Always Empty

Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from September, 2022.

I. ghost hunt, n.

There’s just something missing
on the battlefield.
The thrill of the kill is there,
the electricity of bloodlust,
but iron helmets, visors
hide their eyes.

I want to watch the waves
calm within their irises.

II. beeline, v.

In the old days,
I’d strike from a shadow,
dagger to throat.

I could feel
the tremble of their larynx
on the blade’s edge
with my fingertips.

III. tots, n.

There’s a big celebration at camp
after our victory in battle.

My steps through blood-soaked dirt
become steps through drunken soil,
potatoes float in puddles of wine and ale.

They toast me as I pass,
slurred cheers of “Captain!”
I feel so empty.

IV. fabulism, n.

There was a future in my head
when I started down this road.

It did not include power, status;
it included revenge.

V. leading light, n.

A singular ember
in my chest —
A dense anger.

A vision of their bodies,
rivulets of blood
over the edge of our bed.

VI. endarkenment, n.

Their corpses felt me
empty.

The rush of the kill
from a just vengeance, 
did not fill the void.

I left town, got a job
doing the only thing
that made me feel alive.

VII. amazake, n.

A soldier hands me a chalice
of some drink or other
as I enter the captain’s tent.

A strategist from the capitol
holds up a communication scroll
bearing the king’s face.

He congratulates me on the victory,
rambles about honor and other shit
he knows I don’t care about.

VIII. Monogyne, n.

When you hold someone’s light
in the palms of your hands,
get to choose when and how
you clench your fist, see it rise
like steam between your knuckles— that
is power. That is the feeling
of control, of being alive.

IX. altaltissimo, n.

Does this dude ever
take his crown off?

When I bound my fate to his,
I didn’t anticipate
having to listen to his
incessant blathering
after every victory.

It’s not even for me—
it’s for the nobles who believe
his brother suffered a fatal heart attack.

X. anjeer, n.

I look at the palm of my glove
while King NeverShutsUp tangents
to lofty goals for the next year.

It’s stained with dried blood— mine
and others, probably— I don’t remember
when they were washed last.

It looks like a noble’s robe would
after a festival, covered with remnants
of spilled wine, fallen fruit— trophies.

XI. rachmanism, n.

The strategist drops the scroll
when he applauds for the king
as he talks about defending
the freedoms of his subjects.

This behavior is beyond me.
‘Freedom’ and ‘subjects’
don’t seem like complimentary terms,
but I don’t collect tax revenue,

so what do I know.

XII. sibsomeness, n.

Sometimes, I fear
what will happen to me
if the king has his way—
peace comes to the kingdom
and he no longer needs me
or my protection.

XIII. nash-gab, n.

The king asks questions about the battle
after the comm scroll with his head
has been properly restored.

My answers are short,
my nods curt.

I wonder what it would be like 
if he didn’t fear me
or he actually cared about the details.

XIV. deliverology, n.

I met the King
when he was a prince
in a tavern on the outskirts
of his territory. Peasant clothes
to hide his nobility or feign camaraderie,
a pint in his hand. 

He slurred through ways
the kingdom could be better
under his name. Cheers and ale
bounced off the walls with his exclamations.

I asked what he was willing to pay.

XV. xennial, n. and adj.

In the predawn dark, he was torn
between the traditions of his older brother
and the ideals of the youth in his bones.

But he saw it, for a moment,
in the flickering candlelight: the crown
on his head, the power in his voice.

He offered piles of gold, a legal pardon;
the future boredom was palpable.
He stammered, sweat on his temples.

I asked for a seat on his council,
command of his army. He thought me
a mindless killer. We shook hands.

XVI. psionic, adj.

He never asked me how
I got rid of the king.

People don’t like hearing the details
of shadow magic, especially, I assume

when your power would be questioned
if anyone ever found out.

I use it on the battlefield still:
pits that swallow squadrons;

shadows that consume brains,
flood the whites of their eyes.

After our first victory, he asked me
how it was done. I told him, “Like before.”

XVII. segotia, n.

The king closes his address
by inviting us for a feast at his castle.
The strategist accepts the invitation
for both of us: a knee jerk reaction.

The king’s face fades
into the off-white of the scroll.
He looked excited to see the people
he considers his friends.

XVIII. bird dog, n.

The road back to the city is long.
Soldiers practically skip in anticipation
for a warm welcome home,
feasts with their families.

I keep seeing faces in tree bark—
faces I’ve seen before,
ones I haphazardly sent into shadows
before the king found me.

XIX. requiescat, n.

Part of me remembers my wife—
the way she’d knead sourdough
with the heel of her hand, singing
a melody in the morning light.
I miss her then, want her soul to feel
peace.

But then, I see her fingers entangled
in the hair of someone else: the alchemist
with smooth hands; a thick, braided beard.
I see their slit throats, their blood pooling
on a bed I could never return to, and I wish her soul
pain.

XX. parapublic, adj.

The king’s army is made
of young men who break rank
as we travel through a village
outside the city walls.

Rundown buildings,
families in tattered clothes,
who anticipate their return,
who worry about and love them.

XXI. adyt, n.

I don’t stop them from running
to the open arms of their families.

I don’t force them to walk
through the city to the castle.

I don’t subject them to the king’s
lengthy speeches, empty accolades.

I don’t pressure them to eat
mediocre roast in the king’s dining hall.

That’s a job for me.

XXII. binge-watching, n.

Does this guy ever shut up?
It’s astounding
he’s capable of eating any food
while moving from story to story.
Is anyone even listening?

XXIII. sharenting, n.

I look between family portraits
which line the walls
of the dining hall.

So many stoic children
forced to stand at attention
in perpetuity.

Would it be so bad
if someone pruned
this tree?

XXIV. garbler, n.

A tendril of shadow
coils around my boot,
slithers over dried blood.

I left a sham marriage
just to enter into
the cage of power. 

Misery and emptiness
follow me like anchors
slogging through loose sand.

The shadow is hungry. I
am hungry. My fingers
twitch, nails ready

to dig into flesh.

XXV. nosey, v.

Pay attention to the small actions:
the way he flicks his wrist,
talks with both arms,
saunters across the hall.

There’s information hidden there
that’ll help identify his weak spots,
expose patterns he never talks about.
That’s what I need to kill him.

XXVI. stepford, adj.

The castle guard wear similar armor—
shiny, the king’s sigil on the breast
strong, but inflexible, slow.

They go through rigorous training,
all of them, mastering the same techniques,
exposing the same weak spots.

XXVII. pretenture, n.

Humans build to keep out enemies,
but shadows flow over them with ease.
Yet another example of overconfidence,
misunderstanding of our world’s nature.

I slip along the lines of mortar between
the castle’s stone, let threads of void
ensnare the guards, flood their eyes
with visions of tortured, mangled bodies.

XXVIII. melpomenish, adj.

The king’s chamber is filled with
garish trinkets—  objects to look at,
no utility.

Under thick quilts with intricate designs,
his snores mix with the fireplace’s crackling.
No challenge.

I envelope the flame in a shadowy blanket,
knock a goblet off the mantlepiece
for the drama.

His shoulders shift, a bleary investigation.
His face when his eyes fell on me—
exquisite.

XXIX. anonymuncule, n.

He begs, pleads for his life,
offers riches, titles, land.

He says they’ll find me out, whisper
my name in every corner of the kingdom.

Even in death, he
just never shuts up.

I grip his heart in a shadowy fist,
feel its rhythmic tremors.

I squeeze until it finally stops,
until he’s finally silent,

until the waves in his irises
become stagnant pools.

XXX. leso, n.

I rearrange his body and his blankets
to look like his heart failed in his sleep.

Intricate patterns, expensive dyes, his quilt
reminds me of the dresses my wife wore

back when she was alive. And, like that,
a void settles in my chest again.

Always empty. All is fleeting.
I exit under the cover of the dark moon.

A Mutual Aching to Leave

Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from March, 2022.

I. cardiffian, n.

I start my day
watching river water
flow into the bay.

II. barley sugar, n.

A candy shop by the footbridge
switches its sign
from closed to open.
The display case filled with fudge,
hard candies my mom would like.
I consider buying them, before remembering
she’s gone.

III. beastie, n.

A dog walks by that looks like hers.
No matter how far I travel,
I cannot escape her memory.

IV. interrrobang, n.

I keep landing on
inconsequential memories,
not ones with thematic resonance
or impactful consequences.
Why do I keep thinking
about the time her tea kettle vibrated
on the element, her worried exclamation
asking me what I did, her laugh
afterward scolding herself
for jumping to conclusions?

V. toyetic, adj.

I used to run across the house
barefoot on Saturday mornings
to beat her to the tv
so I could watch cartoons.

She’d bring me breakfast,
which I’d absent-mindedly ignore
while children would command
small monsters to attack each other.

VI. kente, n.

I head back to my hotel;
wrap her urn in a cloth
made by her best friend,
gifted at her memorial back home;
place it in my backpack
to take her on a Dr. Who walking tour —
something she asked for
in the hospital.

VII. anythingarian, n.

As I walk
from landmark to landmark,
I debate
what to do with her ashes.
She told me
many different ideas, locations,
never settling.

VIII. chipmunk, n. and adj.

During a break for lunch,
a chipmunk approaches
my table outside the cafe,
looks me dead in the eye.
I see her. In those eyes. It’s like
she’s sending me a message.

IX. bandulu, n. and adj.

A voice emits from the eyes.
“Rialto Beach. Scatter me
on the rocky shore.”

I open the permit application when I get
back to my hotel, but the letters
blur, the boxes checker.

I book a flight back home.
I’ll just go the coast and
do the thing.

X. zombocalypse, n.

People walk around the airport
like packages on a conveyor belt.
I sit alone by my gate
in an uncomfortable pleather chair
when someone walks toward me,
sits in the seat right next to me.

It is my mother.

XI. cuddy wifter, n.

A notepad appears on her lap,
a pen in her left hand.
She draws quick lines
to make feathers
of a great blue heron
standing in a still pond.

“I want so much to be at peace.”
Her voice a tired drawl.

XII. amaxophobia, n.

The ceiling dings. An announcement
about my flight boarding soon.

“I can’t believe you flew my ashes across the planet. You know I hate flying.”

“You said you wanted to see the places in Dr. Who. And it was a walking tour.”

“You can’t believe everything a dying woman tells you.”

XIII. bassa-bassa, n.

The ceiling dings.
My boarding group is called.

She stands before I do, stomps
her feet, yells at me for putting her
through this.

People walk through her
as she screams.

XIV. belove, n.

She continues to guilt me
as I walk through the skybridge,
down the aisle to my seat
near the back of the plane.

I’m sure she will go on
for the whole ten hours
until we land in Seattle.

I will do whatever is needed
to give her peace. It’s what
a son should do.

XV. overshare, v.

My guilt is immense.
Guilt about making her travel;
guilt if I hadn't traveled in the first place.
There is no winning.
My guilt is immense.

XVI. utopiate, n.

My ZzzQuil kicks in somewhere
over the Atlantic; I fall
asleep. My feet bare,
toes dug into the edge of sand
pulled under by the surf.
Soft wind, quiet roar,
the sun behind
a pale canvas of clouds.

XVII. flaithulach, adj.

The last time
my mom saw the coast —
winter — a last escape
before chemo kept her
homebound.
She stood on driftwood logs,
arms wide, a deep breath of salty air.
Ocean spray or tears, I’m unsure.

XVIII. powfagged, adj.

An overhead announcement
of our imminent arrival in Seattle
wakes me. My eyes struggle open.
My mom's voice crescendos
as blurs transition into shapes.
She scolds me for falling asleep
while she was talking.

XIX. credentialism, n.

Baggage claim, she draws me in
a graduation robe, holding a diploma cover.
“I wish I could have seen it.”

“Me too.”

“You shouldn’t have taken that semester off.”

“I had to. You are more important than a piece of paper.”

“I was dying. That ‘piece of paper’ would have been your key to a successful future.”

XX. bestiary, n.

I wait for my Uber
in the parking garage.
Midmorning, the smell
of concrete and gasoline.
Five Subarus drive by
ten people and one ghost
waiting for their getaways.

A blue Prius pulls up.
The driver leans their purple hair
out of the window to announce my name.
They offer to help with my suitcase,
but I decline, placing it in the backseat,
until my mom mutters
under her breath. I put it in the trunk.

XXI. wych elm, n.

The driver makes small talk
while my mom complains
about how everything’s changed.

They stop the car just past the driveway
under the tree in our front yard
whose branches leave
a fluctuating pattern on the hood.

I transfer luggage from their car to mine
while my mom taps her foot,
stares at the mailboxes down the road.

XXII. free solo, n.

I take 512 to I-5 to 101 for a beat,
route 8 to 12, then back to 101,
but clockwise,
along the coast —
the sun sinks into the pacific.

She watches it all in silence.

XXIII. siu mei, n.

The full moon exposes
a near-empty parking lot.
The rocky shore tinted blue, except
for an orange spot at
the driftwood’s edge.
A family sits on logs around it,
laughing, singing.

XXIV. light fantastic, n.

My mom walks
over the logs to the wet sand
— no footprints —
and dances to the singing family.

XXV. imagineer, n.

I wake up to an overcast sky —
a matte canvas
behind my fogged windshield.
My mom's urn secure
in my backpack beneath
the passenger seat.

It’s time for her final walk
along the coast.

XXVI. archaeobotanist, n.

“Before you were born, your father drove us out here for a weekend in the summer. Rialto was pretty unknown back then — hardly any other people were walking the shore. You could really hear the waves crash and the rocks shuffle beneath your feet.

“We sat on a log right around here for a break halfway to Hole in the Wall, and I just stared at the horizon. The crashing waves surrounded me. Then your father, that sweet man, put this flower in my lap — looked like a paintbrush imbued with fire — so orange, so warm.

“I kept that flower in a notebook for years. I pressed it between the pages I wrote about the trip.

“I never wanted to forget.”

XXVII. dayside, n. and adj.

After a rest, Hole in the Wall in sight,
I take her urn out of my backpack.
It feels like
she would want to see it approach,
feel the sun
one last time.

XXVIII. saketini, n.

She squats over a tide pool
to poke a crab hiding
under an anemone.
It flinches, untouched.
She laughs. “Yes,” a sigh,
“That’s what I needed.”

XXIX. chip, v.

The rock juts out into the water.
Hole in the Wall, an arch at its end.
Tide’s coming in; I have to move fast.
I step around tide pool edges
barefoot, quickly, before they’re buried.

XXX. monophobia, n.

Under the arch, anemones sway
in tide pools sloshed by the incoming tide.
I hesitate. Her urn, opened, in my hands.
I know I need to. I know she needs it.
But what will happen? What will happen
when she is finally gone?

XXXI. jeune premier, n.

I scatter her ashes along the tide pools
on the north side of Hole in the Wall.
I look south to her standing on the other side.

She walks toward me through the arch,
dissolves in beads of light, which expand
to the Hole’s rim, fade to an overcast sky.

A Traveler’s Hymn

Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from January, 2022.

I. caravette, n.

He packed his bags and threw them back
behind the driver’s seat.
His destination was not known,
but still he headed east.

The engine revved, the shifter clicked,
and gravel stirred below.
His horn honked twice, he waved his arm,
and turned onto the road.

II. limbo, v.

The highway’s flat and straight until
the city’s skyline spouts
and overpasses form above
his head so full of doubt.

He ducked his head — no logic there —
when under every one.
And all the morning, he did chase
his guiding light: the sun.

III. hagiologist, n.

He prayed to Bona, Pisa’s saint,
as dusk became the night.
She watches over travelers, when
the sun is not so bright.

His eyes were heavy, night was young;
at some point he must stop.
He hoped that Bona'd keep him safe;
his head his arm did prop.

IV. chutzpasik, adj.

He drove nonstop throughout the night
to see the coast at dawn.
Not tired, he said, then shook his head
when lines began to yawn.

His car’s warm hood, while parked askew,
sent steam into the sky.
The sun did peek from o’er the sea;
its beauty made him cry.

V. hagfish, n.

When hunger fin'lly sank its teeth
into his quiv’ring ribs,
he walked across the parking lot,
and tore off trash can lids.

He dug around to find some food
inside curled fast food bags.
A bite or two to get him through
that morning’s final drag.

VI. belongingness, n.

He ate, returned to beach’s edge,
and inhaled salty air.
He combed his matted hair by wind
and at horizon stared.

He breathed in tandem with the sea —
the tidal ebb and flow.
He wanted this to last fore’er,
but knew he had to go.

VII. driving box, n.

The driver’s seat was worn and cold
and sighed when sat upon.
He had to find a job so that
he’d have new clothes to don.

His wrinkled shirt from Applebee’s
was fading, tearing more.
It’d lasted sev’ral summers, but
no longer could be worn.

VIII. up a daisy, int.

He drove until a hiring sign
did fin’lly ‘pear downtown,
then par’lleled parked across the street,
the visor’s mirror down.

A deep breath there, then slapped his face 
and stared into his eyes.
“You got this, Adam,” said he then,
and donned a clip-on tie.

IX. ghostbuster, n.

“For months now, we have heard these wails
from down below the shop.
We’re ‘fraid a spirit’ll one day rise,
the floor our blood will mop.

“Now, I’ve been told a spell exists,
or something science-y,
to rid us of this blight. Can you?
We’d pay you handsomely.”

X. inadvisably, adv.

No hesitation in his voice,
he took the job and said,
“I’ve never failed to catch a ghost
or zombie or undead.”

The shopkeep pointed to the door
that to the basement lead.
His confidence successf’lly hid
a plan to fake instead.

XI. gee-whizzery, n.

Atop the stairs, she left him there
to go down on his own.
Her glasses fogged with nervous sweat,
her legs were heavy stone.

He closed the door to hide his work
and falsify results.
So dark and cold, a thick’ning fog
reveals something occult.

XII. zom-com, n.

A paw broke through the concrete floor
with saggy, patchy flesh.
Long nose and tail, now on all fours,
teeth flared to eat afresh.

Then Adam reached behind his back
to find something to throw.
He didn’t know ’til out his hand,
it was a squeaky bone.

XIII. scrimmaging, adj.

Like lightning, pounced the dog on bone,
whose squeaks to heaven cried.
Its rubber shards like mist in fog;
its tone grew low and died.

The dog’s eye sockets, empty voids,
to Adam turned at once.
T’ward him a blur of fur did dash 
like he’s the prey it hunts.

XIV. bridle-wise, adj.

In grade school, Adam wrangled cows
at Uncle Nathan’s ranch.
When bored of ropes and tying knots,
he’d settle calves by hand.

His callused palms had softened since,
but muscle mem’ry stayed.
He took a stance to catch the dog
in order to get paid.

XV. ghoulishness, n.

He caught the dog with thund’rous boom,
the hind legs in his hands.
The sound of crackling tendons popped
like snapping rubber bands.

Adrenaline had blinded him,
so fearing for his life.
Removed both legs, then broke each bone
and grabbed his pocketknife.

XVI. summum malum, n.

To throat he took his knife to slice
to separate the brain
from body; with no signal then
on concrete floor it lain.

From out the neck, a thicker fog
as black as void did rise.
It filled the walls, and ‘cross the room,
as red as blood, were eyes.

XVII. sitooterie, n.

Engulfed in black, no gravity
nor distance clear, alert
he was to all. A canvas rip 
below him revealed dirt.

He staggered back onto his feet.
A willow tree gave shade
to chairs, a man in tailored suit
with red eyes said his name.

XVIII. cardioid, n. and adj.

“Now Adam, why would you do that?
My heart, you drive a stake.”
His voice consumed all other sound,
left silence in his wake.

“You’ve killed my dog, I can’t forgive
this slight upon my house.”
He raised his palm, a flash of light,
in flames, the willow doused.

XIX. garden bean, n.

While burning branches fell around
his twitchy, icy hands,
he balled his fists, assumed the stance
that he, for ages, planned.

He knew the man with eyes of blood
would find him once again.
His constant moving to escape
from every demon sent.

XX. fantysheeny, adj.

His pocketknife, passed down to him
on father’s bed of death,
vibrated harsh — a phantom pain,
perhaps his final breath.

Unsheathed then clicked the blade in place,
glowed yellow, orange by flame.
“I’ll exorcise you with this knife
that bares my father’s name.”

XXI. baje, adj. and n.

He lunged with blade in hand and dodged
a fist engulfed in fire.
He stabbed with a calypso beat
against the well-dressed pyre.

So many holes, his knife did leave,
in that maroon suit coat.
No blood did pour around its waist,
no fibers drenched or soaked.

XXII. witching, n.

Despair set in; defeat was near —
he’d die without a sound.
Blue waves of light flowed ‘crossed his knife;
he spotted dewy ground.

He plunged the blade into the spot,
then twisted it in place.
His arm aimed toward the eyes of blood
set in his father’s face.

XXIII. spirit-stirring, adj.

He felt a stream of water flow
from blade through arm to chest.
A geyser ‘rupted out his palm
at he so finely dressed.

He heard a scream, ethereal,
while launching his attack.
His father’s howling scream was there
to take his body back.

XXIV. meet-cute, n.

The flames extinguished, eyes of blood
evaporated then
in mist unholy darkened sky.
His father back again.

The sky, grown black, engulfed the tree
and everything around.
He woke up ‘gainst the shopkeep’s chair,
the basement door unbound.

XXV. ram-stam, adj., adv., and n.

He wiped his hair, and dust and ash 
cascaded to the floor.
“Your problem’s gone, I guarantee.
No ghosts will haunt your store.

“About your door, I’m sorry that
I broke it off its hinge,
but can your help me to my feet?
my lower back’s a twinge.”

XXVI. jai, int.

“Oh, thank you, thank you, so, so much!
The door is no big deal,
‘cause you have saved us all. Can I
repay you with a meal?”

She blushed, and o’er her ear she brushed
her soft magenta hair.
She did not meet his eyes, because
the floor is where she stared.

XXVII. toydom, n.

His heart still fast, like jumbled words,
the pictures in his head.
His vocal cords did vibrate, but
he knew not what he said.

She helped him off the floor and walked
across the shop. Sunset.
His body moved all on its own —
strung like a marionette.

XXVIII. swag, n.

A wave had crashed along the shore
as they had sauntered by.
His lungs were full of salty air;
he felt he’d never die.

His thoughts and limbs back in control;
his body fully his.
He fin’lly asked her ‘bout herself;
she said she goes by Liz.

XXIX. banteringly, adv.

The restaurant Liz chose was lit
by candlelight’s dim glow.
The sun, which set o’er harbor west,
was split by masts of boats.

They joked about the days they had
way after food was done.
The conversation was so nice,
he felt no want to run.

XXX. drivel, n.

The truest form of ease, of home,
is when you talk about
whatever happens to come up,
as free as geysers’s spouts.

So, Liz and Adam talked all night
until they kicked them out.
But then, they just walked ‘round the pier —
a moonlit walkabout.

XXXI. haggard, n.

Throughout the night, unceasingly,
his thoughts returned to home:
an aging farm, his father back
to tend it on his own.

He built a shell, their future pruned,
he tried to not look sad.
“As much as I would like to stay,
I need to help my dad."

Truefast; Or, Inherited from the Gods

It is imperative, Elliot, 
that you pay attention.
Our fate may fall in your hands one day,
and time may take me before then, 
so you must remember this on your own.

There is a word my elders taught me
(yes, there are people older than me)
that has been passed down
since gods walked among us
that you must learn.

Hausaflortum.

It means ‘sanctuary’
in a language related to Celestial
that branched off 
when mortals figured out how to talk to gods.

Travelers from our village
created safe houses in every corner of the world
that open to that word
in case any of us ever need it.

There are stories of old adventurers
who even used this spell
to protect ancient temples,
maybe even gods themselves.

There’s always a chance you’re wrong

Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from July, 2021.

I. hen scratch, n.

An omen,
they say,
crawling across the sky.

Hard rain,
thunder, lightning
will scar our cropland.

II. baksheesh, n., adj., and adv.

To stop the storm,
we offer a loaf of bread
wrapped in

a ceremonial woolen cloth
buried beneath
an ancient cedar’s roots.

III. zinger, n.

“You actually believe in
the burying bread thing?!”
my son laughs.

“You might as well ask them
to make Monday follow Tuesday!”
He shakes his head.

I sigh.
“You’ll understand when the rain calms
and the clouds burn away.”

IV. noctambulist, n.

Moon walks behind the layer of
blue-black clouds —
a bruise across the sky.

Stars appear, sprout rays toward the moon,
which set clouds ablaze —
a sheet of pale flame.

V. astrogator, n.

I point at the clear morning sky.
“You see! You see!
They took the offering”

My hands wave back and forth.
“They cleared the storm
with the moon’s fire!”

“Preposterous. There must be
a scientific explanation for all that,”
he dismissively shakes his head.

VI. seven-pennyworth, n.

“Look here, right here!
An explanation for the storm!”
He points to an article in the newspaper.

“An abnormal weather pattern
brought about by the changing climate.
It’s science, Dad.”

VII.  amazingness, n.

I scan the article.
“Reasonable, I’ll give you that,
but you cannot be certain.”

Pointing to the final paragraph,
“There’s always a chance you’re wrong.
It’s science, Son.”

I sip my coffee.
“The climate, the moon, or the stars —
The fact is: the storm is gone.”

VIII. dunger, n.

A quiet drive in my old truck,
a Ford whose red paint has faded
to the hue of a house finch’s breast.

Its motor’s hum,
the only sound
between my son and me.

IX. okada, n.

The truck hiccups,
comes to
a complete stop.

“Did the moon and stars
kill your truck too?”
He laughs, pulling out his phone.

I pinch my eyebrows.
“So what if they did?
We’re stuck either way.”

He calls a friend who lives nearby,
who can get him to the station
on their loud motorcycle.

X. krump, v.

I stay with the truck
to poke at it, see if I can
figure out what the problem is.

I turn on the stereo on the seat
which I bought after the built-in one broke
to find a radio station to help me think.

It catches when I try to start it up, and
I pop the hood to find
something moving around the engine.

XI. odditorium, n.

A bushy tail.
Eyes red as arterial blood.
Two long claws on each paw.

A claw cuts a cable.
A hiss through sharp teeth.
Two wings unfurl, carry it all away.

XII. seventhly, adv. and n.

Dave arrives to tow me home.
“What the hell happened?
Leo said your truck just died?”

I completely forgot the plan
we came up with when we saw
Leo only had enough service to text.

I can’t keep my voice down.
“I don’t know! Did you see that?!
Why are there so many omens lately?!

“What
is
happening?!”

XIII. ovulite, n.

Dave cannot draw
the connections himself,
so I help.

I talk about the storm, the stars,
the creature in the truck,
every weird occurrence around town,

how each element
fits together
like sedimentary rock.

XIV. dogleg, v.

Dave listens as he tows me home,
curves around the backroads,
nods politely as I talk.

XV. automorphism, n.

It can’t just be me.
Everyone must see it too;
it’s too obvious.

Dave gets it.
He doesn’t say so,
but he does.

XVI. staycation, n.

“I think the sun might be getting to you,”
Dave says as he maneuvers
my truck into the driveway.

“You might need to rest a while.”
His sentence punctuated
by the grip of the emergency brake.

XVII. papri, n.

Dave leaves. I pop the hood,
the knife of my leatherman
unsheathed, ready to strike.

Nothing emerges.
I find the broken cable,
unattach the loose halves.

I get Leo’s road bike from the garage,
ride it to the AutoZone by the strip mall.
Its thin wheels hum in the wind.

XVIII. mandela, n.

The stereo on the counter
blares some talk radio voice in the store;
its antenna pokes over the register.

I pace through the aisles ’til
I find a replacement cable,
then return to the counter.

Ger methodically rings me up, grumbles,
“Always namedropping insteada
doing anything to change anything.”

XIX. custard pie, n.

Ger holds the cable
in his callused hands.
“How this happen?”

I sigh,
“The truck died, and
a monster under the hood cut it.”

He looks at me, then at the cable,
raises an eyebrow, then guffaws.
“Musta been one scary squirrel, Harv!”

XX. butin, n.

Not wanting more ridicule,
I notice the month with no clouds,
but say nothing.

At least
the storm
didn’t destroy our crops.

XXI. buster suit, n.

Midafternoon.
Condensation pools around
a glass of water on the table.

In the waves above the road,
I see myself as a child
running in the soft rain of early fall.

XXII. star shot, n.

An omen, a message
from the stars, hanging from
the sitka spruce branches, I say.

A common mold, a fungus
without meaning or purpose,
Leo says, showing me a picture on his phone.

XXIII. olive branch, n.

Lift my cap, scratch my head,
“It wouldn’t hurt
to leave an offering just in case.”

“A loaf feeds us for a week.
We can’t afford to waste it.”
He rubs his eyes with both hands.

XXIV. rebetika, n.

Midnight —
when the moon and stars meet
to discuss their plans.

Midnight —
when crevices and faults open
to release demons to our realm.

Midnight —
when I take our last loaf of bread
to bury under the ancient cedar’s roots.

XXV. genteelness, n.

“Dad. What the hell?
Where’s the bread?”
Leo slams the cabinets shut.

I rub my shoulders.
“We can get by without it.
The offering had to be made.”

Before he speaks, I hold up a hand.
“Now hold on. Listen.
Rain will come and save us and our crops.”

XXVI. roman à clef, n.

I try to read the stars
as they appear just after dusk,
to see if they’ve listened.

Without a cipher,
I don’t recognize any of the names
they mutter to themselves.

XXVII. unplug, v.

Leo makes breakfast the next morning:
coffee, eggs and
toast.

I stare at the plate.
“Where did you get more bread?
I thought we couldn’t afford it.”

“I dug up that loaf you buried.
The soil kept it cool, the cloth kept it clean.”
He smiles at his own cleverness.

He has
no faith in the process,
no idea what he’s done.

XXVIII. Henatrice, n.

A hellish caw
echoes over our acreage,
shakes the window frames.

In the sky, a winged beast,
feathers and scales
and menace in its eyes.

It soars over the house
toward town,
death in its wake.

XXIX. ang moh, n. and adj.

Looking at the window,
blood drains from Leo’s face,
now pale as calla lilies.

“I- I don’t-
I don’t understand,”
he stammers, wide-eyed, mouth agape.

XXX. Parafango, n.

I get out of my seat.
“You took its offering.
Now we need to fix it.”

I gather all the pieces of the loaf,
blend a mixture of
wax from a prayer candle, ash from the wood stove.

After coating the bread in ashwax,
it’s wrapped in a woolen cloth,
reburied at the cedar.

Shielding my eyes
while running back to the house,
I hear its caw as it returns.

XXXI. Greeze, n.

“How did you know that would work?
It’s nonsensical,”
Leo scratches his head, as the beast flies away.

I take a deep breath.
“It’s drawn to the ash and wax,
something the elders said worked long ago.”

“That’s all superstition though!
That’s not scientific at all!”
He grips the hair above his temples.

I put a hand on his shoulder.
“Science isn’t an answer;
it’s a question.”

Ali Shuffle; Or, When We Met

At the edge of the forest,
I saw a madrone bent by ancient winds
and remembered the way you danced
at the festival by the palace
when we met.

I wondered what you were doing —
whether you were serving tourists
in your family’s tavern —
whether you missed me.

When we made camp that night,
the firelight shimmered on cedar trunks,
and I saw your hair 
reflecting in the sunset again.

When we threw a fir branch on 
as it got dark, its pines popped so quick—
like your feet when the beat picked up—
like my heart when I saw you.

This poem is part of a collection called Shards of Kardpaz, which are texts I’ve written for the world of the Dungeons & Dragons campaigns I run with students at my school.

Padkos; Or, You left so suddenly

I hope you’re alright.

You left so suddenly —
you needed to go somewhere to save something —
it’s what adventurers do.
I know that;
I’ve worked in this tavern my whole life.

I hope you’re not hurt.

News came in from a scout
that a chasm opened along the trail south,
where you said you were going.
They said they found a modest grave
a couple yards off the pathway near it.

Before you left, I got up early,
split our family’s culture, 
kneaded it into some dough, let it rise.
I sang songs to it
from my family —
stories of tavernkeeps from long past —
and from my favorite local bard
who can never settle on a name —
songs of decaying drow corpses
and sacrificing souls to Nerull —
before baking it in my family’s hearth
as old as the grove itself.

I snuck it into your pack before you woke up,
so that maybe when things got dire,
you might find a second wind
and be able to ride it back to me.

This poem is part of a collection called Shards of Kardpaz, which are texts I’ve written for the world of the Dungeons & Dragons campaigns I run with students at my school.

Daddy Warbucks; Or, Go in My Place

I get that my dad has to do all these stupid ceremonies;
he’s the king, la-di-da.
But, does that really mean I have to go to the things too?
It’s not my kingdom—
would it still be a kingdom if I ruled it? A queendom?

Anyway, I’m not the ruler;
I shouldn’t have to go
to this drawn-out, fuddy-duddy event
 to celebrate the bicentennial of some old tavern
with good hash browns.

‘It’s a landmark, blah blah blah,
good for the economy, blah blah blah,
boosts the morale of the citizenry, blah blah.
The optics, Aerith, the OPTICS.’

Can’t you go in my place?
You look just like me.
You just need to get up on the stage or whatever,
give some speech, point at that old dwarven guy, then leave.
Ten minutes, tops.

Ugh.
His council probably expects some gaudy centerpiece
for their table to project how important they are.
Forgot about that.
You can probably find something cheap at the market
if you hurry.

This poem is part of a collection called Shards of Kardpaz, which are texts I’ve written for the world of the Dungeons & Dragons campaigns I run with students at my school.

Orthopraxy; Or, A Mother’s Pain

I’ve haunted this temple
since the day you were born,
the day I died bringing you here.

I’ve hid behind alters and candle flames,
above rafters, under pews,
to watch you grow into a man.

I’ve tried to not interfere,
let you bloom like wild sage,
but sometimes I have failed.

I’ve never felt a pain—
while living, at least—
comparable to seeing you hurt.

This poem is part of a collection called Shards of Kardpaz, which are texts I’ve written for the world of the Dungeons & Dragons campaigns I run with students at my school.

Hierophanic; Or, Elyon’s Struggle

I've heard people say 
Pelor is here—
breathing our air,
walking our pews.

I’ve spent my life
reading His words,
preaching His teachings.
I’ve never wavered.
But,

I’ve always wondered
why He took my parents away
before I ever knew them;
why I was chosen for this temple;
why, in His wisdom,
He chose to take my ability to move my legs.

This poem is part of a collection called Shards of Kardpaz, which are texts I’ve written for the world of the Dungeons & Dragons campaigns I run with students at my school.