Neap Tide

Water, and in the distance islands rising blue out of the night.

We have built a fire on the stones near the shore, from wood we bought at a gas station, out of pine wood and cedar, fragrant and damp-smelling. The younger Charlemagne has a joint for the smoking, half a thing, that he stole from his parents. He offers it round, but we are too nervous, us, so we say no and he smokes by himself. Good smell, anyway, blending with the flat brackish tide and the pop of the fire.

The ferries are passing, christmas gods restless on the surface of the water.

The older Charlemagne tells a story, about his parents, about his father and his many, many mothers. How many mothers can one person have? Always one more, he says, and shrugs; he offers to name them for us, if we like, but we have heard that trick before and want no part of it. His father is rich, so rich, with a room full of treasure and a house full of books. He is always reading something rare and wonderful, the older Charles Magnus, books full of herbs no one can find and beasts no one has seen. They are thin on plot, however, which makes them boring to hear about so we never quite listen.

The fire is dying. We kick wet stones over it and head shivering back to the car, point ourselves eastward and head up the hill.

144,000

A season of plague has come to the city and everyone who can has left for the hills and the seaside, hoping a change in air will protect them, hoping their money will serve as enough of a prophylactic.

The rest of us cling to our homes, windows sealed, doors locked, blinds closed, and drown out the roaring of the corpse fires with impromptu concerts, middling voices and terrible raised over an amateur piano or radios tuned so high the speakers crack. Shadows of beasts pass over our blinds at dawn, at noon, at twilight, and we shudder and pray for deliverance.

Fever slips past somehow, and a house cracks open, families scattering through the streets, scratching desperately at locked doors, silent windows, looking for purchase, any purchase, out of the wind, out of the smoke. The beasts catch the unlucky few still out, and in our caves we sing that much louder, waiting for the season to turn.

Missionary Work

We have been mountains rising out of the seas, the true gods of Olympus: shaggy-bearded with clouds, potent with rain. Months beyond sight or hope of land, a smooth bowl of water and air and us, moving restlessly upon the surface of the water.

We were mustered out of the navy; driven out, say. Long work to bring us all together again, a life’s work and more, to gather us onto this portless argosy that flies no flags, claims no license. They have seen us coming, up from Olympus, riggings black with sailors in stolen uniforms, spars bare and daring above the white belly of our sales; seen us coming, turned tail, and ran. They fear contagion. We bear ideals like sickness, and they run too late: already we have wormed our way into some few willing eyes, bred a few impossible thoughts, shown a different way for those daring few.

A bloody war, fought among waves the size of office towers, tangled in spirals of plastic and perfume. Hours of mutual negotiation to bring us into conflict. The guns fire once an hour throughout the night, stars ill-regarded fallen to the sea but unresigned. Every death is a new member of our crew, come home at last.

A Generation Born of Fathers

Broods.

Dreams of children, of a thousand tiny velvet feet dancing upon his back. Broad back, wide as a barn, fifty teams of children could vie at handball upon its smooth expanse. Clever-handed, his children, and deft. Eyes of oil. Builders, like their mother, he hopes.

Watches. City streets and highways like rivers of light. Currentless in the early hours. Speaks to his children, holds them close to his cheek, warms them with his turning blood. Astir in the sac, close to birthing, he sees faces, eyes, bodies, limbs rise to the meniscus. Traces their hands, their clever, many hands.

High crimes and misdemeanors. Murders and treason, betrayal and adultery: compassion, generosity, creation. Sings it to his children, all, all. Let them make their own. Take revenge, make love.

Stays. Watches. Broods. Plans a future yet to be, thread spooling out past his death, a legion of heroes grown fat and mighty on the thick meat of his heroic frame. Eyes milky, but strong enough. Let them eat and run; chance will sort the rest.

Woe-speaking

We who survive must carry you forward through time, bear your name’s weight against a forgetful gravity.

We have seen you dying, seen you dead; gasping like a fish upon a stranger bed, collapsed among a welter of furniture. We have pruned and pruned again the accumulation of years, cast away the houses and the art, the cities and the water, until nothing remains but life and voice, and then seen those cast away as well.

And still, for one more mile, one more day–

Blood-stained hands and tobaccoed beard. Avacado carpets and smoke-filled libraries. A familiar hill and a moment’s weakness. We have grown adept at mourning, worn the elbows of our blackest suits white with toasting the lamented dead. Smelt and conversation; a high school class grown smaller year by year.

A punchline somehow finished. We, like you, will die alone, and others bear our weight.