The poet stares at the blank sheet of paper
looking like a soldier,
with his eyes glazed over and fixed
in a thousand-yard stare

The sweat drips from his knotted brow and
leaves stains on what once was emptiness
His hands have tightened into clenched fists
and his breath seems labored and stale

How many hours, how many days
has he been sitting there waiting?
Waiting for an idea, waiting for something,
anything, to commit to the page

To the poet, the concept of time
has lost all meaning
To him, the sweep of the second hand
might well take centuries

He wonders if he can feel his own
blood slowing as it moves through his veins
and as his thoughts become more random
and fractured

His bones stiffen but he can’t feel the ache,
his eyes close and the brightness of the blank page
is replaced by nothing but silence and darkness
and he does not go to the light

He feels nothing when he is discovered
slumped over his desk
his skin mottled and blue in places
where his life’s blood has settled

He feels nothing when he is first dissected
and then later lowered into the ground.
The dirt that surrounds him is neither hot nor cold,
it remains just dirt

Upon discovering the poet,
the worm feels nothing but instinct and hunger
and the need to exist is stronger
than that of the need to die

The worm remains by the poet's side
and is reluctant to leave his prize
He creates another generation of worms that will do the same
to another generations of poets that are sure to come.

Cut of clod and slap of earth,
Faint rhythm on my oaken drum.
With slack lungs that hold no breath,
I pray with might for death to come.

Though my heart beat cannot quicken,
To my horror something’s come;
Silent crawling undulation,
In me content to make a home.


A slow glimpse beneath closed lashes
The worm lifts its finger-tongue.
Staring face to face with blindness
I understand what is to come.


I imagine in him sense and purpose,
And give the worm speech of its own.
“I am here as God’s mistress-
Condemn me not: this work must be done.”


“Your soul is rotten, vile wordsmith,
You could have magnified His throne,
Instead you filled the world with filth,
Now for you, your curse has come.”


“One thousand days of this slow torture
My kind and I will work your tomb.
But when you are once more with nature
Your soul shall once more be free to roam.”


Night of the Unread

Moonlight slashes crumbling brickwork,
     Dirt-smeared roofs and old cement;
Fall's cold winds disturb the night-murk,
     'Round a warehouse tired and spent
Dead leaves dance with desperation
     (Winter's drawing nigh)
Cracked window panes an invitation
     To any breeze that's blowing by.

Inside lie scores of pulpy dead,
     Remaindered fiction, stripped.
Un-bought, unsold, unloved, unread,
     By more modern works eclipsed.
Covers torn off, sent back only
     For the refund price
Authors' children, bleeding, lonely
     Corpses worried at by mice.

Untapped sheaves of strange imaginings
     Scattered in a careless arc;
Rustling in the wind that fall brings
     As bonfire leaves that wait a spark.
A spear of moonbeam through a skylight
     Hits a stack of books below
A page picked out as by a searchlight:
     The Conqueror Worm by E.A. Poe.

A sharp gust and the pages flutter
     As though a ghost paused to peruse;
An eldritch spark runs up the gutter
     Fruit of Poe's forgotten muse.
Called from some arcane dimension -
     Summoned to take form
A frisson of dramatic tension!
     Comes the Conqueror Worm!

Demon Muse-child! Fanged and taloned!
     Taking shape in gloom
Dagger-clawed and scale-medallioned!
     A horrid birth-cry shakes the room.
Turning on the books that beckoned,
     It cracks their spines, on leaves to feed.
More corporeal by the second,
     It reaches out to slake its need.

Works of Strieber, Koontz, and King
     Consumed to reinforce its might.
Angels cringe to see the Thing,
     Spawn of evil, rot, and night.
All's ingested, yet the worm stays,
     Tethered to its place of birth.
The angels cry out words of great praise.
     It can't break free to plague the Earth!

The creature wails! It howls! It rages!
     Scrapes its claws across the floor!
Child of one hundred thousand pages,
     Needing just one hundred more.
Dawn's clear light will bring its ending,
     Dispel the beast angels abhor.
Abort this Hell-begotten sending -
     Wait! There swings the warehouse door!

A watchman makes his way inside,
     Drawn by the noise or mayhap Fate.
A book in his back pocket's spied,
     The creature doesn't hesitate!
In a flash the beast's astride him,
     Grabs him up and swallows whole.
Rends him flesh and bone and limb!
     (Regurgitates his startled soul)

This now completes the summoning!
     The angels cry anew in woe.
The book, pink with gold lettering,
     Adjoining Straub, Milton, and Poe.
Completed now, it rears to cry
     A ghastly challenge to our Sphere!
Instead, sharp pain beclouds its eye.
     It whimpers in its pain and fear.

The creature feels a tremor in
     Its mighty literary thews.
One angel rises up and grins!
     "Oh cherubim! Attend my news!
The fetid worm has erred indeed
     As it will soon discover!
For in its haste it failed to read
     That last book's gaudy cover."

Behold! As bones of Koontz and Blake,
     Vertebrae of Poe and Milton,
Twist cruelly from the beast's mistake:
     'Selected Poems by Paris Hilton'
The cries of agonized distress
     Diminishing as pages peel
Away from fast-dissolving flesh,
     The monster ceases to be real.

The watchman's soul is taken high,
     By angels to a better place.
As morning's sun ascends the sky,
     Of the beast there is no trace.
Let forth the cry throughout the land,
     Celebrate with flags unfurled!
A modern miracle's at hand!
     Paris Hilton Saves the World!

An original poem by the author, written for The Poet and the Worm and The Night's Plutonian Shore on Edgar Allan Poe's The Conqueror Worm inspired the creature, and Poe's The Haunted Palace provided a metrical model for this poem. The celebutante's book of poetry is, insofar as this author is aware, fictional.

i was the worm
snatched from its dew-laden pasture
as others were trampled in the wan glow of a waning quarter moon.

i was the worm
thrown among a blind and faceless throng
in a cardboard shanty,
at the foot of an incipient mudslide,

forced to make its bed in excrement and litter,
to make its diet of mercury and lead,
to efface its anger with the glue used
to repair the shoes of those with feet
and hands that look like bowls of money.

i was the worm
shaken from its fever dreams and laid out in the bare light of dawn,
squeezed in two by calloused fingers, cast
in vomit and fear, its own excrement
its own litter.

i feel myself falling away. i feel
the plunge of cold tempered cruelty.

i am not the cat
with her nine chances at life. oh, but i have heart—

heart enough to crawl through sawdust even as i dangle,
breathlessly from my branch,
baiting dogs and resentful swine into desperate acts of violence.

look at me.

there is poetry in the sidelong glance of destiny,
in the flick of the wrist, and the sinuous flow of line,
in the tiny splash as i sink.
Viral perpetration of the accepted rites, swill to flow out from the bottle and spit to flow back in. The worm remains at the bottom.  Cares to be cast out with the demons and the space created henceforth shall be the seat of discontent. Said he, "I miss my sin. I send remittance to satan with each breath, razor underneath my tongue in case I should run across jesus again." In the joint, he pulls a wishbone with his jailers on thanksgiving. Gets the short end of the stick and stuck out a month in solitary. It's hard not to stick out when yr the only one there, but the floor is earth and vermin are like unto me.  In medieval france every castle had an 'oubliette.' As is the case with most words, this one comes from another--"Oublier." To forget. They put you there and forgot about you. Most likely you slept, if you slept at all, on a pile of mouldering bones. I remember them as a particularly uncomfortable bed; to the vermin bed and occupant are one and the same feast.

"Tell me truly," sez he upon his return to the world, "Am I forgotten?" Runs the silent gauntlet as no one interferes as he walks straight out the prison as he crosses the dead-grass hangdog yard and the football game does not stop--a clod fresh from the kickoff flies over his head--as he passes sleepy guards at rusting gates as he treads for what could have been the first time upon a dusty road as a bus passes and does not slow down. So he continues to walk. Walks until the shoes with which he entered prison (conveniently left outside his cell door as he also left, without a word in either case) begin to fray and at this time he imagines that it would be fitting if snow began to fall. But no one is listening and there is no snow. Not even rain; it was his second choice since he feels he could use a shower. Walks until the shoes have fallen off and as they do he reaches a bar. "Garbage in, garbage out" he thinks, also thinking that garbage would be better than nothing as a thing to get out of life.  Thinks of his position at the bottom of a hole, of a bottle, of an infernal pecking order.  Thinks of a world of hungry birds and unprotected nightcrawlers after a heavy rain.  But there was no rain.  He continues to burrow towards solace and safety.  Silence and anonymity may be blessings here.

A felon walks into a bar. Silence resounds and he asks, the first he's spoken freely in six (don't ask why six, it just seemed like the right number) in six in six in six in six in six years he asks, "What? Did somebody tell a bad joke?"  Confronted with stares.  No voices.  Worms' only pockets are of earth and do not contain the likes of keys and cash.  Worms get no free drinks, even when they have just crawled out of prison.

I am a poet and I am bored.

Not quite perfectly bored, but becoming more so each moment. Here I sit, pen in mind, trying to finish this poem before I'm bored quite to death, as you will quickly understand.

Space Winds

Stir and fill
Sails unfurled.

Frailly spun,
Web wove from Stellar ash,
The dust of 
Worlds long past.

Sun breezes
Push me outward
And beyond
The future,
Toward what's been

I want to tell you that there are places out here in deep dark space where man should just not go, places where things won't work out well for us.

Forgive me. I'm in an exotic mode of thought, where now is memory and memory is hellishly disjunct. This is a stubborn dream that remains a dream still, despite all my efforts to waken. Is this it? Is this my life flashing before my mind's eye, before my death, as is so often fabled by those who have never themselves died?

At first they were most unwelcome; our meeting was not that sweet. No. It started with an innocent tickle on the soles of my feet. Then tickle begat itch. But then, ... oh, but then! It was like I'd lept onto a bed of nails and long sharp nails were piercing both flesh and bone. That pain! That pain so searing! The pain that so occupied my entire soul that I could not even hear my own primal screaming.

It's a generous mercy that the memory is not the thing itself.

Ice-fishing for tercets in toilets,
I caught one and wanted to boil it,
I cut off it's head,
And wrapped it in bread,
But baked it too long and thus spoilt it.

Yes, I am no poet, but a poet I would be. The Planet Colonies interviewer asked why I placed 'Poet' at the top of my resume, a resume otherwise so good as to be a free pass to any job in space. I just smiled a shy smile. Then she asked, "Dr. Pym, would you go to Ganymede for us?"

And then there were Angels, heard but not seen, floating up through the pain, muffled and indistinct, like voices in a howling rain. They made no sense, of course, but the sense of drugs and dreams. "Level 1 Quarantine for all of Ganymede. Level 2 Quarantine for ICE-G. Level 3 DISIN for all team personnel. Repeat: Level 3 DISIN for all team personnel prior to extraction. Level 4 DISIN for all ICE-G facilities."

Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?
Poe, Dream within a Dream

Colony Expedition-Ganymede. So adventurous. So glamorous. Such a grand contribution to the human endeavor. You will be the new pioneers of a new frontier.

Uh-huh. We trained in Greenland and then spent a year on Earth's moon, encapsulated in our subterranean facility that was outfitted exactly like ICE-G. There our bodies acclimated to low gravity and we practiced our functions to prepare for our great adventure, ...  and our eventual lionization as the courageous pioneering ground-breakers of Ganymede. Those Who Went First. We were expected to hit the ground running after insertion on the Jupiter moon. The wash-out rate in the training program was 25% before the moon phase and 75% after. Most of them could actually have done the mission, but after living and working like that for a year, they just did not want to.

The pain was so utter and pure and pervading that I began to think of it as hell mistaken for heaven. Then it lessened and lessened some more until I realized that I was still screaming. I began to feel the rest of my body again. It was frozen rigid by agony, all muscles cramped and all ligaments stretched. But it had now begun to soften and relax. There was a slow suffusion of relieving warmth and a kind of hypersensitivity that began just below the knees and flowed upwards. Below that was now no feeling at all.

The ICE-G facility was indeed exactly like the moon facility. There were no windows and no trips to the surface. Such trips had no purpose and so were not allowed. We had gone from the Earth moon facility through a windowless airlock into a windowless spacecraft. Then, a good time later, we exited the spacecraft through an identical airlock into the ICE-G facility on Ganymede. The habitat structure had been sent ahead and had constructed itself into working order before we left. We had no luxurious looks through wide crystal viewing ports at astonishing space beauty on our glamourless journey. All that we saw was on the monitor screens, and it didn't look real or at all interesting. They could have knocked us out on the moon and let us wake up here, and we wouldn't have noticed any difference at all aside from suddenly feeling maybe a just bit lighter.

Just as I got used to being back in this world absent that pain so absolute that it was all that existed, the new sensation of things moving inside the flesh above my knees gripped my attention.

The sensation became a sudden realization, one that spawned a flash of deep terror. When I put my hands down to feel my legs through the leisure suit, I felt things moving inside me. I also felt them with a proprioception that I'd never experienced before. They, the things, were progressing busily through my upper legs crawling and eating upward toward my waist, toward my crotch. Then again another wave of warm, suffusing comfort flowed up to my neck. It dissolved my terror and removed the extreme anxiety. I now considered these things that were boring their way up through me with a strangely detached curiosity, a positive interest like a bored person might take in watching a colony of ants going about their frenzied business. How many they were, I couldn't guess. Several? dozens? Hundreds? Perhaps they were multiplying.

... the play is the tragedy, "Man,"
And its hero the Conqueror Worm.
Poe, The Conqueror Worm

Then they reached my spine. I felt a small sort of pop just above my tailbone and then in a few seconds everything had become much different. Suddenly I was extremely pleased (yes, pleased!) by my boring friends on their valiant, determined journey through my organs and tissues and bones. I wanted to give them names, they delighted me so. I felt urge to encourage them and aid them. I surrendered completely to their onslaught and felt what I thought must be the inimitable pleasure of a woman being filled by a man.

They crawled and ate through my neck and I giggled. I laughed! They took command of my brain stem and rewarded my welcome by splashing my brain with neurotransmitter ecstasy. They repurposed my limbic system to the creation of pure and constant pleasure and sense of ultimate well-being. I was in a heaven higher than any heaven ever imagined by even the most desperate of men. And so in absolute bliss I stayed.

Oh! that my young life were a lasting dream!
My spirit not awakening, till the beam
Of an Eternity should bring the morrow.
Yes! though that long dream were of hopeless sorrow,
'Twere better than the cold reality
     Poe, Dreams


From chapter 13, "The Boring Worms of Ganymede," in the Colonist's Guide to Known Space Maladies:

The first case of BWoG infestation was discovered in Dr. E.A. Pym at the Initial Colonization Expedition on Ganymede. Dr. Pym was found sitting, if indeed it could be called sitting, in his study by Cmdr. Thrush of the Rescue and Recovery Team commissioned by Planet Colonies, Inc. after his team had entered and secured the room. He saw Dr. Pym from behind. In the Commander's words, "Pym's head was bobbing a bit and he seemed to be laughing a queer, private laugh, like someone listening to comedy over a PLD."

The Commander called out, but Pym did not respond, so he signaled one of his men to approach the amused doctor in his chair. Thrush was startled when the battle-hardened rescue specialist stumbled backward and almost fell because of what he saw. The man's involuntary reaction was enough to swing the chair around into the full view of the rest of the team. Pym was but torso and head. The arms and legs of his suit were flattened and crusted with dried blood and gore. There was movement all around his belly and chest, partly hidden by the bloodied clothing. The face and exposed neck had no skin left, just bone and muscle and tendons, all covered with a translucent layer of shiney, writhing jelly.

Thrush immediately called in the quarantine orders. Fortunately, Thrush and his four-man crew survived. Fortunately for us, but not for them. They were removed to a level D isolation unit, where researchers were able to record and document the entire course of BWoG infestation in the five men over a period of 14 months until they had all died laughing and all the larvae had pupated.

We don't go to Ganymede anymore.

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