6

A Time Machine Detour

I’m a messy writer. I don’t think it’s evident in published works. I juggle multiple stories/ essays, and my handwritten first drafts include scribbles, side-notes. Sketched illustrations in margins, between paragraphs, and sometimes in the middle of sentences. But the messiness really shows up in my personal time machines (yes, plural): diaries, journals.

As I tackle a nonfiction project, I’ve been digging through my time machines. There are gaps. A couple of journals succumbed to fire; floods turned a few nonsequential diaries turned into papier mache blocks. Sporadic rather than regular entries in those remaining, they chronicle trials & triumphs, questions & revelations, the state of my psyche or my hangnail. True to what I knew & thought at the times.

No clue what triggered a few entries or what they were about. (She did it again! Now in the top 10 stupidest things to come out of a grown-up’s mouth! Who was “She”? What did she say?) Others prompt vivid recalls of things left behind, forgotten. Some show what a double-life I had at times.

In a few entries, I must’ve dodged rants or interrogations from a grandparent, aunt, or uncle about why I didn’t date in high school. My reply—“They like football and cars; I like books and animals. What are we supposed to talk about?”—apparently satisfied them enough to shut up or change the subject.

Although publicly true, the double-life reason was this: I had no idea who I was or wasn’t related to in my parents’ hometown. When my folks moved back there, I’d pieced together partial genealogies, local gossip, & enough surname connections to realize that by blood or marriage I was related to at least a fifth (possibly a fourth) of that small farming community. There were already plenty of odd trials with my folks and mystifying tensions with the closest relatives. Challenging. Confounding.

Because some relatives got along like slightly civilized Hatfields & McCoys sans shotguns, and because some were considered longtime pillars of the community, the façade of everything being glitch-free was absolutely required. Cheerfully peachy amid their hostilities & meltdowns. Without a doubt, I knew I’d draw the combined wrath of known & unknown relatives down on me if I even accidentally stepped a toe out of line. I had more than enough to handle without adding to it.

Off & on entries puzzle over training a 13 y.o. terrier the Sit & Heel command. Along with feisty stubbornness hardwired in her breed’s brain, she was also, of course, too old for such adolescent nonsense. Ultimately, it was an exercise in frustration. Not until my family moved from the small town was I around anyone who could show me what to do. By then that terrier had died, but my parents got a young dog. I had a fresh chance at learning something I’d so much wanted to do.

And since my concept of journals meant everything should be written on their pages, my first short story— an attempt at a Western—was there. A Western fan in general & a Louis L’Amour fan in particular, I was sure I could work that Old West magic. Every possible cliché appeared in the story, & every one of them rode off into the sunset to die of embarrassment.

Music was another facet of double-life. Secretly, I thought most popular bubble-gum rock of the day sucked. With somewhat guilty glee, the first LPs I bought myself were Irish ballads by The Clancy Brothers & the flamenco guitar of Carlos Montoya. Played over & over, they swept me away, elated. My singing voice has always constituted audio assault, but I could brogue along with “Jug of Punch” & “O’Donnell Abou” just fine. I tried but never could master more than the opening notes of Montoya’s “Malaguena”.

Around the same time, I was discovering science fiction. I knew nothing about amputations, prosthetics, or phantom pain. Precious little about space travel beyond what I’d seen on Star Trek, The Outer Limits, & late-late night B-movie reruns (when I was supposed to be asleep). Yet another entry records a dream so haunting that, some 20+ years later, it grew into the world of my cybernetic navigators. Hindsight may be 20/20 but it can be nonetheless mystifying.

Versions of a frequent social media question appear in my newsfeed. “What advice would you give your childhood/teenage/younger you?”

Navigating a double-life, the teen me could’ve used a bit of reality check: you’ll never solve or understand all the family mysteries.

A bit of hope for a smidgen of resolution: a major puzzle piece hidden from you will come to light in 40-some years.

A bit of patience counsel: you’ll learn to train your dogs, you’ll find your genre(s), hit your stride—it just takes time.

A bit of encouragement: it’ll be okay—chin up, kiddo.

On the other hand, the last wouldn’t have been necessary. According to my time-machines, I did it anyway.

2

Writing & Sliding Tiles

My assistant for this post.

Tools of the Trade is live, introducing some of The Suntosun Chronicles cast members. The sequel novel, Suntosun Circus, is slated for release this fall. As I roll forward with writing the next book (tentatively titled Suntosun Seasons), I dig again into inner territories. Discover anew links between my fictional stories and the masks worn in autobiographies of the psyche.

Literal and figurative puzzles recur in my stories. But it’s amazing how some children’s toys teach us how to deal with adult challenges and tasks. The sliding tiles puzzles I enjoyed when I was young proved especially useful.

With the assistance of my beloved cat, here’s how a fiction/real-life connection works for a quest story.

Because she loves climbing, I learned the domestic housecat can find every possible route into a basement’s drop ceiling.

So, I (protagonist) move one ceiling tile (obstacle, setting), and cat (goal) backs across tiles to another section. Central plot. Also approaching badlands/cave/et cetera where setting complicates goal.

Pull down two more tiles hoping to intercept cat. Simple plan: achieve the goal without venturing into badlands/etc.

Cat skirts the gap to a different part of the basement. Simple plan failed.

Move more tiles and take down others to widen the gap, possibly cornering the cat. Plan #2 is better, right?

At this point, not too many tiles are removed. I’m already encountering dust, cobwebs, and dead bugs. The badlands become more dangerous, the goal even farther & further from sight.

Cat displays unsuspected athletic prowess as she leaps the overhead chasm. More desperate pressure for achieving the goal.

Cat pauses to sniff a decomposing mouse. Lull before the final conflict or confrontation.

Move another tile. Oh, so close! Cat is now intensely interested in a ductwork section where a former homeowner cut a vent hole. Plot twist.

Our eyes meet. Oh, no! Don’t you dare! Cat scurries just out of reach and kicks a petrified skink into my hair. How’d that get up there‽ Cat dives for the hole! Focus on goal. Gross out later.

I break a tile and knock down part of the tile frame as I lunge for cat. Cat wriggles head and shoulders into the vent hole, but I grab cat’s back legs. Cat is captured. Success! Victory! Resolution!

I wipe cobwebs from her face and remember a sliding tiles puzzle I enjoyed as a kid. Eyeing the mess above and on the floor, I consider taking down the entire drop ceiling. Satisfied with her adventure, cat snuggles against me and purrs. Epilog.

0

Review: The Secret Deaths of Arthur Lowe by U.L. Harper

What draws a reader back to a story again? Perhaps repeatedly?
Pondering this as I finish the fourth rereading of The Secret Deaths of Arthur Lowe by U.L. Harper.

The Secret Deaths . . . is a deceptively simple storyline. Arthur has the magical ability to animate the inanimate, an ability that includes restoring the dead to life. Yet raised amid frequent neglect and rejection, he strives to understand the impact and consequences exercising this ability has on others. On neighbors. On his wife who committed suicide and who he brought back to life.

Just because he can restore life to those dying around him, does that mean he should? Is holding on to someone at any cost more damaging than letting go?

But as he navigates questions about his ability, a deadly stench spreads through his town. The pressure surges as children, adults, and pets succumb to the mysterious miasma. He must resolve these questions and more to decide whether to give aid with his gift. Can he find even a modicum of peace for himself if he does—or doesn’t—use it for the dying?

Harper’s prose is lean and well-crafted. He balances the shifts between the present-day adult Arthur and the past child/adolescent Arthur with exquisite timing to illuminate scenes both preceding and following whatever is currently happening in the story. Yet none of the foreshadowing made the story predictable.

Although The Secret Deaths of Arthur Lowe is adult speculative fiction, the story bridges more than a single subcategory. It is magical realism and literary eerie as well as dark urban fantasy and quiet horror. It’s an artful examination of nature vs. nurture, of the right to die, of possessiveness vs. unselfishness (and how painful either can be), of the outsider psyche. Of a person who wants to do what’s right yet makes mistakes. Right and wrong are not always clear to him. Like so many of us, he finds his often unguided way by trial and error.

The Secret Deaths of Arthur Lowe has joined the ranks of books I read again and again. Excellent work, U.L.!!!

3

Upcoming Release: Tools of the Trade

Relief? Elation? Maybe a bit of shock?

As I stare at the cover, I’m not sure which is in the lead.

“Tools of the Trade” is now available for preorder on Amazon from AdeCiro Publications. The release date is set for June 23, 2021.

From the moment I penned the first words, I knew this story would lead to more.

By itself, “Tools of the Trade” is an adventure filled with demons, magical beings, and a clever heroine at the helm. It also launches The Suntosun Chronicles, a historical fantasy series set in the dawn of the 20th century. The “Tools…” cast unites with a circus striving to destroy demons intent on unleashing global terror and destruction.

I didn’t expect the journey to take as long as it has, but it’s been an exhilarating one.
And it hasn’t ended.

1

Blurring the Line

First, bad words & cussing.

No, this isn’t a post about cursing in stories. Not yet. That’s a future post.

This is me realizing that putting a date on prepared posts isn’t the same as scheduling for those busy stretches of time when I can’t closely tend them.

Square one: review instructions & tutorials.

*grumble, grumble*

Moving on.

Although AdeCiro doesn’t normally consider reprints, the publisher felt re-releasing the prequel novelette “Tools of the Trade” would be a good introduction to the historical fantasy world of Suntosun Circus (pending release later this year).

Creative license allows writers to twist facts, to blur the line between fact & fiction, to fit story. In some genres, though, it can compromise the believability the writer strives for. Most kinds of historical fiction rely on verisimilitude.

Verisimilitude.

A pretty word, almost musical when said aloud.

You wouldn’t think it carries as much weight as it does. But verisimilitude—derived from Latin words meaning truth & similar—influences a story’s believability. It affects whether a reader becomes enthralled in a reader’s trance or kicked out of a story by gaffes.

Underpinning my historical fantasy world with real people, places, & events meant staying true to the real so the blurred line between real & unreal seemed more believable. Here are examples of blurring the lines in “Tools of the Trade”, set in 1899 Kansas City, MO.

Fiction: Sophie (the MC) and her brother Bruce, both adopted as children, were delivered to their adoptive parents via one of the Orphan Trains.

Fact:  From 1854 to 1929, Orphan Trains from the east coast carried thousands of orphaned, abandoned, and parent-surrendered children west to be adopted. Some of their stories turned out well, the children cherished and cared for by their adopted parents. Others didn’t fare so well, treated as little more than extra farm hands and servants.

Some of them processed through a church orphanage called “The Little Sisters of Mercy Asylum” in New York City. Nowadays, we often think of the word “asylum” in terms of mental institutions, but the broader meaning is a place of refuge, a shelter, a haven.

Fiction: One of the minor characters is taken to St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City, while another is taken to a children’s clinic.

Fact: This hospital did indeed exist. Back then, it was called All Saints Hospital (est. 1885). The name changed to St. Luke’s Hospital in 1903, four years after this story takes place. Because St. Luke’s is the more recognizable name, especially for readers in the Midwest, the shift of timing for the name is creative license.

The other clinic mentioned was founded by one of two sisters (Dr. Alice Berry Graham and Dr. Katharine Berry Richardson) who set it up to help children of those too poor to afford medical treatment. At the time, women doctors weren’t common, and there was much bias about hiring them to work in hospitals another reason for founding their own. A few years later, that clinic became Children’s Mercy Hospital.

Fiction: The character Kazimir cauterizes a wound with an “untinned” brazing bit.

Fact: “Untinned” means that the brazing bit hadn’t been coated with a solder mixture of tin and lead. This mixture helps transfer the bit’s heat so solder flows properly to make a good metal joint. Essentially, he uses the equivalent of a bare-metal branding iron to cauterize the wound.

Fiction: Sophie, Bruce, and Kazimir set out from the Kansas City Yacht Club building to battle the water demons.

Fact: A surprise fact for me! While researching railroads running through KC, I happened upon a sketch showing a building with the sign Kansas City Yacht Club. After some archive digging, I found it really did exist in the 1890s and had a lively membership among local boaters. The club held regattas and fish fries, and they even bottled their own beer. There were a number of smaller clubs in and around the city, but the KCYC was the largest.

When publication of Suntosun Circus draws closer, I’ll post some ‘behind the scenes’ facts for it. In the story, I touched upon a few more controversial things I found during research. Digging through history yields facts that shouldn’t be forgotten.

4

Charmed, I’m Sure

Message from AdeCiro, the press that’ll be publishing my novel Suntosun Circus: “Do you have any author branding of any kind? logos and such?”

(Cue: deer-in-the-headlights stare.)

Fumbling, I replied about social media sites & interaction.

Of course, info I found about author brands called to mind my charm bracelet. (Not as farfetched as it may sound.)

It’s odd how autobiography of psyche creeps into a story. In Suntosun Circus, the character Sophie Asher has a charm bracelet that eventually provides clues about her past.

I’d forgotten about my own bracelet. Received when I “graduated” from 6th grade, the bracelet was too big for me. I wore it later, but it wound up tucked in the back of a jewelry box, long-term storage due to so many jobs where wearing jewelry wasn’t allowed or safe. Out of sight, out of mind.

A vague memory of it resurfaced by the time I finished the novel’s first draft. In the strange Lost & Found tent of the circus, Sophie finds her bracelet, though she doesn’t know it’d gone missing. She ponders the attendant’s question–“What did you find?”–and realizes the bracelet represents defining facets of her life symbolized by charms on a chain. She found herself.

The charms on my bracelet are different from Sophie’s. Over the years before I’d packed it away, some had been lost, some broken, replaced. Gifted or purchased, new ones added. A tortoise celebrates years involved in turtle rescue. Rather than gambling or games, the dice symbolizes problems resolved by chance. The pen represents my passion for writing, my love of story.

I often wonder what bits of autobiography show up, intentionally or accidentally, in other writers’ stories. For me, the writing as well as building my author brand somehow begins in the meaning of each tiny charm. They are biography & autobiography in silver. I found myself.

6

Confiteor, Redux

With the approaching re-release of my fantasy novelette “Tools of the Trade” and later publication of the sequel novel Suntosun Circus from AdeCiro Publications, I revisited thoughts on story, on writing.

So take this as explorations interwoven on itself like knotwork. Or ruminations of a mind rabbiting down twisty bunny trails. Hippity-hop down lagomorph lane.

Or take this as a confession.

I’ve long held the belief all writing—fiction as well as nonfiction—is autobiography.

It’s easy to spot in nonfiction. These events happened in my life. Let’s say, though, that it’s the history of someone else. That’s biography, right? Technically in one sense, yes. In another sense, it’s autobiography of an interest. Ditto for nonfiction about some other thing. My interest drives it. Ergo, autobiography.

Fiction, though—that’s made up. Fabrication. Most of my writing is speculative: science fiction, fantasy, and sub-genres under that wide categorical umbrella.

Autobiography?

My characters and stories would not exist without me. A damaged drifter wouldn’t find his missing son. An odd young man wouldn’t fight botanical vampires. An elf in space couldn’t save her beloved’s life, and another wouldn’t cause catastrophic tragedy in his dying madness. A circus of covert defenders wouldn’t battle demons threatening our world.

These story worlds have touchstones within my life. Each is built on places I’ve experienced, however tenuous the construction material may seem. A moment’s focus calls their fullness to my mind as sharply as the taste and smell of my breakfast, the colors of last evening’s sunset, the texture of my dog’s fur.

Hallya’s cooling world is every late autumn I’ve known extended across millennia. A trip to the Grand Canyon produced the labyrinthine canyons of the Kahall, and the grasslands of Kamanthia grew from the prairies of Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota. My years as a machinist informed details of my spaceships. The first incarnation of Rhapsody, Tuscan Red, Mind the Trees, and more  was the nameless little boat I rented once to sail on the Pacific Ocean.

More importantly, what characters feel echoes something I’ve felt, reflects some facet of me. Transparent or masked, exaggerated or subdued, the source is genuine. I may acknowledge a few, but I rarely connect the echo/reflection to the facet for anyone else. Even I’m not always sure of the exact connections. Some are sharp and vivid, but many shimmer at the outermost borders of memory.

Facts underlying the fabrications are no easier to discern than how I make associations, what synapses fire in inspiration. For purposes of my stories, it’s not vital to know where the realities are.

Fiction is the tales of worlds existing between a pair of ears. Fabrications, yes, but no less true. It’s autobiography of the psyche.

0

Starlight Through Five Apertures

We try to touch our toes to stars.

Chains anchor one swing set, and our toes only reach as high as the kitchen window. The frame rocks, pulling free as though about to tip over at the peak of our swinging arc, then slamming down with a clanking thunk. We choose the other swing frame, steel set in concrete buried in the ground.

We climb the smooth poles and hang by our knees from the top bar. We giggle at the upside-down world, not realizing yet how much the world is already upside-down. Not yet understanding behavior is taught but virtue is instilled. Our friends hone virtue better than memorizing rules.

Some aerialist cue warns just before the headward rush of blood turns to ache. Sweaty in summer swelter, we slip and shinny down chains to the swing seats. In daylight, we grip the chains and stand on the seats, sometimes lifting our feet from them. Pretending, pretending because no big top is bigger than the bright blue overhead.

Pretense changes to challenge at and after twilight. The first swinging high enough to touch toes to stars and call out Twinkle-toes! wins.

Play fair, play honest—the award doesn’t matter. Maybe the winner won’t be the first it in flashlight tag later. Maybe winning means dibs on the last good cookies, the ones our moms bake rather than the store-bought ones. Maybe it’s just a win. Pick another star, start again, swinging back and forth, passing wins back and forth, striving for stars to the metallic rhythm of creaking chains.

Would we like to swing on a star? You betcha!

But for now, for years ahead, touching toes to stars a handspan high above horizon suffices.

~*~

She doesn’t sail at night anymore. The old dory looks as age-roughened as she does, but it’s no less sea-worthy. Over decades, night has become a time of resting muscles and bones no longer so hardy and hearty. A time of watchful contemplation on the shore.
She has sea regrets, some fanciful, some real, but not many of either. She would’ve circumnavigated oceans solo with only stars to guide her. Sang with mermaids or ridden Poseidon’s chariot. Learned the languages at every seaport. Seen the green flash from every sea, from any sea.

The last, at least, is still within possibility.

The driftwood serving as walking stick took polishing well, but she never had the heart to carve more than a comfortable grip. The silvery, twisted grain matches her loosely braided hair, catching highlights under sun, under moon.

She dusted her surfboard today. She tried to remember the last time she wrestled it from the wall for waxing. Neither kook nor ripping slash-master, she knows her skills were modest. She never braved the gnarliest waves or rode the board through a barrel—another regret. She traced her fingers over white constellations painted against ultramarine blue. Aloud, she spoke their names, their stories as she outlined their shapes.

Even now, as she hobbles from her cottage, she smiles: she surfed standing on the shoulders of Hercules.

Farther along the shore, sand gives way to rock. She often tosses stranded starfish back to the surf or collects the dead she finds in dried tidepools. She loves the quietly busy activity there, but she’ll not ramble that far this eve. The closer stretch of beach, still warm enough to soothe, satisfies.

She passes the dory moored just above the high tideline. The hull should be scraped, revarnished; the dulled brightwork could stand attention. Some of the sail’s seams need restitched before she launches to sea again. These days, she dreads the sewing more than the labor on the dory’s wood and metal. Her eyesight is fine for anything but threading a needle.

Little breeze rolls in from the shining sea. Reflecting the red sailors’ delight of the sky. Reflecting the sinking sun’s ripe apricot glow. Reflecting the dory would lie becalmed on such waters until a freshening wind filled the sail. Reflecting on how often she’s waited becalmed on the shore for a glimpse of the green flash.

On the horizon, the crimson disc of the sun sinks, sinks. She stares, not daring to blink.

Now a thumbnail, a hairline. Now winked out, gone.

Exhalation. Explanation. Resignation.

Perhaps the air is too clear, too calm. No prismatic haze divides the day’s last sunlight for a flash of green.

Perhaps another evening, then.

She builds a small beach-fire. Her contralto isn’t as true as it once was, but songs of sea and stars, of love and adventure, lift her spirit when it ebbs.

Twilight darkens to dusk; dusk darkens to night. Pinpoints of light quiver on the glassy sea. Constellations form on the waters, then she gazes up to their source. She digs her toes in the warm and twinkling sand.

~*~

Night after night, year after year, I gaze at stars. They glint like chips of light-struck ice, fresh and cold in the skyscape. They are clock and anchor, compass and almanac. They are pattern and poetry. They are legend.

Magnitude, lightspeed, azimuth, parsec, aphelion, perigee. Astronomy borrows and provides the words and formulae for stargazing, but science never diminishes their mystery.

The scent of new mown grass envelopes me. My star chart glows in the dark and points the way to Lyra, Vega, Draco, Aquila. Cepheus rules near the throne of his queen; Boötes herds the stars by the Northern Crown. Hercules is high overhead. The great bear ambles slowly around the smaller bear.

The life of a transient means taking little for granted. Necessities and detritus carried from place to place may be lost or broken in transit. The people met get on with their lives, forgetting someone was present and now is gone.

Stars move, but they return. A multitude of constants shining on an inconstant world.
Another month, another place. A short way from my campsite, I sit on a low bank of the broad, braided tributary of the Platte River. I clutch my campfire-fragrant coat close against the chill. At the end of Ursa Minor’s tail, Polaris— North star, pole star, Cynosūra, lodestar, stella maris, sea-star—is a fixed constant, orienting me on land even as I stare skyward. Pegasus charges across the night sky, accompanied by ram and goat. The great swan soars into the west.

Another transit. My younger sister has a first-grade project about constellations. We spread a quilt on the ground, wrap blankets around our shoulders. Autumnal cool arrived in the Midwest early this year; the late September night seems unseasonably crisp. Some of the trees already dropped leaves. Others are turning colors, shedding more slowly.

Her head leaning on my breast, she looks along my arm as I point out the Big Dipper, then the Little Dipper. A naked ash tree obscures most of Aquila, but we spy the eagle’s brilliant Altair hovering near an upright branch. I tell her we can make the star disappear and reappear.

Oh huh! (Cynicism often overrides gullibility in the young.)

Close your right eye—see how bright the star is?

Yeah.

Close both eyes. Whisper Twinkle-toes, then open your left eye.

Twinka-toes. (A pause.) Oooooh!

Do it again, but open your right eye.

Twinka-toes. (Another pause.) Oooooh!

Leaves falling from the poplar windbreak rustle and patter. The breeze stirs drying, dying odors from the field stubble beyond the fencerow. She repeats the incantation. Once more, Altair vanishes behind the ash branch, then returns with each parallax shift.

For one evening, my sister thinks we’re magic.

~*~

The man doesn’t think she dreams of stars. When she was a puppy, the older dog showed her angels. Not so much the guardians and messengers of light, though she probably sees them, too.

No, she watches angels of nature, elementals in camouflage. They tend the seasonal cycles: vernal equinox, summer solstice, autumnal equinox, winter solstice. They signal migratory timing for bird and beast. They crack hulls and husks of seeds in the darkness under the dirt, urge the dormant to new growth. They show worms the way to cooler depths when summer sun heats the soil. They flutter wings of fallen leaves, dance en masse disguised as snowflakes.

The Labrador half of her ancestry alerts her to geese in formation overhead, but the back and forth calls of owls disturb her shepherd half. She presses her furry shoulder to his leg. Her head tilts up to nose his hand. She doesn’t understand why he still stares at the sky. The geese are gone.

Meteor showers—Leonid, Perseid, Orionid—mean nothing to her. There is no sound, there is no scent. The swift strobes are too distant for her sight, but the angelic display isn’t done for her eyes or for his. Flashing across the skyscape, the diamantine trails proclaim destruction and renewal in another form.

Later, she curls beside him on the couch. Her feet twitch and paddle as she sleeps, but she doesn’t dream of touching her toes to stars. She dreams of hooting owls, of honking geese, of angels masquerading among moths or milkweed down.

Perhaps, though, if stars glimmer in her slumber at all, she dreams of chasing squirrels or rabbits, hunting side by side with Procyon and Sirius whose twinkling toes are stars.

~*~

Night after night, year after year, you gaze at stars. You wonder.

Do you remember driving along a high plains highway at night? Through the windshield, a cloud shone as though reflecting the lights of a thousand cities. You slowed, then parked roadside. No atmospheric haze hung in the clear darkness. The Milky Way’s magnificence washed unfading awe over you, imprinting you forever.

Strange to think the sun is the closest star. Other stars divide the days and nights of their nearby planets the way old Sol lights this solar system, this Earth. Strange to ponder how this sun might appear if you stargazed from the crystalline shore or turquoise steppe of a distant world. Would you even notice a single star, a sun, in the lesser spur of the Orion-Cygnus Arm? How insignificant it seems amid the longer spiral arms of the Milky Way. Yet this star is life for Earth. Is it any wonder ancients worshipped the sky’s yellow dwarf? The impersonal master of seasons personally validates existence and solidity with shadow-stamps on soil, sand, and snow.

You used to look for your shadow by starlight. Their light is far, faint, but that doesn’t mean there’s no shadow cast. The ground is too dark to discern such dim and indistinct shade, but with so many stars scattered, shedding illumination crisscrossed across the sky, they may cancel each other’s light. Still, the palest stellar clusters don’t seem strong enough to nullify shadows cast by the brightest stars. Perhaps you need only stand on purest white to see your starlight shadow.

When you wish upon a twinkle, twinkle little star light, star bright, would you like to catch a falling star? Do you want to swing on a star, or do you hope for a pocketful of starlight? On a starry, starry night, does Mariah blow the stars around? Would she be wind or whirlwind stirring the galaxy’s spiraling arms?

Per ardua ad astra. Through hardship to the stars. Hardship for those who lost the sense of marvel and miracle to scholarship. You attain the stars in the way children of all ages do.

You climb the jungle gym of Cassiopeia’s Throne, cross the monkey bars of Orion’s belt. Your aerial silk flutters in cosmic wind as you angel-spin from the stinger of Scorpius in synch with the throbbing heart of red Antares. You launch from wing-to-wing trapeze as Cygnus soars the night. With a grand jeté, you leap from the horns of Taurus for an Aldebaran pirouette en pointe. You jazz with the Pleiades sisters.

You play and dance and frolic with stars. Pretending, pretending. Shout out Twinkle-toes! to win.

*****

 

“Starlight Through Five Apertures” by Glynda Francis first appeared in The Tishman Review, Vol. 4, July 2018. 

0

Residing at Vaile Mansion

rocking, rocking
I know my family loves me
rocking, rocking
even though they think
something’s wrong rocking in my head.
The doctor says asylum,
the nurse says loony bin
but I know it’s a mansion.
The gardener with rocking leafy hair
and willow eyes said so.
He said Mr. Vaile lived there
alone eleven rocking years
after Mrs. rocking Vaile committed suicide.
She said it wasn’t true
when I melted rocking in the marble,
met her in the cold grey veins.

The girls’ school rocking failed,
but she said they were afraid
when they saw her dancing
in the mirror rocking and the pool.
She told me in the cluster
of the rocking gilded grapes
and in the corner of the picture frame
that I should weave sparrow wings
and doves rocking through my hair
when the rocking window bars
shining change into the shape
of rocking cold wet sheets.

One nurse doesn’t like me,
and when rocking day turns black
and the sun bursts its seams
hurling sparks across the rocking sky,
she brings the drug to make me sleep
just so I won’t see the sun
sew its sparks together again.
But Mrs. Vaile says it’s all right
it’s only rocking laudanum
it’s not so bad, it doesn’t hurt
to be sifted rocking funneled
down the rocking throat of that small
cobalt blue glass bottle
but it’s cold rocking cold cold rocking cold . . ..

 

“Residing at Vaile Mansion” first appeared in the journal Pleiades (1992), and appears in the poetry collection Under Every Moon, published by Charlie Dawg Press, 2013.