Above the gorge, listening

Here is a silence
to humble anyone.
To confound the roar
of a restless mind.

In time, you learn
to cast that noise
into the chasm,
along with your fear.

To keep your distance
from the yearning edge.
Observe the millennia.
Let your cells respire.

Far below in the canyon,
the Rio rushes unheard
and no wind whispers
in the furnace heat.

One sound only
drags its brush across
the canvas of space:
a raven’s graw.

I’ve been missing New Mexico desperately through much of this year. (That top shot is from Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, about 50 miles from Taos.) And if you’ve never heard a raven before, here, listen. They most definitely do not caw.

Excerpt from Book Two

It occurred to me that I could actually share what I’m working on for NaNoWriMo. As I mentioned, this is the second book of To Tune the Beast (title undecided) and yes you’re at a disadvantage reading this excerpt unless you’ve critiqued/edited parts of the first book (which is about 3/4 finished). But it’s still a good glimpse, and if nothing else, proof that I really am writing — just not here!

“Cub,” the old man says in a distant tone, beckoning me to his side at the window with an air of disbelief. “We have company.”

What I see through the glass makes me gasp, wild hope pounding in my chest. It is Perfidy racing down the road toward us with all the velocity of the day he and Chalcy delivered our commission from Garanat. But today, to my instant dismay, the joffy is riderless.

In a cold sweat, I bolt out the door and find Fortune, inescapably curious, already waiting to greet our visitor. Perfidy slows and gives the cobalt joffy one of his long stretching bows, which she finds more amusing than I do.

“What’s happened? Is she alright? What are you doing here?”

Perfidy’s admonishing “Tsk, tsk” is followed by a grin. One does not interrogate a joffy with any serious expectation of answers. But this time, I’m obliged.

“Be at ease. Beloved is perfectly safe. Not particularly happy, but safe. And as for me, I am here partly at her request, but mostly on my own initiative. I’m going with you.”

“With me.” I study him skeptically, then point toward the mountains. “Up there?”

“Of course. Were you planning to walk?”

My head is starting to throb again. “I don’t know. I suppose I was going to ride the bike as far as I could; I can’t imagine Fortune parting that long from the Master. Honestly I really haven’t much of a plan just yet. Beyond the fact that Voro Martel has agreed to go with me as well.”

I use the pseudonym more out of habit than dishonesty. And I have no idea if Tsavor Marl’s fame (or infamy) even extends beyond the Tuners’ Guild. I’ll catch Perfidy up on the history whenever I get the opportunity.

“He travels by Horse, though. That will be awkward. She seems to be terrified of Fortune.”

“They’re among our contracted prey,” Perfidy acknowledges, a little wistfully. “But you have my word that she’ll be safe from me. Consider that part of our personal Contract, Half-Raven.”

It hurts, exquisitely, to hear a name that wouldn’t exist without her. Tears prick my eyes. I push us on.

“Yes, what are the general terms of this temporary partnership? Traditionally, I would provide you food and shelter, but I can definitely guarantee you won’t receive what you’re accustomed to at the Keep.”

“Before Beloved, I was accustomed to far less.” He exchanges a meaningful glance with Fortune, whose head bobs in acknowledgement. “Shelter is where you find it. And I’m prepared to hunt for my sustenance. With one exception: cornbread. You make very good cornbread, so I will have a portion of all cornbread prepared on this expedition.”

The memory of the joffy’s enjoyment of the one thing I can reliably cook in this world takes some of the chill and the strangeness out of the morning. But cooking is one more aspect of the impending journey to which I have not given much thought, beyond the fact that the Master included it among Tsvaor Marl’s many hidden talents. I presume that these supplies are among the ones the man is busy gathering at this moment.

“Fair enough,” I say. “What else?”

“Nothing more. Oh, except the binding.”

This does not sound to me like something which could be easily confused with nothing more. I am doubly wary when Fortune chooses this moment to return to the shade of her shelter. Her golden eyes gleam at me from within the shadows.

“Binding.”

“Yes. Partners must be bound, regardless of the duration of the physical association. I’m afraid the connection is permanent, until another partnership, another binding, replaces it. It will be interesting; I’ve never been bound to two humans before. Beloved is quite excited for it, because theoretically, it will create a bridge. No guarantees on that; I did not want to bring it before the Collective. She gave me a message for you, in case we’re mistaken, but she’s hopeful that she can communicate it to you directly. Now would not be the ideal time for that, though; you should wait until noon, when Garanat is sleeping.”

Longing seizes me, shoves all misgiving out of my head, erases the dark foreboding of the connection is permanent. What wouldn’t I sacrifice for this bridge? The prospect of having her near – as near as we’ve ever been Alterside.

“What must I do, to bond with you?”

Perfidy’s smile is a waxing, serrated crescent moon.

“Bleed,” he replies. “Your blood and mine must mingle. But it needn’t be dramatic. I bite you, and myself, and the wounds… communicate.”

“As simple as that.”

I study the joffy’s fangs with a detail I’ve never had cause to before. They seem to sharpen in response. I shrug my left arm out of my coat. Roll up the sleeve to bare my forearm. Treated properly with ash, this could add to my pattern of penalty scars – or begin a new one. The idea excites me, the unpredictability of the marks. The anticipation of an as-yet unexperienced pain. Perfidy’s amusement is edged with curiosity as he considers my goose-pimpled flesh.

“Beloved was not so eager for this part,” he remarks, spurring a new thought.

“Where did you bite her?”

“There, but on her other arm.”

Of course she too would choose her non-dominant side. I’m pleased with this symmetry.

“That’s perfect then,” I say. “Do it.”

It happens startlingly fast, too fast to properly experience the sensation. My heart hammers all the way up into my throat, echoing in my ears, as I reel with the primal shock of attack. A breathless moment that I know intimately – that’s almost come to define me – hangs between the blossoming of my blood and the eruption of pain. Perfidy takes only a beat to acknowledge it before sinking his teeth into his own shoulder.

“Now,” he growls through crimson teeth, and I jump to obey. The wound is difficult to see in the blackness of his coat, but I press my arm hard against the place where his blood gleams like ink. The little spines of his pelt make a delicate chord – Na Minor… no, Minor Sixth – as they rub painfully against my broken skin.

I have no expectations for this binding. I open myself to anything. And what fills me… is everything.

Running, racing. All landscape blurred, suborned to movement, to speed. I am the wind, wild and sharp and laughing, devouring the earth under my paws. Music spills from the sky like rain – Chalcy’s music, hard and loud and alive. Chasing, blind with hunger. Lust. Tasting her spice and honey. Plunging my teeth through fur and hide and muscle and splintering bone. The rush of hot copper in my mouth. The free-fall of orgasm. Diving into water, washing off blood, shaking stars from my pelt. Her, the moon and sun above me. Her, threading through my hair, Perfidy’s coat, our limbs, like roots, grounding us, growing through us. Her, everywhere.

“It’s done. Master Kalekai, your timing is excellent. She’s about to faint.”

“No,” I say – or I think I do. My tongue is a ball of yarn.

My vision swims. My whole body trembles, like some newly born creature. I’m falling, very slowly, and the Master’s warm, strong arms gather me – like a feather mattress rising up to meet me.

“It’s all right, cub,” I hear him say. “Everyone does.”

I should note that my cat, Claudio, has inspired quite a bit about Perfidy, including his passion for cornbread. Sadly, I lost the video I once had of him demolishing a cornbread muffin. Guess I’ll have to bake some more and share the proof later. Anyway, it’s pretty much inevitable that he’ll work himself in anywhere he can…

The Midnight Sun / As the World Burns

I’m pleased to share that my poem “The Midnight Sun” was published in the Indie Blu(e) Publishing anthology As the World Burns: Writers and Artists Reflect on a World Gone Mad. Thanks to those of you who provided valuable feedback for the final draft. It’s wonderful to see many of your works in this collection! (For a full list with links to the authors, see The Feathered Sleep’s comprehensive post here.) This is the first poem I’ve had published in print since I was sixteen, so I’m grateful to my sister from another mother, Candice, for inviting me to submit something at a time when disability, and just the daily trauma of living through this era, so often gets in the way of my creativity. It is a tremendous collection, and I hope you purchase a copy, particularly if you support the Black Lives Matter movement (50% of the royalties, once they reach their break-even point, will go to BLM-centered organizations).

It has been an interesting time since my last post of substance. A few weeks ago, in preparation for a likely decision to retire with disability in April rather than being laid off from my job May 1 (a stay of execution from the original date of Jan. 31), I went through a neuropsychological evaluation for the first time. (Sidenote: the tests totaled more than $4,000 in my case; if you ever need one of these, you might want to make sure your insurance will cover it before you go. I have yet to see the final bill.) The results, which I was given immediately, revealed one surprise and one thing I knew already — which was largely responsible for my plan to retire.

The surprise was that my memory is better than I thought; in remembering lists of words, recall was apparently off the charts. I scored lower, though, on my ability to come up with words on my own, and that was telling. But my complex problem solving ability, especially when fatigued (and I was plenty fatigued after the second hour) was well below average — or average for me, as the neuropsychologist explained. The ultimate conclusion was that if I could manage my fatigue, and my quality of sleep, and my depression, I might do better at work, for as long as I need to, but all in all I’m in pretty classic company with all the other MSers out there who leave the workforce because of cognitive dysfunction.

So here I am on my second week of Amantadine. I think it’s working, but not to manage the symptom it’s supposed to. Oddly, for an anti-fatigue medicine, it’s improving my sleep. (In fact, one of its more hilarious/terrifying potential side effects appears to be falling asleep suddenly, in the midst of any activity.) I usually can’t get through a night without waking up after a few hours and my brain going into panic overdrive, but with the exception of one rough night after an especially brutal day, I’ve actually been sleeping soundly. So, one piece of the puzzle at least is in place. The rest, I guess we keep working on.

Hopefully I’ll be able to shake some new poetry out of my brain to post here in the coming weeks. I’m also doing #NaNoWriMo this month, trying to bang out as much as possible out of the sequel to “The Beast” before finishing Book 1 this winter. (If they are in fact two books; that remains to be seen.) I hope you are all keeping sane, and healthy, and celebrating every little triumph of reason and love over madness and intolerance that the world delivers.

Short Story: “Jackie Wilson Said”

I am still not in a state to post new creative things or even (some days) full sentences. But I’m seeing and thinking of Bear R. Humphreys, Kerfe & Nina @memadtoo, Marcy Erb, Pleasant Street, Sarah Potter (! how did I miss finding you again?), Quiall/Butterfly Sand (! same question?), Robert Okaji, Sister Madly, The Feathered Sleep, and trE/A Cornered Gurl as I reblog this cautionary short story from the mother site posted about this time in 2016.

Graciously, this dystopia passes us by… until the next time. Tonight, my friends, be joyous. We’ll be vigilant on the morrow.

Fairy of Disenchantment

It started before all the social media went to 12-hour ‘fresh feeds’, but I know it’s important somehow, that change.  Every post, every chat, then every text on our phones gone overnight.  It was liberating, at first, not to be burdened by all the stupid things you said the day before.  Our lives felt streamlined, purified.  But I want you to try to remember when it really started to change, when you could no longer be sure of what was said, or what was even true anymore? You can’t, can you, sis? If you could recall, could you trace it to any one day, one event, the act of one individual? I don’t think so. Remember that day I texted you about the farmer’s market and my clumsy attempt at ‘asparagus’ autocorrected to ‘spearheads’? This goes deep.

I’m afraid to ask you questions, Nina, even in a letter. You’ve noticed…

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It was her, all along

The plant that is growing over the Elsewhere Throne has been known to me now for some time: Rhus typhina, the Staghorn (or Velvet) Sumac. When I was close enough to the naked branches this spring, it was clear to me how it came by both its Latin and English common names, evoking the velvet of deer antlers. Now, with autumn in full swing in my neighborhood, I look hopefully for a few buds that will flower into those classic Dr. Seussian crimson clusters.

Perhaps you are rushing things, Jian Qing.

“Yes,” I say, admiring the play of light over the subtly reddening leaves, “perhaps I am rushing…”

My mouth snaps closed. I peer sharply through the dappled shadows concealing the abandoned chair’s tattered seat. Jian Qing (簡晴) is my Chinese name, given to me by a Taiwanese friend almost thirty years ago when I was a Linguistics major studying Mandarin. (The characters mean Simplicity and Clarity.) It is also a name I have heard spoken by only one person in the last few years… and she is not mortal. The forms of Disenchantment are myriad, but I have often seen her take no shape at all but sunshine. Few things, for an alter ego, would be more suitable.

“Jing Huan Xian?”

Oh! So formal… Disenchantment smiles in her incorporeal way, a brightening that I feel down to my marrow. It takes a great deal of self-restraint not to hurl myself into the chair and immerse myself in that long-lost warmth and light. I don’t want to crush the sumac.

“D. you are killing me. Have you been here all along?”

Theoretically. You, on the other hand, have been elsewhere for a long time.

“I’ve been dead, D. I died — the last time — in February of 2019, was reborn as someone I’m not, and now they’re going to kill me again on January 31, with a stake through the heart this time, and you know what? I am actually elated about it. Terrified, but elated. I’ve been having a lot of conversations.”

I know, the Fairy of Disenchantment replies quietly. Are you okay talking to me in the middle of the sidewalk, or should we go home?

Laughing, I turn on my heel and head back up the hill to my house. I have Angélique Kidjo’s version of the Talking Heads’ Remain in Light still playing on my headphones: Tin guidi guidi guidi tingui tingui, Zo yéli yéliShe is only partly human being… She describes the possibilities… The light follows me up the hill.

I have indeed been talking to a lot of people lately, most helpfully at my local Aging and Disability Resource Center. There are a few missing pieces of data from my employer’s benefits office, but the way I’m seeing things now, going on disability is actually looking like a viable possibility.

It seems like a perfect time for a certain someone to come back into my life. You will find that other blog here: Fairy of Disenchantment (Apologies for all the missing image links; I’m slowly working on replacing everything lost in the WordPress export…)

There Now; I’m Here

You must build a routine,
is what they say,
if you plan to survive this
and so I’ve studied you,
master of circumscribed wildness,
and the dark secret places you find
to gather your squandered power,
and the way you emerge
wringing sleep from your body
(it takes longer than it used to)
and stare at this door until it opens
and stare again from the other side,
when after an hour of exploring,
and checking empty traps,
you will tolerate what passes
for meat among the low-level
predators who shelter you,
and most particularly
I note the company you choose:
this caretaker or the other,
the one with the warmest lap
or the one whose claws reach
the places yours can’t.
Or the one most in need
of that single touch that says
There now; I’m here.

………
I’ve often said that I’m modeling my life philosophy after my cat’s — and not just any cat’s; call it Claudioism — but if I ever wrote a poem about it, I’ve forgotten it. My understanding of the basic precepts have definitely gotten a workout in recent months, and they will in the coming ones for certain, particularly now that I will be out of a job Jan. 31 and will be spending the interim scouring Indeed.com for a suitable new profession.

I don’t think I’ve held back here on the subject of how deeply I despise the organization I currently work for, so it’s largely a blessing. But for all its faults, the program I managed (which is also being cut) was a good one, with a measurable impact on my community, and I was good at it, and it will be a challenge to find any employer willing to take me for the hours I can work (80% is the best I can do with MS, and even that’s a stretch). At least the pandemic has had positive effects on people’s general acceptance of working remotely; I might get lucky there. And actually, I might get lucky in other ways. I could actually succeed in persuading some other entity to take on my whole program (and in an even more perfect scenario, my whole team). I’m not quite to the “acceptance” phase of this prognosis.

In the meantime, I follow Claudio’s lead. And since I always close with some music or other, I’ll choose one of his favorite songs, Chopin’s Nocturne in D-flat Major, Op. 27 No. 2. (He loves this whole album, but I have to turn down the applause.)

The Wormhole in the Lindens

Since I’ve been too preoccupied with life lately to spend time here on WordPress (how busy and creative y’all have been!) and have continued to struggle with content that’s up to my all-but-unattainable standards, here is a post from my erstwhile blog, Fairy of Disenchantment, which I have been missing a lot lately. It does still exist, hidden away, though the export broke all the associated image files. It would be work to revive it, but sometimes I think I’d enjoy hanging out there instead of this new space. It was a good blog… And the Fairy was a good friend…

Anyway, the post was written around my birthday five years ago and still feels relevant except that the lindens this year don’t seem to be flowering at the same time and currently the scent is quite subtle. Hopefully in another week I will be gloriously overwhelmed.

Many scents are portals, but in summer, the heat sketches so many of them into the air that I’m damned if I don’t pass through a hundred places just traversing seven city blocks.  Crossing a steaming parking lot, the tarmac almost fluid under my feet, I pass through cities from Athens to Phoenix, with a short stop at the Dane County Fair.  Before heat became my mortal enemy, I loved it unconditionally, as one might expect of anyone who was born on the summer solstice.  I imagine that even in that first season, while my ears were full of the music and laughter and chatter of birds, insects, and my family, the chemical language of all living things that thrive at high temperatures was penetrating my senses.  And the aroma that’s worked its way deepest into my into psyche — that says, irrefutably, this is the start of your season — belongs to the linden tree.

I’m a little surprised that it took me 43 years to realize that linden blossoms are olfactory wormholes in space/time.  I know I’ve always loved these trees, though I didn’t always live right next to one.  It was certainly the only saving grace of the house we last lived in (though we cursed the sap and feathery seedpods it dropped on our car).  Now, I have to walk a few blocks, but at the bottom of our street, there is a convocation of about ten of them, and when I turned the corner the other day, their scent in the air hit me like a Mahler symphony — specifically, the Third, which belongs to summer.  That was my first stop.  My second was Mahler’s city, Vienna — where I have persisted in believing that the hotel my parents and I stayed in when I was a teenager — and where I tasted my first Pilsner Urquell and my first Hasenrücken and Spätzle — was called “Die Drei Linden”.  In fact, this hotel was in Nürnberg, Germany (West Germany, then), where I discovered I was madly in love with a centuries-dead artist named Albrecht Dürer, who inspired a sculpture by Jürgen Görtz that I found delightfully horrible.  Ten years later, when I was studying for a month at the Goethe-Institut in München, I’d jump a train and go back to that spot, fleeing from a crazy landlady with electric blue eyeliner — only to find that in the summer (it’d been spring the first time I went) the city arguably resembles that statue of Der Hase with tourists pushing like little rabbits out of their overgrown hutch…  I ended up retreating to the peace of München’s many pleasant parks and ended the day, somehow, with an Afghanistani boyfriend — so it was one of those days.

You might think that was the last of my destinations but oh no, because thinking about any of that time — when my father worked a customer service job for United Airlines that no sane person would perform without substantial travel benefits — takes me a hundred places, on three continents and several islands.  Only this time, I didn’t have to fly stand-by or sleep in any airports, though truthfully, I never minded that part; I’m German and it just wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t suffer, especially for a privilege I didn’t earn.  (Incidentally, Father’s Day and my birthday coincide every 7 years; there’s no card or t-shirt or CD that could repay him for even one of those trips.)  In the end, and inevitably, my whirlwind tour left me with a crushing nostalgia.  Many people think that the origin of the word nostalgia is Russian; it’s actually a compound of Greek words, but that didn’t stop me from thinking of Russia as I passed under the lindens.

I’ve never been there, except through music. But there’s a tune I first heard when I was 20, on a great album of Russian folk songs sung by Dmitiri Hvorostovsky, called “The Lime Tree.”  Something about the play of light in the leaves and the scent and the sound evoked that recording, and of course I went home and listened to it instantly, and was satisfied.  I had no notion, though, until I started looking up other versions of the song, that ‘lime’ is just another name for ‘linden’.

But either all this virtual travel has tired me out a little, or I’m still a bit hungover from the longest day of the year.  So I think I’ll close now with a nice video of the song, performed by a classic Russian folk orchestra.  If you haven’t yet passed through your own summer portal, linden or otherwise, bon voyage!  Send me a postcard.

The elsewhere throne

Apparently we are about to enter the ninth week of our ‘sheltering in place’. Nine is nothing, my inner Persephone says breezily as we make our way to the coffee shop for the weekly curbside pickup. I can do that on my head. I decide that, the older I get, the more I like her company — maybe the most of a lifetime of invisible friends. If you carry a piece of winter with you always, the next deprivation never takes you by surprise.

I hold a secret hope that last night was the last killing frost, but this being Wisconsin, I don’t bank on it. I’ve seen our lilac bushes laden with snow, this time of year, though this at least doesn’t seem likely as the lilacs are late in budding. This after our magnolia bloomed weeks early, for whatever reason. Every flowering thing on our path today seems to be following its own eccentric schedule, which seems like good advice.

Our route is equally random, usually driven by avoiding other people (though I continue to be ludicrously happy when someone actually sends a smile or a greeting across the distance). But we make sure we pass one house, and one yard, and one thing in particular, just to assure ourselves that it’s still there, and to see how it might have changed.

I’m convinced it’s a throne, in another place and time.

IMG_0241

Or it’s art, or it’s simply something abandoned in an unconsciously artful way, next to a pot that once grew something intentional, or perhaps still does, augmented by weeds. Having just finished The Overstory (seriously worth the effort, especially during such a time), I respond fervently to any green thing that’s allowed to grow wild.

You know you want to sit on that, Persephone smirks, but I never will. Or not yet. It doesn’t feel like mine. For one thing, it’s not near enough to the sidewalk to convey an open invitation; I would probably be trespassing. I’ve never seen the people who live in the house, and can’t vouch for their forbearance of neighbors with fey compulsions. In fact, I’m not sure anyone lives there at all. But all that aside, I’m also convinced that this really is a throne in another place and time — possibly Faery itself — and what sort of thing am I getting myself into if I set myself down on it? Persephone agrees, ultimately, that this is a healthy apprehension. Not all kingdoms are the kind you’d actually want to rule.

There are days, of course, when I think just about any world would be an improvement over this one. But for now, I bide my time. For one thing, I’m curious about the shrub that just might be budding beside the throne, in this world. I can identify more plants and trees than most people, thanks to a whole family of gardeners, but this one in its naked, brutally-pruned state eludes me. I’ll come back and show you when and if it blooms.

I leave you now with my favorite illustration of why one should be cautious touching inviting-looking objects with fae origins. (Also because my mate Martin fucking hates Radiohead and this, in his view, is the best thing that could ever happen to Thom Yorke. ^_^)

Intermission

Like only 80% of the world right now, I miss going to the movies. Or more specifically, “me ‘n’ my baby” are keenly feeling the lack. All of the best films that I’ve seen in the last 7 years have been in her company. Right now, we’re separately binging on The Untamed on Netflix and texting during scheduled must-not-miss episodes. It is a travesty of the sacred covenant of the movie theater. Post-pandemic, I keep my wishes even more than usually modest, so when the current crisis finally abates and we’re free to venture out again into the embracing, illusion-laced dark, we will go see anything, and stay all goddamn day.

That is all. Except I will never miss any opportunity, ever, to invoke Olu Dara. I hope he is well and safe, and so are you.

Sisyphe aux dents de loup

Mexican_Wolf_2_yfb-edit_1

Mexican wolf, the most endangered gray wolf in North America, photographed by Jim Clark (via Wikimedia Commons)

Sisyphe aux dents de loup

I persist in this struggle to baffle you,
sculptors of what should not be borne,
yet is shouldered, somehow, every day.

Il faut imaginer Sisyphe heureux,
said the Bodhisattva of the Absurd,
my protector in this ceaseless labor.

There is no end to this but the end,
and no reward. I am godless and free,
a body through which all light passes.

I could let this go, fill my pockets with
enough rubble from the ruined city,
walk into the arms of the waiting lake.

You could never withstand it, this life
you have never lived. And this alone
is enough to strengthen my back.

I grit my teeth again, in a lupine smile,
like all wild things once thought beaten,
returning time and again to diminish you.

…..

I’m grateful to my friend Candice Louisa Daquin for penning a poem in which the line appeared, “How are you today? I am finding ways to end my life.” It’s taboo in our society to talk openly about suicide. Personally, my life without the thought of it on a fairly regular basis would be… bizarrely hopeless. Those of you who actually get that, you’re my kind of people. May we all find what we need to fight another day.

A little Andrew Bird to go out on. The fumble in the intro is perfect, I think; wabi-sabi in action.