At Night Ghosts Fly

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Francisco Goya, “The Sleep of Reason Brings Forth Monsters,” Capricho 45, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday Morning Musings:

“Fantasy abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters: united with her (reason), she (fantasy) is the mother of the arts and the origin of their marvels.”

–Francisco Goya, full epigraph on Capricho No. 43

 

At night ghosts fly,

breezes like ice over ocean

can eyes not see this,

our hearts devoured and haunted?

And peace,

a secret perfume

This time,

wake and remember.

–A poem constructed from what I remembered of a magnetic poem before The Oracle ate it.

 

 

An oracle gave me a poem of dreams,

then she swallowed the words

leaving me to wonder about both prophecies

and dreams–

wispy, frangible ghosts,

they vanish,

leaving a trace of perfume in the air.

 

And so, I think of dreams—

there was that one from a few nights ago,

Lin-Manuel Miranda told an interviewer*

that someone had “a curvy name.”

What did that mean,

I thought about it when I woke,

I think he meant the name sounded curvy

somehow,

pleasing and delicious,

on the tongue,

a sort of mouth-feel,

an umami sound.

And I wondered who it was he spoke of?

And I will probably never know.

nor why I dreamt it.

 

That is fine.

At night, our minds try to sort and explain the mysteries of the day,

at dawn, we don’t know what dusk will bring,

though we trust the sun will rise and set,

every day is an adventure,

mysteries delightful or terrible may unfold.

But I would not want to know my future, would you?

And who believes the prophets anyway,

treated like Cassandra

mocked and ignored.

 

But in this new year,

How should we feel?

Peace seems ever elusive,

just beyond an ever-changing horizon.

Reality and truth are meaningless,

Lie-laden Tweets

(the lines neither warm nor curvy)

the thoughts of a man who wants to be a king

or a god,

revered and adored,

But he is a little man,

a bully,

with a handheld bully pulpit,

and so, we must resist,

holding fast against the fetid swamp waters

where the monsters live

and where their dreams thrive and grow,

emerging like demons in the night,

like a vampire, tapping on the window,

do not invite them in

to suck your blood

and still your beating heart.

People like to think the monsters are not real,

but oh, they are,

and they are ready to grab you in the night.

(Quickly, pull the blanket up over your head.)

Yet the evil beasts can be stopped–

because there are heroes,

and there is still good in the world,

and there are still truth-tellers

and truth-seekers,

and we can make a choice,

light or darkness.

 

It was a cold, snowy weekend,

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we ate homemade pizza and binge-watched a Netflix show,

an ordinary day,

frozen and white outside

inside, the warmth of wine,

the scent of bread dough baked at high heat,

we watch,

the young woman, who has died more than once,

she may be an angel,

or maybe not.

And is human life and its mysteries explained?

Perhaps,

Or perhaps not.

But she has chosen to remain on earth

to fight, to rescue the people she loves,

people who have become a family.

And there is light and darkness,

and things seen and not seen,

movements that curve,

like a name maybe,

(she has more than one)

to express words that do not exist.

She needs helpers.

and like her,

we must always look for helpers,

and we must strive to be heroes when we can

to wake from our dreams and remember,

to fight the ghosts and monsters of the night,

to scent the air with the perfume of peace,

 

 

Jane Dougherty named the magnetic poetry site, “the Oracle.”

*I heard Lin-Manuel Miranda interviewed on Fresh Air. I don’t think he mentioned any curvy names, but let me know if he did.

We watched OA on Netflix, a series starring Brit Marling. She is also the co-creator with Zal Batmangli. Here is the trailer.

 

 

 

Light in the Darkness (The Rescue): Microfiction

 

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By Virginia Frances Sterret, Old French Fairy Tales, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Esmeena knelt on the cobalt blue tiles in her long, azure gown and gave the small deer a hug. He had just come from patrolling the castle’s grounds.

Then she stood, and said to the cat meowing plaintively at her feet, “Honestly, Reggie, I am working on it.”

He was her brother, and she had accidentally turned him into a cat while trying to cast a spell. “I’ve had a lot of responsibility since Mother’s been gone.”

Their mother was at a Council Meeting of Orwan chiefs. The Council was trying to decide if they should intervene here on Earth, now that humans seemed bent on destroying it. Wars, demagogues, fracking—the list of horrors and craziness seemed to grow daily. Thousands of years ago, the Orwan had come to Earth from the Planet of the Blue Ponies, (which was why they loved blue so much). They generally kept to their own realm, invisible to humans.

“I’m sure it’s not all that terrible,” Esmeena continued, “there is that female cat who seems to like you. And after all, you do still have all your. . .um. . .parts.”

At that, Reggie tried to spring at her, but he miscalculated the width of the table between them. With all four legs stretched out wide, he slid right over the table and crashed onto the floor on the other side.

“You are the least graceful cat I’ve ever seen,” said Esmeena.

Just then the massive castle door was flung open. Their mother entered, wearing a midnight blue cape and a frown.

She looked at Reggie, muttered some words, snapped her fingers, and he returned to his normal form. He rose from the floor, all gangly arms and legs.

“Esmeena, what has been going on here?”

“I was trying to reinforce the barrier,” Esmeena said.

“Didn’t you think I would check on it before I left? But why did you think a sparkling rainbow-colored barrier would make the castle invisible to humans?”

“Everything is so dark now. I just wanted to make something light and cheerful.”

“Child,” said her mother, “I can see I still have much to teach you. Don’t you know the light is within you? We carry it in our hearts.” She touched her chest, then picked up a candle that now glowed brightly in the darkness of winter night.

“Come,” she said to her children, “the moon is humming. It’s time. Let’s go celebrate the solstice.”

This story is for Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge.

The prompt was the painting above.

 

 

 

 

 

Thoughts in the Moonlight: Microfiction

 

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Ilya Repin, “Moonlight Night,” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

The river shimmered in the moonlight, but for the moment, Jo was immune to its charms. She was pondering the telegram she had received:

“J.  Mission on. Pack your bags.  Love, T.”

Her brother Tommy was an excellent surgeon, but not such a great communicator. As she bent down to rub her setter Dottie’s spotted back, Jo thought about this “mission” and wondered how long she would be gone.

Tommy had told Jo that Mr. Roentgen’s discovery could change medicine and medical care. The new apparatus that the commission planned to ship abroad used these invisible rays–X rays– to photograph bones right through the skin. The X ray devices could also be used to see bullets or shrapnel within a body.

We keep improving ways to kill one another, Jo thought, I suppose it’s only natural that we find new ways to treat those that survive.

She pictured all the politicians she had seen shouting slogans, ignoring facts. She admired scientists who checked and re-checked and shared their knowledge. A German scientist discovered X rays, and now English doctors were using the discovery to help Greek soldiers.

Perhaps, she thought, with these new-fangled X ray machines, the young men, pawns in squabbles between nations, might have a better chance of surviving the carnage of the battlefield. Tommy and the other surgeons, and she and the other nurses would do their best, however inadequate it might be.

Calling to Dottie, Jo turned to take one last look at the river. Then she squared her shoulders and strode back to the house to pack her bags for Greece.

 

This story is for Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge. The prompt is the painting above, “Moonlight Night” by Ilya Repin. Even though the painter was Russian, I thought the woman was English, and she seemed to be pondering something. I found out that X rays were discovered the same year the painting was completed, 1896. Soon after, X rays were used in field hospitals, and a group in England financed the transportation of a X ray machines with surgeons and nurses and sent them to Greece during the Greco-Turkish War of 1897.

You can read more about the early use of X rays here.

 

The Golden Egg: Microfiction

varnadragons

 

Journal Entry, 4773

Ambassador Armstrong and I traded stories after dinner. I enjoyed hers about the boy who flew too close to the sun. She admired our language, saying it reminded her of the birdsongs of her planet. In response, I told her this tale:

Eons ago, great, winged creatures inhabited our planet. The Mianthx were massive, lumbering creatures, powerful of body, but dull of mind, and without our grace and beauty. Unlike us, with our shimmering, varigated feathers, they were covered in dull, grey-green scales.

There was Mianthx prophecy that foretold the appearance of a golden egg—from which a great leader would be born. And one day, an ordinary Mianthx produced such an egg and showed it to her mate. The couple was overjoyed. It was their first egg. They shared in its care, keeping it warm in their birth pouches. When the birth-time came, their family members and officials (alerted to the news of the golden egg) gathered around to witness the event. The midwife helped the Mianthx couple with the hatching process, but all fell silent when a small being with soft, downy, multi-colored feathers appeared.

“It’s so strange-looking,” some onlookers whispered, “and what are those odd sounds it’s making?”

However, her parents loved her and called her Dulcka, or “Dear One.” As Dulcka grew older, she became a being of wondrous beauty, with feathers glowing and iridescent in the light. Her appearance was matched by the kindness of her soul, and by her mellifluous voice, like a chorus of flutes—so unlike the raspy voices of those around her. She became beloved by all.

One day the world was threatened by a vast, dark cloud that was starting to block the sun. Without light and heat, all life would perish. Dulcka flew high in the air, higher than any of the Mianthx had ever flown. There she sang to the wind, telling it to blow the cloud away. So powerful was her voice, that the wind obeyed her, and the cloud was dispersed, letting the sun shine down once again on our planet. Dulcka was lauded for her deed and re-named Melasios, or silver-voiced leader.

In time, Melasios mated with one of the Mianthx, and they had a baby, who was born with soft, downy variegated feathers. It is said we are all descended from Melasios.

 

This story is for Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge, using the sculpture pictured above. And once again, I’m way over the word count.

This story is a sequel to this story.

 

 

 

We Will Talk Amidst the Clouds: Microfiction

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By Makis E. Warlamis (Own work, Daskunstmuseum, 2007-01-05) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Journal Entry, 4772: I woke up early, too excited to sleep. Today I begin my new position as chief consul. Thousands of years have passed since my ancestors made first contact with the world of our guests. We miscalculated then; the inhabitants of that planet were not ready, and we backed off, observing only from a distance. We were surprised that the beings we’ll be welcoming here today finally dominated their planet, and even more surprised that they survived. They were fond of wars, those bipeds.

It’s too bad that we’ll have to transport them from our planet’s surface to our capital. I love how it hovers amidst the clouds, a beacon of serenity, and a perfect place to hold our discussions. Too bad they cannot experience the joy of flight, as we do. There’s the beauty–the glow of light on feathered wing, the iridescent colors, and the glorious feel of the air, as it rushes by, carrying the scents from below and above. Oh well.

It’s time now to go. To meet the Earth ambassador. Apparently she is named for an ancestor who was famous for—what was it? A walk? Oh yes, I remember now, on their moon. Ambassador Neila Armstrong. End log.

I spread my wings and fly out to meet her.

 

This story is for Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge. This week I’m close to the word count! The prompt is the painting above.

The story is related to this earlier one I wrote.

 

 

Chosen: Microfiction

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Ilya Repin. “Choosing a Bride for the Grand Duke” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Once long ago, as the full moon glowed in the sky, a line of maidens stood in brilliantly colored gowns and feathered headdresses. They chattered and peeped like exotic birds, as they waited for the king to arrive to choose one of them to be his bride.

Katerina alone was silent; she comforted herself with the thought that she was unlikely to be chosen. She had nothing against the king in particular—he seemed pleasant enough. But marriage to him meant a life of seclusion in the women’s quarters, a gilded cage, a life spent producing babies and little else.

Katerina’s mother had convinced her father that reading was a skill that would allow Katerina to assist her future husband. So as she stood waiting in the Great Hall, Katerina read. When the trumpets sounded, announcing the King’s arrival, she quickly tucked her book inside one of her wide sleeves.

As the king strode down the line, each maiden curtsied before him. When he stood in front of Katerina, she bent low, and as the king took her hand, the book slipped from her sleeve and dropped to the ground. The onlookers gasped, but the king merely bent and picked up the book. Glancing at its title, he smiled, commenting that philosophy was an unusual choice for a woman. He handed the book back to Katerina and walked on. Throughout the night, the king talked to all of the women, but he kept returning to Katerina.

At dawn, the King announced he had chosen Katerina to be his queen. As a result, carrying books—even if they were not read–became a fad among unmarried women. Over time, Katerina adjusted to her role as queen and to life in a “gilded cage”—though she had to admit that it was a luxurious, gilded cage that many would envy. Using her position, she convinced the king to let her teach all the women at court to read. A generation later, all of girls in their country, as well as the boys, were permitted to go to school. Finally, after many decades, on another moonlit night, a woman became the leader of the nation. She was also named Katerina, after her distant ancestor, the queen who made books and reading fashionable.

 

This fairy tale was written when I was feeling hopeful. It is for Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge—though I am again stretching the meaning of the term “micro.”  There were two possible painting prompts, I chose the one above.

 

 

 

 

Isle of the Dead: Microfiction

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Arnold Böcklin, Isle of the Dead (III), [Public domain], via Wikimedia Common

Iona sailed her ship across the sun-dappled sea to save her beloved from the underworld. Iona had to rescue him tonight, for Halloween was the one night when humans could travel there. She traveled for hours, and as twilight descended, the Isle of the Dead appeared in front of her, shrouded in mist. Within that shroud she saw spectral figures, the stuff of nightmares, with misshapen bodies and eager, bloody mouths.

Iona ignored them and sailed into the cove. As she stepped upon the shore, a dragon appeared. Fire and smoke burst out, as it opened its massive jaws to roar.

With trembling legs, Iona approached the beast and sang in a voice that faltered at first, but then rang out, loud and pure:

Beast, stand down

Beast, do my bidding

Beast, reveal now

what is hidden

As she finished her song, the air shimmered. The dragon became a dog, red as flames. It licked her hand, and followed at her heels, as they walked to the cave—its opening now revealed.

They walked down steep stairs carved into stone, farther and farther under the earth. Iona carried an oak wand given to her by a Wise Woman. It glowed and lighted her way. She looked neither left nor right at the spirits around her, but traveled down, down, down. As she reached the bottom, she saw Dermid. He stood rooted, with no expression on his face.

She remembered the Wise Woman’s words, “Your courage and determination will get you to the Isle, but only true love and faith will save Dermid.”

She clasped her arms around his waist and held tightly as he turned into a huge snake, but she held on, and he turned into a lion, but still she held him, and finally he turned back into a man. Her man. With tears streamed from her eyes, she helped him journey up the stairs.

They climbed up and up for hours, it seemed, racing to get back to the surface before dawn. They reached the surface just before the sun, and as they climbed into Iona’s boat, they saw it rise pink and orange above the sea. The Isle disappeared.

Dermid said to her, “Thank you for saving me.”

Iona replied with a smile, “I thought our baby should have a father.” Then looked down, “and a dog.”

 

This is for Jane Dougherty’s microfiction challenge.  The prompt was the painting above.

I’ve stolen, quite shamelessly, from many myths and tales, and once again gone over the word count.

 

 

 

Kingdom of the Sea: Microfiction

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John Bauer, “Agneta and the Sea King,” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

The Kingdom of the Sea? Yes, I know of it. It lies beneath the wine-dark water. You can’t see it from the surface, though perhaps you might sense its presence. Perhaps you think you see something, a figure there under the shimmering waves. But then you’ll blink or shake your head. Oh, I imagined it, you’ll say. Still, you will shiver. Because you know there is something there.

I’m an old man now; perhaps you think my mind wanders. Perhaps it does. But I’ve seen The Kingdom and lived to tell the tale. Come, pull your chair closer to the fire, and I’ll tell you about it.

You see, it was because of Jenny with her long, amber curls and blue-grey eyes. I was in love with her. All the boys in the village were. But she said her heart belonged to the sea. Foolish poetic ramblings, I thought.

She had come out on my father’s boat with me. It was a warm day, and the water shimmered with light and possibility. I kissed her there—the first and only time–and I swear, she kissed me back for a moment, before gently pushing me away. We dozed then in the warm sunlight, rocked by the waves. I woke to see her hanging over the boat. I heard her whisper, “Come for me, Love.”

I saw him then–the Sea King, glorious and terrible. He reached up and pulled Jenny down beneath the ocean’s surface. I dove into the water, frantic to save her.

But I know now, she did not want to be saved. I watched Jenny enter the Kingdom of the Sea with the king, and as she did, she turned and waved farewell to me. The castle glimmered beneath the waves; like a vision, it was there and gone. Then there was a sudden darkness inside my head.

I awakened on the shore, soaked and exhausted, but Jenny was never found.

Of course no one believed my story. They said she must have fallen out of the boat and drowned, while I was washed ashore by the waves as I tried to save her. But I know what I saw.

 

This is for Jane Dougherty’s microfiction challenge–though since I’ve gone way over the word count, I guess it’s not really microfiction.  The prompt was the illustration above by Swedish artist, John Bauer, for a book of fairy tales.

 

 

The Sale: Microfiction

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Antoš Frolka [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Gerda clutched the bill-of-sale in her hand, glancing with smug satisfaction at Rose Zukerman’s amethyst ring that now sat tightly on her own fleshy finger.  Franz had purchased it for her, along with the Zuckerman’s house. Gerda had always coveted that elegant townhouse with the piano (that she couldn’t play), the many books (that she would never read), and the china (that would end up broken).

They had gone to the Zuckerman’s early this morning, even though it was a Sunday. Gerda was afraid that some well-connected Party official would get the house first. They’d offered Dr. Zuckerman a fair price. Better than being thrown out, she had sniffed, when the doctor had hesitated at the offer, a sum that was far below what the house and its contents were worth.

Dr. Zuckerman was no longer allowed to treat Aryans, and most of his Jewish patients could not pay him. He could not afford to live in this splendid house, even if he was permitted to stay in it. Gerda chose to forget Dr. Zukerman’s gentle kindness. She chose to forget how he had traveled in a blizzard to treat Franz for pneumonia. Gerda brushed aside the thought that now their medical care would come from Dr. Höss with his trembling fingers and schnapps-scented breath.

I’m not a monster, Gerda thought. We’re giving them the day to pack up some personal items and food. The image of the two little Zuckerman girls with their honey-colored curls who had clung to their mother’s skirt stayed in her mind; she wondered where the family would go. Well, it’s not my concern. They’ll be with their own kind.

She understood that the hook-nosed caricatures of street posters bore no resemblance to the educated, cultured Zuckermans. But still she thought with pride that now true Germans would get their due. The Führer would make Germany great again.

She urged Franz along. She didn’t want to be late to church. She wanted to pray to God for their continued good fortune.

 

This is for Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge , but I’ve gone over the word limit. The prompt was the painting above by Antoš Frolka of a couple going to church.

 

The Splendor of Light

the_story_of_the_sun_moon_and_stars_1898_14778865395By Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

 

She laughs and flames shoot from her chariot

moving through the sky. She will carry it,

(the splendor of light), and with lariat

she’ll rein in her gilded steeds, ferry it,

the glow, from dawn to dusk with merry wit.

 

She brings joy, life, pulses to beautify.

Her companion stars though, she sees them cry,

their tears shoot out, then streak across the sky.

Still she laughs, shares her light, as she rides by.

Someday she’ll fade, turn black–and then she’ll sigh.

 

This is a response of sorts to Jane Dougherty’s non-challenge.

Jane found the rather strange image above. It’s supposed to be a sunspot, and it comes from an 1898 book called The Story of the Sun, the Moon, and the Stars. I started thinking about sunspots, and then this story that I read recently about an unusual star that pulses and behaves erratically. I started thinking about what could cause this, and naturally I concluded the star pulses when it laughed. In honor of Jane, the poem is two stanzas of her Fifty Poetry Form (Does that make it a one hundred?): five lines of ten syllables each, with the last word of each line rhyming.