Starting Over

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

I. light head, n. and adj.

Today is a new day.
I’m going to turn it all around.

Roll out of bed, complete a yoga routine
with my phone propped
against the lamp on my nightstand.

A quick shower, a quick breakfast
that I eat on my way to the bus stop.

Nothing is going to stop me.

II. per fas et nefas, adv.

Headphones in as I approach the stop.
No one is going to ruin my day.

No one is going to bring me down.
Lizzo will keep me afloat.

III. downpressor, n.

Bus pulls up,
everyone files on,
backpacks knock against each other,
people, doorframes, seats.

Bus driver’s voice mumbles through
his expectations. It’s early enough
that people quiet down for him,
but I leave my headphones in,

wait for his voice to stop,
the bus din to return,
the yellow dashes in the road
to scroll by underfoot.

IV. alieniloquy, n.

The thing about
the lines on the road
is that they’re hypnotizing
as they fly by.

An intermittent, off-yellow flash
carries your mind to
some elsewhere
without dimensions in time or space.

And when they end
at the parking lot’s edge,
you suddenly remember
you have to go to first period.

V. bobsled, v.

Hallways are full of bodies—
a current
pulls me right to Ms. Acevedo’s
classroom.
I don’t remember moving
my feet.

VI. rhubarb, n. and adj.

Throat’s tight.
Swallow the past, Tori;
this is a new chapter.
I put a smile on my face
convincing enough
to fool everyone
at my cooking station.

VII. lightning bird, n.

I’m holding steady until
he enters the room.
His hair curling
under the edge of his hat.
A jolt in my chest—
why
do I want to cry and smile
at the same time?

VIII. dump cake, n.

I look down at our counter,
can’t look up,
need to forget
he’s here.

Ms. Acevedo gives instructions;
I don’t hear them.
Shay does, assumes the role
of our group’s leader.

She tells me to measure and pour
baking powder, salt, flour
in a bowl and stir. I see his face
in the powdery mountain range.

IX. dunnish, adj.

Eli asks if I’m done mixing.
I nod and xe dumps
my bowl into xyrs, mixes.

I look up, the room’s colors
seem to be on a dimmer switch—
it looks like the sky
an hour before thunder.

X. folx, n.

Ms. Acevedo address the class
about over safety protocols.
Shay and Eli discuss
how to decorate our cake.

I sneak a headphone
through my sleeve to my palm,
rest it against my ear.
Hayley Williams yells about misery.

XI. ice blink, n.

The bell releases us
to the sea, a long voyage
to our next classes.

Stare ahead at nothing;
looks better than watching
bow waves collide.

Mr. Persson’s display for
the Revolutionary War
overwhelms his end of the hallway.

XII. birdscape, n.

Respite 
among war stories,
since
he’s in math class.
I
can stretch my wings,
restart
the new me.

XIII. bodgie, v.

New Tori
writes her notes in cursive.

New Tori
nods her head while someone talks.

New Tori
asks questions during lectures.

New Tori
has her shit together.

XIV. chugalug, v.

I drink from my water bottle
throughout third period,
which helps me focus
on geometric proofs—
tonight’s homework.

I get in the zone, my homework
finished, ten minutes to spare,
an empty water bottle.
I ask Mx. Archer to go to the bathroom.
They tell me to go fast.

XV. mediocritize, v.

You are never going to change.
There is no “New Tori.”

You are the same piece of shit
you were yesterday.

You are alone for a reason.
It was obvious he’d leave.

You are deluding yourself into thinking
anyone would like you.

I scramble for my headphones,
play the loudest Sleater-Kinney song I find.

XVI. spreathed, adj.

I feel cracks spread across my arms
as I enter the bathroom.
They become deep, wide;
demons rise from the dark crevasses.

I feel the boiling spittle drip
from their open maws,
their claws pierce my skin
as they push off to take flight.

It burns and I scratch, hoping
my nails bury them alive,
but they keep sprouting
like weeds in an unkempt garden.

XVII. ignorantism, n.

Shay enters the bathroom as I leave,
gives a small wave,
looks at my arms—
radiant pink, thin scratch marks
all over my forearms.

She tilts her head, her brows concerned,
starts to ask a question
she doesn’t have words for.
I tell her
I’m okay.

XVIII. monkey bear, n.

I don’t know why I can’t calm.
Why is it so hard
to stand still, to quiet
the thoughts that clash in my head
like marbles against a mirror?

I watch the branches on the tree
outside Mx. Archer’s window
sway in the wind as the bell rings.
Everyone gets up and leaves robotically,
but I just sit there, unable to look away.

XIX. dark thirty, n.

I see it clearly still—
the madrone branches
dripping into the sound 
as we sat in the bed of his truck,
watched the sky above Vashon turn pink.

My hand in his, a blanket between
us and a cloudless sky.
He poured coffee from a thermos,
told me he loved me. He said
he’d never hurt me.

XX. amoretto, n.

I was warm then;
I thought it boundless.
I wrote his name
in different styles in the
margins of my notebooks.

I lost focus in every class.
Doodles— abstract shapes, hearts—
left on every scrap of paper
in my backpack. I wrote
poems, left them in his locker.

XXI. nightertime, n.

Mx. Archer asks
if I want to eat lunch in their room,
if that’s why I haven’t left.
I shrug, nod, but really,
I’m not there;

I’m still lying in bed at
three in the morning, looking
at my phone, reading the last
message he sent me to make sure
I understood each word.

XXII. chuddies, n.

The chill of the metal chair
on my thighs brings me back.
I regret that New Tori decided
her style is yoga shorts and large sweatshirts
regardless of the weather outside or in.

Bell rings and I’ve eaten nothing
again. Frustration builds up behind my eyes;
I’m supposed to be better than this now.
Mx. Archer throws a granola bar at my desk,
tells me to eat it on my way to class.

XXIII. gist, v.

Suffice it to say
I inhaled the granola bar
on the way to English.
I listen to Big Freedia,
need to explode to start anew.

XXIV. menehune, n.

How could I have ever thought
I could start over
overnight, as if
it would ever be that simple?
I need to confront him.

XXV. yo, int. and n.

Chemistry. That’s when
I’ll see him next. That’s when
I’ll tell him what’s on my mind. 
I spend English drafting the words
I need to say to make him understand.

XXVI. drooking, n.

I stand outside the chemistry room,
waiting for him to show up.
I take a sip from my water bottle
when I see him round the corner
holding Melanie’s hand.

There’s a white flash and I feel
my fingers tighten into a fist,
a scratch grow inside my throat.
My water bottle points at
his waterlogged hat and shirt.

XXVII. grrr, v.

In my chest, a beehive
hit with a baseball bat,
their wings bristle against my skin.
I fly away before he says a word,
before an adult makes me talk about it.

XXVIII. mosker, v.

What was once vibrant, warm,
soured, cold and bitter as coffee dregs.
My throat on fire, I heave
by the mailboxes in the
neighborhood behind the school.

It’s over. There was never any chance.
You don’t get a fresh start.
You will always be the second choice,
alone, a fucked up girl
no one will remember.

XXIX. sabo, n.

He knew I’d be there.
He knew I’d see them.
He must have wanted me
to see them together, to see
how he’s moved on already.

They’re probably laughing now
at what a fool I am to believe
there was any possibility
of reconciliation, to believe
I am worth anything to anyone.

XXX. ablepsy, n.

My vision gets blurry, goes black.
I sit on the curb, dig my headphones
out of my pockets. My phone trembles
in my hands; I can’t see the screen,
can’t make the sounds to activate Siri.

Silence envelops me. I drop my phone,
don’t hear it hit the asphalt.
My breathing becomes muted; my chest
heaves, but there’s no sound— no air.
I don’t know what to do.

XXXI. jack-o’-lantern, n.

A light, an arm's length away,
appears, slowly retreats. I reach for
the light, a face amongst the dark, which
welcomes me, accepts me.
Why is it leaving?

I reach, lose balance; my palms,
knees slam the road. Pebbles
make homes in my skin. The light
fades like the sun over the horizon.
I evaporate as mist in the void.

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 Gap Where You Used to Be

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

I. dining room, n.

Long, rectangular table.
Six chairs, all taken
but one—
yours.

II. administrivia, n.

I know you know
what you’re doing, and
you know I know
you’re capable of caring of yourself, but
you also know
I worry.

III. hanbok, n.

I remember when
they announced your name—
you walked across the stage,
they gave you a case for your diploma,
you shook your principal’s hand.
I was so proud of you.

IV. railipotent, adj.

So, why don’t you talk to me anymore?
Was I so bad to you?
Raising you the way I did?
You’re grown up at college now
and don’t need your mother?

V. belukar, n.

I guess—
I just thought—
I know we didn’t talk much
for a while,
but after moving out,
maybe you’d reach out more.

VI. clear-cut, n.

There was something in your eyes
when we said goodbye to you
after helping you move into your dorm.
I hoped I was imagining it,
but the truth lies
in your silence.

VII. pinguinitescent, adj.

Do you remember
the soccer season banquet
when you were seven?

You ate too much pizza,
deciding you were old enough
to fill your own plate
at the buffet.

The picture of you, your pizza-covered face,
your coach and trophy, hangs
in the living room by the window.

VIII. poddle, v.

On Sundays, we all
walk to the park by the lake,
with a gap

where you used to be.

IX. chiptune, n.

We used to play
the Legend of Zelda —
well, you’d play it,
I’d listen to you tell me about it —
after you finished your homework.

We were
so much closer
then.

X. dogfood, v.

I’ve tried reaching out
to you
several times,
but deleted the message
each time.

Practicing each sentence
with possible tones
you may put on them.

There are too many variables,
and I don’t want to be a burden.

XI. reginal, adj.

I work all day,
care for your siblings.
I’ve always done
my best.
I deserve more respect
than this.

XII. muso, n.

I drink my morning coffee
across the living room
from your piano.

I miss the songs you’d play
as I got home from work,
your smile.

XIII. chipperness, n.

I put on a smile
when Janet sees me
examining coffee creamer
at Safeway.

She asks how you’re doing
at Western.

I tell her some vague stories,
based on movies I’ve seen,
and how proud I am of you,
based on reality.

XIV. abacist, n.

Maybe you’re just busy
with your classes, new friends.

Maybe you need to stand on your own
and don’t want your mom holding you down.

Maybe I didn’t react the right way
when you came out to me.

XV. maleficate, v.

You used to come to me
for advice,
until you started hanging out with
that boy.

All of a sudden, I was
always wrong
and you started building a wall
between us.

XVI. fáinne, n.

I just don’t get it.

I donated to that Trevor Project
you always post about.
I got one of those
rainbow borders for my profile picture.

I don’t know
what else you want.

XVII. simpulum, n.

I lit a candle
for you
under the stained-glass window 
at church
so that God could hear me
and steer you back
to me.

XVIII. buddha dharma, n.

Some may say
I should act with compassion,
give you time; 
you will reach out
when you’re ready.

They don’t know
the pain
gnawing at my ribs.

XIX. passionable, adj.

I’m an emotional person.
You know that.

Yes, I cried
when you told me.
Yes, I realize
that upset you.

But, it felt like
the futures for you in my head
died, turned to ash
like those snake fireworks.

It took me time to understand,
but I still love you.

XX. ecopoiesis, n.

So, I may have told Janet
you have a girlfriend.

I didn’t quite realize it, but really,
it’s easier this way—
you know how she talks
with the other church ladies.

I just don’t think
they’d be able to handle the idea 
one of the boys they taught catechism to
is gay.

You would understand,
wouldn’t you?

XXI. rhyparography, n.

I was cleaning your room — I swear —
and I came across an old shoebox
with that boy’s name on it.
I’m sorry, I looked;
I couldn’t help it.
It was full of notes he wrote to you.
I didn’t even know
kids still passed paper notes.
Such beautiful handwriting of
such filthy language.

XXII. ankimo, n.

Yesterday was your birthday,
we had your favorite dinner in your honor,
and Western emailed me that tomorrow
is Family Weekend.

The signs were all there:
I have to drive up to see you.

XXIII. muskoka chair, n.

Your father won’t come with me.

He says he can’t get time off
from the hospital
and also that me going is a bad idea.

He was repotting the monstera
he allowed to take over
that chair from his garden.

He just doesn’t get it.

XXIV. mamaguy, v.

As I back out of the driveway,
go through the labyrinth
of our neighborhood,
I brainstorm
what to say to you when I get there.

A joke, maybe, a nickname
from your childhood,
when we were close.
Maybe that’ll bridge the gap,
since I didn’t call you beforehand.

XXV. amakhosi, n.

North on 167, I drive by
the huge hill in Auburn 
we used to live on,
the arena they built
over the field your track meets were on,
the bowling alley
we had your birthday parties at.

XXVI. coboss, int.

405 is jammed,
more than usual.
Probably
other families
going to Western to see
their kids 
who actually tell them 
what’s going on in their lives.

XXVII. dark side, n.

The signs were always there, I guess,
like the absence of birds before a storm.

Your first grade teacher called one day,
saying you were hugging another boy
and smelling his hair.

I talked to you about it,
thinking it was a personal-bubble
misunderstanding.

I should have
paid better attention
to what they told you in school.

Why would you do this
to me?

XXVIII. curatorium, n.

Anger froths
like baking soda and vinegar.

It was probably
those grooming teachers
poisoning your mind.

That boy
or your friends
tearing you away from me.

Those shady social networks
with their algorithms 
twisting the knife.

Why else would you end up this way?
Why else would you stop talking to me?

XXIX. birdikin, n.

You were
so precious
when you were younger,
so fragile—
when you were my child.

What happened? What
went wrong? What could
I have done differently?

XXX. wabi-sabi, adj. and n.

You are still my son.
You are worth my time.
You are worth
saving.

A line of dominoes
tumbles up my spine.
I pull over to the shoulder,
put the car in park.

Why do I see you as
imperfect?
When did I come to that
conclusion?

XXXI. scooptram, n.

You don’t want to see me.
I can’t blame you, because
I never really saw you.

On the edge of Mount Vernon,
I watch cars
cross the Skagit River bridge,
the one that collapsed
when you were young.

They drive by
unflinching,
leave me behind.

Odds & Evens

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

I. bak kwa, n.

A new year, another long day
corralling teenagers into
an English class reading a book
half of them won’t open.

Stayed late again, grading essays,
finalizing semester grades.
The smell of pork in our foyer
from the dinner you’re cooking.

II. crafternoon, n.

You’ve been working late,
like every other January.
The sun sets before you’re home —
before you even start driving,
I’m sure. I created a sun
using some tissue paper from
the tub of wrapping stuff in the closet,
hang it over the gas fireplace, switched on,
so you could bask in its warmth.

III. haterade, n.

For 15 minutes, I ramble
about the grading system erroring out
all afternoon,
making me hand-enter each grade
for my 170 students.

You listen patiently
to complaints I’ve made
so many times before.

IV. orthogonally, adv.

After I place food on the table,
you take your usual seat
on the side of the table to my right —
the same seat you took
on our first date years ago,
saying that
the seat directly across from me
would be too far away.

V. shakebuckler, n.

I finally stop talking and
ask about your day.

You talk about the traffic downtown
on your way to city hall,
an argument you had with
Councilmember Meyers
about building better infrastructure
for busses and bikes around town.
“He said to me, no joke,
‘You bring this issue up
at every damn council meeting.
We simply don’t have the funds.’
And then, when I brought up
last year’s increase to police funding,
he slapped the folder out of my hand!”

VI. antiquating, n.

Meyers has been
— and always will be —
stuck in the past.
I’ve argued with him
— constantly —
throughout my entire tenure
on city council.

VII. oojamaflip, n.

There’s a term you always use
to describe Councilmember Meyers
that I can never remember
until you say it again.

The memory plays back,
but the audio muffles.
I see your smile, I hear our laughter,
but I can’t hear the word.

VIII. froideur, n.

I continue,
“It’s like he can’t even entertain the idea
he might be wrong or
should change course
ever. He just double-downs on
every. single. issue.
Even Louis Armstrong would call him
a moldy fig.”

You laugh.

IX. chicken finger, n.

Some students eat in my room at lunch —
the commons’s chaos too much for them.
They carry little cardboard bowls,
small cartons of chocolate milk.
We talk while we eat, and
they ask about you.
When I tell them about
your infrastructure bill
and Councilmember Meyers,
they are as heated as you were
at dinner last night.
They ask if they can do anything to help,
and I get an idea.

X. chopsy, adj.

Meyers gives a longwinded speech
at our next council meeting —
the first Monday of February.
His prattling is punctuated
by his wrinkled cheeks shaking
every time he sneers the word
“homeless.”

XI. bonze, n.

My class’s next unit
focuses on world religions,
so I invited a priest
from the Buddhist temple across town
to talk to my kids.

They talked about
community.

XII. japchae, n.

I take a long lunch
after the morning session —
long, because of the time it takes
to get to my favorite Korean restaurant across town, both
by foot (because of the distance)
or car (because of the traffic),
which are the only viable methods of travel
due to the inaction of city council.

XIII. rakeshame, n.

Kids tend to talk in simplified terms —
good people, bad people,
nothing in between.
So when my lunch group talks about
organizing a protest,
I have to remind them
(albeit begrudgingly)
that Councilmember Meyers is a person,
not a monster.

XIV. passado, n.

The restaurant is empty,
like most days,
despite signage outside detailing
their deals,
their signature dishes.
They greet me by name (and title).
I watch car after car
pass by.

XV. maple leaf, n.

The season’s last leaf whimpers
on a branch outside
my classroom window.

Change begins with
whispers on a breeze.

XVI. anecdata, n.

While my lunch cooks, the daughter
who runs the cash register tells me
her family’s history — how busy
they used to be, before
Main Street became a highway,
starving side-street restaurants
like theirs.

XVII. foul case, n. and adj.

It’s so hard to not step in
when your kids — so full
of passion, energy — 
stumble over their words,
to not take the reins.
They need to learn this,
do it themselves.
You're just there to support them.

XVIII. haggis-headed, adj.

My heart hurts as she gives me my lunch.
I want to help them, and every other
family-owned business in my district, but —
but.
I stumble over my words.
I can make promises all day;
promises don’t help people.
The laws need to change.

XIX. witches’ broom, adj.

Every day more kids show up
to prepare for a protest on the 14th.
They complain about
their families’s stores struggling,
not being able to get anywhere on their own.
They call Councilmember Meyers a fungus.

XX. whoo-ee, int.

I wake up Sunday morning
while you’re making breakfast,
my phone bursting with notifications.
The top one is a message from my assistant
with a link to an article in the Tribune
in which Councilmember Meyers
calls my plan “unamerican,”
“an attack on our way of life.”
A day before the vote and he pulls this.
I hate
how little I’m surprised.

XXI. enoughness, n.

The kids decided on a walkout
at the end of 4th period
leading to a march to City Hall.
They timed it so they would arrive
just as arguments
on the infrastructure bill
would begin. They created signs,
flooded Instagram and Snapchat,
built a crowd to overwhelm the sidewalk
they’d have to take there.

XXII. dwaal, n.

As the session gets closer,
I sift through the notecards
of my speech, eyeing
the window to the courtyard.
You said your students would arrive
as the session began. What if
they don’t show up? What if
I fumble my words? I miss the gavel
marking the start of the session;
Meyers takes the floor.

XXIII. gyaff, n.

One of my students in sixth period
tells me some parents joined the march
with wagons full of water bottles and
granola bars from Costco.
Only one-third of my students remained
at the end of the day.
I’m out of the parking lot before the buses.

XXIV. genericide, n.

Meyers moves through
the usual talking points
as a crowd forms outside.
They pour in, all these kids,
fill the balcony, signs waving 
about their independence.
His speech drowns in
their cacophony.

XXV. garderobe, n.

I have to park in the library parking lot
a block away from city hall, because
all the street parking is taken.
Some students shout to get my attention
from the middle of the crowd outside.
They clear a path for me to get inside
to the staircase to the spectator balcony.
I look over a mountain range of heads
just in time to see you stand up
to begin your speech.

XXVI. woofle, v.

“What my colleague fails to realize is that our community is growing. This growth is beyond the comprehension of our predecessors, who fervently believed that sprawling outward was their best option — an option supported by the modern real estate community and some members of city council.

“The sprawl is unsustainable, both in a physical and a communal sense. We have neighborhoods extending out of our city limits into unincorporated areas, but the children in those incorporated neighborhoods attend schools within our limits, within our care. Those children — like the children filling the balconies now — need to have access to our city’s assets: our parks, our schools, our stores. They must be able to traverse the land in our care effectively and safely- whether that be by foot, bike, or public transit.

“The dependence on cars has hurt our local businesses. Many small stores, the family businesses that built this city in the first place, are struggling, collapsing due to a declining customer base, primarily due to the siphoning of routes to Main Street and their shops being one block too far off that path.

“This bill, which I authored, allocates city funds to the creation and maintenance of resources to fix these problems: sidewalks on streets within school zones, bike lanes on major roads throughout the city, buses with more accessible and reliable routes.

“Certain members of this council have called this plan ‘unamerican.’ And, they are are correct if we only take an antiquated view of what America was. If we look at what America is, what America could be, this plan is as American as it gets.

“The vitriol with which some members of city council use to denigrate this bill is antithetical to the promises they’ve made to support their constituents and their community.

“We should be fighting for our community. We should be fighting for the independence of empowerment of our youth. We should be fighting for our local businesses. We need this bill to aid in these fights.

“Thank you.”

XXVII. antical, adj.

Thunderous applause
as you step away from the podium.
Your name
chanted by students in the balcony.
Your face
so full of pride, confidence, triumph.
You wave
when you find my face in the crowd.

My heart is so full.
I love you so much.
I am so proud of you.

XXVIII. jump-up, n.

The path of progress
has a steep incline,
many switchbacks,

but eventually, we will
reach the summit; the future —
the line where the sky and ridge meet.

There is no one else
I’d rather be on this journey with
than you.

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."

Through a Fog

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

I. padfoot, n.

They sit cross-legged,
back against the fence,
head low,

next to a rock
the size of a football
painted in blue and green swirls.

They murmur between deep breaths,
place a dandelion by the rock,
walk back inside their mom's house.

II. mycophilia, n.

Their stepmom is in the kitchen
humming to herself,
slicing white mushrooms,
throwing them into a saucepan.

They walk along the wall opposite her,
a balance between quick and stealth,
in an attempt to avoid any opportunity
for her to ask how they’re feeling.

III. whangai, n.

Successfully back in their room
unnoticed, they sit on their bed,
open their laptop from school,
get greeted by a log-in screen with
a first name
they wish would die,
a last name from a woman
they wish would leave.

IV. good-sister, n.

“Hey Z,” Layla, their brother’s wife, says
as she enters their room.
Since their brother’s deployment,
Layla has come over each Sunday
after her morning shift at Applebee’s.
She flops on the bed,
releasing a wave of french-fry-scented air.

V. goodsire, n.

“Your grandpa told me
dinner should be ready in about an hour,”
Layla says as she digs through her apron.
“Should be enough time
for the next episode
of Wild Wild Country.”
She retrieves a joint and her lighter, 
as is tradition.

VI. micromania, n.

While the citizens of Antelope
describe how the Rajneeshees
overthrew their local government,
Z stares at their toes
shrinking in the foreground
of their laptop’s keyboard.
Maybe their whole body with shrivel,
finally take up less space.
What kind of life is it 
when your sister-in-law is the only one
who uses your name?

VII. mumblecore, n.

They lose the thread
when Layla goes on about
a movie she watched last week
they’ve never heard of.
Everything spirals back into place
as they realize the episode’s credits
are scrolling by.
Dinner must be almost ready.

VIII. humidex, n.

After establishing an alibi
for their bloodshot eyes,
they walk with Layla
into the dining room.
Sweat drips down their spine.
Their neck aches,
their breaths shallow.

IX. urbanscape, n.

Luckily, their stepmom doesn’t notice
Layla and Z enter the dining room,
too busy going on about
her trip to the glass museum downtown
with her friends and their kids
which Z wasn’t invited to.

X. boody, v.

Z experiences dinner
through a fog.

They eat silently,
can’t hear anyone.

XI. gribble, adj.

You can’t be that surprised. You’re not her real kid. She wanted to be with your mom. You were just part of the package. Maybe Nevaeh left your mom because she just wanted to get away from you. You’ve probably always stood in the way of your mom's happiness. You are just a burden. When people talk about pride, they aren’t talking about you. When people talk about liberation, they aren’t talking about you.

XII. necessarium, n.

Put on pajamas. Go to the bathroom. Brush your teeth. Go to sleep. Go to sleep. Go to sleep. A bottle of melatonin. A bathtub and hair dryer. A razor with a loose blade. Go to sleep. Go to sleep. Go to sleep.

XIII. human, adj. and n.

While dreaming,
Z isn’t confined
to the body they were born in,
which locks them in a box
 people force on them.

They can exist
in a body
free of gender.

XIV. hens and chickens, n.

When Z wakes up, they feel it
wash over them in waves.
Dread of confinement
in a body that doesn’t fit.
Pressure to be someone else
by everyone around them.
Hunted by an idea
of who they’re supposed to be.

XV. yom kippur, n.

Not wanting to be a burden
to everyone around them, 
Z takes up less space.
They don’t eat.
They don’t speak.
Maybe this will make up for
how much they’ve worn out the people
who have had to put up with them.

XVI. spiritdom, n.

After school,
Z sits in their backyard
watching their dog’s ghost
chase squirrels
through their mom’s garden.

XVII. min-min, n.

Lights float somewhere
above the roof of their house.
Closer than a star.
Blurry and flat
like an out-of-focus comet.
They imagine
Herry chasing a bone
across the Milky Way.

XVIII. urbs, n.

Z thinks about graduation —
just a few months away now —
then moving to the city
for school, maybe, but mostly
to get away from this house.

In the city,
they can be their true self
without the shackles of their family,
knowing it is also
without the stars they can watch
Herry chase bones across.

XIX. hearty, adj., n., and adv.

Sometimes, Z isn’t actually sure
they’ll make it to graduation.
They drag an anchor
down every hallway
until exhaustion grips
their heart and brain and
nothing seems worth all the effort.

XX. boohai, n.

alone, engulfed
in the smoke from pickups trucks
without mufflers.

XXI. tziganologue, n.

What if
there is nowhere
you will be accepted
you for who you are?

Maybe
no one else will ever
call you your name.
You may be alone
forever.

XXII. paddling pool, n.

Z sits on the side of the cafeteria
with friends who forget
what their name is,
who say it changes too often
to deserve extra effort.

If high school is this
and the future is made of
people like them,
then why would it be
worth getting to.

XXIII. almondine, adj.

Z walks in
from the backyard,
past the living room
where their stepmom
sits on the couch
eating almonds.
She asks “Aaron”
if they want any,
clearly forgetting
their name, their allergy.
As usual.

XXIV. garden room, n.

From their room,
Z stares out the window
toward the backyard.
They wonder about the height,
how fast they would fall,
the force with which they’d land
on their stepmom’s tomato plants.

XXV. feastly, adj.

At dinner, they savor every
last bite.

Their mom,
home for dinner for the first time in weeks,
takes a large scoop of
the macaroni and cheese
she spent the evening making.

Z eats
until their stomach hurts.

XXVI. slow-bellied, adj.

A full stomach,
they take slow, deliberate steps
up the staircase.

Committed, still,
to the plan they made
completely.

XXVII. pacable, adj.

It used to be bearable,
when Herry was alive,
when he could comfort them
after a hard day.
But since he died,
each day
feels more torturous
than the last.

XXVIII. almuten, n.

A force beyond words.
A slow crescendo inside their skull.
Words they cannot ignore:
You are a burden;
Nobody wants you here;
You do not belong;
Everything you touch decays.

XXIX. hat tip, n.

Cold air through an open window.
Cold words on crumpled paper.
Cold acrylic of a bathtub.
Cold steel of a razor blade.

XXX. alogical, adj. and n.

There isn’t really a word
for the grief that drowns you
when you find your child
dead in their bathroom.

There especially isn’t a word
for the waves of grief and guilt
when you find your partner’s kid,
who you never particularly cared for,
bled white, their final note
in your trembling hand.

Maybe you don’t go back

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

I. placcy, adj. (and n.)

You’ve avoided
the inside of grocery stores
for over a year.

A pickup order every week,
Fred Meyer insists on
using their own plastic bags.

Your bag of tote bags in the trunk
remains unused;
your stash of plastic bags under the sink
steadily grows.

II. pseudosopher, n.

Your brother’s podcast plays
as you drive up Meridian,
back to your apartment,
so you can know which propaganda
the algorithm served him this month —
which arguments to have and avoid
at the family reunion.

III. zizzy, adj.

The engine revs louder
as you climb the hill
passed the fairground.
As you pass
the assisted living facility
across the street
from the private Christian school,
the sky —
orange with wildfire ash —
comes into view.

IV. bearding, n.

Your brother’s voice
becomes a yell
as you turn
down the side road
to your apartment.

He yells about 
a fraudulent election
orchestrated the bankers
and Hollywood elite.

You know he
means Jewish people.

V. off time, n.

Your Absence has been Approved

This email is to notify you that your requested absence has been approved. The following are the details of the absence:

Leave type: Personal
Start date: Friday, August 13, 2021
End date: Monday, August 16, 2021
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VI. baku, n.

You watch
as buildings shrink
under the wing of your plane.

You sigh
as the hypothetical
gender critical rant
by your aunt 
in your head
fades
under Antonioni’s "Malcomer"
as you secure earbuds
in your ears.

VII. lotophagous, adj.

You read
the same line in your book
four times
without realizing it.
The words unfocus into
ridges of a nurse log along
a trail you’re hiking
alone.
You swear
your partner was with you,
but they’re gone.
Their voice flows
through ponderosa pines;
you feel calmer.

VIII. goombay, n.

Awoken by the thumps of
wheels against runway.
Your heart carries the rhythm
as your book falls
off your lap
onto your bag between your feet.

IX. chicken rice, n.

Among the din of impatient passengers
waiting to leave,
you feel so alone.
You start to text your partner
to tell them you landed,
unsure whether they’re
sleeping or driving to work —
you feel like an inconvenience.
You wish they were here,
but remember
how they said
during their first post-reunion dinner
they couldn’t do it again
after last time.

X. muharram, n.

Your father meets you at baggage claim.
Happy to see you, but somewhat hurried,
he keeps staring
beyond you.
Following his gaze, you find
a hijabi woman
waiting for her luggage.
He remarks how
she’s “just been standing there,”
wonders how
“those people are even allowed on planes.”
You gather your thoughts enough to start
explaining how wrong and racist he’s being.
He waves his hand at you,
says, “Better safe than sorry.”

XI. oscines, n.

His truck is loud;
his radio is louder.
He attempts to yell over
the hair metal shaking the door frames
to ask you about your flight.
You struggle to focus
on anything.

XII. machinina, n.

When you arrive at home,
you ask for some time to unpack and nap —
the problem with red eye flights is
the sleep you get is always subpar.
Your bedroom is as it was
before you graduated.
Posters on the walls,
notebooks on your desk,
a stack of novels on the floor by your bed.
When you sit on the comforter,
you remember the nights you couldn’t sleep,
where you’d watch Red vs. Blue
until three in the morning.

XIII. owczarek, n.

Groggy, half-awake,
you hear paws pat at the door.
A head rush as you sit up.
You barely turn the knob
before the door flies open,
a white blur rushes in,
lunges at you, licks your face.
They somehow still remember you.

XIV. chinchy, adj.

You finally feel prepared for your family.
You leave your room,
walk down the hallway
toward the dining room.
Around the corner, just in earshot,
you hear your parents
tell your uncle
how much you all still owe
on your student loans.
He groans about how foolish they were
to pay someone
to poison your mind.

XV. queenborough mayor, n.

When you were younger,
they’d talk about how intelligent you were.
When you were younger,
they’d praise you for your computer skills.
When you were younger,
they talked about your bright future.
When you were younger,
they repeatedly said college was important.
When you were younger,
they cheered when you got accepted.
When you were younger,
they implored you to reconsider your major.

You walk tentatively into the dining room.

XVI. oppo, n.

The subject of their conversation
shifts abruptly
when as you enter the room.
They greet you, tease you for napping,
ask how you’ve been,
how and where your partner is.
You make up a story:
they couldn’t get off work to come.
Your family accepts this and
your other short responses
to their questions.

XVII. changkol, n.

Guilt
about lying to your family.
Guilt
about how easy it was.
Guilt
digs into your bone marrow.
You
feel seedlings sprout on your forearms.

XVIII. gentlefolk, n.

Quiet for the rest of the night.
Claim to be jetlagged,
but really
just lament the actual reunion tomorrow,
when your grandmother gets there.
What questions will she ask?
What lies will you have to tell her?

XIX. busybodyism, n.

Your extended family start arriving
throughout the morning —
a caravan of pickups and trailers.
As you help
set up the food table in the garage,
you are bombarded with questions
when each new group arrives.

XX. freemium, n.

You fill a kiddie pool with ice
for the various potato and macaroni salads
when the news breaks:
The Taliban have encircled Kabul
with little resistance;
the US sends troops
to evacuate citizens from the capital.
You hear it from your father
complaining about
ungrateful savages who can’t appreciate
all that the US has done
to give them democracy.

XXI. pythoness, n.

Your mother chimes in,
says she knew
it would be a disaster
after Biden “stole” the election.
“Incompetent,” she calls him.
A bang
as she open a bag of salt and vinegar chips.
“Senile bastard.”

XXII. dangdut, n.

It is constant —
dog whistles and foghorns,
racism and conspiracy theories
you had filtered from your Facebook feed.

It is overwhelming —
your heart rate increases 
with your internal scream.
You don’t know where to begin
or how.

It is bewildering —
you’ve read so much,
but your throat tightens.
You are in a cage.

XXIII. ophiolatry, n.

Your grandmother finally arrives
in a minivan driven by your brother.
He helps her get on her Rascal scooter,
then she slowly drives herself
by each picnic table in the yard,
excitedly greeting and hugging every person
she can reach.

You brace yourself for her proximity,
her embrace, her questions, her theories.

XXIV. tom tiddler’s ground, n.

You hear your name.
She exclaims it
as soon as she turns
away from your cousin’s table.
She brings up
how long it’s been since she’s seen you.
Her questions are rapid-fire:
How is school?
What can you do with that degree?
How’s your partner? Where are they?
Why aren’t you married?
When are you going to have kids already?

You struggle to catch your breath.

XXV. irritainment, n.

They seem so coordinated,
they must have spent weeks
planning, rehearsing
what to say
to upset you.
It must be funny
to see
you silently fume,
to see
if they can find your breaking point.

XXVI. spinback, n.

When your brother
starts explaining how
Jews corrupted the US military,
siphoned off billions from the budget,
and made us lose in Afghanistan,
you’re done.
A quick rush of air catches in your throat.
The dam’s concrete fissures.
The dregs at the bottom of the lake surface.

XXVII. antwacky, adj.

You see red.
Your brother is yelling,
but he sounds far away.
He’s saying something
about his First Amendment rights.
Now, your mother is telling you
to not ruin the reunion
by taking things too seriously.
Your uncle tells you
to stop forcing your beliefs on everyone.

XXVIII. genteelism, n.

Walls are rebuilt
one goosebump at a time.
You offer an empty apology,
excuse yourself,
head back to your room.
The closed door,
a silent monolith of judgement.
Its corona filled
with shadows and laughter of people
happy to be around one another,
probably happy to not be around you.

XXIX. bonny clabber, n.

Things get quiet as night falls.
Your room’s ceiling darkens
the longer you stare at it;
you stay wide awake.
The afternoon keeps replaying,
every comment echoes.
You miss your partner;
they’d know what to do or say.
You can’t stay here anymore.

XXX. cantopop, n.

Hastily pack your suitcase,
download Lyft,
request a ride to the airport.

Leave a note on the kitchen counter
apologizing for ruining the reunion
and leaving early.

To stay awake, your driver
plays loud, uptempo music
by an artist their dash calls Zpecial.

It’s enough to make you feel far away
from that house and those people.
You can breathe again.

XXXI. merdeka, n.

In your partner’s arms barely
through the threshold of your apartment.
Welcomed. Accepted. Loved. It’s all here.
Why did you ever leave?
Maybe you don’t go back.

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.”

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.