December 17th, 2010


Last Day for the Poetry Sale

Today is the last day for the 2010 Holiday Poetry SaleLast week I had several folks express interest in this, but so far, there has been no activity here.  If you want to take advantage of the half-price sale to buy some poetry, please put it atop your to-do list for the day.

EDIT: Yay, poems are on the way! I will get the sponsored poems posted shortly.

Poem: "Editing Dunbar's Number"

This poem came out of the July 6, 2010 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by a prompt from tonithegreat.  It was sponsored by janetmiles as part of the 2010 Holiday Poetry Sale.  Happy holidays, and thank you!

If you want some background you can read about Dunbar's number and the "monkeysphere" online.

Editing Dunbar's Number

We spent millennia
wishing for world peace,
building castles in the clouds,
before we learned to lay foundations.

In order to change the world,
first we had to change ourselves.

Anthropologists explained how Dunbar's number
limited our ability to connect with others,
each of us creating our own monkeyverse
of some hundred fifty friends and relatives --
no fewer than a hundred, usually,
and no more than two hundred thirty.
Neurologists explored how the neocortex
limited Dunbar's number, while
psychologists applied this to the tragedy of the commons.

We could not achieve world peace,
it seems, because our brains
could not encompass the concept
of so many meaningful others.

So we turned to the gengineers
and began to rebuild ourselves.
We expanded the grey area,
enhancing our ability to see things
in more than white and black.
We gathered the sulci and gyri
into organ pleats as fine as smocking,
embroidered them with ideals and tacked them down tight.
We built up the bones with struts and frets
filled in with new neurons --
spine and shoulderblades and pelvis
holding the mysteries of the metaneocortex --
and we taught the pelvic girdle to open and close
like a drawbridge at birth,
making room for the large new mind to pass through.

Then we taught ourselves
to learn each other more fully and farther,
to weave networks together like neurons.
Our associations expanded into soma, axon, dendrites.

The new limit was larger,
yet still finite. 
Humanity strained uncomfortably
to encompass itself completely
and failed,
foiled by the margins of mortality.

For a time
our thoughts turned inward
and we contemplated our conundrum.
There were too many bodies
for the monkeymind to run all at once.
But then we noticed the birthrate falling
and found the other half of the solution:
not another expansion,
but a contraction,
balancing population and perception.

Now the Earth is one,
monkeymind and celestial body,
Homo sapiens communis
flowing through life and lives,
one big happy family.

We have become
the change we wanted to see in the world.


Poem: "Humans With Bumpy Foreheads"

This poem came out of the August 3, 2010 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by a prompt from pocketnaomi.  It was sponsored by janetmiles as part of the 2010 Holiday Poetry Sale.  Seasons greetings, and thanks!

Humans with Bumpy Foreheads

It was awkward when the aliens came
and we realized that they looked so much like us
you could mistake them for such
at a distance or in dim light.

It was even more awkward when we realized
that the most visible difference was something we'd mocked
in cheap science fiction flicks and old pulp novels.

They looked like humans with bumpy heads.
Oh, they were born smooth as our babies,
but they learned by encysting symbionts
that mapped their knowledge into areas and masses
as meticulous as the divisions of our own brains.

You could tell at a glance how smart they were,
and what they knew, if you could read those bumps
like a strange echo of phrenology,
the false become suddenly true.

We discovered, in time,
that they didn't particularly like us,
with our unformed childlike faces
and smooth obscuring skulls.
They were reluctant to share their technology
in case it might do us some kind of harm,
or perhaps, tempt us to hit each other
like toddlers squabbling over a toy truck.

They liked our literature, though,
and our cinema, and the other
flotsam and jetsam of culture --
but if you watched them closely enough,
the pattern emerged.
They were collecting the science fiction
about the aliens with bumpy foreheads.
They would read, and view, and consume
and if they caught you watching them
they would stare back
with their flat inscrutable gaze.
You realized, slowly, that they weren't
as much like us as they looked.

They took what they wanted
and paid us in pittances,
and when they began to produce their own
stories and movies and so forth,
we realized
that cultural appropriation
is not nearly as much fun
when the shoe is on the other foot.


Poem: "Furry Virtues"

This poem came out of the June 1, 2010 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by a prompt from marina_bonomi.  It was sponsored by laffingkat -- and simultaenousely picked out by janetmiles.  *chuckle*  The 2010 Holiday Poetry Sale is suddenly turning into a pileup at the table!  Hee!  (I am suddenly reminded of a holiday commercial that featured a dog covered in wrapping paper under a Christmas tree, tail wagging...)

Furry Virtues

A dog is
loyalty and obedience,
teamwork and love.

A cat is
whimsy and independence,
self-sufficiency and satire.

A dog is the slave who saves his master's life.
A cat is the slave who whispers, "You're only mortal."
Our pets embody the virtues that we value.

the wild child laughs
and buys a lizard.


Poem: "Echoscape"

This poem came from the November 3, 2009 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by a prompt from stonetalker.  It was sponsored by laffingkat as part of the 2010 Holiday Poetry Sale.  Thank you, and happy holidays to all!

The prompt involved a mutually favorite Star Trek: The Next Generation episode ("Darmok") and verb-based languages such as Cherokee.  Now, dolphins live in a 3D world, which they perceive mainly in sound-images, so they communicate ... sort of holographically.  This poem is my attempt to translate echolocation into English, while still retaining the original flavor.


echo-away:  ocean

echo-return:  rock
echo-return:  sand
echo-return:  seaweed

echo-return:  fish!
echo-return:  bluefin, food

echo-return:  large school, closing fast
echo-return:  large school, parting

flavor:  bluefin meat
flavor:  blood in the water

echo-return:  large school, scattering
echo-return:  bluefin, food

echo-return:  EATER

echo-away:  ocean

signal-away:  DANGER!  HELP!  DANGER!

echo-return:  rock
echo-return:  reef
echo-return:  reef, REEF!
echo-return:  gap

echo-away:  ocean

echo-return:  EATER

echo-away:  ocean
echo-away:  ocean

echo-away:  air

echo-away:  ocean

echo-return:  pod
echo-return:  family
echo-return:  embrace


The Hobby-Naturalist Levels Up

Recently I've seen the red-tailed hawk perching in our yard, or swooping past the bird feeder, on a more frequent basis.  I think he is no longer an overflight visitor, but a resident.

Today I went outside and saw a large bird take flight.  The hawk?  No -- it turned out to be a great horned owl.  I could see his little feathered ear-tufts as he turned his head.

I have apex predators (aerial zone) living in my yard!  *happy dance*

Poem: "Insistent Chemistry"

This poem came out of the June 1, 2010 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by a photo prompt from moosl referring to Himalayan wild blackberries.  It was sponsored by janetmiles as part of the 2010 Holiday Poetry Sale.

Insistent Chemistry

The sun
turns flowers into jewels,
then continues
the slow transformation
as emeralds
become rubies
become black sapphires.

As the colors change,
so too sour becomes sweet,
carbon and hydrogen and oxygen
forging themselves into sugar
in the heat of the
sun's insistent chemistry.


The Hawk

I actually have a couple pictures of the hawk, just not a very clear one.  He landed in the forest garden near the hopper feeder, so I shot these through the kitchen window.  He was about 10-12 feet away from me.  I couldn't get the photos to load properly into a post, so I put them in a gallery:

Poem: "The Elements of Civilization"

This poem came out of the March 2, 2010 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by prompts from ellenmillion and moosl.  It was sponsored by haikujaguar as part of the 2010 Holiday Poetry Sale.  She invited me to pick out something suited to her tastes, from the poems I had on hand.  This is a Torn World poem about the Southern Empire, musing on what it means to be "civilized" -- hopefully a fun read for a lover of sociological fiction.  (I'll be submitting it to Torn World later, too.)  Happy holidays to everyone, and thank you for your support.

The Elements of Civilization

Civilization is made of these things:

The City which makes the citizen's home.
The Citizen who makes the city live.
The Water that is a nation's lifeblood.
The Egg that is food and procreation.
The Challenge that drives us to test limits.
The Rule that stops us from going too far.

These are the pillars of the Empire:
Those who stand within them are civilized,
Those who stand without them are barbarous.


Poem: "StumbleUpon"

This poem came out of the August 3, 2010 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by a prompt from wyld_dandelyon.  It was sponsored by haikujaguar as part of the 2010 Holiday Poetry Sale.  She asked me to pick out some poetry for her based on her interests, from what I had available.  This one takes a look at the rise of social networking in news and other articles, in which all things old are made new again.  Hopefully this will appeal to a very dear friend who likes to push the envelope of what cyberspace can accomplish.


When the world was young,
Spider Grandmother invited people
to read the portents in her web of silk.

Now the world is older and weirder,
if not wiser, and Spider Grandmother
beckons us into cyberspace.

"Come, child, ask your question,"
she creaks in her old-woman voice,
"and I will help you stumble upon the answer."


Poem: "La Silbadora"

This poem came out of the October 5, 2010 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by a very creepy video prompt from moosl.   This poem was sponsored by xjenavivex as part of the 2010 Holiday Poetry Sale.  Season's greetings, and thanks!

I'm really glad to be able to share this poem.  The original prompt reminded me of a weird old vampire story I'd encountered long ago, which got me thinking about the whistled language, which led me through some fascinating research about the Canary Islands.  So then of course I found myself writing in a mix of Spanish and English, a style of poetry that I fell in love with back in college while reading Emplumada by Lorna Dee Cervantes.  The end result is an original vampire legend pieced together from a lot of widely scattered, colorful scraps.

La Silbadora

The women of the village said
that she was unnatural, too willful and disobedient,
quick to run away into the laurisilva,
vanishing like a canary in the forested slopes.

The men of the village said
that she was a wanton thing,
always scampering along the steep sides of the barrancos
with her skirts tucked into her belt and her knees showing.

They said that she talked too much,
and they were tired of hearing what she had to say,
so they stitched her lips closed
and banished her from the village.

But she knew Silbo Gomero, the whistled language,
and she learned to speak it through her sealed mouth,
eerie sounds echoing along the gullies
to charm the villagers from their beds.

Then she would hang them from the trees
and slit their throats so they could no longer condemn her.
Lying beneath them, she would let the red rain of their blood
wet her tortured lips and quench her thirst.

* * *
1) La Silbadora  means "the whistling woman" or "the female speaker of Silbo Gomero."
2) Silbo Gomero is a whistled language used by the inhabitants of La Gomera  in the Canary Islands.
3) Laurisilva  means "laurel forest," a type of humid subtropical forest.
4) Barrancos  means "deep ravines," a characteristic feature of terrain on La Gomera.


Poem: "Sun's Foe and Moon's Friend"

This poem came from the October 5, 2010 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by a prompt from miintikwa.  It was sponsored by xjenavivex as part of the 2010 Holiday Poetry Fishbowl.  Although it features a vampire, it isn't exactly a horror poem because the mood is not violent and the narrator is content; so I tagged it "fantasy" as well as "horror." Happy holidays to all, and my thanks!

Sun's Foe and Moon's Friend

The sun was never my friend.
All my life we were enemies,
my milk-pale skin so easy to burn.
All my death we are enemies still,
and the flames would hardly be fiercer.

The moon is my mistress.
Her white hand guides my steps,
cool as rainwater on my skin.
Her smooth voice fills my ears,
gentle and rich with mysteries.

I do not begrudge the days gone by;
it is the nights in which I delight.
The fruits of the sun could never quench my thirst;
blood is the moon's beverage, trembling under skin.
I have not changed so much, only embraced my nature.

Call me vampire if you will,
sun's foe and moon's friend,
but they and the gods are the ones who made me
for I was born to this before any teeth kissed my throat
and I do not regret it -- and you will not reproach it.


Poem: "The Road More Traveled"

This poem came out of the November 2, 2010 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by aldersprig.  It was sponsored by xjenavivex as part of the 2010 Holiday Poetry Sale.  Thank you, and happy holidays!

The Road More Traveled

The road stretches endlessly toward the horizon,
worn by generations of feet and hooves and wheels.
The dust of the road and the stones of the road
are older than dirt.

The sides of the road are littered with objects
lost along the way or deliberately discarded.
Horseshoe nails and horseshoes,
buckles and bits and coins, loose screws,
food tins, wedding rings, pocket knives,
dog collars and doll clothes --
the detritus of thousands of lives
lies here beside the road more traveled.

Here too lie the memories and the memes,
beliefs abandoned for better ideas,
things that deserve to be forgotten,
old arguments buried like hatchets,
dragon's teeth scattered on stones never to spawn,
thoughtshards of interest only to archaeologists and philosophers.

Mixed among the old are figments of the new:
flower spikes spearing upward through the dust
to open their delicate purple bells above the stones,
baby rabbits nestled in softly rotted cotton,
bright-eyed sparrows fledging from broken wagons,
epiphanies as splendid as sunrises.

The historian walks this road to learn where it has led.
The futurist walks this road to imagine where else we could go.
The poet walks this road to distill inspiration from memory.

They walk hand in hand, humming,
and the road more traveled reveals itself
not through the destination but through the journey.


Poem: "The Vampire Funeral"

This poem came out of the October 5, 2010 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by a beautiful photo prompt from moosl.  It was sponsored by xjenavivex as part of the 2010 Holiday Poetry Sale.  Happy holidays to everyone, and thank you!

I'm really pleased that I get to share this poem with you; I've been hoping someone would sponsor it.  When I saw the picture prompt, I noticed that the vampire mourners seemed genuinely sad, not an emotion often attributed to standard vampires -- and there they were in an ancient, elegant, ruined place.  So I wondered what kind of vampires they might actually be, and they turned out to be very different indeed.  Again, this one isn't exactly horror because the vampires aren't violent (though one might count it as such for other content) so I tagged it "fantasy" as well as "horror."

The Vampire Funeral

The cemetery shines in the moonlight,
white snow draping the ground
and frosting the broken stones.
Gnarled oak trees scrabble at the sky
with their bare, black branches.
The walls and the columns are merely fragments now,
the cathedral fallen to rubble long ago.
Only a few narrow arches remain,
their apexes pointing at the frozen stars.

The marble crosses do not bother the mourners,
many of whom are older than the religion
that the crosses represent.  There are no graves
as such, only names chiseled into stone.
There are no corpses here either,
simply ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
They carry the remains of their Eldest
in a little bronze urn embossed with mystic symbols.

There was no need for him to be destroyed.
He was a gentle creature, a sage,
a teacher of the young and newly made.
No violence had ever stained his sustenance
until the hunter pulled the purring girl from his grasp
and hammered a stake through his heart while she screamed.

The grieving vampires make their slow promenade
through the graveyard, sorrow falling
as cold and sharp as the snow.  They will not fight.
They will not seek revenge.  They were never made
for such things, and they value life too highly
to spill it in anger.  It hurts them
when the humans make such accusations.

They scatter the Eldest's ashes into the tender hands of the wind
and watch the last of his magic flitter away into the night.
Some of those motes will find enlightened souls, and settle,
and in time call someone to turn the new one toward home.
For now, they must go and seek those sown on an earlier evening,
and hope that time and the world have not put out
the light of the moon in the younglings' eyes.
One by one they slip away into the woods, each holding
in their heart a flame of peace still sheltered from the coming storm.