Blemmya

I.

Headless, hunched here: how heroes hove haphazardly home,
heavy (with) hearsay histories, hollow (with) heeding,
horizon-haunted hunters, homeric handers, handicapped haberdashers,
Herodotus’ homunculi hammer home habeas corpus.

II.

Their eyes, and faces, have migrated south, heads vanished into torsos. They are attested to in traveler’s tales spanning centuries. Herodotus wrote of them, as did Mandeville, always as somewhere over the horizon: past the Carpathians, over the Mediterranean, beyond the Sahara, across the Atlantic, along the Silk Road. Medieval Europeans, credulous enough, placed them now in Libya, now in Ethiopia, now in Hyperborea, now in Edenic India. As Europe expanded, their range decreased, though belief still lingered. Later scholars, desperate to explain away that Christian credulity, assigned their “real,” “historical” origins in misunderstood reports of gorillas, chimpanzees, human hunters crouched low with their heads pulled down. Sir Walter Raleigh, in the 1600s, asserts their existence: “every child in the province reports the same.”

III.

We are born, not made; cast in the womb and by every day that passes after, comfortable in our skin. We do not lack community, nor family, nor understanding; it is only with the arrival of traders that we are marked with difference. We gawk at them, but they pass away, bearing tales, and when they return their world washes over ours, carries us above the tideline onto unfamiliar shores, pulls us each from all, and leaves us exiled among people who cannot meet our gaze. The body remembers, but the mind forgets; we have heard of others like us, but seldom met them. There is always some further distance yet to go.

Proteus At Carpathus

A cento from Sylvia Plath, Patricia Smith, Joy Harjo, Ocean Vuong, Roger Reeves, Dianne Seuss, Dorianne Laux, Ada Limón, Joan Wickersham, Kenzie Allen

You house your unnerving head—God-ball,
Poseidon pounding away at me, a madman,
but our bodies were so hot and misaligned.

Breathe in, knowing we are made of
stillness. My god, he was still
a priest with no mouth
— not the bull but the depth.

Don’t worry. Just call it horizon
& mistake these walls
no higher than a pile of dried leaves.

Boxed fathers buried deep are still fathers,
the one you beat to the punchline,
Not the nights you called god names, not
a creature of liminal spaces,
These bones are never buried.

Sometimes the stories wait for you.

Memory Is Not Remembrance

After Sakae Manning

The heart, her heart, hovers only a few feet away, burning, an acridity like boiling chicken livers, fills the hall and turns the space into a slaughterhouse.

You are the last two — or the first, depending on how you look at it — in the gallery as the night winds down or the new day begins, plagued by visions. She has been burning for hours, greasy flames licking against the concrete ceiling, a pillar of fire in the darkness and a spreading column of ash as day peeks through the windows, mingled smell of cooking meat, burning fat, pop of entrails and eyeballs, a mouth swung wide as a gate behind the soundproofed glass. Self-Immolation of the Artist as a Young Woman, reads the placard. One night only.

The wine is gone, the cheese likewise, the band packed up and departed, only the two of you and the head of the collective nodding half-asleep propped against one white-washed wall. Strangers to each other, you do not speak, do not make eye contact, merely stand in witness as the fire dies down, rings heavy on your fingers, glasses light and empty in your hands.

There will be a small item in the arts section, later; written by someone who found the exit before your last quiet vigil. Pretentious, they will call it, self-serious. Desperate for a reaction. The ceiling fans spin nearly silently, carrying the last tails of smoke out and over a city that sleeps undisturbed.

Crook

for Eleanor

There is no humanity here, just the suggestion; a figure made of flames, what might be a hanging heart, the aftermath of an angel in falling feathers, the impression of a skull tumbling to earth. A name, below, claiming credit for a work that can have no true creator; “but the idea was hers,” so they say.

Humanity is born from slime and muck, sculpted from clay, imbued with intelligence by chance or divine intervention, but those origins are lost to time, scrubbed away by the patient erosion of the centuries piled up in their millions, traced by the echos left behind in more enduring rock; the footsteps frozen where once an ocean swelled, the tools buried next to some shattered skeleton, halfmoons left gouged into some early, nebulous tool. The traces remain.

This is not that; these are not the inheritance of some long dead and mouldered artist, but living sinew, uncongealed blood, fingerprints still bright with oil. Burke and Hare have grown impatient of waiting, invaded some warm and well lit house, and come forth again with a corpse, glorious in its newness. The doctors that received their plunder were clean-fingered, white-coated, respectable sorts who deplored the murders they refused to see, but science must progress.

The Band

“Well,” said Paul, staring pensively out to sea. “It’s time to get the band back together.” The sea, impassive, just waved.

There were five of them in the band, two on guitars, one on a bass, two on drums, and between them they had a world class safecracker, a demolitions expert, a getaway driver, a marksman, and a face. Oh also two of them were elves and one of them was an orc. Probably also there was some kind of robot in there, robots are de rigger.

They’d split up over “creative differences” after their last big job twenty ago, split the take and the royalties and gone their separate ways, but they’d kept in touch, or at least enough that Paul could get a start on tracking them down. Or at least at tracking Stuart down; Stuart was the only one who’d gone meaningfully solo, you couldn’t not know where Stuart was at all times, usually making the rounds of the talk shows, giant shoulders straining against immaculately tailored blue serge as he towered over some runt usually named Jimmy. His voice on the phone echoed tinnily. “What’s the job, Paul?”

Paul grinned, the old boyish charm still flickering. “How would you feel about stealing the Crown Jewels?”

Long, sober pause, but it’s a done deal, it was always going to be this way. They were all just waiting for this moment to arrive.