In Memory of the Paris Agreement

I was walking Lucy today in the neighborhood, and decided to sit down on a bench beneath some shady trees low to the ground like green turtles. Sunlight slipped through the gaps between leaves and made the pair of us look speckled. My neighbor was passing by and asked if she could join us. I greeted her and said that she could. Lucy went sniffing at my neighbor’s toes. I mentioned that today Trump had announced he plans to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, and wondered what she thought about it.

This is what she said:

The earth in itself is beautiful.

I was walking down a grassy path today. There was a breeze. I saw two things: a blue jay, and a rose.

Humans too, in themselves, are beautiful. I was walking downtown today and saw two things. I saw a little girl trying to touch the nose of a huge black poodle. And I saw an old man humming a Beatles song to himself—A Day in the Life. Today was the 50th anniversary of Sergeant Pepper, you know. 

I think that humans are at their worst when they are apathetic. When they choose to not care. So I think the tragedy of today is that it shows how capable we are of apathy. We can be so apathetic that we will tie and untie knots to demonstrate that we simply don’t give a damn.

I asked her if she had strong political opinions. She smiled and said not particularly. Lucy was getting restless and chewing on her leash. I said goodbye to my neighbor, and Lucy and I started walking back home. I wondered if my neighbor was being dramatic. I decided that she wasn’t. I wondered if the next winter might be be colder than the last. After all, the El Niño is supposed to be over, so I heard, or had it ended last year?—I couldn’t remember. Either way they say that mild winters follow mild summers, and May has been so cold.

Three poems by Gan Tanigawa

Gan Tanigawa’s poetry is mysterious and haunting. I worked on a few translations of some of my favorite poems by him, doing my best to preserve the stylistic quirks (and meaning/effect over exact words) from Japanese to English. Enjoy!

谷川雁の三つの詩

Three poems by Gan Tanigawa

Translated by Eric Margolis

十四歳

はなびらのにがさを
だれがしってるの
ぴかぴかのとうだい
はだしでのぼったよ
かぜをたべた
からっぽになった
わたしいま十四
うみよりあおい
はなびらのにがさを
だれがしってるの
だれが

Fourteen

who knows the bitterness of flower petals

I ascended the glittering lighthouse barefoot

I ate the wind

I became hollow

and now I am fourteen

and bluer than the sea

who knows the bitterness of flower petals

who knows

 

 

 

薔薇のゆくえ

ばらは さだめ しり
かぜと でかけ た
まちも むらも ない
いしの あれの で
ばらは かたち とけ
うたに なった よ

うたは かおり すい
つばさ ひろげ た
ほしも みずも ない
いわの はざま で
うたは くだけ ちり
ゆきに なった よ

The Whereabouts of the Rose

the rose   knows   its fate

is to vanish   like the wind

at a desolate   wilderness   of stone

its body   becomes   undone

it becomes   a song

 

breathing   the scent   of the song

that spreads   the wings   of the stars

at a starless   desert   gorge

the song   smashes   to dust

it becomes   snow

 

 

傘もなく

傘もなく雨 午後の店 雨
つめたい 首すじ
百合を買うのは いまを売ること
この手の くぼみに しずくをためよう
靴にしむ雨
葉書の 一文字
ながれうかび消えて

傘もなく雨 鳩のむれ 雨
ひとの名 ぬれてゆく
霧を買うのは 影を売ること
めがねの くもりを そのまま あるこう
泥と襤褸 雨
この世は ただよう
うすみどりの波に

Without an Umbrella

Rain without an umbrella, a shop in the afternoon, rain

Chills the back of my neck,

I buy lilies and sell this moment.

The palm of my hand gathers water drops

And the rain fills my shoes.

On the postcard, a single word

Rising to the surface and vanishing

 

Rain without an umbrella, a flock of pigeons, rain

Goes on soaking my name,

I buy fog and sell my shadow.

My glasses are clouded and I walk as is:

Mud and rags and rain.

This world drifts

On pale green waves.

 

The Thorn

A contemporary translation of “The Thorn”, by William Wordsworth (1798)

There is a thorn, and it looks old,

wrinkled, sagging, fat,

hard and cold as buried bone.

It’s old and gray and shorter than a child.

Lichens cover its knotted limbs,

its gnarled brow, every joint, every

chin, pressing into the bark, dragging the thorn down.

It spikes out of a dry alleyway like a bee’s stinger.

All the lonely dusty streets surrounding—

penetrated and emptied by metal

gales whenever wind blows—

are bare, resplendent, stony as coffins,

besides this one thorn and

a little muddy pond of water, never dry;

and a hill of moss, sparkling with every

color, hint and hue: olives and cardinals,

pearls and fish scales, meadows, it’s the size of an infant’s grave.

Alone besides this one thorn and muddy

pond and hill of moss and a

woman in a red jacket.

 

“How’d she get there?

She’s barely more than a child,” you snarl.

“What the hell is she doing?”

She’s crying, I respond. Tears run down her cheeks,

they drop on to her jacket.

She’s there day and night, known to

“Well, what’s she doing there?” You respond, anger tempered,

somewhat, by her pain.

She comes from Texas, college age,

and she’s the only one that haunts those streets, I say.

I might also mention in this world,

of thorn and alley, moss and water,

the angry old guard had their way.

A dead man didn’t make a difference,

old understandings reversed, a legacy cast aside,

by the supreme authority of the land—

it was all for women’s health.

And how she got there, I’ll tell you what I know.

But it’s not much.

It’s more of a guess, because the

woman in the red jacket—

well, she could be any Texas woman.

Her name is Martha Ray, she had

a fling with Stephen Hill,

Hill’s a star and Ray’s a babe,

adored by college council, club baseball, premed society;

but whether he’s a crook and liar, or a sage

and she a porn star or a nun seduced and raped,

or a Spanish major, or a Physics major,

it wouldn’t make a difference.

Steve moved on, and so did Ray,

but when three months had passed and she stayed dry,

burnt like cinder, blood congealed,

the situation clarified.

She was destabilized, they say, but then again

they say a lot of things; they

called her a Slut—and it’s true she slept around a bit—

but they also called her a Bitch, and a Prude,

and a Lying Bitch, and a Lying

Slut. But yes, she stressed and considered all the options.

Only one friend could abide her madness, sad case

for a brain to hold communion with a basket case.

Knocked up, failing classes, hell, she couldn’t pay tuition,

took out loans at her parents’ bidding.

She worked a part-time job too, but that

was the first to slide, and

still she told herself it would be fine and

still she called her younger sister every day and

still she never skipped a class until

250 miles she went, driven by

this one final friend, this one woman that cared.

Meanwhile up in the mountains

and down in the alley where the thorn grows,

All of the sudden it started to snow.

In fucking Texas it started to snow.

She’d have to drive another 250 miles, they told her,

and wait another three weeks. And at that

she cried again.

Months passed.

Now that’s the last I heard of her

before she showed up in the alley.

And there she sits in her red jacket,

crying. Never sighing, few dare go

there, though she’s no more mad than you or I,

only sadder. Still vultures circle,

coyotes prey, robins pray in the morning light,

and when the snow melts in the forceful shine,

a bludgeoned beating from the man upstairs,

fists at the stomach, hands yanking on your

hair, the pond is overfull.

Water gathers, slick and shrill, trembling over the

concrete, it gathers at the roots of the thorn

and the base of the hill of moss.

 

“So what happened to her?” you ask.

I don’t know. But what difference

does it make? She’s just one in a long list.

She’s no different from the rest, though some

are brainless, most are bright, some will cross

borders and pay the price. Martha Ray did

none of that, I’m sure.

 

They say

a baby’s ghost is buried there, in the

colored heap of moss. When the wind blows through

the dangling fibers of lichens, lovers’ fingers, lullabies

swim out of the dense teal fabric and into the air

where they mingle with birdsong. And ever since she

went there, the thorn’s growth froze forever.

A statue of a wrinkled bonsai, immigrant

from a foreign land, cast in stone,

made a monument, weighed down with life. Yes, a ghost

is buried there, but that’s just our fancy,

a fantastic trick of the imagination…

She’s the one that’s really buried.

She’s the one that’s really dead.

Though some say she hanged the baby on the tree,

and others that she drowned it in the pond,

I say a doctor did it there, in the street,

in a tempest as the skies broke loose.

Some say the scarlet moss is red

with drops of that poor thing’s blood,

but to kill a newborn! I don’t think she could.

but a fetus, maybe.

A fetus,

just maybe.

Though it was too little too late, in any case.

 

Regardless, there she sits,

no matter the stage of moon or color of the sky—

sometimes tropic blue, sometimes iron grey,

sometimes the color of blood oranges or baby showers—

no matter if there’s Texas snow or Texas shine,

no matter if the fire ants on the street’s lush side

make their own mound and bite her ankles,

or the sharpened wind whips at her ears.

I can’t know for sure what’s true,

but some things are clear: the thorn is bound

with heavy green moss, the pond is

shallow, rank, and muddy, the mound

whispers infant’s cries and basks

in its glorious sunset hue.

But still

I know by day, and in the silent night,

when all the stars wink clear and bright,

that I have heard her cry.

The Existential Holiday

What is a Yalie deprived of food, drink, work, and sex?

Hungry and bored, probably. But also, as Yom Kippur proves, well equipped to ask and even answer questions about morality, faith, identity, and existence. The Torah tells us on this one day every year to refrain from eating, drinking, work of any kind, and sexual intimacy, so that we can grapple with the sins we have committed over the past year, and ask for atonement. This is the basic purpose of Yom Kippur.

Interestingly, in the recited prayers, we do not ask for forgiveness for disobeying the laws of the Torah, or forgetting the Ten Commandments, or not observing Shabbat. Instead we admit to sins of the ordinary sort: unkindness, dishonesty, gossip, oppression, mistrustfulness. Yom Kippur is a day about philosophical self-reflection—what have we done in our daily lives over the past year? And what do we seek in the coming one? To aid in this reflection, the Yom Kippur service has several special elements: a repeated confessional, an extended mourning service for the deceased, a service about martyrdom and the Holocaust, and at the end of a 25 hour fast, the epic blowing of the Shofar for as long as a large bearded man can hold his breath.

My two favorite parts of the Yom Kippur service are the confessional and the Holocaust memorial. In the confessional service, all sorts of crazy lines are thrown about—“Who shall die by fire and who by water? Who by sword and who by beast? Who by earthquake and who by flood?” It’s completely over the top. It demands us to imagine our death in archaic, obscene ways. It asks us to be a part of a really, really old vision of the sheer power of god. Fortunately, we live today outside the scope of this arcane apocalyptic universe. So then, what is the purpose of imagining ourselves as a part of it?

I think the answer to this question lies in my other favorite part of the service, the deeply moving and poetic service on martyrdom. The Jewish people do not have a happy history, and this service explores that darker past. Israel under Rome, the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Russian Pogroms, and the Holocaust are just a few instances of the murder of the Jewish people throughout history. The service therefore takes us through space and time, from an ancient Middle Eastern past where the temple still stood, where the vision of the Messiah and the resurrection burned like truth, towards the present day, linked by a trail of martyrdom and death. The memorial service brings the past into the present, and makes us confront the stakes in every case—life, or death. Yom Kippur uncompromisingly confronts us with visions and a history of death.

Yom Kippur is an existential holiday. We recite in the piyyut: “Our origin is dust, and our end is dust. We are like grass that withers in winter, like flower petals that fade away, like passing shadows and vanishing clouds. We are a dream that dissipates.” And yet, in spite of this knowledge, we ask passionately for forgiveness for both the greatest and smallest of misdeeds. We plead for one more moment as the thin band of clouds passing over the sunset. And though we are ephemeral, we clearly have some importance, or at least some importance we can give to ourselves. On Yom Kippur, though our lives are fading dreams, it remains important for us to confront our mistakes, and to confront death.

Forgiveness is powerful. It leads quickly to compassion and charity. And perhaps it becomes easier to forgive in the wake of an encounter with death. Though it demonstrates my weakness as a human being, nothing makes me turn further towards compassion than recalling those who I have wronged, and remembering that my people have been the victim of systematic murder. So how could I look away while others in America are systematically murdered? And around the world? Yom Kippur forces us to approach forgiveness, to approach empathy, to approach truth within ourselves.

I’m by no means religious, but I love Yom Kippur. I don’t think that Yalies should celebrate Yom Kippur, or abstain from Mory’s, Woad’s, or extracurriculars for even a single day. I didn’t manage it myself this Yom Kippur. But I do think that Yom Kippur is an example of a process every one of us should go through. For just a moment—question faith, question doubt, imagine death, create ethics, demand charity, expand empathy, listen to a sustained note that pierces past the physical—and after, stuff your face with bagels, lox, and cream cheese.

Three Visions of Death

You arrive on the scene.

The scene? A desolate alley, an empty avenue. Two broken lamps flock the mouth of the alley, and one rusty dumpster guards the rear, against the spotted, syphilitic brick wall of a 90s project. But no one lives there, not anymore.

The time? Sometime before dusk, between the communist revolution, when all people of all ages and all genders and races and classes agreed that they were all equal and equitable and all that jazz, and when the city drowned.

The person that you meet? You meet several distinct personages, the first of whom offers to be your guide, none other than—

  1. The Grim Reaper

Death is coming to this city,

my friends.

D-E-A-T-H.

Grim, ugly, evil death. Death with a knife[1]

—or death with a fork, or death with a spork—

is coming for you.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news (although it is my job and I can hardly help it), but death, fast on its way, plans to make several incisions, some on to you the individual, and some on to you the collective city. As the omen of death, I personally feel very guilty about it all, and would much rather bring you good news, like the opening of a new cheap (but awfully delicious) Chinese place on 55th, however, news is news. Let’s see what is ordained.

[Grim tears open a sealed letter and reads.]

Death comes not in the form that we expect.

He who is irrevocably doomed to its closing jaws

Sees the jaws and the sharp teeth but not

The mouth that operates his mincing into meat.

Today death comes not as a plague or disease,

A terrorist attack or a school shooting,

But in a form far more savage than its machinery:

A toothless mouth, nothing but soft gums

And sweet saliva, still intends to swallow.

[Aside] Poetry and wit!

Death’s form is subtle, it trembles in the contours

Of the shadows of meeker messengers;

By the time that death becomes full-fledged death,

It will be too late to recognize it.

[Throws letter] Really? That’s all for today? Well, I suppose this means that I’ll have to improvise a bit. Never fear—I don’t take orders from whoever gives me these letters—no, I don’t know who gives me these letters, but I don’t take orders from anyone—yes, I still know what form death comes in. You see, you have to read a little more carefully. Close reading, you know? All those days you slept through high school English, I bet you’re regretting that now, aren’t you? I never sleep, so I understand exactly what that letter means. In this case, it means I must defer to my companions, who can give you a much better picture of what death is looking like this morning—cloudy with scattered thunderstorms, high of 79.

[Three charming young men, all the picture of perfect health[2], enter the alley. One is a student at Yale University, one is a new hire at Microsoft, and one is a public organizer fro the Bernie Sanders campaign.]

You give Grim a toothy smile. He introduces you to the three healthy boys, the first of whom is a—

  1. A Yale University Student

New York City is dead. The last scrap of integrity that it had—out the window. I know it may seem a little over the top to go ahead and say a bustling city of over eight million people is entirely dead and gone, but I’m about to go ahead and say it. The Rorschach Bar—you know, the one that made you feel like you were in Tokyo in 1975 in a 1980s anime—is out of business, and with it, the soul of New York. It’s the last of a series of closures in that neighborhood—first the punk haircutter, replaced with a Froyo place, then the dungeon ramen bar, replaced with a Chipotle, then the old cassette store, replaced with a vinyl store, after that the thrift shop that seemed kind of like a front for a brothel but you weren’t really sure, which is now a J Crew. There are no more shroom dealers on the corners, no more communists in your attic—well, you didn’t know that the communists were in your attic, you kinda just found them there several months later.

Look, my point is that gentrification is ruining our cities…[3] I’ll miss the corner coffee shop, where that crazy barista Jim sometimes spiked the coffee with acid. I’ll miss the posthuman German noise bands that sometimes came through the Rorschach and other local hot-spots. I’ll miss New York having a soul. Now it’s just this desolate commercial hub, full of every type of person except New Yorkers. New York had some great moments—the era of jazz, the days when the Black Panthers were still around. Now it’s just a gentrified shithole. And since I’m a philosophy major, I wouldn’t be able to move back there even if I wanted to.

  1. A Microsoft Hire

I’m so glad I am out of college, especially because I thought it was going to fill my mind with ideas, good ideas, but it really didn’t. It’s because there’s no free speech at college. Now that I’ve been at Microsoft for sixteen weeks, I feel like I can really look back with a fresh set of eyes. I mean, I also thought the same way while I was at college, but the passage of time has more or less reaffirmed my opinion that free speech is dead on college campus.

The sad thing is, it didn’t die that long ago. Maybe twenty years ago? Once I could’ve gone to an intellectual institution that valued free speech (albeit at the expense of women or people of color attending university in peace). Sometimes I think I was born into the wrong generation.

Attending college is like discovering you’re actually in a long game of Cards Against Humanity. Just when you’re about to learn something, you find yourself firing a rifle into the air while balls deep in a squealing hog. And whenever anyone says anything remotely offensive, you’d think there’d been smallpox blankets or a dog crucifixion. Need I say for the hundredth time that I agree, in retrospect, that it was a bad idea to invite Bill Cosby to speak on campus?

I realize that I’ve been rambling. The point is that whenever a bunch of whiny college students whine so loudly that the president of the CIA has to cancel in the middle of a talk, you know something is kinda fucked up, and that free speech is dying on the floor having a heart attack, if not already dead.

  1. A Berning Sanderista

I will never vote for Hillary Clinton, never, and don’t make me say it again. After seeing those memes that proved she dislikes Radiohead and has a super lame opinion re Pokemon and Sriracha and caves, that was really the final nail in the coffin. My opinion doesn’t really have anything to do with what kind of president she would be. I’m sure she would be a perfectly fine president. I mean, look at what Obama has been able to accomplish despite determined Republican opposition. If the Democrats take back the Senate and you put a solid Democrat like Clinton in the office, our future would be a hell of a lot more secure. In fact, she might even be a good president. She certainly has a track record of getting things done in the Senate, and a decent tenure as Secretary of State. I’m sure having a woman in the office will be great for reproductive rights and all that. But the problem with Shillary is that she just sucks.[4]

Take giving speeches to Wall Street for 500 grand. That’s just a terrible, shit thing to do. Likewise, calling a black kid a super predator—truly terrible thing to do. Being on the board of Wal-Mart and buddy-buddy with Monsanto—shitty-ass things to do. Selling arms to countries that sponsor terrorism—next level terrible thing to do. Eating jalapeños like they’re potato chips? Carrying hot sauce around in her bag, and being white? I’ll leave those for you to decide.

On the basis of this massive pile of shit, I simply cannot vote for Hillary Clinton, even if she wins the general election and is pitted against Donald Trump. Wait, I’m supposed to be talking about something that’s dead, right? I’ll flip that around. I’ll tell you what’s not dead. AMERICA. AMERICA is not dead. And the liberal and conservative elite have failed America. They need learn that the voice of the people will not be silenced.

[The young men exit.]

You comment briefly on their wordiness, and Grim agrees. Grim digs around in his robe-pockets for a cigarette, and pulls out a crumpled piece of paper.

Grim:  Oh—look at this. Looks like I mixed up my papers.

[Unfolds and reads]

A meteor roughly 50 kilometers

in diameter will hit the Earth in

seven days, destroying New York City,

killing quite a number of people

and other living things.

[Frowns at the paper and turns it upside down in hopes of finding a secret code.] I guess this what I was looking for. I knew death was coming in a more concrete form. If this is true, then all living things in this general vicinity are in deep trouble. [Turns to You] You might want to take a walk around, breathe some air, look at some rocks, while you still have the chance.

You say that you are sure that you’ll turn out all right, and note that you’re feeling rather hungry.

So Grim takes you to eat in a Chinese takeout place on 62nd.

TO BE CONTINUED…

______________

[1] A knife is a sharp, blunt object that is used for cutting up things that will be cooked (e.g. vegetables, human flesh).

[2] In this case, health refers to sexual health. All three are perfectly capable of committing sexual acts with penises. One of them has a head-cold, another has a sore in his mouth.

[3] Ellipsis [Omitted]: Yale University Student proceeded to make a legitimate point about how gentrification tends to target poor and immobile black people who used to have a fine neighborhood, and casts them further outside of the city and its superior amenities and economic opportunities.

[4] The young and disenchanted often call Secretary Clinton this unflattering name in online comments on CNN articles.

Evander’s Tale, Ch 2b

The journey (the dream) continues. Evander sees the glorious city of Irigoy; he is tasked with a perilous mission. This chapter is a series on the interpretations of a character’s recurring dreams, all taking place within a fantasy world that our dreamer has invented.

To clarify. I invent Evan. Evan makes up a fantasy story. Evan dreams about it. I describe an interpretation of his dreams. Sound annoying? Just read it as its own story. I hope you enjoy.

Evander’s journey passed as quickly as noon glinting off a river. He watched the forest whip by and great city gates raise metallic cloaks.

He looked around. Behind him the calm deciduous forest stuck up proud and green. Evander and Elincia stood on a dirt road leading to massive iron gates, adorned with ornate bronze statues and curving silver spikes like thorny vines, surrounded on both sides by towering stone walls.

“The gates to the city of Irigoy,” Elincia said to him. “No one enters or leaves without express permission.”

“From who?” Evander asked in wonder, straining to see the shadows and forms of buildings amass behind the dark bars of the gate.

Elincia did not answer: instead, a small man appeared atop the tall stone tower to the gate’s right. He spun a crank like a ship’s wheel and the gate began to open, shuddering and creaking with mighty gasps of sound and wind streaming out towards them. The gates clanged ajar, suspended by invisible rope. They revealed a line of massive willow trees adorning a cobblestone path into Irigoy. At the end of the path was a lavish building of many colors—sloping terra cotta roofs of many layers, each adorned with gilded curls. Alabaster cylindrical towers bulged forward and painted arches receded, leading to an interior courtyard.

Evander stepped forward without Elincia’s word—she followed him with a caring smile. Pulled by a tugged-taut sense of curiosity, he moved with swift skips, gazing past the willows to see rows of castle-cottages, stone buildings draped with patterned rainbow rugs of pink and blue. Elincia kept close behind him as they swept into the grand central building, beneath its gaping arches.

Inside a thousand columns abounded a seemingly endless grid. In the center the frequent columns gave way to a great vaulted dome where steady sun poured in through high skylights, creating misty blanched spotlights on a floor made of glass. Evander gasped as he noticed the glass floor and stared through it—a blue river processed beneath. As he watched white foam curl over its gentle surface, strange shadows caught his eye—human heads bobbing in the current.

“Enemies of the state,” Elincia said, tapping her sandaled foot. “Abusers of resources. Don’t worry. They’re outsiders.”

Evander’s eyes stayed glued to the drifting heads below, shiny with wetness. Evander and Elincia continued on to a marble floor and the river passed out of sight. Evander raised his head: they had wandered into a grand dining hall. A large wood table centered the hall and peculiar guests chomped away at sumptuous food piled high in twelve of fourteen chairs. All sides struck his senses: simmered veal and stew and steamed corn and autumn squash and frosted pastries and sharp citrus fruit wafting beneath his nose, the cavernous ceiling and the golden light refracted across its feminine curves, drifting down to sea and coral colored wall mosaics of superb titans and angels charging, arms held in salute, words and choruses of welcome, twelve diners speaking four different languages, sounds gentle and coarse gnawing at his ears; they wore cloaks and hats dark as soil and scarves and jewelry that gleamed like the leaping of sunlight off a stream.

“Igthparenddaldsc,” a man said, gazing with a knowing expression into Evander’s eyes.

“Meefooozche!” guffawed the wizened old man next to him. He pointed a feather-long finger at Evander’s forehead. “Beeshnies!”

“Indeed,” Elincia smartly replied. “They’re asking if you’re the one.” She turned to Evander and gestured to a seat at the table’s head.

“I sit… there?” he asked, swallowing. The delicious scent made him only want to sit and stuff his face. He stepped towards the chair, purple velvet and golden ringlets about the legs and arms.

A woman with an angular face that contrasted with the voluptuous curves of her body turned and put a soft hand on Evander’s chest as he passed. “Titties,” she said.

Wide-eyed Evander nodded and took his seat at the tables head. As soon as he raised his fork all the guests stopped eating and fell silent.

They watched him with eager eyes. Evander froze with his fork in mid-air.

Only the old man dared break the silence: “Ohoo?” he gasped.

Elincia, in the seat to his right, nudged him. “They’re expecting you to say something,” she muttered to him.

“Oh,” Evander said, voice mousey. “Go on. Keep eating.” He raised his voice. “Go on.”

The guests all glanced at each other with curious eyebrows elevated and returned to their meals and debate.

Elincia leaned over to Evander as he begin to stuff his cheeks with food. “That wasn’t something,” she whispered. “You need to give a speech.”

“About what?” Evander asked. He put three orange slices into his mouth, followed by a strip of bacon.

“Whether or not you will accept your duty,” she said. She placed a raspberry between her own lips and ate it. “We’ve been expecting you.”

Evander nearly choked on cabbage. “What duty?” he replied.

“We need you to help us find Prince Hirum, the one, true hero,” she said. “Hey, stop eating for a second and look at me. Now.”

Her stern turn in voice made Evander drop his fork and shift towards her. Her green eyes burned with flickering incandescence, a natural voltage from within. In a flash, one of the eyes suddenly turned hazel.

“My Lord Hirum, crown Prince of Irigoy, is prophesized to save this land from certain doom,” Elincia told him. “Cruel and evil nations surround us: Gaal of plain-lands to the south; Mitos of mountains to the west; Piris of tundra to the north. Their aggressive militarization is a threat to world order. Hawks and spies inform us that Mitos creates dangerous weapons and sacrifices people they deem “lesser” to dark magic. Any moment they could choose to flood our peaceful lands. And yet an ancient prophecy tells us of a way to evade a baleful end. The Hero with a silver sword and waterdrop eyes, one who has suffered and known, one who has a heart of wings. Hirum fulfills this and yet he is missing. You must help us, Evander.”

Evander searched her face and could see no malicious intent, no willful deceit. Is it my path to take part in such a… legend? he wondered to himself. Can my weak heart find the heart of wings?

“Why me?” he asked.

At that moment a rather large man slammed down his goblet on the table. “I can’t wait any longer!” he shouted. “I must know, boy! Will you aid us?”

Silence washed over the table. But this time Evander did not hesitate to answer.

“I do not know how to help, but if you tell me how, I will.”

“Thank you,” Elincia said, holding his shoulder tight as the twelve guests shouted in surprise and joy. “I think you can do great things for us.”

“We must get you to Sannisar at once!” declared one.

“Ajgathruxluxtux!” gargled the old man.

“Stiff cock,” whispered the woman.

“Quinton, will you take us to Sannisar?” asked Elincia.

A thin young man stood, dressed regally in knight’s armor, shining iron and silver pads and adornments over white pima shirts. He had short-cut blonde hair, big eyes, strong cheekbones, and skinny shoulders.

“Yes milady. Sannisar is this way.”

Elincia nodded for Evander to follow. Evander leapt up and jogged after Quinton, who waited with an open door at the room’s opposite end.

“Pleased to meet you, Evander,” he said with a firm nod. “Go on inside.”

Evander’s Tale: Chapter 1b

[Author’s Note: A 15 year old boy named Evan is making up a fantasy videogame during the day. At night, he has vivid dreams about his world and his plot, with his real life seeping into the story. This writing is meant to mimic the experience of dreaming– in intense detail, the sort that we don’t remember when we wake up–but also to complicate it, and to expand it into a full-fledged fantasy tale. The year is 2008. Also, this Evander is not the same Evander from Cadivel. Sorry for the confusion…]

1b

Happy 80th birthday zaydie you look great for your age still a full head of hair who would’ve guessed? shouts surround calls to hug me, greet down the line: blonde cousins wearing skirts (in january?) sarah and mia hughug aunt molly and uncle poldy (oh my he has two heads why) bubba and zaydie HAPPY BIRTHDAY so good to see you so hungry where is bread; bread and butter tastes like chicken. Glancing. Continue down the line: aunt allison uncle charlie cousin tom duck back over to lindsey she mutters about zaydie’s hair—it really is amazing and oh my now it is growing

Shove food down eat it so good—chocolate mousse vanilla mousse pistachio mousse and uncle poldy’s two heads are having a very frightening argument cousin becca keeps putting bananas on my plate dad disapproves giving that frown of his about to go off on speech:

“I would like to hence declare the maleficent dowry of this occasion! In noblest honor of my father’s 80th birthday, President Barack Obama will henceforth enact today as a national holiday! Hurrah!”

seems obama won, weird, not one of dad’s usual cheesy poems nonetheless crowd goes wild poldy’s two heads really freaking me out lindsey tugging at me alex brought a guitar (he can’t play?) is that sarah naked with one of her boyfriends under the table jesus I just want more cake but aunts in the way BY GOD ZAYDIE IS DEAD HE JUST DIED ABOUT TO BLOW OUT THE FUCKING CANDLES—

Evander awoke gasping for air, tugging at his bare mattress, heaving for ample morning air. He tossed up and turned over and hid beneath the wool shield of a pillow before realizing strange nightmares could no longer plague him: morning had already begun to break.

He rose and gazed out the window. Incipience: the horizon reddened and softened by crepuscular rays beaming lighthouse brightness into crescent morning clouds. The peaks of rays lofted over the green mountain-backed horizon, bony like a dragon’s spine, curling a long forested tail across the valley. Lush woods adorned the countryside with a vibrant hue. Springtime magnolias dotting the pines sparkled with water drops. Warm spring zephyr filled his lungs and he felt invigorated, casting the nightmare behind him.

More dreams of family, he thought grimly. But his sunrise brooding was interrupted by sounds of conversation slipping through his door.

That’s unusual, he thought. After dressing in a brown robe and wooden sandals, he pressed his ear to the doorframe.

“He’s my boy,” the old man’s voice gruffly spat. His voice came in two tones: a rich rumble and a grafting quail. “You’re not about to take ‘im away from me. Need his help on the farm, you sees.”

A mellow female voice responded. “He was never your boy in the first place. You’ve used him as a slave and not much more. It is not a deed to take great pride in.”

Evander imagined his thick beard unfurling like vines, twisting wildly, hungry to strike like snakes. A coarse growl rattled the door. “Now! Youuuu! Who are youuuuu to accuse me of mistreatment? Old me, been growing tomaters here since before ye was born! Now! Get out! Now!”

The door swung open, leaving Evander awkward in the doorway. He looked at the scene: old Barrows and his forest of a beard, frothing at the lips, mouthing away a young woman. She appeared sixteen years old with short-cut silver hair, bright eyes and a humble, curious expression; she wore a royal blue tunic, a jade clip in her hair, and leather boots.

“Oh there you are,” she said calmly. “I’m Elincia. Nice to meet you, Evander.”

Evander bit his lip as he stood in the doorway. Old Barrows glared him down.

“Now my boy,” he grunted, “Have some braised beef and then let’s git to work for the day, you see? There’s tomater-pickin to be done.” He grimaced and whipped a hand through his beard and grasped and banged for the pot of beef.

“Evander,” the girl said. “I’d like you to come with me.”

Evander opened his mouth but only inhaled.

“Now listen here,” old Barrows said, scraping voice rising above the baritone, “I’m not going ter have to ask ye to leave again, am I?”

The girl slowly shifted her gaze from Evander to old Barrows, then flicked her eyes back. “You might have to.”

“Haaaaa?” blew old Barrows like a dusty whirlwind wrangling about metal bars. His head began to inflate to twice its size and his cheeks filled with magma and his thick furry brows shot out and sharpened into porcupine spines. “This boy is worthless for nothing besides tomater picking! You don’t want this little here shitstain! Haaaaaa!” Big furry toes burst through his thin sandals and his thick boulder head cracked the wooden ceiling. His nostrils billowed sulfuric steam.

“Haaaaaa!”

Evander recoiled against the doorway, peering through the odorous umber smoke towards the girl as the sounds of old Barrows’ roars hacks and chops clamored.

“Come, Evander, quickly!” she said.

Leaping back into his room he grabbed his notebook and charged through the house, thick smoke now blinding, reaching toxic cloaks to choke and seize. Evander heard glass smashing and wood tearing as he ran through the door; Elincia followed him out.

The mud-colored steam leaking out the windows and chimney formed a murky cloud over the humble wooden cottage and tomato gardens. Evander ran after Elincia to a grove of trees a suitable distance from old Barrows’ eruption.

“He’ll destroy the whole place,” Evander remarked.

“Seems like it,” she replied.

From this safe and tranquil distance they watched the cottage crumble, blasts of air and smoke ripping through strips of wood. It looked like a batty brown moth tearing out of a cocoon.

“Let me ask you again, Evander,” she said, honing her eyes–one green, one hazel–onto his, “do you want to leave this place?”

He glanced back at the wide valley and its curling lines of smooth stones, bright-eyed grass, flowering trees. Jays and larks crisscrossing the sky and clouds of butterflies whirling. The bright tomatoes like squat red haired mole-citizens peeking out of the dirt, clothed in green. The small shed overflowing with rusty tools. The miserable cottage and old Barrows, years of difficult labor, years of loneliness, braised beef, no family, tomatoes and tomatoes, tomatoes and tomatoes, old Barrows and no family…

Evander nodded.

“That’s good to hear,” she said wisely. “Now, follow me. You won’t be needing anything at all.”

So Elincia set out with long strides across the valley, aiming for the forest that reached south like a child’s hand for a dropped toy. Evander had to jog to keep up with her pace. They swept over the breast of the valley, leaping over rivers, zooming through lazy tall-grass fields sneezing in the pollinated wind. Soon they halted at the outbreak of dense wood, old deciduous trees planting their feet firm. Abundant heads of green tossed and rippled; chirps and scatterings of furry feet whooshed within. Gnarled roots plunged in and out of the dirt, sometimes waist or shoulder height, forming loops, spirals and bridges.

“Do you know where we are going?” Elincia asked Evander.

He shook his head.

“North,” she said. “Into the true Irigoy. For you live but on the southernmost fringes, nearby cruel Gaal. And the fringes of our lands are quickly becoming dangerous places.” She looked at Evander. “You are meant for more than a farm, Evander.”

Evander only blinked.

“But first we must clear the mountains.” She took off her satchel and searched it. “Aha!” She withdrew a small vial of clear liquid. “You must drink this first.”

She held it out. Evander tentatively took it. He uncorked and drank.

A fizzle grazed his tongue and throat as he swallowed; it had a sharp, bitter flavor. But the taste faded and was replaced by a peculiar feeling of lightness: all at once his head, chest, arms, legs, hands… he felt utterly weightless.

“Are you ready?”

Evander felt his mind rise and his eyes drift above the scene—dizzying fingertip whorls releasing torrid exhales—he felt sick to his stomach as if the breakfast he did not eat churned in and out and about him—and the two were quickly rising, rising, lifting, and Evander flapped his arms and burst above the trees, above the valley, into the sky.

Elincia swooped up after him and grabbed his hand as he spiraled madly around the trees, flinging towards coarse branches—“Steady now!” she called and pulled him up straight. “After me!”

She kicked and swam high above the trees. Evander steadied himself and flapped after, jolting at an awkward angle. Streaming air whipped at his ears and his stomach still felt queasy. Flight came exhilarating, whiplashing, stark bursts of windbirds that tore at his eyes with talons; yet the feeling of amazing freedom overwhelmed, gamboling life swooping to the blinding light of the sun.

“You’ll get the hang of it soon enough,” she shouted, “but we need to hurry over the mountains!”

Evander looked down. The trees looked minute, top-hatted figurines copied over the undulating landscape.

“Come!”

He glanced back towards the cottage. It was only a speck. Turning back towards Elincia, he kicked hard and shot towards her.

“There we go! Quickly now.”

She grabbed his hand and steadied him once more. Nodding, she kicked and pulled with her arms and soared towards the green coated mountains. Evander followed, drifting too far up, and then aiming too far down. Swerving around her, tumbling behind. Wind licked and twirled his body but soon he gained more control. They began to rocket through the sky, approaching the mountains. They reared like stony giants. Scarred gray bodies and spiky stone shoulders, marked with dots of scraggly trees inexplicable in the scope of jagged waste.

“Angle up!”

They approached the sheer mountainside with alarming speed. Elincia shot up and Evander followed, nearly scathing stone crumbs, dashing up, bolting higher, and then they cleared the face of the mountain. A new, immense valley and woods flooded out before Evander, a singing and dancing landscape that raced out unto the horizon itself. Yet immediately below the two were raucous peaks, brutal bayonet angles stabbing towards them, recessing into a vast field of spikes.

“Hurry!” Elincia cried.

They soared over the spiny deathtrap, wind blinding Evander and flinging tears from his eyes. Then all at once he felt himself begin to weigh, to feel the tug of longforgotten gravity, and a heavy stone pit dropped in his stomach and he plunged towards the fierce spikes below, tumbling on to his and back hurtling to his doom, gazing up at the azure sky and the shadow of the woman who brought him here.

A Spoken Word Poem, a Written Song: Song for Sonya

Prelude: The Blue Men

Once a blue man came to me and told me I was worth shit. Reckon he was right. I was born in shit, and didn’t mind it too much either.

Thought comes to mind whenever I pass this big stinking pile of mud. Really, it wafts and tosses and cradles and nurtures shit in there: always moist, never drying, always rotten and bulbous with flies and festering maggots and other nasty-ass gruel for grime; storks of stink arise like undead and caw out putrid curses. Northmen tossed it there. Building a road or some shit.

I pass this shit-pile whenever I head too far. It’s on an up-down road and when I pass I know it’s shit on one side and all that’s boundless and watery and white is behind me.

I’m biased, hell, and ignorant too, but I reckon I know a thing or two about politics–yes, the very intellectual profession itself, the kind of profession that reckons itself the science of cleaning up shit and it forgets it just spews out more. That’s nasty. And even nastier’s the people up there, and course they’re fine because they’re not in the shit and whenever the see the shit-people the shit-people are god-thankfully away from the shit.

But hell with that, soon enough time comes I’m thinking I’m a cynic too and I can’t live that life. Life I live’s one of birds and gray-eyed flying things, life of tide and tambourine, mango and tango, and above all: the jazz breeze.

Verse 1

Came running back home, the way I always come when spring rises twinklin over the golden mists of the fingertips, reeds and salty pelicans brushing beaks cross crabs and craggy rocks tossed from the yellow manes of coarser coasts; days last longer and nights bright up. Down the palm-lined streets and dragging my big ole bass with me, brand new thing it is and proud about it I am.

Air mists up like the fabric of the world is crying but it doesn’t rain.

Can hardly think straight I’m so pumped to play because I been away for a while and home rocks and cradles and nurtures my soul. Creep in, dressed in dark, eyes dark, flyin towards the smooth sound that hops and skips on the water, slim stones off the beach, leaping from wave to wave on the glistening reflections of white-eyed stars. Dark-eyed folk, I am.

Jobi, Jobi, Tom says as I hunker on in, calls me ‘gain and ‘gain but I roll, heavin the bass ‘long with me, feeling like my limbs dance on their own, little marching in place, little motions of the eye, sweeps of the hand, nods of the head, all in the music’s course, but they don’t got no bassist and that my good friends is why here I am.

Hop into place with the band. Just startin up set number two and I don’t need no introduction: I am.

Bam!

Rhythm unfolds like the mint light of spring, yet a cool spring day with rhythmic, murky clouds nearly faded grey and green by the filtered tree-shadowed light; guitar strikes on the emotion and I keep the base for the emotion, jamming, up and down the trembling strings and my fingers tremble along with them. That piano glints and I glow, chattering maracas and all the noise strikes up cacophony and harmony at once; disorder ordered into a natural machine. All night we roll o’er the wild love of music and my fingers never tire. Rumtumratum!

Can you pursue the oblong sky, the rippling reflection in the canals you once chased, and these thoughts aren’t even mine, got some sorta divine inspiration and I at once understand another that loved and it pains that it wasn’t me, wasn’t me at all: that kaleidoscope of memory, patterns of jade and amber unknown though the lands be ashen and the scope bleak the aunt’s in black and the boy’s in white—whose memory is this? I feel at once logical and apart from the wild desire of my blasting fingers when I understand that these feelings are not my own.

Shimmering. That’s how I feel and I imagine that now it’s raining because hot fucking shit I can’t even handle this we’re rising! Rising beyond and above and past and she comes with me and we cannot even help it YES tree of light and ring of stars and blistering white and meadowlarks and scorching bark and past past past we have already seen this road but everytime it’s new the world whooshes back in the gaze of a new flooding dawn creeping fingers up the spine of gods to touch the soft and supple neck and kiss the mouth of the most beautiful one in the world; a feeling like electric sleep, a feeling like soft sheep creating the irradiate clouds and this is where we begin to realize it never lasts.

Can I ever do this again?

My fingers pluck and scavenge and my eyes sweep among the six of us musicians, grinning and brimming with wine and feeling vast and viscid. The set has come to a close.

Verse 2

Tom calls me over, as expected. I greet him and notice a young woman by his side, possibly nineteen but blue-eyed wisdom beyond grasp.

You aced and rolled tonight, Tom said, I’m telling you, I can’t wait to have you back.

I’m bringing my music north, Tom. See if northerners can handle some rhythm, I say. Yes, that was the plan. Bring the breeze where it ne’er before dared cross: the shit-line.

Now that’s a tremendous shame! Tom declares. Northerners, they can’t appreciate none of this great music you’re making, keep it south of Taohus, Jobi, I’m telling you. Well this here is—

I’m Lia—she interrupts but I hold up my hand. I recognize this one. She’s tall and olive-skinned, eyes of calm sea blue, short dark hair, kind expression, wise nose and heart looking like it’s outside her body.

I recognize you, I tell her. I’m a musician but I’m not ignorant. You’re Sonya Tana, in the papers and all, and you’re to be engaged. How’s that feel? Yes, for that’s the news. This beautiful young lordly woman who’s rumored to be as good at books as she is at swords is to be married, likely against her own will, and this is the kinda thing that makes me think: if you’re a young woman like Sonya Tana, the niece of the Duke, and you’re to be married—whatchu going to do?

If I’m being truthful, terrible, Sonya says. Her voice is steady but I know she has a drink or two in her. Tom and I were just talking over how to stop it, she said.

Custom’s marriage, I say.

Well, let’s talk about breaking it, she says with a smile.

Well, I say. I sat down in the seat next to her. Strange woman. At breaking custom, an expert I am, I say. Now, your uncle may be the Duke but you’re nearly a duchess yourself. You got power, and that is something.

Power? She asks. And what can I do with this power?

I’m no good at politics, I say. Go with the rhythm and stay true to what the wind says swaying the palms. I get all my advice from the ocean. Don’t let your uncle rule the dance, I add. It’s one for two and more.

Tom leaps up at this unexpected philosophizing. My dear Jobi, you’re a genius, clever clever clever! he says. Much more than a man with a bass, far more!

Yes, Tom. I’m not a fucking instrument.

I’ll be heading out, I say and stand. Nice meeting you, Sonya Tana. Thanks Tom. I’ll be back.

Come back soon, Jobi, please do!

Grab my bass, slide out that beaded door and into the night.

Verse 3

So we have Sonya Tana. About to be married. Clearly doesn’t want to. Surely she values freedom and even prefers the chasmal sleep to diamond chains. I considered this matter.

Wonderin if those thoughts could’ve been hers. Those vivid, clear as light, clear as water, clear as ribboning blood and clear as memories that flooded through me as the music seized my heart and soul clear off its hook were someone’s. But whose memories were mighty enough to transcend all time and space to come into me through music I made, so invoked by throbbing strings, that I could feel through another. Becoming a fucking magician, I am. That’d be some wild shit.

And the feeling of love. Not sure about it. Ever since that blue man came I know better than to love people. Though love… it’s a web that grows, that doubles with every moment and every memory that the moment creates, so time slows down even as it does speed up. All actions in that company replicate innumerable like stars, folds of ocean pressing over foam and fish: each wave feels itself and the one rushing back below.

I’d like to fasten to love but I know that music is the most beautiful thing in the cursed and sunkissed land. Not people.

So I lose time.

But I don’t mind because I ride that jazz breeze; ebb and flow’s my life—rhythmic, savage pulse. They say I’m not like the rest: a southerner. But I was born here. Or maybe the kind ole sea brought me here—against my will I’d add—but I can lose all that, lose all that and all the other things, and I can go after something real and something fresh and full of flesh and fuck I’m not a pessimist and I will make the best of this.