Blurbs

You scratch my
hardback,
I’ll scratch yours,
maybe even skim it,
so long as my commission
is paid in turn.
Blurb for a blurb
is the going rate in this
circlejerk of authors who are
corralled like livestock
by the stud-farm publishers.
Like the Art world
where galleries stoke the value
of a few select artists
so those premiere galleries can
cash in on their
rigged insider trading,
so, too, authors
are pressed to praise
what does not impress
as it goes to the presses.
What goes around
comes around
in a marketplace of
praise-prospectors.
And the blurbs are hyperbole
taken to such a degree
as if to be a secret signal
or warning
through unintentional satire.
“This generation’s War And Peace.”
“Would unnerve Bram Stoker.”
“I could not put it down, yet was fearful
of the next word.”
“Love In The Time Of Cholera
meets The Idiot by way of
Rudyard Kipling.”
“Kaleidoscopic usage of adverbs.”
“Will affirm all the worthwhile things
in life, awakening the heart of the reader
one page at a time.”
There is no difference
between sleeve jacket hymns
and porn-parody except
one is sleeved in plastic
and the other in latex.
It is MLM levels of
hype, the hyper hype
done with a strained smile
bordering on a psychotic breakdown.
The books may have spines,
but the authors don’t,
or perhaps they have no taste,
only a hunger for exposure,
even if it is exposure as a
fraud.
Or perhaps in this
dog-eat-dogshit world
it is better to swallow one’s pride
and expel a hairball blurb
than be choked to silence
when publishers refuse
to groom your works, works
lost in the multitudes of
showdogs
willing to sell their souls
one blurb at a time
for a blurb of their own.
It is a game
full of winking,
but you must never blink.
It is a farce of superstition,
yet you must believe.
Blurbs are the
conman’s currency, the
conman’s creed, the
conman’s rites,
the concentrated extracts of reviews
slavish to the publishing companies,
and, if you don’t mind,
please compare my book to Dickens
as I would like to evoke his everyday whimsy when readers read the blurb on the back of my book. I, in turn, will compare your book to Shirley Jackson so as to resonate with lovers of gothic literature, even if your pastiche of her work is diluted and amateurish to the point of absurdity…

Horror Writer

A monarch of nightmares,
a scribe of grotesque tales,
searching through limbic lairs
and various pits and hells
to find the dreamscapes deep
in the strange hearts of men,
like one who cannot sleep
except with eyes open,
mapping the world’s shadows
with a typewriter’s keys
to illuminate those
fears, those territories
of the soul and the mind
which, in ancient times past,
spurred men to glance behind,
not knowing if, at last,
that lurker had now sprung
to pounce atop its prey
and lick with a cold tongue
the spine, without allay,
to shiver the great ape,
to remind him of his fate,
of death without escape
and the hour…growing late.

Quite Put Out

Quite Put Out

Within the foyer, and sitting prim and proper in a high-backed chair—her spine as straight as a poker and her shadow constant and unwavering in the flickering light of the hearth—was Lady Agnes Ironside, her hair a fiery brand of curls atop an ashen face and her gown black as soot.  Her freckles flared like cinders as she spoke.
“Undoubtedly the duke is exceedingly put upon by that presumptuous woman,” she said, her red-lipped smile stiff and sharp.  “His patience will fray, given time, and with its unraveling will come the consolidation of his feelings in regard to other persons more deserving of the station and status of his especial acquaintance.”
The other ladies sat to one side of the table, their three shadows trembling among the velvet-and-white wallpaper.  They were as ash, too, but were not so constant in countenance; rather, had a window been opened late in that Winter’s night a breeze would have blown them to utter dissolution.
“And, of course, his truer feelings will bear upon him in time,” Lady Ironside said, taking a sip of tea from her teacup.  The teacup was smeared with shadows on one side, and gleamed white on the other side, like a heathen’s bone exhumed in an ancient temple.  “He will not abandon himself or his truer feelings, nor will he dishonor himself or the more deserving among his considerations by protracting this foolish infatuation.  That presumptuous naif cannot dissuade him from his better sensibilities.  Society, rank, and expectation shall all prevail.”
The three women shivered in the airy foyer, despite the hearth.  Lady Ironside remained unmoved, however.  Not one patch of skin betrayed the heat of her conviction with goosebumps or tautness.  Winter himself might whisper down her corset and she would melt him with her most languid shrug.  Or so she fancied.
“And do not think that I am unaware of his previous attachments,” Lady Ironside said to those shades in her foyer.  “Each of you enjoyed his special attentions for a time, and each of you suffered for his capricious nature.  Yet, I evince a certain defiance in my own circumstances, for I am—unlike the three of you—peerless in my pedigree and accomplishments.  For instance, not one of you were ever sufficient in the art of the piano.  I have been regarded as singular pianist distinguished by my interpretations of Mozart.  Moreover, I am a soprano that— had necessity in life existed and privilege been absent—I could have sustained a life with the lofty heights of my voice.  To these obvious virtues there must be added my natural charms, of course, and my sensibility as a friend and confidante.  In all circles of society I flourish with natural acumen, and would do so whether in a small soiree of friends or, indeed, the castle of the Queen Victoria herself.  No man would find a superior consort anywhere in all of England for the diversity of societies one encounters here.  And, being naturally adaptive, I would be the superior consort anywhere else in the world.  I am, if anything, quick to learn and overcome.  I am as a fish to water, as you all well know.” 
Lady Ironside did not flush in embarrassment as she proclaimed her attributes, but sipped between each trait as if outlining the basic facts of a ledger’s contents.   The three shades nodded sympathetically, but said nothing.
“The Duke will see the error in his estimation soon enough,” she continued.  “With more temperate reflection he will come to understand that he has taken to a lowly, common oil lamp to illuminate his nights while the fires of Mt. Olympus await him here.  With me.  What warmth is there among the common hearths of England compared to the hearths of Hera and Aphrodite combined?  He is chilled in her company, I assure you.  Absolutely chilled.”
Lady Ironside sipped again from her teacup, coolly eyeing the three women before her.  A door opened within her manor, and with it came the tendrils of a cool night breeze.  The three pale shades quivered and then dissipated like ash into shadow.  Lady Ironside sat alone, untouched by the coldness.  There was a sharply needled fire in her heart, and atop the head of this needle danced fallen angels all afire with the host of the Inferno, burning with all of its hope and hurt and betrayal and embittered love.
“That must be William returning,” Lady Ironside announced.  She set her teacup aside and crossed her hands, one atop the other, in her lap.  She listened for the footsteps of her messenger as they approached.  They seemed slow; reluctant.
At length, his figure appeared in the door, bringing with it the smells of horses and sweat and the countryside.  He cleared his throat.
“Come in, William,” she said.  “Report to me at once.”
“As you wish, Miss Ironside,” he said.  He hesitated nonetheless, clearing his throat once again, and then stepped into the foyer.  He was a lean, middle-aged man in a rider’s coat with long tails.  He stood before her with his hands behind his back and his eyes averted into the fire of the hearth.  “The Duke...” he began to say, but hesitated.
“Come, come, William,” the lady said.  “Do not vex my nerves with suspense.”
“He is to be married to the young maiden,” William said.  He looked as a dog awaiting a strike upon the nose.  Instead, to his astonishment, his ear was struck with something ever the more unsettling than a spiteful hand.  Lady Ironside giggled.
“She is no maiden,” Lady Ironside said, wry amusement playing about her lips.  “No more than any of my guests here.”  She gestured to the empty couch.
William did not glance at the empty couch, but kept his eyes in the fire.
“Do you not agree, ladies?” Lady Ironside said.  “All of you were fooled by your own complacency.  The Duke would not have kept to his word for any of you, for you gave away your honor so easily.”
William went to the hearth and used the iron poker to stir the fire to a greater flame.  The night’s ride had been a frigid one.
“The Duke will abandon his newest tart as he has these three tarts past,” Lady Ironside said, her tongue prodding the air more sharply than the poker in William’s hand.  “And then he will apply to my sympathies.  Naturally, I will forgive him with majestic magnanimity, and we will be married, but there will be an interim when he must offer his pride in sincere totality to me.  I am not a hard woman, but my passions are to be cloyed for the rigors they have endured during these three weeks of cold distance.  I am not simply another shade in exile on the River Styx.  I am Aphrodite and Hera.  I am Diana and Athena.  I am not some common crumpet with a disproportional sense of self.  My vanity is meted accordingly and my virtue remains intact and intractable, regardless of what some circles may claim.”  Her lips quivered in a sneer for a moment, and her whole being was aglow with the cinders of resentment.  “There is no doubting the incumbency placed upon his good will, nor the inducement I provoke in him toward his own honor as a gentleman of noble station.  My three friends here could not have, in good faith, expected any reciprocation of obligation in regard to the Duke and their own improprieties.  No, indeed, they were grand fools to think otherwise.  I am no such fool.”
William cleared his throat in the silence, and stirred the fire in the hearth.  Lady Ironside’s shadow loomed large in the foyer, and did not flicker or flag as the flames swayed with the intrusion of the poker.
“William,” she said, her voice suddenly tremulous.  “When can I expect the Duke’s arrival?”
William paused in his labor, dumbfounded as the light from the hearth flared and subsided as if rallying for its own death throes.  His mouth gawped, the words needed for the moment escaping amorphously from between his floundering lips.  Silence was master of the household, then, and his decree was brutal.  The moment of his reign passed, however, as did the tremor in Lady Ironside’s voice as she resumed.
“In a fortnight, naturally,” she said with her habitual confidence.  “That will be more than sufficient time to travel the short distance in comfort of his carriage.  Yet, I fear dispensing with the tart will require more time, and so a fortnight will suffice exceedingly well.  Though a tart, she should be afforded an honorable discharge from his company, as he condescended to do for the other three ladies here gathered.  The Duke is a considerate gentleman and must placate such sensitive situations, however inconvenient they may be to the superior affections between the two of us.”
Lady Ironside lifted her teacup again to her lips, sipped, and set the teacup down.  The porcelain trembled as it touched the plate.
“And this interval of separation shall only stoke the love between us.  Absence makes the heart fonder, and my Duke is beyond fond of me now.”  She suddenly paused and turned to look at William’s shadowy figure stooping in front of the fire.  “Pray, in what spirit did you find the Duke?”
William mechanically stirred the kindling.  “Pleasant,” he said.  “Most pleasant, I presume.  I was not granted an audience, but I was assured by his butler that the Duke was in high spirits.  His household was bustling with preparations for a ball.”
“Indeed?” Lady Ironside said, a confusion in her green eyes.  “A ball?”  She sighed, and her freckles seemed to flare across her cheeks and bosom.  “To amuse himself in light of my absence, no doubt.  He feels it keenly and must exact extravagant distractions to diverge his forlorn disposition.  Whereas those other tarts amounted to little more than a seasonal romance—no, a holiday of fickle distraction finished before evening Mass might begin—his affection for me is a lodestar without which he would be adrift and aimless.”
William stifled a cough as the hearth’s fire belched smoke and cinder into his face.
“Miss Ironside,” he said, “should you not be retiring to bed?  The hour grows late...and cold.”
“I feel no coldness, William,” she said.  “I am a pillar of flame against such natural caprices.”
“Even so,” William said, hesitantly, “it is not good for a lady’s constitution to linger so late in the Wintertime.”
“The Spring will be here soon enough,” she said.
William grimaced at his own words.  “Not afore a fortnight, my lady.  Nor, I fear, thereafter.”
Her mouth twisted—but with the strain of anger or despair, he could not discern—and she rose from her high-backed chair.  She did not bid her servant a good night, nor the three guests haunting her with their pitiful expressions.  Instead, she turned and retreated from the foyer with a torpid stride.  Her voice quavered in the hall.
“This house is too hot.  I should like to winter someplace cooler.”

                    ***

Later that night, in the depths of the witching hour, William coughed, startling himself awake.  Sighing, he sat up in his bed and blinked into the uniform darkness of his quarters.  The fire in his hearth was nothing but smoldering embers.  He found himself drawn to the singular window serving the room with its prospect.  Pulling his robe about him, he attended the window with bleary eyes that smeared the orange moon along the cataracts of the window.  A few blinks and the cold moonlit landscape crystallized.  The garden sprawled below, its hedges buried with the supple powder of the year’s first snow.  The gazebo was as a white beehive.  The latticework of the arbor was bereft of its vines and flowers.  This was all to be expected, and yet he felt a revelation soon to be at hand.  For a moment he stared, not knowing what had drawn him from bed.  He was turning back to bed when he glimpsed a figure dancing in the snow.  The figure’s nakedness burned with flecks of cinders beneath her fiery red tresses.  He was reminded of the old tales his Irish grandmother once told him of the Leanan Sidhe, that monstrous fairy that would lure unwary men to their deaths.  Or was the figure a Bean Sidhe, portending death in the Ironside estate?
William shivered, blinked, and then saw the figure no more.  Thinking the figure a conjuration of drink, dreaminess, and his own desires, William staggered back to bed, surrendering the vision to the darkness of sleep.

                    *** 

Upon the morning the housekeeper set about the manor to rekindle the hearths.  She found Lady Ironside laying in bed, a pallor snuffing out her freckles.  Her fiery red hair had gone gray as ash and lay as lax as soot.  Though heavily laden with blankets, and having a hearth that had never extinguished throughout the night, the once radiant mistress was now cold and clammy and colorless.  Before the close of the morning she had given over the ghost from her frigid vessel.
The Duke, it must be said, married the fifth woman to have enkindled his fancy, and was no more put out by the news of the death of the fourth than news of the third, second, or first.

Tumbledown

In a small corner of my head
squats a ramshackle little shed
where I place on a cobwebbed shelf
all the dreams I had for myself;
boxes upon boxes of books
all covered in dust—no one looks
at such things, away from the sun,
along with other things I’ve done;
stories…poems…by the hundreds,
like waste that clutters other sheds,
stowed away, unread and unloved,
where doubts and bitterness have shoved
worlds of wonder, flashbacks of days,
where the black mold of Time decays
the flimsy whimsy, each thin page
lost to mildew—that necrophage.
Sometimes I glance in the windows
and see the books there, lined in rows,
but I rarely go in…rather,
I know it foolish to gather
dreams from a rickety old shed
soon to collapse within my head.
So I wait…frown…sigh…shrug…then leave,
forsaking all, lest I deceive
myself with hope that any book
could be saved from that moldy nook.
Yet I return, despite the mold
growing rampant and taking hold
with its toxic odors and spores
permeating the air indoors,
and I read from the books, sometimes,
horror, fantasy, and some rhymes,
unable to leave what I should,
the fool’s hope stronger than the wood.
The shed trembles as if to fall,
yet I remain, each crumbly wall
a part of me as much as aught,
just as each book is my own thought,
and, so, should it crash at long last,
(which it will, the die just-so cast)
I will be among the remains,
among the books and wood and panes,
decaying together, the whole
as always was, body and soul.

The Boardwalk And The Labyrinth

 Ray Bradbury was a natural storyteller.  The path of his plots were as boardwalks that led from one direction to another —sometimes sunny, sometimes rainy, sometimes overborne with a storm from the sea — yet always in a straightforward direction as Bradbury led the reader through his homemade carnivals along the dynamic panorama of the beach.  Bradbury, therefore, is an excellent example of traditional storytelling that takes aim and hits the mark with deft precision, clarity, and economy.  His stories aim for nothing except a good story and fully realized characters, for Bradbury was a writer with a story to tell, and the story was all that mattered to him.

 Contrarily, Gene Wolfe was an engineer who reverse-engineered plot and pretense within his own stories to demonstrate the untrustworthiness of narratives and conceits.  He wrote labyrinths and dropped the reader into them with shrewdness and aplomb, like mice in a maze.  Often the reader is lost in a Wolfe story, even as the reader thinks he knows where the story is going.  Often the reader even misunderstands where he has been, the wanderer lost not only because of the many-cornered plot that Gene Wolfe angles askew from the center, but the presumptions the reader takes into the labyrinth with him as a reader given to credulity and trust of the author.  Gene Wolfe, therefore, was a deft maze-maker of stories, revealing greater truths through his puzzle-constructs which force the reader to question everything that he sees within the unfolding passages.  His stories aim at bewildering the reader, but never cruelly.  There are signposts everywhere, if the reader is observant enough to learn to read them.

 For these reasons, both Bradbury and Wolfe are good storytellers, but they are very different from one another.  Between the twain there is much to be recommended, and much to be learned from, as a writer of fiction.  Whether one writes a boardwalk or a labyrinth, it should always be well-constructed in its passages, and the journey should always be entertaining

Tempered Steel

By the pain of flame and hammer fall

thereby forged is Man, so one, so all;

by pain and trial and sacrifice,

Man takes shape when wrought within the vice;

some are beaten so smooth and so fine

they seem perfect casts, and, so, divine,

whereas others are much less imbued

with such work, being quite rough and crude;

some are discarded, and some stillborn —

all are melted down when old…outworn;

some serve as swords, and some hoes or plows,

some as bowls, or rings for marriage vows,

and some have edges as sharp as blades,

though intended for the softer trades,

and so cut the Hands which made such slaves

with Damascus folds of flowing waves,

drawing blood to infuse tempered steel

and remind gods what it means to feel.