Tag Archives: death

Alternate Endings

4 Sep

Alternate Endings

By L. Stewart Marsden

Scrolling through my files I stumbled on this pair of poems earlier published and titled similarly. Both were very conscious works, and reflect two every different endings. I’ve often heard it said that where spouses are concerned, the death of one is preferable to divorce. I’m at emotional odds with either, frankly. “Preferable” is a relative term. Neither – it seems to me – should ever be labeled “preferable.”

 

† † † † †

At the Last

At the last,
when the salt-brined smell of urine
soaked the entire room;
when you looked up and saw past me
beyond the darkening doom;
when you touched me with your purple-mottled hand
and gently squeezed;
when the curtains softly billowed
with the cooling evening breeze
and masked the stench of death
with a honey-suckled ease;
I wanted to hold on – and
not to ever let you free
from my selfish one desire:
please do not ever go from me.

† † † † †

At the Last, Again

At the last, when starched-white papers lay open on my desk,
and I saw your signature scribble, and leafed through all the rest
of official proclamations, now registered and done,
of the death of “and now they are one” where nobody won
and all took losses, stride for stride,
and not much was left – nor much to hide –
of what began in earnest and looked out hopefully,
yet ran its course for better,
then ran aground for worse
and now we both are finally free.
Aren’t we?

† † † † †

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On the Savannah

16 Nov

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On the Savannah

By L. Stewart Marsden

On the Savannah
Death stalks and waits
In every field of grass
Under each watering hole
For the unwary
Or the weak
Or those left behind;

The kind of strife that daily
Rises in the east and never sets;

Jaws and teeth led by smell and struggle and blood

Yet amply gives and hides in such a way
That prey pray for another day
To continue
And thrive
On the Savannah.

Rewrite: O Come, Thou Knight for 2nd edition of “Through the Glass Darkly.”

19 Jan

 

This short story first appeared in Through the Glass Darkly. It will be retold in Through the Glass Darkly II, which I hope to publish this spring. It is somewhat rewritten and edited. I will continue to edit and fine tune over the next days and weeks.

Tell me what you think?

 

 

Illustration by Ray Ferrer

Illustration by Ray Ferrer

O Come, Thou Knight

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

She had called him to come to her every night for months. Willed him to on some nights. When he finally appeared, what he did was monstrous, but at the same time, exhilarating. She was not a victim; she was a willing participant. She welcomed the act – reveled in its dichotomy of hell and heaven.

Night came none too soon. The drag of day was tedious and tiresome, and she was exhausted by the time the sizzling sun finally dipped beyond the deep wood. The burnt day – with its moist, cottony, heavy air – cooled as it darkened. It became fresh again, with the stirring of nocturnal breezes and the easy, calming night symphony of its unseen orchestra: crickets and katydids; tree frogs and night owls. Blended melodies lifted against the whispering background sound of swaying oaks and elms. Mixed and stirred into concoction so potent that the long-dead sat up, fully awakened from sleep.

More than ease from her pain and distance from her troubles, he brought her new life; movement towards meaningfulness she had never before experienced. He was, in a word, her resurrector. He appeared at that precise moment she teetered precariously between despair and oblivion, over the yawing crevices that disappeared into nothingness beneath her.

* * *

A gust of night wind, the sateen curtain billowed in the breeze, and he was there, silhouetted against the harvest moon cresting above the deep wood. Effortlessly, gracefully, he glided to her bed where she lay prone and awaited him, barely concealed in her night-clothes. He knelt and stared down upon her, his eyes hardly visible in their deep sockets. He hummed quietly with the night orchestra, and soothed her all the more.

He touched her gently, his strong hands cupping either side of her face. It tickled, and she smiled approvingly. His fingers traced along and under the sensuous skin on her neck. Down to the leveling out of her collarbone, and out to the curves of her shoulders. Then down the upper arms to the soft, pulsating skin in the fold of her elbow. There he drew soft, small circles with his finger.

It was too tempting. Her long legs stirred and rubbed rhythmically, like the tide, and she felt her womanhood begin to flow along dried creek beds. Rivulets. Then strong and steady streams.

The night. The moon. The cool breeze. The orchestra of sounds. His touch on her arm. The throbbing in her veins, in her legs, in her mind. All was one.

She tipped her head back, revealing her neck in the bath of moonlight; feeling its prickly light illumine her throat; her veins elongating; her muscles stretching and tensing; the throbbing moving from her loins to her arm to her neck. His light touch circling, cooling, moistening her arm; his shadow enveloping her – the shroud of a mystical blanket – a final and simple gown.

The end was painless. More than painless – climactic. Not fearful nor dark nor monstrous nor unwelcome nor uninvited. Quick and without fear. Then warm and cool intermingled. Warm on her arm, and cool on her face.

Another spritely, turning breeze danced through the window and slipped about them both.

She closed her eyes, and then opened them one last time. She smiled at him, and silently mouthed,

“Thank you!”

He said nothing but stroked her brow gently, combing wisps of her hair with his fingers. Then he closed her eyelids. Gently. Lovingly. Respectfully.

Arising, he returned to the window, hesitated, and was gone.

Of a time she too arose. No pain. No troubles. No tedium. No exhaustion. She turned and faced the woman on the bed. Old. Tired. At rest. At peace.

She spun giddily toward the window, tears on her cheeks, the fresh breath of a breeze brushing her face. Silhouetted against the large harvest moon, she spread apart the sateen curtains, and was gone.

 

Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 19 January, 2015

How gravely patient is the grave

13 Apr

 

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How gravely patient is the grave

by L. Stewart Marsden

How gravely patient is the grave.
With nought but time it bides and waits
and none are saved its ultimate doom,
its yawing jaws shall be sated.
None can hesitate its gloom —
or e’en be late to stand afore that portal gate —
the passage to beyond
upon which all do speculate.

Think you not so?
So you think some miracle
will bypass you your deep dug grave?
That you will cheat its final due?
An ex machina will save you?
Do you so think?

 

Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 13 April, 2014

 

 

Ba-dum!

6 Apr

 

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Ba-dum!

by L. Stewart Marsden

 

It’s out there.

I know it is.

Swimming slowly and methodical through the blue-green seas. Zeroing in on where to find me. And when it does find me . . .

I’ve found shark eggs on the beach. They are leathery and black and rectangular. Tentacles come off each corner, which entangle with seaweeds and keep the eggs from free-floating.

None of the dangerous sharks come from eggs. The dangerous sharks give birth to their pups live. The great white pups feed in their mother’s womb on unfertilized eggs when they hatch. And when that food is gone, on each other.

But it’s not a great white that’s out there, pinging about with its body senses.

It’s a bull shark.

It was born in the Neuse River just up from New Bern, in some off-river inlet where the water is murky, and rife with Spot.

Bulls can live in fresh water. They’ve been known to travel up the Mississippi as far north as Illinois. I remember seeing an episode of Sea Hunt where Lloyd Bridges had to do battle with a shark that had found its way into a lake and was killing people.

Bulls are also the top-listed shark as far as attacks on people go.

So, my shark left his safe little inlet and leisurely swam back down the Neuse and out to the Atlantic, stopping over at the piers at Morehead City to scavange for dead fish thrown back by frustrated pier fishers, and smelly, rotting shrimp. Every once-in-a-while, an empty Budweiser can, or even tangled leaders and lead weights.

A totally indiscriminating pallet.

I used to think that I was going to die from an arrow in the neck, shot by either an Iroquois or Mohawk. That was after seeing somebody in a John Wayne movie shot during a sneak indian raid. The movie was in black and white, and Wayne was skinny and angular in the face, he was so young.

Over the years I realized I wasn’t probably going to die that way. Although, it well could have happened on the archery range at Camp Cheerio, where I was a junior counselor. We were crazy — and so were the campers.

Over time I realized it would be a shark. Maybe after reading Jaws at the beach. I didn’t go in the water at all that summer without humming aloud ba-dum . . . ba-dum . . . ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum and everyone screaming at me to stop. The girls, anyway.

Hey, movies and books can really get to you. It’s rumored water consumption in my hometown of High Point was cut in half after the Alfred Hitchcock movie Psycho came out on account of the shower scene and no one wanted to take a shower for about three months.

But I digress.

Once my parents took my brother and me down to the Bahamas. We took a small boat out to go snorkeling.

The water is so clear! Scared the hell out of me! I kept sensing I was being watched . . . followed. Dark shapes just beyond my peripheral vision. I’d “see” them, turn, and — nothing.

When we came back in and told the boat rental agent where we had gone, he smiled a toothy grin and said — with a Cheech kind of accent, “Oh, you were in sharksville, man!”

Ba-dum.

The water off Holden Beach is anything but clear. It runs the gamut from dirty, brownish-green, with stirred up seaweeds if a storm has passed through, to very dark blue.

No one puts on goggles there because, one, you can’t see anything, and two, you might see something.

It’s better not to know.

But bull sharks, sand sharks, perhaps even tiger sharks roam in close to shore in the surf.

Close.

Maybe you get bumped in the leg by a blind fish and you jump up and walk on water to the safe sandy beach.

Maybe you step on a shoe crab, who skuttles under your foot, and again, you’re walking on water.

Again, it’s better not to know.

So, that bull shark has toured the east coast, vacationing off the east coast of Florida and turning about, maybe swimming as far as Virginia Beach. But he doesn’t like cold water, so he doesn’t go too far north.

I’ve seen aerial photographs of Florida beaches where swimmers and surfers are just a few dozen feet from a whole boatload of sharks — and big sharks, too — that are gathered, waiting.

Again, the water is clearer. I haven’t seen any aerials off the waters of North Carolina beaches. The locals will tell you they are there. I keep looking for dorsals.

So we run and jump into the ocean, diving through the waves and splashing out to calmer water, acting every bit like an injured, tasty fish.

I wonder if sharks smell urine. Everyone pees in the ocean. It’s so much easier than swimming back to shore and crossing hot, burning sand while doing the I-gotta-pee walk back to the cottage. Just stay in the water and let it flow.

We always kid each other that those sudden drifts of warm water across our bodies are really warm clouds of pee.

Do sharks smell that? And, are they attracted by the smell, or repelled?

Dogs are not repelled by pee odor. Quite the contrary.

So if you’re swimming with a group, hanging on to an innertube or raft, legs flailing down below in the murk, and everyone is peeing (chances are they are), do the sharks smell that and come in closer for a little look-see?

I always wonder, when I’m swimming with a pack of people, are any of the women — how shall I put this delicately? On their period?

Need I say more?

I think it behooves everyone to know if they are swimming in close proximity of someone who is introducing what may as well be shark chum into the water. It would be the same if you had sex with someone unbeknownst they had an STD. Courts have ruled such non-revealers guilty of attempted manslaughter.

So why not those females going through that time of the month?

Sexist, you say?

Reasonably cautious, I say. As well as being proactive.

Oh, if you’re going to the beach this summer — perhaps over spring holiday at the earliest — for God’s sake don’t have a hissy over what I’ve said and blame me for making you paranoid.

You are paranoid anyway when you go into the ocean waters, and you know it. I didn’t create that fear in you. Neither did Peter Benchley, who has died, by the way, and not because he was ripped apart by a great white.

If we were meant to go into the sea, we’d have gills and webbed feet — and those of you with webbed feet are aberrations anyhow.

If you dare to go swimming in the murky surf waters off any of the North or South Carolina beaches, just take precautions: make sure you are in the middle of any group floating out there; make sure you can swim like a sea-do back to the shore; don’t drape yourself with strips of bacon — or use bacon fat for sun screen.

Use some sense. And, have fun. That bull is out there somewhere.

So, will it be this summer . . . or next summer?

Ba-dum.

 
Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 6 April, 2014

Benediction

20 Mar

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Benediction
by L. Stewart Marsden

Why are you so weak?
Just what the hell is wrong with you?
Get out of that goddam bed and make your stand!
And . . .
and . . .
and . . .

That’s what I really want to say . . .
To prey upon your sense of guilt . . .
Rekindle your soul so the fire’s rebuilt
and you do whatever will make you whole
and finally finally come back to me.

Don’t you see?
Your frailty is the weakness in me —
and all that I see is a bleak emptiness
where you once rested
before you allowed this — this thing — to best you.

Damn! Why can’t you fling off the covers
and jerk out the needles and tubing and
whatever else is using your life?
And we, longtime lovers
return to the time when living our life
was never so hard, like
breathing,
so second nature?

Yet you’re quietly, slowly leaving me
setting me free to an unwanted freedom
where I will resist and reject what’s to come
and become of me.

That — you —
are my ultimate frailty.
And when you die
I will cease to exist.

So I will persist to insist that you war and you rage
and resist the temptation to turn the last page.

Do you not hear me now?
Can you not nod or somehow or the other
acknowledge my rage?
Won’t you please rest my fears
with a soft, gentle squeeze or tiny pearled tear
that traces your soft and pale face
and lingers upon your whitening lips
that I bend to and kiss
for the very last time?

Damn you.

O Come, Thou Knight

4 May

O Come, Thou Knight

by L. Stewart Marsden

 

She allowed him to come to her every night. Willed him to on some nights. What he did was monstrous, but at the same time, exhilarating. She was not a victim; she was a willing participant. She welcomed the act – reveled in its dichotomy of hell and heaven.

Night came none too soon. The drag of day was tedious and tiresome, and she was exhausted by the time the sizzling sun finally dipped beyond the deep wood. The burnt day – with its moist, cottony, heavy air – cooled as it darkened. It became fresh again, with the stirring of nocturnal breezes and the easy, calming night symphony of its unseen orchestra: crickets and katydids; tree frogs and night owls. Blended melodies lifted against the brushing background sound of swaying oaks and elms. They mixed and stirred a concoction so potent that the long dead sat up, fully awakened from sleep.

More than ease from her pain and distance from her troubles, he brought her new life; movement towards meaningfulness she had never before experienced. He was, in a word, the Christ of her newness, and he appeared at the precise moment she teetered precariously between despair and oblivion, over the yawing crevices that disappeared into nothingness beneath her.

* * *

A gust of night wind, the sateen curtain billows in the breeze, and he is there, silhouetted against the harvest moon cresting above the deep wood. Effortlessly, gracefully, he glides to her bed where she is prone and awaits him, barely concealed in her night-clothes. He kneels and stares down at her, his eyes barely visible in their deep sockets. He hums along with the night orchestra and soothes her all the more.

He touches her lightly, strong hands cup both sides of her face. It is ticklishly light. His fingers trace along and under the sensuous skin on her neck. Down to the leveling out of her collarbone, and out to the curves of her shoulders. Then down the upper arms to the soft, pulsating skin at her elbow. Soft, small circles with his fingers.

It is too tempting. Her long legs stir and rub rhythmically, like the tide, and she feels her womanhood begin to flow along the dried creek beds. Rivulets. Then strong and steady streams.

The night. The moon. The cool breeze. The orchestra of sounds. His touch on her arm. The throbbing in her veins, in her legs, in her mind. All is one.

She tips her head back, revealing her neck in the bathing moonlight; feeling its prickly light illumine her throat; her veins elongating; her muscles stretching and tensing; the throbbing moving from her loins to her arm to her neck. His light touch circling, cooling, moistening her arm; his shadow enveloping her – the shroud of a mystical blanket – a final and simple gown.

The end is light and painless. More than painless – climactic. Not fearful nor dark nor monstrous nor unwelcomed nor uninvited. Quick and without fear. And then warm and cool intermingle. Warm on her arm and cool on her face.

Another spritely, turning breeze dances through the window and slips about them both.

She closes her eyes, and then opens them one last time. She smiles genuinely at him, and softly whispers,

“Thank you!”

He says nothing but strokes her brow gently, combing wisps of her hair with his fingers. Then he closes her eyelids. Gently. Lovingly. Respectfully.

Arising, he returns to the window, his graceful body once again silhouetted by the harvest moon. And he is gone.

Of a time she too arises. No pain. No troubles. No tedium. No exhaustion. She turns and looks at the woman on the bed. Old. Tired. At rest. At peace.

She spins giddily toward the window, tears on her cheeks, the fresh breath of a breeze cupping her face. Silhouetted against the large moon, and she spreads apart the sateen curtains, and is gone.

Copyright © 2012 by Lawrence S. Marsden

R.I.P.

17 Nov

R.I.P.
by L. Stewart Marsden

Were I to slip beneath the cloak of night
and disappear to ne’er again return,
I wonder what that loss would be
to those who once professed to care
or think on me with sentiment sincere?

I fear the grief would not last long,
its brevity, like life itself, would render short
the memory of me.

But why should I be so surprised?
‘Tis writ throughout the ages past
Memorials of lives cannot last
but crumble and are covered o’re
by time and mounting history
of furthered and diff’ring pursuits.

And as it must ultimately be,
the plight will too encompass thee
and your flight from birth to death
will leave no survivors so bereft
long after you’ve been laid to rest —
your trail, too, will fade from mind
and naught of you will stand behind.