Burn After Reading II: Re-entry

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thing 1 by Mark A. Harrison

I.  All the poems I wrote before I met you

My pen is two bent wires
teasing free the catch
of a lock I’ve never seen
(no one knows what door it opens
but they say the pen’s the key)

my pen is nimble fingers
brushing raw wires together
to make a spark
a credit card sliding
between door jam and deadbolt
a thief in the night
who leaves more than she steals

my pen is a bootleg album
recorded on the road
at some backwoods festival
where it rained all weekend
where we swam
naked at night
and woke at dawn
to the sound
of birds singing
and wind in the trees

my words are
misshapen footprints
left in the mud
the patterns traced in
campfire circles
ashes still smouldering
embers that might
(if the wind is right)
set the whole damned forest
ablaze.

II. A practical guide for the end of the world

burn after reading:
stamped in red
on a plain brown envelope
scrawled in lipstick
on a paper napkin
written in henna
on the vulnerable skin
of an exposed wrist

take this knowledge
like your final breath
carve it deep
in your fragile bones
let it burrow down
into your heart’s core

then cast away
these ephemeral scraps
these temporary tattoos
these fragile imaginings

ignore the sirens
the whisper in your ear
the scratching at the door
the howling in the wind

stand firm, no flinching
as you watch it burn
the edges curling,
falling to ash

only remember
this one small thing:
everything ends; everything begins

(Both poems significantly edited / expanded 10.05.17, incl. new titles – T.H.)

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Ten days later

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Study in Frost by Mark A. Harrison

Fall is a tricky season to navigate. Capricious and sly, at once whimsical and treacherous, full of sharp things hidden under blankets of leaves, radiant days of crackling sunshine followed by dark night winds whispering portents of ice and snow – a reminder of unsettling impermanence.

Ten days later, she was still on her own;
I was fast asleep, a thousand miles away
dust floated, thick as rocks
in the belt of Orion.
He wondered,
do we really breathe this?
Two weeks later, she met the road,
covered in dust from
her latest encounter
with the laws of physics;
Mud clung to her thick soled boots
in her eyes, a light, hard
as scorn from a loved one;
She stomped on the pavement
once, twice
dust settled around her in a cloud.
I was eating breakfast,
looking out the eastern window,
the burnt toast flaking charcoal
onto tongue and lips and fingers,
And he said, in characteristic delay,
are you really going to eat that?
Three months later, she clawed her way
the final few feet to the
snow shrouded peak,
Looked down at the world in wonder
and forgot all she knew.
Everyone she had ever loved
vanished in an instant;
she let out her breath in a sigh
of great peace, contentment
and relief.
I was washing dishes
in the light of early evening;
cats bumped my legs,
crying for dinner
while he, sat watching television.
Hey, take a look at this, he said
but as I walked into the room
the walls began to fade,
the furniture grew clear as glass,
the cats became twin puffs of air
and flew out through the
crack in the kitchen window,
and he, and I, passed out
of her mind,
forgotten forever
in the sudden glimpse
of sunset kissed mountain peaks,
an eagle far below;
frost bitten toes
and a sense, finally, of a future
without a past.

– T.H. (2002)

Why I love poetry, in 150 words or less

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Fusing – by Mark A. Harrison

This one is best read out loud. Like most poetry, really. Somewhere no one can hear you, if you’re shy.

hit and run ambient wordfall
pulled from sweetest nightmares
Pan’s premonition
of a darker age
seagreen waveforms
pulse in time to
silver scuba space jazz
as we fly through
quantum tunnels
chewed into the walls of
grandma death’s beechwood attic
Robinson Crusoe’s
roller coaster orbit
ain’t got nothin’ on this
pressed close together,
we tango along
impermanent lines
heaven’s gridwork
etched into our eyes
while a waxwork fawn
kicks up its heels at spilled sugar stars
sending sparks up from
silicon hooves
stained deep indigo blue
worlds spin in its wake
as words spin in mine
my fingers tiny gods
whole galaxies made and unmade
in the space of a few
staggered heartbeats
in the spaces between
a few
quiet
breaths

– T.H.
(2007)

paradise, lost and found

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Photo by Mark A. Harrison

There was a line-up at our local pharmacy today, which led to much more waiting around than usual. Turns out that the delay worked in my favour. On the way home (a short three block walk), I got to see a monarch butterfly (rare in these parts lately) and three goldfinches, all nearly within touching distance. The sun came out from the clouds, the neighbourhood garden flowers seemed to grow ten times brighter, and all the compounded irritations and annoyances that had piled up during the day disappeared.

It brought back the memory of these two poems, one a snapshot from early childhood, the other an equally perfect moment from a B.C. trip in my early twenties. A reminder that paradise exists, not as an afterthought, but in those small moments of pure contentment.

1.

on the curved stretch of unkempt beach
a thin, tow-headed child, squatting barefoot
pokes at seaweed with a stick
wrinkling her nose at the pungent salt-rot smell
the kelp bladders bloating in the sun
she picks up shells and pebbles with
the reverence of an artist
admires the iridescent sheen
of a fractured oyster shell
dropped by one of the wheeling gulls
toes and knees crusted with wet sand
wading ankle deep into the chill water
she holds the dry pebbles under
watching the secret colours emerge
a moment of discovery
on the shore of some far-off land
its name long forgotten, the details faded
save that one perfect moment
captured like a bead on a string

2.

we step into the forest
armoured in layers
of cotton, nylon, bright
green and yellow raincoats
thick soled rubber boots
an old manual camera
slung around my neck
bounces against my chest
most of our journey
along the wooden plank paths
is done in silence
our ears open to the sounds
around us, wind and birds,
distant rushing water
there is a sorrow behind
the sacredness of this place
part of its sanctity lies in
it being one of the last
doomed, ultimately, to destruction
(we followed logging roads to get here)
we trail reverent hands along
fern fronds longer than we are tall
damp gnarled bark softened
by lush green moss
we crane our necks to stare
up at the trees that seem
to go on forever, their tips
lost in the fog, only the barest hint
of heavy grey sky far above
a permanent ache in my chest
I can’t seem to stop smiling
I think, whatever else happens
I stood here, in this place
before they took it all away
on the drive out, we see
two black bears, wandering the
wasteland of the clear-cut swath
a stone’s throw from heaven
they pay little attention to us
our compact Westfalia camper
must seem a mere toy
compared to the monsters
that daily tear the land asunder
I close my eyes, and think
of paradise, of moss under fingers
of air so clean you wonder
what you’ve been breathing all this time.

– T.H.

Stolen Voices

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“Time”, Detail – Photo by Mark A. Harrison

An old one for today. I still like the imagery in this one, even if it is a twenty-something’s perspective on age and time. Things definitely look a little different on this side of forty.

Stolen Voices

I’ve only seen him old;
He walks in the park with a black umbrella,
feeds stale popcorn to the squirrels;
He must be old as mountains,
his youth a hot river of lava,
rushing through new born seas,
throwing up geysers of steam to come down rain;
His feet hit the puddles in rubber galoshes,
he walks in the park with his son’s dead friends,
dreams the same dream every night:
He’s walking up a hill
double-shadowed in the streetlights
under a fingernail sliver of moon;
the silhouette of a church,
a jagged hole in the deep blue twilit sky –
the closer he gets,
the less the shadow changes;
he is waiting for the features to emerge
like the face of an old friend,
but it only grows darker
save for a glimmering faintness, like distant stars;
Each night he’s just a bit closer
to stepping through.

I’ve only seen him old;
He claims to have made his peace with the world;
He says that paranoia is a form of vanity
and that too much luck will only kill you in the end;
He walks by the river with his son’s dead friends,
leaves fall on his hat like dust on cobwebs;
He whistles a tune from some old black and white movie,
ghosts gather hawthorn in his wake;
His feet are light as dandelion pollen
and barely touch the ground.

– T.H.

Worst Paragraph EVER (Today’s Fun with Editing)

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Image courtesy of Pixabay

So I’m innocently skimming an earlier chapter, quite a ways back from the bit I’m currently on, and I find, to my horror, what I’m officially designating the Worst Paragraph in the Entire Novel. One might wonder how I could possibly have missed it the first time around. In my defense, this stage of editing mainly involves jumping from one editorial comment to the next, and only cursorily skimming the prose in between.

Thankfully, a consistency issue sent me back, and the salvaging of the Worst Paragraph Ever is underway – after nearly two hours of (1) attempting to tweak rather than re-write, (2) realizing this is impossible, and reassessing the entire scene including which street corner it takes place on, and (3) spending a ridiculous amount of time playing with Google maps street view to determine exactly what will happen where.

This, my friends, is how a planned 20-30 minute quickie editing session turns into a behemoth that devours your entire evening. A brief glimpse behind the curtain of that mysterious alchemical process that transforms first draft dreck into a proper novel that you’d be proud to have someone read. Or so I fervently hope.

Restless

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Orbital by Mark A. Harrison

When the restlessness takes over, climbs out of the heat or the dark or the sound of traffic and crawls under the skin, it’s hard to explain to someone who’s never felt it. Part itching claustrophobia, that makes you want to find the nearest pool and dive to the bottom and stay there ’til nightfall, part wanderlust, part mid-life crisis, and yet paradoxically under it all a voice that pulls at your eyelids and weighs you down and whispers “sleep…”

Empty
hollowed out
all the music
fills the banks to overflowing
comes out dirty, muddy
clogged with weeds and branches
old coke cans and bike tires
rusted and twisted
while above, the birds and butterflies
fighting scraps of sunset light
bat shadows and clouds of twilit starlings
rush and swoop and fling themselves
in fits of Brownian motion
all against the squeak and chitter
of the coming night
trying to fight against the tide
sure strokes
cutting through the undertow
but I’m getting nowhere
faster every day
always the constant, sweet ache
surges of heat and hunger
through the deep blue grey
sometimes I’m drowning in beauty
the happiness hurts worst of all
cascading broken chords
like standing under a waterfall
pummelled by emotion
unable to give it voice
like I’m flailing in the dark
for some switch, cord, or curtain
always just out of reach
and every once in a while
my fingertips brush its edge
and I can feel the faintest
electrical breath against my skin
and I’m reaching, farther up, deeper in, higher
but it’s always falling, in the end
always falling away, fading, slipping, diving
sinking down, out, away into the dark
and the door closes, nothing behind the curtain,
only air, imagined memory, illusion
fractured silence.

– T.H.

bigger on the inside

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Metallic State by Mark A. Harrison

Been thinking about words a lot lately, how they can change from a tool to a weapon, a dirge to a song, a box label to found poetry, depending on how you wield them. This was written a couple of years back, late at night with a cat under one arm, picking words at random from the spines of DVD cases on the bookshelf next to me.

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A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle, and Childhood Inspirations

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My aspiration of becoming a novelist began at the tender age of eleven, when I wrote my very first book. It consisted of several pages of paper folded together, illustrated with appropriately childish drawings of a talking unicorn and her quest to find the end of the rainbow. Ever since then, I’ve been imagining what the reality of being a published author might be like, something that will finally be coming true in April of 2019. Of all the fantasies that have run through my mind on many a sleepless night (casting the movie version, rubbing shoulders with my favourite authors at some imaginary party), the idea of giving an interview falls more into the bad dream category. I’m a writer. I don’t do well being put on the spot. I like to take my time with things. In that vein, I’ve been writing and honing a blurb (mostly in my head) about what I might say, if I am ever asked who my early inspirations and influences were. Below is an extremely rough draft of what my response might be, were I forced to cram hours (if not days) of ramblings into a few short paragraphs.SusanCooper-Dark-is-Rising-bookcover

The stories that I loved the most as a child (and later, young adult), the ones that drew me in the most completely, were those wherein the real world and the otherworldly overlapped, where you could step from one to the other – the idea that magic (like the TARDIS), might be hiding around any corner, that one might stumble across it at any moment.

Susan Cooper, Madenleine L’Engle and Peter S. Beagle all rank pretty highly as far as early influences go, along with Charles de Lint, Guy Gavriel Kay, Steven R. Boyett (author of Ariel), Barbara Hambly’s Dark series, and of course all the Narnia (C.S. Lewis) & Tolkien books. And later on, Tad Williams, Neil Gaiman (starting with the Sandman graphic novels), and Douglas Adams (who infused everything with his trademark blend of humour and not-so-subtle digs at the absurdity of the human condition).

ariel_steven-r-boyett-bookcoverA Wrinkle in Time in particular opened uncountable doors to new ideas for me. It got me thinking about alternate dimensions, quantum physics, and non-linear time long before Doctor Who entered my life. It fused fantasy and sci-fi ideas so that they became indistinguishable from each other.

One thing all of these authors have in common is that they show us, through story and metaphor, how everything is intertwined, how each life is important, how anyone can potentially do great things, if they’re given the right opportunity. CSLewis-TheLionWitchWardrobe(1stEd)_bookcoverThey teach us how to think sideways, to imagine how things might be changed for the better – ideas I believe to be incredibly important for readers of all ages to embrace.

That’s the power of speculative fiction: rather than mere fluff and escapism, it is the very stuff that fuels our dreams – dreams which then lead us to invent, explore, improve, and create, and help us to embrace, and endeavor to understand, people from cultures far different from our own.

Below are three excellent articles that delve into what makes A Wrinkle in Time such a unique story, equally beloved, controversial, influential and enduring:

12 Fantastic Facts About A Wrinkle in Time

How A Wrinkle in Time Changed Sci-Fi Forever

Physics, Miracles, and Witchcraft: 50 Years of “A Wrinkle in Time”

Teaser for the upcoming 2018 film: