Saturday, May 1, 2010


To begin reading this sci-fi novel or for background information, go to my Chapter One post here. To read about the background of the first novel, read my post here, which will also direct you to appendices.

For more detailed information, posted elsewhere on this blog are:

Pya Dictionary from Skenish to English (complete up to present chapter), with some cultural notes included
Pya Cast of Characters (complete up to present chapter)
Owl Manage on Saya Island, original plans
Saya Island Eastern End After Development
Map of Pya with Description of Each Island
Map of Skene (but not Pya)
Map of Saya Island and Environs When Pyosz First Arrived
Map of Saya Island, Teppe and Pea Pods Environs After Development
Skene Character Lineage at Midway Through Pya Novel
Skene, Chapter One (With Cultural Notes in Links)


It was the first week of Kall in what had already been an unusually cold autumn and winter. One of the empty bedrooms upstairs had been fitted with special lamps offering heat and light for starts, but everyone agreed it was too early to plant even there. The ground had frozen twice, and there were no more greens or cabbage to be salvaged from the tillage. What little fresh produce the Manage required came from ejida greenhouses via Gitta's mark-up. Mostly they ate stews and casseroles which daily whittled away at Qala's shining rows of jarred bounty from last summer.

Some of those bright vegetables were being pureed with cream or butter and held to Qux's tiny ripe lips in the silver spoon Pyosz had used as a baby. Everyone laughed at the astonished expressions on Qux's face as her palate discovered undreamed marvels. Thleen seemed to be happy that Qux was being kept from sugary desserts -- "Not until she's two" Pyosz declared -- except for the one time Maar slipped the baby a mouthful of lemon custard. Qux's ardent approval of that confection made Maar declare "That's my child, all right!"

Which made Thleen's face go stony.

When Maar left for work each morning, Pyosz walked her to the jichang with Qux in her yameen and they watched Maar lift off. Qux now looked upward whenever heard the sound of aircraft, and she began watching the door in late afternoons when it was time for Maar to come home. Whosever arms she was in, she lurched in Maar's direction as Maar came their way, her grin its widest, making giddy gibberish in reply to Maar's questions about her day, her feelings, her thoughts.

Prl kept saying Qux was unusually coordinated for her age, in addition to being a large baby. She had of course been held and sung the Aga Song virtually constantly, especially by Halling who had been the family favorite for the Aga song for generations. It was in Halling's lap they first noticed Qux was earnestly trying to do her own pointing in response to the gently repeated questions:

Aga, aggie, abba, emma
Which one warms your milk?
Aga, aggie, abba, emma
Which one warms your hearth?
Aga, aggie, abba, emma
Which one warms your heart?

They had a hard time believing her intent right away, because she was only six months old and this was extremely early for such a skill. However, repeated observation made it clear, she was trying to aim her wobbly little fist at an emma or abba, or occasionally the aga. Yoj remarked this indicated not just body ability but language comprehension as well: She didn't talk yet, but she knew what she was being asked.

On this midweek day, the predinner hour was hectic. Thleen had a great deal of homework but insisted on doing it at the dining table where distractions were a problem. Maar as usual was on the floor with Qux, tickling and blowing on bellies and letting Qux tug painfully at her hair, the two of them in rills of squealing giggles. Lawa was pounding octopus on the kitchen floor because it was raining hard outside. By the time Thleen finished, Prl told her she only had time to do her chores and wash her hands before they ate.

Thleen grumbled through feeding the katts and carrying out compost. At the table, she complained she didn't like calamari and said the cabbage smelled like privy. Maar was utterly absorbed in helping Qux sample mashed lentils and potatoes, so it was finally Pyosz who said "You're being so crabby, Thleen, you're excused from clearing the table. Go start your bath instead."

Thleen slammed into the bath room. Everyone else, except Maar and Qux, found they had caught Thleen's short temper and did their chores in silence. Qux's capacity for laughter was endless, however.

Pyosz went upstairs to get the schmatta Thleen inevitably forgot before going in for a bath. She turned back Thleen's bed and put Opiche on her pillow. At the bottom of the stairs, Qala met her, asking "Is Cha up there?"

"She never goes upstairs" replied Pyosz. Which of course Qala knows. "Is she in the storage up on that shelf she likes?"

"I've looked everywhere down here" said Qala, an unusual note of worry in her voice. Pyosz took the schmatta in to Thleen, who was lying back with everything but her nostrils submerged. Pyosz leaned over the tub and tapped the tip of Thleen's nose, startling her upright with a splash.

"When you fed the katts, did you see Cha?" Pyosz asked her.

"I dunno, I don't count" said Thleen, still sullen. Maar and Qux's laughter echoed into the bath room, and Thleen submerged herself again. Pyosz went to the front door and pushed at it gently. The left side swung open. "Lev" she said. Qala, coming back downstairs, said "What?"

"I think the front door hadn't latched" said Pyosz. Qala pushed past her, calling Cha's name into the full dark. Pyosz hurried to the kitchen, doing a katt count on her way -- Shima was not in sight. As she pulled flashlights from the drawer, she said to Yoj "We think Cha may have gotten outside, and I don't see Shima anywhere, either."

Yoj replied "She goes to our bed to wash after dinner" and headed for her bedroom to verify. Lawa and Prl each took a flash and followed Pyosz onto the porch. Qala was somewhere near the point, calling "Here kitty kitty kitty" in a tense voice. Pyosz said "I'll do the barn" and headed south.

An hour later, every inch of Saya had been visited, even the woods full of rustles, and Cha had not been found. All the other katts were congregated near the hearth, solemn and awake. Thleen was weeping in Maar's lap on the porch, with Halling in Yoj's abba's rocker nearby holding a drowsy Qux.

"It's my fault!" Thleen blubbered to Pyosz as she returned, chilled and sick inside. "I left the door open when I took out the compost, oh, habibi, I'm so sorry!"

But Qala didn't reply. She said to Pyosz "Did you shift all the bales in the loft?"

"Yes" said Pyosz. "I even opened the feedbox and milk cooler." Qala replied "Maybe a bale fell over on her" and strode into the dark toward the barn, Lawa on her heels.

"Come on" said Maar, pushing Thleen to her feet. "You need to go to bed. You can sleep with us tonight." Pyosz said "I'll bring the baby up in a while."

Once they were out of earshot, Prl said "It looks bad."

Yoj said "Cha has a nasty habit of not coming when called, and she's very quiet in general." Clinging to hope thought Pyosz. And it's supposed to rain again before morning.

She took Qux from Halling and sat down in a chair when Qux plucked at her shati sleepily. As she began nursing Qux, she said "With all the racket in the living room, we wouldn't have heard...anything."

Halling said "Somebody needs to talk to Maar, about Thleen and Qux."

"That would be me" said Pyosz tiredly. She wanted to explain to them about how this child was one Maar had the chance to decide should come into the world, a child who was acknowledged from the outset as hers. They didn't know how Thleen's constant crying as a baby had resulted in her being pushed onto Maar, the only family member who could bear to be around her distress -- but Qux almost never cried, and fair or not, Maar took personal satisfaction from it.

Qala and Lawa returned, Lawa saying "We're going to climb into the attic."

"Thleen is going to bed in our room with Maar" said Pyosz. Qala didn't reply. They were back downstairs in ten minutes, grey resignation on Qala's face. Yoj said to Pyosz "Go on to bed, we'll sit up together" and Pyosz stood without jostling Qux who was now solidly out. She kissed Qala's cheek but found no words to say.

Thleen was spooned back into Maar, both of them asleep with the lamp on. Pyosz checked Qux's diaper and tucked her into the Isola Fling cradle. Qux didn't mind sleeping in the cradle. When she woke, she would make sounds to get attention that couldn't really be called fretting, and of course attention was always immediately at hand. Pyosz lay down facing Thleen and Maar, and whispered "It's not your fault" before exhaustion overtook her.

She woke without knowing why at first, then realized her breasts were leaking milk before she heard Qux's small burblings. Her body responded to Qux's hunger even when Pyosz was unconscious, a fact that still amazed her. It must be 4 a.m., Qux was like clockwork and had shown no inclination to give up that feeding. Pyosz picked her up groggily and sat in the velvet chair, stealing a quilt to wrap around them and tucking her feet beside her. One moon was still up, and Pyosz studied the dark, glinting beauty of Qux's eyes as she nursed.

"I never saw anyone looked as good as you" she whispered. "I understand why emma risked exile to make me. I'd do anything for you, anything on Skene." Qux grinned milkily. She had deep dimples that were visible even when she was at the breast.

Pyosz tucked a cushion against the chair arm to help hold Qux in place and dozed off before Qux was done. She woke up again with a jerk and Qux chuckled at her. She was very good about returning to sleep for an hour or two after the morning feeding, and Pyosz changed her once more before putting her in the cradle with her stuffed sheep. As Pyosz sat down on the bed, she heard a small scrabble at the door which caused Curds to lift her head and look alertly in that direction. Pyosz suddenly remembered Cha was missing and had a brief hope it was her at the door before realizing it had to be Clicker looking for Thleen.

In the next instant, she recalled walking by the cabin a few days earlier and seeing Clicker scratching determinedly at the bottom wall, at the area where Pyosz and Mrebbe had created an opening for the geothermal pipe which finally brought her heat in those ancient-seeming times. She had yelled at Clicker to stop because she was damaging the thick overgrowth of vines on that wall, and she'd wondered if a shu might be in the small crawl space she'd dug under the floor to run the pipe.

She was on her feet instantly, grabbing her otos and stepping into them once outside the door. Clicker rushed into the bedroom as Pyosz took the stairs two at a time. She picked up a flash from those stacked on the floor inside the front door. It was drizzling outside, and Qala was sitting in the rocker, wrapped in a blanket. "Milking time already?" she asked woodenly.

"I had an idea" said Pyosz, and the surge of hope on Qala's face made Pyosz forget about going back in for a burzaka. Still draped in the blanket, Qala squelched after her as Pyosz trotted to the cabin. A play of the flash showed the vine had been severely cut away from the trellis, with long scrapes of freshly upturned earth.

Qala dropped to her knees and hooked fingers behind the flashing Mrebbe had nailed to close off the gap. Despite the rain hitting her unprotected head, Pyosz clearly heard the deep growl coming from under the cabin. "It's me, Cha" said Qala. "Come out, come on, kitten, I'll protect you." She repeated this a few times, but Cha's face did not appear at the hole. Instead, they heard a pathetic meow.

Qala was trying to rip back the metal with bare hands. "Wait, abba, don't do is that way" said Pyosz, handing her the flash and thudding to the barn, Killer was at the door, and all of the goats were awake, curious at this change in routine. Pyosz grabbed a prybar and metal snips. Back at the cabin, Qala was lying flat in the mud, peering into the hole. "There's blood" she said grimly.

Pyosz ruthlessly removed all of Mrebbe's handiwork, her slick hands struggling for purchase, until Qala said "I can reach her," As she put both hands into the hole, Pyosz darted into the cabin and returned with the coverlet from the bed. Qala had risen to her knees, cradling Cha who was making a strange mix of purring and crying. Pyosz lifted the flash from beside the hole and gasped at the tear in Cha's matted chest, the dried blood all down her front and legs.

"We have to get her to help" said Qala.

"Ulcha, she can fix it" said Pyosz. Her drenched schmatta clung to her unpleasantly, but she walked with the flash close beside Qala who had wrapped Cha in the coverlet to keep her dry. Tide was high and close to the boards of Herne's bridge. Tu answered their door, clicking her tongue at their state and yelling upstairs before leading them to the hearth and starting a fire.

Qala insisted on being the one to hold Cha as Ulcha examined her thoroughly under the kitchen light. By the time she was done, Pyosz was shivering despite having changed into some of Frank's clothes and drinking hot tea. Qala had accepted a blanket over her shoulders but looked ashen.

Ulcha said "It didn't reach major organs. Some muscles are ripped, as well as extensive skin damage. I need to numb it all before I clean and stitch it. She a biter?"

"No" said Qala.

"She's in shock, I'm more worried about that" said Ulcha. She looked at Frank and asked "You have saline here?"

"Yeah, a couple of bottles."

"Warm it to blood temperature like you would a baby bottle, I'll inject it under the skin on her back" said Ulcha. "Katts can slowly absorb fluids that way, it'll warm her core and rehydrate her. I need to sterilize my kit first."

Pyosz drank another cup of tea and noticed rosy-grey light at the window over the sink. "Abba, I should go home. I have to milk and they'll be frantic when they wake up to find us gone. I'll send Lawa to take my place, but please, get out of those wet clothes, you're doing her no favors keeping her next to you when you're chilled, too." Qala nodded, and Pyosz left.

She heard Maar calling her name as she approached the kissing gate. Maar was standing by the cabin, staring at the blanket left in the mud. She shared her umbrella with Pyosz as they returned to the Manage. Lawa bolted out the front door before Pyosz had finished telling the story. Pyosz drank a third cup of tea before going to milk, promising Maar she'd sleep some more when she was done with delivery. Maar left for work under duress.

As Pyosz walked to the wharf in Koldok two hours later, Briel caught up with her, saying "Lawa called, she wants me to check on Qala." At Owl Manage, Yoj was holding Cha in a hearthside chair. She said "Lawa bullied her into a hot bath, they'll be out any minute." Thleen was still there, playing distractedly with Qux, and when Pyosz looked at her, Thleen said "Abba told me I could stay home today and help take care of everybody, Ziri can bring my lessons to me." Pyosz said okay, and accepted the bowl of oatmeal Prl gave her, noticing her own hands still felt cold.

Briel put Qala to bed with poultices and tincture, Cha curled beside her. Yoj enlisted Thleen's aid in soup-making, Halling went to fish alone, and Prl took the baby so Pyosz could go sleep as well. She felt much better when she got up for lunch. But when she went into the kitchen, she heard coughing coming from Qala's bedroom. She looked at Prl, who said "I called Briel, she'll be back this afternoon. In the meantime, Thleen and emma have gone to the clinic to pick up an antibiotic."

Qux in Prl's arms reached for Pyosz, but Pyosz was too distracted to take her. "Is Lawa in there with abba?"

"Yes, making her sit up over a steam pot. Cha ate a little, and that's when Qala finally cried. She's our rock, you know, she;d done nothing but give to this family, and for this to have made her fall apart..." Prl didn't finish. Halling was silently breading fish filets, the lines in her face deep.

Pyosz went to the door and knocked before entering. She knelt at Qala's feet, rosemary fumes from the steam pot making her almost dizzy, and said "I hear Cha is better."

Qala wheezed slightly as she replied "She keeps purring. Ulcha said to encourage her to walk but she doesn't want to leave my side yet."

"She's a tough old katt, to have faced down that monster of an owl" said Pyosz. "And smart, locating that bolt-hole."

"Pank and Tu came over and repaired it" said Lawa. "One more big lung full, sweetheart, and you can lie back down."

Qala's eyes looked feverish. Pyosz said "Have you eaten?"

"A coddled egg, and some of Yoj's broth" Lawa answered. She carried the steam pot into the kitchen while Pyosz got Qala covered with quilts again.

By dinnertime, Briel said it was definitely pneumonia and agreed with Lawa that moving Qala to the clinic would be harder on her than leaving her in place. The Manage thermal heat was turned up, everyone else in light clothes, and Dodd brought over a bottle of oxygen plus other supplies after Briel's call. Family came and went, wincing at every cough and stricken silent by Qala's appearance. She was no longer entirely conscious, although she seemed acutely aware of Cha's proximity and became restless if Lawa left the room.

Maar called Mill and said since the next day was Roku, she wanted the whole day off and Mill said of course. Thleen had dark circles around her eyes. Pyosz said "We need you to sleep with us again tonight, okay?" and the relief on Thleen's face made her chest ache. Nioma arrived and sent them upstairs early, saying "We all have to take turns looking out for each other. You get rest and relieve us in the morning." Pyosz looked at Prl's face, with Nioma standing close to her, and felt the same sort of relief she imagined Thleen was.

Nobody went to Market. Maar finally pried Thleen loose from her obsessive hovering around Qala's door by sending her to Kacang for the afternoon. Pyosz was certain Lawa had not slept more than 15 minutes at a stretch. She tended Qala with constant reassurance, replying to Qala's frequently incoherent mutterings. Briel had told them the pneumonia was not likely contagious, Qala's immune system had simply failed, but Pyosz was still worried for all her elders, especially Lawa, and was also washing her hands frequently before touching Qux.

Because it was winter, the focus of the Manage had shifted to things like knitting, quilting, repairing and sharpening tools, and for the gakushas, immersion in study and writing. They all tried now to resume these activities. Pyosz would later remember it as a weekend where time seemed to halt for long stretches.

Before Cha went missing, she had packed her kiln to the brim with an assortment of ceramics. She'd been producing a great deal this winter. Working in her studio meant a separation from Qux, because the ever-present dust from slip was not something babies should be around. But she'd found she liked the break, and certainly Qux had plenty of abbas to fight for her company. Pyosz now went to unload her kiln.

Cha had been up to use the litter box and enjoy her current exalted status among the Manage katts. She tottered toward the front door as Pyosz opened it, and Pyosz slipped out quickly -- Cha needed to stay near Qala. Pyosz heard her otos crunching on the porch boards, which meant a light coating of ice. Her studio was profoundlu cold, and she turned on the thermal before opening her kiln.

Only one broken item, less than she had feared with such a full load of differing widths and shapes. At the back was a set of six shallow soup bowls in persimmon glaze. The bottoms of each bowl were decorated with shallots, garlic bulbs, purple onion and stalks of lemon grass. She had been thinking of Qala when she created the design. She set down the first bowl carefully before bursting into tears. She found her potting stool and sat down blindly, lowering her face into her palms.

What will I do without her? She's been at the heart of my notion of home all my life. Her moving in at the Archivist's made it possible for emma to go ahead with having me. Nobody has ever called her emma, but she's unflinchingly raised generations of us all the same.

Even worse, a thought she couldn't bear to formulate, was how badly it would hurt Thleen to lose Qala this way. She'll never forgive herself was as close as she could get to the horror.

When she was cried out, she couldn't find a clean rag to wipe her face and had to use her sleeve. She stacked a few of the new pots she wanted to save for Owl Manage, including two of the onion bowls, and left without doing any work.

Halling was coming down the ramp on her scooter. "I'm going to the greenhouse, see if I can't put together a fresh bouquet" she told Pyosz.

"That's a great idea. Oh, lev -- has anybody been to check on the vents and temperature?" said Pyosz, stricken.

"No but it'll be okay, at worst it'll be a little dry. I'll take over the greenhouse for now" said Halling.

"Can you reach the levers?" asked Pyosz.

"Yes" said Halling, crackling down the path.

Inside, Qux was napping in her bumper next to Maar on the sofa. Prl and Nioma were creating stock, and Prl was finishing the three-hour process of making onion soup according to Qala's recipe. They were absorbed in a conversation about chromosome drift. Pyosz peeked into the small bedroom off the kitchen. Qala was propped on pillows with an oxygen mask on her face, but she seemed to be sleeping. Lawa was curled protectively beside her, also asleep by the sound of her snoring. Yoj had claimed the corner at the foot of the bed where she could lean against the wall. She was knitting yet another miniature jumper for Qux, this time of azure yarn. She made the "quiet" sign to Pyosz, who nodded and retreated.

She washed her ceramics, which drew Prl's attention, causing her to exclaim over the designs. She said quietly to Pyosz "Having Yoj in there seems to give Lawa permission to drop off."

"Her fever go down?"

"Never below 100. Briel and Dodd are coming for dinner" said Prl. Pyosz shrugged off her worry and went to wash diapers, a never-ending chore.

When Thleen got home an hour later, Pyosz was coming downstairs from hanging wet clothes on a rack in a spare bedroom. "I drew a picture of Cha for habibi, can I show it to her?" Thleen asked.

"Let's go ask Yoj -- quietly." They walked by Maar holding Qux, who reached for them both. "In a minute, darling" Pyosz said to her.

Qala was sitting up accepting sips of onion soup from Lawa. Pyosz said "Abba, that's a brand new bowl I made with you in mind, if you finish that soup you'll get to see something special in the bottom." Qala looked at her with more lucidity than she'd shown all day.

Thleen poked her head nervously around the door. "Hey" said Qala. "I missed you."

Thleen surged toward the bed. "Look, I drew this for you!" Pyosz could tell Qala was having trouble focusing, but she reached out one trembling hand and took the sheet of paper.

"Now that is lovely. Cha, you've been immortalized. Maybe we could hang this by the bed, okay?" Qala waved away the rest of the soup. She handed the paper to Pyosz and put a grey-looking hand on Thleen's wrist. "I want to tell you something. When I die, I want you to look after Cha, will you do that for me?"

Thleen froze. Pyosz was fairly certain Yoj wasn't breathing either. Qala's eyes glittered intensely, and Pyosz suddenly realized she was burning up again.

Qala continued, her voice a little slurred, "Thleen, of all the children this family has brought my way, you're the one closest to my heart. You remind me of me. Don't forget that, I want you to remember how much you mean to me."

Thleen's voice was raw. "I won't forget, habibi, I want to be just like you."

Qala turned to look at Yoj and said "Why hasn't Bux come to see me? Is she still holding a grudge against me after all this time?"

Lawa shoved the bowl toward Pyosz and said "I need to give you some more medicine, honey, lie back down here and cover up."

"I don't like these covers, I'm too hot" complained Qala. Pyosz tugged Thleen out of the room with her, putting the drawing on the counter until she could find tape to stick it up. Thleen looked gutted. Pyosz picked up Qux and said "Thleen, come up to the study with me, I have some midwinter gifts that still need wrapping, will you help me?" Thleen followed her numbly.

Half an hour later, Maar joined them, smelling of fried chicken. Pyosz pulled her aside and told her what Qala had said, adding "Take Thleen out for a walk, bundle up and go as long as it takes for her to let out some of what's bottled up inside. I've got Qux."

Maar nodded, her eyes bruised. She hugged Quix briefly before handing her back to Pyosz, Qux struggling mightily against the transfer. By the time Maar and Thleen returned, Dodd, Briel, Uli and Qoj were there, helping put dinner on the table.

Pyosz told Maar quietly "Briel changed her antibiotic but at this point she thinks it's viral. Which means abba has to fight her way through it."

Later Pyosz wouldn't clearly remember the rest of that night or the next day. She could recall how right before dinner on Sju, Qala's breathing grew stertorous. Briel made a bowl of ice water and had Lawa wash Qala's hands and face over and over with a cloth dipped in the cold liquid to bring down her fever. Yoj and Halling sat in a chair beside the bed to help subdue Qala's protests against this, and keep her from removing the oxygen mask or the intraveous line Briel had inserted.

Prl and Nioma had Qux in the great room, with Pank and Tu nearby. Dodd placed a chair near the bedroom door and tuned her violin. Yoj called to her "Play the 'spring is almost here' song, she loves that one." Dodd drew her bow in a long note across the strings, and Qala went still, turning her head to listen.

Pyosz pushed into the bedroom with Thleen and sat on the floor against the outside wall, Thleen in her lap. In a minute Maar joined them, getting up briefly for a blanket to drape over their backs. They listened to the waves of music eddying through the room, high sweet notes that sometimes Qala tried to breathlessly sing to. At one point, Pyosz heard Mill's voice in the great room. Her breasts were engorged and she needed to nurse Qux, but she counted on Prl keeping the baby fed. She was pouring her energy into Thleen, she and Maar together.

Dodd never tired. Yoj later said it was right before 10:00 that Qala had a seizure and then began gasping. Briel was bent over her, saying "This is the crisis, abba, swim through this and you'll be all right."

"Don't go, don't leave me" begged Lawa. Qala kept gasping, one long shuddering breath after another. Pyosz counted them, with Thleen's face pressed against her neck. After the ninth and worst, there was sudden quiet. Pyosz couldn't see Qala clearly, there were too many clustered around her. She clutched Thleen tightly, begging silently for somebody to help -- Bux, abba, can't you fix this?

Then she heard Lawa say "Look, she's drenched, her schmatta is dripping" and Briel replied "She broke the fever. She did it. Let's dry her off and change her before she chills." There was a flurry of activity at the bed, sheets being stripped away and replaced as Maar stood to go lift Qala like a child and hold her. When she lay Qala back down, they heard her murmur "I'm so tired."

"You can sleep now" said Briel, wiping tears from her cheek with the flat of one hand. She stepped out of the room and said "She passed the crisis." Pyosz heard Prl's sob over Dodd's playing, which had not faltered. She lifted Thleen's chin to look into her face and say "She's past the worst. Come on, we need to let her rest now, it's okay to leave the room."

In the kitchen, Briel said "She's still at risk, this will be a long recovery."

"She'll do it" said Yoj. "She wants to be here." She turned to Dodd and kissed her forehead, saying "You can stop now. She's back on dry land." Dodd gently put away her violin and bow before bursting into sobs, leaning forward with her face in Briel's stomach.

"We have a bed for you upstairs" Nioma told Briel. "Whenever you need it." Pyosz looked at Maar, who collected the sleeping baby and walked upstairs with her and Thleen. After everyone else in the dark bedroom was sound asleep, Pyosz lay looking at the sky over Puaa Woods, a golden crescent of Delma about to spill her honey onto dark Pya. A practice run she said to herself. No dodging what will eventually hunt them all down, one by one. Ember settled heavily on her hip and Pyosz welcomed the weight pinning her to mortal earth.

Copyright 2010 Maggie Jochild.


Friday, April 30, 2010

"WOMEN DON'T RIOT" by Ana Castillo

April, otherwise known as Poetry Month, is now over but I still have one favorite lined up to share, so consider this lagniappe. Tomorrow I'll return to posting daily quotes instead.


by Ana Castillo

Women don't riot, not in maquilas in Malaysia, Mexico, or Korea,
not in sweatshops in New York or El Paso.
They don't revolt
in kitchens, laundries, or nurseries.
Not by the hundreds or thousands, changing
sheets in hotels or in laundries
when scalded by hot water,
not in restaurants where they clean and clean
and clean their hands raw.

Women don't riot, not sober and earnest,
or high and strung out, not of any color,
any race, not the rich, poor,
or those in between. And mothers of all kinds
especially don't run rampant through the streets.

In college those who've thought it out
join hands in crucial times, carry signs,
are dragged away in protest.
We pass out petitions, organize a civilized vigil,
return to work the next day.

We women are sterilized, have more children
than they can feed,
don't speak the official language,
want things they see on TV,
would like to own a TV--
women who were molested as children
harassed, which means
every last one sooner or later;
women who've defended themselves
and women who can't or don't know how
we don't--won't ever rise up in arms.

We don't storm through cities,
take over the press, make a unified statement,
once and for all: A third-millennium call--
from this day on no more, not me, not my daughter,
not her daughter either.

Women don't form a battalion, march arm in arm
across continents bound
by the same tongue, same food or lack thereof,
same God, same abandonment,
same broken heart,
raising children on our own, have
so much endless misery in common
that must stop
not for one woman or every woman,
but for the sake of us all.

Quietly, instead, one and each takes the offense,
rejection, bureaucratic dismissal, disease
that should not have been, insult,
shove, blow to the head,
a knife at her throat.
She won't fight, she won't even scream--
taught as she's been
to be brought down as if by surprise.
She'll die like an ant beneath a passing heel.
Today it was her. Next time who.

(Written 1998, Chicago; for N.B.S.)


Thursday, April 29, 2010


In 1973, the year I graduated high school, Violet Press (which I think was mostly Fran Winant) published a chapbook-sized anthology called We Are All Lesbians. It was the first lesbian poetry anthology in America and likely the world. I got a copy in around 1974 which I still own.

It was mostly handwritten with line drawings and press-on type titles. You simply can’t comprehend the impact of early works like this if you didn’t live through those times. It was like getting a letter from the future.

The entire anthology is available online via the Lesbian Poetry Archive. I’m copying below three of the poems which affected me the most then and have stood up through the years.


by Lee Lally (for Jane)

You woke from a dream,
the revolution
in the streets
calling you out.
I had to tell you
the noises were not in your dream.
The army of lovers
was saying goodnight
at the foot of the stairs.
Loud sounds.
It was the revolution.
You were not sleeping
or dreaming


by Elsa Gidlow

souled, fire-hearted
Psappha of Mitylene on
sea-lapped Lesbos
miracle of a woman
(Strabo wrote)
now now
let me declare

Not light years love years
oh how many love years
across the fields of the dead
does your fragrance
travel to me?
Since maidenhood in brain blood
by you haunted
in my armpits I have breathed
sweat of your passion
in the burning crotch of the lover
tasted your honey
heard felt in my pulse
lure of your song's beat
insistently echo.
By dust of five-and-twenty centuries
not smothered
by book-consuming flames of
the hate-filled churchmen
your fame only haloed made
more splendid.
Sappho, little and dark,
the Beautiful, Plato called you
(though his Republic had
grudging use for poets)
Sappho, whose veins ran fire
whose nerves
quivered to loves illicit now
in your day
honored by the noblest
Sappho, all roses,
do we not touch
across the censorious years?


by Fran Winant

Gertrude I have your voice on a record
and I listen to it
when I do exercises in the morning
feeling your rhythms on my skin
Emily when I’m lonely
I think of your face
with its quiet look of endurance
you’re my friends
marking places in time
where my consciousness existed
before me
you had to hide
and so became obscure
Gertrude your language was called hermetic
as in 'hermetically sealed'
you were a nonsense woman
they tried to make you a clown
your writing was called
stream of consciousness
so it couldn’t make sense
your consciousness
couldn’t be allowed to make sense
when you talked about
"tender buttons"
were those breasts you meant
when you asked
"when do I see lightning"
and answered
"every night"
were you talking about making love
Emily who thought to look at you
myth of a spinster
wounded by emotions
too deep for physical touch
religious mystic mulling over
god-bones snow flakes and death
when you praised madnessand insisted
"the soul selects its own society"
described the people around you
as a world "that never wrote to me"
everyone thought
poor woman
what made her stay indoors so long
and never come out
if only we knew
well now we do
Gertrude at least you lived
the life you wanted
you would have felt better
if you could have said it
even at the expense of not creating
that hard to follow style
you needed
to be able to write at all
without quite lying
Emily if only you could have
lived it
instead of having to bite your lip
and count your losses
"my life closed twice
before its close"
I don’t know if being gay
is part of what you’d want
to be remembered for now
but you’re my friends
in our past lives
we were all
Gertrude Stein and Emily Dickinson
in your present lives
you are us
telling the truth
and living it too
at last



(Jet in Carina)

Every Thursday, I post a very large photograph of some corner of space captured by the Hubble Space Telescope and available online from the picture album at HubbleSite, followed by poetry after the jump.


by May Swenson

I always felt like a bird blown through the world.
I never felt like a tree.

I never wanted a patch of this earth to stand in,
that would stick to me.

I wanted to move by whatever throb my muscles
sent to me.

I never cared for cars, that crawled on land or
air or sea.

If I rode, I'd rather another animal: horse, camel,
or shrewd donkey.

Never needed a nest, unless for the night, or when
winter overtook me.

Never wanted an extra skin between mine and the sun,
for vanity or modesty.

Would rather not have parents, had no yen for a child,
and never felt brotherly.

But I'd borrow or lend love of friend. Let friend be
not stronger or weaker than me.

Never hankered for Heaven, or shield from a Hell,
or played with the puppets Devil and Deity.

I never felt proud as one of the crowd under
the flag of a country.

Or felt that my genes were worth more or less than beans,
by accident of ancestry.

Never wished to buy or sell. I would just as well
not touch money.

Never wanted to own a thing that wasn't I born with.
Or to act by a fact not discovered by me.

I always felt like a bird blown through the world.
But I would like to lay

the egg of a world in a nest of calm beyond
this world's storm and decay.

I would like to own such wings as light speeds on,
far from this globule of night and day.

I would like to be able to put on, like clothes,
the bodies of all those

creatures and things hatched under the wings
of that world.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

(Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, and Basket)


by Gertrude Stein

I love my love with a v
Because it is like that
I love my love with a b
Because I am beside that
A king.
I love my love with an a
Because she is a queen
I love my love and a a is the best of them
Think well and be a king,
Think more and think again
I love my love with a dress and a hat
I love my love and not with this or with that
I love my love with a y because she is my bride
I love her with a d because she is my love beside
Thank you for being there
Nobody has to care
Thank you for being here
Because you are not there.
And with and without me which is and without she she can be late and then and how and all around we think and found that it is time to cry she and I.

(from Before the Flowers of Friendship Faded Faded)



Here's the weekly best of what I've gleaned from I Can Has Cheezburger efforts. There are some really creative folks out there -- including, back with a vengeance here on the front page, our own little gator.



I don't typically write in rhyme, mostly because such poetry won't get published, but those who do it well are justly on the list of immortal greats. To do it well, you must possess not only a virtually unlimited vocabulary but, even more, the skill to hear and flawlessly replicate meter and rhythm as it occurs in tne marrow of speech. Few do it better, or make it look more easy, than Frost. He's hard to get enough of.

Below are three of his best, all deceptively short, with short words, structurally perfect, which deal with extremely complicated and often contradictory ideas. Again, worth memorizing: Having them in your head, to repeat to yourself at certain times, will serve you in ways you cannot imagine. And they'll become brand new to you again.


Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.


(If you haven't read S.E. Hinton's "The Outsiders". do it now.)

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.


(Frost found himself unable to remember the poem he had written to present at JFK's inauguration in 1961 and instead recited this one -- a much better choice.)

The land was ours before we were the land's.
She was our land more than a hundred years
Before we were her people. She was ours
In Massachusetts, in Virginia,
But we were England's, still colonials,
Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,
Possessed by what we now no more possessed.
Something we were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith found salvation in surrender.
Such as we were we gave ourselves outright
(The deed of gift was many deeds of war)
To the land vaguely; realizing westward,
But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,
Such as she was, such as she would become.


Monday, April 26, 2010


(Sappho, painted by Charles Mengin, 1877)

Despite my mother flooding our house with books as much as she was able, we often lived in places without libraries and for me they were magnetic, magical places. (Still are.) When I went to college, I went to the massive university libary every day. I often simply wandered the stacks, pulling out volumes whose title looked interesting, stacking them in heaps at my carrel to browse or check out. I looked up "lesbian" and "gay" in the card catalogue but was still too frightened to check one of these books out, even from the women I suspected were all dykes at the front desk.

Until one day, I was walking along a dimly lit, dusty row and a small red volume literally fell off the shelf in front of me. I was startled, and glanced inside before returning it to its place: It was a tiny collection of Sappho's poetry. I felt cold run down my spine, and looked around to see if anyone else had witnessed this. But nobody was near. I stood there and read until a fragment, about a red dress, sent more shivers through me. After that, I was able to find the courage to check out "lesbian" books, always stuffed between several other innocuous tomes.

Biography of Sappho by Alix North
"One of the great Greek lyrists and few known female poets of the ancient world, Sappho was born some time between 630 and 612 BC. She was an aristocrat who married a prosperous merchant, and she had a daughter named Cleis. Her wealth afforded her with the opportunity to live her life as she chose, and she chose to spend it studying the arts on the isle of Lesbos.

"In the seventh century BC, Lesbos was a cultural center. Sappho spent most her time on the island, though she also traveled widely throughout Greece. She was exiled for a time because of political activities in her family, and she spent this time in Sicily. By this time she was known as a poet, and the residents of Syracuse were so honored by her visit that they erected a statue to her.

"Sappho was called a lyrist because, as was the custom of the time, she wrote her poems to be performed with the accompaniment of a lyre. Sappho composed her own music and refined the prevailing lyric meter to a point that it is now known as sapphic meter. She innovated lyric poetry both in technique and style, becoming part of a new wave of Greek lyrists who moved from writing poetry from the point of view of gods and muses to the personal vantage point of the individual. She was one of the first poets to write from the first person, describing love and loss as it affected her personally.

"Her style was sensual and melodic; primarily songs of love, yearning, and reflection. Most commonly the target of her affections was female, often one of the many women sent to her for education in the arts. She nurtured these women, wrote poems of love and adoration to them, and when they eventually left the island to be married, she composed their wedding songs. That Sappho's poetry was not condemned in her time for its homoerotic content (though it was disparaged by scholars in later centuries) suggests that perhaps love between women was not persecuted then as it has been in more recent times. Especially in the last century, Sappho has become so synonymous with woman-love that two of the most popular words to describe female homosexuality--lesbian and sapphic have derived from her. "

"To Andromeda"

That country girl has witched your wishes,
all dressed up in her country clothes
and she hasn't got the sense
to hitch her rags above her ankles.


He is more than a hero
He is a god in my eyes--
the man who is allowed
to sit beside you--he
who listens intimately
to the sweet murmur of
your voice, the enticing
laughter that makes my own
heart beat fast. If I meet
you suddenly, I can't
speak--my tongue is broken;
a thin flame runs under
my skin; seeing nothing,
hearing only my own ears
drumming, I drip with sweat;
trembling shakes my body
and I turn paler than
dry grass. At such times
death isn't far from me


Stand up and look at me, face to face
My friend,
Unloose the beauty of your eyes...


Love shook my heart,
Like the wind on the mountain
Troubling the oak-trees.


The Moon is down,
The Pleiades. Midnight,
The hours flow on,
I lie, alone.


Sunday, April 25, 2010

SPRING AND FALL: TO A YOUNG CHILD by Gerard Manley Hopkins

(An old tree from Tanzania, photo by Diego Goldberg)

When I was nine, I memorized this poem by Hopkins because it had my name in the first line and because it made me cry for reasons I couldn't understand.


Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By & by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep & know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow's springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What héart héard of, ghóst guéssed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.