Short Story

Prince Cyril & the Wolf: Part I

wolf

The winter was cold as it is wont to be in the east, but Prince Cyril was girded up in mink furs against the chill and frost. A days’ trudge from Perm the forest was vast and green and silent. No more than a few dozen men dared to make their living and stake their claim in this forest. Prince Cyril was one of these men, his great estate the Blue Palace took up the land to the North of the deepest wood. Cyril claimed as his hunting grounds all he could survey from the mighty Kama river on to the foothills of the mighty Urals. He prowled his domain like a feral cat looking for mice in the loft of a barn. There was deer, mink, rabbit, bear, fox and peasant in these woods, a rich bounty for any man intrepid enough to venture into its depths and take his share. The Prince was known to ride out from his estate with 500 men at arms and 1000 horse. He would take them all on hunts the likes of which had not been seen since the days of the Tatar Khans of the Far East. A great ring they would form around a stand of forest, and bronze horns would be sounded and half- starved dogs would be loosed. From the east, the west, the south, the north the hunters would march inward towards the darkest center of the forest, horns louder than the winter wind, beating stretched skin drums that sounded out louder than the thunder over the steppe. Animals from the lowliest mouse to the mightiest elk were startled and ran towards the edge of the forest, falling unexpectedly into the waiting nets and arrows of the hunters.

Each man would get his share of the bounty, but Prince Cyril always reserved the proudest stag for himself, and he would forbid any of the hunters to keep him trapped in a net or entangled in ropes. He would salute the beautiful beast and allow it to run away into the wild as fast as its legs could carry it before spurring his white stallion Ghost into a gallop. He would set an arrow into his Tatar bow, a gift from a barbarian General captured at the siege of Kazan, and grip the flanks of his horse with his long legs. As soon as the stag was visible against the setting sun on the horizon he would let fly the arrow into the neck of the noble creature. Dismounting he would whisper a quiet blessing and dispatch the animal with his pearl handled hunting knife. He was a master of the chase, a severe but fair leader of men, and chivalrous in victory even over a beast. At the end of the hunt a feast would be held out in the open around bonfires as large in circumference as the base of an ancient elm. The wives and mistresses of the men would arrive and the group would feast, dance, and carouse for hours and hours until the sun rose and fell over three days. Such was usually the case when Prince Cyril took to the hunt. He was a proud Lord, but he was lonely in his glorious surroundings. No man can live on the adoration (and fear) of his servants and serfs alone. He must have a peer, a companion in love, someone with whom to share the bounty and riches that surrounds him. All the treasure in the world is worthless when you are alone. It is one thing to realize this, but it is quite another to live your life in the pursuit of true happiness. Prince Cyril had a more ephemeral pursuit in mind for this day however, a new trophy to add to his lonely halls, and this time he would hunt this new quarry alone.

She was the wolf-maid Rani Svetlana, the mistress of the Eastern forest, and she had stolen the heart of the Prince. He had seen her from the balcony of his private quarters. He spied her baying at the icy moon, shockingly white fur blending with the fresh evening snow. Her eyes red like dying coals in an ancient samovar, and her fangs as sharp as the peaks of the Urals. Hot breath billowed from her flared nostrils like jets of steam, and as she howled every other creature took notice and paused where they stood. She was beautiful beyond earthly estimation, and Prince Cyril would have her at any cost. For the Prince could not be satisfied to behold the beast, he must possess it as a trophy, for in its worth he saw his own reflected back. Rani Svetlana’s hide would be the prize of his collection, and he would make from it a coat that would set the Czar’s heart ablaze with envy. It would not be an easy task though; many brave men had set forth in hopes of claiming her pelt, but none had as yet succeeded. Not a few had met their end in the attempt. Rani Svetlana was a huntress without peer, and she knew the forest like a baby knows his mother’s breast. No man of weak constitution or feeble mind had ever attempted to best her without catastrophe befalling him, but Prince Cyril was not weak, and feebleness of mind was a condition he was quite unfamiliar with. His mind was as sharp as the Tatar arrows he meant to pierce into the gorgeous flank of the wolf-maid. No beast, no matter how proud or celebrated, would best him while he drew breath. The sun rose over the snow laden land, and Prince Cyril harnessed his horse and rode off towards the wolf-maid’s domain.                                                                                         The snow was up to Ghost’s knees by the time the Prince caught the first sign of Rani Svetlana: her elegant paw prints leading towards the safety of the hills. He jumped down from Ghost into the snow so he could take a closer look. The tracks were fresh so she had been here no more than an hour or so before, but for a wolf like Rani Svetlana an hours head start was enough time to disappear forever into the trees and underbrush. He grabbed the reins of his horse and followed the tracks up to the edge of hills. Now these hills were known for their many caves and alcoves, well stocked with small game animals and a small fresh water spring, a place where a beast could rest safe and secure for days and days without having to venture forth into danger. A hunter could be five meters from his prey and never see hide nor hair of the creature. This disheartened the Prince a little because as good a tracker as he was, even he would have a hard time in the hills, and it was growing dark out. But his brief bout of doubt soon passed away with the setting sun, and he lit a torch he had brought with him, hitched ghost to a sapling and plodded onward into the hills.                                                                                                                                                                              The torchlight did its level best to pierce the darkness of the newly born night, but to no avail. The forest was the abode of the black and formless dark, and most of the creatures liked it that way. Man is not a nocturnal creature; he likes his sun, and his moon and stars, and even more his lamps and roaring fires. Like moths to a flame man is drawn to light if only so that it may illuminate the things that he otherwise would fear for not seeing them. He could see no more than a few steps to the left, right, or forward. The rest was a mystery, and in every shadow or dark corner a lupine trap could be set and ready. He did not fear the possibility of death or grievous injury, only the possibility that he may fail in his quest brought a hint of terror to his otherwise tranquil nerves. The snow laden boughs of the pine trees brushed his face, which was covered in nearly a weeks worth of beard. The hunt had been a long one and he was tired, but not defeated. He knew he was close to his mistress, close enough to smell the blood on her fur from her latest kill. He had found a mangled deer less than an hours trot from from this very spot. It had all the hallmarks of a wolf kill and it was not yet frozen so it was recently deceased. He knew that an alpha hunter like Rani Svetlana would not abandon such a fresh kill. She would be around and waiting for her chance to go back and pick at the remains. She would not do that while Prince Cyril was around though.

Cyril heard the sound of a grouse or a rabbit darting through the fallen pines boughs and the brush. He paused for a moment and knelt to the ground. The world returned to silence and the air picked up a bit from the north. He pulled his ermine collar up against the rising chill and rose slowly to his exhausted feet. Things do not move in a forest unless they are compelled to, by hunger, by need for a mate, or by fear. He walked back to Ghost, careful to make sure each footstep fell upon snow only and not on a branch or a pile of leaves. He came to his horse and reached into the leather satchel hanging from his side. He pulled out his bow, a powerful weapon purchased from a Tartar princeling for 100 fox pelts. It was worth the steep price; the bow was accurate up to 200 yards and could bring down a bear with a single well placed shot. If he got within range of Rani Svetlana he knew he could end her wild reign in this forest.

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poetry

No Value in Pride

34-chickens-william-erwin

It was by harried crow and call

I was compelled to wake

I ambled towards the chicken stall

Down by the muddy lake

The chickens had come down with pox

I fell down on the straw

My stomach weighted down with rocks

Dying birds cough and caw

I have no money for the cure

No savings set aside

No stocks or bonds set to mature

There’s no value in pride

These birds my life in feathered form

My livelihood is ill

My hands go numb, palms wet and warm

I’ve lost my hope and will

I stack a pile of slats and thatch

Unlock all the cages

Poultry scatter, I strike a match

Burn my wealth and wages

The roost comes down around my head

My life consigned to flame

I lay me down and I am dead

I’ve just myself to blame

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Activism, Race

The Cost of Whiteness

bourke-white

In America all too often to identify oneself is to indemnify oneself against the wrongs and crimes done by our ilk in the past. White America has convinced itself that whiteness brings with it a sort of dignity and wealth that is inherent, or at least self-evident, and this fact overrides the grievances and pain and struggle of other groups, specifically black people. No white, when it comes right down to it, will deny the privilege that comes with white skin but White America has a resentment towards those who would even suggest that privilege is unearned or built upon a foundation of violence and theft. We live in a nation built on the backs and with the blood of black slaves, on the land of Native peoples, improved with the labor of exploited and abused workers and immigrant laborers and the profits glide upwards into the pockets of those whose only hardship in life was having to decide which elite institutions one would be associated with. What began and continued as exploitation of black bodies continued into the exploitation of all bodies that had the misfortune of being born outside of the circle of inherited wealth and property. The white body politic has understood for a long time that the circle must be relaxed here and there in order to bring more people into the white “inheritance”: certain immigrants, certain economic groups, even certain people of color as long as the toed the line and gave up on justice for all and any sense of being wronged as a group. We arm ourselves against the “others” and we turn our homes into unassailable castles where there is no law and no respect for anything but our possessions and our sense of self-importance. We expected to be “protected” from…god knows what. Those who have the least to fear, fear the most, while those who have the most to lose, lose it all and are laughed at and spit upon while they lose it all. Every black body is a weapon aimed at our pure, white heart. Only an all powerful, unaccountable blue wall can save us from the fear of losing our place at the top of the pile.

As Steinbeck saw all too clearly, the American Dream (the dream of whiteness/wealth/power inherited and “earned”) is and has always been a lottery whose main purpose is to provide the illusion of meritocracy, of social mobility, of economic self-determination. Decades of government action on behalf of those who already had a centuries long head start, a welfare state for those who had all the welfare they could ever need, a bait and switch that gave the trappings of an illusory and always lily-tinted middle class to some in exchange for obscene and ever expanding wealth for the very very few who had always resided at the top. And when black or brown or female or gay or poor bodies dared speak up and question this moral foundation for the nation, dared to ask for their fair share of what they had built with their blood, sweat, toil and tears, when these wretched folk dared to make a peep the great white house on the hill, that home of the great beacon onto a dark world, would convulse with rage and self-indulgent fury. How dare those people imply we have not earned all of this largesse? How dare those people question our right to all that our forefathers gave to us, no questions asked? How dare those niggers and sluts and faggots and bums and illegals suggest that this system is anything but the most fair, the most amazing system ever created? All this self-importance, all this self-delusion, just so we can say “at least I am better than those people”, while clinging like barnacles to a luxury liner that steams ever more resolutely forwards, first class passengers popping champagne bottles and laughing at our pitiful pretensions all the way.

We sold our souls for whiteness; we sold our sense of decency, our sense of outrage, our sense of right and wrong, justice, intelligence, fair play, and brotherhood. And for what? For a chance to say that we are better because of what we own, where we live, and what we look like? We have made ourselves dunces, fools who can only nod their heads when their betters tell us who to hate and who to glorify. We vote against our own interest and the interests of our brothers and sisters and friends and family just so we can say we voted for the winners instead of “those people”. Whiteness has given us a culture of consumption and greed that eats us from the inside out like some sort of galling medieval blight. We are lepers whose only balm is the material we grasp at with fingers bloodied and broken in the fight for precious lucur and capital. Our wealth resides in things and our worth is derived from what objects we use and what people we choose to abuse in order to obtain them.

And the lies we have to tell in order to maintain this fragile facade! Decades, centuries of history distorted, edited, misplaced, erased, shoved like so much garbage down the memory hole. Every day has been remade into a relentless march forward towards this moment, this time, these purchases, these jobs, these trinkets and prizes and fixtures. In order to justify our empty consumption and greed we had to remake history into one grand and meaningless disney-fied ticker-tape parade, with white banners flying and patriotic odes sung with ever increasingly shrillness and desperation. We wanted whiteness, now we need it. We need it because what else is there? To reject our privilege, to even question it, is to look ourselves in the mirror and acknowledge all the crime and filth and dirty deeds done to our brothers and sisters. To reject whiteness is to reject the idea of America as a blameless, beautiful, god-blessed nation with nothing ahead of it but destiny and nothing behind it but laudatory deeds. But you can only deny truth and history and justice for so long before those you have stood upon, trampled over, begin to try and force you to confront reality. If we do not choose to look into ourselves we will be torn apart and forced to contemplate a shattered wreck of a body and spirit that never even gave itself a chance at decency or transcendence. The cost of whiteness is our humanity and that is a price that none of us can afford to pay.

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Christmas, Satire

Happy Holidays, and Fuck You!

jesus-finger

I am one of those people who like to annoy others who annoy me. I just am. I have a bad attitude on occasion and I like to share that gift with the world. There are many different sorts of people who catch my ire: hipsters, vegetarians, Republicans, Libertarians, People who like the Original Star Trek Series over The Next Generation (seriously, there is the short pier, go take a long walk off of it). But there is one group of people I like to annoy more than any other group: Christians! Christians, those special people who are members of the world’s biggest cult but act as though they are in on some sort of great secret. “Psss…come over here! Some pseudo-real Palestinian was tortured and killed 2000 years ago, fulfilling vague and esoteric Jewish prophecy, and giving me a free pass to the afterlife! Want to go bother retail workers about it?” So in that spirit I am going to write a little screed and insult the faith of 2 billion people just in time for their high holiday!

My wife, who is a retail worker, has run into many of those special sort of sociopaths I like to call “Merry Christmas Nazis”. You know the type, those idiots who come up to you and try to get you to giving them a seasonal greeting just so they can then lecture you on how you have insulted their faith by giving the wrong greetings? You know, those fools who act as though a war crime has been committed against them because a Target bagger said “Happy Holidays” instead of “CHRIST IS LORD AND IS THE REASON FOR THE ENTIRE HOLIDAY SEASON I FEEL HIS BLOOD WASHING OVER ME!” They seem to think that if they are not constantly confronted with the overarching power of their religion over the culture that this is a sign of some sort of Atheistic/Maoist/Kenyan conspiracy to eradicate all Christians from public life forever. Forget the fact that there are DOZENS, DOZENS of different religions and cults and sects that celebrate winter holidays this time of year, forget the fact that Christianity basically just piggy-backed the Roman holiday Saturnalia AKA an excuse for having an orgy in the winter. Forget all that and think of it this way: some poor, underpaid, overworked retail drone who has not gotten to see any of her family so far this holiday season just went out of her way bagging your $4500 of useless Chinese slave labor made carp JUST to give you a nice holiday greeting, and your response is to sneer at them and claim you are the victim of a hate crime? Well, to all those people who do not shut their damn mouths and accept the Happy Holidays and Seasons Greetings that are sent their way I have just one thing to say: Fuck you, and go get run over by a truck in front of your 4 year old. Ok, that was too things. Merry Mass of the Risen Christ!

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essay

The New Vocabularic Life of the English Poet

murray

In English one can find hundreds of languages distilled, word by word, into something accessible for the poet. French has something to offer, as does Spanish, and certainly German. You will come across a Russian Samizdat or an Arabic bazaar, and many other words have been so assimilated into our common repertoire as to have lost all any timbre of foreignness to English ears. The challenge of the English poet has often been to take in this huddled lexicographic masses, yearning to breathe free, and to make them as much a part of our heritage as they are in their native tongues. This has come about through translation, inspired readings from the classics of other nations, and from sure curiosity and wonder at the variety that came, exiled, from Babel.

No language is so foreign to our own, and poses so great a challenge to art, as our own mother tongue. We have lost much more than we have gained, over the years, and we find ourselves impoverished when it comes to new way of expressing the old ideas that make up the stuff of poetics. We always look for the newest imports to carous with, but of the old friends, decrepit and left lonely lost in the pages of the OED? Old communities of ideas that were once vibrant and sensational in their own way are now lost or mere curiosities without use to the modern wordsmith. We owe it to our audience, and to ourselves, to try and resurrect some of these old terms and to breath new life into our language by recourse to what once was. It is poets who keep a language alive and vibrant for our generation and those to come and it is equally our task to make sure the work of past wordy mixture and genius and is not lost in the long shadow cast by neologisms and exotic new terms fresh from the docks.

As poet myself, and as the son of a poet, I grew up in a world where words held real value and were playthings for growing minds. As with anything one can grow tired of the familiar and the well-worn and begin to crave what is not readily accessible or easy to use. Words are the toys of the intellect and the more we collect the more, and more deeply, we can express our own thoughts and desires. No painter is content with using Prussian blue over and over again; he wishes to create with different hues and colors unfamiliar. We grow weary when we must go back to the same well over and over again and sometimes it is enlightening and rewarding to go a bit further for our mental nourishment.

So many times we look to the clouds and see planes flying there. To what do we compare them but to birds? Maybe that 747 is in fact more like a steel nepheliad, a nymph of the sky, a creature of elegance and beauty that dances between the clouds? This word does not limit our minds, as does its avian counterpart; for how many times can we sour like cranes or geese before we grow tired of imagining ourselves as fowl? Travel then to a sky painted on a grecian urn and look down from above with the eyes of fair nymphs, creatures that inspired lust and excitement in the mortal minds of the past. But do not be ashamed at not thinking of this word first of all. Such deficits of imagination instead pudify, indeed a more elegant way of describing disgust at our own alphabetical limitations. Already English is seeming less staid and more intriguing to us!

We praise eloquence when we encounter it, rightfully so because it is rare enough, but we too often associate this word with the practical use of language to inform and to enrich other minds. What of he who is equally skillful with words be whose aim is more nefarious?

Fallaciloquence is a word that is godsend when we wish to praise the pursuit of the un-praiseworthy practiced skillfully and beautifully. We have know a co-worker or a friend who seems uniquely gifted at worming his or her way out of a task or responsibility with gorgeous ease. We can now accurately name their skill and categorize their genius appropriately. Their Fallaciloquence will never again go unheralded. Our pride may begin to swell now that we have been introduced to such interesting ways of communicating, but wouldn’t it be far more colorful instead for our pride to gumfiate? It has the same meaning but has the taste on the tongue of an old vintage, a word that perhaps our great great great grandfather may have used to chastise the hubris of his boastful brother at the pub. We can transport ourselves to different times with just a few syllables and rearranged letters.

Poetry, like so many of the arts, has been dazzled by the spell of post-modern thought, the tearing apart of old forms and the rejection of traditional ideas of beauty. I say “tear away!” Reject all you will, but remember that what was beautiful was for a reason and can be again if only we revolutionize our way of constructing old forms. ABAB BCBC may seem like a chain linked to a boring and limiting past, but even this meter can be revitalized with some new choice words

 

Roses are red

And Violets are blue

Take me to bed

And I’ll love you

 

A bad poem, too cute and familiar by half, and a poor invitation to a night of carnal pleasure. But what if we play about with the words a bit? Can we find something fresh in this stale composition? Let’s try. What are roses but red? Are they titian, perhaps? And what of blue? So much blue; moods, skies, eyes. It is tiring. But perchance blue is beryl? There is a novel word! Not often we see a “y” used at such a place. So where does that leave us with the poem?

 

Roses are titian

Violets are beryl

Our love can be Grecian

And not quite so sterile

 

Is it a good poem now, with these new words? I think so. It is charming at least and suggest a ribald night ahead where boundaries may be pushed and new physical possibilities explored. You may hate it, but you certainly cannot say it is any more boring than the tired alternative. Even if it is despised by its recipient you can be sure that there will at least be some questions as to the words used, and this can lead to some rather fertile conversation! Words are too often used to introduce topics of discussion, to usher us to better and more interesting things. Words should, themselves, be an incitement to ventilation. What could be a more interesting topic at your next drinking party then the word chanticleer? Now there is a truly delectable cock tale!

Many poets get into the business to woe and to seduce, words being the ultimate aphrodisiac (get thee behind me, oysters!). To pay the perfect compliment to the object of one’s affection can be rewarding in so many ways. But there are only so many “luscious lips” and “fulsome breasts” that can rhapsodized over. But, if you were to inform your sweetheart of your appreciation of her callipygian posterior watch as her eyes widen and her breath quickens. There is praise that is not quite so cliched! And if your beloved is of the male persuasion? Fear not! Unique words of praise are not just of use in describing the fairer sex; his strong features may in fact be pulchritudinous. And why call him your lover when he could be your virile inamorato? There is no need for love and lust to fall back on boring modes of description. Even romance can be a time to exercise your vocabulary.

My advice is aimed at those of us who are poetically inclined but that does not mean that the lay person cannot get in on the word fun! We must throw out our Webster’s, or at least throw them back onto the shelf. Instead let’s bring out our Thesaurus and, even more valuable, or Etymological Dictionaries! Search the web for strange old terms, read obscure reference works, watch foreign films without the subtitles. Do anything and everything possible to expose yourself to words that would otherwise go undiscovered. Never play when  you could gambol. Sometimes we feel like a simpleton, but is it not better to be a foppotee? Always to quaeritate your own limitations. Never make the simple choice, be a sacricolist of language!

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Philosophy

Memento Mori: A Philosophical Musing on Death

death

Death is often postulated as one of the eventualities over which we have no control. “Remember, you will die”, we have been told this many times and in many ways over our collective history. And while it is true we cannot choose not to die, we can certainly, if we are lucky, choose when, where and how we die. Suicide is the last, and most powerful, moral choice possible for an individual. This choice leaves you with some control over the circumstances of your existence. Life, on the other hand, leaves man without any form of suasion against existence. You are born, or you are not, but you have no choice over the circumstances of your creation. You are or you are not, and only by being do we know that we could not have been. We were never given a choice over whether we wished to endure the hardships and the pain of existence, or partake in its pleasures and puzzles. We are slaves to the whim of our creators, our parents, at least insofar as the circumstances of our own being. Life is the the one thing over which we have no control, no culpability, no responsibility. We are victims of life or we are benefactors of it, but we have no choice in having to be faced with the choice.

Long have our moral philosophies and ethical systems made the assumption, forgivable given the inevitability of our existence a postiori, that life is an ultimate good and something which must be preserved at all costs. We see this in the various religions prohibitions against suicide, the fanatical Christian devotion to the cult of the fetus (the unborn, a strange and altogether horrifying concept that brings to mind reanimated corpses or vampirism), and the obsession with a “natural” death, frowning upon medical euthanasia or other pain ending alternatives. Even our secular moral philosophers have weighed in on the side of existence, Camus and his Myth of Sisyphus being the most prominent example that comes to mind. The “other great Algerian” posited a defiant and heroic insistence on life in the face of the apparent absurdity of reality, but he neglects to explore the inherent problem of existential inevitability, the chaos of the individual life that can only be understood after the fact of coming into being. There is no choice in coming to life, but Camus chooses to if not ignore then disregard this fact in favor of an embrace of the  problems inherent to the “power that is”, a life ex post facto. This is an understandable response given the puzzle we are given when it comes to the unaccountable spontaneity of existence. Any philosophical attempt to deal with the realities of life and of its inevitable result, death, must knowingly or unknowingly confront at one point or another a problem. Unaccountable spontaneity, the coming into being without the being predisposed to coming, is something of  a Gordian knot that exists in two dimensions; confront and justify a response to the puzzle of death and you have only untied the part of the knot that you have access too. There is always another part of the knot that came before capacity to confront or even to comprehend. It has been said that life is a sparrow flying in from the cold into a warm reoom before exiting through the opposite window, but that presupposes a realm outside the warm room. We have no “cold place” to come in from; we either are or we are not. Once we realize we are in existence, or at least experience that existence, we have already become, the knot has already been tied, and the chance to puzzle out the solution or too avoid it altogether by choosing oblivion is made for us. We are creatures made at the whim of another, not some Abrahamic deity or deistic life force, but by the biological reproductive imperative itself. We are what our parents fuck, to put it bluntly, we have no part to paly in our own creation besides accepting it as a fait accompli.

A theocratic argument would seem to help solve this paradox, a first cause, a motivating force that decrees our existence and deals in the murky metaphysics of the immortal soul, but this argument, the god postulation, of course falls apart in the face of 3000 years of materialistic and scientific thought and experience. We do not need to go into the fact that even a god would be faced with the paradox of its own existence. Any problem experienced by man can be multiplied in magnitude and made intractable when applied to the divine. If willed into existence, then by what, if willing itself, then how? God is therefore just a more elaborate and monumental version of the same problem: why being? Why no accountability for ones’ own existence?

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