Categories
Poems

In Mexico

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Where in summer heat the street dogs laze,
Where coconut trees soak the sun and wave
Where dusk paints the coasts, the sand, and the bays,
And the family spirits talk between graves.

Where the Baja mountains lie capped in snow
Behind miles of desert, cacti, and mesquite,
Before the Sea of Cortez, smooth and indigo,
With shoulders of schist and dust at their feet.

In Mexico, where old men sit and stare,
With rheumy eyes and canes in their hands,
Beneath a sky so heavy it can’t just be air,
Near a dog so haggard it barely stands.

In Mexico, where old women mutter and moan,
In rebozos of black with their hair in a braid,
In the cool of the place where their children have grown,
And where they themselves have wrinkled and greyed.

Where there is laughter and drink, bright lights and bars,
Where the churches need priests, and the workers need pay,
Where there is sex in the night, fights, and white scars,
Where mirrors reflect careworn folk and their hard ways.

Categories
Poems

The Clouds of Passerines are Brittle

“The Clouds of Passerines are Brittle” is a sonnet about the everlasting nature of love and how love conquers all.  It is one of those poems that I wrote straight through, hardly stopping.  I liked the 4th – 8th lines even as I wrote them, and I still like them now.  Those lines became, to me, this poem’s engine.

Sonnets have fourteen lines, and mine rhymes abab.

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David Murphy – Girl on a Beach.  Zihuatanejo, Mexico, 2012.

 

The clouds of passerines are brittle:
One sharp sound, or just the turn of a thrush,
Breaks them as easily as a forced committal.
But real love bleeds as red as indian paintbrush,
And will even alone wage war against armies
With white flags plied only as tourniquets
And no uncouth tactic too mercenary.
To such cogent arrears each heart is convinced of debt—
When innocent youth is mortgaged to adolescence—
That must be paid in full before death does foreclose.
Therefore each heart puts passion before common sense,
Folly before judiciousness, immodesty before clothes.
Still, ancient wisdom would rather be untruth,
Be forgotten, lost to desert scenes,
Than renege upon the human flower of youth
And the honest love of people’s most hopeful dreams.

Categories
Poems

The Stars Above

“The Stars Above” is a poem about those nights when you lie on your back, looking at the stars, wondering whether there is life out there, and whether that life can hope and love and dream of other life too.
Its rhyme scheme is aabb.

starry_night_full
Vincent van Gogh – The Starry Night, 1889.

 

And when I to suit my fancy lie
Beneath the tree and darkened sky
And watch with wondering eyes the stars
That glimmer through the night’s short hours
And find there the constellations bright
With Grecian myths of astral light
I wonder if in the twinkling air
There might be other life up there
For while I lay thinking on our great world
One not much larger than an azure pearl
I send my thoughts to a far, empyrean shore
Where no manmade craft has gone before
And stretching out my hand and mind
I hope to greet one of like kind
One whose curiosity about space
Extends beyond the limits of their race
And lets them dream of far-off lands
With quiescent oceans and rocky sands
Where sentient beings far above
Hopefully can think and dream and love.

Categories
Poems

Music in Winter

Music in Winter is a rhyming poem that was written just after The Arrival of Autumn.

It’s written about a young couple who are in love and who are walking on a cold, dark beach.  The stars are out.  The clouds are scudding in front of the moon.  The couple’s feet are bare.  The rhyme scheme is abab.

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Outside Marmul, Afghanistan.  2010.

In winter, along the grey and green northwestern shore,
the freezing ocean draws its briny waves and bubbling foam
over beach crabs, Nautilus shells, and the crow-combed floor
as the sun sets beyond the sea into her western home.
Then the stars come out. One by one, they start to appear.
They are like lighthouses in the cold, black galaxies of space,
each with a message that says, Here, there are planets here,
circling round and round, far away, revolving round a fiery base.
And then, floating up from the water, comes the crescent moon,
scythe-like, Arabesque, swathed by scudding silver clouds,
and blinking behind a raven who flies, witchlike, through the woven gloom,
through winds whose warp and weft are the cloth of night’s dark shrouds.
In the midst of this a couple wander onto the sands.
They are lit by moonlight. Her hair is long; their feet are bare.
They walk like lovers and intertwine their hands.
They stop at sea’s edge and breathe the salty air.
It is a dark, cold night. A vagrant cloud covers the moon.
Not a light, not a lamp, not a glow can be seen.
The music of the ocean’s combers is an ancient tune.
The rustling of the firs lends woodwinds to the night’s song,
while the girl adds vocals to the primordial, ancient endeavor,
singing into the wind, into the wilderness, into the wild, high and strong,
a song that lasts a moment, with notes that last forever.

Categories
Poems

Passion

Passion is a short poem in free verse.

It is a request that passion teach no more hard lessons.  No broken hearts, no scars or scabs, just love.

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Jacaranda blossom, Guadalajara, Mexico.  March 29th, 2019

Passion, amid that fair skulduggery that is Time,
Teach me no more hard lessons;
I need no more legions of tormenting lesions.
Leave me only love—soft as a pheasant,
Enduring as space—until my passing.

Categories
Poems

Coming Home

A rancher is lost in the Wyoming mountains.  One evening, as his wife is looking through the windows, she spies him coming down the mountains.  She hurries out and meets him beneath a lodgepole pine.

The poem is written in blank verse.

Albert Bierstadt
Albert Bierstadt – Yosemite Valley, Glacier Point Trail; c. 1873.

She is a woman, auburn haired,
With eyes of green and careful mind.
She looks through windows onto snow,
To mountain ranges, crisp and clear.
She’s as tough as stone, as rough as cordage,
Supple as a rope or birch.
And in that cold Wyoming evening
Where the mountains meet the sky,
The clouds are forming, an airy meadow,
Like fields of mushrooms or beds of scallops
That grow up and white in course of time.

And coming down from that mountain,
With broken shoulder and riding slow,
Is a tall man of her age
One she’s bound herself to love.
And like Penelope she’s been watching
That rocky chine for hopeful sign,
And now at last her man’s come riding
Down the slope, back into life
To make again the old ranch whole.

So the woman, standing slowly,
Slips out through the cabin door
Into the air that’s crisp with autumn,
Chill and fair, suggesting snow.
She saddles up and rides to meet him;
She finds him ’neath a lodgepole pine,
And there the two dismount and embrace
Relieved to learn their hearts will mend.
For above the firs the birds are flying
Vultures, condors: the carrion pair,
And how they’d love a crippled cowpoke
Lost amidst the mountains there.
Now she and he are hugging fiercely
As the sun sinks behind the stone
And though Death is hungry
And impatient it must find another time
For tonight these two are coming home.

Categories
Poems

Sea Haikus

These are three haikus which observe a syllable count of 5 – 7 – 5 in their lines.  They follow a tradition of using clear language to describe nature, then bridging to a related image.

Claude Lorrain - Seaport at Sunset
Claude Lorrain – Seaport at Sunset, 1639.

Pearl Morning of Mist
Pearl morning of mist
Clipper ships in the harbor:
Undressing lover.

The Harbor Air
Rough, coarse, salty air,
A fragrance smelled from far-off.
Hot stew in kitchens.

Under the Sea
Undersea lie ships,
Sunken and decomposing:
A bottle’s settlings.

Categories
Poems

Bouquet

The Bouquet is written as a tippler’s lament.  It’s a poem imagined from the perspective of a man caught between earthly drink and the heavenly Holy Spirit.

The poem gives his thoughts as he looks out onto the world and wonders and marvels at all that goes on.

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David Murphy – St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City, Rome.

There’re engines roaring in the street
loud and angry as a fire;
I am drunk, and I am thirsty,
and I’m feeling tight as wire
cause one spirit’s got me woozy,
and the other makes me pray,
but neither makes me holy
in any elemental way,
but they leave me lacking, thirsty,
with the dawn of each new day.
I have already begun to wonder
what price I have to pay
for an experience so vital
that I’ll never lose my way,
for I’m lost and I am hopeless,
and I always feel astray,
so I shut my ears to street sounds
and I let the liquor say,
Is this a comedy or a tragedy,
this inscrutable human play?
What of life does really matter:
Wealth… or appreciation of a day?
And which will make me stronger:
Affection… or a nuclear array?
I ain’t askin anybody particular
cause I don’t want to be betrayed,
but with every drink I swallow
I feel a little more afraid,
and with every hour that passes by
I feel my understanding further stray
as I draw closer to a cold truth
that – no matter how much I pay,
and despite which side I take –
there will always be this fray
between the open-hearted folk
and citizens who recite clichés.
So I guess I must do something
cause I don’t think we’re all okay,
and it don’t seem to help much
to keep drinkin or to pray:
one spirit’s in the bottle
the other’s too far away…
It’s like knowing you can’t catch
but still hoping for the bouquet.

Categories
Poems

Between the Wines and War

A poem about a war that approaches a pair of lovers who live along the coast.

 

Maria Kreyn - Alone Together
Maria Kreyn – Alone Together

What have we here—here between the fine wines and war?
Love. Passion. The sensual and the visceral,
The red drip of the pomegranate, the sweet taste of gold honey.
You touch your slim hand to your angular face once more,
Touching where your red lips are closed and commissural.
We have health, youth, life, tobacco, and wine, but no money.
We have enough. The breeze blows the transparent white curtain
Bringing in the scent of the sea, the jungle’s animals’ cries,
And the faint beams of moonlight, which band the wooden floor.
The outcome of the fight, the approaching war, remains uncertain.
The soldier fights for his country, then his friends, then dies,
As the wine reeks, and our lips meet, and the ocean breaks ashore.

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

The Place of Man

“The Place of Man” tells how a man and a woman talk through the night and make love. The man listens to his partner, thinks of what she says, and lies awake at night while she sleeps by his side. He thinks of the injustices of the world, and how they are mankind’s wrongs to be righted—no one else’s.  Its rhyme scheme is simply abab.

contemporary-oil-painting-emotional-portraits-joshua-miels-1
The Collector, Joshua Miels

There are moths circling the patio light
As she talks to him of justice and love.
His drink is sweating in the warm night,
And his skin is cool beneath the stars above.

She talks of rats in the WFP food, of dogs behind doors.
She speaks of fake soldiers in military dress,
And of real, live, wretched, short-skirted whores.
She talks, and he listens with no feeling or stress.

Somewhere, somewhere, she is telling him,
There ought to be virtue and decency.
Somewhere, here perhaps, she says again,
There ought to be a merciful society.

Still the moon shines high up in the sky.
He thinks that it’s a quarter of a million miles away.
There the stars tremble before his very eyes,
So far off that they’ll be lost come day.

And, of course, she’s right. So very right.
And if he could take all the world’s ills
And burn them, in a blaze to light the night,
Then he would, and damn the stars, the moon, the night’s chills.

For just a single night, if he could, he’d turn it all to day,
And like some great seething god, set the world aright,
And leave the good folk in a better way,
Then so he would. But no one has such might.

Late that night, they fall to making love.
And after it is over, and she lies curled,
He thinks that it is not the role of god above,
But man’s sole sphere, to better rule this world.

Categories
Limericks Poems

March 2020 Poems

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Limbourg Brothers – March, a part of The Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry 

Contents
A Lover’s Rhyme
Courting Behavior
Late Last Night I Went to Bed
Love
Mayfly
Mr. Shaker the Undertaker
The Afghan
The Blind Man Who Saw Through Lies
The City Girl
The Coronavirus
The Fleet Girl
The Girl Who Did Handstands
The Gold Miner’s Industry
The Hollow Man and the Zealot
The Man of the Prairie
The Man Who Loved Beer
The Plainsman
The Political Scene
The Prison
The Proud Porcupine
The Restoration of Frost
The Ripps Go Fishing
The Three Magicians – The Amateur Magician
The Three Magicians – The Grim Magician
The Three Magicians – The Playful Magician
To Make a Bed
Torture

 

A Lover’s Rhyme
On an autumn morning, chill and fair,
early snow slicks Istanbul’s cobblestones,
baklava scents the Bosphorus air,
and caressing lovers lie as bare as bones.

Leafless branches reticulate the Charles Bridge,
while wind knots the old square’s fog;
crows stare balefully from Saint Vitus’ ridge,
and lovers vanish in the shadows of Prague.

One spring day in the serried Balkans,
where the granite rises in a sagittate spine,
amidst meadows and wildflowers two lovers lie talking,
deaf to the world in the midst of that chine.

Each lover’s story is like a scene in an arras,
woven by hand from Kabul to Paris,
in the dells, the cities, and the lands in between,
where time doesn’t matter in the weave of the scene.

 

Courting Behavior
There once was a jester in court
For whom punning was his favorite sport
He said to the queen
Now I think it’s obscene
The way that you move in your court.

 

Late Last Night I Went to Bed
Late last night I went to bed
And tentacles crawled around my head
They pulled me deep
Into my sleep
The tentacles around me curled
And pulled me to another world
One with dreams and nightmares real
With swimming sharks and snakes and eels
With valley floors with heads of stone
With dancing skeletons made of bone
With burning coals and fires blue
You know these lands, for you’ve slept too.

I stood atop a rocky spire
And looked upon the world entire
I saw winged creatures gold and black
And leapt from the spire to one’s back
It sailed with me past ticking clocks
And places where mermen lived in rocks
And then I fell from that beast’s back
And plunged and plunged into the black
A cyclops hairy, vast and great,
Roared that I’d be the next thing he ate
His voice rolled off the cave walls as he spoke
And remained in my mind after I awoke.

 

Love
The cities are shaking with the rumble of traffic
It seems like half the birds are missing toes
The sunbeam on her face makes her look seraphic
Laying amongst the bedsheets, wearing no clothes.

It’s a cold water flat and the sink’s always dripping
The winter sun’s horizontal, weak, and cold
There’s snow on the sidewalks, people are slipping,
And it seems that, long ago, the city’s heart was sold.

Then he turns her head, and he kisses her lips
She wraps her arms around him, sees his eyes above;
She spreads her legs and lifts her hips,
And in the cold and lonely city, they fall to making love.

A short time later, and already they’re both old and grey.
That’s just the way time goes, just the way life is.
They grew together and grew their own way
Till not even they knew what was hers and what was his.

Because on that day, all those years ago, they traded hearts.
He gave her his, and she gave him hers,
And he said, “Life is made of new beginnings and old parts,
But what I have you can have, and what is mine is yours.”

And she took what he had, and she gave herself to him.
They gave each other everything; nothing did they save,
Sharing the thoughtful moment, and the slightest whim,
Until there was nothing they could give, that they hadn’t already gave.

 

Mayfly
In the pond, between brown trout and rock dove,
Spawns the short-lived mayfly,
Who, like brief life and yet briefer love,
Exists for a revolution and then does die.

Between the head of the path and its end,
Whether it be hard stone or soft dirt,
Whether it lies straight or climbs and bends,
In life, in love, there is pain, and there is hurt.

We are mayflies, alive for but a brief time,
Inhabitants together of these strange parts;
Why, then, should we give our prime
To anything but what is dearest to our hearts?

 

Mr. Shaker the Undertaker
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.

 

The Afghan
A boy was once born in Afghanistan
Near the peak of a Hindu Kush mountain
He came during a short, gentle spring
To a mother who would sing
And he became a kind and gentle man.

 

The Blind Man Who Saw Through Lies
There once was a man with no eyes
Who nevertheless saw very well through most lies
Whether the lies were subtle or bald
And whether they soothed or appalled
Before the blind man they had no disguise.

 

The City Girl
There once was a girl born in the city
In a neighborhood both dark and gritty
Her mother gave her books and red bows
Her father called her his lovely rose
And she grew up to be both bright and pretty.

 

The Coronavirus
There once was a coronavirus
And news of it did much to tire us
All the games were postponed
And the children sent home
So the disease’s demise was desirous.
March 12th, 2020: President Trump cancels flights from Europe due to COVID-19, popularly called the coronavirus. The following day, the NBA postpones its season, following a positive test from Utah Jazz player, Rudy Gobert.

 

The Fleet Girl
There once was a girl with no feet
Who nevertheless was really quite fleet
She raced an arrogant man
Who sneered as he ran
Until he lost by a foot in the street!

 

The Girl Who Did Handstands
There once was a girl with no hands
Who nevertheless loved doing handstands
She’d stand on the stumps of her wrists
As if they were fists
And wave her legs in the air for her fans!

 

The Gold Miner’s Industry
Under the naphtha torch’s light lie tailings of ore.
Shadows flicker on a collapsed mine shaft
Which fell one night like a melancholy piano score
On men whose lungs tore each time they laughed.

And here the mercury man’s shop stands on mud.
His skin’s peeling off. His ankles are deathly thin.
He washes gold in a mercury-filled pan of wood
Then sets that metal in fire to burn away its silver skin.

What will become of him?
He will work for little, until he dies.
He will lie, cold and grim,
Amid the gold that draws our eyes.

 

The Hollow Man and the Zealot
The hollow man and the zealot lay skylighting the vast desert on their stomachs
watching for anything mobile and columnular, squinting into the waves of heat
and the low hellfire sun which dipped crepuscular like a ball of blood.
Above the crest of the world the sun hung suspended, huge and balanced,
and the men fell in to watching it as if towed by a riptide into Andromeda and Ursula seas.
It set in a neon cataclysm, banded the faroff mesas, until all else became parentheticals and mud.

When the moon came out, it came out vanilla and strong
like the sunless flowering of night blooming jasmine
while from the distance rode a backlit man not deadtired nor horseworn before the floating circle
and the hollow man whose diction was three parts doggerel, whiskey, and graveyardsong
rasped smokily I tell thee wait; I have the time, the time.
He slid from under his belly a heavy revolver and spinning its cylinder made ready to kill.

Can’t hardly wait whispered the zealot who like all unwise men was mercurial
and who braided with such characteristic the strains of violence, insecurity, and assumption
and so saying he ran his hand through his short black hair as was his habit
and tendered the necklace of bleached doe’s teeth he wore for motives superstitious and bestial.
At a canter the rider lifted off his hat in that lonesome waste and the zealot spat in derision.
Hush hush hush! rasped his companion Hold your nerves and spit!

The rider came along across the shale, through the dwarf scrog and a crowd of desert bats
looking like some classical and celestial organism astride his white horse.
He wore a bandolier braced with bullets, pistols in his belt, a rifle across his back,
rode with the drumming energy of a raw heart while wondrousstar-staring as if the Leonids were at that
moment showering. He rode as if nothing lay or had ever lain in his course.
He rode as if, if he chose, he could empower a man to paint his godless world black.

The hollow man lay his thumb on the hammer of the revolver, cocking till it clicked and held.
He sighted along the barrel; just after he pulled the trigger the man popped crazy off his horse
and the hollow man seeing such sight rose and fired again and the horse fell
and so seeing turned his back and walked from that deathquilt without looking to see its pattern.
The zealot rose fingering his toothy necklace giggling at such dreadnought wanton force
then followed the hollow man, vanishing deep into the cobalt lit mesas and scrub chaparral.

The zealot and the hollow man sat sitting round a fire surrounded by soaring mountains
and near them sagged a dilapidated church, a steepled shack, with three rotten wooden steps
and inside: bare rafters termite ridden floorboards and a baptismal font of rose porphyry
carried by the zealot’s jackass through the metamorphosed and steep passes of the mountains,
and the hollow man sung singing, All the wicked man’s foibles and vile contretemps
the wicked man’s sins, the wicked man’s deeds, I make for free. I make for free. I have for thee.

And without a warning, the hollow man pulled from his holster his revolver and, aiming it at the zealot,
fired the gun six times in lethargic lethal succession and when the zealot dropped dead
the hollow man emptied the cylinder, refilled it with bullets, and left the fire burning,
for at his core he was empty, not full of hate, nor vengeance, nor malice, nor rot,
but full of no emotion, neither melancholic nor apathetic, just a husk of humanity in dread
shape with only a penchant for the spoken word and any skeletal song he might be heard to sing.

 

The Man of the Prairie
A boy was once born on the prairie
In a bleak night’s blizzard in January
The drifts blew high against posts
And the wind howled like wild ghosts
He grew to be a hard man and solitary.

 

The Man Who Loved Beer
There once was a man who loved beer
And he drank till he was filled up to his ears
He hiccuped and laughed
And said, That’s a mighty fine draft!
I think that I’ll drink it all year!

 

The Plainsman
He’s a true plainsman
With dreams bigger than the town
And when the city limits expand
The plains dwindle down.

There used to be bison on those plains
But they vanished years ago
Then so did the rains
With the water in the arroyo.

He can see the ghosts of cattle
In herds of ten thousand head
Now there’s no more than the rattle
Of a snake in this homestead.

There’re no fences in his mind
Outside there’s wire running every mile
The unbounded country was lined,
Developed, and made infertile.

The prairie land
Once unpenned
Waves wheat like a hand
To an early untimely end.

His last sight of the plain
Is with a helpless glance
Like the land is a missed train
Vanishing in the distance.

 

The Political Scene
There once was a political scene
Where politicians were awful and mean
They loved to berate and to hate
And when they called themselves great
The people wished they’d get COVID-19.

 

The Prison
He sat as the only prisoner beneath the low hanging ceiling with a drip
in the humid cell with the small barred window that looked into the jungle,
and he looked in at the captain who struck a match for the cigarette between his lips
while outside the rain splashed into the ferns and the dense vines’ tangles.
The captain was leaning back in his chair, and he was playing solitaire
with a pack of dog-eared cards as a ceiling fan spun slowly overhead
like a child pushing against a mountain, for the fan could not move the heavy air,
while the rain poured down in drops as big as grapes and as heavy as lead.

The prisoner knew that in this prison there was no time or meaning to life
that the thing to do was to survive with as little pain as one could manage,
and the captain coughed after he exhaled and set the matchstick near his knife
then set his chair down and laid his elbows on the table, rickety with age.
The captain turned over his card, and the prisoner watched with interest
for there was nothing to do in the monotony except to stare,
like living in the doldrums on the sea, and it seemed killing time was best
so the prisoner watched as the captain leaned back again in his chair.

The captain studied his cards, and he took the cigarette out and exhaled.
The smoke drifted up to the ceiling fan, and the fan dispersed the smoke,
then the captain laced his fingers behind his head, for his interest had failed,
and the prisoner glanced down and fingered his shoelace, which was broke.
Then the prisoner knew the electricity went out because the fan slowed and stopped,
but there was no change in the captain, so the prisoner lay back on his bed
and listened to the dull music of water as the rain continued to drop;
there was no wind, and there were no thoughts in the prisoner’s head.

Far in the distance came the deep whoomping sound of a mortar being fired,
so the prisoner lifted his head, and he glanced at the captain
but the captain hadn’t moved; he either hadn’t heard or was just too tired,
and the prisoner glanced around gloomily at the cell he was trapped in.
It was made of stone and cement and contained a toilet, a sink, and a bed.
The bed was a mattress without box springs, sheets, or pillows,
and on that mattress the prisoner lay again, his hands beneath his head
and considered briefly, without contrition, the paths that he once chose.

Six months ago, a white woman had entered the prison, and the captain stood straight,
and the prisoner spoke in his broken English to make the woman smile,
and after the translator interviewed him, the prisoner knew she had come too late,
for the prisoner felt her presence not as a warmth but as a kind of wicked trial.
And it used to be that on Fridays, the captain would serve them both coffee.
The captain would sit next to his cell and hand the coffee through the bars,
sometimes they would play cards and even talk in a way that was almost free
and the prisoner learned that his jailer, too, was a prisoner of the long hours.

Now the captain leaned back in his chair with his eyes shut, and the prisoner slept,
and there were no sounds except the steady drumming of the rain.
Whoever fired the mortar did not fire it again, and the peace was kept,
and the electricity returned, so the fan began to turn again,
then the captain opened his eyes, he lit another cigarette with a match,
and he shook the match’s flame out with a few flicks of his wrist
and the captain considered the loneliness of his official watch
and put out of his mind those chances that he had always missed.

 

The Proud Porcupine
There once was a proud porcupine
Who was well pleased with his needles and spines
One winter he became ill
And he lost all his quills
Now he’s sad because he looks like a swine.

 

The Restoration of Frost
The Restoration of Frost is, so far as I know, the only mystery to ever be written in the form of a terza rima.  A terza rima is a kind of a poem that uses a rhyme in the pattern ABA BCB CDC DED, and so on.  The form was made popular by an Italian, Dante Alighieri, who wrote a terza rima poem which included the seven circles of Hell.  It was called The Divine Comedy.

My poem, The Restoration of Frost, tells the story of a cynical, hardboiled detective whose name is Frost.  One day, the wife of a diamond merchant comes to Frost, and she tells him that her husband was murdered by the butler, that the diamonds have been stolen, and that the butler has disappeared.  The police have proven powerless, and she believes that the hard-drinking Detective Frost is her last hope.

Illustrations by Amanda Güereca.

Restoration of Frost Illustration 1

He sits up nights with whiskey, learning French,
in a lonely apartment amongst sirens,
squalling sounds, swindling, and a human stench.

Alouette, je te plumerai … each pin,”
he mutters, “Fall naked from the sky, bird,
into men’s cold cities and thrice-damned dens.”

Outside the sun rises: pale, weak, obscured;
even as the man sets, sinks in his drink,
as the moon wanes, and the night is interred.

Sewers exhale their smoke; trashmen, their stink;
Madmen envision grey futures of death;
the sun shades the city sky orange and pink.

The rousted city draws its first morning breath.
It lifts itself from quotidian sleep,
aciers son esprit, et se déroule son fouet.

Yet the man, with his head on his hands, sleeps,
the unstoppered glass bottle beside him:
king of his castle, captive of his keep.

Then comes a knocking: hard and fast and grim.
“What?” mutters the man. “Who’s there? At this time?
I warn you, faults are thick where love is thin.”

“Open up! There’s been a terrible crime!
My husband’s lying dead, dead on our floor!
Ash and dust extracted from the sublime!

Are you Detective Frost?”
—“Not anymore.”
“But you once were? Detective Frost, that is?”
The man opens, just a crack, his front door.

“That was another life. What’s your name, Ms.?”
“Emily King. Can you investigate?”
She is a woman of puffy eyelids,

her mane of hair seems to be half her weight;
she wears short heels and a Desigual dress,
and sways like a pendulum oscillates.

“The police,” she says, “Have made no progress.
My love’ll be buried, to rest in peace;
his warm largesse became cool emptiness.

He is beyond the clergy and police;
he’s at the disposal of God’s great will.
And our lost wealth was in a worn valise,

but can be regained by a man with your skill.
I’ve heard you were once great. Almost divine.
So help me. Please. Come on, say that you will.

I’m in my hour of need—”
—“Stop,” he signs.
“I’m not the shadow of the man I was.
I’m a drunk now. I live like listless swine.

I’m not who you want, if I ever was.”
“Well for God’s sake, at least open the door.”
“You’ll just see straight whiskeys and neat vodkas.”

“Open the door! Damn it! Open the door!
All the way! Not just a crack! Look at me!”
He swings the door open halfway, then more.

There is a silence as he blinks and sees.
There she stands in the shabby corridor,
flickering like a candle in the breeze.

“Fine. Let me get my coat from off the floor.
It’s a bitter dawn, made worse by the cold,
and my intent to restart what I forswore.”

He mutters as he walks, “Where’s my billfold?
Where’s my coat and my hat and my resolve?
Time never brought wisdom, just made me old.”

“How long will this mystery take to solve?”
she calls, “How long till the criminal’s nicked?”
“Damn it,” he mutters, “I shouldn’t be involved.”

He calls back, “Impossible to predict.”
Silence. Then, “Can I call you Detective Frost?”
He mutters, “You can call me ‘Derelict.’

Or maybe even ‘Detective Well Sauced.’”
But he calls, “Yeah. Yeah, you can call me that.
Look, let’s go. I think my damn billfold’s lost.”

He walks out the door, putting on his hat,
leaving the front door unlocked behind him.
“You’re not locking up the door of your flat?”

“Lady, inside my place, pickings are slim.
Any robber is welcome to my trash.
Now, let’s go.” And he pulls down his hat brim.

The drive takes them past tall maples and ash,
along a quiet, winding road near cliffs
and views that overlook winter’s panache.

The houses in this part seem formal, stiff.
Quiet monsters that look down and glower,
giving the peons a conceited sniff.

“These places give fine looks to wealth’s power,”
says he. “I don’t like ’em.” There’s no reply.
They enter her drive, pass a stone tower.

Frost asks, “Why didn’t the guards raise a cry?”
“We think,” she says, “It was an inside job.
“William is missing with no alibi.

William is the butler and is macabre.
His sense of humor always disturbed me,
But he seemed cleaner than the pope’s façade.

His bad humor was the sole fault to see.
So we kept him… To my endless regret!”
“Hm. Tell each detail of last night to me,”

says Frost. “Any trifle may be an asset.
I must know the times, the places, all things.
Don’t withhold anything from your vignette.”

“My husband was known as a diamond king:
Michael was the CEO of DeBeers,
a job which brought us wealth and its trappings.

Last night, he got a shipment from Algiers,
a shipment worth fourteen million dollars,
which were to be bought by Dubai’s emirs.

Maintenance, by the company installer,
on the office safe, made that place unfit
for even the care of a prize much smaller.

Needless to say, Michael abandoned it.
He brought the diamonds home in a valise:
a small, innocuous, brown leather kit.

He told no one of the stones in the piece.”
“Then how did you know what was in the bag?”
“Well, he told me, of course, to keep the peace.”

“To keep the peace?”
—“I asked about the bag.
I thought it might be linked with a tryst.”
“Geld a stallion and you’re left with a nag.”

“Oh please! Men are pigs! True men don’t exist.
Some men are true to infidelity,
but that’s all. The honest man is like a mist:

looks white, but he’s gone with day’s clarity.
So Michael showed me diamonds in the purse,
diamonds of unusual rarity.

He said to me in a voice quite terse,
‘Don’t say a word of this to anyone;
Its loss would be too great to reimburse.

I’m revealing this out of affection,
trust in our partnership, and profound love.’
These words must have caught William’s attention.

He was passing on a small walkway above,
one used for that room’s second floor of books.
He’d been, I fear, overhead like a dove.

‘What’d you see with your stealthy, furtive looks?’
Michael asked.
—‘Nothing, just sorting the shelves.’
‘That little lie puts me on tenterhooks,’

Michael whispered to me. ‘Between ourselves
let’s not let that valise out of our sight.’
Then, ‘Will! Em and I want the house to ourselves!

Go on home, my man, and have a nice night!’
Then, in a whisper, ‘Better if he’s gone.’
Then, louder, ‘And see that your mouth’s zipped tight!’

Will came down from the walkway he was on,
gave us a little bow, and left the room.”
“Did he leave the house, not just the salon?”

“I can’t be sure. I can only assume.
I assume that he left; we did not check.
Then I guess he returned, through the sunroom.

The door was ajar, accessing the deck.”
“Tell me where your husband’s body was found.
In the sunroom? In the study? On the deck?”

“I found him in the hall, dead on the ground.
I had heard a scream, rushed out; a door closed.
It clicked softly shut with a fatal sound.

Mike was just unconscious, I first supposed.
I ran to him, neglecting the thief’s escape.
I saw piano wire, his neck exposed,

long lacerations across that landscape
of innocent flesh and beloved skin.
His mouth was lying horribly agape;

his lips were purple, his face white and thin.
His eyes stared into a world beyond ours.
All that was left was what might have been.

I screamed for what seemed to be hours
I then rushed to the door and found it locked,
but heard the window of that damned tower

pushed open hard by the one being stalked.
Then I saw diamonds scattered on the floor.
Then clearly as sun shines I could concoct

the whole scene as if I’d seen it before:
Mike was garroted by piano wire;
the killer had hid behind the hall door,

and when Michael had tried to retire,
the craven killer sprang out, strangled him,
and stole the valise that he did desire.

Michael’s screams—telling, bloodcurdling, grim—
brought me running from my chamber too late
with just time to hold him to my bosom,

to see my man forever insensate,
and the door of the study being locked,
and to feel on my heart a doleful weight.

Oh heaven, Detective Frost! I’ve been mocked
by a cruel fate and damned to lonely life:
all paths were open, now they are all blocked.

The servants entered, and, sharp as a knife,
the maid called the police, and the driver,
who kept his mind calm in this bloody strife,

ordered the grounds closed to that conniver.
‘The window!’ I cried, ‘I heard it opened!’
Bless the soul of the quick-thinking driver,

he said, ‘Will cannot get out! He happened
in his dark escape into a high room
in which he is now surely imprisoned:

to leap from that place would spell certain doom.
No, he must still be inside that study;
his quickest refuge shall be his fastest tomb.’

We waited in that place of perfidy,
like a hunter waits for dangerous prey,
near to the body, lifeless and bloody.

When the police came before the break of day,
they forced the door. But the room was empty!
The detectives checked for another way

that the criminal might have gotten free.
There is a drainpipe along the house wall,
but it is connected only weakly,

and any climber would certainly fall;
the frail pipe would tear away from the house,
and gravity would wrap him in his pall.

And the ground is soft. Not even a mouse
could escape without leaving a footprint.
Yet no impressions were without the house.

Further inquiry yielded not a hint.
The detectives left for other business.
And that is why I’ve asked you to represent

my side in this perplexing and anxious
matter, which seems so simple but is not.
The man, William, killed my husband, backless

in his fell execution. Then he sought
refuge in a room without an escape
except for a window whose height cannot

be negotiated by man or ape,
and yet when the door, locked on the inside,
was forced, there was within no living shape.

But there was not a single place to hide!
Where’s William? Murderer of my husband?
Thief, assassin, evil personified!”

“One thing’s sure,” says Frost, “Nothing will be banned
from the net of inquiry. All’s open.
Your account’s been near all I could demand.

Yet some questions remain. When all seemed done,
did the cops lock the door before leaving?
Could William have escaped from his bastion?”

“The detectives locked the door, perceiving
that if Will were inside, he could well flee.”
“And yet, while the cops were conceiving

that such a bold escape could come to be,
still they departed the scene of the crime?
Such actions seem, to be frank, unseemly.”

“Further inquiry was a waste of time,
was what the shrugging detectives told me.”
“Well, they’ve left us the work of muck and grime;

we’ll be on our own,” Frost replies blithely.
“Ah,” says Ms. King, “We have arrived at last.”
The mansion looms behind a copse of trees,

its wings spread, like a dark bat’s, wide and vast.
Great windows look, from behind the old copse,
inward: shared wine and spilled blood, dry at last.

The great home stands on a cliff’s rocky tops;
grey granite underlays its foundation.
Their car crunches gravel up to the door, stops.

Frost gets out. “I’d like an examination.”
“Certainly, my late husband is inside.
He has not been moved from his location.”

“Ms. King, I’ll begin my research outside.”
“Uhhh, as you wish. But the detectives said—”
“Ma’am, seasoned sailors trust but wind and tide;

they pay no mind to what the lubbers said.
This William left us with the silent dead,
So I’ll go where my thoughts will have me led.

I’ll see the clues, and ensure they’re well read.
Now, the wildest fires may start with sparks,
so keep vigilant; there’s danger ahead.

This scene could become the darkest of darks—
Yet still I’ll tell you, ‘Stay hopeful, Ms. King’:
even the softest killers leave their marks.

I’ll find the thief, the killer, the cruel thing.”
“In a time when everything has gone cold,
you’ve made winter’s white death show signs of spring.

Thanks. Some kind words are more precious than gold.
There’s in brave substances a common core:
invisible to the eye, lovely to behold,

in those that cast not their shadows before,
those who walk with their faces to the sun,
like heroes who stand ready at the fore.”

“I ain’t all that. I’m just a mother’s son.
Now go inside, stand your guard with the rest,
and I’ll work. Sooner began, sooner done.”

Detective Frost watches her leave, “What’s guessed
at in the darkness, without facts,” he states,
“Is a surmise which must be reassessed.

I won’t give her story an ounce of weight,
till I’ve confirmed the empirical facts:
the fox won’t tell of the chickens he ate,

and the stuff of greed is what honesty lacks.
I’ll take her story with a grain of salt,
til I see the grounds and scene of attack.”

Walking over wet leaves, puddles, and gault,
his eyes wandering over the edifice,
walking fast at times, now making a halt,

Frost strolls the grounds: solemn, thoughtful, cheerless.
He ambles to the foot of the mansion
where a drainpipe of uncommon thinness

descends from the rooftop then does run
past a window large enough for a man.
Frost shakes the pipe, which almost comes undone,

for the pipe is affixed by no more than
three rusting brackets of uncertain strength
from where Frost stands to where the pipe begins.

“Hm,” says Frost, “And most certainly the length
of the drop from the window to the ground
supports an extent of her narrative’s length.

Nor are there strange indentures to be found.
The ground is too soft not to be impressed;
the mud testifies: Ms. King’s account’s sound.

Now, let’s see what eggs the bird has in her nest.
In a woman’s home is her façade found,
and in her unreadable heart: the rest.

Detective Frost strolls quietly around
to the massive front door, which he enters.
He strides up the staircase that’s marble bound

with red and white tiles like blood in winter.
On the second floor, Frost finds the servants
and Ms. King waiting. “Not to the sprinter

will go this race, but to the observants,”
Frost says, nodding approvingly, “Patience
can be more opportunistic than chance.”

“We have stayed at our proper assignments,”
says one man tiredly. “It’s been a long night.”
“I believe Ms. King said you had good sense,”

says Frost, “You’re the driver, if I am right?”
“That’s right, I am. And my name is Michael.
We’ve been waiting outside this room all night.

We’ve been sleepless and angry and watchful.
The door of this study has not opened;
It’s not admitted nor dismissed a soul.”

“I’ll do my best to bring this to an end,”
Frost replies. “And see your care rewarded.
I must now see Mr. King’s tragic end.

Ms. King? Could you lead me to the blest dead?”
Ms. King wordlessly points to a sheet
that covers the corpse like a sad shroud’s spread.

Detective Frost walks to the corpse’s feet,
then steps forward, and he pulls back the cloth.
Mr. King’s face is placid, his look neat.

“Is there much to see?” Ms. King, her voice wroth.
Frost examines the neck’s lacerations,
“No, but with little meat we must make much broth.”

Then he says gently, “My consolations.”
He tenderly covers the departed.
Frost stands. “Another examination

of this puzzling study must be started.
Who has the key? Please, let’s open the door;
we’ll see if the law has been outsmarted.”

Ms. King produces the key, “Yes, let’s explore
the interior of this baffling room;
time’s come: we won’t find what we don’t search for.”

Ms. King inserts the key of the room,
turns the lock, then she enters the chamber.
Detective Frost follows into the gloom,

flicks the lights, says, “Let’s see what did occur.”
The illuminated room contains books,
a desk, a globe, a humidor of fir,

liquor bottles, paintings, knick-knacks, and nooks.
“All these things,” Frost says, “That I now see, were
in their same place before? Anything look

out of the ordinary? Or disturbed?”
“No,” she says, “Everything is in its place.”
“Well, all right,” says Frost, not a bit perturbed.

He examines the walls, books, and shelf space.
He walks to the window, gauges the drop,
pulls the pane on its hinges, steps back a pace.

Then he pauses to consider the chase.
He looks from the door to the room’s window,
passes his eyes over a standing vase,

mutters, “Where, indeed, could this killer go?”
reviews the room again, opens desk drawers,
and does, on Ms. King, a doubtful glance throw.

“Ms. King, if you’ll permit, I’ll step outdoors.”
“Do you have any clues, Detective Frost?”
“I have hopes. Michael and maids, guard the doors.

Don’t open or close them at any cost.”
With those words, Frost sweeps out of the study.
He heard the doors being shut as he crossed

the hall, past the shroud and body bloody,
then down the marble stair, and out the door.
“Not sure how to clear a case so muddy,”

he mutters, “Or which line to next explore.”
Frost pulls from his coat a Haitian cigar,
sits on a bench, brings his thoughts to the fore.

“What dark things were illumed ’neath night’s dark star?”
he wonders aloud, as he considers
the night’s events, and lights up his cigar.

“And those diamonds—sweet smelling, but bitter!
How’d the lady play her game? Fair or foul?
was it the sparkling stones that undid her?

Or… is her tale true as the hoot of an owl?
I shall just take time to review the facts…”
He sits; the smoke wreathes his head like a cowl.

He puffs and puffs: the cigar glows, reacts.
The smoke swirls in thick clouds around his head,
then wafts, by a breeze laden with bees-wax,

through brisk air, where it then dissipated.
Frost frowns. He stares thoughtfully at the smoke.
He looks at his cigar, wrinkles his forehead.

He looks again at the slow, drifting smoke.
He purses his lips, uncrosses his legs;
overhead rustle the leaves of an oak,

“I’m deep in the bottle, but not the dregs,”
says Frost, “I have one creative idea.
Shipwrecked sailors can still feel their sea legs,

just as I, a ruined hound, can still smell a
scent. I will smoke my coffin nail indoors,
and I will test the strength of my idea.”

Frost strides inside along the marble floors.
He ascends posthaste up the spacious stairs,
enters the hall, makes for the study doors,

past Michael, Ms. King, and the maids’ stares,
all while puffing madly on the cigar.
He shuts the room’s windows against the air.

“Leave the door open and stay where you are!”
he commands, sitting at Mr. King’s desk,
raising his chin, sending smoke near and far.

“Mr. Frost!” says Ms. King, “This is grotesque!
Get it together—don’t smoke in my place!
This is a somber scene, not a burlesque!”

“This smoke is needed for solving the case!”
Indeed, as Ms. King, Detective Frost, Mike,
and the others watch, the smoke slowly traces

to the wall, then drifts through a crack, ghost-like.
“My God,” Ms. King whispers.
—“Shh!” orders Frost.
“Don’t let the mouse see what the cat looks like!”

Frost motions to Mike and the maids, “No cost
is too high to pay for the man within;
he’ll readily ensure your lives are lost.

Between careless and care, let caution win!
The butler’s hidden in a secret space;
he’s behind the wall where the smoke got in.

The smoke was drafted to that hidden place.
His secret was betrayed by air currents;
so little reveals such a huge disgrace.

But I suspect he has no deterrent
to forced entry; his weapon was wire,
swiftly snatched in a mood black and fervent.

But come danger, we shall fight fire with fire.
Had he shown restraint, so would we now.
Both crooked and straight wood burn alike in fire,

so beware: righteousness earns no golden crown.
We shall take him by surprise, Mike and I,
but we may need you all to take him down.

Are you set? If so, stay. If no: Goodbye.”
“We’re set,” whisper the maids.
—“And I,” says Mike.
“All’s well if he’s in hell, so says I,”

says Ms. King. “While the iron’s hot—we strike!”
“All for one, one for all,” says Detective Frost.
“We’ll break through the wall as a hammer’s like,

fight him till he’s taken or we’re all lost;
we’ll never quit, never capitulate,
until that sinister arachnid’s lost!

On the count of three, no one hesitate,
we’ll put our shoulders to the dummy wall,
then wed the devil to his absent mate.

Ready? One, two, three! Shoulders to the wall!”
Ms. King, Mike, Detective Frost, and the maids
throw themselves against the study’s false wall.

The wall collapses beneath their combined weights,
as they crash into a dim compartment,
where dust thickens like fog in humid glades.

Cringing at the force of their bombardment,
is William the butler, valise in hand,
whose blood-stained hands tell of his dark event.

The five raiders untangle, try to stand,
as William beats at them with the valise,
and deals them blows with his bloody free hand.

Detective Frost, shouting, “Death makes good peace!”
launches himself at his deadly opponent
and begins beating him into pieces.

“Stop! Stop!” cries William, quailing, curled, and bent.
“Never!” roars Detective Frost, “I’m feeling good!
My life is becoming your punishment!”

“Stop! Stop! I’d take it back, if I could!
I’d have left the wire, forgot the rocks,
I’d have gone on home, as I knew I should!”

“The past is only a number on clocks!”
cries Ms. King, “You can’t bring my husband back!
What’s done is done, now our judgment talks!”

“Enough!” shouts Michael, “We’ve won the attack.”
He pulls Frost off of William, as Frost shouts,
“I haven’t had enough man! Hold me back!”

So Mike stands between Frost and the mad rout,
and Frost, a moment later, breathes deeply.
Mike says, “Stand up, Will; we’re taking you out.”

“That poisonous cobra got off cheaply!”
exclaims Ms. King.
—“There’s more to come,” Mike states.
“The judicial fangs will sink more deeply.

But come on, Will, you’re going to Hell’s gates.”
Detective Frost and Mike tug Will to his feet,
as Ms. King phones the police’s heavyweights.

They wait calmly for the police fleet,
resting in the study, hardly speaking,
till Ms. King asks, “How’d you solve it so neat?”

“While outside, I saw the cigar smoke drifting,
and I thought that result would happen as well,
if something was here to do the drafting,

such as a small crack from a secret cell.
I didn’t think the killer had left the house,
but he’d hidden himself so very well

that it was like catching the squeak of a mouse.
I feel like William probably observed
Michael use this hidden room in the house,

and, though the butler, himself he served
more truly than members of this sad place.”
“Take these three clear diamonds, richly deserved,

as my thanks for solving this opaque case.
I believe that you redeemed your name as well:
stumbling out the blocks, but winning the race.
Although I’m shocked to hear the tale you tell.”

As to my reputation’s return, only time will tell.
Frost replies. “But I’m not surprised, my green clientele:
I’ve seen worse in the past, more malevolent and fell.
Greed’s a terrible driver, if released from its cell;
it’s a cold-blooded killer, if it’s not thwarted well.
Better a closet in heaven than a kingdom in Hell.”

Restoration of Frost Illustration 2

 

The Ripps Go Fishing
Brutus was a child of ten.
He spat at cats and stabbed dogs with pins.
Mr. Ripps, his father, was a wealthy man
And spoiled him as only true fools can.
So Brutus got whatever he pleased,
Till his teachers wished he’d get diseased.
Now life went on in this unpleasant vein
Till the school year stopped and holidays came.
Then the Ripps flew to the Caribbean sea
To do some fishing and be carefree.
They booked a place on a charter boat
Where the crew were hard enough to cut your throat.
Captain Burner was the toughest of all.
He was harder (and meaner) than a cannonball.
But the Ripps didn’t know this when they booked the trip.
No. Nope. They just liked the captain’s ship.
So the day arrived, and they all set out,
With Brutus asking if they’d catch some trout.
Captain Burner told him, “Alas, my friend, No.
We’re fishing for sailfish and dorado.”
Upon hearing this Brutus stamped and screamed,
And he demanded a cone of his favorite mint ice cream.
“What! There’s none aboard,” Burner said with a frown.
“Now, my child, won’t you please settle down?”
“Hey!” cried Mr. Ripps, “Don’t you talk to my child that way!
I’ll have you know I could buy both your boat and bay!”
Well, Captain Burner scowled, but he wandered off,
While Brutus wept and sneezed and dramatically coughed.
His father patted him gently on the arm
And said that, with him there—well! Brutus could know no harm!
Yet soon they reached the waters deep.
There, they woke Brutus who’d gone to sleep.
They threw in the bait, and they started to troll,
And that’s when Brutus demanded to hold the pole.
The Captain said, “Dear child, sit by.
If a big fish got on while you held that pole—well, you might just die.”
Then, quite unnecessarily, Brutus kicked him on the shin
And laughed and cursed and gave a horrid grin.
Well, the captain yelped and gave a black look,
While Mr. Ripps said, “Attaboy, son! You kick that crook!
Don’t you let the captain tell you not to hold that pole!
You be the fisherman, son; you know your role!”
So Brutus tried to lift the fishing pole out,
But it was as heavy as sin and stuck like grout.
Now when Brutus could not pull the fishing rod free
The unpardonable wretch wailed repulsively.
He screamed, “I hate this fishing, and I hate that man!”
He wept crocodile tears, and he pointed his hand.
“That’s right!” said the father. “Now I’ll make this clear.
I’m the boss of all of you here!
Now get something on that line, and let’s catch some fish!”
“Very well,” nodded the captain grimly, “You’ll get your wish.
We’ll put something on; no need to wait.
I’ll use you and your rotten son as bait!”
And so saying, Captain Burner commenced the dénouement:
He took the Ripps, and he tied them on.
Then he tossed his customers over the hull
And brutally ended that swift battle.
Well, that was incendiary,” Burner said calmly. “Brought up some sparks.
One small change here, my crew, we’ll now fish for sharks!”
And after a loud hurrah and a noisy hurray,
The crew caught two big sharks that day.

 

The Three Magicians – The Amateur Magician
There once was an amateur magician
Whose spell made a common apparition
From a deep, white fog
He brought forth a huge dog
That had not a jot of ambition.

 

The Three Magicians – The Grim Magician
There once was a grim magician
Whose countenance was hard and patrician
He produced a wild storm
And drew forth a skeletal form
That had long ago seen the mortician.

 

The Three Magicians – The Playful Magician
There once was a playful magician
Who brought his happiest ideas to fruition
He’d make rainbows at night
For his children’s delight
And he made the moon sing like a silvery musician.

 

To Make a Bed
She pats the white pillows.
The bed is not her own,
as light carries through tall windows
onto the marital pattern.
From room to room, she straightens
and makes the tattling sheets.
She scrubs and cleans the wash basins;
she dusts the powder room.
Affairs between the man
and wife have gone unknown,
though Sarah sees what goes unsaid
when it comes time to clean:
the way tall waves are made in storms,
the sheets have creases,
unexplainable otherwise,
except through men who forget,
who smooth their wives while leaving creases.
Yet Sarah almost can’t hate this man,
his lust and greed, so far apart
from how she would stand if she were in his stead.
It is as if he is oblivious as a child.
Yet hate him she can. It is not impossible.
Sometimes her hands, as if unwilled,
do rip and tear covers, hurl them quite far,
away from that bed. As if the sheets were masts
in gales at sea, they flap with her strength.
She shakes them, wanting to shake the past
affairs and sins away. One washing isn’t enough.
Through shaking, flapping, the creases go.
Action is best, to calm one’s nerves.
She thinks of him, as she replaces the soap:
out with the old, in with the new.
She scrubs at him in the shower,
with each hard swipe, a bit of grunge is gone.
The lines of black mildew erode
under her strong cleaning.
Her mistress enters, the bright woman,
with hair that rolls and curls on her shoulder
and eyes that flash like a quick bird.
“Are things well, Sarah? How is your day?”
And Sarah, quite near revealing all,
now stops and starts as he walks inside,
filling the room with a presence unwanted.
“Oh yes, Miss,” she breathes.
“Indeed. Everything is well.”
“We’re pleased with you,” Rosalyn says,
her arm snaking around her husband’s.
“You do good work in here and in the rooms.
The beds are made with tight, hard folds—
you have energy in your small bones.”
“Yes, ma’am” says Sarah. “It’s conviction
for jobs done well. One thing I know—
that clean bedrooms can make a mind the same.”
He says, “If it’s the same to you, please leave
my shelves the way they are. I like a mess.
I have my things the way I remember,
and touching them would mean losing them.”
“Yes,” Sarah says. “I understand you.”
“But you do do your job, I think, quite well,”
he continues. “The showers are clean,
the place is dusted, the rooms are neat.
Why, you could hardly tell a person lived here!
Everything dirty washed away!”
Quite cheery, he vanishes, pecking Ros’ cheek.
They wait moments.
She stares at Sarah, woman appraising woman.
Servant and mistress relations quite gone.
“What’s wrong? I see something that’s strange in you.
You know something,” says Rosalyn.
“Something that maids can learn when they do work.
What do you know? Is it about, well, him?
Don’t lie, dear Sarah, the shame is not on you.
But, I… I think I know already. It is an affair.”
She leans against the wall.
Her dress seems weak, heavy:
as if the cloth were thin armor,
as if the pearls were made of lead.
“Is it?” says Rosalyn. “Is there someone he’s known?”
“I hate to say it,” Sarah says. “No, I care little for him—
I mean I hate to hurt you, dear.” She takes Rosalyn’s hand.
Her hand is warm and weak, unlike the girl
that Sarah knows as being strong and fierce.
Every strong heart can break.
“But I don’t mind damaging him. He cares
only a small amount for you, I think.
When washing, I am scrubbing him off you.
I scrub away the day, the night, the times
when he and she make love like animals.
Not like people. Not like humans. Not like couples.
Their love is expensive—too expensive!—
because it costs another. It costs you much, I think.
I pay for it also, a price no one should pay.
Yet I pay not as much as you.”
“Oh!” says Rosalyn. “Is it—oh! No! I don’t care!”
They sit with soundlessness for a long time.
At times, silence can clean a wound, can heal a pain.
They hear him hum, a warm and wild and joyous sound.
It comes from in the hall.
Then he calls her by name, “Oh, Rosalyn! Rosalyn!
Rosalyn! Where, dear, are you?”
She does not speak.
The calling drifts away. Perhaps he went outside.
Perhaps some work is in some need of doing.
Perhaps the lawn is going to be mowed.
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.
All that is important is that the sound is gone.
The joyous hum is gone.
“I must not sit for long,” says Rosalyn.
“I must better him, move on now.
But I don’t know where to begin or how to start.
This dirty, filthy thing is stifling me. What can I do?”
“Here,” Sarah says, handing her a sponge. “I will help you.
First we should rearrange his shelves. We have our tidying to do;
sometimes it does good to clean and work.
Sometimes it does good to erase his memories.
Sometimes.”

 

Torture
Listen! Listen. The voice was once tenor:
now, soprano.
Imagine—yes, and just consider—yesterday he was silent.
Our clips snap tightly, our pliers are handy,
our clamps are unforgiving, our machines
well greased.
Some things are working right around here.

We don’t even have to be too cautious.
As with all open secrets there is a
wink, a nudge to the vacillators, a cold
hard ethical argument to the protestors, and then
the show goes on.
The show must go on.

On the one hand we sit at a round table
and discuss the pros and morals of
torture. This, while people’s
worlds are being unraveled, a skein of
yarn held by a thread, dropped from a
tall building.
The demolition of a sturdy warm home,
tall, distinguished, memories in every cranny.
All that is left is the thread, the
foundation.
The skein, the home, the soul—deconstructed.
It is the metamorphosis of butterfly—
vividly colored, light—into caterpillar.
From caterpillar to cocoon. Cocoon to seed.
It is a human eclipse.
It is a vanishing.

Categories
Poems

To Make a Bed

Agave Magazine, Vol.2 Issue 2 {Fall 2014}
Footprints in the Sand, Lamu Island, Kenya. 2014.

She pats the white pillows.
The bed is not her own,
as light carries through tall windows
onto the marital pattern.
From room to room, she straightens
and makes the tattling sheets.
She scrubs and cleans the wash basins;
she dusts the powder room.
Affairs between the man
and wife have gone unknown,
though Sarah sees what goes unsaid
when it comes time to clean:
the way tall waves are made in storms,
the sheets have creases,
unexplainable otherwise,
except through men who forget,
who smooth their wives while leaving creases.
Yet Sarah almost can’t hate this man,
his lust and greed, so far apart
from how she would stand if she were in his stead.
It is as if he is oblivious as a child.
Yet hate him she can. It is not impossible.
Sometimes her hands, as if unwilled,
do rip and tear covers, hurl them quite far,
away from that bed. As if the sheets were masts
in gales at sea, they flap with her strength.
She shakes them, wanting to shake the past
affairs and sins away. One washing isn’t enough.
Through shaking, flapping, the creases go.
Action is best, to calm one’s nerves.
She thinks of him, as she replaces the soap:
out with the old, in with the new.
She scrubs at him in the shower,
with each hard swipe, a bit of grunge is gone.
The lines of black mildew erode
under her strong cleaning.
Her mistress enters, the bright woman,
with hair that rolls and curls on her shoulder
and eyes that flash like a quick bird.
“Are things well, Sarah? How is your day?”
And Sarah, quite near revealing all,
now stops and starts as he walks inside,
filling the room with a presence unwanted.
“Oh yes, Miss,” she breathes.
“Indeed. Everything is well.”
“We’re pleased with you,” Rosalyn says,
her arm snaking around her husband’s.
“You do good work in here and in the rooms.
The beds are made with tight, hard folds—
you have energy in your small bones.”
“Yes, ma’am” says Sarah. “It’s conviction
for jobs done well. One thing I know—
that clean bedrooms can make a mind the same.”
He says, “If it’s the same to you, please leave
my shelves the way they are. I like a mess.
I have my things the way I remember,
and touching them would mean losing them.”
“Yes,” Sarah says. “I understand you.”
“But you do do your job, I think, quite well,”
he continues. “The showers are clean,
the place is dusted, the rooms are neat.
Why, you could hardly tell a person lived here!
Everything dirty washed away!”
Quite cheery, he vanishes, pecking Ros’ cheek.
They wait moments.
She stares at Sarah, woman appraising woman.
Servant and mistress relations quite gone.
“What’s wrong? I see something that’s strange in you.
You know something,” says Rosalyn.
“Something that maids can learn when they do work.
What do you know? Is it about, well, him?
Don’t lie, dear Sarah, the shame is not on you.
But, I… I think I know already. It is an affair.”
She leans against the wall.
Her dress seems weak, heavy:
as if the cloth were thin armor,
as if the pearls were made of lead.
“Is it?” says Rosalyn. “Is there someone he’s known?”
“I hate to say it,” Sarah says. “No, I care little for him—
I mean I hate to hurt you, dear.” She takes Rosalyn’s hand.
Her hand is warm and weak, unlike the girl
that Sarah knows as being strong and fierce.
Every strong heart can break.
“But I don’t mind damaging him. He cares
only a small amount for you, I think.
When washing, I am scrubbing him off you.
I scrub away the day, the night, the times
when he and she make love like animals.
Not like people. Not like humans. Not like couples.
Their love is expensive—too expensive!—
because it costs another. It costs you much, I think.
I pay for it also, a price no one should pay.
Yet I pay not as much as you.”
“Oh!” says Rosalyn. “Is it—oh! No! I don’t care!”
They sit with soundlessness for a long time.
At times, silence can clean a wound, can heal a pain.
They hear him hum, a warm and wild and joyous sound.
It comes from in the hall.
Then he calls her by name, “Oh, Rosalyn! Rosalyn!
Rosalyn! Where, dear, are you?”
She does not speak.
The calling drifts away. Perhaps he went outside.
Perhaps some work is in some need of doing.
Perhaps the lawn is going to be mowed.
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.
All that is important is that the sound is gone.
The joyous hum is gone.
“I must not sit for long,” says Rosalyn.
“I must better him, move on now.
But I don’t know where to begin or how to start.
This dirty, filthy thing is stifling me. What can I do?”
“Here,” Sarah says, handing her a sponge. “I will help you.
First we should rearrange his shelves. We have our tidying to do;
sometimes it does good to clean and work.
Sometimes it does good to erase his memories.
Sometimes.”

Categories
Poems

Love

Two People in the City

The cities are shaking with the rumble of traffic
It seems like half the birds are missing toes
The sunbeam on her face makes her look seraphic
Laying amongst the bedsheets, wearing no clothes.

It’s a cold water flat and the sink’s always dripping
The winter sun’s horizontal, weak, and cold
There’s snow on the sidewalks, people are slipping,
And it seems that, long ago, the city’s heart was sold.

Then he turns her head, and he kisses her lips
She wraps her arms around him, sees his eyes above;
She spreads her legs and lifts her hips,
And in the cold and lonely city, they fall to making love.

A short time later, and already they’re both old and grey.
That’s just the way time goes, just the way life is.
They grew together and grew their own way
Till not even they knew what was hers and what was his.

Because on that day, all those years ago, they traded hearts.
He gave her his, and she gave him hers,
And he said, “Life is made of new beginnings and old parts,
But what I have you can have, and what is mine is yours.”

And she took what he had, and she gave herself to him.
They gave each other everything; nothing did they save,
Sharing the thoughtful moment, and the slightest whim,
Until there was nothing they could give, that they hadn’t already gave.

Categories
Poems

A Lover’s Rhyme

Frank Dicksee - Romeo and Juliet
Frank Dicksee – Romeo and Juliet

On an autumn morning, chill and fair,
early snow slicks Istanbul’s cobblestones,
baklava scents the Bosphorus air,
and caressing lovers lie as bare as bones.

Leafless branches reticulate the Charles Bridge,
while wind knots the old square’s fog;
crows stare balefully from Saint Vitus’ ridge,
and lovers vanish in the shadows of Prague.

One spring day in the serried Balkans,
where the granite rises in a sagittate spine,
amidst meadows and wildflowers two lovers lie talking,
deaf to the world in the midst of that chine.

Each lover’s story is like a scene in an arras,
woven by hand from Kabul to Paris,
in the dells, the cities, and the lands in between,
where time doesn’t matter in the weave of the scene.

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
Limericks Poems

Sunday Limericks

Here are three strange and funny limericks. One about two young lovers, another about a group of “Pizzanistas,” and a third about a green iguana who smokes marijuana.

Puerto Vallarta Iguana

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.

Categories
Poems

In My World

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In my world,
Anything can be.
In my world,
I’ll be loud and be free.
Or I’ll be quiet and silent,
As soft as a thrush.
I’ll be a man painting nature,
With a soft bristle brush.
Or I’ll be as stealthy and lethal
As a Navy Marine,
Stalking enemies in jungles,
Always moving unseen.
In my world.

In my world,
Anything can be.
I’ll grow and I’ll grow,
Until I’m as big as a tree.
I’ll drive fine cars down the main drag,
And all the people will stare,
Saying, “There goes the one man,
Who has not a care.”
I’ll be Mr. Philanthropic,
I’ll be rich and drink wine.
I’ll help the poor and the needy,
The deaf and the blind.
I’ll cure AIDS and cure cancer
Without breaking a sweat.
I’ll teach the illiterate to read
More than one alphabet.
In my world.

In my world,
Anything can be.
In my world,
I’ll be happy and free.
In my world,
I’ll always be me.

They say, Dreams are for children,
They say, You won’t make it, why try?
They say, The world’s looking hopeless,
Just shut your mouth and get by.
But that’s not how good minds work,
And there many who care;
They’re out there, these good folk,
In fact, they are everywhere!
They’re hiding in plain sight,
In all kinds of clothes,
Some wearing stone jewelry,
Others in high heels and hose!

In our world,
I’ll see them around.
In our world,
No one can trample them down.

It’s a wide world out there,
With room for more views than two.
It’s a wild world, my friend,
And it’s as strange as a zoo!

It’s your world,
My world,
And others’ too.
And in my world, my friend,
there’s always a home for you too.

Categories
Poems

A Whale with a Handlebar Mustache

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Wilbur the whale had a distinguishing feature
That made seem nobler than his fellow sea creatures:
For on his grey face, the good Lord elected to place
A handlebar mustache that made Wilbur look ace!

In all other respects,
Wilbur met the strict specs
That govern how a baleen whale should be built…
But in this one critical facet
He’d been given an asset
Claimed by no other whale of his ilk!

Wilbur became the pod’s greatest star
And lady whales swam in from quite far
To view and admire his whale whiskers.
For it must be admitted,
Amongst even the most jaded of blisters,
That big blonde mustaches don’t often grow on a whale!
Yet Wilbur he had one, and it was a gem,
Bushy in the middle and curled at both ends!
It required no maintenance,
Nor had it ever.
All that it did was make its wearer look clever!

So Wilbur he swam on through the deep seas,
Year after year, as fine as you please.
He grew old, and he wrinkled,
But that mustache never crinkled,
And he stole a thousand lady-whale hearts.
They just couldn’t resist
The chance to be kissed
By a debonair whale with a mustache so fine!
He’d lift up his eyebrows, and he’d kiss their whale cheeks,
And they’d coo, “Oh, that Wilbur’s divine!”

Categories
Poems

The Drive

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She heard the click of the ratchet,
and saw the oil pan, sweat, and the grease.
Heat waves shimmered out over the prairie,
while wind stroked the wheat.
From his back beneath his black ’70 Camaro,
he saw her bronzed, crossed legs swinging.
He tightened the oil plug, came out from under the car,
and filled the reservoir with oil.
He wiped his hands with a red rag, and he felt
her eyes on him.
She was sitting on a lawn chair sipping lemonade,
with the prairie stretched out behind.
She didn’t smile when he looked at her,
but she met his eyes.
He checked the oil level, shut the hood,
and ran the car while he put his tools away.

Want to go for a ride, he said.
Yeah. Where to?
It’s the road that matters, he said,
And what you do while you’re on it.
So you don’t know where you’re going?
I know exactly where I’m going, he said.
I’m going where my heart leads.
She smiled at that, and she got in.

They drove out past the steel pump jacks
into a fairy land of wind farms, where the towers
stood like giants and cast shadows
that bent northeast.
As the stars wheeled up, they stopped roadside
to pick buffalo grass and daisies, then they drove on again.
The moon was a quarter full, and as they swept
through the panhandle, she put her bare feet
up on the dash, and she knotted a daisy necklace.
She put it around her neck, and when he looked over
she was wearing the flower necklace,
and hanging in her ears were silver earrings
shaped like crescent moons.
Although he knew already that he was in love,
He felt it again, and he told her so.

When the night was deep and black, they stopped again,
out there on the pavement, and he put his hand around her waist.
Together they looked up to the stars,
and they made up stories for constellations,
listening to one another, to the cicadas,
and their hearts.

Categories
Stories

Mason the Puppeteer

Mason the Puppeteer is the story of a young man pursuing his dreams and finding the woman that he loves.

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Mr. Bitt worked worked with drills, of which there are, of course, many types. The sort that Mr. Bitt worked with are the type used to make holes and to put screws in things, rather than the military sort which involves training and procedure. He felt that it was a nice, manly profession. Mr. Bitt was very pleased to be in it, and his mind rarely strayed from drills, unless it was to consider the screwdriver, to which the drill is related, and its many applications. Drills were Mr. Bitt’s life.

Mr. Bitt had a single son, whom Mr. Bitt had named Mason, after the masonry bit.

Mason was eighteen years old, and he was tall and rather narrow with a prominent Adam’s apple, and thin black hair that he liked to brush out of his eyes repeatedly. He was a shy, awkward fellow who could have been more popular if he’d thought more about society, or even if he were just a trifle less reticent. But the fact was that he rarely thought companionship, or friends, or anything other than puppets.

Mason was a budding puppeteer. He wanted nothing more in life than to make shows with his puppets. He had started his career early, with sock puppets, when he was a child. He’d drawn faces on them; he would put his hand up the socks, and he’d made the sock puppets talk, as young children sometimes do.

Mr. Bitt was amused, and he thought that this was a passing phase.

Mr. Bitt was wrong.

Mason progressed from sock puppets to paper mâché puppets.

Mr. Bitt frowned a little bit at this development. His son, at this time, was eight years old, and Mr. Bitt thought that he ought to be outside climbing trees.

Mr. Bitt bought Mason a screwdriver, a box of screws, and some wood. He showed Mason how to use them, and he encouraged the boy. It was Mr. Bitt’s plan to make Mason eventually learn to love drills.

Mr. Bitt was pleased when Mason returned with a small section of boards that had been screwed together.

Mr. Bitt was displeased when he learned that the section of boards was the background for Mason’s puppet show.

“Puppets,” Mr. Bitt kindly informed Mason, “Are for weaklings, cowards, and perverts. Do you want to be a weakling, coward, or pervert, son?”

Mason shrugged.

Mr. Bitt frowned quite a lot at this, and he resolved to keep a close eye on his son. After all, he did not want the boy growing up wrong.

As Mason grew up, Mr. Bitt became more and more disturbed by what he saw.

Mason proved not to be interested in drills at all, or even in hammers, nails, or screws. Mason appeared to have few friends. The boy did, however, begin making marionettes.

These puppets-on-strings began to grow in the complexity by which Mason made them. At first, they were rude copies of a complicated, subtle marionette. Soon, however, magazines on puppetry began appearing in the Bitt household, and Mason’s marionettes advanced in sophistication.

Mr. Bitt, treating the puppetry magazines like they were smut, threw them out. Mason responded by procuring more puppetry magazines. These, like dirty magazines, he hid beneath his mattress.

One day, upon discovering that Mason was still reading puppetry magazines and still making marionettes, Mr. Bitt confronted his son.

Mason was sixteen at the time. He was at the age when he could drive.

“Do you want a car, son?” asked Mr. Bitt.

“Not particularly,” said Mason.

“Well how in the world will you get a date?” asked Mr. Bitt. He peered closely at his son. His son had hit his growth spurt, and he was already six feet tall, an inch taller than his father’s five feet, eleven inches.

“I don’t want a date, Dad.”

Mr. Bitt was staggered.

“Well what do you want?”

“More puppets. To be a puppeteer.”

At this response, Mr. Bitt drew himself up to his full height. He stalked from the room. His face was as red as a beet. He entered his son’s room, and he began tearing up all the puppets that Mason had made, one after another after another after another. He tore them all to pieces, shouting and yelling that he would not have a pervert or a weakling or a coward for a son.

Mason watched in horror from the doorway.

The next morning, when Mason got up to school, there was a brand new cordless drill standing on the kitchen table in the place where Mason liked to sit. Mason pulled the trigger on the drill. The drill whined. Mason took the battery out of the drill. He pulled the trigger again. The drill did nothing.

“What am I supposed to do with this?” asked Mason.

“Well, first you put the battery back in,” said his father.

“No, thanks,” said Mason.

When Mason turned eighteen, he was still playing with puppets, and his father, who could think of nothing better to do with him, sent him to the military.

“I’d like to speak with the drill sergeant,” said Mr. Bitt.

A drill sergeant was procured.

“Drill my son,” said Mr. Bitt. “His name’s Mason. Drill him and drill him and drill him! That’s what the boy needs! A good drill sergeant!”

“Yes sir,” shouted the drill sergeant. “I will!”

The drill sergeant drilled Mason and the rest of the troops mercilessly.

There are many things that a military is well known for, but puppetry is not one of them. There were very few opportunities to practice puppetry while Mason was in the military. Two years later, however, he was honorably discharged.

And it so happened that when he got out, Mason was still very much interested in puppetry.

He moved to San Francisco.

He bought a few puppets, and he began to play shows.

As it happened, children loved his shows.

He did a puppet show of a tiger, a witch, and a polar bear. In these shows, the witch had enchanted the polar bear and turned the bear into a tiger. But all that the polar bear wanted was a life without stripes.

The play proved very popular. It proved so popular that a local television station asked Mason to audition for a half hour slot.

Mason appeared at the audition, and he was awkward and shy until he began to play with his puppets. Then his more confident side came out. For each of the different characters, he spoke in a different strong but authoritative voice. The pace of his play moved swiftly. His characters he imbued with qualities of humor, laughter, and love, and the plot entangled them in circumstances tragic and dire.

“My heavens,” said the local T.V. manager. “What is this? What do we have here?”

He was frowning in surprise. Mason’s play was not just good, it was great.

At the end of the audition, goosebumps rose on everyone’s skin. It was an extraordinary surprise. The performance was auspiciously good.

“I’ve never seen anything like that,” said the TV manager. “Can you do that again?”

“I can,” said Mason. When he put the puppets away, he looked shy and timid. He glanced down at his feet. He was six feet four inches tall by this time, and he towered over everyone in the room. Still, he was as thin as a scarecrow, and his time in the military had made him more diffident rather than less so.

“Well,” said the manager. “Somebody sign this guy up.”

Just like that, Mason thought, his dreams had come true. People were going to pay him—pay him!—to do puppetry. It was like getting paid to play a game.

He marveled at his good fortune.

In addition to puppets, Mason liked french pastries. It so happened that, as he left the audition, he was walking down the road, reveling in his good fortune, when he passed a French pastry shop.

It’s a common thread among humans that, when they’re celebrating a stroke of good fortune, they often go for something to eat or drink, and Mason was no different. He pushed open the door of the pastry shop.

Inside the pastry shop, it was like another world. The sweet smell of croissants, the savory scent of fresh baked bread, and the creamy fragrance of a thick bisque wafted through the room. Mason felt that he was in heaven.

Behind the counter was a young woman with sparkling eyes. Her name tag said Eloise. She had long black hair and delicate hands, and she and Mason were the only two people in the entire pastry shop.

“May I help you?” she asked. She had an extraordinarily pretty smile.

“Yes,” said Mason. And just like that, he felt himself, for the very first time, anxious to try to impress. He felt, for a moment, his timidity wash away. “I have just gotten a job,” he said boldly. “As a puppeteer for a TV station.”

“Oh,” she said. “Congratulations.”

“Thank you,” said Mason. “Would you like to be married?”

“Married?” she said. Her face turned pink. “I mean, I don’t know. I suppose so. I mean, maybe one day. Would you like a…” She lost her train of thought, then she regained it. “Would you like a soup?” Then she added very hurriedly, “Or would you like some bread? We have excellent bread.”

“Would you like to go on a date with me?” asked Mason. He smiled at her.

“I… I don’t even know your name,” the girl said.

“I’m Mason,” he said. “You must be Eloise.”

“How did you know that?” asked the girl. Then she blushed. “Oh, it must be on my name tag.”

“Would you like to go out with me?” said Mason.

Then the girl appraised him.

Mason smiled again at her. He smiled in what he believed was his most winning and hopeful way.

Eloise smiled back.

“You can pick me up at seven,” she said. “On the corner of Fillmore and Pine.”

“Okay,” he said happily. “I will. We can go where ever you want.”

He got a bread and a bisque, and while he ate they spoke. It was a quiet day, and only one other customer came in to interrupt them. The customer got his food to go. When Mason finished his bread and bisque, he ordered a crème brûlée and a coffee. As he ate, his spoon sometimes tapped against the white ceramic. Their voices warmed the air. He felt heavenly. By the time that Mason was ready to go, both he and Eloise thought that they might be talking to a person whom they could fall in love with.

He picked up Eloise that night at seven o’clock sharp. She was wearing a white wool coat and pink shoes. She wanted to go to a seafood restaurant, so he took her to one. He’d never eaten at a seafood restaurant before, and, still riding his wave of courage, he ordered a fish whose name he’d never heard of. He watched in fascination as Eloise cracked open her lobster and ate it. The lobster cracking seemed so complicated.

They spoke for the entire time, and he was relieved to discover that she did not view puppetry as a career exclusively for weaklings, cowards, or perverts.

She wanted to become a pastry chef when she was older and own a restaurant of her own.

At the end of the night, she said she’d like to see him again. He was thrilled.

Four years later, Mason married Eloise. He invited his father to the wedding, but Mr. Bitt declined to attend.

Within the year, Eloise took a job in Paris at the Ladureée Paris Champs Elysées. Mason joined her. They packed their belongings. They bought a plane ticket. Mason saw the Eiffel Tower, and he learned to speak French. They got a small room on the outskirts of Paris, and Eloise worked long hours while Mason looked around for a puppeteering job. When he finally found one, his work was treated as a unqualified success. It became more popular than Belle and Sebastian. Mason became very wealthy, and children from all over the world wrote him letters. He responded to as many as he could. Over the years, Mason and Eloise grew warmer and closer to one another. One day Mason got a telephone call from America saying that his father died, and Mason wept. He went to the funeral, and he left drill bits on his grave, a gift that he thought his father would like. More years passed, and Eloise retired, then Mason did too. They were an extraordinary couple, people often remarked. Simply extraordinary. People looked at them, at Mason and Eloise, and they would say that they’d never, in all their lives, seen two people who could look any happier together.

 

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.