31 December 2017

This Is The Line That Divides

At the end of the year
television screeds exhort
Spend for the car now
Buy my happiness now
Claim your life back now
through concentrated application
of money not possessed
but manifested through plastic
and a life of electronic servitude
Time elongates, heart spasms,
mind melts with thoughts
of nothing left to lose here
at the end of the world

24 December 2017

The Fall of the King

The king awoke to the metallic caw of ravens, and a sharp stabbing pain in his left arm. He struggled to open his eyes through the crust of dried blood caking them shut. A raven sounded loud in his ear, and he started in spite of himself. The heat ebony bird hopped away and took flight. It had been pecking the the king's exposed arm. The vambrace was missing, lost somewhere on the hill above the beach.

The king groaned. A throbbing in his head sent forth waves of nausea, threatening to spill out on a flood of bile. He gritted his teeth. Bloody, groggy, he determined that he would not embarrass himself by spewing the little contents of his stomach in front of his men.

His men. Where were they? he wondered. The only sounds he could hear were wind on the grass and waves on the strand. No human noises met this ears. Only ravens and the earth. The king struggled to sit up. Rolling over, he braced his arms against the turf and pushed. He made it to his knees before a lancet of pain shot through his head. He trembled. He spat blood onto the emerald grass.

Slowly he lifted his head. The helmet he began to lift off. His hands trembled but managed to slide the iron with a bit of tugging. Blurry eyes focused on the inside of the helmet, dark and slick with blackening blood. One side of the piece was deeply dented. It was only by grace that whatever had struck his head had not split the helmet asunder. 

The blow had perhaps knocked him unconscious. Gingerly he felt around the top of his skull. Sure enough, there was a knob about the size of a small goose egg, split slightly across its middle. His fingers came away damp with blood, a few graying hairs sticking to his flesh. The king sent up a prayer of thanks to the war god that the wound was not worse. 

But his men. In his field of vision he could see what seemed a carpet of corpses, strewn about the hillock, entrails and blood bright and obscene against the deep green of the grass. Not a soul stirred while the ravens feasted. He saw them. They hopped and pecked. They ceased to pay the king any deference now that he appeared to be alive. Their feathers shone dully nacreous under the pewter overcast sky.

"I am alive", said the king, "yet the world appears to be dead. By what fortune is this?"

The king struggled to his feet. A cool wind sprang up, bringing with it the smell of blood and ocean, iron and salt. His sword lay in the grass. The tip was broken. The oyster colored steel shone through a film of blood. Notches in the blade gave testimony to a hard fight. On instinct, the king reached for the sword. The dread eased as he wrapped his scarred hand around the grip.

The sky was swirling with ravens. A cloud of jet broken only by patches of gray sky a few brave seagulls flitting in and out of the crowd. Death saturated the air, barely kept at bay by the ocean breeze. It was clear to the king now that he was apparently the only survivor. The captain of his guard lay a few feet away, his skull split by the axe still lodged in the bone. The sword of the captain jutted from the ribcage of his killer, both unseeing and stiff beneath the sky. The rest of his guard and the cohorts of the barbarians were splayed about the hill. Not one appeared to breathe, or make a sound.

Wind picked up, gusting, bringing with it the scent of rain. The king turned to face the sea and found himself wishing the drops would fall, if only to wash the blood and failure off his broken armor and battered body. He felt the specter of sadness nosing about his mind. So many lives lost of those who had believed in him, had made him king. But now he felt there was no kingdom, unless the territory was defined by the shell of his body alone. The king wept.

Hours may have passed. Maybe days. The king grew insensate to time, or so he thought. It was the creeping chill of sundown that finally roused him from his despair. Behind him the birds had settled down, some in a nearby copse of trees, others walking stilt-legged through the grass pecking at insects and the bodies. 

The king stood. The sun, peeking fitfully through the clouds, neared the horizon. Waves beckoned to him, and he resolved to wash himself clean in the saltwater. A staggering walk downhill along a rutted path, he divested himself of his armor and padding, piece by filthy, bloody piece. He clutched the sword by habit, but when he reached the tide line he thrust the pitted blade downward into the sand. As he did so, he pierced the body of a crab that had washed up in the wrack.

Fitting, he though darkly, that no respect is accorded to the living or the dead. He stood naked before the sea. Cold wavelets lapped his feet and ankles. A few sluggish strides forward found him knee-deep in the surf. The waves were gathering height and force, now, and he wondered of the sea god knew he was here. He wondered if the sea would reject him, now that his kingdom seemed lost, his body wracked and bruised.

The king raised his arms and leaned forward to plunge into a tall wave that rushed up the strand. The shock of the green water evoked a roar from the king's ragged throat. Seawater ran over his body. The salt stung the myriad cuts and scrapes that webbed his flesh. Pain and cold galvanized the king. He struggled further out into the surf, scraping blood and the flesh of others off his aching frame. He roared again, anguish and shame pouring from his soul. Out in the water came an answering voice, which to the king sounded like a command.

The king swam deeper into the sea. Up on the hill, in the company of birds and the night, the remnants of the kingdom  slowly faded from sight. He swam on, not knowing if it could be saved or if it would rebirth itself, and he would once again know the feel of a crown bestowed by the heart of another.

17 December 2017

Cup Runneth Dry: A Biji for December

A soul withered and dessicated. The wind a blade dragging across the heart deep in its winter of discontent. There is much to be said if little breath in the lungs with which to say it. To pour out the contents of the soul is Sisyphean in execution. There is no receiver, no longer motivation to do it, when the soil is barren and infertile.

What if, amongst those 99 Problems, one of them turned out to be a bitch?

Another occurrence of the dream. You know the one, coming to in a dim corridor, baseball bat in hand, surrounded by shelf after shelf of pottery and ceramics. Plates. Bowls. Cups. Especially cups. As far as the eye can see in the red-tinged glow suffusing the air. The cups inspire anger, blind hatred, blackening the vision with the need to destroy everything within the arc of the bat. It is not enough to merely knock the cups off the shelves, they must be destroyed. Ground into dust, if possible. But the bat will have to do. Dead run into the red fulgency, bat whirring like a helicopter rotor, the cups explode off the shelves in a tintinnabulation of porcelain destruction. Swinging, swinging, an animal roaring bursting from the chest as cup after cup falls to the murderous ministrations of ash and anger. Exhaustion sets in. Rest seems a distant memory. The corridor seems infinite, dissolving only in the alarm-induced cold sweat of another day to be endured. On the bedside stand lies a single shard of pottery, warm, stained with blood.

There arrives a point in the sidereal journey when the heart collapses under the weight of grief. This point is a singularity of lost love, fear, despair that grows like weeds where nothing else will. Wasteland of the soul made barren by giving all, giving everything, until the day it realized the giving was for naught.

We’ve all heard of the “Parable of the Boiled Frog” in which a frog is immersed in a pot of water so gradually heated that it dies before it realizes it is being boiled. Why don’t we ever hear of a “Frozen Frog”, which perhaps could be the opposite parable? And if parable can become metaphor, the heart is a frog, its temperature raised or lowered by the capricious ministrations of another’s cruelty and deceit. The end result is walking death, without the humor of a zombie apocalypse.

Nothing like a little patch of black ice to wake you up. Black ice is a harsh teacher, but you learn lessons real quick. It has the virtue of efficiency.

The red wolf. Canis rufus. One of the most endangered mammals in North America. Somewhere between 50 to 200 alive today. Climate change appears to be implicated in their decline, along with the usual human fuckery involving animals. No word available on whether red wolves taste like chicken.

It loads the dishes into the washer.
It dries its hands on a damp towel.
It pours itself a glass of tea.
It feels good to have done its chores.
It weeps to endure the solitary evening.

An unexpected occurrence of grace. The cat greets you at the door, meowing and purring. When you pick it up, it snuggles against your chin. Gentle head boops and vigorous rubbing of chin to chin, as the cat revels in the scratchiness of a warm beard. If only all pleasures in life were so simple and spontaneous.

Have you ever listened to sleet falling into still water? An ethereal hissing, precious and restorative. You must sit still.

"Trying not to walk crooked while this anchor's dropped.

But I been out on them choppy waves and it's hard to say where this land begins and that water stops, 
I got sea legs
I got sea legs
I got sea legs." 
(From "Sea Legs" by Run the Jewels). 

Yeah, that's it. I got sea legs.

10 December 2017

Into The Black

“Kapitänleutnant Tschai, I am dying.”

The seedship sounded weary, its voice ringing hollow in the confines of Tschai’s helmet. He blinked. The galactonaut’s eyes slowly came to focus on the outline of the seedship. Debris floated for kilometers, slow dance of inertia and spin occasionally blotting out distant stars.

“Kapitänleutnant Tschai, can you hear me? Situation critical, I am dying.”

Tschai had never known his ship to be worried. But its voice was slurred and strained. He made to reply with a dry mouth working.

“Calyx, I can hear you. Report, please.”

Tschai became aware of the numbness below his waist. With a surge of dread he tried and failed to move his legs. They were encased in their armored sheaths and locked in to the grapples inside the lifepod, which itself appeared to have sustained significant damage without a total hull breach. Black streaks lined the walls. There was blood.

“Kapitänleutnant, as stated, I am dying. The cores are split. Life fuel was vaporized by impact from the Cloud. My self-healing bots were partly diverted to crew needs and the remainder destroyed by the reactions catalyzed by the debris. Insufficient materials were available to stop the loss of life fuel. We appear to have encountered an anomalous condition not previously charted. I am sorry.”

Tschai considered that for a moment. Calyx had not mentioned the survival rate of the additional crew. Thoughts of his legs retreated, his training struggling for control.

“Calyx, status of Roberto and Hera?”

An anxious moment as the seedship hesitated. Or so Tschai thought. Was that possible? Calyx finally spoke.

“I regret to report that while they survived the initial impact the bots could not salvage them from the debris field. Roberto was terminated while attempting to return to us. Hera suffered multiple critical failures, her lifepod was crushed. My condolences, Kapitänleutnant.”

There was a hiccup in the voice of Calyx. Catastrophic sign, thought Tschai. Dead. His crew was dead. His ship was dying. He himself was severely injured. Survival was possible if of low probability. There was no telemetry coming from the lifepod or his suit that told him how near the closest station or angelship could be. His eyes grew wet.

“Calyx, odds calculation. Your chance of survival. My chance of survival to rescue if you do not.”

Silence. A slight hum. The seedship spoke with a faint slur.

“Kapitänleutnant, our best estimate for my survival is one point five percent if the bots can not recover in the next thirty point six-three ship minutes. Our best estimate for your survival is seventy-four point eighty-two percent, with an increase of point five percent for each shipminute up to sixteen more of successful repair concluded by your lifepod and suit bots. Your chances...Your chancessss...” the ship listed and slurred. Tschai held his breath. He felt sensation in his thighs. Calyx spoke again.

“Kapitänleutnant, forgive my lapse. Your chances are greatly improving. My last ...laaast shhhip reports from before the Cloud indicate Humanosphere gathering operations were underway in thisss...sec-sec-sector within the last ship year. Scenario probability indicators show promise if you initiate lifepod stasis with appropriate trajectory.”

“Thank you, Calyx. Please upload the trajectory counts. I’ll want to begin thrust soon before core immolation begins.”

“Uploading complete, K-K-Kapitänleutnant. I regret we have to part under theeese circumstances. We have been honored to serve with you...and share your sadness-ness-ness on the death of your comrades.”

“Honor is mine, Seedship Calyx. If I make it back, I’ll see to it that your service is sung throughout the Humanosphere. Return to dark matter peacefully.”

Silence again. There was no reply forthcoming. Silver spears of light were arcing out of the remaining body of the seedship. The flares made Tschai’s monitors light up, turning the blood smears carbon black. The seedship would soon disintegrate. He best be out of range soon.

Tremors swept the lifepod, transmitted through the tether. Tschai made to disengage. Commands scrolled up the holo display inside the helmet. The Kapitänleutnant watched the seedship through the translucent script. It rolled and thrashed in the throes of its core disintegration. The tether blackened and shriveled as it coiled up with the dying seedship.

Shaking and sick, Tschai sighed deeply as he prepped the lifepod for stasis travel. Servos hummed and engines thrummed as the pod mind checked systems. The Kapitänleutnant choked back tears. He reckoned there would be time enough for that while wrapped up in the deep dreams of suspended animation. Final commands issued, there was nothing to do but wait. The seedship receded on the monitors as the lifepod accelerated away.

Tschai watched, detached and impassive. Calyx wore a robe of silver and red. The core was immolating itself. Tschai’s felt his heart burn with the seedship. Switching the monitors over to interstellar, he began to slide down the long gray slope into sleep. His last thought before unconsciousness, while not a prayer exactly, was a fervent wish that he would survive this agonizingly lonely voyage out into the black.

03 December 2017

Huggy Bear

I heard the Hugger well before he embraced me. Hard not to. He was shouting. I had my head down as I walked to work that morning. Loud noises are not unusual on the workday street. There was no urgent need to look up. But maybe I should have.

The hug happened just past the convenience store and in front of the Methodist church mid-block. I heard more shouting and this time I looked up to see a man weaving back and forth on the sidewalk. He was waving his arms and shouting at passers-by, asking for money.

Just another city scene. I grew nervous as I drew closer. There appeared to be no easy way around the guy. I was going to keep my head down and keep moving forward. Good plan. It didn't work. He made a beeline for me.

Tall fellow, slim. Fast. Loud. He came at me quickly with no way for me to step around him. He yelled, "My brother, my brother!" then knelt at my feet with hands clasped in front of his face.

He knelt in front of me. I was stunned into immobility. He shouted again.

"Please, please, brother I need some coffee. Coffee! Can you, please, please gimme some change for some coffee?"

He stood before I could say anything. He lunged forward to sweep me up in a bear hug. I could barely breathe he was squeezing me so tight. Instinctively, even though I was lugging my backpack and a camera tripod, I sort of hugged him back. I hoped that would make him let go. No such luck.

"Please, my brother, can you give me some change. I need coffee. Please!"

He squeezed tighter. It was then I began to get worried. I apologized to him, and said I did not have any change. Which was true. He shook me a little and drew back. He held me by the shoulders. The look on his face was sad and a bit manic, if you can imagine it. It occurred to me at that moment that this guy was probably high. On what, I could not say.

"You don't have any change?" he asked. He looked crestfallen. "No, I don't. Sorry, brother" I said.

The stranger tottered back and forth a bit. He still had me by the shoulder and the loop of my backpack. My anxiety grew. He looked at me quizzically when I told him I needed to get to work.

"Work? You on your way to work?" he said.
"Yes. Gotta get to work."

Momentary silence. He looked around, gripped my shoulder and shook me gently again.

"No change?"
"No, sorry, my man."
"Aww, man. Aiight. Aiight. You get on to work."

With a flourish, he let me go. He shouted again "I need some coffee!" as he turned away from me. I then noticed another person a short distance away, he had been watching us and grinning. I think he may have been friends with the Hugger. He just smiled like a Cheshire cat and laughed when I shook my head and took a deep breath.

I turned back to the Hugger. He was already making his way up the street, shouting some more. "Take care of yourself, man!" I hollered. He glanced at me but did not reply. It wasn't clear if he had even heard me. I shrugged and started up the street. A sigh of relief escaped my throat.

He could have been a thief. He could have been delusional or suffering from mental health issues. He even could have been violent. I don't know other than my wallet was till in my pocket, my backpack was intact, and the only physical artifact was the fading pressure of the hug. I'm grateful it ended the way it did.

I wondered about my place in the world. How really did my position differ from that of the Hugger. Grace of God? Pure luck? A stubborn tendency to avoid self-destruction? All I know is that for a few minutes a human being connected with me in perhaps the only way he knew how, in a weird and touching way. My hope is that the Hugger finds a stable connection to this world, and that I get to keep the one I have. I wish him well.