Announcing my new book of illustrated flash fiction: small, fierce things

Announcing my new book of illustrated flash fiction: small, fierce things

Logo
 
Dear Readers,
In February of last year, we brought you news of our friend LJ Moore’s limited handmade chapbook small, fierce things, a project we fell in love with from the beginning for its sheer transportive magic. For the last eighteen months, LJ has been working to expand the collection’s stories and drawings. It’s complete now, and we are thrilled to bring you the re-release of this extraordinary work. Although it’s now printed and bound through conventional technologies (not hand-stitched by the writer herself with fishing net she collected above the Arctic Circle, like the original), we think its magic and grace remain intact. Here’s the copy from the website:
“This collection by LJ Moore exhibits a writer/artist in deep communication – with the natural world, with dreams, with her friends and family, with legends and folklore, with her craft, with her own subconscious. She creates startling and unprecedented connections among these entities, tying them together, conflating them, blurring boundaries and exploring overlaps. The result of this collection – forty-five drawings and some two dozen stories (they’re hard to count, with they way they move around, and sometimes mimic other things) – is an overwhelming feeling of synthesis, of unity, of a primordial oneness in which we all exist together. Here she gives us the freedom to delineate things in any way our imaginations deem necessary, so long as we promise to come back and tell our stories.”
the bird-shaped hole (excerpt)
she had always felt the bird-shaped hole. sometimes, after waking from certain dreams, it felt as if it had been filled. in these dreams she flew inside the bird, looking out its eyes, neither becoming absolutely the bird nor remaining wholly herself, riding as a welcome stowaway in a body whose dimensions were both right and strange. the owner of the wings and claws was aware of her presence, yet made no objection. together, they followed the wind’s suggestions, flexing and extending each remex and rectrix to barrel-roll between buildings, noting the astonished faces behind windows, and the neck-bobbing scatter of startled pigeons.
LJ Moore’s poetry, essays, short fiction, reviews, and photography have appeared in a number of publications, including Fourteen Hills, Limestone, Jacket, Publishers Weekly, Rain Taxi, Kalliope, Transfer, Instant City, Litseen, We Still Like, Artsmith, The Chiron Review, The Bold Italic, Sparkle&Blink, Enizagam, and forthcoming in 100WordStory. Her 2008 book, F-Stein, tells the story of family through pop culture, science, and the paranormal in the form of a replicating strand of DNA.
LJ Moore was a 2010 writer-in-residence at Headlands Center for the Arts, and completed a residency with The Arctic Circle, sailing on a tall ship around the archipelago of Svalbard with a group of artists during twenty-four-hour daylight. With Invisible City Audio Tours, she curated and narrated an audio tour of the gold rush-era ships buried under downtown San Francisco. She lives happily with two trained rats and a photographer.
– The Achiote Press team.
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the cat who loved thanksgiving

the cat who loved thanksgiving

silas

the cat who loved thanksgiving

he was a cat of grand reputation: his miaow melted the hearts of even those who in the secret heart of their hearts did not, in theory, like cats. yet each year he proved again, through the naked wonder of his dilated eyes and drooling stare at the plucked and trussed bird nearly twice his own size, the commonality of dreams. slumbering in the sun, curled in the helpless shape of a turkey-filled belly, he traveled between worlds without moving, his eyes half-open, proof also that dreams and reality are sun-streaked shadows falling across the same rug.

the least weasel

the least weasel

Mustela nivalis and skull of Gulo gulo

 

back in 1999 or so my mother called me from her desk at the cornell synchrotron and said, you better come up herei’ve got five baby-somethings in my pockets and they smell pretty bad.

our relationship had been rocky for the past year or so, and we were not speaking much: i took this call as a kind of peace offering in the form of five helpless beings whose problem had a clear-cut solution, unlike ours.

i arrived to find my mother typing at her computer, the breast pockets of her button-down shirt bulging, and a faint skunky smell obscuring her rose perfume. they were so cold, she said. i thought if i kept them near my body, it would keep them warm.

one by one, she handed them over: they were hairless, eyes still sealed closed, skin translucent. their organs and bones were visible, and fine blood-red capillaries, like leaf veins, spread in webs across their bodies. they could have been anything: raccoons, skunks, woodchucks. the only clue was their musky smell.

one of the crew found them on the floor of the new tunnel this morning, my mother said. he thinks they fell out of a nest and the mother couldn’t get to them. construction on a new stretch of tunnel for the particle accelerator had been going on for months. my mother liked to call it the atom smasher in front of the physicists, because it bugged them.

i left the lab with the creatures folded up in a sweatshirt. nothing had been settled, nothing resolved, but there was something immediate i could do.

for three weeks i carried the creatures around in a fanny pack, feeding them every three hours with canine milk replacer and an eyedropper, and stroking their bellies with a q-tip to make them urinate. normally their mother would lick them to stimulate their bodily functions. i was dedicated, but not crazy.

my best friend and i talked in the evenings about what they could be. because of the smell, we had settled on skunks or weasels. when their bellies began to show a fine down of white, and their backs a russet stubble, we had our answer. it also came time to make a decision: did we want to keep them as pets? once they opened their eyes, they would probably imprint on us and could not be returned to the wild. even now we might have done permanent damage in saving them and handling them. so i’ve already done the wrong thing by interfering with nature, I said.  but aren’t we  part of nature? my best friend countered. how is it natural to just sit back and watch things die? these were the kinds of things we talked about. we still do.

the decision, for both of us, was clear: do our best to discover what it is to be a wild weasel, and try to keep our weasels, these weasels, wild. by this time, we’d identified our five creatures as least weasels, the smallest member of the family that includes skunks, otters, and the wolverine. we set up a box in the kitchen sun room where the weasels lived. once their eyes opened, we tried to be sure they never saw our faces, and we never touched them. with sight, they moved from milk to solid food in the form of pinky mice- as vulnerable and hairless and blind as the weasels had been when they were discovered. so one life was sacrificed for another in a necessary, mixed morality.

puck, our cat, would watch from the safe perch of my shoulder, his eyes dilated to black discs, as the weasels tore the pinky mice apart. at least they did it quickly. by this point, there were only three weasels left: two had died from an upper respiratory infection only a week after i’d taken them in, their noses filling with mucus faster than i could suction it out, and their breathing growing more and more faint until it stopped. the three survivors were voracious and fierce, especially the lone female. she was half the size of the males but always killed her food first and then tried to take theirs. at two months old she was fearless, insatiable, and so aggressive she drove puck off when he once became curious enough to stick his nose in the box. she was enormous in personality. in stature, she could curl her body nose to tail and fit perfectly around the outside of a penny.

when the weasels could no longer be contained by the box, it was time to transition them to the outside. we had read up on their habitat, the things they ate, their reproductive lives, everything we could find in a world before all the details were on the internet. i chose an eroded area underneath the barn to set them up: there was a water source and shelter nearby, and an empty field full of bugs and small animals right behind the barn. if they were going to learn to hunt, this was the perfect place.

each day, in the afternoon, I brought a can of wet cat food out to the barn and left it for the weasels. i couldn’t know if they were learning to hunt- all of their meals had come, if indirectly, from my hands. within a couple of days of doing this, they knew to expect me, and would form a greeting party, consisting of a mad weasel dance punctuated by vicious lunging at my ankles from all sides. i learned to distract them with a long stick, dragging the tip behind me through the grass. they chased it, striking and dodging and circling it at high speed. puck and i would watch from a safe distance as they took turns eating and chasing each other around the can.

after a week, one of the males was gone. only two weasels came to meet me for the daily can of food. about a week later, only the female appeared: as fearless and insistent as ever, but so small i only knew she was coming by the swift-moving line of parting grass headed in my direction from the barn. not long after that, i emerged with the can and only puck showed up. together, we searched the ground near the barn, but the weasels were gone.

many years later, my best friend confessed that she was afraid puck had eaten the weasels. tearfully, she told me she thought it might be her fault they had disappeared. it’s possible that this is what happened, but it’s also possible that one or more of them survived. it’s also possible that it was wrong to take them in, to try to change the outcome of their story. it is possible that they died in the jaws of a larger animal or a bird of prey, or when the winter came.

it is also possible that they could have been left to die on the cold floor of that tunnel, before they had ever opened their eyes, their bodies left to decay to bones, over which invisible particles would fly near the speed of light, being accelerated in order to answer other questions: not more important questions, just other questions.

Mustela nivalis and penny

Huginn and Muninn: a digital gothic (part 10- Muninn)

Huginn and Muninn: a digital gothic (part 10- Muninn)

Part 10: Muninn. [Playlist: Rob Dougan, Clubbed to Death (Kurayamino Mix]

in place of a name         kinder parents call her grief
and teach the young to tolerate her perch

upon the garbage bins
best to pay her tithes at a safe distance and move on
lest the details of her face prove catching

but whispered stories say
she is                            a fallen king

when killed in battle               his body left to rot
a raven fed upon his tongue and eyes

or worse                       she is a knight who slew a child
drank her blood            ate her heart
crimes that would displace the soul

others say these acts are not the cause
but the only cure      hence the lost soul remains so

all agree            she comes
to each alone
by firelight and lamplight
by ante meridian stillness

a hiss come riding the night
clutching her gift of invert dreams
the thief of rest

to hear her wings is to know
all the comfort of solidity jossed up
and burned

text released     in breath
from safe caging in the closed page

she lifts from frozen script
to stretch and catch the winds
of violence, blood, desire for harm

the perfume of wordless things
limp in her beak and claws
tapping there at the window

the hoarse croak of human speech
a token plume of echo

one well-known magician demanded of her       meaning
never grasping that her name was more an answer
than a name                  just as

black may be a slammed door   a curtain drawn
a shadow licking strips of sun                from latticed sills

light can bring the terror
of annihilating white
blending every nuance of the known into a false positivity

we say day and night is all it is   insisting two lasting conditions:
though the bulk of life involves   the gradual unmaking
of the certainty of noon

and where exactly lies the cusp
between what is and what just was

is she the death from which she springs
or the breath that bears a common burden
in stories that must perish to repeat

O reader
we have just done the thing together
brought her life upon this page

watched as she followed our lure
stripped            plucked            raven of the slain
deliberately crushed
into the mass of what has been until

a smithereen in a like cloud
rose                  dread-charged
coaxed home by our light

bearing the contradiction we impose:
that a moment is not fixed

until we each consume and make of it
our cells                        as memory

her return along the path
the only way we know ourselves

yet the sacrifice is real
lost memory is lost self

and each time we call her back
she answers a little changed

her shadow precedes her now
a deeper shade of dawn gray
hopping from sidewalk to rooftop

brushing the folded wings
of the hawk      awakening
exhausted         sent so many tales ago to intercept

hits her squarely mid-air
comes away with only one of her shimmering feathers

and she is gone              evaporated with the day

 

 

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Huginn and Muninn: a digital gothic (part 8- the sinking lure)

Huginn and Muninn: a digital gothic (part 8- the sinking lure)

 

Part 8: the sinking lure: [Playlist: Ellie Goulding: Lights Instrumental]

 

the anglerfish sinks

her lure winks off                      on

 a lightning bug
wil o wisp
yellow sea star

shrinks
to a pinhole flash
and nothings-out

quiet floods
into the would-be time

for mercy to wink
and leap for sidelong dreams                 a near-escape

                               but form is skin-tight want
insisting thought
clench down to bread and blood:

so slow and painful to be things

given arms or legs or wings
worse still
re   membered

 as a burnt-out light might
toss a phantom flare
toward the thought of night

 absence is thing-shaped
and the more disfigured
the more distinctly felt

what was  what was  what was  what
was      still describing to the missing limb

 a clenching fist

O Reader! I had you in my mind
to share the life of our common body
not bounded by finite skin      

believed we two as sorcerers
might cast ourselves into other worlds
as winged spells          and thereby make        in borrowed form                             

a home of dark winds
no frightening place to those whose
feathers           each a glistering facet

might catch the many beams like a lighthouse crystal
returning through the veil
one focused light

but the guides are lost
and any acrobatic
sleight of mind            is stripped
when

                                    the phone rings and
a voice breaks

a falling father body crashes through

the knowing mind          a grown child asking y y y y
all times and all selves come slamming home

when the split sides of the air collapse
in thunder

holy stranger                    ghostly Z who rises
from the juncture

featherless        mindless
bodiless            X

in this no place

no light to see light crushed

            by fire into dust and bits of bone
packed into a named and numbered box

            paid for at the appropriate office

            and carried to the passenger seat of the car
buckled in for the

 tremble of final air
squeezed out in a thread of breath

so fine a mist
ruptures

into a

            fiery particle

a light visible only to you
the stranger       the reader
who gently insists

the pages of years
still left to smoulder
a music in our flame of living

emptiness and cold ignite
between doorway and threshold

into a black, bird-shaped light
burning above a dark new country

read part 9

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Huginn and Muninn: a digital gothic (part 7- the dangling yarn)

Huginn and Muninn: a digital gothic (part 7- the dangling yarn)

Part 7: the dangling yarn. Playlist: [Playlist: Glitch Mob, A Dream Within a Dream]

tell the day we’re nowhere bound
by way of what was lost between
cross-threaded time like some machine
that eats its end to grow its tale;

with one last day to chase that sound
to gaze behind the weary night
to feel my wings like phantom sight
to fly to die to flash to sail;

tell the night we’re winding down
on one last shore a wreck to find;
tell the wind we’re lost behind
the warp the woof  the weft the veil

and breathed it in          and screamed it out
and burst apart             and still you cling
and so you rise             and now you sky
and sea                         and light

and turn and flap
and flick and fly
and cry and bite

and gasp

and twist and thrash with claws and beak
what prize is this, what drowning gift
I’ve hooked upon our sounding line
and rescued from the nick of death

or has it baited  us      to call us back
to arid dreams             themselves a sea
this bird as birdlike as our sailless hulk
was once upon a breeze          a ship

a young-old man with blazing hair
cradles the snarl of rope and flesh
fixes     in his fog-smoke eye
the two dark answers blinking back

a nearly drowned and naked bird
with ragged holes where wings should be?
what sorry work was made of thee
what crude and grim interpretation
of subtler songs as shift and slip

just as gruff voice                      and grizzled beard
mismatch his freckled young man’s face
itself at odds with the scar that winds
a white territory-border that divides
a blinded eye from one that sees

and stares and glares
and squints      and swears
and hears the poet’s
murdering gears!         authoress!

he barks

t’was you who nearly killed the bird
that made the breeze to blow
who stripped our sails and stopped the wind
who chewed off  wings and swallowed word
and snuffed the growing of the world

his words carry, bell-like           bending
round the mast

and aether-dragging
downward through the knotholed decks

a cry dopplering to groan          and all that’s massy

with his dropping pitch
yields up its phase

gone see-through          while
the things of sound and air
exchange their ghostly lightness

for a standing wave

which slaps and rolls into the lungs and hearts
of all the dreamers within reach

and rattles guts and tuning forks their bones

and draws us up                       up                                                                    to answer

by scruff, or snout, or belly
whether live or dead
dreamt or dreamer

both and neither

including me

dragged full-bodied
from the cubbyhole of never never mind
to feel the hot-nosed press against my legs
hooves and toes            callus-padded claws
trampling my feet

awash in the crowded waft
of badger mean

and mousy meek and
mutty cringe and
mantis strange               and all of equal brute and wit

until the woodwork sags beneath
a brindled crew of dark and light

all staring up into my face

all half-starved for
naught but an age of
phantom cat’s paws batting at
our stays          while we drift unmoored
asleep

the deep end of dream
that’s where I am

she thinks

she thinks
wait     wait

yes       the point of view has changed
the lines no longer yours
to weave and splice                                           .

no no   I’ve seen the spiders
spinning meaning as they go
I just report
I just   

                                                                                   
read from left to right or up to down
cast  spells        borrow others’ works
steal the sun and claim to have invented light?

no  no
follow the dream
follow the birds that showed me the gate                   

                                                                                    birds. birds? there were two

yes
one was blind and made of song

                                                                                    a black flame

            the other
she followed the lure

no        girl       no
you

called thought and memory from their fog
then let them fly apart

we would not be speaking now
if you hadn’t stolen through the wall

told time a new dream
unanchored death from his wreck

stripped thought of flight
and put the flame of memory out


hang no albatross around my neck!
how can I kill immortal birds?

these are merely words            and
I tell waking time by

looking where she points her hands
like any other mortal who keeps watch

                                    but in dream

                                    we are merely open sails
that catch        and      ride                                                     
and so reveal
her movement

                        which neither starts nor ends
but is with storm         with cloud                  

                                                with force                               

                                                                                               

of salve or speed                                                                     in breeze or gale
in draft or squall                                                                     lingers or appears
punishes by tempest                or                                                         devastates

with endless calm                                 

or mutters dry leaves              in not-quite-words
then shrieks  in the eaves       

                                                                                                and you               eavesdrop
                                                                                                                          thief

stories insist
as does sleep               hell, I’m dreaming now!

your voice is just another tale  demanding
listen!              translate!

botched. garbled

only partly heard         through shifting walls!


those muffled gifts
in astral language
so crystalline in the grasp of dream
common into mud in the grip of word

and what makes it back into the wake
must still survive a silent roar
electric thoughts connected
fingertip to fingertip               mind to mind
voices pass

                        through tables             walls               my bones
a pseudonoise that circumscribes

a maelstrom of sameness
one shrieking pitch      that equalizes
decapitation         hunger             sex       lost babies
I cannot find my bearings
in a wind that blows all pitches at once
from all directions                 

            my sail is ink
where I invent nothing  and sail nowhere
when anyone can tap
a glowing word on a screen
and transport to another world
awake              without a dream

dream is nothing
symbols in a book          at worst
a simple cipher for the little darknesses we fear
a puppet stage on which we practice dying
or at best

fly        escape             forget               become unreal
so tell me

how can I steal anything of value
from a lie

girl, girl when will you learn
there is no practice        only life

and dream is not escape or lie

have you ever tried to stay awake?
until delirium removes the sense

and dream invades                                                                  it is true            death is real

you will die

the only thing immortal is the tale
and tale is wind

you are             the sail              the bird
and word is all       the wind is

cast the nets!

he shouts
stumbling aft toward the hatch
to the watching crew he says 

find her!

and presses flat against the helm
as nose and tooth        dive madly in a ball of fur
through scupperholes into the bilge

or labor sloth-by-sloth into the yards
while one dog, overwhelmed
goes dervishing around the deck

the ship goes quiet      as all the rest
answer and depart to crawl and trawl
and home                    and scent and sense  and search

all but a hawk that lights upon the starboard rail
and a soft gray toad emerging from the binnacle

will you also help?

he asks
but the hawk has already plunged
into the greening waves

and the toad climbs skyward into secret crevices
that vein the air in silver fire

cradling the weightless bird
he locks his damaged eye on mine

you, poet…
come below

read part 8

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