FIRES OF VENUS: “The Statues of Saints Have Bled All They Can”

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Image Courtesy of NASA

THE STATUES OF SAINTS HAVE BLED ALL THEY CAN

Wings down. Swim no more

against this wasted sky.

The hands of Heaven

grow tired, heal nothing,

touch silence.

It is all one can do

to cover these eyes

and paste them shut.

You speak in your sleep

but I know

your dream is dead.

The statues of saints

have bled all they can.

Crack

this vaulting arc above us,

let the rain

come.

New York, 1993

FIRES OF VENUS: “Critical Mass”

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CRITICAL MASS

Finally your timex can no longer take

the pace of your pulse and it pops its gears,

gives itself over to sweet tiny metallic death

so your tear it from your wrist and crush it

beneath the six-inch spike of your heel.

Your eyes become candles. Your skin smolders,

your clothes crinkle.

Critical mass, you say with a moan

and a shudder

then a slow wet killing moon smile.

We can only laugh. About us people stare,

touch themselves and look away and whisper

dirty drunken stinking sex junkies

or something like that.

We sway into the old familiar rhythm,

our lips smash and the crowd goes wild.

Somewhere,

rusted pistons begin their

sluggish dance toward scrap,

propelling us into the dark

like mad ownerless engines,

atomic engines of twilight.

I remember when I met you.

But I can’t remember why.

Boston, 1989

FIRES OF VENUS: “demophonic!”

demophonic_flat

demophonic!

quick quick quick! call the exorcist!

that spiritual warrior armed with water

a cross and black book because

I need his rain dance and wooden wafers

to chase away the insects

that buzz and bite and stitch nests

in my throat it’s their fault

all theirs not mine not me no way

I haven’t always been like this

I don’t like to belch bad breath

and demon wind I don’t particularly enjoy

waking with my head screwed on backwards or

having the pigeons attack me every time

I step out of the goddamn house or

the toilet refusing to flush what I

feed it every morning

not when I dream of clean sheets

and soft voices and guitars that slash

A N T H E M  again and again hey

have you found that number yet?

these days die like broken-backed birds

that tumble from the lips of the corpse on his cross

really it’s discouraging to discover the boxes

on your brand new calendar already chalked off

tik tak tok gone oh well (we sing) another year!

the devil sends his beast with wrath because

he knows the time is short, yeah yeah yeah well

he can get the fuck out of my head anytime

because the bastard hasn’t paid rent since

christmas and the goddamn check bounced

and —wait a second, are you for real? you

found the number? it’s ringing? it’s ringing!

it’s… a recording.

brilliant.

Boston, 1989

FIRES OF VENUS: “After Image”

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© Warner Bros

AFTER IMAGE


Remember how we laughed at Roy

when he complimented JF on his

mechanical toys? Batty Roy.

Roy Batty. His pale eyes

gleamed through the screen,

the video window we had installed

in your living room only days before.

It rained every day that summer.

The wheels of our VCRS spun slow,

etching the echo from one tape to

the other, sacred shapes and sounds

that would be ours forever,

as the rain slashed

against the glass.

Through one window

the world ran in streaks.

Through the other, in technicolor,

we rooted for Roy and the Replicants.

Great name for a band, you said,

but you weren’t serious.

Down the street

the sky opened its mouth

for just a moment,

slipping a column

of green light

to the Earth.

It was an empty-hearted gesture, really,

because the sky knew you weren’t serious, too.

But for a moment

the grass glowed bright,

the insects ceased their scurrying

and wondered suddenly what time it was,

while the soil began to bubble

with dreams of wild corn and triffids.

We noticed none of this, of course.

We were making copies of Blade Runner!

Roy Batty stood triumphant!

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe

Did our breath catch?

Did we even blink,

or our temperature drop

just a notch? After all,

it was one of the greatest moments

in cinematic history, why else

would we want it forever, forever?

Outside, the soft green light faded.

The movie ended, the video window

went to sleep and the recorders

ran out of tape.

And I knew I would have to

play it back

to see if I would feel the same.

Boston, 1987

FIRES OF VENUS: “This…”

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Image © Rob Chatterson

THIS…

This

is what the voice on the phone said:

“He’s got a gun, he says he’s killed

somebody

on Main Street,

and now he says he’ll splatter me on the wall.”

Seconds later we are in the car

pressing 90 down the highway,

eyes cast ahead as if watching

something very serious on PBS.

To say something flip would be a sin.

I wonder, What is this? This

is Friday night, this is nothing, this

is what we do when asked for help.

Headlight beams sweep through us,

bathing the car and cutting the concrete ribbon,

flash away into the dark.

There is nothing on PBS tonight.

We are greeted not with bloodshed

but the sleepy warmth of the kitchen

dressed in checkered pink and orange

with a clock on each wall

and dishes coated with dust in the sink.

It is very late.

The five year old son of the would-be

maniac

sits alone at the table and drags his crayons

across the paper spread before him.

Where’s your father,

we ask him.

In the bedroom,

he replies.

Where’s your mother,

we ask him.

In the bedroom,

he replies, and reaches

for a crayon, black.

The bedroom door is shut and locked but

sounds slither out, escape through the cracks.

A muffled plea collides with the squeal of the bed:

Love me, love me, love me.

We sigh, swear, boil coffee

and sit at the table

and watch their child draw.

He never looks at us.

What are you drawing,

we ask him.

Monsters,

he says.

Boston, 1987

FIRES OF VENUS: “Songs of Future Egypt”

84381086 Image © Grant Faint

SONGS OF FUTURE EGYPT

I wish this were a mirage

woven for our cameras.

But I saw it. I was there.

The old woman blew in from the desert

like a broken-winged bird,

she planted her feet in the Valley of Kings

and managed the levitation of the pyramids,

coaxed them by the power of her voice

to rotate slowly in the noonday sun.

She appeared nightly on the news

to give vent to her demands.

Her eyes smoldered sightlessly

in the wizened folds of her sockets

as she bent toward the camera

and spat words in a soft spray of sand.

At the bottom of our screens the translation:

Egypt has risen.

Behind her stand legions

fierce with the emblem of

the Sphinx on their crisp

new uniforms of brown and gold and white,

faces scraped and shining with saliva

drawn from their once slack lips. They wait

for the word

to strike their camp of diesel and dust,

to throw open the tombs and crack wide the planet.

Their necrotic majesty’s face fills the screen:

This is the war you always dreaded.

Israel is the first to fall,

a warning to the rest,

a nation annihilated in

a single night of white fire

yet not a single drop of blood

on the desert floor,

just gone.

Now days of war and waste

are all we have,

black needles from the sky

and venomous shrieks of victory

from the withered lips of a

4,000 year old madwoman.

Not mad, she hisses from her

crooked hook of a throne. Furious.

She is everywhere, now.

She no longer needs

screens, speakers, translations.

She watches from above,

her empire reclaimed,

a planet conquered

beneath her heel

and she whispers

All will be well

in the coming

fall of my cloak,

be well, be well,

beware.

Boston, 1988

FIRES OF VENUS: “Never Land”

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NEVER LAND

I have labored above your grave

for five hours

twenty-three nights

and ten days.

The candles have been lit,

the black birds released to the wind.

Now no jets dare cross the sky.

The sun forgot to come up twice.

I blink at my severed fingers planted in the dirt.

I have three left.

The shtick has been worked to its pathetic finish.

And still you refuse to rise.

I guess I should be grateful.

I suppose the worms make excellent company

sliding through your arteries,

tracking dirt and slime and shit,

touching you where I never could,

no words,

no pressure,

no kisses to crush your sullen lips,

you bitch.

Not real.

This corrosion devours me.

If your mouth could work,

you’d probably say you were made for other things,

better men, other dreams.

The black birds return and curl themselves in sleep.

The spiders tell me your eyes haven’t opened a crack.

The candles sputter, go out.

My love, I am leaving.

I’m going where the moon never rises

to ever remind me of you,

I’m going where the air is so thin

there will never be another sound.

I’m going to the Never Land,

the place with no memory,

the land of no hope.

Boston, 1989

_______________

SEARCHING FOR A WICKED COOL NAME for this damn April poetry project…

april1

All right, I’ve decided.

“Fires of Venus”

Yeah, baby! FIRES OF VENUS!

THAT CRUEL, CRUEL MONTH WE CALL APRIL…

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Oh, April. Poetry Month.

Ever hear a recording of Eliot reading The Wasteland? It is something. He spills it like a ship’s manifest, like a dusty and long out of date “to-do” list. Phonetically, he goes, “Ape-a-rill is the ka-rule-est month, BREE-EE-EDING lilacs from the DEAD LAND,” hard stop, breath. Mind you, I’m not making fun of the man. I’m fascinated by poets reading their own work. They either read it completely straight (see above), trusting that the spoken words will serve just as well as they do on the page, or they deliver the lines in such high-flung fashion they’re practically singing. I fall into the latter category, mainly because I can get away with it.

But I am a frustrated poet, so I tend to lay it on kind of thick.

Little-known draxian fact: for more than three years, I exclusively wrote poetry. I was young, I was stupid. Oh, but I was serious. So serious. How did I know I was serious? Because I hated everything. I hated the “fantastic” poetry in the fantasy and horror mags, I hated the wanna-be beats with their banged-up copies of Kerouac and Burroughs, I hated the Bukowksi posers (who never actually wrote anything!), I hated everything, everything, so obviously I was serious! It was me against the world, me and… Denis Johnson, man!!

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That’s a contemporary picture of Mister Johnson from the New York Times by Cindy Johnson. His wife? Maybe. Anyway, Let me find a poem from the period I’m talking about, back when I was a poet, back when I was serious. Hang on… Here we go…

VESPERS by Denis Johnson

The towels rot and disgust me on this damp

peninsula where they invented mist

and drug abuse and taught the light to fade,

where my top-quality and rock-bottom heart

cries because I’ll never get to kiss

your famous knees again in a room made

vague by throwing a scarf over a lamp.

Things get pretty radical in the dark:

the sailboats on the inlet sail away;

the provinces of actuality

crawl on the sea; the dusk now tenderly

ministers to the fallen parking lots—

the sunset instantaneous on the fenders,

memory and peace….the grip of chaos…

______________________________

Oh, fuck yeah. The sunset instantaneous on the fenders, memory and peace….the grip of chaos… I mean, fuckin-A, man! No wonder I went nuts for this guy. And all those semicolons and ellipses and em dashes, this was clearly an important influence on my style! (I’m only half-kidding.) Seriously though, two of my teachers read chunks of my first novel, RUIN, and independently they both said, “Go read Denis Johnson,” his novels, specifically, ANGELS and FISKADORO. I found his poetry on my own. (Like wow, he found the poetry on his own, let’s have a round of applause!) I was very hooked into Johnson during THE VEIL era of his poetry, and around the time his third novel pubbed, THE STARS AT NOON. Blistering book, baby, blistering. [Higher Power to fingers: can we lay-off the alliteration please?]  I should quickly mention that Johnson was stolen from me by the publication of his short story collection, the undeniably brilliant JESUS’ SON in the early 90s and suddenly Johnson wasn’t just mine anymore, he was the new super cool of the literati. *Happily,* Johnson screwed-up his new found fame with his follow-up book ALREADY DEAD, a goofball of a “California Gothic” (yes, that’s actually the subtitle) if there ever was one and Mister Johnson was bitched-slapped by the critics to one-hit wonder status, the product of savvy marketing and Bob Gottlieb and wondrous word of mouth… However and happily (and I mean it this time), Johnson would have his revenge with the weighty TREE OF SMOKE (FSG, 07) which I believe won the National Book Award. I might be wrong; except for the cribbing of VESPERS, above, this is all from memory. Anyway…

Woof.

Really went off on a Johnson tangent, didn’t I. Hmm. I mentioned Johnson by route of talking about how I “used to write poetry” and then I was going to post one of my pathetic poems, boom, done. But nooooo. I had to go crazy. Where is my Interviewer Evil Monkey Higher Power when I need him/it? So now I’ve got to wrap this up; people don’t like long posts. I will post a poem tomorrow, no preamble, no excuses, nothing.

Arghghgh! Just a quick click to cyber-somewhere quickly reveals the fallacy of flying by memory: I completely spaced two Johnson books, RESUSCI-TATION OF A HANGED MAN and THE NAME OF THE WORLD. And no NBA for TREE OF SMOKE, apparently. And in reaching for my Johnson books, you know what fell out of THE THRONE OF THE THIRD HEAVEN OF THE NATIONS MILLENNIUM GENERAL ASSEMBLY, POEMS COLLECTED AND NEW, you know what fell out of the damn book?!

Leaves.

Flattened leaves. I shit you not.

Oh, I was serious, all right. Shoot me now. Leaves.

Sad face. Very sad face.

GETTING TO KNOW THE IDIOT RUNNING THIS BLOG: Questions for Drax, Part II

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INTERVIEWER: SO! It’s been a while. How are we? Did you finish IT?

[IT refers to the big bad deadline for the big bad revision of DESCENT; see earlier post, March 4, “I’ll Go Crazy if I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight.” ]

ME: Yeah, I finished it.

INTERVIEWER: You did? Son of a gun! Did you turn it in on time?

ME: Umm, not really. Missed the deadline by, like, 42 hours.

INTERVIEWER: Oh, you pathetic specimen. So what’s your excuse?

ME: I got distracted in the home stretch by some unhappy family news, “stop everything” bad news.

INTERVIEWER: Sounds juicy! What happened? Tell us all about it!

ME: Not that kind of blog, man. I’m not plastering my family’s life all over the blogosphere.

INTERVIEWER: Harrumph! Well, let’s get back to the book. What happens next?

ME: I suspect my editor will tell me what happens next. She’ll like some of it—I hope. She’ll probably want further changes, less of “this,” more of “that,” etc. I told her that I trust her judgement and she laughed like an ax murderer.

INTERVIEWER: Oh, you’re screwed now!

ME: We’ll see.

INTERVIEWER: After turning in this draft, any new insights into your characters?

ME: Several. Phelan’s predilection for little boys, for example? He’s trying to annihilate the memory of himself as a child, before he learned the truth about himself.

INTERVIEWER: Hmm. Sounds like you’re trying to let him off the hook a little, generate sympathy from the reader.

ME: Hardly. This was something I realized, not Phelan. And it’s not made explicit in the text. Sympathy for Phelan? Not likely. Now I really hate the bastard’s guts. Plus, he did something really vile to my heroine. Unfortunately, this really vile scene comes BEFORE a later scene wherein the reader isn’t meant to sympathize with Phelan, exactly, but at least understand his frustration on an intellectual level. It’s a pretty important scene, one of my favorites, and now I don’t know how it’s going to play…

INTERVIEWER: Uh huh. Any other insights?

ME: Lots, but only a few worth mentioning here. Darius needs other people around him in order to be an interesting and amusing character, duh. I knew that already. But an insight that really struck me is that Catherine’s absolute devotion and faith could be explained—and further explored—by introducing the notion of psychosis. What if Catherine’s slightly nuts? And she’s sorta-kinda aware of it? But she triumphs over it!

INTERVIEWER: Like Luc Besson’s treatment of Jeanne d’Arc in THE MESSENGER.

ME: Interviewer, it’s like you’re reading my mind! Yeah, I loved that movie…

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INTERVIEWER (haughtily): That movie came out ten years ago. And it didn’t do very well.

ME: Who gives a rat’s ass how the movie did at the fucking box office? It was brilliant. I think audiences grew confused and frustrated after the first 90 minutes. I mean, it starts with total kick ass, Milla Jovovich ripping the English Army to shreds in better-than-Braveheart fashion, but then the film dives unapologetically into her psyche. That’s the story, man. Jeanne recognizes her own madness, but also recognizes her faith is greater than the arguments of pure logic. And that’s how it could work for Catherine. She even says as much to Phelan during the final confrontation, “Nothing unreal exists.”

INTERVIEWER: You’re just sweet for crazy-ass chicks.

ME: Guilty.

INTERVIEWER: And you’re an Atheist!

ME: Again, guilty.

INTERVIEWER: So how can you present such an argument with any hope of verisimilitude?

ME: Arghghgh. Just because I don’t believe in a “thing” doesn’t mean that the “thing” in question doesn’t exist for somebody else. “Nothing unreal exists!” Jesus! Atheists get the worst rap, man! I’m not out to change the way anybody else thinks, I’m not a card carrying member of the Atheists of America or whatever they’re calling themselves these days, those fools treat Atheism as a religion, they have rules and member guidelines! Arrghgh! It’s enough to make me—

INTERVIEWER: All right, calm down. Let’s stay on target, let’s get back to the book. Any other insights?

ME (sighing): No other insights, but one major boffo regret. Something that will have to be corrected.

INTERVIEWER: And what might that be?

ME: Well, Darius is slumming with these sick and dying humans on the way to see Phelan, right? And one of these sick and dying humans keeps mumbling about how there are “others” out there in The Wasted Lands, “other” survivors. And that’s how these “others” are referred to, THE OTHERS. At the time I didn’t think much about it, but then after I turned in the revised draft, something kept bugging me about the use of this OTHERS term, it started sounding pretty damn familiar. I thought: Isn’t there some super huge pop culture thing out there that makes use of THE OTHERS?

INTERVIEWER: LOST?

ME: Yup. LOST. And just to beat myself up, I’m going to grab a picture…

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INTERVIEWER: Is that an old logo or a new logo?

ME: I have no fucking idea.

INTERVIEWER: So, are you a big LOST fan?

ME: I have never seen a single episode of the damn series. I know. I know! It’s supposed to be amazing, yadda-yadda, but I’ve just never seen it. Sue me. Yet through the miracle of media-saturation, this is EVERYTHING I know about LOST:

• There’s a plane crash, and the survivors are stuck on an island…

• Strange things happen on this island, including shifting alliances, time-travel, some strange box-gizmo, and a mysterious group of other survivors called, regrettably, THE OTHERS…

• The creators are apparently willing to kill any character at any time…

• The series was created by JJ Abrams…

• And one of my favorite writers was hired last year as a story editor.

And that’s it. Everything I know. All the LOST fans are probably cringing.

INTERVIEWER: And who’s this favorite writer?

ME: One of my favorite writers. Brian K. Vaughn. He’s amazing. Dynamite storyteller with such a good grip on the human animal his work has reduced me to tears more than once. And so original. He’s come up with ideas that have made me kick myself, you know, “Why didn’t I think of that?!” His work includes EX MACHINA, Y: THE LAST MAN, PRIDE OF BAGHDAD, RUNAWAYS, some limited series for Marvel and Dark Horse…

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Incredible stuff. If these titles don’t sound familiar, stay tuned. They’re making movies out of all of his stuff. The über-talented little bald-headed bastard’s going to be huge.

INTERVIEWER: Is this guy a friend of yours?

ME: I wish! I’d get him drunk and steal his ideas. And no, I’m not on his payroll.

INTERVIEWER: Then you must have a real love for name-dropping.

ME: Come again?!

INTERVIEWER: Look at this blog. In the space of five posts you’ve managed to work-in U2, Cormac McCarthy, LOST, THE MESSENGER, this Brian K. Vaughn person… You’ve got a WATCHMEN image for your damn banner! Maybe you just like to associate yourself with very successful stuff.

ME: No, no, no! Jesus! Look at the title of this post! It’s called Getting to Know the Idiot Running This Blog! That’s the way my mind works, man! Popular culture—the books, the movies, the comics, the music—it’s running through my head all the time. And don’t give me any grief about giving lip service to artists I like. I would be remiss as a human being if I didn’t spread the word about amazing writers and the jaw-dropping shit they produce. Babbling about them on my blog? Fuck, I should be grabbing strangers in the street, yelling LOOK AT THIS!!!

INTERVIEWER: Well, all righty-then…

ME: Jesus, I didn’t even go off on how the cinematography in the goddamn TWILIGHT movie looks like fucking Shojo—!

INTERVIEWER: Show… joe?

ME: Manga. Japanese comics. For girls. Never mind.

INTERVIEWER: Well, I can see that we’re, uh, running out of time. Any last thoughts?

ME: I want to be amazing.

INTERVIEWER: Excuse me?

ME: I want to be amazing. I don’t want to be famous, I don’t want to be rich. I don’t even need to be loved. Well, okay, scratch that last one, I need my kids and my wife and my friends to love me. But I want to be amazing. I want to write the most amazing shit the world has ever seen, I want glory. Maybe you’re right, maybe I’m plastering my blog with incredible stuff by amazing artists ’cause that’s what I’m aiming for, man, those are the heights I want to reach…

INTERVIEWER: And… how old are you?

ME: This interview is over.

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