Future of the Past

The endless lockdown is making people long for things to get back to normal, to the way things used to be. Their sense of the future, of hope for themselves & their careers is cloudy. Before the pandemic their futures were relatively clear – career opportunities were promising but now that new office is whichever corner of your apartment are you going to work from home in.

One friend misses his coworkers presence – not that he misses them as people but he enjoyed being part of a team with whom he had casual physical interaction. Working at home you are your own annoying coworker – there is no one to shrug to after a phone exchange with a client. He can’t remember when he last wore a shirt & tie. His job is secure but he doesn’t feel he has a real future if it is going to be spent in his apartment all day & night. His solution is to look for a new apartment to be trapped in.

I’ve been inputting things out of my writing archive – some pieces going back to high-school, some from the mid-70’s before I moved to Toronto, before I ‘came out.’ As I reread these pieces I try to sense my frame of mind at that time, try to sense what I thought my future would be & how this writing figured into that future. With my fiction I dreamed of being a gay Stephen King at times. 

Stranded in the east coast I really didn’t have a vision of the future until I escaped in the late 70’s. But at least I sensed there would be a future that would be an extension of the comfortable present of the times. Now my friends are facing a future that isn’t as comforting, comfortable or secure. Anxiety has replaced hope. No matter how fashionable masks become the reason for them remains.

Incontrovertible

it’s all open to interpretation

no fact is provable

the side you aren’t on 

views that suits the truth you feel 

is the most suitable to your purposes

<>

no image tells all there is to tell

it’s all in the lighting

viewed often enough 

everything  changes

was that a head bounce off the ground 

or an attempt to get up

was that a punch back 

or a hand up to block a punch

was he asking for it

was that a look of distain

depends on the camera angle

the time of day

the race of the looker

<>

what other news feeds do we have

who decides what the news is

which aspect of the truth to report

can we deny what we broadcast yesterday

why not

who remembers yesterday’s news

the past is fiction 

there is no truth too incontrovertible

that it can’t be recast 

to something more dire

more trivial

which truth will get the most viewers

which is truly entertaining

which is merely information

does it matter if it factual

one study says yes

the other says no

<>

the methodology of studies

cast the questions

so there is no one answer 

to what is being asking

but one answer is all you are allowed

yes no

<>

do your believe your eyes

your ears 

what you read in the paper

is it real until it’s been on TV

until someone has been interviewed

do we wait till the the 11 o’clock news

to know what is going on

is it safe to go outside

<>

we are an endangered species

drowning in a sludge of facts and data

that tell us nothing

but fill us with fear or indifference

it may not matter 

what side of the bed you get up on

you haven’t actually sept

that was all in your mind

maybe because there is only your word

you slept

that night cam footage could be faked 

do you remember sleeping

you didn’t use the can

that wasn’t your piss 

splashing in the bowl

all in your imagination

you have no grasp on reality

<>

when nothing is real

nothing can be proved

the past is revisionism 

the futures can’t be photographed

so it doesn’t exist 

then again 

neither do you

you aren’t real 

just a demographic

irrelevant and unbroadcast

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Transcendence

The Toni Morrison bio-documentary/interview A Life In Pieces is amazing. One reviewer was quoted as saying something like ‘she has transcended race in this latest book’ – the implication being that this is a good thing that makes her an even better writer. You know I’ve never read a review of novel/books by authors such as Joyce Carol Oates or Stephen King that says that they transcended race, or gender.

One of the things that Morrison said was that she decided not to explain issues in her characters lives but to merely present them because she felt her black readers would already understand & she felt no need to tell them the why of what they already knew. This resonated with me as I often felt need to give my queer characters backstories that explained their coming out – something I still find in movies & novels about the queer experience – explaining things for the heterosexual gaze. There is more to my life than my coming-out experience.

As my poetry became less concerned with explanations or making emotions universal I did get some negative feed back for being too insular – very similar to critical response to some of Morrison’s work that was too race oriented to be ‘quality’ literature. That is until she transcended race. Which I don’t think she really did, or had to do, it’s just that the culture around her became more educated & caught up to her.

I have a few of her novel on my shelf that I may reread. I did download her book of essays ‘The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations’ & have bumped it up to the front of the read next on my Kindle. I’m in the middle of two other books on it now & can’t start yet another one until one of them is finished. Emile Zola’s “La joie de vivre” & Koji Suzuki’s Edge – both amazing & highly recommended.

(from July 2007)

Racking Up Bonus Miles

more never leads to enough 

satisfaction is a sigh of defeat

too much stuff is a nice beginning

the constant scratch seeking struggle 

doesn’t matter if it fulfills a need

or even a want

it’s just stuff

lots and lots of stuff

fill every nook & cranny

empty is a sign of defeat

bare space isn’t spare simplicity

it is need poverty

only the rich can afford empty space

which they fill with their satisfaction

satisfaction is defeat

more is better than equality

<>

life is a pointless staring glazed at TVs

that aren’t big enough

too much empty space

between the neutrons 

making up picture 

it’s too easy to fall between the cracks

in the waiting glazed fumble

give me stuff or give me breath mints

<>

bursting at the seams is a start

time to look for bigger seams

to get more stuff in

stuff the up the cracks

stuff up your ass

stuff stuff stuff

<>

how good it feels

to bring home bags of unopened books

the smell of the paper

the space between letters

waiting to be filled

new cds flash in the sunset

as I peel plastic skin off them

new shoes not laced yet

new helicopters new tanks

to keep our boys safe in war

war that never gets enough

there is no such thing as enough death

no quenching that hunger

<>

that smokey smell

is life burning away the past 

to make space for the future

why learn lessons

there are new mistakes to be made

mistakes like forgetting 

that more never leads to enough

satisfaction is a sigh of defeat

too much is surrender

will that be cash or visa

you get more bonus miles with visa

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Not Picture Perfect Endings

Two of the ‘drama’ series on TV that I enjoyed this fall have come to an end for this season. American Horror Story: 1984; Castle Rock: Season Two. I’m pretty sure AHS will return for another season but am not sure about Castle Rock. I enjoyed being immersed in the bloody, gooey worlds that each of them created but while AHS paid brilliant homage to summer camp slasher mayhem, Castle Rock failed to deliver much more than atmosphere.

 

 

The only tease that AHS failed to deliver was an appearance by Billy Idol – the season was an interesting mash up of summer camp & Groundhog Day. Killed ‘campers’ returned to life very time they were killed – each resurrection slowly taught them important life lessons: accepting that you are dead eases the pain of being dead etc. Revenge is a distraction not a solution. 

Castle Rock: Season Two turned out to be all window-dressing for an essentially empty store. The premise of Annie Wilkes (Misery) backstory was promising but got lost & nearly drowned in the goo. Lizzie Caplan’s Annie was so clearly unbalanced from the get go that her drug addled journey was more boring that revelatory. She spent so much of the time covered in blood or mud I felt sorry for make up & continuity. If she ever forgot a line all she had to say is ‘Where is my daughter’ or “I’m protecting you from the dirty-bird world’ & it would have been fine.

 

The window dressing included Somali immigrants, most of whom disappeared after a few camera shots established them. Not even the goo people were interested in them. Joy & Chance flirt – sweet teen-age lesbians but nothing develops. Chance sure does handle a gun well though but we were spared her backstory in favour of the goo people. The window dressing of racial conflict, sexual diversity are dangled then given no substance.

 

Pop’s redemption story as ho-hum, Annie’s descent into madness was a forgone conclusion. Many episodes were so uneven they felt like different writers, directors were working on different shows with the same setting & then the show runners stitched the parts together. They gave us an ending that didn’t make up for the mess of missed opportunities that preceded it. The best part of the show was Fan Critical’s Castle Rock podcast commentary, they were much kinder to the show than I was. Season Two gets two blueberries. Fan Critical gets five.

Watching how the narrative elements in each series are structured is a great lesson though. They make me aware of maintaining enough logic that one’s readers/viewers understand what is going on even if they don’t know why. Don’t make backstory more compelling than the main story: Joy’s birth story & how it played out was the most interesting part of Castle Rock.

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Horror Rock

I have been thoroughly enjoying American Horror Story: 1984. It features great work by regulars Leslie Grossman, Billie Lourd & stellar work by John Carroll Lynch (he was also amazing in Chanel Zero’s No-End House – 2017). A season without stunt casting, unless one considers the 80’s look stunt casting. And what a look it has, from the workout gear, music, even bands (will Billy Idol do a guest spot in the finale?)

The plot is ‘Friday the 13th’ summer camp massacre with a handful of horny camp councillors, who one knows from the get go, that are all going to die. Throat cutting is very popular. Identities, loyalties, motivations constantly shift. Everyone is given a juicy back story while the series has time to explore the random coincidences that link them. Every trope of the genre is explored with respect & humour. Each week another one comes to the surface. Ah now it’s the spirit of the mother of the boy who drowned in 1948 whose brother grew up to a …. that is behind all the mayhem. For once I’ll be sad to see the season wrap up. 

I’m now four episodes into the new season of Castle Rock. With Lizzy Caplan as a seriously disturbed Annie Wilkes the show has a real backbone to build on. Add Tim Robbins as Pops Merrill, this promises to be a great mash up of Misery and Salem’s Lot, plus we’ve already had a good helping of Stand By Me & Gerald’s Game. But one doesn’t need to know anything about those King works I just named checked, to get pulled into this multi-layered story. So many layers I’m still not sure who the ‘bad’ guys are or where the plot is going. 

Each episodes has added a new layer or direction in the many plots that are already in the air. Who is Annie running from, is Joy her child, what about Joy’s friends – can they be trusted, what’s with this growing army of reanimated corpses, will Barkhad Abdi be able to keep the Somali community safe? Yes, that’s right there is a large community of Somali’s living in Jerusalem’s Lot. Steven King often uses ‘the other’ in his novels & here they are clearly present.

The race issue, which I don’t think King ever really uses in his writing, plays a big role in the superficial conflicts – but perhaps not in the supernatural conflict that the show seems to be building up to. The budding romance between the two teen girls brings yet another sense of ‘other’ in to the mix & I’m interesting seeing how that is developed. Of course, as is often the case, girl-on-girl romance is more acceptable as a plot device. 

I’ve also been enjoying Fan Critical’s Castle Rock podcast as they discuss each episode in some detail. They also talk about which of the King works are being infused in each episode from plot details, character names or even locations merely mentioned. I look forward to their comments almost as much as I do each episode.

Mugged

there are objects in my home

that haven’t change position since 

they were first placed there

silent sentinels of memory on shelves

coffee mugs from places visited

tea cups & saucers 

from the estate of the dearly departed

some rarely even moved to dust

they sit indifferent 

to what they are imbued with

 

was it a yard sale 

where that collector plate came from

who cares about those hours 

spent scouring second shops in Montreal

for just the right knick knack

I don’t remember where I bought 

many of these things

yet I hold on to them

ornamental diversions

for guests I suppose

to demonstrate my sense of humour

how eclectic I am

 

I am reluctant to let go 

repurpose or regift

I do resist now 

adding to the accumulated debris

maybe this is the day 

I’ll force myself to let go of one thing

one dusty treasure

 

o let there be a blank space to savour

can I clear the field

resist the call 

of what are now fragmented 

nostalgic moments

in an unmoved unused 

coffee mug

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every Tuesday 2019

October

15 – Stratford Festival – The Crucible

November
Thursday 7 – Hot Damn It’s Queer Slam! – Buddies and Bad Times Theatre – 7 pm – featuring Wes Ryan.

December

The Secret Handshake Gallery – feature – date TBA

January

23 – Hot Damn! It’s Queer Slam – Buddies and Bad Times Theatre

March
March 5 – Hot Damn! It’s Queer Slam – Buddies and Bad Times Theatre

April
April 3 – Hot Damn! It’s Queer Slam – Season 6 finales Buddies andBbad Times Theatre

June  – Capturing Fire 2020 – Washington D.C.  capfireslam.org 

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A Little Bent for Bentley Little

When I am asked who my favourite horror writer is I always say ‘Bentley Little’ & they go ‘Huh?’ For a writer who has produced nearly a novel year since his first published book in 1990, plus short story collections, his profile hasn’t skyrocketed. I first discovered him thanks to Stephen King who in some interview I read years ago said that Little was one of his favourite horror authors.

Like King Little’s writing style is conversational, rarely high-flown, or peppered with pseudo-scientific jargon. He plays on myth, legends & even reaches into American history – a ghost train constructed of & by the bones of the Chinese who built the railway – but always starts in the common place & makes the eerier & foreboding.

I have read dozens of Little’s books. I became, as I ma wont to do, a bit obsessed with hunting them all down, scouring 2nd hand bookstores for old ones & watching for new releases. The books are high on suspense, thrills & horror. He finds horror in ordinary things – that new box box store has sales that are to die for – literally.

I’ve kept two, so far, of them on my shelf: The Policy and His Father’s Son. In Son our hero discovers a society of letter-to-the-editor writers whose letters lead to change. It is one of the few novels about writers writing that catches the power of the word, what it means to the writer & then sends that concept into an amazing direction.

 

All the novels are highly cinematic but so far none aha been made into films. I suspect Little has resisted that thanks to what has happened to King film adaptations that have watered down the story to make it more commercial appealing. Bentley can be gory, funny & always scary. He catches human fears & paranoia & makes them into realities; what if the gates to your gated community are the gates to hell?  If you aren’t a fan, yet, I’d recommend The Policy as an excellent starter for this addictive writer.

Dead or Alive

one is already dead

one we don’t know

who knows this child

does anyone recognize 

his running shoes his hands his face

 

is he dead is he alive

we warned you 

not to go near the lake

late at night

first Brad now Jeff

each off on an adventure

 

is he dead

is he alive

what would have possessed him

we told him about the Denizen

we made sure

none of the boys

would go near the smoke shed

they never listen

they never listen

if only they were

content with the pancakes

flap jacks

waffles

maple syrup

we can’t seem to keep them 

sated in food stupors

they have to slip off

looking for adventure

don’t say boys will be boys

 

is he dead is he alive

Jeff Jeff speak to us

wake up 

the grey cold damp

isn’t holding you that strong

spit the cold grey lake water

out of your lungs

tell us did you find Brad

have you seen Olaf

which of you

went to the smoke shed

who stole the sausages

who wasn’t heeding 

the warning we posted

the tales we told

to keep you alive

 

is he dead is he alive

is he Jeff

feel for a pulse

feel for breath

is there a sign

anything

no this isn’t Jeff

it’s some other boy 

another lured to Pinebow Lake

another taken from us

 

if this isn’t Jeff

where is Jeff

where is Brad

where is little Olaf

all the good boys

the brightest and best

have taken their leave

or are they just hiding

peaking around the trees

to giggle and smirk

in some game of hide and seek

where the finders

stay with the hiders

till there is only one looker left

and that will be me

because I won’t go near the lake

late at night

I won’t slip out of my bunk

to look for sausages

I’d rather be hungry and found

 

we must continue our search

beat the bushes

leave no stone unturned

we must look till we find

we must discover

why boys will be boys

we must see if there are foot prints

we have to follow the scent

the deep decay 

of blackened tree stumps

 

something floats 

to the surface of the lake

a glistening slick

like oil red blood

it is moving to follow the moon

it is time for us to light the fires

to gather around

to be told again the warning signs

the things to do

to make sure we all remain here

 

who has seen Tim

he was here a moment ago

he had the matches for the fire

who has seen Garth

he had the marshmallows

come out come out

this game has gone to far

 

is he the next warning sign

the fourth sign

of what is to come

the gradual shift

that takes us each from the camp

to home

 

yes that must be it

the others have gone home

run back to their mommies

scared of the lake

scared of the dark

and never go to get their fill

of the good cook’s works

we can end the search

except to find out

who this boy is 

spewed upon the shore

who

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October scary poetry every Wednesday & Thursday

November 15: Hot Damn! It’s a Queer Slam – 8p.m. – Buddies In Bad Time Theatre, Toronto
http://www.queerslam.com

every Tuesday


June  – Capturing Fire 2019 – Washington D.C.  capfireslam.org 

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Castle Rock Rocks

Hulu’s Castle Rock was satisfying & more fun to watch than I expected. It never became as bloody (or as silly) as American Horror Story, didn’t get as gloomy & relentless as Taboo or Handmaiden or as soapy as The Dome. Overall I enjoyed the writing, the cast & in particular the music.

 

Spoiler warning: there may be spoilers in this review but I’ll try not to give too much away either. Based on locations & characters out of the entire Stephen King oeuvre the writers do a great job of referencing without being slavish to King. Episode One started in Shawshank Prison and I was doubtful of enjoying the series. 

 

I have read King extensively but not recently, so this opening made me fearful that I wouldn’t understand this world without an extensive knowledge of his work – but I didn’t. The plot & subplots are quite clear without knowing a word of King. The show is full of ‘Easter eggs’ small references to some of his writing i.e. there is a Claiborne’s Cafe in the background of some shots.

The plot hinges on the discovery of Bill Skarsgård as “The Kid” in an isolated cage deep in an abandoned part Shawshank Prison. Is he evil, good or merely in the wrong dimension? He asks for Henry Deaver (André Holland) who turns out to be a lawyer. In the course of the show we meet Sissy Spacek as Henry’s adoptive mother Ruth Deaver; Scott Glenn as Alan Pangborn – a character who appears in King’s novels & some short stories; & Noel Fisher as prison guard Dennis Zalewski.

The atmosphere is eerie as opposed to scary. The story telling is often done in flash-backs. The Dark Tower multiple universes concept is more a distraction than an explanation. The finale wrapped things in a tidy way – Henry gets the Kid released in the beginning & in the end Henry becomes the Kid’s new jailer. 

I loved the episode 7 “The Queen” & hated episode 8 “Past Perfect.” Episode 8 was great fun at the Dead & Breakfast in an American Horror Story way but was so deliberately clever I was disappointed. It showed that the only reason there was a Jackie Torrence character was for the punch line of her wielding an axe. One direct King reference  that didn’t advance or add to any plot line but merely existed for the witty Shining references.

What I enjoyed as much as the show was the Castle Rock Critical podcast with a fine set of hosts who explored each episode scene by scene, theorized what might be happening, pointed out the many King references & made it all fun. On their scale I’d give the season 4 out of 5 blueberries. It loses a berry for too many unresolved plot threads and for events that were only there for atmosphere i.e. the dog that takes the severed head. I’d give the podcast 5 blueberries.

The performances were all excellent. On line & on the podcast there was a lot of sexual ogling of Bill Skarsgård, who as an actor was excellent, but as a sex object I find to be a tall glass of tepid water. Give me André Holland (please), or even Noel Fisher any day (or night). Then again this Castle Rock takes place in a non-diversity dimension with no LGBTQ people.

Elbow 

1

‘They found another elbow in the park.’

My mother was doing something to eggs on the stove. The scrape of the spatula dull on the frying pan as if she wasn’t fully playing attention to anything. 

‘I said they found … ’

‘I heard you dear. I’m afraid they have to be scrambled.’

I hated scrambled eggs. I could cook my own breakfast, but when I started she would hover, then take over as if she was doing me a favour. Saying something like ‘boys shouldn’t cook’

‘Left or right’ she asked.

‘Huh?’

‘The elbow, was it left or right?’

‘I didn’t hear.’

The eggs were a yellow clump with browned edges

‘That makes the fifth elbow this month.’

‘Soon they’ll have enough for a whole body’ my mother half laughed. ‘How are the eggs?’

‘Yummy.’

‘Can they tell left from right?’ She stirred her coffee. ‘It’s just an elbow joint.’

‘Yep. The eggs are fine. Severed clean. I suppose there’s enough for them to tell from the way the joint moves.’

‘Yuk.’ My mother shuddered. ‘Gives me the creeps to think of an elbow like that – of some csi guy manipulating it with their hands.’

She manipulated an invisible elbow in the air over her coffee cup.

‘Would it squeak like a rusty door?’ she made a weird squeak with her voice. ‘Creeeeeequee.’

We both laughed till tears ran down our cheeks.

2

‘Could you pass me that book?’ Mrs. Coude gestured with the stump of her right arm.

‘This one?’ I picked up the English text that had fallen off her desk.

She’d had two complete arms yesterday. In her sleeveless dress the stump was hard to miss. A complete left arm and nothing on the other side. As if it was trick of the light. My eyes were almost seeing what was once there. I didn’t want to stare too obviously. It wasn’t a red raw. The end was smooth, healed. The nub, just before where the elbow would be, was so natural, as if there had never been a limb beyond it. It seemed impossible to me that less that twenty-four hours ago she had a flesh and blood arm there and now her forearm was gone.

She was the first person I had met who had suffered the loss of an elbow. I had so many questions. I had to know how did it happen.  Did she feel anything when it happened. Did she wake up in this morning and her elbow was gone.

She went to the board and started to write with her left hand. The letters were childlike, less controlled, as she went along. At one point she rubbed some of it out with her right shoulder. She stopped abruptly, her back to us as she sobbed into her left hand.

A couple of students went to the office to get the vice-principle. It felt like we were telling on her, but something had to be done.

Mr. De Codo took her by the shoulders and gently lead her out of the room.

‘You boys behave. Someone will be with you directly.’

We sat still, silent, looking at the scattered smudge she had put on the blackboard. Then began to copy it as exactly as we could. One never knew what was going to be on the exams.

(Elbow to be continued next week)

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every Tuesday

October scary poetry every Wednesday & Thursday

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Suing Stephen King

I like long walks in the morning, usually heading around 9:30 – walk for about an hour at least. I have several directions I go in with some small variations day to day – some days north and west, others north & east, other south and either east or west. All the pictures I post are taken on these walks. Funny how, one day, for the first time in months, I’ll see a door against a telephone pole and then the following weeks I see cast off doors every where.

Taxi!!
Taxi!!

Most days I listen to podcasts – the three I’ve stuck to are: The Round Table, Disinfo, and Writing Excuses. All three have extensive archives on iTunes. The hosts are enthusiastic, informed and fun. Whether hunting for literary gold, figuring how to write yourself out of (or into) a corner or digging for truth in the USA these podcasts are ideal & inspiring.

ski don'ts
ski don’ts

I also think when walking – sometimes things like ‘I’d do him,’ or ‘Ditch the bitch, I’m the one you need.’ Often: ‘Why stop with your pram at the narrowest point, between the patio and planter, to have a conversation with your pram pushing pals?’ Or working out what to say about a spoken-word show or a poem or short story in my head. Current story idea that came to me on a walk is someone time travel technology to prove Shakespeare didn’t write his plays.

used, abused & cast off by Chucky
used, abused & cast off by Chucky

Someone asked me why I don’t feature that often and my reply was why don’t you ask the hosts why they don’t ask me more often.

writing sample
writing sample

this piece was fished out of my archive – from January 2009 –

do you think I have grounds to sue Stephen King

The Window

there was only the window

no room

only the view out

no view in

nothing to see in

nothing to see out

but the window

drew all eyes to the nothing outside

drew all eyes so none cared

that there was nothing inside to see

nothing to keep us there

only the need to look

to see

to be visually stimulated

all look

nothing to touch

nothing to see

but we kept looking

hoping something would appear

something would drift across

the endless expanse outside the window

what we needed

had to be out there

waiting   longing to be seen

to be discovered

by these eager greedy eyes

that no longer could look inward

that void was pitiless endless hopeless

while the window offered a change

a respite from that

soon it would appear

the alarming glass shattering sight

would appear

our senses would be gratified

the window felt like nothing

the glass was a surface we couldn’t penetrate

it didn’t give when pressed

didn’t smear when touched

steady unblinking window

open to the world outside us

open to potential

resistant to all attempts to smash it

nothing could break

its wavering openness

the surface wouldn’t ripple shudder quiver

bombs flames indifference

nothing had an effect on it

nothing made it more or less open than it was

even worship didn’t speed

the realization of hopes

it remained open even when

we closed our eyes

when we slept it remained

dreams couldn’t penetrate to the other side

there was no room

there was just this window

between us and the world

couldn’t tell if it was glass air solidified

it cast no reflection

had no taste texture sound

all that passed through it was

light

eyes strained painful red rimmed eyes

seeking sight seeking a sign

any sign

a heron flying in a dim morning light

anything but the expanse remained

unaltered

all these years

soon something would appear soon

and we would be there faces

pressed

ready at last for the first sight of something

outside of ourselves