poem19 Jun 2017 08:00 am

The River soothes,
the River strangles,
it rushes beneath the moon
unstoppable.

At the River’s edge,
the funeral pyre rises above
our sweat stained shirts,
our calloused hands.

We drink,
we sing,
we wait
for the procession to arrive.

I cast a glance.
The River rises,
the River falls.
I know what’s out there:

The River Monster,
beneath the rushing water,
with eyes of onyx,
patient as the coming dawn.

The procession approaches,
mourners cry,
prayers are spoken,
we position the corpse,

feet pointed southward,
downstream.
The River Monster
gurgles with delight.

Its odor is masked
by the scent of basil,
rose and jasmine,
sandalwood.

The chief mourner
sprinkles water,
three times he circles the pyre,
before lowering the torch.

Flames rise,
the corpse roasts and crackles.
Water splashes in the dark,
the River Monster nears.

The pyre warms the night.
We bake and bask,
we drink and sing,
thankful.

Soon the pyre crumbles,
ash and charcoal
enter the water,
hissing.

We stand back
as the River Monster
crawls ashore,
swallows the smoke

then disappears
into the River’s depths,
where it will wait,
patient as the coming dawn.

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poem04 Jun 2017 08:00 am


On a world where alcohol
kills the natives with the inevitability
of a bullet through the head,
it takes a special sort of bartender
to pay the rent each month.

Finding thrill-seekers,
the young and the foolish,
who don’t have the sense
evolution gave a gibber bug,
finding them night after night
after night after night,
wears a body down,
dulls an agile tongue.

Finding the depressed,
the suicidal and near-,
those tired of life, ready
for one last experience
that can rouse a flicker of interest
in a jaded cephalothorax.

Too, the impulse buyers, the
I’m-tough-enough crowd
(they’re not),
and if you get enough trade
to keep the doors open….

So many bodies!
Takes a strong back
(even with power tools,
back hoes, et cetera)
a young back, too,
working long hours,
or the dead stack up.

Lax laws on this planet,
but do-gooders from off-world
(humans, the Sirius, the Thalxa, many more),
they keep getting in your face
like you’re doing something wrong.
But, you have a solution.
Quick or dead, know what I mean?
And you have helpers, young and strong,
a backhoe, power tools.

Still there are times it gets you down:
dawn after a slow night, the rent overdue,
midday in the pouring rain,
your birthday spent alone,
and you think,
I coulda picked something easy,
plenty of jobs with less stress,
better hours and better benefits,
and no one trying to lynch you,
but hell, you fill a void,
you’d have no custom
if you weren’t needed,
right? And so you live,
to kill another day,
in humble service.

image: CC BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2969474
Absinthe Paul Beucler à Bart (25 France) par M. Ringel
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poem29 May 2017 08:00 am

As you are devoured,
your thoughts and memories are replaced
by a succotash of former victims,
by memories of other meals,
of boat trips you never took,
of hockey games you never saw,
of first love, last love
of betrayal, the doing and receiving of it,
of sights and sounds you’ve never known,
and other memories:
initial penetration of the skull,
the vicarious thrill of consuming another’s
most intimate thoughts and perceptions,
of being at once violator and violated.
But soon the inexorable diminution takes over,
memory after memory, belief after purpose,
the you lost as the not-you expands,
until you are nothing at all,
save images and impressions,
remembered by someone else.

Ohne Titel by Wassily Kandinsky, 1923, watercolor, pen and ink on paper laid down on board
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poem22 May 2017 08:33 am


She’d have walked through more walls,
Spent more time at rock concerts
so loud she fluttered in their breeze,
Hesitated less, danced more,
Cared less about her looks,
Butted in where she wasn’t wanted,
Haunted Big Tony within an inch.

But she’d always have told him no,
Especially that last, terrible time;
When she wasn’t yet a ghost.

 

Image Female Ghost, painting on paper by Kawanabe Kyōsai, Meiji period, Cincinnati Art Museum
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poem15 May 2017 12:59 pm

Before they encountered us
the Fomalhauts
possessed no concept of self-indulgence
worker bees, folk called them
the proverbial dull boy
never mind the head appendages
or the scales
or how they reproduce through the mail
(they had no spam).

Before we met them
they had no vigilante justice
they found our pornography
appealing, and soon invented
their own, which usually arrived postage due.

We introduced credit cards,
bank loans, compound interest;
they found these novel concepts.
We took them on tours
of our marketplaces
where every price, it appeared,
had been reduced.
Amazing the debt these aliens accrued.

It was direct-mail advertizing
that really did them in–
at first the spots were, well, naïve
but as the ads race intensified
the Fomarketers learned that sex sells.

Fomals sporting overlarge
sense-enhancing gear in black plastic
tore open packages claiming to contain
freeze-dried mail-order brides
(really just powdered food products).

Winsome young Fomies were
tearing open their mail too
receiving proposals of marriage
from princes
wrongfully deposed
handsome
generous.

A few months later – captivated
by artificial insemination
and our hi-tech DNA manipulation,
Fomies were popping larvae all over:
Twins!
Triplets!
By the broodsac!
The boatload!
while the non-brooding fomals
postal donors of GM gametes
(not one of them a prince
or even a duke)
took no responsibility at all.

Most of these unnatural offspring
were grievously flawed–
injured by experimental methods
that would never have been allowed on humans–
although they were available in a variety of colors
and with naturally perfumed excreta

We converted them to our religions
(no matter which, so long
as they selected one or another).
We gave them nihilism, narcissism,
solipsism, existentialism
(not to mention pessimism).
We sold them anti-depressants,
antioxidants, anti-coagulants,
then we upped the anti.

The Fomalhauts have recently been
reclassified as a vanished species,
unfortunately extinct. Their culture
and civilization, so many millennia old,
suddenly defunct. A sad coincidence,
so soon after encountering us.
They will be missed.

Image By http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/obf_images/07/c0/a5d1fb011c297b84fc9be592c41f.jpgGallery: http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/image/L0040470.html, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36096354

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author profile08 May 2017 11:34 am

David Kopaska-Merkel has appeared in Polu Texni many times over the years. He has recently been named a Grand Master by the SFPA. We will run poems by him over the next four weeks.

1) Are you primarily a poet, or do you write in other forms as well?

I am primarily a poet, if you go by number of pieces written (close to 2000). However, I wrote fiction first (I still write some), and in terms of total words written, fiction garners first place. Or it would, except I’ve written more than 100 scientific articles, and two science books (a college textbook and a popular-science book, both with co-authors).

2) Tell us about your other writing projects. What are you working on now?

I am working on collaborative poems with a couple of folks I’ve written with before (Ann K. Schwader, Kendall Evans). And I’m working with several poets on a project I can’t say anything about just now. As for solo writing, I am always writing something. And I try to write at least one short poem a day, just to keep my hand in. I post them on my blog: http://dreamsandnightmaresmagazine.blogspot.com/

Geologically, I’m writing about trace fossils and fossil reefs.

3) Who are your favorite authors? In particular, do you have a favorite who is under appreciated that we should check out?

I have no favorites, cos I like too many, but, Roger Zelazny was a genius. Lord of Light juxtaposed the Hindu pantheon, aliens, and future tech with delicious humor. He was a poet, too. Tim Powers is another genius, and a poet. The Anubis Gates combined time travel with Egyptian gods in an enchanting way (and it’s about a poet!). P. C. Hodgell is, I think, greatly underappreciated. God Stalk is the first of a fantasy series, but it can stand alone. The god-filled world is fascinating, and the young protagonist is both adorable and unexpectedly dangerous. Kim Harrison’s “Hollows” books are paranormal romance, but they are superlative. A similar protagonist, in a way. Hard SF? Jack McDevitt is also underappreciated. Read Chindi, even though it’s part of a series (near-future exploration). You probably meant favorite poets, but I am even less able to answer that question.

4) What are you reading now?

I am rereading Rudy Rucker’s collection The 57th Franz Kafka. Some of the best SF that was ever written around unfamiliar math and physics concepts. Alternate worlds, the 4th dimension, what we think we know about time, and so on. 15 more books on my to-read pile, but the topmost is the 2017 Rhysling Anthology.

5) Do you do any other creative work (music, visual arts, etc)?

I have been publishing genre poetry since 1986. I started Dreams and Nightmares because I couldn’t find enough venues for speculative poetry. They existed, but it was hard to find them before the internet. Issue 106 of DN is coming out imminently. Over the years I have bought more than a few “first sales,” which is fun for both parties.

I like drawing, but I’m the only one in my family who utterly lacks talent for it. Even worse at music, though both of my kids are talented there, too.

6) What is your latest big discovery (art, lifestyle, anything really.)

I hoped to raise at least one scientist, but have failed miserably. I am a geologist, and recently discovered a new fossil species. What is it? No one really knows. Many ancient critters have no close living relatives. We know a bit about them, but experts don’t agree whether some fossil species were animal, vegetable, or other. So that’s pretty cool. I have inadvertently specialized in unknown critters, as a matter of fact. The previous project concerned a fat crustacean known only from its burrows.

I was recently named Grand Master of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Ass’n. I’m still excited about it: I have joined a select group, which includes Ray Bradbury and Jane Yolen.

7) Basic old biographical details? (family, work, why do all writers seem to have two cats, etc?)

Spouse, two grown children (all good artists); 1 dog, two cats (I hate being predictable); live in a 117-year-old house, which once was located out in the countryside. Boards in the closet wall still have bark attached. Have lived in 6 US states plus Canada. I study geology for the people of Alabama.

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poem01 May 2017 08:31 am

1904_bathroom_fixtures_(advertisement)

Old man Wisteria (fortune teller)
saved stones, red sealed envelopes
inside claw-foot bathtub, and bones
from his dinner. He cast them in dirt
then burned to soot, taking the ashes
& marking a line across the apartment
where the demons were supposed to stay.

Old man Wisteria’s wife (a psychic) died
ten years ago. Since then, the neighbourhood
cats claw at his door, worse than a minotaur
in a maze. He waits. Come morning, he empties
the tub full of black letters that fall off the page
(his eyes are bad in his old age, he only sees
the future in a house of bones & knows he doesn’t
have long in his apartment anymore). He stacks
the paper into the cracks of the doors and windows.
He waits, again, for morning.
When the downstairs neighbour (the tea leave reader)
finds the body, months have passed. The old man’s mummified
to his chair, his stones and bones and empty letters
over his skin like a tattoo. Like a riddle for
a fortune he left behind.

The cats still come. A black one with a patch
of white over his eye–his third eye–in the shape of
wisteria is the loudest. The new owners (father & mythic son)
don’t know how to get the claw marks out of the doors
or how to throw away stones that turn up the window sill, tangled
with petals, red thread, and vines leaves, spinning
counter-clockwise out the frames.
The old man waits. And waits (as a spirit-self)
until morning. His future, now, always the same.

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poem10 Apr 2017 08:41 am

Lilien_corpse
Possession is nine tenths of death:
a nine-pointed pattern laid on a black marble floor,
a nine-clawed dragon breathing ash,
a nine-forked bolt of lightning burning down cities.
What slips in, when the last sigh slides
between chapped lips, when the last twitch
stills, that’s what ghosts carry with them
into shadow, or what carries them where gods can’t reach.

Closure, for the lucky, shuts the door on haunting.
What grace exists beyond the grave lies in having the strength
to drift beyond the past, or even the present.
The dead, in endless future tense, loop in and out
of our sight when the quantum entanglement of their dreams
brushes ours. Ghosts trade memory for a map out,
trade passion for a path, and what we call back
begins at the ragged point where fate cut the thread loose.

Nice and tidy.

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poem03 Apr 2017 10:19 am

Tcitp_d318_chinese_funeral_processions
I enter the courtyard;
there are others here,
huddled over earthenware pots
and makeshift chimneys.

The night is warm,
the air damp with the scent
of wood smoke
and the echo of a thousand prayers.

I take the bowl I carry with me,
a bowl from which my brother
ate his meals,
and place it on the ground.

In this bowl I arrange
a handful of wooden matchsticks
just so,
leaving one to light the fire.

At last, I sit.
The flames turn blond wood to brown.
I take the first wad of paper
from my pocket,

rice paper
coarse to the touch,
except where there is smooth foil
in the shape of gold bars.

I speak to the higher gods,
I tell them my brother’s name,
I place the wad of paper
loosely on the fire.

My brother gambled with his life
and lost,
he left a wife and children,
an unpaid debt.

He also left an emptiness
in the hearts of those who loved him,
a vacuum in the spaces
he once occupied.

It is now upon me to save him,
to get him the money he needs
to get by on the other side,
may he use it wisely.

When the first wad burns away
I place another then another,
until my pockets are empty
and only embers remain.

I thank the higher gods,
tip the ashes onto the ground,
then stamp them cold
with the sole of my shoe.

Perhaps my brother
will buy his family
a little luck,
a streak of good fortune.

I leave the courtyard,
but I’ll be back next month
and the month after,
and the month after that.

For mine is a debt
that cannot be repaid as easily
in this lifetime,
or even the next.

My brother and I fought,
until separate paths gave us
the excuse we needed
not to speak.

I gambled my brother and I
would one day be close.
I lost,
and the distance has never been so great.

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poem27 Mar 2017 08:00 am

3Steps_-_Telephones_(16636768976)
He heard it again this time
louder than before. Sleep
was a luxury he did not have.
It has been almost two weeks
since he last had a nights sleep.

The phone would ring at odd hours,
but he would never answer it. He knew
who was calling. It was always the same.
It would ring three times then silence.

He never left the apartment for fear
he would not hear the phone. The ringing
is what he waited for.

He knew he could never answer it not on the
first, second or third ring. He also knew why.

He would one day admit his guilt, but till then
the phone would ring. The spirit would always
leave on the third ring.

The self-made prison where time was
consumed by a phone that only he heard.

3 Steps Telephone Paintings, 2014, shared with creative commons license
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