Tales from the Great Black Swamp is published irregularly by Maxima Strange, novelist, story writer, poet, artist, and currently curator at the Swamp.
I tried to write this poem on a typewriter.
The typewriter must be broken.
A blank page eats my fingertips.
I keep hammering space,
the only key still barely functioning,
until more and more blank pages
stare me in the face,
the taste of my tongue.
I would throw it all out the window
if it weren’t for pigeons
bearing psalms of peace and vanity.
Over my shoulder
Robert Bly sits at a council fire
jacking off the ghost
of his younger self
while screaming something
He is joined by the ghosts of
Abraham Lincoln and Hamlet’s father,
who chastise him with
banshee like battle hymns
and marching orders.
I can hardly hear them all
above the noise
of falling bombs,
bombs failing to hit the mark,
exploding in the periphery.
Ink splatters the blank
pages and my lips.
It tastes of blood.
how can we
speak of god?
The long line of my forebears
steals letters from my head
with red hands
that tattoo sin into my skin.
I have sent many characters in
pursuit of an all-father
only to watch them fall
into the belly of the beast
becoming trapped behind
cage-like typewriter keys
when the sword of Hamlet proves
stronger than my pen.
Lincoln can no longer spell tragedy
with that hole in his skull.
Overhead a circling hawk cries Katsu!
Its sharp talons reflect the sun
as it lets fall another bomb.
That which is whole explodes into chaos,
chaos becomes equation,
equation becomes form, and as the pieces
of the body fall back to earth
I see the words that have yet to be written:
The council fire is embers.
Robert Bly is still muttering under his breath,
but Lincoln has run out of lines to read
and the ghost of Hamlet’s father
The pigeons peck them all to pieces and
carry away some blank pages.
In the silence I notice
a pencil behind my ear.
It is short with no eraser,
I stole the pencil from a young
fisherman by the name of Manolin,
who in search of the Old Man
hauled the pencil in from amid
the wreckage of the Pequod,
where it had come to rest
upon the deck within the claws
of a murdered Albatross.
The pencil has changed many hands.
The typewriter is still broken,
but it no longer matters.
With this pencil I shall carve
words into the blank page before me.
Overhead a hawk cries, Katsu!
John Haworth is a poet and writer in pursuit of a modern mythology. His work has appeared in Under the Devil’s Thumb, The Boulder Weekly, Spit Poet, and Braided Way. John is a self-educated bibliophile peering under every rock and twig for the answers to questions he can’t remember asking. He lives in Nederland Colorado and is not haunted by waters.
Photo: Ian Battaglia
Alexandra Naughton is really cool and nice. She runs Be About It Press and writes poetry and novels. Find links to her work at alexandranaughton.com/publications
I was terrified of leeches when I was a girl. I was walking home from school with a boy who pointed at a hole in the ground and told me that bloodsuckers lived inside holes. When I got home, I asked my mom what a bloodsucker was. She informed me bloodsuckers were mutant worms that stuck themselves to your skin and sucked your blood and could not be pulled out with your fingers. She said the only way to get them out was to burn them.
I was extremely squeamish about blood and hellfire, and so the idea of having a big misshapen worm penetrating my flesh and swallowing my blood seemed like a horror movie scene. I saw myself fainting and falling down into a continually sucked pool of my own blood while burning in hell.
In my late teens, I found out about medicinal leeches. When they had no idea how to treat hysterical females, they would insert the leeches into women’s vaginas, in an attempt to alleviate their mental disorders by having blood sucked out of their female parts.
Sometimes my memory exaggerates things, but I’m telling you what I remember. The bloodsucking leeches are stuck inside women’s vaginas. They are almost impossible to pull out. Maybe that’s what it means to be a woman. Maybe you can’t control what’s stuck inside you and it will keep sucking and sucking and sucking the life out of you.
How in the hell would they remove a leech from a woman’s vagina? By sticking a cigarette inside her? By inserting a gloved set of fingers to probe and pry? Are there special medicinal instruments for extracting the leeches? Or for secretly inserting one inside of a woman forever?
In my adult life, I still hate the gynecologist. I still worry about what might be inside me. But I’m not as squeamish about blood as I used to be. After all, menstrual blood clots have been blobbing themselves out of my vagina every month for close to 30 years, so I’m pretty used to internal blood baths.
If a leech attached itself to my body now, I think I’d be able to handle it and even take a series of photos, watching it suck enough blood until it fell off me. As a little girl, I had no idea they could ever get enough blood and fall off on their own. As a teenager, I had to investigate everything unusual on my own.
I found out that trying to remove a leech by burning is one of the least effective forms of removal, because not only does that maim or kill the leech, it also has much more potential to injure you. Even if the fire makes the leech fall off, first that injured leech will vomit the sucked blood out of its body and into your body. That bloody vomit will enter your wound.
Then the violent infection of your own wound will work its way into your womb and you will keep growing more and more infected leeches and popping them out of your vagina like a hideous infestation of babies shaped like giant worms or tiny malformed blood sucking penises.
Juliet Cook is a grotesque glitter witch medusa hybrid brimming with black, grey, silver, purple, and dark red explosions. She is drawn to poetry, abstract visual art, and other forms of expression. Her poetry has appeared in a peculiar multitude of literary publications. You can find out more at www.JulietCook.weebly.com.
Photo: Erol Ahmed
I slip from troubled dreams
into that half-asleep state
where nostalgia often visits.
A magical time of comfort,
suggestion, even whimsy,
where old realities intertwine
with imaginary tomorrows
and wistful impossibilities
becoming welcomed moments
a felicitous reprieve.
Too soon, always too soon,
the icy fingers of an emerging day
reach inside my reverie
gripping me like an insect
ensnared in the spider’s silk.
With desperate reluctance
I grudgingly submit,
the illusion dissipating
as mist to a warming wind.
Walking to another empty day,
I begin, with weary resolve,
to search a thousand yesterdays
for that dusty relic stashed
behind sparkling neon ornaments
of halcyon days and nights,
imperfect mementos of passersby,
even within the chain-draped sarcophagi
of those things best left untouched.
Maybe there will be something,
a recollection hidden or misplaced,
worthy yet of remembrance,
to make this day matter
enough to let me matter still.
But for every glint of light
there is a shadow clinging,
every joy countered by doubt,
each laugh a fresh tear,
any kindness an atrocity.
My search ends as treasure hunts do,
with frustration, angry distraction
and a deflating sense of futility.
Memories, it appears, only matter
to the rememberer in the end
and remembering anything alone
is so damn lonely.
As vivid dawn absorbs me
into encroaching radiance
the unnamable lust rises again.
I recognize it at once,
felt its dark caress before:
when the rocks far below
beckoned with enticing relief;
in the oncoming headlights
of another night traveler
or when this current chapter began
and I pursued it with such zeal.
But I was naïve and tentative
like a teenaged boy the first time.
I know much more now.
The prospect of a long life
filled with this kind of tomorrow
is much more terrifying to me
than an eternity with the dead,
kindred spirits always near
who lie upon me heavily
like a comfortable old sweater
on a chilly fall afternoon.
My thoughts turn to them.
I want to know what they know,
see what they’ve seen when
their forever moment drew them
into its unsympathetic embrace;
when, like frost under of rising sun,
fear and hatred fell away,
pain and worry ended.
I want to know what I’ll see.
Will they all be waiting?
Everyone I loved, wanted to love?
Will I, at last, be home?
I can’t really know
until I join them.
Rick Anderson is incarcerated in Sterling Correctional Facility, Sterling Colorado, where he works in the library,. Writing poetry helps Rick endure the hardships of life in prison, and often returns him to his beloved nature.
There are some rules, like to never wear shoes, that you just refuse to obey. You pick up a piece of wood and start to see it become a hand, but also stay a tree. At night you
anonymously paste drawings of giant babies around your neighborhood. The plaza is still named Generalissimo Francisco Franco, even though it’s over 40 years after the fall of the dictatorship. Gary says to you, “You better look at a gun; you don’t know what a gun really looks like.” So for Valentine’s Day he gets you a plastic AK-47. Pharaoh’s army falls back.
Howie Good is the author of three recent collections, I’m Not a Robot from Tolsun Books, The Titanic Sails at Dawn from Alien Buddha Press, and What It Is and How to Use It from Grey Book Press.
Photo: Ashim D’Silva
Ethos shuffled into the food lounge groggily, barely daring to glance at the stony faces of mother and father. He began to eat his kalaj, a type of super rice; aware he was already late for school. He peered nervously towards his dad, but could see nothing of his expression for he was buried nose deep in the electronic paper. His eyes moved restlessly to his mother; but as they did, she turned away, rushing her plate over to the sink. Then she grabbed her purse and handheld robotic assistant (HRA) from the counter and hurried out the back door, murmuring absentmindedly about errands.
Ethos pushed away from the table roughly; young face wrinkled in disdain, making him appear older than he was. He shuffled into the bathroom, then returned to grab his backpack from where he’d tossed it on the couch Friday. His homework had lain there untouched the entire weekend. He rushed out the back door much as his mom had, neither he nor his father bothering to say a word. Their relationship was less than stellar. Ethos looked around; trying to get his mind off his parents, but what he saw only made him angrier. He hated Mars, hated every inch of it. Ever since they’d moved here when he was ten he had despised this stupid place.
They called it the “red planet” but it was actually more of a reddish-orange hue. He thought of the many varied surfaces of this planet, marred often by huge pock marks and rust colored volcanoes. Fights and civil riots had erupted over water shortages, and strange diseases had begun to run rampant, thanks to the new earth arrivals. The place was a cursed desert, a wasteland. They had been promised an oasis from wars that had scarred and nearly destroyed their home planet, but all Mars had given them was a whole new set of problems. Here everything was fake, even the looks of contentment on people’s faces; and that’s what bothered Ethos most of all. All the “blue collar workers” were robotic, every last one. All the materials used in every building and piece of furniture were new synthetics; known to cause cancer in the very old and young. These plastics were in everything, even shampoos, facial cleansers, and medicines; worming their way insidiously into every pore of their existence, every fiber of every being.
When Ethos closed his eyes in bed at night he could almost swear that he was tasting the plastic, way in the back of his mouth, under his tongue. It was a chemical flavor, the bitter tang of emptiness and disappointment. He could feel the synthetic material worming its way from organ to organ. One day it would reach his core and consume him whole. It was an unwelcome reminder of just where he found himself. But there was virtually no viable plant life here they could use for medicine, building, or anything else. Importing such materials was far too expensive and time consuming. They were trapped out here, destined to rot away on this scorched rock with what little resources they had left. Trapped with their disappointment, frustration, and anger.
Every day they were closer to death and eternal boredom, Ethos thought. He barely managed to stifle a yawn as he rolled blue-gray eyes and continued towards the high school. The only thing he ever looked forward to was band practice, which was after school in the music room. Music was his saving grace, and he had been in love with it since he first heard his father’s old recordings from their home planet. Earth was a warm and distant memory that now seemed far out of reach, but he still felt a deep connection to it; a longing for better, simpler times.
So when 3:00 pm rolled around he rushed out of his Advanced Calculus class and went to the music room. He was five minutes early, and his heart was pounding in the closest thing to excitement he’d felt in a long while. Blood rushed through his veins like wildfire and a light appeared from deep within his eyes. He removed his horn lovingly from its case as if it were a fragile living thing. He turned the instrument over in his hands, noticing how rusted it was becoming.
He played a few notes, and they came out slowly, reluctantly; a forlorn echo of their former beauty. Gently he coaxed a somewhat eerie tune from the belly of the sleeping beast. The depth and longing of the haunted melody filled the room and bounced back at him as if they were in an echo chamber, filling his ears with song. He relaxed and let the music take over his whole being, and he began to feel content for the first time in a long while.
The cerulean-white rust was soft like velvet in his mouth and almost powdery to the touch. This “Blue Rust”, as it had come to be known, was caused by harsh elements of Mars’ unique atmosphere that had a corrosive effect on all metal objects. The corrosion affected cars, musical instruments, and a host of other objects once deemed vital to human life. Ethos had watched with dismay as the caustic atmosphere of this most hated place slowly ate away at his deepest dreams, causing them to disappear right before his eyes.
Just then Mr. Hendrix, came in. He was a tall, quiet and very serious instructor; known to be a stickler for rules. He nodded and smiled at different students as they began to filter slowly into the room. Then he went to a large cabinet in the far corner. Frowning silently, he opened the doors with a special touch sensor and began to pull brown velvet bags from the cabinet. He came over to the nearby wall and began to remove pastel colored objects from the bags, placing them on a row of shelves neatly.
Several students came forward to see what was going on and some gasped audibly. Ethos jumped up and went over to the shelving system. The items appeared to be some sort of strange musical instruments. They almost looked like flutes or recorders, but the end of each instrument curled upward in a vine or flower like shape. They came in an assortment of hideously pale colors, from green to blue to yellow and pink. Ethos frowned deeply; big, stormy eyes peppering the teacher with unasked questions. The teacher returned his frown and his stare.
“Please turn in your instruments. They have been commissioned for research by the Technology Institute of Earth Majora. Please pile them in the corner near the cabinet. Thank you,” Mr. Hendrix mumbled, looking rather disgruntled.
“These are our new instruments. All made of plasticine, as you can tell. This is the newest version of the plastic hybrid, rumored to be stronger than steel,” the teacher added; but his tone was bored, expression unconvinced. He sighed and turned away, scurrying over to his desk like an unhappy rat; shoulders slumped in defeat.
That night Ethos tossed and turned. Sleep was an elusive thing he simply could not catch. He thought with disgust of the new plastic instruments, and his hands itched to hold his old metal horn and hear its forbidden magic one last time. Just then he thought he heard a creaking sound. He ran a hand through silvery hair with a sigh and got up. He opened his bedroom door, but heard nothing. He looked around the room, noting how chaotic it looked, right down to the cracks in the wall and smelly piles of rumpled clothes. He heard the sound again, only louder this time. His eyes widened slightly in surprise. The small crack in the wall over his bathroom door looked different, somehow larger. He strained to see into the crack, but all his eyes found were impenetrable darkness.
Then he heard the creaking sound again, three times in rapid succession. The tiny parallel crack in the wall appeared to be widening right before his eyes! He cautiously approached the closed bathroom door, opening it and peering inside, but seeing nothing. He went in and turned the light on. There was another crack in the bathroom wall above the corner of the door frame. This line ran nearly horizontal and then angled upwards. Ethos was shocked to see it too had grown slightly.
Then he heard a terrific groaning, as if the earth were contorting in tremendous pain. Suddenly the walls began to shake violently, sending everything on the counter and shelves onto the ground. Ethos tried to dart out of the way of falling objects but had no time to respond, grimacing as a can of shaving cream slammed into his shin. His eyes widened with horror as he watched the crack in the wall transform into a huge rift. Then the groaning noise grew, followed by a deafeningly loud tearing sound, as if the fabric of time and space were being ripped apart.
Suddenly the floor shifted beneath him and disappeared, leaving him falling through empty air, black as night. He closed his eyes in fright and tried to scream; but was so stunned nothing escaped but a child’s whimper. The sensation of falling was horrifying, as if he were trapped on an out of control roller coaster. His stomach dropped and then rose again; he felt cold air rushing past him as his descent continued. Never seeming to reach the bottom, his fear rose exponentially.
When Ethos opened his eyes he was stationary. He blinked in shocked when he recognized his surroundings. He was in his house, in the food lounge. Nothing looked out of the ordinary. He shook his head in a daze, running his fingers around his hairline and temple, checking for blood or bumps. But there was nothing; only a slight stain of sweat on his upper lip and the thundering of his racing heart in his ears.
He felt frantic and disoriented. He went through the whole house looking for his parents and younger sibling, but they were nowhere to be found. He returned to his bedroom, and the crack in the wall was gone, as if it had never existed! He raced outside, and as he did he was startled but how unnaturally bright it was for late afternoon. His limbs moved reluctantly, woodenly. He felt strange all over, heavy and light at the same time. Ethos looked down and was startled to see his legs pumping as he ran down the middle of the road; in the middle of their small neighborhood, where all houses looked the same. He began calling out his family members names, but there was no response.
The place had turned into a ghost town. There was not a soul to be seen, Ethos noticed with dawning trepidation. Then he realized that not only were there no people, there were no rusted, broken down cars, motorcycles, bikes, or trams. He came across a gold jetpack that was still running, lying on its side in the middle of the deserted road with a huge chip in it. He hesitated for a moment as he considered picking up the pack, but then decided not to. It was as if all the people and their vehicles had simply vanished. A strange, heavy silence filled the chilled air; blanketing and smothering the town like smog, muting its quaint, tired charm.
Ethos felt alarmed, yet somehow disconnected from everything. His lower limbs seemed impossibly far away; they looked smaller than before, and oddly shiny. They did not want to respond to his commands, nearly tripping him in their cumbersome flight. Something was very wrong. Ethos was overwhelmed by the urge to see himself reflected in a mirror. He had to know if this was real, or if there was something wrong with him. He struggled with a series of thoughts, each outcome more horrible than the next. By the time he burst into the nearest grocery store, he was wondering if he might be dead or unconscious.
The store was all lit up and eerily quiet. There was no one in sight, not a single worker or customer. Ethos froze, feeling queasy, heart beating in triple time now. Then he slowly made his way across the store to the public restroom; footfalls echoing noisily through quiet gloom of fluorescent lights and one day sales promotions. Ethos opened the door cautiously, eyes wide with fear. As he entered the restroom the smell of stale flesh, blood, and urine assaulted him.
Ethos frowned, face darkening perceptibly. He hated public restrooms. Hated weirdoes staring at him when he was trying to take a leak; and he hated cell phones being used in the restroom. But most of all he hated the smell. He reached up to pinch his nose shut with his right hand and was immediately puzzled. It seemed to take an hour for his hand to reach his face, as if he were in a dream. He watched the appendage approaching slowly like a landing plane, the shadow of his palm and fingers splashing across his face, obscuring vision.
He pinched the tip of his nose to block the scent, or at least he thought he had. His face felt numb. He could barely feel the cool pressure of his fingertips as they blocked off his nasal passages. He removed his hand, watching it slowly descend through the air in a blurry haze. He saw sinks all lined up neatly in a row; shapes distorted as if reflected in a funhouse mirror. Their dirt and grime was formidable; and the tall, oval mirrors were saturated with fingerprints and soap scum. They were so dirty it was as if a fog consumed them, giving them a grayish cast.
Ethos shuffled towards the first mirror and sink. The mirror began to contort itself to better capture and reflect his form. He felt cold, almost like a zombie. He snorted in derision at the thought, but no sound came out. Again he frowned, throat tightening until he could barely swallow. He came within full sight of the mirror just as it finished its shaping process, and instantly froze in shock.
He looked like himself and yet somehow different, far different. He reached out to touch the mirror. He tried to gasp but it was as if his face no longer worked. His hand touched the image in the mirror and began to rub at the reflection frantically, as if trying to erase it. He felt cold all over, colder than he had ever felt before. He felt seamless, shiny and new; yet empty and meaningless at the same time.
He reached up to touch his handsome young face and at last a sound emerged, a gasp that sounded garbled and distant. Slowly, with disbelief, the hard caress of his fingers found the cool rise of his cheek and traced its plastic curves slowly, lovingly. His hand froze in mid-stroke as his besieged mind struggled with disbelief. Finally Ethos opened his mouth wide to scream and the blue-black wail of a silver trumpet slowly emerged; echoing mournfully.
They’ve got post-modern
coming out the ears and
they can burp up contemporaries
just like that
where have all the French surrealists gone in Denver?
If I threw my shoe into the air
would it turn into a balloon?
They want to contextualize my shoes-
analyze them, analyze me, then compare
them to shoes of the past.
It makes my orangatang want to weep.
Our computers are draining our colors,
no longer can a man simply be
a walrus in a dream –
he must first be shown, first,
the circuits underneath.
Tom Christian is a queer poet currently living and working in Denver Colorado. At night he can be found wandering the streets, conversing with ghosts.
Elijah Lynch, aka Smiley Gatmouth (et.) is a writer, musician & educator from Denver, Colorado. He doesn’t play out much, but he quietly performs to himself and his ukulele almost every day on the lightrail. If you see him, you should probably ask him to play you a song.
Photo: Das Sasha