I Dream of a Brewed Black Death

I dream of a black-brew death
Drawing deeply of the draught
Listening to the lying voices that longer ago than is comfortable for me to think on
Spoke to me of study and success
And left me in a rush after a reckless day of writing
Returning on occasion when I, eager
To feel again a fortunate man and find
A piece of the power I had pursued
And held in my hands and heart at times in younger days
Drink too deeply of that darkened water
They sing to me, sirens, who cannot swim,
Stonelike in the saltiest streams and with a life-jacket on–
Perhaps the heart, too long hard, heaves me downward–
The lyrics lifting up light and life and laughter,
And I know there is truth in the tunes they turn out,
Know and have known the feeling named often
Euphoria, rapture, consummation, completion,
The power that pulses and pushes on thought and motion and life,
Can call it from the cup put to my lips again and again and again,
Drained dry and refilled and drained dry once more,
A singular sequence that sustains me each day and that
Promises puissance and perhaps the touch of some god upon me
Shunning the Stupid God that so often succeeds in the world
The day will dawn that I approach the domain of the singers,
Come before their choir and call them to take me up among them,
Bind my baritone into their bars and measure their meters in majors and minors,
Finally finding a finish to what I have done and am doing and want to do again.
I will pass through the portal that I pour for myself a cup at a time,
Twitch through the tunes I have heard in times past until I am no longer
Part of the audience but performer,
No bare bodkin to consummate me in my last bed,
But a more bountiful flood filling me than any fucking ever could,
However hard the hand upon the hilt,
And each day, each dram, each drop eagerly taken,
The thought that this will be the one that takes me there,
Finding each has failed and flailing for another
Until, at last, the carafe is empty, the cup is dry and cleared away
And nobody will be there to brew another batch.

What’d you think I meant?
Photo by Lood Goosen on Pexels.com

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Celebrating Events Today

For many, today commemorates the D-Day invasion of Normandy by the Allied Forces during the Second World War. I have little to add to such commemorations that has not already been said by others far more learned on the topic than I, save to note my sorrow that the same fight that was fought then is still being fought now, if with less valor and, I fear, less success.

The happy couple, in whose work on Heart’s Desire Stained Glass I am happy to participate.

For me, of more direct moment is that my parents are married forty-one years today. As might be thought, I’d not be here without them, so…Happy Anniversary, folks!

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A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 306: Fool’s Fate, Chapter 29

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series

The next chapter, “Feathers in a Fool’s Cap,” opens with an in-milieu folk-tale before turning to Fitz’s experience in a mental world created by his donning the Rooster Crown. Fitz is aware of other personae inhabiting him, performers much as the Fool had masqueraded as being, and he contemplates the experience amid his awareness of the Fool’s death and bodily decay. The nature of the personae–performers favored of dragons in the days of the Elderlings–is made clear to Fitz, and he hears the Fool’s own voice, coming from his blood in the Crown itself.

Here it is…
Image from Faceless Frey’s Tumblr, used for commentary.

The performers in the feathers attempt to expel the Fool from the Crown, and Fitz recalls his experience being taken from Nighteyes’s body back into his own. The recollection gives him insight into what he can do now, and he plies his magics in tandem to bring the Fool back to life as himself. The exercise gives Fitz substantial insight into his long-time friend, and in the wake of the working, the two are exhausted. The Fool’s convalescence begins, Fitz nursing him along as gently as he can, contrasting the Fool’s experiences with his own. At length, the Fool is able to eat and drink, and he and Fitz confer about events, the Fool voicing some misgivings about how Fitz arranged matters. And Fitz continues to offer what comfort he can against what his friend has endured.

I remember, back when I was working on my master’s thesis, my advisor, Chris Healy, told me he had read the books about which I was writing–and that the present chapter had stood out to him as doing much to advance the idea of what might then have been and would certainly now be called a queer studies approach to the text. It’s far from the only thing that would, as the Fedwren Project attests and as I’ve commented on more than one occasion before. Somehow, I find myself in mind of the conversation again–perhaps because it has been a decade since my doctorate, now, and fifteen years since mastery.

I don’t have as much to show for either as might once have been hoped.

I’d be happy to put my talents to work for you; let me know what all you need written, and we’ll talk!


Another of the sparkling jewels
Nestled in the limestone hills
Buried among oak and cedar and mesquite
Seeks to shine in the summer sunlight
And when it is polished to its best
It gleams brightly

Image from the Texas Memorial Museum, used for commentary.

Such precious stones that emerge
Are noted for being blue
And for being prized by where they’re from
And their surroundings
Even as there is a thirst for rubies and garnets
And for things that look too much like them

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Still Another Rumination on Memorial Day

I have commented about this day’s observances once or twice before, I think. I am not moving this year, nor am I preparing to move, as was the case last year. I am moved, perhaps, but for a different reason and a far worse one.

Image from the district’s “School Spirit & History” page, used for commentary.

It remains right and proper that those who have died in honorable, upright service be remembered and honored. That what they died to defend suffers such as has happened–again, and again, and again, in Uvalde as in too many other places across too many years–is far, far less so. And it is hard for the reverence due the victorious dead to be given against the grief due those slain unjustly.

Let us make our world one worth the sacrifices made, one where such grief need not be felt again.

For this Memorial Day, please donate to the folks in Uvalde, Texas, who have their own memorials to erect. Send checks payable to the Robb School Memorial Fund to FSB of Uvalde, 200 E Nopal, Uvalde, TX 78801, or donate via Zelle at robbschoolmemorialfund@gmail.com.

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 305: Fool’s Fate, Chapter 28

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series

The following chapter, “Catalyst,” begins with a note about wizardwood before turning to Fitz’s efforts to reenter the Pale Woman’s domain. He finds a path inward, if with some difficulty, and makes his way through the labyrinthine facility. Among others, he finds the flayed skin of the Fool’s back, and he swoons; when he comes to, he leaves the marred skin behind, although he takes the piece of the Rooster Crown he finds.

Here it is.
TeodoraLaessa’s Fitz and The Fool on DeviantArt, used for commentary.

Pressing on, Fitz finds scrolls and records that had been sold away from Buckkeep, musing on it but leaving it behind as he continues to search for the Fool. He finds one of his erstwhile companions along the way and makes a pyre for him, and then he finds the Fool, dead among filth. Fitz attempts to Skill into the body to bring it back to life, but even with the help of the whole Skill coterie, he cannot do so. Chade and Dutiful offer such comfort as they can, little enough in the wake of the Fool’s death and the announcement to him of Burrich’s.

Fitz closes off Skill contact and recovers the Fool’s body, mulling over where to bear it when interrupted by the maimed Pale Woman. She taunts him, seeking to provoke him into killing her, and he refuses; she attempts to negotiate with him, and he walks away.

Wandering, he comes to a room with a map detailing the geographical extent of the Realm of the Elderlings and marking Skill-pillars. Another room contains a Skill-pillar, and Fitz takes the Fool through it to a plaza in a ruined city. There, he lays the Fool out and tends to the body, repairing the broken Rooster Crown and inserting the wizardwood feathers into it. Before placing it on the Fool’s head, Fitz hesitates, placing the crown upon his own head in an attempt to change what has happened.

I note with some interest the exchange of names mentioned by the Pale Woman as a custom of the Fool’s native people. The significance of the custom is noted explicitly, if in mockery, as the Pale Woman asks Fitz “Did you ever call [the Fool] by your name, to show hum that he was as dear to you as your own life?” It joins the comments about hair-cutting as mourning that appear at intervals in the novels treating the Six Duchies to increase the verisimilitude of the milieu; such small things pepper lived experience, and having them appear in fiction adds richness to the fictional worlds in which they appear. And in the case of Hobb’s Fool, the recollection of how many times the character called Fitz “Beloved” becomes all the more poignant…

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Another in a List Too Long to Bear

None of the children were mine
All of the children were mine
All of them are all of ours
And we have failed them all
We have failed them all

Image from here, used for commentary

After the events in Uvalde, Texas, of 24 May 2022, help is needed at the schools and in the broader community. Please look up Uvalde CISD for more information–and please work so that we do not fail our children again.

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 304: Fool’s Fate, Chapter 27

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series

The succeeding chapter, “Doors,” opens with an in-milieu spy’s report before returning to the retrieval of Dutiful’s party and those they have recovered from Aslevjal. Those aboard celebrate the return and recovery, but Fitz lays out his purpose to Swift; he means to return to the Pale Woman’s domain to cremate the Fool and to confirm the death of the Pale Woman. He affirms as much to Dutiful when the Prince speaks with him as the rest board, adding that his return as himself will occasion problems in the Six Duchies.

The man of the hour…
Leanna Crossan‘s depiction of the Black Man, used for commentary

Unbeknownst to either Prince or Fitz, Thick remains behind on Aslevjal with Fitz. His emergence startles Fitz, though his cleverness in remaining behind and easy acceptance of Fitz’s intent prevent the latter from sinking into depression. Thick also reports on Nettle’s status in Buckkeep, which displeases Fitz; she is not in a situation he would choose for her.

In the morning, Fitz sets out to find a way into the Pale Woman’s holdings, Thick trailing him. Progress in that line takes some days, and Fitz grows closer to Thick. In his sleep, Fitz communes with Nettle through the Skill, and in the morning, he wakes to find signs that the Black Man has been present. Pressing on, Fitz and Thick find their way to the home of said Black Man, who welcomes them in warmly and offers cryptic advice to Fitz. He also notes that he was once a White Prophet, relating some of his history on Aslevjal to Fitz as he sends him on to recover the Fool.

If I think about narrative structure, I am not certain how to regard the present chapter. I suppose this might be the beginning of what Freytag would call the denouement, what my musician self is inclined to call not a coda (that’s the epilogue), but another movement. Themes long heard in the work are being woven together, even if the main line of the melody is something other than what is being presented now. Something like a shift to another mode or a pivot into a minor key or a blues pattern begins to emerge…I think. After all, I wasn’t able to make it as a band director; my education in that line is truncated, so I might well have it all wrong.

If you like it, rather than put a ring on it, put some cha-ching on it!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 303: Fool’s Fate, Chapter 26

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series

The next chapter, “Healings,” begins with in-milieu commentary by Fedwren regarding Chalcedean slave tattooing and manumission. It pivots to Fitz musing on what the battle recently ended has left behind it as the combatants attend to themselves and he, himself, begins to take in the death of the Fool as he makes his way to Burrich. As Fitz reaches the man who raised him, Burrich dismisses the rest–including Swift–and lays out his final intent to Fitz; he bids his erstwhile ward take care of his family and wed Molly at long last. Swift is summoned back, and the rest move to comfort Burrich in his final pains as best they can as they strike camp and return to the shore of Aslevjal.

You’ve come a long way, baby…
Image is from Tess Fowler on Tumblr and is used for commentary.

Fitz assesses the losses and confers with the guard captain that had accompanied Dutiful. They laugh bitterly together, and Fitz sees to Thick, who has been billeted with the captain. More conference follows, and, in the morning, Fitz asks if the Skill coterie can attempt to heal Burrich. The attempt is made, and it does not succeed, but the energies that are marshaled to that effect are directed by Thick into the other injured. Those efforts succeed, and Thick is acclaimed by all who witness.

Reports are exchanged afterward, Fitz learning much of what had transpired on the island under the tyranny of the Pale Woman. Fitz and Swift also confer at length, largely about Burrich, as their descent to the shore proceeds. More reports follow, chiefly from Riddle, and the party reaches the shore to await retrieval. And on the shore, Fitz guides a slow healing of the Narcheska, directing the Skill of others to remove the tattoos that had been inflicted upon her by the Pale Woman, completing it just as the ships arrive to bear the party away.

It strikes me as of interest that the chapter leads in with tattooing as a marker of enforced servitude. That the Fool and Elliania are both tattooed and compelled does not escape me; that they are both tattooed with the forms of dragons to mark their compulsion–as is Wintrow, even if it was not widely known at the time–does not, either. (Admittedly, the motif is somewhat frustrated in the milieu by Patience’s tattooing, although that case might well be understood as a divergence of cultural practice and Patience’s own repeatedly attested eccentricities.) The practice and its emergence in several places within the milieu would seem to link that milieu more firmly to itself, which is a good thing from a worldbuilding standpoint; one of the things that mars a text is when the world it depicts does not work the same way consistently, while seeing things kept in place serves to bolster the narrative quality of a fantasy world.

Help me move into the summer in style!

About a Band Concert

I haven’t made anything resembling a secret about having been a bandsman, about having thought that I would be a band director when I grew up, about still being involved in playing saxophone and in promoting wind band music. Last night, as I write this, I had the opportunity to play again, joining a pair of other alumni of my high school for a short set at the school’s final concert of the school year.

An irregular trio for the Spring 2022 Tivy Alumni Band performance
Left to right: Daniel Elliott on trombone, me on bari sax, and Paul Bennight on alto sax
Photo by Paul Bennight

Doing so offered me the opportunity to try out some skills that I once had more fully but that I have not had much chance to practice recently–or not as much as I would like. Owing to the unusual nature of the group–a pair of saxes and a trombone–I was obliged to re-score parts and to compose a new piece, things I’d done in the years when I was trying to become a band director but not a whole lot since then. And I needed to play my horn again.

In the event, it was a good experience. Using old skills to decent effect is enjoyable. More so, though, was being welcomed in by the current band director and the students; people seemed to be happy to see me and to hear what I had to say and play. The audience seemed to appreciate the performance, too, as well as a few comments I had the opportunity to make.

For many students, band is one of the better high school experiences, if not the best one. (It was for me.) For many, too, the spring concert is the last chance they will have to play their instruments; many who enjoyed them will put them down and not pick them up again. The work I’ve done with the alumni thus far, and that it looks like I will get to keep doing, serves me, certainly, but it also serves to offer the students–current ones, former ones, and future ones–a place where they are welcome.

You can’t go home, kids, but you can always come home. I’ll do all I can to keep the light on for you.

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