No Traveler Returns — a poem

…he spoke to me
neither wholly to me, nor to the next man
But a part of himself talked to himself….

— Ezra Pound, Canto LXXII


You won’t read this poem until I pass.
Certainly you won’t remember
as it floated past your eyes, dulled
by too many glanced pages, posts,
readings — “glance is the enemy of vision” —
my words flitted on your loaded
screen.  It came and went like shit
through a goose on the internet.
That’s a three-fer: idiom, cliche,
and simile.  Back to poetry and dying.
It will be my dust that sparkles,
my ashes that draw your attention.
Until then, I remain… yours truly
sans MFA, sans readers of note,
sans art.

* * *

So a couple poet friends and I have been mining Pound’s Cantos… you know, sparks of insanity to see what it causes our pens (figuratively speaking) to bleed.

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Internal Irony, part 5

“The road that is built in hope is more pleasant to the traveler than the road built in despair, even though they both lead to the same destination.”

— Marion Zimmer Bradley

It is inevitable for a father who has been present in his children’s lives, to know without conscious thought when a child nearby slumbers.  As you slipped into a deep and peaceful rest, I drew my pipe and pouch from my messenger’s bag. Carefully I filled the bowl with a portion of my remaining supply.  Fishing a branch end from the nearly dead coals, blowing gently on it, I brought it to the tobacco, and drew in the cherry-rich smoke I had come to… appreciate; that would be the word… over my years here.

Around us the voices of the night whispered.  I heard the barred owl call out, and thought how rare that riddle-filled call must have been in the city just three years before.  Nature was overtaking the habitation of your kind. I looked up into the open sky fringed by the lush canopy of the park’s oak trees, and listened to the chatter of the universe.

“Why didn’t you attack?”  I addressed that which inhabited you.

(Would you not have killed her along with me?)

I considered the Fell’s question.  The deeper meaning being not “you would have killed me,” but “you would have killed her.”

(Why didn’t you kill?)

This required another draw on my pipe.  And another. “I didn’t sense you were a threat.”

(Yet, you sensed me.)

“Long before you arrived.”

We remained quiet for a long time.

“Why aren’t she and you both dead?  In three years’ –”

(Six.)

I waited for the Fell to explain.  The Reveal happened just over three years before, as you would remember.  But this one was saying you had been… infested… for six years. So I waited out the answers to my many sudden questions.

(I came earlier.  As a scout. No, that’s not totally accurate.  I came pretending to be a scout — took the place of a scout.  One who I… decommissioned.)

Decommissioned.  I worked with words for most of my time on this earth; I can sense implied meanings.   I waited, working the pipe.

(Because of the girl.)

I considered you as you lay, curled on the grass.  Too many questions presented themselves. My mind pressed the necessity to start small, progress slowly.  “Why isn’t she a dead shell? Your kind–”

(Only the pre-invasion forces.  I’m not one of them. I am a… thinker.)

“A philosopher?” I offered.

(Um… no.  A teacher.  Although that’s not exact, either.)

“So you are able to inhabit without eating the host?”

(Yes.  I am not… a parasite.)

I was back to looking at the stars.  My pipe was finished. “Why her? Why did you come for her?”

It was a long time before the Fell answered.  (Have you ever been led… somewhere… to do a thing…?  Something you don’t fully comprehend? And you don’t know why… or how you are being led?)

As the Fell asked me this, I found myself seeking a particular star — tiny and scarlet among the multitude.  Finding it, I sighed, “You have no idea.”

(Then listen.  And please try to believe what I am going to tell you.  We came tonight because we have been watching for you. Some things I do not know, except that you are part of a plan.  Perhaps to save her. More probably, if you will believe my extrapolation, to attempt to save this… ) he paused, (her word is ‘planet.’)

“It is the word.  But your kind has already–”

(The infestation was only the first wave.  The invasion is coming soon. They are more powerful.  They will clean the planet of extraneous life.)

I was sitting up now.  “What do you expect me to do?”

(I brought her because I was certain you would know.)

* * *

For the March Speculative Fiction Challenge, at D. Wallace Peach / Myths of the Mirror.

Part 1    Part 2   Part 3   Part 4


Internal Irony, part 4

“It is a great misfortune to be alone, my friends;
and it must be believed that solitude can quickly destroy reason.”

— Jules Verne

Did I know you were on your way when I built that fire?  Perhaps.

What I recall most clearly is that it was a brilliant night.  The highways of the skies were lit, as they had for three years, with the absence of mankind’s banishment of the dark.  Honesty bids me say this to you: this planet has been inhabited by little children pretending to be big. A race that is as afraid of the dark as this one has been is ultimately — and deeply — afraid of itself.

Not that anyone has asked me.

What I also remember was that I had found this beautiful park, touched only by the fingers of nature, in the midst of a derelict city.  Your city. I hauled my wagon into the brush, and I built a fire.

A truth I believe to be universal among sane beings is that you rarely find animosity at a campfire when the builder greets you with peace.

You came out of the darkness.  I watched you step gracefully into the light, a beautiful creature.  I guessed you to be sixteen. That you were still in one piece told me you were a host.

This confused me, because nearly every human that carried the Fell husked out after the first year.  Their parasitic nature overwhelmed the hosts — those that didn’t die in battle with those who were immune.

What further confused me was, though the Fell certainly recognized me, you did not attack.

As beautiful, as frail as you appeared, the certainty came to me that the Fell within you was all that had kept you whole these past few years.

“Are you hungry?” I asked.  You nodded. “Do you mean peace?”  Again a nod. “Then sit with me and share what I have.”

You didn’t speak through the meal.  I wondered if you were capable.

“Thank you… sir,” were the first words I heard you speak.  Your voice carried me back to a sanity I thought I had outrun.  A warming light, a meal, and the stars, after the fire died, brought us into an alliance both uneasy and perplexing.

I had to wonder why.  It turned out I wasn’t the only one to wonder.

* * *

For the March Speculative Fiction Challenge, at D. Wallace Peach / Myths of the Mirror.

Part 1    Part 2  Part 3


Internal Irony, part 3


“I felt myself being invaded through and through, I crumbled, disintegrated, and only emptiness remained.”

— Stanislaw Lem


You told me you thought you were thirteen when the Fell… were.  We don’t know when they arrived — and can never know — do we? If your memory is exact that makes you sixteen; seventeen at the most.

Most of your memories, your deepest memories, of parents, friends have evaporated into that for which you are the host.  Many of them are mingled with the thoughts of the Fell within. And that is sad.

What you do remember is the nights you hid wherever you could.  Hiding from the unruly. Those who for whatever reason did not fall under the sway of the Fell.  Mostly men after a while. Men who looked at you as prey.

The first night that you slept in the open on a roof, the stars as a nightlight, you were awakened not by the sound of their footsteps.  Something inside you caused you to go on alert. Two of them much bigger than you came up silently. They grabbed you quickly, roughly. Clawing at you, at your clothes.

What you described to me wasn’t a struggle.  You recalled the first one’s look of shock as he went over the edge.  He never cried out. The second one threw out his hands, signalling surrender, as you gripped him by his exposed flesh.  You who had never seen a boy, neutered a man in the blue-blackness of night. His death was an agony you carried with you for many days and nights.

Eventually, the attempted assaults — the deaths at your hands — brought you to the place emotionally where every warrior must come if she is to survive.  You stopped seeing them as humans; merely threats. You can’t even tell me how many men and women you have had to battle.

In that alone we stand on even ground.

* * *

For the March Speculative Fiction Challenge, at D. Wallace Peach / Myths of the Mirror.

Part 1

Part 2

Hung Out, Too Dry — a poem

“…since our world itself has become a ubiquitous
and prolonged crucifixion it is altogether logical
that we are thirsty.”

– Jim Harrison, “The Spirit of Wine”
in A Really Big Lunch


pilloried
unable
to social network using
pen & paper

fettered
unwilling
to remain connected through
device & wifi

the nib drags
me to other places
differences in speech
thoughts
unbidden
uncarnate
unyielding
to social acceptability
social adaptability driven by
rod & staff

famous
last words voiced
in this darkening light
“I can forgive” the ignorant
reader –
why do words “forsake
me”?
this world leaves
me parched –
“thirsty”

the poem is
over

Internal Fires

Build a man a fire, and he’ll be warm for a day.
Set a man on fire, and he’ll be warm for the rest of his life.”

— Terry Pratchett

Before all of this you never saw the stars.  Before the ruins — before the revelation of the Fell — your night sky carried a safe glow just several shades below daylight.

You remember; but your memory is being eaten as surely as your body.  Family. Friends. Home. Other… things. Going. Going.

Darkness followed flame.  War of intense rapidity. The enemy didn’t come — they were.  And you were among the last standing. Infected, but alive. Not knowing how or why.

After the smoke, the stars.

Empty buildings along empty streets.  You became the forager, a double hunger driving you.  You pieced together a place to Gather and Keep. Night was the perfect time to Range and Collect.  The stars were a wonderment, and the ghosts — others like you — kept their distance and their peace.

Then, in a basement, a sub-basement you encountered them.  These four had escaped the invasion, the invading of the Fell.  The oldest spoke as they surrounded you. “‘And when the Fool and Blind Man stole the bread,’ hey, Goblin?”

A younger smiled, “Yeah… I guess, Professor.”

The other two remained silent.

“I have to wonder if Yeats had in mind a pair, or one in the same,”  He turned from you and receded into the shadows. When he returned, he carried an axe.  Still in contemplation, he continued, “‘Heart mysteries there… To engross the present and dominate memory…’” he faltered.  “The Circus, damn it!”  

He touched his gloved fingers to his forehead, “Um, ‘Players and painted stage took all my love… those things that they were emblems of.’”  He shook his head, “Not!  He said, ‘Not those things.’”  He looked around at his men, back to you.  “Damn it all!”

With a wave of his hand, the battle began.

You who had never fought, waged war — engaged the enemy as enemy — mercilessly.  The maneuvers your body made — the assaults — were guided by that from within. Ruthless.

The one named Goblin was the first to go.  I winced as you recounted the skirmish. Not carriers, these four had resisted infestation.  Goblin came at you with an improvised lance, and received a face-full of ball fire from the palm of your hand.  He fell as quickly as his weapon. The quiet two came at you in unison. One flew back against a wall, inert as he slumped to the floor.  The other screamed a short scream as you lifted him by the neck. He, too, died.

When the professor lifted his axe, preparing to charge, you ran to him.  The axe flew from his lifeless hands. Standing over him, you… or the Fell within you, whispered, “‘I must lie down where all the ladders start.’”

A fitting epitaph you uttered.  Then you continued to ransack their lair.

I watch you tonight, considering the night sky, and wonder when… and how….

* * *

For the March Speculative Fiction Challenge, at D. Wallace Peach / Myths of the Mirror.

This is part 2 of a story.  Part 1    Part 3

Internal Irony

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“There is no such thing as luck; there is only adequate or inadequate preparation to cope with a statistical universe.” — Robert A. Heinlein

They watch and they wait.  They are waiting for the time when you slip up.  From the darkened hulks of damaged civilization, they eagerly hunt, sniff for the weakness they presume you’ll one day show.

You appear young; that’s what trips up their hopeful lust.  They are sure you are a neophyte. Untried? Untrue.

It is that unspoken surprise the Fell left you with — the seed you carry in your core — that makes you appear unaged.  You will die looking so. Anyone who tries you will share that seed. The seed of the Fell… parasites of the universe. Although you are strong and versed in personal tactics, you are also being hollowed out by an enemy that came with the unseen ships and the madness that destroyed civilization.  The Fell are a… “a cancer.” It’s best to think of it that way.

That said, while it’s true your days are passing fast, what lives inside you gives you a strength, a quickness, an alertness — a prowess! — that those who dwell in the shadows cannot overcome.

* * *

For the March Speculative Fiction Challenge, at D. Wallace Peach / Myths of the Mirror.

Part 2 Part 3

Worship Out of Doors — a poem

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“Keep close to Nature’s heart…
and break clear away, once in awhile….
Wash your spirit clean.”

– John Muir


Camp chairs on the banks of a pond,
under an oak yet to give out Spring’s leaves.
Gray overcast makes the canopy a stained-
glass.  Looking up I watch angelic hosts rising
and descending upon branches.  A Tufted
Titmouse hops lower and lower – to a limb
five feet above me – to deliver the annunciation.
Warblers keeps the ants at bay.  A Downy taps
out the Stations of the Cross.  The Bald Eagle fills
in for the Holy Spirit, casting the Great Blue Heron
from the heavens.  A Blue Jay celebrant leads
the Exhortation; the Red-Bellied Woodpecker remains
unresponsive.

I’m not dressed for church.


Too Many Times Out In a Storm — a Poem

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“A poet is a man who manages,
in a lifetime of standing out in thunderstorms,
to be struck by lightning five or six times.”

— Randall Jarrell




Oh yes, it’s true I’ve stood out in storms, but never wrote
a single solitary verse.  I reveled in the chaotic insanity
without having the knowledge of rhyme and meter to know
what was poetry about it and what was prose — the crash
and the timber struck an untuned, untrained ear deafened.

So untrained, unused to the things of culture I considered
the wall cloud, the downburst, hail, and the whirling, gyring
funnelled winds fit for the visual arts — never once written
in pen and ink.  Ah, but I was but a neophyte not yet struck.

A child, barely a teen, fugitive from sudden squalline’s force,
in the shadow of a Red Oak, the falsest of shelters, I was struck
by my vulnerability– mortality — the deadly bolts, sucking winds.

I became a meteorologist — one who studies meteors of earth —
lithometeors, hydrometeors.  The meatier subjects of weather
were my meal before and after fast.  By its beauty, by its force
I was struck — the dance between the sublime and the vicious.

When I consider…

the cobalt charybdis that rages across the tabled plains,
with all the death and madness that accompanies its run,
has the ability to take a tea-swilling short story liar and scare
him into a Côtes-du-Rhône Rouge swilling Pulitzer laureate.

Trust me — there are two things in life you can’t outrun:
a twister and the muse that grabs you by the neck, tells
you to stop, turn around and face the fury… and versify!