This past Wednesday (September 9, 2020), I – like so many in California’s Bay Area – woke to darkness.
And stayed there.
Unlike anyone else among the ogling locals, my head and heart carried Allyn-a-Dale.
In the hour or so between arrival to my jobsite and clocking in for work, my minstrel and I paced the waterside, gazes upon the ominous shadowscape that would go on to fill the day’s news cycle. Past 7am and, thanks to the smoke of numerous wildfires, it looked like night, but murky. Orange. Malevolent.
My words alone could hardly do it or our visceral reactions justice.
“I’m fine. I just… I don’t belong here […] I hate this place, I hate being trapped! I want to be able to go out and do things! New and exciting things all the time, not the same places and faces day after day. I had that!” he moaned. “And now what do I have?”
* * *
In my journal this past week, I wrote:
Tirzah has asked of me, for her sake, that I [temporarily, while she gives herself to family] be fine. And so I keep my insides quiet. Hold feeling at a distance. Hide away inside of Avalon. (Am rereading my darling trilogy. Am remembering while I fell so hard in love) […]
What is it I’ve missed so much about the Outlaws books? The stories themselves? The people (of course)? The person I was when I wrote them?
“I miss who I was, too,” muses Allyn. “In the better parts of ‘Marriage’ and ‘Legend’. Before Will’s absence broke me.”
“I miss the process,” Will puts in. “The finding of the stories, and living them on paper. Even when it sucked. It’s… what we’re made for.”
I know. Me, too.
* * *
* * *
A month into international lockdown, I wrote:
Let’s run away and keep on running
Our leaping hearts leading, breath falling behind
Air frittered away in gasps of laughter
In living faster, racing our colors past all of the lines
Our inner world lies vast
Haste now, waste not
A dream that may not last
Before your soul’s stuck fast, let’s run away
Let’s drive away and keep on driving
Miss me with an exit, we’ll escape beyond
Cruise to the edge of new horizons
I don’t mind our riding this adventure ‘til the wheels fall off
Of all that lies ahead
Leaving long gone
The everyday we dread
Before your light’s snuffed dead, let’s drive away
Let’s steal away and keep on stealing
All the precious little moments that are ours to take
Share out a cache of mini magics
While we have it, out like a bandit’s just what we’ll make
Once upon a short while ago, mah gurl alerted me to a certain contest.
The challenge: To summarize the fantastical events of all four books in The Raven Cycle series by Maggie Stiefvater – (aka, one of my very favorite series in the known universe) – in 200 words or a 1-minute video.
The prize for three lucky winners, chosen by Maggie herself: An exclusive boxed set of The Raven Cycle, plus the contest’s organizers will share the winning entries on their social platforms.
I did not initially think to enter, because condensing the plot of even one novel into a 200-word back-o’-book-esque blurb is struggle enough. (I should know. I’ve only had to do it more than a dozen times for my own books.) How in the world to do it for four???
So I put the notion aside. …And then I got dragged out of bed bright and early by my muse, journaled for about an hour, and wound up with a lovely contender of a poem on my hands, fondly entitled “In Henrietta, Virginia”.
Though I hadn’t the patience to count out the words in my handwritten scribbles*, I could tell at a glance that it totaled past 200. That meant that if I wanted my little labor of love to have a shot in the contest, I’d have to call upon my inner bard and recite the poem at sparkling speed.
*(Having subsequently typed it all out, the exact word-count comes to 271.)
Video, recorded. Entry, entered. Winners – as of this post’s drafting – unannounced.
Certainly, I hope to be among the lucky three deemed a cut above the rest by an idolized author! But even if I’m not, it will be something to suppose that she saw art I made in response to hers, and that it gave her joy. After all, were I the author in Maggie’s place, I’d be giddy over a fandom scrambling to put my beloved story into new words.
Non-Stiefvater readers of the blog, meanwhile, are also perfectly welcome to watch my video (linked here!), and/or read the poem at a less break-neck pace below.
A daughter of seers knows two things for truth.
The first she’s been warned of since earliest youth –
To kiss her true love is to kill. Next, her rule:
Avoid the boys from Aglionby school
in Henrietta, Virginia.
She knows no temptation until she knows them –
So living, so deathly – a strange constellation:
A young man’s form holds an ancient soul
That yearns and journeys the world over,
Desperate to discover why
He lives this second chance at life.
He knows not the depth of his wealth, nor his power,
Only the call of the legend Glendower
in Henrietta, Virginia.
A son of a dream dreams a world of his own,
Full of cages to rage in ‘til he reclaims home.
A boy in the dust sells his hands and his eyes.
Could this bondage help free him from family ties?
A mantle of green seek a waren of grey.
A poet with blood on his hands finds the way,
Along with a love and a life that he craves,
in Henrietta, Virginia.
Their searches converse on a line o’ the ley,
The road of the corpses who walk in the day,
But too fast start to fade, become monstrous shades,
Like nightmares that out of thieves’ dreams claw their way
into Henrietta, Virginia,
Where you unearth a tomb, expecting one thing,
Only to find the mad light of a tree.
Where hornets are death, unlike robotic bees,
And all could soon fall to the Unmaker’s sting.
Ware the words of the forest, the song of the corvids,
You mirrors, magicians, and dreams:
The way you’ve made is the Raven King’s.
Any other fans of The Raven Cycle (and/or other Stiefvater works) in the da house?! If yes, how well do you think my poem captured the soul of the series? If no, has this post made you at all curious to give the books a read? All thoughts welcome in the comments!
And like my last post, this one features poetry, but of a different kind. Inspired, in large part, by the preferred art form of Victor Vale in V.E. Schwab’s genius anti-superhero novel, “Vicious”, these are blackout poems, or found poems – created by taking a page of text, selecting the words you wish to standout as an idea on their own, and blacking out the rest. A challenging but sometimes relaxing endeavor, I’ve found.
Below are a handful of such poems that presented themselves to me within snippets of “Ballad”. And because I’m of the opinion that most poems work best when not over-explained, I’m not going to tell you anything else about them, apart from their given titles. Poems’ text repeated below the pics, in case the images don’t show up for you. Enjoy!
Circle of the dark
Subtle gold light
(How are you real?)
See the way
I see you
What We Were
Good – stunning – altruistic –
Hard – secret – not so secret –
Grim – dear – something approaching horror
Which were you?
Which is to say,
Presence not very much minded
Something in some way extraordinary
Feel the Music
Feel the music
Play a dance
Fly with abandon.
For a Lover
A look (Take me)
An urgency known by heart in the heavy night (Bless the dark)
…And well into the next
Voila! Those who’ve read “Ballad”, can you tell from where in the book I found the poems? Whether you’ve read “Ballad” or not, what’d you think of the poems? Do you have a favorite? If so, which and why? (Bear in mind, a blog comment is one of many ways you can enter my Rafflecopter giveaway, perchance to win cool prizes. *wiggles brows*) And to you who haven’t read “Ballad” because you’ve yet to order your copy, now’s the time to change that! It’s yours for the taking via Amazon, CreateSpace, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, OverDrive… Have at ye!
Welcome to Avalon, a Renaissance Faire where heroes of legend never die. Where the Robin Hood walking the streets is truly the noble outlaw himself. Where the knightly and wizardly players of King Arthur’s court are in fact who they profess to be. Where the sense of enchantment in the air is not mere feeling, but the Fey magic of a paradise hidden in plain sight.
Enter Allyn-a-Dale. The grief of his father’s death still fresh and the doom of his own world looming, swirling realities leave the young minstrel marooned in an immortal Sherwood Forest, where he is recruited as a member of Robin Hood’s infamous outlaw band. But Allyn’s new life may reach its end before it’s scarcely begun. Their existence under threat, the Merry Men are called upon to embark on a journey to the dangerous world Outside – ours – on a quest which must be achieved without delay, or eternity in Avalon will not amount to very long at all.
Which of each of the Merry Men’s quotes from “The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale” most fully captures the essence of their respective characters?
Robin Hood: “Bureaucracy. 😛 ”
Will Scarlet: “What’d I just vote for? Wasn’t listening for the first bit, but heard something about ‘Will Scarlet,’ so…”
Little John: “Hmm.”
Allyn-a-Dale: “Well. This discussion has been all very dispiriting, I must say, but I do regretfully conclude that it has no bearing whatsoever on what I have little choice but to do.”
Marion Hood: …
Will: Marion doesn’t seem to say a lot of quintessential-Marion things.
Marion: I’m trying to move the plot along. Y’all wanna sit around and soliloquize, and I’m over here like, We’re gonna die.
Up after another too-short night, made shorter by a cold smothering shut my sinuses. This is a morning for tea.
A mug of green with honey – my mug from Tirzah that calls me “aunt” in German, so near to what I go by with my treasured baby nephew. I don’t like the taste ohne Zucker (without sugar), but this is better for my condition, so I endure, knowing better is to follow.
A pot of loose-leaf – Tirzah’s pot from me. It pours out prettily pink and smelling of almond cookies – or, I joke, of cyanide. A momentary smile for pleasant thoughts of murder.
We take to the couch and light a rose incense stick, standing upright in a mug of its own. My NaNoWriMo mug, a had-to-have purchase for the minstrel-esque muse on the side.
The flame burns down, the smoke curls up – drifts and dances and hangs in the air. It appears as a magic fog, or perhaps like a soul’s departure. Wouldn’t it be a sight to burn such a stick in an open casket at a wake?
Sitting and sipping. Character chatting. Bracing our spirits for household chores done in a blink. Time for a walk.
* * *
Patches of clean, airy blue peek through the overcast sky. A sprinkle of rain, there and then gone, though the ever-changing clouds remain.
Scarlet gestures at the world before us. “You’d think it’d be gloomy, but it’s not.”
Sy’s head shakes in agreement. “Too bright through the gray, and the ground too green.”
Variegated greens and browns and purples. Always purples, like the work of a character – (none of you have yet met him; let’s call him Gilbert, since it’s his name) – who makes art through me, some nights. I don’t much care for the current coloring book fad, but his artist’s vision sees the possibilities in the pigmented pencils and the blanks between the lines. With my hand, he’s managed masterpieces. And with his eyes, we walk and see the subtleties of wood and leaf and sky. We joke that it’s nature imitating his art, but really, Gilbert just does beauty like God.
(Samples of Gilbert’s work)
* * *
We choose the road not taken. With so many paths running like veins between villages, we can easily find a new walk every time. We cross the street, then cross a field, nestled half-wild in the hills.
A cloud of birds rises in unison, then – for no reason we know – divides in two. Bigger, blacker, crows or ravens hop and flap and hoarsely caw. We’ve seen then form clouds, too, some evenings, filling the sky like some strange omen. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t see a corvid perched upon a branch or roof. It’s their town; we’re just living in it.
Shaggy horses stand a fence away – majestic as lions, with the sturdy nobility of dwarves. We unofficially name the black ones Thorin Oakenshield. We exchange greetings with a Thorin as we pass, blowing at his nostrils while he politely sniffs.
“A pleasure making your acquaintance,” we say in parting.
A gracious bow of his great head. “The pleasure was mine.”
Such a gentleman. (Assuming he was male.) Nothing like the horses just up the road from our house, who always glare as we pass like we’re bringing down the neighborhood.
* * *
The paths curve up, down, and around. We take the forks that most appeal to our whims. Some days, some walks, the paths are busy, full of people, their bikes, their children, their dogs. But today, we are blessedly alone – just two girls and their closest imaginary friends.
We head further into the unknown, never fretting that we’ll truly lose our way. Tirzah’s smartphone aside, all roads eventually lead to another road big enough that there will be signage. Unfettered by fear, we wander freely. Unbothered by rain, we ramble on. Unheated by the further cooling of the air, we’re not sorry to find ourselves on the path back home.
Back on the familiar side of the street. Back to the neighborhood horses whose stares seem almost tolerant today. Back to warmth, the riddance of wet boots, and hot cocoa – salted caramel, and just the ticket to tide us over ‘til dinner’s been made.
We’re startled to realize (and equally pleased): This has been a really good day, all through. Mugs raised in a toast of contentment, all the sweeter for the knowledge that it cannot last forever.
Walking through her German village – (our German village, I can say for now) – our latest heated argument punctuated by the battle sounds of fireworks.
Staring at the bursts of color in the foggy sky, my expression sobbing while the tears refuse to fall. It’s been a wretched day.
Is this how the old year ends? I mourn. Is this how the new begins? In painful misery? I don’t want that kind of year. Not again.
Maybe a bottle rocket will shoot me.
* * *
Meandering back down a side path. Stopping to stare at a tree – bare except for water droplets glittering in the smoky glow of a streetlamp. Silent music, melancholy beauty.
“That tree is Allyn-a-Dale,” Tirzah says, then looks to the flamboyant sky. “The fireworks are Will Scarlet.”
Will’s laugh through my throat. “Yeah they are.”
* * *
We – the hosts and the host inside of them – take a seat on pathside boulders. Embracing the mists like we’re born of them. Craning to watch the comets erupt.
“It’s hard,” Will says for me, eyes on the showers of light, “when someone who might otherwise be a happy person just… can’t, a lot. It’s like a flu of sadness. You try to drink plenty of fluids, try to get your rest, but all you can really do is let it run its course.”
Through Tirzah, Sy nods. “In her way, your author gets sick as often as mine does.”
“It really is.”
Will arches a brow. “Take bets on which of ‘em dies first?”
Sy puts his money on my death; Will goes the other way. Winner’s author gets custody of the dead one’s characters.
Like that hadn’t already been agreed upon.
* * *
Back to the house for a New Year’s toast – she, me, her husband makes three, classy glasses of wood-flavored whiskey for all.
I snap pics of her in her hat and sharp jacket, Gandalf’s pipe balanced at the corner of her mouth. She raises the glass. “Happy New Year, old sport.”
“Mm, yes, I say, rather, *bluster-bluff*.”
She laughs at the toothpick I swirl in my drink and contently chew. “Who needs wood whisky when you can have whisky wood?”
A masterpiece of a movie, thanks to my sister’s Netflix. (“The Illusionsist” – you seen it? You may wish to.)
Always cold, but – with three top layers, a beanie, and T’s ski pants over my jeans – almost warm enough.
Always at risk to feel sad and angry and scared that life will swallow me and my inner fog whole, but for now – through the wee hours – happy enough.
* * *
I expect the year will be much like this.
Happy ‘til I’m not, sad ‘til I’m better, my people and me weathering it all like we do.
It will be hard.
Bits will be glorious – pockets of silent music in the mist.