Book reviews: new SFF, poetry, and history

The Peculiarities by David Liss. 2/5
David Liss is known for his somewhat baroque novels usually dealing with finance or speculation or similar matters revolving around money, and this novel is no different. In an England where people are turning into animals and women truly are giving birth to rabbits, a young man of a banking family finds strange goings-on in the bank and investigates, learning about the real-life Hermetic Order of the Ancient Dawn and coming into contact with figures like William Butler Yeats, Aleister Crowley, and others. With the help of a motley group of friends and allies, he must use maths as magic to stop extra-dimensional killers and the bank’s board from bringing about worldwide devastation. Liss’s writing style is meant to emulate the writers of the period, but I’ve never thought this to be very good–instead, in instills a sense of dullness to the writing and to the plot and feelings of the characters, and I find it incredibly distasteful to emulate, unchecked, the antisemitism and other prejudices of the time period. But if you don’t mind that the narrator is an antisemite and mostly a jerk, feel free to read. It’s too bad that Liss’s desire to recreate the nastier aspects of Victorian writing overshadow theclever ideas that make up the plot and the interesting characters.

The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina by Zoraida Córdova. 5/5
A million stars for this book, which is a beautiful and original story of family and women’s resilience in a classic Latinx magical realist tradition. Matriarch Orquidea summons her relatives as she begins to make a very different kind of end-of-life transition from that of most people, and leaves granddaughter Marimar with a quest that involves staying home and creating a home far more than adventuring to strange places. This is a delicious book perfect for reading while listening to the sea or relaxing in a hammock or eating cupcakes with sprinkles and rejoicing in the wonder of a good imagination and the written word.

The Women of Troy by Pat Barker. 2/5
I had the same reaction to this as I did to Barker’s previous book in this set, The Silence of the Girls: it’s not very interesting. In the aftermath of the Trojan war, the Greeks wait for a wind to take them home. In the meantime, they set up camp and hold athletic games and plot. The women, stolen from Troy and raped and abused, create small communities of their own, trying to find stability amid the chaos. There have been a lot of retellings recently of the Odyssey and other Greek myth, and some of those have been imaginative and intriguing. This isn’t one of those, and despite Barker’s skill, she doesn’t bring anything new to these stories.

The Lights of Prague by Nicole Jarvis. 4/5
As far as vampire-vampire slayer romances go, this one isn’t bad. Set in Prague and full of atmosphere, the novel finds a vampire woman seducing a human man, neither of them knowing what the other is. It’s all hot and heavy until he sees her vampiric face and she sees his skill with a stake, no pun intended. But of course it turns out that they are on the same side, although it takes the slayer a while to realize that. Together they work to stop a threat that would see the rise of vicious vampires across the world. This was a fun read, with lots of good eastern European vampire and other supernatural lore, some very intense encounters with ghosts and a will-o-the-wisp, and a plot that moves quickly even when it’s full of excellent descriptive passages of the city and fashion. A good book for a stormy summer night.

Road of Bones by James R. Benn. 3/5
One of many in a series of mysteries involving the protagonist, a special investigator for the US military, this is an interesting read. There are US traitors, a “honeypot” trap, victims of Stalin’s regime, drug dealers, and other characters and tropes from the WWII era and foreshadowing the Cold War. The most interesting thing to me was the apparent but unacknowledged/unrequited love the protagonist, Billy Boyle, has for one of his teammates, Big Mike. Boyle has a female love interest, but she’s mostly forgotten in this story, and for the first half of the book Boyle is focused on rescuing Big Mike, but then seems uncomfortable in his presence. A set-up for a queer romance? I’m not sold on the protagonist–he’s kind of a jerk–but maybe I’ll read some of the others in the series.

When Evil Lived in Laurel by Curtis Wilkie. 3/5
With this book, author Wilkie tries to tell the story of Tom Landrum, an undercover agent for the FBI in one of Mississippi’s Klans in the 1950s and 60s. I really wanted to read more of Landrum’s own words and descriptions, rather than Wilkie’s somewhat plodding and long paraphrases. Wilkie is also too often fatphobic and otherwise prejudiced in describing people, as if there is a certain look or body type found more often in bigots. Another round of edits could tighten this up, work in more primary sources, and make it a much better book.

African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle & Song (LOA #333) by Kevin Young. 4/5
This is an excellent introduction to African American poetry, full of standards and new voices, and some lovely surprises. I’m a bit unhappy with the inclusion of Alice Walker, known for her antisemitism, but I understand why her work is included. However, the formatting of the book (at least for Kindle) is a problem. Lines are pushed together or broken unevenly (and not in the ways they’re broken in printed versions of the same poems) and the notes are all endnotes, not footnotes or introductory notes, meaning that readers have to flip back and forth hundreds of pages to see the notes for each poem.

The Forgotten World by Nick Courtright. 4/5
This is a searing, self-reflective manifesto on the damage done by men, and white men in particular, to the world and to others. It’s never self-pitying or defensive, but instead grapples with big ideas and difficult topics with aplomb and sensitivity.

Take What You Can Carry by Gian Sardar. 5/5
This is a fantastic book, and I’m recommending it to everyone. The author is brilliant in portraying both insider and outsider perspectives throughout the novel, and the characters are human and original. I enjoyed the tension of the structure, with the small internal flash-forwards and flashbacks that made the ending tantalizing until the last minute. The writing itself is beautiful and I learned a lot as I read.

For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten. 2/5
This was just ok. The premise and initial reveal were predictable, and the Tortured Chosen One trope plays out well. But the characters didn’t really grab me, and I found myself getting bored reading it. Maybe it’s because there have been so very many riffs on Red Riding Hood, but even among these, this book didn’t stand out.

Creating the Poetry Chapbook

This summer, join me in Creating the Poetry Chapbook, where we’ll write, curate, and develop a collection of poems for publication! All poets working in all forms and genres are welcome.

Creating the Poetry Chapbook

INSTRUCTOR: Kendra Preston Leonard
TIME: Mondays, July 12, July 19, July 26, August 2, August 9, August 16, 6:00–8:30 p.m. CST
PRICE: Early bird until Wednesday, June 30: $210 for members, $240 for nonmembers. After Wednesday, June 30: $240 for members, $270 for nonmembers. Become a member here. Apply for a scholarship here.
LOCATION: Online via Zoom
CAP: 15

From first poem to final publication, this workshop takes you through the ins and outs of writing, organizing, and sharing poetry in the chapbook format. Chapbooks, which have their origins in early modern Europe, are small collections of poems or prose poems of no more than forty pages. Often centered on a theme, chapbooks are an excellent way of sharing and promoting your poetry. Over the course of this workshop, we will discuss selecting a theme, explore resources for writing, write poems and discuss them together, talk about ways of organizing the poems in the chapbook, and consider different methods of publishing. Some previous experience writing poetry will be helpful, but not required. We’ll be working with Matthew Salesses’s book Craft in the Real World to help guide us in our workshop; I’ll provide scans of the material we’ll use the most, but having a copy on hand isn’t a bad idea.

Register at:

Fit the action to the word

Composer Emily Doolittle has raised some interesting and important points about text-setting. Emily–an excellent, thoughtful composer and person–wrote: “Poets: how would you feel if a composer (thoughtfully) cut out a few words from your poem when setting it to music? (Let’s say you had been dead for 50 years, so no one could ask you?)”

I had to think about this for a while. Some of what I publish as poetry begins as lyrics for a composer or performer or project; sometimes my poems are poems first and then attract a composer to set them. When I’m creating new lyrics, I’m communicating frequently with the composer(s) and performer(s) about what they like and what works best for them. I’m thinking of words and mouth-shapes and vocal folds and consonants and vowels as I write. But during that process I am always, 100% open to suggestions and changes and critiques (this is why the word “roentgen” isn’t in the final libretto of Marie Curie Learns to Swim). I often substitute one word for another, or move phrases around to make the text fit a specific rhythmic pattern or musical gesture. With this process, there’s no need for a composer to need to cut anything. I suppose that once my works are in the public domain, someone might take a lyric that has already been set and re-set it, but I definitely wouldn’t want the text changed in that circumstance.

As for my poems that begin as poems but are (or might later be) set, hmm. Obviously if I’m dead when they’re set I won’t know and won’t care, but nonetheless, I hate to think of some very carefully chosen words or a line that took an entire day to craft being jettisoned. Some of my poems do have clear sections: for example, my Water Songs, texts set by Allyssa Jones, began as a vague idea to write about water rights and water in certain geographies and within geographical and political histories. So if Allyssa had only wanted to set one of the poems from that set, that would have been fine with me. I have a poem (as yet unpublished) called 16 Poems Inspired by Rebecca Solnit. If a composer wanted to set numbers 6, 9, 12, and 15 from the set, I’d probably be okay with that. But poems that are through-composed, so to speak–those I wouldn’t want edited if I was dead. For example, if you really liked my poem “Coyote Sits,” but  you wanted to take out the references to the Grand Tetons (lines 2-3), that would be changing my intent without my consent. If you want to set “Six Prickly Pears” but think that the last three words: “disappear despair dissolve” will be too hard for the singer  you’re writing for, that would also be changing the intent and integrity of the work.

TL;DR: want to set a poem by me and want to change it? Come ask me. Once I’m dead, though, no changes allowed.

Sense of Self, a new opera

On 27 June 2021, Opera Elect will premiere Sense of Self, a 10-minute opera for soprano, mezzo-soprano, and piano by Lisa Neher and me. The premiere is part of a three-work program also including composer Jessi Harvey’s The Anthropocene Vignettes, and Non Motus by composer Marc Hoffeditz and librettist Ilana Fogelson.

When we began collaborating, Lisa and I talked about our own identities and experiences, and it turns out that we have a lot of common ground. Two things came up immediately: we were both athletes, and both of us have family and friends who have had breast cancer. Lisa is a competitive runner and triathlete, and I have been a competitive equestrian and fencer and am now a swimmer, and we understand what deep knowledge of our bodies we have as athletes. Lisa found several articles about women athletes who had had to make very difficult decisions because of their breast cancer diagnoses; for professional athletes, whose bodies are their careers and who identify very strongly and deeply with their physical selves, the treatment choices available go beyond finding the best method for eradicating the disease from their bodies, but also influence their future abilities to continue as competitors.

In Sense of Self, we decided to write about a professional or very high-level amateur athlete–Maya–who is faced with a breast cancer diagnosis and is told she must have surgery, but–as is often the case–must make the final decisions about her treatment herself. We wanted to illustrate the difficulties of making these choices and how one woman examines her individual wants and needs and responsibilities in making her decision about treatment: Does she have reconstruction, which might mean removing muscle from her thigh or back to create a new breast? Does she have her lymph nodes removed, which can result in long-term complications? Does she have both breasts removed, even if only one currently shows signs of cancer? How will her choices affect her family? How does her desire to breast-feed possible future children influence the decision? She’s helped along the way by her trainer Naomi, who is initially all about the best diets! and the fastest ways to recondition an athlete’s body! and planning a return to competitive glory! but who has to realize the larger implications of a breast cancer diagnosis and surgical treatments before she can be of real support. Not all women in Maya’s situation would choose the same way: everyone must weight these decisions differently, and our opera depicts just one possible decision our of many equally valid choices.

Here’s the full info on Sense of Self, along with the program note. You can purchase the score here, and we would love to know if you perform it.

MAYA (soprano), a triathlete or para-triathlete, of any age. Range: C4-B-flat5 (ossia C6)
NAOMI (mezzo-soprano), her coach, of any age. Range: B3-F#5

Instrumentation: Piano

Length: 10 minutes

Note on Casting: The composer and librettist both support the casting of any kinds of bodies for this opera. The singers do not need to be thin or display physical traits traditionally thought of as “athletic.” They can be plus-size, disabled, non-binary, trans, or have any other kind of bodies. Throughout, the singers should be free to move as much as they want or can, being active and keeping things dynamic, and indicating how important bodily movement is to their identities as athletes.

Setting: A gym or track or athletic training facility, or a room in MAYA’s or NAOMI’s home equipped for exercise. The singers can be on bikes up on trainers, stretching, or doing other activities appropriate for a coaching session.

Program Note: Triathlete Maya’s hopes for the coming race season come to a sudden halt when she is diagnosed with breast cancer and must decide between surgical options. Her coach, Naomi, is ready to tackle recovery and reconditioning with a positive attitude and the latest wellness trends, but Maya isn’t ready for those yet. She has to consider how her choice impacts her entire future—as an athlete and as a whole person.

Sense of Self gives voice to the power and joy of female athleticism, the strength of women’s friendships, and to the challenging decisions women must make when confronted with breast cancer. The opera explores the impact of cancer on women’s sense of empowerment, plans for the future, family obligations, and self- image, and offers a vision of strength and hope for reinvention and renewal.

Reviews: gorgeous poetry, Asian-inspired fantasy, and more

Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up At Night by Morgan Parker. 2/5
This did not do much for me. There were excellent passages but as a whole it felt frenetic and often jumbled, a very free stream-of-consciousness output but one that is unfocused and that collapses under the author’s very large assumptions of reader understanding. To me this feels like a book for the writer rather than a book meant to be read by others; work that is cathartic but not resonant with external thought.

everyman by M Shelly Conner. 2/5
I liked a lot about this novel, which is a story about family history and violence and gaining a deeper worldview, and about what social change and movements meant during the 1960s and 70s. It’s interesting to me to try to understand how someone like protagonist Eve, a not very complex person or particularly deep thinker, views the enormously complex things going on around her at both micro and macro levels. I understand Nelle’s frustration with Eve, and Brother LeeRoi’s desire to draw her into a greater understanding with the world.

I was upset, though, to see quotes from Alice Walker as chapter headers. I know a lot of people have been influenced by Walker’s work, but her antisemitism makes celebrating her work impossible for me and many others, and I hope the author and publisher will change these quotes.

Home of the Floating Lily by Silmy Abdullah. 5/5
This is a collection of beautifully-written stories about not just Bangladeshi families, women, and life, but also about selfishness, the desire for independence, the results of poor communication, cultural expectations, and religion and its pressures. I found myself truly hating some characters and feeling sympathy for others; I wanted to tell characters to go talk things out and I wanted others to take action. This would be ab excellent book for city-wide reads and book clubs of all kinds.

The Manningtree Witches by A. K. Blakemore. 4/5
Novels revisiting the murders of women and men as witches in the 17th century have been popular for a long time now, but few offer up the highly detailed and very real world that A. K. Blakemore creates in this book. By telling the story of a woman who is accused and tortured but finally reaches a deal with the men in charge of the witch hunt and must carry the burden of her deeds thereafter, we get a different, interesting perspective. The gritty realism of the protagonist’s narration, the intricacy of village relationships, and the infinite number of disruptions that all bring things together in a frenzy of misogyny are all on point here.

The Smallest of Bones by Holly Lyn Walrath. 5/5
This is a visceral, intelligent, outstanding work full of forward momentum and the grabbing of ideas and the body and wrestling with conventions and finally kicking them out the door. It’s a collection of poetry inspired by parts and places of the body, and about body, and being a woman, and loving women and their bodies, and rejecting the status quo and the male gaze and grappling with self-image. I want to give copies to every woman I know, and I want to teach it in high schools, and I want everyone talking about it, and I want to read more by this author right now.

Divine Heretic by Jaime Lee Moyer. 2/5
I had high hopes for this book, and was eagerly anticipating reading it, but it was a big disappointment. In this retelling of the story of Jeanne d’Arc, Jeanne is forced by otherworldly beings–definitely not angels–to pretend to be the mythical Maid of Lorraine and help the dauphin take the French throne. Jeanne does so, survives being interrogated as a witch, and lives happily ever after with her husband. Alas, my primary reaction was “so what?” Jeanne’s basic trajectory is the same, except this Jeanne *doesn’t* feel a calling to her god or her national leader, and she doesn’t die. This plot-line feels more like pedestrian wish fulfillment for Jeanne rather than an imaginative re-rendering of the story; in fact, very little here is imaginative at all.

Requeening by Amanda Moore. 5/5
A stunningly beautiful collection of poems on the body, parenthood, and bees. I loved these poems–they are carefully created, not a word out of place, and full of emotion and grace. The order of the poems, their forms, and the images and ideas they capture within those boundaries results in a collection I’d recommend to any reader.

The Book of Accidents by Chuck Wendig. 3/5
This horror novel wants to contain it all: the sensitive teen, bullies, insecure parents in a shaky marriage, parental abuse, travel between possible worlds, human sacrifice, claustrophobic mines, horrific mining accidents, alcoholism, possession, magic, a Smart Black Sidekick, a serial killer, haunted rocks, so much more. I liked a lot of this book and the themes Wendig is working with, but as the novel progressed, it became messier and messier, as if he couldn’t really figure out how to end it. And there are errors; where Nate meets Jed for the first time, Jed becomes Ned for a page or two; Jake says he left high school and got his GRE, but the GRE is the test you take to get into grad school; the GED is the high-school equivalency exam. I feel like the book could have gone though one more revision to tighten up things and would have been significantly better for it.

The Hollywood Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal. 3/5
This is a fine murder mystery involving closeted actors in 1940s Hollywood, the rise of fascism in the US during that period, white supremacist violence, and a handful of spies and former spies. The plot is solid and the detecting done by the protagonists is good. Some readers will be surprised to learn about the America First movement and the Klan in California during this period, but this serves as a good introduction to them. The characters clearly have extensive backstories from the pervious books in the series–which I haven’t read–but this can easily be read on its own. I enjoyed it, but I’m not sure I’d seek out the other books in the series, as the characters were all pretty flat and not terribly interesting in themselves.

Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim. 5/5
I really enjoyed this retelling of the Six Swans fairytale set in a rich and deep Asian-inspired world. Author Lim creates a complex and fascinating set of characters and lore including the protagonist and her brothers, her stepmother, and those who help and protect her along her journey. The villains are dangerous without being cartoonish, and the pacing is quick. Lim makes a few sly references to the stereotyped Asians of previous children’s and young adult books like Tikki Tikki Tembo, which only enhanced my joy in reading a book about fantasy Asian characters written by an Asian author.

Coming 5 June 2021: Renew Your Love for Writing: All-Genre Generative Workshop

Join me for this workshop offered by Writespace! You can be located anywhere in the world for this, and writers of all genres and levels of experience are welcome. You can become a member here, or register as a non-member.

Wondering what to write right now and how? Finding it hard to process the pandemic and all of the surrounding turmoil? This gentle, restorative workshop will use writing exercises and prompts to help you re-center and enjoy writing again during and after a very difficult time. All genres are welcome, from non-fiction to poetry to speculative fiction to memoir—or explore a different genre in each prompt! Over the course of this three-hour workshop, we’ll talk about the pandemic and its effect on us as writers, our fears and hopes, and what it means to practice writing. We’ll use several ideas for writing exercises from Natalie Goldberg’s classic Writing Down the Bones to get reaccustomed to writing without self-censoring, to encourage writing with intent, and to have fun writing playfully. We’ll share our in-workshop writing and talk about presenting new work with confidence. Writers can be of any experience level; feel free to bring works already in progress or simply come ready to renew your love of writing in a supportive, affirmative environment where all creativity is valued and celebrated.

INSTRUCTOR: Kendra Preston Leonard

TIME: Saturday, June 5th, 1-4 PM CST

PRICE: Early-Bird until Monday, May 31st: $45 for Writespace members, $60 for non-members. After Monday, May 31st: $55 for Writespace members, $70 for non-members.

LOCATION: Online via Zoom

CAP: 15 participants


Reviews: Jewish SFF, material history, nonfiction, and lots of witches

The Mismatch by Sara Jafari. 2/5
This book is an excellent illustration of the damage done to women by misogynist, patriarchal religions–not just more conservative forms of Islam, but also various flavors of Judaism and Christianity–in which women are owned like chattel. Jafari tells the stories of two Iranian-British women, those of Neda, married to an addict, and Soraya, her daughter, dating a typical white guy. Neda embraces conservative Islam in Iran to protect herself from the sexual harassment and assaults she experienced there; she marries a man she doesn’t really know, and travels to the Uk to train as a doctor. There her husband falls into first opium and then methadone addiction and abuses Neda and their children. Soraya doesn’t know who she is or what she wants out of life other than nice clothes. She’s less conservative than her mother, and is torn between the ideals of modern feminism and her religious beliefs. She decides to data her classmate so that she can get over the anxiety of having her first kiss, but she’s attracted to him and he to her, and their relationship becomes more serious, until Soraya learns that he was using her as well–at least at the start of their relationship. Ultimately, Neda stands up for herself and her children. Her younger children learn that she disowned their oldest sister for becoming pregnant at 17 and sent her away so that her father wouldn’t literally kill her. Her husband returns to Iran. The family meets the older sister and her family. Soraya and her white guy make up and get together again. But for this seemingly happy ending, Soraya and her family suffer from serious trauma caused by the misogyny of religion, and Soraya grapples intensely with her desire to be a feminist and a Muslim. What I really wanted to see in the ending was everyone in therapy. This is not a rom-com, readers; it is an indictment of believing in a religion that tells you are mostly worthless.

Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. 5/5
This is a lush noir set in Mexico during very dangerous and unsettled 1970s, when the government and other entities worked to disrupt protests, protect the corrupt, and punish dissidents. In this mix we find Maite, who hates her job, is depressed about her life, and loves records. By agreeing to cat-sit for her neighbor, she finds herself completely ensnared in various operations to find and protect or destroy photographs that could be used as evidence to bring down major figures. This is a book rich with description and complex, conflicted characters, and I loved ever minute of it. It would make a fantastic short series; Netflix, are you reading?

The All-Consuming World by Cassandra Khaw. 5/5
A heist? In space? With near-indestructible people and regeneration vats? With a group of former merc teammates with long and difficult histories between them? AI? Yes! This is so many things: a space opera romp, a meditation on loyalty, a collection of amazing fight scenes, and a great story about doing right by your crew. It’s full of inventive and evocative language and scene-making, and the characters are well-defined and clearly very individual. Being inside the collective thoughts of the AI and their hijackers is clever and fun, and the whole thing is a fast, twisty, joyride of a book.

Embers by Josephine Greenland. 2/5
There’s a lot to like in this novel about a young autistic man and his older sister on holiday in Sweden. When they come across a circle of reindeer heads, Oliver insists that they investigate the crime. Ellen, his sister–who is also supposed to be his “minder” something Oliver clearly doesn’t need, would rather go on package tours of the area. In the end, their curiosity about their own family history becomes interwoven with the killings of reindeer and other hate crimes aimed at the Sami people. Unfortunately, there are problems, too: everything is told from Ellen’s perspective, and Ellen thinks that her autistic brother is difficult and unruly and a problem to be fixed. Finally she lets him go, and he proves to be just fine on his own: in fact finds his sister after she’s been (rather easily) kidnapped by the culprit, who does a villain monologue before trying to kill himself. Ellen is not very observant, nor is she good at reasoning. She’s not an interesting enough protagonist, and aside from Oliver, neither are the other characters. They’re all rather flat and dull themselves, and their interactions with one another are awkward and odd. At first I wondered why their dialogue was so stilted, and wondered if it was because this book was translated from Swedish into English, but it appears to have been written in English. The hate crime aspect isn’t explained well, and neither is much about the Sami people–in fact, more people in the novel say they’re not Sami than those who do, so we learn little about the culture.

As a book featuring an autistic person, this one is ok. But I do wonder why the author chose to have an autistic character: is it for diversity? is it because a mystery might progress faster if an autistic character behaved in a stereotypical facts-oriented manner? is it to give Ellen an arc wherein she realizes that her brother is ok being who he is, and that it’s the world that needs to be fixed? I can’t tell.

Overall, not a terrible first novel, but one that feels very rough and in need to more development and copyediting.

The Nine by Gwen Strauss. 1/5
I had high hopes for this book about nine women who had been arrested for their work with the resistance in WWII, and later escaped from a German march. But it’s poorly organized and full of anecdotes rather than a narrative, and often the anecdotes lead down rabbit holes of unrelated information. I’d love to read it after it’s been through a substantial developmental edit to make it more organized and understandable.

The Nature of Witches by Rachel Griffin. 1/5
The idea for this book–that witches can control the natural elements of certain seasons–is a solid and interesting one, but the story itself here is a bit of a mess and a little too full of self-pity for me. At a K-12 school for these season witches, Clara is a rare witch who can control all four seasons (sounds like the Avatar), but she’s not in control of her powers and has accidentally killed her parents and best friend. Realizing that her powers attack those to whom she’s emotionally close, she limits her training and abilities and lives alone in a hut on her school’s campus rather than in the dorms. Then comes along Sang, an older student from a different campus who’s out in charge of fixing Clara’s magic. Or making her fix it. Clara spends a lot of time trying to decide whether to give up her powers and become a non-magic person, who are called shaders. She agonizes over her breakup with her girlfriend, then predictably falls for Sang. Finally, she gets info from previous all-season witches and learns to control herself. Clara isn’t terribly sympathetic, and Sang is a doormat being used by his teachers. The magic itself isn’t explained very well, and the idea of witches vs shaders in terms of saving the world vs destroying the environment is pretty bad. At the end of the book, shaders are invited to the school to work with the witches for the first time ever, but the language that surrounds the non-magic folk is pejorative.

Within These Wicked Walls by Lauren Blackwood. 4/5
Another book that riffs on Jane Eyre, this time in a bit of a tongue-in-cheek manner, Within These Wicked Walls is a fun and flirty SFF adventure starring a young woman who can cleans people and places of evil spirits. Hired to cleans a cursed mansion that even her mentor won’t touch, Andromeda uncovers mysteries, removes ghosts, falls in love with the property’s owner, and, after the gruesome deaths of several of the house’s inhabitants, convinces her mentor to help her. Admitting that you need help is good, especially in this story, and with combined powers and some emotional catharsis, there’s a relatively happy ending. The details about religious belief, hauntings, and t hose who exorcise them is an interesting added layer, as is the culture in general.

The Library of the Dead by T. L. Huchu. 5/5
Give me more of this! I loved this terrific book–part ghost story, part thriller, all fun. In a post-apocalyptic Scotland, a young woman named Ropa works as a ghostalker, carrying messages to and from the dead before their spirits move on to another plane, trying to earn enough to keep her grandmother and sister fed and warm in their tiny caravan. But when a ghost asks Ropa to locate her missing son–who is still alive–Ropa’s usual job becomes dangerous. Ropa takes on lecherous men, thieves, sorcerers, drug dealers, and a very badly haunted house while acquiring a new friend, access to a very unique library, and new abilities as she searches and finally rescues not just the missing boy but other stolen children besides. The magic and characters and city were all fabulously detailed, and I can’t wait for a follow-up.

Stork Bite by L. K. Simonds. 4/5
This is an interesting work–there’s little drama or narrative tension, just the day-to-day lives of characters whose inner lives are shown in fleeting glimpses. I enjoyed reading it, and wanted to know what happens next after a young man kills a Klansman, what happens next when a bored young woman elopes, what happens next with a smart businesswoman. But while the author does tell us what happens next, there are very little hints as to why such things happen, and as readers we have to seek out hidden meanings and, sometimes, simply deal with not knowing why a character acts the way they do, makes the decisions they do. In this way it’s an enigmatic novel, teasing and denying. The novel’s description–that David Walker reappears and the past is never too far from the present–isn’t what happens at all, save for a brief episode near the end of the novel; nonetheless, it’s an interesting read, ideal for book clubs and close readings.

Bright Ruined Things by Samantha Cohoe. 1/5
This novel uses Shakespeare’s the Tempest as a jumping-off point, and the initial idea isn’t bad: a young woman discovers that the magic island she’s always lived on is made magic by the enslaved spirits who live there. But the execution is poor: the story becomes one of Cinderella, albeit with an evil royal family, manipulative princesses, and sullen princes, only one of whom is intelligent enough to know what’s going on when the spirits begin to die. The narrator is independent and has a lot of self-esteem, but she’s turned into a figure focused on boys and romance and somehow becomes unable to speak for herself for an annoyingly long time. The plot is rushed and decisions don’t make sense; characters are uneven and inconsistent; and the conclusion is frustrating as the protagonist, who had achieved some autonomy, allows herself to be sucked back into the morass of the spirit-enslaving family.

I Am Margaret Moore by Hannah Capin. 5/5
I really enjoyed this book, with its unstable narrative and moments of intensity, anger, fear, and retribution. The narrator was less well-fleshed out (pun partially intended) than the other characters except perhaps for Jack, but that ultimately makes sense, since the book is really about the girls who fight to end the lies that circulate around their friend–about how they are true Marshall girls to the end, in every way. This novel is excellent, surprising me when I though there were no more surprises (or obvious secrets) left, and concluding just the way readers will want it to.

All That She Carried by Tiya Miles. 5/5
This is an outstanding work of material history that traces a single handcrafted item from its origins to its location today, providing astute and important commentary along the way in regard to human rights, the history of the Americas and enslavement of people, the lives of enslaved women and free women, and what we can learn by following this item back in time. I highly recommend this–it makes an excellent companion piece to 400 Souls.

Castle Shade by Laurie R. King. 3/5
I’ve been sorely disappointed in King’s more recent Russell books, so I was wary of this newest installment. While at least Holmes and Russell are together in this one, they’re at an apparently rough patch in their still-young marriage, and we’re once again lacking the wit and fun of the first several books in the series. However, at least the plot works, more or less, and the supporting characters are pretty well written. But Russell and Holmes being on tiptoes with one another makes the book uncomfortable to read, especially if you’ve read others in the series. In addition, I know King has a mandate not to let Holmes get too old, but the timeline for all of the books is getting crowded to the point of absurdity, even if it is a fictional world.

Spells Trouble by P. C. Cast; Kristin Cast. 2/5
This was promising: a story with a strong sisterly and mother-daughters bond, daughters suddenly left in the company of a shapeshifting cat, and the need for the sisters to repair broken magics. And while the diverse characters felt a bit tokenistic: the One Black Person, the One Lesbian Girl, the characters were at least interesting and developed through the book. But then it became a predictable sister-against-sister mess, setting up a big sister/witch fight in a sequel. I was really disappointed that writers who were so creative with everything else in the book couldn’t have come up with something better than this for a conflict.

The Second Rebel by Linden A. Lewis. 1/5
Perhaps if I’d read the first book in this series I’d have been able to figure out what was going on here, but for new readers to the series, the author provides little guidance on characters, their relationships with one another, the setting, or what’s going on. It became a slog to read.

Maiden Voyages by Siân Evans. 2/5
In this book, author Evans offers up stories of women who went to sea on the great steamship ocean liners of the first half of the 20th century. While many of the stories are interesting and offer some insight into how women worked and traveled on these ships, Evans repeats a lot of information and anecdotes, reaches for stories to tell (a particularly bad example is speculating on the journey Passionfruit Pinochet’s grandmother made, about which she actually has little info, so it’s filled with a description of her hometown instead), and falls short on doing anything more than making superficial connections between women’s roles aboard ship and the changing roles and expectations of women in society at large. Disappointing.

The Keeper of Night by Kylie Lee Baker. 2/5
This is a book that wants to be a manga or an anime. It’s got all of the right elements: half-siblings, banishment, angst, arbitrary rules, manipulation of time, souls, weird magics, evil spirits, identity crises, near-immortality, settings in Japan and England, goth aesthetics, tentacles, and lots of blood and fighting. As a novel, there’s too much that doesn’t make sense and is told poorly, and there’s also too little: the characters are straight out of anime stock casting, the apparently storied histories that are supposedly important get short shrift, and the magic of the world isn’t explained well enough to be completely understandable. So as a novel it gets 2 stars, but with a manga or anime treatment, it would be very, very popular.

The City Beautiful by Aden Polydoros. 5/5
This is a gorgeous novel about love and vengeance and religion and faith and the immigrant experience and the labor movement and being Jewish. Full of compelling and interesting characters, this story of a man possessed by a dybbuk in 1893 Chicago is also about the kind of romance you can have with a place, and as a reader who loves Chicago (and has read so, so many books set in New York as if New York is the only US city for historical fiction,), I thoroughly enjoyed running from the stockyards to the lake to the tenements to the mansions of the rich alongside the protagonists. And while there are thousands of books out there that deal in magical realism or the supernatural, it’s much rarer to read works where the supernatural elements are distinctly Jewish, and author Polydoros has created a fantastic ghost story drawn from Ashkenazi folklore.

An Index to The Tuneful Yankee and Melody Magazine

I am pleased to announce that my book An Index to The Tuneful Yankee and Melody Magazine is now available at Humanities Commons at

From the Introduction:

An Index to The Tuneful Yankee and Melody Magazine (1917-1930)

In 1917, the Boston-based Walter Jacobs Company, a sheet music publisher, began publishing a monthly periodical called The Tuneful Yankee. “Devoted to the interests of popular music,” as its subtitle declared, the journal included articles about new popular genres, especially ragtime and jazz; information about newly popular instruments, like the saxophone and banjo; and reviews of new popular music and music for the cinema. Each issue also contained several pieces of sheet music in each issue, mostly for piano, but there were also several pieces for voice and piano and for banjo. In January 1918, Jacobs acquired The Ragtime Review, published by Axel S. Christensen, and combined it with The Tuneful Yankee, renaming the magazine Melody: a Monthly Magazine for Lovers of Popular Music; Christensen remained a regular contributor. Melody’s contents remained focused on ragtime and jazz, but it also began including more articles for cinema accompanists. In January of 1925 Jacobs changed the subtitle to reflect this market, and the journal became Melody: for the Photoplay Musician and the Musical Home. The length of each issue grew with the addition of new regular columns and features, and during the1920s catered primarily to cinema and dance band musicians. The arrival of widespread sound film forced the magazine to shift its focus one again: in January 1928, the subtitle changed yet again, this time to indicate that Melody was not just for professional “Photoplay Organists and Pianists” but for “all Music Lovers,” suggesting that the widespread acceptance and availability of sound films meant that the magazine was trying to shift its focus away from music and material for professional cinema musicians and towards music educators, music students, and amateur musicians. Jacobs discontinued Melody after the July 1930 issue following the departures of its primary editors from the company.

Melody is an important resource and site of documentation for popular music, which underwent significant changes during the 1910s and 1920s. Its focus on cinema music makes it a crucial source for tracing the development of music for the early American cinema and its creators and performers, and its inclusion of articles by and about women musicians means that it provides information on the roles of women in popular music in the first part of the twentieth century. It is also, however, a publication that is undeniably racist. Despite being a promoter of popular genres developed by Black musicians, Melody’s contributors were nearly all white, and from privileged backgrounds. None of its writers interviewed Black composers or performers—there is a single article on Black comedian Bert Williams—and the magazine published numerous racist pieces such as “The Darkey’s Dream,” several variations on “Dixie,” “Eskimo Shivers,” “Girl of the Orient,” and “Mohikana: Indian Suite.” The publication notably omits any materials about Black school and college bands; Black cinemas or those owned by other people of color; and Black dance bands. It’s clear that the writers and composers who created content for the publication, the editors who approved, and the Walter Jacobs Company all operated from a position of white supremacy, and that this is a harmful and problematic legacy of the magazine.

While Melody was intended to be a house organ for the Walter Jacobs Company, promoting its own sheet music, the content of the magazine went beyond marketing. Editors George L. Cobb, a composer, and C. V. Buttelman, a banjoist, sought out prominent figures to write articles and pieces of music, and while the names of these contributors might not be familiar today, they were among the best-known of the period in popular music. Cobb and Buttleman hired dozens of band leaders, cinema musicians, composers, and performers to fill the pages of Melody with information about recent performances, new recordings, and instrumental techniques. Contributors included composers R. E. Hildreth, Avelyn Kerr, Norman Leigh, and Harry Norton; film composer and accompanist Lloyd G. del Castillo; ragtime pianist Edward R. Winn, who offered lessons in his series “‘Ragging’ the Popular Song Hits;” organists Irene Juno and George Allaire Fisher; film accompaniment textbook author Maude Stolley McGill, who previewed her book for readers through a series of ten lessons for playing for the moving picture; music education specialist A. C. E. Schonemann; trumpeter and trumpet designer and maker Vincent Bach; banjoist and composer A. J. Weidt; and conductor Clarence Byrn. Cobb himself contributed numerous pieces of music as well as columns. These hired writers and letter-writers provided reports from across the United States as to what music was being played in cinemas and dance halls in their cities and how it was received; biographies and interviews that gave readers detailed information about how performers had found their niches and built their careers in popular music; and reports on music in schools documented contemporary music education. Editorials took on issues of plagiarism and copyright, taste and innovation, and the role of music in society. Readers could find advice on everything from learning basic composition to negotiating publishing and performance contracts. Insider gossip and humor columns gave readers a detailed look at the popular music business and its major players. The magazine’s content also contains articles, music, and advertisements designed to speak to aspiring professionals and amateur musicians, including reviews of entry-level instruments, lessons, and coverage of amateur ensembles.

Melody regularly published material written about and by women in the industry, making it an important resource for researching women’s work in cinema accompaniment, as composers of popular songs, and as the leaders of bands and orchestras. Although women made up the majority of cinema accompanists during the silent era, many of their lives and contributions remain unexcavated. Articles on women cinema musicians and all-women ensembles by Irene Juno, Avelyn Kerr, Agnes Brink, Alice Smythe Jay, and other women provide critical entry points for studying the careers of these influential musicians. Indeed, Melody is a particularly important source for tracing the development of music for the early American cinema and its creators and performers. Throughout its run, Melody paid close attention to the business and art of the cinema musician, whose job it was to accompany features, cartoons, and newsreels in the motion picture theaters. Nearly every issue had at least one article devoted to silent film music, and the magazine’s reviews of new popular music also included photoplay music. Regular columns on the activities of musicians in several large North American cities, including New York, Toronto, Denver, and Washington, D.C., provide a list of cinema musicians and their places of employment. It published several series of pieces composed specifically to be used in the cinema, including two dozen works that were later collected into one of Jacobs’s photoplay albums.

The advertisements in Melody are just as valuable as the articles and sheet music. Scholars can trace the ways in which instruments were marketed; what repertoire was sold and in what formats and for what ensemble configurations; how songs were advertised and to what market targets; what kinds of training was offered (become a piano tuner, teacher, engraver, or a piano and automated instrument salesperson!); and what items readers might need or want (music stands, chord charts for improvising cinema and dance hall musicians, electric blowers for organs).

While it was a successful magazine it its time, Melody today exists as a full print run only at the Library of Congress, where it can be viewed in its microfilm format (Microfilm 86/20,101 Reels 1-7); a handful of other libraries have partial volumes of the publication. Based on my research in the music libraries of several silent film musicians, it is clear that the music was often removed from each issue and stored separately from the rest of the magazine; this may have contributed to the lack of complete paper copies extant today.

I am grateful for the support of the Music Library Association’s Dena Epstein Award, which allowed me to undertake research for this project at the Library of Congress and to obtain copies of the microfilms of The Tuneful Yankee and Melody. Thanks also to James Cassaro, James Zychowicz, and the Texas Music Library Association.

Reviews: horror, non-fiction, and a novel in verse

Paradise by Lizzie Johnson. 5/5
This is a compelling and very clear account of the Camp Fire that destroyed most of Paradise, California. Johnson has done enormous amounts of research to get the human details of this story right, and it is a testament to journalistic non-fiction writing. I recommend this highly for anyone interested in the fire, how wildfires in the American West are managed and fought, and the individual stories of those affected by the fire.

A Passage North by Anuk Arudpragasam. 1/5
I read and read and read this and felt like I was swimming against a current of words and meaningless disconnection and and minute detail. I realize that perhaps all types of writing aren’t for me, and this is an example. I am certain other readers will love it, but my primary emotion was being relieved I was done with it.

An Unlikely Spy by Rebecca Starford. 3/5
A short but intense novel about a young woman recruited because of her language skills to work for MI5 during WWII. A nice study of the period, its politics, and how knowing what the right thing to do is very fraught. A solid read.

The Real Valkyrie by Nancy Marie Brown. 5/5
Starting with the confirmation that a warrior buried with full warrior signifiers at Birka was a woman, Brown constructs a possible life for her based on her grave goods, historical information data, and written accounts of the period. I loved the detail and information about the world this woman lived in, and how she might have lived. Brown does an excellent job–as usual–in bringing the Viking world and its trading partners to live. My only reservation is about the lack of discussion of transgender identities during the period–Brown discusses how pronouns and signifiers like “King” changed as women took on certain roles, but not whether there is any evidence of trans identities as we understand them today. Perhaps there is simply no information currently known about transmen and transwomen in Viking like, but I’d wager that there were, and am curious about the lives they may have lived. Overall, though, this is a rich and fascinating book, and I recommend it highly.

All’s Well by Mona Awad. 5/5
In keeping with her previous books, in which witchcraft and darkness and breakdowns of body and mind are all fair game, Awad here goes back to college, this time focusing on theater teacher Miranda. Miranda, in a precarious position at work and dealing with chronic pain, casts a spell and summons a trio of odd men. Her pain transfers to a despised student, Miranda’s crush is suddenly smitten with her, and her favorite student is about to be a star. But what’s really going on? How much of what happens is strictly in Miranda’s mind, and how has her chronic pain shaped her perceptions of the events that unfold in the book? This is completely unnerving horror, but spiked with moments of empathy and sympathy, and for me, also a person who deals with chronic pain, a thought-provoking read. I want other people to read this immediately so I can talk with people about it.

The Shadow in the Glass by JJA Harwood. 1/5
In this Faustian tale, a young woman who aspires to the good life relies on a bargain with a demon–seven wishes in exchange for her soul. But while the wishes come true, most of them are accomplished by the woman herself, unknowingly murdering those in her way to achieving her goals. I’m not sure what the point of the tale is, other than perhaps you should do your murdering on your own, consciously, and do a better job of covering it up. Perhaps the demon was not real, and we are party to the woman’s hallucinations, which makes the book a bit more interesting–who is real? What characters and events are actually real? The characters are all rather stock-in-trade eighteenth or early nineteenth century figures, and my final reaction was just “meh.”

The Orphans of Davenport by Marilyn Brookwood. 2/5
This account of intelligence testing and the desire for creating smarter people, as it took place with the children abandoned by parents or otherwise without families and living in state institutions in Iowa is a very mixed bag. While author Brookwood frequently emphasizes her position on the abhorrence of eugenics, she also fails to interrogate the development of IQ tests and the other assessment tools used by researchers. Too often the slightly more humane eugenicists are celebrated over their worse colleagues, and this makes for a rather contradictory narrative.

The Hunter and the Old Woman by Pamela Korgemagi. 2/5
I’m not sure what to make of this book, a story mostly about a cougar–known as Cougar–whose life progresses as I would expect many cougars’ lives to progress; and a boy who grows to become obsessed with the cougar. The writing is fine, but I didn’t find this to be very engaging or compelling.

A Visitor’s Guide to Victorian England by Michelle Higgs. 1/5
This is a disorganized mess in which the writer assumes that the reader is a white, middle-class person who already knows a great deal about Victorian England. The author’s tone is judgmental and uneven, and the book really could use an overhaul by a developmental editor. Give this one a miss.

Call Me Athena by Colby Cedar Smith. 5/5
This is a truly excellent novel in verse, detailing the lives of three people as they make the decisions that will make their adult lives. Smith revels in language and image, but is equally at home cutting to the chase and being blunt. I loved the ways in which she made every character and narrator a poet, making each one more individual and interesting and special in the process. This book will be a great book club read, and it will stay with me a long time.

In the Forest of No Joy by J. P. Daughton. 2/5
This is an account of the Congo-Ocean railroad, made by enslaved Blacks in French-colonized Africa at the beginning of the 20th century. Author Daughton recounts the horrors inflicted on the people forced to work on the railroad, but does so repetitively and without clear organization, resulting in a book that circles and circles important topics but never provides readers with guideposts for understanding them more fully.

Multispecies Cities by Multiple Authors. 1/5
While the editors’ introduction is an eloquent and inspirational piece on climate change and fiction, the stories in this anthology are very uneven, ranging from poorly written to just passable. None lived up to the introduction, which is a shame, because the genre is an interesting one that deserves good representation.

Rule of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo. 5/5
Richly detailed and filled with enough background that readers don’t need to have read Bardgo’s earlier books in this series, Rule of Wolves promises another excellent novel of magic and war and intrigue and lore. I’m looking forward to the whole thing.

Violet and Daisy by Sarah Miller. 2/5
A simplistic and often euphemistic biography about conjoined twins Violet and Daisy Hilton, who were put on exhibit practically from birth, abused by managers, and ultimately ended up leaving show business when their lack of experience and changing entertainment tastes in the US met. Author Miller seems to have a penchant for writing books about highly public figures who never sought the limelight themselves, but in this book at least her take is a very superficial one, never delving into the issues of class, gender, and bodily autonomy that she promises in the introduction. A disappointment.

Good Southern Witches by J.D. Horn (editor). 5/5
This book is a treasure trove of witty, canny, well-told short stories, each one introducing the reader to a unique and interesting Southern witch. As you might expect, there are some cunning women in the Appalachian tradition, but also practitioners of vodun, weather witches, non-human witches, and more. This collection was a delight to read and I was sorry when I reached the end of it.

The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling. 4/5
A delicious gothic novel full of both psychological horror and magic, this book explores a number of standard gothic tropes, turning them into far more complex and interesting plot devices. There’s a slow-ish burn romance, women helping women, and set pieces that while recalling gothic predecessors are original and full of creepy detail and suggestions.

Firebreak by Nicole Kornher-Stace. 3/5
This is a solid book about resistance and group action. Set in a dystopian world where two enormous corporations that control everything including water, housing, and food are always at war, a professional gamers and gig workers uncover the secrets of one of the corporations and decide to make them public. While the characters were basically just names and had no real development or even descriptions, the story is compelling and the tech believable enough for the setting to make this an enjoyable read.

How Our Ancestors Died by Dr Simon Wills. 1/5
You can find more accurate and better-cited information on diseases of past years on Wikipedia, and none of the info you’ll find there is saturated with the absolute position of privilege that Willis asserts in his claims that no one dies of famine anymore. The information on doing genealogical research is likewise dated and supplanted by what’s easily found online. I have no idea why anyone would publish this book.

My Heart Is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones. 5/5
This is a horror novel for true lovers of the slasher genre. Jade, herself an expert in the form, is convinced that she’s in a real-life slasher film, and it turns out she’s not wrong. As seen through her eyes, we watch the genre’s celebrated figures and tropes come to life, from the initial disappearance of two Dutch teenagers to Jade’s last stand as the real Final Girl. There’s wit, pathos, and loads and loads of gore. Go watch a few classics–Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the Thirteenth–and then jump in.

he Missing Treasures of Amy Ashton by Eleanor Ray. 1/5
Amy Ashton is a dull and rather awful person. Ten years ago, her lover and her best friend disappeared at the same time, and she became a hoarder. Now a family has moved in across the street from her, and in a super- obvious and rather misogynist trope, Amy has a meet-cute with the dad and his boys. When the kids make a mess in Amy’s yard, she uncovers clues to the disappearance and begins to investigate. She learns that her lover was killed by the best friend’s lover, a cop, and that the best friend went into hiding. Able to put tis trauma behind her–and rather quickly and easily–Amy cleans up her house and kisses the dad.

I loathed this. It was trite and predictable, although the best friend’s behavior didn’t make a whole lot of sense. the lover and Amy seem to have had a very immature relationship, and I didn’t understand their supposed rapport. Overall, the writing is clunky and the characters stereotypes, and the use of mental illness as a plot device seemed unsympathetic and uninformed.

Cassandra, or Don’t Girls Love Horses

A nice mention in SF Classical Voice today about my Cassandra-inspired piece with Jessica Rudman, Cassandra, or Don’t Girls Love Horses, which will be premiered on 17 April! Here’s the full text of the piece, originally titled Girls Love Horses, with my author’s note:

 Author’s Note

Cassandra, princess of Troy, prophecies the arrival of and destruction contained within the Trojan Horse, given to Troy as a symbol of submission by Greeks as guided by Athena. Cassandra’s song begins wistfully as she remembers her youth with horses, but becomes increasingly agitated that the giant horse facing the gates of their city is the one she has seen in a prophetic vision, bringing with it “death and fate and death and fate” (from Homer, The Odyssey, scroll 4, line 21, trans. Samuel Butler, based on public domain edition, revised by Timothy Power and Gregory Nagy. A. C. Fifield, London. 1900). –KPL

I was a girl in Troy, and like so many girls,
I loved horses.

(in a reverie)

A pony from Thessaly was my darling,
and the one who had a star on her nose;
and the one I rode
the day before I was cursed
was gentle and swift on the plains.

When I was a girl
I rode on the horses
that the King my father owned.
They were meant for racing
and acrobatics in the hippodrome, but
I rode my horses away
from the men and their spears,
and their catalogues of ships.

I was a girl who loved horses.
And as a girl who knew no better,
I told my father never
to sacrifice
horses to Poseidon,
even though he is the horse god.

(in her present, more matter-of-fact)
I was a girl in Troy, and like so many girls,
I loved horses.
Now I am my city’s
most famous
woman, and
I love horses–

But that beautiful mountainous
I can see right now,
outside our gates–
I do not love that horse.

I have warned you and warned you,
but you think my dreams
are those of a girl,
just a girl
who loves horses.

Please listen,
please hear:
I have seen horses
in my dreams
where I dream of smoke and fire

and that is the horse that I saw
in my sleep
when I dreamed
of the fall of Troy.

Didn’t I tell you? You called me mad
you said
what is wrong with you don’t
girls love horses?

This wooden horse
brings men who reek of heat and flesh
and the spears I have long avoided;
this horse is a ship for land and siege,
that races in funeral games.

This horse will not run with me
down to the bay in the fresh spring grass,
This horse will not run with me
around the track or out through the gate;

This horse is not a horse for escaping.

I saw this horse and its fir-tree flanks
and its body covered with skins; oh
I foresaw it,
I foretold it,
and you laughed–

and you said
you are mad don’t
girls love horses?

This horse, why a horse, oh
for Troy loves its horses, but my friends
this horse has no teeth but swords
and this horse will eat our hearts as we run.

Heed me now,
mark this danger.
Do not let us stable this horse, say
the stables are full, send it away;
it will kick and bite and throw us
its giant rolling hooves;

no foals rest within its womb
but a host of men all armed
and there in the heights is the priest felled
by the altar
where now the bull runs free,
the priest with serpents knotted at his arms
as he shouts–
as I have said–
do not trust the horse.

Trojans, if you love your horses now,
ride away from this one;
bring me my mare
sure-footed and blazed–

no, no–
give her to this girl by my side,
this girl, this girl who loves horses,
so that she can flee.
I will not escape:
I have dreamt that too,
in a wretched curl of sleep.

Let me tell you once more,
I beg you to believe me:

In the dark body
of the wooden horse,
in the belly of this mighty horse
we will find
the men I have seen:
Forty men there
and two in its eyes

bringing no gift

but death and fate

death and fate and death
and fate and

Yet you keep asking
don’t girls love horses?

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