The Long and Short of Speculative Poetry
edited by Samantha Henderson & Deborah P Kolodji
Table of Contents
Editors’ Introductions • Samantha Henderson & Deborah P Kolodji
“no way …” • LeRoy Gorman
“watching stars” • LeRoy Gorman
“quivering snowdrops” • Megan Webster
“through their smoky bodies” • John W. Sexton
“telepathy …” • John W. Sexton
“humans” • assu
“The sky grows bright:” • Geoffrey A. Landis
“deep space” • Alan Summers
“orphaned worlds” • Alan Summers
“my chopsticks” • Joshua Gage
“no wind” • Joshua Gage
“the more space” • Ann K. Schwader
“two eyes staring” • M. Kei
“I don’t want” • M. Kei
Maculata • Howard Hendrix
Plaint of the Stargazer’s Spouse • Howard Hendrix
Event Horizon • J. E. Stanley
Event Horizon in Grandmother’s Room • Naia
Depression • Michael Dylan Welch
At Last, the Little Mermaid • Jane Yolen
Fangs for the Memory• Jane Yolen
no way i exist in different dimensions
Under the aspect of oil-soaked otter
the sea priest breaks over his heart
his bread of thorns for her.
He places on her tongue all the tears of the ocean
transubstantiated to orange sea-urchin flesh.
She tastes winter evenings on forgotten beaches.
The tide, a broken promise, a gentle lie,
whispers with a soft hiss, departing.
She rises from the altar of waves, heading inland,
the sea in her belly.
Plaint of the Stargazer’s Spouse
for Bruce Boston
Your thoughts swim so long
amid the night sky’s distant lights
I wonder you don’t need to jump
up and down on either foot
or bang the opposite side of your head
with the palm of your opposite hand
to get the shooting stars out of your ears.
She lunches on spinach salad,
ice water with a twist of lime,
then accelerates to the gym,
unaware, that in that same moment,
a dwarf star is captured
in the bondage of a black hole,
consumed and lost forever.
Event Horizon in Grandmother’s Room
the deep black hole
oozed the stuff of nightmares
from her gashed forehead—that chilling
our dark fears into the vortex,
one by one—the dolly
no one dared rock
Never mind two suns in the sunset
or interspecies romance,
this Valtekian can’t make any of his ends meet,
can’t put ipsum on the table
or a shoe on his child’s foot.
The volcanoes have been hyperactive this parsec-shift
and with trade to Fornash curtailed by two-thirds,
the economy has earthed for everyone.
Where’s a supernova when you need one,
or at least a drachma found on a moving sidewalk?
At Last, the Little Mermaid
She no longer remembers the knives in her feet
Or the one in her hand, so close to his throat
It might have pricked him without her meaning to
She no longer remembers the curse
Or the cure or the painful interstices.
All she remembers is foam, the bubbles rising
And the songs of angels,
So like the murmuration of the sea.
Fangs for the Memory
Bob Hope came to me last night,
his potato face shining
so the bones shown through.
He sang that song, like a wind
moaning inside a long pipe,
No jokes, no pratfalls,
only a mouth full of sharp teeth
that buried themselves in my throat
for someone who had never liked
his mean sense of humor.
You come of age at sixteen and
Princes petition your father
for the right to woo you.
He lets them try,
old and young,
dark as leather and cave fish pale,
willing to let you choose
as your mother chose him.
Some men arrived with gifts in hand
or glib words for conversation,
hoping charm might win your favor
or a dance might sway your heart.
One fair-haired Prince offered
sweet roses still bearing thorns
and when one pierced your finger,
he smiled, whispered your name
and kissed the blood away.
You shivered and
lost yourself in his eyes,
but he leaves the ball early.
You never learn where he's gone.
• • •
The first time
you awaken on a staircase
that leads to ballrooms and
your father's audience hall,
grey-veined marble cool
beneath your cheek.
And you shake off dreams of an
hourglass shattering on a spindle,
and silky white sand
sliding through your bloody fingers,
and hurry back to your rooms
before anyone can see.
• • •
The blush of dawn
begins to frighten you,
but the fall of night
leaves you hollow with dread.
You never remember rising
from your curtained bed,
a phantom waif clad in white
wandering the sleeping palace,
unable to remember how you came
to rest in stables,
storerooms or your mother's solar,
or how you found your way
to the base of the witch's haunted tower,
scrabbling to open a door sealed
long before you were born.
You only remember waking
cold and afraid,
barefeet tucked up inside
your lacy nightdress,
and a voice that whispered stay away,
while another bid you come.
• • •
The shadows under your eyes
ripen day by day,
grow dusky as summer plums
in the palace gardens.
And you begin to hear
your ladies in waiting
mutter of enchantment,
of traps and lures
and spells that have never
known a woman's touch.
That night you find a posey
at your bedside,
charms under your pillow and
tucked into the wardrobe,
gifts, women's magic
spun with the hope
of protecting you.
Your mother means to sleep
across your threshold,
but your father names it foolishness
and orders her to come away.
Their quarrel is bitter.
• • •
New dreams call you to a tower room
a briar-bed of red and yellow roses,
the floor littered with petals
crushed under a man's boot,
the aroma of roses making
your head spin and your eyes close.
And you break an hourglass
on the point of the witch's spindle,
shards of glass you meant
as a threat slicing your shaking hand,
No! a roar in your head
but a whisper on your tongue.
The fair-haired Prince cleaves to you,
his voice silky as sand
sliding through your fingers,
the spell he casts pulling
you closer to the well
of darkness in his eyes.
Silence smothers you,
but not before you hear
the witch's spindle scream.
• • •
Some spells are forever dreams,
meant to keep the Princess trapped
in a rose-strewn tower;
others whisper words of anger and
revenge until the Princess stirs.
And when you finally awaken,
lips sticky with the taste
of kisses you can't recall,
you heed the spindle's whisper and
pierce the sleeping Prince's heart.
The First Stranger
He was not claiming to be the messiah.
“Think of me as a door-to-door salesman,”
he said, “with things to offer—most of them
you do not need.”
He smiled. His faded
jeans, wrinkled; his face,
shaved clean, reeked
of gasoline when he leaned closer.
I opened the door,
let him in.
He came from another place, insisted
that he could tweak our eyes so we could
see much better. I believed him;
he had brought my next-door neighbor
back to life.
“You are beautiful creatures,” he went on,
“only limited. But I can help you with your vision,
make you see things beyond your visible range.”
And he did. It only hurt when he grazed
the optic nerves. He said that pain was all right,
that it could not exist in the memory,
that it was just there for the moment.
He told me to open my eyes, and all I saw
was darkness. “You blinded me,”
I said. “No,” he said, chuckled.
“Look closely. There are certain colors
interspersed with the black.”
Filmy, mottled swatches shifted
across the blackness.
All the colors were unfamiliar,
unnatural yet they looked as if
they had always existed.
And, oh, how the darkness sang.
The Second Stranger
In street corners, he brandishes
his Almanac for us to see.
Out of the pages, pictures
of our lives—the past and the future—
scar us forever. Unwanted memory
holds us back, and the second stranger
knows this. Tailored to assail,
the photographs appear
differently to each person.
He even hints
at the secret last pages,
the ones which depict our deaths.
Every day, the crowd around him grows.
Nothing much has happened afterwards.
We continue to gather around him;
the rest of the world follow—
the airports, the terminals, the roads
are filled with men, women, children,
their family pets pawing at closed car doors.
And looking closely at the second stranger
while he shows us another page,
I notice the beginnings of a smile
curling from his lips.
The Third Stranger
She claimed to be
the mother of the oceans.
We laughed at her
until she opened her mouth,
and we heard
the rush of the waves,
the sloshing of a thousand fishes.
In her breath was the smell of brine.
The Fourth Stranger
… a thing that was neither dark nor light nor colored with any known hue.
—from ”The Dimension Of Chance” by Clark Ashton Smith
She builds mazes using sacred standing stones
to trap trespassers in, paints the stones with
paranoia—the ground pigments sifted through
a temperamental sieve called time.
She lines the coasts with white flecks
of sand and golden shells to leave a trail
for migrating birds, dying turtles and kelps,
genetically tampered game fishes,
and hermit crabs. The tides cannot wash
these subtle landmarks away. In deserts,
she sculpts dunes and oases, mirages
and thunderheads. In grasslands and forests,
she digs sinkholes and quicksands mixed
with star dusts and ancient bacterial spores—
the same curse that has made her
sleepless, inattentive to the procession
of the lost. All the exit signs point to
an imaginary north, cling to her promise
of deliverance. Her hands are always busily
retouching this and that, and this is the reason
why sunsets recur, why erosion takes many
years to accomplish its purpose. She even
freezes time so that every thing changes, slips
across the space around it, creates an illusion
that the landscape changes as she goes by.
The Fifth Stranger
Trapped inside our captor’s ribcage,
I sang with the other prisoners.
The yellowing bones were encrusted
with mold and something malodorous,
something which gave off a horrible light.
We licked them to stay alive.
The fifth stranger had long ago lost his heart.
His entrails were eaten by the first captives.
He had nothing to lose now.
Crying, we watched while he trampled the cities
and small towns. A satisfying smack thundered
with every crunch of flattened roadkill under his feet.
The fifth stranger staggered towards the sea.
He lapped at the water.
We wished that he would empty his mouth
of those stolen drops of ocean.
We were all waiting to drown.
The Sixth Stranger
The sixth stranger prowled the deserts.
It encountered the burning elephants walking on stilts.
The rocks, all sun-baked and perverted, swallowed their ashes.
The sixth stranger stomped on them. A trail
of ashes lost in his wake. The rocks shapeshifted behind him.
He held his worshippers’ heads down the shallow water
of an oasis. Flailing and gasping, they did not take too long
to die. It did not satisfy him.
The Ninth Stranger
We cornered the ninth stranger in the dump.
She was crouching beside the
rubber tires and an upended couch.
Somebody prodded her with a shovel.
She opened her mouth, and the unborn
strangers scrambled out of her throat—
the doorway, my grandmother said.
One of the elders was quick enough to strike
her neck with an ax. Her head did not fall
down cleanly. It took another swing.
We cut her up. She did not bleed
when sliced open, was all flesh
and bone. Her entrails had long ago
been eaten by what she had let in
to grow inside her body.
Her limbs we left by the lake
for the pilgrims to find.
Her torso we took home for the boys.
The Tenth Stranger
The tenth stranger’s voice
is on all the radio frequencies.
Every dial we turn, every bandwidth
where static is supposed to be heard
has his words, his mutterings
of our dark secrets on it.
What he says sounds differently
to every person. Mine is always about
how I resented my brother, coveted his wife,
poisoned his daughter. Then my favorite
bedtime story, the one about the children
who followed the Piper home.
Day after day, the tenth stranger
talks to me, to every one.
In car radios, on the phones,
on every record played on the stereo.
Each time he orders us to be free, to molt away
our skins, to bleed our finger stumps open,
to be in pain, in pain, in pain
so that we will understand how it is to be alive.
And many years later, one by one, we obey.
The Eleventh Stranger
The eleventh stranger shielded the sun from us.
We did not know how far his foot was anchored
down or how far up his head had broached the universe.
Calculations indicated that he was standing,
his hand curled around the sun.
That blackened behemoth.
That faceless apocalypse.
We sent warships to destroy that fist,
claim back our sun as the planet began
to turn colder each hour.
The thermonuclear weapons produced
blisters on the eleventh stranger’s skin.
But we did not have enough energy to make more
of those; we could not even heat our homes enough.
We waited, frozen in our beds.
And the hand around the sun
remained in place.
The Twelfth Stranger
The twelfth stranger was the train
that dragged and ferried our souls.
It had been chugging across the
continent, snatching souls and leaving
the husks to crumple by the roadsides.
The bodies collapsed like bundles
of sticks. I had seen one on TV.
On the train windows, the news had said,
were wide-eyed faces. They must not
have known what had happened to them.
The government urged every one
to go to remote mountainous locations,
away from flat lands where the
twelfth stranger could easily move,
turn its despicable wheels,
trample every thing on its way.
The Thirteenth Stranger
The stray angel.
He hides his wings under
the darkest of cloaks.
He will not show them
even to his disciples.
He conjures storms, creates
gamma rays from plastic spoons,
magnetic blocks from wood,
and a perpetual motion machine—
a pretty little thing, not even supposed
to exist in four dimensions. He lets us
peer into the heart of that device,
where its cogs intersect the void.
We are building a temple
for the thirteenth stranger.
It will have the tallest church spire
pointing high up in the heavens.
The Fourteenth Stranger
The fourteenth stranger was the carcass
we pulled from the lake. When the air
touched its wounds, it started to heal itself,
became bloated until it split open the body bag
which contained it. It gobbled half a town
and grew to the size of a three-storey house.
Would not even spit out the bones of its kill.
We led it to a trap, let it creep under the bridge
where the bombs were wired in strategic places.
We did blow the fourteenth stranger apart,
but every piece of it—the shredded raw meat
coating the pavement, the stalled buses and cars,
and the sides of the buildings facing the bridge—
began to stir, crawled towards us.
The guzzling could be heard for miles.
The Fifteenth Stranger
He came to life from a mound of sticks
and ashes from the barbeque grill.
It was only much, much later that he
had grown lips from intertwined twigs.
Then he began to smooth-talk,
and how the girls of spring swooned.
All the women made of leaves and tree bark
were split open to reveal their roots.
The fifteenth stranger tilled an orchard
where his wives grew. The worms
nuzzled their feet whenever he was away.
“The First Stranger,” Abyss & Apex.
Versions of “The Stranger” poems have appeared in the following publications:
Reprinted in The Best of Abyss & Apex Vol. One (Hadley Rille Books, November 2008)
“The Second Stranger,” Noneuclidean Café.
“The Third Stranger,” Midrash (A Not One of Us Special Publication).
“The Fourth Stranger,” The Lorelei Signal.
“The Fifth Stranger,” Labyrinth Inhabitant Magazine.
“The Sixth Stranger,” Cemetery Moon.
“The Ninth Stranger,” Oddlands Magazine.
Reprinted in Anomalous Appetites (Preshrunk Press, March 2009).
“The Tenth Stranger,” Kaleidotrope.
“The Eleventh Stranger,” OG’s Speculative Fiction.
“The Twelfth Stranger,” Polluto.
“The Thirteenth Stranger,” The Shantytown Anomaly.
“The Fourteenth Stranger,” Polluto.
“The Fifteenth Stranger,” The Shantytown Anomaly.
“The Last Stranger,” Labyrinth Inhabitant Magazine.