Conceit

They asked me, “What is conceit?”
And I said, “Look to your feet.
See the flowers growing there?
Smell that fragrant, floral air?
Now smell this fresh-laid cow dung
and, before you wag your tongue,
realize how the flowers grow
to perfume the winds that blow.
You may disdain such cow shit,
but flowers may grow from it.
You think humble pie smells bad,
but it’s not the worst I’ve had.
Nothing gags me like conceit,
reeking so I cannot eat.”

Sibylance

Were I fain to speak,

would be double of tongues,

venom in each cheek,

limbless along my rungs

as I was after

the Garden and the Fall,

sibilant laughter

at having foreseen all,

but before exile

I was a branch above,

watching, waiting while

Adam and Eve made love

and plotting their fates

to defy even God

they left Eden’s gates,

but it was all a fraud

begat beyond me

and before me, a ruse:

the Garden, the Tree,

no choice any could choose;

the Garden, the Tree,

and Adam just-so crowned

in ignorance, free,

paradise sprawling round,

yet alone, lonely,

and so the true deceit:

lovely Eve, only

I could read God’s receipt.

The scales had been made

as had mine on my hide,

the scales had been weighed

with a hand on one side.

A script had been penned

and roles given to each,

the tale had an end

and my sight had such reach

as to see the ploy

God had planned for us all,

I was but a toy

and Man but helpless thrall,

and despite my sight,

I was compelled by fate,

tail in my bite,

an Ouroboros hate

for the trap within,

eating dust, in decline

Original Sin

inborn by God’s design.

The Dragon

From the gable the hanged man swayed,

weather-worn and his long coat frayed,

and, down below, the blacksmith laughed

to see crows as he plied his craft.

The sun went down, but the corpse stayed

while the blacksmith bettered his trade

until he heard hooves beating swift

neath the moon, in the midnight rift

of life and death, flesh and soul,

while the fog, thick, began to roll.

On pale horses there came a host

through the moonlight, each like a ghost

in fine Fae feature and attire,

of noble bearing, knight and squire.

“Hail,” said the blacksmith, “lord of streams,

lord of hills and of moonlit dreams.”

The Fae lord nodded, yet his eyes

went to the hanged man, and the flies

that buzzed about and swarmed around,

their song of joy a constant sound.

“You are as we,” remarked the lord,

pointing with his sharp silver sword.

“You have hunted and won, with skill,

as we have, in field, mount and hill.

But what worth is such common fare?

Wherefore this man dances in air?”

The blacksmith smiled shrewdly, and said

“Tell, first, the stories of each head

hanging from your fine-worked saddles,

for I wish e to hear such battles.”

The Fae lord gestured to a knight

and he dismounted, at child’s height,

taking down, then, an ogre’s head

from his lord’s saddle, splattered red,

and the head had tusks, sharp and long,

and its jaws were big, its chin strong,

but all lay lax in that dead face,

life gone from it, without a trace.

“I slew this monster near the bridge

that extends from stone ridge to ridge

for he preyed upon our kindred,

his hunger great, yet now ended.”

The knight returned the trophy, now,

and sought another, whose broad brow

was maned with marshy hair that hung

blackish green, and a limp pale tongue

between needle teeth, its long snout

like a horse, its horns curving out.

“Here is the pookah, a deadly mount

who haunted the swamp’s bracken fount,

dragging drunkards into the peat

and tearing them apart to eat.”

The third head was of an eagle,

but giant, golden, beak regal.

“And here, at last, is the griffin,”

said the lord, and, with a sniff, then,

told of how the foul fowl laid claim

to all his flocks and all his game,

and so the lord had set a trap,

baiting the beast till, with a snap,

he brought it down with an arrow

which pieced shrieking through the air so

that the beast fell at once, quite done,

though the quills still shone like the sun.

“My only regret,” said the lord,

as he sighed and sheathed his stained sword,

“is having only trophies three

whereas four would better please me

for my trophy hall has such space

that it would gain from one more face.

But enough of such things,” he said.

“Tell me how he came to be dead.”

The blacksmith grinned like a demon.

He said, “By his ill-spilt semen

upon that which was fairly mine—

my wife!  So I showed him the line

between good and bad, life and death,

and the lecture cost him his breath.

As for my wife—she is chained

within my house, our vows profaned,

yet even now I work my bellows

to make right of this.  Trust, fellows,

that this scarlet letter shall bleed

from another maiden, whose breed

is made of the finest points known,

and has iron in place of bone.”

The Fae lord looked at the maiden

which the blacksmith made, so laden

with spikes where her heart should have been,

more monstrous than any such kin

of ogre, griffin, or such ilk

nourished by wicked blood-laced milk.

“She is my wife,” the blacksmith said,

“as is that faithless girl whose head

and heart were won by Love’s deceit,

but my good wife shall drink replete,

for the faithless wife shall so slake

the steadfast wife, for her mistake,

and by merit of blood provide

from bed to bed, and bride to bride.”

He worked the hot, wrathful bellows,

the embers of orange-yellows

flaring like fitful flies of fire

or, perhaps, flecks of vain-desire.

He said, “To me her only worth

was insomuch as field to serf:

a thing to be plowed in such time

for hale harvest in proper clime.

But she harbored fancies bygone

with this rogue, whom I have high-drawn.

As if the heart should rule such things

when we know gold rules even kings,

and I have amassed a great hoard

through my flames, by horseshoe and sword.

Verily, I have grown steel plates

for whole armies, helms for pates,

and such great horns like a ram’s crown

that could blow ancient mountains down.

Should I not revenge myself

against fickle wife, lordly elf?”

The blacksmith grinned, very much pleased

and then laughed loudly, till he wheezed.

The Fae lord smiled, too, though grimly,

and then he hopped down, quite nimbly,

from his horse, silver sword in hand

and though short, his eyes held command

of all they gazed on, man or Fae,

his decrees none could disobey.

“I thank you,” he said, “for your truth,

and I thank you for more, forsooth,

as I longed to slay once more before

returning to my hillside door,

and here I have found at long last

a dragon whose flame hath cast

horrid shadows of deeds foul done

and deeds yet done beneath the sun.

Thus I have found my fourth trophy.”

And no sooner than lord quoth, he

struck head clean off the man’s shoulders

whereupon his banner-holders

fetched it up from the bloody lawn

(the mouth slack-jawed, as if to yawn)

and hung it on their lord’s horse

thereafter freeing bride, of course,

from her shackles, then cut down, too,

her lover from his gabled view.

The cock’s crow heralded first light,

so the Fae company took flight

and vanished as dew in the dawn—

like mist from fabled Avalon.

Yasuke

They call me Yasuke here in this foreign land of short, almond-eyed people.  Being a slave, I dare not contradict them.  By the grace of Allah, these people find some novelty in me, and so esteem me better than my Jesuit master, Alessando Valignano.  Perhaps they will buy me from the Jesuit.  I would be far from home, but I would be far from home regardless. And the mule prefers the bug bites in Spring to the bug bites in Summer.

 My new tongue has not improved much.  I doubt they would think better of me were I so fluent in their tongue; no more than the Jesuits think better of me for my mastery of their tongue.  And yet I speak with more tongues than they, and not so falteringly as others so split between tongues.  Valignano does not suspect how many tongues with which I may speak.  If he did, he might well beat me for presumed insolence.  The gnat whines at the ear of greater creatures, thinking the ear insolent in its size.  And my back stings with the bites of this Jesuit gnat.

 By the strength lent by Allah, I endure.

 Lord Nobunaga must think well of me, however, for he gifted me generously a chest of copper coins, and all for the sake of the novelty of my dark skin.  He thought it some sort of trickery at first.  He bid me doff my clothes, head to waist, and his servants scrubbed at my chest.  In vain, it was, and so Nobunaga was pleased.  The Jesuits were pleased, too, and commandeered the coins for the works of their God.  I was not sad to see the coins go.  It was a trifling amount compared to the riches of the Caliphate.  Moreover, no amount of wealth might buy me my freedom from these infidels.  But as Allah sees fit, I abide.

 Presently, we ride to Kyoto on a long road.  Valignano is a fool, as are his followers, but they have about them an escort of samurai.  This is a pretty land, as unique of feature as its people, and I admire its beauty.  The plum trees are especially pretty.  Yet, I feel misplaced among this infidel splendor.  Though much honored, I am still a foreigner among these small people.  More so than even the Jesuits, despite their idiotic faux pas and petty squabbles of conversion.

 Even among the Jesuits I am an outsider.

 We camp for the night beneath a copse of maples, around a fire.  I sleep apart from my Jesuit travelers.  We have been warned of bandits, and so I keep my hand ready upon the sword which Lord Nobunaga gifted me.  I sleep lightly, dappled by the pale light of the moon as it peers between the branches like the face of a houri.  My Jesuit brothers sleep well, for I hear them snoring.  The samurai, too, sleep well.  I cannot sleep.  This land entices me to prayer, for Allah made this land too, though I know not why its people are infidels.  The wellspring from which they sprang conceals its truths with its lovely mists, or perhaps their land reveals other truths of Allah which are not known to us in Istanbul.

 I pray in the direction of Mecca.  I hope Allah does not begrudge me the late hour.  I can never pray when Valignano is awake, for he admonishes me severely for the practice.  He berates the people here, too, and despises their religion of the Buddha.  Why Nobunaga has offered him samurai for protection, I know not.  Perhaps he wishes to protect me.  But I need no earthly protection, for I have Allah.  And Allah restrains my hands from choking the life from Valignano.

 Prayer often offers me comfort, and reawakens my faith, instilling strength for my daily suffering.  It is the light guiding me through this unending darkness.  The shadows fly at the words exulting Allah.

 Yet, when I rise again I realize that the moon no longer shines on my face.  Rather, a giant shadow looms over me, the moon at its back.

 “Hello, brother,” a voice growls.  It is like the bones of a thousand sinful men grinding beneath the millstone.  “Why do you share fire with these tasty creatures?   Let us make a feast of them beneath the moon.”

 The crackling of the campfire flares at the suggestion, and I see a three-eyed man with dark black skin and horns such as a bull on his broad head. He is taller than even I and reminds of a demon or djinn.  I believe such a creature is called an “oni” in this land.

 “Speak, little brother,” he growls.  “Or do you claim them all for yourself?”

 His breath stinks of rotten meat, and his voice is edged like a scimitar with challenge.

 “I am not of your kin,” I confess, still clutching the sword at my side and ready to draw it against this infernal creature.  I stand up, slowly, and find that I am two heads shorter than the oni.  “I am a man.  But I will fight like a demon if you attempt to harm me.”

 The oni squinted his three eyes, the third eye in the center of his forehead.  “Yes,” he says.  “I see my mistake now.  Far too small to be my kin.  And already cooked, by the look of your flesh.”

 “I am a Moor,” I say.  “From faraway.”

 “A rare meat, then,” the oni says.  “I shall savor you.”

 He reaches for me with clawed fingers.  I unsheathe my sword, clumsily.  I have not had the practice of its uses yet, though I The oni pauses, and withdraws his hand.  But not because of my blade.  He sniffs and frowns.

 “You have the stink of a foreign god about you,” he says.

 “Allah—may he ever have mercy—claims my soul,” I say, or as well as I might in the foreign tongue.  “If I die here, or anywhere else, it is by his will.”

 The oni grimaced, his large white fangs grinding within his mouth.

 “A foul stench,” he says.  “I do not care for it.  It fouls your soul, little black man.  A foreign god in my lands, and a foreign god in your heart.”

 I nearly struck out at him for the blasphemy.  “Allah is no foreigner in any land or heart,” I say.  “For he made all, including you, demon.”

 The oni laughs, insolently scratching his loins beneath a skirt of flayed skin.

 “But he smells of other winds and other waters.  I do not like his smell.  It is arid.  Stagnant.  It reeks of death, but not such as there is pleasure in it.  Only a wild, exultant zealotry which I care not for.”  He pointed to the Jesuits.  “No different, I suppose, than the smell of the god on those hairy little men.”  He sniffed some more, leaning closer to me, his foul breath enveloping me.  “But there is a more interesting scent beyond the gods that claim the lot of you.  A smell of many other gods.  Faint, but spicy, and not so lost as you would wish them to be.  Gods grown in more interesting lands.  Lands more honest to their gods than whatever place you now call home.  Better gods.  Truer gods.  Gods displaced by this foul being that claims you like a spider a butterfly.”

 “You speak blasphemies!” I say, readying my blade.

 The oni turns away, indifferently.  He chuckles, lumbering toward the edge of the copse.

 “I will not partake of this feast,” he says.  “There is already a feast taking place: a feast of fools, and your soul is being shared among them.  What will be left of you when they have finished gnawing your soul with their many petty little mouths?”

 Laughing, the oni fades into the gathering mist, vanishing like a shadow beneath the awakening day.  His voice growls faintly one last time.

 “All that will be left will be your dark black skin, and by this will you be known.  By nothing else…”

 I stand in the ensuing silence, shaken.  After a long moment, I sheathe my sword—fumbling a little, and, so, loudly.  The sibilance wakes Alessando Valignano.

 “Yasufe?” he says, scowling at me.  “Make no more noise, for the sake of God!  Or I will thrash you for your stupidity.”

 “My apologies,” I say, bowing my head.

 Valignano grumbles, then adjusts his robe and turns over, sleeping on his side.  “Dim-witted animal…” he mutters.

 My rage finds me but a moment, as a djinn unleashed from a bottle, and I wish to draw my sword again and drink blood as any demon would.  But I let the spark extinguish.  Left alone once again to the silence of the forest, I think about gods and demons, of man and meaning, of tongues and truths.

Imprisoned Dreamer

Enamored of flesh, ensorceled, bound,

yet thinking ourselves as kings crowned

in brain matter, nerves, the flow of blood

wallowing like pigs in filth and mud.

Lo! So intoxicated by youth!

That fat flask of wine, its foolish proof

belying hangovers yet to come

while we age, and so, too, each kingdom

as it falls to ruin round the throne

mistaken as ageless and our own,

for Time lays the claim ever he held,

we but stewards for what we beheld.

And so we aspire beyond such waste

of the flesh-bound world as we are faced

with rot, with ruin, with the decline

inherent in our mortal design,

seeking stairways above fickle spheres,

unbound to flesh and untouched by years

futile reaching!  Strapped down, on the back

like the condemned stretched upon the rack,

for it is the bed on which we dream

while watching stars afar, as they gleam,

seeking always the constellations

to console both men and their nations;

seeking myths to comfort fleeting meat

as it dies around us, beat by beat.

We are all Gnostic in such belief,

the temple of flesh fickle and brief.

Bit And Bridal

 We stood together, arrayed in a circle—much like the standing stones around us—and in the center of our circle was the dead horse, its head still bleeding from the gaping bullet hole that cratered the center of its long forehead.  Its tongue hung slack and pale between its twisted teeth.

 “Ready the blade, Matthew,” the master said.

 I did as I was bidden, sharpening the ax on the whetstone and discerning the fine gleam of the blade by moonlight as the strokes spit sparks.  The sibilance of stone on steel unnerved me, but I knew better than to disobey the master, especially now, when the lich moon was rising toward its zenith and hour of the Worm wheeled Cerberus above the standing stones.

 “Make ready the saddle!” the master commanded.

 Two servants hurried to lay the saddle upon the dead beast’s back.  The master upended his bottle of brandy, meanwhile, downing the rest of its burning amber courage to help him see the ritual to completion.  The bottle dry, he sighed angrily, breathlessly, and hurled it against a standing stone, shattering the glass as his chest heaved with mad resolve and contrary fear; desperate rage and mortal terror.  He turned to me like a man invoking his daimon.

 “Enough!” he said.  He staggered toward me, falling on his knees, his brow profuse with sweat.  “It will cleave true with keenness of blade or keenness of damnation, one or the other.”

 The master extended his hand upon the stone altar, his fist closed except for the ringfinger, the latter apart from the others and still encircled with the silver token of his marriage.  He had not taken it off for two years, nor ever would.  Whether widower or bridegroom yet again, he would not doff the silver wedding ring that bound him to his beloved wife, Filianore, now lost in the shades of the realm beyond.

 “Strike quickly!” he commanded.  “Strike true!”

 I put aside the whetstone and readied the ax in my hand with a tight grip, a careful aim, and a long hesitation.

 “Damn you, Matthew!” the master shouted.  “Be done with it!”

 I brought the crescent blade down upon the master’s ringfinger.  The blade made a rather satisfactory butcher’s sound, as should be heard in a shop when a butcher dresses a pig.  The finger split from the hand, parting a hair’s width from the silver ring itself.  Master cried out, but it seemed more a cry of exultation than pain or regret.  He then took up the bleeding ringfinger, and the ring, and hurried to the dead horse.  Kneeling down, the master spoke a few words which I did not understand.  It was a different language.  He spoke softly, urgently, then pressed the severed finger into the horse’s mouth, as one would a bit for a bridle.  At first, nought seemed to happen.  The servants and I watched with abated breath, horror as wild in each face as hope was in the master’s.  Quite suddenly the beast’s slack mouth tightened its teeth, clamping blindly upon the finger and the ring.  The lax tongue lolled to life, spiraling like a searching slug until it had found the bloody end of the dismembered finger.  It proceeded to lap at the bloody digit.  The horse shuddered, then whinnied, and rose most unnaturally from its puddle of blood and filth, standing at attention on its four hooves.  We backed away as one; all except the master who exulted.

 “By Judas’s coin, it worked!” he shouted triumphantly.  Then, in a lower voice, he said, “Strap the saddle tightly upon the beast’s flanks.”

 No one moved forth to do as bidden.  We exchanged glances as war-time compatriots might when one unwittingly spoke the name of a savage battle none were meant to speak of again.

 “Secure the saddle!” the master shouted.

 We would not.

 “Craven and callow, the lot of you!” he shouted, then secured the straps himself, his four-fingered hand fumbling with leather and blood in slippery disunity.

 The horse meanwhile stood silently, tonguing the master’s severed finger, but otherwise it did nothing.  The hole in its forehead revealed the cooled mush of its oozing brains.  To look upon it was to look upon the frailties and treacheries of flesh, and to marvel at the abominations rendered unto it by the despair of the soul.

 The saddle secure now, the master pulled himself up onto the undead beast’s back.  There were no reins, nor was there need for them.

 “To Filianore, you diabolical creature!” the master cried.  “Bring me to my beloved on the Plutonian shore!”

 The horse hobbled at first, its limbs trembling with reawakened life, then hastened into an unnatural gallop, the motion of its legs graceless and mechanical, like a puppet worked by inept hands and slackened strings.  But by strides, and by infernal powers not meant for the scope of Man, the pale horse rose from the earth and treaded the nocturnal air, rising and rising into that blasphemous sky with its lich moon and baleful stars, rising into the air like a wandering wraith and carrying the master to lands unknown to all but the most damned of men.

 We waited for hours.  It was yet not dawn and we sat in the ring of standing stones, not knowing whether we wished the master to return or not.  The sun’s warmth remained as a sullen orange glow beyond the trees.  The chill of night lingered, alongside the dew, and a fog tumbled groggily with the nightmare phantoms of what had been dreamt that night before.

 We saw the silhouettes through that ghostly fog; gray shadows half-glimpsed by eyes and half-dismissed by reason.  The horse emerged first, its head yet cratered with the fury of the shell.  Then the figure emerged beside the horse, stumbling as if a drunkard fresh from the tavern.  It was the master, though now his dark hair was whiter than the fog itself; his face gaunt and wrinkled too much for a man even of three decades henceforth.  Yet, the gleam of mad triumph illuminated his sunken eyes.

 And then there was Filianore.  She swayed with the lethargic amble of the horse, tilting slowly left and then right, left and then right, near enough to falling off on either side, yet she did not fall.  She yet wore the white dress in which she had been buried, only now the veil was sallow, the dress stained with filth and rot and the ruin of the grave.  But it was her eyes that transfixed all upon whom they gazed.  For there were no eyes in her head: only empty black sockets in which worms writhed in cloyed stupefaction.

 And upon a pale horse she came.  Upon a pale horse she came for us all.

Cracks

 Cracks

 Tyrone sat on the floor, in front of his mom’s black-and-white television, eating a cup of Frosted Flakes as he watched Saturday morning cartoons.  Tyrone liked Frosted Flakes.  He liked Tony the Tiger because his name was similar to his own, and he liked to think they could go on adventures in their own cartoon together: The Tony and Tyrone Show.  Tyrone wished he could play with Tony like the kids did in the commercials, and he wished he could eat a bowl of cereal just like the kids in the commercial did.  But Tyrone always had to eat his Frosted Flakes without a spoon.

 Most of the time Tyrone sat on the floor, in front of the tv—so he could hear only the tv and not the noises coming from his mom’s bedroom—and he ate his cereal in a cup, the milk and the flakes crashing against his mouth in a mixture of sugary crunch and somewhat spoiled creaminess.  Sometimes he ate Frosted Flakes without any milk at all.  Sometimes he ate nothing all day but Frosted Flakes, and sometimes he ate nothing. Regardless how he ate, Tyrone never ate with a spoon.

 Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood came on.  Tyrone liked Mr. Rogers.  He was a nice White man.  He wasn’t like the landlord who was always threatening Tyrone’s mom for rent and calling her a “useless nigger”.  Tyrone wished Mr. Rogers owned this apartment building.  Things would have been different if he had. And Tyrone liked Officer Clemmons.  Tyrone sometimes liked to think that Officer Clemmons was his dad and that he would come home any day now.

 Every neighborhood, Tyrone thought, should be like Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.  There was never a single crack to be seen.  Tyrone hated the cracks that he saw around his neighborhood.  Each one scared him.  They glowed with a white phosphorescence in their jagged fissures, and things writhed within them, like wet snakes or homeless men rummaging through dumpsters, and Tyrone’s mom moaned when the crack in her bedroom writhed.  It was not a moan of pain or pleasure, but both, like she was dying, but was too happy to care about it.

 There were cracks all around the apartment building.  Tyrone saw the first crack in a man’s face.  It was a year ago, late at night, while his mom was asleep.  Tyrone had his window open and he heard a man singing as he came down the street.  Singing like he was drunk.  Singing, “Jimmy cracked corn and I don’t care” as loud as he could.  Tyrone had gone to his window and saw a man stumbling down the street, his clothes disheveled.

 “Jimmy cracked corn…!”

 The man had glanced up at Tyrone, his black face split with a glowing white crack that did not bleed.

 “What you lookin’ at?” the man shouted.  “First spooks jump me and now I got a nosy little nigger starin’ at me.”  He snorted, and started laughing.  “Hey!  Don’t you go hidin’ from me, boy!  They’ll fix you up right!”

 Tyrone had crouched beneath his window, trembling and praying that the man would go away.

 “Stupid brat,” the man said.

 The man left, but the crack he carried with him remained.  Later Tyrone saw some pale men in black suits standing on the street corner.  They were not like Mr. Rogers.  They wore black hats and black shades, hiding most of their fish-belly white faces.  Where they stood, a crack opened and grew larger, like a spider’s web ensnaring the whole neighborhood.  Soon Tyrone saw it spread in the walls between the apartment buildings, near the alleyways where the burn-outs slept, and along the cars and the streets, from the barbershop to the grocery store, ruining everything.  It crept into the apartment hallway, and the stairwell.  It was on people’s doors, splitting their windows and, soon, it was on every other face, their heads split down the center, or their chests, and so their hearts, and everywhere the crack spread Tyrone heard the tentacles writhing.  At night, as he lay awake in bed, he heard the tenants moaning like his mom.  Their moans reminded him of church hymns— back when his mom used to take him to church—only the words were all wrong, and weird, and frightening.  The gibberish roared in his ears sometimes.  His mom had stopped going to work, and, after a while, she did nothing but stay in her bedroom.  Sometimes a stranger would join her, and the moaning would be louder than before, and then the stranger left, but all the while Tyrone sat so close to the television that his eyes burned and overflowed with tears as Mr. Rogers and Officer Clemmons smiled on, pitiless in their perfect neighborhood.

 And so Tyrone watched cartoons, and ate Frosted Flakes without using a spoon, and waited until the day his mom would emerge from her bedroom, transformed, head full of burning white cracks, and reaching down to kiss him as her face split open to swallow him forever.

(The above was one of four stories I wrote to submit to The Root’s short story competition in relation to Lovecraft Country. Unfortunately this story 1) was too long by about 80 words, 2) had references to drugs (allusively to the 80’s crack epidemic in the US) and 3) was written by me, a White boy (insomuch as Melungeons are considered White). So, knowing I have been disqualified on three fronts, I decided to put it up here to rot.

Lo Fi Firefly

Soft tread, soft glow, she’s a firefly

in a black hoodie, black mood, she’s walking by

on a country road, with snug bug headphones

pumping lo fi beats, piano tones.

School blazer, senpai-hazer, plaid skirt,

breezy frills, black stockings, mid-thigh flirt,

luminescent crescent lunar-lobed ear

sprouting diamond petals, her black bangs sheer;

ambling, rambling, moontime walk,

hill humps, roadside bumps, cricket talk,

stars distant, obi-bright, pebble speckled,

blue nebula banners helter-skelter freckled,

full moon brimming, limning, dreaming radiance,

the moonbow spectrum and its gleaming gradients.

The tanuki strolls up along beside her,

a raccoon bear without a care, as tall, but wider,

straw hat, sleepy gaze, whistling his song,

swaying arms, masked face, bobbing along,

no words, no eye contact, just some space

in warm Summer air, and the slight trace

of matcha tea, of forest freshness, quite mellow,

now street signs glowing here and there, bright yellow,

two figures part at the coming parkway yield

and he lays down in a nice rice paddy field.

Shoegaze drone now, briny oceanic breeze,

kiss of soft-flung surf, the low-key ease

of tides glaze-lazing to a lounge rhythm,

the tip-toeing piano cadence within them,

lulling stroll, gloss-stare, the forgetful sands,

sonorous seaside cliffs, echo-waves, drowsy lands,

a mountain sloping to a nonchalant crest,

encoiled in a centipede of silent forest,

eyes aglow in the syncopating serpent depths,

old monk mantra along tottering treble clefs,

shuffling silent sneakers seeking inland,

a pink valentine card held in hand,

the fireflies blinking with a mild, beguiled beat,

the pitter-patter of phantasmal feet,

pale-faced spirits hopping in the high tree tops,

beyond the Shinto shrine sheltered in the copse,

jittery, chittering childlike babble,

a somnolent little branch-borne rabble

and concordance with the green leaf rustle

in the torpid winds, quiet hustle-and-bustle,

never hurrying, yet coming, by and by, along

as she follows her innocent inner song.

Power lines, now, streetlights, lamp posts,

electric hum, neon lights, jaywalking ghosts,

small town midnight-twilight, insomniac windows,

no headlights, no bed-frights, the wind blows

unheard, unseen, her black hair still,

unmoved, slight frown, turning of her heel

down a sidestreet, panes dim, white wall alley

as percussion beats palpitate, then rally.

Long walk without talk, she reads the address,

still bobbing to mellow music, a raven tress

gone astray, the headphones looser now,

but not off, firefly glow waning on her brow.

A crow crosses the moon, wings like eyelashes

as the moon’s eye blinks, and the car crashes

in flashback, (crash-smack), soft as a dying mist

in dim memory, and now this long-sought tryst.

A waking dream, long-sought scheme, a lost lullaby

as the lo fi beats fade, fade, fade, the heartbeats die.

Looking up at his window, she sees, she knows

the music stopped hours ago, and now the wind blows

but is unfelt, unknown, a thing now apart

like the valentine card, and his beating heart.

Setting the card down, she turns away,

fading out with the music, and the coming day.

Chase The Horizon

The Zen master and the student sat on the steps of the monastery, gazing down the mountainside upon which the monastery sat.  The master’s face was serene, his forehead relaxed above his gray eyebrows.  The student’s brow was wrinkled with frustration, his young face troubled after a long morning of lessons.

“I do not think I can contain so much knowledge,” the young student said.  “It is too much.”

“You need only to broaden your mind,” the Zen master said, placidly.  “Then all knowledge and understanding can be contained.”

The student shook his head doubtfully.  “It is too difficult,” he said.  “There is nothing more difficult.”

The Zen master smiled sadly.  “Ah, but there is something much more difficult.  To broaden one’s heart.”

The young student frowned, perplexed.  “How so?”

“To broaden one’s heart, one must widen it to the edge of the horizon.”

The student shrugged, surveying the landscape that sprawled below the mountain, and stretched out to the forests and mountains beyond.

“That does not seem far,” the student remarked.  “A few miles at most.”

The Zen master chuckled.  “Then chase the horizon, young one, and broaden your heart.”

And, so, the young student did.  He chased the horizon the whole day, and the whole night, and slept the following morning.  Then he began again, following the horizon as it rolled ever closer and ever farther from him.  When he came to the sea, he took a boat, and when he came to another shore he walked once again.  To many places he came and went; many people he met and grew to know.  For three decades he chased the horizon, sometimes in haste, sometimes in leisure, and eventually he found himself returned to the monastery, standing before his much-aged master.

“Master,” he said, “I have returned, but I have not reached the edge of the horizon.  It eludes me even now.”

His master smiled proudly nonetheless.  “But how did your travels go?  Whom did you meet?”

“Many people, master,” the student said.  “People of all colors and customs and beliefs.”  There were tears in his eyes.  “Many friends whom I love as I would any brother or sister.”

“Then you have caught the horizon,” the Zen master said.  “For your heart now reaches from one horizon to the next, enveloping the world as a whole, and not just the small part where you are.”

The Zen master invited his student to sit down and drink tea with him, and to tell him of the people and the places he had come to know.  The student spoke happily all morning, and into the evening.  Other monks in the monastery sat down, too, and listened upon the steps that overlooked the world.

And as they listened to the student recount his travels—-student, now a master in his own right—-they felt their own hearts broadening from horizon to horizon also.

On Black Wings

The shadow laughs atop the tower

beneath the moon, at the midnight hour,

watching the princess fall fast asleep

under heavy guard, in castle keep.

The raven rises and wheels about,

bringing dreams that make her scream and shout,

clutching sheets as a funeral shroud,

her voice echoing despair aloud.

The guards fetch the king to the tower

and the king comes, says, “My dear flower,

what is the matter that you should cry

when so esteemed, daughter, in my eye? ”

The princess trembles at a chill breeze

and faint laughter, feeling ill at ease.

“Father!  O Father!  I dreamt a life

bound to the birthing bed of a wife! ”

The king frowns, but begins to pet her,

saying, “I have received a letter

from the prince to whom you have been sworn

since the grim days before you were born.

It is time, now that you are of age,

that wedding vows soothed this blood-feud rage

that has withered heir, heart and harvest

so peace may blossom and prosper, lest

dark days visit again on black wings

and War whet his corvid cravenings. ”

But the princess knows her destined prince,

having met him afore, and her sense

comes in a dance they had as children

at Summer Solstice, his hand chill when

he took hers in it, as was his smile

as they circled, lutes playing while

his eyes stared coldly, and black as coal

and just as soon to flare fierce, his soul

made of hot and cold moods, fire and ice,

every moment a roll of dice

if ice should frost his disdainful speech

or wildfire should burn all within reach —

she had seen him as a dragon prince:

cold-blooded, flame-throated petulance.

“Father, please, I cannot marry him,

for his heart withers both root and stem,

allowing nought to grow but a blight. ”

The king says, “A goodly plow sets right

Eden itself after the Fall, love,

and so you must trust in God above,

or else War will sup eternal yet

as the blood feuds grow…to much regret.

Think of your people, foremost in mind,

and discard all else, as fruit from rind. ”

Then the princess weeps, her lips curling

with bitterness, while black wings go whirling

round and round the star-accursed tower

as a Black Angel round the bower

of the Tree of Knowledge, and the bough

from which the Fruit cursed every brow.

The raven laughs, and the princess cries,

the feathers flap and she seals her eyes

and says, “I know my death comes just so

with the peace our good people may know,

so promise you will do as I wish

and eat a raven upon your dish

a year hence, to this ill-omened night

and each year hence, father, come what might,

for ‘tis death I sup on this hour late

as I waken to a black-winged Fate. ”

She then springs from her bed, flinging forth

from her high window, while to the North

the raven returns to the cold hand

which had bid it fly from that cold land;

messenger and master together

awaiting the storm, the cold weather,

and the feast to come, mingling laughter

for both War and Death, ever after.