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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poem20 Mar 2017 08:14 am

599px-Votive_female_head,_Roman,_200_BCE-100_CE_Wellcome_L0058446

after neuro-chemical stabilization
and glycerol embalming
I cut off Tammy’s head below the chin
and laid this part of her to rest
on dry ice

afraid to look at the diagnostics report
to see if I’d made the window and she yet lived (if there can be life
below -130°C)
when the promise of her “resurrection” could be broken
by tripping on a power cord

she’d come to depend on me
and I on her
as if the rest of the world had dropped out from under us
and now I wanted only to hold onto what I could
with all of the energy
and know-how and hope that remained

Votive female head, Roman, 200 BCE to 100 CE
By http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/obf_images/9e/4e/0633401796ccb9016821cbf4944a.jpgGallery: http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/image/L0058446.html, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36210189
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poem13 Mar 2017 08:05 am

467px-Leonardo_da_Vinci_-_Study_of_Two_Warriors'_Heads_for_the_Battle_of_Anghiari_-_Google_Art_Project

I am someone whom they wish to destroy.
I sleep on my spaceship. At night, plaintive
cries keep me awake, won’t let me finish
my book of revelations. Claire, do wash
carefully: restrooms conceal a virus.
The radio messages are unclear.

I had a high security clearance;
this all began with a blocked artery.
In surgery, a thought-sensing device—
how, I don’t know—they managed to implant,
with a camera, too. Now, Claire, they watch
each infra-red pulse. This plot’s infinite.

Pretend you don’t see them, or they vanish.
Aliens attacked me—with nuclear
capabilities, Claire! They’ll never catch
me; the safety’s off. I’ll take this story
public: call Washington; file a complaint.
Citizenship entitles to service,

not government surveillance vis-à-vis
TV, betrayed by scratches in varnish
But those thugs won’t find me compliant:
I’ll hole up on the moon’s dark side, declare
I’m bankrupt, up a famed estuary.
Claire, don’t reveal my source of tainted cash.

Others—Claire, I know we’re not alone—check
for signs in heaven, listen for voices.
I’ll show them the conclusive site of Troy.
My manuscript, although it’s unfinished,
proves all. I’m editing for clarity.
Time is spun by a sundial on a plinth.

They’ve traced us to another planet,
a duplicate of ours, Claire—with a catch:
everything they don’t know about you, Claire
(illegitimate daughter of the Vice-
President, with a sweet affinity
for violence); your altered history.

Claire, don’t self-destruct. She who is Not-Claire, doppelgänger, plant,
kills slowly—a fine art. Try, Claire, to safeguard our secret cache
of toxic jewels. Are you there, Claire? Me again. Please advise.

Study of Two Warriors’ Heads for The Battle of Anghiari (c. 1504–5), by Leonardo da Vinci. Black chalk or charcoal, some traces of red chalk on paper, 19.1 × 18.8 cm. Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest
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poem06 Mar 2017 08:14 am

Hund_i_Skibby_Kirke

Dog created matter, and energy,
igneous rock, that maketh all new,
sedimentary rock, yea,
and that which has metamorphosed,
dog put into motion the geochemical cycles,
and created the microscopic organic spheres,
dog allowed environmental parameters to wax and to wane,
and lo, there was selection (naturally),
and much time passed,
and things were primordial,
and it was good,
and yet more time rolled by,
like unto a mighty river,
like unto the Mighty Mississip,
which did not yet exist,
and dog made a note,
and saw that it was good,
and dog saw further that there were plants,
and invertebrates aplenty,
a veritable smorgasbord of them,
but no vertebrates,
not even Amphioxus, their flaccid cousin,
and so the world was sadly lacking
in the bone department.

“Woof,” dog said,
and there were bones,
and it was good.

Picture is Detail from wall painting with allegory of the three kings in Skibby Church, Hornsherred, Zealand
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poem27 Feb 2017 08:02 am
579px-August_Macke_009

Let us see it once more
before the Grand Finale
like a striated shrine,
a coruscated monument,
the last Great Wonder
of our shattered world.
 
Step up to its S-curve borders
to stare into the glassy dunes
where amber ghosts swim
beyond its wavy surface,
like jellyfish fossils
trapped beneath its stoic facade.
 
Come and see the twisted relics
of crystallized faces,
wide-eyed with their reflections
sitting in parlors of haunted endings,
bone canyons with web-nested eyes
spilling regret from cavernous sockets.
 
Endure the weight of chains
shackled to their necks
like skeletal colossus snakes
woven of a doomed reformation,
spun from the spinnerets
of silkworm epidemics.
 
Touch the lustrous body,
so bitter now, and cold,
the heat of the magma
long ago faded
like the glossy echoes
of our children’s soft whispers.
 
Blood and tears
are encased within,
like swirls inside a marble,
mixed with all that liquid skin,
now once again solidified,
like the curls of resin-coated tongues.

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poem13 Feb 2017 08:00 am
304px-Michail_Alexandrowitsch_Wrubel_001

My uncle takes the cards out
from bottom wardrobe door.
His wife in the kitchen
hair tied back like Baba Yaga
& holding root vegetables
like forgotten children.

Uncle spreads the cards like extended fingers
split from a mandrake plant
slices the deck down the middle
and holds one out to me:

“Your legacy’s in the numbers;
in seven of cups and ace of pentacles
in the wheel of fortune
& the devil (Capricorn)
like the early January blessing
of snowfall on your birth.”

My parents never came home
one night in midsummer.
A tree split down the middle
as if it was the tower
cars wheels spinning like disks
&blood like a magicians cloth
over pavement. I was an
orphan. A child of legend,
a page of suffering until
potato soup kept me warm
and more birthdays passed in winter.

My uncle builds a house of cards
one by one, bent at the edges
a jester a king a queen
upon aces and aces
then he blows like the wind
like frost giants
like Loki and the Stregas of the forest
& everything falls down again.

Everything always falls down again.

“Your future’s in black water,” he says
as he builds and bends and builds again.

“Obscured until the next night
when the star chases the moon
and the sun opens up to the world,
endlessly repeating itself
like a spell.”

My aunt gives me
more soup made from stones
until I can cast runes at the bottom
& build my way up from here.

Picture By Mikhail Vrubel – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=160306
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