i see you
standing on the edge of the tower
the mountains behind you
the flat town below you
i see you
and i see who you serve
i have not done
i have undone
i was not watching
i am not doing
i see you
and i see who you serve
time to remember
who i claim to serve
my eyes are red
with not seeing
Over the past year, friends and acquaintances will ask me ‘ So, how’s the writing going, Derek???’. I usually grimace and give some sort of a half-answer. I sat down today to write a seven-eighths answer, and this is what I wrote.
A traveler came to a city on the edge of a forest. The windows were dark, the chimneys were cold, the few people he passed had empty faces and sharp teeth. This was a place where Hunger wed Time, and he could see that soon their vicious children would be born. He had no wish to enter this city, but his shoes carried him down into its red tile streets all the same.
The traveler carried with him a box — a box wrapped three times in cords of silver. He did not know what was inside. Along the path, next to fire and under the moon he had told himself many times what the treasure might be. He knew it was no heavier than so, no more fragile than so – but the silver cord was wound too tight for even the tiniest peek at the contents.
A long time ago perhaps, he had promised to carry the box to the city. Of that he was sure. But as Night gave slaughter to a legion of days, the rest of his charge had grown hazy. Was he to give the box to someone? Was he to perform some task with it? Were there other preparations he had needed before arriving at the city? He did not know, was not sure if he had ever known. Only the familiar weight of the box in his pack, only the road blooming in front of his feet, only the city waiting on the edge of a forest.
He wandered up and down a few streets, uncertain. Fewer and fewer people could be seen – and those he did see were walking knives. The sun was dying, so he hurried on. He found an abandoned house on the end of a narrow street and slipped inside. He laid out his bedroll in what must have once been the dining room of the house. He ate a few meager bites of his provisions and listened to the wind hoping it would have some suggestions.
The traveler went to sleep, his pack and the silver-wound box tight in his arms.
In the dark he dreamed of nothing, the lonely house swaying in the wind.
He awoke and his arms were wrapped around nothing. His pack was gone and the box.
The traveler cried out in fear, then in anger. He ran to the door, the morning sun beaming down on him and an empty street. Not even stopping to retrieve his meager bed roll he ran out into the city. Up and down streets, past empty buildings and broken windows. He saw no one. Not even the few hollow people that he had seen the night before: the city was empty. Nothing but red tile streets and shattered doors and the sound of his feet hitting the ground. He ran for hours, until at last simple exhaustion brought him to a halt.
The traveler sat on the edge of a dry fountain and felt the sun’s heat. His charge was gone, he was alone, and there was no one to explain. He groaned into his hands and took a long breath.
After a time, the traveler stood. He took one last look around and then shrugged. It took him some time but he retraced his steps to the abandoned house where he had slept and found his bedroll tangled and waiting. He folded it carefully and slung it over his shoulder – it was all he had left to carry. Taking a loose nail from a broken cross-beam he took a few minutes to scratch his name on the outside of the front door.
Then he shut it behind him and walked out of the city, beyond the city. Into the dark forest, the road blooming underneath his feet.
Two knights, one foul – one fair, met in the dust of a forgotten town. This was not the first time.
The war was over. The war is never over.
The Black Knight leaned on his lance. The White Knight tightened her shield-strap.
They had a late lunch. The local inn was nearly empty that day. They talked with the easy familiarity of gravediggers. The innkeep’s bread was stale but the ale was fresh.
A few of the townsfolk made note of them. Enough to tell the tale later, enough to remember the wrong way. None of them remember the toast the Black made. None of them remember the song the White sang. None of them remember that they laughed together.
In the heat of the drowsy afternoon, they rose from their table.
They walked together to the end of the town, walked together behind the ivy-crowned walls of the church, of the graveyard. They paced out the ground together, helped each other with their armor. Then they mounted their chargers. No more words were said.
The Black was a lightning bolt, the White was the mountainside. Again and again they met, ending each pass with more pain, more blood.
It came to chance, as both knew it would. One horse stumbled, one did not. The black lance tore through the white armor. Both knights fell, one rose and leaned on his lance.
The White died soon thereafter. No more words were said.
The Black walked away with his lance.
The townspeople say this: that the Black Knight was a true servant of evil.
That he stabbed his lance into the stones behind the church as a curse, a warning, a blight. That it can cause warts, destroy crops, summon demons when the moons are right. That only a heart as black as night can lift it from where it rests.
But none of them were there. None of them truly know.
The Black Lance waits still, like the stump of a vile tree.
None have been able to lift it. None have ever discovered the fate of the Black Knight, or even so much as his name.
None of them know the secret.
The war is never over.
My life has been defined by desperate acts.
(crack of thunder)
Yes, I sip from this goblet of dark wine and stare out this window at the darkening moors. This is not going as intended, but I have become accustomed to such things.
I’m trying to write my way through something. Writing is just words, just symbols and shapes – pushing them around until they look like what we want to say. Until they look like what we see on the inside, on the other side, on the upside down. I often wish that I could draw or sing or sculpt or dance – something to cut down the latency. I’m feeling this, this is how I feel, hear it in my voice, see it in the clay. Words are the best I have but I’m never sure. Never sure if I understand what I’m saying, if I’m being understood. Then I come back later and read them like a stranger’s riddle. My memory is an ocean, without bound, no maps, few islands. Does Circe remember me? Does it matter that I bled here, bled there — it’s all just salt water.
And then I pull myself up. Make a joke. It’s all about where you stand really. I ring the bell for the butler and daub wine from the tips of my immaculate mustache.
The same images, the same shapes – the ocean, the desert, the tower, the sky. Places without directions, travels without motion. I write with my right hand, erase with my left. My palm across the hot sand brushing away the sigils.
What am I doing? Where am I going? I choke on the questions and blur through the days. I feel like I’m failing, know that I’m falling – but am I? Am I? After a while it’s just air on either side. I wake up and I’m gone and I’m home and I’m alone and I’m in the shower and I’m driving, driving, driving. Is this part of it? Is this wondering part of it?
I like a narrative, it goes well with these drapes. If in a month, in a year, in a decade I — what? Arrive somewhere. Then the wandering was part of it, I was building my backstory, John Wayne in the desert, prophet gone mad in the dunes. But what if there is no arrival? Then it was just empty, callow, hollow, simple, mundane.
But I don’t know where I want to arrive, what will put the end on this beat. I like making, I like being petted on the head, I like not being poor —
Now it’s too simple, its just about failure. Common as brass, sinister as salt. I don’t know where I am or who this is typing, but I don’t want it to be that. I don’t want that to be me.
Because that’s the trap, isn’t it? If it’s about corporeal success, then take Door the First. If it’s about deathless prose than take Door the Second. But that’s not quite it either.
That’s not quite it either. The drum that beats.
Part of me is just ready for the wandering wizard. Just walk out from behind a wave and either point me towards my destiny or let me know this isn’t for me and it’s okay to go home.
I hate this. I hate the feeling, I hate the reeling, hate that everything becomes low, becomes base materials, becomes nothing more than feeding the fish. I don’t want this to be me, I’m glad in an hour I’ll forget.
Writing through the swell of a dark wave, holding onto the keyboard like a rudder. I can’t see anymore, I only have muscle lore to rely on. Where am I going? What do I want? The stars that burn at night are just holes in a sheet.
Pull up. Make a joke. This scone has entirely too much rosemary, have the butler shot.
I know it’s the act of a child to want a parent. Please just sit me down and give it to me straight. Tell me it’s okay to forget. Tell me it’s okay to not sing at midnight. Tell me it’s okay, tell me Lucas can stop playing the lines. The lines are never going to connect and the mask-man is dead or the mask-man is me or the mask-man will never ever stop whispering. Tell me to put my head down and die again. Tell me I can come home and tell me it never mattered.
This is what I’m afraid of. Of the things I can see, of the things I can know, of the things I can make – but that I don’t. I feel old, I feel tired – everything is heavy. That’s the way of the world.So far I’ve been able to leap forward in tiny ergs of desperation, acts of drug-seeking blindness. But now I don’t know, now I don’t believe.
I repeat the same things again and again without resolution. I’m not making a map, I’m keeping a journal. Hoping that one day I’ll read it and know the answers.
Now, what. The very act of typing illuminates and it elides. This moment is already erasing. I can find a nice picture to put at the top and click publish but the moment is already passing, without clarity. I come back again and again and I still don’t know. I still don’t know. Is this part of the plan or just flash in the pan? Where am I doing? What am I going?
Here is the place this thing was said. These shapes I chose, as well I could. Not quite right.
I sit alone in my study and watch the rain begin on the darkened moor.
one jot in the ocean, one clot in the lung
hard -hearted departed still clinging to the bottom rung
i see you up there, wearing those crowns of jade-locked air
free for the moment, never know where my curse went
keep spending out the bric-a-brac from the golden coffer’s lent
i howl in the dark, hands on the ladder still
praying for a break mistake where I make my final meal
my people eat brown and choke on the ash
upending neverending piles of sorrow in our father’s stash
stronger than fire, more devious than song
this curse is bloodborne and it doesn’t tarry long
i howl in the sun, the black blood how it runs
bones on the abacus still flipping until we remind the sums
staying for a wave, an eruption or a masquerade
bring me within reach of the table where the bronze and silver game is played
i don’t have much but a drop of the ocean
furor is favor for those that replace thought with motion
what magic is left, i call on it now
riddle me seven, but six will never bow
strong are the gates , built tall are the towers
banging my way to the feet of the fetid powers
i’m here in the silence, cloaked in thorn and ivy
almost there and hoping that you try me
i’m ready to burn, spend gold on the turn
sick of howling at the bottom of a city that never learns
eight seconds of midnight, nine drops of my birthright
look away thirteen, i’m running out of hindsight
the moment passes and i’m lesser, the same
standing in the alleyway mumbling my name.
An incomplete list.
- More time.
- More words that are interesting but aren’t too iridescent or macabre.
- For the shape in here to be the shape in there. For somehow you to see what we see.
- Less names or better names.
- Temporal vortex to skip to when the thing is done.
- More minotaurs.
- For it to matter.
- You waking up in the middle of the night, the solution to our riddle hot in your brain.
- You waking up in the middle of the night, knowing our heroes are with you and feeling warded.
- You waking up in the middle of the night, knowing our monsters are in you and feeling alone.
- Characters that follow the script would be too much to ask, but perhaps characters that would at least be willing to explain WHY they just blew up half your novel.
- A writer you revere to look up from your pages with wonder.
- A writer you hate to look up from your pages with despair.
- Less gerunds.
- An owl that whispers punchy dialogue to you.
- To know – really know – that this sentence is good.
- Bad reviews to be punished by that reviewer receiving only their least favorite jelly bean flavor. Forever.
- To briefly escape the knowledge that it’s always getting away from us, that we’re never quite catching it, that the faster we type the more certain the end of the sentence will never, ever be true.
- Less words. (if there were less, we’d be better at picking the right ones)