In 2033, Meteor Mags records 88 Light Years, the second solo album featuring her vocal and piano talents. This lyric for one of her original tunes is about a legendary chess player who defeated damn near everyone in the States and Europe before quitting the game entirely at age twenty-two. At age forty-seven, he was found dead in his bathtub as the result of a stroke.
The Paul Morphy Blues
I fought fools and princes, taught them how to kneel. Vict’ry gave me nothing, nothing I could feel.
I fought states and countries, taught them how to cry. My heart is a riverbed drought has all run dry.
Conquered all horizons, I solved all the math. Quit while you’re a legend. Someone draw my bath.
Will you come and visit? Will you say my name? Hist’ry’s what you make it. Now it’s all the same.
Call me pride and sorrow. Say I was insane. I can’t see a damn thing, blinded in this game.
When there’s no tomorrow, future’s in the past, I won’t care for legends. Someone draw my bath.
Today, I got the sad news that my artist and poet friend Ktahdn passed away last week. If you don’t know how to say his name, don’t feel bad; hardly anyone ever got it right. Most of us just called him by his preferred nickname: “KT”. He was a softspoken, gentle guy who never had a harsh word to say about anyone, and he was always exploring different avenues for his creativity.
I met KT at an audiovisual presentation where he read original poems and short, reflective pieces about his favorite art form: building abstract sand sculptures on the beach. He displayed gorgeous photos of these ephemeral works and interspersed his readings with soothing yet evocative piano pieces by artists such as Philip Aaberg. The presentation was a hit with the storytelling group we were both part of, and he returned several times with follow-up presentations and lengthier pieces about all the work that went into his sand sculptures. For the past couple of years, he had delved into writing fantasy stories and taking part in various multimedia collaborations.
KT and I weren’t super close, but I enjoyed our conversations about art, sand, stones, and poetry. He recommended a few great books to me, including The Planet in a Pebble: A Journey into Earth’s Deep History by Jan Zalasiewicz. I’ve mentioned it before, and it’s a fascinating read.
It starts with observations about an apparently simple, ordinary stone on a beach, then quickly expands into a history of the universe that made such a stone possible: from the formation of the first stars where hydrogen was fused into heavier elements disbursed when those stars exploded, to the collision of the Mars-sized planet that struck Earth billions of years ago and resulted in the formation of our Moon. The book continues with a history of Earth where geologic dramas created different kinds of rocks, and how those rocks were distributed across the planet through continental drift, erosion, and other natural forces.
That’s how I will remember KT. He was a man who could look at something ordinary and see the extraordinary. He appreciated how even the smallest things most of us take for granted are the result of complex, elaborate histories, and he knew those histories would continue long into the future after those things had gone from our lives. Like his sand sculptures that stood as beautiful monuments until the tides rolled in and washed them away, everything exists in cycles of creation and destruction, which are really just two sides of the same coin: transformation.
The tides have taken KT away. But I will remember that even the smallest grain of sand returning to the ocean will become a part of something else, something with an intricate future that dwarfs even the history that brought it onto the beach in the first place.
I don’t think KT would want us to mourn his passing any more than he ever shed a tear for one of his sculptures. Instead, he would want us to return to the beach and, once again, create something beautiful. Whether it lasts for an hour or a lifetime doesn’t really matter. What matters is the experience.
August 30 Update: After meeting with mutual friends last night to remember KT, it hit me that my first art adventure with him wasn’t in the storytelling group but many years earlier in a weekly gathering to musically explore the old trade routes known as the Silk Road. Following the path of the Silk Road from Europe to China, KT played music from the regions and talked a bit about the various cultures. I picked up several albums he sampled for us, though I would have liked to get them all.
While going through my music library, I also found an hour-long recording I made of one of his reading sessions. Click here to have a listen.
The old volcano slowly releases her heat. Ponds ripple gently.
Birds flock to her warmth and nest for generations until she erupts.
Startled birds flee to nest on quieter islands, remnants of raging,
sheltering their young from the unexpected storms brought in on the waves.
The young ones will grow and raise their own to migrate, exploring the seas.
This poem was written in collaboration with SisterMoon, who also composed the original poem that appears as the epigraph to The Singing Spell in Meteor Mags: The Second Omnibus. Although our 5-7-5 verse format is an oversimplification of traditional Japanese haiku, we did use the classical method of taking turns creating verses to form a longer poem.
Joining this collaboration as illustrator is the Midjourney AI, whose otherwordly imaginations you will now see adorning many of my original poems in the poetry archives.
Reunions and shared laughter. The band greets them all.
Then in unison: a chord. Not just any chord.
It’s a harmony of light, shining in the dark.
This poem is a variation on Japanese poetic forms that often use groupings of five and seven syllables. It is named after my favorite local band in Ann Arbor in the mid-1990s. Bassist Geoff Streadwick was previously a member of the locally legendary Morsel, created 40 oz. Sound studio to record local talent, and sadly passed away many years ago while still a young, creatively brilliant man.
You can still find Gondolier’s music online thanks to their drummer, Jayson, on his Soundcloud page. Although those recordings remain amongst my favorite things, they pale in comparison to the jaw-dropping majesty of experiencing Gondolier in concert in a friend’s basement or Ann Arbor’s Blind Pig or the bar formerly known as Ypsilanti’s Cross Street Station.
For many years, I had a Gondolier t-shirt silkscreen-printed with the first single’s cover art by the company founded by Morsel’s bassist Brian Hussey. I wore it through seven kinds of hell until the damn thing nearly fell off my body. I still miss it.
Gondolier was three young men from Michigan who made music that inspired me and continues to inspire me to this day. I had the pleasure of interviewing them once, for a music review in a local publication. But nothing has ever compared to being right against the stage when they belted out the greatest sounds I’d ever heard.
They say that truth is stranger than fiction, and perhaps that statement is never more true than in the animal kingdom. In June, I posted a pre-publication draft of a story that involved a woman and a wasp attack. A couple nights ago, my sister called and told me an equally harrowing tale about how she had recently been attacked by a swarm of bees that came out of the ground! I knew some bees lived in the ground, but not massive hives of them.
In the same story, the narrator explained some of the more gruesome aspects of octopus reproduction—aspects I was unaware of when I first started writing octo stories back in 2015 or so. It turns out that in many cases, while the octos are getting their groove on, the female decides to strangle the male to death and eat him. That’s also her last meal, because she stops eating once she lays her eggs, and she dies around the time they hatch.
After twenty years in Phoenix, I thought I had seen it all. The monsoon season that peaks around August in Phoenix had done some terrible things to me. Once, I got caught on my bike in pitch-black night in a combination dust storm and rainstorm that was like a sheet of mud pouring right out of the sky.
Another time, I was trapped on my scooter in the middle of flooded streets, and cars and busses were trying to get past me in the dark, splashing massive waves against me, and I was pretty sure I was going to die before I got back to my lightless, powerless apartment to see if my cat was okay.
I guess at some point you just accept death as an option and keep going.
Tucson’s monsoons this year started earlier than I recall those in Phoenix rolling in, but they are no less violent. Last week, I got caught walking home from the store by a dust storm that turned the entire sky brown. Two days later, I got caught walking in one of the most insane rainstorms I have seen in twenty years. The big drops of sprinkles started in, and it wasn’t even minutes until I thought I was going to be knocked off my feet by the wind and drowned in the deluge at the side of the road. Cars and busses were pulling over because drivers couldn’t even see. By the time I made it home, I was drenched from head to foot.
So, Tucson monsoons surrounded by mountains and lightning, here is a poem for you. Now please stop trying to kill me.
Grey mountains perforated the underbelly of a great cloud that admitted no horizon, until nothing held back the rain.
City streets drowned, and vehicles lost their way, taking with them drivers, children, and families, until no one held back the rain.
The entire valley filled with rolling, churning torrents darkened by earth and history of earth, until no rim held back the rain.
No mortal knows what lies beyond, where only floodwaters venture. The deluge keeps her secrets well, and she never forgets the rain.
These seven seven-line poems go with the short story The Singing Spell. The subjects relate to the story, and the first letters of each line spell out the poem’s title. It’s not a form I usually work in, but I thought it would be fun to try something different. These poems now appear inMeteor Mags: The Second Omnibus.
Pressed close to the ground, a solitary huntress hungers to taste what scurries and forages unaware.
Calico colors—brown, black, and white— hide her in the sun-dappled forest floor.
Everything comes down to survival.
Before history, I knew you like a light or a lyric or the iridescence of a hummingbird.
Only now, nothing separates us.
Nurseries of infant stars, expectant giants and black holes hungering for birth, ushered into a theater of light and violent gravity where all who ever lived await eternity’s epilogue.
Maybe next time, I come back a stone. Nowhere to go or escape, just rock.
Sometimes you need to shed everything to find the right skin.
Pent-up explosions emerge as something new.
No one ever mourned the cell she escaped.
Fate remains silent, only speaking in unsolved mysteries.
Road signs vanish, and travelers lose their way until that unexpected night, when everything at last makes sense.
How we got here is less important than why.
Go as far as your heart can take you, and when you reach the arid edge of time, you will find me.
It looks like several people enjoyed the previous post featuring a poem about a bird from Pablo Neruda’s book, Art of Birds. I mentioned that all but the first and last poems in the collection are about one specific species of bird, but the second-to-last poem takes a liberty with that idea. In it, having painted dozens of magically expressive verbal portraits of birds, Neruda considers himself as a bird.
MeBird (Pablo insulidae nigra)
I am the Pablo Bird,
bird of a single feather,
a flier in the clear shadow
and obscure clarity,
my wings are unseen,
my ears resound
when I walk among the trees
or beneath the tombstones
like an unlucky umbrella
or a naked sword,
stretched like a bow
or round like a grape,
I fly on and on not knowing,
wounded in the dark night,
who is waiting for me,
who does not want my song,
who desires my death,
who will not know I’m arriving,
who will not come to subdue me,
to bleed me, to twist me,
or to kiss my clothes,
torn by the shrieking wind.
That’s why I come and go,
fly and don’t fly but sing:
I am the furious bird
of the calm storm.
Last year, I got an illustrated hardcover edition of Pablo Neruda’s book, Art of Birds, translated by Jack Schmitt with drawings by Jack Unruh. It was a bit of an accident, since I thought I was ordering a bilingual edition, and I wish this volume included the original Spanish. But even without the originals, this is a very cool addition to my Neruda collection. Every poem (with the exception of the first and last) is about one specific species of bird, and many of them are right up there with Neruda’s best and more well-known poems.
The following poem is about the austral blackbird, which I had never heard of before, so here is a link to read a little more about this bird, see a picture, and listen to 30 seconds of its unique song.
Austral Blackbird (curaeus curaeus)
Whoever looks at me face-to-face
I shall kill with two knives,
with two furious lightning bolts:
with two icy black eyes.
I was not born for captivity.
I have a wild army,
a militant militia,
a battalion of black bullets:
no seeded field can withstand.
I fly, devour, screech, and move on,
rise and fall with a thousand wings:
nothing can stop my determination,
the black order of my feathers.
My soul is a burned log,
my plumage pure coal:
my soul and suit are black:
that’s why I dance in the white sky.
While organizing my writing files today, I found my collection of blackout poems from a few years ago. Some were eventually combined or otherwise transformed into poems I published in Anything Sounds Like a Symphony. If you’re looking for off-beat inspiration for your own poetry adventures, give this method a shot. I didn’t invent it. It came to me through a friend of Austin Kleon, who made a name for himself doing this to pages of newspapers and launched a successful series of books including Newspaper Blackout and the New York Times Bestseller Steal Like an Artist.
I didn’t use newspapers, but a stack of National Geographic and old Playboy magazines, and odds and ends like an issue of Seattle’s Stranger.
You can do it with anything! In a writing course I took last January from Joanne Fedler, we did a similar exercise with our own material. We started with free-writing based on our recent dreams, just filling the pages with anything that came to mind, and then we highlighted only the most captivating words or short phrases. We used those as prompts for additional writing, like new starting points, but my highlighted pages resembled a blackout poem. Anyway, here’s the lot of them, from the archives.
An hour-long reading of fifty original poems selected from Anything Sounds Like a Symphony, Animal Inside You, and Never See the Night, along with two previously uncollected poems, all narrated by the author. This audiobook is now available on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. Ebook editions are available through Kindle and Smashwords and many other major ebook retailers. A paperback edition is available on Amazon so you can read along!