Tuesday, December 22, 2009

long ago
and yesterday
i didn't know
what i knew
the day before
and going back
losing something
every day
till finally
around again
coming round
where i started
long ago

Saturday, December 19, 2009


A day not like other days. Somewhere across the fields something comes down, and soon enough into the town come people. Tall and nervous, something hostile hidden away, hands reaching out in some form of greeting, grasping, asking to be filled. They have helmets and translators and weapons by their sides and soon enough they are asking for things. What do you have here? Is there anything we can use? What is your technology like?

And we take them around and show them, not much. Crops in the fields, irrigation waterways, houses of stone with wide open windows. Some primitive medicines. Ways to store food. Heavy clothing to keep out the cold.

Is this it? they ask, surely not believing it, and sniff suspiciously into the storerooms, looking for something. Gold, precious metals? Diamonds, jewelry? Interesting cultural artifacts? You must have something.

But we don't. Plain old pottery, a few stone tools. No metals here, we explain, after they show us a few examples, and indeed it can plainly be seen that there aren't. Woven cloth, but it's all so drab, no colorful patterns, and it takes us so long to make. We don't wear jewelry or any other decoration, and have never seen a precious stone. They show us theirs. Some of the children like them, but the rest of us don't seem to see the attraction.

Days of polite negotiation ensue, our bare hospitality given and not much accepted, offers to buy or sell, but we don't seem to want anything they have, and we can't afford to give anything away.

Finally they give up on us, after searching all around town and into the forests, looking for something oh something they can take away with them, worth sending back home. Not even our wood is worth having, soft nasty stuff that crumbles away within a few years.

And finally we take pity on them, after a few more threats and hints and attempts to take samples or capture some of our animals. Look, says one of us, did you know there's a planet just for you, one system over? You might like it. It's warmer than here, very lush, all sorts of crops grow. Very scenic. Metals and everything. You'd like it.

And they sniff suspiciously, argue among themselves a little longer, and head off, with threats to be back if we were lying to them.


Many months later a few of them come back. It's a thriving colony now, they tell us. Hundreds of us and more on the way. You were right, everything grows there! We wonder you don't want it for yourselves. But (saving us the trouble of answering) we see there are few of you and you seem to like the cold.

But we wonder, they say politely (for them), how you came to know about that place? You don't seem to have the technology for it, in fact we're sure you don't, unless it's very well hidden. Again that suspicious look, as if we had some secret machinery and took the bother to hide it just in case they or their like came along.

Our ancestors, we say vaguely, and they nod and seem to understand. A debased culture, remnants of possible spaceflight. Some old ruins out in the desert now seem to make sense to them, despite having yielded nothing of value whatsoever.

And now they offer us technology, so eagerly, feeling so sorry for us. How could we be descended from a great galaxy-shaking race and yet be reduced to living here in the cold and barrenness? How sad it is to see the mighty fall, and a friendly race such as themselves on their way up the ladder surely owe us a hand.

We shake our heads, but politely accept one or two small items. This might be useful, this light-globe, for those long dark evenings in our little stone houses. We seem very grateful.

And off they go again, back to New Terra or whatever they call the place.


Another year passes, and back they come again. There are thousands of us now, children born every day, it's a beautiful place! The flowers, the fields, the wide blue sea, oh it's a paradise! You should come visit us.

But we like the cold, we say, smiling abashedly.

But we don't think that's right! No one should have to endure the cold like this, or be forced to live on these barren remnants. We think you should move there. We want to rescue you.

We look dismayed, though perhaps they mistake that for gratitude at their generosity. Uproot ourselves and move in with them? Who would look after the animals? How would we endure all the noise and movement, the things being built and torn down, the vehicles no doubt already racing over the fields or along newly paved roads? Dirt in the air, power plants, cities rising, the fields reduced to a holiday or to grow too many crops. It wouldn't do.

We were there ourselves a long time ago, we remember that. All the noise, all the chatter. Babies born every five minutes and half of them dying. Life! our ancestors cried, and seemed to think they understood it all. The overflowing, the noise, the emptiness.

It took us a long time to recover from that.

But we can't tell them, they'd never understand. With luck they'll outgrow it, or they'll ruin it all and collapse in despair as many another race. They don't learn. They ruin one world and move to another. We had high hopes of them, and some of us still do. We'll keep an eye on it.

And mumbling one more set of excuses we somehow manage to send them along. They won't come back for a year or two and this time we'll be ready for them, we think. One or two of the younger people volunteer to go live there and prove to them it doesn't suit us, but we turn that down. No one should have to endure that, however courageous!


When they come back, they're divided. Some of them still want to help us and we see their anger when we refuse, with our foolish smiles and empty excuses. Others begin to look haunted, as if the noise is driving them away too, as if they almost want to live here with us. Would we allow it?

It won't take long to sort them out: the rescuers will go away fuming but bought off by some offerings, and the others may get a chance. We could allow a sort of welfare party, a compromise position, someone to teach us. No doubt it will contain several of the more annoying ones, but all the ones who want to stay will be able to.

Time will pass. They'll never rescue us, we're too stupid, we can't seem to see our own best interest no matter how many times it's pointed out to us. Sooner or later those ones will tire of the cold and go running back to the lush green fields of New Terra, but the others may stay on. And then we'll see.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


in lingua latina dico, illa via ambulat. ambulat illa multibus horibus. tum in nocte, ambulantem illae sistit. sed ambulat in somnis etiam?


then in that time (tum illo tempore) she left her home (domum eam discedit) and walked into a world where she she could no longer speak her own language.

through much effort she learned to speak and even understand the natives of that place. an awkward business, and one she never really mastered. once or twice indeed she did attempt to teach someone there her own language, but there was no wish to learn. "waste my time on that?" they cried scornfully. "when i have business to do, that will not wait!"

well, she thought, softly sighing, perhaps it is so and indeed a great deal of business did seem to be transacted in those days. day and night did they transact, and often for valuable items. many would pile high these, many resell, even a few did give them away.

and in the night she did steal away and speak to herself, speak softly, once more, her own native language. was no one to answer, but ever? for home was far behind her and may not be recaptured.

and yet the trees did answer, and the night itself, and the stars spoke softly. sometimes they did. and again no one to hear it, but not needed; it was enough.

and somehow she survived, in this strange country, for many a year. a little hut, a few transactions. not much to buy, or worth buying, but she could sell with a will and not even get much in return! "oh what a seller be ye", they cried, and again she tried to give something away to them. but they weren't a-having it! "it can't be worth much," they sniffed, and set it aside, and off again in pursuit of some valuable item with fresh new price tag and product endorsement.

well leave it out then and the little ones may creep closer and take it. take it, please take it, she thought, and in the morning oft was it gone.

Monday, November 9, 2009

manus maeae inanes sunt
quam linguam dicere eligo
manens, audio et quod post silentiam est quaero

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Pecunia, o pecunia! dixit.
Pecunia, amor meus!
Vita sine pecunia nihil est!
Et dixit, multam pecuniam desiro, et multam pecuniam habeo.
Felix sum, in summa felicitate, propter pecunia mea.
Risit, et digredit.


In domum ambulavit.
Dixit, ubi sunt possessiones meas?
Dixit, qui illas cepit?
Sine possessionibus meis nihil sum!
Et sine illis, moriabor!
Tum, amicus suus intravit.
Dixit, non lacrima!
Non tu nihil sine possessionibus es, sed cum possessionibus.
Quoniam libertas magnior est quam possessionibus, et non posset existare cum illis.


Cupiditas, dixit, autem est non amicus meus.
Si similis mihi vivas, felix sis.
Et ille dixit, non! Nondum relinquere possum possessiones meas.
Nondum? dixit amicus. Vides unam diem ubi poteris relinquere?
Et ille dixit, fortasse.
Aliquando, video vitam sine possessionibus, atque etiam sine curis. Tum, tum, tranquillus possim.
Et amicus dixit, non libertatem, non felicitatem, sed tranquillitatem desiras! Num, amice mei, te prehendo.
Et omnem in potestate mea faciam ut tibi auxilium feram.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

the wall or the sea

flapping fish dying at your feet
throw her back and hope she'll survive
can't take her home and
put her in an aquarium,
can you?

a seawall surrounds you
you built it yourself
keeps you in
keeps me out

the sea is full of wild fish
you can't swim, can you?

me i sit on an island and
ponder the water
it laps over my feet
the island is shrinking behind me
i swim in my sleep
i dream of the sea

Friday, May 15, 2009

"universal explorations", a work in progress

and a world away mannfred gazed out the window while writing in his sensitive longhand one more chapter of his ongoing novel, now projected at around 900 pages somewhere in the year 2010. it would be the long-awaited sequel to his 1972 opus "the world and everything in it", which critics had spent the last 37 years hailing as the greatest work of philoso-poetic genius since james joyce...though in recent years there had been a slight falling off in this steady hail, alas, and it was for this very reason that he was engaged upon the present work.

however, his new quantum-based philosophy, which attempted to meld form and function via very short words and fast sentences, would be sure to win them back. later, he would explore the origins of the universe via a page of flashing prose which radiated in all directions, to be followed by many millenia of quiet expansion, one word per page until further notice. soon, clusters of ideas might appear, proto galaxies or mini-poems, let the reader decide for himself. finally a mature universe would be represented by a blank page with the words "to be continued", and he would turn to the knottier issues of god, free will, and the human purpose.

he had just finished the "god" section, an admittedly short one as his personal experience of god was quite limited, though he had several interesting ideas and would be happy to share them with god or his representatives if the opportunity arose. in the end, it had consisted of extracts from various holy works from around the world and through the centuries, with marginalia by himself in contrasting colors. a respectful attitude prevailed, with a few timid excursions into his own more humanistic leanings. finally, his own feelings on the matter covered a double spread of violet ink and sweeping words, a poetic tribute to the mystery at the heart of it all.

now, he was approaching free will, and found it easy enough going. "what sort of god would not permit free will?" was his polite enquiry, and he could not conceive of such a god other than as a poorly behaved master who failed to even tip the servants. why, even his own cleaner exhibited plenty of free will; in fact she at times seemed to have more than yours truly and would move his books around unmercifully, leading to several hours of delay as he recaptured his notes. thus, a system without free will must be the product of human psychological insecurity and the desire for a divine parent or schoolmaster to remove all need to make one's own decisions, he pontificated, glad to be up to date on the latest in social psychology and other useful fields.

the human purpose was proving more intractable, and as his passing acquaintance with god improved, he began to suspect he had better leave it to that gentleman. however, his publishers expected no less and he would have to dash off a few obscure poems to cover his general sense of the case. that would certainly be no trouble to such as himself! and with an elegant flourish, he began.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

genre fiction at its finest

and meanwhile in a lonely house far out on the prairie, monica sat at her sleek word processor, waiting for that first moment of inspiration. in her wide and varied career in genre fiction, she had crafted many a gothic romance, many a regency bodice-ripper, had even dabbled in the all-male frontier of western and spy novel, but now she was due for a return to the wide open field of SCIENCE FICTION!

yes! for tonight she would venture into the far reaches of space and time to find a story that could span galaxies and yet touch the heart, show man (note to self, find a gender neutral way of expressing this heinlein type concept) at his finest, create many a piquant alien species with its own mores and customs, not to mention languages full of odd vowel combinations guaranteed not to resemble any language here on dear planet earth.

where to start? perhaps with a humble spaceship sitting on its pad, ready to blast off into the outer reaches of the solar system, there to discover an alien probe of many years acquaintance? or perhaps with a lonely visitor from another planet, sadly disguised as a down-and-out on the streets of manhattan? or even a spot of time travel, which would nicely allow insertion of a few chunks from her last unfinished historical thriller. there were so many possibilities!

and yet somehow she sensed a lack of originality here, a "been there done that" so anathema to the true SF fan, who insisted on endless novelty. gods, aliens, machines, the end of time, alternate universes - no concept was too grandiose! and yet drearily the same old human preoccupations infested them all; there was always a wise-cracking hero, often complete with cigar and alcoholic beverage; there was always a bar full of fun-loving aliens, just like us but with extra extremities; there was always some tedious romance, the hero or heroine daring or discarding all to save or win some tiresome person of opposite sex. one might as well stick with the tried and true and set it all here on earth, saving a good deal of imaginative effort (and yet, adding a good deal of research - if lord x resides on mars, no need to get the details of his house and trousers just right).

a weariness overtook her. perhaps it was age, or the effects of the rain outside and the overdue power bill. no story seemed worth the telling, much less the reading. who indeed would care to read a real one, featuring perhaps a socially inept writer unable to make a steady living, and struggling for hours a day with weighty concerns such as how to unblock the toilet, find a way to shovel the drive without putting her back out, or budget enough to get the roof fixed before the back bedroom ceiling fell in.

could there be a new genre for her here, perhaps? spunky heroines who "do it all" (and perhaps win some conveniently nearby man). this would be descending far on the scale of her aspirations, and yet perhaps there was a market for it? just make the heroine 20 years younger, 30 pounds thinner, and with thick naturally curly hair, and off we go!

with a heavy sigh, she fixed a cup of instant coffee and began. "eloise sat at her chippendale desk, her naturally curly hair waving in the soft southern breeze. however would she pay all those bills! if only ted had not deserted her in her hour of need, leaving her to carry on the family plantation."

Thursday, May 7, 2009

"reality and dreams" not by muriel spark

"reality is but a dream" thought albert, in the words of his favourite author had he but known. he gazed out the window at his smooth green lawn, surrounded by a tasteful hedge well trimmed by himself, and wondered whether he should fill in the side border with some of those new double daffodils? well, that could wait. he had work to do. and thus his midmorning coffee break must come to a tranquil end and contemplations of infinity wait for another day.

gently he reached for the next book on the top of the pile by his typewriter. it was a book of short stories, he saw, not his usual fare, but a quick study to those in the know. he skimmed through the table of contents, noting titles such as "life is but a dream" (aha, he thought, off to a good start my lad!), "boxes forever" and "ladies dinner bell". this last grabbed his interest and he turned to page 243.

"jessica turned to her boon companion of many years, lady mabel, and inquired as to whether it was yet time to dine. 'indeed', replied my lady, who had been dressed this half hour, and led the way in. in their small but sumptuous dining apartment sat the makings of a splendid meal. many covered dishes gave forth the redolent steam of hours in the kitchen, where Cook and her helpers laboured only to please.

jessica was feeling a little off colour and merely contented herself with a small helping of her favourite cauliflower cheese. lady mabel, au contraire, had a hearty appetite, and was soon tucking into piles of beans al fresco and salade a la normande, a particular speciality of the house. nicely dressed, it could serve an entire family, but lady mabel did her best to polish it off. soon it was time for pudding, and what a pudding it was! a mile high cascade of chocolate met their astounded eyes, and even jessica recovered her appetite sufficiently to partake."

albert skimmed ahead to the end of the story, noting the predictable developments, ending in the happy installation of an authentic dinner bell (no doubt brought back from india by some ancestor of m'lady) and jessica's eternal gratitude at never having to wonder again when dinner might be. "well," he thought, "this one will do" and made a few notes about the stilted yet imaginative use of period language, etc.

all this hard work had brought out the best in him and he allowed himself to add a few notes to his own work in progress, a sensitive novel-to-be about various subjects dear to a boy's heart. a few bittersweet memories floated by, and he noted down the best of them.

and at last it was time for his very own dinner, bell or otherwise, and a quiet evening at home. which soon passed, and he found himself yawning for bed. bed awaited, where he arranged himself comfortably in his favourite blue and white pyjamas and prepared for the soothing hand of sleep to overtake him.

soon, he was deep in a dream. gentle snores emitted from his fine large nose but they he did not hear, for he was wandering the streets of his very own town, designed by himself, where he had passed many a happy hour. for yes, albert was a master dreamer. or so he thought and verily hoped, based on a book he had come across at the tender age of 20, and lived his life by ever since.

he found himself on an empty street. soon, he encountered a neighbor and had a conversation. many merry words ensued, but as always they would fade by morning, much as he hoped to retain them and use them as the basis for his masterpiece, planned to arrive about five years after "life of a boy". one precious image survived, and he eagerly seized it, setting it down in his flowing handwriting in the handy blue covered dream notebook by his bedside. he pondered it long and deeply ere returning to sleep, with those favourite words of his again echoing in his mind. "a dream is but reality," his sleepy mind averred, and he was just awake enough to notate it as he drifted off.