The Wide Open World

In that time, there were two farmers with four children: one son and one daughter and two who were neither sons nor daughters. The son could smoke anything, and the daughter could drink anything, and one of the children could tell any lie and the other one could find any hidden thing.

Eventually, the farmer and the farmer died, as is the way of things, and their four children were thrown into the world to seek their fortune; the farm had been mortgaged to the local lord and so they were landless. They took to the road, which was likewise full of the starving children of other farmers, and beat against the gates of the city, which remained shut.

“Listen, my loves,” said the daughter, “if we keep drifting we’re doomed.”

“We are doomed either way,” said the finder of things. “Death is our only inheritance.”

A crowd had gathered, and the liar climbed into a tree to address them. “Justice!” they cried. “Justice is a hollow log, and honesty an unplowed field. They have shut us out of the woods, and chased us away from the streams; they have stolen our land for taxes and drowned our mothers in ditches. But I have seen a vision, a brighter future this side of heaven but that side of blood. Take up arms, my loves: we have nothing to lose but our lives!”

And the son leaned against the fence and smoked his pipe and kept his own counsel.

February 2010

Back home, the cherry trees are blooming
the waterclock of the year has tipped over and spilled out spring
But 2,500 miles away my brother breaks through snow
thin scarf and canvas shoes a fragile barrier against the wind
visiting my sister in Chicago, red-faced and grinning behind the camera

In Hawaii my mother waits on her balcony
Watches the ocean 20 stories belows
Waits for the tide to fall back and up again
bunched around the clumsy fist of a tsunami

My father is sprawled out in bed
tv blaring unattended
crosswords and beer near at hand
the weather beats against the glass and falls back
heart-racing and dazed
one more bird on the lawn.

Egg Tooth

The night sky is red, brick red, and starless: the clouds are low over the city. Quiet, tonight, no sirens, no gunfire or fireworks, only the dull constant wind of the freeway, less mutable than the ocean. Miles away.

Walking back from the bar, from the train, Isabel passes the church: a truncated cone of glass overlooking the water. They’ve turned everything off for the night, but light filters through from the street, tracing the outline of the stained glass windows in reverse. Baphomet looks down from this side, his face placid as a goat’s, pupils square and unreadable, one hand raised in benediction or derision. She smiles and waves, huddled against the wind, and he turns his head to watch her pass.

The lake is low tonight, and full of light. She moves through a flock of geese; they, too, swivel sinuous necks after her, small eyes watchful and waiting.

Asterion’s Canny Jaws

They never taught me to speak, my parents, but I learned in spite: born speaking, without words, my wide head and ungrown horns a mute testimony to human greed, a more than human thirst for the unsatisfying bite of the sea’s salt teeth.

They built this path for me, this maze of words, of obligations, of everything unsaid, demanded blood price from stranger and conquered kingdoms. I could not grow fast enough for my destined vengeance, so I took what ruth I could upon these clean-limbed and wailing youths, stuffed my stomach in the manner of my grandfather’s father.

We are all so much meat, nothing more.

Still: nothing lasts except the tides. Once I met a man, a twist of craft in his fist, and he struck me down, one more bloody heap tumbled to the bottom of this pit. He found his way out, and my long-delayed vengeance, and with that I must be satisfied.

I never asked for life, but in that, at least, I am not alone.

Get Help

a story for Ash

Like this: a blond godling, screaming in horror with all the strength of his leather lungs, and his younger brother, crumpled on the ground. Frigga hits a dead run at the sound of that scream; an eternity of motherhood has taught her the difference between real pain and fake.

“What did you do? Oh my son, what did you do?

Thor weeps: an ugly, blotched mess, his face streaked with remorse. “We were fighting, and he fell, and, and, and, the table, he hit the table, and…”

Frigga wails: a hollowing-out sound of agony, a century’s worth of parenting and love turned inside out, the death knell of an immortal god. (Later, he will remember this sound as he slips a spear of mistletoe into Hodor’s hand; this moment, this mourning.) Loki spasms upright on the ground, weeping apologies, it was a joke, it was all a joke, he’s fine, they’re both fine, it’s fine. She goes white and silent and drives him two fathoms into the rock and leaves him there for a month in her fury. He will remember this slight, as he remembers all slights; they should have made him the God of Memory.

When she pulls him out again, still furious, still wounded, he is contrite and horrified. “You can lie if you have to,” she tells him, one old liar to a new one, “but never to the people you love. Not like that.” Then she crushes him against her breast and all is forgiven.

It was one more piece of good advice that he’d go on to ignore, but never forget.