Feigning a Fine Fettle

The Trail Not Taken

Cole could hardly stand to look at Roland Fuller as they attempted to draw him out the back of the covered wagon, covered as he was in vile growths that seemed to jiggle with fluid with every slight jostle. Black webbing grew from his eyes, nostrils, mouth, and ears. Mrs. Fuller was wailing from another wagon, incoherent with her grief. The Fuller boys, Ben and Gabe, watched from a distance with the rest of the party.

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Ossuary

The Hunters in the Snow – Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1565

The locals said the first disappearances occurred in the winter, but no one could see a pattern then. Folk had just assumed that the missing had merely lost their way and died somewhere of exposure. It was, all agreed, an exceptionally cold winter with more than its fair share of blizzards.

An approximation of the proper rites were conducted for every missing person, or as proper as the rites could be without a body. Widows mourned, widowers drank, orphans left to go live with relatives, and bereft parents waited up at night for their little ones to come home again against all hope or reason.

It wasn’t until later, after the snows had melted and the weather had warmed, that several villages realized that they’d all suffered an unusual number of losses. Not only that, but disappearances were still happening on a regular basis, despite the milder weather. People would leave to tend their fields, collect firewood, or hunt and never come home.

A group of local men traveled to Aumflau, the nearest town of any import, to petition the burgomeister. Heeding their concerns, he, in turn, dispatched a letter to Parder addressed to the Jaegerhalle there. The morning after the letter arrived, in the dark stillness before the sun has yet risen, four horsemen left the Jaegerhalle and rode out the River Gate, taking the Imperial Highway towards Aumflau.

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The Tower in the Sea

Arnold_Böcklin_-_Die_Toteninsel_I_(Basel,_Kunstmuseum)

Die Toteninsel – Arnold Böcklin, 1880

There’s a dismal island lost to man and memory out on a nameless sea, at the very edge of the world in the grey area between light and shadow, where the normal cycles of day and night do not apply. There’s a constant darkness in one direction, a grayish smear spreading overhead, and a distant, cold light along the opposite horizon. Underneath wheels this lone pinpoint of earth, fixed to the sky above it, within a roiling black sea.

There’s a tower on this island, the lone distinguishing feature, that juts from a dormant heap of black volcanic rock. The tower faces the lit horizon, monolithic, its facade narrowed like a knife’s edge. Mist blows in from the light in a channel, as unrelenting and mysterious as the tide, lending the island a sort of insubstantial quality, like a swipe could dispel it from existence. The tower offers the only stark contrast as it slices through the vapor like the bow of a ship, its substance asserted by its dark prominence as it cuts into the corpse-grey sky above it. As if the tower had swatted the mist from the sky, it settles upon the land like a blanket. On occasion a soft, cold rain would fall from the swirling grey clouds overhead. If the stars could have been seen from the ground, they would have given the impression of blinking shut in revulsion as their gazes fell upon the corpulent rock in the sea. The light of day had never touched this land, so far removed were they from the distant cognizance of civilization.

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This Final Fall

In a line of people filing out, I am last.

I tried to wait, to see the end, to stall,

Because I looked out at the gulfing space, vast,

Saw those before me, little specks, fall,

But joined them anyway, the time past

To stop and consider anything at all.

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The Long Fade

Blake_Dante_Hell_V

The Lover’s Whirlwind – WIlliam Blake, 1823

 

It’s a long fade into yourself then a short

snap out.

 

Like tension drawn on a cord,

stretching-

stretching-

stretching-

before the snap! sends you reeling into the void.

 

(you’re nowhere to be found)

 

They’ll pick up the pieces afterwards, those whose shadows are still long on the ground.

They’ll mound the dirt and sweep the stones bare, then exit the stage while casting their shadows-

long and dark and vital-

stretching-

stretching-

stretching-

interminably beneath the sun.

All That’s Left

Rainy Day, Boston - Childe Hassam, 1885

Rainy Day, Boston – Childe Hassam, 1885

A flash of gold and a ribbon of blue

Glimmered briefly on a rain-swept street-

These fragments are all that’s left of you.

 

Or faces half seen in puddles at my feet-

By tread and discord they disperse-

Glimmered briefly on a rain-swept street.

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The Tenfold Harvest

Man with a Hoe, Jean-Francois Millet, ca. 1860-62

Man with a Hoe – Jean-Francois Millet, ca. 1860-62

I’ve walked against the earth

as it turns, as can attest

the shuffling trace of my steps

 

And I’ve plowed furrows that run

long, parallel lines across

sun-burnt brown expanses

 

And I’ve sown the seeds

here in the dirt I must, without

regard to path, rock, or thorn

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Unquenched

Sargent,_John_Singer_(RA)_-_Gassed_-_Google_Art_Project

Gassed – John Singer Sargent, 1919

The men huddled without hope in their trench,

A jagged gouge exposed in the earth, ripped

Open like a wound. Their thirst went unquenched

No matter how much water they sipped.

 

A jagged gouge exposed in the earth, ripped

Like the tattered flags flapping in the wind.

No matter how much water they sipped,

The fire inside burned for everything to end.

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Forget what you had

Hopper, Excursion into Philosophy 1959

Excursion into Philosophy – Edward Hopper, 1959

Strains ride on billowed

Winds, traveling from somewhere

In time to this place

 

Like a dream slipped through

Narrow straits, like the sand that

Slips the hourglass

 

To rouse heavy lids

And to crank the mind awake

From memories locked

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Dismissal

Caspar_de_Crayer_Alexander_and_Diogenes

Alexander and Diogenes – Caspar de Crayer, ca. 1650

Humiliation and then bodily destruction:

The fire burning the bones, igniting

The marrow and crackling merrily,

Smacking its lips, perhaps to the savor

Of the melting flesh, or perhaps thinking

Of the lions enjoying their own flesh

Or the carrion birds and the scavenger

 

Dogs hunting for a foot poking from

Scant covering of dirt, or a hand

Grasping for the warmth of the sun

That has already descended past the

Hills around the city, sleeping as

Deep as the sorrow of the widow

And orphan, quietly huddled under

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