Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Pirate’s Gold

“The yellow-gold of pirate’s gold
is the gleam in the tiger’s eye-
Only fearless dreams can unfold
the sun in a shipwrecked sky.”
From “Goat Dreams” by Polar Knight.

(If you're wondering why poetry is going down the toilet, please check out previous episodes in the Voyage of the Argonaut, a small submarine captained by Pirate Goat into the last frontier - Council Idaho's sewer system and Underworld.)

“But what IS pirate’s gold?” asked Pink Bear in her specially earnest voice. Usually when Pink Bear asks a question like this, the Animals quietly melt away as fast as they can. But, as a pirate, Goat felt it was a Goat’s responsibility to try and explain. So he stayed.

“Pirate's Gold can be Chocolate Coins, Pieces of Eight, Spanish Double Loons,” he began and then stopped. “Spanish Double Loons, of course!” he exclaimed! “HKatz’ quillsprit must be made from the quills of the Double Loon!”

“Double Loon?” Pink Bear asked in wonder, sensing that this was real treasure.

“Yes,” replied Goat. “The Double Loon is extremely rare, it is only to be found at the moment when a Loon pauses to gaze at the reflection of the Moon in the water. No one can measure the value of what happens at that moment! Priceless treasure!”

Goat ran off and only Piggles remained with Pink Bear. “If Eight is Infinity, each Piece of Eight would also be Infinity,” Pink Bear mused as Piggles looked on. "A very advanced form of currency for Monsters," Pink Bear commented in some surprise.

Meanwhile, Dog and Roxy were poring over the map of the sewer that had been discovered in Monster E's Map of the Ancient Near East. They had found the location of the Illinois Storm Drain by this means, but the sewer lines didn’t seem to actually go to that location. Dog had been called in by Roxy from his duties (guarding the Monsters in Big Bed Land) because Dog was familiar with Cultural Archives of all kinds. He dug and dug in the Archive of Council Monster City Council and found what he was looking for.

“What you have there," said Dog, "is an Ancient Map from Council in 1998 when the storm drains still dumped into the sewer. Well, the Council Monster City Council decided that this was putting too much water through the treatment lagoon (‘With cattails festooning its luxuriant edge/ while frog gondoliers sing their songs in the sedge,’ Polar Knight murmured) so they built a separate system for the storm drains."

“Remember?" Dog continued. That was when the Idaho Transportation Oligarchy decreed that Highway 95 would no longer pass through the town. The substructure couldn't be repaired! It was dangerous for school children! They refused to fix it anymore! And they spent millions of dollars designing a new route, doing environmental studies, the City developed new Planning and Zoning documents, an economic impact study was done, businesses closed and left town – and then the Oligarchy changed its mind, remember that? And decreed that it was no longer a problem that the Highway had no substructure and that logging and semi trucks go right past the school playground and have taken the doors off of cars parked in front of the market…”

“Someday,” Polar Knight said, with a dreamy look in his eyes, "Democracy will replace Oligarchy, someday.”

“OK,” Roxy said. “So the sewer no longer meets up with the storm drain on Illinois Street.”

At that moment the Argonaut crashed into something and all the Animals were thrown up into the air, coming down with loud thumps. Goat immediately righted goatself and ran to the monitor for the webcam that Roxy had installed to rotate around the submarine’s hull.

“A pirate’s treasure chest!” Goat announced. “That’s what we ran into. And there’s a fissure in the space time continuum. Rats. Hull breach in 15 minutes.”

Everyone looked at Polar Knight, and not in a very friendly way. Polar Knight explained that he did not invent the pirate chest, he only knew it would appear – the Voyage of the Argonaut is a very ancient story, he said, it has to happen this way.

The Animals advanced on him with a certain degree of urgency, pleading with him to reveal how to get out of this mess! Which threatened to leave them up Poop Creek to the eyeballs!

Then Piggles said, “Oh my, will you look at that. An Apparition. Why, it's the Code Bear herself!”

All the Animals ran to the side of the submarine where she floated, to gaze at the Apparition of Code Bear! As they stood in silence, gazing at this mystery, forgetting all about their possible deaths through sewer submersion, the Argonaut shifted slightly with the redistribution of their weight, and Goat (who was not interested in Apparitions) saw that the treasure chest was opening slightly and revealed –

“Perfume!” he cried out in disgust.

“Leave this to me,” Cleopatra said, and strode regally to the monitor. “The smell is just barely coming through.”
“How can you smell it through all that sewer interference?” Goat asked skeptically.
“Believe me, this is really good perfume. I know.” She inhaled deeply.

“Hull breach in 13 minutes 45 seconds,” said the enticing voice of the ship’s computer, sounding very much like Leon Redbone, Cleopatra’s main boyfriend at the moment. This gave her the confidence to trust her judgment!

“Chanel No. 5,” she announced. “I’m certain of it.”

“Quick,” Roxy said to Acting Communications Officer Pinky, “open a channel!”

“Opening channel number 5,” Pinky announced.

(To Be Continued…)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Passing Sunshine On

Many thanks to Poetikat for sending this Sunshine Award to me. Poetikat has been very helpful in humanizing the blog-world for me, a new traveler in this realm – and I really enjoy her poetry and commentary – I’m very excited about her upcoming book of poetry. She suggested that recipients could pass on the award, and so I’d like to put the focus on HKatz and offer her the award today.

I’ve only recently started reading HKatz’ Sill of the World, and it keeps surprising me – with wonderful writing, intriguing perspectives, and a kind of philosophy of living that quietly emerges from it all – transcendently, although the writing is always down to earth, focused on the everyday where a small detail can open into mystery. A truly refreshing place to visit. I especially like the “Week in Seven Words” posts – where a word chosen from each lived day in the week structures a series of prose-poems that creates a portrait of the week – with connections running through them that can haunt you through the day. Check out Sill of the World. And thanks, HKatz for your exquisite writing and your point of view as well.

I'd like to thank HKatz personally for giving hints about where I could go with the adventure of the Animals in the Argonaut here at P-in-B. These adventures (dare I admit it?) are completely impromptu day by day and it's been great to get ideas this way...sort of like getting ideas from correspondence about a serialized work from the Olden Days of the 19th century when these occurred in installments. In fact, Goat has a question...

HKatz from Goat: Goat here. You are a good adventurer and your travels with us have made you esteemed among the crew. We want to design a bowsprit in your honor. So, do you have any ideas about it. What it should look like. Roxy will build it, so it will be a good one. Remember, my sword is at your service. Good-bye.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Signs of War

We left our Animals last week having finished the first leg of their journey through the Council sewers in their small submarine, the Argonaut. They made their first landfall in the Ladies Room of the old Grange Hall, and the water had barely finished dripping from the glittering periscope- when they saw a tank outside the Grange with its turret gun pointed right at the courthouse across the street! Immediately they knew they must fight this threat to their Monsters’ community! Luckily the Argonaut had picked up a coded message while surfacing – the message was very important and encoded in a tea towel with an embroidered bear- unluckily, they had not yet deciphered this vital clue…

Thursday morning found the Animals back in the Argonaut, gathered around a receiver that they asked Roxy to make. (Roxy the Mouse is one of the Old Ones and can build anything, from a hot-air balloon for little pigs to an underwater roller-coaster.) The submarine’s entire communications system was down, having been damaged in the perilous ascent to the Ladies Room.

They were trying to get some information about the war that had landed this monstrous tank in the heart of Adams County, in order to determine who else was on their side, if anyone was left. The streets had looked strangely deserted. At last, Roxy touched two wires together, and the sound of static-strangled voices began to fill the air. (Note from Pinky Your Hostess: it is very important that you don’t just touch any old wires together when building receivers, and we suggest that you always let Roxy do this part.)

News was coming in: “The Animals who were discovered analyzing U.S. weapons systems during breakfast last Thursday are now believed to have links with organizations devoted to undermining the profits of U.S. corporations. With every threat to these profits, the hope of imposing the sacred American freedom to engage in mindless work so that the rich can get richer, dwindles further…”

The Animals raised their cries of protest.

“We weren’t analyzing that tank!” Marshmellow Bear shouted.
“And we don’t have any organization at all,” yelled Lefty.
“They call this the Age of Information – what a joke!” Beartram pounded his fist on the submarine wall.

The Young Ones felt strange suddenly – Bears had never shouted like this before, never ever. Drawing apart from each other, they started to sniffle - and no one seemed to notice.

Piggles emerged from her cabin and switched off the receiver. The Animals cried out in protest once more.

“Piggles, don’t do that! We have to listen! This is important!”
“Have you solved the code yet?” Piggles asked.
“What code?”
“On the Tea Towel, the code that will help the Argonaut save civilization.”
“Oh, that. We don’t have time for that! They’re saying really stupid things on the radio and we have to listen…”
The Animals suddenly noticed how ridiculous that sounded.

“Come on,” said Lefty, “we better go and help Bink decipher the Tea Towel.” They went running to the Intelligence Center in the nose of the submarine.
“And we,” Piggles said, taking the hands of the Young Ones, “had better go have a picnic.”

Bink was happy to see them, since he was having no luck with the code at all! He thought he had finally solved it, but now he had to admit he was mistaken. Platypuss will take you into his mind, for the thrilling, if seemingly futile, conclusion of his deductions. After he’d gone through all the obvious code possibilities with no success, he remembered a Dorothy Sayers mystery and the way that Harriet Vane and Lord Peter Wimsey had deciphered a coded letter…
Mind of Bink: What I must do is find the key to the code. Maybe the name of this object could be part of the code! Let’s see - Tea Towel, two Ts, 2 Ts in a tod? No, that goes nowhere. Two Ts, T squared, two squared is four – YES! – the cross-stitch! Of course! It all fits!
Platypuss: So Bink arranged the words on the tea towel in a grid of four by four, with no spaces between the letters.
Mind of Bink: This looks promising, let’s see, the double T code means cross out all double letters. The E is left dangling at the end. That’s probably the key to the code. Let’s see, E is the fifth letter of the alphabet, so E minus one is D…the fourth letter of the alphabet, of course, because T squared = 4. So, we just add a D to the beginning of the other lines – yes! D + RANE = DRANE, that looks promising…it’s not spelled right, though…oh no, none of this is coming out right…
Platypuss: When Bink realized that the message still didn’t make any sense, he began to feel very unhappy. With this kind of help, the Argonaut would be stuck in the Ladies Room at the Grange forever probably. They’d never get home to Big Bed Land, and civilization would crumble round their ears and it would be all his fault. What made him think that he could possibly be of any help? He was only an amateur philologist after all, and probably not even a very good one…
He felt very alone. So when he saw the Animals at the door, he was happy – at first – then he wondered how he could possibly tell them of his ignominious failure.
“Bink!” Lefty cried out in delight, “you solved the code!”
Bink looked at him blankly as he showed the other Animals.
“Look,” Lefty said, pointing to the words, “DOUN D IL DRANE – down the Illinois drain! Great work, Bink!”
The Animals and Bink still looked at him blankly.
“Remember I studied the map before we left? Illinois Street is right over that way! We’ve got to get to the storm drain on Illinois Street! That’s what the message is telling us!”
“But that’s not how you spell those words!” Bink managed to sputter.
“Well, the Code Bear is French, you know, and probably can’t spell English very well.”
“He’s French!?” Bink exclaimed.
“SHE’s French,” Lefty corrected. “After all, the tea towel used to be the shroud of Marat during the French Revolution. She’s a chef, as you can see from her hat. Her specialty is strawberry rhubarb pie.”
“How can you possibly know that?” Bink asked in disbelief.
“Because I talked to her,” Lefty said, “she’s right here in the hallway.”
Bink followed Lefty to the door and peered down the dim corridor– but the Code Bear had disappeared.
“If you hadn’t come in right when you did,” Bink told Lefty, “I would have erased the solution to the code!”
“Of course I came in at the right moment,” Lefty said breezily – but realized that if it hadn’t been for Piggles… he made a mental note to throw that receiver overboard at the first opportunity. He even suspected that the broadcast might have been made by the real enemy to trick them into a state of argumentative passivity! A fiendish ploy indeed! How could they have fallen for such a trick? He was still wondering when someone pulled him down the hatch just in time…the Argonaut was back on its way, and heading for Illinois Street.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Special Guest Star: Anna Lu

We take a pause today from the Animal adventures in the Council underworld, to bring you a delightful poem by previous contributor, Anna Lucile Reck. You may remember Anna Lu from the adventures of Speedy - his disappearance, his wanderings, and his return home.

The Animals and Monsters of Big Bed Land admire this poem very much. Polar Knight, Big Bard of Big Bed Land, has this to say about it: "With its haunting contemplative voice, CATS ARE BEST describes the inner reality of beauty through the cat, who contains all others within her. It also explores the idea of what is best, that timeless question of Monsters. As a writer myself, I agree that even in cats, with their grace and skills, their playfulness, beauty and freedom, it is their longing to read that is truly inspiring. Unlike many Monsters, cats can probably read everything - the sky, the trees, the house. Poet Anna Lu has real insight into the world. Thanks for sending this to Platypuss-in-Boots!"

Love to Anna Lu too from all of us. We are looking forward to seeing you this summer!

And for those who are anxious about whether the Animals will ever decode the Tea Towel they encountered while traveling to the Grange Hall in the Argonaut - tune in on Thursday and you'll see how it was done!

by Anna Lucile Reck

Cats are best,
if you ask me.
Cats are better than the queer Monkey.

Cats see in the dark.
They run and play happily,
not in a park.

Cats are by far the best,
though they take all rest
into their beautiful body.

They love to eat,
and play, and roll,
right on their graceful feet.

If you see what I mean
as you probably should,
you will see that,
if they could,
they would read, read, read,
until they'd had their feed.

Cats are the best!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Some Good Advice From Pinky

Note From Your Hostess Pinky
: Remember - breakfast is the most important meal of the day!

Even if your schedule is very busy - even if you’re in the midst of battle like the Animals of Big Bed Land, who ran into the French Revolution as well as the Battle of Troy while voyaging the Council Idaho sewer system in the Argonaut, their small but sturdy submarine – don’t forget to eat breakfast.

If you’ve read the last three posts, you know that the crew aboard the Argonaut under the leadership of Pirate Goat and guidance of Piggles has just surfaced from the mysterious underworld of Council’s sewers in the Ladies Room of the old Grange Hall. They had no sooner gotten their bearings, when they saw the turret gun of a tank through the window!

Immediately they saw that turret gun was aimed right at the courthouse directly across that venerable route of passage, Highway 95. The sign in front of the tank reading “Peace Park” faces the other way, and they have assumed that the tank means war! And I can’t tell them about the sign because their communications system was damaged during the dangerous ascent to safe harbor in the Ladies Room!

If they could reach Monster J. they’d ask his advice – but he is off on his own quest in the land of Massachusetts and it would take days to get there without the assistance of Panda Air! They have decided not to trouble dear Monster E. with this matter, since she can’t even follow the action of battles in movies, much less real ones! But they have decided they must fight to protect the safety of their beloved Monsters’ community!

Pirate Goat is in the Argonaut’s dinghy, sharing breakfast with his newly appointed Intelligence Officer, Bink (whom you may know as Your Pocket Philologist.) During this troubled time of war, he has given up his arduous studies to offer his skills to decipher the coded message the Argonaut picked up while surfacing.

I sent them the breakfast basket myself, knowing they would need to build up their courage as well as their keen battle skills. I sent Goat a big mug of Captain Crunch because it makes him feel ferocious – and I knew that Bink would feel better with an extra dose of his favorite Alphabet Soup from a can. And a large plate of marshmallows. Please remember, these substances are only good for Animals like Goat and Bink and are not to be consumed by Monsters!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Trouble on the Argonaut

Platypuss: On Thursday we left the Animals as they were traveling the sewers of Council in a small submarine called the Argonaut, captained by Pirate Goat. Having learned a thing or two about the French Revolution - and keeping their eyes peeled for the shroud of Marat - they surfaced in the old Grange Hall and saw, with dismay, the armoured tank and turret gun outside the window. If the Animals had paid more attention back in the days when Monster E. covered town meetings for the newspaper, they would have remembered the story of this tank. Shall I just point out in passing that paying attention can really pay off?

Pink Bear
: So, like, if we see a tiny green Bolivian beetle laboring across a locket, we should watch the entire progress so that later when we are trying to map fractyls we’ll know how to do it?

Platypuss: That’s right, Pink Bear.

Pink Bear: Or if we see a spider starting a web, we should watch the whole process so that later on in the Hunt for the Wild Petunia we can weave nets from the hairs on the trees where the Targs have scratched their backs so we can catch the marshmell-o-wisps and read our comic books by their light?

Goat: Excuse me, Pink Bear, we’re in the middle of a battle here…

Pink Bear: By all means continue your dear battle, dear Goat. Anything I can do to help?

Goat: How about getting off this com-link and maybe go and save the world or something?

Platypuss: Go ahead and run along to your dear world, Pink Bear. (Fervent thanks from Goat here, who comments that that Pink Bear is REALLY pink, almost dangerously pink.) But as I was saying, if they had paid more attention when Monster E. got home from courthouse meetings and told Monster J. all the news that was stranger than fiction, they would have known that the tank had been proposed by a war vet as an ornament to the park near the old Grange, Rodeo and 4H grounds. He would spare no time and trouble, he told the county commissioners, in his quest to locate an Army surplus tank for this purpose – at no cost to the County whatsoever!

He came in regularly to report to the commissioners on his progress, which was slow. In fact, these reports just seemed to have become part of the normal life of the county courthouse. Monster E. could tell that the commissioners were assuming that he would never find his tank to put in the park by the old Grange Hall. But they didn’t want to offend this kindly war vet so they let him continue his quest. One day, however, he came in to tell them that the tank would be delivered within the week. He described the tank in great detail. The question no one ever asked was: do we WANT a tank in a children’s park where the young ones will clamber joyously across its venerable surface WAY above its concrete pad? It was too late to ask that question now. So the tank arrived and they renamed the park the "Peace Park."

Meanwhile, a battle was waging between the citizens of Adams County and the commissioners who had made arrangements with an architect (of the snake oil variety) to build a new courthouse, sheriff’s office – and a large private prison. The commissioners didn’t really bother to mention these negotiations to anyone, or suggest any reason why the town might WANT a large prison, and when people finally heard about it, they turned out in droves to storm the commissioners’ office.

It was during this time of unusual rancour and conflict that a posse of civilians made the decision to site the tank, in the old Grange park across the road from the projected building site, so that the gun would be aiming directly at the new courthouse. And there it has remained, as an eternal memorial to the populace of its anger toward its commissioners at that time.

Not knowing this, however, the Animals were horrified when they saw the huge armed monstrosity. If only they had seen this sign! They would have known that tanks mean peace! As it was, they were really very worried.

“Look,” Lefty said. “They’re going to blow up that building. That’s the county courthouse, sheriff’s department, and jail - the heart of law and order in our Monsters’ community!”

“You’re right,” Goat said. “We have no choice but to fight.”

“I’m with you,” Lefty said, “we must fight! What side are we on?”

“We protect civilization!”

“Hey, what kind of a pirate are you?” Lefty joked.

“The CAPTAIN kind,” Goat reminded him with a glare that made all the Animals go completely quiet.

“Excuse me,” said Pink Bear, “but if you’re going to wear costumes—“

Goat glared at her. “I’m sorry,” she corrected herself, “if you’re going to wear UNIFORMS, could you please make sure they’re really different colors or something? You know how I get confused if they are not CLEARLY different colors…”

“I thought you were going to save the world?” Goat growled.

“I already did. Now I’m kind of bored and just want some recreation. Do we have the home team advantage?”

“NO PINK BEARS ARE PERMITTED ON THIS SUBMARINE!” Goat roared. “Captain’s orders!”

Then the Animals knew that this fight must be really serious. They went back to the submarine feeling very subdued all of a sudden, and that's when they first saw the filthy shred of rag clinging to the tail of the submarine. All concern for the fate of Adams County or themselves was forgotten for the moment. Had they actually found it? Had they found Marat’s shroud just as the great bard Victor Hugo described it in his epic battle with history in the sewers of Paris? They were almost afraid to approach it, and came to a straggling halt.

Piggles strode out ahead of them all and plucked the grimy shred of fabric from the Argonaut’s tail and held it at arm’s length. “I will wash it,” she said. Their eyes followed her, and they were speechless at her daring.

When she returned from the submarine’s spacious and well-appointed laundry room, what she carried in her hands was not a shroud, but a clue from Council’s own history, a clue that they immediately realized they would have to decipher.

An Animal! A Bear! Hand-embroidered on a tea-towel! “What this is,” Piggles said, “is a coded message. Remember how the women of the French resistance wove codes into the patterns of their children’s mittens and sent them across enemy lines?” She started back toward her cabin, holding Pink Bear by the hand. "Is this part of the game?" Pink Bear was asking as they disappeared. The rest of the Animals gathered round the Code Bear, speechless.

"What we must do," Goat told them, filled with confidence again now that there was some action to take, "is crack this coded message. We will need an Intelligence Agency."

He nodded at Bink, and Bink stepped forward. "My not insignificant language skills are entirely at the service of Captain Goat. Long live Council! Long live the Argonaut! May Piggles reign forever!" he added in an unusual burst of enthusiasm, and all the Animals cheered.

(To Be Continued)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Hat That Launched A Thousand Ships

Platypuss here. What began as a simple expedition in a small submarine (the Argonaut) through the sewers of Council, inspired by Victor Hugo and led by Pirate Goat, has already become an epic. This kind of thing does happen pretty often to Goat, as you may have noticed. At the last minute, many more Animals joined the expedition than had initially signed up and quarters are cramped. If you want to know how the Animals came up with this idea, along with advice from well-meaning bloggers, scroll down to the previous post from the lost land of Monday for the details.

(Goat interrupts here:) Hey Platypuss. You say this kind of thing happens to me a lot, but every time is totally different! How could the unsuspected perils of Rock Slide Tobogganing have possibly prepared me for what is happening down here under the potholed streets and glorious alleys of Council! If it hadn’t been for help from Sandra Leigh and Johnny Jack Poetry Guitar Guy, I’d still be riding on the outside of the submarine! Sometimes plans for things like submarines are hard to read, you know. And if I knew what I was doing, it wouldn’t be an adventure, would it?

Platypuss continues: It’s hard to say exactly what happened – Sandra Leigh may be at the bottom of this – she’s the one who mentioned “stygian” while wishing the crew well in their voyage through the bowels of the earth. Goat insisted that the word was French, but after an argument, Bink looked it up – and there we all were suddenly, not in the Council sewer, but in the Council Underworld. A portal to the past where all myths meet - all unbeknownst to the citizens of the surface chatting in the Thrifty Shoppe on dollar-a-bag day next to the abandoned People’s Theatre and the abandoned Timberline Title building with the sleek US Bank looming over all like an artificial life form…

Wait a minute, Platypuss! Goat here. That was not an argument. It was a battle of wits, and a valiant one. Bink is a worthy opponent. And I will just mention that HKatz too played a big part in our current peril – mentioning the Golden Fleece made Polar Knight start thinking about the lost link between the Golden Fleece and the Golden Eyepatch awarded at the Annual Pirate Picnic, and how it might finally be found in the Council sewer. Not to mention Johnny Jack Poetry’s discussion with Bink on the Greek root of the word “nostalgia” which ended up with Poetikat and Monster E. becoming involved recently with us in the battle of Troy! No one knew we would find ourselves in the Underworld. Where all the ancient battles are fought simultaneously like a multi-plex Valhalla right under the People’s Theatre! Perhaps Jeffscape could help us out of this one, I thought, but alas! - all communications systems were down.

We knew we were in the sewer directly underneath the People’s Theatre because the sagging structure produces eerie groans only audible in the Underworld where they are amplified by the sewer pipes- to an unnerving degree, I will freely confess. This is where the strange perils of the Underworld began to show themselves. Cleopatra, the much-beloved Finger Giraffe who is visiting us from those young muses Zoey and Grace, suddenly appeared with a new body and a hat from the Ancient Past! All the Animals were suddenly wearing hats! Party hats, we wondered? But we soon realized that this was no party, and began to wonder if we would ever make it back to Big Bed Land from this Labyrinth of illusion.

Strangely, it was the Big Bard of Big Bed Land, Polar Knight, who gave us the first clue as to finding our way out of the dreaded Labyrinth. I am always surprised when the flag of Poetry flies during battle, but Pirates are scrupulously honest (when they remember to be) and I must say that this happens with some frequency.

Polar Knight thought back to Subby’s mention of Victor Hugo on Robert Frost’s Banjo, which first led to our noble but perhaps doomed expedition. Polar Knight with the glow of inspiration in his eyes suddenly declaimed: “The most surprising rencounter was at the entrance to the Grand Sewer…from one of these hinges hung a dirty and shapeless rag …Bruneseau held his lantern close to this rag and examined it…they made out a heraldic coronet and embroidered above these seven letters: LAVBESP…They recognized the fact, that what they had before their eyes was a morsel of the shroud of Marat!!”

“Of course,” cried Cleopatra, throwing her hat into the ring, “the Charlotte Corday hat!”

Now, I’m all for open discussion among the crew, but it seemed to me that any sense of purpose had been lost. “What are you talking about?” I demanded.

So it turns out that there was this really complicated battle called the French Revolution. And this woman, Charlotte Corday, carrying a copy of Plutarch’s Parallel Lives, assassinated Marat with a kitchen knife. (Hence the shroud.) Not long afterwards, the women in England who were found her action heroic started wearing a millinery confection known as the Charlotte Corday hat. Apparently they had no bumper stickers in these times. Sometimes history is just totally weird, I say to Bink. “You have no idea how weird,” Bink told me kindly, and began to tell me tales of hatpin murders.

Everyone rushed to the portholes. “Is that Charlotte’s kitchen knife?” someone shouted. “I think I see Helen of Troy’s lipstick container…” “Look - Lizzie Borden’s report card!” But suddenly our forays into the unexplored hook-ups of history came to a halt. After a dizzying ascent, we found ourselves in the harbor of the old Council Grange – we looked up past the toilet paper and the sink, to where a sign was printed on the open door: “Ladies,” it read.

“That means me,” said Cleopatra and she sashayed forth – in spite of the fact that I knew she could see, as we all did, the tank positioned ominously outside the window, its turret gun pointed right at us.

(Check back on Monday for the continuation of the Voyage of the Argonaut…and greetings to my old friend and Hugo/Louis L'Amour scholar, Dan Moors!)

Monday, March 8, 2010

Postcard to Monster J.

Platypuss here. With Johnny Jack Poetry Guitar Guy on the road with his poetry and his guitar, the community of Big Bed Land feels keenly aware of his absence. So, after a bit of discussion the Animals decided to write some postcards to the Absent Bard, as he has been dubbed. Goat wanted to be the one to write so that none of the important things happening in BBL would be left out...

Greetings, fellow explorer. Goat here. I am impressed by what I’ve read of your adventures so far – a bold undertaking, to do battle in the wilderness of the Great Western Highways, with the loneliness and frozen fog, the specters of feedlots and abandoned bars of Nebraska, the wailing wind-sound of souls who have been lost in that land. It’s more dangerous even than the Targ Forest, and I’m very happy for you - happy that you have found a setting worthy of your quest. I have a feeling that when you get home you might be awarded the Golden Eye-Patch, one of the highest honors that can be awarded at the annual Pirate Picnic – let this spur you on.

Not much news here – the day before you left, you saw that one of my tobogganing expeditions had caused a rock slide on Highway 95. Well, this kept happening. Which is only logical, as I explained to Piggles, since this new form of tobogganing is called Rock Slide and the thrill of it is when the whole hillside starts to move. But even after I explained this several times, Piggles still thought it was time for me to do something else.

Well, what Piggles says, goes, as you know. So Lefty and I have developed a new plan. We got the idea from Victor Hugo who is a friend of Polar Knight’s. Victor Hugo is a writer too. He writes in French which seems like going to a great deal of needless trouble if you ask me. But he took on History itself in the Sewers of Paris, and what an epic! In honor of that glorious battle in Lay Mizzy-marbles (that’s French, by the way) we are going to explore the Council sewer in a small submarine. Remember when I went with Monster E. to a City Council meeting and they showed how a little camera moving through the sewer could help figure out what parts of the pipe to fix? Like the wooden pipes that were still there from when Monsters built the very first sewer in town? That’s what gave us the idea. You can actually learn a lot from town meetings sometimes.

As you may remember from Monster E’s thrilling description of this meeting, the Council sewer is gravity powered. So we won’t need to build a power source for the submarine. Unless we try to go uphill. Then we’ll be up Poop Creek without a paddle! There is always the chance that we will run out of air, of course, especially if we tell too many jokes like this and laugh too much. That wastes oxygen you know. In a submarine this is never wise. Today we finished painting the name on the submarine in really big fluorescent letters: “The Argonaut.” In this photo I am consulting with experts in propulsion that makes use of gravity and currents.

We depart at midnight. We are ready. I have made the necessary charts and familiarized myself with the navigational equipment. Lefty has loaded the supplies and will take care of their equitable and timely distribution. Polar Knight will take of the poetry. Duffy will monitor the camera from BBL so all the Animals can follow our course!

It is a curious coincidence that in my research I discovered that the overall map of the Council sewer resembles in every detail one of the ancient rivers that Monster E. is studying for her book. If time permits, we will attempt to get to the bottom of this mystery.

Sleep well, fellow traveler. May Piggles guide you – but only after you’ve had your fill of adventure!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Polar Knight Goes Green

It's easy being green when you're reading Lament of the Fiddleheads by Kat Mortensen! Please scroll down for a reading of this delightful poem that will take you on a brief but merry jaunt from Christina Rosetti to Stevie Smith, with musings by the Big Bard of Big Bed Land, Polar Knight. Posted with Kat's kind permission.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Polar Knight’s Salon: Kat Mortensen’s "Lament of the Fiddleheads"

There are days when I do nothing at all. When I let myself wander through the polar night, or just curl up along the satisfying curve of a frozen drift and feel the curve of every leaf, every petal, every plum that ever was. When a single snow-crystal makes a lens into eons of springtimes… splendorous, that’s the word.

It was this kind of day when a tundra mycelium that I had never noticed before started speaking to me. (Note from Bink: Mycelium is: the underground mass of tiny branching threads that produce mushrooms; it can be thousands of acres in size, or the size of a fairy ring of mushrooms.)

This particular polar fairy ring contained one mushroom I knew as "Goblin Market" by Christina Rossetti, whose name resounds in the tundra underground! Then I noticed that the interconnected underground threads of this mycelium had mushroomed also into "Childhood and Interruption" by Stevie Smith and Beatrix Potter’s Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle. And there in the circle stood Lament of the Fiddleheads by Kat Mortensen - winking at me in friendly amusement. (I just noticed the “muse” in “amusement”...)

Poetikat, as many bloggers know, adventures in the land of rhyme and meter, taking humor, philosophy, and dramatic narrative in her stride. All these meet intoxicatingly in "Lament of the Fiddleheads" - one of those mysterious elixirs whose recipe can never be codified but only experienced – as a forest complete in itself, a dirge with comic moments, questions that catch you by surprise with their sudden depth: “Who has us in peril? Who is our true foe?” These spring as naturally from the language of the poem as the comically human moments: “…our sharp-shooting rival – Asparagus!”

Probably everyone remembers some moment of awe in a forest – when it seemed to speak and you were filled with silence, when a gaze into branches or down the vista of a path or following the determined doings of a beetle became infused with more stories than you could put words to. Poetikat’s evocation of such a moment is remarkarble – splendorous!

When I first read Kat’s Lament of the Fiddlehead, it took me into a very particular landscape I associate with Christina’s "Goblin Market"; this made a great deal of sense as I thought more about it – Christina uses the kind of simplicity and strong meter often associated with children’s poetry to create a landscape that is as untamed as our own imaginations once were. It’s a landscape we might remember in fragments, but never completely.

“One had a cat's face,
One whisked a tail,
One tramped at a rat's pace,
One crawled like a snail,
One like a wombat prowled obtuse and furry,
One like a ratel tumbled hurry-scurry.
Lizzie heard a voice like voice of doves
Cooing all together:
They sounded kind and full of loves
In the pleasant weather.”

The poem with its splendorously playful rhyme and meter (Christina wrote children’s verse too) tells a serious story of temptation and near-death, and the redemptive necessity of sisterly love.

What these poets do for me is reconnect the serious “play” of imagination known mostly by my childhood self with my other selves – the adult perspective that is humor and a different kind of knowledge of the world. Stevie Smith also uses the meter and rhyme of lullabyes, nursery rhymes, hymns, to embody descriptions of intense loss, betrayal, isolation – she often includes (a rather sharp-edged) humor in the mix as well:

“…And underneath the pram cover lies my brother Jake
He is not old enough yet to be properly awake
He is alone in his sleep; no arrangement they make
For him can touch him at all, he is alone,
For a little while yet, it is as if he had not been born
Rest in infancy, brother Jake; childhood and interruption come swiftly on.”

Beatrix Potter is usually thought of as a children’s author, though she herself considered her work as literature worthy of standing among the “great” – and I agree with her. The way she combines the imagination that can place meticulously dressed animals in human scenes acting out the most profound existential themes (and humor!) comes over me periodically with a kind of electric jolt. I think my favorite character of hers is the hedgehog version of John the Baptist – the washerwoman Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle who appears to a young girl and then vanishes as mysteriously. Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle collects the outer coverings of many animals (including Peter Rabbit and other characters in Potter’s stories) and washes them clean – the feet of Sally Henny-penny, the white fronts of Tom Titmouse, and the skins of the little lambs. When the girl marvels that the skins of lambs can be removed and washed and even replaced, each to its proper lamb, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle tells her “Oh yes… they’re always marked at washing!”

It has been Polar Knight’s great pleasure to discover Kat Mortensen’s work and to pull Monster E. along into the poetic adventure that is reading! Kat has given us here at P-in-B new insight into poets long beloved – and on-going delight in reading Poetikat’s own evolving work. Kat has announced that she is putting a book together for publication and we are all looking forward to this with serious excitement. Thanks Kat!

Mushrooms and fiddlehead ferns by Beatrix Potter
Illustration for "Goblin Market" by D.G. Rossetti
Stevie Smith's illustration for "Childhood and Interruption"
Beatrix Potter's illustration, "Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Wink"