Starfish Supernova

Asteroid Field by Mark A. Harrison
Image: Asteroid Field by Mark A. Harrison

Another one from the archives, for Day 2 of National Poetry Month. This one is clearly meant to be spoken out loud. Imagine a curly-haired beat poet on a cramped stage in some underground dive, with free-form bongos in the background.

Parting the waves for the starfish supernova
oriental carpet fish tickling my toes
Dancing the raves down through asteroid alley
girls holding hands drive the boys insane
You hold your ideals too close to your heart
suffocating them in your tight embrace
You feel too much, so you curl up inside
dwarf star material waiting to explode
You could be birthing galaxies, exhaling nebulae
dangling your feet over the lips of black holes
You could be skating the event horizon
look ma, no hands, no training wheels here
But instead you hunch over this dull white page
gripping the pen like it might try to run
try to make an escape Houdini would be proud of
leaving you only with a ghost of an echo
of a memory of a dream
No way to capture it, bottle it, seal it with wax
But what does it matter?
You weren’t going to share it with anyone anyway
Don’t Bogart those neurons, baby
I want my share, want to go down singing
to the county fair in the wide blue sky
Look out world, here I come
the invisible one with the bitten tongue
and a page full of squiggly black lines.

T.H.

iv. But I digress

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Photo by Mark, messed with by me

In the absence of ambition, we become a conglomeration of tangents, an aimless wandering path laid down by the stick the dog is carrying: a scrappy, stocky, short-legged terrier beagle something or other cross, who has somehow outdistanced her loping, tongue-lolling, muddy pawed golden retriever pal, and is dragging a branch far too big for her size, but nowhere near equal to her spirit.

The broad line laid down in the dormant November grass, still wet with last night’s frost, will last for a few hours, at most; the sun has already thawed the exposed areas; only the shadows still carry hints of freezing, the ground crunchy and damp under recently unearthed winter boots.

A path laid down by accident, without purpose or intent, a temporary testament to life having passed this way, proof that momentum exists, that change is inevitable. And yet, itself, it is static, empty of life, mere black marks on a white background, bird tracks and fallen branches, a memory of what was, rather than a bold imagining of something new, something yet to come.

But if you follow the trail long enough, it will do at least one thing: it will bring you home.

Music: Thelonious Monk, Live in Japan 1963

iii. Cooking, and other creative endeavors

The components of the spell are there, the page in the recipe book yellowed with age, smudged and stained with cocoa and brown sugar and cinnamon – not because you need the recipe any more; it was memorized years ago, as instinctive now as any other everyday task. You know exactly what to reach for, in which cupboard, in which order. You have the perfect spoon, worn soft to the touch; the perfect bowl, beautifully weathered, scratched and dented, fine hairline cracks in the porcelain, like an old painting.

The smaller metal bowls ring when you clean them, a clear mild tone, teased into wakefulness by an enthusiastic swipe of the frayed checkered dish towel, encouraged to greater volume as the sink provides quiet settling background noises, the last soap bubbles sighing in resignation, collapsing, imploding in near-silent release.

ii. Art

Visualizing: the painter in her many layers: cotton, wool and fleece, an outer layer to break the wind, thick socks in practical boots, hybrid gloves – the kind where the finger tips detach and bend back to grip Velcro fasteners, leaving thin fingers free to freeze solid.

She stabs her stubby, short bristled brush into the orange, yellow, red, white, green, squinting in the dying light, painting more by feel and memory than sight. The application of paint is reassuring in its methodical swiftness, confident and direct, devoid of hesitation. The basic physics of the equation are those of a crafts-person, building a picture as one might a chair – the first rough cut, before the joining and sanding and polishing.

There are some of those on the wall too, quick sparse sketches, laid out in wide utilitarian strokes, slapped down in a hurry while the light lasted. They lack the glow of the two finished paintings; the canvas lies flat against the uneven bricks, no real sense of depth, despite the hasty blue shadows thrown across the snow, the flash of winter sunlight on the south-facing wall of the farm house – a depiction not so much of a specific building, but rather a symbolic representation of the idealized form of the southern Ontario concept of House: a sturdy rectangle with a triangular roof, three windows and a door, smudges that might be pine trees cozying up to it on either side. The sky is two shades of blue, the brush strokes reaching from ground to sky, as if following the memory of the last time the aurora borealis enveloped the house in dancing green fingers.

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.)

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.

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:

 

Writing the World Away

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Kiss 3 by Mark A. Harrison

Nothing like 1800 words of freshly written prose to put a spring in your step on the way home.

This is what I live for: when writing a scene is like bringing life from the void, only it’s easy, and the only thing stopping you is the low battery warning, and looking up to see that the baristas are sweeping up because the cafe is about to close for the night, and thinking that maybe you might want to let your spouse know you’re still alive before it gets pitch black outside, then walking home in the gloaming under the street lights with all the spring blossoms shining like small stars and thinking, yes, I can still do this.

Now if I can just make a habit of this, the next two years (minus a month) might seem like an ever-so-slightly smaller version of eternity.