The Vanishing Moon by Barbara Mulvey-Welsh

The Vanishing Moon

by

Barbara Mulvey-Welsh

Moon stands, hands on hips and head held high, astride the glittering evening sky

Shouting – cease your constant tugging – at the overbearing Earth;

Moon – my child, Earth replies – struggle not; I urge you look inside my tender heart

Do not mistake my embrace for restraint; I hold to you to keep you safe…

No! Moon shouts – as she pulls her hair – that cannot be

Your restraint is stifling; confining me

It’s killing me – Moon sags to her knees – nightly as I pull and tug

Ceaseless, trying to be free;

Moon – my child, Earth replies – you don’t understand the perils of the sky

Please! Moon shouts – as she stomps her feet – I understand that I must fly

Free and unfettered; I long to be me

Moon – my child, Earth replies – for you I shall grant your one demand

You may roam unfettered and free, when you finish your responsibilities

Speak! Moon shouts – as she cocks her head – I won’t be tricked or misled

Moon – my child, Earth replies – I have no tricks or treachery

At your wane, I will abide your wish to be unfettered; free to roam; free to fly

Heed my words – impetuous Moon – I demand of you a simple thing

What! Moon shouts – breathlessly, demandingly  – do you require of me

Moon – my child, Earth replies – you must be back again to rise

Why! Moon shouts – as she flops and pouts – you promised I could wander free

Moon – my child, Earth replies – free you shall be but not absolved

Of any and all responsibility

Bio: I started blogging as a hobby in November 2010. In January 2011, I joined Plymouth (MA) Patch as a paid columnist. In August 2014 I joined the Old Colony Memorial as a columnist and appear every other Wednesday in the print edition and on the wickedlocal.com websites. I try to write every day and have recently self-published a short-story and a book of poetry.

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What really got me interested in literature and why it could never happen today! by Arthur Turfa

What really got me interested in literature and why it could never happen today!

by

Arthur Turfa

      During my senior year in high school, my English class was the seventh and final period of the day. At lunch I saw that my teacher was on duty that day. After I introduced myself to him, he told me that he had spoken with a former English teacher about me and “As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing I can teach you-“at that moment I was going to deny any knowledge of pranks and other shenanigans and assure him of my future exemplary behavior.

      Then he continued, “so I am going to send you to the library where you can read what you want, and I will ask you to come to class when I need you.” I was thunderstruck, to say the least. When I reflect over forty years later, with nearly twenty of those years as a high school teacher (often of English), I realize that I could never do that for a student, and if I did, I would be called on the carpet for it.

In my high school then we had few electives, and the ones we had were primarily in music. While we did have Advanced classes, students were assigned to them in the seventh grade. The assignment was influenced by family income and the neighborhood where one lived. We were relatively new to the district. My elder brother had been in Advanced where we previously lived, so he had no problems maintain that status. In ninth grade some teachers successfully placed me in Advanced Social Studies, and I was looking at a career in law or something like that.

But as I sat in library (officially the Instructional Materials Center) devouring novels by Faulkner, Hesse, Mann, Hardy, Huxley, to name a few writers, in addition to poetry, I realized that I love language and literature. By then I was already editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, and contributed to the literary magazine. As I reflect on my life, it was this experience in the library that shaped my future careers. I was actually in the English classroom only a third of the time or so.

Since I also had one study hall a day, I often went to the library. Once, as was reading a novel, one of the librarians came over to me and said coolly, “Arthur, we have noticed that you are here a lot. What are you doing?” I calmly looked up at her and replied, “Reading” “Well, we’ll see about that, she replied. Reading in the library! Who would have suspected that?

Over the years I moved away from the area, and even when I was briefly back for a few years, never thanked Mr. Herrman for the life-changing opportunity he gave me that I can never give to any of my students.

Blood is Not Pink by David Rix

Blood is Not Pink

by

 David Rix

“I believe my blood is pink,” she said brightly, “not red.”

Richard Jarvis, the English Gentleman, glanced at her with raised eyebrows.

“Yes?”

        “You know, the red comes from all that red meat you eat,” she explained.  “We vegetarians have pink blood.  Isn’t that great?  Much prettier.”

Richard stared blankly, unsure what to say.  Trying to work out if she was being serious or playing some kind of joke.  Peacock finally looked up from her book and also fixed her with a brief puzzled stare.  But here in the Yellow King cocktail bar, everything was comfortably quiet – too quiet for thinking up a response to something like that.  This place was a strange oasis from the bustle of Camden outside.  An oasis that Richard always loved.  The décor was a surprisingly effective yellow and black, with black wooden tables and soft, low-slung chairs.  Quiet classical music in the background and a drinks menu that went on for six pages.

Fortunately the slightly awkward silence was interrupted by Alice, quietly delivering the starter.  He focussed on the salad before him with some relief.  It looked tasty – packed with leaves, fruit and hot-smoked salmon in a nice seasoned yoghurt dressing.

“Alice,” he said.  “Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Peacock shoved her book away and accepted a plate of antipasto with a smile.

“Princess?” he murmured.  “You sure you don’t want anything?”

“Oh no – thank you.  I am fine, really.  And you know, I really do have pink blood.”

Richard coughed and quickly snapped up a sliver of salmon.

“Um,” he managed.  “Really?”

Peacock absorbed a thin slice of Parma ham and smiled privately.

“Yes – really.  Hey – Peacock.  Those artichokes look great?”

“Uhuh,” Peacock said.  “Yes – marinated to perfection.”

“Hey – mind if I steel one?”

“Are you sure it won’t pollute that pink blood of yours?”

“No no – I’ll take that one – hasn’t touched the ham . . .”

        Before Peacock could respond, the artichoke was captured quickly and ferried towards Princess’s small mouth, which received it eagerly.  It squished in there with a waft of olive oil and she made a happy noise.  “Hey – these are good.”

Richard chewed salad and grinned.

“I am happy for you,” he said.

Princess shook her head.

“I would demonstrate,” she said enthusiastically, “but, well – you can’t can you.”

“I dunno,” Richard said.  “Got a knife?”

Peacock winced.  “No no – please.  Alice would not be happy . . .”

Princess gave a smug grin.  “Then you’ll have to take my word for it, wont you,” she cried.  “How’s the salad?”

        Richard sighed and pushed the plate in her direction.  She grabbed his fork and picked around in there for a moment before capturing a scoop that was safely fish-free.  Again that perfect tiny mouth absorbed it with an inbuilt smile.

“Hey,” she protested, muffled.  “I know what I am talking about.  My blood is pink.  End of story.”

        She swallowed.

“You don’t believe me – I can tell.”

Richard pulled a face.  “Well,” he said, “it’s just that prevailing scientific wisdom . . .”

“Fuck that,” she said.  “Scientists all eat meat as well.”

“Do they now?” he muttered under his breath, while Peacock coughed over a pickled mushroom.

        “After all,” Princess continued happily, “humans never evolved to eat meat, you know.  It was after the fall of the Roman Empire that the starving masses were driven to desperation and started to eat each other.  And since then we have never managed to shake off the taste for our own flesh.  Only now, of course, we are forced to use other animals as surrogates.”

Richard swallowed the last morsel of salmon, carefully saved until the end, and slid his plate aside.

        “Yes,” Princess continued.  “Back in the middle ages, the favourite dish of the lords of the manor would be a slow roast baby, not three days old, which the villagers were forced to provide as a part of the tithing system.  Roasted whole on a spit and with honey and spice.”

“Please,” Peacock said sarcastically, “You’re making me hungry again.”

“Oh tut,” Princess scolded.

        Just for a brief second something flickered across Peacock’s face – an almost invisible warning frown.  Richard coughed and glanced at her uneasily.  The salad was making him feel comfortable and relaxed though.  Relaxed enough for something to click in his mind slightly.  He leaned forward with an ever so slightly alarming twinkle in his eye.

“Ok,” he said smoothly.  “Lets get to the bottom of this.  You have some rather interesting theories there.  I always had the impression that the red had something to do with iron oxide, haemoglobin, something . . .  Um – you are offering to prove this pink blood thing I take it?  The essence of science is visible evidence and proof, you know.”

Princess gave him a startled look.  “What do you mean?”

“Pink blood,” he said with a happy smile.  “That is easy to prove, I think.”

Princess looked uncomfortable.

“You want me to cut myself or something?”

“Please,” Peacock said, “this is a high-class establishment.  If you want to cut yourself, do it in the ‘ladies’.”

Richard grinned.  “Not at all, hang on one moment.”

He hauled his case up onto the table and, while Princess watched nervously, began rummaging in it.

“Um – Richard . . ?”

        “Here we are,” he said, plucking out a green first aid box.  “And here,” opening it, “I happen to have a small hypodermic . . . and a sterilized needle.  I reckon that would be much more polite, don’t you?”

“Richard,” she said unhappily, “I promise you, my blood is pink.”

“Yes yes of course,” he said.  “I believe you.  But hey – I think Peacock is a bit dubious.  And seeing is the ultimate believing after all.”

“Hey,” Peacock growled, swallowing the last of her artichokes, “leave me out of this.  Richard, are you going to . . .”

“Hush,” he said, grinning wider.  “Princess, give me your arm.”

“No way,” she cried crossly.  “Here – give me that thing.  I’ll do it myself, if I have to.”

She snatched the hypodermic and turned away sulkily, rubbing at her arm.

        But then Alice arrived again, bearing plates, glancing rather curiously at the hypodermic.  Richard gave her a wink.

“One T-bone steak, rare,” she said.  “And a side order of our special croquettes.  And one Thai Prawns.  With jasmine rice.  Your friend is not eating?”

“Thank you,” Richard said.  “Um – no, I don’t think so.  You don’t want anything now?”

“Oh no thank you,” Princess insisted.  “I really am not hungry.”

Richard shrugged.

“Especially now,” she muttered, looking at his plate uneasily.  “I am a vegetarian and you order a rare steak?”

        Richard shrugged again and Alice withdrew.  “I like rare steaks,” he said simply, that twinkle still in his eye.  “No mystery.  And you know . . .”

He cut the steak, which bled red blood onto the plate.

        “You know, cows don’t usually eat meat – though it has been known – and yet the blood is still red.  That’s curious.  But anyway, you were about to demonstrate something I think?”

She scowled and turned away, trying to hide what she was doing from the rest of the diners.

“Ok – now don’t look,” she said.

“Don’t look at your arm?” he asked, puzzled.

       “Don’t look at my arm,” she reiterated.  She didn’t even roll up her sleeve, simply felt about for a moment, then the hypodermic found its mark.  Both Richard and Peacock stopped eating, ignoring her injunction and watching curiously.

There was a flash of pink.

        Slowly, her blood coursed into the clear barrel of the hypodermic.  Richard and Peacock stared, eyebrows up.  In the light from the window, the pink liquid almost seemed to fluoresce – almost glisten and sparkle.

Then Princess whipped it out of her arm and held it up with a triumphant look.

        “Happy now?” she demanded, grinning.  Richard took it without a word, stared at it from several angles, then squired a tiny amount out onto his napkin and sniffed.

“Ok,” he managed.  “I am impressed.”

He vaguely reached for a croquette and bit into it, still frowning.

        Princess grinned happily.  “So what say?” she said.  “Are you interested? You can tell a lot about people from their blood colour.  If your blood is red, it is a sign of the impurities.  That’s why period blood always remains red.”

Peacock signalled urgently to Alice, who came over.

“A glass of Calvados please,” she said with a sigh.

“Yeah, I’m interested,” Richard said doubtfully, “Though I am still going to eat this steak.”

        Princess gave the meat a distasteful look.  “Look at it,” she said plaintively.  “Blood all over the place.  How can I try anything that has been on that plate?”

“Why don’t you order a meal?” Peacock demanded.  There was a glitter in her eyes and Richard hastily placed a hand on her knee.

“I shouldn’t,” Princess said.  “I don’t like to eat too much.  I’m on a diet.  Richard, you seem very naïve.”

“Naïve?” he cried, shocked.

“Make that two calvados,” Peacock called, and Alice signalled acknowledgement.

“Hey,” Princess cried.  “Can you make it three Calvados?  I’ll pay.”

        She sat back comfortably.  “Food and perversion are inextricably linked,” she said.  “From ancient times right up to that – that thing on your plate.  In 19th century France, young girls like me would be taken on the day of their 18th birthday – on the day their sex organs opened.  Their eyes would be put out and they would be kept in a dark box – and force-fed huge fucking amounts of sweet and spicy food.  Until they blew up like soft balloons.  And every night they would be massaged for three hours.  Then, after a couple of weeks of this, they would be trussed and wrapped and then roasted alive for the king’s banquet.  Served whole and basted in their own fat and seasoned by their own food.  That was the real delicacy of France.”

She shivered.

“We are a perverted species.”

Richard stared restively at the shimmering pink syringe.  “Yes – I have to agree about that,” he said gently.

Peacock drew a deep breath.  “Richard – whatever you are thinking, please don’t.”

“Hey,” Princess murmured, leaning forward.  “Those croquettes look good.  Are they nice?”

        Richard flashed her a look.  “They are great,” he said.  “The Yellow King really knows how to make its special croquettes, but . . .”

“Hey – can I try one?”

Richard hesitated.  “Well sure,” he said.  “But . . .”

“Richard!” Peacock hissed.

“I really don’t think you ought, it’s . . .”

        However, she had already speared one on a fork and swallowed.  She made a happy sound and a few more bites and it was gone.

“That’s fabulous.  What’s in it?”

Richard coughed.

“You . . . like it?”

“Yes – a very nice taste.  What’s in it?”

He sighed.

“Bacon, mostly.”

She blinked at him.

“You’re joking?”

“Uh uh – can’t you taste it?”

“I never t-tasted . . . before . . .”

        “Very finely minced and with a dash of smoked paprika – adds such a wonderful flavour to the potato.  I love these things.”

Then Princess was lurching to her feet with a clatter and a choked sound.

“Hey,” Richard cried, spreading his arms, “I was going to warn you, but you just took it . . .”

        But Princess was already heading across the room towards the ladies, blundering past a startled Alice and knocking a wine glass from her trey with a dismal smash.

“Richard,” Peacock wailed.

He glanced round at her sharply.  “What did I do?”

“You . . . she . . . agg, you did that on purpose.”

“No I didn’t,” he said dryly.

Peacock buried her face in her hands.  “That fruitcake is going to flip,” she said heavily.

        “Oh gawd,” he muttered.  “Yeah – I had better go and see.”  He scrambled to his feet and made to follow her, then paused and grabbed up the first aid box.

“Excuse me – sorry Alice.  Put that wine glass on my bill.”

“What’s happening?” she demanded.

        “Look,” he growled, “If a medical helicopter is needed, I’ll let you know.  I don’t think she likes your croquettes.”

“What?  But . . .”

        With Alice following close behind, he plunged into the sanctum sanctorum of the ladies room, looking round sharply.  It didn’t take long to find Princess, either through vision or hearing, for she was on her knees over the toilet bowl, dry-heaving noisily.

“Princess,” he cried.  “Take it easy.”  He hurried in and grabbed her shoulders, turning her to face him. He stared sharply – at her baggy top flopping open, revealing a glimpse of a small flat pouch strapped to the skin of her arm.  A pouch that shimmered a startling pink.  He stared at it a moment, then shrugged and fumbled in the first aid box.

“Here,” he said producing a couple of small pills.  “Take this – Alice?  Some water?”

Princess ignored him though and fumbled in her pocket.  He didn’t realise what she was doing until she had grabbed the straight razor and drawn it across her arm.

“What the hell are you doing?” Richard demanded sharply.

        “My blood,” she stammered, gazing at the red that flowed from her with huge eyes.  “It’s red – it’s fucking red.  I – I mean . . .”

“Of course it’s fucking red,” he cried.

        She gasped and spluttered, tears streaming down her face, and Richard held her shoulders.  “It’s ok,” he said gently.  “Hang in there.”

“Meat,” she stammered, cringing with some kind of ultimate horror – cutting again, deeper this time.  “I’m – I’m meat.”

“Princess, give me that thing,” he growled.  He finally got the razor away from her and held her face firmly.

“Open up,” he commanded.

“No,” she cried.  “You will feed me meat . . .”

“No I wont – these are just to calm you down.”

She blinked at the two white pills.  “Is there any meat in them?”

“No – no there isn’t.  Just herbs and things – and a little sugar probably.  They’ll calm you down.  Here.”

        Alice handed her a glass of water and at last the pills followed the artichoke, salad and croquette down her perfect pink throat.  And hopefully, unlike them, they would stay down.  She gave a splutter and clung on to him, while he and Alice struggled with bandages, eventually getting her slashed arm under control.

 “Alice – I think you had better call someone.  There’s going to be stitches here.”

She nodded and hurried out.

       “You’re ok,” he said, ruffling her shoulder.  “Nothing is happening to you.  We all love you . . . you make life interesting for us all.  Just take it easy – from the look of things, that croquette was only in contact with you for a minute.”

“But,” she stammered, “But – it’s all red.  I’m – I’m . . . red.”

He helped her up and finally supported the floppy figure of the Princess back into the Yellow King and back to a chair, where she sat looking blinky and unhappy.

“Thanks,” she mumbled.  She sat there in silence until some friendly people came in to take her away and patch her up – make sure that the red stayed inside where it should be.

Richard picked up the hypodermic and stared at it quizzically – then put it down again with a sigh.

“Fake?” Peacock murmured.

“Of course,” he said.  “Alice?  Any chance of warming this up a bit?”

“Sure,” she said, taking his plate with the almost untouched steak on it.

“Tell me,” he said wearily, “what would you say to serving braised Princess tomorrow?”

She nodded gravely.  “With ginger and crispy potato wedges perhaps?”

“Sounds good.”

“Well – it would make a change from the usual.”

“And don’t forget to serve it on a pink platter.”

 

Bio: David Rix is an author and publisher from the UK. He runs and does the design work for the specialist Eibonvale Press.  His published books are What the Giants were Saying and the novella/story collection Feather, which was shortlisted for the Edge Hill prize.  In addition, his shorter works have appeared in various places, including many of the Strange Tales series of anthologies from Tartarus Press and Monster Book For Girls, from Exaggerated Press.  As an editor, his first anthology, Rustblind and Silverbright, a collection of Slipstream stories connected to the railways, was shortlisted for the British Fantasy Award in the Best Anthology category.

Brickwork by S.Eta Grubešić

  Brickwork

by

S.Eta Grubešić

*

I’ m thirsty “, says the ground.

” It’s still not time to drink ” , say the hours.

” I’m cold ” , says the ground.

” It’s still not time to cover oneself ” , says the sky.

” It’s dark ” , says the ground.

” It’s still not time for light ” , says the day.

Neither time changes nor do people.

It’s just a semblance.

*

We entered the room together. I was hungry.

” There’s no light here ” , I said.

” I have no bread ” , she said.

We fed on darkness.

*

Like a wound.

Hackberry in the back yard.

Surround by the stony boundary.

It heals but hurts.

*

New graffiti on the wall.

A battle cry.

Neither the first not the last.

Conscientious objection.

*

I raise my hand in greeting.

Easily, just like a bird landing on a branch.

Afterwards, I caress the dead tree.

Bio: S.Eta Grubešić , is an ex-journalist, short story writer, poet and photographer. Her works have been published in various books, literary e-journals and portals.

The Traveler by PJ Dorantes

The Traveler

By PJ Dorantes

They never cared about her. Who could blame them? On the outside, she looked like an elderly woman who lost her mind and spent all day babbling about incoherent things, like aliens, UFOs and astral travelers.

Beneath of all that dirt, her wrinkled face still showed a few traces of what it used to be a beautiful lady. But no one was able to see it. They only cared about avoiding her, as if the woman were a rat infected with the plague.

Every day she felt their burning eyes over her, inspecting and talking about every single of her movements. Yet, she never cared about them. Those so called “human beings” could talk trash about her, laugh at her only sight, but they could never steal her true identity. Poor fools! If they only knew the truth behind about that dirty woman façade! Their hunger for plastic beauty left them blind, unable to see the true face of an astral traveler, who wanders the Earth on a mission to change the iron-like hearts of the earthlings.

Bio: PJ Dorantes was born in Mexico City, on November 23rd 1989. Her short stories have been published on anthologies and online magazines of Mexico and Spain.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/pjdorantes

A Worldview from yet a Higher Elevation By Bhisma Upreti

A Worldview from yet a Higher Elevation

By 

Bhisma Upreti

We had decided to get up at four in the morning of 6 November 2008, but couldn’t, due to extreme cold. It was meaningless to be troubled, because there were a lot of foreigners and we were informed that the breakfast would be prepared for them first. We were full of curiosity regarding that day’s journey. We were preparing to feel the ecstasy of it. We were marching ahead past the Thorang-la Pass, the highest point of the round Annapurna trek as well as the topmost place of our journey.

Mailadai (the immediate younger brother of the eldest one among three or more brothers) came into our room to call us around 4:15 in the morning. ShreeOm, Mani, Thakur and I quickly got up, fighting the cold. We completed our morning jobs and got down to the dining room.

A group of foreigners had moved towards Thorang-la Pass.

We had Rara noodles. As per the doctor’s advice, we took water in garlic juice, some Cadbury chocolates and chewing gums in separate bags so that we could take them out easily in need and keep ourselves safe from high altitude sickness. To be internally strong and to prevent ourselves from high altitude sickness, we took some medicine. In this way, we were mentally and physically prepared for the journey.

We moved in dim light at about 5 with our bags on our backs, and sticks and torches in our hands. Before we stepped uphill, I silently prostrated to the mountain God and requested him to accept my bow. Our relations with hills and mountains have ever been inseparable since time immemorial. We worship the mountains, and believe that we will be warded off from disasters. We believe that Gauri-Shankar and many of our other deities live in the Himalayan region. We make it to heights out of determination, taking pledges to scale them. We grow old, playing with these mountains, and rolling on their laps. Ganga, a perennial source life for us, springs out from these mountains. It is from such rivers that we learn our songs; they make up the source of our culture, ideals, civilization and ways of life. Today, a rare turn of luck has brought me to the lap of these mountains – especially Annapurna, and I am making preparations to climb the Thorang-la. Before setting my first step for the voyage, I thought it to be my prime duty to bow to the mountain in reverence. This is a modesty or honour I probably learnt from the mountains.

The journey upward had started. If anyone walks quickly at such a high altitude, there is a possibility of being sick. So, we were told not to walk quickly so that our breathing could be slow. We all had decided to walk together. We tried to walk but some of our friends began to walk slower than expected, and we found it hard to keep the same pace. Therefore, Baba, Mani, Thakur and I continued at our own speed.

The way was high, stiff and steep, and the hill was strong and hard. Everyone had to walk at a measured pace because if he stopped, he would feel extreme cold and if he walked quickly he would have a breathing problem. The mouth would go dry after walking for a few steps. Therefore, we walked drinking garlic in water and juice. Now and then, I had a bite of Marsh chocolate as well. It gave me some energy. The rest of the time, I chewed gum.

The moon was shining in the sky. Stars were twinkling. We were climbing over an altitude of 4500 meters. As long as we went up the moon and stars looked closer and our curiosity and excitement increased at the same speed. On the other hand we were highly conscious, as we feared high altitude sickness.

Our friends, particularly Samba and ShreeOm, had been left far behind. We were not worried because the doctor and Mailadai were with them. To ease Samba, Baba heartily offered to help him carry his luggage, but Samba didn’t agree. At any rate, he was determined to carry it himself. Baba got upset as Samba reacted, taking the offer as a as a criticism on his not being able to walk steadily. Mani and I convinced Baba. As Govinda had felt difficulty in walking the previous day, he didn’t want to take the risk, and hired a horse for that day’s journey.

We arrived at Thorang-la height after climbing for an hour. There were some hotels and restaurants. The hotel staff informed us that those hotels were full of tourists. We stood at Thorang-la height for ten minutes. Standing only at one place could chill us further. So we moved here and there. Our friends arrived. They also expressed their desire to stay at the top for some time, but we moved instantly.

It was already dawn. We didn’t need torchlight. The juvenile light of the early morning was bright enough to show us our way. We walked straight for some time and began to climb uphill again. Silvery snow greeted us on the way. I wrote Mani’s name in the snow and drew into his attention. He jumped with excitement. His ecstatic excitement fetched me some happiness too.

A long queue of trekkers was seen walking on the way even after passing Thorang-la Pass. They were from different parts of the world, who enjoyed trekking in the mountainous region. I was really excited to see such a big number of foreigners climbing the mountain in queue.

It was quite late. I silently thanked Ramesh and ACAP once again for managing this journey. Nepali tourist guides and porters also were seen among the foreigners. It was like a rainbow. The moving rainbow over white snow and blue sky really looked very beautiful.

Excitement suddenly rises on seeing a long queue of people trekking in such a journey, and it increases our confidence in moving and reaching the destination easily.

We were climbing upward. As long as we climbed, the snow-capped mountains looked shorter. The stars also looked as if they had descended down to earth, making us feel that we could reach our hands out to them in a moment. It was real fun.

Walking on the snow in spite of a weary trip uphill, I was feeling extremely cold. The cold grabbed our palms though we were wearing thick gloves. It was difficult for me to continue holding the juice container. In spite of that, we took some snaps standing on the snow. It was not that easy to operate the camera but nobody could tame their desires for long, at such a sensational time.

Gradually the sunrays fell on the earth from beyond the peaks. The snow got drenched with sunlight. The air really looked bright and pure. We experienced a slight rise in temperature, as the sun shone bright in the eastern sky.

I turned back after reaching the top. Other friends including Samba had been left far behind. They looked as if they were not walking, but crawling. Mani and Thakur were on the lead from the beginning of the journey. At the same time Kiran also arrived and we walked together. Ujjwal and Yagya were walking rather well that day.

I realized the significance of black goggles. All the trekkers had used black goggles to protect their eyes from the sun. I didn’t have goggles. Goggles never appealed me. But rays reflected from the snow directly hit the eyes. The eyes could not be opened. I moved ahead opening my eyes very little and looking only towards the ground. For the first time, I realized the importance of goggles I never expected to put on.

I won’t forget black goggles while mountain trekking in the future.

Walking slowly with half-closed eyes, as I looked upward, a big crowd of people appeared. They were dancing, shaking hands, embracing and taking pictures. Wow! It was the ultimate destination of the journey – the peak of the journey; the center of attraction. It was a fountain of inspiration for walking further even after eight days of rigorous movement and extreme tiredness. It was Thorang-la Pass, the border of Manang and Mustang. I attempted to get there in one go. The emotions not only filled me, but overflowed along the way. The excitement and the exuberance of ecstatic emotion took me to a state of flying. The feet stepped quickly though it was difficult to open my eyes. The feeling escaped from me.

‘Thorang-la Pass – 5416 meters’ was written on a pillar constructed at the top of the Pass. The pillar was fully covered with flags and ceremonial muslin. The faith of Lamas at the peak could be explicitly seen here. We have a ritual of worshipping the Mountain God, height, the sky and water. The ritual was presented at its best here.

People were taking pictures by the pillar. At Baba’s suggestion, we also took some pictures. Some foreigners also were doing the same. A young white lady said to us, “Come and take a picture with us.”

I also mingled with them and took some pictures. We don’t need to know people to share happiness. The familiar ones are needed to exchange sorrows. Everyone was exchanging congratulations with one another. I also exchanged congratulations with some.

There was a small coffee shop at Thorang-la Pass. We had hot coffee in the chilly weather. Though it was expensive the service was more important than the price.

Mani, Thakur and other friends arrived. We again had fun and shared our excitement. Again there was a photo session and the exchange of congratulations.

Some white hills attached to Thorang-la Pass looked still higher. I thought about exploring those hills and viewing the world, reaching still higher.

I climbed a few steps but the obstinacy was not practical. There was neither a track, nor any equipment for climbing. I returned.

“It’s no good staying here for long; our brain will swell and it will create problems,” Kiran said. It hadn’t been long since we had arrived so we hadn’t fully enjoyed ourselves; we had not fully celebrated; we weren’t done floating on the snow. Mani said, “We should organize a poetry concert before we move. It will be historic and unforgettable.”

“Where is the banner?” I asked.

“It is with Ramesh.”

Ramesh hadn’t arrived.

“Here goes my poem, and I shall move downhill after this,” I said and recited a poem.

The foreigners also listened to the poem. They appeared quite happy as they knew that we were on a poetic journey. They had never expected that they would get a chance to listen to poems on such a high and deserted peak. Nor had I ever imagined or dreamt of reciting a poem in such a height. Therefore, there was no boundary to our happiness.

A group of foreigners took pictures with us again. This time they were not taking pictures with Nepali trekkers, but with Nepali poets.

I came to know that a descent of around three hours would take us to Muktinath. Muktinath is one of the greatest pilgrimage centers for Hindus. I had a desire to take a bath in the hundred and eight water spouts there if possible. Though, that became impossible because of the chill, I had been craving to wash my hands and face at least. We needed to walk further ahead in order to reach Jomsom. We had planned that day’s stay at Jomsom.

I closed my eyes and stood still for a moment before I left Thorang-la Pass. I wanted to feel the ecstasy and enjoy the journey with full contentment. This piety associated with height, the purity of environment, its freshness and novelty hold the capacity to fill every heart with ecstasy, however unhappy or pauperized it might have been. Once transcended from the plane of sorrows, avarice, jealousy and intrigue. The matchless attraction and beauty of the pious and pristine sublimity make the human heart leap up and fly as does the white cloud under the blue firmament. In fact, it is beyond the interface of beauty and ecstasy that man attains Shivatva – the highest order or transcendence in Lord Shiva’s Being. That point where the Shivatva is attained perhaps forms the abode of Lord Shiva, and in fact, the abode of all gods for that matter. This was what I experienced, standing on the Thorang-la slopes, overwhelmed by the unparalleled charm of a pristine beauty.

Having sat for a while with closed eyes, various ideas emerged in my mind. I remembered every step, experience and weakness of the journey. Love has a great significance in life. To oneself, it is a great achievement. If a person doesn’t love himself, he cannot love anyone else. First and foremost, a man should know and should love oneself. I touched myself, opened up and found several spots to be mended. Similarly, I remembered my relatives for some time and I really was thankful to those who had helped me come to that state, directly or indirectly.

To love oneself is to find and correct persistent errors and weakness.

“Shall we move now?” Baba asked.

“Let’s wait for some time,” I said.

He didn’t say anything.

There was a long queue of people coming from below as I returned and looked down from Thorang-la Pass. I contemplated: on the days gone by, how many people might have walked this way! We also had come through the same way, just now. I scanned the trail along which we had to go. Some people were going down. After some time, we also would move through the same way. After that others and yet others … To move upward and downward is nothing but continuation.

I took out my diary and wrote thoroughly again.

In spite of a relentless walk

for all these years,

this way we treaded along

could never become ours.

 

What is ours

after all

is merely the journey

and it’s so, ever.

The moment of standing at Thorang-la Pass was the sublime moment of the journey. That was the last stop of the upward hill. We had walked for eight days to arrive here with curiosity, passion and excitement. To anyone that asked us, we said, “We are on the way to Thorang-la Pass.” After arriving at this spot, all excitement, passion and curiosity froze and became like the snow. We gradually eased ourselves. After the end of curiosity, passion and excitement, the body gets tired. We were exhausted several times along the way, but were not tired. Now I really felt tired for the first time as I had to go downhill after the end of the journey uphill. As far as our eyesight reached, we saw just the returning route, without curiosity and excitement. The remaining journey would be brightened by the experiences, the series of events, the scenes and the knowledge gained from our conversations with people on the journey till date. In spite of the slow pace due to tiredness, the same light would show us the way to reach the end.

The same thing happens in life as well. The second half comes to be less encouraging, less exciting, more exhausting, lonely and tiring. I had just crossed forty, a year ago. Time had come for me to prepare for the second half. The body chilled as I contemplated. However I thought, in the second half of my life, the gained skill, experience, obstacles and knowledge would prevent me from going into darkness, as I had learned by this journey, and it would help me to be better managed, balanced and capable of achieving more. Thinking this I was encouraged to accept and enjoy the second half of my life happily.

I smiled to myself.

Translated by Mahesh Paudyal

BIO: Bhisma Upreti is a Nepali poet and essayist. He has published 6 books of poems and 8 books of essays. He won the first prize from the National Poetry Competition organized by Royal Nepal Academy. His works have been translated into English, Japanese, Korean, Hindi, Serbian, Slovenian and German; and have appeared into various anthologies and journals from across the world. He is joint secretary of Nepal Chapter of PEN International and also a member of the Traditional Poetry Writers Association of the World. He lives in Kathmandu with his family.

Chicagospell A History by Jesse S. Mitchell

Chicagospell

A history

Jesse S. Mitchell

Some day, probably a Thursday, Charlie Bohl sat under a pagoda facing a river, a dark green-brown river, a ripply river.  How slow it moved, how slow, but it shimmered and it shined and it caught his eye.  Ping Tom Park and it was hot, hot for September, so Charlie had several arbitrary beads of hot sweat plaguing the upper part of his face, malicious things with a mad sense of wanderlust, they would fall like Bolshevikism- domino-theory, boom, blast, boom, war, collapse.  Here he was, covered in soft vulnerable flesh with sparkling shards of acid perspiration streaking down and the indignity stung his pores and eyes.  He would wipe them away.  He would sigh.  He would blink.  Cross and uncross his legs.  There is loads of pain in this existence.  Peace in that.  Never alone.  Not really.   He would smile sometimes, giving lie to the absolutist supposition that all the world is a crime, all life teeming over its surface a sin, this and this a corruption.

He would bow his head at times, like he was saying a prayer, supplicating toward the Dan Ryan, but he was not communing, he was imagining.  Perhaps the same thing.  His head went wriggling, and railing around, fast as light, thoughts beaming from one side to the next, a great blur under his sandy blond hair.   He thought about iron-red churches of Axum, about floating Buddha heads, migrating birds, shifting seasons, Brahmins to Shudras, untouchables, cast iron pans in the fire, glowing red, the heat, the untouchable heat.  Turn his head this way or that and look over what ever horizon that appeared, materialized.  Big Peterhofs, Versailles, Halls of Mirrors writ large across a creaking post-modern sky, everything with the bitter flavor of too much bloat, too much air, too much swell, dulcet the soft sounds that fling themselves through the shared wind.  Skyscrapers, mercantile banks, long stretches of lake front beach.  Everywhere he could see, when he could focus,  a whole world of nothing but convulsed earth, shifting planks, scorching measurements of supposed grandness.  The generous gratitude of an overextended human race.

So, Charlie sat there, wiping sweat away, guarding his view from glare, on top of the heap, the heap of bones and rumble rock that lay foundation for every modern urban daydream.  He could see everything.  Everything.  And he felt it too.  He could even feel the jealousy of the shuddering air around him, envious nature, resentful of his newfound abilities of introspection,  his dual gifts of sensation and reflection.  He was music. And he wasn’t going to give that up.  He knows what the world can do to you.  Best to have something to come back from, but what are we coming to?

He was everywhere and down deep inside it, boiling up and seeping out, touching it all.    He could tell it was all mist, all vapor and mist, and it all signified nothing, nothing but a dying planet’s vast indiscretions.

But that was all partiality, fondness for a mad strong hankering for the dystopian diamond (multifaceted) end.  His soul could cry out.  His soul could leak out.  Sweetly evaporate away.

His mind was at work.

But the biggest part of the superficial grey matter inside his bone rattly skull was leering down, searching for precious Rheingold, merfolk magical horde, deep in the river, some silver shimmer a dreaded bread headed titian slacked off, trinkets, baubles, a slight shine.

And it was this part of vital self that was startled first, he heard the voice before he saw any figure.

“You seem happy with yourself.”

He looked to his right, the direction of the sound, and there she was immediately materializing atom for atom in what had been empty space.  Inhabit all the spaces.  Come humans, come senses, hot burning bodies, fill up all the spots yearning for mass.  Green dress with little pale white flowers all over it, her arm stretched out along the back of the low concrete bench they shared.  Long black hair, tendrils and strands flying all around her head, in frenzied spirals and circles, little whips and lashes.  It seemed strange to him the way her hair moved, the breeze was light.  He turned back toward the river.

“I’m cutting loose.  I’m checking out.”

“What?”  the word burst out of her mouth

“Hmm.”  Charlie nodded.

“You mean, suicide?”

Charlie chuckled, shook his head, looked back at her and all her rowdy hair and hemline and billows of dress, “No, god no, you know me better than that, how I detest violence, no stomach for it.  Not even against me, one of my most unfavorite of persons.”

“Hmm.”

“Yes, one day, I will be blue and all bled out and gone, giving up the shallow ghost to the eternal vapors that surround but this is not that day and it will not be on purpose.  I swear.”

“So, what then?”

“I’m letting go.  I’m losing my mind.”

“Going crazy?”

“Um huh, completely mad.”

“And your job?”

“Never going back.”

“And your plays?”

“Ha! Fuck the plays.  Rambling rush of forced dialogue, elucidate the dying words of veracity once more, scrub away at the great dirty lie covering the deep down shine.  My god, how we all are little jewels underneath it all.  I can’t bear it.  It tears at me.  Injures.  I’m lying.  We are lying.  I hate that part of me the most.”

“Huh, it has always been one of my favorite bits of you.”

Without notice, Charlie continues, “So, I’m stopping.  I’m sick of it.  Had it to death and sickness with optimism.  Bite off a big chunk of reality and like a poison let its venom get fully in my veins, immersed in the deluge of it and let it carry off my pride and expectation.  A death, a death clearing out my mind of all ambition, sit around and drink, think about cleavage, yep, I’m just going to be here and I’m going to dream, dream great big lion-headed dreams.  Napoleon dreams.  Fredrick the goddamned great.  Superhuman hallucinations.  Bodhisattva-Boudica Bar Kochba dreams.  Have my revenge on reality.”

“Taste the blood in your mouth.”

“Right.”

“Finally do it in.”

“Yeah.”

The woman stands up and stands perfectly still for a brief second and then disappears but quickly reappears behind Charlie, standing with her right hand on his shoulder.  He reaches out with both hands and sweeps them limply across the horizon and all the cityscape disappears, folds up like a paper fan, a concertina squeeze.  The river drains slowly away and green grass creep up and over everything, small grey good natured stones randomly here and there, hills and knolls.  Charlie raises one arm up and a tree spouts and then another and another and fresh lime green leaves blossom out.

“How Mosaic.”

“You know me, I always go for the classic stuff.  Yep, I’m going to be here, you see.  Dreaming my Icani dreams, feeling so enchanted, made of nothing but hungry flesh and blood.  Let it all die away from lack of care, total lack of any care, neglect it to death, at the expense of my sanity but to the benefit of reverie, pure foolishness.”

Without his noticing, while he spoke, the woman walked out from behind him and vanished, she could be seen walking slowly around the trees and threading around behind them, her hair and clothes still billowing and  cascade-careening.

“And I am not going to mind at all. I’ll just sit here, all alone if I have to, under my baroque old stars, too yellow for illumination, perfect for infatuation.”

The smell of sweet smoke hit his nose, tobacco, cigar smoke.  And slowly emerging from the vapid air was a tall man in olive drab fatigues, medium length hair, unruly, beard, black beret with a dark red star patch.  He holds his hand out to Charlie in a gesture to help him stand up.  Cigar smoke bulging ballooning all over the place, filling in every spot.

“And if I do get up, I’ll get up and walk through all these silver maples and cold mountain cedars.”

He takes the man’s hand and he stands up.  The man grins.

“And I’ll go off on my own, my own way, searching for sweet water springs, elixirs, fountains of youth, Ansu, old fashioned Sumerian strolls, fight some monsters.  And goddamnit, never do a thing other and never spend a dime or have any need for one.”

“How revolutionary.”  the man says.

“Tell me about it.  And you know where I learned it.”

The man nodded and walked in front of Charlie as they made their way past the old river bed and into the wooded grove.

“You know I’ve always been a Marxist.”

The man nodded.

“And it has never really been because particularly interested in economics or wealth redistribution.” Charlie struggled to say, his black necktie too tight around his throat now that he was up and moving around.  He loosened it.  The man shrugged and took a long hard drag off his cigar and blew out a ton of fragrant Cuban smoke.

“More it was that I found myself no believing in anything, not being a part of anything.  That’s an uncomfortable feeling.”

“It is.” the man agreed between iron breaths of smoke, his teeth clinching around it, trying to clamp down on it, hold it.

“And I have this steel-atheist mind, won’t brook any bending, any gust, any zephyr, so I found the great big soft breaded arms of Marx to be the most amiable, the most easily acceptable.  I don’t give a damn if it works or not.  I don’t give a damn if it ever takes the world by storm or not.  I’m only in it for the fashion, for the space, for the place to be.”  Charlie found it hard to walk, hard to keep up with the obviously fit and trim disciplined man in fatigues, it was hot and he was wearing down.  He took the powder blue blazer, worn at the cuffs of the sleeves, off and let it drop on the ground behind him as he walked on.

Charlie stopped walking.  He stood perfectly still and watched the man walk on without him.  He was suddenly gripped with a fanatical contemplation.  He felt like a burnt match, black withered tip, all graceful smolder and dark scented, slightly bend, threatening to crumble.  He watched as the women with wild black hair circling the trees greeted the soldier as he passed by, slowly melding with the thick atmospheric horizon between the trees.  Everything was so slow.  So slow.

He looked down at his feet and saw he was standing in sand.  Sand was far as the eye could see, yellow gold and white each grain a tiny sparkle.  He turned to look behind and were he had dropped his blazer, the long long open stretch of  sea.  The ocean.  The surf was pounding in on the beach, sounded like drums, wet slosh of primitive rhythm.  He heard a little voice, a child voice, coming up from the beach, not far from his ankles.

“But you know, you needn’t be confined to reality.  That is your point after all, isn’t it?”

Charlie looked down and saw a small girl in a bright red sundress playing in the sand, building castles, little structures, pinching up bits between her fingers and scattering it around, at times tossing up into the air and letting fly.  Like some spell, some esoteric, magic, enchantment, but that is how Charlie always viewed engineering, architecture, something beyond the pale of normal human understanding.

“Hmm?”

“Well, I for one, see no reason why you should ascribe to a largely discredited and at times mindlessly violent political ideology just for the tiny benefit of feeling like you belonged.”  the little girl reached out her hand and toppled over one of the tallest towers.

“Yeah.”

“I mean, if nothing in world spoke to you in the way you were seeking, you simply manufacture your own salvation.    That is the mind’s purpose.  Sincere sincerity, the unfathomable unplumbable depths  of human creative psyche.  You’ve done it before.  Remember?”

“Hm?  Oh the cults, the solar systems, the bestiaries, that is what fantasy is all about, that is where they hide the truth you know?”

The little girl nodded.

“November sixteenth, that was the day I created the cult of Figgishand, the canned tuna god.  That was a blast.  Boredom never treated me any better.”

Again she nodded and with both hands piled more sand up in a loaf shaped mound and begin making designs, long designs on the top with her fingers.

“And the ends of reality, beyond the edges of certainty, out beyond the limits of our universe where there still exist a people called , the Krekel, unfettered and not tethered to any planet or rocky terrain.  They live in pure space and build their hive like lives there, eating total air, and surviving in part on our indifference, disregard.  They worship a benevolent Jerusalem cricket named Yu, underleggs jammed full of eggs and life and wonderful gifts.”

“Now that is imagination!  That is life, freedom.”  the little girl piped up.

“Well maybe, I had been reading a lot of Douglas Adams at the time.  Certainly he deservers partial credit.”

The ocean contuied to roll it, the tide swelling.  Sunlight glinting as the sun dropped steadily lower.  Charlie looked back down toward the little girl but she was gone, castle gone, and as he was watching, the beach was gone and Charlie found himself standing, inexpertly, in the middle of the pure blue ocean, water up to his ankles and creeping up, all alone.  It was apparent he was sinking.  He would soon be swallowed up by the water and he would drown.  As soon as panic struck him and he was about to fling his arms and legs around in what would certainly be a mortal disaster, he saw come rising up over the sloping horizon, a small wooden boat.  It was nearing him fast.  He could the splash of the oars beating the surface and in a split second it was pulling up right next to him.  The wild woman, the long ferocious black hair twisting and waving and fluttering around the both of them, her long dress flapping and snaking around her body.

“Get in.”

Charlie just stared at her.  The surprise to much for him, he didn’t notice the blue-green salty water was making its way up his body, to his waist now.

“Unless you want to drown.”

“Huh…aaa, um, no.”  He climbed in the boat.

“Start rowing.”  She barked.

“How?  never mind.”  the awe wearing off, Charlie never had much patience for astonishment, he kept his wonderment to himself.

“So, how does the ocean make you feel?” the woman asked, a slight grin creeping over her face.

“Um, lonely, yeah, lonely, helpless, I guess, but…but still it feels alive, right.  What an odd sensation.

The black hair woman nodded.