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Month: May 2022

They Have Nothing

There are spirits in the world that have nothing and give everything. They’re the caretakers of the fallen, the lost, the wanderers that don’t inhabit their lives, but only haunt them. They’re doors that open inward, arms that lift to embrace.

They have names. Signposts on the pathways of want. But we don’t remember them. They live on only in the eye that doesn’t turn away.

I met one such many years ago. I didn’t recognize them, and only thought how lucky I was that I’d slipped through a hole in the fabric of the universe and missed hell by the width of a lifted finger.

That was how she summoned me. In the rain, the smell of sulfur, the rippling heat of a city paved in light, the thoughts of a thousand passers-by cascading like liquid fire through my veins. “Come,” she had said (and didn’t say). “I’m here.”

I went. I followed the shimmering edge of her presence as it drifted over wet streets, through banks of cellular fog, into and out of illuminated passageways bound by gates of darkness. I couldn’t see her. I only knew she was there by a tremulous rhythm that described all sensation in one moment. Fear. Anticipation. Regret. Satisfaction. Enlightenment. Grief.

I sank down when she sank down, into the murky fastness that elevates all great places by being beneath them. Down into desire, hunger, meanness. A narrow, compressed place. I lost her then and couldn’t turn back. I found no trail, no sign that I’d ever been. I closed my eyes. The world constricted, like a heart that would never beat again.

I took a breath — and let go. I yielded to the end of time, to the end of the future, to the end of myself. I didn’t exist in that place. I became that place. I held nothing and could not be held. I became every moment lost and forgotten, all the moments that would never be. All futures. All possibilities. All that diverged only to reunite in a final moment of dissolution.

And that’s where I found her. As if it were she who’d been seeking me. As if it were I who had led her to where she’d always wanted to be, a singular moment of salvation, an eclipse of the self that remade the whole world in a new image.

She and I. I and she.

We were one, as all things become one. And in that instance of release, I left behind what had once defined me and passed through the flesh and was born anew. In fire. In pain. In an obliteration of grief that left stains and scars and whole new planes of thought in its wake, striations that can be read like a language, a message to the imprisoned soul from the liberated future.

“Come,” it says (and doesn’t say). “I’m here.”

July 26, 2015

Sleep

Humans evolved to reproduce, not to be happy. Only with the advent of consciousness did we decide we needed to be happy. Consciousness, therefore, may have been a mistake.

Pilar Arreba, Ph.D.

I got into the program at the age of thirty-two. I’d been on and off public assistance, had just lost my job (again), and needed a way to pay my rent. I met the criteria: I’d never taken prescription drugs and I was officially, medically, definitely depressed. The doctor said so. I was in her pristine white exam room when she said so, with those pristine white teeth, like the pristine white porcelain of a freshly bleached toilet bowl.

I didn’t hate her though. I hated myself. Or is that too much of a cliché? Depressives can be as sentimental as anyone. Maybe more so. I hated myself. I didn’t want to die though. I was too lazy for that. I just didn’t want the one thing I feared more than death: living with my mother.

The program let me avoid that. The only problem was, I didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing there. I ate. (When I could.) I slept. (When I could.) I kept a diary, but only because one of the therapists suggested it, for my own use. They weren’t even going to look at it. This is what I wrote on my first night:

“Sometimes it feels like I’m dying. Not from an illness, not physically. Just dissolving. From the outside in. Fading away. I wouldn’t be surprised if my hand passed through a wall one day. I have become insubstantial. I affect nothing. I drift.”

Sentimental, like I said. Depressives are a ridiculous lot. Or maybe we’re prophets, or a diverse collection of Cassandras. Except we don’t speak the truth, just the truth as we know it.

They didn’t give us any drugs. There was no TV. I could get a signal on my phone, but I didn’t have anyone to call. I mean, except my mother, but I didn’t. She knew I was there. She didn’t need to know anything else. It was a sort of sleep-away camp for depressives. Except we didn’t stay, or not all of us. Not the whole time. We disappeared, one by one. When you fell too deep, you’d get removed. Moved into the second phase of the program. There were thirty-eight of us to start. A week in we were down to thirty. Three weeks it was twenty-five. Six weeks it was just me and my roommate.

I didn’t know if that was a coincidence. Maybe depressives are better at holding onto one another, using each other as flotation devices. Six weeks and two days and my roommate went down. Her name was Pearl — yeah, it’s that old fashioned. She said she was German and Chinese, but all I knew was that she had too much hair and never rinsed out the sink after she brushed her teeth.

I’d been talking to her for three hours, or really just listening. Or sitting there. I never knew what to say to other depressives. She told me she was in the hole, and what can I say to that? I’ve been there. I know what it looks like, down to the color of the walls, the shape of the furniture. But I still couldn’t look at her as the nurse took her pulse and tapped a handheld. It was as if Pearl were confessing to the enemy.

I didn’t have to go with her, but I did. I didn’t want to admit that I was scared, so I didn’t.

The place was in a basement. They called it a sub-floor, as if that made a difference. It was 11:30 at night and everything smelled like steel. I didn’t even know steel had a smell. Floodlights picked out a lozenge-shaped pool, like a big white trough, covered by an oily film. Tubes on jointed arms hung over it and a purple light blinked on and off, so slowly I was never sure if any of the machines were actually working.

There were no doctors, only a pair of nurses and three technicians wearing shorts underneath their lab coats, as if they’d been called away from a tennis match. One of them rubbed his fingers together in a familiar gesture, over and over, the way my mother always did. He was probably dying for a cigarette.

No one said a word to me. Not even Pearl, though one of the nurses tried to get her to answer a few questions. Are you in pain, he’d asked, and I wanted to laugh. I think sometimes if I punctured my wrist, the blood would bleed out black, like tar. I didn’t know Pearl very well, but I’d guess it was the same for her.

She didn’t even struggle as they lowered her into the vat. I want to say I would have, but I can’t. The tubes moved on their jointed arms, connecting one by one to hidden valves, and the steel smell got worse and the whole room seemed to drop ten degrees. I shivered and sweated at the same time. I could hardly see her now, between the hips and shoulders of the technicians and nurses. Just her feet, sticking up like some absurd fruit above the silvery sheen of the liquid.

I looked away when the lid went on. It slid into place over the top of the trough and sealed without a noise, without even the hiss of air to reassure me she could still breathe. The purple light went off and on like it always did, but it was joined now by a whole row of lights I hadn’t seen before, coming to life one by one. I stayed until a nurse told me Pearl was okay, that she was in a deep sleep. Induced coma. The product of technological progress, the hibernation state that would cure depression.

I left the next morning. Not into the basement, into a taxi. I went home. I packed my things and had my mom pick me up. I won’t repeat what she said. My old room was still intact, save for the sewing machine and the exercise bike and a half-dozen baskets of folded laundry.

I heard from Pearl six months later. She sent me a text. She was doing great, she said. She was going back to school. She’d never felt better in her life, and she wanted to meet up, was I free?

I was working part-time at a hotel. I was still living with my mother. I had good days and bad days, though mostly bad. I was still mostly invisible. I couldn’t think of a way to say no.

So I didn’t say anything at all.

July 11, 2015

Makeshift

I’d never traveled the Underworld alone. To do so now, with omen-songs riding the wind and every tongue heavy with rumors of a broken seal, would’ve been foolhardy — but to take a soul-reaver with me? That wasn’t my choice. I shared my rations with one who didn’t eat only because the city could afford no better, neither hireling nor sanctioned priest, just myself — a debt-ridden old mercenary — and this creature molded from human flesh into death’s handmaiden.

Her name was Makes Shadows Shift, so I called her Makeshift. She was eight feet tall and as emaciated as a weeks old cadaver, and so unnaturally still I began to doubt she breathed at all. She never sat. Never slept. Never spoke. She’d been trained at the Sanctum Dolor for purposes unknown, and lent to me freely, without terms, for their coffers were deep and influence had never come so cheaply. She’d taken vows in two worlds to become what they’d made her. I didn’t yet know what that was.

We walked on foot, as no mount would bear her, and passed the Sphinx Gate in six days, crossing the boundaries of inhabited land and following the river as it snaked its way through the marshy heath. Tonight we’d reach the ruined temple that breached the Underworld. I’d hoped to enter it by the grace of daylight, a boon to mortal travelers, but a storm-laden wind had been against us — a warning or a last chance to turn back I didn’t know — and we were delayed. Night had come to this forlorn stretch of wild lands, and from within it blew the hot breath of the fane, an exhalation like the sigh of a lost soul.

The temple’s rocky crest rose on the black horizon, limned in gold by the sharp crescent of the waxing moon. I hadn’t thought to look for good omens, and took the one that was proferred, sending a whispered prayer to Omela Ahma of the Waters for even so slight a lamp in the darkness. Makeshift didn’t pray. She kept walking, her stride modulated to match my own until my breath came faster, unwilling as I was to slow down, to reveal any weakness, though she wouldn’t have noticed.

I didn’t halt until we’d reached the shattered outer wall of the fane. It had once been a monastery dedicated to a god so old it had forgotten its own name. It had been overrun a hundred years ago, first by reformists who had slaughtered the monks, and then by thieves who had slaughtered the reformists, and finally by the teeth and claws of nature. Home now only to beasts of the field and lubas and gulagar and other malformed things escaped from backwater cultists, it stood like a gap in the night, a blasted place that had never felt the touch of a blessed hand. I’d been here before, a dozen times, and each time I swore I wouldn’t return.

Makeshift stood with her back to the moon, either oblivious to its presence, or so much an atheist as to be beyond caring. Her arms hung limply from her shoulders, her back slightly curved, her legs splayed at the knees. Her hair stood out in whorled knots, an adornment I hadn’t expected when we were introduced, and her reaver’s robes — a diaphanous silver cloud that blurred if looked at directly — shifted about her bare feet as if with a will of its own. Her face was turned away, and in profile, had a noble cast, the empty eyes sunken over an aquiline nose, the chin at once stubborn and over-long, every aspect of her body stretched as if by long use of the arts that made her both feared and pitied.

The urge to speak rose in my throat. An oblate’s instinct, I suppose, though I’d been many years breached of my vows, to manifest resistance with the power of ancient words, to make true every thought by repeating it aloud. But I only took a breath. Makeshift wouldn’t have cared what was said, and the gods already knew what was in my heart: I didn’t want to be here, but I’d do what I’d come to do — or die in the attempt. It was in my nature more so even than that of the Reaver.

I stepped through a gap in the wall, desiccated leaves crunching underfoot. Makeshift followed behind, the rasp of her claws against the stonework strangely reassuring. I caught a glimpse of a ghostly tendril extruded from within the sleeve of her robe, her peculiar gift for hunting down anomalies in both worlds at once.

Nothing moved within the great pile. A breeze blew cool with the draught of coming night as it hissed through the remains of a broken tower to funnel into the open bailey. I couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of me even with the glad assistance of the maiden moon, and kept a hand lightly on the rapier at my side. It wouldn’t do to draw prematurely. Some of what called the ruins home might dismiss us if we proved no threat.

Makeshift moved silently, the grass bending only briefly as she seemed to float over the dusty cobblestones. The illusion unnerved me. I glanced at her and caught a warning tremor in her face, the skin drawing tight over her cheekbones as she lifted one cadaverous hand.

I dropped to my knees. I drew my dagger, the long rapier useless in close quarters, and a breath of air touched my cheek like a whisper as Makeshift’s hand passed in front of me. Her long fingers curled as if to swipe at my face and I lurched backwards, my teeth bared in fury — until I saw the glimmer caged by the reaver’s pale hand: a glyph ward, cast in the shape of a dart.

Makeshift dropped her arm to her side. The moon painted an outline of the creatures that surrounded us. Six or eight, or ten, I couldn’t count them by their eyes, as they had so many. One was a luba — humanoid, as tall as Makeshift, its multitude of arms as flat as tentacles and each one bearing a phosphorescent glyph. The rest were a mix of wild and constructed, once-human and never animal. Some rose up on two legs, others hunched over on four, all of them seething with a hunger that pinched my mind, an urge to yield without the futile waste of resistance.

I whispered a glyph ward of my own, six words to reseat the soul — “I am foretold of the light” — and to my surprise, Makeshift echoed them, a double blessing, her voice like the rush of a wind-drawn flame. The luba’s glyphs faded to a lifeless gray, but the creatures didn’t falter. Only steps from the breach in the world, they would have risked far more for such fresh prey. A mouth swelled with teeth. One creature paced back and forth on human hands. The others shifted, uttering plaintive moans, until at last they surged forward as one and the luba leapt in a graceful arc, sighing as if in anticipation of the downward plunge into the crunch of bone.

This time I moved before Makeshift. I drew my rapier and swung, cutting the luba in two. Bloodless, it fell with a screeching wail as I ran my blade through a second, and then a third, the whole mass moving now — angry, fearful, and most of all, hungry — until, dismembered and oozing a foul ichor, the survivors crawled away. Mewling piteously, they rejoined those that were still whole and slithered together into the darkness, and down into the gaping maw that opened into the Underworld.

I took a steadying breath, my rapier hanging limply at my side. I drove the blade deep into the earth, speaking aloud a heartfelt prayer to Oma Oman of the Blood that she might cleanse it of the stain of the unshriven. And she did, tugging on the blade with an added benediction before I could free it, clean and unblemished.

Makeshift stood as stoically as before, unmoved by the attack. Her robe clung to her narrow chest, as still as the dead, though for the first time I detected the tiniest throb of a pulse in her throat.

“Remat a atta,” I said in the old language, the one taught at the Sanctum Dolor. When she didn’t react, I spoke again, in the coarser tongue of the new people. “I am yours.”

This time she did respond, and for a long time after I wouldn’t understand what it meant. She swung her head in a broad motion, as if she lacked the fine control required for a simple negation. “No,” she said. “Not yet.”

Puzzled, not knowing how to reply, I sheathed my rapier. The gap to the Underworld awaited, and I had no time for riddles. Six days from now, I’d either stand triumphant over the enemies of the living, or I’d be one of them. I resisted the urge to look back at Makeshift, to reassure myself that I didn’t travel alone — for what kind of company was a reaver of souls?

Without another thought, either of prayer or regret, I stepped into the breach.

July 17, 2016

Miscreant’s Feast

It was a miscreant’s feast that day in the harbor, the guts of the ruptured galley spilling over the sand like a defeated army. Boxes of wax slabs, sheets of tin, coiled wire; a hundred sopping yards of Aqualest wool; glittering shards of glass daubed with precious drops of perfume, solvent, dye, tinctures, spirits. A single unbroken flask of tanner’s eyebright. Seventeen splay-ribbed barrels that had yielded their fermented nectar to the sea at the behest of the rocky shore, and another two dozen kegs stinking of spoilt beer.

It wasn’t the wreckers who took the first prizes. They’d had no hand in the ship’s demise, and were in fact sleeping the deep sleep of the sated only two days after they’d brought down their last victim. It wasn’t the fishers either, who ordinarily would have seen the foundering ship long before the ship could see the shore, for they’d been away already a fortnight on the great herringers in a distant northern sea. And it wasn’t the lonely children hunting for a meal, or escaping from the too freely given blows of their elders, though they would be released from the pinioning gaze of their schoolmaster in time to be the second to plunge eager hands into the ship’s generous gifts.

No, the first was myself, of course. It’s the only reason for my telling this story, and I do have a purpose — bear with me — in telling it the way I have. I’m not a miscreant, or at least not the usual kind. I’m not a thief, or at least not always. I’m a vagrant, a wanderer, an itinerant fortune teller.

I saw the ship that morning from my sandy bed upon the heath. A solitary scrap of sail fluttered like a disconsolate hand from the very top of the broken mast. I knew nothing of ships, but a cold chill echoed through my heart. No mortal could have survived whatever force had taken apart that construction of wood and iron. It heeled one way and then another as it approached the shore, as if in its final moments it agonized over which stretch of yellow sand would make the softest bier to rest upon. I watched, the way one watches the dysrythmic fluttering of a dying bird, fascinated by the movement toward flight and continuity that starts and starts over, but never finds its place and must start again.

Futile.

I didn’t walk down to the beach until the outgoing tide threw up the contents of the ship, one wet-shiny piece at a time. The corner of a sand-swamped box, a sliver of glass reflecting the sun like a tiny beacon, a muddy wad of wool, the lucky bauble of tanner’s eyebright — and the only article among that sorry mass of lost and found wealth that intrigued me enough to draw my bare feet across the stinging heath and into the icy water.

It was a book. A glyph book. I recognized its metal clasp even from across the distance of the waste, as the contorted shape stamped into its unblemished brass seemed to rise above it, dancing like a smoky flame. I recognized it. I’d seen it once before, many years ago. It had been possessed by a rag man, a wanderer, a man very like myself — or perhaps it had possessed him. He told me it held a secret no man wanted to know: the circumstances of his own death.

I hadn’t believed him. I’d still been a young man then, and death had seemed like a foreign thing, a word divorced from ordinary language. Glyph books were of this world, and served only their true masters, and death couldn’t touch so harmless an art. Better tell your tale to the bone-casters and the skin-lifters, the white-eyed devotees of a truth revealed only after a lifetime of oaths and sacrifices. Glyph readers were a new order, a simpler order, and we’d have no truck with any mixing of the two. I’d sent him away.

And now here it was. Thirty years later, and me half a world away from where I’d been, and barren of book and craft and home and my next meal. I can’t tell the story now of my fall from grace, but only that I couldn’t — even had the home and meal been proffered in exchange — refuse the lure of that twisting glyph, that abomination of language, a fusion of the words “yield” and “conquer.”

I walked down to the beach. The book was trapped beneath the remains of the crate in which it had been housed, an iron-bound thing wrenched from its moorings and overflowing with saturated straw. I worried it with a trembling hand, dislodging a splintered board that pierced my skin and let my blood mix with the sea, drop by drop, until I’d freed my prize.

I sat where I was, in the wet sand, with the tide sucking at my bare ankles, and ran my fingers over the battered green leather of the book. It wasn’t oxhide as I’d assumed all those years ago, it was something thinner and yet more resilient, its discolorations only temporary blemishes. I could wipe them away with my hands, and I did, its surface smooth, untorn. Whole. Even after its disaster at sea, it felt after a few moments of care, as if I’d just lifted it from the hallowed shelves of that great underground library.

I walked away, leaving behind the recoverable Aqualest wool, a yard of which would have fed and housed me for a month, and the tanner’s eyebright that wouldn’t have fooled a half-penny shill but would have served a fishwyfe in exchange for a suit of clothes and a pair of shoes, and the tin and the wax, and the coiled wire, the former salvageable for an extravagant price in the inland towns, though the latter’s value had already been greatly diminished by the salt sea. I walked away, back through the heath even as the sharp voices of children echoed up from the gap that separated the coastal village from the shore, as the first of the wreckers woke from dismal sleep, and the herringer fleet turned back toward home with holds near to bursting with their harvest.

The contours of the glyph brushed across my hand like thread, or fine hair. They drew with them lines of fate that clung to them, weighed them down, thickened them into tendrils, vines. I couldn’t turn away from the story they told. The children all, sickened by the dye that had leaked into the sand, would perish that night in their mothers’ arms. The wreckers would trade their unlooked-for boon to a betrayer who would sell them to the lord’s warden, and every man and woman among them would be hanged. The herringers, already bearing for home, would fall afoul of an embargo, and disease and starvation would claim them in a long embrace.

Only one miscreant who had scavenged from the emptied belly of the doomed ship would survive long enough to tell the tale. Myself, of course.

For I am Skyborn, and this is my story.

July 7, 2016

Spider Silk

Her name was Spider Silk.

I never met her myself, of course. She was a ghost, one of those transient spirits who alights for only a moment in the mortal realm — or at least the platform known as Mortis. Eleven-hundred colonists, devotees of an abstemious lifestyle, with a negative birth rate and a predilection for going to bed early. It wasn’t really called Mortis, of course. It never really had a name, just a registration number, one that was forgotten after we lost contact with the overworlds.

But we never forgot Spider Silk.

She came with a growth wave, an influx of outsiders looking for work or enlightenment, or both. We didn’t have sisters and brothers then, only task-mates and task-masters, and Spider Silk had so many she knew no strangers until she reached Mortis. “These are your new people,” one of them said to her. But she saw only raw faces, unsheltered by familiar expressions, and turned away. She wouldn’t work with them and spent her leisure hours alone. Even those who’d known her before now found her strange.

Spider Silk retreated. She went into that twilight place of the mind and soul that knows no solace — also the outer scaffolding of the platform. She nested there, it’s said. She brought with her what a solitary person might need to survive and drew around herself what scraps and flotsam she’d gathered along the way, from her long-ago home and the detritus of the orbiting platform. She lived there alone and cast adrift what she called her ‘messages of the heart,’ tiny orbs of light that flickered in the darkness of space, following the invisible trail of the platform, only to wink out again in a day or two. They signified nothing, as her life signified nothing, and so she paid them no mind.

But they didn’t go unnoticed. For in the overworlds, which were then still the fruit and bloom of our people, there were watchers, and they picked up her colored lights on their instruments. Much was made of them: interpretations, extrapolations, diagrammatical mathematical algorithms, and a brilliant new philosophy that waxed and waned in a matter of hours. Ships were launched, robotic investigative probes, long-range first-contact transmission repeaters. “We’ve found them,” they said. “Those whom we have so long loved and too soon lost.” They mourned and celebrated, and told each other stories, and found and lost hope, until at last a signal was returned.

“We do not know you,” Spider Silk said. “You are lost to us.”

And so Mortis was forgotten. And generations rose and fell, and Spider Silk perished as all mortals perish, and we live on in the echo of a connection never made. The overworlds fell silent. We know this, all of this, only by the absence of a message. Words that never came. For if they had, we would have found joy and a reunion of souls across the galaxy.

This is the story we tell. It’s the only one we know.

July 22, 2015

Hello

I met a woman on the bus. It was a Tuesday in the middle of May. The bus was hot, the air-conditioning off and the windows open. It was crowded, people standing. I sat next to her when a man got up to leave. Her hair was dark with auburn highlights. She had a lunch bag in her lap. She was on her way to work at the sales office on the 36th floor of the big square building I’d taken pictures of the summer I came as a tourist, before I moved here. It was always too cool in the building, she’d say. She was glad the bus was hot, that she could sit by the open window and feel the warm spring breeze.

We’d have lunch together at the little park by the square building. We’d eat at the Thai food cart and discover that we both liked our coffee black, that we liked it later in the day, never in the morning. We’d meet again at the library and share our love of tea cozy mysteries and British detectives. She’d encourage me to write, and three years later she’d be the first to see my acceptance letter and the check that came with it. We’d celebrate at a bistro we’d never eaten at before, where neither of us liked the food, but we’d laugh and buy chocolate on the way back to the bus stop.

Five years later I’d sell my first novel. I’d dedicate the book to her and she’d show it to all her friends. I’d have changed jobs by then, moved to a nearby city. We wouldn’t see each other as often, though we’d always spend Thanksgiving and Christmas together. I’d bring my dog, she’d bring her collection of Miss Marple DVDs. She’d have retired by then. We’d text each other every afternoon, me to share my secret doubts, and she to talk about the birds she fed from her kitchen window. I’d take pictures of the birds. She’d tell me that everyone had doubts, that everyone was afraid sometimes, and that it only meant I was human, and that I should keep writing.

I’d meet someone and fall in love, only to have my heart broken, and resign myself to being alone. She’d be diagnosed with cancer, and move in with me. She’d teach me how to knit, and I’d show her how to write. I’d never make anything more complicated than a hot mitt, and she’d never write anything more moving than a few lines about birdseed, but we’d make a home together. I wouldn’t remember when I’d started calling her Mom. She’d die ten years later, at the age of eighty-six.

That day I saw her on the bus, I sat down next to her. I glanced at her, sidelong. She looked so motherly, like someone I’d want to know. I was shy. I said hello. She didn’t hear me. She didn’t see me. She stood up.

It was her stop. She got off the bus.

November 27, 2014

Sigmund Jho

“Doc,” Jho said to his therapist. “I have an appetite problem.”

“What’s the problem?”

“The problem is that I have one.”

“I see.”

Jho shifted on the couch. It was a new couch. He’d eaten the last one on his previous visit. This one wasn’t nearly as comfortable and smelled vaguely of Bitter Apple. “I can’t stop myself.”

“Why would you want to?”

“You don’t understand.” Jho swung his narrow head toward the doc. Ropes of drool swung back and forth. “I want to eat everything. Birds, small children. Bricks.”

“Well, why don’t you?”

“Sometimes I do.” Jho wanted to rub his chin or do something else to indicate deep thought. But his Tyrannosaurus arms were too short, and besides, he never really thought very deeply. “The problem is those hunters.”

“The ones with bowguns and longswords?”

Jho nodded. “They always bring meat and I can’t help but eat it — every single time.”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“It’s tainted meat!”

The doc tapped her chin with a ball-point pen. “I see.”

Jho was jealous of the chin tapping. Also, the pen. “It paralyzes me and then they beat the crap out of me. Pierce ammo is even worse.”

“Have you tried not eating the meat?”

“Of course.” Jho glared at the doc, but his eyes were too tiny for anyone to notice. Usually he just roared when he got pissed off. “But it’s like trying not to breathe. Sometimes I start going for the meat before they even put it on the ground.”

“I see.” The doc wrote a note on her memo pad. It was a real memo pad, made from 98% post-consumer waste, but Jho knew the note was fake: he’d peeked one day, and all she ever did was draw cartoons — of him. “I think I have a solution.”

“So do I.” Jho rolled off the couch. His drool darkened the carpet. “I’m hungry.”

The doc glanced up at him, then back down at her memo pad. She was probably making his dumb, bulbous jaw look even dumber and more bulbous. “Have you considered going on a diet?”

“I’m on a diet right now.” Jho took a long breath and roared. “And you’re my RDA of human flesh!”

The doc didn’t even look up. “I’m sure,” she said. “But let’s not forget I have a bowgun.”

Jho laughed, spewing saliva on the walls. “I ate all your pierce ammo!”

This time the doc did look up. “Oh, really?” She reached into a drawer. “Then how about dessert?” She pulled out a bright blue slab of aptonoth meat.

“No!” Jho drooled. “Don’t!”

The doc dropped the meat onto the carpet. “Help yourself.”

“Shit.” Jho slurped up the meat. So tasty! He took one woozy step backwards and keeled over with a thump. He snored like a train engine.

The doc pressed a button on her office phone. “Henry, make a new appointment for Mr. Deviljho,” she said. “Oh, and bring me a couple of L+ bombs while you’re at it.”

June 21, 2015

wishbone

why does emotional wreckage haunt us?
(i'm always at least a little bit lost.)

we move so fast but do we go anywhere?
or are we like trees, rooted in our lives.

two seeds encompassing separate
universes of potential become
two trees in separate universes,

both uncomplaining subjects of
their places in the world, of
their microclimates, of shade,
sun, elevation, weather,
competition for water.

they don't get to choose where
and when damp soil awakens
them any more than apes decide
where and when to be born
and into what precarious
social networks.

it's the agony of choice that defeats us
moment by moment, the mistaken belief
that no roots bind us, that no walls block
out the warmth, that the open sky alone
determines where our reach meets its
limitations.

trees feel no grief, no loneliness, no despair.
they endure. they live, they grow, they die.
they fall, they sift into soil, decay.

or are we discrete organisms at all?
or are we only entries in a bestiary

manufactured by the neural pathways
left behind by natural selection, by
those primitive shapes that fell one
into the other, by those coincidental
keys that opened coincidental locks,
those streams of particles flowing
through the skulls of self-considering
apes, electrical entities that can't see
backwards into space or time, only
inwards, the master originators who
declare this pool of signals suffering,
enfolding it within a length of
judgement,

this is wrong, a sin, a fault, or
this shall be excused, ignored,
elevated into grace.

trees make no such distinctions.
fill in the spaces between the
branches and the tree becomes
negative.

whatever we are, we exist, we need.
one moment of joy, one moment of
grief. we pass along the dendritic
stream into an unreachable sky.

(suffering dislodged from its context
is never senseless.)

May 30, 2022

a meditation

life is pain, suffering, confusion, disappointment, impermanence. death.

it can’t be fixed, changed, redirected, repaired, improved, perfected.

life is unfair. it can’t be made fair, equitable, just.

to believe otherwise is an illusion.

we still have moments of choice. pivotal moments.

but they mean less than we think they do, less than we hope they do, less than we need them to.

you can forcibly change the narrative. you can fool people, fool yourself.

but you can’t fool human nature. it goes on without you. the rest of life on earth goes on without you. the universe goes on without you, continuing to expand long after you and your politics are gone.

make peace with it.

make peace with your life, your vulnerabilities, your illusions. with all the needs you can’t fulfill. with the happiness you can’t achieve, the failures you can’t explain, the successes that didn’t ease your despair.

let go.

listen.

be humble.

even if you don’t understand, right now, in this moment, be still.

take a deep breath.

to be alive, to be human, to be conscious, is to suffer. so rethink your assumptions about suffering. about pain, about confusion, disappointment, impermanence. death.

let go.

step down.

bow your head.

you can’t understand it all. you can’t control it all. you can’t make every right choice, or even know what every right choice is.

in the end, it doesn’t matter.

you will suffer. you will die.

i suffer. i will die.

everyone we know suffers, even if it’s alone, in silence. and someday they will die.

in light of all that, what really matters?

what matters to you?

May 15, 2022

Then, there was a next day

Sometimes when two people each have half of something, you don’t get a whole when you put them together. Sometimes you still have two halves.

May 14, 2015

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