Thursday, December 31, 2015
loomed across the forest like a fog,
and dinosaurs of every size and color
shivered under frozen leaf and log.
The winter sapped the animals of strength,
and each despaired of ever being warm;
but hope was struck by lightning in the distance
from a Late Cretaceous thunderstorm.
A flame was spotted in the eastern mountains,
pulsing with a lively orange glow,
yet none would dare approach the peaks, except
the fire thief, her feathers white as snow.
She told the prehistoric animals
that huddled in the icy forest trees,
“Prepare a pit to hold the distant fire;
I’ll bring it back to heat our homes with ease!”
As Pyroraptor journeyed through the woods
she left her footprints in the snow beneath,
and clutched a sturdy branch of verdant holly
tightly with her fierce, determined teeth.
She deftly climbed the distant mountain slopes
with claws for gripping, movements sure and quick,
while leaping up between the snow-capped rocks
in search of fire to light the holly stick.
The promised flames were near extinguished from
the mountain’s only westward facing slope,
but embers from a patch of withered branches
offered Pyroraptor’s greatest hope.
“Alas,” the little fire thief declared,
“I’ve climbed too far and traveled much too high:
although my legs may speed me to my friends,
the branch will be consumed if I should try.”
She set the verdant holly branch aside
and looked around the mountain in dismay,
when lucky chance revealed a hollowed trunk
which, with a push, might make a decent sleigh.
Of course our Pyroraptor knew the risk,
but just as well she had compelling reason;
and so determined that she had no choice,
except to do her best to save the season.
So Pyroraptor took her holly branch
to stick it swiftly in the glowing coals,
and when the branch was fully lit, she leaped
into the crude toboggan’s dugout holes.
Down and down the trunk was sliding soon,
with Pyroraptor riding in the front,
the flaming brand of holly held aloft
in triumph for this daring downhill stunt.
And in the woods, the fire pit was dug
by Iguanodons and other dinosaurs,
while tinder, sticks, and grass were fetched for fuel
by smaller mammals, birds, and pterosaurs.
The storm grew worse, and many animals
fell into deep depression and despair -
but gazing out toward the eastern mountains,
a watchful Martinavis took the air.
Afar he spied a speeding orange glow,
and burst into a loud and hopeful song:
“the fire thief is coming down the mountain,
the fire thief will shortly be along!”
And shortly, Pyroraptor’s makeshift sleigh
was sliding fast toward its destination,
weaving nimbly ‘tween the pines and firs
to bring the forest creatures their salvation.
The log slowed down, and Pyroraptor sprang
to bring on foot her precious holly torch,
and reached the forest clearing none too soon -
the feathers on her snout were being scorched!
“Hurry Pyroraptor!” cried the bird
that saw the sleigh approaching from the hills,
“the pit is dug, the pile of wood is ready,
so throw the torch and save us from these chills!”
The holly branch was up in roaring flame,
and Pyroraptor gave a mighty throw -
the logs and tinder soon were burning, while
the hero cooled her feathers in the snow.
Though all about the northern winds were fiercely
blowing ice and snow across the land,
the flame from Pyroraptor’s log of holly
warmed the forest creatures as she’d planned.
The Hadrosaurs made merry trumpet calls
while squads of Spinolestes jumped and danced,
And every creature hailed the fire thief
with jolly wreaths of green coniferous plants.
They wassailed through the dark and ancient night
for Pyroraptor and her glorious deed,
and woke a sleeping hive of Melittosphex,
begging honey for a brew of mead.
So Pyroraptor and her forest neighbors
passed the winter happy, safe, and warm;
the days grew long, another year began,
a spring devoid of prehistoric storms.
Wednesday, December 23, 2015
What I really want to talk about today, though, is The Hobbit. The Hobbit is of course an enduringly popular novel and is often associated (to the point of complete identification) with The Lord of the Rings. As a prequel (though to be more accurate, Rings is a sequel), it contributes to the epic events that follow, and the stories are both similar in their focus on the activities of Hobbits and on the Baggins family in particular.
The similarities between the two stories was such that Peter Jackson, following up his acclaimed work on a trilogy of Rings movies, felt justified in taking the same approach and creating a new Hobbit trilogy. I of course watched and reviewed each of the three new movies when they came out, and while I appreciated the filmmaker's obvious love for the source material, with each passing year I became less confident that we fans were getting a Hobbit adaptation that was anywhere near as definitive as Jackson's The Lord of the Rings.
Flash forward to this holiday season, and I found myself actually rereading The Hobbit for the first time in years. It was every bit as wonderful as I remembered, and I found myself effortlessly transported to the Middle Earth of my childhood, before its geography became synonymous with New Zealand. But when I put it down again, my thoughts turned endlessly to darker themes. Peter Jackson and I, thought I, needed to have a conversation.
The sad truth is that, barring a few real improvements (like the addition of Tauriel, and some of the background material on the One Ring), the movies did not do the original justice. It's not a matter of which scenes were included and which scenes were not; it was a matter of missing the point. This is supposed to be a book review and I've spent way too much time talking about movies, but I think it needs to be said that someone, in the future, is going to make a brilliant ninety minute Hobbit adaptation. That is the work we fans deserve.
The truth is that as similar as The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are, they have a very particular and symbiotic relationship for the reader. To read them in their original order is to see Tolkien pull back the curtain on a world that, for him, already existed even before The Hobbit was composed (though he was himself still in the process of discovering it). To go back and read The Hobbit after its sequel, then, is to be astonished at how effortlessly a tale so small, for lack of a better word, fits into a world so vast in potential.
The Hobbit stands apart for a tone of voice that is more friendly and personable than any of Tolkien's other Middle Earth writings. It is less self-consciously literary, having been first conceived as a bedtime story for Tolkien's children, with no wider audience in mind. The adventure of Bilbo Baggins never strains for mythic significance, as the hero takes a fairly straightforward path through increasingly greater dangers until finally reconciling his bold nature with his meek, domesticated habits. But the story achieves significance anyway, because Tolkien (quite audaciously) had Bilbo breathing the same air as the heroes of the great myths he had already been writing for years. Practically no one who read The Hobbit in 1937 had any idea about The Silmarillion, but that dense work echoes throughout The Hobbit without overwhelming what is still essentially a story for children.
That continuous presence animates The Hobbit and gives Tolkien the opportunity to take his world's history as given, confident that readers would accept the introductions of elvish swords from Gondolin, without asking too many questions about just what or where "Gondolin" was. Elements like the Necromancer or the Arkenstone hold obvious significance, but even though the initial audience knew nothing about the agents of Morgoth or of the Silmarils, the author was already practiced in exploring their associated themes. The reader might know nothing of Middle Earth's history, but it is obvious to anyone that the narrator knows what he's talking about, and isn't merely making up silly names as he goes along.
So what is the magic of The Hobbit? It is depth in the service of simplicity. The function of that depth is to take a simple story about fantastic events and make them seem so weighted with history as to be nearly tangible. It's fiction, but it isn't trifling; light, yet substantial.
Tolkien's Middle Earth was created as a way for for the author to express his fascination with the "authentic" myths that were his academic specialty, in a way that satisfied his own creative impulses. For that reason The Hobbit also rings true for its reminiscence of the stories of Norse mythology, with Dwarves and Elves and the distinctly Odinic wanderer Gandalf. Indeed, Tolkien's imaginative appropriation of these types had the effect of casting a distinctly "Nordic" quality over subsequent "high" fantasy fiction, a historically unfortunate result but one that works to great effect in giving The Hobbit the illusion of authenticity.
Another problematic element of the story is Tolkien's rather obvious and often cringe-worthy characterization of his Dwarves with stereotypes of Jewish people. Though I am not Jewish and can't speak fully to the anti-Semitic effect, I will venture to say that the Dwarves of The Hobbit are not villains, and neither are they as single-mindedly obsessed with wealth as a true bigot likely would have had them. In a roundabout way it seems that Tolkien really admires Thorin and his companions, while still carelessly stereotyping them. Cultural misunderstanding is a recurring theme in all of Tolkien's works, often reflecting his own feelings about the clash between ancient and "modern" values; whether he could appreciate the conflict between modern people in the same way is unclear.
That problem illustrates the limitations of attempting to build a whole world from one's own imagination. Real worlds are impossibly huge, rendered in imperceptible deal and visible from infinite perspectives. Even the most fully-realized work of fiction is only as real as it can be generated within human minds, and the smallness of our minds gives us flawed worlds. I think that is part of what makes The Hobbit so endearing in its original form: its satisfaction with being small, even as it sets out into the great wide open. The "battle of the five armies" is a spectacular moment, but I think what most people remember best in the end are the small scale delights of the Shire and Bag End.
Thursday, December 3, 2015
Edit: An earlier version of this post included the poem Into the Hidden Garden, a poem which previously appeared in an earlier Poetries post. The person responsible for this error has been flogged.
as warm as every drop of love it looses -
I wrote A Fever Dream to indulge some fantasies about covert seduction. It's an unrhymed sonnet, which I'm not totally sure is a thing, but I made one so I guess it must be. Note the emphasis on sibilants.
Saturday, November 7, 2015
I love when a project turns out like it's supposed to, and I think The Lay of the Princess and the Lady Beneath developed nicely into the sort of story I wanted it to be, as well as being a fairly decent poem. Certainly not the kind of classic they'll be studying in courses on epic poetry for years to come, but a fun little diversion for a reader to encounter by chance.
At three hundred and forty lines, it isn't quite epic length anyway. But it is the longest poem I've ever written, and would take some time to recite by a campfire. Or anywhere, really. I felt like it was something important to try, especially when it's easy enough to write three short lines and call it a poem. Some of my best poems are short, of course, but so are some of my laziest (and I won't presume to criticize anyone else's).
So I let the poem grow, far beyond my initial estimate of just over a hundred lines, in order to accommodate the things that I thought needed to be included for the story to breathe. I took my time (something I don't really need practice at, I'm sure) and the course of the plot was changed substantially along the way. Originally it was to end more bleakly, as hinted at in the fourth stanza, with the elves destroyed and the princess being doomed to remain imprisoned, undiscovered by her would-be. But my attempts at making the story more interesting, and my consideration of the characters' motives, inevitably led me away from a sad ending. Call me a softy, I just didn't want to do that to any of them.
One decision I made early on was to emphasize the actions of women in the story, and try to shift them outside of stereotypical feminine roles in the fantasy/fairy tale genre. To be sure, of the five principal characters there are two queens, a princess, and a witch, but the fifth is a warrior and described simply as such. All of them are women, and I don't believe I had cause to use the word "he" even once in the entire thing.
So the main characters are all women, something I didn't necessarily mean to do from the start. I had considered making at least one of the elf "bad guys" male (either an Elf King or Elf Wizard), but I ultimately chose not to. I figured that since an all-male cast would be plausible given the genre conventions, an all-female cast would be just as much so. That's not so say that there are no men in the story's world. Certainly about half of the humans in the castle scene and about half of the elves in Elventown are men and boys. Maybe the unnamed elf guards assigned to keep the princess from escaping are men. Maybe not. I honestly don't know.
In fact, I might have given my fellow men a little token representation by explicitly identifying the masculinity of a minor character. But by the time I was mostly done with the story, I had decided that I did not want to explore the question of a man's place in this ad hoc fantasy society. The royal inheritence is implied to be matriarchal, with ruling queens as the default, but that's as deep into that political question as I wanted to go. I suppose that a prince might become a sovereign king if a queen had no daughters, sort of the reverse of many real world systems, but maybe not; it doesn't matter because there is no prince in the story. The ambiguity was intentional: the most important thing is the plot and the fact that every significant role in the plot is occupied by a woman or girl.
Also intentional, and I admit this is a bit of a copout, is just what kind of women are at the center of the story. I don't really like physically describing characters beyond what is necessary, partly because I don't feel confident in doing so without being awkward. However, I did want it to be clear that the people of this world were not as white as certain backwards fantasy aficionados imagine the people of their favorite worlds to be. In thinking of how the witch should present the gift to the princess, I thought she might try to flatter her with a reference to the color of her skin. Thus the reference to rosewood, which comes in a few different shades, none of which are particularly pale.
As author, I abdicated the coloring job for each character to the mind of the reader's imagination. I only hope they all take the hint that the princess is unlikely to be the only brown person in the whole nation. It is a purely fantastical country that doesn't correspond to any real place, but like most real places you can be sure there is some diversity in its ethnic makeup.
So the truth is, I didn't really flesh out the world as much as I would have tried to if I were writing a prose tale. There isn't much of a backstory beyond the princess's lonely childhood and the simmering rivalry between the overground and underground kingdoms. There are hints of an Elvish language, but no words are depicted. Some indication of the mechanics of spells is described, but it's not terribly specific. The climate and geography of the country are almost entirely undescribed. I never even bothered to give the soldier a rank. As a die hard fan of the Tolkien approach to world-building, I have to say I'm a little disappointed in myself on that count. This was really only an experiment, I know, but it could have been so much more.
But after all, I had my priorities: an interesting and authentic-seeming fairy tale with a female-centric cast, rhymed as diligently as I was able. It struck me about halfway through that the recurrent rhyming words "queen" and "fifteen" could easily become obnoxious, and in addition to varying them with substitutes throughout I intentionally dropped them completely during the battle scene, when the princess is momentarily out of the spotlight. As I resorted to rhyming dictionaries and twisted for new words, I often felt like I was repeating myself to the point of tedium. But once I read the whole thing straight through, I realized that, at the very least, it wasn't as bad as I thought.
So mechanically, at least, the poetry is sound. Whether it is at all authentic-seeming, to say nothing of interesting, really isn't for me to say. I think I did an alright job, and I hope any readers agree. The story leans on a few genre tropes, and I think it subverts a few others, and somewhere in that mix might be something resembling originality. In any case it was fun to write, and I hope I come around to revisiting this experiment some time.
Monday, November 2, 2015
As much as I've increased the pace of posting these poems online, though, my writing of them has not kept up. For the first time in however the hell long it's been, I don't have a full set of fifteen poems written and ready for the next installment. So the next time I make a post like this, it will likely represent the sum total of my poetical product up to that point. That's kind of cool!
Today's poems date from August to October of 2015, which is super-current. At least by my standards, anyway. They aren't in chronological order, and while I could easily rearrange them to be so, I don't think it's really important. The actual earliest, as it happens, is A Quick One Before We Go, but for whatever reason I didn't really want to lead with that one.
This batch of nonsense features further ruminations on my depression, my continuing obsession with candles, a dash of sexuality, a cute excursion into concrete poetry, and what I can only describe as a mad scientist's ode to gross body fluids (Studies on Glass). Eclectic, is that the word? That's the word I will use. Further commentary at the end, as always.
Observing the Candle's Death at Midnight
Little blue, your nose is red,
it quivers in your hollow room.
Be careful not to get it wet,
a candle's life is like the womb:
the walls are easy to forget,
the waters will be rising soon.
Little blue, I'll make a bet:
before the shadows of the moon
have melted from your shallow bed
in dripping swirls and wavy swoons,
you'll have to dip your feeble head
beneath the wax, embrace your tomb.
September Self Portrait
Woe to the man
with great desire
and small ambition,
in a silent box.
Sleep to sleep,
he smells of the stale
air in his room.
If he cuts his face
or cleans his ears,
he may be tempted
to declare a victory,
take what he gets.
Round the track
he falls, step
by step, further
to the ground but never
Sleep is all
that he desires
and sleep is granted
from time to time.
every goddamn day
I rise, I reach for the light,
and every day
I fall again,
every goddamn day.
I want to go to sleep -
speaking, or working from home,
or eating dinner,
I want to go to sleep.
It has a name,
this unfortunate trait:
Fatigue. I say to my doctor,
"name the drug
this unfortunate trait".
On the train
my station passes by.
I wake, and find I am lost,
and I want
to sleep again,
the stations passing by.
I move with pain, fatigue -
does not improve me.
could be the answer -
my crumbling limbs could bear it.
juice with each important meal -
second breakfast, brunch.
hope of further consciousness -
was a day to rise with.
in dreaming -
can find itself endured forever.
my mind as the sky -
and freezing cold,
as empty space,
the impact of feet,
suppression of all
a still sensation
of the world,
before and after -
and color return
in waving sheets of
Child of Earth
O Child of Earth,
oh lay me down,
oh let me down
so peaceful, easy
in the dirt.
For what it's worth,
I've been around
for many years:
I don't believe
that this will hurt.
O Child of Earth,
my summer ale;
the summer fails
to warm my body
in the dirt.
For my rebirth,
I would request
a simple, quiet
in a yurt.
O Child of Earth,
if I should rise
again, should raise
my shoulder, put
me in the dirt.
Let there be mirth!
Forget my silence,
dance to music
in your brightest
A Child of Earth,
a girl of twenty
me in the dirt.
Into the Hidden Garden
I would try
you, even if
your sweetness were
kiss your mouth
and breathe you in,
the scent of dew
exalt in your
enjoy a feast
among the florets,
in weather blue
when secret signs
A Quick One Before We Go
In twenty minutes we'll be missed,
they'll start without us -
and it would be
to miss the show,
with you in such a pretty dress.
But we can make the drive in ten
if I can help it:
we haven't time
you don't have time
for taking off your floral dress.
Anything we miss is worth
a little risk,
to feel ecstatic,
the floor in such a little dress.
We'll have to make the drive in eight,
I couldn't help it -
there's your purse,
now let me
help you up
and straighten out your wrinkled dress.
And nobody suspects a thing!
The show is starting,
and chaste in a lovely pink dress.
Studies on Glass
Samples cut thin
of hair and skin;
and here, the fabled
on the table,
cold and dark.
from the sleeping
I've been keeping
in the dark.
I want to be with anybody,
someone with a sense of humor,
sort of ticklish,
and maybe with a certain style,
with a wardrobe
draped across a rocking body,
with a human body,
The Girls And I
Deeper, time is drawing,
I've so much to write,
and smoke is slowly filling
the room in a spindly column.
I've measured it - a thousand
cubic feet of air
to breathe, if I can swallow
all this waxy smoke.
And somewhere, beautiful women
think identical thoughts.
In several such somewheres,
a beautiful woman lies
on her back and doesn't sleep,
with a thousand cubic feet
of candle in her lungs.
The window doesn't open
in my room, or in hers:
any of all of these hers.
Collectively, all these candles
smell like total chaos,
and nothing can be learned
from what the girls and I
are burning tonight.
Maybe she made love
within the last few months,
another she is a virgin,
another she is feeling like
it hardly makes a difference.
Something else recedes,
and this is loneliness.
She has so much to write,
but she is slowly filling
the room with other thoughts.
Falling Out of Myself
Through a thin
straw, I pass suddenly
out, for an instant.
feels like a squeeze
of super glue,
the kind that burns.
All from this compression,
clean me up,
I have pooled on the floor,
too weak to stand.
give or take an hour,
until I rise,
but maybe days
before I think clearly,
gather my mind.
The Dark World
resting in the medicine cabinet -
don't you know
that every mirror is magic?
You can see him,
if you focus on the center,
in the corner of your eye,
but not inside the mirror.
if you gaze into the mirror
you might, perhaps,
become his dancing partner,
the molecules of glass
with unprotected feet
if he invites you to dance.
patterns on the bedroom floor,
the magic mirror
with every footfall.
In the corner of your eye
the spirit must be dancing,
but not inside the mirror.
I have no problems with the "natural",
but truth be told, I don't know where it starts:
all the apples may as well be lemons
if I cannot tell their skins apart.
Silence in the morning has a flavor,
sour as the iron in my blood,
but in the woods the rivulets are sparkling
as they slither naked through the mud.
In my isolation, strings of water
strike the only sympathetic chords.
What to say about Observing the Candle's Death at Midnight? It's pretty much exactly what it seems to be, a reflection of my thoughts as I watch a candle burn itself out, examining the textures of the melted wax and the color of the light.
September Self Portrait is also pretty much what it looks like, a description of myself in sour times. I swear I'm not always like this. It's not really a remarkable poem, but it is a fine statement of my state of mind. Fatigue, Every Day Hours, and Running are sort of companions in sentiment, and they all bear a strange resemblance to each other. Almost like I'm spinning my wheels, but no, that couldn't be, could it? Running deals, of course, with my exercise of choice over the last few months, which I do enjoy in my own way, but man does it hurt...
Child of Earth came out of me after I met a girl named Tera (no connection with Tara), and went on a couple of dates with her. All of that is on hold for now, possibly indefinitely, while she takes a break from school for personal reasons. I had feelings, and made them into a poem, wherein I envision myself as an old man dying over the affections of a young woman. The fact that I am myself only twenty eight is of course a little ironic.
Then there's Into the Hidden Garden, a pure fantasy scenario wherein I cast myself in a younger light, on the stage of a lover's rendezvous. Pure self-indulgence, I know, but I can't be all doom and gloom all the time.
A Quick One Before We Go is more brazenly erotic, and so you should really just cover your eyes and skip it. I mean, it's good (I think it's good anyway), but it's very naughty. I think I scandalized my friends when I showed it to them. It is, obviously, about quick sex on the floor before a social engagement, which is really one of the finer things in life if you ask me.
Actually, if you skip any of these poems it should probably be Studies on Glass. It's just kind of icky. And it was supposed to be, which is why I included it here, having achieved my icky purposes. But I won't say you have to read my sticky little homunculus of a poem.
Strict Criteria is a sad little poem, I think. It's hard to be picky about such things when you're desperate and lonely. I think the effect of the poem is a little humorous, so I enjoy it despite the loneliness.
Combine that feeling of solitude with my persistent candle obsession, and you get something like The Girls and I. It's a very loose, free sort of poem, a collection of thoughts and attempts at putting myself in the shoes of someone else.
Falling Out of Myself is an expression of exhaustion disguised as a double entendre. I almost didn't want to admit that, but I might as well.
The Dark World has sort of an interesting provenance. I wrote it just after finishing reading two books by Haruki Murakami, A Wild Sheep Chase and Dance Dance Dance. The latter is a sequel, but there are many discontinuities in style and tone, and I sort of concocted a theory in my head that it was meant to be a distorted reflection of the former. I drew upon a scene in A Wild Sheep Chase that focuses on what is and isn't seen in a certain mirror, and there you have it.
La Croix is a better poem than it deserves to be. The last word of each odd numbered line was taken from the side of a can of La Croix brand sparkling water. I woke up early in the morning, wanted to write something, and turned to a carbonated drink for inspiration. By all accounts it should be nothing more than a warm-up exercise, but I think I tried a little too hard and made something sort of good out of it.
Sparrow's Quest is cute, isn't it? I had to rewrite it slightly in translating it from page to screen, as my handwriting gave a false impression of how wide the words would be in many places. Anyway, it's a poem about a bird, that looks like a bird. It also looks like the Greek letter Psi, but I don't think that means anything. I think I executed the effect pretty well, with phrases of importance separated by gaps. If you're confused about how to read it, it's meant to be read straight across, as in "tiny sparrow soars like a great white phoenix", not "tiny sparrow soars with a fire burning..."
Sunday, November 1, 2015
and, dying, her mother the queen;
the people were blessed by her thirty year reign,
but her daughter was only fifteen.
2. The death of the lady was peaceful and quick,
but the princess could not bear the news,
for she knew she was heir to the hardships of state
and an office she couldn't refuse.
3. In thirty day's passing, our frightened princess
was set to be crowned as our queen,
and no one would listen to hear her complain
she was only a girl of fifteen.
4. Oh, woe to the nation that heeded her not,
to the people who furnished her crown!
And more woe to the child of regal neglect
whom they dressed in her dead mother's gown.
5. With twenty days left, though the girl did protest
(for as yet she had not been made queen),
they enjoined her to stand in her dear mother's name,
as a figurehead lass of fifteen.
6. Forbidden to walk, she remained on the throne
as ambassadors hung up their capes;
Unable to speak in the turbulent din,
she prayed for a path of escape.
7. The retainers would gawk at and crowd the princess,
but compared to the previous queen
she seemed small for a monarch and weak for a dame -
after all, she was only fifteen.
8. Now among the legations that came to her court
were the elves of an underground realm,
and a certain elf-woman stood out for her charms
that could glamour, bewitch, overwhelm.
9. As the elf was approaching the lonely princess
in this clamorous mess of a scene,
she held a small box, which concealed her aim
to deceive the poor girl of fifteen.
10. The box was constructed of rosewood and tin,
and inlaid with black gemstones and runes;
they glinted as if from a torch in the night
as the shadows encircle the moon.
11. Her gaze met the eyes of the quiet princess
who despaired at becoming a queen -
and quietly offered a way to obtain
the assistance of powers unseen.
12. "This wood is alike with the shade of your skin,
and the onyx-stone matches your eyes.
This box should be yours: if you search it, I know
you will find your desired disguise."
13. A soldier sprang forward to make an arrest,
for when she was a lass of eighteen,
in Elventown she had been harshly detained,
and mistrusted their ominous queen.
14. "This woman's a witch, and intent on revenge
for your mother's defeat of her tribe!
These elves should have never been suffered to come -
I suggest you should have them proscribed."
15. The elf only smiled, and soothed the princess:
"my people would scarce harm a queen!
Our Lady Beneath was your dear mother's thane,"
she declared to the girl of fifteen,
16. "And this box is a tribute from elf-kind to you,
may it keep you for many long years!
It was crafted to guard against threats to your soul,
and allay your most deep-seated fears".
17. Like many young children, the infant princess
had been taught to suspect the unseen,
and especially mystery trinkets that came
from the halls of the faerie-folk's queen;
18. Yet a luminous spark in the eye of the witch
and the desperate prayer in her mind
set the former queen's daughter on destiny's course,
to whatever result she might find.
19. "This woman, and all of her folk, are my guests,"
were the words of the soon-to-be queen,
and the soldier's suspicions were duly restrained,
though the princess was only fifteen.
20. The elf curtsied low to her sovereign liege
and again she presented her gift,
as seductive as jasmine, attractive as gold,
but as light as a feather to lift.
21. Extending her fingers, she gave the princess
this respect from the faerie-folk's queen:
she opened the present, and found it contained
an elf-cloak with a gossamer sheen.
22. It was barely observed, but a sinister light
seemed to flash in the princess's cheek,
yet she giggled with girlish delight as the cloak
was displayed on her youthful physique.
23. The people were pleased to behold their princess
in a mantle befitting a queen,
enchanting the likeness of lightning and rain
in the form of a girl of fifteen.
24. As the party continued for three hours more,
the retainers found nothing awry
and the soldier admitted she may have been wrong
in suspecting the fay of a lie.
25. But the sun must descend, and deserted the guests
at the hour of seven fifteen,
as they noticed the color had started to drain
from the skin of their soon-to-be queen.
26. Without being noticed, away from the crowd
the elf-witch and her party had flown;
and the people cried out in dismay when they saw
that the princess was turned into stone.
27. The nation's ambassadors mourned the princess
who'd been cursed by the treacherous queen,
and the soldier who'd warned of the elves and their games
vowed revenge for the girl of fifteen.
28. Barely three hours distant, the witch and her elves
bid the overground nation farewell,
and they carried a box with a miniature girl
(who was shaken, but otherwise well).
29. "Enclosed in this cell," thought the little princess,
"I may never have need to be queen;
yet in elvish captivity, could I maintain
I shall live to be more than fifteen?"
30. Then the party approached a magnificent cave,
and they entered that hole in the ground
to be hailed as heroes, triumphant and true
for a deed that would make them renowned.
31. The Elventown commons were brilliantly dressed
in their tunics of ultramarine,
when the elf-witch presented the princess's bane
to the sinister hand of her queen.
32. With great satisfaction, the Lady Beneath
then opened the magical case,
and she said, "Dearest Princess, look up to my eyes,
and behold ye my sovereign face."
33. Though small as a sparrow, and weighing just less,
she was sure it was no good to scream;
so the princess looked proud as she boldly exclaimed,
"I give thanks to the underground queen!"
34. "Give thanks?" said the lady who reigned in the caves,
"how very grown up and polite!
I might have expected to see you in tears,
or to put up a childish fight".
35. "I've no tears to show you", declared the princess,
"though I think I can see what you mean.
But I'm surely too old to throw fits and complain,
as a woman of nearly sixteen!"
36. "How worthy, the daughter of my greatest foe!"
Said the queen of the elves with a laugh,
"but still, to believe you should thank me for this
is simply too funny by half!"
37. "So if you would kindly explain, my princess,
how you came by such manners and mien
to be grateful to one who would loyalty feign
and abduct a sweet girl of fifteen?"
38. The princess explained to the Lady Beneath
how she loathed to be placed on the throne,
"where my mother was seated for so many years
and left me completely alone,"
39. "And although I've been called a beloved princess,
I believe my performance as queen
would only bring everyone sorrow and pain,"
said the innocent girl of fifteen.
40. "But alas," she continued, "I'm surely confused
as to how you could take me from there!
Could you tell me, my lady, what magic was used
when you answered my secretive prayer?"
41. "The magic was mine, my delightful princess",
said the elf witch attending the queen,
"a masterful casting of spells with my cane
and the aid of the powers unseen:"
42. "The enchantments to shrink you, and glamours to fool
that unwitting assembly of folk,
were woven with lightning and subtly concealed
in the folds of your lovely new cloak!"
43. "How expertly sewn!" said the tiny princess
as she fondled its delicate seams,
"and the power that dwells in your cherry wood cane
gives my cloak its peculiar sheen?"
44. "A clever young girl!" said the Lady Beneath
with a withering glance at the witch,
"that power abides by the will of the elves
and obeys me with nary a hitch."
45. "In any event, my agreeable guest,
I assure you, you shall not be queen!
Here in the cave of the fay, you'll remain,
to the age of a hundred fifteen!"
46. And the beautiful box with the princess inside
was secured in an underground cell,
where the girl was imprisoned for three days and nights,
(she could tell by the sound of the bells).
47. Pretending to sleep, the resourceful princess
worked hard on a devious scheme:
she studied the lock that would keep her contained,
determined to outwit the queen.
48. And on the fourth morning, she finally picked
it, and warily opened the lid:
then seeing no guard, she climbed down to the carpet,
where deep in the shadows she hid.
49. In no time at all there was strife and distress
as the witch met the guards with a scream,
"how hard could it possibly be to detain
a minuscule girl of fifteen!?"
50. "Now find her, you fools, if you value your ears,
and replace her inside of that hutch!
Apart from its confines, the princess can shrink
any object she likes with her touch!"
51. And hearing this story, the little princess
saw a penny of stature obscene,
yet it shrank at her touch to a scale more mundane
like a typical pebble or bean.
52. "Now somewhere in Elventown, surely I'll find
the dear witch's mysterious den;
if I can lay hands on the cane that she used,
then perhaps I can go home again!"
53. With the penny for luck in a fold of her dress
she set off with the nerve of a queen,
and her fine elvish cloak with its motive of rain
seemed to aid her with powers unseen.
54. It took nearly an hour, but somehow she found
it, and slipped herself under the door.
The girl beheld books in the Old Elvish tongue
stacked in piles all over the floor,
55. Stones of great beauty and flowers possessed
of the light of celestial dreams;
but a rack in the corner with magical canes
caught the eyes of the girl of fifteen.
56. She made a quick dash at the sight of her goal,
but was met by a cruel surprise
when the crafty elf sorceress stepped from the shadows
she'd worn as a mystic disguise.
57. "The moment I saw you, my darling princess,
I knew you were loath to be queen;
so I can't say it's clear why you'd cause me the pain
of pursuing an ungrateful teen!"
58. The princess looked up to her eyes of citrine:
"It's the cherry wood cane that I need?"
The sorceress laughed with a manic intent,
"if you think you can finish the deed!"
59. Then she cast out a net at the little princess,
who dodged with the lightness of steam,
and she chased her through canyons of spell-books arcane
and grimoires of the powers unseen.
60. She might have been captured for all of her nerve,
as she wearied of using her feet,
when a clamor of shouting came out from the hall,
"they're attacking the Lady Beneath!"
61. And the elf witch grew pale with fear and distress,
and broke off to defend the old queen,
but she ran to the scene with her cherry wood cane,
to withhold from the girl of fifteen.
62. "Guard!" she called out to a panicking elf,
"the young princess is trapped in my room!
Make sure she's still there by the time I return,
or I'll curse thee to sputter and spume!"
63. So the guard was assigned to the tiny princess,
and the sorceress sped to the scene,
where brave volunteers from the human domain
sought revenge for their petrified queen.
64. In the thick of the fight was the Lady Beneath,
who stood tall with a glittering blade
in the face of the soldier who'd tried to arrest
the elf witch who had hatched the charade.
65. The combat was fierce, there was blood on the dress
of the faerie-folk's treacherous queen,
but the sorceress smiled, as it principally came
from the wounds of the soldier, it seemed.
66. But her smile was erased when the brave woman's sword
struck the queen in a desperate blow;
as the queen staggered back her opponent announced,
"there is something I think you should know:"
67. "Some years in the past I was under arrest
by the guards of this rebel regime,
and in spite of the standards for treatments humane,
my detention was heartless and mean!"
68. "As much as for duty, I fight for myself!"
she declared with her victory won,
"I demand your surrender, or else at my hands
you'll face justice for what you have done!"
69. The queen slowly rose, and her eyes were impressed,
though her forehead was furrowed between,
and she seethed, "I'll resist you until I am slain,
for I bow to no overground queen!"
70. With a wave of her cherry wood cane, the elf witch
made her queen disappear in a blink,
and the soldier whirled 'round to behold her new foe,
in her vestments of crimson and pink.
71. "A very good speech - for a human, I guess,"
she pronounced with a sneer and a lean,
"but a speech will not save thee from thunder and rain,
nor stifle the music of screams!"
72. Then she threw up her arms and began to enchant,
and a storm cloud arose in the cave,
but the casting was halted when out of the blue,
she was struck by a bolt from a stave.
73. A few paces back stood our tiny princess,
that brazen-eyed girl of fifteen,
in her miniature cloak, with a miniature cane
in the hands of the soon-to-be queen.
74. The cane that she held was of rosewood, as dark
as the natural tone of her skin,
and her laughter was tiny, but still it was heard
from without the elf town and within.
75. The soldiers looked down at their little princess,
and some thought she was only a dream,
but her onyx eyes flashed with her mother's own flame,
and they knew her, the heir of the queen.
76. "The blast will have stunned her," the princess instructed
the soldier who led the attack,
"and the cherry wood rod that flew out of her hands
has the power to make me grow back."
77. So she dutifully fetched for the patient princess
the old cane with the powers unseen,
and with it her stature she quickly regained,
a fair height for a girl of fifteen.
78. With the elves in a rout and the danger averted,
the princess desired a truce.
"when next we should hear from the Lady Beneath,
let her know she need not fear the noose;"
79. "Though the elves took advantage of all my distress,
they have grievances of the old queen.
I wish to make right all the wrongs to my name,
though I'm only a girl of fifteen."
80. Then out from the shades came the Lady Beneath,
with a poultice applied to her waist;
"You humans are gifted in fair-seeming speech,
but do not look forward in haste,"
81. "In time it may be we can finally rest
from our strife with the overground queen,
but perhaps I will sign by your granddaughter's name
on the treaty that hails this dream."
82. Then the princess replied with a light in her heart,
"I shall teach her the value of peace,
so whoever may reign from my throne at that time
will ensure that our blood feud shall cease.
83. The dutiful soldier approved her princess:
"they shall call you the wisest of queens,
for it takes real courage to cast aside blame
when the hurt is a mighty ravine".
84. So the humans departed, and sent architects
to help to repair Elventown,
and the nation rejoiced at the sight of the girl
they believed they would never see crowned.
85. And in time, the enlightened and gracious princess
took her seat on the throne of the queen,
with her magical rosewood and cherry wood canes
on the day that she turned sixteen.
Monday, October 5, 2015
Just thought I'd poke my head out and say a word or two. You know, instead of sleeping.
Presently, things are humming along in the life of David at more or less adequate conditions. One can never tell if a bad day is just around the corner, and I have to take the time to remind myself of all the things I wrote in that affirmational post. But my days have been mostly good for the past couple of weeks.
Writing is definitely something that's been giving me pleasure and satisfaction. I'm happy with how The Secret Egg is developing, even though I haven't quite figured out how it ends yet. That just means that, for now at least, we get to experience the suspense together!
Actually, that brings me back to something. A little while ago, I wrote about making peace with the fact that basically nobody reads my writings. To be honest, sometimes that feels like a lie. It's not really that liberating to work on something and have it elude the notice of the world completely. As far as anyone is anxiously awaiting the next installment of The Secret Egg, I may be the only one. Then once it's done, I get to reread it a few times, compare it to previous efforts, and wait around until I finally gather the energy to tell myself another story. It's easier than beating myself up for not attracting any feedback, but not nearly as fulfilling as actually getting the attention.
There is another story of sorts in the pipe, though. I have been working in spare moments on a long narrative poem, in ballad form. It has a sort of fairy tale setting, with elves and enchantments and other fun elements. So far it's about a hundred and twenty-some lines, so it's already the longest poem I've made by far. I have a lot of warm feelings for this effort. A small handful of people on Tumblr seem intrigued by it too, and that makes me feel good.
With all that said, I thought I'd make a note about my personal life. I met a girl about a month ago now, who I thought things were going well with. Unfortunately, after going on a total of two dates with me (both of which were very nice), she left town for a family emergency, and from what she told me she'll be gone until after the new year. If I'm still available then, she says she'd like to catch up. That's really heartening, in theory. But one thing I've had to relearn this year is not to count chickens until they actually pick up the phone and call you.
The thing is, I really like this girl. We talked quite a bit before meeting the first time, and for all I've learned about her I feel like we're a great match. I think about her a lot. We had some poor luck in our timing though, and it's taking all of my positivity to convince myself that I could possibly have a second chance with her in a few months time. Personal experience doesn't bear out that possibility, though I know I should have faith in the surprises of life.
So what do I do in the meantime? Well, I guess I keep taking care of myself. Trying to get healthy and stable, keeping an open heart and mind, learning as much as I can. Being the best me I can be, as it were. Ultimately, worrying about things like this is a waste of energy. Given time, the world will present me with opportunities, and I will take them when I'm ready.
Thursday, October 1, 2015
Anyway, these poems represent a somewhat difficult time for me. I returned to Eugene at the start of June, and found myself quickly sinking back into despair and depression. I was preoccupied with loss, loneliness, and an acute sense of my own failings and deficiencies. Truth be told, I wasn't dealing very well at all.
Eventually I took some steps to take care of myself. I saw a doctor, who prescribed an antidepressant to me (sertraline). I quit drinking (again), more or less. I started exercising seriously. Thanks to these and other factors, my mood steadily improved and so did my quality of life. Of course, I cannot discount the effect of working through my feelings with poetry, either.
Now, a word on the content of these poems. Death and self-hatred figure into several of them, a direct manifestation of my depression. Others are concerned with sex, which I think is a coping strategy more than anything else. The figure of my ex-girlfriend still appears from time to time in these poems, but only two of them are specifically about her. There are also poems here that strike a hopeful note, which I wrote with the more or less direct intention of inspiring myself to feel better. One cannot cure depression, of course, with a few hopeful words. But words can help. I'll have more details on all of this in the commentary below.
In nearly thirty years of life on Earth,
I haven't learned the secret locked in skin,
though I am firmly wrapped inside, its confines
stretching tight, and bursting from within.
How easily it burns, it tears, it scars
at every shallow stimulus or stress,
yet holds my meat and bones so well together,
lest I split into a shapeless mess.
And how, amongst its other duties, can
the touch of naked skin produce
erotic pleasure? Oh, the sight alone's
enough to let our sober senses loose,
enough to keep us locked within our rooms
for six or seven hours in a day.
With two or more (or even by ourselves)
our skins can keep us occupied with play.
A Sighting of the Anima
Thou art so evocative,
thou archetype of dreams;
I would have liked to know thy face
by any other means,
but in my panicked state I shot
an arrow through thy chest.
I murdered thee: before thine eyes
this crime I have confessed.
I watched thee, creeping through the window,
soldiers standing near,
and begged thee not to let them in,
I begged thee disappear -
then in a fluid motion, smashed
thy heart within its cage,
and woke an instant later, fever
twisting me with rage.
I had to leave our home in ruins,
broken motives on the floor,
and kiss my dear Veronica,
her perfect image at the door.
I had to know she wouldn't wait,
no matter what I'd thought she'd said -
it was the final night that my
Veronica would share her bed.
If only my Veronica
could help me struggle with this grief!
She made the choice she thought was right,
and that is my sincere belief,
But she will never hold me close
and warm my body with her breast.
The game was fixed, and I have lost
Veronica despite my best.
Social Media for the Youth
This is what we have in common -
each of us has seen a murder
caught on video,
and tried to share it with our friends.
If they made a horror movie
called "The Youtube Generation,"
nobody would go
it hits too close to home.
Union - this is two of us together,
closer than the salt and water,
intimately bound by
pressure, blood, and
Motion - like the ancient paradoxes,
locked in interception, always
closing on position,
Rhythm - this is music in crescendo,
conversation in an urgent
tongue of spells and whispers,
reaching for a
Satisfaction - beating hearts, exploding
in a gasp of air and mercy,
fire under skins
subsiding, soothed with
Synthesis - a vital act of love and
alchemy beneath the surface
may conceive a wonder
out of our
It Goes From One To Explode
I might conclude
that this is how it ought to be:
all counting days
from one to three, to six, eleven,
just to see
how high the count of days can go.
every time I start to cry again
I might survive,
no matter how the years go by.
A pint or so
of ale to roll the meter back,
an empty page
to fill afresh with tally marks,
an empty drawer
to stuff the other pages in.
My Imagination's Done Worse
No surprises anymore,
I don't believe that
anything you say to me
as a surprise,
at least not anymore.
slash my lungs, perhaps,
or maybe break my heart again
smaller than they broke before,
but nothing could surprise me,
Scenes and Secrets
Jacob likes the thunder lizards,
loves the shapes of cakes and gardens,
hates the night of mother's book club.
School is out for snowy weather,
everything is under water,
Jacob's playing with the matches.
Cats are leaving mice on pillows,
father's looking for a shovel,
no one's seen the place he keeps it.
Jacob doesn't get in trouble
if he keeps a B in English -
he can write his own excuses.
A Time of Living and Dying
Creeping to the east,
the shadows have abandoned me,
sleeping in the sun.
Above the green grass,
beneath the clean sky and the
I dream prophecies:
a slow season of drying,
weeks of dying skin.
Turning back to front
to even my exposure,
burning front to back.
Let Me Count The Ways
The way I look,
the words I speak,
the way I fail the things I try,
the way I fall
apart so easy,
yet my cheeks are always dry;
I hate the way
I hate the lonely
people whom I should embrace,
the way I wear
this weak expression
on my vulgar, empty face;
The way I run
my weasel life
as if it were a tired scam,
the way my body
thirsts for someone,
never learning who I am;
my every sin
must be remembered,
every day I lose control;
I won't leave out
the way I dare
to offer up my heavy soul.
Fill your hearts with fire and ale,
for joy has come to Ettenfall -
the days of starlight dread have ended,
dawn is cast on heaven's wall,
as monstrous shades of murk retreat
beneath the mountains, shrinking small,
and flights of drums and flutes resume
their high ascent in Ettenfall.
The years have made us young this morning,
children of the yearning hall -
what fortune we have found in summer
long was promised Ettenfall,
calamity was long endured
but love has made our bodies tall.
Our fear is quashed, our foes are banished
by the will of Ettenfall.
Though battered down, though bruised and sore,
our bodies leap to music's call,
for wisdom grants the warmth of flesh
should not be wasted, not at all.
A fool could hardly fail to see
the blesséd state of Ettenfall:
a fellowship of friends and lovers
wakes the streets of Ettenfall.
The Gardens Try
Every year, the gardens try.
The daffodils will have no care
for poison, drought, or freezing air:
the gardens either live or die,
it doesn't matter if it's fair.
The poets offer guarantees
that spring will rise forever, though
within their poets' hearts they know
the life that coils within the trees
is tenuous at best. They grow
again, they whither up, they lack
a shepherd to defend their flock:
the gardens of the world walk
the path to their extinction, back
and forth, from hardy root and stalk
to ashes dead. Disasters near,
and yet, a billion eons bear
their witness that the gardens' daring
gamble pays off, year by year -
They always try, and they are spared.
Every year the gardens try
despite the constant hand of doom:
the seeds of life resist their tomb
and spread their petals to the sky,
determined all the more to bloom.
Return of the Muse
Some of the languorous candle
the edge of its reticent perch.
A little bit gets on the floor,
it's hard to get out of the rug.
A little bit stays on my finger
the scent will linger for months.
Some of the flavor on
reminds me of sensual death.
When did you become a sunset,
beautiful in your descent?
Maybe, at the very moment
you ascended, glorious dawn,
the western border was determined
as the object of your search -
and morning was the youthful province
of a once and future queen.
The sky becomes your crown of embers,
evening graced with clouds and planets:
this was beauty all along,
but still I watch the east, and miss you.
Permission to Stop
I forget to ask myself
permission to have
a very bad day,
to trade in my brain
for silence and emptiness.
Like it or not,
it's going to happen anyway -
if I asked for
permission, would I
be less of a cheat?
Would it settle
the issue of what
a fuck-up deserves?
Human Skin is pretty self-explanatory. Skin is an intriguing thing, and everybody's got some, to be endlessly intrigued by. Maybe seven hours of "intrigue" is too much sometimes, though. I wrote this mostly just to get used to my new poetry journal.
I had a dream that ended in a scene very much like what's depicted in A Sighting of the Anima. I was an archer and the last defender of a fortified position, and I was scared. When I told a friend about the dream and how it made me feel (sick and disturbed), he did a little Jungian-style dream analysis and suggested that the woman I shot may have been a manifestation of my "anima", or the archetypal feminine personality; hence the title. I had also been thinking about playing around with archaic pronouns, and I figured it made a certain amount of sense to direct a "thou" at a piece of my subconscious mind.
My Veronica might not be any good. It sort of grew out of something I read in Kierkegaard's Either/Or; one of the translator's notes indicated that the name "Veronica" meant something like "perfect image". Being interested in etymology, I looked it up and, it turns out, this is not the truth. Veronica (alternately "Berenice") actually means something like "bringer of victory". However, the "perfect image" or "true image" theory is a historically popular folk etymology that Kierkegaard (and his translator) apparently believed. The idea was stuck in my head at that point, and I translated it into a melancholy reminiscence of the last time I had seen my ex-girlfriend. Her name isn't Veronica, but that's not really the point.
Now, I am certainly in favor of certain video depictions of death becoming widely circulated, such as evidence of police brutality. But it struck me as unsettling one evening that most of us have watched someone die on our screens, the same screens we use for entertainment purposes, and the socially conscientious thing is considered to be showing the video to people you know. There, I just restated the poem. I guess it's not that complicated. I'm sure other people see nothing weird about this state of affairs, but it makes me feel uncomfortable. I guess it's just Social Media For the Youth.
Principles is a sex poem, and a pretty good one if you ask me. I like reading it, anyway. I tried to make the meter and structure suggestive of intercourse, so maybe it's kind of like concrete poetry? The shape is just more of a motion than an object. Anyway, this looks like the sauciest thing in this group. Has anyone ever compared sex with Zeno's paradoxes before? If not, you're welcome.
As I said before, I felt very lonely during this time. I still feel lonely, but it was worse back in June. So I wrote something mopey and depressing about counting the days until I found love and companionship again, imagining that I might count to some impossibly high number before dying alone. BUMMER. But you see, I never completely lost my sense of humor, hence the reference to Red vs Blue in the title:
"We have to hurry, the bomb's on a timer!" "A count-down timer?" "No, a count-up timer. It goes from one, to explode!"Classic.
My Imagination's Done Worse started as a riff in my mind on the song No Surprises by Radiohead. It expresses a sort of world-weariness and pessimism that I would not recommend.
Then there's Scenes and Secrets, a poem that has nothing to do with my various anxieties and hang-ups. How about that? I think it's ultimately better for that. I tried to write something mysterious and vaguely creepy. Unsupervised children are creepy. A friend of mine assumed that "thunder lizards" was a reference to some cartoon from the nineties that I don't remember ever having heard of. Obviously, it's not. It's just another term for dinosaurs.
In a weird, roundabout sort of way, A Time of Living and Dying is a poem about climate change. Specifically, the heat and drought that has been afflicting the west coast this summer. It mostly started as a metrical exercise.
I actually made myself cry when I wrote Let Me Count The Ways. I got it into my head that I could get all of my depression and self-loathing out of my head by putting it all down in one place. I no longer think that was a brilliant idea, but the poem exists and I want to record it here, as evidence of how thoroughly mean I can be to myself, and how not to think.
Ettenfall sure sticks out here, doesn't it? I had been reading J.R.R. Tolkien's translation of Beowulf, and my head was full of the theme of a place besieged by monsters and nightmares, and the joy of its people upon liberation. "Ettenfall" is a place name I made up, sort of an etymologically garbled word meaning something like "place of the giants' (down)fall". The tone is unabashedly hopeful, which is something I really should try more often. Of course it also seems quaint, but I like to think it has a certain Tolkien-esque quality, thanks to some choice alliteration.
The Gardens Try was a more measured effort at writing in a hopeful tone. Again, the drought is a contributing subject here, but the real focus is on life. It strikes me as magnificent how easily all life could be extinguished from the Earth, and yet how it has endured for eons in one form or another, to the point where we take it for granted that somehow, no matter how badly we fuck up the environment, it will continue to endure. A flower doesn't know that the prospects for growth are any worse or better than the last season: it just gives its best every year. So far, that's been good enough.
I bought a few scented candles this summer, and if there's one thing I inexplicably love doing, it's writing poems about candles. Thus, The Return of the Muse. Literally, it's about wax dripping on the carpet. If you have a dirty mind, there might be another meaning buried in there somewhere.
Undiminished is another poem about Tara, my ex-girlfriend, this one a reasoned attempt to make peace with the fact of our separation and the way it has made me feel. It's built around an obvious metaphor that, in retrospect, may be a little too self-centered if taken to its logical conclusions. But I call this a tribute to her, and all the good she brought into my life.
This wild ride ends on a somewhat sour note. I had a very bad day, and felt of course like every bit of progress I'd made was for naught. But I had a bit of self-awareness before bed, which led to the writing of Permission to Stop. The message of this poem is muddled, I think. I may be coming down on myself too much. But it was an honest reflection of how I felt, f-bomb and all.
Tuesday, September 29, 2015
The secret egg was a thing. For all of its apparent ability to distract her mind and bend her thoughts, she never hesitated in calling it a thing. Yet her grandfather's "poem" came back to her in fragments, unbidden.
In the three nights since she had hidden it in her dresser drawer, she had only once thought to destroy it. A wild impulse came over her, to follow the apparent instructions in her grandfather's hand and throw the wooden egg and its esoteric diagrams into a furnace. She could do no such thing.
If any one had come to see her in those three nights, they would have noticed instantly that Jenna was not herself. But no one came to see her, and Jenna was too preoccupied by the secret egg to notice how preoccupied she was. It became harder and harder to focus on anything else: difficult in the case of organizing her grandfather's effects, and impossible in the case of her schoolwork.
By daylight, Jenna could behave with a fair approximation of normality. But there was always the question, nesting untouchably in her brain: could she really love this thing? What was to love - its shape? Its texture? The arcane symbolism on its "shell"? Or was she supposed to love the interior, as solid as it seemed? Sometimes, she remembered that the scroll had in fact been very specific. She was not "supposed" to love it. She was "supposed" to incinerate it. At night these thoughts became all-consuming. But for three nights she never seriously considered burning the egg.
For three nights she pondered the possibility of loving a thing. She would examine the egg in detail, trying to examine herself simultaneously, trying to name the emotions it evoked. She would shove it back in the drawer of winter clothes, and attempt to take her mind off the problem. It never lasted. A visitor to her apartment would have called it a mad obsession. A more superstitious observer might have thought the egg was charmed.
And on the fourth night, something changed. After returning from dinner out with old friends, Jenna opened the door to her apartment, and did not proceed to her dresser. She hung up her coat, sat down at her desk, and got to work taking inventory of her grandfather's documents. It was difficult work as always, but she made real, decent progress. After an hour, she was exhausted. She turned off the desk light, and went into the kitchen. She put on an ancient record by Miles Davis, and prepared a cup of chamomile tea. When she had finished enjoying that, she went to the bedroom, took off her clothes, and went to sleep in her bed.
She forgot about the secret egg.
At first it was a dream. As unbelievable as the truth turned out to be, she remained convinced to the end that it began as a dream. There was no other explanation for how she'd acted, how she'd felt, and where this strangely passive adventure had led her thus far.
Truly, what could explain how Jenna came to be floating on the Southern Ocean? That is where she was, there could be no doubt. It was strange that the raft that supported her appeared just like her bed, and that the waves were indistinguishable from the hardwood floor of her room. But the stench of wet salt and the bitter, cold wind that rushed through her sheets, as well as the startling and exotic constellations glowing through and from beyond the ceiling, left no doubt that she truly was at sea. Even out her window, past the trees and familiar landmarks lit by orange streetlights, she thought she could make out the Cape of Good Hope looming in the darkness.
Apart from that, there was nothing her mind could do to rationalize the sensory confusion that overwhelmed her. It was only in dreams that a person could be so absolutely and certainly in two places at once, their contradictory qualities reconciled by the logic of the subconscious mind. And for the first time in days, Jenna was aware of just how out of her conscious mind she'd been for the past three days. "Have I been walking in a dream," she thought, "and have I been asleep all this time?" But if it was a dream, she could no longer enjoy it from the numb security of sleep. She was alert, and aware of the bizarre sensation of both lying peacefully in bed, and being rocked by violent ocean swells.
She drew her comforter tight around her body to protect against the cutting winds, and tried to make more sense of her condition, to separate one location from another before she lost all sense of boundaries and, she feared, her sanity. Scanning the open sea, which was also her bedroom, she noted the dresser, and remembered suddenly the secret egg. And as the subtle memories began to return, and she considered what role the egg had played in these events, the room seemed to respond to the sudden change in her mental state. If she were somehow experiencing two realities at once, the manifestation of a third seemed to be asserting itself. A formless vortex, not really visible but definitely perceptible, seemed to be drawing one of the other two realities into itself; to Jenna's relief, it seemed to be the ocean that was receding.
The ethereal whirl seemed to center around the dresser, which only confirmed to Jenna that the secret egg was at the heart of the mystery. An ominous glow was now emanating from that location, radiating warmth. As the Southern Ocean faded from her perception, its elements all seemed to swirl about that spot, lingering visibly around the dresser's edge. One by one, the stars ceased shining through her ceiling; the Cape of Good Hope phased out of sight. But as normal reality reasserted itself in her presence, the energy surrounding the egg's hiding place grew brighter and hotter. She was certain it would be noticeable from the street, blazing out of her window like a scene from an alien abduction movie.
In an unexpected instant, the spreading mass of light suddenly collapsed into a tiny point. Its intense brightness forced Jenna to close her eyes, and a second later she heard a dull popping sound, and a heat like a broiling oven passed over her face for a moment. She became aware that the glow was gone, and she opened her eyes. It was dark, of course, but there was enough light from the window to make out the shape of things. She could read the clock on the wall, which showed only a few ticks past one in the morning. There was only one reality left in her room, as far as she could tell.
The drawer containing her winter clothes slid out, seemingly of its own accord. It was not especially slow, but it was deliberate and unrushed. Jenna's eyes fixed on that motion, even as she instinctively pulled her blanket back around her shoulders. Undressed and bewildered, she didn't know if she could defend herself from the unknown. However, she comforted herself, she didn't really know that it was dangerous.
There was a sound like the cracking of eggshells, and a small, dark form rose up from where the secret egg had been hidden. It appeared solid, yet lacked a firm boundary, and as it stepped out onto the floor it appeared to be slowly increasing in size.
The creature that had hatched from the secret egg was essentially round, with small spikes, limbs and other appendages that seemed to fade and undulate about its body in steady fashion. Its color was like a very deep blackness, accented with a faint iridescent blue when it passed through the light. It moved noiselessly across the floor, reaching the side of her bed in only a few seconds; Jenna tried to remain facing it, unsure of its intentions and capabilities.
She noted how it moved in a way that defied description. At times it seemed to be floating effortlessly, at other times walking in an almost ordinary fashion on two legs. Which form of locomotion it used at any given second was, of course, ambiguous, as it usually seemed to be doing both at the same time. But Jenna could not help but observe that, when it gave the impression of having legs, its left leg seemed to be smaller and more malformed than the right. Increasingly doubtful of her senses and their ability to discriminate, she found that one consistency to be very interesting.
By the time it reached her bed, it seemed to have reached full size, growing from a few inches to about the size of a large, fat house cat. It paused for a moment before ascending the mattress in its own peculiar fashion, a motion that was halfway between a ghostly levitation and an exaggerated step with impossible feet. Jenna pulled as far back as she could, to maintain a reasonable distance, but the creature was now only a few feet from her face. Now, she could tell that it had a face of its own, its features slowly appearing from the misty blackness of its round body. First a mouth, or something like one: really just two rows of sharp, interlocking triangular teeth, stretched in a cartoonish grimace. Soon afterward came its eyes: large, round, blue, and startlingly human, yet uncanny in their suggestion of a child's doll or a CGI model. The creature blinked a few times, which is to say that the eyes would vanish for a fraction of a second: they had no discernible lids.
Finally, a green sigil developed between the eyes, in the center of the creature's "forehead". Jenna recognized it immediately as the glyph which decorated the seal of her grandfather's scroll, as well as the secret egg: a six-pointed star with an eye inscribed within. The resemblance to the creature's own eyes was only natural. The symbol glowed with a very faint light, just bright enough to show the faint iridescence of the surrounding face.
With the arrival of the sigil the creature's dynamic form seemed to stabilize, though it was still as much a creature of shadow as one of flesh. It looked briefly about its surroundings, perhaps seized by a childlike fascination with the new world it had been born into. And then its eyes fixed swiftly on Jenna's, and even as she flinched she perceived a mature and devious intelligence behind them. She was frightened, and yet her fear subsided when the creature spoke, its voice like a scratchy old vinyl record from the forties.
"You look... quite a bit like him. It's good, that you turned out to be the one. It is how he intended things all along. I had my doubts it would work out, but here you are. Here we are".
Jenna felt sure this was certainly no dream anymore; she felt more awake, and more aware, than she had in a very long time. And naturally, though the encounter was entirely unprecedented and there was much she did not understand, she soon put together an idea. "My grandfather sent you, didn't he?"
"The fruit doesn't fall far from the tree," replied the creature, widening its grin, "but does it taste as sweet as last year's harvest?" Jenna recoiled at the monstrous implication, and the creature let out a high, mellow laugh. "Only a joke, my dear girl. I don't intend to eat you, and I didn't eat him. In a way, I am as much of his issue as you are. That makes us relatives, and eating you would be like cannibalism, I should think." It smiled innocently, though the effect was dubious, as it did not have an innocent face. "You don't think me capable of such a thing, do you?"
She chose her words carefully. "I'm not sure what you're capable of. I'm not even sure how you got here".
It flailed in mock surprise. "Why, you saw how I got here! I took the boat, of course! Though I suppose it must have been very confusing for one not versed in the trade. I can assure you that it was a very orderly, rational, and scientific process. Or at least it looked that way, from the other side of the veil of reality".
"Well," she said, picking up her courage, "I'm not versed in the trade, and whatever the 'veil of reality' is, I'm sure I've lived my whole life on this side of it. I don't understand the process, or where you come from. And I really don't understand what I've been doing with that egg all this time, or what it's been doing to me. So maybe you could try explaining it a little more clearly?"
"Very well, very well," the creature intoned semi-seriously, closing its eyes and nodding in exaggerated style. "I suppose it is time to begin the beginning. Now I know this may seem to be a little 'out there', but I imagine you've figured out by this point that your grandfather was a sorcerer?"
It sounded daft to admit it, but it did seem to be the most logical conclusion. "I think I can accept that".
"Well, if you can accept that he was after all an exceptionally powerful sorcerer, I think I can answer both of your questions". The creature cleared its throat, or whatever it had, clearly relishing the chance to pontificate. "You see, my dear... Jenna is it?" She nodded affirmatively. "I thought so. Anyway, for some time now you have been bewitched. It happened when you first broke the seal," -it indicated the sigil on its forehead- "and read your grandfather's instructions. That was the most precarious part of the whole mechanism. I warned the old fellow that he could never be certain you'd be the one to open the scroll, but you know how sure of himself the old man was".
Jenna had no idea how to respond. As it had become much more painfully obvious, she knew almost nothing about the old man.
"In any event, once that obstacle was cleared, the spell worked basically like it was supposed to. The person who read the scroll would find the egg; the old man painted it himself, you know. The person who found the egg would fall in love with it, in a subtly jealous and obsessive way. Then, as suddenly as all that, the same person whose thoughts were warped by the egg would forget about it completely. In the act of forgetting, the way was clear for a creature from my side of the veil, yours truly, to pass through to yours, hatch from the egg, and manifest into this world. Are you with me so far?"
She nodded, though she thought the mechanics were still more obscure than the creature would admit. "But the instructions told me to burn the egg. What would have happened if I'd done that?"
The iridescence around the creature's eyes seemed to flush at the possibility. "Well, suffice it to say, you could never have done that. Once you discovered the egg, the spell prevented you from harming it in any way. You see," and here the creature again assumed a prideful air, "a being as powerful as myself needs a little more than forgetfulness to pass whole through the veil. Your grandfather added a disobedience rhythm to the spell's arrangement, to boost its power. Your failure to comply with the 'instructions' was a vital component of a delicate instrument. But it was the forgetting that brought me through in the end."
"I did forget about it," she murmured, incredulous. "How could I have forgotten about it, just like that?"
"It was all in the spell, my dear; you really weren't yourself this week. You followed the script, and you did so beautifully. But I have to say, you remembered the egg a little sooner than I had expected; my leg was nearly caught in the veil. It still hurts, you see." The creature held up its smaller leg to demonstrate; it had started to firm up, the same as the other, but it was obviously weaker.
"Tell me why," she demanded, and she tried to be firm despite all she didn't understand, despite the menace inherent in the creature's teeth. "Tell me why my grandfather did this. Why he manipulated me, why he couldn't have just told me all this himself?" Of course, her grandfather had never really told her, or her mother, or possibly anyone about anything important in his whole life. "Tell me what the hell you're doing here... little thing," she said, much bolder than she'd intended to sound.
The creature laughed that same high, mellow laugh. "You're getting ahead of yourself, dear Jenna. I am here to answer all of your questions, in due time. I have been granted a special authority by your grandfather, in exchange for passage into this realm. You see him and his life as a mystery - I am to demystify him, so to speak. I can show you his past, his work, his innermost thoughts; everything you've ever wondered about the shifty old fellow. It was his last wish, and I am bound to grant it."
"You can show me... everything?"
"Right away, if you'd like".
There was never any real doubt in her mind. If Jenna hesitated, it was not from a lack of curiosity, for she still burned with unanswered questions about the history of her family, the things her poor mother had never been able to tell her. She felt resentment to the old man for using her in his mysterious rituals, and she did not easily trust the ghoulish thing on her bed. These things could make her hesitate, but they did not make her refuse.
"I'll need to get dressed", she said, quietly.
The creature smiled, and closed its peculiar eyes; Jenna believed it not unlikely that it could still see through the power of its sigil. It laughed, a little bit higher and a little less mellow, as she climbed out of bed and put on her clothes.