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Entries in writing (41)


Side Effects of Poetry May Include...

The last week has seen a revitalization of my poem-a-day project. I’ve been slowly increasing the complexity of the poetic forms I’ve been tackling, and for April I decided to go after sonnets (the Petrarchian variety, specifically). They’re tough, in no small part because they have a fixed meter, rhyme scheme, and length, which means you have to make the pieces fit just so. Unlike I can with, say, octosyllabic rhyming couplets, I can’t sit down and write a sonnet in one go; I need to chip away at it. Finding time to do that during a single day is a bit of a challenge, particularly if I don’t get started early. I seem to have figured a way that works for me: Before getting out of the shower in the morning, I have to have a subject for the poem and at least one line finished. That lets me stew on it all day, which is the trick that has gotten me through the last week’s worth of sonnets.

There’s been an unanticipated side effect of this: I have a lens that I see much of the day through. I’ve found that, because of their structure, sonnets work best when they present a point of view. Like models, they contain a piece of the truth. (My sense-making brain has been having a field day with this idea.) I write my best poems when I take a stand on something, and as I’ve been consciously doing that first thing in the morning, it’s been shaping how I experience the day.

It makes me wonder what else I should be including in my morning ritual.


Writing, But Not What I Expected

If you follow me on Google+ or are friends with me on Facebook, you might be wondering, “What’s up with all the poetry?”

About a year ago, Gwen and I got involved with the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), a medieval and Renaissance history group that recreates most aspects of pre-1600 European life (except the Black Death). And by “got involved,” I mean that it’s now our primary leisure-time activity. We’re having a fantastic time with it, and given the breadth and depth of our activities, it’s hard to believe that we’ve only been doing it for a little more than a year. Case in point: Two weeks ago we attended a Yule celebration co-hosted by two groups in the Los Angeles area, the Barony of Altavia and the Barony of the Angels. During the feast, they held a competition to determine their respective bardic champions, i.e. the singer, musician, poet, or storyteller that each of these groups wished to represent and serve them for the coming year. At the encouragement of a friend of mine, I decided to enter, with a performance that I’d describe as storytelling interspersed with song. The result, to my utter surprise, was that I was named the next Bard of the Angels.

Now, I’d been curious about medieval poetry already, particularly because so much of it is tied to the music of the period, but this increased the urgency of learning more. So, since I learn best by doing, I’ve decided to write a poem in a period form for each day that I serve as Seraph Bard (as the bardic champion of the Barony of the Angels is sometimes styled). Each month I’m going to pick a different poetic form to experiment with. (December’s form is the rondeau simple, also called a triolet.) The genesis for each poem comes from something that day. At the end of the year, I plan to collect all of them and present them in book form to my patrons, the Baron and Baroness of the Angels.

So that should clear that up.


The Obvious Child

Has it really been a week already?


“Stand down, Marine. She’s just a kid.”

The flamethrower Corporal Howser was holding dipped slightly. “The Major said to sterilize the ship, sir.”

“That’s what we’re doing. Burn the bodies, wipe the data storage, and point this hulk into the sun,” the Lieutenant replied. “We’re taking the kid with us back to the Agamemnon, so the doc can take a look at her. Do you have a problem with that?”

“No, sir.”

“It sounded like you did. Major Danforth thought everyone over here was dead. Turns out that’s not the case, so we’re making adjustments. Now stand down, Corporal.”

Howser managed half a salute before turning and heading down the corridor towards the ship’s drive reactors, flamethrower at the ready. Lieutenant Mitchell turned back to the storage locker where the little blonde-haired girl huddled.

“It’s okay,” Mitchell said, holstering his sidearm as he knelt down and pulled a protein bar out of his pack. The girl couldn’t have been more than four years old. She watched him, her mouth slightly open, her eyes tracking his movements as he unwrapped the snack and offered it to her. She did not move.

“Go on, take it,” he said. “You should eat something. How long have you been in there? A few hours? Days? I bet you’re hungry.”

As he said the word “hungry,” a spindly tentacle shot out of the girl’s mouth, crossing the one-meter gap between them in the blink of an eye. The stinger at its tip pierced the back of Lieutenant Mitchell’s throat, and he began to gag. The girl collapsed forward, and he fell back into blackness.

The parasite wasted no time in hijacking his central nervous system. The five days it had spent in the girl’s body was more than enough time to adapt to human physiology. Within minutes, Mitchell’s body was up and moving about again. When Corporal Howser returned, the little girl was finishing off the protein bar the Lieutenant had given her. By the time the Marines returned to the Agamemnon, it was all over but the shouting.


The People Who Dwelled In Darkness

Another story for Chuck.

I feel like this one didn’t quite come together. I’d love to take another crack it with some more time and a few thousand more words.


“We found their camp just across the river,” Lyssa said to her mother across the white plastic breakfast table. “They obviously weren’t expecting pursuit.”

Sandra nodded, poking her spoon at the cereal Lyssa had carefully weighed out. During her pregnancy, the Overseer was entitled to an extra half ration. The rest of the time — despite the opulence of her quarters — she ate no better than the rest of the Dwellers.

“And when you found them?” her mother asked as she lifted the spoon to her mouth. The diffuse light from the overhead fixture disguised the lines on her face, adding to the effect of pregnancy by softening her normally harsh expression even more.

“We waited until moonset and then slaughtered them in their sleep,” Lyssa replied, taking a spoonful of her own breakfast. The protein liquid tasted off.

“Good, good,” Sandra said. Her mouth puckered, and she looked at her daughter.

“I’d seen reports from Production that they’ve had a few bad batches recently,” Lyssa said.

“I’m sure it’s nothing,” her mother said, dipping her spoon into the bowl for another bite. “The occasional funny taste beats starving out in the Wild.” She chewed thoughtfully for a moment. “So?”

“We waited until sunrise, then brought the stolen food crates back to the Dwelling with us.”

“Had they eaten much?”

“About fifty daily-rations worth.”

“And there were only a dozen of the thieves?”

“They were hungry,” Lyssa said. “If they weren’t, they wouldn’t have been desperate enough to try something this bold.”

“Yes, I suppose so,” her mother said. “I don’t know why you must always go on these dangerous missions yourself. You could just as easily send one of the Culled to oversee the business.”

“They would just as likely join those thieves as hunt them down,” Lyssa said, pushing the empty bowl away from her. “Most of them would think they have as good a chance in the Wild as they do here.”

“Nonsense. So long as the Culled continue to pull their weight in the Dwelling, they’ll continue to have a place,” Sandra said, and Lyssa heard the voice of the Overseer return.

Two days before, Lyssa had overseen the Reclamation of twenty-six Culled men who had been declared a Drain on Resources. She did not share her mother’s optimism about the Culled’s loyalty.

“I go because I need to see all parts of our society,” Lyssa said. “If you wish me to succeed you as Overseer, I need to understand the whole, not just pleasant parts that Dwellers see every day.”

“The beasts of the Wild are hardly part of ‘our society,’” her mother said. “They have no laws or rules to speak of.”

“We are defined by how we treat others.”

There was silence for a time as the Overseer pushed her still half-empty bowl away and sipped her tea.

“Have you picked a Stud yet?” she asked at last, placing her hand instinctively on her swelling belly. Her daughter’s was lean and taught.


“I know, it can be so hard to choose between good options,” her mother said, smiling. “Which ones have you tried out?”


When they lay spent and naked under the canopy of trees, their bodies glistening in the waning crescent of the moon, their breath coming smoothly again, Lyssa finally spoke.

“You told them how to get inside, didn’t you?”

Her dark-eyed, bronzed-skin lover did not reply. Instead, she rolled to face away from Lyssa, pulling the edge of the blanket over to cover herself.

“I was worried you were with them, Moira,” she continued.

“And if I had been?” Moira said over her shoulder. “If you had found me with them? Would you have killed me as casually as you did them?”

“Of course not. How could you think that, after all of the clothing and medical supplies I’ve smuggled out for your band?” Lyssa said, reaching a hand out to stroke Moira’s bare back. “That’s why I had to lead them, to make sure nothing happened to you.”

The Wild girl did not respond to Lyssa’s touch. “What would you have done if it had been me?”

There was silence for a time between them. At last, Lyssa rolled off the blanket, stood, and began to dress.

“It’s time for me to bear a child,” Lyssa said when she was clothed again.

This time Moira rolled toward Lyssa, still clutching the blanket around her.


“If I don’t, the Arbiters will declare me a Drain on Resources.”

“They would murder the Overseer’s daughter for not bearing children?”

“It’s not murder. It’s maintaining the balance. If we don’t breed, humanity will die out. And there’s only so much food to go around.”

“Which is why you murder nine boys out of ten before they are a month old,” Moira said, turning away. The shadow of a tree branch cast a jagged shadow across her back.

“How many bulls does one herd need?”

“You’ll need to practice your moo-ing, then.”


“It is the judgment of the Arbiters that you are a Drain on the Resources of the Dwelling,” Sandra said. “You will be taken to Production for immediate Reclamation.”

Lyssa bowed her head. “I submit to the judgment of the Arbiters,” she said. “And now, you will yourselves be judged.”

She touched the button on the transmitter she had concealed within her jumpsuit, and the first of the bombs exploded, shattering the ceiling of the cavernous central hall of the Dwelling and tearing hole in its side. Sunlight streamed in, dazzling the crowd as it began to panic. The second detonated a moment later, bringing the remainder of the supports down, and creating a cascade of structural failures that quickly spread throughout the complex.


Two days later, when her band of Wildlings scavenged the remains of the Dwelling, Moira found Lyssa’s body lying face down, not from the corpse of her mother. When she turned it over, she found a smile on her dead lover’s face.


Sjdbeck Farm

Here’s another piece of flash fiction for one of Chuck’s challenges. The initial inspiration for this one is picture number #26 on this list, but once I got going, a number of other muses appeared.

When the fall of civilization came, as he knew it would, Gustav Sjdbeck was ready for it.

“We shall go to America,” Gustav’s father, Carl, said to him on the eve of his seventeenth birthday. Gustav’s mother had died in the night before, and within two months the guns of August would bring death to peace in Europe as well. Although he knew that Sweden would largely be spared the horrors of the coming Great War, they were still too close for the elder Sjdbeck’s taste. So he and his only son packed their belongings, left the town of Linköping where their family had lived in the shadow of the Linköpings domkyrka — of the great cathedral of the town — for twelve generations, and sailed for a new world.

“This is a good place,” said Carl, when he and Gustav finally arrived in Lindström, Minnesota, not far from the Wisconsin border. Gustav had fallen in love with Chicago, City of the Big Shoulders, with its tool-making and its playing with railroads, but Chisago County was good farming country and more to Carl’s tastes. Linköping was small enough that you could live in the town but still be part of the country; the same was not true of Chicago. So as Europe tore itself to pieces, father and son set to work building a new life on the sprawling acreage they came to call Sjdbeck Farm. Carl’s head for systems and organization kept things running smoothly, and his insight into the turning of the seasons spared them from disasters that nearly wiped out their neighbors. Gustav’s knack for tinkering annoyed his father at first, but Carl came around, as Gustav found ways to automate and mechanize tasks so that he could do with three men what took other farmers ten. By the mid-twenties, Sjdbeck Farm was the envy of its neighbors, and the two men prospered.

“There are things you should know about,” said Carl, as he lay dying. His son was nearing forty now with three children of his own, and he was close to seventy. Europe was the brink of another war, the bitter fruit of the vengeful settlement of the last one. Carl would not live to see its conclusion, and he feared that his son would not either. In the deep of winter, by candlelight, he told his son those things he had kept hidden, those notions Gustav had speculated about and dismissed as fairytale nonsense. He told his son how it was he knew about those things unseen and events yet to come, about those who knew how to read movements of the stars and the listen to the secrets of the animals. And he told his son about those few who knew how to do more than just observe, who even now flocked to secret orders that gathered under the banner of the crooked cross. He foresaw what was coming, and with this last breath he told his son to prepare for it.

“It has happened,” said Gustav one morning in July. He saw it in the death of the bees in the orchard, heard it whispered in the voice of the brook, felt it in the suddenly cold wind from the north. He called his tall three daughters to him — his Norns he now called them — and told them that they time they had prepared for was at hand. They nodded gravely and set about their tasks. They retrieved the rifles and shotguns from their hidden cache and distributed them to the family members and farmhands, directing them to their appointed places to secure the entrances to the farm. They checked on the stockpiles of food and fuel and hoped it was enough to last through the awful great winter that was coming. Gustav walked slowly his workshop and unlocked the door, the mechanism moving soundlessly and effortlessly he turned the key in the lock. In front were a pair of Allis-Chalmers Model E tractors, though close inspection would reveal subtle changes in the engine and loader, and anyone who used the machine would notice that it ran quieter and smoother than normal but seemed to have more power. Behind them was a trio of what had begun life as John Deere Model GM, with their larger engine blocks and six-speed transmission. There was no mistaking the changes to these; the flamethrowers were the least ostentatious additions. Further back in the workshop were the machines that were entirely Gustav’s design, more Panzer than tractor. They would see use in the coming weeks, of that he was sure. The mad Swede walked to the nearest ten-wheeler, started the engine, and drove it out of the workshop to help his daughters distribute arms and ammunition.

Ragnarök would be the death of the gods, but it would not be death of Sjdbeck Farm.