Cassandra Smernoff


I’d had been on the whole right pleased to see the whole shebang gone down like an old steamship sunk in the Mississippi. Why, with all the screaming and all the hollering and all the old sexpots of Egypt doing what they all had been doing, it was the devil’s due. If old Ben Franklin, he’d had had his way like he wanted it, it wouldn’t be any useless eagle taking up more than a hundred acres of good fertile land to be the bird of the country, but the other one. And that ingenious Jefferson himself who wanted the folks to talk in Greek, though it’d be hard to believe he’d have wanted that for his roughly three hundred and fifty or something slaves he kept downstairs working in the kitchen, while he wined the folks visiting upstairs quoting Cervantes. Anyhow, more than two hundred and forty years later with all that nonsense of the two or three royal families of America turning the Lazy Susan by themselves now, without any help besides a few hundred millions of dollars on either side pushing in first the one, and then pushing in the other, trading off being in charge of the supper table, now four years this king, now four years that queen, and so on again, the system couldn’t have been made any smoother than butter left out in the summer sun an hour in July. And now all those November folks lined up like stiff ants crossing the river to die for themselves like it all mattered to them. But it wasn’t any different either when Diomedes eventually lost his sword and shield, and all excellence was cast away like a dead body in the river nobody, neither party, could then claim as their own anymore.

Elsa Alyse Roquefort

baker dancer

My other occupations had been less salubrious. I had meant to say ‘salutary,’ but memory device had already been in play, so that was what what had become recorded. There. Then. It had been once a taxidermist’s workplace time ago, as the phrase is wrought. Like cast iron. Sheet metal. Silversmith. Filigree of horses mated with each other over great green meadows tromping about until the penned in moment with such stallion blind to his own mandated purpose. Anyway, (effective enough segue into the next non-related segment due to similarity of sounds but not perhaps necessarily meaning or meanings) I had not been aware, or made, or made to be aware, that my little log cabin office’s pedigree had been in the recent or in the distant even faraway past ever been used to disembowel and stitch up hunted animals, hunted for their to-be on plaque mounted heads, or whole body’s glass-eyed standing in some mock in situ pose. Fair place to offer my own journeying services of soul, of psyche, of etymological butterfly dreams of the nonce. Like starlight I suppose stuffed inside Cassiopeia, a real-life constellation of another’s myth, and myth-making, co-opted to be our own. Like Heidegger’s Third Reich, if he had ever had one…even yet encore autrefois, etc., I had slightly suspected his little Bavarian shack on the hillside had not been dreamed of like that, when pondering van Gogh’s boots. And a day’s bricklayer. And even a supermarket cashier. Once. And only once. “Ein Mal jedes, nur ein Mal.” And so forth, beaded and threaded. Here. Now. And of all I had preferred ditch-diggers at the foothills of these sedimentary precipitously slung mountains for planting small trees, butternuts, doomed ashes, hemlock which had once, alongside the great Eastern Pines, populated the Earth. Where, spaciously, I had best been, O Best Beloved: woodcutter, steadfast and sure, trim and full of the day’s finely drawn muscle, hewn, with the fine sinew of slack-limbed Prince Achilles.

Gudrun Fleugel Thomson

christmas in rome

When I first came, pictures of me were taken without asking my permission. Whispers about my prettiness were heard among the clicking and snapping shutters. Plays, festivals, dinners, travel were common to me. And though I hadn’t any interest in them, men clamored for my laugh and attention. I was never so fickle and never let one lover touch me. The sun again will stand still, the light of the day I will behold once more before the footsteps of my ancient path will be soon forgotten. Seasons must go. No need to sulk, no need to smile. By winter’s dawn, the blaze of all the heavens may be once seen again in a solitary moment before my heart leaps into the memory of the unlit street. In time, nothing bitter or acrid or salty of me will remain, not even an aftertaste, nor the touch of cinnamon dust on the tip of my tongue will be by anyone twice remembered.

The Gallows’ Horse

hanging cross house

I rode a dark horse into the center of the Earth where all my poisons, potions, and misdeeds lived, wild and willfully. Everything there was a-wreck. Ruin and disorder thrived. Cracked ampules lay scattered about. Steaming beakers, blue-hot Bunsen burners, and schemers everywhere cooking up villainy in lab coats smeared with their own gray filth abounded. I was the king of all of this, and all my subjects, all my creations saluted my grave return.

I remembered from the land above the flower of my treachery. I remembered my rage and anger and my fulsome seductions of a thousand Persephones. How pleased I was! How capable! How incisive and cross-quotable my demonic possibilities. I was in the world of common men without compare! I was a concordance of my own ministries!

When I returned to Earth one day and sat amidst a field, I wondered to myself had I been this mistaken? How lonely amidst the grass I had become. How old and terrible. How heavy this mask of evil. And how I wished to rid myself of this awful weight. I hit my horse and off it flew back to the center of Earth where nothing belongs.

Since that time I roamed on foot. I visited many other lands. I traveled everywhere I could go. And between men and women I saw such terrible, terrible things and felt such terrible woe. As if the face of Man were hewn from hell, from the very wickedness of being I had left behind, of malice and limitless selfishness. Seeing this, I wept.

I said to the wise man I met, “Love.” And I said to the crone the same. To children, I said to them, “Love one another.” To kings, philosophers, chemists, scientists of every kind, my message was exactly so. Even when I was stoned, no different. As I passed into the light of nothingness, I recalled that I knew my origins and whence my own customs, wondering if for the misguided on Earth as too below it, would there ever be for them a lucky second day.

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This Graceful Suspension Of The World

keys and lock

He had a secret wife once whose marriage to they nobody told. Even when her family all journeyed on a five-day ocean cruise together to celebrate her maternal grandparents’ fiftieth anniversary, the husband in name, he stayed at home. That’s how secret she was. Once, another time, she had returned from taking exams upstate. And the exam she took was computerized (not on paper), and while she took it, it learned her learning rate. It gave her very quickly, she told him afterwards, more and more difficult problems to solve, and each ‘one more’ difficult problem submitted on the screen to her, she got right. The testing program recalculated itself, and, with the secret wife’s having rapidly solved correctly such difficult problems as which the program could ever propose, it released her from the testing grounds in twenty minutes with an “800”—a perfect score. Almost ninety minutes had been shaved off her testing time, her sitting time, her being there. That’s how time and testing and the algorithms had worked.

The spatial reasoning his brilliant secret wife could perform with ease at astronomical rates of speed is not the way, in general, anything else works in life. The massive hero Ajax, for instance, that great, lumbering Greek warrior, battles and battles everyday, fighting off the Trojans. And before he rejoins the battle, Achilles sulks in his tent for months, unable to convince Agamemnon to give him back Briseis, his war booty, in all that time. And who can really tell how long, how many decades and years of accident and misfortune, how much lasting grief it will take and all the many dead there will be when spacecraft really do fly and land to colonize the desiccated, lifeless planet Mars.

Today an argument could verily be made that the man who’d had that secret wife long ago, far away, is one day close to his death. His wits are down. His love forsakes him. His cat is gone. His cupboard in nearly bare. His pile of winter wood is wet. For him, all the world’s diseases and sicknesses and misfortunes have fled buzzing like flies into the air. The only saving grace the world has ever known, however, is not “hope”—that miscreant’s negative creed of dissatisfaction, of being against the way reality actually is—but “anticipation”—which, though syllabically awkward, is the better translation of the Greek word “elpis,” of what actually remained in Pandora’s opened picnic basket. It means to simply wait for, and to be able to wait for, the next thing to come. And that, the love-broken man knew, trembling in fear asleep and living in a perfect equation of anxiety awake, by the multitudes of stars which over the span of all eternity shall have opened their eyes at night and closed them during the day, was all there ever was.

Songs Of The Sea & The Earth

Everything I had known, and everything I had held dear had deserted me. And, unlike Yeats’ circus animals whom he claimed had deserted him, what remained for me was an incandescent flame, a vivid, hand-held torch with which I had always and will always hold aloft. And it is by this light of God that I will see the paintings on the wall where for fifty thousand years people haven’t since traveled before. By this I will even view the perfect moment John Wilkes Booth saw like a red maple leaf fluttering down while shooting and killing Lincoln in his theater box. The crimes and sacred moments of humanity, life, and sometimes glimmers of my own death, I have caught these like melting snowflakes falling into my autumn fingers.

To me, I have felt the sorrow of being the common cook whose food had accidentally poisoned the great Buddha. But I have also felt the rope breaking the neck of a bewildered Saddam Hussein. That I have no friends to turn to, nor scarcely any possessions, even an empty dresser drawer to slide in and out, I don’t even have that simple enough human pride of such wooden ownership to stand beside and claim as “mine.” My destiny had become to be a shipwrecked sailor to be cast upon another sea, to drift without craft, and to all my life wander from land to land in search of a numberless people who do not exist, whereupon, like the curse of Odysseus, giver and receiver of pain, my oath was to plant my alien oar.

Tyger Tyger Burning Bright

I know Blake meant some other thing, made by some other special hand. But every morning, just past dawn when the stray coyotes have left the cool night alone, and the black bears are huddled somewhere far away enough, my little black cat and I go walking alone in the woods. And I will venture just ahead, and she will scratch a tree, a trunk just outside the perimeter of the yard to mark it as hers, and to sharpen a bit more her already deadly claws. Then, walking ahead, I will turn around like Orpheus to see . . . but my little predatory Eurydice doesn’t flee, doesn’t vanish into the Underworld of Forever. She follows ever slowly, ever at her own steady pace. And so I, in turn, do not have to, like that poor defeated poet, grieve. Whither shall we go, I watch her emerald eyes pointing the way, a subtle inclination, up the embankment, or along the flatland. And we do. Me first, then her. And when we are far within the lovely wood, where another poet had claimed ‘twas dark and deep, she will find a large heap of rock some old dead farmer a hundred fifty years ago had piled up with slabs of useless bluestone to clear his land for once-grazing sheep (long before these forests grew) and sit and gaze. And I may wait, resting on another nearby stone or a stump some twenty minutes or so, until my little guru sidles back over to me. It is from her that I have learned patience. And it is from her to quietly breathe. I have learned to sit before the dawn’s first rays of light and wakeful birds and all the forest sounds everyday abounding in the trees, to sense and be myself the quiet rising from years of fallen leaves. She can be a little show off, darting straight fifteen meters up the side of an uprooted tree suspended at a forty-five angle degree in mere seconds. In the end, no matter where we go, and as we return home, there are two things I also keep in my regard: that I am her dearest protector and she, my little soft panther, has, out of her grace placed a day’s trust in me.

The Men I Knew

mediterranean boats 2

The man I knew was the man who tied himself to a tree. The other man I knew was the man who tied himself against a post. The first man had cried to all the heavens for his many crimes. They were crimes against the State, crimes against the people of the State, and crimes against the gods of the State. For these he put himself to death. As for the other man, he cried a cry against concupiscence, beauty, and the love of women alike. He wailed night and day; so bad was this, he had plugged up his own ears with wax lest he go entirely mad with his painful ecstasy. Later still, the very people the first man was claimed to have committed his crimes against, they had raised a statue of him lasting close to three thousand years, during which time they themselves committed all the same crimes for which he had punished himself, for no apparent reason among them all for having committed them. Why they committed them, no one could easily say. Some said it was for greed. Some said it was for pleasure. Some said it was for bodily desires. The second man became a legend of fortitude, cunning, perseverance, and strength. Indeed, when he returned to his tiny home near the shore, he was spat upon by his own true wife due to his dog-faced disguise. As for the first, his merciless end seems only to have obviated everlasting punishment, an infliction upon the venal soul of Mankind, so much of whose strange solace seems to be casting all hope into a steaming bucket of tar.

Polaroid Tree On Fire

polaroid tree

We had always meant these things to be fun. And we had always meant these things to be extravagant. After all, we ourselves were fun and we were extravagant. If there had been fools to give our money to, we would have given our money to all the fools. And if we had been princesses, we would have given them all our jewels. There was nothing we would hide, and nothing we would not disclose. We went to market with our wallets open, our purses unstrung. One time, an archer among us, he had a quiver full of one thousand arrows, and he shot one thousand arrows directly into the heart of the Sun. The entire time he laughed, and was laughing. One of us, a dreamer, woke up laughing. “I dreamt a dream,” he said, upon waking, and then went back to sleep forever. The bankers banked. The looters looted. These were glorious times, and everyone did as he did. And everyone, too, did as she did. A seamstress among us, she sewed seams by night and day. The proprietor of a butcher shop, she cut with an ax bones and meat all day. Ah, these were glorious times indeed! Sometime a hard rain fell, and it was just that, nothing more: a hard rain. Since then, everything was mixed up. Since then, everything has been mixed up. Times and tenses askew, awry. . . .The pickpockets sell candy and trinkets on the corner place. The realtors herd sheep in the meadow. The priests sells bonds to large companies. The newspaper carriers collect extinct passenger pigeons in glass boxes, or pin the wings of butterflies back on white framing paper. The teachers peddle marbles and board games which of course nobody thinks of ever buying. The dancers fish coins out of wishing wells in this or that piazza. Some of us, who were the loners, we harken back in our minds to simpler times which we all still sometimes remember, chatting now about the old days gone, around campfires to our new found friends crouching with us there in the glowing dark.

Diana ‘Toy’ Film Camera


The poet Marianne Moore defined poetry as an imaginary garden with real toads in it. I’d like to propose something similar here. That if we have a technical garden, there can be real things growing in it. It is not only possible, it was inevitable. The horizon was scanned and there was stuff in it. Moreover, it was possible to put our own stuff in it, stuff that belonged indeed to the technical age right before our own. And that can be very new and fun to do.

So, imagine Perseus without the help of a mirror to ‘not-see’ Medusa. Had he looked at this snake-ridden monster directly, rather than a reflection of her on the back of his shiny shield, then death was instant. Like others before him without the helping hand of technology (not to mention sandals that helped him fly about nimbly, as well as a cap that made him invisible!), another stone statue.

Picture not what we will imagine—regardless of any efforts to squelch or suffocate it or mute it—to be a snake-headed monster, something to fear and loathe and conquer, but something else. Picture it to be not baneful, but perhaps beneficial. I cannot myself yet imagine it. But I do know that it is inescapable because we humans are both biological and technical animals. And at times, if we welcome them, though it is rumored they have fled, we may receive the helping hand of the gods. The news is very old.