2011
On a great mountainside, a beautiful river ran, reaching all creatures across the great expanse. Glowing crystal and clear as the fresh alpine air, the water ran, as yet undiscovered and unmarred by civilization. It knew not of the impurities that other waters knew, free from the grasp of humanity and completely pure in it's design. Each spring as the snow melted, the river would charge through the forges and ravines, reshaping the ground in it's wake, changing the surface of the mountain in it's path. Stones would tumble and trees would crack under the raw power of it's force, as it gained in size and speed over the spring months. This spring however, it met upon a larger rock, seemingly a boulder. "Ha," thought the river, as it began growing rapidly, the melting snow empowering it as it crashed into the boulder, slightly changing course and returning to it's usual path. "I will be back soon." The river promised. As summer grew nearer and the sun seemed to burst from it's cloudy shield of winter, it began to show more steadily and with a greater heat than it had in springtime past. The blazing sun caused avalanches as it bore into the icy crust of the mountain top. The river suddenly felt something new, something changing, it was surely larger and more powerful than it had been in previous months, and as it charged down the mountain, it was sure of it's victory upon the great boulder. "Surely now this rock will not remain unmoved!" exclaimed the river as it flooded down the ravine, in search of the unchanging obstruction of mineral. The sun's rays had created an avalanche, dumping hundreds of tons of ice into the rushing river, melting the snow and creating a great roar as the river grew abruptly to 3 and 4 times it's previous size. As the river grew it felt a giant to all the objects on the mountain, proud and sure of it's eminent victory over the great boulder in it's way. As the water gained momentum and seeming to contain all of it's new fury in the roaring flood just for the great rock. A sleeping rock awoke suddenly to a roar and a crack as it heard many smaller boulders tumbling into the trees nearby, and the rumbling river rushing straight for him. "Aww, thought the old stone, yawning. "This will surely be interesting." As the rushing water advanced upon the rock, it had no idea what was to become of it's proud and boastful ways. Rushing water carrying all types and sizes of large rock and debris smashed into the great stone with all of it's might. The rock was unmoved. Little did the river know, this stone was rooted deep, a branch of mineral deposit coming from the very core of the mountain itself. The river had no chance. At the impact the water and debris scattered, and the river, suddenly defeated, splashed against the side of the rock and continued its usual path of the many years before. As it continued on, it felt something moving, carrying itself somewhere else, like someone or thing was pulling part of it away from itself, and it roared in agony, sending more boulders to crack into the trees nearby. Alive and kicking, and carrying it's own cry came a beautiful new stream caressing the side of a great stone in it's beginning, almost as if to thank it for it's place in giving birth to the new life. "You are welcome." Spoke the stone, supporting the stream in it's new path, as the water began to run fresh and new across the bare ground. The stream seemed to caress everything it came across, the roots of the plants and trees feeling thankful for a new source of water. Although the smallest seedlings would be lost in the stream, it was a good sacrifice to make for a source of that precious water so generously given to the side of the mountain with the large river. As the stream carried on, moving pine cones and pine needles aside, it brought new nourishment to all the life of the dry side of the mountain. As a small child just learning to walk, running to meet new people and see all the new things, experience the new life, the river ran. It glanced upon the tall oaks and the thinner pines and the smaller saplings. It rushed to meet the squirrel, carrying with it acorns fallen on the ground higher on the hill. It ran to bring uprooted fresh seedlings to the young deer. It brought with it fallen nuts and berries and left them near the bear's den. It brought freshly dropped dry twigs and branches to the wary ******, hunting for a new home. It brought with it pine needles and dropped them next to the trees with sparrows and blue birds hopping about for new materials to strengthen their nests. The stream ran free, bringing gifts to all it met with and inviting all to join it in it's path. The young of the forest gathered together, foxes and rabbits and badgers alike, to join the small stream in its journey down the mountain. Never carrying too much water as to uproot or change the surface of it's new found paradise, the stream was grateful to be a part of the dry side of the mountain, and that side of the mountain was never so dry. That side of the mountain never knew the fear of falling rocks or boulders. It never knew the fear of the flood of spring. It flourished with new life and greenery as it became privy to the little stream's side of the mountain to live happily without fear of flood or the dangers it brought. Each new day more bushes and saplings followed the little stream . The animals began to move from the great river's side of the mountain to the little stream's side. The river became lonely in it's wrathful wake, having only the rocks and logs it carried along as it's companion. Even the trees were scared to grow near it's threatening wrath. Loved by all and continually becoming the renown of the mountain, the little stream never knew such hardships. Such is why a little stream can be more changing than a great roaring river. To be feared by all or to be loved by all, is in the makings of every gaining current. The little stream never grew much larger than a dear's jump or a squirrel's leap. Except in the hearts of the lives around it. May we all be as little streams, not hungering to change the surface of our world, or to be feared. May we all live as the one who embraces all the forms we meet, being grateful for our own place among them. Then may we know what it is to live among many and loved by all. Then may we never know fear, or lose ourselves to a great boulder. May we change with the small movements of the ground beneath our feet, and carry with us gifts to all those we meet. May we be mightier in the heart than in the mind, leaving our hunger behind. May the little stream meet us too, and may we hear it's message clearly.
Yenson Aug 2018
So it came to pass at last and sad to know a Timber has fallen
It stood in strength tall and strong for over seven decades
Resplendently toned it spread an uncompromising foliage
Masterly in domain magical in reach attaining untold grades
Humble in origins yet grew with endeavour and knowledge
Distinguishably it cut sway in tundra and in lush green glades

Son of sons of the Land held roots countenancing no crawling
It reached for the stars and danced reasons with every shades
Ran with the sun and sat with owls and vipers for tutelage
Sweeping the very highs and the lows in communal trades
In the jungle of sharks and vipers it be known who's in Charge
A Timber has fallen while the rains falls and blue clouds fades

There's now a mighty hole in the earth and rivers are swollen
Leaves scatter and branches beckon hundreds of onward bridges
Leaving best Princess, flowers and saplings for love and largesse
A notable trunk laid supine free to roam without worldly cages
Odes will enter dancing in guises and tears flow without finesse
A Timber has fallen and dirges will ring out for a man of all ages

Yemessia bows and says Adieu My Senior, we will meet again.....


Copyright@LaurenceA.21Aug2018.Allrightsreserved.
PJ Poesy Dec 2015
Stomped earth with broad feet
Fastening fresh saplings into
Whole forests
Eight feet by eight feet, the grid
Through winter month's
To early spring
Line of tree planters, twenty
Sometimes less, sometimes more
On Shasta, on Lassen, on Trinity Alps
Douglas Firs and Ponderosa Pines
In Mendocino, in Eureka
Planting baby giants, Redwoods
Sequoias in Sequoia National and Klamath
Young men with ***-dads
Knew some old ones too
Women as well, though few
If you could bear the snow, the rain
If you could bear back-breaking pain
The glory is yours
As was once mine
Reforestation
Go plant your line
To be eternally in
Mother Nature's good graces
And kinship known by campfire
In my early twenties, I worked in reforestation. Though weathering most inclement days, as saplings must be planted in the wet season, it was a most fulfilling time in my life. I planted whole forests all over Northern California. The men and women I worked with were so deeply dedicated, and all pulled together to make camping out in that brutal weather tolerable. Some of my best memories are there in those young forests. I often wonder how those thousands of trees I planted, fair today.
Chrissy Cosgrove Feb 2015
there are so many things that have gone to waste.

if there is no Man to hear the tree in the forest as it falls,
as it crashes to the soft and earthy floor
dragging down small saplings, trees-to-be
scattering small colonies of ants
smashing weak collections of petals and leaves into the dirt
uprooting the birds nestled in its branches
all in one moment,
does it make a sound?

or is it a silent collapse of life?

i wonder if the gun made a sound as it went off
i wonder if you were silent as you fell
Lee Mar 2013
The smoke drifts up a pale blue
making ribbons in the lone lights spread
above our panting heads.
We built ancient temples in the forest green
and dug holes for warming hands on fire rocks.
Do you understand?
There is no time here.
Sleeping in the cold grounds embrace,
I kiss the sky goodnight through the holes in the roof.
Lost in the eternal emerald of this season, SAvaGES was our cry,
beating hearts howl out in a brooding bark.
Lick your wounds,
bleed your blistered hands chopping saplings.
This room is finally complete.
I,
I am content.
You,
You're as angel pale as the moon,
by its light I see your curves.
Touching soft till the morning birds.
No air between our lips to feel the words.
Its *** in our bellies
that sweetened southern swill.
The trees groan in the breeze
I groan rapped between your knees.
This forest is aphrodisiac enough for us.
On Wenlock Edge the wood's in trouble;
His forest fleece the Wrekin heaves;
The gale, it plies the saplings double,
And thick on Severn snow the leaves.

'Twould blow like this through holt and hanger
When Uricon the city stood:
'Tis the old wind in the old anger,
But then it threshed another wood.

Then, 'twas before my time, the Roman
At yonder heaving hill would stare:
The blood that warms an English yeoman,
The thoughts that hurt him, they were there.

There, like the wind through woods in riot,
Through him the gale of life blew high;
The tree of man was never quiet:
Then 'twas the Roman, now 'tis I.

The gale, it plies the saplings double,
It blows so hard, 'twill soon be gone:
To-day the Roman and his trouble
Are ashes under Uricon.
Seán Mac Falls Mar 2015
In straps, of wire saplings,
Becomes one wild rose.
Alone in the dawn,
A solitary crow knows
That this is beauty,
Greater than his own
Shiny black robe.
Impossibly regal
Red as a scarlet wail,
A siren, amongst all
The greens and yellows
Of a meadow, of the entire
World, is the rose, above those,
Especially the bleak, envious
Crow, latched to a branch
As scaly and gnarled as his soul,
Blacker than eternal night,
Beside the shining light
Of the rightly charmed
Wild rose,
Alone.
             Sorry is the crow—
Most of all unmatched, strikingly
To long flame of chalk faced moon,
Rides in airs, misbegotten, makes
Desolate cries, of wounding caws,
Self inflicted, so, somehow seems
Unalive, tarred, undead as smoke,
His fettered, black, unfeathering
Eyes.  Not like the blooming spark
And flash of the stunning, runner,
Unbeaten, indomidible, shocking,
Wild rose, unmired by bramble,
Wood nor motley thorn of bush,
A star of life, razor cut, blistering,
Free, this spirited, ****** heart,
Set, a rage, on jagged leaf.

In tangled straps of green wire saplings,
A Rose is even more a rose, next to crow.
Vexren4000 Jul 2018
A union between two,
Two souls entwined by time,
Causality bringing them together,
Free will an illusion, of mans greedy eyes,
Love twisting souls together,
To grow like two saplings,
Planted too close,
Twisting up to heaven,
A union of souls,
Connected for eternity.
Even if they are separated.

©BAS
Seán Mac Falls May 2017
.
In straps, of wire saplings,
Becomes one wild rose.
Alone in the dawn,
A solitary crow knows
That this is beauty,
Greater than his own
Shiny black robe.
Impossibly regal
Red as a scarlet wail,
A siren, amongst all
The greens and yellows
Of a meadow, of the entire
World, is the rose, above those,
Especially the bleak, envious
Crow, latched to a branch
As scaly and gnarled as his soul,
Blacker than eternal night,
Beside the shining light
Of the rightly charmed
Wild rose,
Alone.
             Sorry is the crow—
Most of all unmatched, strikingly
To long flame of chalk faced moon,
Rides in airs, misbegotten, makes
Desolate cries, of wounding caws,
Self inflicted, so, somehow seems
Unalive, tarred, undead as smoke,
His fettered, black, unfeathering
Eyes.  Not like the blooming spark
And flash of the stunning, runner,
Unbeaten, indomidible, shocking,
Wild rose, unmired by bramble,
Wood nor motley thorn of bush,
A star of life, razor cut, blistering,
Free, this spirited, ****** heart,
Set, a rage, on jagged leaf.

In tangled straps of green wire saplings,
A Rose is even more a rose, next to crow.
Joel M Frye Mar 2016
I had a friend;
we journeyed life together.
Down a dark and winding road
we made our merry way.
The trail was long,
with many holes and pitfalls.
We took our bumps and bruises
and we swallowed our dismay.

I had a friend;
we spent our evening hours
playing our guitars and singing
songs both old and new.
And at night's end
we'd shake our hands and promise
our friendship would endure
and we would always see it through

     But time has a mystic power,
     it turns saplings into trees;
     and its river made a canyon -
     separates my friend and me.

I had a friend;
helped me through tribulations,
and I would be there when
he needed company.
But life goes on,
and our two trails soon parted;
left nothing for each other
but songs and a memory.

    For time has a mystic power,
    it turns saplings into trees;
    and its river made a canyon -
    separates my friend and me.

That friend I had,
out of touch for more than twenty years...
I saw him yesterday
in a little place downtown.
His looks had changed,
perhaps a little paler
in his softly padded bed
with his friends all hangin' round.

     For time has a mystic power,
     it turns saplings into trees;
     and its river made a canyon -
     separates my friend and me.

     For time has a mystic power,
     it turns saplings into trees;
     and its river made a canyon -
     separates my friend and me.
Written in 1974 as a song for my friend and partner in crime for many years, Jay Edmund Burrow (1956-2010).  I didn't find out until 2011...know you're at peace, and I love you.
Joel M Frye Apr 2019
I had a friend;
we journeyed life together.
Down a dark and winding road
we made our merry way.
The trail was long,
with many holes and pitfalls.
We took our bumps and bruises
and we swallowed our dismay.

I had a friend;
we spent our evening hours
playing our guitars and singing
songs both old and new.
And at night's end
we'd shake our hands and promise
our friendship would endure
and we would always see it through

     But time has a mystic power,
     it turns saplings into trees;
     and its river made a canyon -
     separates my friend and me.

I had a friend;
helped me through tribulations,
and I would be there when
he needed company.
But life goes on,
and our two trails soon parted;
left nothing for each other
but songs and a memory.

    For time has a mystic power,
    it turns saplings into trees;
    and its river made a canyon -
    separates my friend and me.

That friend I had,
out of touch for more than twenty years...
I saw him yesterday
in a little place downtown.
His looks had changed,
perhaps a little paler
in his softly padded bed
with his friends all hangin' round.

     For time has a mystic power,
     it turns saplings into trees;
     and its river made a canyon -
     separates my friend and me.

     For time has a mystic power,
     it turns saplings into trees;
     and its river made a canyon -
     separates my friend and me.
Day 18, NaPoWriMo - an elegy in concrete terms.  Every couple years, the NaPo peeps want an elegy or eulogy.  I'm re-posting, for the same reason as last time.  I've written too **** many of the ****** things.

Written in 1974 as a song for my friend and partner in crime for many years, Jay Edmund Burrow (1956-2010).  I didn't find out until 2011...know you're at peace, and I love you.
There was movement at the station, for the word had passed around
That the colt from old Regret had got away,
And had joined the wild bush horses -  he was worth a thousand pound,
So all the cracks had gathered to the fray.
All the tried and noted riders from the stations near and far
Had mustered at the homestead overnight,
For the bushmen love hard riding where the wild bush horses are,
And the stock-horse snuffs the battle with delight.

There was Harrison, who made his pile when Pardon won the cup,
The old man with his hair as white as snow;
But few could ride beside him when his blood was fairly up —
He would go wherever horse and man could go.
And Clancy of the Overflow came down to lend a hand,
No better horseman ever held the reins;
For never horse could throw him while the saddle girths would stand,
He learnt to ride while droving on the plains.

And one was there, a stripling on a small and weedy beast;
He was something like a racehorse undersized,
With a touch of Timor pony — three parts thoroughbred at least —
And such as are by mountain horsemen prized.
He was hard and tough and wiry — just the sort that won't say die —
There was courage in his quick impatient tread;
And he bore the badge of gameness in his bright and fiery eye,
And the proud and lofty carriage of his head.

But still so slight and weedy, one would doubt his power to stay,
And the old man said, "That horse will never do
For a long and tiring gallop  - lad, you'd better stop away,
Those hills are far too rough for such as you."
So he waited sad and wistful — only Clancy stood his friend —
"I think we ought to let him come," he said;
"I warrant he'll be with us when he's wanted at the end,
For both his horse and he are mountain bred."

"He hails from Snowy River, up by Kosciusko's side,
Where the hills are twice as steep and twice as rough,
Where a horse's hoofs strike firelight from the flint stones every stride,
The man that holds his own is good enough.
And the Snowy River riders on the mountains make their home,
Where the river runs those giant hills between;
I have seen full many horsemen since I first commenced to roam,
But nowhere yet such horsemen have I seen."

So he went; they found the horses by the big mimosa clump,
They raced away towards the mountain's brow,
And the old man gave his orders, "Boys, go at them from the jump,
No use to try for fancy riding now.
And, Clancy, you must wheel them, try and wheel them to the right.
Ride boldly, lad, and never fear the spills,
For never yet was rider that could keep the mob in sight,
If once they gain the shelter of those hills."

So Clancy rode to wheel them — he was racing on the wing
Where the best and boldest riders take their place,
And he raced his stockhorse past them, and he made the ranges ring
With the stockwhip, as he met them face to face.
Then they halted for a moment, while he swung the dreaded lash,
But they saw their well-loved mountain full in view,
And they charged beneath the stockwhip with a sharp and sudden dash,
And off into the mountain scrub they flew.

Then fast the horsemen followed, where the gorges deep and black
Resounded to the thunder of their tread,
And the stockwhips woke the echoes, and they fiercely answered back
From cliffs and crags that beetled overhead.
And upward, ever upward, the wild horses held their way,
Were mountain ash and kurrajong grew wide;
And the old man muttered fiercely, "We may bid the mob good day,
No man can hold them down the other side."

When they reached the mountain's summit, even Clancy took a pull  -
It well might make the boldest hold their breath;
The wild hop scrub grew thickly, and the hidden ground was full
Of wombat holes, and any slip was death.
But the man from Snowy River let the pony have his head,
And he swung his stockwhip round and gave a cheer,
And he raced him down the mountain like a torrent down its bed,
While the others stood and watched in very fear.

He sent the flint-stones flying, but the pony kept his feet,
He cleared the fallen timbers in his stride,
And the man from Snowy River never shifted in his seat —
It was grand to see that mountain horseman ride.
Through the stringy barks and saplings, on the rough and broken ground,
Down the hillside at a racing pace he went;
And he never drew the bridle till he landed safe and sound,
At the bottom of that terrible descent.

He was right among the horses as they climbed the farther hill
And the watchers on the mountain standing mute,
Saw him ply the stockwhip fiercely; he was right among them still,
As he raced across the clearing in pursuit.
Then they lost him for a moment, where two mountain gullies met
In the ranges - but a final glimpse reveals
On a dim and distant hillside the wild horses racing yet,
With the man from Snowy River at their heels.

And he ran them single-handed till their sides were white with foam.
He followed like a bloodhound on their track,
Till they halted cowed and beaten, then he turned their heads for home,
And alone and unassisted brought them back.
But his hardy mountain pony he could scarcely raise a trot,
He was blood from hip to shoulder from the spur;
But his pluck was still undaunted, and his courage fiery hot,
For never yet was mountain horse a cur.

And down by Kosciusko, where the pine-clad ridges raise
Their torn and rugged battlements on high,
Where the air is clear as crystal, and the white stars fairly blaze
At midnight in the cold and frosty sky,
And where around the Overflow the reed -beds sweep and sway
To the breezes, and the rolling plains are wide,
The man from Snowy River is a household word today,
And the stockmen tell the story of his ride.
Benjamin Woolley Mar 2011
Saplings were you and I,
When first I fancied your hair
As it swirled in golden locks
Catching sunlight from the air.
It hid for shame in your tresses,
Your glow was its despair.

But let romance weep,
As it was it was not my heart
That fluttered to your proud display,
And a less noble love
Held my gaze upon that day.

It is not winds of fate
Nor planted seeds
From which our love has grown.
And as years have passed
Trust has wrapped
To cradle bark or bone.
Twisting as two trees,
For fear of falling blown.

Though others might have been,
We are as two trees grown together,
True love’s best end.
When a metaphysical Venus flytrap
blindsides the honeycombpound eyed
sense of security I've falsified;
when the knowledge of good & evil is ratheripe;

when contiguous backgarden of young guns
mix solar with Stella & I can hear from here
scruburb hubbub, my hothouse muse sick at their
Asbo airrifle house anthems;

when I've been spat out like a pip again,
& nursery taunts of my bullies Johnny & Tommy
- who dibsed Bill & Ben,  which pilloried me
'Little ****'  - are flashback thicket evergreen;

when local calumny of all my complaints
wins blacklisting,  thus alone, I can't cajole
or goad my thriving today:  a fool
for the sun, I go to her in her element.

In her greenhouse grown from garnered discarded
gardengates, writtenoff windscreens, woodworm tough
junk planks, other ****** clutter, freecycle stuff.
Maybe what the fairies  flytipt, shed sheds.

& as her silver hatter, tinfoilconed garden
gnome, I say it with godwottery
& fleurs bleues of drosometric poetry.
Fecund in seconds at so gorgeous a groundswoman,

compared to whom Charlie Dimmock's
a pyrrhotic hummock. I need to feel
her greenfingernailed hands that heal
petals upon me. Even dogsmuck

has its day in the sun (faecal factoid:
contemporary canine squelchtraps for shoes
no longer dessicate a canescent hue,
because of low calcium content in tinned

dogsmuck for our best friend's biting end).
But may those hands which craft crutches for
crocuses scratch out my roots, pooper-
scoop summer stinkers I grew from. She tends

to sheltered seedlings, soon to spam 'ead
the ceiling of her slipshod shed, even
before 'Bunny H. Greenhouse' is interjection
wellsaid. & when transplanted, repotted

they'll nip new zeppelins in the bud
in a beanstalking blink, like a safetypin
in a  zit! Her garden's always plopping
antigrav aureate  H.Dumpties, sunnysideup

drive of saplings & seedlings, for golden
egg plants be all flora to my floraphile.
Not strict drips she feeds to daffodils,
dahlias, daffodahlia hybreeds - they're sodden!

O Edwina Wateringcanhands!
Also my Mrs. Mellors, at whom a herm
shoots up overgrown, aherm.
Eden is a garden of reproductive glands.

Her hyponychium frowns
with flowers' bedding,
but the **** needs weeding
that brings my flower down.

Far more than the Maggie (not numb P45)
Thatcher of flower power, Frey hersilt,
Gardener Girlf put da spurt inta expert
teasing o' da e'rt. Induviae

of a concrete straitjacket, please be pleached
til dead arms o' malacophilous heart  reach
her greenfingered kind of golden touch,
much more precious than any old Midas touch.
Tom McCone Mar 2014
dunedin. friday, three, afternoon.
set from home under a blue sky
with full& prepared pack,
a somewhat empty stomach,
and a necessity to get away from the city.
hiking boots tread asphalt down to the depot,
where, in thirty-seven minutes punctuated
by plastic seats grafted to a wall
and a mildly disjunct group of small or
big-time travellers, the naked bus
pulled in, a hematite centipede
crawling into the lot. it was a bus,
no complaints. all others' bags
stowed, twenty seven bucks outta pocket
and swung into the front-right-window seat,
bid a farewell to the beat-down
pub across the road and onto the one-way
merging into a highway and outta
town the dark bug skittered, on
schedule or something resembling it.
behind the driver, the sun came through
around the beam in the window. warm patterns
laid on skin, the countryside's broad expanse:

cylindrical bales of hay scattered about
paddocks, dark late-autumn florets of flax
on roadsides, plumes of white smoke from
bonfires in townships as small as a thumbnail,
hedgelines of eucalyptus, pine; russet streaks
through bark of single gum trees stood
off-centre in fields. sticky-wooded hillsides
punctured by fire breaks roll almost forever
and back. the rushing sound of passing cars
through the 3/4-golden ratio of the driver's
ajar window; twenty-first century mansions
verging on out-of-place. saplings emerging,
bracketed, through verdant grass patches.
museum abbatoirs. toitoi like hen's plumage
lining drainage ditches. another Elizabeth st-
(how many could be counted out by now?) tidy
front yards and milton liquorland through this
small town. an everpresent tilting sun. fields
of flowered nettle. s-bends through pancake layers
of hills. a delapidated gravel quarry at stony
creek. deer farms, sheep farms, bovine farms, alpaca
farms (favourite); another bonfire seen down a
long gulley; a power substation, all organized
tangles. a two-four 300m before the bridge into


balclutha. 4.40pm.
across the road into the i-site
two friendly ladies circle locations
to make (got a car) or try to make (on foot),
offering a ride in half an hour,
leave it to chance.
across another road, drifter's emporium
(that's the name, no joke) got a knife
to open up cans- bought no cans, brought
no cans, still nice to have one anyway.
down the road, 200ml from unichem, waste
no time, turn ninety degrees, cross a
railway, then outta town in a sec. first
photo: half highway, half clutha river. fine
shot. sit down, watch the water couple mins,
head down the road. red-black ferns radiate
under willows down the riverbank. metal
bumper-bars keep legs on, the road rolls
gentle turns, diverges from the river. stick
to the former, faster that way. no intentions
of hitching. just wanna walk. and walk. and
walk. guy yells out a car window. envy,
likely. who cares. apple tree hangs over
a dry ditch. pick a small one, gone in
a minute. probably ain't sprayed. been
eating ice-cream dinners more often'n
not the last coupla weeks- isn't much
the stomach won't or can't handle anymore,
anyway.

odours of decay from the freezing works.
seagulls sound out nearby.
typical.

down the road, the reek of death fades
out. back to grass. sit in some of the
tall stuff, under a spindly tree. put down
some ink, a handful of asst. nuts. 'bout
thirteen fingers of daylight left. no idea
if the coast is further than that. little
care. down the road the land flattens out,
decent sign. the junction was a fair bit
past reckoned, though. flipped a chunk
of bark (too lazy to get a coin out) to
figure whether the coast was worth it. bark
said no, went out anyway. gotta see the sea,
keeps you sane. past a lush native
acre or two- some lucky ******'s front lawn-
changed mentality, slung out a thumb (first
time). beginner's luck, kid straight outta
seventh form pulls over in a mustard-yellow
*******' kinda beach-van. was headin' out
to the coast, funnily enough. had been up
in raglan (surf central, nz), back down with
the 'rents now, though. out kaka point, only
one of his age, he reckoned, no schoolhouse
there, just olds. was going to surf academy,
pretty apt. little envious.

the plains spread out and out, ocean just
rose up out of a field. there's nothing
more perfect. gentle waves stroke the sands,
houses stare intently out at the mingling of
blues. one cloud hovers so far away it doesn't
even exist. down the other end of kaka point,
back on solid ground, walking into a gorge, laments
about not choosing the coastal route. but owaka
is the new destination, bout 11ks, give or take
(5ks later, sign says another 15.. some give). nothing
coulda beat that sight anyway, stepping outta
a van onto that pristine beach.

entry: gorge route to owaka. seven.
late light painted the tops of hills absolute
gold. thought maybe this way ain't so bad. beside a
converging valley, phone got enough reception
for dad to get through. said in balclutha coulda
got a room with a colleague. too far out now. lost
him in the middle of a sentence about camera film.
surprised to have even got that far. road wound
troughlike through the bottom of the gorge, became
parallel to a cute little stream. climbed down chickenwire
holding the road in place, ****** in it (had to).
clambered back up, continued walking as the occasional
campervan rolled on by. took a photo of the sun perched
on a hilltop, sent it to mel. dunno why. anxieties
over the perfect sunrise picture came frequently,
a goal become turmoil. the gorge flattened out,
and soon in countryside my fears allayed. round
a corner in picturesque nowhere, found my shot.
sat in long grass. stole it. sighed. ate a handful
of nuts. moved on. {about eight}

dark consumed the surrounding gentle-rolling hills,
nowhere near owaka, which was probably the tiny bundle
of lights nestling a little below the foot of a
mountain in the distance (not too far off, in
reality). near the turnoff to surat bay (was heading
there, plans change) a ute honks. taken as friendly.
a right turn instead of a left, farmsteads lit
up in fireplace tones, the sound cows make at
dusk. it got colder. would one jersey be sufficient?
hoepfully. stars began pinpricking the royal blues of the
night sky in its opening hues. eight-fourty-ish slugged
back about 3/4 of the syrup, along with half of a box
of fruit medley (so **** delicious), in light of dull
calf aches becoming increasingly apparent. needed
to walk a helluva lot more. ain't one for lettin'
nothing get in the way of that. lights in the distance
became the entry sign for a camp-site. no interest,
head on. past another farmhouse, stars came out in
packs. three cows upon a slight hilltop. next junction
pulled left a good eighty degrees and was on the
straight to owaka. less than two minutes later,
a dog-ute pulled to a halt and offers up a ride down
most of the stretch. didn't say no.

still stable, as two pig-hunters tell
of their drive back from picking up a couple
pig-dogs somewhere north. they were heading
out bush to shoot, thought they'd seen
another guy they'd picked up a couple weeks
ago, who'd taken 'em out somewhere they
couldn't remember. paranoia grips, but
the lads are fairly innocuous. they say it's
dangerous out here, gotta be ballsy walking
middle of the night, no gun, no dog,
all by yourself. wasn't worried, got nothing
to lose anyway (still, this sets helluva
mood). by a turnoff a k outta owaka, dropped
off. said probably all that'll be open there
is a pub, if that. bid luck and set their way.
above, the whole sky is covered with shining
glitter. down a dip and turn, **** in the
middle of the road. an ominous sign indicating
the outskirts of

owaka. approximately 9.40pm

my head loosens as i approach. the lights
form across a small valley i can't verify
exists or not between dog barks i mistake
for the yells of drunkards and lights
pirouetting from cars behind me. i slow
down i don't want to do this.

owaka is terrifying. plastic.

the street corners thud like cardboard. i
walk past a garden of teapots, a computer
screen inside the house glares through the
window pane bending breathing outward. there
is nobody here, still there is a feeling
like there's people everywhere, flocking
in shadows. a silhouette moving in a
distant cafe doorway. the sound of teeth,
of darkness fallen. thick russian tones
sound from a shelf of a motel. eyes
everywhere, mostly mine. i stop only round
a bend and down near a police station, yet
feeling no more safe, sitting in a gutter to
send mel my plans, to tell myself my plans.
i want to be nowhere again. i am soon nowhere.


out of breath, out the other end of owaka,
the sick streetlights fade into comforting
dark nestled between bunches of indistinct
treelines. the feeling of safety lasts but
twenty minutes, where another dip in the
road leads through a patch of bush, in which
gunshots ring periodically and laughter and
barking rings through. breaking down, it takes
five minutes to resolve and keep going. ain't
got nothing to lose, anyway. boots squeak like
diseased hinges all down the road. hadn't
noticed beforehand, the only thing noticed
now. an impending doom hangs thick like fog,
the thought of being strung up like an
underweight hog. walking faster and
not much quieter, the other side of the
bush couldn't have come sooner. the fear
lasts until the gunshots are distant nothing.
still alive, still out of breath, still
fairly ****** up, there's no comfort like the
sound of nothing but the occasional insect's
chirp. vestiges of still water came around
a corner and just kept coming as the golden
moon sung serenity all over. finally, a peace
came to rest over the landscape. sitting by
the road with a clear view of the moon's light
sheathed in the waters, the stars above wreath
a cirrus eye to watch over the marshland
plants leading into the placid waters of

catlins lake, west. ten fifty-one.
crossing a one-way bridge over a river winding
its way into the lake, another turning point
decision arose: continue down the highway
along the river, or head straight out and
toward the coast again. having resolved to
make it to a waterfall by dawn, and the latter
offering a possibility of this, the decision
made itself. turning back around the other side
of the lake, the road wound a couple times
up a gentle ***** out and up from the valley
at the tail of the lake, and into a slightly
more elevated valley. the country roads ran
easily and smooth, paved roughly but solid.
not a car came by for kilometers at a time.
lay on the road past a turnoff for quarter
of an hour letting serenity wash over, the
hills miniscule in comparison to home, the
sky motionless, massive thin halo about the
moon. walking on, night-birds called from
time to time (no moreporks, though. not until
dawn), figuring out how to whistle them back.
a turnoff to purakaunui bay strongly
considered and ultimately ignored; retrospectively
a great call, considering the size of the detour.
hedgerows of macrocarpa, limbs clearly cut
haphazard where once they'd hung over the
road. occasional 4wd passing, always a 4wd,
be it flash new or trusty old. you'd need
one out here. have no fun, otherwise.
monolithic pine-ish hedge bushes, squatting
giants. once, a glimmering in the sky, a
plane from queenstown (assumedly) almost
way too far to make out. the colossus of
the one human-shaped shadow cast down
from the moon to my boots. how small
a thing in this place. swamped out by
the beauty of this neverending valley.
breathless.

the road turned, not quite a hairpin,
but not entirely bluntly, a welcome
break from the straight or gentle
sway, and five minutes turned to dirt.
had to lay down again- legs screaming
by this point for rest. still, they
had nothing against pressing on. dad
taught me to just keep going. that's
the thing about walking. stop for a
little bit and you're good to go
again. pushing for the fall was probably
overkill, but no worry now. dirt road
felt so right after a good 20+ks of
asphalt, only infrequently punctuated
by roadside moss or thin grass. it
was as if beginning again (well,
kinda, if only with as much energy).
having downed only a litre of water
(leaving only half a litre more), a
litre of fruit juice and about 100
grams of assorted nuts since more
than twelve hours ago by this point,
it should have been a shock to
still be going by this point. don't
really need that much anyway, though.
gone on less for longer. hydration,
anyway, was the least of all worries,
the air being thick with water, ground
fog having been laid down hours ago.

up the dirt track, more cows. they make strange
sounds at night. didn't know anything yet,
though. that's still to come. a ute swang past
going the other way, indiscriminate hollers
from the passenger-side window. waved back
cheerily. so far from anything to be anything
but upbeat now. not even the heavy shroud of
tiredness could touch that, yet. the track wound
on forever. was stopping every half-kilometer
to stand and stretch, warding off the oncoming
aches. the onset was unwieldy, though. didn't
have long. past a B&B;, wondered whether anyone
actually ever stayed there (surely would, who'd
not revisit this place over and over once they'd
discovered it?)- certainly would've, having the
cash (apparently parts of "lion, witch and the
wardrobe" were filmed here. huh). further on, the
road turned back to seal, unfortunately, but
with small promise- surely, at least fairly
close by this point. turning a corner, a small
and infinitely beautiful indent against the bush,
a small paddock bunched up against it, stream
wound against the bases of trees, all lit by
the clear tones of a now unswathed moon, sat
aside the road. it was distilled perfection.
it was too much, just had to keep goin' or
risk shattering that image. next turn was
a set of DOC toilets, an excellent sign. must be
basically sitting on the path entry now. searched
all 'round the back for it, up the road, nothing.
not entirely despondent but bewildered, moved
forward and found a signpost. the falls were now
behind? turned around and searched even more
thoroughly, quiet hope turning to desperation
by the silent light of the moon. finally,
straight across the road from the toilets,
was the green and gold sign, cloaked in
darkness under clustering trees, professing
a ten-minute bushwalk to the

purakaunui falls. saturday. 1.32 am.**
venturing into the bush by the dull light
of a screen of a dying phone, the breeze
made small movements through the canopy. it
couldn't have been any more tranquil. edging
way through the winding cliffish track through
dense brush, the sound of a trickling stream
engorged into a lush symphony of water. crossing
a single-sided bridge across an unseeable chasm,
twinkling from the ferns behind became apparent.
turning off the dull light, the tiny neon bulbs of
glow-worms littered the dirt wall risen up about
half a metre, where the track had been cut out.
my heart soared. all heights of beauty come
together. continuing down the path, glow-worms
litter the surroundings and the rushing of
water comes to a roar. at a look-out platform
above the falls, nothing can be seen save a
slight glisten. down perilous steps (wouldn't
be too bad if you could actually see 'em) the
final viewing platform lay at level with the
bottom of the falls. they stood like a statue
in the dark, winding trails of thin white wash
through the shadows hung under trees. left
speechless from something hardly made out, turned
around and back up the stairs to where the
glowing dots seemed their most concentrated.
into the ferns above, clambered through and
around moss-painted tree trunks and came to rest
a couple hundred metres from the trail, under
a fern, under a rata. packed everything but
a blanket from nan into the bag, laid it out
on curled leaf litter and folded up into it,
feet too sore to remove 'em from boots, curling
knees up into the blanket and tucking a hand
between 'em to keep it warm. only face and
ankles exposed, watched the moon's light trickle
through canopy layers for a few hours, readjusting
tendons in legs as they came to ache. sleep (or
something resembling it) set in, somewhere
around four.

some time slightly before six, the realisation
that my legs had extended and become so cold that
they'd started cramping all the way through hit,
coupled with the sounds coming through the bush.
thank you, if you made it all the way through :>
On Wenlock Edge the wood's in trouble;
His forest fleece the Wrekin heaves;
The gale, it plies the saplings double,
And thick on Severn snow the leaves.

'Twould blow like this through holt and hanger
When Uricon the city stood;
'Tis the old wind in the old anger,
But then it threshed another wood.

Then, 'twas before my time, the Roman
At yonder heaving hill would stare;
The blood that warms an English yeoman,
The thoughts that hurt him, they were there.

There, like the wind through woods in riot,
Through him the gale of life blew high;
The tree of man was never quiet:
Then 'twas the Roman, now 'tis I.

The gale, it plies the saplings double,
It blows so hard, 'twill soon be gone:
Today the Roman and his trouble
Are ashes under Uricon.
Haley K Collins Nov 2013
At birth we are saplings;

absorbing and sponge-like;

anchored by flimsy roots.



Each developing child is a sliver,

a woodchip,

a branch.



We send our saplings to schools

to be stripped of their bark

and pounded into smooth identical geometrical shapes;

shapes incapable of stretches and growth.



These equations and grammaticals add shape,

not depth, so simple

simple enough to identify our souls

with a string of numbers and letters.



I was born a sapling,

born to stretch, twist,

reach for illumination; fueling the roots

from which I sprang.



Why do these axes

clad in their glasses

want to beat me into factory form?



We should be watered and nursed

until our trunks grow rings

incapable of calculation;



Teach me to grow toward the sun,

and not to become a fragrant product.



Teach me to drop fruits of wisdom

and throw flowers;

for apples can only drop

from fruitful trees.
Nick Strong May 2015
Black crows circling wildly
Above trees silhouetted
Beneath darken skies
Swirling clouds, towering
Static charged excitement
Ripples cross the air
A wave of heat blown
Across the ground,
By a dry breath, of
Unseasonable wind
Bending saplings to
Kiss dusty, dry earth
Time stands still poised
Restless, wild world
Waiting  
For Odin’s hammer
Bryce Dec 2018
The air is burly
trees harvest soldiers on the line
combines, threads, manure, life--
A whole world lost amidst the flats

Saplings are the next season's
Almonds, Apples, Dates,
Waiting for food shelves and stockrooms
packed in banana boxes and given a place
They will find the plates of capitol city dwellers
They will be engorged far away from their origins

The Sierra-- oh the great plutonic mass
They are grey from age, peppered with white whiskers of snow
They are asking to be known as the interior

Pilgrims who traveled over their spines, seeking these fertile swampland
Now airstrips and dirigibles

The edges of clouds on the valley, the deserts and the mountains like folds of a book
they crackle in the sun and the skin of the earth shrinks in its gaze

Migratory birds dance in the fields, the lowly clang of bell
Bleached american flags tell us this is the land

The land of things and endless breadth

This is only California, but the majesty of it
a gem valley encased by the rocks, in silicates
A roaming place for cows, wanderers, farmers, dreams

Where the only edge of things is the mountains, saying
-Climb me, surmount me, lay me under your deeds-
st64 Jan 2014
(oh, if you don't like lengthy-reads, do not read any further.. thank you)





how I long to hear you
I am silent now
just like you



1.
from the curtain rail, hang paper-butterflies in gentlest-breeze
you made for us in vacation-time
we loved living and being with you
      so quiet and so serene
never loud, nor ever shouting
you gave us the love we often had to steal at home


2.
dear lady, when our parents couldn't cope
they dumped us at your door
you took us in for days on end
and how we flourished in your care

momma in her perfumed get-up.. always out and about
I couldn't stand her smell
she hardly took the time of day.. to get to know her own
they quarreled all the time
one time, we saw her pull in ugly-anger, a knife on him
      and he punched her hard in the face
      we-took-it-in.. the three of us
      they saw us standing there, looking on
I tried to shield the younger ones' eyes
but the lesson sank in.. thickly


3.
so, off to you.. we got bundled, like hastily-wrapped parcels
and you took us in
and we gleaned the worth of stability

you spoke to us in quiet-tone:
right, now we will read.. alright, my dears?
    we responded with three silent nods
    eyes up at you.. like open-flowers
    our smiles inside slowly blossomed
as a powerful-routine came to life

sit us down near koi-pond in the yard
     after milk and choc-chip cookies
     green dappled shade-cloth overhead and potted plants
she opened up a book - Gift from the Sea.. and she read
     we listened with rapt-souls, open and accepting
     drinking in the delight of her well-intoned voice
she tempered that sickly-void with deep-respect and lasting-admiration

how we filled the hours with your special-technique of patience
        we discover life.. along with title and the author
        one buck to read the first sentence of a new book
        two for first paragraph
        five for first page
we earned a keep to last a jolly ol' lifetime
looked forward to the end of every weekend
when we'd spend the week with you
off to school, you saw our tiny-feet and welcomed in the afternoon
      warm greetings with firm hand, discipline fell in place
      but when chores are done and homework, too
that's the time we'd settle quietly into the routine you set so well

cushions at the koi-pond and each one gets a turn
granny-dear, granny-doer.. you took the time
you read to us and we read to you
and then, we read to one another.. while you did your tasks
        we learnt of the classics and many obscure artists, too
        writers' names became familiar; we discussed at length
        and from your fine library, came three very well-fed beings
who each had a jar filled with love-pennies and mind-notes

tranquil-nap in dimmed-room in the afternoon
eyes sunlight piercing through in stippling-slants on polished wooden-floor
we fell into peace

thinking expanded beyond the lore of words
you'd engage the width of our seeker-imagination with so much
         drawing fine-lines into the unknown
         and paper-mâché and Rorschach-ink
         and let us see how earthworms could be useful
         and transplanting our seedlings from disposable egg-cups
by my teens, my special botany-project grew: orange saplings
how the time, it flew.. weeks and months.. years..


4.
then, one day, our momma said.. no more time at granny
          we questioned and we queried, but to poor avail
          evasive-looks met our searching eyes
and vague answers, even poppa with the *****-glaze didn't talk
we failed to swallow their awkward-energy

the three of us could take no more: affection interfered
      and I took two buses and snuck out to her place
I crept in silent, found her resting
but her eyes were covered up
      her face had blue blotches and cheeks were puffy
sharp-inhale!
      I shrank perforce and cried inside.. and softly touched her hand
she woke up, startled and turned away
     but she knew it was me; she'd learnt my smell so long ago
bowing my head, I gently wiped her brow with unscented-towelette
and I saw her shoulders shaking
she quietly accepted my comfort


5.
the routine continued, thankfully
after we got wind of what really happened
how you were mugged in the subway on your way to work
you've lost the use of one eye and you now slump on one leg
this fall in health did nothing to dampen your ardour
       we read for you when you could no longer see at all
       and when your pensioner-status made you penniless
       you rewarded us with hugs pressed into the psyche
       our night-time pitter-patter slipping to you from nightmares
       and you stitched our broken-pieces and sealed our cracked-assurance
never finer devotion bred from hands so kind


6.
you let us read and it sparked the mind
the penny kept on rolling with great success
long after you left
    my brother now lectures in languages
    and guest-speaks at many places of higher-learning
    and my sister became a lawyer
I became a drop-out early on, but I never sold my dream
I struggled with their help.. yes, I know.. I was always slower
and melted-crayons still do yield.. colour in the twilight of cool-eve

yes, and I bought a farm not long ago
and I tend my own keep
granny, you'd be proud of us
three silent nods to an angel in disguise


now, I stand here.. quiet in my beautiful-orchard of oranges
              stare at the leopard-changing shadows on the tiles
and long to read for you
so, I open up a dream lying next to my koi-pond, an auburn-tail flicks handsomely
and it all spills forth in reams..




can you hear me now?
in silent-vow, I unveil the finest of my heart-words
to you..




S T, 2 January 2013
man, what a day.. what-a-day!


sub-entry: thank you

.. for reading!

;)
Isaac Cook Jan 2014
The
I'm dead tired and sobbing on my bed again.
They'll blame it on the drugs,
They'll blame it on the parties,
They'll blame it on themselves,
The truth is I've dropped the ball again.
Lost myself amongst the forest that is my thoughts,
                                                                                        And the birds in the trees are mocking me because they ate the bread crumbs, the bread crumbs that were my way out. You would think it hard to get lost in a forest of saplings,
                                     Child trees just as I, somehow still growing despite mental states that no one will ever know about. Either way now I'm stuck, a gun in one hand and a knife in the other,
                                                                                                                                                    You'll ask me what they are for and I'll reply with nothing but a shrug and a set of words that will mean nothing to you and everything to me. You'll continue to voice concern, somehow appearing amidst the trees, but you could never stay for long, eventually evaporating into the mist you were made from, leaving me alone in the jumbled forest of waist-high trees.
                                                                            They're all mumbling short confused sentences all vying for air and sunshine, all hoping to be complete thoughts capable of cognition, but they are being choked, stepped and trodden on, leaving them dazed and confused, roots writhing in the ground, and I could never tell what gargantuan thing lurked amongst the saplings in my chest, but it ripped and tore at everything it touched. It's a poison that bit into my veins and sedated my muscles.
                                                                                                                                           It seeped into my everything somehow hiding behind a mask of cognitive thought, ever beyond the peripherals of sight.    
It holds me captive, whispering lewd suggestions and anxiety filled words into my ear,
                                                                                                                                                  It tells me I dropped the ball, and it caught it. Hands on my shoulders it'll bite my neck over and over again.
Could you ever see it? The demon tree, wrapped like a vine around my neck, thorns digging into soft flesh and wrapped, wrapped just tight enough to clip the words in my throat.
Could you ever hear it? Replace my words with it's own, of course not, you'll only ever hear the two words most often used as a lie, but that's fine, because I'm fine even though its taken control of the left hand, the one with the gun and it tries, tries so hard to pull the trigger, but it can't, not yet, because I have a knife at it's throat and it doesn't know that the knife is dull and can't cut anything but myself. So I stand stranded, caught feeling small and insignificant, unable to tell the difference in the mirror between myself and the demons.
                                                        The trees are dying and so am I. Laying in my bed, dead tired and sobbing.
If I died now,
They'd blame it on the drugs,
They'd blame it on the parties,
They'd blame it on themselves.
They'd never blame me.
So if you are reading this
and are fond of trees
and it's not too late
take the knife from my throat
and just promise, you won't turn into mist.
K Balachandran Jan 2013
A rain cloud, I was
in one of my incarnations,
heavy and pregnant with water,
it was proud,
billowing, adorned with
lightening's golden thread,
it poured in torrents,
with roars of thunder,
then sped through the fields,
that became fertile,
farmers with their ploughs
and bullocks came out,
the fields were bright green
with dancing rice saplings

Some other time
I was an ecstatic  bulbul,
mango blooms told me amorous tales,
I voiced each in  snorous ghazals,
The rice fields were ripe,
musky scent was ******,
Women came in waves
and harvested the rice,
their songs were on romance,
ardent love and parting
hearing the bulbul
they perfected their singing.

A long time ago
I was a goat's kid,
I sprang around and danced
in the harvested field,
the cloud wanted to pet me
but she was so far,
bulbl sung a special tune
for me for a while
Looking at the green grass
on the other side of the fence
I would think wistfully,
what life would bring.
Jataka literarily means horoscope;, the term is more famous as the fables chronicling Buddha's past lives
Yasha Harkness Jun 2015
My heart is a garden.
In it grow three trees, a few saplings, and

many  many  roses.

which one were you when you said yes
my love
a discovery of pansexuality
L B Apr 2018
Down the ******--
Adventures of Feral Children

If there has to be a gate, I suppose I have always had my own theory that “The ******” was one of those places through which God pulled Paradise inside out.  I was always wandering there, pretending-- playing sometimes or searching for something-- the exact moment that spring begins, or the place of my secret dwelling where I was in charge, where I was queen.  Always hoping for the constant surprise of beauty, a lady slipper-- stunning last year's leaves, a meadow of white violets-- May snow on green?  Or was the startle of of seeing my first scarlet tanager in the saplings-- still too cold for leaves?

To the uninitiated The ****** was nothing more than the meaning of its name, a bending tube of woods with a brook tracing along it-- like snake's spine.

Not a practical place for a housing development, it had an ether of history as some “Valentine Park” and playground, and I guess that was true, judging from the ruins of bridges, stone half-penny steps, and the overgrown lima-bean shaped pool.  Huge, stone block stairs had faced each other, lining the entrance of a spring-- a fountain once, covered now with moss.  It loomed at dusk like an ancient temple.  Even the course of the brook had been maintained by giant, redstone slabs-- long-since tumbled in the wake of hurricanes whose names I've forgotten....

...Like a snake's spine... always there for a thousand years, wearing its steep banks ever-deeper into the guts of city till oaks, hemlocks and white pines became sentinel giants, far taller and older than their genes had ever intended.  In the war for sunlight, they through up an unwitting wall against all-- but the most daring encroachments...

...Like say-- like say half-grown people, cigarette butts, broken bottles, and underground “forts” with their smells of stale beer and musty clothes, old mattresses-- echos of giggling, the aura of explored forbiddens.  To us who knew her, The ****** could outlive remembrance but not rumor.  Like an old graveyard or an abandoned house, it was the place to go with our bags of candy, pea-shooters, and fire crackers!  We'd go there to fake-smoke punks-- we either were or wanted to be--
  
Somebody's parents always leaving their lights around....

We came there to delve into our made-up mysteries, like the one about that antique car that had rusted in “The Swamp” for centuries!  ...that someone's dead cousin drove off The ******'s cliff side one night... drunk as a skunk!  ...right where The Diamond Match's got this big pipe that spews all that gray **** into the brook! ...right where we used to swim and play on the hottest days since we couldn't use the city's Paddle Pond (folks were scared of polio in those days), so we played at “The Pipe” --making “Indian pottery” with the neighbors,  Gary, Davy, Shelley, and Sandy.  Red clay cups and ashtrays on red hot afternoons-- making wild polluted Indians of Jew and Irish kids alike.

Now I almost forgot.... I was telling you about that antique car-- the one some cousin of Ross was supposed to 'ave driven right off the cliff into the swamp and died... Well... His ghost still lurks there! ...and goes into 'iz cousin's body-- Ross, that is....  Let me tell ya!  Ross could sure mess up an afternoon's good time by his appearance!
                                          __­__

  
But The ****** wasn't just for spooks-- not if you were into spraying girls with rusted cans of rotten Reddi Whip, kicking skunk cabbage (same effect), or finding frogs eggs under lily pads,  Gary even discovered those curious old Italians picking water cress barefoot in The Frog Pond.  Intensely curious, he was not afraid of their funny speech and ways.  He had gallon cans and pickle jars for raising pollywogs-- so he was on a mission.  But best of all, Gary had a backyard that overhung The ******'s swamp!  We could even view The Pipe hurling runoff ten feet out into the basin!  Our aberrant Niagara after a good storm.

Then there was the time that Tarzan swing just appeared!-- Like one of those convenient vines in the jungle movies!  It hung from a pine on one of The ******'s sheer sides, and was capable-- when wrapped around the trunk and given a running start, of providing one helluva-swooping-good ride-- out over the brook, into the sunlight and back-- with a thousand terrifying variations.  Took me a while to work-up my nerve-- a little longer to be really fine!

Tommy Gireaux fell and broke his arm.  Our swing was nothing but a stump of rope next day.  Twenty feet up, dangling fun, cut off and left-- to remembrance of times so real Tarzan made personal appearances!

______
Of course, there's more to this.  Our feral band of explorers discovers the soggy Playboys and gets sidetracked from their mission to find  "The Pine Cathedral" and where The ****** actually ends.  Ross shows up.

Not a fiction...not a fiction.

I am totally frustrated by my efforts to use and delete italics and bold print.  Why can't this site just post them as they appear in the writing???   How hard can that be?
William A Poppen Sep 2014
Stark among the lush of youth

tall, unashamed

no leaves twirl downward

no fertile blanket of rot

to feed saplings

fresh with green sprigs.

Many seasons

they have tasted your sustenance.

Do they regard your wisdom

whispered in the mountain breeze?

Do they believe tales told of

life on the hill,

of cycles of torrents, droughts,

penetrating frosts and mountains

of drifted snow?

Do they devour the lore

falling among the leaves?
Nishu Mathur Aug 2016
Hear the gentle summer breeze
Whisking through gulmohar leaves
In the music of wind chimes
Tinkling songs of summer time
Feel her quiet on the skin
Filling hearts imaginings
See her as the blossoms dance
In the cusp of dawn's romance
In saplings that take a bow
In wind blown hair tousled now
Petals touched by her stir
Silken soft in gossamer
Light and dark shadows play
On shrubs of green bunched bouquet
While butterflies and bees sup
Drink nectar from sun's molten cup
I MEDITATE upon a swallow's flight,
Upon a aged woman and her house,
A sycamore and lime-tree lost in night
Although that western cloud is luminous,
Great works constructed there in nature's spite
For scholars and for poets after us,
Thoughts long knitted into a single thought,
A dance-like glory that those walls begot.
There Hyde before he had beaten into prose
That noble blade the Muses buckled on,
There one that ruffled in a manly pose
For all his timid heart, there that slow man,
That meditative man, John Synge, and those
Impetuous men, Shawe-Taylor and Hugh Lane,
Found pride established in humility,
A scene well Set and excellent company.
They came like swallows and like swallows went,
And yet a woman's powerful character
Could keep a Swallow to its first intent;
And half a dozen in formation there,
That seemed to whirl upon a compass-point,
Found certainty upon the dreaming air,
The intellectual sweetness of those lines
That cut through time or cross it withershins.
Here, traveller, scholar, poet, take your stand
When all those rooms and passages are gone,
When nettles wave upon a shapeless mound
And saplings root among the broken stone,
And dedicate -- eyes bent upon the ground,
Back turned upon the brightness of the sun
And all the sensuality of the shade --
A moment's memory to that laurelled head.
UNDER my window-ledge the waters race,
Otters below and moor-hens on the top,
Run for a mile undimmed in Heaven's face
Then darkening through "dark' Raftery's "cellar' drop,
Run underground, rise in a rocky place
In Coole demesne, and there to finish up
Spread to a lake and drop into a hole.
What's water but the generated soul?
Upon the border of that lake's a wood
Now all dry sticks under a wintry sun,
And in a copse of beeches there I stood,
For Nature's pulled her tragic buskin on
And all the rant's a mirror of my mood:
At sudden thunder of the mounting swan
I turned about and looked where branches break
The glittering reaches of the flooded lake.
Another emblem there! That stormy white
But seems a concentration of the sky;
And, like the soul, it sails into the sight
And in the morning's gone, no man knows why;
And is so lovely that it sets to right
What knowledge or its lack had set awry,
So atrogantly pure, a child might think
It can be murdered with a spot of ink.
Sound of a stick upon the floor, a sound
From somebody that toils from chair to chair;
Beloved books that famous hands have bound,
Old marble heads, old pictures everywhere;
Great rooms where travelled men and children found
Content or joy; a last inheritor
Where none has reigned that lacked a name and fame
Or out of folly into folly came.
A spot whereon the founders lived and died
Seemed once more dear than life; ancestral trees,
Or gardens rich in memory glorified
Marriages, alliances and families,
And every bride's ambition satisfied.
Where fashion or mere fantasy decrees
We shift about -- all that great glory spent --
Like some poor Arab tribesman and his tent.
We were the last romantics -- chose for theme
Traditional sanctity and loveliness;
Whatever's written in what poets name
The book of the people; whatever most can bless
The mind of man or elevate a rhyme;
But all is changed, that high horse riderless,
Though mounted in that saddle Homer rode
Where the swan drifts upon a darkening flood.
Jack Oct 2015
Got lost in the longing,
Daydreaming farewells,
That train whistle holler,
The smell of motels,

Familiar with strangers,
Sacrifice morning light,
My strongest convictions,
Now too weak to fight,

Dear broken romantics,
Sweet Hollywood eyes,
Find peace in invention,
Deceitful disguise,

Come cold revelation,
An end drawing near,
Speak slow of salvation,
Too softly to hear,

The darkest conclusions,
Stealing your air,
Your daughter beside you,
Your wife’s empty chair,

A hospice hotel room,
That low trumpet sound,
My dad on my shoulder,
A rose on the ground,

Still learning to lose you,
Without letting go,
Turn sorrow to saplings,
Let new forests grow,

Just remember the laughter,
Your voice in my ear,
That music still playing,
Too softly to hear.
av willis Mar 2013
In a land beyond the rainbow
Stands a dark decrepit wood
Where monkeys glide between the branches
And witches live, both bad and good

There within its tangled branches
Lies a path bedecked with gold
Leading brave souls who do not blanch
On to wonders yet untold

Near this path of yellow mortar
Stands an ancient half hewn tree
Missing wood, about a quarter
Standing **** for all to see

In this wood there stands a hatchet
Once beloved, now fraught with rage
Just another rusted gadget
Cast by in the wake of age

On a gnarled and twisted root
Centered in a mushroom ring
Stands ***** a metal figure
Frozen ever in mid-swing

There he stands through frozen winters
There he stands through summer's heat
There he stands through April showers
Standing ever on his feet

Once he glowed a gentle pewter
Once he moved with solemn grace
Lines of rust bedeck his figure
Streaking slowly down his face

Once he stood a man of flesh
A simple hewer of the wood
Who held a cabin near the creek
And loved a maiden fair and good

In the village near the forest
There he sought to win her hand
A debt of love he'd pay with interest
If beside his side she'd stand

In the woods he sought the bride price
Needed to start their new life
In the trees he found the journey
Soon to be defined by strife

By an elm his axehead sundered
Cleaving cruelly through his arm
Through the boughs his loud cry thundered
To the heavens in alarm

To the ground his lost arm plopped
Landing softly with a thump
To the town the woodsmen hopped
Grasping at the ****** stump

There he found the village tinker
And roused him roughly from his bed
Dragging him out to the workshop
Leaking out a wake of red

There he begged the wizened workman
'Make a new arm from your cans
For i marry in a fortnight
Let my bride take a whole man'

So the old man plied his trade
To make a limb of springs and gears
Twisting tendons in a braid
To move his fingers through the years

Now renewed to former vigor
The Woodsman went back to his trade
Returning to the morning's rigor
Back into the ancient glade

Little did the doughty hewer
Know his axe contained a curse
Stricken on unknowing users
Causing their limbs to disperse

By an oak he lost his left ear
By a beech he lost the right
Hazel took him down a peg
And by a yew he lost his sight

Through the week the tinker labored
On in a rush to replace
Just enough of the woodcutter
To accept his bride's embrace

On the day his nuptials dawned
The woodsman clanged into the square
Passing through the crowd with awe
On to meet his maiden fair

There she stood beneath a trellis
Sky blue ribbons through her braids
Oh, she was a sight to rellish
Worth the trial of the glades

There he stood forever altered
A shadow of the former man
In this form forever haltered
To this shell of springs and cans

The cutter broke into a dash
To wrap his woman in his arms
On the cobbles his feet clashed
Causing her no small alarm

From the altar his bride fled
With screams of terror in her wake
On the day  he should have wed
Became the day his heart did break

Suddenly devoid of purpose
To the copse the woodsman flees
Never ere' again to surface
From the shelter of the trees

Months went by the woodsman toiled
Day and night, no pause to sleep
Day and night his kettle boiled
Over with the urge to weep

Till the sound of April thunder
Rumbled in the cutters ears
Bringing rain that tore assunder
Dams he'd built around his tears

So between his swings he wept
Of loss and of abandoned trust
Trails of tears in his joints crept
And hardened slowly into rust

Now he stands in frozen duty
Saplings rising all around
Dreaming of an ancient beauty
Long surrendered to the ground

Till the day another maid
Returns to bathe his limbs in oil
On that day he'll leave the glade
Moving on to other toils

Then the rust begins to part
Then the magic starts to slake
Then the woodsman finds his heart
Then the Tin Man starts to wake
yuki motokane Dec 2016
heart was the forest
trampled upon on with haste
sawed to halves
now a barren land

you came
watered my saplings
tended the leaves
brought upon me sunshine

with all you could give
like a gardener
had a connection with i
a ferocious fire blossomed

love we called it
but the flames, scattered
like forest fires
destroyed me once again
and yet it didn't matter
    [**** Wei was a great Chinese painter and poet, of the 8th century --Max Eastman]

IN THIS high room, my room of quiet space,
Sun-yellow softened for my happiness,
I learn of you, **** Wei, and of your loves;
Your rhythmic fisher sweet with solitude
Beneath a willow by the river stream;
Your aged plum tree bearing lonely bloom
Beside the torrent's thunder; misty buds
Among your saplings; delicate-leaved bamboo.
My room is sweet because of you, **** Wei,
Your tranquil and creative-fingered love
So many mounds of mournful years ago
In that cool valley where the colors lived.
My ceiling slopes a little like far mountains.
Your delicate-leaved bamboo can flourish here.

— The End —