Categories
Poems

Quick Folk

“Quick Folk,” imagines the world as quite small when measured against the size of the universe or when held in the hand of a divine being.   And it says that, although we sometimes contemplate what happens after death, when we hear the ticking of that mortal clock, still we must laugh and love and live our lives well.

The rhyme scheme is aabb.

Adriaen_van_Utrecht-_Vanitas_-_Still_Life_with_Bouquet_and_Skull
Adriaen van Utrecht – Still Life with Bouquet and Skull, c. 1642.

We may all be but beings in spheres of glass
Made to march and tumble as hours pass
While some great Being holds us in mighty hand
Or sets us, like a trinket, upon a cabinet stand
Where we exist like strolling shapes in a snow globe,
Or mobile figurines on a topographic lobe
Where the mountains are like grains of rice
And Antarctica is but a trace of ice—
If we are all but tiny beings in these spheres,
Still have we our hopes and loves and dreams and fears
And as we pass through our short years,
We laugh with joy or cry with tears,
For as the hours wind from the mortal clock
With every quick tick and every quick tock
We wonder what lies past the last frontier
And hold our passing lives more dear.

Categories
Poems

Death and the Safe Man

“Death and the Safe Man” comments on the risk of security.

Hans Holbein the Younger - Death and the Rich Man
Hans Holbein the Younger – Death and the Rich Man, c. 1526.

A man took no chances, and he kept his life quite dear.
He guarded himself more closely with every passing year.
Till one day while he was waiting,
He found Death grinning from ear to ear,
And Death said, “I hope you won’t my mind stating,
But it’s cost you your life to live in fear.”

Categories
Limericks Poems

Sunday Limericks

The ouroboros is an ancient depiction (often of a dragon or snake eating its tail) which represents circular motion, completeness, or infinity—particularly with regard to the cycle of life and death.

Serpiente_alquimica
In 1478, Theodoros Pelecanos produced a copy of a medieval texts and illustrations.  One of these illustrations was the ouroboros above, whose actual origin is of unknown provenance.

∞ Ouroboros ∞
There once was a warbling bird
Whose song was the sweetest heard
It would brighten the day
In its melodious way
Till it was devoured by a cat who purred.

There once was a tender cat
Who was petted wherever he sat
He purred and meowed
And was often quite loud
Till he was killed by a child with a bat.

There once was a man at his ease
Who was as generous as you could please
He made a better place
For our human race
Till he was killed by disease.

There once was a fertile earth
With life and much of great worth
With each generation that passed
She produced a progeny vast
In ever-evolving hale yonic birth.
∞ Ouroboros ∞

Categories
Poems

The Candle from the Cathedral

The Candle from the Cathedral has a rhyme scheme of ABCAABBCBCCA, and the poem tells the story of a young man coping with the death of a loved one.

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In his memory he saw the old woman sucking her hankerchief in the pew.
The widow wore a funereal black bowler, a starched jib collar,
oval glasses with smoky plastic frames, and her hair spun white and curly.
She held a candle like all the others among the ranks of grievers, not a few,
stretching back to the entrance of the dark, arching cathedral sanctuary under whose
vaulted ceilings the sputtering flames flicked like constellations of stars.
He stood out in the cold and windfilled and trashfilled street filled with cars
and he saw through unfinished iron girders and steel transoms the dreadnought sky.
He saw the low, threatening clouds elbow the skyscraper bazaar.
He put his hand above his eyes and he squinted then he spit deliberately.
There was a punk nearby whom he once saw animaleyed with a switchblade in the alley
and the punk leaned against a building looking at him like a window to be looked through.

In his memory he saw the bell glass half full of the white willow and ethanol tincture,
the color of motor oil, that the old man swallowed as medicine in his last weeks.
The old man had kept the bell glass in his office in a cherry cabinet stained
dark red. It had lain behind handcut glass doors on a pad of velvety fur.
He turned and trotted down the subway tunnel steps into the city under
the city and he boarded the first train that came and stood and heard the car creak.
There were not many people in the car, just a seated woman with an antique
face whose nose was high and pinched and a man who looked insane.
He rode the car until the end of the line then stepped off and stood on the brick
platform waiting for the train to come back again.
A bag lady came up on the platform near him, nodding, chanting a weird refrain.
The train was a long time in coming. As he rode he felt nothing, no hurt or pleasure.

When he arrived back at his apartment he put the key in the lock and let himself in.
He had brought back his candle from the cathedral and he lit it and left it to gutter.
There was only one window in the apartment and rain began to patter against it.
When the flame goes out, he said to the candle, I’ll start to stop grievin.
He went into the bathroom and stripped off his clothes and stood thinking
under the hot shower as the bathroom filled with steam from the water
and he soaked until his fingertips looked like sundried fruit and fog coated the mirror
then he stepped out of the shower and dried and dressed himself and looked to see if the candle was still lit.
He laughed when he saw the flame creeping along the drapes and towards the furniture
and he kept laughing as the fire slowly crawled towards a black cabinet.
He debated awhile whether to let the fire burn, but chuckled and smothered it.
The candle he blew out, and it let off a silver stream of smoke snakelike and thin.

Categories
Poems

Mr. Shaker the Undertaker

Mr. Shaker the Undertaker considers his prospects.

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Old Mr. Shaker was the town’s undertaker
And to see him marked a very dark day
He’d wrap you in sheets, burn you in heat,
Or embalm you in formaldehyde.
Old Mr. Shaker would pack you off to your maker
And he’d whistle as he went by in his ride.
He was the one not to meet if you passed in the street
For he measured you up with his eye
He’d say to himself, This man’s six feet, two hundred,
Why just think if he’s sundered—
I’d have the perfect shape casket for him!
Or maybe he’d think speculatively,
It’d be droll if consecutively
The Anderson triplets came in!
For the girl with blonde locks
I’d find a blonde box
And for the middle child with parted hair…
Now him, I’d dissect with great care!
I’d take his heart to Kentucky
To a transplant that’s lucky
Then I’d attend the Run for the Roses…
I’d send his brain to D.C.
So the politicians could see
The organ they should use when they speak!
I’d send his arms to the Navy
For times wet and wavy
So they’d have two more appendages to swim
I’d send some blind man his eyes
So that he’d realize
The colors of the world he lived in
And that last Anderson child,
The most beautiful and mild,
I’d have her embalmed for all time.
I’d drain all of her veins
And I would go to great pains
To ensure she was properly styled.
Then like a man with a truck who is mounting a duck
I’d find her a space over the fireplace
And affix her there as the revered child.
And if in a thousand years she’s forgotten
At least she’s not rotten
Although I wouldn’t want to say how she’d smell…
Old Mr. Shaker was a versatile undertaker
And he had been for a good while
He was at once butcher and baker
And beauty-maker
In his mortuary made of green tile.

 

Categories
Poems

Poems from February!

In case you missed any, here are my February poems! Send them to your friends!

February
“February” from Les Très Riches Heures du doc Berry, the most famous and possibly the best surviving example of manuscript illumination in the late phase of the International Gothic style.

The Color Yellow Hosts a Picnic
Yellow was feeling sunny,
Blue was feeling blue,
And although Red was being quarrelsome,
Yellow told him to come too,
To a midday picnic party
In a field beside a wood,
One day when the sun was shining
And the temperature felt good.

Well, Blue asked his two neighbors,
The colors Purple and Green,
If they would like to come too,
To the pleasant picnic on the green.
Although Purple felt too aristocratic
To make an appearance there,
Green accepted quickly,
Because she loves the clean, fresh air.

Orange was feeling warm,
Toasting his feet before the fire,
When the invitation came to him,
To join the other colors on the shire.
But he was feeling too contented
In his old, ancestral home,
Wearing his pumpkin-colored robe,
And reading from a pleasant tome.

So Orange and Purple, they stayed in,
But the others joined Yellow that day,
On an afternoon when the warm wind
Carried the fragrances of dirt and hay.
They spread out a checkered blanket,
Which was checked with red and white,
And Yellow said the blanket made her think
Of her friend who reflected beams of light.

At that, impetuous Red nodded and said,
How he and White had once had a drink,
And Red said that his passion had led
Them to produce the color known as Pink!
Well, the other colors blushed to hear this,
But Red was well known for his lack of tact,
So they each continued in their way on that sunny day,
And let every color be as is their nature to act.

Two Young Lovers
There once were two young lovers
Who disappeared each night under covers
They’d reappear at the dawn
With all the night gone
And wonder whether she’d be a mother.

Rebel Pizzanistas
There once were some rebel Pizzanistas
Who were as zealous as the Sandinistas
These rebels put their pepperoni instead
On the underside of the bread,
And called themselves pizza artistas!

The Green Iguana
There once was a green iguana
Who loved to smoke marijuana
When he smiled his lips curled,
When he smoked the smoke furled,
And he lived in a state of nirvana.

And Tim was Left All Orange
Tim the Tiger was born at the zoo,
With a trait that caused a hullabaloo:
When the cat rubbed against his water trough,
Every one of his stripes fell off!
And the baby tiger was left all orange.

The stripes lay like leaves on the ground,
Fluttering in the wind, with rustling sounds.
So the zoo director said to glue the stripes back on,
In the depths of night, before the dawn,
So the baby tiger wouldn’t be all orange.

Well the night that night was a deep, dark black,
When the keepers re-adhered the stripes to Tim’s back.
And the baby cub thought it a very fine game,
Because they petted and stroked him and said his name.
For the baby tiger never knew that he was all orange.

So the keepers worked by Orion’s dull shine,
And, finishing, found they’d made an odd design!
For without the aid of their trusted sight,
They’d glued the stripes from left to right!
And they’d left Tim’s tail completely orange.

Well the people came to the zoo next day,
And they admired the very stylish way,
Tim the Tiger seemed to stand
With his stripes in a horizontal band,
And a tail that was entirely orange.

And although the zoo director was raging mad,
The keepers they were not too sad,
For they said, “Well, if he thinks that Tim has caused a stink—
Just wait till he discovers that our penguin’s pink!”
And over time the stripes fell off, and Tim was left all orange.

And Death Walked a Few Steps Behind
Well, I walk hand-in-hand with Life,
And Death walks a few steps behind,
And wherever I go, and wherever I lead,
Death is sure to follow.
So I had a few words a few years ago,
With that reaper known as Death.
I said, “So long as you’re coming wherever I go,
I’ll go wherever I want.”
He said in reply, “That’s a very fine view,
Just keep in mind, my friend:
When your time comes,
I’ll take you away,
You cannot run too far or too fast.”
So I nodded and considered,
And I went on my way.
And Death walked a few steps behind.

The Ghastly but True Secrets of Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum
Madame Tussauds has kept a revolting secret for years—
They harvest their wax from children’s ears!
Now, I’m sorry if the truth has jellied your knees.
It’s disgusting, I know.
But that is why Madame Tussaud’s must go
To such lengths to say their wax comes from bees!

Now, the waxman will sneak into a child’s room,
With a silver speculum and a small spoon,
While the child lies deep in sweet dreams.
This waxman will creep very near,
Insert the instrument deep in the ear,
Then spoon the wax out as if it were cream!

When Tussauds first get the wax,
It is as gold-brown as flax,
And they must store it well out of the light.
So they hide it deep in dark caves,
And far underground in fake graves,
So the wax stays in endless night!

And by the time Tussauds brings the wax out,
It has become as treacly as grout,
And they must pour it into enormous glass jars.
Here the stuff sits,
As wax sculptors spoon out small bits
To make their models of stars!

The Bright Butterfly
There once was a bright butterfly,
Who made cheerful the air of the sky,
Three wicked children of kings,
Tore off its fair wings,
Though not even they could ever say why.

The Pennsylvanian-Era Pig
There once was an archaeological dig
On which they found a Pennsylvanian pig
They said How bizarre!
This pig is too early by far!
So they baked it and ate it with figs!

The Violent Boy
There once was a violent boy
Who thought the world was only his toy
He began every fight,
And made girls weep from his spite,
And he grew into an old man with no joy.

The Monster at the Party
A fine party was thrown at the Williams’ home,
And the guests they all wore their best.
Lily had come with her hair in a bun,
A tennis bracelet, and a brooch at her breast.
And Cindy’s diamonds did shine,
While her emeralds looked fine,
And the gentlemen wore cuff links and vests.
But of all the attendees who came,
One was not quite the same—
He stood out from the rest of the crowd.
He wore a suit (that is true),
And he had polished his shoes—
But it wasn’t his clothes that stood out…
He was a good nine feet tall,
And nearly as wide as the hall…
With a face like a tyrannosaur!
He was mottled and scaly,
His white eyes glimmered palely,
And on his sharp teeth were remnants of gore!

Mrs. Williams she said,
“Now I may be misled…”
(Here she gave her husband a forward shove)
“But you should tell him, my love,
That although we’re delighted,
This fellow has not been invited,
And this party is just not for him.
And if he’s aggrieved,
Well, firmly ask him to leave,
And tell him we’re sorry, but there’s been a mistake.”

So Mr. Williams approached the stranger and said,
“Good evening, my name is Fred,
But then Fred stopped himself there…
Because the monster gave a menacing glare,
And Fred’s heart dropped in his chest for a mile
Before he steadied himself and put on a diffident smile.
“Ahem! My friend!” Fred began again,
As he puffed his chest and sucked his gut in,
“Well, I see that you have six arms!
And that’s just one of your charms—
For at the end of your arms there are claws,
And razor sharp teeth in your crocodile jaws!”
At that the monster gave a broad grin,
That creased his pebbly skin.
Then the monster looked through his monocle,
That made his eye seem maniacal,
And he took his top hat off his head.
And wouldn’t you know it,
But there were two antennae and so it,
Seemed he had already heard everything that Mrs. Williams had said.

The monster said, “I hope you won’t fret,
If I’m not ready to leave just quite yet,
Because the reason I’ve come,
Is to feast upon some
Of the guests whom I have just met!”

Then the monster flexed his great chest,
And the muscles burst out of his vest
Revealing skin that was like a dinosaur’s!
There was screaming and wailing amidst his terrible roar,
As the monster broke from his formal wear,
He commenced to rip and to tear
The doors from the walls
The ceilings and halls,
And to destroy everything that was in sight
He ate up Mrs. Williams,
And her diamonds worth millions,
And then he disappeared into the night.

When the dust cleared from the raid
And all the guests stood afraid
One man stood up and began to proclaim,
“Well, Mrs. Williams she was a fine host,
And so I propose a fine toast,
Of her finest and Frenchest champagne!”

And so the glasses were raised
And the revelers continued on in their ways,
Drinking and dancing that night.
For it’s better to stay up,
Through the small hours and sup,
Than to try to sleep while you’re frozen with fright!

I’m Sick Today
I’m sick today, my throat is red;
I’m sick today, I’ll stay in bed.
My body’s sore, I don’t feel right
I sweated through the endless night.
I’m sick today, I think I’ll die.
I’m sick today, this is goodbye.
I feel all achey, my head’s not straight.
My body’s stopped, my brain is late.
Thanks for the Get Wells and your smiling face;
I need no soup; I’m a hopeless case.
Thank heaven for my pillow, and thank heaven for bed,
I’ll lay in mine until I am dead.
Then you can put me in the coffin,
And lower me down,
My friends will weep,
When I’m in the ground
Where I’ll be amongst the spiders and ticks,
The worms and beetles and… Oh! I am sick.
Bleh.

The Pied Piper of Hamlin
There once was a man with a pipe
With pants of a kaleidoscope type
When the mayor reneged
He played a cruel gigue
And left the townsfolk to gripe.

Two Adventurous Friends
There once were two young friends
To whom adventure did always attend,
They lived a wild life,
Walked the edge of a knife,
And hoped the days would never end.

War
Shine, shine oh bitter light
Upon the soldier battle-bright
Through rocket’s array
And ghastly fray
Thy light the tracery of our night.

The Disappearance of a Cat
Red curtains billowed open for that cat;
he waltzed onto the hardwood, so loaded,
his mouth slightly ajar, green eyes sparkling,
luring us into his act—a spider
deftly beckoning, weaving to music
of his own creation, dreamy and gold.

A costume hallucinogenic and gold,
he broke out with a well hung air, that cat
mortified the wild crowds, overloaded
as we were with his glitter and sparkling
hair. He played implications of Spider
and Cherry Wolves, lost in his own music…

*****

Is it madness? the press asked, Your music?
Tell us, how do the things you touch turn gold?
He shrugged, slunk away like a peevish cat,
but turned, It’s all in how you get loaded—
swig the right juice, you’ll be loved, sparkling;
if not, you’ll be trite, clichéd, a spider.

And there’s nothing so lethal as spiders,
save snakes, executives, and flat music-
but every new enigma is choice gold.
We all dug his edgy airs, his cool-cat
Oscar Wilde imitations, stacked and loaded
as they were in packages, all sparkling

and convenient, quickly shipped to sparkling
masses and to the corporate spiders.
And everyone bought his life, his music,
his t-shirt. His album went silver, gold,
platinum; Rolling Stone begged for that cat
to pose, provocative and well loaded.

Vulgar, he said.  Not a chance.  But, loaded
and stoned, his agent dragged him in, sparkling
as wine, and spread him out on a spider
divan with eight purple arms, swank music
regaling him throughout. And royal gold
sashes were draped across the kingly cat.

*****

One day he found nothing more in music-
each grain of gold vanished, nothing sparkling
left. And he disappeared with it, that cat.

A Black Poem
There are many things that go bump in the night:
Monsters and coal stoves can cause us some fright.
There are creaky old floors and loose attic fans,
Leaves in the wind, and tumbling garbage cans.
But sometimes you’re sleeping and a missile will roar,
Like those over England in the Second World War.
And that, my darling, is when I’ll come for you,
When the night is stygian, colored deep black and dark blue,
You’ll see, my friend, by the light of a bomb,
My grin broad and lethal, my eyes full of calm,
And I’ll crook a green finger for you to come here,
And when you reach my side, then it’s Death for you, dear.
For that is my name, my ancient job, my old trade,
I’m the one who waits by the road in the glade,
I’m the one who whispers your one and true name,
The one who ignores both your money and fame,
I’m the one to watch out for, by town or by cave,
I’m the one to spirit you along to your grave.

The Cigarettes Play Farmington
The Cigarettes were a hard core band full of righteous punks and rage,
The singer supported anarchy and sang it out on stage;
Lily was the drummer girl, a saucy lass in black,
She wore a fishnet pair of slacks, her thong rose out the back.
Jimmy was the trumpeter, always barefoot when he played,
Smoking reefers in the club and forever getting laid.
Molly was the bassist, she was a poet in her soul,
Writing chords and lyrics about Hell and money and control.

The city board of Farmington, a town conservative and straight
Booked The Cigarettes unwittingly for their Annual Harvest Fête,
When October came around the leaves turned orange and black,
The pumpkins ripened on their vines, the hay was heaped in stacks
Mrs. Trot put on a dress, her corset, stockings, and her hat,
And toodled out with Mr. Trot who was wearing his cravat.
On the way they met the Smiths who ran the local mill,
They were dressed in modest best, as humble as a hill.

The evening started very fair, with meats and fruits and pie,
There was cider in the goblets and a pretty autumn sky,
And then the band began to play, you could hear them from a mile:
A pounding drum, an ominous hum, the locals lost their smiles,
Then on the stage a screaming rage, as the singer yowled and croaked,
The sun went down, the lights came on, the fires flared and smoked!
The locals of Farmington were first transformed by fear,
And then they caught the wind of it and began to lend an ear!
“This band is fuckin rockin!” shrieked Mrs. Trot and threw the horns,
“Yeah, this is how we celebrate the reaper and the corn!”
And soon enough the town of Farmington said to Hell with our respect!
And threw themselves into a night of drink and dance and sex!
And every year thereafter… the townsfolk booked The Cigarettes!

Two Scornful Armies
Two scornful armies embrace in cataclysm
With death to grace their nihilism,
Like frosted roses on a cake
Like two hearts coupled just to break:
War’s inferno blurs in disinterest’s dulling prism.

The Architects of Espionage
The dour architects of espionage
With greedy eyes doth sabotage
Their own lightless souls
Their own kingdoms of coal
And raise in their place a palatial mirage.

A Spy
What qualities are inborn in a spy?
A treacherous hand, a furtive eye.
Men of gnomic aspirations,
Fertile libidos, splashy libations,
But most: a fool’s insistence to die.

Ray’s Home is Overgrown with Flowers
One day Ray woke to discover that plants had overgrown his home.
A tree rose through the chimney, the carpet was covered with brome,
Ivy crawled up the bricks and wound over grout,
And when Ray squeezed his toothpaste tube, roses came out!
He had to brush his teeth with a paste made of petals,
So his evergreen breath smelled of needles and nettles.
While on the bookcase, where the photographs of his parents had lain,
Were garlands of daisies, tied in tender knots in a bright daisy chain,
And in the picture frame which’d featured a Eurasian magpie,
There was now a photograph of a desert landscape full of succulents and cacti.
In the kitchen bowl where there’d been garlic and chilies,
There was now water, and, in it, red and white Santa Cruz lilies!
When Ray opened the refrigerator door,
He discovered its chamber was abundant with bright slipperwort.
And when Ray walked into his once plainly furnished living room,
He found it overflowing with fungi, a forest of mushrooms!
All throughout his home, wherever he went, wherever he stood,
Ray was surrounded by orchids, azaleas, wisteria and wormwood!
But the most peculiar thing of all, was that Ray felt something in his foot,
And, looking down, he noticed that it had grown a root!
And from his fingers, there were growths of shoots and leaves
And the woody drapes that a liana weaves…
Ray suddenly felt thirsty for water, though his urge to pursue it was scant,
And with a final green look at the verdurous world, Ray turned into a plant!

February 29th, the Leap Year Poem
Here it comes, there it goes, then sleeps for four years: the leap year doze!
That’s the spirit, that’s the way, it’s February twenty-ninth today!
Hidden and swaddled between the twenty-eighth and first,
Seen at once as blessing at times as a curse, as the best birthday and also the worst.

Seasons come and seasons go, and every year brings spring,
But careless of what the groundhog sees (and deaf to notes the robin sings)
Is that uncommon leap year, whose date is uncommon and quite rare,
But also necessary to keep our calendars out of error!

Now to think of strange consequences of this very fleeting day,
I’ll give a quaint example of two twin girls, Cher and May.
Now Cher was born just minutes before midnight on the 28th,
While May was born the 29th, that transient day, that wraith.
It was a mere ten minutes between the times that they were alive,
But because of February 29th, Cher was turning twenty, while May was turning five!

The Captain’s Company
Mountains scarred the dusk sky as the wain creaked along the ridges, grit and dust billowing beneath, while a man in a cotton jerkin sat upon a thwart leading a train of horses with loose reins through scores of leagues, through the grey and brown livery of the land.

Atop his wooden cart burned a lit brazier expectorating malodorous white smoke, and the brazier burned as its fuel the litter and leavings of the dross of humanity. Lying acrossways upon that brazier skewered through with a stick was the head of a blackened doe, the sharp stick having been passed through its ears, and the head all cooked until the flesh was carbonized and the driver, that partisan of violence and ciphers, dragged behind his wagon by a hawser a monstrous burin which graved upon the land a deep trail so that his track could be traced. And when the burin became stuck upon stones buried in the sediment, he only beat the horses carelessly, as thoughtlessly as if he’d learnt abuse by rote.

And there came after him a ragged lieutenant whose good eye was rimed by cataracts, and whose poor one was covered by a patch encrusted by mucus and blood, and there was behind them their crew slogging with horses through that calyx, that whorl of a valley surrounded upon by all sides mountains and the dust. There existed no liquid agent to slake any thirst, so the horses had foamed, and the limping animals had all dried of their lather some long time past. Yet the men continued to beat them, until one animal fell, and the men not even considering the future or perhaps making incongruous concessions to ritual or fortune or deity did not pause to butcher the bony beast, only left it exposed. When the men were some leagues further on, the moon lay in a crescent like the cushion of a lackadaisical, bohemian artist, and the horse was lost from sight. The men pitched their tents at the foot of the mountain, and they pulled from their pockets specie of gold and silver and muttering passed them about to study the faces and obscure origins of their dead makers.

When the sun rose in the morning, the lieutenant set down a dense sun dial carved of jasper, and aligning the gnomon with true north calculated the time, while the leader of that crew, having apathetically discarded both spit and the head during times previous, measured the altitude of the mountain with an iron sextant which he wore around his neck upon a lanyard. There was on that morning a man who would not rise, for he was sick with dehydration, and the lieutenant saying, So see this man’s true color amid this desiccant! did in fact remove from that man both his hands as an attainder, and burning the flesh from them, scraped passively the cartilage and muscle while he rode as a man is wont to whittle a stick, and the blind lieutenant was left with the bony remains of two hands that afternoon as the company passed up the mountains. When the men passed near a steep ravine, the lieutenant cast the bony hands into the gorge, and the men continued traveling. They turned a hairpin corner, found a spring of water was issuing forth from the granite, and the leader of them all put his lips and tongue to the wet wall in a kiss, and he sucked. When it was the last man’s turn to drink, he made haste despite his thirst, for the men were already riding further along the steep path, and in such circumstance he pressed his lips to the vadose wall which smacked of calcite and stone, and he drank.

At last the company reached the mountain’s peak, and they bivouacked in a fissure in the rock, without a fire that night, for their strength lay in their secrecy, and they woke before dawn, and by the time the sun rose they had descended down the mountain a quarter of its height.

The town below lay in a bed of silica, agate, yuccas, and aloe, and there was in it only one street and the leader of that company spit forward upon his horses, and he beat their flanks with a tawse riddled with glass shards. There were upon the horses’ flanks the scars of many beatings, and the animals screamed beneath that taxing thong. The burin acted now as an anchor by which to keep the animals from stumbling down the hill, for the heavy cart that the captain sat upon threatened at all times to overtake the animals from behind and to run them down, and so it would have if that great implement were not being dragged behind. The cart was loaded with the tools of miners: dynamite, powder, torches, picks, mattocks; and the weapons of fell armies: rifles, revolvers, grenades, machetes, bullets, shells, and even a chipped scimitar from God knows where. The town which lay at the foot of the mountain had by now onlookers filtering into the streets, and upon seeing the company in the mountains descending appointed a manciple to coordinate weapons and to revet the bank. A townsman glassed the party with binoculars, observing in that gruesome congress its cynosure and the wagon that he sat upon, and drawing his hand upon whiskers more salt than pepper, remarked, If that ain’t Dylan’s gang, I’m hanged from a honey locust.  And indeed as Dylan’s gang approached, the desert town assumed a sepulchral air, as the men in the town barricaded themselves inside the hastily fortified bank: a bolus of eyes peering around pillars and single shot barrels steadied upon countertops, muzzles aimed toward the bank’s locked door.

At the edge of the town, Dylan halted the men with a raised hand, and a company man unhitched the burin from the wain. He spoke to his men in a voice rasping with effort, as if he’d lost his voice in a sickness and would never regain it, No one here is getting out alive. I am the last dynast of the devil’s family, the armature of the dynamo of chaos machines, and the cholera of men. We will hang the tellers and the bankers naked and dead by their wrists to a rafter, for it is only through displays of hegemony that we can grasp dolor and sublimate it, for in violence we express our sorrow and in violence we celebrate our sorrow! At the conclusion of such rasping, the men let out a muted, ragged cheer, and Captain Dylan opened the chest upon the wagon and the men distributed among themselves weapons of war, while the captain hung grenades from rings gusseted into his jerkin and slung rifles by their straps over his shoulders and with a cocked revolver in each hand at waist level strode into town without looking back even to see if his men followed behind him or fled, and the lieutenant grasping at sticks of dynamite, for he was an admitted poor shot what with his eyes, stuffed the dynamite into the pockets of his jacket and hefted a half full keg of powder from the trove and, stowing the barrel upon his shoulder and thus armed with the explosives and feeling inside him a desiderate for wanton cruelty, he began the walk into town

Dylan’s company walked right up the main and only street.

The wind blew a hot breeze, and there were the sounds of scuffling about, of final preparations from within the bank, and a few mutterings from Dylan’s company. Dylan himself fired the first shot when the men were still some ways off from the bank, and he shot straight through the bank’s door, then ejected the spent smoking casing, and reloaded. With a whoop, the men stormed the bank, loping and shooting, and when they drew near the entrance the snipers on the rooftops began to pick them off, but Dylan’s men howled and were indomitable, and the flimsy lock upon the bank door gave way at the second shoulder thrown into it, while from inside the rifles were fired, and more of Dylan’s men were shot down like dogs.

There was a score of men inside the bank, and all were in the end beheaded and hung from their wrists naked as the captain ordered, and the vault of the bank was blasted open, and from that trove more gold and silver bars were thrown into the coffer, and a man who had lain in hiding rose above the counter suddenly, and with a single shot he terminated the life of the lieutenant and for his efforts, the townsman was hung upside-down and naked from a rafter while a company man slit his throat with a bowie knife so that the townsman’s death, among the many others, might serve as a terrible example and cautionary tale.

There were folk screaming from rooftops, and all were ignored.

Captain Dylan shut the trunk of the chest and locking it with an iron padlock bade his men to saddle up, and they did, a new man riding to the fore in replacement of the late lieutenant, this new man with a jacket whose mantle was of fox fur and he was without teeth and in such raiment he stank of something foul and wicked, and saying only very little the men beat their horses into activity and began the journey towards a distant town, their faces to the setting sun, their shadows lying long behind.

The Funky Pizza
Two skateboarders ate a pizza pie
While switch smithing at Hollywood High.
They got switch feebles; they got nollie tres;
They got onions and tomatoes and peppers for days…

Chris was wearing black, and Lux was wearing pink,
Chris he had the piercings, and Lux he had the ink…
Chris he frontside flipped it, laid down a Muska hammer,
The cops showed up, and they hauled them to the slammer.

Well, the pizza it got lonely, it was chillin in the box,
It stood up on its crust, said, “I feel as burly as an ox!”
The pizza looked around through its pepperoni eyes,
And the folks who saw it standing up were taken by surprise!

The pizza took a handful of melted mozzarella
And styled it like the haircut of one very sick fella—
At the tip of its slice was a cheese mohawk,
And the pizza swaggered and it staggered down the L.A. block.!

The pizza gave a knuckle bump of crushed red pepper
To the homeys and the players, the pimps and high steppers!
The girls smelled its fine aroma on the September breeze,
Said, “I want all of that, without the calories!”

Well the slice kept on walkin Highland Avenue
Said, “I’ll stop and Dave and Buster’s, and there I’ll grab a brew.”
So he waltzed on in to the restaurant,
And a fellow looking down said, “This is what I want!”

Then he picked up and ate the slice of funky pizza.

Categories
Poems

A Black Poem

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There are many things that go bump in the night:
Monsters and coal stoves can cause us some fright.
There are creaky old floors and loose attic fans,
Leaves in the wind, and tumbling garbage cans.
But sometimes you’re sleeping and a missile will roar,
Like those over England in the Second World War.
And that, my darling, is when I’ll come for you,
When the night is stygian, colored deep black and dark blue,
You’ll see, my friend, by the light of a bomb,
My grin broad and lethal, my eyes full of calm,
And I’ll crook a green finger for you to come here,
And when you reach my side, then it’s Death for you, dear.
For that is my name, my ancient job, my old trade,
I’m the one who waits by the road in the glade,
I’m the one who whispers your one and true name,
The one who ignores both your money and fame,
I’m the one to watch out for, by town or by cave,
I’m the one to spirit you along to your grave.

Categories
Poems

I’m Sick Today

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I’m sick today, my throat is red;
I’m sick today, I’ll stay in bed.
My body’s sore, I don’t feel right
I sweated through the endless night.
I’m sick today, I think I’ll die.
I’m sick today, this is goodbye.
I feel all achey, my head’s not straight.
My body’s stopped, my brain is late.
Thanks for the Get Wells and your smiling face;
I need no soup; I’m a hopeless case.
Thank heaven for my pillow, and thank heaven for bed,
I’ll lay in mine until I am dead.
Then you can put me in the coffin,
And lower me down,
My friends will weep,
When I’m in the ground
Where I’ll be amongst the spiders and ticks,
The worms and beetles and… Oh! I am sick.
Bleh.

Categories
Poems

And Death Walked a Few Steps Behind

Here is a blank verse poem about a man walking down the path of life, with Death always trundling along a few steps behind.

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Well, I walk hand-in-hand with Life,
And Death walks a few steps behind,
And wherever I go, and wherever I lead,
Death is sure to follow.
So I had a few words a few years ago,
With that reaper known as Death.
I said, “So long as you’re coming wherever I go,
I’ll go wherever I want.”
He said in reply, “That’s a very fine view,
Just keep in mind, my friend:
When your time comes,
I’ll take you away,
You cannot run too far or too fast.”
So I nodded and considered,
And I went on my way.
And Death walked a few steps behind.

Categories
Poems

There Needs to be a Word for Laughing at Horror

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There needs to be a word for laughing at horror
When something’s so awful that you laugh in surprise
And you say, “I know it’s not funny…”
But there’s still a laughing look in your eyes.
Like when you hear of the man who was a quadriplegic for life
Falling down in the kitchen to land on a knife.
He would scream out in pain, but he can’t move his lips!
He’d get off the knife, but he can’t move his hips!
Still he’s not quite dead yet, the very poor dear—
Though he may wish he were, as he’s overtaken with fear—
For in the thin walls of his house, a bad electrical wire
Has found inflammable ground and started a fire!
And as the flames rise up, our victim’s consumed
By smoke and fire that blaze him to his doom.
Whoever it was that said Nature’s so sweet
Has never been chaff, has been only wheat.
But for a man like me who is often the chaff
When cruel tragedy happens, I have to weep as I laugh!
And I know it’s not funny to laugh at these things,
When the blades of life are cutting one’s wings,
And the depths of horror are so profound that you cry
Yet an inapt smile appears near the tear from your eye!
So what can you call it when you are laughing at horror?
It’s not quite “schadenfreude,” and not quite “sadistic;”
It’s certainly not “tasteless,” because that’s too simplistic.
I really believe that we must make a word
For a feeling that each of us has sometimes incurred.
I have no proposals, nor have I quaint dictum,
So, like all of you, I’ll just try to not be a victim.

Categories
Poems

Clean Dean the Mighty Marine

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“Clean” Dean the mighty Marine
Couldn’t tell whom
He’d killed or he’d seen.
He was classified to be in many Black Ops
And his superiors referred to him as one of their “mops,”
Because Dean Ian the Cleaning Machine
Was able to leave no trace at a scene.
A contractor is working?
Now he’s working no more.
Disappeared forever to even a score.
Clean Dean the Careful Marine
Left the place looking like
His hit had never been.
One day Clean Dean left the Marines.
He stopped lifting weights;
He became long and lean.
He got into the horses;
He got into the tracks;
He read books about gardening
And espionage paperbacks.
Clean Dean the mighty Marine
Met a lady one day whose name was Colleen.
They got along smoothly,
And he bought her a ring.
He proposed in the fall,
And they were married in spring.
Clean Dean bought a car for the baby
A safe car with four doors
Because Collen was expecting.
The years passed by,
These Dean could not sweep away.
He lived through the seasons;
He lived through the days.
Clean Dean grew old and found God.
His babies had babies,
And he once thought how odd
It was to grow old,
When he’d been convinced he’d die young.
Clean Dean, however, lived till he was ninety-one,
And before he died, his doctor marveled at him
Said, “It must be good living that has kept you so trim.”
And Clean Dean the Ruthless Marine
Gave not a thought to the horrors that he had seen
To the corpses he’d made or the dark places he’d been,
But said with a smile,
“Doc, what’s fascinating,
Is how the world keeps on turning,
Without taking notice of you
It’s a sphere of green and of white and of blue,
And taken at a distance, like from the nearest star,
We folk are so very tiny, that no one knows who we are.”
And so Clean Dean the Mighty Marine
Died one day and Earth kept revolving,
Persisting in its course as it does for all men,
Going and going as if we’d never been.

Categories
Poems

Dr. Proctor

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Bill “The Butcher” Proctor was the town’s local doctor
And he had had much more than a nip.
When a woman came in with a broken hand,
He took off her leg at the hip.
When the woman woke up she just looked down and sobbed.
“Why, oh why, do you cry?” asked Doctor Proctor,
“It may be true that you’re left with one thigh,
But you’ll get used to that by and by.”
“You fool, you bastard!” the woman screamed at the man,
“I came in to your clinic with a pain in my hand!”
“Hm,” said the doctor, looking down at her leg.
“Well. Yes. Hm. I see.
“In my condition I thought I saw something wrong with the knee.”
And he thought, “Left uncorrected, this could spell serious trouble for me!”
“I’ll sue your quack practice for all that it’s worth!”
Screamed his patient in fury as she wept and she cursed.
Dr. Proctor scratched at his chin, then he put her under again.
He murmured, “I’ll fix this wreck right up in a sec!”
And with the sound of a snick and the sound of a sneck
He cut off his patient’s head at the neck!
“There,” he said, holding her head up by the hair,
“There, there, there! Now, now, she can’t complain to anyone anywhere!”

Categories
Stories

Love, Revenge, and Death on the Mongolian Grasslands

This story concerns a tribe of Asiatic people, the Xiongnu, who are attacked by their dynastic neighbors, the Zhou.  The Xiongnu lived in present day Mongolia, and the Zhou lived in present day China.  Both civilizations existed hundreds of years before the birth of Christ.  The story also treats the desperate love between a young husband and wife, and the lengths that the husband is willing to go to to get revenge on his enemies.

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The Xiongnu people lived in the country that we currently call Mongolia. Mongolia is basically sandwiched between Russia and China, south of Russia, north of China. It’s a large country known for its broad flat plains, big blue skies, continental weather, nomads, and dexterous horsemen. People then lived in round buildings made of felt. They got the felt from the herds of sheep that they kept. Twice a year, they’d shear the sheep, roll all the wool smoothly out on the ground, pound it flat with sticks, then apply moisture and heat. It’s a process called felting, and it’s still practiced today. The homes of these Xiongnu people, which were called a yurt or a ger, had a circular ring at the top of each home, which held the roof up. These rings were connected by spindles, so that the form looked like what you’d see if laid a spinning wheel or a bicycle wheel on its side. This hub (that is, the ring at the yurt’s top) is called a compression ring. It’s the critical piece that allows the builder to put equal pressure on all the ribs, and which of course allows for a great deal more weight than otherwise to be put upon the roof. The yurts could be picked up, collapsed, and moved very easily, a necessary trait because the Xiongnu people who lived in them were nomads.

In those days, the populations of diverse species of animals were much higher. Accordingly, it was not uncommon to see snow leopards, Amur falcons, Caspian tigers (now extinct), wisent, and the Altai argali. A wisent is a type of European buffalo, and an argali is a brown-furred, white-faced sheep with heavy, spiraling horns.

You’d see the wisent bull rolling in the grass, its hooves up in the air, dust clouds rolling off the ground. You’d see the Amur falcon swooping over the river, rushing down mountain passes, high stone on either side. You’d see the world burnished at dawn and inked at dusk, painted every spring with pink, purple, and white wildflowers along the miles of green grass that faded into the mountains.

Every night, the stars glowed more brightly than you have ever seen. The summer sky was blue and rich. There was peace and quiet without engines or electronics. The Xiongnu people were known amongst other tribes for their excellent horsemanship and stylish fashion. They wore brightly colored clothes, of designs and styles not seen today, except in pictures and dreams. Winter clothes were made from the hides of Bactrian camels and summer clothes from light silk. They wore pointed caps and long robes, curving decorations along the shoulders, broad belts, and leather shoes. They had carpets of dazzling blues and reds and golds. They had fires, stories, and freedom. Now that world is gone, and it will never return.

At this time, there was also a group of people (we now call them the Zhou Dynasty) who settled in what is today China. The Zhou were at the forefront of global civilization’s bronze-making, and they were slavers, and, although they had a demarcated territory of their own, their armies were known for plundering, rape, and pillage. Their king was called King Li of Zhou, and he was infamous for his decree that he could issue a sentence of death upon anyone at any time.

For the most part, the affairs of the Zhou and the affairs of the Xiongnu did not affect one another, and the average citizens lived their days out in peace.

In a great valley surrounded by hills and mountains, there was a young Xiongnu couple. The woman’s name was Mazus Reptans and her husband’s name was Albie Sibirica. They herded sheep.

It was summer and the grass was green. The sheep’s wool was getting long, but it was not yet ready to be shorn, and there was little for a sheep herder to do during the day. Albie would sit among the stones on the hillside and would watch his sheep eat grass. There were no wolves or eagles nearby, which were the two main predators of sheep, other than bandits. Albie was near to a running stream, and every day when the sun was highest in the sky, and the day felt warmest, Albie would strip naked and bathe himself in the stream. During the days, he would think of going home at night to his wife, where there was sheep and goat meat cooked over the fire, and he could hold her in his arms at night.

Butterflies flew; crickets leapt in the grass; in the distance wild mountain goats sprang upon the rocks on the hillside. Falcons circled in the air, and, far out along the horizon, a herd of skylit musk deer grazed along what seemed to be the edge of the world, where the green grass met the blue sky.

The attack came with little warning.

Albie was naked in the stream when he heard rocks falling along the mountainside. He looked toward the mountain, but he saw nothing.

Then, a moment later, a horde of Zhou warriors stormed over the cliff face. The effect was as sudden as if they’d appeared out of thin air. One moment the warriors were hiding on the far side of the mountain, the next they were galloping down the near side.

Albie’ heart seemed to freeze a moment in the cold water, then he rushed out of the water, pulling on his pants and snatching his shirt. He ran back to his people.

From a distance, the Xiongnu camp looked peaceful and cozy. Their yurts were grayish white. There was a slow burning fire in the camp, its smoke winding peacefully to the sky. Horses stood staked to the ground, quietly eating grass. Women and children moved about their site. The women were mending fabrics and preparing foods.

Albie called to them, and one of them, hearing, looked up, and she dropped the work in her hands. Albie saw her hands fly to her chest as she screamed.

Behind Albie, the Zhou warriors quickly closed the distance. They drew nearer and nearer.

Their leader wore a purple and blue striped robe, and he carried a bow, with a quiver of arrows across his shoulder, and a hatchet in his belt. He rode a chestnut colored horse that was foaming at the mouth and whose eyes were wide. His face was Asiatic with a long black mustache whose ends hung off the corners of his mouth. His ears were pierced and hung with rings. Behind him thundered twenty more men, all on horseback, all with murderous intent.

By the time that Albie reached the village, the men were on horseback, and the women were carrying the children to such safety as they might. Albie ducked into his yurt, and he found there his wife, Mazus. He gripped her wrist. He pulled her out of the yurt. Together they ran to their horse. Albie pulled its stake from the ground, and he sprung astride it, Mazus leaping up behind him.

The Zhou hordes were upon them, however, and the Xiongnu people were not warriors, but shepherds. Coupled with the advantage of surprise, the raid was a rout. The Zhou men cut the heads off men and women and children alike, set fire to the yurts, and carried off the youngest girls. The Xiongnu horses were screaming, as were the remaining men and women.

Together Albie and Mazus fled their home. Albie turned the horse to the direction that the musk deer had been seen along the horizon, and he urged the horse to its fastest gallop. Mazus looked back. Three men pursued them. The men wore swords and carried bows and arrows, and they lofted the arrows over and around Albie and Mazus. Beyond the pursuers, Mazus could see their encampment burning. She saw a Zhou man thrust his sword through a person on the ground. She closed her eyes, and she looked ahead.

A moment later, one of the Zhou arrows caught the horse in the flank, and the horse fell. They were thrown from the horse. Albie and Mazus fell hard to the ground, and Mazus lay groaning. The men’s horses pounded to a stop beside them, and a man pulled taut the string of his bow and looked ready to let fly an arrow into Albie’ heart. But the man next to him uttered a sharp command, and the archer held himself in check.

The three men beat Albie, then they carried him and Mazus back to the site of the Xiongnu village. There were only four people left alive: Albie, Mazus, and two young women. The dead lay strewn about. The Xiongnu yurts burned.

Two Zhou men tied Albie’ hands with rope, and they hung a cangue around his neck. A cangue is like the stocks or the pillory without the base. A cangue is comprised of two sets of boards with a hole in the middle through which the prisoner’s head is put through, and then the boards are locked together. They are heavy, twenty pounds or more. But the most dangerous aspect of the cangue is that its shape makes it a barrier to feeding oneself. Prisoners can starve while wearing a cangue, because the prisoner can’t reach around the boards to feed himself. The boards of the cangue impede a person’s ability to put food in his own mouth.

The men then staked the cangue into the ground.

Albie looked at them. They were slim, dangerous men. They wore swords at sashes around their waists. They spoke in loud, rough tones. They laughed like horses. They spoke in the caustic, mordant Zhou tongue. Albie looked to the distance. The land otherwise seemed peaceful and calm. He felt a great fear for Mazus.

The man in the purple and blue striped robe looked at Albie. “If any come after, you will serve as the warning of the fearsome nature of the Zhou. Live or die, that cangue will mark you as a Zhou victim.”

Albie looked at his wife. Mazus was a short woman, five feet tall, with dark hair and dark eyes and skin the color of walnuts. She had teeth that Albie loved. The front teeth projected slightly like a rabbit’s, and he found them adorable. She looked into his eyes, and her eyes were wide with fear.

“I love you,” said Albie.

“I love you too,” Mazus said.

The Zhou raiders then pressed fabric into the women’s mouths, and tied the fabric into place to prevent the women from talking or screaming. Mazus and the two girls were thrown across the backs of three Xiongnu horses, and they were tied into place. Albie called to his wife, saying again that he loved her. He heard no reply. The Zhou rounded up the remaining Xiongnu horses and nearly a hundred sheep. The man in the blue and purple robe looked around at the waste and the desolation that he had laid upon the Xiongnu people. He looked round to see if there was additional loot.

The Zhou leader signaled to two of his men, “There is meat on the fire. Take it, and we will eat as we ride.”

The men did as they were bid.

With a last look around, the men took the hundred sheep, the twenty horses, and the three young women. Leaving Albie staked to the ground, his hands tied behind his back, and the cangue around his neck, they rode away.

After less than two hours, they were gone from sight. Albie could not free his hands. He could not stand because the horse, when it threw him, had tossed him at an awkward angle, and Albie felt that there was something wrong with his ankle. He could not rest easily, because he could not put his head down. The cangue around his neck impacted the ground long before his head could touch the soft turf of the Xiongnu valley.

By late afternoon, sweat dripped from his brow, and his neck burned. His mouth longed for the taste of cold, sweet water. As the sun set, Albie’ fear increased. That night, the clouds dispersed, and with them the heat rose through the atmosphere. The temperature fell. The moon and stars looked cold and merciless. Albie could not sleep at all. So it was that the next day, when the sun came, and the light colored the land, Albie felt thirsty, tired, and near death. His neck ached. His hands felt like they were going to fall off. His throat was parched. His thoughts felt crazy and his mind full of fear. He worried about himself. He worried about Mazus. When the sun rose, flies descended on his friends and family in the Xiongnu camp. The fires had burned out during the night, and there were black patches on the grass where the yurts had been. For as far as Albie could see in any direction, there was not a single person. He felt horror at the solitude. He knew that the Xiongnu camp was off the traditional road for any wayfarer. There should be no reason for a person to cross the plains and to find him. He gave himself up for dead.

In his mind, he saw the face of the man in the blue and purple robe. The man had a triangular jaw and crooked teeth. He had narrow eyes and thin black eyebrows. He had small ears. He was short and lightweight. He had in his throat an Adam’s apple. Albie kept the image in his mind, and he nursed a thought of revenge.

Near noon, Albie fell asleep. He slept for seven minutes, then his neck slowly drifted downwards until his windpipe was resting on the cangue, and the pressure cut off his air, and he woke again. Albie opened his eyes blearily. He fell asleep again, and a few minutes later, he was awakened again, coughing, as his air was cut off. Albie rested fitfully, waking and sleeping, waking and sleeping.

He pulled at the stake in the ground, but the captors had driven the stake deep, too deep to free.

Day turned to night. Albie thought that this night would be his last. Again the clouds parted, and again the heat vanished. Albie shivered, and he shook. The full moon shone brightly.

In the night, a man, horseworn and tired, came riding up out of the plains. Albie, spotting him in the light of the moon, tried to call out. His voice came as a kind of croak, a whisper. The man stopped in the distance. He appeared to be looking at the remains of the settlement, and trying to determine what it was that he was seeing. The yurts looked like strange structures. Their felt flapped in the wind, and the ribbed architecture of the roof looked skeletal.

The horseman rode slowly up to the encampment. Albie tried calling again. There was no voice to him left. As the man rode into the Xiongnu camp, he saw the corpses lying supine. The man stopped. He looked over the scene. He had the tense and wary energy of a stranger entering a dangerous place by night.

Albie stirred. The man nearly turned his horse and galloped away, but he checked himself. He trotted the horse forward.

“Who’s there?” asked the man in the Xiongnu tongue.

Albie tried to say his name. The sound was unintelligible and no more than a murmur.

The man rode up.

“You’re wearing a cangue,” he said. He saw then that Albie’ hands were bound behind his back.

“Are you the criminal that did this?” he asked. He was referring to the burned yurts and the dead.

“The Zhou,” whispered Albie.

The man frowned.

“Water,” whispered Albie.

The man pulled a leather pouch from his side. He dismounted, and he gave water to Albie.

“Help me,” whispered Albie.

The man frowned again. He looked around. “Who else is alive here?” he asked.

“Only me,” said Albie.

“And the rest?”

“Killed or taken,” said Albie.

“When did this happen?” asked the man.

“Help me,” whispered Albie.

“When did this happen?” demanded the man.

“Two days ago? Three?”

The man frowned.

The man led his horse away.

“Help me,” said Albie.

The man walked with his horse to a nearby yurt, and he looked inside cautiously. There was no one inside. The man walked into it. Its effects had been burned, and there was nothing useful inside. The man led his horse to the next yurt, and he repeated the process. Within a few minutes, he satisfied himself that Albie was telling the truth, that he was the only living person in the Xiongnu settlement.

The moon shone like a weak sun upon them as the man knelt next to Albie.

“Why are you in a cangue?”

“The Zhou said it was a warning,” whispered Albie. “Food. I need food. Get me out.”

The man untied the ropes that held Albie, and he broke the cangue with a stone.

Albie fell prostrate onto the ground. He was too weak to move. The man put some food into Albie’s mouth, and Albie slowly chewed it, but he could not swallow. The man lifted Albie’s head, and he poured a little water into Albie’s mouth. Albie was able to swallow.

The man put a hide of Bactrian camel fur over Albie, and he carried him into one of the burned out yurts.

There the man stayed with Albie for seven days, nursing him back to health. Albie slept most of the time, and, while Albie slept, the man buried the Xiongnu dead in accordance with what we now call slab graves. This kind of inhumation means that the people were buried in masses with their heads to the east and their feet to the west, and a great stone, that is, a slab, is laid over them. He tore the yurts down, and he reclaimed what felt he could for his own benefit.

The days grew in warmth, and on the seventh day, Albie was able to stand and to walk again. His ankle and his wrists felt tender, but he felt that they would completely heal.

As he recuperated, he thought of revenging himself on the man in the blue and purple robe, and of seeing his wife again.

At dusk, he sat down with the man, and they had their first real conversation. The man was a monk from the province of Hebei, and he had been falsely accused by the authorities for stealing seven sacks of grain from a local warlord who had, in fact, sold them for profit. The man had been forced to flee Hebei in the night, and along the roads there was a reward for his head.

“My name is Li Zhen,” the man said. “You should know that the government will arrest you and amputate your left foot. It is the penalty to those who help those who flee.”

“I owe you my life,” said Albie. “I’m not ashamed to be seen with you.”

“Then you’re welcome to come with me,” said Li Zhen. “I’m going north. But it is not an easy life. By night I ride across the hills and plains. By day I sleep.”

“I must go to the Zhou settlement,” said Albie. “I’m searching for a man with a purple and blue robe. He’s stolen my wife, and I must get her back and take my revenge on this man.”

Li Zhen thought for awhile. “Is he a small fellow? With a triangular face? And teeth like a donkey’s?”

“Yes,” said Albie.

Li Zhen said, “I know this person. His name is Lin Chow. He’s a government magistrate. He’s very corrupt, and he’s been known to murder his servants. His brother is the judge, so nothing ever happens to him. Together, they rule Cangzhou. I’m afraid that you have no hope. The city is loyal to them.”

“I have to try.”

“Do you say that they took your wife?”

“Yes.”

Li Zhen shook his head sadly.

“Why do you shake your head?”

“No,” said Li Zhen slowly. “It is not for me to say. It is merely speculation, and I would not want you to feel terror if my guesses are not correct.”

“Tell me what you think,” said Albie. “I’m not afraid of what you have to say.”

“I will tell you,” said Li Zhen. “But you must not hold me responsible if I am wrong or right. After all, I have only heard rumors, and the rumors have led me to my speculation.”

“I will not hold you responsible,” said Albie. “Just tell me what you think.”

Li Zhen looked out over the plains to the mountains beyond. He did not meet Albie’s eyes. He said, “I’ve been told that Lin Chow’s sister is the madame of the brothel in Cangzhou. If that’s true, then your wife is probably a whore by now.”

“I feared as much,” said Albie. “I have no time to waste. I must go.”

“But you don’t have a sword, a horse, or even any food.”

“I know the way to Cangzhou. That’s enough. I’ll steal and beg if I have to. But there is nothing for me here. Everything that I cared about is in my heart, with my people, who are dead, and with my wife who is captive.”

“Well,” said Li Zhen. “I will not go with you. I think your road leads to death. You are welcome to come with me. There are many more women in the world, and who knows? Maybe your wife is already dead. It’s suicide to take your path.”

“I have to go,” said Albie. “Even if it kills me.”

“Then take at least some rice that I have, and take with you my friendship and hopes for a good result,” said Li Zhen.

“Thank you,” said Albie. “You’ve saved my life, and I’ll never forget it. If I can ever do anything for you, no matter how big or small, you have only to ask, and I’ll do everything in my power to help you.”

“It was only what anyone would do,” said Li Zhen.

They hugged. Li Zhen gave Albie a bag of cooked rice, and Albie started into the mountains. He passed the river where he had bathed just a week before, when everything in his life had seemed peaceful and serene. He climbed up the mountain which the Zhou raiders had hidden behind. He crested it, and he looked over the rivers and dells that lay beyond.

The way to Cangzhou was a three day ride, and it would be a week long walk.

Albie walked by the river, and he ate only small amounts from the rice every day. He was thin and lean. He passed field laborers, and he begged vegetables from them. They gave him spinach and rice. One night he came upon a couple of men sitting beside a fire. They said that they were bandits, but, because Albie had nothing for them to steal, and because he too was against the government, then they let him eat with them. They gave him stewed goat with bok choi, and they let him share their wine. Albie told them his story of the Zhou raiders, and, when the men exchanged empathetic glances, Albie asked them why they looked at each other that way. The bandits also said that Yang Wu, the sister of Lin Chow, was the mistress of a bordello, and that Albie’s wife was likely working for her. This information made Albie more determined than ever to reach Cangzhou and revenge himself upon Lin Chow.

When the bandits went to sleep that night, Albie repaid their kindness by stealing one of the bandits’ swords, and by riding away in the night with one of their horses and some of their food. He felt desperate. It was the first time that he had ever stolen anything. With the horse, he made better progress toward Cangzhou, and with the sword he felt more confident.

He realized that he would need a plan for confronting Lin Chow, and he devised one as he rode. He thought that because Lin Chow had cut off the heads of his family and friends, that he wanted to cut Lin Chow’s head off too.

At last, Albie settled on a plan.

When he reached Cangzhou, he found that it was a city bigger than any that he had ever been to before. There seemed to be a maze of streets stretching before him.

Albie stopped at the first place that he came to. There was a tall thin man who was pickled fish and chickens. When Albie stepped up to his stall, the man cut the head off a chicken with a large cleaver.

“Can I help you?” the man asked. He was deftly plucking the chicken, not even looking at it as he spoke to Albie.

“I’m looking for the fine and reputable establishment that I hear is run by the elegant Yang Wu.”

The chicken seller broke into a smile. “Ah! Hello stranger! You must be from out of town, because everyone in town knows where Yang Wu keeps her business.”

“I’m from out of town. Where is it?”

“It’s the only building in the town that has four doors. They are so that people can move discreetly in and out of the entrances. Just keep going into town. You can’t miss it.”

“Thank you.”

“Here,” said the shopkeeper. “Buy a chicken or some fish too, won’t you?”

“No, thank you,” said Albie, and he rode on.

When Albie saw the building with four doors, he noticed that it was across the street from the government office.

Albie went into the brothel. It was dark and cool inside, and there was a girl drinking tea and eating sheep.

“Can I help you?” she asked.

“I’m here because I heard that there are new girls working here now.”

“Yes, there are three.”

“I want to see them,” said Albie.

The girl nodded, and she rose. She went past a curtain, and she was gone for a short time.

Albie felt his heart pounding in his chest.

When the girl came back, she had Mazus and the other two girls from the Xiongnu camp with her. They all expressed surprise at seeing them, but he shook his head quickly so that they would not speak. They looked tired and weary. They looked sad and broken. Albie felt hatred surge in his heart for Yang Wu.

“These girls look cheap and broken,” he said to the girl. “I was told that they were new.”

The girl shrugged. “They are Xiongnu girls,” she said. “What do you expect? Of course they are cheap.”

Albie held his temper. “I want to speak to the madam,” he said. “Yang Wu. Bring her to me.”

“You don’t want the girls?” asked the assistant.

“I traveled a long way to be here,” said Albie. “I was under the impression that the girls would look fresh and healthy. These girls look like they’ve been sleeping on a bed of iron every night and being fed with salt and water.”

The assistant shrugged and she went to get the madam.

As soon as she was gone, Albie and Mazus stepped forward. They embraced, and they hugged.

“I’m so glad you’re alive!” said Mazus. “I thought you were dead! Where did you get that sword? How did you survive?”

“Hush!” said Albie. “I’ll tell you everything soon. Now you should know that I have a horse, and a plan to get us all out of here. But you must play along—Yang Wu must be coming soon.”

Mazus stepped back. A few moments later, Yang Wu entered through the curtains. Albie was pretending to be examining the wall.

“What is it that you want?” asked Yang Wu. She was dressed in silky reds and golds , and she wore seven golden rings on her fingers. She had an evil face like an old and cunning wart hog’s. “You come into my place, and you tell me that my girls are not good enough? You should see yourself. You don’t look like a prince. You look like a scrawny vine.”

“Where is your assistant?” said Albie. “Bring her in too. I will show you more gold than you have ever seen in your life, and I want your assistant here so that she can speak to the truth of it. And I want you to tell everyone in town that there’s a new man with deep pockets, and he’s willing to spend—but only on the very best!”

Yang Wu looked doubtful. She called her assistant in, however, then Yang Wu said, “Now show me the gold.”

Albie instead drew his sword, and with one great swipe he cut off the head of Yang Wu. With a second great swipe, he split the assistant in half.

“You were a fool to trust me,” Albie said. “But your brother was an even greater one for leaving me alive. If your ghost wishes to haunt anyone, then haunt him for his foolishness. He is the true cause of your death. Without him, I would never have come here.”

Mazus and the other two girls were delighted to see that they had been freed.

“Let’s go home,” said Mazus.

Albie shook his head. “That’s impossible. Our home is gone. And I want revenge on Lin Chow. Here is my plan. I want one of you to go to the government office, and to request Lin Chow’s presence. Tell him that his sister, Yang Wu, has learned information which only he must hear, and that he must come immediately.”

One of the Xiongnu girls left to make the request.

“The other two of you,” said Albie, “Must help me clean this space. We cannot have corpses lying in the entranceway. If someone comes in, it would ruin our plans.”

Albie and the two women lifted the corpses of Yang Wu and her assistant out of the entranceway, and they placed them in rooms of the brothel.

“Now,” said Albie to his wife. “Stand outside the brothel. When Lin Chow comes, tell him to go into the brothel through one of the side doors. This will prevent him from seeing the bloodstains on the entranceway floor. When he inside, tell him to go into the room where his dead sister is. Tell him she is waiting for him there.”

Mazus agreed, and, a short time later, Lin Chow arrived at the brothel. Mazus stopped him from going in. She whispered in his ear that there was a special surprise for him. Lin Chow grinned widely. Mazus told him to go into the brothel by the side entrance, and Lin Chow did so. Then, she instructed Lin Chow to go into the room of the brothel where they had placed his dead sister.

During this time, Albie was waiting across the hall in a separate room. He heard Lin Chow enter brothel, and he heard him open the door. Then he heard Lin Chow scream in despair.

Albie appeared from behind the curtain. Lin Chow was holding his face in his hands. He was wearing his purple and blue robe.

“You left me to die,” said Albie. “And you destroyed my village and prostituted my wife. A simple death was too good for you.”

Then Albie ran Lin Chow through with the sword.

Albie took his wife and the two women from the Xiongnu community, and together they left the Zhou lands and went back into the Xiongnu lands. There they joined another nomadic tribe. Albie and Mazus had four children together, and their children had children, and Albie and Mazus lived happily ever after.