Thoroughly pleased to let you know that my poem, "deracinated", is featured on the front page of Indie Ink today. Please go give it some page views if you feel so compelled, print it out and tack it to telephone poles. Get a megaphone and shout it from clock-towers and high places.
You know, just generally make a nuisance of yourselves.
dress up this hovering, otherwise-drab hummingbird.
Crimson sparks flashing bright,
an unexpected treasure, a shocking secret overheard.
This day may not be ending as I would have preferred,
but I can look forward to stars glimmering in the night,
and crimson sparks, flashing bright.
This week's format is the rondelet, about which I've posted AT GREAT LENGTH on the Imaginary Garden with Real Toads for the Tuesday Format Challenge. This is my first attempt, and while it isn't particularly awful? I'll be adding the rondelet to the growing number of poetic formats that require more attention. Sigh.
In or around the SF Bay Area? Want to hear me read a story that hasn't been published on the blog?
The Revenge will be dropping anchor at Red Rock Coffee for their Monday night open mic. I'll read something new and hang around for a while to pass out some of my awesome new business cards. If I get a decent response I'll make this a regular occasion, even though I may or may not prefer Mountain View's other coffee shop.
You'll find me easily! Because I'll be the terrified-looking redhead in bright red lipstick and pirate stripes.
Get directions here if you need to: http://g.co/maps/t297
Or let me know via Twitter or Facebook that I might see you there!
Eric grabbed the proffered controller, hands trembling slightly, and punched in the cheat code. He'd discovered it by accident, trying to enter the Konami code and getting the order wrong, and now he was the most famous guy in three counties.
The group of thirteen-year-olds erupted in cheers as the main character, an extremely well-endowed half-elf warrior princess, favored them with a striptease, complete with some seriously nasty bumps and grinds. Eric's friends gathered around the television as he began to run the last dungeon, his half-elf warrior still running around in the nude.
"Hell yeah, go! Run that bitch!"
"Shit, look at her titties bounce!"
"Look at that sweet ass!"
Eric frowned, trying to concentrate on avoiding the last orc, who was invariably armed with the Misericordia morningstar, a high-damage weapon with an attack radius wide enough to take out not only his elf princess but half the dungeon behind her. He held his breath as he mashed the buttons frantically, ignoring the hooting of his classmates and squeezing the elf through the tunnel to the boss fight. This was trickier than it looked, especially without her armor bonuses, but he'd done it a million times before. He leaned into the controller and tuned out the increasingly graphic comments. Here was the gate. Now all he had to do was jump to the ledge above the Eldritch Oak, get in its branches, drop a vine noose, and choke the everliving fuck out of the Moribund Skelpy, captain of the Vermilion Seven.
"Oh my GOD, dude, she's fucking the tree!"
"FUCK YEAH she is, take it, slutbag!"
Eric shook his head and ran the elf to the other side of the ledge, dropping her even lower and extending the noose. The skelpy ran straight into it, and he hit X triumphantly. The room got even louder as the elf princess spread her legs and dropped, wrapping her green thighs around the skelpy's neck.
"Holy shit, was that bush?"
"NO WAY! I missed it!"
"Aw, man, is there instant replay on this shit?"
Eric rotated the analog stick thirty degrees to the left and the elf arched her back, breaking the skelpy's neck with her thighs. The loot began to drop and he relaxed slightly, looking around at his audience. "Anyone else want a turn before I re-equip her armor?"
His friends began to fight over the controller and he leaned back against the couch. Up until last month, he'd thought he might want to be a writer when he grew up. After the Slut Code, though, and his corresponding uptick in popularity, things were changing. Writing was for nerds. Naked video games, though? That would be one kick-ass business card. And he just knew the Penny Arcade guys would have something to say when his game hit it big.
Oh yes, it's Indie Ink writing challenge time again. This week's challenge came from Binaryfootprint, who instructed me to "write a fun, full of life story of how one dream path ends and another begins". While I'm pretty sure my idea of fun is different, no one can say thirteen-year-old boys aren't full of...uh, life. Oddly enough, she also ended up receiving my challenge--so hopefully I will get a response this week.
In the tidal flats you see strange things. Some misplaced, some unhomed, some left--just for a moment! to be reclaimed after this frozen lemonade.
In the inlet it smells of old salt and mud, and the things I find could be the products of some old and distant country, a people long unremembered, neither living nor dead nor missed. There are no gasping anemones, no fish. Sometimes a crab will venture over to grasp my stick, to look up at me with quizzical eyes, its misplaced hope reflected from discarded scales and fins.
Or maybe it is all in my memories, all in my head, painted in slow strokes of squid ink dragged, protesting, along those poorly-focused synapses where all the trouble begins.
Scrawled on the sidewalk in an unsettling shade of electric blue, I read, "Laughter is the best medicine". I walk as fast as I can past it, looking neither left nor right to see who might be watching. At least it was spelled properly. Gotta concentrate on the big picture, because if you zoom in to look at all the details, you'll lose it. Reading the newspapers or mags or TMZ in the last few days of human civilization was detail. Making sure I had enough food for a while, weapons, all that stupid preparedness shit? Detail, no matter how necessary. A lot of people I met back near the start of all this said they concentrated on the details so they wouldn't have to focus on the big picture. Me, I can't work like that. I think it has something to do with my job. Had? Hard to say. I was, am, a veterinarian.
I don't really know which tense is appropriate now. I'm sure there are other doctors left, there are a lot more people left than you'd expect. I haven't met any lately, though. Headed out of Denver last week, I saw a little group being escorted back into the city center. One of them was wearing a white coat, but lately, that just means they're about to bite it in some particularly awful way. One white coat seems to stand in for every hairspray-testing motherfucker in the history of our species.
I'm confident, though, if anyone, any human, needed medical assistance, I could still provide it. Vets have done a lot more for human medical advances than anyone might feel comfortable knowing. Still, you'd think we would have noticed, before the dogs started barking commands, you'd think we would have noticed the growing communications network.
Squirrels, man. Squirrels are everywhere, and their teeth are huge. Pigeons, you know, every city's winged rats, not to mention the actual rats. Draft horses are bigger than fucking cars. Cats don't give a shit about anything. Fucking gulls, even urban opossums. The dogs, those were the worst. When even the dogs turned on us? There was no way we were getting out ahead of this.
I pass weird graffiti like this every day on the road. I don't know if it's our version, the human version, of the old hobo signs, or if they're learning, the new animals. That sounds unbelievable, I know. I've seen shit I don't want to believe either. Like the men who traveled from town to town, docking ears and tails, rusty knives in briefcases and hotel bathtubs full of blood, they're still around too. Most of them can still get around like those horror-movie guys, the limbless beggars on skateboards, but they don't live very long. I don't think they even care, or that they have any life left in them. They're only left to us as a warning, their lips cut so carefully back to show the teeth, ears just ragged holes. "Declawed" people or neutered ones, hands and balls both just cauterized stubs. You can tell because they aren't left any clothes, just the collar. If these sidewalk scrawlings are human graffiti, I can't understand it. I've been left out of the loop and I don't think I'll ever get in.
Vets have been freed, sort of. The good ones, the ones who really cared for our patients, with soothing voices and careful explanations. We aren't kept in the cities, in the kennels. We keep moving, place to place, treating the injured and guiding the lost to their flocks or packs or herds. I don't know if I'm a prisoner or a collaborator, I don't know where I'll have to be tomorrow. I don't know where I'll even be allowed to sleep tonight--a plush pillow by some gentle cow's fireplace, a dirty blanket in an abandoned sheepyard, an old farm dog's slat-sided shack, hunkered down in the dirt. I refuse to think too hard about the future. Today I have to assist at the birth of a new litter, and that is enough. I ignore the details and keep just an eye on the big picture, because the big picture is I'll have to work like this until I drop. They'll see to it, just like we used to, just like they saw to the quick elimination of any dissent. And it's for damn sure they are not going to accept a platitude like "laughter is the best medicine".
It's Indie Ink challenge time again. This week, my prompt came from Sunshine, and as you may have gathered, it was a saying I particularly hate: "Laughter is the best medicine." The original title of this draft was "Must Love Animals", but I think I am saving that for something even worse.
My challenge went out to Katri, who will be posting her response any time now...I hope.
What is that pounding, wretched sound?
Like a heart, trapped under glass?
You can hear it from miles around!
What is that?
Neon mushrooming up from the blast,
the pulse was enough to pull us down.
Will it cease when we are safe at last?
I hate to say, I think it used to be a town,
before pools of light rose from the ash.
But underneath that pressured round,
what is that?
Good news, everyone--the Imaginary Garden with Real Toads has allowed the lovely runaway sentence. and me to present our format challenge over there every other week or so! If you care to watch me wax pedantic about poetry forms, this week I re-did the roundel. You can find the post here. This will bring some changes in the lineup, I hope, and if you've wanted to participate but haven't had that particular kick in the pants yet? Now is the perfect time.
Yes, this roundel is basically a joke. But it only took me five minutes to write. Perhaps this is the next challenge? Five-minute formats? What do you think?
Bottles of Florida water on a green velvet vantage point
gurgle and mutter, chattering in the dim red light
reflected over deep polished prayer beads snaking
around a pair of black silk gloves, cuff and placket
pressed flat around the glittering jet that used to clasp
a tiny wrist close. Over the cinnamon and orange,
dust and flowers, sorrow and time,
the swamp presses in hard, or is it just
the dark-green smell of a vase left unattended?
Prim petal edges singed brown,
papyrus-weight roses, pollen dropping at a breath,
a golden dust laid on you, heavier than any sin
on your hand. Light the cigarette from the pillar candle
and pour out red dirt in a pretty pattern,
press it into swirling spirals as prayer goes up in shifting smoke,
laddered in the wet air, blue or grey, as indecisive
as any of the thoughts swimming behind your eyes,
flickering silverbacked eels I can catch, easy as anything.
Don't look at me directly.
Reach into the bottom drawer there and take it out,
what you don't know can still cut you. Watch the edge.
Listen to the drumbeat of your heart,
and strike fast. Sketch the truth in blood
and rum, sing out. Ink and hot peppers,
corn liquor and woe. Tear the laces off and run,
little girl, run. Don't you look back,
Can you hear me when I call?
If I sing out your name like the sea,
with a lyric rising just to fall,
will you finally come home to me?
If I sing out your name like the sea-
waves crashing on the slate-grey sand,
will you finally come home to me,
or must I submit to his demands?
Waves crashing on the slate, grey sand
slithering out across this bleak shore,
I must submit to other demands,
so do not speak of marriage anymore.
Slithering over this bleak shore
comes the wretched piscine king.
Do not speak of marriage anymore!
Though we never promised anything.
Oh, comes the wretched Piscean king
like a lyric rising, just to fall.
I know we never promised anything,
but can you hear me when I call?
This week's format is the pantoum, and it's so mindboggling to me I won't even try to explain it here. I swear, every time we do one of these challenges, it's light-years harder than the last one. The lovely runaway sentence. posted hers way ahead of me, as usual. Go read it. We'll be taking our format challenge over to the Imaginary Garden with Real Toads on alternating weeks, so keep your eyes peeled, and if you have an idea for next week's format, please let me know! I would ask for a simpler one if I weren't such a masochist.
Poor Caenis. She called for help--in elegiac couplets, no less--but all she got was a quick sex-change. Gods can be jerks.
Mama told me, oughtn't hunt the ravens. She told me, flat out. Mama's off the boat, though, and won't look sideways at a sausage even if she don't know what it's made with, and we were so hungry that month. Where she's from, I guess the ravens still speak to the old priestesses. Come straight down and whisper all the Morrigan's secrets in any ears'll listen. You'd think She'd be glad of the flock getting thinned a bit but Mama says no, girl, mustn't, never.
Mama brought my bow over the wide sea, brought it through steerage and customs and immigration, safe at the bottom of her little pasteboard valise. She taught me how to string it at five, and how to track the same year. Learned pretty good, I guess, 'cause she always took me along after that. In the hills ain't much to do but look for food, do chores, pray. The women of our family don't have much to do with prayer, but no one round can say we don't keep our end of the bargain. The year I turned fourteen, it was a dry year, a dusty time, and it was my turn to take up the hunt.
That day burned over the hills like a bonfire. Early mornings are best for hunting but by the time I've had my coffee all the mist's burned off. So I find myself slogging up the foothills in what might's well be noon, according to the animals. It's okay if I'm just checking snares but if I'm gonna do the real tracking I just stay out all night. So, this particular day it was hot, and bright. Felt like a dream of the desert, only with more trees. The hills were dried to dust and dirt and rubble, and scree kept rolling out from under my feet. I'd been in the shade for most of my hike, but sweat was still rolling down my face like a river tryin to get back to the sea.
Mama told me, the snares, girl, snares'll do the hunting when you're still laying about. So I set seven, or maybe eight, along these little scratched-thin paths where rabbits and squirrels were like to scurry without too much mind, and I'd drink my coffee and make biscuits for when Mama woke up. Anyway, this day nothing was going as it should. Line after line was coming up empty til I was bout to sit down and have myself a little drink near the crest of the hill.
Well, I'll be damned if I'll go home empty-handed, so I thought, Saoirse my girl, let's stroll down the crick and see if we can't scare up some trout for supper instead. Just as I capped the waterbag and stood to head downhill I caught a little rustle from the other side of the hawthorn. Sure enough, when I poked my head around the bush, I saw it clear as day, trying to be stealthy so's I would pass on by and it could figure its way out of my trap.
"Fox," I said, "ain't no way you're getting out of that, I tied it just so. And we don't eat fox, no matter how hungry we are. So hold still and I'll let you go." She was a big vixen, I saw, with a flaming brush as pretty as autumn itself.
"Girl," she said, "I never heard your family putting mine in the cookpot, so I'll tell you this--just over the ridge, your snare's got a fat rabbit." I smiled wide with relief as I worked to untie my special nine-knot.
"Which you were gonna swipe from the line, no doubt?" Fox just sniffed and held her paw a little higher so I could pull the rope away.
I was winding the line and headed down the hill toward the next one when I heard her bark, "Girl! Don't you eat that rabbit! Let it get away so you can follow it home. You hear me?" And I was flat put out with that, good supper going to waste because I been taught to listen when an animal's making sense. So I'm sure I came over the ridge looking like a thundercloud, but sure as anything, there was the fattest rabbit I've ever seen in my snare. It slicked its long ears back and crouched down as far as it could when it saw my mad face.
"Girl," it said with a little tremble in its voice, "girl, let me get back to my family and quick, there's a fox been sniffing around your lines, you'll wanna catch it before it do some real damage, yeah?" Well, I was still pretty cranky about losing this guy, what would've made my supper that much sweeter, so I didn't say anything, just leaned down real close to start untying the knots. "Girl," the rabbit said, "you won't regret this, this just go to show how the world repays kindness! You follow me on home, girl, and we'll show you something for sure. Yeah!" I just nodded at it and wound up my line as it shook off the pressure of being bound all morning.
Well, we were headed through the scratch and prickles of the blackberry canes along the crick when we hit along my last snare, and wouldn't you know, there was a damn raven tangled up in my line. "Rabbit, you go on ahead and leave me a marker, I've got to get this raven out of my snare before I catch up to you."
"Girl, you best leave that raven where it is and follow me, I can't leave you no markers on account of that fox."
"Well, I can't, so you are just gonna have to remember what you owe me," I snarled, and it took off in a fair hurry. And now I was in an even worse mood, so when that raven rolled its shiny bead eyes at me and croaked a warning, I just told it to shut up. I sure didn't want to hear any more lip from animals that day.
Then when the fox burst out of the canes behind us and took off after that rabbit, my rabbit, I knew for sure that this was how kindness was repaid in the world. That my sweet-talkin fox was headed to eat up my rabbit and all his kin...well, I was so riled up I strapped that raven to my back, headed home, and when Mama finally woke up? We had fried chicken for dinner.
This week's Indie Ink Challenge comes from The Drama Mama, who sent me this picture for inspiration. It comes from Beth Moon, and I am so grateful to have been led to these pictures, thanks! Saoirse, the Sibyl of Eastern Tennessee, comes from my staggeringly long Appalachian-folktale mishmash (still unnamed at several thousand words), and her origin story just seemed to scream straight out of this image. I challenged Bewildered Bug with a little window into my psyche, and can't wait to read what she does with it.
For any other folklore nerds that might be following along, this piece was loosely based upon Type 155, Ingratitude is the World's Reward.
"The Hanged Man," Elise breathed as she turned over the last card. "Not much of a surprise."
"What? Why do you say that?"
She shook her head, smiling a little at his affected nonchalance. "Well, you're not the most relaxed person I know," she said. This was not an understatement. The man sitting across the card table was still in a three-piece suit, disregarding whatever license eleven p.m. might bring, collar pin and watch chain sparkling relentlessly in the dim light. He shifted a little in the chair as she continued to look at him through her lashes.
He sighed. "Are you going to finish my reading or talk about my shortcomings?"
Her smile widened. She let her eyes flick across the greater pattern and deepened her breath. "The Tree of Life, Thomas. It's an overview, a set of guidelines. Not something you can plan your life around." She pointed at the top right card and began reading down and to the left. "The point of your exercise in belief, the point of coming to me instead of going to mass or synagogue or learning to handle rattlesnakes for Jesus? It's lost unless you pay attention to the things I tell you. Your mind is open to the idea of things you don't understand, but not so open that you actually believe me when I give you advice. Your company is fine. Your home life is, well, adequate. For now. Your future is uncertain," she said, frowning a little at the cards, "but so is anyone's, I guess. Free will, you know. The only certainty," she finished, pointing at the Hanged Man again, "is here."
"I don't get it. What does that even mean? It doesn't look like a very positive card," he muttered.
"The Hanged Man is packed full of so many symbols it could take me days to completely explain it, but the high points are the most important here. The subject is suspended by one foot, but look at the blissful smile on his face. He is bound to a tree, with a crown of light on his head. His number is twelve, same as the wheel of the year. You were born on the twelfth, weren't you?"
"Huh. December twelfth. But hanging? Still not seeing the positive aspects of this card."
"Acceptance, Thomas. One of the most misunderstood cards. It's an important one, too. Inner harmony coming from a new point of view. I think it's a lesson you should consider." She swept the cards into a pile, destroying the pattern and shuffling them back into the deck. "Same time next week?"
"Yes. I'll be here. I'll need to give this session some thought, it seems." He smiled, finally, his face opening a little. "Thanks for being patient with me. I know it might seem kind of weird, but this helps."
Elise stood to see him to the door, helping him maneuver between the velvet curtains and the card table, holding his coat in a conscious reversal of chivalry as he shrugged into it. They clasped hands for a moment, his fingers wrapped around her delicate wrist, lingering against her soft skin. She stood on tiptoe to kiss him on the cheek, blushing a little more than usual, and he left her studio with a smile that held more than a tinge of blissful confusion. He tugged his hat down a few degrees and shoved his hands in his pockets, his face settling into its comfortable stern lines as he contemplated the evening's discussion. His bootheels made authoritative sounds on the nighttime sidewalk, sirens in some other part of the city figuring only distantly in his thoughts, other sounds registering not at all.
When the pack had him surrounded, the smallest one moved in from behind, the knife gleaming in the poisonous yellow of last generation's streetlamps. It was a reach, considering the difference in their heights, but the blade was long enough that it didn't really matter. The others moved closer to pick over his body, snarling, fighting over his coat and shiny accessories, but she crouched, slender haunches settling to the ground just beside his face, fastidiously avoiding the spreading pool of blood. She picked her way around the mess, nestled in the curve between his outflung arm and his ribcage, and set the knife aside. Then she leaned in close, breathed in his last sputtering exhalation, watched his eyes slowly lose focus, wondering at the smile on his face.
Elise isn't much of a psychic, hmm? Oh well. This week's Indie Ink challenge prompt came to me from A Lil Irish Lass, who instructed me, "Select your favorite quote. Do with it what you will." My challenge went out to Alison Newton, whose blog has a name that invites me to slap on a trigger warning. So, unless you have euphemistic food problems like me? You should click that little link to read her reply.
What's that? You want me to tell you the quote that inspired this story?
"You may wonder about long-term solutions. I assure you, there are none. All wounds are mortal. Take what's given. You sometimes get a little slack in the rope but the rope always has an end. So what? Bless the slack and don't waste your breath cursing the drop. A grateful heart knows that in the end we all swing."
--Stephen King, "The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet"
"Darling, let me in, let me in."
I hear the words through shutters frail,
as if from a kinder night. He's
fresh into port, home from the sea.
Urgently his voice comes now,
"Let me in, darling, let me in!"
His fervent grasp, those scratching nails,
the latch rattling in the door.
Our lovers' knot, it has become,
his plea and my refusal plain.
"Let me in, darling, let me in,"
his whisper colder than the wind.
There were no bodies found that night;
all hands were lost at sea. And yet?
Before the dawn, he comes to growl
"Darling, let me in. Let me in!"
This week's format is the quatern, a four-quatrain poem with a repeating--but moving--refrain. Sounds trickier than it actually is, right? Sure, except that each line must also be a scant (for me) eight syllables! I loved this format and we may have to do it again--I think I need more time with it, might even do some stealth editing here if my brain gives me some more effective words. So...we have the usual suspects. Me, of course, and the lovely runaway sentence., whose offering is here, as well as a crystalline entry by A.F. (a non-blogger). I believe we also have some new additions. Are you participating in the weekly format challenge? Let me know and I'll add you to our tiny linkfarm. This week...prepare yourself for the pantoum!