Speculative Persona Poetry
edited by Jeannine Hall Gailey
Table of Contents
Editor’s Introduction • Jeannine Hall Gailey
The Fox-Wife Describes Their Courtship • Jeannine Hall Gailey
The Husband Tries to Write to the Disappearing Wife • Jeannine Hall Gailey
Labyrinth 34 • Oliver de la Paz
Labyrinth 37 • Oliver de la Paz
One Martian Engineer • Ken Poyner
Something Super • Mary Alexandra Agner
Echoes of the Guardian • Ashley M. Baldon
There’s a Gold Twinkle in the Night • John C. Mannone
The Viper Stands Watch • Natasha Kochicheril Moni
La Fortuna Visits L.A. • Nancy Ellis Taylor
Inheritors • F.J. Bergmann
Alice’s Blind Date With Frankenstein’s Monster • Lana Hechtman Ayers
Pete’s Girlfriend • Marge Simon
Etta Candy Explains Her Views on Life and the Universe to Wonder Woman • Kelli Russell Agodon
Wonder Woman Dishes It to Galactus • Wendy Babiak
Swan Maiden • Patricia Monaghan
The Gardener’s Tale • Kristin Berkey-Abbott
Malibu Barbie Moves to Mars • Celia Lisset Alvarez
“in the bin” • Julie Bloss Kelsey
Children of the Flood • Michael R. Fosburg
Loadstone • Richard Marx Weinraub
Aquaman • P. Andrew Miller
Soaked Through • David Glen Larson
In Yearning, Joan • Susan Rooke
The Fox-Wife Describes Their Courtship
I had given up the world, given my body to death or any possible rebirth. When he found me at the shrine of Inari, I became something else. But when the smoke rose, it was still me, terrified, turning and turning from the heat. How could he quiet this new body, its voices and tears? When we’re alone, I forget my other life sometimes, forget my sharp teeth and tail. I become the thing beneath his hands, softer.
We all wear our voices out calling for each other, and when does that song end? He loved the falling cherry blossoms, the crumpling peonies, the dying willow. He always sought to put things back together. I tear things apart. The instruments of bone and blood are the same; the intents are different. I look down and see my paw on his hand. He sees the half-moons of nails, the pink skin. He sees the hope in changing seasons, and I only see the leaves departed, the savage inky trails of the moon in the grass.
I know before he does
how he will leave me,
a little temple of spine and fur.
The Husband Tries to Write to the Disappearing Wife
I could have kept you
in the palm of my hand,
but you weren’t ready.
I know I have lost
your body, dissolved into
like birdsong. I should
have known when I started
sweeping twigs and bits
of fur and feather
off our floors, when our baby
liked nothing better
than chewing beetles.
Our bargain was never strong
as straw, as autumn’s
last light, easily
shattered. Why is it I want
to carve you into
my palm, from pain
into memory, that I sit up
night after night
the moon and moth, the white shrine—
your eyes, too bright
to be human. The songs
I write start with your hair but
end with your heart.
No poetry seems right
without your crooked smile.
Without the scrape
of your sharp teeth
against my lips, there is
no word for kiss.
The boy in the labyrinth sits with his knees to his chest. The sky—so far. In his chest, the isthmus between here and not here tugs its knot through the heart muscle. A heavy lub-dub sparks its tiny fire. His eyes on the sky and his body aflame on the inside. Still, the only real crisis is the keening of the beast as it flits somewhere between an actual orbit and the boy’s imagination. The beast is in an elsewhere place. A place full of harmonies and dark. And yet, the boy’s iris full of light cannot represent forgetfulness or the forgotten. The peculiar quality of the sky and the beams coming at a slant depict an aspect of time. Depict a duration of loss.
The boy in the labyrinth turns in the shaky air. He makes his own current. His own vortex. Perhaps the cavern receding, one passage into the next, cannot contain the boy as he tornados in place. How spun, the world. The rooms of the maze are adorned identically. And among the identical rooms, perhaps god dwells. Perhaps the beast dwells, having multiple nests. And in such dwellings, the boy is spun—eyes dart right to left, right to left. The wheel of his breath leaves his body. Rises up from his chest out of his mouth. The soft salt at the edge of his lips cooled into a gritty cake. The labyrinth turns in circles and multiplies its falsity.
One Martian Engineer
Engineering life is always a crapshoot.
You can brainstorm the perfect design,
Consider all the shrewish elements of a projected
Environmental niche: what works well
On paper may not be so cooperative
In a Petri dish. Cells will have
Their hidden mutations, their
Individual proclivities, their downright
Orneriness. You can pump nutrients,
Adjust light and warmth, take it all
For a therapeutic spin in the autoclave and still
You get what you get.
I thought my creature was going to look
Like a flying squirrel and eat
Martian rocks, then exhaust oxygen.
I imagined whole flocks of the beings
Generating an atmosphere with their hunger.
Instead, this silver-gray confection
Appears more of a leaping flatworm,
And turns inside-out in our slight Martian pressure.
I can’t even let the leftovers
Out of the lab glass, get a good
Reflex test, or apply identifying dyes,
Ruin it with gas and get a chromatic spread.
So I add artificial air, pump
Humidity in, see the improvement
That proves this being will not work,
That genetics once more is flipping
An unpredictable middle finger at me.
Tonight, it is going to be
Another quart of the engineered ale,
And added doodles to my creation notes.
The flatworm-looking thing ignores
The rocks it should be taking as dinner,
Produces no breathable byproduct, flips on its back
And looks like it wants its belly rubbed.
Despite my mood and better judgment, from across
The room I make the simple mathematics of a coo.
Lay the blame where you see fit.
I had neither a man nor bunsen burner
in the lab at home for family dinners
so he went to work with me:
nuclear plant, full of rules
that kept us safe and hemmed a child in.
Day in, day out, he watched me
push the boundaries inside the atom,
plan complex contingencies,
Rube Goldberg consequence to consequence
as piles heated and the heavy elements
transmuted: bread and butter
to an evil scientist. This was the future
and technology did only good.
Now he holds the city by the throat,
my lessons learned, my love laid by.
I’m proud no matter what the Planet prints
and I will smile for the camera
in these handcuffs, certain that my Lex
has something super planned.
Echoes of the Guardian
Stalk the temple walls,
Sometimes I slither,
Sometimes I crawl,
Sometimes I pad along four-footed paws.…
I guard the temple walls,
The murals are my stories,
The statues, my friends.
I take the shape of each animal,
To hear the sound of the claws click on hallowed stone,
To hear the scales scrape on sand.…
The fetid pool that was the sacred well,
Becomes my refuge as a fish, my bath as a bird.
I go to the great chamber,
And roar until I become bored.
No moon do I see
No sun shall rise for me.…
When the great earth roared her rage,
The priests and priestesses ran and screamed,
The acolytes were gone before.…
A few worshipers tried to stay,
Bodies doubled over in prayer,
Shaking, like my prey,
Their hands to their foreheads,
Their faces to the ground.
I licked each one softly,
and as a wind, whispered, “Go”
I go through the rituals.…
though no humans bring me a plate of blood
or sacrificial leavings.…
I intone the chants, but
I cannot take the shape of hundred human throats
I am not the god of this temple
Only the guardian
Millennia cover my head,
And I may never defend my god
From enemies again,
For now … I listen to the echoes.…
There’s a Gold Twinkle in the Night
I remember my birth. My simple atoms in cold clouds of dust slowly swirled in outer space, but my cocoon was warmer at ten degrees above absolute zero. A disturbance in another part of the galaxy swept through and gravity cradled me until I incandesced to a ball of fire.
I remember my life. My breath, strong, cleared the space around me. I could see the marbles move in circles, as if a mobile above my crib, but hung on nothing. I grew in stature becoming ravenous. My insides raged an inferno consuming me until I bloated to a supergiant.
I remember my death. Jealous, the frigid crunch of gravity. Fires died, my iron-heavy heart stopped beating as I tore apart in convulsions. My atoms rendered to the deep blackness, to the stardust of my birth. My legacy: the scattering of stars, the genesis of suns, the transformation to gold.
The Viper Stands Watch
With unemployment between ten and eleven, and not enough
P-Chem to fill the void, I cobbled together what seemed obvious.
The emerald tights, though snug at first, really don’t annoy—
it’s the mask that requires adjustment (along with those cops
who keep flipping attitude about the ordinance.)
It’s not Halloween, I know, and I am no child
out for bad candy. It was one of those dreams,
both sleeping, waking—the viper descended
from nowhere (but my mind) and once level
with my face, its seven foot body hovered,
buoyed by nothing—as any potential common
ancestor of something winged—it remained
mid-air. And while I am no believer, there are street
signs and there are sign signs and, well, this was that.
At first, I didn’t keep a schedule, arrived
when my outfit was neatly pressed. Soon
the media pressed me and it became my regular
gig. Better than watching television, I was
broadcast, my mission to be the man
in Tennessee—a flash of green
and a retractable tongue. My promise
to be the eyes of Columbia in the dark
La Fortuna Visits L.A.
I have come to visit my friend
Guadalupe and wonder
why her Lost Angels Cathedral
does not have better souvenirs
It is the season
yucca blossoms on the hills
looking like flags to follow
toward better days
Walking Olvera Street
I enjoy the cactus candy and
all the leather and toying
with bargains for the tourists
It is the season
yucca blossoms sold on street corners
looking like angelic bowers
for an fortunate wedding
I prefer cards and
I give out luck
like surprise kisses
all day at the Holly Park Casino
It is the season
I throw yucca blossoms
colored chips and bar napkins
on my bed at the Meridian
I will like the Grove
fountains and cheeses and
little dogs in handbags
It is the season
tonight yucca blossoms and stars
I will collect loose husbands
and lose them and win back them again
I take my last roll
and play lost plug roulette with
the engines of hundreds
of unsuspecting parked cars
It is the season
I leave trails of yucca blossoms
winding toward a lucky future
just to confuse the game
The stairway, wide enough for troops of cavalry
and, eventually, for tanks, descends for miles
toward the white sea. At the top is the Museum,
whose milky stone holds light so long that it lasts all night,
buzzing and wrinkling inside the walls.
In the shadowless recesses stand our mummified ancestors,
effigies that reflect our changing eugenic interests:
our grandfather the dragon, our great-aunt the sphinx,
our third cousin twice-removed the bat,
the nameless ones who came before.
In the Age of Petulance our bodies had fewer segments;
in the Age of Fury we still grew our own armor;
in the Age of Defiance we ignited our own stars.
When it rains, it rains blood,
and it is best not to look at the windows.
We play games of misfortune by torchlight, and by dawn
the world has usually been made whole,
with a pinkish tinge. We reward ourselves
with deceptions, gesturing toward the sea as if to implicate
its uneasy surface. We have heard of boats,
but we no longer believe in them. All memories
can be irretrievably lost if we are patient.
Alice’s Blind Date With Frankenstein’s Monster
Where the personal ad read tall,
Alice assumed dark and handsome.
Where it read Loves moonlit walks through the cemetery,
Alice surmised romantic.
And the bit Firebugs need not apply,
she thought quirky charm.
So what harm could come by answering?
Only that learning reality is a bitter cake
that sometimes shrinks one’s hopes.
That he wasn’t handsome,
was an understatement.
But in his favor, he had a friendly laugh
and looked deeply into Alice’s eyes.
He didn’t bat an eyelash (in fact he had none to bat)
at her whole Looking-Glass story
the way her parents had upon her return
sent her to bed without supper yet again.
The cemetery her blind date picked for their picnic
was wide and well-lit under the full moon
and though he was creepily patched
from mismatched skins of the dead,
his green pallor glowed a warmer hue.
He wore his fears on his ragged sleeve:
fire, villagers, dogs, and shed a few tears
telling her of his longing for a true companion.
He wasn’t the worst date she’d ever had.
Also, he seemed to completely grasp
yearning for wholeness, the very thing
Alice herself wanted but had not the words to express
since the incidents with the older gentleman
that began when she was only six.
Her truth was that monsters
don’t always look the part.
Those that do can turn out not frightening at all
and can have quite a good heart
(even if electric shock is necessary to get it started).
Frank, he’d asked her to call him,
just Frank, and not wanting to wait
for things between them to cool too much
she did when she rang
him up the very next day
to ask him out on a second date.
Okay, so we had a falling out.
He calls himself Peter Pan,
takes me out to the best lily pad
for a few drinks, some laughs—
that’s all we do on weekends,
he has to be back home in bed
by morning in the other world,
but this time he was late,
with some excuse about Wendy
and the kids he could care less about,
from all his stories and complaints,
but I forgave him for that.
He promised he lived for me,
my sexy ways, my lovely ears,
my cuteness too cool to be mortal—
yet he kept calling me “Wendy.”
It simply will not do, and I
am not about to sleep with him
in Never Never Land, again.
Etta Candy Explains Her Views on Life and the Universe to Wonder Woman
Because this is complex,
let me begin with a Milky Way before
we reach the universe, reality, the candyshop
with the open doors of red missiles, rocket-
launchers, Comet bars.
Look ahead and see a possible path of stars,
of lowlands, of mathematical highbeams
and clouds obscuring clouds.
For the love of chocolate, begin
with a breakthrough, with future peaks
of numbers, with an undug hole and Einstein
on a bicycle.
There is no need for indestructible
bracelets, though your invisible plane
may come in handy.
This is just a matter of philosophy,
of blackouts and a superstring of comic books
in a life where we may never know what’s true.
Don’t invite God into the conversation
without your Lasso of Truth,
without some sort of gadget or loophole.
There is no way to explain love
either. No way to know
if we will each have our own
Howard Huckaby who let the world see me
as he saw me, under a faucet of stars,
I sparkled, even though I never saw
the hero as myself.
Wonder Woman Dishes It to Galactus
Were it to take every last bit of
my Power Cosmic
I'd hurl this curse at you, for the worlds you've wrecked
each a jewel in Her crown, sucked dry in your tragic
unending quest for more energy. And now ours.
After just that brief, interrupted dance with you
on our back like a tick, the ocean, no longer blue
has begun to boil. The seabed is broken. Rivers sour.
If, together, we can't fix it soon, this'll be our last hour.
The rainforests: kindling. Our oxygen dwindling.
I understand hunger, but you made clear you feel joy
for the pain your feeding causes. Better you should fling
yourself at the Sun than take pride in the power to destroy.
What good have you made? As sure as rises the moon
by all the cosmic powers, may your death find you soon.
As I stand here before you
you do not see me, not really,
for I have another body,
my real self, stronger, sleeker
than this clumsy rough
flesh, this prison of longing.
In that other body I float
across water like a blossom,
I float across the sky like
a star transforming itself.
You are to blame for this. Hidden
in damp grass by a midnight lake,
you found and stole my swanskin robe.
You crippled me. Without it, I am all
nakedness and pain. Without it
I stand before you flightless, weeping.
Somewhere in a dim dusty box
in a darkened cellar are my wings,
my feathered hood. Somewhere
are all my stolen beauties,
that rainbow arc of flight,
that floating circle of grace.
Though I stand here before you,
you do not remember who I am:
a swan trumpeting from the wild
skies, an archangel of spring.
The Gardener’s Tale
I liked to get to the garden
early, before the harsh
light of day revealed
all my mistakes, all the growth
I couldn’t contain.
I liked the pre-dawn
hours, when I knew
the flowers by their smells
as I rustled
That morning I saw
him first. He asked
for bread, and I had a bit
to share. I offered
him olives and some cheese
from my son Simon’s goat.
We talked of ways to attract
butterflies to the garden:
the need for nectar
and leaves for the babies.
I showed him a tree
that had been ailing,
and he suggested a different nourishment.
I thanked him for his wisdom
and moved to the border
of the garden. I didn’t make
the connections until I heard
the shrieks of the women
and Peter nearly knocked me down.
Malibu Barbie Moves to Mars
Why? Overpopulation. Too many
Barbies to one Ken, Joe on some macho
trip involving videogames. As one
of the eldest and most rugged, I felt
it was my duty to lead the way. Here,
I have some weight. There’s so much space. A girl
can have twenty walk-in closets if she
wants them, although what’s the point? There’s no one
watching. Doesn’t matter if you have two
hundred outfits, one for every million
miles connecting us, as if you could mount a
catwalk between planets. Walk that plank. No,
all you need is the one suit to protect
you from the toxic atmosphere. Here, I
don’t have to be all things to all people,
just one thing to myself. The red dust’s charged
with minerals unknown, and the strange plants
I’ve grown feed me—they feed me. Here, I can
look straight at the sun and let it burn. When
I see all the damage in the mirror,
all the wrinkles and the spots, my eyes fixed
on this vast, empty loneliness, at least
here, there is an explanation for it.
in the bin
marked for recycling—
my old skin
Children of the Flood
We flotsam-folk whose bones
are bloodied coral, salt-eaten.
We the driftwood rabble; we the murk
beneath the surface, whose bubbled prayers
break above the waters
and sate a rotting god.
We would let down our tears, but
we’ve seen enough of bitterness.
We float dreams of bygone days,
of land reclaimed by sun; and driven
with that longing, we whisper
of the olden sum of men—of fire
and its providence, to one day ward away
the waves and by some alchemy
turn our graveyard mud to dirt,
our grim levity to gravity;
to search beyond the chop for stars.
I’m so attractive earth thinks I’m her lover:
in Chinese I’m t’ su shi, “loving stone”—
in Sanskrit I’m chumbaka, “the great kisser.”
But Plato was the first to use my substance
to fashion myths—to lighten up the cave—
bringing to earth the loadstar showing the way.
A shepherd, Magnes, found me on Mount Ida
attached to nails protruding from his sole—
so what has pull today is called magnetic.
The Roman priests formed Venus from my blackness
then made an iron monument of Mars.
Drawn by the unseen universal power
the God of War flew to his antipode
as nature unifies her disparate members
if only you would bear the buried load.
Okay, I know I’m not him,
I can’t fly to the moon in a
blue and red streak
or squeeze diamonds from coal
or bench press Lois Lane
and the rest of the Daily Planet
I can’t fry an egg by looking at it
or peer into the women’s locker room
from the next city over.
What do I do?
I “talk” to fish,
from the tiniest plankton
to the magnificent blue whale.
Now granted, starfish do not make good conversation
And sharks speak only in Blood and Food.
But he can hear the histories of the world
told in the humpback’s song?
Can he hear the jokes made in a porpoise’s squeak?
Can he see the hunting dance of the angler fish
as it swims where no in the darkest depths
or enjoy the bioluminous waltz of the jellyfish
on the subtle Pacific currents.
No, I’m not him.
But who said I wanted to be?
Steeped in tradition,
I’m a rag in a pale of water,
soaked through so that nothing more
can penetrate my porous bones.
The time has come
to wring out my flesh
and lay my hide upon the stones,
there to dry beneath the desert suns.
So desiccated, I
crack apart and crawl from the dust
of what I was, slithering into the sand
in search of water, water to fill my bones.
In Yearning, Joan
I smell woodsmoke in the oils
on his skin, as though he chars first
in sympathy, as executioners ought,
his lank hair fiery in the sharp light.
In the forest at my feet I see things—
an ash sapling with a child’s fair face,
a young oak with the arms of a blacksmith.
Eyes in the logs that take my measure.
I hear voices in the murmur of the wind,
carried on the blighted day. Above
the heads of witnesses, this pyre lifts me
heavenward, a leg up on the journey.
The driest kindling, the blackest pitch,
the bindings just for show. Satisfied,
I observe the preparations, knowing
I would have tied myself if required.
As the flames begin to mutter and
to spit, my heart burning already
with the cravings common to a martyr,
I turn my gaze from the knotted eyes
staring in the wood, for they see me
as I am—gnarled and seasoned, rough
as all their own. Better to go home
the way I wish the crowd to see me—
blazing like a shooting star, all watchers
straining to the spectacle, to the crackle
of my soul arcing, glorious, through the sky.