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.

The Ballad of Coll Tabe

Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from December, 2020.

This story 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.

I. Sprunny, n.

The tavern din
surrounds me,
an undercurrent for a song
I’ve heard before—
a hundred times from a hundred bards.

They sing and dance
the way you do
before your love
is torn from you.

I see her dancing with them—
her ghost
swaying with the lyre—
the way she did
before.

II. Celebrous, adj.

Polite applause
from drunken patrons
after his song ends—
the same thing as every other act.

Finally, then, they took the stage,
shouldering their lyre.
A legend ‘mong bards, whose name is known
to fill souls with newfound fire.

I first saw them perform here
years ago
on the Hash Brown Tavern stage.
The first song they played,
they called “Corse Boyfriend,”
chilled me to the bone.

In their chords,
I heard his voice, I saw his eyes,
I lost my breath until the last note died
to a smattering of applause.

I returned each week,
to study their hands—
to learn the chords
to produce his eyes
on my own.

My bloodstained lyre
keeps him from me
still.

III. Auguste, n.

Whenever I perform,
I stick to standards—
the shanties they want
from a halfling like me.

They laugh and cheer,
but I always fear
That I, not the story’s fool,
am the object of ridicule.

IV. De-Extinction, n.

The last time I held you,
there were rocks flying over our heads.

The last time I held you,
your blood was soaking into my cloak.

The last time I held you,
they pried you away

from me.

The last time I was home,
I watched you die in my arms.

The last time I was home,
they chased me to the edge of the forest.

The last time I was home,
they said my kind isn’t welcome

anymore.

V. Briticism, n.

Leaving Mossmeadow meant
leaving the winds of Lake Quarx.

The capital
isn’t far from Mossmeadow,
but the way people talk in
Arcton
took time to understand—
some words they use
aren’t used the way
I’d ever heard them at home.

Leaving Mossmeadow meant
leaving my son.

Walking through the city,
I see many families—
many children
learning the ways of their culture,
the foods of their families,
the stories of their elders.
I think about who is raising him,
how much he is missing.

VI. Bigly, adv.

“Coll, you’re up,”
says the tavern keeper—
an old dwarf
whose auburn beard
has started graying out.

I down my ale
to handle my nerves,
grab my lyre,
head to the stage.

“Good evening, I’m Coll Tabe.
This is a song
I used to sing to my son
to teach him about our history
back when he was young.
This is the story of Maro Lightfoot.”

I play so loud
the wall shake.
I hope they hear me
back in Mossmeadow.

VII. Magnalia, n.

The first love of my life was a baker
who brought rolls
to my family’s inn, and we’d talk
’til the church bell tolled.
I asked her to dance in the village square
under the setting sun.
We were wed nary a year 'fore she died 
delivering our son.

The second love of my life was a farmer
who brought gourds
to the autumnal market, and I’d buy
all that I could afford.
We drank one night in public for once,
and then they made us run
from rocks that flew and broke his skull,
and then they took my son.

I don’t know why the sky and sea
must take them all away from me.

VIII. Slobberknocker, n.

A string breaks.
Back on stage.

The happy song
had traveled with me
into the memory,
became a lament
without my realizing.

It’s apparent
in the audience’s faces—
it is not what they wanted.

IX. Anemious, adj.

It’s nights like this
that make me move
from city to city—

a leaf on a breeze
that never lands
anywhere.

X. Zero-Sum, adj.

I sulk back to the bar.
A fresh pint by my chair.

“It’s alright,”
the tavern keeper says.
“You’re getting better,
for sure.
In the meantime though,
their displeasure in your playing
makes them buy more ale,
so this one’s on the house.”

XI. Sportingly, adv.

“You really think that?
That I’m getting better?
It doesn’t really feel that way
at all.”
I take a swig.

“Oh, of course, Coll.
Everyone eventually
gets better
when they put in effort.”

I shrug.

“You think
I was born
able to make the best hash browns
in all of Kardpaz?”

I sigh.

“It took me a long time
to find the secret
to cooking potatoes, Coll;
It’s true.

“You know,
Uku was just like you
when they started playing here
all those years ago, too.”

“What?”

“You look up to them right?
I saw you scribble notes
after they performed
‘Raccoon with a Dagger’
last week—
never cared for
that raccoon friend of theirs—
Anyway, you’re usually here
when they perform, and
you get so focused
until their set’s done, then
you start scribbling on
whatever you got.
It’s pretty obvious.”

Dying inside, I clear my throat.
“You must be real old, then, Rosti.”
I gulp my ale.

He laughs,
“Older than stone.”
He turns, back to work,
helping someone a few seats away.

XII. Gee Willikers, int. and adj.

After Rosti leaves,
I finish my ale,
rest my forehead
on the cool rim of my stein.

“Hey, uh, Coll, right?”
A voice behind me asks.

I nod,
tilting the stein with my forehead
off then back on
the counter with a soft tap.

“I just wanted to tell you
I thought you did well tonight.
I’ve head Maro Lightfoot a lot,
but never a rendition
with so much heart.”

Vaguely familiar voice.
“Um, thanks. It means a lot.”
I turn to shake their hand—
a custom in human cities.

A kind smile
on an elven face
the shade of night sky
on the summer solstice.
A poof of white hair.
Uku Silve is standing in front of me.
They’re talking to me.

Wait.
They complimented me?!

XIII. Bokeh, n.

“Wow! Um, thank you!
It means so much!”
I can’t keep my cool.
“Sorry, I just never thought
you’d know my name.”

“It’s alright, dude.
Don’t worry about it.”
They gesture
at the stool next to mine,
“May I?”

I nod
fast as hummingbird wings.

I stammer,
“Mind if I ask you a question?”

They nod.

“Is it true, what they say?”

“You’re gonna need to be more specific.”

“Is it true
you were kicked out of your village?”

They sigh, nod slowly.
“Yeah.
My parents kicked me out as a kid.”

“I only ask because
I was kicked out of my village, too.
And seeing you succeed,
hearing your songs,
just gave me so much hope.”

“Your parents kicked you out too?”

“No, it was my dead wife’s parents.”

Uku nods, holds up a finger,
writes something quickly on a paper,
puts it in their cloak pocket.
“That sounds difficult.
How’d that happen?”

“A lot of it’s a blur.
They caught me drinking
with my partner at the tavern, decided
I was not a fit parent for my son, Towhee,
took him and ran us out of town.”

They shake their head.
“Damn. Where’s your partner now?”

“Qualen’s dead.”

XIV. Mentionitis, n.

“He died?”

“Yeah. He didn’t make it
out of Mossmeadow.
They threw rocks while chasing us.
He got one in the head.”

“They killed him?”

“Yeah.”

“Your dead wife’s parents killed your partner.”

“Yes.
They didn’t approve of me
being with another man.

“They never really liked me. I think
they blame me for Corvin’s death.”

“How’d she die?
Wait. That’s rude.
You don’t have to answer.”

“It’s alright.
She died giving birth to Towhee.”

“Shit. That’s a lot of trauma for a person.
Was all that recent?”

“Not really. They ran me out
about four years ago;
she died ten years before that.”

XV. Pastinate, v.

Uku sits with that for a while.
“You’ve had to hold on to all that
for a while.”

“Mhmm.”
I fiddle with my stein handle.

“It comes out in what you play.
It gives your songs a different hue
than when other people play them.”

“Is that… good?”

“It makes you
unique.
You got a future, Coll.”
They jab my arm.

They say they
have to travel in the morning,
look forward to seeing my next set.
They tell me
to get in touch
the next time I’m in the city,
to maybe try checking out
the temple of Pelor down the road
to see a friend of theirs.

XVI. Sir Roger de Coverley, n.

The last time I met clerics of
the god of sun and time,
They played their lutes and sang their songs,
the equinox was nigh.

We halflings love to drink and dance;
we let ourselves indulge.
The steps are so important that
a misstep would repulse.

A shift they brought to people’s mind
when songs and dances ceased.
They looked from o’er their shoulders then,
would scowl and glare at me.

XVII. Ruck, n.

I do not sleep.

All night, discomfort— I toss and  turn,
pace around my room in the tavern.

I do not sleep.

Cannot forget, but should I forgive
people who hate me for how I live?

I do not sleep.

Uku said that they have a friend there;
they would not send me into danger.

I do not sleep.

I hear her last breath, see his blood spill,
feel hollowness that cannot be filled.

I do not sleep.

XVIII. Meeja, n.

The sun rises—
the clerics describe it as
Pelor greeting us,
reminding us of his grace.

The sun rises.
I can see it arch over
the temple’s bell tower
through the window
from over the bed’s edge.

I’ve heard the praises my whole life—
the background of half of our songs.
Pelor’s temples always the largest,
the most polished.

Their clerics travel
throughout the kingdom
to convert more fanatics.

Begrudgingly,
I make the decision
to get out of bed
and go to the temple.

XIX. Hysterology, n.

Above the temple doors,
a giant seal of Pelor.
Gold, intricate details
of His face in the sun.

Around the necks of vendors,
small symbols of Pelor.
Metal pendants on small chains,
they grasp and whisper into.

Behind the tavern counter,
a sun carved into a plaque.
Silent and everpresent,
always watching from above.

Entering Mossmeadow,
a yellow sun on red banners.
Tall humans in long cloaks
want to help, spread the word.

In songs they sang to us in school,
the sun god saves the day.
He feeds the starving, heals the sick,
deserves all our praise.

XX. Pronoid, adj.

Even in the early hours of morning,
the temple is full of people
praying alone, lighting candles,
confessing to clerics and priests.

Lost in a forest of humans,
I look for a cleric to ask
about Uku’s friend.

I bump into someone,
turn to apologize.
“Oh, I’m so sorry.”

“It’s no problem,”
says a cleric, a young human
sitting in a floating platform—
a chair with no legs.
“Are you okay?”

“Yes, thanks. Um, actually
I’m looking for someone, a cleric.”

“Well, I’m that, so can I help?”

“I’m looking for someone specific.”

“Okay. What’s their name?”

“I’m told they go by
Applelegs?”

“No one goes by-
Who sent you here?”

“Uh, Uku Silve.”

He nods.
“Yeah, that sounds like them.
You’re looking for me,
I’m Elyon.”

“Why Applelegs?”

“When we met,
I used parts of an apple box
for my chair.”
He taps the side of the floating platform.
“I assume they thought
it would be a good joke.
Which, to be fair, it is.

“They and their friends
got me this new chair
after our, uh, adventure.”

“If you don’t mind me asking,
why do you have the chair?”

“Oh, I can’t use my legs.
Never could, but,
thank Pelor,
I was raised in this temple,
so I was well taken care of.”

XXI. Nirl, v.

“I know what that face means,”
Elyon nods.
“You don’t need to pity me;
I get around fine.
The way I move through the world
may be different from yours, but
I am no less of a person.
I’m not some charity case
to remind you of your privilege either.
Had to go through a whole thing
with Uku’s friends about it—
they were obsessed
with trying to ‘fix’ me.

“So, can we skip that whole bit?”

XXII. Teh Tarik, n.

“Right, sure. You’re right.”

“Good.
Why did Uku send you?”
Elyon scans the pews.

“I’m not entirely sure.
They watched me perform
at the Hash Brown Tavern
last night. We talked afterward,
and they said I should
stop by the temple to see Applelegs.”

“Well, that’s ambiguous,” he chuckles,
squints at the stained glass
over the temple’s entrance.
“Follow me.”

He floats away from the pews,
down a hallway with fewer people.
“Have you eaten?” He asks,
opening a door.

“Not really,” I say,
walking into a cafeteria
in the side of the temple.
People in rags and bandages
sit at tables,
huddled around warm mugs.
Clerics serve food, sit with them.

Elyon gestures at an empty table,
floats behind the counter.
He returns with two mugs
of something I’ve never seen before.

He hovers across the table from me,
sips from his mug.
“Uku usually sends people to me
because of their past
or ours.
So, which did you talk about?”

XXIII. Gorger, n.

I recount
everything I told Uku
about my past.

Elyon nods;
sips from his mug;
loses attention, gets tense
when an older man
enters the cafeteria.

His robe adorned
with thick metal chains,
a staff in hand
topped with an intricate carving of Pelor.

A priest.

XXIV. Futzing, n.

Elyon clears his throat.
“Ah. I think I understand now.”

He places his mug down,
eyes it, rotates it slightly
with his thumb and middle finger,
aligns his napkin by it
with his index and ring fingers.

He holds his hand up in a fist,
analyzes his arrangement, nods.

“You’re stuck. Uku probably
thought I could help you get unstuck.
Follow me.”
He floats over to and up a spiral staircase
at the end of the cafeteria.

I follow him. “Stuck?”

“You haven’t noticed
how much you talk about their deaths?
Your loss?”

I pause.

“It’s normal thing to struggle with;
I’m not saying you should shrug it off—
just that I think I can help.”

I nod.

“What happened to your family?
Your parents?”

“They’re still in Mossmeadow.
Why?”

“That’s lucky. Traditionally,
people have their parents
as a support structure.”

“They didn’t really try to
help me when shi-
things went down.”

“Oh.
Should’ve seen that coming.”
He sighs.
“I never got to meet my mom, so
I kinda idealize parents—
assume the best in them—
I guess.”

“You never met her?”

“No. She, um, also died in childbirth.
Delivering me, actually.”

“Oh. I think I understand why
Uku sent me here now, too.”
My thighs start to ache.
“How much further are we going?”

“Oh, right. Here.”
The stairs arrive at a platform.

“That was convenient,” I gasp,
bend over to stretch my legs.

“Well, it’s a magic staircase.
It pops you to whatever floor you want.”

“What?
You could’ve done that
the whole time?”

“Yeah, but
we were in the middle of a conversation.
It would’ve broken the rhythm.”

XXV. Jough, n.

Elyon takes me to his room,
an entire wall covered in bookshelves.
“First things first,”
he gestures at the shelves,
“please don’t touch any of the books
without asking first.
The last time someone was here,
they knocked over the shelves
and I had to spend hours
putting everything back where it belongs.”
He sighs, “It was Uku’s friends.”

I hold my hands up.
“Not a problem.”

The door creaks behind me.
“Morning, Elyon.”

The priest is outside the doorway,
a mug in hand.
He takes a sip.

Elyon turns around quickly,
lowers his head.
“Morning, Father.”

“I trust you’re showing your,”
he looks at me,
“guest the best hospitality?”

“Yes, sir. Absolutely, sir.”

“This won’t impede your duties
in the temple, I gather?”

“No, sir.
I will complete all my tasks, sir.”

“Very good. Have a Blessed day, Elyon,
Elyon’s guest.”
He turns.
His steps echo from the staircase
going upward.

Elyon releases a breath.

“You alright?” I ask.

“Yeah, yeah. Everything’s okay.”

“That guy seems intense.”

“He can be, but
he had his morning drink, and, well,
he can be better whe—
well, it’s a balance.”

“You live and work here
with a guy like that?
A guy you tense up around all the time?”

“Well, yeah. He’s the high priest.
He raised me.
He took me in when I was a baby.”

“He doesn’t seems to... like you
at all?”

“He’s just stern, you know how
religious people steeped in tradition
can be.”

I hear rocks bouncing off tree trunks,
breaking Qualen's skull.
“Uh, yeah. I guess.
That doesn’t mean
you need to put up with them though.”

“Coll, the sun shines on all people
regardless of who they are,
what they do or think,”
he pauses,
“or who they love.

“The people who killed your partner
do not represent Pelor
or His will.
They are hurt people who hide
behind His name.

“I hope you would not lump us all together.”

XXVI. Howzit, int.

I’m quiet,
imagining different timelines—
where I return and they welcome me,
where they never ran me out,
where I return and they reject me,
where Qualen didn’t die.

“You alright?” Elyon asks,
putting a hand on my shoulder.

Back in the present.
“Um, yeah. I’m alright. I just-
I can’t just-“

Elyon nods,
clasps his hands in his lap.

“How can I just
forget and forgive
everything?
How is that a
reasonable
thing for a person to do?”

He bites his cheek,
looks over at the bookshelves.

“Some say
being in the shadows is
a choice a person makes.
Pelor shines on all land, all people,
indiscriminately.
His light will hit
anyone who wants it— it is
a choice to go into the shadows,
a choice to stay there,
a choice to avoid His light.

“He cannot keep you warm all the time;
He must attend to
the needs of all people, of course.
But night ends,
and His light and warmth returns—
if you choose to embrace it.”

“Are you saying
I’m choosing to be upset
at Qualen’s murder?
At Towhee being taken from me?”

“Of course not, Coll.
You should be upset.
Anyone would be.
Avoiding to grow or move from it is
a choice though.
What you do
with the hand you’re dealt is a choice.

“No one can steer your life
but you.”

XVII. Zeroth, adj.

“I get that Pelor has done a lot for you,
and you have lived in His service
your whole life, but
leaning on some dude in the sky
can’t be your only plan!

“To assume
everything will work out
comes from a place of privilege, Elyon.
You’ve had a safety net
your whole life that will catch you
if you fall too far, too fast.

“I don’t have that!
I’ve been on my own for years!
If I fall,
I hit god damn ground!”

XXVIII. Throgmorton Street, n.

“I hear you,”
Elyon says, grabs a book off the shelf,
offers it to me.
“Make yourself a net then.”

I take the book, open the cover.
“You want me to have this?”

“You can get it back to me
when you’re done with it.
Now, if you’ll excuse me,
I have chores to do.”

I thank Elyon for his time
and the book,
leave the temple, then find a bench to sit.

The book is Elyon’s journal
from the time
he spent with Uku and their friends.
I read
listening to the din of the market.

XXIX. Radiatore, n.

I eat dinner at the Hash Brown Tavern,
Elyon’s journal by my pint on the bar.

Closed, fully read,
his story echoes in my head.

Rosti waves a hand in my face.
“You there, Coll?”

I shake my head, rub my eyes.
“Yeah. Yes.”

He places a plate by the book.
“The daily special.”

“Thank you,” I say. He knocks twice
on the bar, moves on to someone else.

I stare at the plate. Looks like
a pile of open ribcages in a pool of blood.

A vision? The past? The future?
What am I to do now?

XXX. Acheronian, adj.

“Coll, you’re up,”
says the tavern keeper.

I down my ale,
grab my lyre,
head to the stage.

“Good evening, I’m Coll Tabe.
This is... a song.”

An improvisation:

your boat’s in a river
shrouded in smoke
out to deliver
your soul down below

you look up t’ward the sky
trying to find
anything warm to dry
your drowning mind

he greets you with eyes black
deep as coal mines
you’d seen them before back
in empty steins

shattered skulls on cave walls
painted in blood of
everyone in your life who
made you feel loved

shattered skulls on cave walls
painted in blood of
everyone in your life who
made you feel loved

XXXI. Bicky, n.

Silence after the last note dies,
but I don’t mind.
There’s an old elf in the back
with misty eyes.

I go to the temple of Pelor
in the morning
to drop off Elyon’s journal
with a cleric.

I go back to the tavern
to say goodbye,
and Rosti is cleaning the bar,
removing steins.

He looks up when I enter,
signals me o’er
offers a bread wrapped in cloth.
“One for the road.”

Leave the tavern and realize
where I should go.
Need control of my story.
I’m going home.

A Note Should Suffice

There’s a tower out on the horizon.

You’ve lived in this forest a long time. So long, in fact, that you’ve started to name the trees— not the species names, like spruce, cedar, hemlock; those you learned on your grandpa’s nature walks years ago— names like Rela, Sophia, Brett.

The black face of the tower is stark in contrast to the orange-green hue of the treetops across the valley in the morning light. Its top half is coiled like a serpent around a shaman’s forearm, coming to three sharp points a hundred feet above the western red cedars at the base of the mountain.

The tower wasn’t there yesterday. You’re almost certain. You don’t remember a tower living there— isn’t that where Storm River started? At the base of Thunder Falls? The face of the glacier still sunbathes on the mountain. It must still drift there. You don’t remember the last time you really paid attention to that area. You don’t remember the names of those trees, if the trees are still there.

You strain your eyes, grasping at the finer details just out of reach. Soft, faint, purple cyphers flow along the tower’s coils, glowing in a slow pulse that climbs up the snake’s spine.

The colors of the treetops by the tower are washed out. The leaves and pine needles pale, white as day-old coals. The bark’s black as night. No life there, no movement. You could almost feel the absence of the grubs that crawled within the folds of the bark.

It’s cold, as mornings here tend to be. The sun, contrary to what city people say, is not a morning person; it takes its time stumbling over the mountain. You’re halfway through your earl grey, meaning you’re toward the end of the hour between dawn and when the sun is actually visible.

Your porch is quiet in a loud way. The quiet has a presence, and it demands to be known. One morning, about a week ago, a crow landed on a maple branch on the northeast corner of your front yard. It cawed, then froze and, you swear, lowered its head apologetically before flying away.

You finish your tea, then pack several days of supplies in your backpack. Your partner is still asleep. Not wanting to wake them, you leave a note on the counter saying what you’re doing, where you’re going, when to worry.