Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present a double feature by Adele Gardner: "Death by Poetry" and "Stilts." Gardner's poetry collection, Dreaming of Days in Astophel, is available from Sam's Dot Publishing. Her stories and poems have appeared in: Daily Science Fiction, Legends of the Pendragon, The Doom of Camelot, Penumbra, Scheherazade's Façade, Strange Horizons, Mythic Delirium, Goblin Fruit, and New Myths, among others. In 2013, her long poem “The Time Traveler’s Weekend” placed third in the Rhysling Awards of the Science Fiction Poetry Association; in 2012, her short poem, “In Translation,” placed third in the Rhyslings. Two stories and a poem earned honorable mention in Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling’s The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. Currently cataloging librarian for a public library, she's also literary executrix for her father, Delbert R. Gardner. Please visit www.gardnercastle.com.
Death by Poetry
Death by Poetry
In Celtic lands, a poet's curse could doom a king.
Now I face my own death, at your words:
the possibility of mangled wrists
scrawling out a last verse in staccato crimson,
or a watery grave plunged deep into Lucas Creek,
the windows rolled open, my foreign car
to let the swamp suck me down,
flesh and blood swept out eventually
through Menchville Creek to join the James River.
If my mouth were filled with mud,
I wouldn't speak when you ring each night,
your beautiful voice reading poetry
you've written for your latest lover:
your latest heartbreak. You're still mine,
and every cunning word in your wise haiku
slaps me with the visceral reality
of an emotion I ought never have heard.
My face reddens with the blows,
stinging on my end of the line as I listen
to your repetition of her final words:
how you pleaded, and she still refused.
And all the while you haven't noticed that
I'm sinking past the reeds, down through the silt--
I must burst the surface--I splutter,
the words rising, bitter love and teary complaints
popping like swamp-gas to poison you,
till you scream: "Enough! No more friendship!
I have no best friend any longer!
The distinction is meaningless and childish!"
Have I been a coward then,
to die so many deaths at your pen?
I stayed silent so I could hear that voice,
soak in the emotion I thirst for.
You insist I'm the better poet, but
I own not Emily's wit to break you down
in tiny slanted lines.
I cannot scan you into seventeen syllables
that signify much more than you seem to think I feel.
I cannot get your hooks out of my heart.
Even if I pretend I don't care,
act happy, high-spirited, the way you like me--
even if I manage not to call you--
or even if you talk to me all night--
I tell you I am drowning.
I've already sunk deep into Lucas Creek,
past any hope of light or air.
Your poems were
my final breath.
When Grandpa built stilts for our presents,
He equipped them with secret suppressants:
From the alley we'd vault
To the roof, then default
To a stroll through star spangles and crescents.
We helped him, that blazing July,
As he promised us all we would fly:
Hopping signs in the street
With our new wooden feet,
We'd outrace startled birds in the sky.
Tipped with vulcanized gravity shoes,
The stilts let us break all the rules:
Soon our anti-grav swing
Topped the roof with a fling:
Flying jets served as silver stepstools.
So we set sights on our grandest dreams:
To the moon! We'd explore, marry queens!
But our jaunt past the earth
Found no place for our mirth:
Quiet Moonies don't trust rowdy teens.
It's been years since our last escapade;
You might think we love life in the shade.
But our grandkids are due
The adventures we knew:
Time to reheel the stilts Grandpa made!
Poet’s Notes on “Death by Poetry”: I wrote this for an ex-beloved with whom I remained friends for a time. We were alternately one another’s muses, critics, and strange rivals, and at times had what felt like a poetry war. He would read his latest gorgeous work, in an intimate tone that suggested the verses were meant for me. Only after I’d provided enthusiastic praise did he reveal they belonged to his new beloved.
Poet’s Notes on “Stilts”: My maternal grandfather made my brothers, who are twins, two fantastic sets of handcrafted wooden stilts for the birthday all three of them shared—a fact which seemed even more appropriate because we frequently saw, in my brothers’ twinkling blue eyes, the laughter of our mischievous, blue-eyed, Irish Grandpa, with his magical tales in which we had amazing adventures and traveled on couches to the moon and back. Riding those stilts felt like flying!
Editor’s Note: In “Death by Poetry,” Gardner creates a haunting mood of despair that is simply delicious. She also creates a good sense of place, in a local sense (Newport News) and in a more cosmic or universal sense, with her reference to the Celts--this is most nicely done.
I like to fancy myself as fairly well read, but I've honestly never seen limericks presented in the linked fashion of Gardner’s “Stilts.” How delightful! Her last stanza adds just the perfect amount of sentimentality, too, bringing the stilts from her grandfather to her as a grandparent. "Death by Poetry" and "Stilts" first appeared in the February 2014 issue of Songs of Eretz Poetry E-zine.