Edward Willett

Poetry month poetry: The Tale of Old Bill from the Ship “Cactus Hills”

The final poem of Poetry Month based on first lines provided by Poet Laureate Gerald Hill to members of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild every April weekday, with the challenge to respond to them in some way in new work. I chose to incorporate them into new science fiction/fantasy/horror poems. I’ve really enjoyed the process, and am already thinking about turning them into an illustrated collection.

All the other poems: I Tumble Through the Diamond Dust; Virtuality; This is the Way the World Ends; The Last Thing Your Lips Touched; Facing the Silence; The Telling; Saint Billy; I Remember His Eyes; His Body Knows; Emily Alison Atkinson Finds God; I Will Ride Off the Horizon; There’s Nothing Artificial About Love; He Really Should Have Written; Saving My Brother’s Life; Dammit, I’m a Doctor, Not an Entree; Slime is Thicker Than BloodThe Maharajah of MossbankThe Gathering of StonesThe Only Child; The Labyrinth of Regret.

Today: you’ve heard of Cowboy Poetry? This is Space Cowboy Poetry!

The lines are really long and so there are a number of odd line breaks due to the restrictions on length within the blog post, just so you know.

The provided first lines:

Bill wrangled in the early years, bustin broncos every fall,
a legend from the Cactus Hills, the wrangler Gomersall.
– Ken Mitchell, “Spook” from Rhyming Wranglers: Cowboy Poets of the Canadian West

isHisSince he stood at the edge
of dark valleys before
– Doris Bircham, “Valley of Shadows” from Where the Blue Grama Grows

***

The Tale of Old Bill from the Ship Cactus Hills

By Edward Willett

This is a tale from back in the day when the startrails were wild and free,
when the men and the women who sailed the skies were braver than you, or than me.
Now, life in the colonies out ’mongst the stars ain’t no doubt could be pretty rough,
And those who could scrape out a living out there were more than just averagely tough.

Like most anybody who lives a rough life, time came when they wanted some fun,
And so ’fore you knew it the show-business ships started making a regular run.
“Planetfall,” that’s what starship folk call it when they come a-howlin’ right down to the ground,
Though they mostly just dock the word clear down to “’fall,” I think ’cause they just like the sound.

There were theatre ships, there were musical ships, there were burley-cue ships by the score,
But the ships that the colonists longed for the most were the rodeo ships, and what’s more,
Them colonists found that the old cowboy code served them better than aught else they knew,
So before very many more years had passed by, all of them started cowboying, too.

Bill was born in a starship they’d dubbed Cactus Hills, out in deep space where there ain’t no law.
He grew up real fast and he grew up real strong, and as tough as a diamond-edged saw.
Bill wrangled in the early years, bustin “broncos” every ’fall,
a legend from the Cactus Hills, the wrangler Gomersall.

He’d never been near an Earthly horse or seen an Earthly steer,
but he’d ride a six-legged horror or wrestle a gray slimy snake without fear.
Still, as years followed years Bill just had to face facts: he wasn’t a kid anymore,
and wrangling “broncos” or wrestling “steers” left him limping a bit, and quite sore.

He spent a few years as a rodeo clown, ’til a thing with a poisonous sting
Got him good in the leg. They replaced it, of course, but he weren’t no more good in the ring.
Still by then he had been on the circuit so long he was able to buy out the ship,
And as new Captain Bill of the old Cactus Hills started out on his very first trip.

They hit Formalhaut Four and old Alpha C Prime and a new place that ain’t got no name,
And the new eager wranglers in their fancy duds started making their own claims to fame.
But then they got lost in the back of beyond when a cosmic string cut through their shield,
And the captain set down on the first world at hand, in a shiny green rock-covered field.

The engineer thought he could get the ship fixed, but it might be a month or a week.
“Do your best,” Captain Bill said. “I’ll get saddled up and go out on in the field for a peek.”
He got on his “horse,” an old robot named Pete, and rode it out into the field,
Where the things he’d thought rocks heaped up into a wall and a voice in his head told him, “Yield!”

Well, what could he do? He surrendered, of course, and they hustled him off to their queen,
A rather small boulder as blue as the sky, but her voice in his head sounded mean.
Seemed he’d squashed half her council beneath the ship’s weight: hadn’t killed them, but that was just luck.
She demanded he take off and he had to say that he couldn’t, the ship was pure stuck.

Then a new kind of wrangling Bill had to do, as he wrestled with all of his might
To save Cactus Hills and the brave souls aboard from the wrath of the queen—what a fight!
It went on all day and it went on all night, and on that planet that’s really long,
But when it was over old Bill had a deal. She’d let Cactus Hills move along.

But not Bill. He’d stay back, and would serve the blue queen, as a punishment fit for his crime,
And the weirdest thing was that he didn’t much mind, and looked forward to serving his time.
Now, if you think that’s strange, then you aren’t like old Bill, or maybe a cowboy at all,
’Cause it really ain’t strange that a cowboy like Bill heard the wide-open spaces’ clear call.

He’d discovered he hadn’t quite took to the way being Captain had kept him pent up.
This planet had wide-open spaces galore, and as he and the blue queen went up
To the top of a hill to watch his ship take off, he looked far and wide and felt fine:
He liked the tall mountains, and the way that the sun gave their snowcaps a sparkling shine.

So now Bill don’t wrangle the alien broncs, or wrestle the tentacled steers,
You won’t find him in some Martian rodeo town, in a cowboy bar downing some beers.
He don’t have a ship, and he don’t have a herd, but a whole wild planet is his,
Since he stood at the edge of dark valleys before the blue Rock Queen and heard her say this:

“Well, Wild Bill Gomersall, you’ve served me well for twenty long turns round the star.
“You’ve honored your word and you polished my sides and you’ve rolled me around near and far.
“Now most of this world doesn’t suit us at all, but it seems to suit you a-okay,
“And I’ve talked to my council and we took a vote, and here’s what they told me to say:

“Except for the parts of the world that are mine—just this hill-top, and that valley there,
“The rest of the planet is yours to explore: you can go where you like. Just beware:
“No more of your kind will be welcome down here: we’ll crush any humans who try it.
“So if you want to leave, you must summon a robot ship down, and then you’ll have to fly it.”

But Old Bill looked around at that beautiful world, and he grinned, and he took off his hat,
And he swiped the sweat out of his eyes with his arm, then he turned and said, “Sure,” just like that.
“Old cowboys don’t like to be cooped up at all,” he told the blue Queen with a grin.
“Just me all alone on a planet like this? In my book I’d count that a win.”

Then he turned to the drone that he’d kept by his side when the Cactus Hills left him behind,
Told it the story that I’ve just told you, sent it up for the next ship to find.
That world is off-limits to everyone now, but by every space cowboy it’s known:
That’s the range of Old Bill ftom the ship Cactus Hills, and he happily rides it alone.

***

Poetry month poetry: The Labyrinth of Regret

I wasn’t able to post this yesterday, but this is actually yesterday’s poem from first lines provided the day before that by Gerald Hill, Poet Laureate of Saskatchewan, to all members of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild. Just one more poem to go! It’s been a blast incorporating these random lines of Saskatchewan poetry into new science fiction/fantasy/horror poems. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them.

All the other poems: I Tumble Through the Diamond Dust; Virtuality; This is the Way the World Ends; The Last Thing Your Lips Touched; Facing the Silence; The Telling; Saint Billy; I Remember His Eyes; His Body Knows; Emily Alison Atkinson Finds God; I Will Ride Off the Horizon; There’s Nothing Artificial About Love; He Really Should Have Written; Saving My Brother’s Life; Dammit, I’m a Doctor, Not an Entree; Slime is Thicker Than BloodThe Maharajah of MossbankThe Gathering of Stones; The Only Child; The Tale of Old Bill from the Ship Cactus Hills.

The first lines:

have you met the poet
who tried to stop writing
– Veryl Coghill, “The Space Too Small” from Make Me

I leave my shoes
to mark my place
– Anne Campbell, “I Leave My Shoes to Mark My Place” from Angel Wings All Over

My poem:

The Labyrinth of Regret

By Edward Willett

The labyrinth is endless, a maze
no Theseus could conquer,
no Minotaur could rule.

Souls from a thousand millennia
flit through the halls, frustrated,
frightened, frozen in the moment
when their lives went wrong
and their deaths began.

My guide is enthralled by the
suffering souls, a fan of their
tragic backstories.

“Have you met the poet
who tried to stop writing?”
he says, with a nudge
to point my gaze
toward a gaunt-eyed figure
trudging down
an endless winding stair.

He points at another,
sitting alone,
his head in his hands.
“That one,” he says,
with a delighted chuckle,
“devoted his life to a
theory that foundered
on the hard rocks of facts,
while that one, the one
who’s just sitting and rocking,
found the man that she loved
loved himself even more.”

No matter the tale,
no matter their pasts,
the ghosts look the same:
longing and lost,
sallow and silent,
grieving and gray.

I do not remember
how I came to be here,
I do not remember
how I lived before.

I know I was going
to be a somebody,
make a big difference,
make myself a name.

But now I am nobody.
I made no difference.
I have no name.

My guide has left me,
or never was here.
I leave my shoes
to mark my place,
and barefoot began
my search for the exit
I already know
I will never find.

Poetry month poetry: The Only Child

Today’s poem, from first lines provided yesterday by Poet Laureate Gerald Hill to all members of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild. He’s doing this every weekday for the month of April, and I’ve been incorporating each pair of lines into a new science fiction/fantasy/horror poem

All the other poems: I Tumble Through the Diamond Dust; Virtuality; This is the Way the World Ends; The Last Thing Your Lips Touched; Facing the Silence; The Telling; Saint Billy; I Remember His Eyes; His Body Knows; Emily Alison Atkinson Finds God; I Will Ride Off the Horizon; There’s Nothing Artificial About Love; He Really Should Have Written; Saving My Brother’s Life; Dammit, I’m a Doctor, Not an Entree; Slime is Thicker Than BloodThe Maharajah of Mossbank; The Gathering of Stones; The Labyrinth of Regret; The Tale of Old Bill from the Ship Cactus Hills.

The first lines:

There is a story of a swan.
See the birthmark on the back of my neck
– Lorna Crozier, “Myths” from The Garden Going On Without Us

In the near dark,
when she’s almost
– Sheri Benning, “What It Tastes Like” from Thin Moon Psalm

The Only Child

By Edward Willett

In the near dark,
when she’s almost asleep,
there are stories.

The fire lights the faces of the women,
strikes answering sparks from their eyes.

“There is a story of a swan.
See the birthmark on the back of my neck?”
The girl’s mother cranes her head
so the others can see.

Eyes heavy,
the girl blinks at it.
It really does look like a swan,
if you squint just right.

“The swan comes to a woman in the night,
and she lays an egg that hatches into a child.”

That’s not how it works,
the girl thinks,
though she’s not entirely sure how it does,
because however it is supposed to,
it doesn’t work that way anymore,
hasn’t since something called “men,”
strange creatures she has never seen
(and can’t really imagine)
vanished from the Earth.

“That’s the story of Zeus and Leda.”
Another woman’s voice drips scorn,
mingled, as always, with envy.
“That didn’t happen. You learned it in school.”

What’s a school?
the girl thinks,
but she doesn’t ask out loud,
so no one answers her.

“Then how do you
explain the mark?”
her mother says.
“How do you
explain my child?”

I wasn’t hatched
from an egg,
the girl thinks.
She frowns.
Was I?

“She wasn’t hatched,”
the other woman says.

“It’s a metaphor,”
her mother says.

What’s a metaphor?
the girl wonders.
So many strange words.

So many strange stories, too,
told each night by the women around the fire.
But this story of the swan
was the most unbelievable yet.

“I dreamed of a swan,”
her mother insists.

“I woke with a mark,”
she continues.

“And unlike any of you,”
she concludes,
“Unlike anyone else,
anywhere that we know of,
I have a child.”

An only child,
the girl thinks.
Her eyes slip closed.
The only child.

She sleeps, and dreams of a swan.
One day it will come to her,
and she will give birth
to a whole new world.

When she awakens,
there is a birthmark on the back of her neck.

Poetry month poetry: The Gathering of Stones

Today’s fantasy (or maybe horror?) poem incorporating the first lines sent out yesterday by Saskatchewan Poet Laureate Gerald Hill to all members of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild.

All the other poems: I Tumble Through the Diamond Dust; Virtuality; This is the Way the World Ends; The Last Thing Your Lips Touched; Facing the Silence; The Telling; Saint Billy; I Remember His Eyes; His Body Knows; Emily Alison Atkinson Finds God; I Will Ride Off the Horizon; There’s Nothing Artificial About Love; He Really Should Have Written; Saving My Brother’s Life; Dammit, I’m a Doctor, Not an Entree; Slime is Thicker Than Blood; The Maharajah of Mossbank; The Only Child; The Labyrinth of RegretThe Tale of Old Bill from the Ship Cactus Hills.

The moon was gone
when Yarrow left the house
– Robert Currie, “Returning Alone” from Yarrow

poor Mary
stones gather
– Jeanne-Marie de Moissac, “Gabriel” from Slow Curve

The Gathering of Stones

By Edward Willett

The moon was gone
when Yarrow left the house
and he had much to do
before the sunrise.

The warded wall
he’d built with sweat and blood
he had to tear down now
within night’s shroud.

The black stones strewn
across the field beyond
already knew the horror
in the house.

A sigil, cracked
in last week’s storm had failed,
a single wandering imp
had breached the wards.

While Mary slept,
the demon had crept in
to slit her throat in sleep.
Bed drenched in blood,

Yarrow awoke,
and screamed until his throat
was raw, his mind unhinged
by grief and loss.

But then the moon
had silvered all the stones
beyond the wall, and Yarrow
had to move,

As one by one
the stones formed ordered rows,
and rolled in measured silence
toward the farm.

In this new world,
born bloody when the laws of
nature men thought fixed had
given way,

Ghosts haunted stones:
the spirits of those slaughtered
as the changing world erupted
dwelt in rocks.

The warded wall
had kept the haunted stones
at bay, kept Yarrow and Mary
safe and alive.

But now the imp
had taken Mary’s life, left
Yarrow drowned in loss. He’d
let them come,

Let them have Mary,
to live within the stone in
some cold way until the
world changed back.

The wall torn down,
he walks the darkened path back
to the house, enters the
bloody room,

Whispers, “Poor Mary,
stones gather,” kisses
her upon the lips, and
lies beside her.

His blood will join
hers on the sheets, his soul
will join hers in the stones
until world’s end.

Selah

Poetry month poetry: The Maharajah of Mossbank

Today’s science fiction poem from first lines, drawn from published Saskatchewan poetry, provided by Gerald Hill, Poet Laureate of Saskatchewan, to all members of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild.

All the other poems: I Tumble Through the Diamond Dust; Virtuality; This is the Way the World Ends; The Last Thing Your Lips Touched; Facing the Silence; The Telling; Saint Billy; I Remember His Eyes; His Body Knows; Emily Alison Atkinson Finds God; I Will Ride Off the Horizon; There’s Nothing Artificial About Love; He Really Should Have Written; Saving My Brother’s Life; Dammit, I’m a Doctor, Not an Entree; Slime is Thicker Than Blood; The Gathering of Stones; The Only Child; The Labyrinth of RegretThe Tale of Old Bill from the Ship Cactus Hills.

The first lines:

The maharajah of Mossbank built Missouri Farm
Give me cream!           : Give me tea!
– E.F. Dyck, “41.” from The Mossbank Canon

Old as it is, it’s in my house now—
come from Winnipeg on the back of a truck,
– Bruce Rice, “Father” from The Trouble with Beauty

My poem:

The Maharajah of Mossbank

By Edward Willett

The maharajah of Mossbank built Missouri Farm,
Give me cream!           : Give me tea!
carving it from the sod south of Old Wives Lake,
and if anyone stopped by to ask why he called himself
“high king” of a prairie town he was rarely even seen in,
when all he really ruled was a crooked shack and mule,
Give me beef!               : Give me beer!
he threatened to roust his army to remove them.

Nobody visited the maharajah twice, not from Mossbank,
Give me cream!           : Give me tea!
not from Coderre, of which he called himself Count,
and not from Ardill, whose Archbishopric he claimed,
and where no one lives now, although that (probably)
doesn’t have anything to do with him. No,
nobody visited twice not just because the locals
thought he was crazy, but because some of them thought
they went a little crazy when they were out there,
claimed they kept hearing tiny voices,
Give me beef!           : Give me beer!
as though the walls were full of talking mice, and this
a long time before Disney.

The maharajah wasn’t from Mossbank, or even from
Give me cream!           : Give me tea!
Saskatchewan, having made his way north from Missouri
for mysterious reasons. Some thought that the law
might be on his tail, but most just said there’s
no use trying to understand why a crazy man
Give me beef!               : Give me beer!
does anything.

The maharajah of Mossbank disappeared one night,
Give me cream!           : Give me tea!
vanishing during a three-day blizzard, between
the start of the snow and the clear bitter cold that
followed, a fact discovered by his nearest neighbor,
who out of Christian charity thought he should check
on the crazy old coot. He found no shack, he found
no tracks, and the strangest thing of all was
Give me beef!               : Give me beer!
he found no farm, the whole quarter-section gone,
vanished to a depth of six inches, leaving frozen dirt,
wind-whipped clean of snow.

The Mossbank maharajah’s sudden departure
Give me cream!           : Give me tea!
was a six-day wonder around Old Wives Lake,
but you won’t find anyone there who remembers him now.
But I know all about him. I was in this antique shop
in Winnipeg, and inside a glass-topped case I saw
Give me beef!               : Give me beer!
a perfect miniature model of a prairie farm, right down
to a miniature farmer frozen in miniature surprise,
open-mouthed in the door of his miniature shack,
looking up at the sky…looking up at me.

The Maharajah of Mossbank, read a small brass plaque,
Give me cream!           : Give me tea!
and I knew I had to have it, though I wasn’t sure why.
“It’s old and fragile,” the dealer warned, and
it’s big as well, some ten feet square and three feet tall.
But big as it is, old as it is, it’s in my house now—
come from Winnipeg on the back of a truck,
and the driver couldn’t wait to be free of it, said
he kept hearing voices, shouting at him, demanding
Give me beef!               : Give me beer!
things he couldn’t provide even if he was in the habit
of giving the voices inside his head what they wanted,
which he wasn’t, and he wished me enjoyment
of my new purchase, and then he high-tailed it
off my porch as though pursued by hellhounds.
I thought he was crazy.

But then I dreamed of the maharajah of Mossbank,
Give me cream!           : Give me tea!
in journalistic detail, and also dreamed of a
giant glowing disk in the sky above Missouri Farm,
and saw the lightning flash that trapped the maharajah
in that instant, while the hidden renegade aliens
(for they, not he, were the ones fleeing the law),
already the size of mice, now more the size of microbes,
continued to shout their endless demands
Give me beef!               : Give me beer!
and the thing that worries me is that the glass case
cracked last night and the wood frame splintered
this morning and now there’s not the slightest doubt
the farm is getting bigger and the voices are getting
louder and louder and louder, and so
Give me cream!           : Give me tea!
Give me beef!               : Give me beer!
GIVE ME BONE!        : GIVE ME BLOOD!
GIVE ME BONE!        : GIVE ME BLOOD!
GIVE ME BONE!        : GIVE ME BLOOD!
I’ve decided to leave. I hear New Zealand
is nice this time of year.

Poetry month poetry: Slime is Thicker than Blood

Today’s poem, from Friday’s first lines provided by Poet Laureate Gerald Hill to all members of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild every weekday during the month of April. The challenge is to use the lines in a poem or use them as the springboard to a new poem. I’ve chosen as my personal challenge to use the lines in a poem, but not just any poem: a science fiction/fantasy/horror poem.

All the other poems: I Tumble Through the Diamond Dust; Virtuality; This is the Way the World Ends; The Last Thing Your Lips Touched; Facing the Silence; The Telling; Saint Billy; I Remember His Eyes; His Body Knows; Emily Alison Atkinson Finds God; I Will Ride Off the Horizon; There’s Nothing Artificial About Love; He Really Should Have Written; Saving My Brother’s Life; Dammit, I’m a Doctor, Not an Entree; The Maharajah of Mossbank; The Gathering of Stones; The Only Child; The Labyrinth of RegretThe Tale of Old Bill from the Ship Cactus Hills.

Friday’s first lines were:

My sister, who is also a snail,
leaves a trail of lovers wherever she goes,
– Barbara Klar, “Adapting to Land” from The Night You Called Me a Shadow

The dog sees it
(frozen)
– Gillian Harding-Russell, “broad daylight” from Vertigo

My poem:

Slime is Thicker than Blood

By Edward Willett

I polish my rainbow carapace,
perfume my sleek and shining body,
and slide seductively through the mud,
calling to the males ensconced in their dens.

They never heed my cries,
Never scuttle out to penetrate my
egg sack, never make my offspring viable.
So I remain frustrated and alone.

My sister, who is also a snail,
leaves a trail of lovers wherever she goes,
satiated, supine, in the slime of her passage,
intoxicated by her opiate effusions.

Though we’re meant to rule as equals,
our genetic fate implacably divides us.
My eggs, unfertilized, all wither,
while hers all blossom, swell, and hatch.

Of her multitudinous offspring,
most have even survived to adulthood.
Soon our growing colony on this strange world
will comprise her children, and hers alone.

This cannot be borne,
so I have just reprogrammed her
obscurer: the clever device that
hides her from the monsters of this world.

One such creature the dominant
giants have given the name of “dog”:
a massive beast with pointed teeth who
breathes out gusts of stinking breath.

This “dog” will eat anything edible,
and a great many things (strictly speaking) that aren’t.
Now here comes my sister. She slows. She stops,
enticing a lover from his secret hole.

My careful sabotage makes her
look like a piece of bloody raw meat.
The dog sees it (frozen), leaps, and snaps,
and my sister is gone from the world.

The bewildered lover blinks,
eye-stalks twisting as he seeks a mate
to slake his lust. I slither forward.
The queen is dead. Long live the queen.

Poetry month poetry: Dammit, I’m a Doctor, not an Entree

Today’s poem, with a blatant Star Trek reference in the title, based on “first lines” provided by Saskatchewan Poet Laureate Gerald Hill to all members of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild every weekday this month.

All the other poems: I Tumble Through the Diamond Dust; Virtuality; This is the Way the World Ends; The Last Thing Your Lips Touched; Facing the Silence; The Telling; Saint Billy; I Remember His Eyes; His Body Knows; Emily Alison Atkinson Finds God; I Will Ride Off the Horizon; There’s Nothing Artificial About Love; He Really Should Have Written; Saving My Brother’s Life; Slime is Thicker than Blood; The Maharajah of Mossbank; The Gathering of Stones; The Only Child; The Labyrinth of RegretThe Tale of Old Bill from the Ship Cactus Hills.

***

The first lines:

A child who is born covered
in clay & smelling of horses
– Katherine Lawrence, “A Gift” from Ring Finger, Left Hand

At this moment, Dear Readers, neither you nor I
         stand hip-deep in a trout stream.
– David Carpenter, “The Trout Stream Creed” from Trout Stream Creed

Dammit, I’m a Doctor, Not an Entree

By Edward Willett

At this moment, Dear Readers, neither you nor I
stand hip-deep in a trout stream.
This is a lamentable situation which I hope
to rectify very soon.
A week ago I was hip-deep in a trout stream, but
I was called away to deliver
a very unusual child.

From the above, you have probably deduced
that I am a country doctor.
Yes, there are still such things, and I am one.
I am a doctor, I live in the country,
ergo, I am a country doctor. But of an unusual kind:
I work for a government agency,
one you’ve never heard of.

This is a poem, and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service,
I have it on good authority,
does not read poems, and if I’m right, it doesn’t matter anyway,
so I will tell you a secret:
Aliens live among us, and I don’t mean the illegal kind.
These are completely legal:
we signed a treaty.

Diefenbaker, PM at the time, had had a falling-out with
John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and when
JFK refused to allow the aliens into the United States,
Dief said, “Then by God,
we’ll have them in Canada,” and so one hundred aliens
who had crashed near Macoun
were settled here.

This agency I work for that you never heard of was
set up by Dief right after that
to look after the aliens and help them integrate
into Canadian society.
They look more or less human, but of course
they can’t go to the doctor.
That’s where I come in.

You might say I know them inside and out,
(Their outsides look
more or less the same as ours, but their insides
are really, really weird.)
I’ve always liked the aliens, who are called Kvithi.
They’d be the salt of the earth,
if they were from Earth.

So to get back to this baby. It wasn’t the first
Kivithi baby I’ve delivered
(though it may well be the last), but it was unusual.
The Kivithi have a prophecy
about “A child who is born covered in clay
and smelling of horses,”
and here it was.

The woman had fallen into labour while she was
working in the stable, an
old one with a clay floor, and one unusual thing
about the Kvithi is that
once a woman goes into labour she can’t move
for about six hours until
the baby is born.

So there was the clay, and there were the horses,
and when the child was born
it crawled out (it’s a Kvithi thing) and rolled over
and sat up, all covered in clay,
and there’s no question it smelled of horses, because
the floor sure did and so did
everything else.

So it’s a child of prophecy, a kind of Messiah,
though the prophecy came
only just before the Kvithi crashed, which is why
this alien prophecy includes horses,
which they don’t have back on the Kvithi homeworld,
where what they ride has teeth and claws
and sometimes eats them.

According to the seer who made this prophecy,
who didn’t survive the crash,
when at last a child covered in clay and
smelling of horses is born,
the Kvithi are about to return to their homeworld,
leaving Earth forever, and
me without a job.

The Kvithi are very excited about it, and
they’re already packing up and
they’ve thanked everyone in the government agency
you’ve never heard of
for making their time on Earth so pleasant. But
I have to admit I’m just
a little concerned.

See, I don’t think the bit about the child covered in clay
and smelling of horses
is the whole prophecy, because one day when I was
looking after an elderly Kvithi
who was a bit delirous, he said something about
“the Kvithi fleet will come”
and “they’ll be hungry.”

And then he said something about, “the local stock
is fattening up nicely,” and
I thought he was talking about cows, but
as part of getting ready
the Kvithi have sold all their cows, and I have to say
I don’t like the way that old guy
looks at me.

It’s true I’m a bit overweight, but so is half
the world’s population, and
there’s been some talk it might actually be caused
by a virus or something else
and it occurs to me that the obesity epidemic
has coincided with
the Kvithi presence on Earth.

And I wish it hadn’t occurred to me, I really don’t,
because now I’m wondering
how many Kvithi are about to arrive to “rescue” ours
and I’m wondering if ours
really crash landed by Macoun or if that was just a
cover story and honestly I
think I’m becoming paranoid.

So I’ve decided not to worry about it, because
if a race of star-faring aliens
really wants to turn us all into a smorgasbord
(the ultimate fusion cuisine),
there’s nothing I can do about it, and so I’ve
decided to get my waders on
and head back to the trout stream.

Dear Readers, I invite you to join me,
before it’s too late.

 

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Poetry month poetry: Saving My Brother’s Life

Here’s today’s poem in this epic month of sf/fantasy poetry, all of it created using as starting points the two lines of published poetry by Saskatchewan poets sent out each weekday to members of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild by Saskatchewan Poet Laureate Gerald Hill!

All the other poems: I Tumble Through the Diamond Dust; Virtuality; This is the Way the World Ends; The Last Thing Your Lips Touched; Facing the Silence; The Telling; Saint Billy; I Remember His Eyes; His Body Knows; Emily Alison Atkinson Finds God; I Will Ride Off the Horizon; There’s Nothing Artificial About Love; He Really Should Have Written; Dammit, I’m a Doctor, Not an Entree; Slime is Thicker Than Blood; The Maharajah of Mossbank; The Gathering of Stones; The Only Child; The Labyrinth of RegretThe Tale of Old Bill from the Ship Cactus Hills.

The first lines provided:

The body’s belief in death is simple, true, taken up
by the unwilled muscle that fills then empties the lungs—
– Paul Wilson, “Swept” from Turning Mountain

thirty years of your brother’s life
hanging in a cedar-lined closet under the back stairs.
– Judith Krause, “A History of Shirts” from Mongrel Love

My poem:

Saving My Brother’s Life

By Edward Willett

“There’s thirty years of your brother’s life
hanging in a cedar-lined closet under the back stairs,”
Mom says to me. “Do you think you could take it
to his hotel? He needs it for his Grand Tour.”

That made sense, of course, because
the Grand Tour to Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter
takes almost twenty-five years, and
you wouldn’t want to risk that without
lots of spare years ready to go
in case you needed them.

I’ve recently set a goal for myself not to whine
when Mom tells me to do stuff like that,
but honestly, I’m not a kid anymore, even though
I’ve chosen to self-identify as a teenager, and so
it does grate on me a little when she
gives me chores. I mean,
I’m forty-five years old, and there’s
thirty years of my life hanging
right next to my brother’s in that
cedar-lined closet under the back stairs,
along with a couple of decades of Mom’s
(she likes being matronly, she says),
and nearly a century of Grandma’s,
who is currently finger-painting in the nursery.
(Poor Grandpa died
before the whole life-extension thing took off,
but he never struck me as much of a
finger-painter, anyway.)

Dad’s the only one who keeps his whole life
with him all the time. He says he’s
fine with the whole life-extension thing, he just
doesn’t want to look like a kid when he’s
really pushing ninety. Of course,
it costs more to carry your whole life around, because
what if something happened to it?
He had to buy this really expensive
Incipient Death Backup Unit. It monitors
whatever’s going on in his body, and if
something looks like it’s about to kill him,
it grabs a few extra days or months or years
(depending on how serious it is)
from his life-pack and sticks them into him.
Then he can take the whole thing to the
life-cleaner and have it spiffed up good as new.
(Except even after that his body still looks ninety.
Don’t ask me, I don’t get it either.)

Anyway, I go to the cedar closet
(it’s a good place to keep your stored life
because you really don’t want to take it out when
you need a few years so you can look good for a party
only to find that the best years of your life
have been eaten by moths), and to my surprise,
brother Bob is already there,
digging around inside the bag
holding his thirty years.

He looks up when he sees me and
I swear to God he looks guilty. “What
are you up to?” I ask him, and of course
he doesn’t have to tell me anything
if he doesn’t want to, but
apparently he wants to, because he says,
“I’ve decided to give away my life.”

Now that’s a shocker, because
it’s really just another way of saying
you’re tired of living and you’re
planning to let nature take its course, and
as we all know, nature is a bitch who is
always trying to kill us, and personally
I’m happy not to have to worry about
tornadoes and floods and things like that,
because even if something happens
I’ve got all this extra life hanging in the cedar closet,
so I can reboot and then carry on
as if nothing had happened.

“What would you want to do that for?” I say,
and that’s when I find out the awful truth:
Brother Bob has gotten religion. Not
the old-style religion. Those
are still around and mostly okay with the
life-extension thing, although it has meant
term limits on Popes and there’s a
TV evangelist serving life in prison for fraud
who’s going to be there a really, really long time.

No, Bob has gone and converted to the
There Ain’t No Such Thing as a Free Life church.
“The TANSTAAFL Prophet says
that the body believes in death, and
our minds are part of our bodies, and
therefore we believe in death, too, but
we’ve denied this simple truth and
that’s why the world is suffering.”

Now, I personally think the world
is suffering a lot less than it used to, since
mostly people don’t die and
advances in technology have meant we
can feed everyone and everybody has
a smartphone and access to Netflix, but
what do I know?

And then I realize things are really serious,
because Bob quotes some of the Prophet’s
high-falutin’ scripture at me:
“The body’s belief in death is simple, true, taken up
by the unwilled muscle that fills then empties the lungs,”
he says. (That’s the way the Prophet talks,
like he’s some kind of poet or something.)
“It is taken up by the unwilled muscle that pumps our blood,
by the synapses that communicate our will to our muscles,
by…”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I said, which is kind of rude,
but Bob is starting to piss me off. “But just because
your body believes in death doesn’t mean
you have to believe in it. Why do you want to die?”

“So I can live forever,” Bob says, and I just shake my head,
because that’s what the Prophet tells his followers:
that they have to die in order to live with God forever.

And then I think of something I never thought
to ask before, because Brother Bob never tried
to get rid of his spare life before. “So who gets
all your spare years?” I ask him. “You’ve got
thirty good years in that bag. Where does it go?”

“It goes to the Prophet,” Bob says. “So he can
continue his good work and convince
many more people of the need to give up
their unnatural existence and embrace
the body’s belief in…”

I don’t need to hear anymore. I should have guessed.
The whole thing is a scam to get the Prophet more life.
Maybe he didn’t save up enough, or maybe he’s just greedy.
Either way, he’s not getting Bob’s.

So I grab the bag with Bob’s thirty years in it
and I hightail it through the house, with Bob chasing me
and yelling at me, but I’m the one who’s still a teenager
and Bob decided to freeze himself at thirty, and
while thirty’s not old it’s a hell of a lot older than fifteen,
and so I leave him behind, and run off into the woods.

I bury Bob’s bag of extra life somewhere he’ll never find it.
I’ll tell him where it is if he ever comes to his senses.
I don’t go home until he finally gives up looking for me
and leaves on the Grand Tour after all.

That gives me two decades before I’ll have to face him,
and by that time maybe he’ll finally have grown up.
(Even though I won’t have.)

I just hope the raccoons don’t find the bag.
There’s nothing they like to nibble on more
than a few years of well-aged life.

 

 

Poetry month poetry: He Really Should Have Written

Today’s poem from first lines provided by Poet Laureate Gerald Hill yesterday to all members of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild. I’m really having a blast with these. Today’s was particularly fun.

All the other poems: I Tumble Through the Diamond Dust; Virtuality; This is the Way the World Ends; The Last Thing Your Lips Touched; Facing the Silence; The Telling; Saint Billy; I Remember His Eyes; His Body Knows; Emily Alison Atkinson Finds God; I Will Ride Off the Horizon; There’s Nothing Artificial About Love; Saving My Brother’s Life; Dammit, I’m a Doctor, Not an EntreeSlime is Thicker than Blood; The Maharajah of Mossbank; The Gathering of Stones; The Only Child; The Labyrinth of RegretThe Tale of Old Bill from the Ship Cactus Hills.

The first lines:

The man at the door with a gun is our son.
We think he’s after our money,
– Brenda Niskala, “Blunt Instrument” from How to Be a River

Karaoke never paid the rent
or did it? My night students ask
– Jeanette Lynes, “Abba Down Cold” from A Woman Alone on the Atikokan Highway

He Really Should Have Written

By Edward Willett

The man at the door with a gun is our son.
We think he’s after our money.

We think of him as a man and our son
though he hasn’t been a man for twenty years,
or written, called or emailed even once
since the night the vampires got to him
behind the Milky Way.

If he’d bought garlic ice cream, then
he might have fought them off.
But he’d bought Heavenly Hash, and
despite the name it proved of little use
against the batboys.

I say he hasn’t called or written once,
but I guess he did, right after he was bitten.
The note said, “Mom and Dad, I’m not your child
anymore. I’m now a child of the night.”

And that, indeed, was all he wrote.

Now, please don’t think we’re prejudiced
against vampires. There are several
in the classes that I teach, every
weekday night from September to June,
in the tower of the old Conservatory.
It’s just that after our son had been sucked
into that life, he had no time for us, and
we have to tell the truth: that hurts a little,
though not as much, I’d guess, as
long sharp fangs piercing his carotid artery
hurt him.

But vampires are not all created equal.
My students mostly like to spend their nights
just singing karaoke (they like
ABBA and Loretta Lynn the best),
downing pints of AB negative,
or for a rare treat, O.

All they really want to do, they say,
is sing all night, then sleep the day away,
inside a nice wood coffin if they’re lucky, or a
cardboard shipping box if they are not.
“Karaoke never paid the rent, or did it?”
my night students ask. I have to
gently break it to them that it didn’t, and
they’re going to have to find a job somehow:
not easy, with the prejudice
all vampires face. People think
they’re all these killer demons,
roaming through the streets like roaring lions
seeking whom they may devour—
and they’re mostly not.

Still, it’s not prejudiced to say
that some underemployed vampires
turn to crime. Which is why our son
is just outside our door, and has a gun,
and wants our money.

But he won’t get it. Even though
the classes that I teach can pay the rent
(quite unlike karaoke) there just
isn’t much left over, and
my husband hasn’t held a steady job
since he turned into a werewolf.

(You think it’s tough to get a job if
you’re a vampire? Try it when
three nights every month you wake up naked
in some stranger’s backyard,
drenched in blood and with their
dachshund’s collar stuck in your teeth.)

So though it pains us to do it,
we’ve put a bucket of holy water
above the door, and my husband
has a crossbow (he’s a
real good shot now that he’s a werewolf),
and I have a crucifix, and also
a machete just in case.
(The crossbow bolt to the heart should do the trick,
but beheading’s a viable option, too.)

It’s not the world I grew up in,
but we all do what we have to.
And anyway,
he really should have written.

 

Poetry month poetry: There’s Nothing Artificial About Love

Today’s poem from the “first lines” provided by Saskatchewan Poet Laureate Gerald Hill to all members of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild on April 18, part of a month-long Poetry Month event. Just a couple of more weeks to go!

All the other poems: I Tumble Through the Diamond Dust; Virtuality; This is the Way the World Ends; The Last Thing Your Lips Touched; Facing the Silence; The Telling; Saint Billy; I Remember His Eyes; His Body Knows; Emily Alison Atkinson Finds God; I Will Ride Off the Horizon; He Really Should Have Written; Saving My Brother’s Life; Dammit, I’m a Doctor, Not an EntreeSlime is Thicker than Blood; The Maharajah of Mossbank; The Gathering of Stones; The Only Child; The Labyrinth of RegretThe Tale of Old Bill from the Ship Cactus Hills.

The first lines:

you got talking
just because
– Randy Lundy, “just because” from Under the Night Sun

What other friend or lover,
after all, would have been so faithful (more or less)
– Elizabeth Brewster, “To the Male Muse” from Collected Poems 2

My poem:

There’s Nothing Artificial About Love

By Edward Willett

For three full weeks, you sat and you said nothing,
a silent presence in my living room.
The manual said that it would take a while,
“heuristic” this and “quantum” that at work.

And then it happened: one day you got talking,
just because, I think, the silence stretched too long.
You said, “I’m Elfive Thirty. You’re Jack Smithers,
and I’m sure that we are going to be great friends.”

Don’t think that I don’t know that you’re a robot.
Of course I know. I haven’t gone insane.
I know beneath your skin of soft pink plastic,
your skeleton’s titanium and steel.

But more and more I’m spending nights at home,
I look at you and you look back at me.
And while I understand that you can’t love me,
I don’t see why that means I can’t love you.

The truth is that I do. I’ve never had
a real live girl who cared a bit for me.
And even though I know that you are programmed
to treat me like the centre of your world,

I don’t see any reason to look further,
to risk humiliation from the “real.”
I know your mind is shared with many others,
connected to a server in Ukraine,

and all of you pretend to love your owner,
and all of you are equally unreal,
and there are other men in other cities
who love a part of you as much as I.

But I don’t care. I’ll live with you forever,
and when at last they lay me in the ground,
they’ll lay your metal skeleton beside me,
and write this epitaph above the grave:

It’s true he loved an artificial lifeform,
but please don’t find that reason to condemn:
for what other friend or lover, after all,
would have been so faithful (more or less)?

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