This was not the sin
for which Carthage must die.
The scale is sometimes disputed
by historians; it is difficult to say
which exactly was the practice, and which
the demonization of a defeated foe.
Cartago delenda est.

Reason alone states the plausibility
of child sacrifice in an era
where the unwanted
(the extra mouths, the daughters instead of sons)
might be exposed; at the core
of the story of Abraham taking Isaac to the mountain
is the expectation that children are an expected sacrifice.
For numbers, it is impossible to know
as the infants were sacrificed in fire.
Little remains.

The rich folk of Carthage
were said to have blamed their defeat
upon the substitution of the children of the poor
for their own; Human nature is to look for the greatest gain
with the least personal inconvenience.
Even in their desperation, they did not sacrifice themselves
but their children.

Children are the gateway to fear.
One always dreads the things that might come to be:
the stranger on the road,
the inattentive driver,
the disease that a parent cannot end.
The fear that your child might be the next to be chosen
could be balanced against the feeling that the worst has fallen.
A parent could relax; no more woe.
That fatal piety echoes in our legacy of horrors; we shrink from the thought
of children in the fire.
Not that. Never that.

Never the children in their mothers’ arms,
headed towards the showers.
Never the victims of chemical weapons
(looking just as our children do when asleep
but still, so still)
Never in our own communities.
Not ours, at the least,
victims of the triumph of fear over hope.

Cartago delenda est,
lest we be forced to think
that in some ways, we have progressed no further
than the sacrifice of children to the blazing fire.

October 25, 2009

Uncleftish Beholding

Uncleftish Beholding
Poul Anderson
(an essay written as though non-Germanic words had been purged from English, and Germanic constructions were common. It’s basic atomic chemistry.)

At first is was thought that the uncleft was a hard thing that
could be split no further; hence the name. Now we know it is made
up of lesser motes. There is a heavy *kernel* with a forward
bernstonish lading, and around it one or more light motes with
backward ladings. The least uncleft is that of ordinary
waterstuff. Its kernel is a lone forwardladen mote called a
*firstbit*. Outside it is a backwardladen mote called a
*bernstonebit*. The firstbit has a heaviness about 1840-fold that
of the bernstonebit. Early worldken folk thought bernstonebits
swing around the kernel like the earth around the sun, but now we
understand they are more like waves or clouds.

read the rest

Ugly Heads and Mother Holle

The Old Stories

1. “You will bathe every day
in milk and rose petals,” she said,
“If you convince your father to marry me.”
The girl complied. After all,
the woman had been nice to her before
and it would be good to have a mother again.
And for a little while, it was milk and roses,
but soon enough it became cold water
and hard bread for breakfast.
The father believed the woman when she claimed
it was because the girl was spoiled.

Blood is thicker than water.
In that, some people find
the strength to lift them higher. Some
the chains that bind.

2. Two daughters sat on the well’s edge.
The favored daughter had finely carded wool,
the unlucky, dirty flax. And when the thread broke,
as the mother knew it would,
she was thrown into the well as punishment.
In the magic land at the bottom, she spoke softly
and politely, and won favors and jewels for her courtesy.
Of course, she would never have dared otherwise at home.
Some coping strategies look like good breeding.

Blood is thicker than water.
In that, some people find
the strength to lift them higher. Some
the chains that bind.

3. When he found out her lies,
he threatened her, that she might give his children back.
She brought back the son, but
when she called for the daughter, she would not come,
preferring to spend the rest of her life as a mackerel
rather than allow her stepmother to change her again.
The wisdom or folly of that course
is known only to the mackerel.

Blood is thicker than water.
In that, some people find
the strength to lift them higher. Some,
the chains that bind.

4. Some variants of the tale
have the brothers changed back
after seven years’ privation by their sister.
No smiles, no laughter, no speech.
At the end, she might have forgotten how to connect.
But in the old Irish tales, the swans are only changed back
after decades or centuries,
only to die of extreme old age.
Some hate resounds through the centuries.

Blood is thicker than water
trailing slowly down the page.
In the end, the truest stories are all
about blood.

September 30th, 2009

The Machine Stops

The Machine Stops (1909)
by E.M. Forster

Imagine, if you can, a small room, hexagonal in shape, like the cell of a bee. It is lighted neither by window nor by lamp, yet it is filled with a soft radiance. There are no apertures for ventilation, yet the air is fresh. There are no musical instruments, and yet, at the moment that my meditation opens, this room is throbbing with melodious sounds. An armchair is in the centre, by its side a reading-desk-that is all the furniture. And in the armchair there sits a swaddled lump of flesh-a woman, about five feet high, with a face as white as a fungus. It is to her that the little room belongs.

An electric bell rang.

The woman touched a switch and the music was silent.

“I suppose I must see who it is”, she thought, and set her chair in motion. The chair, like the music, was worked by machinery and it rolled her to the other side of the room where the bell still rang importunately.

read the rest



It endured for a thousand years.
Toes broken, arch bent,
tied with strips soaked in blood,
the young girls forced to walk on crippled limbs
to force the bindings ever tighter.
The death toll was unmarked, but high;
infection being most common in the young,
falls in the old.
The goal was a foot of three inches long.
Most women have ankles longer than that.

China had an Ash Girl,
one who saved a golden carp
and kept it, like a pet, in a secret pool.
Her jealous sisters killed and ate it;
she planted the bones,
which grew into a tree,
which granted wishes—does this sound familiar?
and gained her the love of a prince.

The dramatic necessity of the tiny shoe
is obvious; the unmistakeable signal
that the prince has found the correct partner.
The mother chopping off a heel or a toe
(“a mother cannot love a daughter and her daughter’s feet”)
is a symbol of how ruthless one can be
when in pursuit of power.

And yet, one wonders how much travelled along the Silk Road,
if a Frenchman, perhaps, heard the tales of the tiny feet,
the grace of the Lotus Walk,
the delicately embroidered shoes,
and it sparked a tale of fortune’s turn about,
the dispossessed coming back into her own.
He wouldn’t have heard the details;
three-year-olds handed over to foot-binders
to break them for beauty.

We have a knack for finding those things beautiful
which are harmful in the end.
Arsenic complexions
belladonna eyes
compressed and corseted waists—
perhaps the only surprising thing is that it ended.
It endured for a thousand years.

August 28, 2009

Rapunzel (Into the Woods)


There are three motivations in life: money, power, and love.

One can see the mother in the shadow she cast on her daughter:
Power-hungry, clever
raising her daughter to be intelligent
in a world that valued neither women nor intelligence.
Always pushing her daughter for more
but never thinking to offer praise.
The daughter, later, finding it impossible to fit in—
looking for sympathy and finding only accusation
(small wonder, though, considering the history with her neighbors).
She made the classic mistake,
thinking a child will be someone who loves you
when instead, a child is one to whom you give love.
And then, the real tragedy,
assuming that since her upbringing was so harsh and unloving
that the reverse would be ideal
and took matters to the other extreme,
smothering with love,
so it is small wonder that the child, once grown,
was fair prey for the first heartless handsome wretch to come along.
And then life in the world being too much for one raised behind tower walls,
broke beneath the pressure of its demands.
One wonders if the giant’s step came as a relief,
though that, in turn, broke the one who needed her,
craved the love of a daughter, a family,
any family.

Rapunzel sobs that her upbringing has insured
that she can never be happy.
A pause, then,
“I was only trying to be a good mother.”
And we laugh, because, after all,
What would a witch know of love?

May 18, 2009