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Ron Sanders Feb 15
(Glade, World, Master, Boy, Hero)

                                                 GLADE

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

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

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

                                               WORLD

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                              MA­STER

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

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

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

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

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

                                                  BOY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                HERO

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

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

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

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







Copyright 2020 by Ron Sanders.

Contact:  ronsandersartofprose(at)yahoo(dot)com
Sorry about the ghastly copy. This system makes graceful formatting impossible.
XXVII. TO ARTEMIS (22 lines)

(ll. 1-20) I sing of Artemis, whose shafts are of gold, who
cheers on the hounds, the pure maiden, shooter of stags, who
delights in archery, own sister to Apollo with the golden sword.
Over the shadowy hills and windy peaks she draws her golden bow,
rejoicing in the chase, and sends out grievous shafts.  The tops
of the high mountains tremble and the tangled wood echoes
awesomely with the outcry of beasts: earthquakes and the sea also
where fishes shoal.  But the goddess with a bold heart turns
every way destroying the race of wild beasts: and when she is
satisfied and has cheered her heart, this huntress who delights
in arrows slackens her supple bow and goes to the great house of
her dear brother Phoebus Apollo, to the rich land of Delphi,
there to order the lovely dance of the Muses and Graces.  There
she hangs up her curved bow and her arrows, and heads and leads
the dances, gracefully arrayed, while all they utter their
heavenly voice, singing how neat-ankled Leto bare children
supreme among the immortals both in thought and in deed.

(ll. 21-22) Hail to you, children of Zeus and rich-haired Leto!
And now I will remember you and another song also.
V. TO APHRODITE (293 lines)

(ll. 1-6) Muse, tell me the deeds of golden Aphrodite the
Cyprian, who stirs up sweet passion in the gods and subdues the
tribes of mortal men and birds that fly in air and all the many
creatures that the dry land rears, and all the sea: all these
love the deeds of rich-crowned Cytherea.

(ll. 7-32) Yet there are three hearts that she cannot bend nor
yet ensnare.  First is the daughter of Zeus who holds the aegis,
bright-eyed Athene; for she has no pleasure in the deeds of
golden Aphrodite, but delights in wars and in the work of Ares,
in strifes and battles and in preparing famous crafts.  She first
taught earthly craftsmen to make chariots of war and cars
variously wrought with bronze, and she, too, teaches tender
maidens in the house and puts knowledge of goodly arts in each
one's mind.  Nor does laughter-loving Aphrodite ever tame in love
Artemis, the huntress with shafts of gold; for she loves archery
and the slaying of wild beasts in the mountains, the lyre also
and dancing and thrilling cries and shady woods and the cities of
upright men.  Nor yet does the pure maiden Hestia love
Aphrodite's works.  She was the first-born child of wily Cronos
and youngest too (24), by will of Zeus who holds the aegis, -- a
queenly maid whom both Poseidon and Apollo sought to wed.  But
she was wholly unwilling, nay, stubbornly refused; and touching
the head of father Zeus who holds the aegis, she, that fair
goddess, sware a great oath which has in truth been fulfilled,
that she would be a maiden all her days.  So Zeus the Father gave
her an high honour instead of marriage, and she has her place in
the midst of the house and has the richest portion.  In all the
temples of the gods she has a share of honour, and among all
mortal men she is chief of the goddesses.

(ll. 33-44) Of these three Aphrodite cannot bend or ensnare the
hearts.  But of all others there is nothing among the blessed
gods or among mortal men that has escaped Aphrodite.  Even the
heart of Zeus, who delights in thunder, is led astray by her;
though he is greatest of all and has the lot of highest majesty,
she beguiles even his wise heart whensoever she pleases, and
mates him with mortal women, unknown to Hera, his sister and his
wife, the grandest far in beauty among the deathless goddesses --
most glorious is she whom wily Cronos with her mother Rhea did
beget: and Zeus, whose wisdom is everlasting, made her his chaste
and careful wife.

(ll. 45-52) But upon Aphrodite herself Zeus cast sweet desire to
be joined in love with a mortal man, to the end that, very soon,
not even she should be innocent of a mortal's love; lest
laughter-loving Aphrodite should one day softly smile and say
mockingly among all the gods that she had joined the gods in love
with mortal women who bare sons of death to the deathless gods,
and had mated the goddesses with mortal men.

(ll. 53-74) And so he put in her heart sweet desire for Anchises
who was tending cattle at that time among the steep hills of
many-fountained Ida, and in shape was like the immortal gods.
Therefore, when laughter-loving Aphrodite saw him, she loved him,
and terribly desire seized her in her heart.  She went to Cyprus,
to Paphos, where her precinct is and fragrant altar, and passed
into her sweet-smelling temple.  There she went in and put to the
glittering doors, and there the Graces bathed her with heavenly
oil such as blooms upon the bodies of the eternal gods -- oil
divinely sweet, which she had by her, filled with fragrance.  And
laughter-loving Aphrodite put on all her rich clothes, and when
she had decked herself with gold, she left sweet-smelling Cyprus
and went in haste towards Troy, swiftly travelling high up among
the clouds.  So she came to many-fountained Ida, the mother of
wild creatures and went straight to the homestead across the
mountains.  After her came grey wolves, fawning on her, and grim-
eyed lions, and bears, and fleet leopards, ravenous for deer: and
she was glad in heart to see them, and put desire in their
*******, so that they all mated, two together, about the shadowy
coombes.

(ll. 75-88) (25) But she herself came to the neat-built shelters,
and him she found left quite alone in the homestead -- the hero
Anchises who was comely as the gods.  All the others were
following the herds over the grassy pastures, and he, left quite
alone in the homestead, was roaming hither and thither and
playing thrillingly upon the lyre.  And Aphrodite, the daughter
of Zeus stood before him, being like a pure maiden in height and
mien, that he should not be frightened when he took heed of her
with his eyes.  Now when Anchises saw her, he marked her well and
wondered at her mien and height and shining garments.  For she
was clad in a robe out-shining the brightness of fire, a splendid
robe of gold, enriched with all manner of needlework, which
shimmered like the moon over her tender *******, a marvel to see.

Also she wore twisted brooches and shining earrings in the form
of flowers; and round her soft throat were lovely necklaces.

(ll. 91-105) And Anchises was seized with love, and said to her:
'Hail, lady, whoever of the blessed ones you are that are come to
this house, whether Artemis, or Leto, or golden Aphrodite, or
high-born Themis, or bright-eyed Athene.  Or, maybe, you are one
of the Graces come hither, who bear the gods company and are
called immortal, or else one of those who inhabit this lovely
mountain and the springs of rivers and grassy meads.  I will make
you an altar upon a high peak in a far seen place, and will
sacrifice rich offerings to you at all seasons.  And do you feel
kindly towards me and grant that I may become a man very eminent
among the Trojans, and give me strong offspring for the time to
come.  As for my own self, let me live long and happily, seeing
the light of the sun, and come to the threshold of old age, a man
prosperous among the people.'

(ll. 106-142) Thereupon Aphrodite the daughter of Zeus answered
him: 'Anchises, most glorious of all men born on earth, know that
I am no goddess: why do you liken me to the deathless ones?  Nay,
I am but a mortal, and a woman was the mother that bare me.
Otreus of famous name is my father, if so be you have heard of
him, and he reigns over all Phrygia rich in fortresses.  But I
know your speech well beside my own, for a Trojan nurse brought
me up at home: she took me from my dear mother and reared me
thenceforth when I was a little child.  So comes it, then, that I
well know you tongue also.  And now the Slayer of Argus with the
golden wand has caught me up from the dance of huntress Artemis,
her with the golden arrows.  For there were many of us, nymphs
and marriageable (26) maidens, playing together; and an
innumerable company encircled us: from these the Slayer of Argus
with the golden wand rapt me away.  He carried me over many
fields of mortal men and over much land untilled and unpossessed,
where savage wild-beasts roam through shady coombes, until I
thought never again to touch the life-giving earth with my feet.
And he said that I should be called the wedded wife of Anchises,
and should bear you goodly children.  But when he had told and
advised me, he, the strong Slayer of Argos, went back to the
families of the deathless gods, while I am now come to you: for
unbending necessity is upon me.  But I beseech you by Zeus and by
your noble parents -- for no base folk could get such a son as
you -- take me now, stainless and unproved in love, and show me
to your father and careful mother and to your brothers sprung
from the same stock.  I shall be no ill-liking daughter for them,
but a likely.  Moreover, send a messenger quickly to the swift-
horsed Phrygians, to tell my father and my sorrowing mother; and
they will send you gold in plenty and woven stuffs, many splendid
gifts; take these as bride-piece.  So do, and then prepare the
sweet marriage that is honourable in the eyes of men and
deathless gods.'

(ll. 143-144) When she had so spoken, the goddess put sweet
desire in his heart.  And Anchises was seized with love, so that
he opened his mouth and said:

(ll. 145-154) 'If you are a mortal and a woman was the mother who
bare you, and Otreus of famous name is your father as you say,
and if you are come here by the will of Hermes the immortal
Guide, and are to be called my wife always, then neither god nor
mortal man shall here restrain me till I have lain with you in
love right now; no, not even if far-shooting Apollo himself
should launch grievous shafts from his silver bow.  Willingly
would I go down into the house of Hades, O lady, beautiful as the
goddesses, once I had gone up to your bed.'

(ll. 155-167) So speaking, he caught her by the hand.  And
laughter-loving Aphrodite, with face turned away and lovely eyes
downcast, crept to the well-spread couch which was already laid
with soft coverings for the hero; and upon it lay skins of bears
and deep-roaring lions which he himself had slain in the high
mountains.  And when they had gone up upon the well-fitted bed,
first Anchises took off her bright jewelry of pins and twisted
brooches and earrings and necklaces, and loosed her girdle and
stripped off her bright garments and laid them down upon a
silver-studded seat.  Then by the will of the gods and destiny he
lay with her, a mortal man with an immortal goddess, not clearly
knowing what he did.

(ll. 168-176) But at the time when the herdsmen driver their oxen
and hardy sheep back to the fold from the flowery pastures, even
then Aphrodite poured soft sleep upon Anchises, but herself put
on her rich raiment.  And when the bright goddess had fully
clothed herself, she stood by the couch, and her head reached to
the well-hewn roof-tree; from her cheeks shone unearthly beauty
such as belongs to rich-crowned Cytherea.  Then she aroused him
from sleep and opened her mouth and said:

(ll. 177-179) 'Up, son of Dardanus! -- why sleep you so heavily?
-- and consider whether I look as I did when first you saw me
with your eyes.'

(ll. 180-184) So she spake.  And he awoke in a moment and obeyed
her.  But when he saw the neck and lovely eyes of Aphrodite, he
was afraid and turned his eyes aside another way, hiding his
comely face with his cloak.  Then he uttered winged words and
entreated her:

(ll. 185-190) 'So soon as ever I saw you with my eyes, goddess, I
knew that you were divine; but you did not tell me truly.  Yet by
Zeus who holds the aegis I beseech you, leave me not to lead a
palsied life among men, but have pity on me; for he who lies with
a deathless goddess is no hale man afterwards.'

(ll. 191-201) Then Aphrodite the daughter of Zeus answered him:
'Anchises, most glorious of mortal men, take courage and be not
too fearful in your heart.  You need fear no harm from me nor
from the other blessed ones, for you are dear to the gods: and
you shall have a dear son who shall reign among the Trojans, and
children's children after him, springing up continually.  His
name shall be Aeneas (27), because I felt awful grief in that I
laid me in the bed of mortal man: yet are those of your race
always the most like to gods of all mortal men in beauty and in
stature (28).

(ll. 202-217) 'Verily wise Zeus carried off golden-haired
Ganymedes because of his beauty, to be amongst the Deathless Ones
and pour drink for the gods in the house of Zeus -- a wonder to
see -- honoured by all the immortals as he draws the red nectar
from the golden bowl.  But grief that could not be soothed filled
the heart of Tros; for he knew not whither the heaven-sent
whirlwind had caught up his dear son, so that he mourned him
always, unceasingly, until Zeus pitied him and gave him high-
stepping horses such as carry the immortals as recompense for his
son.  These he gave him as a gift.  And at the command of Zeus,
the Guide, the slayer of Argus, told him all, and how his son
would be deathless and unageing, even as the gods.  So when Tros
heard these tidings from Zeus, he no longer kept mourning but
rejoiced in his heart and rode joyfully with his storm-footed
horses.

(ll. 218-238) 'So also golden-throned Eos rapt away Tithonus who
was of your race and like the deathless gods.  And she went to
ask the dark-clouded Son of Cronos that he should be deathless
and live eternally; and Zeus bowed his head to her prayer and
fulfilled her desire.  Too simply was queenly Eos: she thought
not in her heart to ask youth for him and to strip him of the
slough of deadly age.  So while he enjoyed the sweet flower of
life he lived rapturously with golden-throned Eos, the early-
born, by the streams of Ocean, at the ends of the earth; but when
the first grey hairs began to ripple from his comely head and
noble chin, queenly Eos kept away from his bed, though she
cherished him in her house and nourished him with food and
ambrosia and gave him rich clothing.  But when loathsome old age
pressed full upon him, and he could not move nor lift his limbs,
this seemed to her in her heart the best counsel: she laid him in
a room and put to the shining doors.  There he babbles endlessly,
and no more has strength at all, such as once he had in his
supple limbs.

(ll. 239-246) 'I would not have you be deathless among the
deathless gods and live continually after such sort.  Yet if you
could live on such as now you are in look and in form, and be
called my husband, sorrow would not then enfold my careful heart.

But, as it is, harsh (29) old age will soon enshroud you --
ruthless age which stands someday at the side of every man,
deadly, wearying, dreaded even by the gods.

(ll. 247-290) 'And now because of you I shall have great shame
among the deathless gods henceforth, continually.  For until now
they feared my jibes and the wiles by which, or soon or late, I
mated all the immortals with mortal women, making them all
subject to my will.  But now my mouth shall no more have this
power among the gods; for very great has been my madness, my
miserable and dreadful madness, and I went astray out of my mind
who have gotten a child beneath my girdle, mating with a mortal
man.  As for the child, as soon as he sees the light of the sun,
the deep-breasted mountain Nymphs who inhabit this great and holy
mountain shall bring him up.  They rank neither with mortals nor
with immortals: long indeed do they live, eating heavenly food
and treading the lovely dance among the immortals, and with them
the Sileni and the sharp-eyed Slayer of Argus mate in the depths
of pleasant caves; but at their birth pines or high-topped oaks
spring up with them upon the fruitful earth, beautiful,
flourishing trees, towering high upon the lofty mountains (and
men call them holy places of the immortals, and never mortal lops
them with the axe); but when the fate of death is near at hand,
first those lovely trees wither where they stand, and the bark
shrivels away about them, and the twigs fall down, and at last
the life of the Nymph and of the tree leave the light of the sun
together.  These Nymphs shall keep my son with them and rear him,
and as soon as he is come to lovely boyhood, the goddesses will
bring him here to you and show you your child.  But, that I may
tell you all that I have in mind, I will come here again towards
the fifth year and bring you my son.  So soon as ever you have
seen him -- a scion to delight the eyes -- you will rejoice in
beholding him; for he shall be most godlike: then bring him at
once to windy Ilion.  And if any mortal man ask you who got your
dear son beneath her girdle, remember to tell him as I bid you:
say he is the offspring of one of the flower-like Nymphs who
inhabit this forest-clad hill.  But if you tell all and foolishly
boast that you lay with ric
Terry O'Leary Dec 2013
Ill-fated crowd neath foreign cloud: the Silent City braves
against a sudden sullen flood, unleashing lashing waves,
which washes stony structures clean with radiance that laves.

Deserted streets, once dense retreats, spin yarns of yesterday,
with  faded words no longer heard (though having much to say)
since teeming life (at one time, rife), surceased and slipped away.

Within its walls? Whist buildings, tall... Outside the City? Dunes...
They frame a frail forgotten tale,  in carved unwritten runes
with symbols hung like halos strung in lifeless, limp festoons.

The City’s blur? A sepulcher for Christians, Muslims, Jews –
Cathedrals, Temples, vacant now, enshrine their residues,
though churches, mosques and synagogues abide without a bruise.

A church’s Gothic ceilings guard the empty pews below
and, windswept blown above the stones, a maiden’s blue jabot.
The Saints, in crypts, though nondescript, grace halos now aglow.

Stilled chapel chimes! Their clapper rope (that tongue-tied confidante)
won’t writhe to ring the carillons, alone and lean and gaunt –
its flocks of jute, now fallen mute, adorn the holy font.

Stray footsteps swarm  through church no more (apostates that profane) -
their echoes in the nave ring thin, while chalice cups maintain
a taste of brine in altar wine decaying in the rain.


No face will come with jagged tongue to sing a silent psalm
nor paint pale lips with languid quips to pierce the deathly calm,
nor pray for mercy, grace deferred, or beg lethean balm.


Six steeple towers, steel and stone, drab daggers in the sky!
Their hallowed halls no longer call when breezes wander by –
for, filled with dread to wake the dead, they've ceased to sough or sigh.

No cantillation, belfry bells, monastic chants inspire
and Minarets, though standing yet, host neither voice nor crier -
abodes and buildings silhouette a muted spectral choir.

Coiled candle sticks! Their twisted wicks no longer 'lume the cracks
with dying flame in smoky swirl mid pendant pearls of wax,
since deference to innocence dissolved in melting tracks.

Above! The dismal ditch of dusk reveals a velvet streak,
through which the winter’s wicked winds will sometimes weave and sneak,
and faraway a cable sways, a bridge clings hushed and bleak.

Thin shadows shift, like silver shafts, across a cruel moraine
reflecting white a wisp of light in ebon beads of bane
which casts a crooked smile across a faceless window pane.

Wan neon lights glow through the nights, through darkness sleek as slate,
while lanterns (hovered, high above, in silent swinging gait),
haunt ballrooms, bars, bereft bazaars, with no one left to fete.

Death's silhouettes show no regrets, 'twixt twilight’s ashen shrouds,
oblivious she always was to cries in dying crowds –
in foggy neap the spirits creep... a clutch of clammy clouds.


No breath will come  'cross jagged tongue to sing a silent psalm
nor paint pale lips with languid quips to pierce the deathly calm,
nor yet redress the emptiness that shifting shades embalm.



The castle clock, unwound, defrocks! Those peerless speechless spokes
unfurl the blight of reigning Night by spinning off her cloaks,
and flaunt the dun oblivion, her Baroness evokes.

Green trees gone dark, in palace parks, where children paused to play –
now voiceless things on phantom swings, like statues made of clay,
mark marbled tombs in graveyards groomed for grievers bent to pray.  

The sun-bleached bones of those who've flown lie scattered down the lanes
while other souls who hid in holes left bones with yellow stains
of plaintive tears (shed insincere, for no one felt the pains).

The terrors wrought by conscience fraught once stalked and lurked nearby
to rip the shrouds from  curtained clouds, frail fabrics on the sky –
now wraiths that scream in sleepless dreams no longer terrify.

And fog no longer leaks beyond the edge of doom’s café,
for when she trails her mourning veils, she fills the cabaret
with sallow smears of misty tears  in sheets of shallow gray.

Beyond the suburbs, farmers’ fields (where donkeys often brayed)
exhale a gust of barren dust where living seed once laid
and in the haze a scarecrow sways, impaled upon a *****.

A silo, still! Like hollowed quill, a ravished feather’s vane,
with traces of bespattered blood, once flowing through a vein.
The fruits of life, destroyed in strife... ’twas truly all in vain.


No souls will come with jagged tongues to sing a silent psalm
nor paint pale lips with languid quips to pierce the deathly calm –
they've seen, you see, life’s brevity, beneath a neutron bomb.


EPILOGUE

Beyond the Silent City’s walls, the victors laugh and play...
They’re celebrating PEACE ON EARTH, the devil’s sobriquet
for neutron radiation death in places far away.
Ken Pepiton Dec 2018
Taken, gotten, or made, the point of anything
can pierce through everything…

slow
Slow think,
make real

re-al-ize
what fighting for life is…
this is the only
try,
it is not a test.

Take your time, use it wisely,
if that means anything.
Wise, I meant.
No offence, if wise is anathema to your kind,
die,
die if I knocked the reason for being right
outa you,
did you hear cognitive dissonance?
did it sound like
this. LOUD?
listen,
rolling rolling rolling
crash crumble rolled in nurse rime frosted
fables of monsters and maids
Thor, witharoar likka Lion King?

or the light brigade,
CHARGE?

thunder words from lost generations of
reasonless riddles for children,

Why did Peter Pumpkin-eater have a wife, but
couldn't keep her here?
Was that okeh? Oh, wait.
Ah, I see, I say,
they never tell that whole story any more.

Know why? They forgot it. In the war.

Duck'n'cover,no
crying, how long?
When begins forever? Did no one tell you, child?

Taken or made, the point of anything
can pierce through everything
like it was nothing, given
enough pre-sure-sup
poser-power

War, as a game, has a reason.

Battle, hitting, slapping

stop touch, stop now slap
slap back

or cry
oh no no ma

waddayahsay?  A theist or atheist
who started this war?

space case, or
lover of wisdom, met on the road
to Emmaus, discussing Weil's proof
firming Fermi's connection to the matter of fear,
3, 2, 1

Kaboom, but with a whump you feel in your teeth

1, 2, 3 Fermat's last theorem ,
easy as pi an no re me

ABC to
Michael Jackson to
Howard Bloom because he

inadvertently, began
an-ionic converstatic re-vibe time warp
meme,
which vibe, started the legendary Sixties. I was alive.
Radioman,
a sixty cycle white-noise humm heard every where these days

There was a gospel song, "Turn Your Radio On".
my theme, open the window in the top of your head,
as it were,
a new,
as new as

a novel-state of water, H three Ohs, re-al-ity ification,
Ah, a shared Oh, I remember now, how this works…

like a poem

at the edge of a water vapor bubble in a boiling body of water,
at the edge of the bubble, water becomes a wall of water,
not vapor, not flowing liquid,

but a wall, insulating the vapor in pressing opposing force
to permit, from permission,
meaning with a message same as the message,

is that the right word? per-mission-grant, is power given,
agency,
that idea….
wait for the sign….?

By sharing an ion ic bond as a quest to make a point
for a free story to go,
the question marks you. Let the snake dance.

Press your point,

whetted edge,

slice through ties holding worthless axioms
with withered dendrites dangling disconnected
in participles
unfired for centuries muttering,
enchanting, enthralling enchained melodies
of ambitious syllables vying for idle minds
to rope in,
unbranded, wild
bucking ideas,
whip-twig, slap-face,
tanglewood  thicket, catclaw and mesquite,
willow,

wait.
And the old man remembered the willow whistle,
so He asked Grandfather,
How is such a whistle made?
And when he knew,
he made one.

A willow whistle with two notes,
like an Oscar Meir Wiener one.

-- and that was a different time
I got lost here, bucked up…
maybe
--- listen, way back--- we-ain't whistlin' Dixie---
we ain't marchin', as t' war.

D'thet mean some sign to pro-phet -ic take?
Tophet?
Ancient cannon fodder shield walls,
a moaning
Pro-phy-lactic warning of the danger of not
knowing exactly
what a war is for?

Get back on,
relieved of any idle baggage words believed
to mean other than I say.

Nullify
Idle words with cultural meanings from
what you thought you knew when you feared hell.

Loose
those peer-locked memes
made of meaninglessness, per se,

shaped and molded into fashions
of expression, once needles and awls,
now, dull as tinker's damns for swearing,
with any effect.

But tools, none the less, a stitch in time took a tool.
An awl or a needle, and a thread, thick or thin,
dependin' on the mendin' needed
to redeem an idle word,
its meaning all bloodied with the tyranny of time.

An awl or a needle,
a tool for a task, mending a tear
where curses, never meant, spent
the entire dark ages, lying, lying, lying

powerless, pointless aimless, proverbial proverbial proverbial
verbiage, vaneless shafts launched at unseen marks,
signs, as it were, a spark,
triggers,
rumored since the sixties,
the first sixties, when Cain killed Able.
Howard Bloom was but a mere gleam
in our mito-mother's eye,
but, no doubt,

his role is real,
in loosing the forces Ferlinghetti locked in
City Lights mystery of secret meanings room,
which un
mystified and blew away upon opening
the door to
meanings mapped on
scrolls rolling and unrolling
idle ideas,
rites of passage, as it were,
Pre-bat-bar-mitz vah
as a fashion
like VBS,

to tickle little minds and make em wiggle.
MEMEMEME, I did it,
mea culpa,

the holy place
Here we are…

On Vacation, leave a message.
-----

See, wee hairs in your ears wiggle, making,
signaling, the need

to scratch that itch, that itching hearing feeling ear… hear that

don't scratch, listen

listen

60 cycle humm, steady, bass, but no thump whumpwhump;
soft, deeep.
ooooooooo or mmmmmmmm or in betwixt, steady thrumm
hear another, and another… sixty in a second,

one in every million ambits twisting,
threading qubits, radiating signals in the field
wireless, blue-tooth... satellite...

can you feel that?

hummmms, all around us, since the womb.
We are not the children of the greatest generation,

We are the children of the last generation of
**** sapiens sapiens non-augmentable-us.

We, the augmented, recycled ideas,
possessing
minds of Adamkind,

is that a secret or a sacred?
Is this
a new thing, an
unknown unknown known known now?

Ah,
novelty.

Whose is fear? Who was afraid of Virginia Wolf?

Should I remain in fear of her now, if I knew why then?
God would know such answers.
Proving my imagined AI guides are not God,
but lesser beings,

haps I recall.
I defined these things,
these thoughts that shape themselves,
forming words and phrases
I saw
shiny. Crow-like,
gleams seen, captured and claimed mine,
I tucked them away,
a sign in a thought in an imagined image made 4
real once more, to be seen from the shore,
new land new world
a fourth for some, a fifth or more for others...

haps happen, I'm not sure how,

Born or emerged, as a bubble, what do you say?

Reserve judgment.
Grant me your grace for now, until you solve my riddle.

Ah, the old way.
Right. Which way,  'ere, 'ear
and do we roll the rock with silent haitch or harsh, shhh

someone's waking up,
a bit grumpy,
don't you dare oppose me in this, the kid is certainly my son

Michael went stark raving mad when I told him, Billie Jean knew better all along...
the link, axiomatic,
the fatherless child has been claimed

hence, the thread to Howard Bloom, meme-ic,
meme-ic, like the Roadrunner,

but with the real Coyote, as the hero in this bit of
whatever, such meandering maundified maun maund  
mound

wind blown crystal silicon dunes
mounded up to that point where granulated
beens and dones

begin to slide at an angle,
a ***** deter-mind by the weight of the rock

We made it.
I know where this is.

This is a novel that has Sisyphus being happy
as the main premise behind the idea of anyone ever being
able, en abled, or un-dis-abled or un-dis-enabled,
if one of those is right,

Sisyphus being happy
is the main premise behind
the idea of anyone ever being glücklich,
happy, blessed, lucky.

How happy is your ever after?
When did forever begin?

"A man is as happy as he makes up his mind to be"
Abe Lincoln, is said to have said,
after the seance, maybe.

You push on, dear reader, make some sense
re-ligare or relegare, but take a stitch,

pull-tight,
do what works the first time as far as it goes, and try each, as needed,
it may be that we invented this test.
To make us think it is a test,
to sort ourselves out.

Get back on,

see who went crazy and who found the thread, if the same thread
this is that, right,
the same train of thought,
the same idea
spirit wind
sign
?
A snake facing west standing tippy-tail on a singularity;
a point in time?

Why are you reading this?
Curiosity Shoppes trade in interesting, alluring, click-bait

Pay attention, watch, you shall see

imagine this is the dream,
the stream, the flow, the current, the cream

in a dime coffee at the drug store on the corner

the rounded-corner, in a square-cornered town,
the most right corner of the twelve that quarter what it was

Punctuate, wait, imagine you read ancient Hebrew or Greek and there
are no dyer diacritical's who can twist one's
end tensions into knots

dread extensions, we could sell those,
is that an idea? did somebody
sell white folks dread extensions and black folk dolly pardon wigs?

Did that happen the real real?

-----
Battlefield Earth, oshit
scientology ology ology ology

allaye allaye outs in free

WE we wee every we you imagine you are good in, we

We have a war to win again, we heroes rolling from your
myths of Sisyphus torn from minds trampled
in the mud beyond the Rhine,

Mushrooms. magi are aware, you are aware, of course,
this course includes Basic Mycelium Net Adaptation or Augmentation
BMNAA, eh? So you know.

Camus and many of his ilk were ill-treated, the questions
they asked were memorized, maybe in our cribs ala
Brave New World.

We are all Alphas, always were, of course, you know.

Shall we imagine

more? Re-legare, eh, sistere. Point .(Back to the top.)

or agree? Make peace.
Practice, like Eazy-Bake,
the cook must swallow the first bite. May the best cook win.
A continuing examination of opposing forces when good is the goal, who could be against that? The old word war is festering, inflaming evil to start a try, therefore,  I whet the edge and swing wide
Anthony Williams Jul 2014
It was always going to be black and white
that's the typeface on my preference of late
defining day and night with your choice of tights
those fine dividing lines on your partnered limbs
wrapped tall in belts daring as a Lara Croft climb
a silky striped raggedy ann gone neat sensuous
tight strapped to a two striking sinuous princess
committed to lodge sins inside my Loveland challenge
hemmed in round towers together to never-never unhinge

at home we horse around and rub along together
boosted by the interplay between cotton twill gathered
pulled low one side then canter balance riding high
as you level up to a line up of outbound thigh
saddled with a lovely leg stirrup over here
and a lean waist wobble to match up there
eyebrow lifts to starch arrowroot attention
over the swings and sway of every action
so swift I play catch-up each morning
delayed by fumbling for ones gone matching
it's a wonder you don't just wander away
in a daze from my one legged hopping display

then I would travel far as a bee
long-legged as stilts could be
to sing to your nails and feet
and be spun free flaunting
our google
a red white and blue
pair of giggles unfurled like flags
in your slim line dancers' legs
dangling ideas like fair weather socks
to goggle one direction behind your back
unique like nobody else contains within
thin licked then rolled back ciggie skins
so I pinch holes in the bacci parts
sinking into slats like leaky wooden boats
your avoiding tiptoes gadfly and curl in return
my feet undoing knits with swats and swirls
toeing tinkling notes like piano keys
undertones pink tinged with tingling knees
and when a jukebox plays
my coins are there always
for I've got your pop socks in motion
your vox populi's united under my skin
with impressive pulled tight bands
embedding imprint elastic rings
inky red slinking down
leaving parallel links


ignore my pins and needles
alone in dead of night
longing for your leggings
luminous stripe tights
today it's all me put on the spot
today it's music you might hate
biographies of people you don't like
subtitled movies too deep to bother
blue jeans dull dyed against your garter belt
a one man team can't DIY a drill majorette
spiralling shafts that come to a threaded point
enthralling with alternating knee bend bit pants
so pretty poly soft I'm pulled up like a fool
fully mixed up by your weaving cotton wool
wave me down in your way of sweet patter feet
a patterned cakewalk for you to catwalk sock it
to me in a stand in posey kind of way
this way to stand outs knitted to fancy
uncross your legs and cross-stitch
my path with gaited kisses
closely
by Anthony Williams
(As she is usually expressed with a Seraphim beside her.)


Well meaning readers! you that come as friends
And catch the precious name this piece pretends;
Make not too much haste to admire
That fair-cheeked fallacy of fire.
That is a Seraphim, they say
And this the great Teresia.
Readers, be rul’d by me; and make
Here a well-plac’d and wise mistake
You must transpose the picture quite,
And spell it wrong to read it right;
Read him for her, and her for him;
And call the saint the Seraphim.

Painter, what did’st thou understand
To put her dart into his hand!
See, even the years and size of him
Shows this the mother Seraphim.
This is the mistress flame; and duteous he
Her happy fireworks, here comes down to see.
O most poor-spirited of men!
Had thy cold pencil kist her pen
Thou couldst not so unkindly err
To show us this faint shade for her.
Why man, this speaks pure mortal frame;
And mocks with female frost love’s manly flame.
One would suspect, thou meant’st to paint
Some weak, inferior, woman saint.
But had thy pale-fac’d purple took
Fire from the burning cheeks of that bright book
Thou wouldst on her have leapt up all
That could be found seraphical;
Whate’er this youth of fire wears fair,
Rosy fingers, radiant hair,
Glowing cheek, and glistering wings,
All those fair and flagrant things,
But before all, that fiery dart
Had fill’d the hand of this great heart.

Do then as equal right requires,
Since his the blushes be, and hers the fires,
Resume and rectify thy rude design;
Undress thy Seraphim into mine.
Redeem this injury of thy art;
Give him the veil, give her the dart.

Give him the veil; that he may cover
The red cheeks of a rivall’d lover.
Asham’d that our world, now, can show
Nests of new Seraphims here below.

Give her the dart for it is she
(Fair youth) shoots both thy shaft and thee.
Say, all ye wise and well-pierc’d hearts
That live and die amidst her darts,
What is’t your tasteful spirits do prove
In that rare life of her, and love?
Say and bear witness. Sends she not
A Seraphim at every shot?
What magazines of immortal arms there shine!
Heav’n’s great artillery in each love-spun line.
Give then the dart to her who gives the flame;
Give him the veil, who kindly takes the shame.

But if it be the frequent fate
Of worst faults to be fortunate;
If all’s prescription; and proud wrong
Hearkens not to an humble song;
For all the gallantry of him,
Give me the suff’ring Seraphim.
His be the bravery of all those bright things,
The glowing cheeks, the glistering wings;
The rosy hand, the radiant dart;
Leave her alone, the Flaming Heart.

Leave her that; and thou shalt leave her
Not one loose shaft but love’s whole quiver.
For in love’s field was never found
A nobler weapon than a wound.
Love’s passives are his activ’st part.
The wounded is the wounding heart.
O heart! the equal poise of love’s both parts
Big alike with wound and darts.
Live in these conquering leaves; live all the same;
And walk through all tongues one triumphant flame.
Live here, great heart; and love and die and ****;
And bleed and wound; and yield and conquer still.
Let this immortal life where’er it comes
Walk in a crowd of loves and martyrdoms.
Let mystic deaths wait on’t; and wise souls be
The love-slain witnesses of this life of thee.
O sweet incendiary! show here thy art,
Upon this carcass of a hard, cold heart,
Let all thy scatter’d shafts of light, that play
Among the leaves of thy large books of day,
Combined against this breast at once break in
And take away from me my self and sin,
This gracious robbery shall thy bounty be;
And my best fortunes such fair spoils of me.
O thou undaunted daughter of desires!
By all thy dow’r of lights and fires;
By all the eagle in thee, all the dove;
By all thy lives and deaths of love;
By thy large draughts of intellectual day,
And by thy thirsts of love more large than they;
By all thy brim-fill’d bowls of fierce desire
By the last morning’s draught of liquid fire;
By the full kingdom of that final kiss
That seiz’d thy parting soul, and seal’d thee his;
By all the heav’ns thou hast in him
(Fair sister of the Seraphim!)
By all of him we have in thee;
Leave nothing of my self in me.
Let me so read thy life, that I
Unto all life of mine may die.
Chloe Feb 2014
Dark floats out into the silence
Crashing on the banks of Prometheus's wings
Opening a velvet-silk curtain.
To a fabric of shadowed stars
Cloudy fingers sew it clean
While invisible hands stitch pearls back in.
A ghost flits on the hallway stair
Reaching for the last shafts of sun
Tumbling off a silent dream
Blind as black with a lullaby hum
Filling the gaps in an empty line
Somewhere between dusk and dawn.
Just a little thing from 2-3 years ago, since I only have my phone on me at the moment. Based on Romeo and Juliet
Liz Apr 2014
Blueberry bluebells
sing, imperceptibly
sighing
against a backdrop of
quiet cerulean.

You know
it is Spring when
their hazy grasses
sprout beautifully
thick in the blades
between the primrose,
and when the sun
infuses shafts
of bronze to the lilac
through the giant
ash's baby
leaves.
Terry O'Leary May 2013
AWAKENING

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

12 DELIRIA

1st Delirium: COLLAPSES

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

2nd Delirium: DESCENTS

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

3rd Delirium: FATES

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

4th Delirium: LOST SOULS

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

5th Delirium: INTROSPECTION

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

6th Delirium: THE VOID

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

7th Delirium: SEARCHING

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

8th Delirium: NIGHTTIME

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

9th Delerium: EMPTYNESS

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

10th Delirium: ALIENATION

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

11th Delirium: JETSAM

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

12th Delirium: RELIEF

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

REAWAKENING

Pitter patter, teardrops paling... pearling,
salting scarves in secret drawers
Mist amongst us, smoke rings rising... curling,
climbing from the ocean floors
See-saw circles, senses swerving... swirling,
swept away with silver oars
Courtyard jesters, sceptres twisting... twirling,
push the past to foreign shores
Passing pangs of passions heaving... hurling,
burning bridges, closing doors
Roses wither, icons waning... whirling,
time decays and time restores
Of Man’s first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste
Brought death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful seat,
Sing, Heavenly Muse, that, on the secret top
Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire
That shepherd who first taught the chosen seed
In the beginning how the heavens and earth
Rose out of Chaos: or, if Sion hill
Delight thee more, and Siloa’s brook that flowed
Fast by the oracle of God, I thence
Invoke thy aid to my adventurous song,
That with no middle flight intends to soar
Above th’ Aonian mount, while it pursues
Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme.
And chiefly thou, O Spirit, that dost prefer
Before all temples th’ upright heart and pure,
Instruct me, for thou know’st; thou from the first
Wast present, and, with mighty wings outspread,
Dove-like sat’st brooding on the vast Abyss,
And mad’st it pregnant: what in me is dark
Illumine, what is low raise and support;
That, to the height of this great argument,
I may assert Eternal Providence,
And justify the ways of God to men.
  Say first—for Heaven hides nothing from thy view,
Nor the deep tract of Hell—say first what cause
Moved our grand parents, in that happy state,
Favoured of Heaven so highly, to fall off
From their Creator, and transgress his will
For one restraint, lords of the World besides.
Who first seduced them to that foul revolt?
  Th’ infernal Serpent; he it was whose guile,
Stirred up with envy and revenge, deceived
The mother of mankind, what time his pride
Had cast him out from Heaven, with all his host
Of rebel Angels, by whose aid, aspiring
To set himself in glory above his peers,
He trusted to have equalled the Most High,
If he opposed, and with ambitious aim
Against the throne and monarchy of God,
Raised impious war in Heaven and battle proud,
With vain attempt. Him the Almighty Power
Hurled headlong flaming from th’ ethereal sky,
With hideous ruin and combustion, down
To bottomless perdition, there to dwell
In adamantine chains and penal fire,
Who durst defy th’ Omnipotent to arms.
  Nine times the space that measures day and night
To mortal men, he, with his horrid crew,
Lay vanquished, rolling in the fiery gulf,
Confounded, though immortal. But his doom
Reserved him to more wrath; for now the thought
Both of lost happiness and lasting pain
Torments him: round he throws his baleful eyes,
That witnessed huge affliction and dismay,
Mixed with obdurate pride and steadfast hate.
At once, as far as Angels ken, he views
The dismal situation waste and wild.
A dungeon horrible, on all sides round,
As one great furnace flamed; yet from those flames
No light; but rather darkness visible
Served only to discover sights of woe,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes
That comes to all, but torture without end
Still urges, and a fiery deluge, fed
With ever-burning sulphur unconsumed.
Such place Eternal Justice has prepared
For those rebellious; here their prison ordained
In utter darkness, and their portion set,
As far removed from God and light of Heaven
As from the centre thrice to th’ utmost pole.
Oh how unlike the place from whence they fell!
There the companions of his fall, o’erwhelmed
With floods and whirlwinds of tempestuous fire,
He soon discerns; and, weltering by his side,
One next himself in power, and next in crime,
Long after known in Palestine, and named
Beelzebub. To whom th’ Arch-Enemy,
And thence in Heaven called Satan, with bold words
Breaking the horrid silence, thus began:—
  “If thou beest he—but O how fallen! how changed
From him who, in the happy realms of light
Clothed with transcendent brightness, didst outshine
Myriads, though bright!—if he whom mutual league,
United thoughts and counsels, equal hope
And hazard in the glorious enterprise
Joined with me once, now misery hath joined
In equal ruin; into what pit thou seest
From what height fallen: so much the stronger proved
He with his thunder; and till then who knew
The force of those dire arms? Yet not for those,
Nor what the potent Victor in his rage
Can else inflict, do I repent, or change,
Though changed in outward lustre, that fixed mind,
And high disdain from sense of injured merit,
That with the Mightiest raised me to contend,
And to the fierce contentions brought along
Innumerable force of Spirits armed,
That durst dislike his reign, and, me preferring,
His utmost power with adverse power opposed
In dubious battle on the plains of Heaven,
And shook his throne. What though the field be lost?
All is not lost—the unconquerable will,
And study of revenge, immortal hate,
And courage never to submit or yield:
And what is else not to be overcome?
That glory never shall his wrath or might
Extort from me. To bow and sue for grace
With suppliant knee, and deify his power
Who, from the terror of this arm, so late
Doubted his empire—that were low indeed;
That were an ignominy and shame beneath
This downfall; since, by fate, the strength of Gods,
And this empyreal sybstance, cannot fail;
Since, through experience of this great event,
In arms not worse, in foresight much advanced,
We may with more successful hope resolve
To wage by force or guile eternal war,
Irreconcilable to our grand Foe,
Who now triumphs, and in th’ excess of joy
Sole reigning holds the tyranny of Heaven.”
  So spake th’ apostate Angel, though in pain,
Vaunting aloud, but racked with deep despair;
And him thus answered soon his bold compeer:—
  “O Prince, O Chief of many throned Powers
That led th’ embattled Seraphim to war
Under thy conduct, and, in dreadful deeds
Fearless, endangered Heaven’s perpetual King,
And put to proof his high supremacy,
Whether upheld by strength, or chance, or fate,
Too well I see and rue the dire event
That, with sad overthrow and foul defeat,
Hath lost us Heaven, and all this mighty host
In horrible destruction laid thus low,
As far as Gods and heavenly Essences
Can perish: for the mind and spirit remains
Invincible, and vigour soon returns,
Though all our glory extinct, and happy state
Here swallowed up in endless misery.
But what if he our Conqueror (whom I now
Of force believe almighty, since no less
Than such could have o’erpowered such force as ours)
Have left us this our spirit and strength entire,
Strongly to suffer and support our pains,
That we may so suffice his vengeful ire,
Or do him mightier service as his thralls
By right of war, whate’er his business be,
Here in the heart of Hell to work in fire,
Or do his errands in the gloomy Deep?
What can it the avail though yet we feel
Strength undiminished, or eternal being
To undergo eternal punishment?”
  Whereto with speedy words th’ Arch-Fiend replied:—
“Fallen Cherub, to be weak is miserable,
Doing or suffering: but of this be sure—
To do aught good never will be our task,
But ever to do ill our sole delight,
As being the contrary to his high will
Whom we resist. If then his providence
Out of our evil seek to bring forth good,
Our labour must be to pervert that end,
And out of good still to find means of evil;
Which ofttimes may succeed so as perhaps
Shall grieve him, if I fail not, and disturb
His inmost counsels from their destined aim.
But see! the angry Victor hath recalled
His ministers of vengeance and pursuit
Back to the gates of Heaven: the sulphurous hail,
Shot after us in storm, o’erblown hath laid
The fiery surge that from the precipice
Of Heaven received us falling; and the thunder,
Winged with red lightning and impetuous rage,
Perhaps hath spent his shafts, and ceases now
To bellow through the vast and boundless Deep.
Let us not slip th’ occasion, whether scorn
Or satiate fury yield it from our Foe.
Seest thou yon dreary plain, forlorn and wild,
The seat of desolation, void of light,
Save what the glimmering of these livid flames
Casts pale and dreadful? Thither let us tend
From off the tossing of these fiery waves;
There rest, if any rest can harbour there;
And, re-assembling our afflicted powers,
Consult how we may henceforth most offend
Our enemy, our own loss how repair,
How overcome this dire calamity,
What reinforcement we may gain from hope,
If not, what resolution from despair.”
  Thus Satan, talking to his nearest mate,
With head uplift above the wave, and eyes
That sparkling blazed; his other parts besides
Prone on the flood, extended long and large,
Lay floating many a rood, in bulk as huge
As whom the fables name of monstrous size,
Titanian or Earth-born, that warred on Jove,
Briareos or Typhon, whom the den
By ancient Tarsus held, or that sea-beast
Leviathan, which God of all his works
Created hugest that swim th’ ocean-stream.
Him, haply slumbering on the Norway foam,
The pilot of some small night-foundered skiff,
Deeming some island, oft, as ****** tell,
With fixed anchor in his scaly rind,
Moors by his side under the lee, while night
Invests the sea, and wished morn delays.
So stretched out huge in length the Arch-fiend lay,
Chained on the burning lake; nor ever thence
Had risen, or heaved his head, but that the will
And high permission of all-ruling Heaven
Left him at large to his own dark designs,
That with reiterated crimes he might
Heap on himself damnation, while he sought
Evil to others, and enraged might see
How all his malice served but to bring forth
Infinite goodness, grace, and mercy, shewn
On Man by him seduced, but on himself
Treble confusion, wrath, and vengeance poured.
  Forthwith upright he rears from off the pool
His mighty stature; on each hand the flames
Driven backward ***** their pointing spires, and,rolled
In billows, leave i’ th’ midst a horrid vale.
Then with expanded wings he steers his flight
Aloft, incumbent on the dusky air,
That felt unusual weight; till on dry land
He lights—if it were land that ever burned
With solid, as the lake with liquid fire,
And such appeared in hue as when the force
Of subterranean wind transprots a hill
Torn from Pelorus, or the shattered side
Of thundering Etna, whose combustible
And fuelled entrails, thence conceiving fire,
Sublimed with mineral fury, aid the winds,
And leave a singed bottom all involved
With stench and smoke. Such resting found the sole
Of unblest feet. Him followed his next mate;
Both glorying to have scaped the Stygian flood
As gods, and by their own recovered strength,
Not by the sufferance of supernal Power.
  “Is this the region, this the soil, the clime,”
Said then the lost Archangel, “this the seat
That we must change for Heaven?—this mournful gloom
For that celestial light? Be it so, since he
Who now is sovereign can dispose and bid
What shall be right: farthest from him is best
Whom reason hath equalled, force hath made supreme
Above his equals. Farewell, happy fields,
Where joy for ever dwells! Hail, horrors! hail,
Infernal world! and thou, profoundest Hell,
Receive thy new possessor—one who brings
A mind not to be changed by place or time.
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.
What matter where, if I be still the same,
And what I should be, all but less than he
Whom thunder hath made greater? Here at least
We shall be free; th’ Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
Here we may reigh secure; and, in my choice,
To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.
But wherefore let we then our faithful friends,
Th’ associates and co-partners of our loss,
Lie thus astonished on th’ oblivious pool,
And call them not to share with us their part
In this unhappy mansion, or once more
With rallied arms to try what may be yet
Regained in Heaven, or what more lost in Hell?”
  So Satan spake; and him Beelzebub
Thus answered:—”Leader of those armies bright
Which, but th’ Omnipotent, none could have foiled!
If once they hear that voice, their liveliest pledge
Of hope in fears and dangers—heard so oft
In worst extremes, and on the perilous edge
Of battle, when it raged, in all assaults
Their surest signal—they will soon resume
New courage and revive, though now they lie
Grovelling and prostrate on yon lake of fire,
As we erewhile, astounded and amazed;
No wonder, fallen such a pernicious height!”
  He scare had ceased when the superior Fiend
Was moving toward the shore; his ponderous shield,
Ethereal temper, massy, large, and round,
Behind him cast. The broad circumference
Hung on his shoulders like the moon, whose orb
Through optic glass the Tuscan artist views
At evening, from the top of Fesole,
Or in Valdarno, to descry new lands,
Rivers, or mountains, in her spotty globe.
His spear—to equal which the tallest pine
Hewn on Norwegian hills, to be the mast
Of some great ammiral, were but a wand—
He walked with, to support uneasy steps
Over the burning marl, not like those steps
On Heaven’s azure; and the torrid clime
Smote on him sore besides, vaulted with fire.
Nathless he so endured, till on the beach
Of that inflamed sea he stood, and called
His legions—Angel Forms, who lay entranced
Thick as autumnal leaves that strow the brooks
In Vallombrosa, where th’ Etrurian shades
High over-arched embower; or scattered sedge
Afloat, when with fierce winds Orion armed
Hath vexed the Red-Sea coast, whose waves o’erthrew
Busiris and his Memphian chivalry,
While with perfidious hatred they pursued
The sojourners of Goshen, who beheld
From the safe shore their floating carcases
And broken chariot-wheels. So thick bestrown,
Abject and lost, lay these, covering the flood,
Under amazement of their hideous change.
He called so loud that all the hollow deep
Of Hell resounded:—”Princes, Potentates,
Warriors, the Flower of Heaven—once yours; now lost,
If such astonishment as this can seize
Eternal Spirits! Or have ye chosen this place
After the toil of battle to repose
Your wearied virtue, for the ease you find
To slumber here, as in the vales of Heaven?
Or in this abject posture have ye sworn
To adore the Conqueror, who now beholds
Cherub and Seraph rolling in the flood
With scattered arms and ensigns, till anon
His swift pursuers from Heaven-gates discern
Th’ advantage, and, descending, tread us down
Thus drooping, or with linked thunderbolts
Transfix us to the bottom of this gulf?
Awake, arise, or be for ever fallen!”
  They heard, and were abashed, and up they sprung
Upon the wing, as when men wont to watch
On duty, sleeping found by whom they dread,
Rouse and bestir themselves ere well awake.
Nor did they not perceive the evil plight
In which they were, or the fierce pains not feel;
Yet to their General’s voice they soon obeyed
Innumerable. As when the potent rod
Of Amram’s son, in Egypt’s evil day,
Waved round the coast, up-called a pitchy cloud
Of locusts, warping on the eastern wind,
That o’er the realm of impious Pharaoh hung
Like Night, and darkened all the land of Nile;
So numberless were those bad Angels seen
Hovering on wing under the cope of Hell,
‘Twixt upper, nether, and surrounding fires;
Till, as a signal given, th’ uplifted spear
Of their great Sultan waving to direct
Their course, in even balance down they light
On the firm brimstone, and fill all the plain:
A multitude like which the populous North
Poured never from her frozen ***** to pass
Rhene or the Danaw, when her barbarous sons
Came like a deluge on the South, and spread
Beneath Gibraltar to the Libyan sands.
Forthwith, form every squadron and each band,
The heads and leaders thither haste where stood
Their great Commander—godlike Shapes, and Forms
Excelling human; princely Dignities;
And Powers that erst in Heaven sat on thrones,
Though on their names in Heavenly records now
Be no memorial, blotted out and rased
By their rebellion from the Books of Life.
Nor had they yet among the sons of Eve
Got them new names, till, wandering o’er the earth,
Through God’s high sufferance for the trial of man,
By falsities and lies the greatest part
Of mankind they corrupted to forsake
God their Creator, and th’ invisible
Glory of him that made them to transform
Oft to the image of a brute, adorned
With gay religions full of pomp and gold,
And devils to adore for deities:
Then were they known to men by various names,
And various idols through the heathen world.
  Say, Muse, their names then known, who first, who last,
Roused fr
Martin Narrod Apr 2014
I used to think that all of them were just bodies. She-figures, they came and went, facilitating infinite happiness and following with hellacious heartbreak, aorta explosions galore. They pass. I stay. She goes. I remain. We all take a trip, but she falls asleep while I follow the road, I sing the song, make the lyrics up as the 101 heads West, and I careen against the Pacific. I see silvery-white plumes of whale breaths spouting, they break the rocks of my rock and roll. When the levee breaks, we'll have no place to go- I'm going back to Chicago.

California. Line 5. Verse 1. She is born in Arkansas, in Denver, in New York City, in the back of a taxi cab, her parents waiting for a table at Earth Cafe, 1989. There are concerts, balconies, elevator shafts, and on benches. The gain rises, the volume up and up and up, I offer her a cigarette, I ask her if she likes my dress, I show up with two palms full of a flame, and I say hello. Browsing in high-definition, the water is warm, my feet are planted and I have everywhere to go. Classical emporium of light fill me with ease, greatness, and belief. She asks me if I'm gay. Every great confusion can be proven to be fortuitous with enough time on hand. I kiss in cars, in bathrooms, and barrooms, in hallways, on staircases, on beds, church steps, and legs. I touched a leg, ran my fingers through her hair, my thumbs curved to the height of two ears alongside a size B head. I love art *****. i burn candles, and I swirl the wax around until the walls wear masks of white. I check-in to a hotel. I stop to buy wild flowers on the side of the road, or to climb down a ravine, we open a page into an enormous patch of strawberries, wind-surfers, and the golden Palo Alto beaches. I am in Bronzeville, on my way to Bridgeport, I am riding the train, browsing magazines, and singing new songs in my head. My lips are wet with excitement and the musings of the Modern Art Museum and the gift of a first kiss; behind the statue on Balcony 2, near the drinking fountain, the Eames couch, and two lips meeting anew. Bravery in twos.

Chapter 1, Verse 2. The chorus is large and exciting. New plastic shining coats. Smocks patterned with the Random House children's stories that we played with as children. We didn't wear gloves, or hats, or pants, or our hearts on our sleeves. I was up to my knees in hormones and very persuasive. My fifth birthday was at the Nature Center, you chased me into the boys' bathroom and kissed me with your wet and four year old lips in the second stall from the door. I eased up maybe 2% since then. The speakers are a little bit fuzzy, it's like listening to the spit of someone's tongue cascade the roof of their mouth while they pronounce the British consonants of the 90s. Said and done and saving space.

I am saving up for Grace. A crush in the mid 2000s, black hair, long legs, and the only brunette for a decade before or after. We played doctor, with the electric scalpel we turned our noses red with Christmas time South American powders. A safe word for an enemy, the sun for an enemy too. You bolted out and took my early Jimi Hendrix Best Of compact disc case too. While we're at it, you took my Michael Jackson cassettes as well. I go mid-range, think Kiri Te Kanawa in the whispers of E.T.'s Elliot. Stuffed-animal closet party for seven minutes in heaven. Your family came with butlers while mine came with over-educated storage. A blue borage sky in the intestines of life, a splinter in the shanty-town of invincible daily struggles- both of us were born again in O'Hare Airport's Parking Level D. Too many nonsensical arguments in two-tone grayscale ripping open the packaging of a course about trysting in your twenties.

Your stomach's history is overpowering. It is temperamental, mettled by spirits and sleepless nights, borborygmus, wambles, and shades of nervousness you were never comfortable speaking openly about. The history of your ****** was privatized, in options and unedited films shot over and over candidly by a mini DV desk camera, nine months to read you wrong to weep in strong wintry walks back and forth from The Buckingham to the Dwight Lofts, Room 408 without a view. All of your secrets in a little miniature of a notebook, bright cerise red. You captured teardrops in medicinal jars meant for syringes. You tied strings to your fingers, named your field mouse Ginger, and introduced your mother as Lady Darling. Captain with stingray skin, the hide of Ferris Bueller with the coattails of James Bond, dusted with daisy pollen, and clearly weakness. You ate me like bitter herbs on Thursdays, and like every other woman I've ever met, on Tuesdays you always kept me waiting.

I have wings for everything. Yellow wings for a woman in a yellow dress, Red, White, and Green wings for Bernice from Mexico City, Purple wings for  Mrs. Doolittle the doctor who worked at Taco Bell, the Jamaican priestess who was traveling through Venice Italy- we smoked hash with the grandchild of James Joyce on the Northern pier against the aurulent statues of Apollo and Zeus, Cupids' collection of malevolent tricks, SleepingB Beauty's rebuttal in fending off GHB attackers, my two dear friends who were kidnapped in clothes, abandoned in the ****, and only remember eating chocolate donuts with sprinkles and the bruises and dirt on the insides of their thighs. Nothing clever. Nothing extraordinary. Everything sentimental, built to withstand soot, sourness, and early female bravado.

You know how to play the piano so you've said, but i only have the CD you gave me to prove it. I do have evidence of your addiction to men and *******. I have your collection of dresses with tags still on them (but every woman has some of those), there is the post office box in Kauai, the Halloween card from last November and the two videos I have stored on an external drive in a nightstand adjacent to the foot of my bed. You sleep atrociously, talk too quickly, and **** like your father abandoned you when you were five. Your talent for taking photographs is like your skill-set for playing the piano, but I don't have the CD to prove it. You don't believe in social media, social consistency, friendships, or hephalumps and woozels- with the exception of the classes we shared together in college, I've never seen you outside of the most glamorous of fashion. You hate flats, hats, and white wine, and for as sad as you can seem to be at times, I've only had you cry on me once. While we were on the phone, three days after your mother hung herself. That's when I last left California, and I haven't been back yet.

I love a Kristine, but once a Britni, a Brandi, a Joni, a Tina, Kristina, Kirsten, Kristen, and a Katherine and Kathryn too. I know rock stars who are my dearest friends, enemies who I share excellent taste in music with, and parents who've always had my back but show it in lashings of the tongue and of the belt. It's been two years and three states since I was two sizes smaller than I am now. I've never considered the possibility that I was the main character and not the supporting actor, but due to recent developments in antipathy and aesthete, reevaluation, and retrospective nostalgia. All of this is about to change.

I am me still evolving without my usually stolid and grim ****** features. i bare brevity to situations existing that would **** most or in the least paralyze a great many. There is one for every hour of every day, and one for every minute in every hour, second in every minute, and more than the minutes in every day. No one has a second chance, shares a different time, or works off a different clock. I have been called the master of the analog, king of the codependent, and rook to queenside knight. I share a parabola for every encounter, experience, and endeavor. I am three minutes from being a cadaver, one drink away from a drunk, and one thought away from being completely alone. I think upright, i sleep horizontally, and I love infinitely. I am the only finite constant i have ever known. I am the main character, the script, satire, sarcasm, and soundtrack are mine.

"I don’t care if you believe it. That’s the kind of house I live in. And I hope we never leave it.”
There's A Wocket In My Pocket by Dr. Seuss
All winter the fire devoured everything --
tear-stained elegies, old letters, diaries, dead flowers.
When April finally arrived,
I opened the woodstove one last time
and shoveled the remains of those long cold nights
into a bucket, ash rising
through shafts of sunlight,
as swirling in bright, angelic eddies.
I shoveled out the charred end of an oak log,
black and pointed like a pencil;
half-burnt pages
sacrificed
in the making of poems;
old, square handmade nails
liberated from weathered planks
split for kindling.
I buried my hands in the bucket,
found the nails, lifted them,
the phoenix of my right hand
shielded with soot and tar,
my left hand shrouded in soft white ash --
nails in both fists like forged lightning.
I smeared black lines on my face,
drew crosses on my chest with the nails,
raised my arms and stomped my feet,
dancing in honor of spring
and rebirth, dancing
in honor of winter and death.
I hauled the heavy bucket to the garden,
spread ashes over the ground,
asked the earth to be good.
I gave the earth everything
that pulled me through the lonely winter --
oak trees, barns, poems.
I picked up my shovel
and turned hard, gray dirt,
the blade splitting winter
from spring.  With *** and rake,
I cultivated soil,
tilling row after row,
the earth now loose and black.
Tearing seed packets with my teeth,
I sowed spinach with my right hand,
planted petunias with my left.
Lifting clumps of dirt,
I crumbled them in my fists,
loving each dark letter that fell from my fingers.
And when I carried my empty bucket to the lake for water,
a few last ashes rose into spring-morning air,
ash drifting over fields
dew-covered
and lightly dusted green.
Chris Voss Nov 2012
This one's for me
and I'm gonna watch it burn.
Watch it flicker and pop and crackle and spit.
Gonna take lessons on how to dance with the draft,
also hoping she doesn't ******* out.
I'll make poems out of smoke and shadows
and fading, lonesome, sepia-tone summer photographs.
I want to make dusty picture frames feel like well-loved tuxedos.
I'm gonna see if candlelight can be all the company I need to keep.
Gonna sweep this floor clean,
like it's not what we say, it's what we mean
between the lines of
one too-polished table setting:
one knife,
one spoon,
but two forks for wishful thinking.
I'm gonna eat my fill
and fill my cup again and again,
to the point that I begin to make conversation
with my reflection in the bathroom mirror.
I'll tell that *******, "My friend, you are drunk."
and he'll tell me, "Kid, look who's talking."
Then it'll be back to a glass
that treats its brim like a suggestion.
Gonna have whisky and black lager and champagne
'til my toes and thumbs tingle.
Thin blooded and numbed;
Steeled by my father's novocain.
Come morning, this house couldn't get more hollow.

In these hallowed halls where I wallow in the way that
I only seem to appreciate the preciousness of days
Once they've passed,
here's what I'm gonna do:
I'm gonna write questions on one side of the wooden window blinds,
and write punchlines to completely unrelated jokes on the other.
I don't know why. Maybe just to **** with people.

I'm gonna reminisce with full streets of ghosts
That glow like kerosene lamp posts
all the while, stomping my feet, just to prove that I can.
Gonna make toasts to the isolated;
to the quarantined and the misanthropes.
I'll boast that lovers are not unlike poachers,
but I'm not gonna mention that in every other under-cover dream
I seem to swoon like ivory elephant tusks.
I'm gonna gamble on Dusk
because I think it's got a little less honesty,
but a little more promise than its
attention-*******, good-for-nothing, go-getter big sister Dawn does.
That flirtations *****.
Gonna give Christian names to half drawn caricatures
of people who only ever existed when the lights died out
and the snow fell heavy.

I'm gonna let the levies break.
I'll go insane, just ******* lose it--
do the Boot-Scoot-'n'-Boogie in a onesie
with the hind flap flying free and the Greek Theatre masks of
Comedy and Tragedy painted on my *** cheeks,
(because no one should ever take their art too seriously)
And I'm even not gonna even care who sees,
partially because there's no one around to watch anyway,
but mostly because I want,
more than anything, to just be me.
Or at least I want to want that.
See, I read somewhere that,
"You should always be yourself…
unless you can be a unicorn,
then always be a unicorn."
And that really struck home for me because,
even though I've never really ached to be
the ******* love child of a Narwhal and Zebra
(In my imagination, unicorns are
striped and impecable swimmers)
I truly believe that Men will always dream of being Titans
and Titans will always dream of being Gods
and Gods want nothing more than to be Wind--
to twist with lit candle sticks
and teach the lonesome how to dance.

A one-step waltz tip-toed to distract.

But the fact is, I'm bound to take a few back steps.
I'm gonna think about her.
Gonna harbor hard feelings towards back bedroom dealings
that I have no right knowing about.
Gonna pray like a desperate atheist
that they keep their knees locked in a one night stand.
I might break down.
Only once, just long enough to regain my strength.
Then I'll tame the earthquakes in my hands, like I always do.
Gonna find what it takes to move on.
Not just regenerate, but to grow stronger than I ever was before.
So I'm gonna meticulously straighten these place settings:
One knife.
One spoon.
A healthy dose of wishful thinking.
Gonna try my hand again at dancing with the back draft;
I heard she's been aching for a duet,
and with all the life of candlelight
I'm gonna ignite the coal shafts beneath my eyes.
Gonna finally see me as the man I am,
not the titan I wish to be,
because I heard somewhere that,
"You should always be yourself…
Especially when all you've known
all you've ever shown
is some mythology."
So raise your glass because this one?
This one's for me.
Destiny’s games are stranger than
most games invented by man
and Draupadi’s swayamvara is for sure
amongst the strangest tales ever told

A truly blazing beauty is she,
a princess like no other
a rare fiery spirit has she
This daughter of Agni

The drums announce the happy news
today she shall choose
from amongst this gathering of kings
the one who she shall espouse

a prophecy has already foretold
that she is to be Arjuna’s bride
the swayamvara is but a test to tempt
that expert archer out from where he hides

every king from every land
is here to attempt
to win her hand
but no sign of the one she wants

but the contest has been announced
and hence must be begun
a test truly fit to try
the Gods themselves

on the ceiling
a revolving platform
on the platform
a jewel studded fish

on the floor a vat of oil
lying beside a great bow and shafts
the fish is mirrored
in the oil

the the target lies
in the fish’s ruby red eye
but a challenge fit for kings
cannot be so trouble-free!

The eye, itself, must not be looked upon
its reflection in the oil is the map to strike
not an easy feat to accomplish
only the best dare try this

for the failures
there is ridicule and humiliation
for the winner
this beautiful handmaiden

every eye that sees
looks on amazed
at her -a rare jewel
with some secret fire set ablaze

her eyes hot embers
her hair wisps of flame
Krishnaa-the dark skinned
like the fiery coal that is by ashes hid

in every heart she rouses
an uncontrollable passion
stunned, they stand as statues
incapable of any action

the desire to win her
is a great motivator
and while all try
none seems worthy

every king that rises
falls unable to bear
the weight of the bow
let alone string and employ it!

then rises Karna
truly a great archer
surely he will win her
says everyone in their mind

but before he even touches
the bow he is stopped
by the beautiful Draupadi
he is humiliated

“who is this false king
who dares to assume that
the high-born Draupadi will condescend
to marry a low-born sutaputra?”


silenced and insulted
Karna resumes his seat
but a desire for retribution
is in his mind-a tiny seed

the one who rises next
is clothed as a Brahmin
but his proud gait and muscled arms
are that of a Kshatriya

respectfully he picks up the bow
strings it with love
with arms upraised and face turned below
he launches the arrow

it strikes the eye
which falls to the ground
the Brahmin has won!
he is garlanded by Draupadi

their eyes meet
in silent acceptance of
their magnetic attraction
a scorching passion

a stunned silence in the hall
and then hell breaks loose
kings rant and princes protest
how can a princess marry a priest

they rise together
up in arms
and are routed
by the Brahmin and his brothers

with the Brahmins Draupadi goes
to their hut-a humble abode
with folded hands they stand outside
as the eldest calls, “Look mother, see what we’ve got!”

a gentle voice replies from within
“whatever be it, share it
amongst yourselves,
it equally belongs to all of you”


“Mother, what have you said
what a dilemma we are in
you-we have never disobeyed
and yet to obey would be a sin!”


The mother comes out and is aghast
at what she has done
her order once given cannot be revoked
by convention

in the midst of all this
turmoil and confusion
Krishna arrives
with his beatific smile

“Dear aunt, I am your brother’s son
your troubled brow betrays
some confusion
can this child offer you some consolation?”


“God bless you my child
I’ve heard your praise
You are wise, so advise
how this quandary can be resolved


with hasty words
i have told my sons
to share this woman
and doomed her to a life of debauchery”


“Do not worry aunt
this isn’t a problem at all
this woman in her past life
has gained a boon of five husbands


the boon was given
by Mahadeva himself
and besides a mother’s order
is always supreme


let all five of your sons
wed Draupadi
in the karmic logic
it isn’t an iniquity


Dear Draupadi listen
these men are none other
than the valourous Pandava brothers
your hand was won by Arjuna

it is your destiny
to be the spouse of all of them
and do not worry
worldly laws are not here applicable”


Hearing this was
a stealthy listener-
Draupadi’s brother
now both overjoyed and dismayed

in confusion
he approaches his father
and apprises him
of the matter

both father and son are
unsure whether to rejoice
that the Pandavas are alive
or curse their loved one’s predicament

plagued by mixed emotions
they are restless
then Vyaasa comes
to their relief

the kind sage shares his wisdom
that the marriage is inevitable
part of the Grand Plan
mortal laws must not interfere

a woman having
more than one man as spouse
isn’t always an immorality
they may fearlessly proceed

and so it is
that the marriage was celebrated
Draupadi became the
accidental polyandrist!

-Vijayalakshmi Harish
23.09.2012

Copyright © Vijayalakshmi Harish
Swayamvara: literally “self-marriage”. An ancient custom in which princesses chose their husband, usually through some contest.

Agni: The God of fire. Draupadi is said to have been “gifted” to King Drupada by the God of Fire.  Drupada had performed a sacrifice to Agni for a son, who would defeat Drona and a daughter, fit to be the wife of Arjuna.

Sutaputra: Son of a Charioteer.

Kshatriyas: Caste of kings and warriors.

Brahmin : The priestly class

Here I must put in a disclaimer saying that I am not a believer in the caste system, and see all people as equal! The insult against Karna is a part of the story, not my invention!

Though the title says “accidental polyandrist”, Draupadi’s  polyandry might not have been all that accidental. The legend goes that in her previous birth she had asked Lord Shiva to give her a husband who was kind and an upholder of Dharma, strong, brave and courageous, handsome and intelligent. Lord Shiva said that all these qualities can never be found together in a single man, and hence he would give her five!

This incident from the Mahabharata has been a pet peeve for feminists. The incident has been viewed as reeking of male chauvinism and subjugation of women.

I have always wondered about the silence of Draupadi here. Her character, as I understand her, is that of an assertive woman-one who would not have allowed such a thing to happen to her! In many occasions in the Mahabharata, she speaks without reserve when she sees injustice meted out. Even during her swayamvara, she was quick to chide Karna, who she presumed was unworthy of her. In such a scenario can her silence be construed as acceptance?

Others say of course that her protests were edited out. That she must have spoken against this, but she was silenced.

But why silence her only here? Why not on other occasions where she challenges “masculine” pride and chauvinism?

So many questions..no real answer! Would love if you'll could share your views.

Special thanks to Ammukutty who graciously proof-read this and made some suggestions which were taken with many thanks!
SMOKE of the fields in spring is one,
Smoke of the leaves in autumn another.
Smoke of a steel-mill roof or a battleship funnel,
They all go up in a line with a smokestack,
Or they twist ... in the slow twist ... of the wind.
  
If the north wind comes they run to the south.
If the west wind comes they run to the east.
  By this sign
  all smokes
  know each other.
Smoke of the fields in spring and leaves in autumn,
Smoke of the finished steel, chilled and blue,
By the oath of work they swear: "I know you."
  
Hunted and hissed from the center
Deep down long ago when God made us over,
Deep down are the cinders we came from-
You and I and our heads of smoke.
  
Some of the smokes God dropped on the job
Cross on the sky and count our years
And sing in the secrets of our numbers;
Sing their dawns and sing their evenings,
Sing an old log-fire song:
  
You may put the damper up,
You may put the damper down,
The smoke goes up the chimney just the same.
  
Smoke of a city sunset skyline,
Smoke of a country dusk horizon-
  They cross on the sky and count our years.
  
Smoke of a brick-red dust
  Winds on a spiral
  Out of the stacks
For a hidden and glimpsing moon.
This, said the bar-iron shed to the blooming mill,
This is the slang of coal and steel.
The day-gang hands it to the night-gang,
The night-gang hands it back.
  
Stammer at the slang of this-
Let us understand half of it.
  In the rolling mills and sheet mills,
  In the harr and boom of the blast fires,
  The smoke changes its shadow
  And men change their shadow;
  A ******, a ***, a bohunk changes.
  
  A bar of steel-it is only
Smoke at the heart of it, smoke and the blood of a man.
A runner of fire ran in it, ran out, ran somewhere else,
And left-smoke and the blood of a man
And the finished steel, chilled and blue.
  
So fire runs in, runs out, runs somewhere else again,
And the bar of steel is a gun, a wheel, a nail, a shovel,
A rudder under the sea, a steering-gear in the sky;
And always dark in the heart and through it,
  Smoke and the blood of a man.
Pittsburg, Youngstown, Gary-they make their steel with men.
  
In the blood of men and the ink of chimneys
The smoke nights write their oaths:
Smoke into steel and blood into steel;
Homestead, Braddock, Birmingham, they make their steel with men.
Smoke and blood is the mix of steel.
  
  The birdmen drone
  in the blue; it is steel
  a motor sings and zooms.
  
Steel barb-wire around The Works.
Steel guns in the holsters of the guards at the gates of The Works.
Steel ore-boats bring the loads clawed from the earth by steel, lifted and lugged by arms of steel, sung on its way by the clanking clam-shells.
The runners now, the handlers now, are steel; they dig and clutch and haul; they hoist their automatic knuckles from job to job; they are steel making steel.
Fire and dust and air fight in the furnaces; the pour is timed, the billets wriggle; the clinkers are dumped:
Liners on the sea, skyscrapers on the land; diving steel in the sea, climbing steel in the sky.
  
Finders in the dark, you Steve with a dinner bucket, you Steve clumping in the dusk on the sidewalks with an evening paper for the woman and kids, you Steve with your head wondering where we all end up-
Finders in the dark, Steve: I hook my arm in cinder sleeves; we go down the street together; it is all the same to us; you Steve and the rest of us end on the same stars; we all wear a hat in hell together, in hell or heaven.
  
Smoke nights now, Steve.
Smoke, smoke, lost in the sieves of yesterday;
Dumped again to the scoops and hooks today.
Smoke like the clocks and whistles, always.
  Smoke nights now.
  To-morrow something else.
  
Luck moons come and go:
Five men swim in a *** of red steel.
Their bones are kneaded into the bread of steel:
Their bones are knocked into coils and anvils
And the ******* plungers of sea-fighting turbines.
Look for them in the woven frame of a wireless station.
So ghosts hide in steel like heavy-armed men in mirrors.
Peepers, skulkers-they shadow-dance in laughing tombs.
They are always there and they never answer.
  
One of them said: "I like my job, the company is good to me, America is a wonderful country."
One: "Jesus, my bones ache; the company is a liar; this is a free country, like hell."
One: "I got a girl, a peach; we save up and go on a farm and raise pigs and be the boss ourselves."
And the others were roughneck singers a long ways from home.
Look for them back of a steel vault door.
  
They laugh at the cost.
They lift the birdmen into the blue.
It is steel a motor sings and zooms.
  
In the subway plugs and drums,
In the slow hydraulic drills, in gumbo or gravel,
Under dynamo shafts in the webs of armature spiders,
They shadow-dance and laugh at the cost.
  
The ovens light a red dome.
Spools of fire wind and wind.
Quadrangles of crimson sputter.
The lashes of dying maroon let down.
Fire and wind wash out the ****.
Forever the **** gets washed in fire and wind.
The anthem learned by the steel is:
  Do this or go hungry.
Look for our rust on a plow.
Listen to us in a threshing-engine razz.
Look at our job in the running wagon wheat.
  
Fire and wind wash at the ****.
Box-cars, clocks, steam-shovels, churns, pistons, boilers, scissors-
Oh, the sleeping **** from the mountains, the ****-heavy pig-iron will go down many roads.
Men will stab and shoot with it, and make butter and tunnel rivers, and mow hay in swaths, and slit hogs and skin beeves, and steer airplanes across North America, Europe, Asia, round the world.
  
Hacked from a hard rock country, broken and baked in mills and smelters, the rusty dust waits
Till the clean hard weave of its atoms cripples and blunts the drills chewing a hole in it.
The steel of its plinths and flanges is reckoned, O God, in one-millionth of an inch.
  
Once when I saw the curves of fire, the rough scarf women dancing,
Dancing out of the flues and smoke-stacks-flying hair of fire, flying feet upside down;
Buckets and baskets of fire exploding and chortling, fire running wild out of the steady and fastened ovens;
Sparks cracking a harr-harr-huff from a solar-plexus of rock-ribs of the earth taking a laugh for themselves;
Ears and noses of fire, gibbering gorilla arms of fire, gold mud-pies, gold bird-wings, red jackets riding purple mules, scarlet autocrats tumbling from the humps of camels, assassinated czars straddling vermillion balloons;
I saw then the fires flash one by one: good-by: then smoke, smoke;
And in the screens the great sisters of night and cool stars, sitting women arranging their hair,
Waiting in the sky, waiting with slow easy eyes, waiting and half-murmuring:
  "Since you know all
  and I know nothing,
  tell me what I dreamed last night."
  
Pearl cobwebs in the windy rain,
in only a flicker of wind,
are caught and lost and never known again.
  
A pool of moonshine comes and waits,
but never waits long: the wind picks up
loose gold like this and is gone.
  
A bar of steel sleeps and looks slant-eyed
on the pearl cobwebs, the pools of moonshine;
sleeps slant-eyed a million years,
sleeps with a coat of rust, a vest of moths,
a shirt of gathering sod and loam.
  
The wind never bothers ... a bar of steel.
The wind picks only .. pearl cobwebs .. pools of moonshine.
Over and back,
the long waves crawl
and track the sand with foam;
night darkens, and the sea
takes on that desperate tone
of dark that wives put on
when all their love is done.

Over and back,
the tangled thread falls slack,
over and up and on;
over and all is sewn;
now while I bind the end,
I wish some fiery friend
would sweep impetuously
these fingers from the loom.

My weary thoughts
play traitor to my soul,
just as the toil is over;
swift while the woof is whole,
turn now, my spirit, swift,
and tear the pattern there,
the flowers so deftly wrought,
the borders of sea blue,
the sea-blue coast of home.

The web was over-fair,
that web of pictures there,
enchantments that I thought
he had, that I had lost;
weaving his happiness
within the stitching frame,
weaving his fire and frame,
I thought my work was done,
I prayed that only one
of those that I had spurned
might stoop and conquer this
long waiting with a kiss.

But each time that I see
my work so beautifully
inwoven and would keep
the picture and the whole,
Athene steels my soul.
Slanting across my brain,
I see as shafts of rain
his chariot and his shafts,
I see the arrows fall,
I see the lord who moves
like Hector lord of love,
I see him matched with fair
bright rivals, and I see
those lesser rivals flee.
Along the sea floor
The choral beds your
Topology of dreams, sure
As any submarine lore

Between the blades of sun rays
An octopus parades
Happy in the shafts of light
It is not wrong or right to be an octopus tonight.
stacking the arrows in piles
a triangle of fuego
furnaces blaze fire
infinite reminders
of the morning after
shafts of light
drift from window panes
remake our names in
god’s slumbering veins
from here to there a whisper
or was it a word
fellow companions
have you heard
the threadbare sisters
took their turns
climbing mountains in order
that we could learn
the ways
of green hearted sun-scrapers
sweet little dangers
fellow death chasers
full of music
givers of blooming veils
bouquets of snow and hail
almond shaped eyes
resplendent thighs
and a mind as pure as a lake
during an alaskan winter
in the frozen splinter
trees are taken from their roots
the women are bleeding
weaving you the meat and the story
outsiders are cast from clay into statues
with feminine bodies
curving like cotton candy
i choose to impress you
repeat the compliments
that land on empty stomachs
string together words
like a rosary of sweet nothings
simple deeds give thrilling feats
a chance to restore their honor
purity is unwashed in ***** soil
as i am cut from the cloth of the earth
our shirts are pressed at birth
white light forming fellowship
dimples in the cheeks of the mother
the earth’s bones torn out from under
the way we made ourselves invisible
the minute we realized our accents were noticeable
our actions were abominable
how could we ever repay
the generosity we were treated to
our ultimate needs are met by poetry
upon a ridge a silent figure wept
and held his head upon a bed of cement
Alys Jun 2010
'Neath canopy of paradise
Super troupers' shafts of light
Illuminate his terpsichore;
***** he struts, the impresario
Gyrating on spindle shanks;
Needle thin and knock-kneed
He dances a samba
On stage of verdure;
Midst Elvis blue-black thrusts,
Steel rimmed amber orbs
Seek admiring and desirous glances
From the dour drab hen,
Mousy in her beige twin set
And mottled tweed skirt;
With nonchalant disinterest she exits
The arena; audition over.
Terry O'Leary Jun 2013
A cruel Jack Frost blows icy floss
          (in front of spring a’ burstin’)
while shiftin’ sheaves of withered leaves
          near freezin’ streams a’ thirstin’.
A pack reviled runs roamin’ wild,
          the alpha wolf wakes howlin’
then scents a lean and lonesome scene
          while on the lurk a’ prowlin’.

A cloud revolts with spangled bolts,
          and starry skies start closin’
as wild geese soar beyond death’s door
          neath naked moon a’ posin’.
Electric shafts, like fractured rafts,
          sail night’s cathedral caldrons –
their cracking curse makes herds disperse
          in random splayed and sprawled runs.

A she-wolf sighs with hungry eyes;
          the ancient wolf waits, bayin’ -
with weary back, he’s lost the track,
          his bandied legs betrayin’.
The brood’s somewhere in shrouded lair
          with mama left to mind ’em -
the wolf, a’ drag with empty swag,
          is on his way to find ’em.

The pack rejoins with weary ***** -
          perhaps its days are numbered.
In evening’s night, he’s feeling tight,
          with aches and pains encumbered.
As morning nears, with shaggy ears
          (one droopin’ down, hung over)
he’ll set the course with renewed force,
          for, yes, he’s still the rover.

When snow enshrines the timberlines
          and skies are ripped asunder
though young, lupine, they’ll stifle whines,
          as gullies fill with thunder;
mid echoes in the mouth o’ death,
          they bid farewell the lair
while panting puffs o’ crystal breath
          float, hanging in the air.

Their path is black (they can’t look back
          for herds long gone a’ missin’)
as dusk profanes the snow-bound plains
          the sinkin’ sun was kissin’.
Neath northern lights, with barks and bites,
          he keeps ’em all in motion –
the speckled scars of fallin’ stars
          display the night’s devotion.

The sky’s a’ blushin’ in the east,
          and hollow wind’s are sighin’
while buzzards freeze in gallows trees,
          a’ roostin’, rapt and eyein’.
These ghouls of prey, they’re spooked away,
          like tumbleweeds a’ blowin’,
by tilted head, white fangs tipped red,
          and warnin’ wail’s a’ growin’.

With snout upturned the moon’s discerned
          as well as wafts a wendin’
and muzzled growls and shriekin’ howls
          mark wolves in quests unendin’.
With fragrant hint, the wolf’s a’ sprint,
          the pack begins t’ rally –
in swift descent they’ve seized a scent,
          that’s flowin’ down the valley.

The wolf moves on behind the dawn
          and shades the pale horizon
as she-wolfs vet his silhouette
          each time they lay their eyes on.
With trek discreet, a trail is beat
          across a river frozen –
when day’s complete, just mice to eat,
          a choice despised, but chosen.

A stillness jeers the shaggy ears
          (one droopin’ down, hung over),
while caribou, with much ado,
          drift, seekin’ blades o’ clover;
the wearied pack picks up their track
          (with stony stomachs pangin’)
through endless seas of barren trees
          with ice like daggers hangin’.

The wolf invades forgotten glades,
          the pack stays close behind ’im;
the caribou, in his purview,
          seem far too far to mind ’im.
Above, a baleful moonbeam wails,
          “oh god he’s gonna’ catch ’em”;
the scene is grim, the Reaper dim,
          the night has gone to fetch ’im.

A moanin’ mynah’s crying loud
          as birds of prey are preachin’
to cravin’ ravens prayin’ proud
          and wide-eyed owls a’ screechin’.
The wolf, unrushed, is breathin’ hushed,
          his hollow eyes a’ narrowin’
and focused hard in fixed regard
          on herds they'll soon be harrowin’.

The morning breeze is ill at ease,  
          a surge brings sudden silence –
then haggard swarms launch poundin’ storms
          and hurricanes of vi’lence;
the herd’s surprised and paralyzed
          all over hell’s half acre –
the leadin’ buck’s run out of luck,
          he’s soon to meet his maker.

The old wolf creeps, the old wolf leaps
          on prey he’s been a’ trackin’ –
a deer adorned with branchin’ horns
          is torn by beasts attackin’.
The morning quakes, a shadow shakes,
          tined antlers left a’ lyin’,
and spattered spots and scarlet clots
          repaint the point o’ dyin’.

A magpie flies with frightened eyes
          (on ebon wings a’ wavin’),
spies wolfin’ jaws and sated maws
          of wolves no longer cravin’.
The snowdrift clears, a cool wind veers,
          a dying breath, moreover –
a wraith appears, with shaggy ears,
          (one droopin’ down, hung over).

Dawn’s sunbeams crowd, ignite a cloud,
          its threaded strands a’ weavin’.
The pack awakes and twists and shakes,
          for soon it’s time for leavin’;
it’s bleak, it chills on shallow hills,
          as she-wolfs come a’ nuzzlin’,
but north winds scold, the wolf lies cold,
          the pack stands back a’ puzzlin’.

On crimson snows neath perchin’ crows,
          the pack abides a’ guardin’;
while nights are tight with Harpy kites,
          the she-wolves wait an’ harden,
until a groanin’ blizzard stones
          the barren forest stowin’
his shaggy ears beneath the weirs,
          with icy hails ’a blowin’.

The storm abates and terminates,
          the glacial wind’s subsidin’;
the past is past or passin’ fast
          and life goes on abidin’.
The herds, today, roam far away,
          not thinkin’ of the dyin’;
the pack’ll stray from day to day,
          ’a stalkin’ hard and tryin’.

As spring sneaks forth upon the north,
          they’re lean without their leader.
A she-wolf (bound with belly round)
          strains neath a budding cedar.
Upon the morn a whelp is born
           (the future forest drover)
in new frontiers, with shaggy ears
          (one droopin’ down, hung over).
Sing, O goddess, the anger of Achilles son of Peleus, that brought
countless ills upon the Achaeans. Many a brave soul did it send
hurrying down to Hades, and many a hero did it yield a prey to dogs
and vultures, for so were the counsels of Jove fulfilled from the
day on which the son of Atreus, king of men, and great Achilles, first
fell out with one another.
  And which of the gods was it that set them on to quarrel? It was the
son of Jove and Leto; for he was angry with the king and sent a
pestilence upon the host to plague the people, because the son of
Atreus had dishonoured Chryses his priest. Now Chryses had come to the
ships of the Achaeans to free his daughter, and had brought with him a
great ransom: moreover he bore in his hand the sceptre of Apollo
wreathed with a suppliant’s wreath and he besought the Achaeans, but
most of all the two sons of Atreus, who were their chiefs.
  “Sons of Atreus,” he cried, “and all other Achaeans, may the gods
who dwell in Olympus grant you to sack the city of Priam, and to reach
your homes in safety; but free my daughter, and accept a ransom for
her, in reverence to Apollo, son of Jove.”
  On this the rest of the Achaeans with one voice were for
respecting the priest and taking the ransom that he offered; but not
so Agamemnon, who spoke fiercely to him and sent him roughly away.
“Old man,” said he, “let me not find you tarrying about our ships, nor
yet coming hereafter. Your sceptre of the god and your wreath shall
profit you nothing. I will not free her. She shall grow old in my
house at Argos far from her own home, busying herself with her loom
and visiting my couch; so go, and do not provoke me or it shall be the
worse for you.”
  The old man feared him and obeyed. Not a word he spoke, but went
by the shore of the sounding sea and prayed apart to King Apollo
whom lovely Leto had borne. “Hear me,” he cried, “O god of the
silver bow, that protectest Chryse and holy Cilla and rulest Tenedos
with thy might, hear me oh thou of Sminthe. If I have ever decked your
temple with garlands, or burned your thigh-bones in fat of bulls or
goats, grant my prayer, and let your arrows avenge these my tears upon
the Danaans.”
  Thus did he pray, and Apollo heard his prayer. He came down
furious from the summits of Olympus, with his bow and his quiver
upon his shoulder, and the arrows rattled on his back with the rage
that trembled within him. He sat himself down away from the ships with
a face as dark as night, and his silver bow rang death as he shot
his arrow in the midst of them. First he smote their mules and their
hounds, but presently he aimed his shafts at the people themselves,
and all day long the pyres of the dead were burning.
  For nine whole days he shot his arrows among the people, but upon
the tenth day Achilles called them in assembly—moved thereto by Juno,
who saw the Achaeans in their death-throes and had compassion upon
them. Then, when they were got together, he rose and spoke among them.
  “Son of Atreus,” said he, “I deem that we should now turn roving
home if we would escape destruction, for we are being cut down by
war and pestilence at once. Let us ask some priest or prophet, or some
reader of dreams (for dreams, too, are of Jove) who can tell us why
Phoebus Apollo is so angry, and say whether it is for some vow that we
have broken, or hecatomb that we have not offered, and whether he will
accept the savour of lambs and goats without blemish, so as to take
away the plague from us.”
  With these words he sat down, and Calchas son of Thestor, wisest
of augurs, who knew things past present and to come, rose to speak. He
it was who had guided the Achaeans with their fleet to Ilius,
through the prophesyings with which Phoebus Apollo had inspired him.
With all sincerity and goodwill he addressed them thus:-
  “Achilles, loved of heaven, you bid me tell you about the anger of
King Apollo, I will therefore do so; but consider first and swear that
you will stand by me heartily in word and deed, for I know that I
shall offend one who rules the Argives with might, to whom all the
Achaeans are in subjection. A plain man cannot stand against the anger
of a king, who if he swallow his displeasure now, will yet nurse
revenge till he has wreaked it. Consider, therefore, whether or no you
will protect me.”
  And Achilles answered, “Fear not, but speak as it is borne in upon
you from heaven, for by Apollo, Calchas, to whom you pray, and whose
oracles you reveal to us, not a Danaan at our ships shall lay his hand
upon you, while I yet live to look upon the face of the earth—no, not
though you name Agamemnon himself, who is by far the foremost of the
Achaeans.”
  Thereon the seer spoke boldly. “The god,” he said, “is angry neither
about vow nor hecatomb, but for his priest’s sake, whom Agamemnon
has dishonoured, in that he would not free his daughter nor take a
ransom for her; therefore has he sent these evils upon us, and will
yet send others. He will not deliver the Danaans from this
pestilence till Agamemnon has restored the girl without fee or
ransom to her father, and has sent a holy hecatomb to Chryse. Thus
we may perhaps appease him.”
  With these words he sat down, and Agamemnon rose in anger. His heart
was black with rage, and his eyes flashed fire as he scowled on
Calchas and said, “Seer of evil, you never yet prophesied smooth
things concerning me, but have ever loved to foretell that which was
evil. You have brought me neither comfort nor performance; and now you
come seeing among Danaans, and saying that Apollo has plagued us
because I would not take a ransom for this girl, the daughter of
Chryses. I have set my heart on keeping her in my own house, for I
love her better even than my own wife Clytemnestra, whose peer she
is alike in form and feature, in understanding and accomplishments.
Still I will give her up if I must, for I would have the people
live, not die; but you must find me a prize instead, or I alone
among the Argives shall be without one. This is not well; for you
behold, all of you, that my prize is to go elsewhither.”
  And Achilles answered, “Most noble son of Atreus, covetous beyond
all mankind, how shall the Achaeans find you another prize? We have no
common store from which to take one. Those we took from the cities
have been awarded; we cannot disallow the awards that have been made
already. Give this girl, therefore, to the god, and if ever Jove
grants us to sack the city of Troy we will requite you three and
fourfold.”
  Then Agamemnon said, “Achilles, valiant though you be, you shall not
thus outwit me. You shall not overreach and you shall not persuade me.
Are you to keep your own prize, while I sit tamely under my loss and
give up the girl at your bidding? Let the Achaeans find me a prize
in fair exchange to my liking, or I will come and take your own, or
that of Ajax or of Ulysses; and he to whomsoever I may come shall
rue my coming. But of this we will take thought hereafter; for the
present, let us draw a ship into the sea, and find a crew for her
expressly; let us put a hecatomb on board, and let us send Chryseis
also; further, let some chief man among us be in command, either Ajax,
or Idomeneus, or yourself, son of Peleus, mighty warrior that you are,
that we may offer sacrifice and appease the the anger of the god.”
  Achilles scowled at him and answered, “You are steeped in
insolence and lust of gain. With what heart can any of the Achaeans do
your bidding, either on foray or in open fighting? I came not
warring here for any ill the Trojans had done me. I have no quarrel
with them. They have not raided my cattle nor my horses, nor cut
down my harvests on the rich plains of Phthia; for between me and them
there is a great space, both mountain and sounding sea. We have
followed you, Sir Insolence! for your pleasure, not ours—to gain
satisfaction from the Trojans for your shameless self and for
Menelaus. You forget this, and threaten to rob me of the prize for
which I have toiled, and which the sons of the Achaeans have given me.
Never when the Achaeans sack any rich city of the Trojans do I receive
so good a prize as you do, though it is my hands that do the better
part of the fighting. When the sharing comes, your share is far the
largest, and I, forsooth, must go back to my ships, take what I can
get and be thankful, when my labour of fighting is done. Now,
therefore, I shall go back to Phthia; it will be much better for me to
return home with my ships, for I will not stay here dishonoured to
gather gold and substance for you.”
  And Agamemnon answered, “Fly if you will, I shall make you no
prayers to stay you. I have others here who will do me honour, and
above all Jove, the lord of counsel. There is no king here so
hateful to me as you are, for you are ever quarrelsome and ill
affected. What though you be brave? Was it not heaven that made you
so? Go home, then, with your ships and comrades to lord it over the
Myrmidons. I care neither for you nor for your anger; and thus will
I do: since Phoebus Apollo is taking Chryseis from me, I shall send
her with my ship and my followers, but I shall come to your tent and
take your own prize Briseis, that you may learn how much stronger I am
than you are, and that another may fear to set himself up as equal
or comparable with me.”
  The son of Peleus was furious, and his heart within his shaggy
breast was divided whether to draw his sword, push the others aside,
and **** the son of Atreus, or to restrain himself and check his
anger. While he was thus in two minds, and was drawing his mighty
sword from its scabbard, Minerva came down from heaven (for Juno had
sent her in the love she bore to them both), and seized the son of
Peleus by his yellow hair, visible to him alone, for of the others
no man could see her. Achilles turned in amaze, and by the fire that
flashed from her eyes at once knew that she was Minerva. “Why are
you here,” said he, “daughter of aegis-bearing Jove? To see the
pride of Agamemnon, son of Atreus? Let me tell you—and it shall
surely be—he shall pay for this insolence with his life.”
  And Minerva said, “I come from heaven, if you will hear me, to bid
you stay your anger. Juno has sent me, who cares for both of you
alike. Cease, then, this brawling, and do not draw your sword; rail at
him if you will, and your railing will not be vain, for I tell you-
and it shall surely be—that you shall hereafter receive gifts three
times as splendid by reason of this present insult. Hold, therefore,
and obey.”
  “Goddess,” answered Achilles, “however angry a man may be, he must
do as you two command him. This will be best, for the gods ever hear
the prayers of him who has obeyed them.”
  He stayed his hand on the silver hilt of his sword, and ****** it
back into the scabbard as Minerva bade him. Then she went back to
Olympus among the other gods, and to the house of aegis-bearing Jove.
  But the son of Peleus again began railing at the son of Atreus,
for he was still in a rage. “Wine-bibber,” he cried, “with the face of
a dog and the heart of a hind, you never dare to go out with the
host in fight, nor yet with our chosen men in ambuscade. You shun this
as you do death itself. You had rather go round and rob his prizes
from any man who contradicts you. You devour your people, for you
are king over a feeble folk; otherwise, son of Atreus, henceforward
you would insult no man. Therefore I say, and swear it with a great
oath—nay, by this my sceptre which shalt sprout neither leaf nor
shoot, nor bud anew from the day on which it left its parent stem upon
the mountains—for the axe stripped it of leaf and bark, and now the
sons of the Achaeans bear it as judges and guardians of the decrees of
heaven—so surely and solemnly do I swear that hereafter they shall
look fondly for Achilles and shall not find him. In the day of your
distress, when your men fall dying by the murderous hand of Hector,
you shall not know how to help them, and shall rend your heart with
rage for the hour when you offered insult to the bravest of the
Achaeans.”
  With this the son of Peleus dashed his gold-bestudded sceptre on the
ground and took his seat, while the son of Atreus was beginning
fiercely from his place upon the other side. Then uprose
smooth-tongued Nestor, the facile speaker of the Pylians, and the
words fell from his lips sweeter than honey. Two generations of men
born and bred in Pylos had passed away under his rule, and he was
now reigning over the third. With all sincerity and goodwill,
therefore, he addressed them thus:-
  “Of a truth,” he said, “a great sorrow has befallen the Achaean
land. Surely Priam with his sons would rejoice, and the Trojans be
glad at heart if they could hear this quarrel between you two, who are
so excellent in fight and counsel. I am older than either of you;
therefore be guided by me. Moreover I have been the familiar friend of
men even greater than you are, and they did not disregard my counsels.
Never again can I behold such men as Pirithous and Dryas shepherd of
his people, or as Caeneus, Exadius, godlike Polyphemus, and Theseus
son of Aegeus, peer of the immortals. These were the mightiest men
ever born upon this earth: mightiest were they, and when they fought
the fiercest tribes of mountain savages they utterly overthrew them. I
came from distant Pylos, and went about among them, for they would
have me come, and I fought as it was in me to do. Not a man now living
could withstand them, but they heard my words, and were persuaded by
them. So be it also with yourselves, for this is the more excellent
way. Therefore, Agamemnon, though you be strong, take not this girl
away, for the sons of the Achaeans have already given her to Achilles;
and you, Achilles, strive not further with the king, for no man who by
the grace of Jove wields a sceptre has like honour with Agamemnon. You
are strong, and have a goddess for your mother; but Agamemnon is
stronger than you, for he has more people under him. Son of Atreus,
check your anger, I implore you; end this quarrel with Achilles, who
in the day of battle is a tower of strength to the Achaeans.”
  And Agamemnon answered, “Sir, all that you have said is true, but
this fellow must needs become our lord and master: he must be lord
of all, king of all, and captain of all, and this shall hardly be.
Granted that the gods have made him a great warrior, have they also
given him the right to speak with railing?”
  Achilles interrupted him. “I should be a mean coward,” he cried,
“were I to give in to you in all things. Order other people about, not
me, for I shall obey no longer. Furthermore I say—and lay my saying
to your heart—I shall fight neither you nor any man about this
girl, for those that take were those also that gave. But of all else
that is at my ship you shall carry away nothing by force. Try, that
others may see; if you do, my spear shall be reddened with your
blood.”
  When they had quarrelled thus angrily, they rose, and broke up the
assembly at the ships of the Achaeans. The son of Peleus went back
to his tents and ships with the son of Menoetius and his company,
while Agamemnon drew a vessel into the water and chose a crew of
twenty oarsmen. He escorted Chryseis on board and sent moreover a
hecatomb for the god. And Ulysses went as captain.
  These, then, went on board and sailed their ways over the sea. But
the son of Atreus bade the people purify themselves; so they
purified themselves and cast their filth into the sea. Then they
offered hecatombs of bulls and goats without blemish on the sea-shore,
and the smoke with the savour of their sacrifice rose curling up
towards heaven.
  Thus did they busy themselves throughout the host. But Agamemnon did
not forget the threat that he had made Achilles, and called his trusty
messengers and squires Talthybius and Eurybates. “Go,” said he, “to
the tent of Achilles, son of Peleus; take Briseis by the hand and
bring her hither; if he will not give her I shall come with others and
take her—which will press him harder.”
  He charged them straightly furthe
My father worked with a horse-plough,
His shoulders globed like a full sail strung
Between the shafts and the furrow.
The horse strained at his clicking tongue.

An expert. He would set the wing
And fit the bright steel-pointed sock.
The sod rolled over without breaking.
At the headrig, with a single pluck

Of reins, the sweating team turned round
And back into the land. His eye
Narrowed and angled at the ground,
Mapping the furrow exactly.

I stumbled in his hob-nailed wake,
Fell sometimes on the polished sod;
Sometimes he rode me on his back
Dipping and rising to his plod.

I wanted to grow up and plough,
To close one eye, stiffen my arm.
All I ever did was follow
In his broad shadow round the farm.

I was a nuisance, tripping, falling,
Yapping always. But today
It is my father who keeps stumbling
Behind me, and will not go away.
The Wicca Man Sep 2012
When first I saw you,
you were lying on a green bank laughing at the sky
as you watched the clouds scud by
and you saw all kinds of shapes in those clouds
and gasped in awe as the myriad of birds
soared and wheeled through the clouds.

Your laugh skipped across the distance between us
like magical notes from a faery harp.
The sunlight lit up your golden hair
making diamonds out of the shafts of sunlight
as you turned your head to and fro
making the sunbeams dance to your tune.

And about your head was a halo of white lilies …

When next I saw you
you were hand in hand with your love
walking into the sunlight from the grey stone church.
Your brocade of white entwined with golden thread
sparkled like a million gems.
Your face was bright and alive with smiling eyes
and your golden hair fell down around your face
catching the sunbeams.
And ringing out their joy, the church bells pealed for you.

And in your hand was a bouquet of white lilies …

I saw you again
on that same green bank laughing with joy
as your golden child frolicked in the warm summer sun,
her childish laugh mingling with your own in angelic harmony.
You grasped her up and, wheeling her skyward,
faces upturned, letting the sunbeams play around you
and then, holding her close, you sank to your knees
cradling the babe, letting the love flow out and around you both.

And in the child’s small hand was grasped a single white lily …

The next time I saw you
you were quietly sitting in the late summer sun
comfortable in your chair watching the golden sun flame red
as it sank below the distant horizon.
Your golden hair now not so vibrant
and your face etched with the many years of your long life
yet when you smiled at the glory of the setting sun, the sparkle of your eyes
was not dimmed at all.

And around your feet grew a field of white lilies …

The last time I saw you
I gave you my hand and, with fingers entwined,
we walked away from the sombre crowd whose tears flowed like pearls
as the stark white coffin was lowered into the ground.
And looking into your face I saw you again
as you were that first time,
your golden hair that fell as rivulets
around your now pale, sad face.
I took that face in my hands and gently kissed your lips,
no more than a whisper, like a gentle spring breeze teasing the blossoms.
Still hand in hand, we looked back at the sad scene and then turned and walked into the light.

And all about your grave lay white lilies.
CH Gorrie Nov 2012
Reclining in their rocking chairs, the brothers Beau and Cletus gazed despondently out
Past the final farm toward the convergence of the worn highway
And the fritz horizon. Cows paused their chewing; an ashy sun
Obscured in incongruous fluffs of cloud; it grew
Greyishly chilly. "Shame the kids're movin'," Beau squeezed out before a deep belch. Cletus only
Mumbled, his voice lost in the light drizzle rapping on the milky sheet-plastic roof. The
          porch

Was unfurnished, save the chairs, one ashtray, and a novelty sign reading: "Get off my porch."
Cletus took a long, pensive drag off a cigarette before stubbing it out.
He coughed a raspy croak wetted with sixty-six years. Besides Cletus' sporadic coughs, the only
Distinguishable sound to be heard in Moody Creek wafted in from the highway:
Rattles of the day's final Spokane- or Boise-bound semi-trucks grew
Inaudible as Beau transiently  murmured, "Purtier than a string of fried trout, that there
          sun-

set." "Whaaa?" Cletus wheezed. "It's settin'," answered Beau, loosely gesturing at the sun.
Fractaled-orange-shafts webbing manifold shades of yellow – amber, belge, stil-de-grain – grew
Plumply stout upon the farmland, edged between properties and crumpled on the porch.
"I'll tell you what Beau – I'm glad they got out,"
Cletus uttered with assurance, his eyes scanning the reaches of light upon the highway.
Beau fixed his cap, musing over Cletus' words. He cleared his throat before beginning, "If
          only..."

Then stopped and itched his belly-button. Cletus turned to his brother. "I know one thang only
Beau: they'll do good in California. They'll be livin' high on the hog. Yer son n' my son
'll 'ave secure futures." Jack nodded somberly. He hated the highway.
He hated its ability to isolate everything. It had been his original revamp, the now-rickety porch,
His first project on his fixer-upper after marrying Dorothy West. They'd wed out
In his father's corn field; bought a house a mile or so down the road. Kids were born. Love
          grew,

And in its growing all things tangible and gorgeous – like tangrams piece together – grew:
The farm, the house, savings account and family. They ate hearty; drank canned beer only –
Living was smooth – but it changed when Dorothy took Little Dale and got out.
She wanted what the farm couldn't give or grow, leaving tiny Moody Creek with their son
As the last moon of May, 1955 went up. "*****!" Beau had yelled from the porch.
He'd woken to his Buick's rev and watched its taillights wane upon the
          highway.

And though he remarried, this was, in truth, mostly why Beau never squarely looked upon highway.
The light drizzle grew
Heavy, intensifying. "Gosh **** rain might near knock the coverin' off the porch!"
Hollered Beau. Cletus looked up and blew a cloud of thick grey smoke. "It's only
Rain Beau. No need gettin' ornery." That morning they'd seen off their youngest sons as the sun
Was just rising. One left to work for a dairy ******* in The Valley, the other went to figure
          out

Himself and his career. The porch shuddered. Beau absent-mindedly repeated "If only..."
Daylight died; black inked upon the highway. Cletus lit a new cigarette. Moody Creek grew
Dense, compacted by the darkness. The sun inched away. Cletus hacked and put his cigarette
          out.
This is a sestina. The six end words of the the six lines of the first stanza are repeated in different orders within the following five stanzas. It is all followed by a three line envoy containing all six words.
Liz May 2014
The sprouting buttercup
dangles into the purpled,
doting sky. It's waxy spangles
nuzzle the moist,
crisply dewed, fluff
whilst billowing across merry air. 

The yellow buttercup
dozes in spiced, lean dapples,
setting its soul ablaze in sumptuous echoes at the sheer
drape of dawn.

The teacup buttercup
outspreads it's wings
amongst tall spiked grasses
and wild flowers.
Shifting shafts and shards
of grass and glass
and forever awaiting the larks cry
which means its time to die.
Wade Redfearn May 2018
Something rattles in the soul.
It must be paid attention -
  it is the soul, the only sure thing -
and rattled in return.

Slow begins the dance of tongues and hard news.
I learn a thing I never wished to learn.
Afterwards,
a dance of tongues in the ensuite
begins a sudden rapture of claiming.

Nails mine, skin mine
to make a pink impression on.
Bile in the back of the throat, mine.
Fear of death, mine. Oaths and oaths,
mine, too. An exchange of humility,
knee for a knee. The rigid wall at your back.
The wall at your back.
The night which enriches
bluer out of the blue air,
not the action of
the world moving at all.

The particles of water in a birdbath divide,
decide among themselves
to marry each to each, to reproduce.
They become an ocean.
They drown the birds.
My mouth fills with feathers,
teeth itch with the tiny mites
running between the shafts.

I am a bell, and you are a country.
I am a bell and sound from far away.

Hands touch the broken vase in her parts, the toes,
the eyelash, the sunken wreck, the crowd of dead,
the treasure.
They say
  all this
as if the map was drawn
and burned
and came again
in char from the tablecloth
to all our wonder.

A single miracle can last for weeks in the mouth. Sometimes centuries.

I will spend eighteen days in the void of grace.
What begins as a pain in my shoulders
will grow into a tree and bury me.
I will want promises, promises, promises.
(water, water, water)
I will never be satisfied.

Looking always for permanent loss it becomes easy to simply
misplace.
Your caution leads to strange decisions.
You put your keys in the fridge.

I would like to say I knew the words:
I cut the lock of hair, I drew the blood.
The hex was removed by faith and chaste reflection
but everywhere I look, there is a confusion
of hungry birds and beggars
and I forget the spell,
or what chaste reflection even is.

Anyways, something breaks. Not my doing.
Suddenly, I am just noticing sky again.
I am transcribed back into English.
My first decision is to wash my car,
and next,
to learn what faith meant to anyone.

Charmed, is it?
Something rattles in the soul.
It must be paid attention -
  it is the soul, the only sure thing -
and rattled in return.
It has nothing, really, to say.
It only rattles.
Just ask me.
RAJ NANDY Aug 2015
Dear Readers, President Theodore Roosevelt wanted
to save this marvelous Natural Wonder for posterity! So
the Grand Canyon National Park was set up in 1919. In
1979 it was declared as World Heritage Site! With the
portion “Sun rises and sets over the Grand Canyon”, -
I have concluded this poem. Kindly take your time to read,
no need to comment in a hurry please ! Thanks, -Raj

CONCLUDING THE GRAND CANYON
STORY IN VERSE – RAJ NANDY

INTRODUCTION
Literature about great natural features include
two personal types of writing;
Description of things observed, and impressions
of what is known and seen!
The story of the Grand Canyon takes us back
to the Pre-Cambrian Age,
When violent forces were unleashed from within
the Earth, during its formative stage;
When mighty forces of erosion began to sculpture
her undulating landscapes!
Therefore, I begin with a quote about Erosion,
From the great poet Alfred Lord Tennyson; -
“The hills are shadows and they flow,
From form to form, and nothing stands.
They pass like clouds, the solid lands.
Like clouds they shape themselves and go!”

TO RECAPITULATE PART ONE:
In Part One we have seen, how movement of
earth’s tectonic plates unleashed violent forces
from within!
It formed mountains and lakes, shaping our
landscapes, which now appear so peaceful,
grand, and serene!
Over millions of years the forces of erosion in
the form of wind, rain, sun and snow,
Sculptured earth’s evolving features creating
majestic, panoramic vistas as we know!
Geologists now opine, that the Grand Canyon
was carved out by the Colorado River, -
cutting through ‘layers of Geological time’!

THE COLORADO RIVER CARVED THE CANYON:
In the state of Colorado, from the high country,
Where snow and ice lasts well beyond the dawning
days of Spring;
There the majestic peaks of the Rockies form the
perennial fountain head from which springs, -
One of the great rivers of the world the Colorado;
Which travels 1400 miles through seven States
reaching the Californian Gulf west of Mexico!
Now during prehistoric days, the pristine Colorado
had flowed almost along the same path as today!
But after the magical rise of the Colorado Plateau
some five million years ago, (Refer Part One)
It had blocked the river’s path making it flow
south-east into the Gulf of Mexico!
Few Geologists now opine, that this diverted river
had formed the pre-historic Lake Bidahochi,
Which later drained out to form the Little Colorado
River, which today we get see!
But the cut-off western portion of the river (named
Hualapai Drainage) continued to eat away through
the Plateau’s southern portion,
Through a gradual process known as ’Headwater
Erosion’!
For the river flowing at a steeper gradient along
the ‘Grand Staircase’ of the Plateau, carried
stones, rocks and debris,
Which formed the cutting tools, deepening the
Canyon over countless centuries!
When the softer sedimentary layers of the Plateau
below the top rocky layers gave away, - it resulted
in several rock falls!
While flash floods and erosion continued to breach
the sides of the canyon walls!
Thus over millions of years the width of the Canyon
gradually increased;
While the gushing and untamed Colorado River
chiseled through the depths of those Cyclopean walls, -
running deep!
Now the ancient Lake Bidahochi which had breached its
banks, had captured our pristine Colorado;
And their combined power increased the volume of
water and river’s chiseling power, with its rapid flow!

ENDANGERED COLORADO RIVER :
It is unfortunate that today, the Colorado no longer
reach the mighty Pacific as in the olden days!
With the progress of civilization and the spawning
of big cities,
Like Denver, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Los Angeles;
And to cater for the agricultural farmlands and the
Industries,
Many dams got built to divert its water and to
generate electricity!
Thus over a century of overuse and abuse of this
precious natural resource,
Gradually choked up the great Colorado, as it
became a mere trickle at the end of its course!
Ecologists now debate, while USA has launched
‘Save the Colorado River Project’!
Let us now cheer up by getting back to our
Grand Canyon’s scenic beauty,
Before concluding this wondrous Canyon Story!

SUN RISES AND SETS OVER GRAND CANYON!
To see the sunrise from Mather, Yaki, or the
Hopi Point, - located on the Southern Rim,
Becomes a life time experience, better than any
surreal dream!
First a glimmer then a glow, when a faint blue-white
sheen begins to show!
As the sun gradually sprinkles its light, streaks of
crimson red spreads across the eastern sky!
Soon orange and yellow shafts of light, light up the
Canyon walls up high!
Squirrels scurry out of sight, and birds twitter in
the sky!
The Hummingbird hovers like a helicopter, and
Big Horn sheep are also seen;
The Hummingbird which can even fly backwards,
enlivens this early morning scene!
The sun now rising in its resplendent glory,
showers the canyon with its kaleidoscopic beams;
With streaks of yellow, gold and red, it chases out
lurking shadows from within!
Like a curtain lifting before their eyes, the tourists
view this panoramic sight!
As the Grand Canyon awakens to greet the day,
With cameras madly clicking away!
The great ancestors of the Hopi tribe, Hopi
meaning both peaceful and wise;
Had inhabited these areas some eight thousand
years hence!
Their scooped out granaries and tools found inside
Canyon walls, - have an ancient story to tell !
The Spaniards were the first Europeans to reach,
in search for gold which they never found!
But for the Hopis the Canyon remains, as their
sacred Holy ground!
When those Spaniards saw the Colorado way
down below, from the Canyon’s upper rim’s side;
They said that this thin blue streaked River, was
barely five feet wide! (In mid-16th century)
The average width of the Canyon is around 10 miles;
While the River at its narrowest point is 600 yards
wide!
The Condor the largest American bird, catching an
upward draft circles up high;
Like an uncrowned monarch he surveys his kingdom
below, nothing escapes his watchful eyes!
Temperature at the Canyon’s floor is 20 degrees
higher, when compared to its outer rim;
Supports an ecosystem of plants and animals,
With the river as chief nourisher of all things!
Evergreen pines and furs grow along the cooler
areas of the Canyon’s outer rim;
While cactus species are found on its arid floor,
Their exotic flowers bloom during Summer and Spring!
The Northern Rim a thousand feet higher, offers many
spectacular sites!
But the Southern Rim remains open throughout the
year, while the Northern closes during Winter time.
From the Hopi Point west of the Canyon, the visitors
enjoy the beauty of the silent, sinking sun;
When the sky gets diffused with vermillion red, as
darkening shadows engulf those Canyon walls!
The mighty Canyon with its Cyclopean walls,
perhaps the playground of the Titans from eons past;
Shaped by some mythical Vulcan, shall remain till
this World continues to last!

CONCLUDING THE GRAND CANYON STORY:
I conclude my Grand Canyon Story by quoting a
poem I had once read;
Written by an Anonymous author, whose name
I had failed to get!
“BUILT WITH PATIENCE OF ENDLESS TIME,
YEARS ERODE AND SHAPES DEFINE.
LAYERS YIELD THEIR COUNTLESS AGE,
EYES CAN SEE BUT CANNOT GAUGE!
STAND AGAPE WITH AWE INSPIRED,
IMAGE READS OF LIFE TRANSPIRED.
CLIFFS REACH OUT TO TOUCH THE SKY,
PATHS LEAD DOWN WHERE RIVER LYE.
COLORS, SHAPES AND SHADOWS MELD,
HERE, A PLACE FOREVER HELD.
WALK AWAY YET NEVER PART,
BODY LEAVES BUT NOT THE HEART!”
- Anonymous
……………………………………………………………
ALL COPYRIGHTS WITH THE AUTHOR RAJ NANDY
OF NEW DELHI, E-MAIL: rajnandy21@yahoo.in
KINDLY READ PART ONE OF THIS STORY IF YOU HAD MISSED OUT!
THANKS, -Raj Nandy
Gary Brocks Sep 2018
1.
There was the tremor of leaves,
a rustle of bayonet grass
parried the multihued calm
of dawn's smeared light.
"This is what we trained for," the captain said.
We hunkered behind stacked bags of sand.

2.
Filigreed shafts of light pierce
the bullet perforated leaf canopy,
bellowed yells punctuate the swirl
and buffet of turbulent air:
“Contact”,  “2 O’Clock”, “Incoming”, “
"Moving”, “Reloading”, “Ammo”.

3.
Fingers twitch, the grit of soil
twisted through their grip;
moon slashed carcasses glint, spent shells,
Earth exhales a vermillion mist,
rising, echoless, in this
a cathedral of leaves.
180926F
But as the sun was rising from the fair sea into the firmament of
heaven to shed Blight on mortals and immortals, they reached Pylos the
city of Neleus. Now the people of Pylos were gathered on the sea shore
to offer sacrifice of black bulls to Neptune lord of the Earthquake.
There were nine guilds with five hundred men in each, and there were
nine bulls to each guild. As they were eating the inward meats and
burning the thigh bones [on the embers] in the name of Neptune,
Telemachus and his crew arrived, furled their sails, brought their
ship to anchor, and went ashore.
  Minerva led the way and Telemachus followed her. Presently she said,
“Telemachus, you must not be in the least shy or nervous; you have
taken this voyage to try and find out where your father is buried
and how he came by his end; so go straight up to Nestor that we may
see what he has got to tell us. Beg of him to speak the truth, and
he will tell no lies, for he is an excellent person.”
  “But how, Mentor,” replied Telemachus, “dare I go up to Nestor,
and how am I to address him? I have never yet been used to holding
long conversations with people, and am ashamed to begin questioning
one who is so much older than myself.”
  “Some things, Telemachus,” answered Minerva, “will be suggested to
you by your own instinct, and heaven will prompt you further; for I am
assured that the gods have been with you from the time of your birth
until now.”
  She then went quickly on, and Telemachus followed in her steps
till they reached the place where the guilds of the Pylian people were
assembled. There they found Nestor sitting with his sons, while his
company round him were busy getting dinner ready, and putting pieces
of meat on to the spits while other pieces were cooking. When they saw
the strangers they crowded round them, took them by the hand and
bade them take their places. Nestor’s son Pisistratus at once
offered his hand to each of them, and seated them on some soft
sheepskins that were lying on the sands near his father and his
brother Thrasymedes. Then he gave them their portions of the inward
meats and poured wine for them into a golden cup, handing it to
Minerva first, and saluting her at the same time.
  “Offer a prayer, sir,” said he, “to King Neptune, for it is his
feast that you are joining; when you have duly prayed and made your
drink-offering, pass the cup to your friend that he may do so also.
I doubt not that he too lifts his hands in prayer, for man cannot live
without God in the world. Still he is younger than you are, and is
much of an age with myself, so I he handed I will give you the
precedence.”
  As he spoke he handed her the cup. Minerva thought it very right and
proper of him to have given it to herself first; she accordingly began
praying heartily to Neptune. “O thou,” she cried, “that encirclest the
earth, vouchsafe to grant the prayers of thy servants that call upon
thee. More especially we pray thee send down thy grace on Nestor and
on his sons; thereafter also make the rest of the Pylian people some
handsome return for the goodly hecatomb they are offering you. Lastly,
grant Telemachus and myself a happy issue, in respect of the matter
that has brought us in our to Pylos.”
  When she had thus made an end of praying, she handed the cup to
Telemachus and he prayed likewise. By and by, when the outer meats
were roasted and had been taken off the spits, the carvers gave
every man his portion and they all made an excellent dinner. As soon
as they had had enough to eat and drink, Nestor, knight of Gerene,
began to speak.
  “Now,” said he, “that our guests have done their dinner, it will
be best to ask them who they are. Who, then, sir strangers, are you,
and from what port have you sailed? Are you traders? or do you sail
the seas as rovers with your hand against every man, and every man’s
hand against you?”
  Telemachus answered boldly, for Minerva had given him courage to ask
about his father and get himself a good name.
  “Nestor,” said he, “son of Neleus, honour to the Achaean name, you
ask whence we come, and I will tell you. We come from Ithaca under
Neritum, and the matter about which I would speak is of private not
public import. I seek news of my unhappy father Ulysses, who is said
to have sacked the town of Troy in company with yourself. We know what
fate befell each one of the other heroes who fought at Troy, but as
regards Ulysses heaven has hidden from us the knowledge even that he
is dead at all, for no one can certify us in what place he perished,
nor say whether he fell in battle on the mainland, or was lost at
sea amid the waves of Amphitrite. Therefore I am suppliant at your
knees, if haply you may be pleased to tell me of his melancholy end,
whether you saw it with your own eyes, or heard it from some other
traveller, for he was a man born to trouble. Do not soften things
out of any pity for me, but tell me in all plainness exactly what
you saw. If my brave father Ulysses ever did you loyal service, either
by word or deed, when you Achaeans were harassed among the Trojans,
bear it in mind now as in my favour and tell me truly all.”
  “My friend,” answered Nestor, “you recall a time of much sorrow to
my mind, for the brave Achaeans suffered much both at sea, while
privateering under Achilles, and when fighting before the great city
of king Priam. Our best men all of them fell there—Ajax, Achilles,
Patroclus peer of gods in counsel, and my own dear son Antilochus, a
man singularly fleet of foot and in fight valiant. But we suffered
much more than this; what mortal tongue indeed could tell the whole
story? Though you were to stay here and question me for five years, or
even six, I could not tell you all that the Achaeans suffered, and you
would turn homeward weary of my tale before it ended. Nine long
years did we try every kind of stratagem, but the hand of heaven was
against us; during all this time there was no one who could compare
with your father in subtlety—if indeed you are his son—I can
hardly believe my eyes—and you talk just like him too—no one would
say that people of such different ages could speak so much alike. He
and I never had any kind of difference from first to last neither in
camp nor council, but in singleness of heart and purpose we advised
the Argives how all might be ordered for the best.
  “When however, we had sacked the city of Priam, and were setting
sail in our ships as heaven had dispersed us, then Jove saw fit to vex
the Argives on their homeward voyage; for they had Not all been either
wise or understanding, and hence many came to a bad end through the
displeasure of Jove’s daughter Minerva, who brought about a quarrel
between the two sons of Atreus.
  “The sons of Atreus called a meeting which was not as it should
be, for it was sunset and the Achaeans were heavy with wine. When they
explained why they had called—the people together, it seemed that
Menelaus was for sailing homeward at once, and this displeased
Agamemnon, who thought that we should wait till we had offered
hecatombs to appease the anger of Minerva. Fool that he was, he
might have known that he would not prevail with her, for when the gods
have made up their minds they do not change them lightly. So the two
stood bandying hard words, whereon the Achaeans sprang to their feet
with a cry that rent the air, and were of two minds as to what they
should do.
  “That night we rested and nursed our anger, for Jove was hatching
mischief against us. But in the morning some of us drew our ships into
the water and put our goods with our women on board, while the rest,
about half in number, stayed behind with Agamemnon. We—the other
half—embarked and sailed; and the ships went well, for heaven had
smoothed the sea. When we reached Tenedos we offered sacrifices to the
gods, for we were longing to get home; cruel Jove, however, did not
yet mean that we should do so, and raised a second quarrel in the
course of which some among us turned their ships back again, and
sailed away under Ulysses to make their peace with Agamemnon; but I,
and all the ships that were with me pressed forward, for I saw that
mischief was brewing. The son of Tydeus went on also with me, and
his crews with him. Later on Menelaus joined us at ******, and found
us making up our minds about our course—for we did not know whether
to go outside Chios by the island of Psyra, keeping this to our
left, or inside Chios, over against the stormy headland of Mimas. So
we asked heaven for a sign, and were shown one to the effect that we
should be soonest out of danger if we headed our ships across the open
sea to Euboea. This we therefore did, and a fair wind sprang up
which gave us a quick passage during the night to Geraestus, where
we offered many sacrifices to Neptune for having helped us so far on
our way. Four days later Diomed and his men stationed their ships in
Argos, but I held on for Pylos, and the wind never fell light from the
day when heaven first made it fair for me.
  “Therefore, my dear young friend, I returned without hearing
anything about the others. I know neither who got home safely nor
who were lost but, as in duty bound, I will give you without reserve
the reports that have reached me since I have been here in my own
house. They say the Myrmidons returned home safely under Achilles’ son
Neoptolemus; so also did the valiant son of Poias, Philoctetes.
Idomeneus, again, lost no men at sea, and all his followers who
escaped death in the field got safe home with him to Crete. No
matter how far out of the world you live, you will have heard of
Agamemnon and the bad end he came to at the hands of Aegisthus—and
a fearful reckoning did Aegisthus presently pay. See what a good thing
it is for a man to leave a son behind him to do as Orestes did, who
killed false Aegisthus the murderer of his noble father. You too,
then—for you are a tall, smart-looking fellow—show your mettle and
make yourself a name in story.”
  “Nestor son of Neleus,” answered Telemachus, “honour to the
Achaean name, the Achaeans applaud Orestes and his name will live
through all time for he has avenged his father nobly. Would that
heaven might grant me to do like vengeance on the insolence of the
wicked suitors, who are ill treating me and plotting my ruin; but
the gods have no such happiness in store for me and for my father,
so we must bear it as best we may.”
  “My friend,” said Nestor, “now that you remind me, I remember to
have heard that your mother has many suitors, who are ill disposed
towards you and are making havoc of your estate. Do you submit to this
tamely, or are public feeling and the voice of heaven against you? Who
knows but what Ulysses may come back after all, and pay these
scoundrels in full, either single-handed or with a force of Achaeans
behind him? If Minerva were to take as great a liking to you as she
did to Ulysses when we were fighting before Troy (for I never yet
saw the gods so openly fond of any one as Minerva then was of your
father), if she would take as good care of you as she did of him,
these wooers would soon some of them him, forget their wooing.”
  Telemachus answered, “I can expect nothing of the kind; it would
be far too much to hope for. I dare not let myself think of it. Even
though the gods themselves willed it no such good fortune could befall
me.”
  On this Minerva said, “Telemachus, what are you talking about?
Heaven has a long arm if it is minded to save a man; and if it were
me, I should not care how much I suffered before getting home,
provided I could be safe when I was once there. I would rather this,
than get home quickly, and then be killed in my own house as Agamemnon
was by the treachery of Aegisthus and his wife. Still, death is
certain, and when a man’s hour is come, not even the gods can save
him, no matter how fond they are of him.”
  “Mentor,” answered Telemachus, “do not let us talk about it any
more. There is no chance of my father’s ever coming back; the gods
have long since counselled his destruction. There is something else,
however, about which I should like to ask Nestor, for he knows much
more than any one else does. They say he has reigned for three
generations so that it is like talking to an immortal. Tell me,
therefore, Nestor, and tell me true; how did Agamemnon come to die
in that way? What was Menelaus doing? And how came false Aegisthus
to **** so far better a man than himself? Was Menelaus away from
Achaean Argos, voyaging elsewhither among mankind, that Aegisthus took
heart and killed Agamemnon?”
  “I will tell you truly,” answered Nestor, “and indeed you have
yourself divined how it all happened. If Menelaus when he got back
from Troy had found Aegisthus still alive in his house, there would
have been no barrow heaped up for him, not even when he was dead,
but he would have been thrown outside the city to dogs and vultures,
and not a woman would have mourned him, for he had done a deed of
great wickedness; but we were over there, fighting hard at Troy, and
Aegisthus who was taking his ease quietly in the heart of Argos,
cajoled Agamemnon’s wife Clytemnestra with incessant flattery.
  “At first she would have nothing to do with his wicked scheme, for
she was of a good natural disposition; moreover there was a bard
with her, to whom Agamemnon had given strict orders on setting out for
Troy, that he was to keep guard over his wife; but when heaven had
counselled her destruction, Aegisthus thus this bard off to a desert
island and left him there for crows and seagulls to batten upon—after
which she went willingly enough to the house of Aegisthus. Then he
offered many burnt sacrifices to the gods, and decorated many
temples with tapestries and gilding, for he had succeeded far beyond
his expectations.
  “Meanwhile Menelaus and I were on our way home from Troy, on good
terms with one another. When we got to Sunium, which is the point of
Athens, Apollo with his painless shafts killed Phrontis the
steersman of Menelaus’ ship (and never man knew better how to handle a
vessel in rough weather) so that he died then and there with the
helm in his hand, and Menelaus, though very anxious to press
forward, had to wait in order to bury his comrade and give him his due
funeral rites. Presently, when he too could put to sea again, and
had sailed on as far as the Malean heads, Jove counselled evil against
him and made it it blow hard till the waves ran mountains high. Here
he divided his fleet and took the one half towards Crete where the
Cydonians dwell round about the waters of the river Iardanus. There is
a high headland hereabouts stretching out into the sea from a place
called Gortyn, and all along this part of the coast as far as Phaestus
the sea runs high when there is a south wind blowing, but arter
Phaestus the coast is more protected, for a small headland can make
a great shelter. Here this part of the fleet was driven on to the
rocks and wrecked; but the crews just managed to save themselves. As
for the other five ships, they were taken by winds and seas to
Egypt, where Menelaus gathered much gold and substance among people of
an alien speech. Meanwhile Aegisthus here at home plotted his evil
deed. For seven years after he had killed Agamemnon he ruled in
Mycene, and the people were obedient under him, but in the eighth year
Orestes came back from Athens to be his bane, and killed the
murderer of his father. Then he celebrated the funeral rites of his
mother and of false Aegisthus by a banquet to the people of Argos, and
on that very day Menelaus came home, with as much treasure as his
ships could carry.
  “Take my advice then, and do not go travelling about for long so far
from home, nor leave your property with such dangerous people in
your house; they will eat up everything you have among them, and you
will have been on a fool’s errand. Still, I should advise you by all
means to go and visit Menelaus, who has lately come off a voyage among
such distant peoples as no man could ever hope to get back from,
when the winds had once carried him so far out of his reckoning;
even birds cannot fly the distance in a twelvemonth, so vast and
David Adamson Jul 2015
Why do poets and photographers love fleeting things?
Angled shafts of sunlight piercing a mass
of clouds. A rainbow flashing from dragonfly wings.
Water drops beading like shards of glass.

The fluttering shape of a sycamore’s shade.
The sun sinking into its reflection
In a purple bay.  Smoke’s shadow. The rayed
Curve of a finger reaching for perfection.

Whatever churns, bursts, rocks, flies,
Foams, flickers, roils, evades
In pigments of impermanent dyes
We try to fix before it fades

Once I mourned the endless dying  
Of here and now, the present always past
Elegized each moment, sighing
Beauty is loss and can never last.

But now I think I had it wrong.  In fact
(I learned this from an artist’s eye)
Fleeting beauty reappears faster than we react,
At the speed of a daydream flashing by.

All around, light coalesces into form,
Form explodes into light,
And we live lavishly inside this storm
If we can learn to see it right.

Beauty multiplies, tapering, swelling:
Reshaping, reforming, now familiar, now strange.
This gaudy blur in which we’re dwelling
Is the permanence of change.
This is still a work in progress.  Comments very welcome.
Evan Backward Mar 2012
If I stayed any longer,
Who knows?
I might have gone insane too.

He told me his name.
I never asked him why he was there,
Why everyone else avoided him.  

I regret it now
But now is not the time,
There is no time left.  

He said he could get out
Whenever he wanted.
He just had no reason to go.  
He told me if I would come with him,
Stay with him forever, we’d leave.  

Can you imagine that?
He even said he loved me.  
The weirdest part is, I think I loved him to.
I would keep trying to remember
Where this love was taking place,
In this asylum but, I always forgot.

All we had to do was walk out.  
Nobody touched us.  
When we were out, we ran, and ran, and ran.  
In the middle of the forest,
There was no way they could find us,
We still wanted to be safe.

We found a cave in which we could stay,
Until we had enough strength to explore.
There was plenty of apples and firewood around.  
That first night, I just ate, and ate, and ate.  

I noted the big willow tree
and boulder next to the exit.
Natural, and calm.
This was a place of my refuge,
Where I would be happy.

We set out to explore,
The cave must have been close to the surface,
There were cracks in the ceiling that lit our way.
The cave was filled with tunnel after tunnel.  
Sometimes the tunnel would split into five or six
And we would have to choose one.
Giving the false sense of direction
As we wandered, aimless.
  
When I got scared,
He would assure me it would all be fine.
That must have been the worst lie,
Anyone has ever told me.

I finally worked up the courage
To ask him why he was in the asylum.  
He told me he could fool the mind.
Fool it into believing its body was in pain,
He said his looks could ****.

I scoffed.  

He stared at me,
Completely bewildered.  
I clearly thought him insane.  
He let that slide.  

He never kissed me fully, passionately.  
They were always short and sweet.  
He only brushed my face
When he wanted me to calm down,
Making jokes whenever
I was having second thoughts.
  
He was using me.  
I was a shield, nothing more.  
I would have to be disposed of.

Back to staring,
I realized that his back
Is not made of duck feathers.
My scoff doesn't slide.

I ran faster I’d ever run before.
All this flew through my mind
As I scrambled up from the cave floor for the third time.
The exit was just around the corner.
It just had to be.  

As I stumbled back
Onto the cold hard rock
The exit came into view.
I saw the light shimmering on the broken rock.
The shadow of a willow tree.
Ironically I was so happy I could cry.  
I’d hide in the trees
I’d never have to see this murderer again.  
Tripped for the fourth time.

I looked up,
Still sprawled out on the cave floor.  
There was a hole in the ceiling,
Sending shattered shafts of light to where I was lying.  
I watched the dust fall in lazy spirals.

I jumped off the floor.
Back to my peril,  
I heard his sluggish footsteps.
Turned around for one last look.
He stood in those shattered beams of light
Glaring at me.

Now on my feet, I stood
In the dark half of the spacious hall of rock
As if that would help my situation.  
If only I could fade into the shadows.  
I was trapped.
With no escape but the cave's tunnels behind me,
Or the death awaiting me.  

Just a few more steps back.  

He’s eyes snapped to my feet,
"You don’t want to do that.”
Back to my face.
His smile was only evident in his voice.
He was right.  
I didn’t want to die in that moment.  

The room’s light darkened
As if someone had put out the sun.
I knew it was coming.

I loved him.
He may not love me now.
He may never have.
But I don’t care.  
If I never loved him,
I may not be in this situation,
I might not be about to die.  
But I think just maybe,
It was worth it.  

Those smiles,
Stolen kisses and touches,
Just the sound of his voice.
Running in the middle of the forest
Away from the asylum.
It was all worth the pain I was about to feel.  

We stood staring at each other,
Waiting for the other to make the first move.  
The tension mounted.
Hatred started coming off him in waves,  
Hitting me over and over
Threatening to pull me under.  
I could feel his anger.

The air seemed to thicken,
Weighing down on me,
Forcing from me my last breath.
Draining me of what little strength
I had left to remain standing.

I began to gasp for air,
Unable to feel my lungs expand.
Feel the relief of oxygen in my blood.  
My eyes were locked in his
Begging to turn away,
To save my life.  

I was mesmerized.
Like prey waiting for the snake to strike  
I watched helplessly as his face,
Distorted with anger, began to twitch.  

I could see the words that would end this,
Begin to form on his lips.
Waiting to be released.
***** off his spit stained *****.  
After the agony of anticipation seemed to reach its peak.  
They dropped like acid into the open air.

I lost the fight against the pressure.
Finally crumbling under the strain,
I rested on my knees.
Holding my head in my hands
Preparing to resist the attack.

It hit me full force
Like a subway train at full speed.
I did all I could not to cry out,
To give in to this miserable existence,
To give him the satisfaction of my death.  

I broke out in a cold sweat
As my muscles continued to fight,
Melting with the strain.  
Adrenaline pumped through my veins
As the true attack began.  

The pain started at the tips of my fingers and toes.  
Slowly crawling, burning,
It continued to eat away at my flesh.  

Much to my dismay
I remained intact
But paralyzed by the pain
Unable to run away,
To escape it.

I was unaware of the storm of tears
Falling from my cheeks.  
Oblivious that he continued to circle closer,
Waiting for his moment to strike.  

The pain began to worsen,
Shifting from fire to lava,
Lava to lightning.  
It was unimaginable, indescribable.

Then I lost control.
This body– it was no longer mine.
It began to betray me.  
It shuddered, then shook spasmodically.  

Its back arched knowing what was to come next,
Preparing as the bubble of air was pushed slowly
Up its tongue, against its lips.
Its blood curdling,
Gut wrenching shriek
Lasted mere hundredths of a second.

He comes into view for a brief moment.
My eyes roll back into my head,
And I lose myself in the blackness.  
HB Feb 2011
Sliding fingers over alabaster shafts,
crevices and nooks catching at delving digits
as they seek between the ****** ***** of
remov-ed meat.

For before the bones the meat.
And before the meat the scalpel,
Running liquid through the tendrils
with its clever carv-ed lines in the
succulent,
decadent
dead.

The gore on the board.
Seen in rivulets of scarlet,
A tracery of cuts,
Multi-layered and exquisite.

I taste the smell of this corpulent finery.
Hands reaching into the layers,
slick with blood
pulling at the fat.
Sleek and deadly
I ply them, my tools.

For I am the butcher
And you will eat my meat.
Feast upon my carnage,
And leave me with the bones.

And leave me with the bones.
PK Wakefield May 2010
slippery light boasts
languid limbs gestating
in mercurial puddelings
awaiting the destruction
of their tender shafts by
some pale passing
fle(she
bears its ethereal
glow on her pallor
in the                           second of that truculent divergence


                                                                )
Beauties, have ye seen this toy,
Called Love, a little boy,
Almost naked, wanton, blind;
Cruel now, and then as kind?
If he be amongst ye, say?
He is Venus' runaway.

She that will but now discover
Where the winged wag doth hover,
Shall to-night receive a kiss,
How or where herself would wish:
But who brings him to his mother,
Shall have that kiss, and another.

He hath marks about him plenty:
You shall know him among twenty.
All his body is a fire,
And his breath a flame entire,
That, being shot like lightning in,
Wounds the heart, but not the skin.

At his sight, the sun hath turned,
Neptune in the waters burned;
Hell hath felt a greater heat;
Jove himself forsook his seat:
From the centre to the sky,
Are his trophies reared high.

Wings he hath, which though ye clip,
He will leap from lip to lip,
Over liver, lights, and heart,
But not stay in any part;
But if chance his arrow misses,
He will shoot himself in kisses.

He doth bear a golden bow,
And a quiver, hanging low,
Full of arrows, that outbrave
Dian's shafts; where, if he have
Any head more sharp than other,
With that first he strikes his mother.

Still the fairest are his fuel.
When his days are to be cruel,
Lovers' hearts are all his food,
And his baths their warmest blood:
Naught but wounds his hands doth season,
And he hates none like to Reason.

Trust him not; his words, though sweet,
Seldom with his heart do meet.
All his practice is deceit;
Every gift it is a bait;

Not a kiss but poison bears;
And most treason in his tears.

Idle minutes are his reign;
Then, the straggler makes his gain
By presenting maids with toys,
And would have ye think them joys:
'Tis the ambition of the elf
To have all childish as himself.

If by these ye please to know him,
Beauties, be not nice, but show him.
Though ye had a will to hide him,
Now, we hope, ye'll not abide him;
Since you hear his falser play,
And that he's Venus' runaway.
Universal Thrum Nov 2013
A desiccated brown leaf remembering greener days,
summersaults stem over end into the exposed cold dirt softened somewhat in demeanor by the grass and radiant shafts
The geese and ducks squawk and honk in the distance
Congratulating each other for the day's richness
and the way the sun feels on their proud beaks
glinting off the water in its way
a shimmering band
A princely golden carpet forever unrolling and yet complete
The sun's spindle weaves gems of light into a gossamer web
laid glittering across the water
A vision for Moses
who saw the true path through the sea
Fireworks Forever exploding sunlight
Gifted to the eye on clear liquid canvas
The wind ripples the waves
wrinkles pushed along
foaming in the sand
Little Kisses
on the grainy cheek
Star Flashes Communicating ancient patterns
Secrets of Existence Coming in Morse code, Fibonacci Sequencing,
Sacred Geometry in Twinkling Motion
Individual explosions blinking on a natural switchboard
Telling the architectural answer
Manifesting the blueprint
to only every reason why
The Last Leaf sings in the Breeze, swinging
Kendal Anne Sep 2013
To paint the scene of my former life
One must first take a look into a little dusky room filled with shady sunlight,                        
Streaming in through dusty blinds that  never actually shade the eyes.
They produce blinding shafts of light that burn the eyes like blades are hiding within red  fired laser beams.
Imagine a little rocking horse, painted black and gold, with a little red bell dangling off of the red reins attached. Nostrils flaring, ready to be ride out into the sunset, but never actually to be ridden.
Two comfortable twin beds shoved into the corners of the room, leaving indentations upon the slightly greying,
Off white carpet that had once been plush, now smashed into the ground with dirt and grime from children playing.
The comforters on the top of the bed lay strewn and rumpled; covered with dinosaurs and their names,
Allosaurus, Tyrannosaurus Rex, and Brontosaurus.
All with goofy pictures in greens and oranges that a child could laugh at when frightened.
On the right side of that room, from when you walk inside, the walls are painted a malicious purple,
Like a swelling bruise had been inflicted upon the wall by some unseen hand that had forced a fist.
A big ugly bruised wall.
Accompanying that bruise on the left half of the wall is a faded blue,
The color of pearls painted over with a smattering of blue paints,
Enveloping the trim of the room is a metallic silver haze that was just beautiful,
Creating illusions of moonbeams and silver roses within it.
The ceiling was glorious as well. It was covered in millions of stars.
Although they were glow in the dark plastic stickers that could be hung anywhere,
I still saw them as fiery gases burning miles away.
Of course, at the time I was well aware of what stars were, as I had a love for them.
I would gaze upon them late into the night, often in awe and wonder at how it would feel to be one.
Would it feel as if I was enlightened and owned the universe,
Or would it be a darkened, frightening place, filled with loneliness?
I had always wondered.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~­~~~~~
There is much screaming. High pitched, it sounds like the whining buzz of an angry bee .
A scream nonetheless. So very loud, it is, and it rings like church bells in my ears.
Ringing, and ringing, and ringing...
The scream sounds so very close to me,
Perhaps this is because the wailing sounds some from my very own mouth.
The screams, crawling and digging their claws up and out of my throat,
Unburying themselves as they seep out in tormenting waves, leaving my throat a red and raw coated mess.
But still, I scream.
My throat resounds the despairing loneliness that had welled up in those short years of my life,
Finally taking their act of freedom, welling up and pouring out like caged birds,
Fleeing from the cage with freedom in their hearts.
Although this was never true, this was never to become freedom,
The fleeing screams do not pierce the veil that shrouds the deaf ears that were meant to hear it,
Turning away in ignoramus bliss.
“You are the banshee wailing,”  
My Mum says with a growling lilt to her voice as she pushed the door to my room closed with a glare,
Her fingers clenching the door, knuckles turning white with frustration.
Tiredness has already beginning to  line her once youthful face with spiderwebs of indecision of what she truly wanted. As I scratched my bleeding nails across the closing door, frantically searching for a place of escape,
My mind races and thus, I began to horde emotions of resentment for my parents.
I constantly wanted to free myself from the jail that my world had always seemed to be revolved around.  
My nails are bloodied and fingers bruised, I give up in defeat from the fear.  
Although it may only be pounding upon and freezing the insides of my veins,
It is exactly what created this insane version of myself. This wild animal who scratches, bites and roars,
The primitive animal comes from deep within the skin wearing it as a costume in the form of  a little three year old girl.
I was locked away for most of the three years I had spent with my cold and unfeeling parents,
Who wanted nothing to do with me, nor ever share their love.
(Or so I thought as a child, whose hopes of freedom were breaking away even before they were molded).
I have retained this in my memory banks for my entire life,
Even after when those around me told me I was too young to remember it.
But how could I possibly remember this in such crystal clear detail,i
If I had been a thoughtless, and blank minded child at the time?
This experience has obtained and earned one of the darkest places in my mind,
It has forced me to keep it inside my entire life.
I call it the dark forest, the place that remains shadowed, blackened and cold.
Most of my horrible memories are part of that forest, creating the trees that form it.
From this forest leaps the monsters that tormented me in my dreams, howling and baring their teeth,
Their shapes surrounding me like a thick and rank fog that was inescapable, their breath rolling down my neck.
The stench making my eyes roll back, turning the world black.
Then suddenly I would wake up, an invisible scream rising in my throat, sweat soaked and shivering with fright.
Even then, I could still see them.  
Their red eyes glowering at me in the darkness of my room that I shared with my sister Dakota.
Sometimes I imagine that I can still see them, and a paradoxical paranoia rushes down my spine,
Forcing every hair to stand on end, and cold fear to paralyze my body, to the point that I am immobile.
Like frightened prey trying to hide and fold the body in on itself,
From an  un-explainable fear that was reared from my childhood.
I was created at the hands of those who love me now, but at first were disgusted at the sight of me.
I was merely an obligation in which they had to feed and bathe on few occasions.
An abomination, something to be frowned upon.
Their indecision and ignorance was what caused one of my largest complications of the brain.
This experience created the driving need that I still carry with me today to be surrounded with people.
I feel as if I cannot survive without them, because my childhood was so filled with loneliness,
That I need to gain back that attention that was taken away from me.
Considering this, of how insane I had been as a child, like a froth mouthed animal, begging for scraps of food,
Only my food was social activity and freedom, in which I was explicitly not allowed to be given often.
My grandparents, if I have remembered correctly, their faces seeming more youthful than my parents,
Pouring experiences  into me like a mug, gracing me with feelings of wonder instead of blind fury,
Overwhelming me with their kindness and compassion.
They were the ones who changed me, took me in and made me feel like I was really alive and was of relation.
They made it seem as if I were still slightly human, not a craze eyed child who acted like a wild animal,
Who was feared and pitied by those who came to see me.
Although it did take time to recover from my horrific experience,
I have learned to gain control of my emotions through meditation, sometimes to the point  of becoming a blank slate.
I was the girl who acted as if I was not of this planet, as if I was off in another universe taking a soul vacation.
Tracing patterns in the constellations, my eyes star struck and filled with wonders that only I knew of.
Being so used to a constant state of harmony, that the world around began to blur,
Taking little notice of any change within it, even if the images crossed and passed within inches of my unseeing gaze.
Viewing the world as it was meant to be seen; with beauty and stained with emotions.
This is a story of a girl with the once crazed eyes who saw the world as a fearful place with no freedom,
Who behaved not unlike a wounded animal caught in a trap,
Whimpering and pleading with her mournful gaze for freedom.  
Only now this girl had been turned into a starry eyed child with wisdom from a past of tragedies.
~This is who I am and this is my story~
This is actually my Lang & Comp assignment turned into a poem. I know it is long. Enjoy~
Awake, Æolian lyre, awake,
And give to rapture all thy trembling strings.
From Helicon’s harmonious springs
A thousand rills their mazy progress take:
The laughing flowers that round them blow
Drink life and fragrance as they flow.
Now the rich stream of Music winds along,
Deep, majestic, smooth, and strong,
Thro’ verdant vales, and Ceres’ golden reign;
Now rolling down the steep amain,
Headlong, impetuous, see it pour;
The rocks and nodding groves re-bellow to the roar.

Oh! Sov’reign of the willing soul,
Parent of sweet and solemn-breathing airs,
Enchanting shell! the sullen Cares
And frantic Passions hear thy soft control.
On Thracia’s hills the Lord of War
Has curbed the fury of his car,
And dropt his thirsty lance at thy command.
Perching on the sceptred hand
Of Jove, thy magic lulls the feathered king
With ruffled plumes and flagging wing:
Quenched in dark clouds of slumber lie
The terror of his beak, and lightnings of his eye.

Thee the voice, the dance, obey,
Tempered to thy warbled lay.
O’er Idalia’s velvet-green
The rosy-crowned Loves are seen
On Cytherea’s day,
With antic Sport, and blue-eyed Pleasures,
Frisking light in frolic measures;
Now pursuing, now retreating,
Now in circling troops they meet:
To brisk notes in cadence beating
Glance their many-twinkling feet.
Slow melting strains their Queen’s approach declare:
Where’er she turns the Graces homage pay.
With arms sublime that float upon the air
In gliding state she wins her easy way:
O’er her warm cheek and rising ***** move
The bloom of young Desire and purple light of Love.

Man’s feeble race what ills await!
Labour, and Penury, the racks of Pain,
Disease, and Sorrow’s weeping train,
And Death, sad refuge from the storms of Fate!
The fond complaint, my song, disprove,
And justify the laws of Jove.
Say, has he giv’n in vain the heav’nly Muse?
Night and all her sickly dews,
Her sceptres wan, and birds of boding cry,
He gives to range the dreary sky;
Till down the eastern cliffs afar
Hyperion’s march they spy, and glitt’ring shafts of war.

In climes beyond the solar road,
Where shaggy forms o’er ice-built mountains roam,
The Muse has broke the twilight gloom
To cheer the shivering Native’s dull abode.
And oft, beneath the od’rous shade
Of Chili’s boundless forests laid,
She deigns to hear the savage youth repeat,
In loose numbers wildly sweet,
Their feather-cinctured chiefs, and dusky loves.
Her track, where’er the Goddess roves,
Glory pursue, and gen’rous Shame,
Th’ unconquerable Mind, and Freedom’s holy flame.

Woods, that wave o’er Delphi’s steep,
Isles, that crown th’ Ægean deep,
Fields that cool Ilissus laves,
Or where Mæander’s amber waves
In lingering lab’rinths creep,
How do your tuneful echoes languish,
Mute, but to the voice of anguish!
Where each old poetic mountain
Inspiration breathed around;
Ev’ry shade and hallowed fountain
Murmured deep a solemn sound:
Till the sad Nine, in Greece’s evil hour,
Left their Parnassus for the Latian plains.
Alike they scorn the pomp of tyrant Power,
And coward Vice, that revels in her chains.
When Latium had her lofty spirit lost,
They sought, Oh Albion! next thy sea-encircled coast.

Far from the sun and summer-gale,
In thy green lap was Nature’s Darling laid,
What time, where lucid Avon strayed,
To him the mighty mother did unveil
Her awful face: the dauntless child
Stretched forth his little arms, and smiled.
“This pencil take (she said), whose colours clear
Richly paint the vernal year:
Thine too these golden keys, immortal Boy!
This can unlock the gates of Joy;
Of Horror that, and thrilling Fears,
Or ope the sacred source of sympathetic Tears.”

Nor second he, that rode sublime
Upon the seraph-wings of Ecstasy,
The secrets of th’ Abyss to spy.
He passed the flaming bounds of place and time:
The living Throne, the sapphire-blaze,
Where Angels tremble while they gaze,
He saw; but, blasted with excess of light,
Closed his eyes in endless night.
Behold where Dryden’s less presumptuous car
Wide o’er the fields of glory bear
Two coursers of ethereal race,
With necks in thunder clothed, and long-resounding pace.

Hark, his hands the lyre explore!
Bright-eyed Fancy, hovering o’er,
Scatters from her pictured urn
Thoughts that breathe, and words that burn.
But ah! ’tis heard no more—
Oh! Lyre divine, what daring Spirit
Wakes thee now? Though he inherit
Nor the pride, nor ample pinion,
That the Theban eagle bear,
Sailing with supreme dominion
Through the azure deep of air:
Yet oft before his infant eyes would run
Such forms as glitter in the Muse’s ray,
With orient hues, unborrowed of the Sun:
Yet shall he mount, and keep his distant way
Beyond the limits of a ****** fate,
Beneath the Good how far—but far above the Great.
I

Winter is long in this climate
and spring—a matter of a few days
only,—a flower or two picked
from mud or from among wet leaves
or at best against treacherous
bitterness of wind, and sky shining
teasingly, then closing in black
and sudden, with fierce jaws.

     II

March,
           you reminded me of
the pyramids, our pyramids—
stript of the polished stone
that used to guard them!
                                    March,
you are like Fra Angelico
at Fiesole, painting on plaster!

March,
             you are like a band of
young poets that have not learned
the blessedness of warmth
(or have forgotten it).
At any rate—
I am moved to write poetry
for the warmth there is in it
and for the loneliness—
a poem that shall have you
    in it March.

     III

See!
         Ashur-ban-i-pal,
the archer king, on horse-back,
in blue and yellow enamel!
with drawn bow—facing lions
standing on their hind legs,
fangs bared!  his shafts
bristling in their necks!

Sacred bulls—dragons
in embossed brickwork
marching—in four tiers—
along the sacred way to
Nebuchadnezzar’s throne hall!
They shine in the sun,
they that have been marching—
marching under the dust of
ten thousand dirt years.

Now—
they are coming into bloom again!
See them!
marching still, bared by
the storms from my calender
—winds that blow back the sand!
winds that enfilade dirt!
winds that by strange craft
have whipt up a black army
that by pick and shovel
bare a procession to
                               the god, Marduk!

Natives cursing and digging
for pay unearth dragons with
upright tails and sacred bulls
alternately—
                      in four tiers—
lining the way to an old altar!
Natives digging at old walls—
digging me warmth—digging me sweet loneliness
high enamelled walls.

     IV

My second spring—
passed in a monastery
with plaster walls—in Fiesole
on the hill above ‘Florence.
My second spring—painted
a ******—in a blue aureole
sitting on a three-legged stool,
arms crossed—
she is intently serious,
                                  and still
watching an angel
with colored wings
half kneeling before her—
and smiling—the angel’s eyes
holding the eyes of Mary
as a snake’s hold a bird’s.
On the ground there are flowers,
trees are in leaf.

     V

But! now for the battle!
Now for ******—now for the real thing!
My third springtime is approaching!
Winds!
lean, serious as a ******,
seeking, seeking the flowers of March.

Seeking
flowers nowhere to be found,
they twine among the bare branches
in insatiable eagerness—
they whirl up the snow
seeking under it—
they—the winds—snakelike
roar among yellow reeds
seeking flowers—flowers.

I spring among them
seeking one flower
in which to warm myself!

I deride with all the ridicule
of misery—
my own starved misery.

Counter-cutting winds
    strike against me
refreshing their fury!

Come, good, cold fellows!
    Have we no flowers?
Defy then with even more
desperation than ever—being
    lean and frozen!

But though you are lean and frozen—
think of the blue bulls of Babylon.

Fling yourselves upon
    their empty roses—
              cut savagely!

But—
think of the painted monastery
  at Fiesole.
Day is dying! Float, o song,
Down the westward river,
Requiem chanting to the Day,
Day, the mighty giver!

Pierced by shafts of Time he bleeds,
Melted rubies sending
Through the river and the sky,
Earth and heaven blending.

All the long-drawn earthy banks
Up to cloudland lifting:
Slow between them drifts the swan
'Twixt two heavens drifting,

Wings half open like a flower.
In by deeper flushing,
Neck and breast as ******'s pure
****** proudly blushing.

Day is dying! Float, o swan,
Down the ruby river,
Follow, song, in requiem
To the mighty Giver!

— The End —