You meet him on the road from nowhere to oblivion,
where the sky comes down like a backlot
and tumbleweeds tackle and wrestle in the sand
and gas always costs ten cents.
Faded as a lobby card, he will offer to pay for the lift
with the dust in his pockets and a wistful smile
just the list of a lance at a windmill,
but the burden in his rucksack
is his own light life,
expectant as the blank lines of a book.
If you ferry him as far as the Pacific,
he will vanish before the sun burns down to the sea,
the phantom hitchhiker of the painted desert
thumbing his way into roadside repute.
Stop the car among the broken timbers of the Triassic,
as heartshot red as a man with a promise in him,
and he may take his leave with civility
and his scenes stolen as absently as cigarettes,
who wore his cynicism
like a silver dollar on his sleeve,
the girl he haunted
gone with her paints to Paris long ago.
Slithering through the dark
bowels of the city in storm drains
where sewers often overflow,
the parthenogenic progeny
from an escaped pet python
survive on rats, unwary
city workers, and the odd
miscreant fleeing the law,
pressing the last breaths
from their trapped bodies.
Nightmares beyond reason,
they inhabit and haunt
these dank concrete
and steel caverns.
Some claim that through
generations born and surviving
in the fetid dark, they have bred
to albino pythons capable
of mesmerizing their prey
with a single glance of
their lustrous purblind eyes.
Others say there will come
a day when they will emerge
from the bitter depths below,
from storm drains and manholes
and along the banks of the river.
Shunning the harsh light of day
they’ll come in dead of night,
pale specters from hellish depths
devouring sinners in their beds.
Then there are those who
tell the story of a little girl,
seen after midnight, walking
barefoot through the dark
asphalt streets of the city,
wearing torn yellow pajamas
splattered with blood and
a young python twined
around her neck, a living,
breathing ophidian necklace.
She is the ghost of the city’s
corruption made manifest,
a perverse little demon
with sharp young teeth.
They say it’s her, with her
flaming hair, who leaves
a phosphorescent red trail
behind her, who was the
first to be dropped into
the sewers, the first to
have seen a nest of pythons,
to heat it with her human cells.
In revenge against those who
left her to a watery grave,
she has given to the snakes
an advanced intelligence,
a key to the weaknesses
of the Lords of the Earth
who walk on two legs.
If you meet her when
you’re alone after midnight
and your own path turns
a phosphorescent red,
grasp a silver crucifix,
pray to your failed gods
for salvation, take off
your shoes and run away.
They call her Anja The Red,
this ghostly witness who
warns that beneath your feet
where your worst fears
and obsessions fester,
a growing reptilian city thrives,
waiting to embrace you
with its slick relentless coils.
Eight snakes, including a reticulated python, a slow worm, a thirst snake, a Russell’s viper and a mythical two-headed serpent. Engraving, ca. 1778. Iconographic Collections
On the slowly spinning planet Kroz,
there is a plain where
frost builds structures layer by layer
over many years,
in the dark of a decade-long night.
As dawn creeps closer,
the frost forms towers,
buttresses that hold up no walls,
cities of the finest fragility.
The people of Kroz pay no attention
to the ice.
Those who live in mine towns
plod through their work, day or night
The bulk of the people,
nomadic dawn chasers,
shuttling between the slow morning’s edge
and necessary locations
deeper into night or day,
avoid the plain
in their peregrinations.
So structures grow unnoticed.
In all the planet’s literature
there is no mention of the frost by moonlight,
no songs of sweethearts meeting there,
no legends or tragedies
of the people who once lived within
or the fate of those who dared to sleep inside.
As dawn nears the plain
The planet stops.
Everyone gathers outside
the circle of frost buildings;
no one speaks,
no one records a thing,
no images of any medium.
no songs to recall the sight;
but with breaths held,
all watch the flash of an instant
as the sun turns the frost
to matrices of light.
Then dawn has come, the buildings gone.
They return to their lives,
and only the fleeting thoughts
of ephemeral art remain.
Her grandmother would nurture them,
teasing them out from beneath stones,
unsnagging them from damp moss.
She’d keep them in her apron pockets,
which were always damp. “These tiny
thingeens are ancient creatures of the sea.
So ye must keep them moist, girleen.
Otherwise they’ll dry out. They’re only tiny now
because their seas have long vanished.
But keep them with you and their seas will return.”
Grandmother kept them safe there in her apron for hours.
Then would let them go again. But before letting them go
she’d hold them on the tip of her forefinger
and lift them up to the sunlight. Then she’d bid
her grand-daughter to look at them. The first time she looked,
she could see that they were transparent under the light,
the inner workings of their bodies like cogs in a machine.
“Mind these thingeens as if they were money,” said her grandmother.
She didn’t really know why her grandmother
put so much importance upon them,
but she trusted her in all things.
That is why she always nurtured them herself,
keeping them safe and moist in her pockets, or else
always had some in her purse or a side section of her handbag.
She came to realise their significance only as she aged,
as she became bent and baggy.
She could feel the sea in her hair,
even though she was miles from any ocean,
and knew that it was the woodlice who bid its presence.
And she could hear waves, ancient as space, crashing all around her.
In time she could hear the woodlice themselves,
their voices like small timepieces ticking seconds.
And seconds that added up to minutes and hours and days and weeks,
and months and years and forever. All of Time was their
conversation, and she listened to every word, until she
was part of that eternal noise. And that noise was creation,
imminent and transcendent. And she knew finally the importance
of minding those woodlice, and wished now that she had someone to tell.
painting: Sitting girl with black apron by Egon Schiele
My witchery awakens
with the rising season.
My winter-faded soul
gains strength with each day
we creep past the equinox.
The earth’s aching
with growth so I tie garlands
into my hair, go dazed-headed
from the light —
In this season
the ground-up remains of road-grit
turn into goblin-dust.
Aeroplanes on a clear star-night
become dragons, scales flashing.
I change too, shed my dull winter skin.
Yes: I see the world
through a witch’s lens.
It’s spring, and I awake. We awake.
Photo by I, Luc Viatour, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2590826
By AYArktos – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1043913
Stolen by Nazis,
hidden by priests,
surviving the onslaughts of war
as Warsaw fell around its tomb,
Chopin’s heart, preserved in a jar
of cognac like fruit in a bottle of liqueur,
forebore the years, the visits
of the faithful.
Now scientists amass, eager
as crows on carrion.
Robed in the mysteries of formulae,
perfumed with formaldehyde,
they descend into the crypt,
pry open the vault
that’s played nothing but rests
these two past centuries,
and assail the heart.
A few quick cuts,
the tiniest of samples,
and the organ’s returned
to its jar, the wax resealed,
What, they wonder,
does it have to tell them?
They ask and ask
but it doesn’t speak.
Chopin’s heart knows but
a single language,
not the one they’re listening for.
It pronounces tender nocturnes
in the glare of the noontime lab,
singing of moonlit emeralds glinting
on Aurore’s unclothed breasts.
The scientists continue probing,
attuned to their test-tubes,
to the samples simmering in chemical soups,
to the percussion of the computer’s beeps.
The heart despairs,
wanders through minor-key impromptus,
a blizzard of sharps,
thunders in angry polonaises
that promise tigers rioting in Montmartre.