Plain Bird

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Before the first Wodaabe man painted his face
and brightened his teeth and danced in place,
before the first Himba woman wore butterfat and ocher
and collared herself in beads and a copper choker,
before the first Maasai man tamed cattle for his own good
and the first Maasai girl was cut along her womanhood,
before the first Dinka child was inscribed on his head
with the scars of maturity, silent as he bled,
before the Mursi and the Suri extended their lips
with plates to ward off slavers and their slave ships
there was a young girl, Amina, whom her tribe named
“Plain Bird” since she was so plain, and, so, ashamed
since her older sister was both beautiful and envied
attracting a man that was handsome and of a rare breed;
a man not a man, a carnal creature of two appetites,
a kishi, a hyena-man, a man who loves with bites.

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Amina’s older sister.

Amina saw his true face beneath the mask he wore,
yet no one believed her; not even her parents, anymore.
So she left her tribe, trying to follow her sister abroad,
traveling far from her home, and her tribal god.
But she became lost, losing sight of the hyena-man
as he sprinted on all fours, losing her behindhand.

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A kishi in his true form.

In the jungle she found herself, alone and weeping,
sitting down in the heart of the trees, tired then sleeping
and dreaming of a horrible creature that was huge and green
and towered above her, its body pudgy and obscene.
The creature was the Jungle, known as the Fanged Womb,
the Many-Mouthed Mother, the Birthing Tomb,
and the Jungle told Amina the means of her reckoning
that awaited her in the mountains, thereafter beckoning
her to wake up and to venture forth to find her Fate
in the Sky Lands, where even Death must wait.

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The Fanged Womb, The Many-Mouthed Mother, The Jungle

Feeling hopeless, Amina traveled across the African plains,
and was joined by a man who seemed addled in his brains.
He was tall and slender and had hair split in two—
one side red, one side black; his name, he said, was Eshu,
and he spoke to Amina as he would have a long lost friend,
teasing her with secrets about the world, and its End.
“I am a god of words,” he said, “of quarrels, and of Crossroads.
I am a messenger for the gods, of myriad names and many molds.”

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Eshu, the messenger god; god of words, quarrels, and Crossroads

He escorted her to the gigantic mountain’s base
while above them little pygmy cherubim flew, keeping apace.
No animals bothered, or even seemed to see them, as they went;
neither lion or hyena or cheetah or rhino or elephant.
When they reached the mountain, Eshu bowed very low,
his strangely long sleeves swishing to and fro.
“I will see you again, my love,” he said with a mischievous smile,
then danced away as the wind—across the savanna, mile to mile.
Turning to the mountain, Amina climbed for days to the summit,
all the while trying not to think of how she might fall and plummet.
At length, she found an old woman sitting by a little fire—
she was bald, long-limbed, like Amina, and judging by her
scars and tattoos she was a witch of immense power.
She said, “What brings you here, my little savanna flower?”
“I want revenge,” Amina said, “against the kishi creatures
that come to beautiful women while wearing the features
of handsome men, seducing and devouring innocence.”
The witch laughed. “But whose fault is it if women lack the sense
to know a bloody trick being played upon them, my dear?
Do you blame the lion because gazelles do not heed fear?”
Amina became angry and blew out the woman’s flame,
and the witch grinned like the Jungle, baring fangs just the same;
only her skin was not green, but was instead darkly browned—
brown like the rocks of the mountain, strewn all around.
She grew tall, and vast, as big as a mountain peak
and she looked down upon Amina, and thus did she speak:
“You are bold,” she said, “but you will need to be bolder still
if you wish to kill the kishi in their faraway hill.
But I will teach you, dearest, since you have a great destiny,
though I fear it will be bloody—very bloody— and not bless many.”

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The Hag Of the Mountain

And so the Hag of the Mountain taught Amina spells
and, more importantly, told her many of the Creation Tales,
and, unlike her tribe, Amina did not adorn herself in any way,
for that attracted the Hyena Men, the kishi, to their prey.
Amina learned to dance along the scales of a crocodile’s back
and to run on all fours, barking, among a wild dog pack,
and to sneak, unseen, amidst a flock of flighty flamingo birds
and to run headlong against stampeding wildebeest herds.
She learned blood magic, too, and how to listen to the wind,
and how to make fetishes so death would not be the end,
for she died many times in her trials and during each test
and the clay figures died in her stead so she could continue her quest.
And then there came a day when she went out upon the plains
and dressed herself up, ringing her neck with copper chains
and painting her face and looping the lobe of each ear
and dancing in the moonlight, shaking her hips with a leer.
A kishi came, as expected, and Amina invited him to dance
then wounded him with her spear, taking that lucky chance
to follow him as he fled back to his clan’s den,
running too swiftly now to ever lose her way again.
She came to the hill where women were enslaved
and killed all of the kishi, so that the women were saved,
but her sister was not among them; having died in childbirth
to give rise to another kishi to defile the earth.
In her rage, Amina also killed many a kishi son,
mercilessly erasing each and every generation.

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But the blood fury had gotten hold of her that day
and with it the notion that gods, themselves, had to pay.
For, she thought, who allowed the cruel kishi to continue?
The gods deserved to answer for their irresponsibility, too.
Thus, Amina dedicated herself to slaying the Powers That Be
and taking their fetish masks to transform herself freely
between gazelle and lion and croc and various birds,
whereupon she was visited by Eshu, the god of words
and of Crossroads, for she had lost sense of direction and place
now that she had lost herself, and her own human face.
He frowned at her and he said, in a tone as if numb,
“You hate the gods, my love, but what have you become?
You are now a god against gods, the goddess of Death.”
Amina staggered as if struck, unable to catch her breath,
for she realized it was true: she had become a primordial beast
and had offered to the Fanged Womb a glorious feast;

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The Jungle is pleased by Amina’s feast.

a feast of the gods, cloyed on the creatures of Order
now slain, destroyed, their realms in unrest, border to border,
whereas Eshu, being a god of Chaos and of Change
looked upon the devastation and gauged its range
and he said, “It is fine. You have done no better or worse
than any other creature born to Life’s blood curse.”
He took her away, then, to let her rest and recover
and, in time, she loved him deeply, though she took no lover.

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The above is an outline for a graphic novel I wish I had the time and money to pursue (albeit an outline in rhyming verse, probably because I am a masochist). Anyway, it is based on various African myths and the artwork consists of a bunch of concept designs I have been playing with throughout the years. Will it ever be made into an actual graphic novel— or, at least, an illustrated novel? I dunno. It is just another dream on the backburner right now.

Fences Through The Heartland

Some are old and ramshackle and weather-worn,
stained green with rains, pollen, and moss,
rusted nails dissolving to dust, planks torn
yet entwined with vines, like braces with floss.

Some are herniated, like storm-busted ribs
and meander alongside forgotten property lines;
tumbled together, wound round like fairy cribs,
and others ramble idly near countryside signs.

Some are new and black, corralling quiet cattle
within rolling hills and valleys of bluegrass,
and some are so old they wobble, jitter, and rattle
like broken teeth as the breathing winds pass.

Some fences are fortified with cedars and ferns
that grow up beside them, along their chains,
and some are stitched alongside the twists and turns
of creeks and rivers, dividing fields and flood plains.

Some are a few thin wires between metal poles
that buzz like wasps and sting like electric bees,
and some are spiked with barbwire in spiraling rolls
that covetously guard the bourbon distilleries.

Some are lovely picket fences, each so bright white
that it seems Tom Sawyer paints them each day,
whereas others are colonial, ricked up just right
in their split-rail style, zig-zagging this and that way.

And then there are the fences that divide each heart
along tribal loyalties—by town, by city, by clan,
by race, by creed, by gender, by whichever serrated part
that divides the Heartland with the prejudices of Man.

The Sandman

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Proud as the stars in a predestined sky,
silent as waves in a vast ocean’s lull,
his gaze as black as the crammed backmost shadow
crowding the rear of a dreaming man’s skull,
yet starbursts of nebulas glimmer and glow
unfolding entire cosmos within a twinkling eye.
Within his dark robes flames dance in mystery
and within his mind our minds all commune,
the Dreamland palaces of his creation all abounding
as a kaleidoscope from the Dreamstone rune
to both ground us and make us lose our grounding,
reminding us what is real, what isn’t, and what yet can be.

Morpheus, the Sandman, Byronic lord of mist and dream,
moody, gloomy, sullen, and grim—
grimmer, even than Death, his sister and kin
who is so blithe towards him, no matter his whim,
his heart as fickle, at times, as his name and skin,
weaving together wonders, and horrors, neuron to seam.

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Flash Fictions

Naive
“There was once a man who believed ardently in Humanism,” her father said. “He believed so utterly in Humanism that he ventured forth into the wild jungle, where it was said man-eating tigers stalked the shadows. He brought with him no protection except several books on Humanism. Once there, he preached to the jungle on the value of a human life, reading from his many books of all the merits of letting humans live and thrive. Many of the tigers passed him by, indifferently. But a few tigers began to gather around him, watching him very intently as he lectured them. He even preached to their cubs, thinking the next generation of tigers would know better than eating human beings, if only they were taught to be Humanists.
“An expedition discovered what remained of him a few weeks later, his bones surrounded by books and his skull’s sockets gaping wide, as if in abject surprise.”
“He was naive,” his daughter said. “He should have known better. Predators don’t care about that stuff when they’re hungry.”
“True,” her father said. “But you, too, should know that you are living in a jungle. That is why I want you to bring more than just books with you to ward off the tigers.”

Zen Breath
It began so simply, as many things do, and it grew unto complexity, like a sheet of paper, blankly white and smooth and flat, now folded into an origami animal. Miyazaki’s anger burgeoned from workaday irritation to blinding rage as he waited in the subway station at Shinjuku. And the irony of the situation was that as he stood waiting, steeped in his own aggravation, he attempted to take a deep, Zen-centering breath and release the rage in dissipation— he really had tried— only for the nearby commuter to breathe out a cloud of cigarette smoke which Miyazaki inadvertently breathed in, coughing uncontrollably while the other commuters stepped away from him; stepped away from him as if he had some fatal airborne illness for which he needed to be quarantined. It was then, as he coughed and cursed and chewed the grudge of that terrible year spent as a twelve-hour-a-day cubicle jockey— it was then that the yokai possessed him, at long last, and drove his fist through the smoker’s heart, tearing its vermilion core out while bystanders screamed and scrambled to flee from the horrific carnage wrought by the long-horned demon that suddenly stood amongst them, glaring with red eyes as he rushed about, in gorilla-fisted fashion, rampaging throughout silver-edged, neon-lit Shinjuku until later that afternoon, killing many people in his wake until finally finding himself at Hanazono Shrine and, by entering it, expelling the demon so Miyazaki could sit down and empty himself of his negative emotions. Indeed, he emptied himself so completely of negative emotions after that terrible indulgence that he transcended the mortal plane and passed on to a higher plane of Enlightenment. Many people, consequently, have since concluded that Enlightenment could be achieved as much through devastating debauchery, excess, and sin as much as through years of abstinence, purification, and meditation. Zen Buddhists and Shinto Priests cannot reconcile themselves either way and, it is feared, many such esteemed personages were denied Enlightenment because of this troublesome anecdote.

The White Knight’s Gamble

Allow me a moment to
emerge from my acid bath of
cynicism
and survey the checkered
battlefield
before you cannibalize the
white knight at play
for being a man of
ulterior motives
while your opponent mocks him
as a turncoat to his own
sex.
The poor piece meant only
good intentions
but now he is sacrificed for the sake of a
stalemate
and a chuckle
as both sides disdain him,
seeing compromise of any kind
as weakness
or subterfuge
or sabotage;
the much reviled
“Nice Guy”
being an emphatic
enemy sympathizer
in a war with
Man on one side
and Woman on the other,
playing the same game
since time immemorial,
never stopping and never
winning
because if one side wins
and the other side loses
then both sides lose
as the Red Queen stumbles
and finally falls.
It does not matter if they switch
sides
(or “genders”)
or seats during this
Chess match—
neither chair is an absolute
throne.
Woman’s pawns will betray
in hopes of becoming the next
Yas Queen,
and Man’s pawns will betray
in hopes of
pwning other pawns
and laying the
Queen
behind the King’s back,
and the naive White Knights
run afoul of the
militant thought police
on both sides because
there is no such thing as
friendly fire
among radical feminists
and men’s right activists
as they lob firebombs
in online forums and
article comments
and the social media sniping
that is the Mad Max tribal wasteland
of the internet;
everyone, including children,
can be victims of the
IEDs
known as
identity politics.
And sooner or later
an extinction comes
brought about by the
unblinking, unthinking
brinkmanship
as the two sides play a game
within a game,
dividing their own forces further
and so succumbing to the greatest strategy of
“The Powers That Be”
as they sit back and watch
Man and Woman
purge their chess pieces
in pursuit of ideological purity,
forever divided, and thus
easily conquered; meanwhile
the quintessential
“Nice Guy”
becomes a “nice” guy
only in the anachronistic sense,
“nice” meaning to
“not know”, to be
ignorant
as in he is ignorant of the
mire into which he unwittingly drives his
noble steed headlong
to save
no one whatsoever
from the clutches of human
complexity
and identity politics,
his sacrificial crusade nothing more than
an honorable mention in the
Darwin Awards
as both sides laugh
and I submerge back into my
acid bath.