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Me and the Thunderbird

June 14th, 2012


Thunderbird, on a 19th-century Cheyenne drumhead, Detroit Institute of Arts.

The co-opting of Native American culture makes me sad. For years I thought a thunderbird was a car driven by greasers and meatheads and Pontiac not a doomed, desperate tragic hero of the Ottawa but a disreputable manufacturer of cars. If it weren’t for the automotive industry, though, would I ever have even heard these names? I guess we owe them for keeping the memory alive, in however twisted a form.

And there are instances of co-opting that make me unashamedly happy. There’s a really nice Mexican lager called Bohemia brewed by cervezeria Motecuzoma Cuauhtemoc in Monterrey which I would never have tried if it weren’t for the portrait of Motecuzoma they use for their logo. I could do without Mel Gibson, but he put native Yucatec Maya speakers in a big-budget film. When I heard Johnny Depp was playing Tonto in an inexplicable remake of The Lone Ranger, I was as annoyed as everybody else until I remembered Dead Man… that long, wordless opening scene, a bespectacled, comically pale-faced young Depp staring out the window of the train at the landscape of the West as the grim faces of passengers shift and fade around him, visions of his own death in the wilderness pass before his eyes, and that brutal Neil Young noise riff gnashes over all. Just thinking about it makes me want to go watch that movie right now….ahh, but I have shit to do. Anyhow–however trumped up Depp’s one-sixteenth Cherokee blood, I give him credit for caring about Native American culture, to the point that I’ll probably see The Lone Ranger.

And so on and so forth, with mixed feelings of reverence and liberal guilt. I am not really supposed to talk about it, being as how I am a white male.

Which brings me to the point of this. I have co-opted Native American culture. Part one of my novella “Death and the Thunderbird”, featuring those lovable, culture-raping centaurs; a locomotive powered by sorcery; and yes, a thunderbird, is live today in Beneath Ceaseless Skies #97, opposite the excellent Tina Connolly. I labored long and hard over it and am proud. If you’re a fan of the centaurs, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. But I doubt it will win any awards for cultural sensitivity despite my best intentions. By way of beginning to atone for this, I share below a brief bibliography of American culture-rape. As usual, I would almost rather you read the source material than my story. But read the story too, if you have time.

Ok. Must stop myself. Enjoy! Be edified.

   Art, Beer, Centaurs, Film, HM, Precolombians, Writings | No Comments »

Still Life with Apsinth and Doped-up Monkey

April 22nd, 2010

My newest centaur story, “The Circus of King Minos’ Masque”, went live last night at midnight in Beneath Ceaseless Skies issue #41–yes, those centaurs, the ones with the hallucinogens, the whiskey cellars and the lust for human flesh.

I read a little bit from this story at Boskone in February. It’s the second set in this world to feature Periphas, a human orphan raised by the lord of the centaurs. The third is purportedly to appear in Tales of Moreauvia #4 this fall.

It’s also the first time (at least that I’m aware of) that a story of mine has appeared for sale at the Kindle store–BCS has added a new feature where you can download individual issues to your fancy ereader thing from Amazon for a mere $0.99. Woo!

So many new and interesting ways for you to enjoy ye artfully airborne jewels of flying blood! How can you resist?

I’ll tell you one way you might resist–and that’s if you are not prepared to handle the goreporn and liberal guilt. These are still the same, bad old centaurs, and they are not for the squeamish.


This is Giambologna’s Hercules and Nessus.

   Centaurs, HM, News | 2 Comments »

Winsor McCay Centaurs

September 29th, 2009

Winsor McCay was the creator of the surrealist newspaper comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland, a beautiful, eye-opening classic that ran from 1905 to 1914 and has influenced me not a little. It can be had in glorious full-color reprints from los eeenternets for colossal amounts of money, or, the way I got it, from la biblioteca. A few strips are available online, like this great one from wikimedia commons. Ray Bradbury did a film adaptation in the ’90s, and there was an 8-bit Nintendo game I rented once when I was 11….

But anyway. Here, courtesy of Paul DiFillipo, is a little-known animation fragment McCay did, featuring some centaurs frolicking in a forest to tasteful piano music:

[Inferior4+1]: Winsor McCay’s Centaurs

Note the well-endowed female centaur, and then note the comment below from John Crowley about the apocryphality of said endowedness, being as how there were no female centaurs in greek myth. Woo Crowley!

Predictably, my favorite part comes around the 0:44 mark, when the strapping young male centaur heartthrob, for no apparent reason, throws a rock at a passing albatross and kills it.

   Art, Centaurs, Film | 3 Comments »

Of Hooves and Handcannons

August 12th, 2009

Tonight at midnight, “Between Two Treasons”, the second in my hopefully never-ending series of short stories about those lovable, man-eating, gun-slinging, ten-gallon-hat-wearing, prick-devouring centaurs goes live in issue #23 of Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

It is not for the faint-at-heart. Or the underage.

But please go read it anyway.

And the first one too, if you like—which is here.

This is some gloriously beer-addled 17th-century monk’s copy of a copy of a long-lost ancient jewelry engraving depicting a cloven-hoofed centaur residing at the center of the labyrinth of Daedalus. Whoever that monk was, if I ever manage to hunt down his moldering skull, I will give it a fat, wet smooch.

   Centaurs, HM, Writings | 5 Comments »

Satyricon

May 25th, 2009

Titus Petronius Niger, the man scholarly consensus seems to agree is the author of the scandalous, fragmentary narrative of debaucherous and decadent abandon known as the Satyricon, was a consul in Nero’s senate in AD 62; subsequently, he became something akin to Nero’s personal social director, granted the unofficial title “Arbiter of Elegance”. Tacitus, in his Annals, describes Petronius as a man who treated idleness as his profession, “one who made luxury a fine art”. “In the end,” says Tacitus, “Nero’s jaded appetite regarded nothing as enjoyable or refined unless Petronius had given sanction to it.”

In AD 66, after a rival poisoned Nero’s affections against him, Petronius made effort to flee Rome, was thwarted, and so decided to preempt his likely torture and execution with suicide. He threw an extravagant dinner party, during which he opened his veins and bled himself slowly to death to the accompaniment of feasting, wine, music, satiric poetry, and pithy conversation.

There’s a dude who stuck to his principles.

I think I’ve been aware of Petronius as a historical figure for a while, but had until not so very long ago considered him among the ranks of Machiavelli, the Marquis de Sade, and Nero himself: egomaniacal pretend intellectuals championing amorality for no other purpose than to further their own fame—the people who brought us Charles Manson.

I have to admit, though, that hedonism, at least in a watered-down form, has gained a certain abstract appeal for me. Pseudopagan pantheism does seem to lend itself to a philosophy of pleasure. And the ideas involved do have a great deal of practical relevance for me, if not necessarily as a human being, then as a writer. What with the centaurs and all.

So I’ve been reading the Satyricon—in a used Penguin Classics edition, translated by J.P. Sullivan, which is a lot of fun in that it couches all the homoerotic innuendo and hypermasculine grandstanding in the terms of stiff-upper-lip 20th century British slang. And it really is a pleasure. The characters are actually quite reasonable people, even wise, in their approach to their debaucheries. As a window on the culture and period, it’s utterly fascinating, an unplumbable resource. And the parallels with modern culture—and by extension, with human culture across geography and era, whenever a society has passed its peak—are just astounding. For example, certain passages—street chases and a vicious love triangle between two men and a boy—remind me very much of the autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini. The wealth of pithy witticisms evoke Oscar Wilde, the party scenes Rabelais. Even the scene structure and pacing seem to prophesy a good few thousand years into the future.

All these parallels with later stuff are so numerous and engrossing, it took me awhile to realize that the Satyricon also looks a lot like a prose reinterpretation of the epic poetry form. There are nested stories, comparisons to the exploits of gods and legendary heroes, and points at which the narrative is temporarily arrested for a long soliloquy on aesthetics or philosophy—though, in the case of the Satyricon, such soliloquies are as likely to be about the etiquette of sharing a nubile youth among a roomful of older men as about the death of art.

In short, I highly recommend it to anybody with the capacity for patience and detachment necessary to look past all the gorging and fondling and see the Satyricon for the solid gold it is. If you appreciate the centaurs, I think you’ll be as fascinated by it as I am.

To close, a piece of ageless wisdom on the plight of the struggling writer from Eumolpus, the Satyricon‘s sexpot poet:

‘No doubt about it. If a man sets his face against every temptation and starts off on the straight and narrow, he’s immediately hated because of his different ways. No one can approve of conduct different from his own. And secondly, those who are interested in piling up money don’t want anything else in life regarded as better than what they have themselves. So lovers of literature are sneered at by whatever means possible to show that they too are inferior to wealth.’

   Centaurs, Hedonism, HM, Reading | 3 Comments »

"Of Thinking Being and Beast" Podcast

March 11th, 2009

As of midnight tonight, the Beneath Ceaseless Skies fiction podcast will be featuring “Of Thinking Being and Beast”. With an “explicit” rating. Yeah. That’s right: you were fooled by my huggable fuzzy crunchy tweed nature. I am dark and ominous.

This is a human kneeing a centaur in the crotch, from a section of the Parthenon frieze depicting the battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs (torn down by misguided imperialists and now residing at the British Museum).

Foolish human—that’s not where centaurs keep their genitals.

   Centaurs, News | 3 Comments »

A Giant Vulture Getting Killed by Rattlesnakes

January 29th, 2009

At 12:00 AM (now), “Of Thinking Being and Beast” goes online at Beneath Ceaseless Skies, alongside a story called “Dragon’s-Eyes” by the significantly-better-than-me Margaret Ronald. Yah! It is a high day to be me.

A disclaimer: the centaur stories—of which there are many more, though this is the first I’ve sold—are bleak, vicious, and include not a little of the old ultra-violence in the Anthony Burgess sense. Kid friendly they are not.

This is Botticelli’s Pallas and the Centaur. Doesn’t he look innocent and retiring. Don’t be fooled.

   Art, Centaurs, Writings | 7 Comments »

Centaurs

August 22nd, 2008

For all those of you, my beloved early readers, who remember, whether with fondness or disquiet, those lovable, disturbing, unfathomably evil, shotgun-toting, buggering gay cannibal centaurs: Beneath Ceaseless Skies has bought a centaur story! Specifically, “Of Thinking Being and Beast”, which is one of my favorites. I am psyched. Not only because the centaurs occupy a special place in the blackest portion of my heart, but also because Beneath Ceaseless Skies promises to be such a kick ass online magazine, where the centaurs will share the page with the likes of Charles Coleman Finlay, Chris Wilrich, Yoon Ha Lee, Margaret Ronald, and so on with suchlike awesomeness. See the announcement here on their forums, where you can also have a look at all the other great stuff that is forthcoming.

   Centaurs, News, Writings | 9 Comments »

Time Halts the Arc of a Javelin

June 30th, 2008

These were the rites of morning by a low concrete
parapet under the copper spears of the palms,
since men sought fame as centaurs, or with their own feet,

or wrestlers circling with pincer-extended arms,
or oblong silhouettes racing round a white vase
of scalloped sand, when a boy on a pounding horse

divided the wrestlers with their lowering claws
like crabs. As in your day, so with ours, Omeros,
as it is with islands and men, so with our games.

A horse is skittering spray with rope for its rein.
Only silhouettes last. No one remembers the names
of foam-sprinters. Time halts the arc of a javelin.

—Derek Walcott, Omeros

Another brief, sublime sojourn in my chaotic odyssey through modern epic poetry in English. Derek Walcott is a Caribbean author born in St. Lucia, who now apparently teaches writing at Boston University. Omeros is a novel-length epic about two fishermen, Hector and Achille, whose friendship is broken over a woman, Helen. It has inspired me to no end. Not only does its verse follow a fairly strict meter, it adheres to this three-line structure throughout, and even actually rhymes not infrequently, yet without coming across as singsongy or stilted. It’s certainly the most unpretentious and accessible epic poem I’ve ever encountered. And it was published, I was surprised to discover, in 1990—long after the advent of the contemporary poetic taboo on metrical rigidity and rhyme, at least as I understood it. I am constantly amazed at the mileage he gets, in terms of variety and stylistic weight, out of little innovations in rhythm. The shortening of “Achilles” to “Achille”, for example. Or the way he interchanges the words “canoe” and “pirogue” to put the accent where it needs to be in a sentence. Often he will seamlessly digress into French or Caribbean patois for a line or a word, conveying both a rich sense of this cobbled-together post-colonial culture and a lesson in the versatility of verse. There’s still a certain amount of overhead, which I encounter whenever I read poetry, where I have to re-learn how to read both for meaning and sound—but in most cases, I end up having to reread at least once in order to get both senses. Here, I can actually do both at once. Which isn’t to say I haven’t been going back to reread—but I’m doing it out of desire rather than necessity.

The other astonishing thing is the way the influences of these disparate cultures combine to make the epic form feel new—and to make it applicable and relevant to events in the lives of a couple of poor, modern-day fishermen. At one point (which I’m not going to be able to find now) he compares a tropical storm to a fete thrown by the gods, invoking Zeus and Ogun in the same sentence. He equates the waning influence of the British empire with that of Rome, the exoticism of tourists with history’s reification of flawed human beings to the status of heroes. Hector ferries tourists around the island in a beat-up nine-passenger van with leopard-print seat covers, and somehow it feels completely natural for us to be reading about it in free verse.

I got onto this epic poetry kick because I was trying to write some of my own, and looking only at translations of Ovid and Sophocles and Homer wasn’t helping. In the end I think it was Omeros that really convinced me I could do it.

Then, one by one, he lifted the beautiful conchs,
weighed each in his palm, considering the deep pain
of their silence, their palates arched like the sunrise,

delicate as vulvas when their petals open,
and as the fisherman drowned them he closed his eyes,
because they sank to the sand without any cries

from their parted, bubbling mouths. They were not his
property any more than Helen’s, but the sea’s.
The thought was noble. It did not bring him any peace.

   Centaurs, HM, Reading | No Comments »

Trouble in the Garden

June 20th, 2008


Let me try to explain what’s going on here.

Owl has summoned the Maize God here to the altar of the Inverted Bottle at the behest of Jasper. (That’s Jasper on the right, in yellow. This is his garden.) Owl is very angry. She represents the dead and their kingdom, the underworld, where all is not well.


“Many souls are gathered at the Bottle’s neck,” she is saying (referring, of course, to the altar itself—a gateway to the realm of death). “The way is blocked, packed full with the newly-dead and nearly-risen. I was the last to squeeze through. Maize God, you must act!”


“But I rule over both life and death,” says the Maize God. “They exist only in balance. Blood feeds the soil, raising new life from seed. It’s as things must be. Besides—why should I interfere in what is essentially an Orb problem?”


“Yes, it’s true,” Jasper explains apologetically. “It’s the souls of my people causing this. If we could just be content to stay dead for a little while instead of rushing so impatiently towards reincarnation! But it’s Solstice, you see, and nobody can stand to sit it out down in the dark—no offense meant to you, O Owl, or to your kingdom.”

“None taken,” says Owl, blowing smoke from her eye-sockets. “Even I can’t resist a visit to the living world on Solstice night! But you’re sidestepping the issue, Jasper. Your people wouldn’t need to reincarnate in such volume if they weren’t dying at the same pace.”

“Well?” the Maize God prompts, when Jasper hesitates. “Why don’t your people stay in their bodies and tend to their gardens like they’re expected to?”

“That’s the trouble,” says Jasper.

“What is?”


“Centaurs,” says Jasper.

(Just pretend like that’s a shotgun he’s holding.)

“Well, shit,” says the Maize God. “Where’s Hummingbird when you need him?”

And yes, if you’re wondering, I did indeed get some seriously weird looks from my fellow gardeners as I was setting this up. No doubt the whiskey and pipe did not help.

Happy midsummer.

   Altars, Centaurs, Religion, Summer, Visions, Writings | 9 Comments »

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