Thursday, December 9, 2010

by what path will you arrive?
the long and narrow, or the short and straight
by backwards convolutions and sudden leaps ahead
by waiting till the goal grows closer
or sit alone till you grow old
and then the frantic stumble towards the door

Sunday, November 14, 2010

play it

light -
streaming through the doorway

talking to the darkness
keeping it away

filling up the time
steadying the ground

danger all around
trying to get by it

thinking with the rain
waiting for the moment

breaking down the walls
emptying the fortress

filling up the room
waiting for the rain

Friday, November 5, 2010

trying to find the open spaces

fields of stone
empty turnings

something small inside me

a dirty shield
against the enemy

no end to it
except in ruins

a window in or out
something green

Thursday, October 21, 2010

she walks across the plains and throws
the staff that grows
leaves across the air
and plants itself


and grows into an orchard
living water
flows around it

and somewhere
lies a stone

holding down
and dry

and waiting
for the end to come

but no one ever passes by

Thursday, September 30, 2010

a wide open plain, surrounded by mountains, and on every one of them sits a dragon. no one knows they're there.

and down on the plain a guesthouse, round and domed and with wings on either side. inside the rooms are full of pictures and many of them are dragons, smiling out, reading books, drinking cups of tea.

and the dragons come down from the mountains to visit, but no one knows they're there. they tap on the windows but people don't see them. they see and they don't see. it couldn't have been a dragon, i must have imagined it! and no one tells anyone else because who sees dragons at the window?

in the middle of the night one sleeps on the dome. the others fly around and then go back to the mountains. the smaller ones sit in the trees and wait till morning.

inside, people walk and talk and enjoy their meals. they go back to their rooms and look at the pictures, and read the books. some are about dragons. "oh dragon, come to me" one reads out, then smiles at himself: the absurdity. whoever decorated this place?

the window knocks and a dragon looks in. he doesn't see it.

later, they gather to study and discuss important results. the dragons listen from outside.

dinner is served. the dragons are getting impatient! they fly in circles over the roof and sometimes dance on it.

in the evening, a little light music. the dragons don't like it. open up!

someone opens a window.

the dragons look in. they're smiling. they seem to have something to say to us.

we don't remember. somebody thinks he went flying with them, but that isn't possible. someone else remembers talking, or hearing something, or a trip to the mountains and back. someone knows them personally. we see dragon-scales in the morning, on the floor, so maybe it actually happened.

no one wants to talk about it.

later that day they leave and the house is empty.

the dragons fly over, then settle down on the roof. the caretaker returns.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

an earthman's nest is his castle

their nests are heavy and close to the ground, closed up and heavy! how can they lift them at all? a solid mass of earthenry, and hardly any air in it. no doubt they like it that way, and yet in such surroundings how can they feel it at all? nothing of breeze in there, nor water. nothing in or out unless themselves or in boxes, partitioned away. a steady line all day long, a procession of boxes, in and out, in and out.

similarly they shut themselves away for days, rooms inside rooms, further and further from the open air. and masses of material draped all around, lumps and boxes, things to sit on and inside and full of papers and further boxes and more and more! things underneath, things on top, things hanging and draping and lining the walls and more things inside them. shut out the light and bring in your own, in a box! shut out the air, and bring it in, and spray it with artificial flower scent! shut out the water and box it in metered and paid for. and your food, boxed and boxed and hardly real at all, dried up powder that was growing on a stalk years ago and now mixed with artificial color and whatnot and formed into shapes in a bag in a box, and paid for.

and what then? inside this artificial world they sit in ones and twos and dozens and do things, with papers sometimes, or even boxes. or moving the dirt out or moving something in, no doubt in a box. dirt is all right outside the door, unless paved over with crazy concrete and gnomes, but not inside! not one speck of it! unless it be in a pot with one small plant inhabiting it, and then well contained by saucers and windowsills, and water from a jug. alternately plants made of plastic may be found for those not wanting any dirt at all, or the bother of watering them.

similarly on their walls appear pictures, many per side, sometimes of dirt and flowers and even trees. or water, or mountains. or boxes of papers where they may learn of others climbing mountains or walking on dirt, or not. and similarly flowers on their clothing, not with bothersome roots attached, but all on their own and requiring no watering! and no dirt must touch these, whether flower-printed or not.

hours a day they spend on it, this hatred of dirt (unless outside the door and with careful plantings of grass on it, or stones in patterns), washing and washing, water by the ton and many a soap in it. and then on the morrow, all again! every piece of food must be washed and the box it comes in, and every glass that once held water, for their hands (also washed) have touched it and that is enough!

but the animals of the world don't fear it, aren't harmed by it, eat their grasses and fruits with the dirt still on them, they do! one wonders how they manage it. and their fur or feathers may have real dirt or real water on them, and yet they live. and their nests are outside and air coming through. we wish we could visit them, but instead must venture into these boxes in boxes where the people live and attempt to speak to them, carefully wiping our feet at their doors and taking a seat on their boxes.

and having spoken, must we admire the box on the wall where other people appear inside other boxes, looking even brighter and more flowery than our hosts? stylized conversation ensues, about many a safe and limited subject, or questions about our world, where no doubt it is like this but even more so, boxes miles high and with everything inside them, techno-power and artifice that knows no bounds! perhaps we never leave them at all, not even to the dirt outside the back door, with its sad planting of grass and preferred greenery. we have artifice in three dimensions, entertainment all day long, as far from nature as possible, and information at our fingertips or pumped into our heads, though who knows what we use it for? more power! more entertainment! that must be it!

but if we told them the truth they would think us insane, or at best incomprehensible. live outside when you could be in, in a box like this, with every comfort at hand? eat food that requires tending and patience, not available all year round in every flavor or suitably frozen and boxed. and clothing not washed every day and with no pictures of flowers or other people or inspiring slogans on it? and even entertainment we make ourselves, or no entertainment! or no information, as not much needed. this would make no sense to them, and sadly we see it must be so; they climb the techno-ladder and see themselves as very far from the top, though we see them already too high on it and due for a fall. for they will not climb down, no not even one step! and the water dries up and is full of chemicals and the air full of them too and the millions of them starving for any food at all, never mind boxed and specially flavored. can they turn it around? some of them try, but the majority won't listen, or barely hear, and the ones who make the rules won't let go of anything, no not even to save their planet, or grandchildren.

we don't know what to do with animals that won't be animals, that deny their nature at either end, that turn themselves into machines and like it! and deny all other species in their quest for self-glorification, alternately machinehood. and write poems to themselves to commemorate it.

we wait.

Monday, September 20, 2010

knowing what i know, i don't know
seeing what i see, i'm lost

around and all around, confusion
branching to infinity
no way to go, or every way

and even when i know, i don't know
another one behind my hand

a forest silent in the darkness
a stranger in a distant land

another one behind me
and before me only you
laying stones for me to walk on
laying traps beside the path

Sunday, September 12, 2010

what i know
i can't tell
or show
except in silence

the wall returns
and nothing on the other side

or everything?

and something speaks
too fast for me to hear

and speaks in years and centuries
a pattern in the stones

and if i could be slow enough
to read it
or follow it back through

i'd know

Friday, September 10, 2010

social activity

having been informed that friday and saturday evenings must be devoted to social activity, i set forth to comply. firstly, what does this social activity consist of? the answer is vague yet informative. it must involve at least one other person. then i may visit my mother? no, that will not do. that is for sunday. oh. i see.

very well. another person. may i ask this fellow walking by? no, it must be someone you know, or want to know. but i want to know this fellow!

no, i mean, someone you know at work, or a neighbor...

ah, at work. very well, i will ask this fellow at work to engage in social activity.

yes, ask him for a drink. or ask that young lady to dinner.

may i not ask him to dinner? no, i see that is not acceptable. very well. dear fellow, would you like a drink? he agrees, and it proceeds as follows: he consumes several portions of alcoholic substance, and becomes somewhat animated. naturally i am unaffected, and would much prefer plain water or perhaps a pint of corn juice, very good for my inner metabolism. nevertheless i struggle through.

another week arrives. i ask my informant for another suggestion, having lost interest in further mass consumption of psychoactive substances. have you considered a date? says he. a date? well, you take a young lady out to dinner, perhaps to a movie...

and why may i not ask a young man? or an older lady?


i see. it is to do with sexual activity. this i refuse to engage in. it would not be correct to have sexual activity with a native.

oh. right. well, how about a party!

that i could do.

party: a combination of mass consumption of psychoactive substances with preliminaries to sexual activity. not a happy occasion. eventually one found a small group engaged in playing some sort of strategy game involving a board and many small pieces. the social aspect was limited, but it reminded me of treining school. as a bonus i was offered safe corn-based beverages. a partial success.

but have we yet exhausted he possibilities of social activity? for one must be complete.

well, you could take the boss out to dinner...

ah. i could further my ambition by purchasing him a meal! i will do that.

and indeed i made a valiant attempt, but he was not to be purchased so easily. that is a relief.

further combinations are suggested and critiqued, and it does come out that two ladies may attend a meal or event together for non-sexual purposes, as sometimes also two gentlemen, but more rarely. (see item 1.) two gentlemen may also have social activity for purposes of pursuing a common or sporting interest, as may two ladies, but more rarely. a male-female pair may attend or host groupings of such, to further the ambition of one of the pair, or possibly for other reasons. pairs of any sort, sexual and otherwise, may also avoid social activity by staying home, as may single people.

Friday, August 13, 2010

material objects

what does one see? there is a long white hard object intended to be filled with water so one may cleanse one's external surface. by it is an item for use of excretion, which one finds oneself calculating may exist as many as one per person on this world, so numbered into the billions. on another world it would doubtless also exist but be of a different shape or size or method of disposal, perhaps buried in sand or compressed into tiny pellets.

and in the next room are many rectangular objects made of nonliving plants, large and solid ones to be sure. these may hold items on their tops or along inner surfaces. similar items of other materials also exist, as may cylindrical containers holding living plants.

and along the inner surfaces of the tallest item one finds many small rectangular items made of similar plant substance, but in thin flat sheets held together at one side. and on these sheets are symbols, processed by scanning the eye from left to right (or sometimes right to left) and with the brain interpreting them into words, and building stories or systems of information. one may also use this cylindrical item containing a dark liquid to create such symbols of one's own, often on blank sheets of this substance.

on another world, how this could be done differently? the symbols might be pressed into clay or wax perhaps (as may have been done here long ago), or woven onto cloth. or even tied into cords. but this is so linear! one at a time from left to right or right to left or top to bottom or even bottom to top! what if we departed the linear for a while? you say our eyes can only process that way, but they can also see larger, so if we had encoded clumps of symbols in 3-space, and perhaps connected by colored could see the pattern of one's area of interest, and then follow its color from clump to clump, unfolding each as it arrives, and perhaps even adding new information. or use the pattern itself to tell one where to go next; the overall shape as the summary perhaps, or the introduction. and indeed why stop at straight lines, in any direction?

and then again why stop at the eyes, or use them at all? perhaps on another world we could encode all information tonally, and perhaps even follow a line of tones from place to place. or perhaps by touch, or scent, beings with delicate feelers or noses capable of infinite distinguishment, and the texture and shape or the shifts in odor tell all! "the odyssey" written in mustard and nuts.

and yet while this is endlessly fascinating to one, one must even now remove one's forelimbs from this flat textured item and end the flow of symbols appearing before one's eyes. for one must put on one's lower limbs long pieces of woven plant material, and foot coverings of the same, and depart the premises...perhaps to hand over many pieces of colored symbol material and round metal in exchange for food and other items, often enclosed in plant or mineral-based containers. and then in time return to the room first mentioned no doubt, but of that we shall say no more, for like civilized beings everywhere we prefer to keep our excretion to ourselves.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

sitting there, a grassy hollow, and them around it, loosely spread across the slope. we join them, curious. the music is simple, alien, but not so much so; tunes we can follow, intervals not far off our own. "music is universal!" cries edward, who brought his tapes along, and it seems like a triumph to all of us, though nowhere near as interesting as digging-sticks or their primitive notation system. they're dull people really, plant-eaters, no aggression, no drive. nothing here has much of that, a placid little herbivorean world, but it's friendly and peaceful and we feel there's plenty we can learn.


all the time

and something moving
back and forth
down the line

we see it coming going but
we never know

and it's part of what it is
nothing changes!
only shifting
letting go


we see from outside as always. we measure everything! the inner world is still an illusion to us, a place to plan or think over our "real" activities.

so each of us is a machine walking around with a little box in our hands, a talking box that sounds like us and helpfully fills up any temporary silences.

and we can't get out or break it! were we made all wrong or did we do it ourselves? we come into a universe of light and all we do is get out a spectroscope!

a box, a camera, a measurerer, a shell pasted together hiding nothing - a naked animal that would run away if it could.

but it can't go back and it can't go forward. on the other side is emptiness and nothing and maybe we stop there, god's joke. peel away our outer layers and nothing is left! we're all hot air and noise and it evaporates and we die and we might as well never have been here. or maybe we were used as a tool for something real, something out there that sometimes needs to measure things.


we sit there politely all evening, as the sky slowly turns dark, shifting from red to purple and pale lavendar and beyond. the music trickles on and though we soon lose interest it's soothing enough, almost sleepy. even edward puts his recorder down, muttering something about endless repetition and a lack of any real musical qualities. the natives sit on alert, we don't know what they hear in it but no doubt it's as far as their primitive minds can go, a one-two rhythm and this thin wavering sound. i didn't study musicology in college but some of the others took a class or two and there's some idle discussion of it, quietly so as not to be rude. but really that's more than enough for all of us, and we're relieved when the evening is finally over and we can get up off the dampening grass and go back to the lander, pour some coffee, write up our notes, maybe a round of cards before bed for those who aren't sleepy yet. there isn't much in the way of entertainment here, obviously, but we make do!

in the morning the tune (if you can call it that) still lingers for me, popping up over breakfast and running through my head in the most annoying way. but i liked the sky, and the way the music went softly through the sunset, and i remember that for a minute before i clear my mind for action - today we will be surveying the fields and doing an agricultural grid!


and i feel the connection
between it all

it's just below the surface
and i doubt myself
something happening!

and we talk and talk and talk
each unto our own

it's never like you think!
we see
something very primitive
an idea like concrete
a lumpy little block

like: "all their minds are linked"
and immediately!

a group entity
lurches by
like an anthill

what did i say again?

and shifting up in time
the singer sings me through

and everything!

falling all around
shifting me back down

where was i then?


and this is what we think: we pity them! the poor primitives, in their mud huts and treehouses, sitting by their riverbanks, listening to their simplistic music. their faces are empty like their minds must be, and their houses have no machinery no comfort zones magic beds image projectors money units food processing parlours at all! how do they live with it? a blanket on a dusty floor and a window to look out of.

we pity them. and gibber away in our mutinous language all hard edges exact concepts and definition! we insist that they think like us and will teach them correctness whether they like it or not. "a different concept of time" - you mean you're LATE and you're KEEPING us WAITING! we clearly said we'd be back in ten days and we even showed you how to count to ten, but is anybody there waiting for us? do you have the supplies we requested? hardly! i suppose you're all out there in your fields staring at the sky or something!

and they float on past us, invisible, pitying us, with no idea what to do. we won't listen to their music, we won't look at their sky; we want nothing but data and exact instructions.

but once in a while one of us listens, or looks, and looks again, and everything changes. a door opens for a moment and they can come in.

i hear you all around me, all through time i know it. you're shifting now, playing me. i don't know who you are, or where; are you over there on the hillside, months ago, back before i learned to listen? which one are you? did you look at me? did you send a gift to me, even me, in my arrogance and emptiness?


and nothing
the same again

coming down

i know where i am!

i know you
where you are
i see you now

and seeing see forever

and it doesn't matter
where i am
i'm never lost again

and where i am
is everywhere
and all of you are there

and i can never say enough
to thank you
but you already know

and someday i hope
to bring the others in
to speak to them
through time or space or sound
as you spoke to me
long ago and now

Saturday, July 31, 2010

there is nothing here for us, just dim empty corridors leading nowhere, dim empty rooms without even memories. the traces of old technology are minimal, and most of what there is must be built right into the structure - if so surely it stopped working eons ago.

we can't detect it at first, then begin to notice a thin tracery of other elements right inside the walls, visible only by the buildup of many separate scans. what does it do? can we take it apart and find out? maybe just a panel or two?

but it isn't happy with that (as alex says) - either it's all interconnected and can't afford to lose any section, or unique and protecting its uniquity. we feel a kind of shock, not quite electrical (nor registering as such), but unpleasant, when we try to open a panel or take one down. "how did they ever repair it?" emma asks, but then she's a junior and not much is expected of her.

many idle speculations ensue as to what it all does, or did, aside from supporting itelf and any inhabitants. did people live here, long ago, and take their furnishings with them when they departed? and if so, why, and what were they doing here? we think it was probably a science station of some sort, despite the lack of instruments, if only because of the location, or the minimal living quarters. or then again perhaps it was just some kind of semi-automated waystation, for refueling maybe, or temporary cargo storage, though in that case we'd expect bigger cargo bays. but who knows?

later alex speculates that it might have been a transit site, a direct portal for ships, using some form of wormhole energy to send them far across space. we can see how that would have been useful! the energy involved would have been immense, far beyond that needed for our ships, so large and awkward and dependent on time-dilation. could we possibly figure it out, even re-power it? how immensely that would help in our expansion, our willful "conquest" of the galaxy.

we're there for months, only slowly realizing that the life-support is fading. the secret continues to elude us, though at times we're almost sure what it is! and if we're right, how useful it might be! but our resources are low and we're ordered to move on while we still have sufficient energy to get back to base. perhaps some day we can try again, though what good further study would do is dubious, and most of us think we'll just have to write it off as another alien mystery.

so within days we've pulled out, completed our notes and hurried back to the ship, a hasty process made hastier by further signs of shutdown. only much later will anyone realize that i've been left behind, and by then it'll be far too late.

i know what it is, only i, and knowing i cannot tell, and must do it this way, letting them believe i have died a natural death, if another crew were to return years later. it will be my own fault, well-documented, and well understood that they couldn't jeopardize the entire crew and the ship itself to go back and look for me!

in any case i have time, months if i needed it, but i don't, i'm ready to go. i know already, i'm no longer frightened.

i knew when i went down that corridor the very first time, i almost knew - alex and emma and the rest chattering away and feeling nothing, and i could see it, or "see" it, and obviously no one else noticing a thing! the light out there, suddenly, dazzling - and yet everyone else just peering around as if at one more dim alcove or empty doorway.

at first i ran away from it, fearing what i didn't know, blinded by the intensity. it seemed dangerous, some alien energy, power to move or shatter worlds - and why would only i see it? it frightened me; it sought me out.

but soon i knew it wouldn't take me unwilling. and also that it wouldn't damage me - or no, it would destroy me, utterly, but only the me that needed destruction. i had been wearing out for years, getting cynical, losing interest. the ship was my life, but i no longer cared much where we went or what we found. the excitement was gone for me, and the sense of companionship - they were all so young, so eager and ambitious. i had nothing to say any more.

and though there could have been many more years for me, it wasn't necessary, and what a relief that was. i wasn't needed. they could get along fine without me, the young ones, my expertise nothing irreplaceable, my company clearly a bore. i used to care about that. i was fond of them, in a way, but they won't miss me.

not much left to do, no goodbyes, and then at last i'm walking down the corridor, alone this time, and see it open out before me, bright and brighter, longing for me.

and stepping out, one last moment fearful, letting go, falling into it, filling me - i can't explain, i'm gone; i'm always here. i live.

Friday, July 30, 2010

one day they come out of their hut for the last time, after a long night's sleep...always very early in the morning, that's why we never saw it. the one comes out wet and shivering and slowly unfurls its wings. the others stay by it, waiting, watching for the sunrise and the warmth, and then for the first time it leaps high and flies.

and they go back home to prepare the remains, as if that one had truly died. no wonder we never suspected!

and one day many years later (and this even more i shouldn't know and could never tell) the flying one shivers again and sheds its wings. slowly they fall, like twigs, old dried flowers, and its skin falls away too, scales falling one after another, piles of purple-gray at the base of the tree - and what do we know, we assume they're dead leaves.

and what's left is light, shimmering, almost visible, solid but impossible. and it rises, slowly, and is gone.


we came there to study the natives, a dull but relevant species, intelligent enough to be worth bothering with, but never going to take the galaxy by storm! they were bipeds, like us, tall and furry, thin for their height but not at all frail; we'd calculated the gravity here at just under earth normal. they were an active species, always busy doing something, basking perhaps in the midday sun but off again as soon as it got cool.

they seemed very much like younger furry versions of ourselves - parents and children, grandparents too, all living in little mud-brick houses, little mud-brick villages. we watched fascinated as they bult new houses brick by brick, shaping them from the reddish clay, drying them in the sun, stacking them many times high into a conical beehive of a hut. a group of these would cluster in a larger circle, larger family patternings.

they spoke as they worked, joking with each other, some running amusement that we learned to translate and, if not entirely appreciate, at least understand. the children were always nearby, spending the working hours under the trees, watched over by some of the older ones; or sometimes they'd run over and play at a smaller version of it, stacking tiny handfuls of the mud into little circles, sometimes making it all the way to the roof! an adult might come over and put a leaf on top, and then these little huts would be carefully walked around for the rest of the day, even when it took some trouble to avoid them.

they gathered grains and vegetables, fruits and nuts, and prepared them for eating and storage, in yet more mud-brick structures. the storage huts were larger, not taller but bigger around and oval rather than circular, and stood on their own at one end of the village, often almost under the clump of trees that seemed a part of every community, inhabited by birds of various sizes and a few small shy mammals.

making the bricks was the work of the older people, who would spend hours sitting quietly by the riverbank, under the trees, scooping out the reddish clay and patting it into shape. a younger person would drop by from time to time to carry the half-dry bricks to the drying field, a flat open area where the sun shone all day and would bake them hard. they were solid but crumbly, often flaking apart or melting in the seasonal rains, and this necessitated frequent repairs and new buildings - but no one seemed to mind; they loved the work and seemed happiest when doing it. natural builders, we thought, a very good sign for future evolution!

beyond that, there wasn't much of interest: the villages were all alike and there was no rivalry or complex social structure, no competitive games, no extended kinship patterns. their work was careful and well-done, but they seemed to have little interest in changing or extending it. the bricks were just bricks, and it never occurred to them to ornament them, or vary them in any way. though they liked to talk, they had no written language (and yet how easy with the wet clay nearby, and a branch to serve as stylus!), and their speech was nearly all about simple everyday things. their huts were comfortable but minimally furnished, and personal adornment was also minimal - a few clay beads perhaps, but nothing more.

we learned most of this by observation, easy enough to do since they never minded having us around, and would encourage us to sit there in the shade all day, or walk around and look at things, as long as we didn't get in the way! food would be offered to us at mealtimes, though we generally preferred our own ration packages, in which they took no interest after an initial sniff or two.

later, one of the younger people, named something like ell, became our guide and informant. we had left off note-making and were wondering what to do next, when he came over and asked if he could help us with anything. ell was genial, always ready to talk or show us around, and we began to learn many of the finer points of hut-making, food-gathering and other relevancies of life on this world. he also helped us fill in our vocabulary, and eventually corrected several grammatical misunderstandings, making his speech and the others' much easier to follow,

after a few weeks of this, we began to feel that we were really on the way to understanding this society. ell was always happy to explain things, and once our knowledge of the language was better, others did too, often volunteering small stories or nuggets of information, or wanting to show us their hut.

they were more reticent about some things than others, to be sure, and our questions about birth, death, mating, and the like often went unanswered, even by ell - shrugs or guarded looks were what we seemed to deserve. well, we were young ourselves, without much experience; we had learned most of our business from tapes of lost tribes on earth, who had apparently been only too happy to share all these things with their "civilized" studiers.

likewise their beliefs and myths - if these people had any they must be simple indeed. did they worship the sun? most primitives did! or perhaps the large biped bird-creatures that often lived near a village, eating fruits put out for them, as if they were considered good-luck totems or sacred animals. we could argue for hours based on the lost tribes of earth, the american aborigines for was all fascinating stuff, and to think we were seeing it firsthand, as the primary culture and not some sad relic being crushed under a dominant culture.

their rituals seemed to be few, and minimal; they were people who lived solidly in their daily lives, preoccupied with food and the weather and each other's small concerns. for instance although children were born rarely, each had a naming day shortly after birth, and that we were allowed to observe, a simple ceremony conducted by one of the village elders, followed by their version of a feast, fruit and an afternoon off from the brick-making!

similarly near the end of our stay, we were able to witness a funeral. out came the leaf-wrapped remains of one of the older people, looking very small and pitiful, and were carried away to the riverbank, again observed by the birds, wheeling in the flickering light of the afternoon sun, and the body set down to float away, perhaps as far as the sea. we were even permitted to film this, and we played the results many times, marveling at the lack of emotion shown by these primitives - did they simply forget their dead that soon, or was there some crude myth or wishful afterlife at work here?

as they turned away from the river, the birds accompanied them a little way, then settled down in the trees again. the villagers began to smile and chatter, and again we had to shake our heads at their lack of solemnity - they were like children, already forgetting it! soon enough it was back to the brick-making and the eating of fruit and the long evenings by the river, a simplicity we could only wonder at, we who had real work to do.

and so we finished our project, packed up our notes and tapes and prepared for departure. i lingered behind, somehow reluctant to leave, though i was tired of the heat and dryness, ready to get back to civilization. our aliens wouldn't miss us much, we were sure - and to be honest there wasn't much potential here, no sign of any technology higher than the brick or the digging-stick, and no interest in acquiring any, even after watching us all these months. not one of them had been intrigued or inspired enough by any of the simple devices we allowed ourselves on-planet - not one had tried to emulate, or questioned us, or wished for more. they were happy but unimaginative, too well adapted to their environment to need change, too placid by temperament to want it. if there was ever to be development here, it was a long way away!

"primitive stasis due to favourable environment" we wrote, and had to classify them fairly low on the intelligence scale. we hoped our next race would be brighter, perhaps even ready to learn from us - we had so many plans in place for this, such desire to share our learning, our technology (carefully of course!), our better way of life! we could save them from what we went through, all the wars and mistakes, the religious excesses...imagine that! but it wouldn't be here. we might stop by again someday, just to check in - and certainly if nothing else interesting came along we'd be back, any intelligent race was worth studying. a second longer look might yield subtleties we'd missed the first time, on our tight schedule.

but we set all that aside, eager to get back to base; there would be plenty of time for poring over notes later, and who knows what might emerge. the field team would make their contribution, and some of us might stay to work on the extended study; it would be nice to have a year back home, among the comforts of civilization...i was longing to sleep in a real bed again, enjoy an evening out with friends, see what was new on the holos.

and yet i was wistful, for some reason unready to go, feeling a strange pang at the sight of the birds overhead, the people peacefully walking back to their huts after an afternoon's building and brick-making, the dappled sunlight still shimmering through the clouds.

and somehow i began to walk away from the lander - if i missed it today, they would come pick me up tomorrow, no doubt assuming a last wide scan or round of final notemaking.

but the night fell quickly, and i couldn't find our camp, forgetting that we had already taken away all the tents...and when i grew afraid and wanted to signal the ship, ell came and found me. "wait," he said. "please wait till morning." and he took my signaller away, surprising me - we had thought they had no idea what it did.

the night was long, and i knew that high overhead they were busy preparing for departure - surely they wouldn't leave me behind? the night was very black, and landing was difficult even in daylight, but surely they would wait? ell held my hand, and i saw my panic...even if they couldn't raise my signal, they would come looking for me soon enough.

the wind dropped, and very early, ell took me to the village, another village, and this time i saw all they had hidden from us. "why me?" i cried, weeping, and the bird told me that someone must know. and the god spoke too and said i must keep the others away, never let them get too curious - would i do that for them? and i knelt to him, though he said it wasdn't necessary, and promised, and begged to come back some day. and he said i might, and blessed me, and let me go.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

here the sun never comes out for weeks, and we wait for it, quietly, under the clouds. then finally a day when it comes, and we all reach for it. the dormant ones are waiting there, high in the field, and they feel it first, stretching out their wings, starting to move. the others come as soon as they can, always the little ones and older ones first, the little ones carried, the older ones carefully guided, their wings stiffened with age and not absorbing as well, gently tended to bring the most sun into what they have left. and finally the middle ones can relax and take their share.

if we're lucky it will be a long afternoon and we can all fill up, enough for days or weeks, if we move slowly. if it lasts too long, some of us may go into dormancy, curling up into a ball wherever you happen to be, knowing the others will carry you up when the time comes. or perhaps tomorrow will be sunny as well and then what a happiness, full up and energy to use in play, running, flying, budding.

is that where i came from? the little one wonders.

you did. and i thought it would never happen, it had been cloudy for so long, and i was growing older. but then there was sun for a week, and you came.

and then?

you started to grow! i carried you up every time and sat by you. then you learned to talk. what a day that was!

and now?

you know. you grow up. you play with your friends, and learn to wait for the sun. you can go up on your own soon! you learn things. you grow. you might be as big as me someday!

and then my own little one?

maybe. i hope there will be sun for you when you're ready.

and where will you be?

you know. don't you know? you're old enough. the oldest ones one day go dormant and then root. you know because you can't move them any more, so you let them stay and watch over them.

are they gone?

no, but they don't need the sun any more. they need the earth now, not just the fields like us, but the deep earth. water them though, if they need it, it keeps them comfortable.

and then slowly their roots reach down and find the others, all the oldest ones. they can't be lost then. none of us ever can, really, but we need help, we need each other.

and then? asks the little one.

and then they rise up above us, like this one, he says, and the tree behind them bends down and knows them.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

there's a world where everything changes. nothing is ever the same. people are different from one day to the next, and you are too.

do i know who you are?

i don't know, who are you?

and he says, i used to know you.

and she says, i know you too.

it's easy then.

the trees are tall but they change color. or aren't there.

outside you see the clouds. inside you see yourself.

somehow out is in and in is out. and you know where the door is, don't you?

inside another world goes by, sailing slowly past the window. where was it? i saw everything, all at once, and they were all there, and nothing changing. all the same colors, but they were blue, and darker blue, and small new mountains.

and here the mountains are old and regrown. they come and go. on top of them, emptiness, the next thing to space. the stars very close in the blackness.

then in the morning the field again, and the worn old rocks of it, as if it had been gone a million years ago.

and well you might speak.

something changes.

she's frightened. the sun isn't rising, or is it? don't you know? i can't tell. i'm new here.

i know.

and inside again night falls and curtains are closed. like a house, a real one. i almost remember this.

sooner or later we all must go.

i know that. but help me. stay here.

i will. i'm not changing. do you see?

i am. help me.

and inside and outside he holds her.

in the grass. by the flowers.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

i was sitting in my chair
an hour ago
talking through my mind
the page before me speaks
a word i'd never seen

somewhere in the night

talking to myself

and the time went by like minutes
in the middle of the day

and i left myself behind
taking it away

are you there between the lines?
do you hear me?

do i know what it means?
does it matter?

and i know not what i know
i don't know what i do know

and i know not what i know
i don't know what i do know

Monday, June 21, 2010

oh god
out there in eternity
where all things are as one
and all time spread before you
all comes to pass
in endlessness
and all rises to the source
and nothing lost

and yet down here
a moment on another one
and other other other ones
empty, empty, running dry
stuck in it up to our necks
time pressing down upon us
and all to fill
endless years of empty moments

so if it happens now or later
you don't care
it's all the same
and if i come in now or later
you don't care
it's still the game
you always win it
now, or later
as if to you they were the same
but to us waiting down here
where years go by with nothing for it
it matters!
more than anything

but you can't see it
stuck there
in eternity

Monday, May 17, 2010

domus esse arae

rem veram anquisivi
ignominiam tuli
inaequaliter volavi
et vix me facta sum

Sunday, May 2, 2010

are you green?
do you turn?

do you keep the rivers flowing?

and is there something growing
at your feet?

and is the night inside you, sometimes?
and do you, slowly, wind it down?

do you fly?
or do you follow?

and do you settle
late, to rest?

Monday, April 19, 2010

every flower in the world
is every other flower
and everything that holds you down
is nothing but your power
your fear cries out but nothing
can ever make you fear
and when i look at you i see
and nothing

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Way Through

She left her home that day in early autumn, perhaps for a year or more - or perhaps she'd return tomorrow, but better to bolt the doors all the same. Her friends rode with her as far as as the entryway, but none was fool enough to venture through, as was made all too clear! Well, never mind. It was a solitary journey, obviously, and silence and polite observation would be called for, no place for obscure jokes and slogans from home, however well-intentioned.

It was a long night, there in the thicket, but promptly at dawn the doors were opened, and she stepped on through. Her landing was soft enough, though finding herself one moment stepping forward and the next sprawled on her back could easily have been disconcerting. Luckily only the grass was there to see her, and it was forgiving.

There were hills in he distance and a pathway in the foreground, ready for her to join it. Surely it wouldn't be far to whatever was at the other end. And so it proved, as the grass gradually gave way to some kind of dryer terrain, and then around a corner, not a moment too soon, a roadway with a town at the end of it.

As her first arrival, it was all too momentous, though the town itself seemed drab enough, just a few small houses and an inn or two. One of these might even have room for her, if she decided to stay.

It was already past mid-day and she was hungry, so stay it was. She found soon enough that food was available, also various sorts of drink, and even a room for the asking and a fair amount of the local currency, luckily flexible enough that her collection or souvenirs and simulacra weren't problematic. "That's from the previous reign, that is," said the shopkeeper knowingly as he took her gold. "Not many of those left about." She had no explanation for hers, merely smiled and thanked him for the change, sure enough bearing a portrait of a stylish-looking monarch.

Walking around the town during the afternoon, she observed many things, people busy at industrious work of various sorts, also sitting on benches and laughing, also looking discontented and idle outside a sort of saloon. Unlike them she failed to go inside when the doors opened directly at five, but the sounds several hours later reassured her that people here hadn't much changed.

Nevertheless it was a pleasant night, the first in her life away from home. And enlivened with several rounds of late-night songs, not to mention birds and grumbling workmen in the early morning. The birds made her homesick for a moment, but their counterparts at home would hardly yet have noticed her gone. She wished these well and started on her day - another walk around town, perhaps, and then deciding which road to take to the next one.

What, already the second day here and no adventure yet? And is not a descent to another world adventure enough, she thought, without drunkenness and swordfighting, amorous passages or the like? Some of that may be seen from a distance at times, but (other than the drunkenness) not yet, and meantime there was entertainment enough having her breakfast and making conversation with the other travelers at the inn - the fat merchant woman here to sell sheep, the family of talkative children, the quiet older gentleman at the back. It all seemed very promising, and none even curious whence she came or what her errand, a vague passing mention of surveys or taxes perhaps if ever it came to that.

After breakfast the sheep were duly admired and praised and a tentative offer to join the caravan accepted, at least as far as the next town. It would be slow going inwards, perhaps increasing in difficulty as she went. The sheep-herders were welcome company and partook of sanity, a thing not to be said of all even so close to the gate.


The next town was at the top of a hill, up a long winding path. She arrived in the late afternoon, after a day on the road and a night at a wayfarer's station, walking through the city doors into a large houseful of people. No one seemed to notice her there, though she tried at first to announce herself as a guest, smiling politely and looking for someone to greet. Perhaps she had merely become invisible? To be sure they all seemed busy conversing with one another, or racing around on important and time-critical errands, so no doubt she simply wasn't worth noticing, a mere dull stranger with no urgent business.

She followed a group of them up a wide flight of stairs and into a central corridor, then through a set of doors, where several of them bumped into her as she failed to make haste. Their looks were annoyed, not at all apologetic; clearly she was in the way and should have known it! She took the apologies on herself at first, but that didn't seem wanted either. Staying well out of the way and a seat at the back (a fierce competition for the better seats was already well underway) seemed like the best she could do.

After a short but momentous pause, filled with solemn anticipation, a series of speakers took the stage. Speeches were brief and to the point, evidently, judging by the audience's cheers of approval, but she was entirely unable to work out what that point was. The language seemed simple enough, but the topic was obscure in the extreme, of fervent interest to only these few and no one else in the world. It seemed to have something to do with vegetables, or a budget crisis, or a musical event, or perhaps a redistribution of rooms contingent on an off-year major holiday. Or possibly none of the above, though there continued to be hearty approval every time someone mentioned cabbages.

After an hour or so, getting the hang of the speeches, she was almost tempted to make one herself - what if she proposed that peas be five a dozen on alternate Saturdays, unless you were in room 3? It might very well pass with a significant majority. But then again for all she knew it might lead to civil unrest or outright revolution, due to some obscure by-law of which there surely were many. Silence and an occasional safe vote seemed by far the better alternative.

At the end of the meeting she followed the crowd back out again, by now feeling entitled to a passing comment or two - "Shocking about the lettuce!" and "Fifty-nine for a couple of old marrows, you don't say?" Someone offered her a share in room 17, but she politely declined, and just as well, as she had no vegetables at all in her satchel, not even the remains of yesterday's dinner. Likewise a chance at reduced-rate lessons on the bean-blower, no not even if guaranteed a small part in tomorrow's event, alas; she made it a rule never to perform on a Tuesday or near a full moon. This went down well enough, accompanied by the offer of a cabbage or two at a later date, and she was able to make her polite escape.

Now almost her friends, several accompanied her to the doors, and the mournful wail of bean-blowers sent her on her way. Perhaps room 17 might yet receive a visit, next time she passed this way, and she would be sure to bring along plenty of onions!


Another caravan accompanied her partway to the next town, but she managed to leave them behind on the second day - after only a few days here it was already wearing on her. Even the best of companions spoke too much and moved too fast and thought too loud as well: so much to plan for and wonder about, so many friends and aptitudes and ways to make money and spend it as well!

Rumors from the caravan indicated that this might be a market town, but oddly none of them seemed to want to visit it. And the town, when she came to it, seemed entirely empty, long straight streets with no one on them, silent houses with shuttered windows, though the sun was still high in the sky. No people around anywhere, not even in the doorways, and no inn either that she could see. Well, a night in the fields wasn't such a bad thing, she was thinking, finding herself increasingly eager to pass on through, when this drama ahead arrested her:

A fellow emerged, tall and young-looking, perhaps even handsome. There were several others behind him, but they were clearly negligible by comparison, perhaps even to themselves. And lo! from across the street a similar set of women. The one in front no beauty perhaps, but bold enough, and as may well be imagined some pairing off must be about to occur.

Or was it? In this mercantile culture nothing was certain, and she was not at all surprised to see money change hands and all parties walk away smiling. Where is the drama in that, you might ask? Ah, but soon enough the women turned around and back they came, looking furious, perhaps even ready to fight. Some small article of goods was in question, not as described or perhaps even shoddy workmanship, and out poured people from all the other doors to argue and comment. Would the women get their money back? Would they in addition get to keep the shoddy article, and if so was it really that undesirable, or was there an element of double-cross here?

Moving off, she watched it all from a distance, noting with amusement the passionate attachment to the object scorned just a moment earlier. Clearly the life force was hard at work here!


an interlude with fish

swift they swim, and unfurl themselves
beneath the bank
reaching for light

someone throws crumbs for them
the joy of their surfacing
then bidding them dive down again
where no one can hurt them
least of us

a world where all are loved
but not yet
and will you live to see it
little fish?


All the towns had beggars now, she noticed, often cripples or the mentally weak, sometimes treated with almost indulgence, at others with contempt and starvation. She had bent over the crippled ones, the starving or freezing, trying to help, only to be warded off by some official, or even an interfering householder, buying superiority with their contempt. "You can't help them," she was told, many times over, and when she asked why not, had it explained that they liked it that way, as if it was self-evident that a cripple would prefer the gutter and a householder a mansion full of every comfort. One almost snatched the coin from her hands, exclaiming at its largeness. "A fraction would do, you can't give that to a beggar!" And sadly she had to agree, as the moment she walked away the beggar would no doubt be forced to relinquish it. A stupid foreigner, she smiled apologetically and exchanged the gold for silver, still "too much" but grudgingly allowed to pass.

Back by the gate there had been no beggars, and even the tavern-goers and the rude workpeople there seemed harmless and cheerful now; the markets a few towns over where the haggling was good-natured. Children in the streets, and houses where the doors weren't always barred. Farmers coming to town to sell their goods, heading back home in neat little wagons.

And the open fields, well-planted, and the rows of trees by the roadway - here the roads were bare and dusty and the streams flowed dirty beside them. Fields lay bare, or over-planted with specialty crops, no good for eating, and no room left for trees or hedges.

And one more town lay ahead, dark and ugly, mean gray stones coated with dirt and the soot from too many chimneys. They wouldn't let her in at first, suspicious and prying, wanting to see everything she had with her, making imaginary difficulties about papers. Strong hints that a few coins might clear that up were duly followed, and she finally tiptoed in, walking in that way that says "I'm worth nothing, don't bother."

Twice she saw thieves at work, once successfully, once thwarted by street patrols. Mutters overheard, "They take all our taxes and the thieves get in anyway! It's robbery, that's what it is." Who "they" were could easily be seen by the gold-plated coach passing along, an unloved noble whose people would barely get out of the way for him, perfume wafting from inside across the malodorous streets.

Further on, two men on a corner came to blows as others watched interestedly. Not even fighting over anything, as far as she could tell, clearly not love nor honour nor even an item of damaged goods. Red faces, angry shouting. Other quarrels overhead and behind the shutters, and once a pail of dirty water flung right in her path, though aimed not at her but at some angry-looking fellow passing by. She hurried past before it could get any worse.

Crying children, someone persistently screaming: down an alley she looked and some poor woman on the ground, alone, something not right with her. Fending off offers of help with more feeble cries, but coming alive at the sight of a coin or two. Was that all she could ever do here?

And in the next town over would be war, or slavery, or famine caused by rich men's hoarding...she had gone far enough, there was no bearing it. For a moment it seemed that it should all be destroyed, but she spared a thought for the children and the working people and the frightened ones who cowered in their houses while the fighting and greed went on all around them. Or the poor forced to hang idle when there was no work to do, and ending up in the taverns: a terrible waste, but not their fault. But they had to live their lives out, even in the midst of it; there was no way to start over. And the animals lived innocent lives as always and must be protected, and the fields were still green, not yet paved over and made into marketplaces.

Must we live here? she asked herself. Must we give up so much of our own lives for theirs? The visits were never enough, and our idle curiosity, our occasional interference, if no real harm, had done little real good. How can we turn our backs on this, year after year? Their dirt and greed are ours; we washed our hands of them long ago.

She would stay here a few days or weeks and do what she could, then she must go home and bring the others back with her, as many as would come. And if no one, she would still come back - even alone there was much she could do - and in time try again.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

heart is ticking
comes to me

in on me

tries to tell me
still can't sell me
and running
and then
furthermore, rises
inside me
plain, in sight
you continue
to hide me