now in print: Meteor Mags Omnibus Edition

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Get ready for asteroids, anarchy, and excessive ammunition, because Meteor Mags and Patches are back—bigger, badder, and louder than ever!

On the asteroid mining frontier of the near future, a hell-raising space pirate and her indestructible calico cat rage against the forces of law and order, “liberating” cargo and racking up a massive body count—until they come face-to-face with an alien invasion!

Join Meteor Mags and her criminal crew, the hard-rocking Psycho 78s, in fifteen tales of interplanetary piracy and total destruction. Run for your life in the tornado that wipes out Ceres! Thrill to the savage mating rituals practiced by the evil space lizards! Learn how to smuggle cigarettes and shoot pool with the solar system’s number one dancer! Witness the unearthly energies of the machine that transforms Patches the cat, and merge your mind with a telepathic space kraken!

From rescuing a pirate radio DJ in a hail of bullets to dancing naked with a tribe of Russian space monkeys, Mags and her outlaw friends rock the Belt. But how long can they survive when everyone on Earth wants them dead?

Now Available on Amazon as a 588-page paperback featuring black-and-white art plus Asteroid Underground articles and interviews with the crew. Also available in a text-only version for Kindle for $9.95, or get the Kindle for free when you buy the paperback.

Also available for iBook, and on Barnes & Noble in paperback and Nook Book. The sixth volume collects and updates all the material from the first five volumes, plus three new stories. 183,000 words.

 

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Audiobook #2: Never See the Night

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never_see_the_night_cover_for_kindleMy short story Never See the Night is now available as an audiobook on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. It’s science fiction with a double-shot of action and horror, and the grisly scenes with the telepathic space octopus are not for the faint-hearted.

I’ve had positive response to my article Ten Things I Learned from Making My First Audiobook, and my workshop group made good suggestions that have now been incorporated into it. If you’re wondering if you can produce your own audiobook, I encourage you to read the article, then give it a shot!

My biggest lesson from Never See the Night came not from producing the audiobook but from writing the original story. It taught me that having a cool idea is easy, but plotting is hard. Maybe that’s not news to you, but I only started writing fiction three years ago. So, when I first had the idea for this story and drafted the opening scenes, I got stalled immediately. Several things about the original draft made my desired plot points completely unworkable.

The draft ended up on the shelf for an entire year. Now and then I would come back to it, try something different, and realize that didn’t work either. It was so frustrating!

Oddly, that frustration helped me identify with the characters. They struggle to solve problems, and their efforts are repeatedly thwarted. My feeling of being “locked out” of this story put me in the same position as the characters who are locked out of the lab. Their struggle became mine. In the end, I think it’s a better story for it, with deeper characterization than I had in the early drafts. Despite the challenging hours that went into plotting, the story became less about the plot and more about the people.

The people and, of course, the octopus.

 

Ten Things I Learned from Making My First Audiobook

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My short story The Baby and the Crystal Cube is now available as an audiobook on Audible and Amazon. I published it in ebook and paperback formats earlier this year, but other authors keep asking me about audiobooks. So, I made one and got hands-on experience working with the Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX) platform that distributes to Audible and Amazon.

Before I tell you what I learned, let me offer you a free copy. ACX sent me promo codes you can use to get the audiobook at no cost. Send me an email, and I’ll hook you up. I have codes for Audible’s USA site and its UK site. Tell me which one you need.

So, what did I learn?

First, you don’t need a million bucks to do this, or even a thousand. I do know some professional audiobook talents who built soundproof studios in their homes, stocked with expensive microphones and Pro Tools audio software. If you’re making a career of being voice talent, that’s the right thing to do. But if you are an author with a DIY philosophy and a limited budget, you can get a decent headset mic for $30, download Audacity software for free, and get started.

Second, Audacity has a noise-reduction tool I never used before. With a little trial and error, it helped me eliminate background hum. ACX has strict limits on the decibel level of background noise (“room tone”). I learned I live in a sea of electrical hum! Plus, my first recording efforts took place during rush hour—a terrible time to do this on a busy street like mine. I had much better results recording super late at night when all is quiet.

Third, keep a pen and paper handy while recording. Jot down all the times when you mess up or clear your throat, or when a noise interrupts you. When you edit the recording, start at the last time you marked, and work backwards. If you start at the beginning and snip out mistakes, then the subsequent times are no longer at the place you marked them, but earlier, because you’ve shortened the recording.

Fourth, listen to the whole thing after editing. I was over-confident in my editing the first time I submitted files. I sent one where I missed a major mistake involving cursing loudly and re-reading a botched paragraph. Don’t count on ACX’s quality review team to catch mistakes. They do not listen to every second of your recording. Fortunately, you can upload corrected files, but it’s slightly inconvenient. Do yourself a favor and listen to the whole thing before you submit files!

Fifth, if you have multiple email addresses, set up your ACX account with the same one you will use to email the ACX support team. They absolutely will not lift a finger to help you if you contact them from a different email address. I learned this the hard way. ACX is linked to my Amazon shopping login, which is also my Kindle Direct login, so I needed to change my email address at Amazon. Not a huge deal, but a little inconvenient.

Sixth, the ACX platform and ACX staff really are friendly and easy to work with. I don’t blame them for my failure to use the right email or upload the right files. Once I got my act together, everything with ACX went smooth as silk.

Seventh, the ACX book cover requirements are unique to them. If you already have a Kindle cover, or Smashwords cover, or paperback cover—guess what? You need to make yet another cover! I admit I was a little annoyed by this. As a result, I probably didn’t put enough effort into modifying my existing book cover to fit the ACX size requirement of 2400 pixels by 2400 pixels. Now that I know, I can plan ahead when I design my print and ebook covers.

Eighth, for as much effort and brain surgery as it takes to produce a decent hour of voice recording that meets quality standards, the process is fun and exciting. I may not have the perfect voice, but I do know how I want my own work to sound: the emotional tone, the inflection, and the pacing. Besides the total creative control, reading your own work aloud gives you a more intimate connection with it and understanding of it. You also gain the satisfaction of having your work in a format with even more of your personality in it than the printed page.

Ninth, what works on the printed page doesn’t always work in a reading. I discovered that although my written dialogue makes it absolutely clear who is speaking without excessive speech tags, I needed to throw in a few extra “he said” and “she said” tags in the audio version. Maybe if I had tried to work out different voices for characters, then it wouldn’t be a problem. But I haven’t got that far yet. And how silly would I sound if I did a fake female voice for female characters?

Tenth, I had no say in the audiobook’s price. This isn’t a deal breaker, but with Kindle, Smashwords, and Createspace, I control the price and can even change it after publishing, so long as it meets minimum pricing requirements. With my first audiobook, I wondered, “Where do I set the price?” Answer: I don’t! See the ACX pricing page about how your book’s length determines its price. What do you get paid? The ACX royalties page explains how giving them exclusive audio distribution rights earns you 40%, and a non-exclusive deal earns you 25%. “Non-exclusive” means you could sell the audiobook through other channels of your choosing.

To sum it up, you can make your own audiobooks at a low production cost if you learn the ACX requirements, and if you know or can learn basic audio recording and editing. It’s a bit of work, but creatively satisfying.

Would I do it again? Absolutely! In fact, my second audiobook should be available in the next week or two. I will keep you posted!

quarterly report

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Quarterly Report: AD 2017, September.

Part 1: Talk Like a Pirate Day.

My late father had a weird hobby in the 1980s. He spent his evenings in an isolated room, talking on a radio to people from all over the world. He was an amateur ham radio operator, and he picked up all kinds of shortwave stations from the Soviet Union and different places. He was in on the very first developments in packet radio, which was a forerunner of packets of information transmitted over the Internet today.

I never got into ham radio, no matter how many antennae I helped Dad install on the roof to wreak havoc with the neighbors’ television reception and phone lines. But later, I got into public radio at WCBN-FM and KAOS-FM in the 1990s.

Climbing on the roof with Dad was fun as an adolescent, but I have even more adventurous memories of my public-radio days, none of which I can share with you out of a sense of common decency and legal liability. My memoirs from the pirate station in Arcata, California in the early 2000s are even less printable, and that’s one of the everlasting joys of my life.

These days, you don’t need a radio transmitter to talk to people all over the world; you just need the Internet. I loved public and pirate radio, but no one in Europe or Australia or Japan or South America talked to you while you did it. 1990s college radio was local. The Internet is global.

My favorite Internet-based communications group is one I affectionately call my story hour group. They have read stories in live, voice transmission from across the country and globe for more than a decade now. Many of those stories inspired my own poems and fiction.

I got a microphone recently, which only seems amazing to readers who have followed me since 2013 when I sold everything I owned. A few of you understand how lean that year was, and how lucky I am to even be alive to post utterly irresponsible blogs in the middle of the night to you right now. Thank you if you bought some comic books and art that year! I wouldn’t be here without you.

Anyway, to celebrate “Talk Like a Pirate Day” on Tuesday, September 19, I read Hang My Body on the Pier for a group that connects via the Internet to read stories to each other, and it was fun. Reading out loud for a solid hour is more challenging than you’d think, and I was thankful my new mic had a mute switch for when I needed to clear my throat, cough, or gulp another beer.

Okay. I might have gulped beer a few times in their poor little ears. But that is only fitting for “Talk Like a Pirate Day”, and may they all suffer the wrath of a thousand hells if they squandered a single ration of rum that night. Sink and burn me.

I enjoy reading my stories aloud, so I recorded my two most recent short stories and submitted them to Audible to release as audio books. They are currently in the quality review process, because Audible has specific requirements about decibel levels for peaks and room noise. We will see if I got them right the first time, or if I need to try again.

Part 2: Kickstart My Heart.

Don’t tell UK-based artist Joe Shenton, but I backed his recent Kickstarter with ulterior motives. His artwork is the kind of thing I wish I could do. Since discovering his work on Reddit, I could not get this thought out of my head: “He is the guy who should be illustrating my science-fiction series, not me.”

I could spend the rest of my life trying to draw space stuff and aquatic animals the way he does, and not even get close. His drawing arrived last Saturday and is now framed on my wall. He asked about themes or subjects his contributors like, and I told him, “I like space, pirates, and octopuses.” He sent me this glorious 6×8 ink drawing.

joe shenton ink drawing 003

Just between you and me and the world-wide web, I’m pondering how to make it worth his while to draw telepathic space octopuses, calico cats, cybernetic electric eels, armored space lizards, and psychedelic rock-and-roll visions from the year 2029.

 

 

painting

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Working with color has always been a challenge, because I have a form of red-green colorblindness. According to a recent test, my specific variation comes from weak green receptors. Green isn’t the only thing affected; I have trouble distinguishing some purples from blues, light pinks from white, browns from greens, and many more. But guess what?

paynes grey mountains (1)

Mountains; acrylic on canvas, 24×30

I love playing with color anyway. I still see it. My world isn’t black-and-white. That would be an even more extreme colorblindness. Mine is like color “confusion” compared to that. But because color remains a challenge, I was thrilled to learn Bob Ross recorded a landscape painting demonstration designed just for colorblind artists. It’s very much like his other work, but all in one color: a grey tone mixed with white to create lighter values.

paynes grey mountains (2)

I watched it twice in a row, utterly mesmerized, and then tried my hand at his techniques on a much larger canvas with acrylic paint. Ross used oil, and many of his techniques don’t translate to acrylic. Acrylic dries faster, so you don’t have the luxury of blending as smoothly as Ross did with oil.

paynes grey mountains (3)

On the other hand, you can do a few things with acrylics that Ross never did with oil: layers of color washes, splashes, and other “wet” effects you get from making a mess with water and paint. My art teacher loved Payne’s Grey and first suggested it to me as a color for painting the mountains in Sedona at night, just at the end of sunset. I love it too, and when the little tube she gave me ran out, I bought 250ml of the stuff. Payne’s Grey is the only paint I used in this piece, plus white: an ultra-white interior house paint (semi-gloss) from the hardware store.

paynes grey mountains (4)

Ross uttered an especially memorable line in his monochromatic demonstration of building mountains: “All you need is a dream in your heart. And an almighty knife.”

Watch and learn!

mirage

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mirage

later we recall the memory in a dream
leaving us uncertain
how much of it was real

every time we dream it
you seem farther away

like heat waves bending the
asphalt horizon in the summer
forever receding

something always comes after starlight
but tonight i can’t remember what

The Thunder Lizard Returns: Dinosaur Books by Ted Rechlin

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The Thunder Lizard Returns: Dinosaur Books by Ted Rechlin

 

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I began reading dinosaur books in the late 1970s, and back then, we had a dinosaur called Brontosaurus: the iconic Thunder Lizard! But the beast I grew up with would be revealed, in my adulthood, to be a complete fraud. Brontosaurus was nothing more than a hoax perpetuated with the bones of the real animal: Apatosaurus.

 

Just like my generation needed to reconceive of dinosaurs as having feathers, lifting their tails instead of dragging them, and living as endothermic animals instead of exothermic reptiles, my generation accepted the disappearance of our beloved Brontosaurus.

 

But it seems we were wrong about being wrong. Recent examinations of the fossil record have shown both Brontosaurus and Apatosaurus were real animals: structurally similar, but differentiated by their skin. The Thunder Lizard has returned!

 

Author and artist Ted Rechlin couldn’t be happier about it. His graphic novel Jurassic puts Brontosaurus back in the spotlight. When a baby Brontosaur is separated from his mother, he gets swept up in a journey through the perilous landscape of a forgotten North America, encountering all sorts of species of dinosaurs Rechlin renders in gorgeously colored illustrations. Through the young Bronto’s eyes, readers take a tour that is both educational and exciting.

 

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Despite a few violent dinosaur fights, Jurassic keeps the gore to a minimum, focusing instead on the drama. Rechlin doesn’t try for the existential terror of Jim Lawson’s Paleo and Loner, nor the biological brutality of Ricardo Delgado’s Age of Reptiles. But like those comics, Jurassic tells a thrilling story about animals in the natural world.

 

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Just between you and me, the Brontosaurs may have been the main characters, but they were not the superstars of the story. That honor belongs to the incredibly awesome Allosaurus who rages through this book, a massive female fighting machine storming the countryside with a pack of smaller Allosaurs at her side. Rechlin renders her with savage, majestic beauty, and she totally steals the show.

 

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Rechlin doesn’t get heavy-handed with his natural philosophy, but the final scene with the big female Allosaurus puts the entire story in a different light. Throughout the book, you sympathize with the baby Bronto’s separation from his mother, and you hope he will be okay. The female Allosaur and other carnivorous creatures are threats to our main character. But at the end of the day, the murderous Allosaurus is shown to be an attentive mother whose primary concern is feeding and caring for her own babies.

 

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The interdependent struggle of all animals to survive, eat, and rear their young is a tale that echoes Jack London’s Call of the Wild and White Fang, and it’s a consistent theme in dinosaur comic books. Eat or be eaten. Jurassic‘s triumph is how subtly Rechlin handles this theme and communicates it without getting excessively graphic.

 

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Brontosaurus, Allosaurus, and many more dinos also appear in Rechlin’s coloring book Dinosaurs Live! This innovative work combines drawings of dinosaur skeletons, educational and entertaining captions like a comic book, and full-page spreads of the dinosaurs in all their fleshy and feathery glory.

 

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Rechlin isn’t afraid to convey science in casual, conversational language that uses humor to memorable effect. You will learn from his coloring book, but you will laugh, too. Like Jay Hosler’s Clan Apis, which teaches about honeybees, Rechlin’s coloring book is strong on biology without being a stuffy textbook.

 

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No, I can’t bring myself to color these beautiful pages. I would feel like I was defacing a black-and-white dinosaur comic book such as Epic’s Dinosaurs: An Illustrated Guide by Charles Yates, or Tyrant by Steve Bissette. I might need a second copy so I can color the pages guilt-free!

 

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Also on my wish list is Rechlin’s other full-color dinosaur graphic novel, Tyrannosaurus Rex.

 

Below is a list of where you can buy these books on Amazon, and with links to purchase directly from FarCountry Press, the distributor who kindly sent us review copies and images. FarCountry has many animal, nature, and history books, and other exquisitely drawn coloring books featuring flora and fauna of national parks.

insect

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Click to hear a reading of the following poem.

insect

for 80 million years she crawled
flightless as her arthropod ancestors

she grew wings in the devonian period
and flew away faster than six legs ever carried her

no flowers bloomed or scented her flight
no brutes with torches or electric moons

she flew in a night without fire and she dreamed

remember her under your porch lights
in your desolate parking lots at 3 a.m.
in your isolated rooms where sunlight
never penetrates

remember her millennia of yearning
for a place to swarm and burn completely
and in that brief flash before dying
tell an ancient story written with buzzing wings

outlined with keratinous hairs
segmented like carapaces into paragraphs
stories you could never understand
until you too had lived in darkness

now in print: The Baby and The Crystal Cube

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Two lucid dreamers meet in recurring dreams, fall in love, and conceive a dream baby; but the unreality of the dream world leads them to distrust each other—with nightmarish results.

A paranoid exploration of two minds dreaming the same dream, and fighting to control it.

On Amazon in paperback and Kindle.

On Barnes & Noble in paperback and Nook Book.

On Apple iBooks.

drone

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Click to hear a reading of this poem.

drone

near the end
you chose the monotone

you had your fill
of chord progressions
bouncing like billie

or children playing in the grass
chasing soap bubbles
until they burst

all you wanted
was a steady drone

a placid ostinato
oscillating in the background
like hummingbird wings

or a rothko canvas
consuming your vision
with one fundamental color

 

 

now in print: Never See the Night

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An interplanetary biologist locks himself in a fortified research lab with an alien octopus, stranding his teammates outside in the path of a ferocious hurricane on a water-covered world. The animal already killed one of them, and the scientist-commandos must get inside to confront it, or die in the storm.

But the octopus has plans of its own, because it just discovered a new species, too: humans.

This short story is accompanied by five recent poems from the Poetry of the Planets project.

Now available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle. On Barnes & Noble in paperback and Nook Book. On Apple iBooks.

quarterly report

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As you know, these quarterly reports are serious business, so for the love of all that’s holy, put on some decent socks.

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In the past six months, your purchases at MyComicShop through the affiliate links on this site earned your humble martian moderator enough store credit to get two volumes of the Samurai Executioner Omnibus. THANK YOU, dear reader! These are books by the Lone Wolf & Cub creative team, full of poetic decapitations and deeply disturbing human behavior in Edo-period Japan.

I love omnibuses so much that I made my own this month. There will be an announcement about it here tomorrow. For now, here’s a shot of my first proof copy of the paperback edition. It’s 183,000 words, 588 pages, and weighs more than 2 pounds. It’s like heavy, man.

omnibus proof

Hey! Wasn’t I supposed to graduate this month? Yes. But the forces of evil conspired against me, and the upside is that I have until November to turn in my final project. My sister wanted to send me a little graduation gift, which turned out to be a “sorry about the forces of evil” gift. It’s a plant that looks like an alien growing out of a Dimetrodon‘s back. Hell yeah!

dimetrodon plant

It’s a lovely addition to the blogging station, especially because my venus flytrap bit the dust after I made the n00b mistake of letting its stalks grow. And yes, that’s a bloody stuffed puma in the photo, and I got him a friend this year. They read Villains of All Nations together.

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Most people would think it odd that a grown-ass man takes a stuffed puma on visits to the dentist, but my dentist totally understands. He is my hero. He works on big cats like ocelots and tigers at the Phoenix Zoo, and he and his father saved the life of a jaguar that was illegally trapped in Mexico. The poor thing had tried to chew through the metal bars of its cage, damaging its teeth so badly that it couldn’t even eat. My dentist fixed up that awesome cat, and he and his staff take excellent care of me.

No, I don’t have him give pretend check-ups to my toy puma. But now that you mention it, I might ask for that next time! It would make a great photo.

Last but not least, my cell-phone pics of my old Godzilla toy got their fifteen minutes of fame this year. Some cable show about memorabilia found them and contacted me for permission to use them on an episode. No, I can’t remember the name of the show right now – This Bloody American Junkyard or something – but I signed a contract allowing them to unleash my late-night toy photos on the world. If a huge green monster destroys your city this year, I guess you know where to send the hate mail.

This is a different Godzilla toy who deserves his own gallery here someday.

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gravity

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gravity

the moon burns for the ocean
when no one else can see the sun

he cares nothing for what her tides erode
with violent patience

nor the animals lost
in her limitless depth

he only wants her
closer

they hold each other
across unchartable distance

never touching
but never pulled apart

Hang My Body on the Pier

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This story now appears in the Meteor Mags Omnibus Edition.

ABOUT THIS STORY

The fifteenth story in the Meteor Mags series presents scenes from her Great-gramma Magdalena’s early life, from when she was found orphaned, through early days pretending to be a boy and sailing with pirates, to her eventual rise to power as a pirate queen.

Central to the tale is her relationship with the man who found her and took her to sea, a man she calls Father. Combining third-person narration with excerpts from Great-gramma’s memoirs, this tale reveals the years which shaped her relationships with death, crime, the sea, and a male-dominated world of power.

Mags was named after her great-grandmother and worships her. By this point in the series, readers have discovered amazing things about Great-gramma. Though she died before Meteor Mags was born, she visits the space pirate to give her guidance in dreams and visions, and she may be influencing events in the stories. She created the magic ring Mags wears. The ring extends Mags’ lifespan to 200 years, just as it did for Great-gramma. The story of its creation has yet to be told.

This tale includes a framing sequence in the series’ “current day” of 2029, featuring characters who will be unfamiliar to new readers, but who have been central to the past seven episodes. Mags sings a song with these new friends she’s made in the asteroid belt—a song with origins in Great-gramma’s untold past on Earth.

This story now appears in the Meteor Mags Omnibus Edition.

 

painting

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One of the neighbors moved out and left behind a 36×12 canvas with a generic photo print of a flower on it. Seemed like a good opportunity to break out the acrylic paints and texture media. I don’t have a name for it yet.

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kalaratri

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kalaratri

time’s endless night
destroys all those she makes
her acolytes

we build honeycombs in carrion
not even ravens will scavenge
we sleep in cities where birds refuse to roost

back alleys where the concrete wind
blows one implacable song
then collapses

in refuse we find refuge
what was cast off we repurpose
to make it new

my sweet everything
this continent belongs to you
by virtue of your villainy

you own it because it cannot escape you
nor restrain you
your power here is absolute

the essence of impermanence and solitude
embracing all and drawing them
to your breast

suckle your disciple
so i might outlive gods
and kings and treachery

outlive words and paper and the
bonfires where they will be burned
and then
forgotten

jupiter

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jupiter

you make me laugh until we tumble
into this drift like asteroids
coaxed by gravity

to surround this jovial hydrogen bastard
who disturbs the belt
with his frivolous storms

laughter heals and lifts us past the pain
your tears on my shoulder and fictions
we dream together

love me for an hour then leave
traces of your orbit and clues you give
astronomers

to the sadness of the inner planets
where life only made them realize
they’re small

i will never let them touch you
with telescopes and equations
i will erase their blackboards and crush their lenses

until all they know is mystery like a fool
i would keep you to myself
though your brightness burns for everyone

annihilation comes easily
rejuvenation takes more effort
or none at all

one word
one touch
will inspire

Hear this poem read by Judy Cullen. Then go discover her work!

painting

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This new 30×40 canvas makes a colorful addition to my bedroom. It feels more like a background than a finished piece, but it’s going to spend some time on the wall where I can think about it and enjoy it in this minimalist stage.

Quinacridone magenta, ultramarine violet, and prussian blue over acrylic texture media.

new painting 1new painting 2 detail

mercury

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mercury

when you no longer hate the sun for shining
or curse it for bringing life
to our cold blue speck

when you run out of things to say
i will hold your heart in my hand
so you may count the petals of every flower

every hand that held another holds us
ache for me when i am gone
then realize i never leave you

write our manifesto and burn it
our buried chest of golden coins
will grow to a garden of stars

love it for me as if it is our child
my place is with you

we paint the stars together
when no one else is breathing
the moon hides below the horizon

our neighbors rise from beds
like corpses from their graves
unable to recall the songs

the mockingbird performed at 4 a.m.
the wind whistled down the asphalt
haunted only by coyotes

my modern mercury’s caduceus
is a radio tower pulsing
between realms like dreams

the serpents of his staff
become iron girders riveted to the sky
broadcasting love and fury

to the sons and daughters of lightning
spanning the globe under incandescent shelter
from midnight’s prehistoric treachery

clarity
communication
the courier’s gift
signals the dawn