Thursday, September 29

a letter home

You don't sweat in the desert, not as much as you'd think. You're hot and grimy and you feel that drop of moisture begin to roll down...and then it's gone. It's a creeping feeling, wrong in all the ways we learned in our youth, though at least the bugs are a good deal less.  It is never humid in these mountains, and we have not seen rain in months. We have to be careful around the tribes here, careful of the roads and paths and water rights. The right of a goat to drink before a man has caused more than one confrontation.

At night, we march. We set up camp in the bone-colored light of the desert dawn and it's then I have time to write to you, before the sun fully rises and we can do nothing but try to sleep in the oven of our tents, the sour wine and tough flatbread of our daily ration furring our mouths as we grope after dreams under a molten-silver sky.

I know you wanted me to resign after the last campaign. I hope you've forgiven me by now. I spent only six months in Persia, made such a tiny contribution to our new homeland...well, I wanted more. I want to heap glories on the name I've asked you to share. I didn't know I would be here so long. I don't regret coming, but I do regret our parting. It can't take much more than a year in this wasteland; the great Alexander rides as if Athena herself were at his side.

I wish I could have brought you instead of all the wine in the supply train, though the women of the camp would make you poor companions. They are desert women, draped in their fortunes, with hawklike grins hid behind a number of veils. The odd, muted clashing of their robes and coins reverberate in the silent morning as they go about the homely tasks of making bread, pressing the cheese from the whey for our nightly meal. The complaints of the goats, and the odd tribal tongue in which they are addressed, have become our lullabies instead of the poets in your courtyard.

I think of you constantly, and wish to have you by my side. I cannot see you here yet. Perhaps in the new Alexandria we will build upon the river, the one they call Oxus. The desert people have already named it in their own tongue as well, Ai Khanoum. I am told it means "Moon Lady", a fitting tribute to the future home of my own maiden. May Artemis guard you, my love, and Hera Teleia guide you soon to my side.


It took the army of Alexander the Great six months to conquer Persia (present-day Iran), and something like THREE YEARS to subdue what is now Afghanistan.  The pre-Islamic history of the country is fascinating, and something I think a lot of people forget about, which is a shame.
This week's Indie Ink challenge came from Kevin Wilkes, who gave me this prompt: "Write a story about a soldier in Afghanistan".
I challenged Amy LaBonte with the prompt "You only love me when you're leaving".

Wednesday, September 28

parfumerie

Stifle the nutmeg and bring out rich leather, weave in notes of dying hay and cold stars.

It is still too warm here to hope to catch autumn's scent, the bitter chill and crackling sounds.  It is the end of summer of all our end of days, here, so far away from dim nights lit by poison-green firefly flashes and a single kiss in the darkest corner of the porch.

Every overheated day I weave another daisy chain of dull words, despite the heaviness, the dreary humidity.  I want book-weather, knitting-weather, bright-orange and musk-weather.  Pumpkin pie and ginger cookies, ground whole green tea leaves untouched by snowy sugars. I want the mossy drip and drizzle of what passes for winter, here on the wrong side of the world.  I want the rubber scent of rain boots, the taste of forgetting, the joy of scattering crystal drops from copper curls.

I want New Orleans in October, but I will settle for graveyard dust and marigold petals, cigarette smoke and thick rum that is as old as I am, black lace stockings and a fistful of candy corn.

remember

Inchoate still, a longing that grows
unbearable with the heaviness of time,
as swift as, from mountains, any snow-melt flows,
inchoate. Still, a longing that grows
is hot and ridged; like an old scar, it quietly shows
hints of its existence. It prophesies decline,
inchoate still--but a longing that grows
unbearable, with the heaviness of time.

Tuesday, September 27

but that was a long time ago

the singing crickets
and bitter scent of autumn
conspire to break me.

discrepancies

Come and find me, dear Doctor Sleep,
and I'll press my poison into your heart.
I require a dram to fall into dreaming deep,
lest they come and find me.  Dear Doctor Sleep,
I'm afraid of the blade and of the final leap;
I'm certain to need your delicate art.
Come and find me, dear Doctor Sleep,
and press me like poison into your heart.



This week's format is the triolet.  Here's my first attempt at the form for the Imaginary Garden with Real Toads, with a little inspiration from my hero, Stephen King, who refuses to get out of my head.

mob rule

shake me to the core.
words beaten into weapons
jump into the crowd.

your fire sparks more,
a resolution of truth
lodged in every heart

that returns, now pressed
into remembrance, into
the blazing future.

Green Harvest

"Jesus said, 'I am the vine, and you are the branches,' but I am in a position to tell you this statement was not entirely accurate. The Old Testament brings up vines a lot, the Chosen People being vines and wheat ears and, I don't know, whatever else the writer was eating for lunch that day. Ridiculousness. Even if you leave the Eucharist out of this, we still go back to the Greeks, all the way back to whichever tribes settled down and planted. I probably don't have to tell you about wine as the sacred blood of Dionysus--unless they lost or dropped that aspect of the Mysteries? I don't keep up with current events in archaeology, to be perfectly honest. Even with the internet, I've been so wound up with business for the last forty years that I only have the sketchiest of ideas about what you people think you know. Not even mentioning the amount of sheer physical effort that running this place still takes.

I mean, it's a big family, it's not like I have to do it alone, but someone has to be in charge, right? Well, I've always been assertive. It was one thing when we got here to build the vineyards and kick back, and another one entirely to start harnessing all our fruit and manpower to manufacture this business. Of course I'm proud of it. My whole life's tied up in these vines...

...Pressing the grapes for the first time was hard. It was like raising children specifically to take and sell, a slavery of sorts..."
                        --from the final interview with Moriah Landsdown, 1996

She is, or was, a thin brown woman with eyes the color of the underside of a leaf on a stormy day. She looked (or looks) about forty, and had for the last six hundred years. She said that she settled on forty because she was tired of being harassed by so-called gentlemen, and at that time, hitting on a forty-year-old woman was like molesting your grandmother. She was arrested and tried as a witch approximately sixteen times, due to occasional mistakes with the neighbors or knowing things she shouldn't, failing to take part in searches for missing persons, and the general run of "she cursed 'em" accusations. Of course, this was a long time ago, and records would show that it's not the same woman we spoke to, because that would be impossible. Regardless, these days, the only neighbors are all closely related.

The Landsdowns own most of the parts of California, Arizona, and Nevada that the government doesn't. The P&A vineyards are not the sort of wineries that give tours. You can call ahead and see if they'll show you around, and if one of the daughters (it's always one of the daughters) is not out in the fields, she'll talk to you for a while about irrigation and terroir, hybrids and tannins. She'll talk to you about inconsequentials long enough for you to get bored, drink some wine, and thank her profusely. Then she'll talk to you all the long walk back to your car about the details of winemaking, shake your hand in both her strong, blunt-fingered ones.  She'll stand in your wake, wave good-bye, smiling widely all the time, and you'll go home vowing never to set foot on their property again, lest they talk you to death.  You go home as fast as you can.

Unless you don't. A surprising number of visitors to the family vineyards immediately decide to move away, to take jobs overseas, go on spiritual retreats, take holy vows. Those visitors abandon their previous lives quickly and quietly, and most are never heard from again. Wine can have that effect on some people.

The vines in their vineyards are not the scraggly, stick-like things you see tethered to posts in other vineyards. They're green, more green than you would ever believe, and they are unbound. They run riot, winding in incestuous tangles all up and down the hills, all coiled snakelike in the field, their violet-black grapes modestly covered in brilliant leaves and guarded by the swirling of the vine. They make a wine as rich and dark as sin, red as blood. It's salt and slick in your mouth and ends thick, burning caramel on your tongue with lingering sugars. The family jokes about a superstition that if too many visitors come onto their lands, the wine will become thin and bitter, and they'll tell you, this is why they discourage tourists.

They're pretty good at staying under the radar. They've been producing wine as Peel and Ampelos for centuries, the family growing and extending tendrils across the globe. It's nothing new to them, the wine business, and the matriarch of the family usually heads up advertising and publicity. When Moriah gave her last interview, they were able to keep most of the controversial stuff out. Though, as it turns out, it didn't really matter. She'd been called crazy long enough that the interview was heavily edited, and all the incriminating bits were laughed off, or worse, pitied as the first signs of dementia.

It was easy.  There's no reason to believe she's sane if you do hear the original. She talks about leading the missing people into the field under the dark of the moon, allowing them to lie down beside the vines. She talks about the sound the vines make as they draw the people into their embrace, the sighing sound. It's so clear, the way she imitates it.  She can tell you about the ecstatic moans of the visitors as they are absorbed into the rich dark soil, or the occasional shriek of terror as they rouse from the afterglow of their orgasm only to realize they are being consumed. It's an odd thing to listen to, the longing in her voice. It's a compelling thing, that interview, her café au lait voice reaching through the tangle of websites that sprang up when she disappeared. You can still find clips of the oddest parts of her diatribe, the pain and pleasure parts, mostly dubbed over S&M videos by fetishists and disseminated through forums and porn sites.

Every now and then, she'll become a sample in an indie band's song, the near-whisper of her explanation being pushed further into the grasp of myth, the lascivious anticipation in her voice raising the hair on the back of your neck or the ghost of a nipple against your t-shirt, right before the drums crash in tribal ecstasy and the guitars begin to wail like cats in heat. She draws that kind of music. Some people just have that gift.

I still have the tape that she spoke so clearly into, her dark green eyes boring into mine as I took notes, simultaneously terrified and aroused by her clear interest in the pale skin showing above my too-low neckline. I went in thinking I shouldn't have taken the assignment, and I was right. I never took another. I never told anyone that I kept the original tape, that I mailed in a copy out of some obscure desire to hold on to that sultry whisper, to keep her in my hands.

Me, I don't know what happened to Moriah Landsdown after that interview. I don't want to find out. I stay in the Midwest on the shores of dirty lakes, far from viticulture, deep in city centers and industrial pollution. I erase myself from the internet religiously. I am learning to avoid notice by example, using tactics from the very competent family that became Peel and Ampelos International.

Last night, I read that 75,866 km² of the world is dedicated to the cultivation of grapes, that the area dedicated to vineyards is increasing by about 2% per year. I tossed and turned all night, thinking of white bones desiccating under a riot of grapes, feeling the sweat rise on my skin at the thought of her voice only to shiver when the chill of unsought knowledge turned my own hands, hovering at the juncture of my thighs, into the grasping of her many daughters' sweetly callused fingers.

I don't want to go back, I don't want to go to their home place. I don't want to go into the field at the dark of the moon, but I have these dreams, you see.

Saturday, September 17

iron

Sweat and blood, I come
as if from war. I fill my mouth
with rum and grin, I swallow with
my teeth bared.

This is how we survive,
regardless of opposition.  We
bear down, we spite.  There
is no question,

we go on.  With wine spilling
like fountains from our mouths
and burns rising like red ghosts
on our arms, we go on.  Of all

the dictionaries I've eaten, the
one definition I could never stomach
was the meaning of surrender.
Skull-grinning, clenched teeth,

until it kills me, I go on.

Tuesday, September 13

only in dreams

The touch of your hand, I crave, so light on mine
and so heavy with lovely meaning. Must I decline
the sweet invitation of your hesitant eyes, those blue
pools alight, so rarely, as I lean in so close to you?
They're too deep to escape, I think--and that is fine.

The hush of our home like the misty breath of a shrine
draws me in dreams. I long to curl around you like a vine
and relish that, forever and always, it is gloriously new,
the touch of your hand.

Someday, I pray soon, with you I'll be twined
when those numerous plans fall in place and in line.
We'll be awake to see light on red morning's dew,
and breathe in the peace of a most foreign view
where no one could see and no one would mind
the touch of your hand.

Rondeau attempt number two for the imaginary garden with real toads.  Well...at least it's not about zombies?

fine dining

"Why are you so slow?"
The insolent question cuts
faster than I can.

Still, I slice, precise.
Would you have it done quickly?
Or have it done right?

Give me time, I think
fiercely, to get up to speed.
Or do it yourself.

Good Night, Sweetheart

It's all at once, and terribly so,
a dead hand closes on us--and we know
they'll never relent, no matter how
we beg and plead. And on you now,
that grim and hungry grey-green shadow,

the pariah sign that says you must go
into the dark. We can't take this slow.
Give me your shotgun, take one final bow,
and that's all.  At once.

Were you toothless, I'd wait and show
you the longing that could lay me low,
the lust I hold for daylight on your brow.
You're a deadly danger, I cannot disavow.
You're human still, inside, I know...
but you all were, once.


This week's challenge format is the rondeau.  This hasty entry does not adhere precisely to the rules, so I'll post at least one more soon.  Besides, writing about the zombie apocalypse is no way to be taken seriously...right?

Friday, September 9

one thousand jiaozi at mid-autumn

Time is running out
of the glass, of the timer,
pressing heavy on
my hands, shaping translucent
crescents filled with summer's end.

Thursday, September 8

The Flood of the World that Was

"Hail to thee, O Nile!
Who manifests thyself over this land, and comes to give life to Egypt!
Come and prosper!
Come and prosper!
O Nile, come and prosper!
O you who make men to live through his flocks and his flocks through his orchards!
Come and prosper, come,
O Nile, come and prosper!

Hail to thee, O my god, Hapi of the North and South, lord of fishes and birds of the marsh, husband of Meret, Naunet, Nekhebet, Wadjet, father of our beautiful Kem, king of Ta Mery, hail. Hear us, great Hapi, and have mercy. Have you been detained in the world of the dead? The black sweet mud of your banks is drying to blow out over the red lands, and our people cry out their bone-deep hunger. We have given you jewelry and meat, sent our children to call you home. We dry into hollow reeds, hard and old, suffering the lack. Hap-Meht or Hap-Reset, god of Ta-Sheme'aw and Ta-Mehew both, attend your people, do not let the flood fail-- "

The tablet ends there, its voice silenced forever by events unknown. Iterw, Neilos or Nilos, the Nile we know today is not the same, never the fulsome blue god with overflowing breasts, rising from the Elephantine Isles, traveling through the world of the dead to bring life.

Kemet is no longer Herodotus' gift of the Nile, black shining jewel of the desert, the fruitful land. We have traveled deep into the red lands of the desert and cannot return. Hap-Meht or Hap-Reset, papyrus or lotus, Upper or Lower, neither now will hear us over the growing roar in the lands below, the sharp sounds of missiles and airstrikes, machine guns and hand grenades, factions and fundamentalists.

There, in the mist and the silence that hangs over the yearly inundation of the great delta, the relics of the father of cultivated lands are hidden in the mysteries of other gods, hidden under centuries as heavy as damp wool blankets. Now we are Egypt. Now we are Masr, and the glyph of our name that meant not only "precious blackness" but also "the ending of things" is hidden forever beneath the Greek and Arabic and English of the future tense.


This week's Indie Ink challenge comes from The Drama Mama, who left me a fragment: "...because the river runs through it, an even divide, the old world on one side, the new world on the other like a mirror of past and future."  Which seemed very sad to me, in the context of ancient civilizations and rivers, and who better to articulate this sadness than the prototype for all desert river civilizations?  Hence, my elegy to the world that was.  The fragment of a hymn that is the first paragraph and the names of the ancients are as accurate as I can make them--everything else, I made up.
At any rate, my challenge went out to Kerri, and you can read her response here.

Interview with a Pirate

Much to my surprise, Phillip Thrift over at the Imaginary Garden with Real Toads slotted me for an interview this week.  It's been posted, so if you care to peek at my underpinnings for a bit...here you go.

Your brightly blushing Captain,
Grace

Friday, September 2

je suis folle de toi

C'est pas ma faute
l'hiver rapide est arrivée.
C'est pas ma faute,
c'est mon coeur qui très lâche tressaute
et tout le monde sont captivés.
Le tourbillon inexpliqué,
c'est pas ma faute.


NB: If there are any French-speakers in my audience, please let me know if I have absolutely bollixed this--I'm eleven years away from being able to speak competently, and I refuse to use Google Translate or similar, so this was done with my dictionary and memory alone.  Merci mille fois!

den lille havfrue

At fifteen, I rose to a strange surface, finally
took a deep compelling breath of weightless air.
It was freedom. No different from rebirth, it became
a sea-change that left me mute and gasping for you.

It took me ten years, then, to stop holding my breath,
to remember how to sing, when every step was
disjointing agony. Still, I learned how to run away.

Too many years now have passed for us, for my
seaweed-tangled hair all the colors of sunset
to lure you home. I want to live in deeper
waters now. I am so tired of walking on knives,

so tired of bloody footprints marking this dance,
that I could lie down right here, regardless of
any storm that might blow through. Damp
soothes dark circles stamped around green eyes,

and I can dissolve
into rough scratching brown-sugar sand,
from sticky sea foam into airy oblivion.

Thursday, September 1

Bookkeeping

Since all the stuff on here is already "published", it only made sense to send some of it over to Goodreads.  I won't get to be listed there as an author until I, you know, publish something, but I am pleased to be a Goodreads Librarian.  It's my only claim to the glorious honors in which my sister and the rest of the librarian mafia bask daily.

So, if you are not sick of all the self-promotion yet?  Please head on over and give my ugly little word-children some love.

Your rushed and restless Captain,
Grace