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Sayer Mar 2014
I am the rain, filled up inside the ditch
the flood's rockets shooting to the sky
the black mystery in the electric stars, shocking
vaporizing my waves and the boats float on, plunged, and sinking
and the tidal waves keeps coming and beating whatever hand I throw up
to hold myself onto the plank and I drift away and fade away
in your eyes as they send the whole ocean to me and I'm blown away to
space in a space untraveled, and float without gravity or anything to hold me

and then split in two, one colliding toward earth and back to the ocean to
feel you drowning me with your eyes that echo the waves
and the moonlight fills my soul as the tree of life burns
and back up, far away
I still am floating and going farther, and farther away, entering in the
claustrophobia and the beautiful queen looks at me but can't choose which one,
the floating man who will one day vanish, or the man who keeps drowning with obsession
so, the right decision would be to say neither  
but it doesn't solve anything, really
I kept pulling you inside,
so close until I died under your weight
and the rockets keep shooting up from the depths of the ocean
and I keep looking down at the definition of the shore
and the box keeps opening with new tricks and new
obsessions and the screams echo the screams in your eyes which flood
everything inside of me, and the screams echo the screams
and the screams echo the screams
and I'm poured out, your eyes, your body
it's changed
it's new
somehow
I collapse under your weight and your beauty, if you only knew
the waves and space are one (and could we be, I think, could we be)
yet the screams echo the screams
the screams echo the screams
the screams cannot be heard in space, or underwater
*but that doesn't mean they aren't there
Suffocating
Robert Guerrero Oct 2012
screams of a child
as she watches
her father die
and his blood spills

screams of the dark
as they drag
the body away
and feast on his bones

screams of an angel
as she falls
when the clouds open
clipping her wings

screams of the helpless
as they starve
their bodies crumble like ash
bones showing aging scars

screams of everybody
yet nobody hears
muffled by refusal
drowned by prayer

screams of the restless
knowing they will never sleep
hoping for death
so they can sleep forever

screams of ghosts
as they try to find their way
no hope for them
they are lost forever

screams of the forgotten
as they march a path
paved by death and loneliness
never to be remembered

screams of the living
when they look in the mirror
and see time take its toll
death releasing them from times hold

screams of the tortured
as they are left stranded
helpless to nature
reckless in their steps

screams of the poet
as he loses his mind
sanity never gained
lost in words he choked on
Pagan Paul Apr 2017
i.
The twilight moon peeps
from behind the brazen grey cloud.
Chill air coalesces into a light fog
creeping nonchalant along the street.
Orange lamp glow cascades around
dancing with the fog in osmosis swirls.
Ice blue eyes of fire and malevolence
trace a pathway through the dirge.
Zoning out and homing in,
a huntress stalking unknowing prey.
A black kitten dashes from the hedge,
across the street, up to a front door,
leaving tiny prints scattered on the lawn,
and the ice blue eyes of fire drip pleasure,
as a primal sound emerges, guttural,
but unmistakedly … a cackle.

ii.
Feint, feint sobbing punctuates the night.
As she lays curled foetal clutching her doll.
Her other hand between her thighs,
seeking in vain to reclaim her violated body.

“ Daddy made Mummy go to sleep
with sweeties from the little brown bottle
and the drink from the grown-ups cupboard,
and then he played horsey with her.
He told me Mummy had been a good girl,
and it was my turn to be nice to Daddy.
He always scares me at night
but its his way of saying he loves me.
Daddy Loves his little girl, he always says so”.

The sobbing slowly fades into … nothing,
And she knows. She doesn't Love Daddy.
Now he is watching tv and drinking beer.
Daddy hears the doorbell and swears.
He goes to answer, opening the portal.
Too late, far too late, to stop …
… the Judderwitch.

iii.
He woke. And tried to scream,
nailed spread-eagle to a wall.
Throat, dry, unable to make a sound.
And in his head he screams.
Pierced flesh with sanguin scabs
ripping agony through his very fibre.
Ice blue eyes of fire dance hooded
before him with torture and brutality.
His face erupts in pus filled cysts
to burst and seer pain on his flesh.
And in his head he screams.
As the face in the hood morphs into
the face of his little girl as he rapes her.
And he screams, in his head he screams,
and screams and screams,
as the blade slices slowly, so slowly,
and his manhood falls flaccid floor-ways.
Eyes bulge in horror,
and in his head he screams ...
And screams … and screams,
as his ribs crack, break, in his chest.
Pushing through and up and out,
like flint sharp spears of rancid bone,
and in his head he screams …
and screams … and screams ...

iv.
“Mummy. Mummy. There's kitten on the lawn.
Can we keep her Mummy. Can we? Please?”
She walks out the front door
and smiles at her daughter, the kitten meows.
She watches her little girl play,
the cat enraptured with little plaits.
“Mummy. Why can't I remember anything about Daddy?
He only went away last night”.
“I don't know sweetie. I can't remember anything either.
Not even his face. Its very strange indeed”.

A breeze chills their skin as they look
toward the Cherry Tree on the lawn.
Its leaves whispering their sylvan symphony.
But all they heard was …
… cackling.
And the feint, feint sound
of somebody
still
screaming.

© Pagan Paul (04/04/17)
.
Chalsey Wilder Jun 2014
Corrupted thoughts and dreams turns whispers into screams
But reality
Oh how reality turns screams into whispers that corrupt and drain
Drain innocence left behind
Uses every bit of breath to corrupt good hearts, good minds, good starts
Screams to whispers
Whispers to screams
Corrupts our hearts
Corrupts our subconscious and dreams
Whatever you whisper just don't scream...
kano Dec 2014
screams, screams, screams, screams, screams

screams, screams, screams, screams, screams, screams, screams

i'm tired of screaming
maybella snow Aug 2013
[screaming]                         [screaming]                       [screaming]      [screaming]        
[scream]               [scream]     [scream]  [scream]           [scream]                           [scream]            
[screams]   [screams]                            [screams]     [screams]                       [screams]                              
[screamed]                  [screamed]             [screamed]           [screamed]  [screamed] [screamed]

*[screaming]                         [screaming]                       [screaming]      [screaming]        
[scream]               [scream]     [scream]  [scream]           [scream]                           [scream]            
[screams]   [screams]                            [screams]     [screams]                       [screams]                              
[screamed]                  [screamed]             [screamed]           [screamed]  [screamed] [screamed]
wayne mockler Apr 2020
The torture on the golden ship of evil horrors
after arriving at the big golden pirate ship of torture we are made to walk along the black plank to board the grisly ship.  The horses look around the deck while the evil pirates watch with nasty and wicked eyes of hate towards our bodies.

All of a sudden hundreds of ghostly pirates appear from their  city of spikes and watch  us on the devils deck of terror.  The patch eyed monster with one leg then shouts towards a dark room on the ships deck while the other creatures jump and scream with a mist pint of froth in  their red hands.

The golden  goddess screams in terror when a dark figure wearing a purple hat walks out on the red deck of horrors.  We all look in horror when the rest of the pirates  chain our army towards  the ships  rails of torture.

i comfort luitent megs with my outreached arm while the dark pirate figure without a nose  and mouth pulls out it jagged  red swords  of horror at our trembling bodies.  The golden goddess stares inside its deep purple eyes while it pulls two  warriors out  from the carnage.

The horses plead for mercy while the  creature drags then towards a small dark corner of the ship.  One of the warriors is then tied down on a long plank of wood while the other pirates begin to move forward towards her shaken bodies.

An angry golden goddess try's to break free from the chains of torture while the other brave warrior try's to save the poor old woman warriors body.  We weep with anger when the pirates begin to rip her golden uniform off revealing her  lacy white old underwear of modesty.

The pirate monsters then quickly surround the shaken mature  woman  and ripping  her underwear off with ease. We listen the the pirate creatures howl with pleasure  whilst exploring her naked body.

Two of the pirates hold her head down while  the ******* pirate  pulls out its small flashing blade and cuts off  her nose  while she scream in terror.  The other pirates then keep her head very still while the creature begins to cut her mouth and lips off while blood fires up across the ships cold dark deck.

A sick golden goddess then begins to throw up when the black pirate holds the woman's golden lips  in the air for all the other pirates to see  and enjoy. We all sink into a dark huddle when the  other warrior is pinned down and sliced open by the black  pirates  sword of horror.

The horses tremble and shake when the other  warrior is pinned by down by fifteen pirate creatures for the black demon pirate pleasure. We all look with open eyes when the demon black pirate carefully removes hes golden genitals and ***** for the screaming warrior.

We are all then taken below deck towards a long  black freezing jail while the pirates party  and drink on spike city of evil horrors.  The horses sit and wonder how to escape  the evil city while the rest of us lay down in the dark  cells of torture.

written by wayne mockler
ownership and copyright wayne mockler


The torture on the golden ship of evil horrors part 2

After a long few hours in the cold dark cells of horror the  evil pirates bring us up on deck while all the other creatures watch  from pirate land of evil. The golden goddess and her army are led out first onto the golden ships deck with  me and luiteant  megs, white tiger and horses behind us.

We shiver and shake when we notice the plank of torture  hanging over the cold red water of evil.  One of the dark pirates comes towards our cold tired bodies and looks at us with  its green eyes of evil while its flowing  hair of snakes shines at our clouded minds of terror.

The golden goddess speaks out towards a smiling one eyed captain before being ******* with rope on a ships pole.  We be the captain for mercy but he's monster pull out two golden warriors and makes them stand near the long plank of wood.

One of the golden warriors is forced to walk the long dark plank while others look on in terror and suspense. The horses try and break free from their handcuffs but get beat down by  the evil pirate creatures of horror

A scared and  terrified warrior stands in the middle of the plank until a giant black figure emerges from the deep red river. The figure a shark with five heads and axe tail jumps at the golden warrior leaving a big deep cut on his forehead with golden blood flowing out everywhere.

I hold a terrified luitent megs tight while his head ***** open in the cold dark night of spike city.  The horses hold onto a shaking white tiger while the creature dives back in the deep red water.

The shark  monster  then jumps again but this time cutting the warriors head off while making the golden blood pour over the dark plank of wood.  The golden goddess begs for mercy until the pirates surround the fighting body of torture with eyes transfixed on her large ******* with glee.

We tell the pirates to keep of her  until  a black pirate with one arm begins to unbutton  her golden  blouse with ease.  The other creatures get closer towards her blushing red cheeks while the dark pirate begins to release the red buttons and exposing her large  ******* to cheers from the ***** pirates  creatures.

After getting  touched and explored by all the evil pirates a crying golden goddess is carried towards spike city drinking saloon along with the other golden warriors. We are  made  to follow behind a guard of pirates while the horses and white tiger  are chained up in the cages of hell.

Once in the drinking den of horror we are made to sit on big long stool while the pirates  strip a red faced golden goddess naked  while the captain watches with a barrel of ***.  we are then taken back towards the dark cage in spike city and locked up with the horses and white tiger.

We look over at the  other big cage from hell and see the army of golden warriors laid down  from the fight on hell.  The horses tend to to a distraught golden goddess with their warm fur of hope and look for a way to escape this hell hole.

written by wayne mockler
ownership and copyright wayne mockler

The torture on the golden ship of evil horrors part 3

After a long night of drinking and laughing the dark pirates settle down under a mist of red sky of horrors.  We sit alone in our  cold dark cage until the  purple light of sunlight shines though the next morning.

The pirate creature wake and walk around the dark spike city of horror until another ship sails in under a tunnel of torture towards the dark city's lights.  A scared golden goddess looks out and sees another pirate ship with orange sails come into spike  harbour.

We cringe with horror when the dark pirates cheer the ship while an orange pirate with six arms stands on its deck.  The  big green and blue ship then settles in harbour while the six armed orange creatures jump out and walk around the scared golden warriors cage.

A sadistic dark pirate captain  then unlocks the cage and drags out tow more golden warriors screaming and kicking for survival. The disgusting black captain then throws one of our heroes to the  orange horrors of lust.

The horses bang and shout at the dark pirate captain  until the orange creatures carry  the golden warrior woman towards a cold dark table of hate.  we listen to her screams while the pirates begin to cut open her golden uniform from to to bottom.

An angry golden goddess screams with anger when the creatures mange to prize open her golden bra  and ripping it off with loud screams of joy  from the other drunken pirates.  She blushes  red with horror when the  creatures  slip down her golden thong causing the  pirates to go wild with excitement.

We sit and watch with anger when the pirates begin  to touch her naked body all over while he screams in anger and hatred. The  creatures then carry her naked body towards the  creatures drinking saloon  of evil.

I hold and comfort luitent megs while the cheer's get higher and higher  followed by a dull silence. All of a sudden two evil  orange pirates  bring out her golden head before sticking in on a long pole near the river.

The golden goddess screams and kicks with anger at the glowing guards while  the other golden warrior is dragged inside the saloon of horror.  We then suddenly hear high pitched screams coming from the warrior inside until a pirate shouts yes in a loud clear voice.

Another  four pirates of evil walk out holding various  parts of the mans body in their glowing  hands of golden blood. The horses bury their heads in the  cage corner whilst the  creatures throw s his head and legs inside a big dark plastic bag of evil.

We all sit alone in the dark  cage of evil  while the orange and black  creatures toast and dance in the  cold evil  saloon of hatred.  The golden goddess and horses look around the dark cage wondering how to escape from the torture of the creatures hands.

written by wayne mockler
ownership and copyright wayne mockler
adult horror
one screams into
the void
yet all one
can hear in
return are
the screams
of others

others
who make up
the world
others
who fulfill
the fullness of
reality

their screams
are so pungent
and loud
For their screams
are of great  
persuasion

this is a
persuasion
fuelled  by
pressure

a common  
pressure
asserted
by the  
screams
the screams
of others

but one asks
what is this  
pressure

please listen  
to my words

ones life
is a dictated
sequence

a pattern
of sorts

a pattern  
pre-determined
by the
screams
the screams  
of others

who scream  
and scream

who tell you
what to want
what to do
what to love
what to believe

somewhere
deep in the  
void one must
search for  
the sound
the sound  
of  
one’s self
Becky Jo Gibson Aug 2016
Swept into a space too small to hold me.
His eyes put me there at first glance.
The containment welcome as I had to catch my breath.
Mesmerized by the shape of his features!
Oh what a beautiful man he is.
Everything about him screams alive.
Swept into his land of him and the pleasure he gives.
Held close by his attention and sweet words.
His allure carefully crafted with his heartless soul.
Mesmerized by his amazing mouth and touch.
Oh what a beautiful man he is.
Everything about him screams desire.
Swept into his land of lies and deception.
Confusion is abound as I hit the ground.
No longer blind to his games and fake love.
Mesmerized by my inability to make truth real.
Oh what a beautiful man he is.
Everything about him screams need.
Swept into his land of pain and sorrow.
Reality is so hard to maintain in my mind.
His web woven in captivating moments.
Mesmerized by the memories of us in love.
Oh what a beautiful man he is.
Everything about him screams mine.
Swept into his land of closure.
My feelings slowly matching the reality I despise.
The need for him fills every inch of me.
Mesmerized by how weak I've become.
Oh what a beautiful man he is.
Everything about him screams player.
Swept into his land of done.
He won't give any part of him to sooth me.
Nothing he has is for me as he is over it.
Mesmerized by my lack of composure.
Oh what a beautiful man he is.
Everything about him screams deception.
Swept into my land of reality.
He is gone and I am so alone.
Cut off from the ability to find new love.
Mesmerized by my denial of his lack.
Oh what a beautiful man he is.
Everything about him screams ouch.
Becky Jo Gibson 2-26-16
Pagan Paul Aug 2018
.
i.
Smoke coils up and dissipates,
soon the images will be clear,
as she stares with cold contempt,
into the depths of the Seers Sphere.
And she stands toking her pipe,
watching as the story unfolds,
soon her hate will boil once more,
unleashing her vengeance of old.

ii.
Smoke coils up and dissipates,
a thousand lifetime's away,
blackened stone and charred bodies,
the remains of a village destroyed.
The flames still licking at the flesh
and melting mortar of cottage walls.
Raiding horsemen ride off cheering,
with swords, shields and firebrands,
carrying amidst them a prisoner,
their prize and sport for the victory feast.
Savages are these violent men,
barbaric in their wanton lust for war,
the red mist and the ****** fury,
it's all they really have a care for.

iii.
She waits with patient seething,
her moments will arrive so soon,
the spilling of her black arts,
witnessed by a Woman's Moon.

iv.
The Vale was so beautiful lush and green.
Steep sided, oak trees, clear blue stream.
With fresh grass on which horses grazed,
and smooth rocks where wild fowl lazed.

v.
But the leader here was not a man,
she was the daughter of this warrior clan.
Fierce, cold, she barked out her orders;
build a fire, make food, secure the borders.
Her status unquestioned by her riders,
they would all fight and die beside her,
and as the camp grew out much wider,
her boot casually crushes a hated spider.

vi.
Manacles held her ankle fast,
shackled as she was to a tree.
Withdrawn, shivering with cold,
still seeing her burning family.
Images scorch her private intimacy,
awaiting the moment of her epiphany,
eyes watching with careless vacancy,
preparations for the nights ceremony.
But she would not co-operate,
would not give her jailers pleasure,
as she knows these last few hours
would seem to her like forever …

and Nature weeps with a prelude to grieve,
as the Maiden pulls a dagger from her sleeve.


… deny them their sport she will,
placing the dagger 'neath her breast,
a sharp tug towards her heart,
a thousand nightmares laid to rest.

vii.
A thousand lifetime's away,
smoke coils up and dissipates,
a cackle rents the air like ice,
the time her Woman's Moon anticipates.
And the instant arrives with joy,
as the Seers Sphere is thrown,
shattering and cackling hold hands,
as the glass touches solid stone.
At that moment of contact with rock,
time slips into a reverberating shock.

viii.
The Vale was so beautiful lush and green.
Steep sided, oak trees, clear blue stream.
With fresh grass on which horses grazed,
and smooth rocks where wild fowl lazed.

And the earth heaved and tremored,
shaking the Vales languid peace,
uprooting trees with tremendous urge,
rending the loamy soil from beneath.
Frenzied horses scatter with fright,
and men are thrown up high,
screams and shouts of piercing pain,
and the stream suddenly runs dry.
The quake unsettles the warriors camp,
leaving many broken bones and blood.
Then an ominous deafening roar
heralds the arrival of the coming flood.
And water coursed fast into the Vale,
no longer pretending to be calmer.
All living men drowned and dead,
encumbered by their heavy armour.
But she was much fleeter of foot
and ran hard as the waters rose.
Tripped by a treacherous branch,
head banged, stunned, her eyes closed.

ix.
Sunrise saw many things.
Smoke coiling up and dissipating,
over the ruins of a village,
crows and dogs feasting well.
It saw
the hooded robed figure of a woman,
squatting on top a new grave,
smoke coiling up from her pipe,
cackling …

x.
She awoke in darkness.
It didn't take long to panic and scream.
It took no time to realise,
she was sealed naked in a coffin.
And she screamed and screamed.
Pushing at the sides, the lid.
The air was heavy, stifling, stifling, stifling.
Precious oxygen running out.
The coffin moved, and she screamed,
desperately scratching and scratching.
And in the box she heard … cackling.
Her frantic screams turn to sobs of pleading
to be let out, to breathe, to live.
She felt something touch her inner thigh,
she screamed, as it touched again feint.
Brushing it away as the voice cackled on,
more tickles on her thighs, she screamed.
And something landed on her face.
The feel of a large spider on her mouth,
and she screamed and screamed.
But the cackling persisted
as she scratched at the wood,
her fingernails shredding to pieces,
but the wooden prison gave no quarter,
the skin raw and bloodied,
scratching, scratching, scratching.
And in her tomb she screams,
she screams and screams and screams.

xi.
… sunrise saw many things.
It saw a new river,
wending its way to the sea,
caressing the contoured land,
it saw horses running wild,
across the lush grass on plains.
It saw
the hooded robed figure of a woman,
standing beside a new grave,
as she places the flame dagger
upon the Maiden's final resting place,
it saw
ice blue eyes of fire and malevolence.
Weeping.


© Pagan Paul (02/08/18)
.
3rd poem in Judderwitch series.
https://hellopoetry.com/poem/2076298/judderwitch-the-beginning/
https://hellopoetry.com/poem/1923972/judderwitch/

Today, Aug 2nd, marks two years on hp for me.
Thankyou to all those who have supported and helped me over these last 2 years. You are all greatly appreciated :) PPx xox
Keith J Collard Jun 2013
The Quest for the Damsel Fish  by Keith Collard

Author's  Atmosphere

On the bow of the boat, with the cold cloud of the dismal day brushing your back conjuring goose bumped flesh you hold an anchor.  For the first time, you can pick this silver anchor up with only one hand and hold it over your head. It resembles the Morning Star, a brutal medieval weapon that bludgeons and impales its victims.  Drop it into the dark world beyond the security of your boat--watch the anchor descend.
        Watch this silver anchor--this Morning Star--descend away from the boat and you, it becomes swarmed over with darkness.  It forms a ******-metallic grin at first as it sinks, then the sinking silver anchor takes its last shape at its last visible glimpse.  It is so small now as if it could be hung from a necklace.  It is a silver sword.  
Peering over the side of the boat, the depths collectively look like the mouth of a Cannibalistic Crab, throwing the shadows of its mandibles over everything that sinks down into it--black mandibles that have joints with the same angle of a Reaper's Scythe.  

I am scared looking at this sinking phantasm.  I see something from my youth down there in this dark cold Atlantic.  I see the silver Morning Star again, now in golden armor.  I remember a magnificent kingdom, in a saltwater fish tank I had once and never had again.  A tropical paradise that I see again as I stare down into the depths.  This fish tank was so beautiful with the most beautiful inhabitants who I miss.  Before I could lift the silver anchor--the Morning Star--over my head with only one hand, turning gold in that morning sun-- I was a boy who sat indian style, cross legged--peering into this brilliant spectacle of light I thought awesome.  I thought all the darkness of home and the world was kept at bay by this kingdom of light...

Chapter  1 Begins the Story

The Grey Skies of Mass is the Name of This Chapter.

                                                      ­­                        
    
 Air, in bubbles--it was a world beauty of darkness revealed in slashes of light from dashing fluorescent bulbs overhead this fish tank.
Silver swords of fluorescent energy daring to the bottom, every slash revealing every color of the zodiac--from the Gold of Scorpio to the purple of Libra combining into the jade of the Gemini. 
In the center, like a dark Stonehenge were rocks. The exterior rocks had tropical colors like that of cotton candy, but the interior shadows of the rocks that was the Stonehenge, did not possess one photon of light. The silver messengers of the florescent energy from above would tire and die at their base.  The shadows of the Stonehenge rocks would stand over them as they died.

 
          When the boy named Sake climbed the rickety wood stairs of the house, he did so in fear of making noise, as if to not wake each step.
   Until he could see the glowing aura of his fish tank then he would start down that eerie hall, With pictures of ghosts and ghosts of pictures staring down at him as he walked down that rickety hallway of this towering old colonial home.  He hurried to the glowing tank to escape the black and white gazing picture frames.
                    The faint gurgling, bubbling of the saltwater tank became stronger in his ear, and that sound guided him from the last haunt of the hallway-- the empty room that was perpendicular to  his room.   He only looked to his bright tank as soon as he entered the hallway from the creaky wooden steps.  Then he proceeded to sit in front of this great tropical fish tank in Indian style with his legs folded over one another as children so often would sit.
  The sun was setting.  The reflections from the tank were beginning to send ripples down the dark walls. Increasing  wave after wave reflecting down his dark walls.  He thought they to be seagulls flapping into the darkness until they were overcome as he was listening to the bubbling water of his tank.
                " Hello my fish, hello Angel, hello Tang, hello  Hoomah, hello Clown and hello Damsel … and hello to you Crab...even though I do not like you," he said in half jest not looking at the crab in the entrance of the rocks.  The rocks were the color of cotton candy, but the interior shadows did not possess a photon of luminescence.  All other shadows not caused by the rocks--but by bright swaying ornament--were like the glaze on a candy apple--dark but delicious.  Besides the crab's layer in the rock jumble at the center of the tank which was a Stonehenge within a Stonehenge--the tank was a world of bright inviting light.
                The crab was in its routine,  motionless in the entrance to his foyer, with his scythe-like claws in the air, in expectation of catching one of the bright fish someday.  For that reason the boy tried to remove the crab in the past, but even though the boy was fast with his hand, the optical illusion of the tank would always send his hand where the crab no longer was.  He did not know how to use two hands to rid the crab in the future by trapping and destroying the Cannibal Crab ;  his father, on a weekend visit, gave the Crab to the boy to put into the bright world of the saltwater tank, which Sake quickly regretted.  His father promised him that the Crab would not be able to catch any of the fish he said " ...***** only eat anything that has fallen to the bottom or each other..."

         A scream from the living room downstairs ran up the rickety wood and down the long hall and startled the boy.  His mother sent her shrieks out to grab the boy, allowing her to not have to waste any time nor calorie on her son; for she would tire from the stairs, but her screams would not, allowing her to stay curled up on the couch.  If she was not screaming for Sake, she was talking as loud as screams on the phone with her girlfriends.  The decibels from her laugh was torture for all in the silent house.   A haughty laugh in a gossipy conversation, that overpowered the sound of the bright tropical fish tank in Sake's room that was above and far opposite her in the living room.
               " Sake you have to get a paper-route to pay for the tank, the electricity bill is outrageous," she said while not taking her eyes off the TV and her legs curled up beside her.  He would glad fully get a paper-route even if it was for a made up reason.  He turned to go, and looked back at his mother, and a shudder ran through him with a new thought:  someday her appearance will match her voice.  

              Upon reaching his tank,  Hoomah was trying to get his attention as always.  Taking up pebbles in his big pouty pursed lips and spitting them out of his lips like a weak musket.  The Hoomah was a very silly fish, it looked like one of Sake’s aunts, with too much make up on, slightly overweight, and hovering on two little fins that looked incapable of keeping it afloat, but they did.  The fins reminded him of the legs of his aunt--skinny under not so skinny.’

               The Tang was doing his usual aquanautics , darting and sailing was his trick.  He was fast, the fastest with his bright yellow triangular sail cutting the water.  Next was the aggressive Clown fish, the boy thought she was always aggresive because she didn't have an anemone to sleep on.  The Clown was strong and sleek with an orange jaw and body that was built like a tigress.
  Sake thought something tragic about the body if the  orange Clown and the three silver traces that clawed her body as decoration -they reminded him of the incandescent orange glow of a street lamp being viewed through the rainy back windshield of a car.   The Clown fish was a distraction that craved attention.
The Clown would chase around some of the other fish and jump out of the water to catch the boy's eye. 
                 Next is the Queen Angel fish, she is the queen of the tank, she sits in back all alone, waving like a marvelous banner, iridescent purple and golden jade.  Her forehead slopes back in a French braid style that streams over her back like a kings standard waving before battle, but her standard is of a house of beauty, and that of royal purple.

                    Lastly is the Damsel Fish, the smallest and most vulnerable in the tank.  She has royal purple also, rivaling the queen. Her eyes are lashed but not lidded like the Hoomah.  Her eyes are elliptical, and perhaps the most human, or in the boy’s opinion, she is the most lady like, the Hoomah and the Queen Angel come to her defence if she is chased around by the Clown.  Her eyes penetrate the boys, to the point of him looking away.  

                      Before the tank, in its place in the corner was a painting, an oil painting of another type of Clown donning a hat with orange partial make-up on his face (only around eyes nose and mouth there was ghost white paint) and it  had two tears coming down from its right eye.  The Clown painting was given to him by his mother, it seems he could not be rid of them, but Sake at first was taken in by the brightness of the Clown, and the smooth salacious wet look of the painting. it looked dripping, or submerged, like another alternate reality.  The wet surreal glaze of the painting seemed a portal, especially the orange glow of the Clown's skin without make-up.  .  If he tried to remember of times  before the Clown painting that preceded the Clown fish, he thought of the orange saffron twilight of sunset, and watching it from the high window from his room in the towering house.  How that light changed everything that it touched, from the tree tops and the clouds, to even the dark hallway leading up to his room.  The painting and the Clown fish did not feel the same as those distant memories of sunset, especially the summer sunset when his mother would put him to bed long before the sun had set.  
Sake did not voice opposition to the Clown.
Then he was once again trapped by the Clown.  
            The boy was extremely afraid of this painting that replaced the sunsets , being confined alone with it by all those early bedtimes.
Sake once asked his mother if he could take it down, whereas she said " No."  That clown would follow him into his dreams, always he would be down the hill from the tall house on the hill, trying to walk back to the house, but to walk away or run in a dream was like walking underwater or in black space, and he would make no distance as the ground opened up and the clown came out of the ground hugging him with the pryless grip of eight arms.  He would then wake up amid screams and a tearful hatted clown staring somberly down at him from the wall where it was hung.  Night made him fear the Clown painting more;  that ghost white make-up decorating around the eyes and mouth seeming to form another painting in entirety.  He could only look at the painting after a while when the lights were on, and the wet looking painting was mostly orange from the skin, neck, and forearms of the hat wearing clown.  But the painting is gone now, and the magnificent light display of the tank is there now.  

                Sake pulled out the fish food, all the fish bestirred in anticipation of being fed.  The only time they would all come together; and that was to mumble the bits of falling flakes: a chomp from the Clown, a pucker from the Hoomah, the fast mumble of the Tang, and the dainty chew of the Damsel.  The Queen Angelfish would stay near the bottom, and kiss a flake over and over.   She would not deign herself to go into a friendly frenzy like the other fish; she stayed calm, yet alluring like a flag dancing rhythmically in the breeze, but never repeating the same move as the wind never repeats the same breeze.  She is the only fish to change colors.  When the grey skies of Mass emit through every portal in the house at the height of its bleakness, her colors would turn more fantastic, perhaps why she is queen.

                 He put his finger in the top of the watery world; the warmth was felt all the way up his arm.  After feeding, his favorite thing to do was to trace his finger on the top of the warm water and have the Damsel follow it. She loved it, it was her only time to dance, for the Clown would descend down in somewhat fear ( or annoyance) of the boys finger, and the Damsel and he would dance.  The boy, thought that extraordinary.

                     Sake bedded down that night, to his usual watery world of his room.  The reflective waves running down the walls like seagulls of light, with the rhythmic gurgling sound and it's occasional splash of the Clown, or the Hoomah swooping into the pebbly bottom to scoop up some pebbles for spitting making the sound "ccchhhhh" --cachinging  like a distant underwater register.  The tank’s nocturne sound was therapeutic to the boy.

                      Among waking up, and being greeted by his sparkling treasure tank--that was always of the faintest light in the morning due to the grey skies of Mass coming through every portal to lessen the tropical spectrum-- the boy would render his salutations " Good morning my Hoomah.....good morning Tang, my Damsel, and your majesty Queen Angel.....and so forth.  Until the scream would come to get him, and he would walk briskly past the empty room and the looming family pictures of strangers.  His mother put him to work that day, to "pay for the fish tank" but really to buy her a new cocktail dress for her nightly forays.  The boy did not care, the tank was his sun, emitting through the bleak skies of Mass, and even if the tank was reduced to a haze by the overcast of his life, it only added a log to the fire that was the tropical world at night, in turn making him welcome the dismal day.
                  On a day, when the overcast was so thick, he felt he could not picture his rectangular orb waiting for him at night. He had trouble remembering what houses to deliver the paper.  He delivered to the same house three times.  Newspapers seemed to disappear in his hands, due to their color relation to the sky.   Leaves were falling from the trees—butterfly like—he went to catch one, he missed--a first. For Sake could walk through dense thorned brambles and avoid every barb, as a knight in combat or someone’s whose heart felt the painful sting of the barb before.  He would stand under a tree in late fall, and roll around to avoid every falling leaf, and pierce them to the ground deftly with a stick fashioned as a sword.  He could slither between snow flakes, almost like a fish nimbly avoiding small flakes.  
                  After he finished his paper-route , he went to his usual spot under an oak tree to fence with falling leaves.  As the other boys walked by and poked fun he would stall his imagination, and look to the brown landscape of the dry fall.  The crisp brown leaves of the trees were sword shapes to him.  He held the battle ax shape of the oak leaf over his eye held up by the stick it was pierced through, and spied the woodline through the sinus of the oak leaf lobe.  The brown white speckled scenery, were all trying to hide behind eachother by blending in bleakfully; he pretended the leaf was Hector’s helmet from the Illiad—donned over his eyes.
“ Whatchya doing Sake?” asked a young girl named Summer.  Sake only mumbled something nervously and stood there.  And a pretty Summer passed on after Sake once again denied himself of her pretty company.  He looked to the woodline again, a mist was now concealing the tall apical trees.  It now looked like the brown woodland was not trying to retreat behind eachother in fall concealment, but trying to emerge forth out of the greyness to say "save us."

“ Damgf” he uttered, and could not even grasp a word correctly.  His head lifted to the sky repeatedly, there was no orb, and the shadows were looming larger than ever; fractioned shadows from tree branches were forming scythes all over the ground.
             He entered the large shadow that was his front door, into the house that rose high into the sky, with the simplicity of Stonehenge.  He climbed the rickety petrified stairs and went down the hall.  Grey light had spotlighted every frame on the wall.  He looked into the empty room, nothingness, then his room, the tank seemed at its faintest, and it was nearing twilight.  He walked past the tank to look out the w
Ron Sanders Feb 2020
(Glade, World, Master, Boy, Hero)

                                                 GLADE

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

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

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

                                               WORLD

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                              MA­STER

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

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

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

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

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

                                                  BOY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                HERO

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

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

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

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







Copyright 2020 by Ron Sanders.

Contact:  ronsandersartofprose(at)yahoo(dot)com
Sorry about the ghastly copy. This system makes graceful formatting impossible.
Things you hear everyday of your life, can cause a flashback. Some good, but some are not what you want to see again. Flashbacks for me are rarely ever good. I close my eyes, and not only can I see the fear, I hear it to. I hear my screams of fear, I hear my cry for help, but nobody else can. My screams of fear are desperate because I'm being hurt. My screams of fear are terrifying, I try to open my eyes to get away from this terrifying nightmare, but my mind will not allow it. My mind controls me instead of me controling it. My screams of fear are finally gone. I open my eyes as if I had been dreaming, but this was no dream. It was a memory, a terrifying memory, it is and was and will forever always be my screams of fear.
This is true as well as my ther poems, all my poems are based on reality. They are based on my expeariences.
Poetic T Oct 2019
He was the child with the magnifying glass that lingered
in the exhalation of the heavens. Always holding it on
those of weaker statue than himself. Insects were his
starting point, as they were barbecued under the influence
of what was focused between light and glass and what
lived became inanimate just a blackened smear that he
smothered words into the dirt
        
                           I'LL BURN THE WORLD,

His parents saw this and in jest laughed it off as the
Immaturity of a child's frustration. That all was but a
a boy finding his place within the many echoes of manhood.
A child was maturing, and they assumed that he was not
ready for the collision of what was in-between the moments
of childhood and adulthood.

One cold and sodden night where the only things that were dry.
Were submerged in the cover of roofs and foliage.
But even the penetrating raindrops gathered in haste to soak
the earth beneath the leaves protection. All drowned within
nights flourish of immersed air. Where it felt that breath was only
in-between the flurry of h20's deluge.

Within the house, within the rooms crept a silence.
            It wasn't alone, for it wept unseen streams between the  
crisp white borderlines,  were doused in clear liquids,
Draping the curtains in non received  heavy remorse,
the only things that were burdensome were the drapes as the weight of the liquid pulled at the seams holding them aloft.

Remorse was neither felt or given. just a feeling of accomplishment.  
Felt it in the moments that succeeded between this
gathering of dead lights as a flame was lit.
But not a whisper was echoed this flame was lifeless
in the eyes of its beneficiary.
But it lept upon the walls like a ballerina, gentle,
and dancing within the confides of its given dance.

He stood in the hallway the flashback was unexpected,
but he still stood there gazing and the beauty of something
given with such frailty that a breath could extinguish
its potential. His parents had no idea, they were slumbering
within the confines of blankets that entombed the warmth.
Clasping hand even in sleep love was a subconscious yearning.
The thing with these old houses some had decretive metal over
the wind bars in beauty crafted to keep things out.


But this was his plan, what cant get in cant get out.
He'd gone in there room and stole the key.
He took a last glance, and said,
             "I Love You
,Before sealing them within. The flames were silent like
a stalker watching waiting, till the inevitable conclusion.

As things started to burn more passionately, caressing every
thing it was touching. So the smoke started to thicken like
A heavy smog it got into places the fire had not reached.
Moans could be heard, then screams at the realisation of
what was happening. He Could hear them, he could see them.
For even though a teenager he was intuitively cunning,
tinkering with everything and anything.

And small cameras were dotted around the house,
looking listening to everything that was seen and spoken.
It had come to fruition due to one such thing he had heard
being discussed by his parents.

"I saw him in the woods,

                 "Doing what darling?

"He didn't see me but the neighbours cat,
                                  "you know soot,

"What did he do, nothing bad!

                "He tied it up,
"Then threw what I thought was water on it,
                  I thought it was nasty but then!!!  

"Then what, your scaring me,

"He lit a cigarette, I didn't even know he smoked,
  "Then he discarded the match,

       "
The cat, oh my god the cat,

"
But he recorded its screams, he recorded it dying,

"
I couldn't move I was so angry, so humiliated,
        "
I wanted to throttle him there and then,

"
But ill phone the police tomorrow,
                  "He's not right, who would do that,

How dare they think that I can just be fobbed off,
         discarded.

                                             I was making music,
the screams were a delicate symphony,
            acoustics that's couldn't be reproduced.
It had to be from the source.

That laid, the plans for what now enveloped that house,
recording every noise, every scream. But what he needed
was for them to burn, to release the music he needed to
hear to complete his work. And they like parents gave it
there all, he had goose bumps as he heard there terror.
his eyes welled up, not in regret but the beauty that his
parent last words were given to him, so personal was this
moment that he'd never forget it.
                                                        
                                                                ­          "Thank Mum & Dad,

After this he released a mix tape, that could be only
conceived from an artist, in the womb of excellence.
That's the reviews he had, it brought shudders to your
heart and mind. It was if your humanity was crying out to it.

As so forth and more were sewn in the adulation of his work.

Now he needed to make more music, but he needed more
screams to make his next piece two were not enough..

So he wandered the night, dressed in unclean wear
so not to be confused with who, or what he was..
He hung around the homeless parts of town,
plastic sheeting for roofs.. and combustible bedding.
It was as if he'd planned himself. but he had to be smart.
for this was if ill planned he would have a needle in his
arm within the year. But he took his time tiny cameras
recording visually and sound.

He had gathered the combustible elements needed to
make this a orchestra of his needing, not a duet like before.
He didn't down play his past offering, but this would make
an album of despair and monument to the flame.

It had been raining, but only lightly as he needed some
dampness in the air on there sheets cardboard mattresses.
So not to raise suspicion on the dampness of there homes.

As they moved away from the embers of barrel fires,
yes he'd thought about that. Not every home was a
crematorium a cardboard and plastic coffin of there
choosing. He waited clasping his hands together breathing
on them as it was cold night. He liked to watch, a voguer
of sort, but his wasn't the fantasy of death it was to hear the
music that was about to be sung with smoke filled lungs.

He'd set up a unique but rudimentary way to light the fire,
a small gas hob with liquid within. it needed to be a certain
temperature ignite, he had tried it before in a field out west.
Deserted he'd made a mock up of this humble place.
And he wasn't mistaken it was fascinating, the flame spread
like the wind enveloping everything but, it was a dull for even
though the flames wept of everything, its tears turning all to
ash..

It was silent, deafening, he cried for a while, there should never
be censorship of the flame, for what is a log fire without the cracking of its inner self being consumed. This was just smoke
and regret. But he now looked down at the camp, his watch
counting down the precious moments.
                                                             He whispered.
                                              

                                                  "Thankyou,
­
And then like a super nova the darkness was ingulfed in
the aurora of flame, gliding over the ground as if a stream
of conscious reckoning. Those near by the civilians that were
                        across the street were transfixed.
As screams embellished the flames, this was my orchestra
of light and noise. Those across the street were either screaming
or videoing the scene.
I looked at them and wondered where there humanity
had gone to, as to film this moment rather than to rush in
and save the few that they could.

I watched as the engines came, extinguishing my masterpiece
choosing the night was always preferable to the day as flames
dance better when there is less light to contaminate there beauty.

My music, I had become quite the remixer, of vocal and rhythmic
sounds.
                               Within a week I had mad nine new songs.

I named them each as deserved, making them in memory of
those who perished that dreadful night.
            It was well received, a few thought it was a haunting
melody of humanity's struggle, while a few thought it was
over ambitious, and lacked the passion of my first piece.

All together it went down well, and the adulation of the
flame was kept, to honour that which gives as much as
takes the breath of life away.
A year had past and the door rang, it was an officer.

                 "Could you come to the station please,

Had I become the victim of my own success, had someone
broke down the acoustics of my music and realised what
they were?? So many thoughts went through the calm
exterior of my persona. But inside the flame dimmed,
had I lit the last candle. I was taken in to a room,
and questioned evasive not to the point but gathering
speed to the answer, where were you on the
                                                             ­       30th April 2019.

Alabi's were a fantastic thing to plan ahead, I had laced
my date with sleeping tablets to leave her in perpetual
slumber. And got back before she awoke, we made love
we were the flame and the wick.. and our sweat was the wax dripping from our form. The next week I dumped her.

They asked if I recognised a picture, blurry and ill framed
but I could make out the figure was me. No sir I don't why.
This person of interest is wearing your jacket, your logo!
I smiled and was truthful to a degree.
                                                             Planning is everything.

I threw maybe fifty into the crowd when I did a concert
in the city, when we drove past some homeless persons.
We donated what was left to them, do you realise how
cold these streets are, who am I to steal warmth away.
I don't wear my own merchandise what do you think I
am egotistical, no I wanted to help those who I could
have been if not for my music. I lost my parents I know
what its like to be alone.

I think the show went well, as I was released before
reporters even got a sniff. But I knew that my time
was a wick trying to keep the flame lit but dying out
anyway. I had made preparations for this time.

I had brought a club only for gigs, cheesy as hell but
had that 80's disco vibe the entire floor was light up.
But I had brought  the ingredients for thermite,
amazing what you learn in school and the internet.
But I never used mine different libraries in different
cities so not raise suspicion. I  invited the music critics
and others which I had personally disproved of.
its was going to be free drinks and themed 80's night.

Who can not want free drinks, well I wasn't going to be
disappointed 90% came, how lucky the few.
Phones were confiscated, no video, but more
importantly no phone calls to the outside world.
I told them at the end of the night that I was realising
a new song, they were like vultures to flesh.
As the night progressed some wanted to leave,
but we offered them the VIP section also lit flooring.

Now was the time, I had put heating elements under the floor
to ignite the thermite. A supernova of heat even though brief
would ignite the choir of harmony needed. I asked them,
                                                           ­ "Are you ready,

And then silence, I put on my welding glasses,
                                                        ­         I wasn't stupid.
Never look into the heart of the flame unless you want
to be blinded by its beauty.
I pressed a button and it was magnificent, it was like a tide of sunlight, they tried to scramble but all exits were locked.
It was like the wizard of Oz, and the witch I'm meltinggggg..
But this wasn't a fairy tale.. The adulation I had for these
chosen few. What excitement the others had missed.

I'd made my booth flame and smoke proof, I had my own
walkway but I knew that this was the last time I could pay
homage to the flame. As the screams died down.
The wicks smouldered and the floor looked more like a battle
field of  WWII. I began I knew I didn't have a lot of time.
But this was just a single I'd already got the backing music
ready. And as I worked away, I could hear the banging on
the reinforced doors. They gave me a breather to get my
work fulfilled.

I heard the doors start to give way but no matter
I'd only needed this time to tweak the music.
Given I'd started this over an hour ago, it was good
on my part for this not to be broadcast till I saw fit.
As the police burst through, gazing at the flaming
effigies that lied before them, some threw up, gross..

While others saw me smiling I pressed the button and
my new song was word wide.. its was called the critics
tried to burn me down. The response was gratifying.
Likes reached the hundreds of thousands in mere minutes.
Well it was only three minutes twenty five seconds long.
As they shoot at the booth I wiggled my finger at them.
I do like to plan ahead but dam was that loud against the
glass. Got to be said some had wicked aim, made me flinch
a few times.

But alas all things come to an end, I uploaded my videos
of what I had done. I was proud of my contribution to
my legacy and empowering others with my music.
As I looked down at the puddle, I tap danced in it for
a moment and then lit the lighter, I looked a them
and once again waved, I was like a funeral pyre.
A crematorium of silence and then I was gone.
                                                I didn't scream,
I was in her embrace and had done her proud.
Jojo Feb 2014
The one dead branch on the willow tree screams,
"Help me! Help me! He's captured me!
He's taken me and made me screech!"
Screams the one dead branch on the willow tree.

The one dead branch on the willow tree screams,
"Save me! Save me! He's enchanted me!
Sweet talked me, then changed the scene!"
Scrams the one dead branch on the willow tree.

The one dead branch on the willow tree screams,
"Help you! Help you! Save yourselves!
If you don't you'll end up like me!"
Screams the one dead branch on the willow tree.

No branch on the willow tree screams,
They are all dead now confirming a prophesy.
And all because the others failed to listen to the
Screams of the one dead branch on the willow tree.
Screams are tormenting my brain
I so badly need to let it out
It cannot be
No

Trying to keep it together
Not showing the slashes inside
Rivers of cuts
Drowning me

Screams tear at my insides
Wanting to come out
Needing a place to escape
Lost in the pooling blood
Edges becoming black

Head pounds
No more stimulus can be handled
Nothing else can I take
Another ounce of pressure will break me

Screams, Screams, Screams**
What else can I do
Stifling then noise
Sitting on the pain
The darkness is coming

Feel faint as I cough
Gurgling as the blood pours
Gasping for air
Wanting nothing more than to

S
C
R
E
A
M

Still unable to let it out
Consumed by the fear, anxiety and pain
Laying against the bed
Face blue, sheet red

Finally the scream released
But only to find my death
Written by Jennifer Humphrey  all rights reserved
Quentin Briscoe Apr 2013
Vivid Imagination but this right here is real....
How sympathetic can one man feel...
I'm a runner... living free...now i'm crawling...****** feet...
I'm a walker...standing proud...on my knees...running crowd...
I'm a bystander.... filled with joy...knocked to the ground...A ****** toy....
Screams I hear...Screams We hear...Its the screams we fear...
That means the terrors near...getting closer...
So now we pray...When we should have been praying before...
Just because we don't hear no screams doesn't me terror ain't at the door...
Or across the Ocean, across the Seas...
Red, Dead, Black and Blinding...
Because you can't hear the screams..
But I been praying for family...For my dreams...
I never stop asking God for peace...even when I can't hear the screams...
America I beg you take the time to hear the screams...
Because just like you care for those bombs on Boston's streets...
these a school in Syria with bodies across the street....
Theres a Home destroyed in the middle east...
or a town massacred in Mali..
Pray not just today but tomorrow...Pray not just right now but forever...
Because this will be forgotten by you who didn't hear...
This wound will heal for those who didn't lose a limb...didn't bleed a tear...
But tomorrow terror will claim another life...
and how much will you care...
because CNN didn't have a chopper in the air...
Wicked Won't Stop Coming!! But we feel the need to stop praying...
The time is coming...Never stop praying...
"Jesus thank you that our screams haven't got any louder!! But keep those who were affected. Heal those that were wounded and wrap your arms around the families of the deceased. We pray that you allow us to find those responsible. We pray that this unites even more and allows us to become a closer and more unified country. Keep watch over our streets at night. Allow us to be able to love our brother and sister so that we want to do them no harm. That we learn to forgive one another and love each other no matter our differences. Bless those over seas fighting for us and our freedom and bless and keep those overseas that have to deal with violence and cruelty on an everyday basis. Keep your arms around them and give them a sense of peace. I know it sounds like we just ask and ask and ask, but know we are grateful for all of your blessing and mercy!!! In Jesus name We Pray Now and Forever! Amen"
No Name Aug 2018
I'm writing with my screams
     Screams of smiles and anguish
The two sides of the page
    What I write are my screams
Screams that I want someone
           To hear.
Cause I reach the point,
           That I cant bare
No one wants to listen
   To a sad person
But a paper will always
     Be there for a sad poet.
So hear goes my quiet screams
  Screams of pain and sadness
That no one bothered to hear
FIRST DAY

1.
Who wanted me
to go to Chicago
on January 6th?
I did!

The night before,
20 below zero
Fahrenheit
with the wind chill;
as the blizzard of 99
lay in mountains
of blackening snow.

I packed two coats,
two suits,
three sweaters,
multiple sets of long johns
and heavy white socks
for a two-day stay.

I left from Newark.
**** the denseness,
it confounds!

The 2nd City to whom?
2nd ain’t bad.
It’s pretty good.
If you consider
Peking and Prague,
Tokyo and Togo,
Manchester and Moscow,
Port Au Prince and Paris,
Athens and Amsterdam,
Buenos Aries and Johannesburg;
that’s pretty good.

What’s going on here today?
It’s friggin frozen.
To the bone!

But Chi Town is still cool.
Buddy Guy’s is open.
Bartenders mixing drinks,
cabbies jamming on their breaks,
honey dew waitresses serving sugar,
buildings swerving,
fire tongued preachers are preaching
and the farmers are measuring the moon.

The lake,
unlike Ontario
is in the midst of freezing.
Bones of ice
threaten to gel
into a solid mass
over the expanse
of the Michigan Lake.
If this keeps up,
you can walk
clear to Toronto
on a silver carpet.

Along the shore
the ice is permanent.
It’s the first big frost
of winter
after a long
Indian Summer.

Thank God
I caught a cab.
Outside I hear
The Hawk
nippin hard.
It’ll get your ear,
finger or toe.
Bite you on the nose too
if you ain’t careful.

Thank God,
I’m not walking
the Wabash tonight;
but if you do cover up,
wear layers.

Chicago,
could this be
Sandburg’s City?

I’m overwhelmed
and this is my tenth time here.

It’s almost better,
sometimes it is better,
a lot of times it is better
and denser then New York.

Ask any Bull’s fan.
I’m a Knickerbocker.
Yes Nueva York,
a city that has placed last
in the standings
for many years.
Except the last two.
Yanks are # 1!

But Chicago
is a dynasty,
as big as
Sammy Sosa’s heart,
rich and wide
as Michael Jordan’s grin.

Middle of a country,
center of a continent,
smack dab in the mean
of a hemisphere,
vortex to a world,
Chicago!

Kansas City,
Nashville,
St. Louis,
Detroit,
Cleveland,
Pittsburgh,
Denver,
New Orleans,
Dallas,
Cairo,
Singapore,
Auckland,
Baghdad,
Mexico City
and Montreal
salute her.



2.
Cities,
A collection of vanities?
Engineered complex utilitarianism?
The need for community a social necessity?
Ego one with the mass?
Civilization’s latest *******?
Chicago is more then that.

Jefferson’s yeoman farmer
is long gone
but this capitol
of the Great Plains
is still democratic.

The citizen’s of this city
would vote daily,
if they could.

Chicago,
Sandburg’s Chicago,
Could it be?

The namesake river
segments the city,
canals of commerce,
all perpendicular,
is rife throughout,
still guiding barges
to the Mississippi
and St. Laurence.

Now also
tourist attractions
for a cafe society.

Chicago is really jazzy,
swanky clubs,
big steaks,
juices and drinks.

You get the best
coffee from Seattle
and the finest teas
from China.

Great restaurants
serve liquid jazz
al la carte.

Jazz Jazz Jazz
All they serve is Jazz
Rock me steady
Keep the beat
Keep it flowin
Feel the heat!

Jazz Jazz Jazz
All they is, is Jazz
Fast cars will take ya
To the show
Round bout midnight
Where’d the time go?

Flows into the Mississippi,
the mother of America’s rivers,
an empires aorta.

Great Lakes wonder of water.
Niagara Falls
still her heart gushes forth.

Buffalo connected to this holy heart.
Finger Lakes and Adirondacks
are part of this watershed,
all the way down to the
Delaware and Chesapeake.

Sandburg’s Chicago?
Oh my my,
the wonder of him.
Who captured the imagination
of the wonders of rivers.

Down stream other holy cities
from the Mississippi delta
all mapped by him.

Its mouth our Dixie Trumpet
guarded by righteous Cajun brethren.

Midwest?
Midwest from where?
It’s north of Caracas and Los Angeles,
east of Fairbanks,
west of Dublin
and south of not much.

Him,
who spoke of honest men
and loving women.
Working men and mothers
bearing citizens to build a nation.
The New World’s
precocious adolescent
caught in a stream
of endless and exciting change,
much pain and sacrifice,
dedication and loss,
pride and tribulations.

From him we know
all the people’s faces.
All their stories are told.
Never defeating the
idea of Chicago.

Sandburg had the courage to say
what was in the heart of the people, who:

Defeated the Indians,
Mapped the terrain,
Aided slavers,
Fought a terrible civil war,
Hoisted the barges,
Grew the food,
Whacked the wheat,
Sang the songs,
Fought many wars of conquest,
Cleared the land,
Erected the bridges,
Trapped the game,
Netted the fish,
Mined the coal,
Forged the steel,
Laid the tracks,
Fired the tenders,
Cut the stone,
Mixed the mortar,
Plumbed the line,
And laid the bricks
Of this nation of cities!

Pardon the Marlboro Man shtick.
It’s a poor expostulation of
crass commercial symbolism.

Like I said, I’m a
Devil Fan from Jersey
and Madison Avenue
has done its work on me.

It’s a strange alchemy
that changes
a proud Nation of Blackhawks
into a merchandising bonanza
of hometown hockey shirts,
making the native seem alien,
and the interloper at home chillin out,
warming his feet atop a block of ice,
guzzling Old Style
with clicker in hand.

Give him his beer
and other diversions.
If he bowls with his buddy’s
on Tuesday night
I hope he bowls
a perfect game.

He’s earned it.
He works hard.
Hard work and faith
built this city.

And it’s not just the faith
that fills the cities
thousand churches,
temples and
mosques on the Sabbath.

3.
There is faith in everything in Chicago!

An alcoholic broker named Bill
lives the Twelve Steps
to banish fear and loathing
for one more day.
Bill believes in sobriety.

A tug captain named Moe
waits for the spring thaw
so he can get the barges up to Duluth.
Moe believes in the seasons.

A farmer named Tom
hopes he has reaped the last
of many bitter harvests.
Tom believes in a new start.

A homeless man named Earl
wills himself a cot and a hot
at the local shelter.
Earl believes in deliverance.

A Pullman porter
named George
works overtime
to get his first born
through medical school.
George believes in opportunity.

A folk singer named Woody
sings about his
countrymen inheritance
and implores them to take it.
Woody believes in people.

A Wobbly named Joe
organizes fellow steelworkers
to fight for a workers paradise
here on earth.
Joe believes in ideals.

A bookkeeper named Edith
is certain she’ll see the Cubs
win the World Series
in her lifetime.
Edith believes in miracles.

An electrician named ****
saves money
to bring his family over from Gdansk.
**** believes in America.

A banker named Leah
knows Ditka will return
and lead the Bears
to another Super Bowl.
Leah believes in nostalgia.

A cantor named Samuel
prays for another 20 years
so he can properly train
his Temple’s replacement.

Samuel believes in tradition.
A high school girl named Sally
refuses to get an abortion.
She knows she carries
something special within her.
Sally believes in life.

A city worker named Mazie
ceaselessly prays
for her incarcerated son
doing 10 years at Cook.
Mazie believes in redemption.

A jazzer named Bix
helps to invent a new art form
out of the mist.
Bix believes in creativity.

An architect named Frank
restores the Rookery.
Frank believes in space.

A soldier named Ike
fights wars for democracy.
Ike believes in peace.

A Rabbi named Jesse
sermonizes on Moses.
Jesse believes in liberation.

Somewhere in Chicago
a kid still believes in Shoeless Joe.
The kid believes in
the integrity of the game.

An Imam named Louis
is busy building a nation
within a nation.
Louis believes in
self-determination.

A teacher named Heidi
gives all she has to her students.
She has great expectations for them all.
Heidi believes in the future.

4.
Does Chicago have a future?

This city,
full of cowboys
and wildcatters
is predicated
on a future!

Bang, bang
Shoot em up
Stake the claim
It’s your terrain
Drill the hole
Strike it rich
Top it off
You’re the boss
Take a chance
Watch it wane
Try again
Heavenly gains

Chicago
city of futures
is a Holy Mecca
to all day traders.

Their skin is gray,
hair disheveled,
loud ties and
funny coats,
thumb through
slips of paper
held by nail
chewed hands.
Selling promises
with no derivative value
for out of the money calls
and in the money puts.
Strike is not a labor action
in this city of unionists,
but a speculators mark,
a capitalist wish,
a hedgers bet,
a public debt
and a farmers
fair return.

Indexes for everything.
Quantitative models
that could burst a kazoo.

You know the measure
of everything in Chicago.
But is it truly objective?
Have mathematics banished
subjective intentions,
routing it in fair practice
of market efficiencies,
a kind of scientific absolution?

I heard that there
is a dispute brewing
over the amount of snowfall
that fell on the 1st.

The mayor’s office,
using the official city ruler
measured 22”
of snow on the ground.

The National Weather Service
says it cannot detect more
then 17” of snow.

The mayor thinks
he’ll catch less heat
for the trains that don’t run
the buses that don’t arrive
and the schools that stand empty
with the addition of 5”.

The analysts say
it’s all about capturing liquidity.

Liquidity,
can you place a great lake
into an eyedropper?

Its 20 below
and all liquid things
are solid masses
or a gooey viscosity at best.

Water is frozen everywhere.
But Chi town is still liquid,
flowing faster
then the digital blips
flashing on the walls
of the CBOT.

Dreams
are never frozen in Chicago.
The exchanges trade
without missing a beat.

Trading wet dreams,
the crystallized vapor
of an IPO
pledging a billion points
of Internet access
or raiding the public treasuries
of a central bank’s
huge stores of gold
with currency swaps.

Using the tools
of butterfly spreads
and candlesticks
to achieve the goal.

Short the Russell
or buy the Dow,
go long the
CAC and DAX.
Are you trading in euro’s?
You better be
or soon will.
I know
you’re Chicago,
you’ll trade anything.
WEBS,
Spiders,
and Leaps
are traded here,
along with sweet crude,
North Sea Brent,
plywood and T-Bill futures;
and most importantly
the commodities,
the loam
that formed this city
of broad shoulders.

What about our wheat?
Still whacking and
breadbasket to the world.

Oil,
an important fossil fuel
denominated in
good ole greenbacks.

Porkbellies,
not just hogwash
on the Wabash,
but bacon, eggs
and flapjacks
are on the menu
of every diner in Jersey
as the “All American.”

Cotton,
our contribution
to the Golden Triangle,
once the global currency
used to enrich a
gentlemen class
of cultured
southern slavers,
now Tommy Hilfiger’s
preferred fabric.

I think he sends it
to Bangkok where
child slaves
spin it into
gold lame'.

Sorghum,
I think its hardy.

Soybeans,
the new age substitute
for hamburger
goes great with tofu lasagna.

Corn,
ADM creates ethanol,
they want us to drive cleaner cars.

Cattle,
once driven into this city’s
bloodhouses for slaughter,
now ground into
a billion Big Macs
every year.

When does a seed
become a commodity?
When does a commodity
become a future?
When does a future expire?

You can find the answers
to these questions in Chicago
and find a fortune in a hole in the floor.

Look down into the pits.
Hear the screams of anguish
and profitable delights.

Frenzied men
swarming like a mass
of epileptic ants
atop the worlds largest sugar cube
auger the worlds free markets.

The scene is
more chaotic then
100 Haymarket Square Riots
multiplied by 100
1968 Democratic Conventions.

Amidst inverted anthills,
they scurry forth and to
in distinguished
black and red coats.

Fighting each other
as counterparties
to a life and death transaction.

This is an efficient market
that crosses the globe.

Oil from the Sultan of Brunei,
Yen from the land of Hitachi,
Long Bonds from the Fed,
nickel from Quebec,
platinum and palladium
from Siberia,
FTSE’s from London
and crewel cane from Havana
circle these pits.

Tijuana,
Shanghai
and Istanbul's
best traders
are only half as good
as the average trader in Chicago.

Chicago,
this hog butcher to the world,
specializes in packaging and distribution.

Men in blood soaked smocks,
still count the heads
entering the gates of the city.

Their handiwork
is sent out on barges
and rail lines as frozen packages
of futures
waiting for delivery
to an anonymous counterparty
half a world away.

This nation’s hub
has grown into the
premier purveyor
to the world;
along all the rivers,
highways,
railways
and estuaries
it’s tentacles reach.

5.
Sandburg’s Chicago,
is a city of the world’s people.

Many striver rows compose
its many neighborhoods.

Nordic stoicism,
Eastern European orthodoxy
and Afro-American
calypso vibrations
are three of many cords
strumming the strings
of Chicago.

Sandburg’s Chicago,
if you wrote forever
you would only scratch its surface.

People wait for trains
to enter the city from O’Hare.
Frozen tears
lock their eyes
onto distant skyscrapers,
solid chunks
of snot blocks their nose
and green icicles of slime
crust mustaches.
They fight to breathe.

Sandburg’s Chicago
is The Land of Lincoln,
Savior of the Union,
protector of the Republic.
Sent armies
of sons and daughters,
barges, boxcars,
gunboats, foodstuffs,
cannon and shot
to raze the south
and stamp out succession.

Old Abe’s biography
are still unknown volumes to me.
I must see and read the great words.
You can never learn enough;
but I’ve been to Washington
and seen the man’s memorial.
The Free World’s 8th wonder,
guarded by General Grant,
who still keeps an eye on Richmond
and a hand on his sword.

Through this American winter
Abe ponders.
The vista he surveys is dire and tragic.

Our sitting President
impeached
for lying about a *******.

Party partisans
in the senate are sworn and seated.
Our Chief Justice,
adorned with golden bars
will adjudicate the proceedings.
It is the perfect counterpoint
to an ageless Abe thinking
with malice toward none
and charity towards all,
will heal the wounds
of the nation.

Abe our granite angel,
Chicago goes on,
The Union is strong!


SECOND DAY

1.
Out my window
the sun has risen.

According to
the local forecast
its minus 9
going up to
6 today.

The lake,
a golden pillow of clouds
is frozen in time.

I marvel
at the ancients ones
resourcefulness
and how
they mastered
these extreme elements.

Past, present and future
has no meaning
in the Citadel
of the Prairie today.

I set my watch
to Central Standard Time.

Stepping into
the hotel lobby
the concierge
with oil smooth hair,
perfect tie
and English lilt
impeccably asks,
“Do you know where you are going Sir?
Can I give you a map?”

He hands me one of Chicago.
I see he recently had his nails done.
He paints a green line
along Whacker Drive and says,
“turn on Jackson, LaSalle, Wabash or Madison
and you’ll get to where you want to go.”
A walk of 14 or 15 blocks from Streeterville-
(I start at The Chicago White House.
They call it that because Hillary Rodham
stays here when she’s in town.
Its’ also alleged that Stedman
eats his breakfast here
but Opra
has never been seen
on the premises.
I wonder how I gained entry
into this place of elite’s?)
-down into the center of The Loop.

Stepping out of the hotel,
The Doorman
sporting the epaulets of a colonel
on his corporate winter coat
and furry Cossack hat
swaddling his round black face
accosts me.

The skin of his face
is flaking from
the subzero windburn.

He asks me
with a gapped toothy grin,
“Can I get you a cab?”
“No I think I’ll walk,” I answer.
“Good woolen hat,
thick gloves you should be alright.”
He winks and lets me pass.

I step outside.
The Windy City
flings stabbing cold spears
flying on wings of 30-mph gusts.
My outside hardens.
I can feel the freeze
deepen
into my internalness.
I can’t be sure
but inside
my heart still feels warm.
For how long
I cannot say.

I commence
my walk
among the spires
of this great city,
the vertical leaps
that anchor the great lake,
holding its place
against the historic
frigid assault.

The buildings’ sway,
modulating to the blows
of natures wicked blasts.

It’s a hard imposition
on a city and its people.

The gloves,
skullcap,
long underwear,
sweater,
jacket
and overcoat
not enough
to keep the cold
from penetrating
the person.

Like discerning
the layers of this city,
even many layers,
still not enough
to understand
the depth of meaning
of the heart
of this heartland city.

Sandburg knew the city well.
Set amidst groves of suburbs
that extend outward in every direction.
Concentric circles
surround the city.
After the burbs come farms,
Great Plains, and mountains.
Appalachians and Rockies
are but mere molehills
in the city’s back yard.
It’s terra firma
stops only at the sea.
Pt. Barrow to the Horn,
many capes extended.

On the periphery
its appendages,
its extremities,
its outward extremes.
All connected by the idea,
blown by the incessant wind
of this great nation.
The Windy City’s message
is sent to the world’s four corners.
It is a message of power.
English the worlds
common language
is spoken here,
along with Ebonics,
Espanol,
Mandarin,
Czech,
Russian,
Korean,
Arabic,
Hindi­,
German,
French,
electronics,
steel,
cars,
cartoons,
rap,
sports­,
movies,
capital,
wheat
and more.

Always more.
Much much more
in Chicago.

2.
Sandburg
spoke all the dialects.

He heard them all,
he understood
with great precision
to the finest tolerances
of a lathe workers micrometer.

Sandburg understood
what it meant to laugh
and be happy.

He understood
the working mans day,
the learned treatises
of university chairs,
the endless tomes
of the city’s
great libraries,
the lost languages
of the ancient ones,
the secret codes
of abstract art,
the impact of architecture,
the street dialects and idioms
of everymans expression of life.

All fighting for life,
trying to build a life,
a new life
in this modern world.

Walking across
the Michigan Avenue Bridge
I see the Wrigley Building
is neatly carved,
catty cornered on the plaza.

I wonder if Old Man Wrigley
watched his barges
loaded with spearmint
and double-mint
move out onto the lake
from one of those Gothic windows
perched high above the street.

Would he open a window
and shout to the men below
to quit slaking and work harder
or would he
between the snapping sound
he made with his mouth
full of his chewing gum
offer them tickets
to a ballgame at Wrigley Field
that afternoon?

Would the men below
be able to understand
the man communing
from such a great height?

I listen to a man
and woman conversing.
They are one step behind me
as we meander along Wacker Drive.

"You are in Chicago now.”
The man states with profundity.
“If I let you go
you will soon find your level
in this city.
Do you know what I mean?”

No I don’t.
I think to myself.
What level are you I wonder?
Are you perched atop
the transmission spire
of the Hancock Tower?

I wouldn’t think so
or your ears would melt
from the windburn.

I’m thinking.
Is she a kept woman?
She is majestically clothed
in fur hat and coat.
In animal pelts
not trapped like her,
but slaughtered
from farms
I’m sure.

What level
is he speaking of?

Many levels
are evident in this city;
many layers of cobbled stone,
Pennsylvania iron,
Hoosier Granite
and vertical drops.

I wonder
if I detect
condensation
in his voice?

What is
his intention?
Is it a warning
of a broken affair?
A pending pink slip?
Advise to an addict
refusing to adhere
to a recovery regimen?

What is his level anyway?
Is he so high and mighty,
Higher and mightier
then this great city
which we are all a part of,
which we all helped to build,
which we all need
in order to keep this nation
the thriving democratic
empire it is?

This seditious talk!

3.
The Loop’s El
still courses through
the main thoroughfares of the city.

People are transported
above the din of the street,
looking down
on the common pedestrians
like me.

Super CEO’s
populating the upper floors
of Romanesque,
Greek Revivalist,
New Bauhaus,
Art Deco
and Post Nouveau
Neo-Modern
Avant-Garde towers
are too far up
to see me
shivering on the street.

The cars, busses,
trains and trucks
are all covered
with the film
of rock salt.

Salt covers
my bootless feet
and smudges
my cloths as well.

The salt,
the primal element
of the earth
covers everything
in Chicago.

It is the true level
of this city.

The layer
beneath
all layers,
on which
everything
rests,
is built,
grows,
thrives
then dies.
To be
returned again
to the lower
layers
where it can
take root
again
and grow
out onto
the great plains.

Splashing
the nation,
anointing
its people
with its
blessing.

A blessing,
Chicago?

All rivers
come here.

All things
found its way here
through the canals
and back bays
of the world’s
greatest lakes.

All roads,
rails and
air routes
begin and
end here.

Mrs. O’Leary’s cow
got a *** rap.
It did not start the fire,
we did.

We lit the torch
that flamed
the city to cinders.
From a pile of ash
Chicago rose again.

Forever Chicago!
Forever the lamp
that burns bright
on a Great Lake’s
western shore!

Chicago
the beacon
sends the
message to the world
with its windy blasts,
on chugging barges,
clapping trains,
flying tandems,
T1 circuits
and roaring jets.

Sandburg knew
a Chicago
I will never know.

He knew
the rhythm of life
the people walked to.
The tools they used,
the dreams they dreamed
the songs they sang,
the things they built,
the things they loved,
the pains that hurt,
the motives that grew,
the actions that destroyed
the prayers they prayed,
the food they ate
their moments of death.

Sandburg knew
the layers of the city
to the depths
and windy heights
I cannot fathom.

The Blues
came to this city,
on the wing
of a chirping bird,
on the taps
of a rickety train,
on the blast
of an angry sax
rushing on the wind,
on the Westend blitz
of Pop's brash coronet,
on the tink of
a twinkling piano
on a paddle-wheel boat
and on the strings
of a lonely man’s guitar.

Walk into the clubs,
tenements,
row houses,
speakeasies
and you’ll hear the Blues
whispered like
a quiet prayer.

Tidewater Blues
from Virginia,
Delta Blues
from the lower
Mississippi,
Boogie Woogie
from Appalachia,
Texas Blues
from some Lone Star,
Big Band Blues
from Kansas City,
Blues from
Beal Street,
Jelly Roll’s Blues
from the Latin Quarter.

Hell even Chicago
got its own brand
of Blues.

Its all here.
It ended up here
and was sent away
on the winds of westerly blows
to the ear of an eager world
on strong jet streams
of simple melodies
and hard truths.

A broad
shouldered woman,
a single mother stands
on the street
with three crying babes.
Their cloths
are covered
in salt.
She pleads
for a break,
praying
for a new start.
Poor and
under-clothed
against the torrent
of frigid weather
she begs for help.
Her blond hair
and ****** features
suggests her
Scandinavian heritage.
I wonder if
she is related to Sandburg
as I walk past
her on the street.
Her feet
are bleeding
through her
canvass sneakers.
Her babes mouths
are zipped shut
with frozen drivel
and mucous.

The Blues live
on in Chicago.

The Blues
will forever live in her.
As I turn the corner
to walk the Miracle Mile
I see her engulfed
in a funnel cloud of salt,
snow and bits
of white paper,
swirling around her
and her children
in an angry
unforgiving
maelstrom.

The family
begins to
dissolve
like a snail
sprinkled with salt;
and a mother
and her children
just disappear
into the pavement
at the corner
of Dearborn,
in Chicago.

Music:

Robert Johnson
Sweet Home Chicago


jbm
Chicago
1/7/99
Added today to commemorate the birthday of Carl Sandburg
She screams and cries
But there's nothing inside.
She won't find what she's looking for,
Because she says that she "just can't anymore".

Her eyes search the floor,
Just to keep her safe,
She wants to keep her distance far away.

She screams, she cries
The nostalgia is building inside.
The girl tries to convalesce from her saudade.

Sometimes she feels big,
But her presence is small.
She screams and cries
That she's burning inside

Only her imagination can put out the flame,
But this only reignites it all over again.

She screams, she cries
She's nothing inside.
Lawrence Hall Feb 2018
This is neither history nor theology;
this is Romance:

                                       A Liturgy for the Emperor

In memory of
Patrick Joseph Donovan,
Stratiotis

Processional

How, then, will we find death?  With rifle in hand,
Perhaps, or flowing with the warm, worn prayers
That slip with beads through one's fingers and soul.
Rifle or Rosary, either will do.
One's death might rise in the boldness of youth,
Or in the wearied wisdom of old age,
In wild combat against ancient evils,
Or softly, while planting a red-apple tree
For grandchildren to summer-celebrate,
In wild red martyrdom, or obscure white.

The nights still whisper how the Emperor fell,
Fell with a faithful few upon the walls,
The old land walls of Constantinople.
But we are not to speak of martyrs whose
Transcendent beauty reproaches our times,
Our drifting dark age, drab, dreary, and dim
Our tomb-like lives cluttered with small darkness,
Our talk all common, colourless, and cold:
The thoughts assigned programmed into our souls,
Daymares programmed into us for our good,
Pitiful, pattering, prosthetic prose,
Cacophonies of casual cruelties --
No brave iambic lines for golden dreams.

But dare we also whisper truths, and speak
Of what a wind-wild people once we were,
And we will want our syllables to sing
In honour of the Martyr-Emperor
And those who followed him into his death,
And in this knowing of him we can live
Among those souls who are forever young.

Introit

In Nomine Partis, et Filli, et Spiritus Sancti

We will go to the Altar of God
To God, Who gives joy to our youth
We will go to the Altar of God
We will go to Byzantium

Kyrie

Lord have mercy -- when the shadows surround us
Christ have mercy -- when we forget the Three Romes
Lord have mercy -- when we forget You

Gloria

Glory to God in the highest
And peace to His Byzantine people
And all His peoples
Lord God, Heavenly King
who once blessed us with Emperors
Send us another
Send Your waiting people their Emperor

The First Reading

As Constantine his walls he watched, he wept,
Lost in the Gethsemane of his soul
His tears they fell upon the ancient bricks
Warm with centuries of sun, saintliness,
And the passions of a glorious race

The City!  Long reigning on the Golden Horn
The Summer Country of our childhood dreams
There playing, praying, working, selling, and,
Yes, sinning too.  Passionate *Romanoi
--
What a magnificent people we were.

(fast)

When armies marched to the Byzantine beat
Sophia ruled from her Byzantine seat  
When Byzantine sails sheltered Odysseus' sea
The wave-roads of trade were open and free  
When Romanoi feasted, blood mixed with wine
Daggers drawn over a dancing concubine
A newer Helen who provoked desire,
She seared men's eyes with her own Greek Fire
When Blues and Greens howled in the Hippodrome --
Such rowdy citizens in Second Rome! --
Then even Emperors in purple shoes
Feared stoning by Greens or hanging by Blues
The rough, loud democracy of the street --
Mobs also marched to the Byzantine beat

The Second Reading

(slowly)

But –

Above all rose Justinian's gem
The holy place where God called us to Him
The Mother Church of dawn-lit Christendom
Sophia -- the Queen of Byzantium
Where Patriarch, patrician, people, and priest
Gave worship.  Then the greatest and the least
Abandoned sin to hear the sweet bells ring,
Stood penitent before our God, our King:
In consecrated hands, through wine and bread

Christos Pantocrater fed us Himself

And then all hearts were cleansed, all souls were fed

(Very slowly)

But centuries passed, and this City of God
Heart of the Empire, became the Empire,
As lands and peoples were lost forever
to the creeping new age.  When Constantine,
The last Constantine, was called to the Throne,
All that was left was The City herself,
The Morea, and islands, and memories.
The fleet whose sails had shaded the Inner Sea
Was but a few hopeless hulks in the Horn

From the dust, dark shadows metastasized,
Shadows who stole and slew their way to power
And swept the land bare of free folk and fields
And more and more the shadows grasped and held,
A dead world of slaves whose backs were bloodied
Beneath the whips of masters, slaves whose eyes
Were cast carefully, cautiously to the ground
Lest demeanour manly and bearing proud
Attract the executioners' busy blades.

Finally, after devouring lands and souls,
The shadows coveted Constantinople,
The Red-Apple Tree where continents meet,
The City they could never build for themselves
And nothing stood between them and their lust
But one bold man: Constantine Dragases.
The faithful few who stood the walls with him,
Gathered around proud, stubborn Constantine:
Workers and monks and nuns, beggars, merchants,
Proud, arrogant Byzantines, and the few
Wild Latins From the barbarian West
Whose Greek was in their hearts, not on their lips,
Who gave their loyalty late to their liege lord,
The Emperor, who could have safely lain
A shadow's golden-caged slave, obedient,
Well-fed, well-bedded from the shadows'
Catalogues of pretty girls and prettier boys,
A memory of what had been a man.

But Constantine stood proudly on his walls,
Defiantly, bravely, sadly there on
His crumbling ancient walls, and gave his faith
To God and the City, to his people,
Even to the faithless ones, even to his death.

And others came, From Rome and Spain and France,
From Germany, and even from the Turks,
Brave, lonely men with reasons of their own
For ending their lives there on the Land Walls.

But they were not enough.  And late that night,
After the last Mass in Hagia Sophia,
The Emperor knew that his was the blood,
The blood of sacrifice that would be shed
In remembrance of ****** Golgotha,
For the people he was given to rule,
For the people for whom he chose to die,
Sheltering, protecting, until his end.


A Gospel

No angel appeared to the Emperor,
No voice of God from a burning bush
He parted himself from his followers
And for a few minutes grieved alone

And this was given Constantine to know:

The eternal Constantinople is
Never to be lost, never defeated --
In every Christian flows Dragases' blood
Every village is the Holy City
Every church is Hagia Sophia
Every prayer is a Mass for the Emperor
Every children's foot-race the Hippodrome
Every poor family's poor supper
A banquet under the Red-Apple Tree.
Constantinople will live forever.
Know that, and, laughing, give your last earth-hour,
And your joyful eternity, to God.

Credo

We believe in God's holy empire too,
Byzantium, eternally golden
The Red-Apple Tree in the eastern sun
The City that echoes with laughing light
Through memory and history and beyond.
We believe in God and His Emperor,
And we believe that in the absence of
The Emperor, even then we must be
The Emperor's subjects, stubborn and true,
Wherever God has chosen to send us.
We then must rule our passions and our hearts,
Tend our gardens as if they were Eden --
Because they are -- and care for our children
As if angels were visiting tonight,
Until our God restores our Emperor,
Restores His City where the Earth-halves meet,
And finally, some day, some happy day,
Returns Himself to sit and rule enthroned
In His Three Romes, and in Jerusalem.


Communion

Constantine shook himself, and gave commands,
Commending all to duty and to God.
Above him the dome of Hagia Sophia
Glowed eerily on that last, wild night
While lightning slashed among the sliding clouds
Byzantium rose again for one glorious hour
And the world marveled that such things could be,
That Christ and Rome and Constantinople
Could be found in one man at the end of an age.

Blood, *****, screams, and death;
blood, *****, death
Blood, *****, screams, and death;
blood, *****, screams
Blood, *****, screams, and death;
blood, *****, death
Blood, *****, screams, and death;
blood, *****, screams
The glory is that there is no glory.
Chaos.  Horror.  Stench.  Sweat.  Pain.  *****.  Death.
Hi­s -- His -- body broken again for us.

On that dark morning of a dark new age,
Constantine turned and faced its slithering shadows
With a Byzantine end to his ruler's art,
With the peace of Christ and a hero's heart.

DISMISSAL

The Mass is ended.  Byzantium is ended.  
Escape, if you can -- make Byzantium live.
Escape to live in some peace, if you can.
Escape in peace to love and serve in exile.
Escape in peace to love and serve the Lord.

"O Lord save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance;
And to Thy Faithful king grant victory over the barbarians.
And by the power of Thy Cross, protect all those who follow  
          Thee"1

Not an End at All

1Troparion for the Sunday of the Elevation of the Cross, Divine Prayers and Serves of the Catholic Orthodox Church of Christ, copyright 1938.

Many thanks to Mr. Tod Mixson and others of St. Michael's Orthodox Church for assistance at many points, both liturgical and artistic, to Dr. Dan Bailey, of happy memory, and Dr. John Dahmus of Stephen F. Austin State University.
Xan Abyss May 2015
She was only seventeen
In a town called Mexicali

Purple lipstick, hair dyed green
Wouldn't let her leave without me

And she liked things obscene
That I won't talk about here

But her **** you wouldn't believe,
So I had to keep her around...

My marijuana girl, my marijuana girl
Her eyes lit up
When I lit up
My marijuana girl
My marijuana girl, my marijuana girl
Smoky dreams
and tequila screams...


...My Marijuana Girl...

She was a wild thing indeed
Life carried by the wind

A little wink is all she needs
To drive a holy man to sin

My bloodshot eyes were hypnotized
My head started to spin

She can blow you up or calm your heart
Like nitroglycerine

My marijuana girl, my marijuana girl
Her eyes lit up
When I lit up
My marijuana girl
My marijuana girl, my marijuana girl
Smoky dreams
and tequila screams...


...My Marijuana Girl...

*Mi chica marijuana
My marijuana girl
Lyrics.
Philomena Feb 2020
The weak breeze whispers nothing
The water screams sublime
His feet shift, teeter-totter
Deep breath, stand back, it’s time

Toes untouch the overpass
Soon he’s water bound
Eyes locked shut but peek to see
The view from halfway down

A little wind, a summer sun
A river rich and regal
A flood of fond endorphins
Brings a calm that knows no equal

You’re flying now
You see things much more clear than from the ground
It’s all okay, it would be
Were you not now halfway down

Thrash to break from gravity
What now could slow the drop
All I’d give for toes to touch
The safety back at top

But this is it, the deed is done
Silence drowns the sound
Before I leaped I should’ve seen
The view from halfway down

I really should’ve thought about
The view from halfway down
I wish I could’ve known about
The view from halfway down
From Bojack Horseman
Scarlet McCall Aug 2019
"When you encounter a mountain lion, be vocal; however, speak calmly and do not use high pitched tones or high pitch screams"--California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife

Be vocal, but avoid high pitched tones and screams
when a mountain lion appears on your path.
Remind yourself that it’s not a  dream.

If the path goes down to a flooded stream,
and bodies float by--
stay calm;  avoid high pitched tones and screams.

When you go to the store and there’s no milk or cream,
as the cows are sickened  from a poisoned well,
remind yourself that it’s not a dream.

If the wildfire turns your hot tub to steam,
as you run down the street to your neighbor’s car
be vocal, but avoid high pitched tones and screams.

When the weather goes to another extreme,
and mudslides cover another town,
remind yourself that it’s not a dream.

When the fisherman catches no salmon nor bream,
and there’s no more coffee, nor chocolate ice cream,
be vocal, but avoid high pitched tones and screams.
Remind yourself that it’s not a dream.
Nothing screams like silence
You can hear it in our house
You left, but never left me
But, to me ....you're not my spouse
Nothing screams like silence
You can scream, but no one's there
It shows you in our marriage
That no one really cares

We've been a part forever
Though you never left our home
We've been apart forever
We're a pair, but, both alone

We've been a pair for sixteen years
You left, but, stuck around
A tree fell in our forest
And it never made a sound

Nothing screams like silence
You can hear it in our house
You left, but never left me
But, to me ....you're not my spouse
Nothing screams like silence
You can scream, but no one's there
It shows you in our marriage
That no one really cares

Leading separate lives each day
But, no one really knows
We're actors in our marriage
Each day, a brand new show

We've been apart forever
Though we both did choose to stay
We're actors in our marriage
And our marriage is a play

Nothing screams like silence
You can hear it in our house
You left, but never left me
But, to me ....you're not my spouse
Nothing screams like silence
You can scream, but no one's there
It shows you in our marriage
That no one really cares
Alyssa Underwood May 2018
"The Struggle for Love"
"The Longing for Home"
So desperate to prove
That our hearts aren't alone

While death looms wherewith
To make dust of our flesh
We seek in a myth
Our souls to enmesh

With a hero of hope
A rescuing source
To widen our scope
And give pith to our course

An unshakable tie
An attachment at core
Which might silence the cry
That our hearts are at war

With a pure set of eyes
Full of fire and proficient
To dispel all the lies
That our souls aren't deficient

But it's not our mere lack
Which causes most dread
It's the earth-shattering fact
That our spirits are dead

Cut off from their Source
In a black alienation
Humanity's curse
For its rank ins'bordination

We just want our own way
And to write our own story
So we plunge on astray
To seek our own glory

To play artist or muse
Or idol or chief
Any self-styled ruse
To assuage us of grief

Any measure to show
A lasting signif'cance
So that someone would know
Our unique magnif'cence

For our beauty's been marred
And we crave a redemption
Of souls twisted and scarred
By fulfillment's exemption

But, alas, we will find
That search hard as we may
There's not one of our kind
Who can carry the tray

Upon which the weight
Of our souls has been laid
For who can e'er tolerate
Its gross debts unpaid?

Such suff'cating mass
Of defects and ills
Pressed 'gainst delicate glass
Of egos and wills

Still more ghastly to bear
Is devotion unbound
For with millstone to wear
Its master is drowned

'Neath a sea of foul yeast
And becomes the enslaved
To a hungering beast
To a worship depraved

For the heart is a tiger
And must have its fill
So it raises a man higher
With a kiss before the ****

Not intentionally, of course,
Does it slaughter its idol
But of hurricane force
Is this longing so vital

And as pedestal turns
So quickly to altar
Our wounded pride burns
When our gods and alms falter

And the fire of its rage
Turns upon its obsession
Tiger breaks out of cage
To reclaim self-possession

It bites and it tears
What it once so adored
And pride no longer cares
If it kills its false lord

But upon such demise
The soul screams in terror
For it's broken its prize
And can't take back its error

It begs and it pleads
To restore what's been lost
But at end knows it needs
To consider the cost

Of the damage untold
It has left in the wake
For hearts can't be controlled
With a gush or a shake

No, men's hearts are like bombs
Which so easily explode
Once the pin is removed
All past wrongs will re-load

So the prey becomes hunter
When the tiger attacks
For he does not want her
To see what he lacks

As he, too, had put
Her up in wrong place
But now steps his foot
Upon her shamed face

To now pulverize
As his own heart's been crushed
To blind out her eyes
And to see her lips hushed

For with words idly spoken
She'd stabbed at his soul
And had left his pride broken
By her judgments so cold

She had not meant to harm
Knew not e'en that he heard
But one cannot disarm
A thought put to word

Worse than not knowing this
She no longer knew him
And her once imagined bliss
Proved a nullified whim

Oh, what games and delusions
We play and we build
Upon empty illusions
And dreams unfulfilled

Yet strangely it's when
Our worst fears come true
We can finally transcend
All those old tales we grew

Out of ego and void
Out of sorrow and pain
When our nerves felt annoyed
And our hearts felt too vain

'Cause when ego is puffed
It is primed, too, to pop
And with pinprick is snuffed
Like a pest-blighted crop

So imagine much more
When a venom's injected
Right into its core
And its heart is rejected

But can you also not see
How it needs such a burst
To begin to get free
From its self-absorbed curse?

Except now feels the matter
Of our soul's isolation
Fiercer still with the shatter
Of our pet consolation

So we wait and we wonder
If we've missed the true meaning
Of the frightening thunder
In our heart's constant screaming

Whether homesick or lost
Whether lonely or grieved
Locked in bleak Winter's frost
We find little reprieve

Yet we know we've been made
For the glory of Spring
Some card's still to be played
Some grand song still to sing

Inexpressible yearning
For some secret we know
But can't speak for the burning
Repercussions of woe

Not some mere melancholy
Nor nostalgic forlorn
Not the musings of folly
But a sense that we're torn

From primordial root
And from headwaters fresh
Yet much deeper to boot
From our spiritual breath

'Tis an ache not for wares,
Appreciation or fame
But a fight just for air
Against strangling shame

For we're naked, we know
And with all we devise
Our most flawed parts still show
To a pure set of eyes

Like we're walking around
With no covering intact
But thin hospital gown
With wide split up the back

So we hide our true face
Aim to be what we're not
Work our blots to erase
Lest our schemes should be caught

Be 't by friend or by foe
We dare not risk the pain
Of humiliation's blow
On top of our stain

But instead of relief
Anguish grows louder till
This life's loneliest grief
Paralyzes the will

And last hope all but dies
On doubt's bed of despair
While embittered heart cries
That its lot's too unfair

Yet on outside we play
Through our unconscious mind
Man's collective charade
That everything's fine

Like some pact we'd all sworn
To uphold and obey
To protect from the scorn
Of society's sway

If we run with the flow
'Stead of strive 'gainst the tide
We might make enough show
To salvage our pride

We forget that conceit
Is what caused all the mess
Through a serpent's deceit
And a couple's wrong guess

'Twas they first tasted shame
And then hid in a garden
Sewing fig leaves as claim
To secure their own pardon

Yet in horror they knew
They had squandered the Prize
And must flee from the view
Of a pure set of eyes

Now same state of awry
Runs through each of their seed
Inborn and borne by
Like the thorniest ****

Whose nettles pierce deep
And infect every part
While roots tangle and sweep
Through the mind and the heart

It mocks what we've lost
Torments every dim hope
To constrict and accost
Like a noose-tightening rope

Still, hope won't be decayed
Smold'ring fires yet burn
Sparking hints that we're made
For bright Eden's return

This redemption we crave
Is no phantom's false plea
But as crestfallen wave
Hides itself in the sea

It's been veiled in plain sight
Big as all of our stories
Deep as mankind's full plight
And as high as its glories

Cloaked in every ambition
That we have to get in
To some exclusive coalition
For its favors to win

Lurks a bleeding predilection
Frustrated from birth
A desire for election
To bestow on us worth

Lured by scent of a promise
To be chosen and known
Like the warmth of a mom's kiss
Given only to her own

We search tree after tree
For sweet intimacy's nectar
From a fruit that will be
Our secret connecter

To hope's nourishing breast
To life's honey from comb
To an undying rest
To a straight way toward home

One to wipe away tears
And allay deepest doubt
Which proceeds from worst fears
Of our being locked out

Of a garden again
Cast from pure tree of life
Dim remembrance of when
Mankind first entered strife

All our conflicts, comp'tition,
Confusion and blame
Find first cause in perdition
That's invaded our frame

Like the foulest disease
The most cankerous rot
Grown by monstrous degrees
Hatched by Lucifer's plot

This story's no ****'s attack
Nor archaic folklore
But the earth-shattering fact
That our hearts are at war

With a pure set of eyes
Full of fire and proficient
To dispel all the lies
That our souls aren't deficient

And it's not our mere lack
which causes most dread
But the earth-shattering fact
That our spirits are dead

Cut off from their Source
In a black alienation
Humanity's curse
For it's rank ins'bordination


And yet...


This is also the story
Of how those same eyes
The Possessor of Glory
Looked with love and heart cries

On the crown of creation
His reflection of Self
Made His own treasured nation
The heirs of His wealth

Now broken and lost
All banished from Garden
And He knew the full cost
To grant them His pardon

Had known long before
He had e'er even made
That first man of yore
Yet handcrafts anyway

For His love is so strong
And He wanted to share
His intimacy with a throng
His own children to bear

So with souls in convulsion
From their rebellious misdeed
Just before their expulsion
He promised a Seed

One untainted from sin
Who could take its great boulder
And the weight of His kin
Upon His own shoulder

A Hero of hope
A rescuing Source
To widen our scope
And give pith to our course

An unshakable tie
An attachment at core
Who would silence the cry
That our hearts are at war

With a pure set of eyes
Full of fire and proficient
To dispel all the lies
That our souls aren't deficient

For those eyes are His own
And He'd pay the full fee
By His body alone
To set our hearts free

He's hope's nourishing breast
He's life's honey from comb
He's our undying rest
He's our straight way toward home

He will wipe away tears
And allay deepest doubt
Which proceeds from worst fears
Of our being locked out

Of the Garden again
Cast from pure Tree of Life
Dim remembrance of when
Mankind first entered strife

But 'twas on another tree
That sweet intimacy's nectar
Was secured tight when He
Became sacred Connector

And the thorns of our curse
Were pressed onto His head
With not one there to nurse
As the Son of Man bled

Then the wrath for our sin
Was absorbed as He cried
And the foul curse was broken
When the Son of God died

But death couldn't keep Him long
Nor His glory dispose
And we found our lost song
When the King of kings rose!

The debt had been paid
He had finished the work
The tide 'gainst us was swayed
We weren't left in our lurk

And we've only to now
Just repent and believe
To open and allow
Our hearts to receive

Our Divine Fountainhead
Our covering complete
To sup from His bread
And to sit at His feet

To worship the One
For Whom we were made
By Whom we've been won
Whom forever we've craved

The One Who can bear
Our hearts' full devotion
The One Who won't tear
At our souls' raw emotion

The One Who will be
Sweet eternity's song
Who with lasting decree
Will...right...every...wrong
~~~

First two lines taken from Timothy Keller sermon titles;
also inspired by his other sermons:
"The Breastplate of Righteousness"
"Blessed Self-Forgetfulness"
"The Sandals of Peace"
"The Wounded Spirit"

~~~

for more on this:
https://hellopoetry.com/poem/2179517/the-gospel-of-jesus-christ/

~~~
Mike Essig Aug 2015
for Anne Sexton**

I dream of writing words
that conjure screams and sighs,
that force my readers
to turn away and look back,
fascinated and repelled,
locked and paralyzed
by my serpentine stare,
by my hypnotic intensity.
Screams and sighs like those
that exploded from your pages
like verbal ******
illuminating the naked horror
of the life that led you
to take your own.
You were a wise, wild woman
whose fierce, fearless words
sprang from a fountain
of uncertainty and chaos;
but your pen never faltered,
not until the weight of living
became too much to bear
and drove you, disconsolate,
to the locked garage,
the running engine,
suffocation and death alone,
without screams or sighs.
The critics and the madness
that plagued your soul
are vanished now.
Only your white hot
woman's words survive,
searing my brain,
the living brains of many.
I hope you have found respite,
far from screams and sighs.
Be at peace, Sister.
- mce
pa3que Feb 2019
wrapped up in caramel daydreams,
trying to resolve the screams,

down the windelstán, below,
is someone that he used to know,

one reached for a grip,
a one cold water sip,

but one could never hold,
as he was far too old,

nor old of age, nor old of gold,
but blood dripped down and it was cold,

thee chateau, a ****** mine,
crying crystals over wine,

given screams, now, louder tune,
mixing sugar with a spoon,

he can’t get them out his head,
wrapped, in bed he’s turning mad,

spiral staircase leads to cache,
he’s stabbed by guilt, gone in dash,

thee chateau still there remains,
screams still whisper, leaving stains.
AntRedundAnt Jan 2014
love   apple   like   time   know   feel   heart   bed   little   life   home   red   boy   georgie   sleep   away   left   dear   ruth   gone   just   right   long   mind   hope   hair   mi   parts   say   fear   met   laugh   makes   sailing   make   tell   hands   day   poem   different   small   words   private   wish   legs   child   man   free   te   welcome   easy   apples   meteorite   smile   flower   want   way   arms   look   eyes   better   war   lie   good   thing   truly   teeth   passion   thought   work   seen   letters   friend   talk   brought   future   fingers   knew   imagination   sure   told   space   cold  la   mask   black   big   bite   age   size   shadow   petals   inane   stretchmarks   medic   we've   wouldn't   hear   tap   really   best   goes   face   gray   maybe   things   dream   tongue   forever   hate   set   room   death   need   truth   comes   night   lost   calves   pain   end   years   brings   touch   feet   blades   memories   new   core   times   dead   favorite   finally   minute   brain   hearts   getting   belly   far   rain   blue   knees   filled   stupid   woke   cream   fit   young   brown   se   fat   tan   cough   spoke   says   unlike   footprints   ******   rough   forward   buckle   blues   task   shoulder   grace   *******   reason   nostrils   firm   juice   palms   someday   mis   thumbs   screams   arguments   wobble   *****   elbows   *******   wrists   headaches   amo   pesky   ligaments   one-liners   thoughts   later   ash   clouds   lips   dreams   breath   mouth   hold   sense   taking   world   bit   speak   dance   gave   shall   ready   skin   air   single   breathe   button   peace   choices   hill   wrong   weak   close   use   quite   sky   phrase   darkness   justice   sound   unable   brave   holding   deep   grabbed   ****   try   building   paper   lunch   think   kind   stay   days   smooth   perfect   learned   care   fair   hard   grant   sweet   high   fruit   short   terms   kept   relationship   underneath   presence   water   looking   fool   sorrow   tree   second   delicate   nearly   happy   line   tall   tried   sad   satisfied   point   feels   falling   purpose   game   lazy   que   amor   agree   known   naught   loss   broke   failed   games   limp   grin   final   spring   act   south   flare   race   sake   car   large   wishes   neck   blink   knife   seeing   idea   steve   company   greens   spread   ship   lo   sally   sum   drowned   december   weep   sting   smiles   lessons   promises   successful   whistled   drowns   perfectly   pleasing   failure   brothers   cliche   harder   thirteen   ale   signs   limit   serenity   mundane   origin   chat   sapphires   handshakes   skinny   contagious   succeeding   super   refer   maturity   destination   civil   uncomfortable   collects   clack   liz   beatles   vez   attract   accomplishment   backside   throes   flaccid   audi   oneself   beastie   applesauce   naivete   bungalow   outie   there's   couldn't   isn't   they're   let's   'n   primos   primas   cantuta   fronton   redd's   mott's   innie   phallicly   tiny   fight   yo   para   walk   ****   hello   light   flash   silent   stone   does   forth   conversation   polite   green   minutes   ****   clear   flesh   couple   wake   anger   throw   torn   tangle   play   shattered   soldier   land   victim   carry   battlefield   came   darkest   blood   battle   warm   shine   reminds   lose   eye   dismay   hide   impossible   fast   earth   grab   stand   die   worse   year   people   white   story   hit   god   anxiety   realize   fall   asleep   dark   course   apart   morning   remain   beauty   ****   slowly   start   happen   remember   pray   past   easily   straight   mean   hand   driving   instant   thunder   messages   friends   old   coming   pen   seeds   shape   wasted   word   living   tore   shadows   knowing   bad   class   joy   trust   leaves   path   sun   ways   leave   meet   broken   head   weight   means   mountain   boys   true   stars   learn   sliced   naive   decided   player   actually   reality   ease   music   hood   desperate   promise   wishing   begin   miss   caressing   moan   thighs   heard   pretty   emotion   figure   floor   exotic   sand   hits   angel   awake   dreaming   probably   wins   seek   stretch   loved   tears   heartbreak   punk   walking   piece   furniture   unreachable   roots   near   deserve   simple   cats   tail   precious   lovers   loves   mother   tongues   clueless   share   taken   yesterday   faith   freedom   ripe   cursed   running   yes   unknown   feeling   going   stairs   opposite   wonder   afloat   packed   bones   acting   playing   wind   passions   dismissed   hourglass   reached   stares   mouths   singing   shaped   trapped   toll   dies   rock   trunk   discovered   especially   dull   choice   awful   patient   great   indoors   attached   thread   shoulders   warms   bright   bring   ending   drowning   sadness   winter   baby   looked   cute   beating   tight   kids   crying   ran   intoxicating   growing   saying   opposites   melancholy   gives   follow   clearly   dove   tu   soon   entwined   juicy   drown   laid   took   moved   bear   anyways   shirt   negative   clean   guide   sore   location   faux   nodded   glance   caught   chances   week   started   today   obvious   sweat   ***   quiet   laughed   worry   round   ladies   mama   smack   goodbye   rising   sides   wished   beds   infinite   positive   scared   admittedly   mistakes   meal   common   rises   toes   bullets   bound   suited   birth   clothes   belt   pounds   ground   barren   sitting   table   woe   swimming   stick   deepest   motion   cleared   sing   angry   action   sons   smiled   bedroom   wall   wiped   grins   mad   july   store   road   snow   pulse   important   adventure   exactly   foundation   trap   colors   floors   neon   outside   language   summer   north   fifty   served   wavy   kick   raw   thirty   row   changed   hanging   lied   drenched   companion   begins   strength   flies   direction   okay   stories   inky   stubborn   cloud   track   described   lover   replaced   pit   packs   circling   honest   wage   dinner   slave   paradox   faking   screamed   lightning   exterior   stopping   complete   deal   rifle   dependent   gifts   dancer   vision   students   horror   punch   anymore   pack   sagging   folk   honestly   tearing   prepared   creatures   listening   rhythm   unique   roar   card   glass   stage   desert   offered   fought   suffer   awoke   master   eating   furnace   glad   choir   graceful   *****   treasure   ships   bark   musical   strand   bee   finished   pink   slink   stronger   disclose   gravity   schedule   march   medicine   hates   weird   brush   laughs   helped   june   pitched   dumped   tense   sin   withdrawn   stem   proved   whispered   anew   amazing   louder   english   knocked   chilly   boots   false   mistake   toffee   whistle   smirk   gas   poised   buttons   bet   necks   elate  vi   bleak   decades   intention   plane   swollen   unseemly   en   sir   creeping   tells   success   doth   ***   balance   ant   fourth   fits   matters   pan   shook   tingle   dusty   reaching   thanked   careers   pile   tempt   ix   xi   xii   xiii   moms   hushed   spears   twinkling   works   fairytale   double   fighter   shocked   barriers   boot   thanks   solitary   lesson   owned   systems   groan   weekend   tomatoes   cider   calculating   drawer   partially   handy   stumpy   album   appealing   pet   unfortunately   jokingly   hotel   teacher   tag   eighteen   leg   dash   peep   betwixt   swear   attempt   inescapable   venues   worker   suit   coughed   remembers   rhyme   listed   chatter   stuff   assist   blocks   sheen   stanzas   jobs   cleaned   handshake   natural   moi   fantasy   cheers   smaller   curl   nay   leaning   frequent   eggs   cuando   el   desayuno   tus   beige   imperfections   difficult   darlings   overcome   oranges   keys   newfound   fairly   occasions   stats   ponder   pools   ablaze   rushes   fret   quell   breads   progress   comfortable   settling   desks   tile   trails   rainy   homemade   stunned   cemetery   plus   ideas   avocados   bananas   apply   latch   rocky   digress   experiences   vacation   sanctuary   earlier   rocket   precise   various   author   pie   explosions   *******   lighter   matched   plunged   isaac   jefferson   abe   measured   saturday   claw   welcoming   gear   trained   suffocation   leapt   gap   lee   disturbed   es   thrill   alarming   grill   frankly   importantly   una   fray   candied   amalgamation   nasty   american   optimism   guns   craters   contracted   rampant   unattainable   spilled   courts   carrots   shuffled   combined   blonde   forgave   artillery   sandwich   comfier   limitation   personalities   friday   strongly   crude   banana   tennis   limits   quaking   recesses   loot   andromeda   shells   playful   luckily   area   upwards   flail   largest   sappy   freckles   biology   fruition   cases   overtook   pinks   instruments   brownies   birthmark   reinforce   laptop   pirates   blinks   frontier   forwards   resonate   capacity   mumbled   marched   scraping   prompts   multiply   haiku   football   como   function   unfeeling   eighty   backsides   prompt   raced   blare   likewise   pro   chrome   gran   pears   puede   corazon   elated   indecisive   basketball   burgundy   synonyms   braced   effeminate   mutually   duties   companies   honeymoon   flailing   patted   mayo   headon   pero   misma   marveled   aforementioned   abhors   forefront   hesitating   identical   creepy   possessive   screeched   gotcha   infidelity   friction   barrage   nonetheless   disparate   itchy   apex   gettysburg   lunchtime   pickup   muchas   then   and   trading   distinguishable   pitches   bunk   ven   ladylike   encompasses   diagrams   underlying   spaghetti   soccer   trashcan   papa   disarming   finalmente   clashed   rosie   smirks   snapshot   pug   songbird   spitfire   yanks   thankfully   mesa   flexing   virginia   effectively   variations   eclipses   tambien   outrun   incident   vitamin   willpower   underdog   hardboiled   miniscule   checkerboard   entrust   siento   heavyweight   davis   thyroid   foreshadowing   frances   heresy   starburst   deficiency   sawing   peruvian   leche   antithesis   villanelle   alliteration   hora   vivir   clacking   droopy   whizzed   britney   futbol   parameters   disney   mangos   disproportionate   orbiting   tanka   stubby   intro   listo   goldilocks   teamwork   pbj   exemplifies   rey   retainer   tenia   triples   espanol   estuvo   castillo   ferrying   suficiente   racecar   dorky   garganta   veo   julio   peripherals   labios   rojos   foreseeable   frito   groggily   venn   macbook   inanely   hubo   goofball   you've   she's   weren't   wasn't   we're   others'   you'll   should've   haven't   what's   you'd   they'd   man's   boys'   god's   woman's   fruit's   orion's   newton's   lincoln's   adam's   momma's   ******   jackson's   audis   dulces   disproportionately   charon's   deseos   avocadoes   hailey   eran   beatles'   ingles   he   she   it   rackets   --   hashtag   sixty-three   duct-tape   joysticks   sherman's   15   6th   32   500   7th   2013   extraño   barenaked   tamales   6-year-old   tierras   derpy   ewell   rom-com   themit's   adan   mudpits   puddlepits   war--hell   culp's   shitpits   completaron   chocolatada   levantanse   duraznos   n'sync   huevo   cholitos   levantaron   manzanas   endurece   wozniak's   dispara   nuez   open-endedness   innies   cankles   dunder-mifflin   tunks   buck-toothed   outies   grief-blown   a-gawking
I uploaded all of my past work onto the site already, so everything from here on out will be new and original. This is sort of an experimental idea of mine: take all the words hellopoetry has tracked for me, put it down as if it were a poem, and see how it flows. It actually kind of works sometimes, but I'm not sure. I'm sure it's mostly terrible, but I wanted to try it. Let me know what you think in the comments below!
Anonymous Freak Nov 2017
-----WARNING, EXPLICIT CONTENT, MAY BE TRIGGERING----

My stomach makes me feel disgusting.

I’ve always been short,
Had thick thighs that puberty blessed me
With,
And mostly even *******,
And then there are the stretch marks,
That have only bothered me a little bit
Because they were on the inside of my legs,
And not hard to hide.

When I was nine years old,
My older sister pasted makeup
Across my face
For fun,
I don’t remember the fun.
I remember when she told me my lips were too plump,
And said she could shrink them
With the wave
Of a magic
Red
Crayon.
And here I am.
Plump lips,
Round cheeks,
Small deep-set eyes.
A complexion marred by freckles
And tiny acne scars.

And I took that small portion of body shame
Through puberty
With me,
Wondered why the boys
Didn’t objectify me,
Because in our world,
In a woman’s world,
We’re breastfed from birth
To know that if we aren’t
Objectified
We aren’t
Pretty,
And if we aren’t pretty
We aren’t
Worth
Anything.

So the first boy who wanted my body
In the summer of my youth,
My half-baked adulthood,
Seemed like a Godsend.
And I followed him
Like God himself.
It took me over three years
To figure out
That kisses weren’t supposed to hurt.

I protected him
Like he was a child,
Forgave him like a final hope I had set all my dreams on,
Ignored his lies like a slave bows to a master’s blows.
And he knew
That everything I said no to,
All it required to make me give in
Was the threat of no longer
Wanting me.

He ignored me for only a week to touch me again.
And I let him.

He kept me
As a pocket lover,
One he could take out
And put away on a whim.
Made me comfortable enough with him
To be naked,
And naked enough to remember that I ate more than him.

And after months of pushing the line,
Doing little things
And then apologizing,
Or claiming he was just kidding.
He waited until I was primed,
I watched him think about it.
I saw the thought
In those cold blue eyes.
Saw them storm into the waters of blue,
And crash grey,
As he bit his lip and decided.

He held my wrists,
After lulling me into a sense of safety and playfulness
Whenever he did anything of the kind,
And then...

Most people don’t think of an abusive man performing oral *** as his first choice of attack.
I always thought they’d forcefully take
Instead of forcefully give.

But he ignored our safe word,
And kept my wrists pinned.
I was too stunned to fight harder than that.
I was too stunned.
Too confused.
Wasn’t this love?
He wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t love...
He fought through my protests
And I gave in.
He knew I would,
He was too sure of himself as he pushed through my argument.

I went home and cried that night.
I told him I didn’t want to do it again.
He reassured me he didn’t mind.
But after a few days of his cold shoulder,
I realized again,
Just how much I was willing to do
For his attention.

He always loved leaving little bruises on my skin,
Little places he’d kissed more aggressively.
At first,
As a teenager
Who barely knew anything about such things,
I didn’t mind at all,
I thought this was all so
Very
****.
And maybe it was in the beginning.

But then he got harsher.
I’d moan harder just so he would stop,
Because he wouldn’t listen when I said it hurt.
I’d look in the mirror at my purple and blue
Ty dyed skin,
And pull my clothes on
In a hurry
So I didn’t have to look at me.

As time went on it hurt more.

How can I explain what it was like
To have little things
Like that,
Things I used to enjoy,
Suddenly cause so much pain
I’d count the seconds until he stopped.

My conservative Christian upbringing
Made me feel disgusting and shameful
When I thought of talking about how
When he used to playfully slap my **** it was just fun and games,
And then suddenly he slapped me so hard he’d leave a throbbing red hand mark on my body.

It was a violent
Terrifying
Thirst for ***
And strength.

Screams of pleasure turned to screams of pain.

And in the moment where he had his **** in my mouth,
Moving in and out in a sick rhythm,
As I stared blankly at his pleasure,
I realized that was all I was anymore...
His pleasure.
I felt an emptiness I can’t explain.

The only thought in my mind,
Was “I’m just a toy.”
A toy he could break,
And then patch up
Just enough
To use again,
And break,
And place a piece of tape,
Over
And
Over
And
Over
Again.
And if I said no,
All he had to do was not answer a few texts for a couple weeks.

But that wasn’t the final straw.
That wasn’t the last of it.

“Let’s just stick it in and see how it feels.”
He’d said it at least eight times and told me
He was joking every time I said no.
That was the last piece of my dignity and boundaries
I had held onto.

The last time I saw him he said it again.
After he had “accidentally” partially penetrated five times.
What if he got bored of me saying no?
What if he got bored of me?
I played along with the idea for a moment,
And he pushed for a yes.
I was saved by my ride
Pulling into the driveway.

I went home and cried again.
Sobbed bitterly.

I wish I had kicked him off
Instead of humored him,
Even if it had only been considering it for a few minutes.

And bare in mind
I still thought
That I was the crazy one.
That he hadn’t done anything wrong.

That was the last few months of winter.
Come late summer,
I was dating the best friend he had always hated.
And that best friend’s kisses were soft.
Soft as a gentle bit of sunshine
Kissing my face through a canopy of green leaves.
And his touches waited for permission,
His hands waited for invitation,
His lips waited to be welcomed,
And his tenderness was there from the beginning.

In a moment of his sunshine beauty,
I had flashbacks,
And knew something
Had been very
Very
Wrong,
With the last boy.
Because this one was loving
Before he claimed he loved me,
This one would stop at the word “no”,
And kiss my forehead,
And hug me close,
And never made a sign
He minded.
He was safe.

And then I knew what the bruises meant.
What holding my wrists meant.
What ignoring me meant.

I thought the world would be fundamentally different,
But it kept going.
My brain was an orchestra
Of sirens,
And a kaleidoscope
Of red flags.
And yet
Everything outside of my body
Was still the same.
And my body became even more disgusting to me,
A monument
To the pain
He inflicted on me.

That’s why I’m only eating 1,560 calories a day,
That’s why my stomach makes me feel disgusting,
That’s why I accidentally gained
15 pounds,
Because I can’t look at myself.

And I don’t want the truest love I’ve ever known,
To see the same body he saw.
The same body I had to watch abused.

I can't stand to exist in this shape anymore,
yet here I am.
I'm sitting in dangerous anger
in my dispised skin.
I woke up today,
and I will wake up again tomorrow.
Eventually, my body will have new memories,
my fingers are slowly learning
the familiarity of a safe hand,
and my voice is learning
happy sounds.

But it takes time to relearn
how to keep living.
I hope to have a happier ending to this story eventually. I truly believe I'm on my way... But until then, this is how I heal.

I do not generally write explicit content.
Michael R Burch Sep 2020
Sonnets

For this collection I have used the original definition of "sonnet" as a "little song" rather than sticking to rigid formulas. The sonnets here include traditional sonnets, tetrameter sonnets, hexameter sonnets, curtal sonnets, 15-line sonnets, and some that probably defy categorization, which I call free verse sonnets for want of a better term. Most of these sonnets employ meter, rhyme and form and tend to be Romantic in the spirit of the Romanticism of Blake, Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth and Dylan Thomas.




Auschwitz Rose
by Michael R. Burch

There is a Rose at Auschwitz, in the briar,
a rose like Sharon's, lovely as her name.
The world forgot her, and is not the same.
I still love her and enlist this sacred fire
to keep her memory exalted flame
unmolested by the thistles and the nettles.

On Auschwitz now the reddening sunset settles;
they sleep alike―diminutive and tall,
the innocent, the "surgeons." Sleeping, all.

Red oxides of her blood, bright crimson petals,
if accidents of coloration, gall my heart no less.
Amid thick weeds and muck
there lies a rose man's crackling lightning struck:
the only Rose I ever longed to pluck.
Soon I'll bed there and bid the world "Good Luck."

Originally published by The Neovictorian/Cochlea



In Praise of Meter
by Michael R. Burch

The earth is full of rhythms so precise
the octave of the crystal can produce
a trillion oscillations, yet not lose
a second's beat. The ear needs no device
to hear the unsprung rhythms of the couch
drown out the mouth's; the lips can be debauched
by kisses, should the heart put back its watch
and find the pulse of love, and sing, devout.

If moons and tides in interlocking dance
obey their numbers, what's been left to chance?
Should poets be more lax―their circumstance
as humble as it is?―or readers wince
to see their ragged numbers thin, to hear
the moans of drones drown out the Chanticleer?

Originally published by The Eclectic Muse and in The Best of the Eclectic Muse 1989-2003



Discrimination
by Michael R. Burch

The meter I had sought to find, perplexed,
was ripped from books of "verse" that read like prose.
I found it in sheet music, in long rows
of hologramic CDs, in sad wrecks
of long-forgotten volumes undisturbed
half-centuries by archivists, unscanned.
I read their fading numbers, frowned, perturbed―
why should such tattered artistry be banned?

I heard the sleigh bells’ jingles, vampish ads,
the supermodels’ babble, Seuss’s books
extolled in major movies, blurbs for abs ...
A few poor thinnish journals crammed in nooks
are all I’ve found this late to sell to those
who’d classify free verse "expensive prose."

Originally published by The Chariton Review



The Forge
by Michael R. Burch

To at last be indestructible, a poem
must first glow, almost flammable, upon
a thing inert, as gray, as dull as stone,

then bend this way and that, and slowly cool
at arms-length, something irreducible
drawn out with caution, toughened in a pool

of water so contrary just a hiss
escapes it―water instantly a mist.
It writhes, a thing of senseless shapelessness ...

And then the driven hammer falls and falls.
The horses ***** their ears in nearby stalls.
A soldier on his cot leans back and smiles.

A sound of ancient import, with the ring
of honest labor, sings of fashioning.

Originally published by The Chariton Review



For All That I Remembered
by Michael R. Burch

For all that I remembered, I forgot
her name, her face, the reason that we loved ...
and yet I hold her close within my thought.
I feel the burnished weight of auburn hair
that fell across her face, the apricot
clean scent of her shampoo, the way she glowed
so palely in the moonlight, angel-wan.

The memory of her gathers like a flood
and bears me to that night, that only night,
when she and I were one, and if I could ...
I'd reach to her this time and, smiling, brush
the hair out of her eyes, and hold intact
each feature, each impression. Love is such
a threadbare sort of magic, it is gone
before we recognize it. I would crush
my lips to hers to hold their memory,
if not more tightly, less elusively.

Originally published by The Raintown Review



Leaf Fall
by Michael R. Burch

Whatever winds encountered soon resolved
to swirling fragments, till chaotic heaps
of leaves lay pulsing by the backyard wall.
In lieu of rakes, our fingers sorted each
dry leaf into its place and built a high,
soft bastion against earth's gravitron―
a patchwork quilt, a trampoline, a bright
impediment to fling ourselves upon.

And nothing in our laughter as we fell
into those leaves was like the autumn's cry
of also falling. Nothing meant to die
could be so bright as we, so colorful―
clad in our plaids, oblivious to pain
we'd feel today, should we leaf-fall again.

Originally published by The Neovictorian/Cochlea



Isolde's Song
by Michael R. Burch

Through our long years of dreaming to be one
we grew toward an enigmatic light
that gently warmed our tendrils. Was it sun?
We had no eyes to tell; we loved despite
the lack of all sensation―all but one:
we felt the night's deep chill, the air so bright
at dawn we quivered limply, overcome.

To touch was all we knew, and how to bask.
We knew to touch; we grew to touch; we felt
spring's urgency, midsummer's heat, fall's lash,
wild winter's ice and thaw and fervent melt.
We felt returning light and could not ask
its meaning, or if something was withheld
more glorious. To touch seemed life's great task.

At last the petal of me learned: unfold.
And you were there, surrounding me. We touched.
The curious golden pollens! Ah, we touched,
and learned to cling and, finally, to hold.

Originally published by The Raintown Review



See
by Michael R. Burch

See how her hair has thinned: it doesn't seem
like hair at all, but like the airy moult
of emus who outraced the wind and left
soft plumage in their wake. See how her eyes
are gentler now; see how each wrinkle laughs,
and deepens on itself, as though mirth took
some comfort there and burrowed deeply in,
outlasting winter. See how very thin
her features are―that time has made more spare,
so that each bone shows, elegant and rare.

For loveliness remains in her grave eyes,
and courage in her still-delighted looks:
each face presented like a picture book's.
Bemused, she blows us undismayed goodbyes.

Originally published by Writer's Digest's: The Year's Best Writing 2003



In the Whispering Night
by Michael R. Burch

for George King

In the whispering night, when the stars bend low
till the hills ignite to a shining flame,
when a shower of meteors streaks the sky,
and the lilies sigh in their beds, for shame,
we must steal our souls, as they once were stolen,
and gather our vigor, and all our intent.
We must heave our bodies to some violent ocean
and laugh as they shatter, and never repent.
We must dance in the darkness as stars dance before us,
soar, Soar! through the night on a butterfly's breeze:
blown high, upward-yearning, twin spirits returning
to the world of resplendence from which we were seized.

Published in Songs of Innocence, Romantics Quarterly and Poetry Life & Times. This is a sonnet I wrote for my favorite college English teacher, George King, about poetic kinship, brotherhood and romantic flights of fancy.



The Toast
by Michael R. Burch

For longings warmed by tepid suns
(brief lusts that animated clay),
for passions wilted at the bud
and skies grown desolate and gray,
for stars that fell from tinseled heights
and mountains bleak and scarred and lone,
for seas reflecting distant suns
and weeds that thrive where seeds were sown,
for waltzes ending in a hush,
for rhymes that fade as pages close,
for flames' exhausted, drifting ash,
and petals falling from the rose, ...
I raise my cup before I drink,
saluting ghosts of loves long dead,
and silently propose a toast―
to joys set free, and those I fled.



Second Sight (II)
by Michael R. Burch

(Newborns see best at a distance of 8 to 14 inches.)

Wiser than we know, the newborn screams,
red-faced from breath, and wonders what life means
this close to death, amid the arctic glare
of warmthless lights above.
Beware! Beware!―
encrypted signals, codes? Or ciphers, noughts?

Interpretless, almost, as his own thoughts―
the brilliant lights, the brilliant lights exist.
Intruding faces ogle, gape, insist―
this madness, this soft-hissing breath, makes sense.
Why can he not float on, in dark suspense,
and dream of life? Why did they rip him out?

He frowns at them―small gnomish frowns, all doubt―
and with an ancient mien, O sorrowful!,
re-closes eyes that saw in darkness null
ecstatic sights, exceeding beautiful.



Archaischer Torso Apollos (“Archaic Torso of Apollo”)
by Rainer Maria Rilke
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

We cannot know the beheaded god
nor his eyes' forfeited visions. But still
the figure's trunk glows with the strange vitality
of a lamp lit from within, while his composed will
emanates dynamism. Otherwise
the firmly muscled abdomen could not beguile us,
nor the centering ***** make us smile
at the thought of their generative animus.
Otherwise the stone might seem deficient,
unworthy of the broad shoulders, of the groin
projecting procreation's triangular spearhead upwards,
unworthy of the living impulse blazing wildly within
like an inchoate star―demanding our belief.
You must change your life.

TRANSLATOR'S NOTE: This is a Rilke sonnet about a major resolution: changing the very nature of one's life. While it is only my personal interpretation of the poem above, I believe Rilke was saying to himself: "I must change my life." Why? Perhaps because he wanted to be a real artist, and when confronted with real, dynamic, living and breathing art of Rodin, he realized that he had to inject similar vitality, energy and muscularity into his poetry. Michelangelo said that he saw the angel in a block of marble, then freed it. Perhaps Rilke had to find the dynamic image of Apollo, the God of Poetry, in his materials, which were paper, ink and his imagination.―Michael R. Burch



Komm, Du (“Come, You”)
by Ranier Maria Rilke
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

This was Rilke’s last poem, written ten days before his death. He died open-eyed in the arms of his doctor on December 29, 1926, in the Valmont Sanatorium, of leukemia and its complications. I had a friend who died of leukemia and he was burning up with fever in the end. I believe that is what Rilke was describing here: he was literally burning alive.

Come, you―the last one I acknowledge; return―
incurable pain searing this physical mesh.
As I burned in the spirit once, so now I burn
with you; meanwhile, you consume my flesh.

This wood that long resisted your embrace
now nourishes you; I surrender to your fury
as my gentleness mutates to hellish rage―
uncaged, wild, primal, mindless, outré.

Completely free, no longer future’s pawn,
I clambered up this crazy pyre of pain,
certain I’d never return―my heart’s reserves gone―
to become death’s nameless victim, purged by flame.

Now all I ever was must be denied.
I left my memories of my past elsewhere.
That life―my former life―remains outside.
Inside, I’m lost. Nobody knows me here.



Der Panther ("The Panther")
by Rainer Maria Rilke
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

His weary vision's so overwhelmed by iron bars,
his exhausted eyes see only blank Oblivion.
His world is not our world. It has no stars.
No light. Ten thousand bars. Nothing beyond.
Lithe, swinging with a rhythmic easy stride,
he circles, his small orbit tightening,
an electron losing power. Paralyzed,
soon regal Will stands stunned, an abject thing.
Only at times the pupils' curtains rise
silently, and then an image enters,
descends through arrested shoulders, plunges, centers
somewhere within his empty heart, and dies.



Liebes-Lied (“Love Song”)
by Rainer Maria Rilke
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

How can I withhold my soul so that it doesn’t touch yours?
How can I lift mine gently to higher things, alone?
Oh, I would gladly find something lost in the dark
in that inert space that fails to resonate until you vibrate.
There everything that moves us, draws us together like a bow
enticing two taut strings to sing together with a simultaneous voice.
Whose instrument are we becoming together?
Whose, the hands that excite us?
Ah, sweet song!



Sweet Rose of Virtue
by William Dunbar [1460-1525]
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Sweet rose of virtue and of gentleness,
delightful lily of youthful wantonness,
richest in bounty and in beauty clear
and in every virtue that is held most dear―
except only that you are merciless.

Into your garden, today, I followed you;
there I saw flowers of freshest hue,
both white and red, delightful to see,
and wholesome herbs, waving resplendently―
yet everywhere, no odor but bitter rue.

I fear that March with his last arctic blast
has slain my fair rose of pallid and gentle cast,
whose piteous death does my heart such pain
that, if I could, I would compose her roots again―
so comforting her bowering leaves have been.



Ebb Tide
by Michael R. Burch

Massive, gray, these leaden waves
bear their unchanging burden―
the sameness of each day to day

while the wind seems to struggle to say
something half-submerged planks at the mouth of the bay
might nuzzle limp seaweed to understand.

Now collapsing dull waves drain away
from the unenticing land;
shrieking gulls shadow fish through salt spray―
whitish streaks on a fogged silver mirror.

Sizzling lightning impresses its brand.
Unseen fingers scribble something in the wet sand.

This is a free verse sonnet originally published by Southwest Review.



Water and Gold
by Michael R. Burch

You came to me as rain breaks on the desert
when every flower springs to life at once,
but joy's a wan illusion to the expert:
the Bedouin has learned how not to want.

You came to me as riches to a miser
when all is gold, or so his heart believes,
until he dies much thinner and much wiser,
his gleaming bones hauled off by chortling thieves.

You gave your heart too soon, too dear, too vastly;
I could not take it in; it was too much.
I pledged to meet your price, but promised rashly.
I died of thirst, of your bright Midas touch.

I dreamed you gave me water of your lips,
then sealed my tomb with golden hieroglyphs.

Originally published by The Lyric



The City Is a Garment
by Michael R. Burch

A rhinestone skein, a jeweled brocade of light,―
the city is a garment stretched so thin
her festive colors bleed into the night,
and everywhere bright seams, unraveling,

cascade their brilliant contents out like coins
on motorways and esplanades; bead cars
come tumbling down long highways; at her groin
a railtrack like a zipper flashes sparks;

her hills are haired with brush like cashmere wool
and from their cleavage winking lights enlarge
and travel, slender fingers ... softly pull
themselves into the semblance of a barge.

When night becomes too chill, she softly dons
great overcoats of warmest-colored dawn.

Originally published by The Lyric



The Folly of Wisdom
by Michael R. Burch

She is wise in the way that children are wise,
looking at me with such knowing, grave eyes
I must bend down to her to understand.
But she only smiles, and takes my hand.

We are walking somewhere that her feet know to go,
so I smile, and I follow ...

And the years are dark creatures concealed in bright leaves
that flutter above us, and what she believes―
I can almost remember―goes something like this:
the prince is a horned toad, awaiting her kiss.

She wiggles and giggles, and all will be well
if only we find him! The woodpecker’s knell
as he hammers the coffin of some dying tree
that once was a fortress to someone like me

rings wildly above us. Some things that we know
we are meant to forget. Life is a bloodletting, maple-syrup-slow.

This is a free verse sonnet originally published by Romantics Quarterly.



The Communion of Sighs
by Michael R. Burch

There was a moment
without the sound of trumpets or a shining light,
but with only silence and darkness and a cool mist
felt more than seen.
I was eighteen,
my heart pounding wildly within me like a fist.
Expectation hung like a cry in the night,
and your eyes shone like the corona of a comet.

There was an instant . . .
without words, but with a deeper communion,
as clothing first, then inhibitions fell;
liquidly our lips met
―feverish, wet―
forgotten, the tales of heaven and hell,
in the immediacy of our fumbling union . . .
when the rest of the world became distant.

Then the only light was the moon on the rise,
and the only sound, the communion of sighs.

This is one of my early free verse sonnets but I can’t remember exactly when I wrote it. Due to the romantic style, I believe it was probably written during my first two years in college, making me 18 or 19 at the time.



Abide
by Michael R. Burch

after Philip Larkin's "Aubade"

It is hard to understand or accept mortality―
such an alien concept: not to be.
Perhaps unsettling enough to spawn religion,
or to scare mutant fish out of a primordial sea

boiling like goopy green tea in a kettle.
Perhaps a man should exhibit more mettle
than to admit such fear, denying Nirvana exists
simply because we are stuck here in such a fine fettle.

And so we abide . . .
even in life, staring out across that dark brink.
And if the thought of death makes your questioning heart sink,
it is best not to drink
(or, drinking, certainly not to think).

This is a free verse sonnet originally published by Light Quarterly.



Free Fall
by Michael R. Burch

These cloudless nights, the sky becomes a wheel
where suns revolve around an axle star ...
Look there, and choose. Decide which moon is yours.
Sink Lethe-ward, held only by a heel.

Advantage. Disadvantage. Who can tell?
To see is not to know, but you can feel
the tug sometimes―the gravity, the shell
as lustrous as damp pearl. You sink, you reel

toward some draining revelation. Air―
too thin to grasp, to breath. Such pressure. Gasp.
The stars invert, electric, everywhere.
And so we fall, down-tumbling through night’s fissure ...

two beings pale, intent to fall forever
around each other―fumbling at love’s tether ...
now separate, now distant, now together.

This is a 15-line free verse sonnet originally published by Sonnet Scroll.



Once
by Michael R. Burch

for Beth

Once when her kisses were fire incarnate
and left in their imprint bright lipstick, and flame,
when her breath rose and fell over smoldering dunes,
leaving me listlessly sighing her name . . .

Once when her ******* were as pale, as beguiling,
as wan rivers of sand shedding heat like a mist,
when her words would at times softly, mildly rebuke me
all the while as her lips did more wildly insist . . .

Once when the thought of her echoed and whispered
through vast wastelands of need like a Bedouin chant,
I ached for the touch of her lips with such longing
that I vowed all my former vows to recant . . .

Once, only once, something bloomed, of a desiccate seed―
this implausible blossom her wild rains of kisses decreed.

Originally published by The Lyric



At Once
by Michael R. Burch

for Beth

Though she was fair,
though she sent me the epistle of her love at once
and inscribed therein love’s antique prayer,
I did not love her at once.

Though she would dare
pain’s pale, clinging shadows, to approach me at once,
the dark, haggard keeper of the lair,
I did not love her at once.

Though she would share
the all of her being, to heal me at once,
yet more than her touch I was unable bear.
I did not love her at once.

And yet she would care,
and pour out her essence ...
and yet―there was more!

I awoke from long darkness,
and yet―she was there.

I loved her the longer;
I loved her the more
because I did not love her at once.

Originally published by The Lyric



Twice
by Michael R. Burch

Now twice she has left me
and twice I have listened
and taken her back, remembering days

when love lay upon us
and sparkled and glistened
with the brightness of dew through a gathering haze.

But twice she has left me
to start my life over,
and twice I have gathered up embers, to learn:

rekindle a fire
from ash, soot and cinder
and softly it sputters, refusing to burn.

Originally published by The Lyric



Moments
by Michael R. Burch

There were moments full of promise,
like the petal-scented rainfall of early spring,
when to hold you in my arms and to kiss your willing lips
seemed everything.

There are moments strangely empty
full of pale unearthly twilight―how the cold stars stare!―
when to be without you is a dark enchantment
the night and I share.



The Harvest of Roses
by Michael R. Burch

I have not come for the harvest of roses―
the poets' mad visions,
their railing at rhyme ...
for I have discerned what their writing discloses:
weak words wanting meaning,
beat torsioning time.

Nor have I come for the reaping of gossamer―
images weak,
too forced not to fail;
gathered by poets who worship their luster,
they shimmer, impendent,
resplendently pale.

Originally published by The Raintown Review



Distances
by Michael R. Burch

Moonbeams on water―
the reflected light
of a halcyon star
now drowning in night ...
So your memories are.

Footprints on beaches
now flooding with water;
the small, broken ribcage
of some primitive slaughter ...
So near, yet so far.

NOTE: In the first stanza the "halcyon star" is the sun, which has dropped below the horizon and is thus "drowning in night." But its light strikes the moon, creating moonbeams which are reflected by the water. Sometimes memories seem that distant, that faint, that elusive. Footprints are being washed away, a heart is missing from its ribcage, and even things close at hand can seem infinitely beyond our reach.



A Surfeit of Light
by Michael R. Burch

There was always a surfeit of light in your presence.
You stood distinctly apart, not of the humdrum world―
a chariot of gold in a procession of plywood.

We were all pioneers of the modern expedient race,
raising the ante: Home Depot to Lowe’s.
Yours was an antique grace―Thrace’s or Mesopotamia’s.

We were never quite sure of your silver allure,
of your trillium-and-platinum diadem,
of your utter lack of flatware-like utility.

You told us that night―your wound would not scar.

The black moment passed, then you were no more.
The darker the sky, how much brighter the Star!

The day of your funeral, I ripped out the crown mold.
You were this fool’s gold.



Songstress
by Michael R. Burch

for Nadia Anjuman

Within its starkwhite ribcage, how the heart
must flutter wildly, O, and always sing
against the pressing darkness: all it knows
until at last it feels the numbing sting
of death. Then life's brief vision swiftly passes,
imposing night on one who clearly saw.
Death held your bright heart tightly, till its maw―
envenomed, fanged―could swallow, whole, your Awe.

And yet it was not death so much as you
who sealed your doom; you could not help but sing
and not be silenced. Here, behold your tomb's
white alabaster cage: pale, wretched thing!
But you'll not be imprisoned here, wise wren!
Your words soar free; rise, sing, fly, live again.

A poet like Nadia Anjuman can be likened to a caged bird, deprived of flight, who somehow finds it within herself to sing of love and beauty. But when the world finally robs her of both flight and song, what is left for her but to leave the world, thus bereaving the world of herself and her song?



Come Down
by Michael R. Burch

for Harold Bloom

Come down, O, come down
from your high mountain tower.
How coldly the wind blows,
how late this chill hour ...

and I cannot wait
for a meteor shower
to show you the time
must be now, or not ever.

Come down, O, come down
from the high mountain heather
now brittle and brown
as fierce northern gales sever.

Come down, or your heart
will grow cold as the weather
when winter devours
and spring returns never.

NOTE: I dedicated this poem to Harold Bloom after reading his introduction to the Best American Poetry anthology he edited. Bloom seemed intent on claiming poetry as the province of the uber-reader (i.e., himself), but I remember reading poems by Blake, Burns, cummings, Dickinson, Frost, Housman, Eliot, Pound, Shakespeare, Whitman, Yeats, et al, and grokking them as a boy, without any “advanced” instruction from anyone.



Such Tenderness
by Michael R. Burch

for the mothers of Gaza and loving, compassionate mothers everywhere

There was, in your touch, such tenderness―as
only the dove on her mildest day has,
when she shelters downed fledglings beneath a warm wing
and coos to them softly, unable to sing.

What songs long forgotten occur to you now―
a babe at each breast? What terrible vow
ripped from your throat like the thunder that day
can never hold severing lightnings at bay?

Time taught you tenderness―time, oh, and love.
But love in the end is seldom enough ...
and time?―insufficient to life’s brief task.
I can only admire, unable to ask―

what is the source, whence comes the desire
of a woman to love as no God may require?



In this Ordinary Swoon
by Michael R. Burch

In this ordinary swoon
as I pass from life to death,
I feel no heat from the cold, pale moon;
I feel no sympathy for breath.

Who I am and why I came,
I do not know; nor does it matter.
The end of every man’s the same
and every god’s as mad as a hatter.

I do not fear the letting go;
I only fear the clinging on
to hope when there’s no hope, although
I lift my face to the blazing sun

and feel the greater intensity
of the wilder inferno within me.

This is a mostly tetrameter sonnet with shorter and longer lines.



Mare Clausum
by Michael R. Burch

These are the narrows of my soul―
dark waters pierced by eerie, haunting screams.
And these uncharted islands bleakly home
wild nightmares and deep, strange, forbidding dreams.

Please don’t think to find pearls’ pale, unearthly glow
within its shoals, nor corals in its reefs.
For, though you seek to salvage Love, I know
that vessel lists, and night brings no relief.

Pause here, and look, and know that all is lost;
then turn, and go; let salt consume, and rust.
This sea is not for sailors, but the ******
who lingered long past morning, till they learned

why it is named:
Mare Clausum.

This is a free verse sonnet with shorter and longer lines, originally published by Penny Dreadful. Mare Clausum is Latin for "Closed Sea." I wrote the first version of this poem as a teenager.



Redolence
by Michael R. Burch

Now darkness ponds upon the violet hills;
cicadas sing; the tall elms gently sway;
and night bends near, a deepening shade of gray;
the bass concerto of a bullfrog fills
what silence there once was; globed searchlights play.

Green hanging ferns adorn dark window sills,
all drooping fronds, awaiting morning’s flares;
mosquitoes whine; the lissome moth again
flits like a veiled oud-dancer, and endures
the fumblings of night’s enervate gray rain.

And now the pact of night is made complete;
the air is fresh and cool, washed of the grime
of the city’s ashen breath; and, for a time,
the fragrance of her clings, obscure and sweet.

Published by The Eclectic Muse and The Best of the Eclectic Muse 1989-2003



Fountainhead
by Michael R. Burch

I did not delight in love so much
as in a kiss like linnets' wings,
the flutterings of a pulse so soft
the heart remembers, as it sings:
to bathe there was its transport, brushed
by marble lips, or porcelain,―
one liquid kiss, one cool outburst
from pale rosettes. What did it mean ...

to float awhirl on minute tides
within the compass of your eyes,
to feel your alabaster bust
grow cold within? Ecstatic sighs
seem hisses now; your eyes, serene,
reflect the sun's pale tourmaline.

Originally published by Romantics Quarterly



Pan
by Michael R. Burch

... Among the shadows of the groaning elms,
amid the darkening oaks, we fled ourselves ...

... Once there were paths that led to coracles
that clung to piers like loosening barnacles ...

... where we cannot return, because we lost
the pebbles and the playthings, and the moss ...

... hangs weeping gently downward, maidens’ hair
who never were enchanted, and the stairs ...

... that led up to the Fortress in the trees
will not support our weight, but on our knees ...

... we still might fit inside those splendid hours
of damsels in distress, of rustic towers ...

... of voices of the wolves’ tormented howls
that died, and live in dreams’ soft, windy vowels ...

Originally published by Sonnet Scroll



The Endeavors of Lips
by Michael R. Burch

How sweet the endeavors of lips: to speak
of the heights of those pleasures which left us weak
in love’s strangely lit beds, where the cold springs creak:
for there is no illusion like love ...

Grown childlike, we wish for those storied days,
for those bright sprays of flowers, those primrosed ways
that curled to the towers of Yesterdays
where She braided illusions of love ...

"O, let down your hair!"―we might call and call,
to the dark-slatted window, the moonlit wall ...
but our love is a shadow; we watch it crawl
like a spidery illusion. For love ...

was never as real as that first kiss seemed
when we read by the flashlight and dreamed.

Originally published by Romantics Quarterly (USA) and The Eclectic Muse (Canada)



Loose Knit
by Michael R. Burch

She blesses the needle,
fetches fine red stitches,
criss-crossing, embroidering dreams
in the delicate fabric.

And if her hand jerks and twitches in puppet-like fits,
she tells herself
reality is not as threadbare as it seems ...

that a little more darning may gather loose seams.

She weaves an unraveling tapestry
of fatigue and remorse and pain; ...
only the nervously pecking needle
****** her to motion, again and again.

This is a free verse sonnet published by The Chariton Review as “The Knitter,” then by Penumbra, Black Bear Review and Triplopia.



If You Come to San Miguel
by Michael R. Burch

If you come to San Miguel
before the orchids fall,
we might stroll through lengthening shadows
those deserted streets
where love first bloomed ...

You might buy the same cheap musk
from that mud-spattered stall
where with furtive eyes the vendor
watched his fragrant wares
perfume your ******* ...

Where lean men mend tattered nets,
disgruntled sea gulls chide;
we might find that cafetucho
where through grimy panes
sunset implodes ...

Where tall cranes spin canvassed loads,
the strange anhingas glide.
Green brine laps splintered moorings,
rusted iron chains grind,
weighed and anchored in the past,

held fast by luminescent tides ...
Should you come to San Miguel?
Let love decide.



A Vain Word
by Michael R. Burch

Oleanders at dawn preen extravagant whorls
as I read in leaves’ Sanskrit brief moments remaining
till sunset implodes, till the moon strands grey pearls
under moss-stubbled oaks, full of whispers, complaining
to the minions of autumn, how swiftly life goes
as I fled before love ... Now, through leaves trodden black,
shivering, I wander as winter’s first throes
of cool listless snow drench my cheeks, back and neck.

I discerned in one season all eternities of grief,
the specter of death sprawled out under the rose,
the last consequence of faith in the flight of one leaf,
the incontinence of age, as life’s bright torrent slows.

O, where are you now?―I was timid, absurd.
I would find comfort again in a vain word.

Published by Chrysanthemum and Tucumcari Literary Review



Chloe
by Michael R. Burch

There were skies onyx at night ... moons by day ...
lakes pale as her eyes ... breathless winds
******* tall elms; ... she would say
that we loved, but I figured we’d sinned.

Soon impatiens too fiery to stay
sagged; the crocus bells drooped, golden-limned;
things of brightness, rinsed out, ran to gray ...
all the light of that world softly dimmed.

Where our feet were inclined, we would stray;
there were paths where dead weeds stood untrimmed,
distant mountains that loomed in our way,
thunder booming down valleys dark-hymned.

What I found, I found lost in her face
while yielding all my virtue to her grace.

Originally published by Romantics Quarterly as “A Dying Fall”



Aflutter
by Michael R. Burch

This rainbow is the token of the covenant, which I have established between me and all flesh.―Yahweh

You are gentle now, and in your failing hour
how like the child you were, you seem again,
and smile as sadly as the girl (age ten?)
who held the sparrow with the mangled wing
close to her heart. It marveled at your power
but would not mend. And so the world renews
old vows it seemed to make: false promises
spring whispers, as if nothing perishes
that does not resurrect to wilder hues
like rainbows’ eerie pacts we apprehend
but cannot fail to keep. Now in your eyes
I see the end of life that only dies
and does not care for bright, translucent lies.
Are tears so precious? These few, let us spend
together, as before, then lay to rest
these sparrows’ hearts aflutter at each breast.

This is a poem about a couple committing suicide together. The “eerie pact” refers to a Bible verse about the rainbow being a “covenant,” when the only covenant human beings can depend on is the original one that condemned us to suffer and die. That covenant is always kept perfectly.



To Flower
by Michael R. Burch

When Pentheus ["grief'] went into the mountains in the garb of the baccae, his mother [Agave] and the other maenads, possessed by Dionysus, tore him apart (Euripides, Bacchae; Apollodorus 3.5.2; Ovid, Metamorphoses 3.511-733; Hyginus, Fabulae 184). The agave dies as soon as it blooms; the moonflower, or night-blooming cereus, is a desert plant of similar fate.

We are not long for this earth, I know―
you and I, all our petals incurled,
till a night of pale brilliance, moonflower aglow.
Is there love anywhere in this strange world?
The Agave knows best when it's time to die
and rages to life with such rapturous leaves
her name means Illustrious. Each hour more high,
she claws toward heaven, for, if she believes
in love at all, she has left it behind
to flower, to flower. When darkness falls
she wilts down to meet it, where something crawls:
beheaded, bewildered. And since love is blind,
she never adored it, nor watches it go.
Can we be as she is, moonflower aglow?

Originally published by The Neovictorian/Cochlea



Flight 93
by Michael R. Burch

I held the switch in trembling fingers, asked
why existence felt so small, so purposeless,
like a minnow wriggling feebly in my grasp ...

vibrations of huge engines thrummed my arms
as, glistening with sweat, I nudged the switch
to OFF ... I heard the klaxon-shrill alarms

like vultures’ shriekings ... earthward, in a stall ...
we floated ... earthward ... wings outstretched, aghast
like Icarus ... as through the void we fell ...

till nothing was so beautiful, so blue ...
so vivid as that moment ... and I held
an image of your face, and dreamed I flew

into your arms. The earth rushed up. I knew
such comfort, in that moment, loving you.

This is a free verse sonnet originally published by The Lyric.



Oasis
by Michael R. Burch

I want tears to form again
in the shriveled glands of these eyes
dried all these long years
by too much heated knowing.

I want tears to course down
these parched cheeks,
to star these cracked lips
like an improbable dew

in the heart of a desert.

I want words to burble up
like happiness, like the thought of love,
like the overwhelming, shimmering thought of you

to a nomad who
has only known drought.

This is a mostly hexameter sonnet with shorter and longer lines.



Melting
by Michael R. Burch

Entirely, as spring consumes the snow,
the thought of you consumes me: I am found
in rivulets, dissolved to what I know
of former winters’ passions. Underground,
perhaps one slender icicle remains
of what I was before, in some dark cave―
a stalactite, long calcified, now drains
to sodden pools, whose milky liquid laves
the colder rock, thus washing something clean
that never saw the light, that never knew
the crust could break above, that light could stream:
so luminous, so bright, so beautiful ...
I lie revealed, and so I stand transformed,
and all because you smiled on me, and warmed.



Afterglow
by Michael R. Burch

The night is full of stars. Which still exist?
Before time ends, perhaps one day we’ll know.
For now I hold your fingers to my lips
and feel their pulse ... warm, palpable and slow ...

once slow to match this reckless spark in me,
this moon in ceaseless orbit I became,
compelled by wilder gravity to flee
night’s universe of suns, for one pale flame ...

for one pale flame that seemed to signify
the Zodiac of all, the meaning of
love’s wandering flight past Neptune. Now to lie
in dawning recognition is enough ...

enough each night to bask in you, to know
the face of love ... eyes closed ... its afterglow.



All Afterglow
by Michael R. Burch

Something remarkable, perhaps ...
the color of her eyes ... though I forget
the color of her eyes ... perhaps her hair
the way it blew about ... I do not know
just what it was about her that has kept
her thought lodged deep in mine ... unmelted snow
that lasted till July would be less rare,
clasped in some frozen cavern where the wind
sculpts bright grotesqueries, ignoring springs’
and summers’ higher laws ... there thawing slow
and strange by strange degrees, one tick beyond
the freezing point which keeps all things the same
... till what remains is fragile and unlike
the world above, where melted snows and rains
form rivulets that, inundate with sun,
evaporate, and in life’s cyclic stream
remake the world again ... I do not know
that we can be remade―all afterglow.



These Hallowed Halls
by Michael R. Burch

a young Romantic Poet mourns the passing of an age . . .

A final stereo fades into silence
and now there is seldom a murmur
to trouble the slumber of these ancient halls.
I stand by a window where others have watched
the passage of time alone, not untouched,
and I am as they were―unsure, for the days
stretch out ahead, a bewildering maze.
Ah, faithless lover―that I had never touched your breast,
nor felt the stirrings of my heart,
which until that moment had peacefully slept.
For now I have known the exhilaration
of a heart that has leapt every pinnacle of Love,
and the result of all such infatuations―
the long freefall to earth, as the moon glides above.



Come!
by Michael R. Burch

Will you come to visit my grave, I wonder,
in the season of lightning, the season of thunder,
when I have lain so long in the indifferent earth
that I have no girth?

When my womb has conformed to the chastity
your anemic Messiah envisioned for me,
will you finally be pleased that my *** was thus rendered
unpalatable, disengendered?

And when those strange loathsome organs that troubled you so
have been eaten by worms, will the heavens still glow
with the approval of God that I ended a maid―
thanks to a *****?

And will you come to visit my grave, I wonder,
in the season of lightning, the season of thunder?



Erin
by Michael R. Burch

All that’s left of Ireland is her hair―
bright carrot―and her milkmaid-pallid skin,

her brilliant air of cavalier despair,
her train of children―some conceived in sin,

the others to avoid it. For nowhere
is evidence of thought. Devout, pale, thin,
gay, nonchalant, all radiance. So fair!

How can men look upon her and not spin
like wobbly buoys churned by her skirt’s brisk air?
They buy. They ***** to pat her nyloned shin,
to share her elevated, pale Despair ...
to find at last two spirits ease no one’s.

All that’s left of Ireland is the Care,
her impish grin, green eyes like leprechauns’.



The Composition of Shadows
by Michael R. Burch

“I made it out of a mouthful of air.”―W. B. Yeats

We breathe and so we write; the night
hums softly its accompaniment.
Pale phosphors burn; the page we turn
leads onward, and we smile, content.

And what we mean we write to learn:
the vowels of love, the consonants’
strange golden weight, each plosive’s shape―
curved like the heart. Here, resonant,

sounds’ shadows mass beneath bright glass
like singing voles curled in a maze
of blank white space. We touch a face―
long-frozen words trapped in a glaze

that insulates our hearts. Nowhere
can love be found. Just shrieking air.



The Composition of Shadows (II)
by Michael R. Burch

We breathe and so we write;
the night
hums softly its accompaniment.

Pale phosphors burn;
the page we turn
leads onward, and we smile, content.

And what we mean
we write to learn:
the vowels of love, the consonants’

strange golden weight,
the blood’s debate
within the heart. Here, resonant,

sounds’ shadows mass
against bright glass,
within the white Labyrinthian maze.

Through simple grace,
I touch your face,
ah words! And I would gaze

the night’s dark length
in waning strength
to find the words to feel

such light again.
O, for a pen
to spell love so ethereal.



To Please The Poet
by Michael R. Burch

To please the poet, words must dance―
staccato, brisk, a two-step:
so!
Or waltz in elegance to time
of music mild,
adagio.

To please the poet, words must chance
emotion in catharsis―
flame.
Or splash into salt seas, descend
in sheets of silver-shining
rain.

To please the poet, words must prance
and gallop, gambol, revel,
rail.
Or muse upon a moment, mute,
obscure, unsure, imperfect,
pale.

To please the poet, words must sing,
or croak, wart-tongued, imagining.



The First Christmas
by Michael R. Burch

’Twas in a land so long ago . . .
the lambs lay blanketed in snow
and little children everywhere
sat and watched warm embers glow
and dreamed (of what, we do not know).

And THEN―a star appeared on high,
The brightest man had ever seen!
It made the children whisper low
in puzzled awe (what did it mean?).
It made the wooly lambkins cry.

For far away a new-born lay,
warm-blanketed in straw and hay,
a lowly manger for his crib.
The cattle mooed, distraught and low,
to see the child. They did not know

it now was Christmas day!

This is a poem in which I tried to capture the mystery and magic of the first Christmas day. If you like my poem, you are welcome to share it, but please cite me as the author, which you can do by including the title and subheading.



The Lingering and the Unconsoled Heart
by Michael R. Burch

There is a silence―
the last unspoken moment
before death,

when the moon,
cratered and broken,
is all madness and light,

when the breath comes low and complaining,
and the heart is a ruin
of emptiness and night.

There is a grief―
the grief of a lover's embrace
while faith still shimmers in a mother’s tears ...

There is no emptier time, nor place,
while the faint glimmer of life is ours
that the lingering and the unconsoled heart fears

beyond this: seeing its own stricken face
in eyes that drift toward some incomprehensible place.



Lozenge
by Michael R. Burch

When I was closest to love, it did not seem
real at all, but a thing of such tenuous sweetness
it might dissolve in my mouth
like a lozenge of sugar.

When I held you in my arms, I did not feel
our lack of completeness,
knowing how easy it was
for us to cling to each other.

And there were nights when the clouds
sped across the moon’s face,
exposing such rarified brightness
we did not witness

so much as embrace
love’s human appearance.

This is a free verse sonnet originally published by The HyperTexts.



The Princess and the Pauper
by Michael R. Burch

for Norman Kraeft in memory of his beloved wife June Kysilko Kraeft

Here was a woman bright, intent on life,
who did not flinch from Death, but caught his eye
and drew him, powerless, into her spell
of wanting her himself, so much the lie
that she was meant for him―obscene illusion!―

made him seem a monarch throned like God on high,
when he was less than nothing; when to die
meant many stultifying, pained embraces.

She shed her gown, undid the tangled laces
that tied her to the earth: then she was his.
Now all her erstwhile beauty he defaces
and yet she grows in hallowed loveliness―
her ghost beyond perfection―for to die
was to ascend. Now he begs, penniless.



Album
by Michael R. Burch

I caress them―trapped in brittle cellophane―
and I see how young they were, and how unwise;
and I remember their first flight―an old prop plane,
their blissful arc through alien blue skies ...

And I touch them here through leaves which―tattered, frayed―
are also wings, but wings that never flew:
like insects’ wings―pinned, held. Here, time delayed,
their features never changed, remaining two ...

And Grief, which lurked unseen beyond the lens
or in shadows where It crept on feral claws
as It scratched Its way into their hearts, depends
on sorrows such as theirs, and works Its jaws ...

and slavers for Its meat―those young, unwise,
who naively dare to dream, yet fail to see
how, lumbering sunward, Hope, ungainly, flies,
clutching to Her ruffled breast what must not be.



Because You Came to Me
by Michael R. Burch

Because you came to me with sweet compassion
and kissed my furrowed brow and smoothed my hair,
I do not love you after any fashion,
but wildly, in despair.

Because you came to me in my black torment
and kissed me fiercely, blazing like the sun
upon parched desert dunes, till in dawn’s foment
they melt, I am undone.

Because I am undone, you have remade me
as suns bring life, as brilliant rains endow
the earth below with leaves, where you now shade me
and bower me, somehow.



Break Time
by Michael R. Burch

for those who lost loved ones on 9-11

Intrude upon my grief; sit; take a spot
of milk to cloud the blackness that you feel;
add artificial sweeteners to conceal
the bitter aftertaste of loss. You’ll heal
if I do not. The coffee’s hot. You speak:
of bundt cakes, polls, the price of eggs. You glance
twice at your watch, cough, look at me askance.
The TV drones oeuvres of high romance
in syncopated lip-synch. Should I feel
the underbelly of Love’s warm Ideal,
its fuzzy-wuzzy tummy, and not reel
toward some dark conclusion? Disappear
to pale, dissolving atoms. Were you here?
I brush you off: like saccharine, like a tear.



911 Carousel
by Michael R. Burch

“And what rough beast ... slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”―W. B. Yeats

They laugh and do not comprehend, nor ask
which way the wind is blowing, no, nor why
the reeling azure fixture of the sky
grows pale with ash, and whispers “Holocaust.”

They think to seize the ring, life’s tinfoil prize,
and, breathless with endeavor, shriek aloud.
The voice of terror thunders from a cloud
that darkens over children adult-wise,

far less inclined to error, when a step
in any wrong direction is to fall
a JDAM short of heaven. Decoys call,
their voices plangent, honking to be shot . . .

Here, childish dreams and nightmares whirl, collide,
as East and West, on slouching beasts, they ride.



At Cædmon’s Grave
by Michael R. Burch

“Cædmon’s Hymn,” composed at the Monastery of Whitby (a North Yorkshire fishing village), is one of the oldest known poems written in the English language, dating back to around 680 A.D. According to legend, Cædmon, an illiterate Anglo-Saxon cowherd, received the gift of poetic composition from an angel; he subsequently founded a school of Christian poets. Unfortunately, only nine lines of Cædmon’s verse survive, in the writings of the Venerable Bede. Whitby, tiny as it is, reappears later in the history of English literature, having been visited, in diametric contrast, by Lewis Carroll and Bram Stoker’s ghoulish yet evocative Dracula.


At the monastery of Whitby,
on a day when the sun sank through the sea,
and the gulls shrieked wildly, jubilant, free,

while the wind and time blew all around,
I paced those dusk-enamored grounds
and thought I heard the steps resound

of Carroll, Stoker and good Bede
who walked there, too, their spirits freed
―perhaps by God, perhaps by need―

to write, and with each line, remember
the glorious light of Cædmon’s ember,
scorched tongues of flame words still engender.

Here, as darkness falls, at last we meet.
I lay this pale garland of words at his feet.

Originally published by The Lyric



Radiance
by Michael R. Burch

for Dylan Thomas

The poet delves earth’s detritus―hard toil―
for raw-edged nouns, barbed verbs, vowels’ lush bouquet;
each syllable his pen excretes―dense soil,
dark images impacted, rooted clay.

The poet sees the sea but feels its meaning―
the teeming brine, the mirrored oval flame
that leashes and excites its turgid surface ...
then squanders years imagining love’s the same.

Belatedly he turns to what lies broken―
the scarred and furrowed plot he fiercely sifts,
among death’s sicksweet dungs and composts seeking
one element that scorches and uplifts.



Downdraft
by Michael R. Burch

for Dylan Thomas

We feel rather than understand what he meant
as he reveals a shattered firmament
which before him never existed.

Here, there are no images gnarled and twisted
out of too many words,
but only flocks of white birds

wheeling and flying.

Here, as Time spins, reeling and dying,
the voice of a last gull
or perhaps some spirit no longer whole,

echoes its lonely madrigal
and we feel its strange pull
on the astonished soul.

O My Prodigal!

The vents of the sky, ripped asunder,
echo this wild, primal thunder—
now dying into undulations of vanishing wings . . .

and this voice which in haggard bleak rapture still somehow downward sings.



Huntress
by Michael R. Burch

after Baudelaire

Lynx-eyed, cat-like and cruel, you creep
across a crevice dropping deep
into a dark and doomed domain.
Your claws are sheathed. You smile, insane.
Rain falls upon your path, and pain
pours down. Your paws are pierced. You pause
and heed the oft-lamented laws
which bid you not begin again
till night returns. You wail like wind,
the sighing of a soul for sin,
and give up hunting for a heart.
Till sunset falls again, depart,
though hate and hunger urge you―"On!"

Heed, hearts, your hope―the break of dawn.

Published by The HyperTexts, Dracula and His Kin and Sonnetto Poesia (Canada)



Happily Never After (the Second Curse of the ***** Toad)
by Michael R. Burch

He did not think of love of Her at all
frog-plangent nights, as moons engoldened roads
through crumbling stonewalled provinces, where toads
(nee princes) ruled in chinks and grew so small
at last to be invisible. He smiled
(the fables erred so curiously), and thought
bemusedly of being reconciled
to human flesh, because his heart was not
incapable of love, but, being cursed
a second time, could only love a toad’s . . .
and listened as inflated frogs rehearsed
cheekbulging tales of anguish from green moats . . .
and thought of her soft croak, her skin fine-warted,
his anemic flesh, and how true love was thwarted.



Because She Craved the Very Best
by Michael R. Burch

Because she craved the very best,
he took her East, he took her West;
he took her where there were no wars
and brought her bright bouquets of stars,
the blush and fragrances of roses,
the hush an evening sky imposes,
moonbeams pale and garlands rare,
and golden combs to match her hair,
a nightingale to sing all night,
white wings, to let her soul take flight ...

She stabbed him with a poisoned sting
and as he lay there dying,
she screamed, "I wanted everything!"
and started crying.



Caveat
by Michael R. Burch

If only we were not so eloquent,
we might sing, and only sing, not to impress,
but only to enjoy, to be enjoyed.

We might inundate the earth with thankfulness
for light, although it dies, and make a song
of night descending on the earth like bliss,

with other lights beyond―not to be known―
but only to be welcomed and enjoyed,
before all worlds and stars are overthrown ...

as a lover’s hands embrace a sleeping face
and find it beautiful for emptiness
of all but joy. There is no thought to love

but love itself. How senseless to redress,
in darkness, such becoming nakedness . . .

Originally published by Clementine Unbound



To the Post-Modern Muse, Floundering
by Michael R. Burch


The anachronism in your poetry
is that it lacks a future history.
The line that rings, the forward-sounding bell,
tolls death for you, for drowning victims tell
of insignificance, of eerie shoals,
of voices underwater. Lichen grows
to mute the lips of those men paid no heed,
and though you cling by fingertips, and bleed,
there is no lifeline now, for what has slipped
lies far beyond your grasp. Iron fittings, stripped,
have left the hull unsound, bright cargo lost.
The argosy of all your toil is rust.

The anchor that you flung did not take hold
in any harbor where repair is sold.

Originally published by Ironwood



Wonderland
by Michael R. Burch

We stood, kids of the Lamb, to put to test
the beatific anthems of the blessed,
the sentence of the martyr, and the pen’s
sincere religion. Magnified, the lens
shot back absurd reflections of each face―
a carnival-like mirror. In the space
between the silver backing and the glass,
we caught a glimpse of Joan, a frumpy lass
who never brushed her hair or teeth, and failed
to pass on GO, and frequently was jailed
for awe’s beliefs. Like Alice, she grew wee
to fit the door, then couldn’t lift the key.
We failed the test, and so the jury’s hung.
In Oz, “The Witch is Dead” ranks number one.



Day, and Night
by Michael R. Burch

The moon exposes pockmarked scars of craters;
her visage, veiled by willows, palely looms.
And we who rise each day to grind a living,
dream each scented night of such perfumes
as drew us to the window, to the moonlight,
when all the earth was steeped in cobalt blue―
an eerie vase of achromatic flowers
bled silver by pale starlight, losing hue.

The night begins her waltz to waiting sunrise―
adagio, the music she now hears;
and we who in the sunlight slave for succor,
dreaming, seek communion with the spheres.
And all around the night is in crescendo,
and everywhere the stars’ bright legions form,
and here we hear the sweet incriminations
of lovers we had once to keep us warm.

And also here we find, like bled carnations,
red lips that whitened, kisses drawn to lies,
that touched us once with fierce incantations
and taught us love was prettier than wise.



130 Refuted
by Michael R. Burch

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
―Shakespeare, Sonnet 130

Seas that sparkle in the sun
without its light would have no beauty;
but the light within your eyes
is theirs alone; it owes no duty.
And their kindled flame, not half as bright,
is meant for me, and brings delight.

Coral formed beneath the sea,
though scarlet-tendriled, cannot warm me;
while your lips, not half so red,
just touching mine, at once inflame me.
And the searing flames your lips arouse
fathomless oceans fail to douse.

Bright roses’ brief affairs, declared
when winter comes, will wither quickly.
Your cheeks, though paler when compared
with them?―more lasting, never prickly.

And your cheeks, though wan, so dear and warm,
far vaster treasures, need no thorns.

Originally published by Romantics Quarterly



Love Sonnet LXVI
by Pablo Neruda
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I love you only because I love you;
I am torn between loving and not loving you,
between apathy and desire.
My heart vacillates between ice and fire.

I love you only because you’re the one I love;
I hate you deeply, but hatred makes me implore you all the more
so that in my inconstancy
I do not see you, but love you blindly.

Perhaps January’s frigid light
will consume my heart with its cruel rays,
robbing me of the key to contentment.

In this tragic plot, I ****** myself
and I will die loveless because I love you,
because I love you, my Love, in fire and in blood.



Love Sonnet XI
by Pablo Neruda
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I crave your mouth, your voice, your hair.
I stalk the streets, silent and starving.
Bread does not satisfy me; dawn does not divert me
from my relentless pursuit of your fluid spoor.

I long for your liquid laughter,
for your sunburned hands like savage harvests.
I lust for your fingernails' pale marbles.
I want to devour your ******* like almonds, whole.

I want to ingest the sunbeams singed by your beauty,
to eat the aquiline nose from your aloof face,
to lick your eyelashes' flickering shade.

I pursue you, snuffing the shadows,
seeking your heart's scorching heat
like a puma prowling the heights of Quitratue.



Love Sonnet XVII
by Pablo Neruda
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I do not love you like coral or topaz,
or the blazing hearth’s incandescent white flame;
I love you as obscure things are embraced in the dark ...
secretly, in shadows, unguessed & unnamed.

I love you like shrubs that refuse to blossom
while pregnant with the radiance of mysterious flowers;
now, thanks to your love, an earthy fragrance
lives dimly in my body’s odors.

I love you without knowing―how, when, why or where;
I love you forthrightly, without complications or care;
I love you this way because I know no other.

Here, where “I” no longer exists ... so it seems ...
so close that your hand on my chest is my own,
so close that your eyes close gently on my dreams.



Sonnet XLV
by Pablo Neruda
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Don't wander far away, not even for a day, because―
how can I explain? A day is too long ...
and I’ll be waiting for you, like a man in an empty station
where the trains all stand motionless.

Don't leave me, my dear, not even for an hour, because―
then despair’s raindrops will all run blurrily together,
and the smoke that drifts lazily in search of a home
will descend hazily on me, suffocating my heart.

Darling, may your lovely silhouette never dissolve in the surf;
may your lashes never flutter at an indecipherable distance.
Please don't leave me for a second, my dearest,

because then you'll have gone far too far
and I'll wander aimlessly, amazed, asking all the earth:
Will she ever return? Will she spurn me, dying?



Imperfect Sonnet
by Michael R. Burch

A word before the light is doused: the night
is something wriggling through an unclean mind,
as rats creep through a tenement. And loss
is written cheaply with the moon’s cracked gloss
like lipstick through the infinite, to show
love’s pale yet sordid imprint on us. Go.

We have not learned love yet, except to cleave.
I saw the moon rise once ... but to believe ...
was of another century ... and now ...
I have the urge to love, but not the strength.

Despair, once stretched out to its utmost length,
lies couched in squalor, watching as the screen
reveals "love's" damaged images: its dreams ...
and ******* limply, screams and screams.

Originally published by Sonnet Scroll



Mayflies
by Michael R. Burch

These standing stones have stood the test of time
but who are you
and what are you
and why?

As brief as mist, as transient, as pale ...
Inconsequential mayfly!

Perhaps the thought of love inspired hope?
Do midges love? Do stars bend down to see?
Do gods commend the kindnesses of ants
to aphids? Does one eel impress the sea?

Are mayflies missed by mountains? Do the stars
regret the glowworm’s stellar mimicry
the day it dies? Does not the world grind on
as if it’s no great matter, not to be?

Life, to be sure, is nothing much to lose.
And yet somehow you’re everything to me.

Originally published by Clementine Unbound



Artificial Smile
by Michael R. Burch

I’m waiting for my artificial teeth
to stretch belief, to hollow out the cob
of zealous righteousness, to grasp life’s stub
between clenched molars, and yank out the grief.

Mine must be art-official―zenlike Art―
a disembodied, white-enameled grin
of Cheshire manufacture. Part by part,
the human smile becomes mock porcelain.

Till in the end, the smile alone remains:
titanium-based alloys undestroyed
with graves’ worm-eaten contents, all the pains
of bridgework unrecalled, and what annoyed

us most about the corpses rectified
to quaintest dust. The Smile winks, deified.



Modern Appetite
by Michael R. Burch

It grumbled low, insisting it would feast
on blood and flesh, etcetera, at least
three times a day. With soft lubricious grease

and pale salacious oils, it would ease
its way through life. Each day―an aperitif.
Each night―a frothy bromide, for relief.

It lived on TV fare, wore pinafores,
slurped sugar-coated gumballs, gobbled S’mores.
When gas ensued, it burped and farted. ’Course,

it thought aloud, my wife will leave me. ******
are not so **** particular. Divorce
is certainly a settlement, toujours!

A Tums a day will keep the shrink away,
recalcify old bones, keep gas at bay.
If Simon says, etcetera, Mother, may
I have my hit of calcium today?


Mother of Cowards
by Michael R. Burch aka "The Loyal Opposition"

So unlike the brazen giant of Greek fame
With conquering limbs astride from land to land,
Spread-eagled, showering gold, a strumpet stands:
A much-used trollop with a torch, whose flame
Has long since been extinguished. And her name?
"Mother of Cowards!" From her enervate hand
Soft ash descends. Her furtive eyes demand
Allegiance to her ****'s repulsive game.

"Keep, ancient lands, your wretched poor!" cries she
With scarlet lips. "Give me your hale, your whole,
Your huddled tycoons, yearning to be pleased!
The wretched refuse of your toilet hole?
Oh, never send one unwashed child to me!
I await Trump's pleasure by the gilded bowl!"

Originally published by Light



Premonition
by Michael R. Burch

Now the evening has come to a close and the party is over ...
we stand in the doorway and watch as they go―
each stranger, each acquaintance, each unembraceable lover.

They walk to their cars and they laugh as they go,
though we know their warm laughter’s the wine ...
then they pause at the road where the dark asphalt flows
endlessly on toward Zion ...

and they kiss one another as though they were friends,
and they promise to meet again “soon” ...
but the rivers of Jordan roll on without end,
and the mockingbird calls to the moon ...

and the katydids climb up the cropped hanging vines,
and the crickets chirp on out of tune ...
and their shadows, defined by the cryptic starlight,
seem spirits torn loose from their tombs.

And I know their brief lives are just eddies in time,
that their hearts are unreadable runes
to be wiped clean, like slate, by the dark hand of fate
when their corpses lie ravaged and ruined ...

You take my clenched fist and you give it a kiss
as though it were something you loved,
and the tears fill your eyes, brimming with the soft light
of the stars winking gently above ...

Then you whisper, "It's time that we went back inside;
if you'd like, we can sit and just talk for a while."
And the hope in your eyes burns too deep, so I lie
and I say, "Yes, I would," to your small, troubled smile.

I rather vividly remember writing this poem after an office party the year I co-oped with AT&T (at that time the largest company in the world, with presumably a lot of office parties). This would have been after my sophomore year in college, making me around 20 years old. The poem is “true” except that I was not the host because the party was at the house of one of the upper-level managers. Nor was I dating anyone seriously at the time.



Your e-Verse
by Michael R. Burch

for the posters and posers on www.fillintheblank.com

I cannot understand a word you’ve said
(and this despite an adequate I.Q.);
it must be some exotic new haiku
combined with Latin suddenly undead.

It must be hieroglyphics mixed with Greek.
Have Pound and T. S. Eliot been cloned?
Perhaps you wrote it on the ***, so ******
you spelled it backwards, just to be oblique.

I think you’re very funny, so, “Yuk! Yuk!”
I know you must be kidding; didn’t we
write crap like this and call it “poetry,”
a form of verbal exercise, P.E.,
in kindergarten, when we ran “amuck?”

Oh, sorry, I forgot to “make it new.”
Perhaps I still can learn a thing or two
from someone tres original, like you.



http://www.firesermon.com
by Michael R. Burch

your gods have become e-vegetation;
your saints―pale thumbnail icons; to enlarge
their images, right-click; it isn’t hard
to populate your web-site; not to mention
cool sound effects are nice; Sound Blaster cards
can liven up dull sermons, [zing some fire];
your drives need added Zip; you must discard
your balky paternosters: ***!!! Desire!!!
these are the watchwords, catholic; you must
as Yahoo! did, employ a little lust :)
if you want great e-commerce; hire a bard
to spruce up ancient language, shed the dust
of centuries of sameness; lameness *****;
your gods grew blurred; go 3D; scale; adjust.

Published by: Ironwood, Triplopia and Nisqually Delta Review

This poem pokes fun at various stages of religion, all tied however elliptically to T. S. Eliot's "Fire Sermon: (1) The Celts believed that the health of the land was tied to the health of its king. The Fisher King's land was in peril because he had a physical infirmity. One bad harvest and it was the king's fault for displeasing the gods. A religious icon (the Grail) could somehow rescue him. Strange logic! (2) The next stage brings us the saints, the Catholic church, etc. Millions are slaughtered, tortured and enslaved in the name of religion. Strange logic! (3) The next stage brings us to Darwin, modernism and "The Waste Land.” Religion is dead. God is dead. Man is a glorified fungus! We'll evolve into something better adapted to life on Earth, someday, if we don’t destroy it. But billions continue to believe in and worship ancient “gods.” Strange logic! (4) The current stage of religion is summed up by this e-mail: the only way religion can compete today is as a form of flashy entertainment. ***** a website before it's too late. Hire some **** supermodels and put the evangelists on the Internet!



The State of the Art (?)
by Michael R. Burch

Has rhyme lost all its reason
and rhythm, renascence?
Are sonnets out of season
and poems but poor pretense?

Are poets lacking fire,
their words too trite and forced?
What happened to desire?
Has passion been coerced?

Shall poetry fade slowly,
like Latin, to past tense?
Are the bards too high and holy,
or their readers merely dense?



Plastic Art or Night Stand
by Michael R. Burch

Disclaimer: This is a poem about artificial poetry, not love dolls! The victim is the Muse.

We never questioned why “love” seemed less real
the more we touched her, and forgot her face.
Absorbed in molestation’s sticky feel,
we failed to see her staring into space,
her doll-like features frozen in a smile.
She held us in her marionette’s embrace,
her plastic flesh grown wet and slick and vile.
We groaned to feel our urgent fingers trace
her undemanding body. All the while,
she lay and gaily bore her brief disgrace.
We loved her echoed passion’s squeaky air,
her tongueless kisses’ artificial taste,
the way she matched, then raised our reckless pace,
the heart that seemed to pound, but was not there.



“Whoso List to Hunt” is a famous early English sonnet written by Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503-1542) in the mid-16th century.

Whoever Longs to Hunt
by Sir Thomas Wyatt
loose translation/interpretation/modernization by Michael R. Burch

Whoever longs to hunt, I know the deer;
but as for me, alas!, I may no more.
This vain pursuit has left me so bone-sore
I'm one of those who falters, at the rear.
Yet friend, how can I draw my anguished mind
away from the doe?
                                   Thus, as she flees before
me, fainting I follow.
                                     I must leave off, therefore,
since in a net I seek to hold the wind.

Whoever seeks her out,
                                         I relieve of any doubt,
that he, like me, must spend his time in vain.
For graven with diamonds, set in letters plain,
these words appear, her fair neck ringed about:
Touch me not, for Caesar's I am,
And wild to hold, though I seem tame.



Alien Nation
by Michael R. Burch

for J. S. S., a "Christian" poet who believes in “hell”

On a lonely outpost on Mars
the astronaut practices “speech”
as alien to primates below
as mute stars winking high, out of reach.

And his words fall as bright and as chill
as ice crystals on Kilimanjaro―
far colder than Jesus’s words
over the “fortunate” sparrow.

And I understand how gentle Emily
felt, when all comfort had flown,
gazing into those inhuman eyes,
feeling zero at the bone.

Oh, how can I grok his arctic thought?
For if he is human, I am not.



Keywords/Tags: sonnet, sonnets, meter, rhythm, music, musical, rhyme, form, formal verse, formalist, tradition, traditional, romantic, romanticism, rose, fire, passion, desire, love, heart, number, numbers, mrbson

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