POEM: Rainy Day Rambling Brain

Sitting on the balcony, watching the rain, I see spreading concentric rings ping into each other in the puddles below. The expanding rings of big drops swamp those of the smaller droplets. More evenly-matched pairings of waves becomes something new — not pure chaos, but much more complex than either of their parents. The analogy to the workings of my mind is intuitively felt — if not intellectually understood.

A pigeon struts along the ledge of concrete slab on a building under construction next door. The slab intends to become a balcony like the one on which I’m sitting.

I want to think that only a winged creature could walk so confidently on that ledge, but I remember reading that skyscraper construction companies in New York City hired lots of men from a certain Western tribe known for fearlessness vis-à-vis heights.

But were they fearless?

Sooner or later, fearless creatures become careless creatures — at least among humans.

The chipmunk bobbing at the twiggy, distal end of a branch seems fearless to me, but I also feel that I’d see a lot more sidewalk-splattered chipmunks if the little beast didn’t have some kind of feeling about the precariousness of its situation. Maybe, I anthropomorphize.

And one puddle reaches a tipping point, pouring into another…

Cataract Haiku

I
thundering falls
sing a mind into trance —
timeless sound


II
nearing the falls,
the grand spectacle becomes
a fog wall


III
yamabushi
sit under the cascade —
nails unhammered


IV
seeking earth’s center,
the river drops as far as
land allows


V
a round boulder
sits at the precipice,
refusing to roll

DAILY PHOTO: Black-eyed Susans, Chicago

Taken in the summer of 2018 in Chicago

BOOK REVIEW: The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher

The Hollow PlacesThe Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon.in page

Out: November 3, 2020

 

I’m a sucker for down-the-rabbit-hole alternative world fiction. Kingfisher’s version is eerie and dark, as opposed to the more whimsical and fantastical versions of Lewis Carroll or Neil Gaiman. [While the latter have their share of tense moments, an adventurous person would still chase those experiences, but through Kingfisher’s looking glass is a world that everyone who wanders in immediately wants to escape.]

The book is set in and around a museum in a tourist trap town in the southern US. This museum is what would have been called a “cabinet of curiosities” back in the day, which is to say it combines natural history displays with a bit of a freak show aspect to spice things up. This setting contributes nicely to the story, offering both a suitably weird environment to lend credulity to the anomalous happenings and a suitably creepy environment to make the climax a harrowing experience.

The story revolves around a recently divorced woman named Kara (nickname: Carrot) who goes to live and work at Wonder Museum, her uncle’s cabinet of curiosities. She does this because she’s a gig-economy graphic designer without enough gigs to put her in a home of her own, because she wishes to avoid moving in with a mother who can be overbearing, and because her beloved Uncle Earl could use a hand as he’s getting up in years. When Uncle Earl has to get knee surgery and must leave the museum in Kara’s hands, all hell breaks loose by way of the opening of a portal to a parallel universe.

I should point out that the book isn’t dark and foreboding throughout, the main character and her sidekick / barista-next-door, Simon, provide plenty of comic relief, and we do get a good bit of character development for Kara in early chapters. I think the story benefits from what some might find a slow-burn opening. It’s intriguing to see how Kara is in emotional turmoil in the beginning over her failed marriage and lack of stable income, but then the trials of the story put matters into perspective for her.

Like the Algernon Blackwood novella (i.e. “The Willows”) that influenced it, this story manages to be a chilling and visceral experience without at all being gratuitously graphic or wantonly murderous. While some would classify it “horror,” it might better be considered a tale of the weird. The author does a fine job of creating atmosphere. In one sense, this concision of gruesomeness might be seen as a more impressive than in Blackwood’s story because Kingfisher’s characters are set in their everyday lives and thus the story has to shift between lighthearted and grim – whereas, Blackwood’s story about a couple of guys canoeing a remote stretch of the Danube River was able to be starker throughout. (As I recall, it’s been a while since I read “The Willows.”)

I found this book to be gripping. It kept my attention throughout with a mix of humor, gallows humor, and bleak moments. My most intense criticism involves the description of events leading up to, as well as during, the climax. There were moments where my attention was drawn from the story to asking questions (e.g. why was that so easy? Why was that so hard? Or, why didn’t she do X?) It might just be me, but I felt that in the attempt to maintain a fast pace, the author may have glossed over some challenges. That said, it’s fair to point out that the character is sleep-deprived and terrified at this point, so maybe this approach was (consciously or un-) an attempt to capture Kara’s disjointed state of mind, and maybe I was simply overreading. At any rate, I thought the book resolved strongly and was plotted smartly.

If you like alternative worlds fiction – and don’t mind it being a visceral experience – this would be a great book to check out.

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BOOK REVIEW: Dracula, Motherf**ker by Alex de Campi

Dracula, Motherf**ker!Dracula, Motherf**ker! by Alex de Campi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon.in page

 

This short story in graphic novelized form imagines a Dracula who has been trapped in his coffin since the post-Bram Stoker story time period coming back into action in 1970’s Los Angeles. (While there is a nod to the Bram Stoker novel in starting the story in late-1890’s Central / Eastern Europe, the book doesn’t present itself as a sequel — and purposefully tries to avoid some of the old [and new] vampire clichés.) The book taps into the feel of 1970’s noir crime drama. The main character, Quincy Harker, is a photographer whose work appeals to a macabre impulse of those who like to see snuff shots of beautiful people. As such, he goes around to scenes reminiscent of the Manson family slaughter of Sharon Tate and friends to snap his pictures. [Note: While in Bram Stoker’s book Quincy Harker was the child of Mina Harker, in this book that’s just an Easter Egg-style reference without any intended continuity to the book’s characters.] Because Harker is always going out at night to capture images of the recently deceased, he his easily drawn into the family feud between Dracula and his brides.

The artwork is interesting. There is not a single color palette used throughout, but rather different scenes are in different palettes. In the back-matter written by the artist, there is a statement about this being meant to influence the reader’s emotional inflection. It’s also pointed out in the back-matter that all scenes are set at night, which might not be otherwise apparent. Some panels are colored brightly and colorfully while others are in black and dark blues.

The story is simple and quick. Between drawing on the vampire mythology and on the noir crime cinema imagery, there’s not much that’s particularly novel about this book. That said, the fact that it puts Dracula’s brides at the fore does give it a bit of niche.

As mentioned, there is a writeup at the back by both the author (de Campi) and the artist (Henderson,) along with some draft drawings and scripts for those intrigued by how the sausage is made.

I enjoyed this enough to get caught up in reading it in a single sitting. (That said, it’s very short — even for the 80-ish pages — given sprawling panels and sparse / terse dialogue.) If you enjoy vampire fiction, it’s worth checking out.

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POEM: An Exercise in Walking Blindly

I walked up to the window — eyes closed.

The explosions of irregular shapes settled into an even sheet of orange — a warm and comforting hue. It became more yellow as I continued to stand before that unseen sunny day.

When I turned my back on the window, light blues boiled up from a dark and even metallic blue — until the inside of my eyelids settled into shifting Rorschach mosaics of dark colors, mostly purple and black.

Walking blindly,

-every step is an adventure,

-every sound matters,

-there is no wandering mind.

I wonder how long my brain would take to rewire if I kept my eyes sealed shut.

I suspect a blind person can take a mundane walk, but there is nothing mundane in my walk. There’s no mind left to wander after one piece keeps me on balance, another piece takes note of other sensory input, and yet another bit positions my hands for maximum gentleness of collisions.

I have no yearning to be blind, but it does wake up something within one what one never knew lie dormant. And in those moments I experience life anew.

DAILY PHOTO: Tyger Tyger, Burning Bright

Taken in Bannerghatta National Park in November 2013.