A Land of Fortresses (Poetry)

I wrote this last week during a poetry workshop at the High Plains for Applied Anthropology. This poem is dedicated to Howard Stein, who always inspires us to remember how powerful poetry is as a tool for understanding our humanity. Thanks Howard!

A Land of Fortresses

We are a land of fortresses,

Solitary, we treat only with those who think like us,

We are surrounded by a moat of toxic water,

Where the corpses of diverse ideas fester.

Our noses burn with their smell.

So we plug them and avert our eyes,

Staring only at the safety within our walls.


It is safe in here,

Like in the dark ages.


The world out there is dangerous,

Trolls pick their teeth with the bones of their victims,

The ones who wandered too far from their fortress,

They gorge under crumbling overpasses at the intersections of cyberspace.


Hoards of hairy monsters circle the walls,

Pounding on the portcullis.

Longing to cut their teeth on fresh fleshy argument.

Their wicked smiles gleam,

But only at 2 am, with beards unshaven,

Their cry of, ‘actually’, screamed at rhythmic intervals.


In the moonlight mist,

Even robots wait in ambush.

With strange requests for our most intimate knowledge,

To be used against us.

Your mother’s maiden name,

Your first pet,

Your high school mascot,

A way inside.

Our memories are our vulnerability.


There, waiting in a tower of thorns we hide behind walls.

Ignoring the needy who gather at the gates by day.

We stay closed for business,

To those with needs unmet.

Never pondering,

Only pontificating from the ramparts.

And the guards pay no mind,

Until the siege weapons arrive,

Well past the time of asking.


They erect the weapons just beyond our reach,

With great desperation.

Then we dig in.

Prepare the boiling oil,

Prepare the volley of flaming arrows,

And slings, to keep our outrageous fortunes,

To ourselves.


But know,

The walls will fall.

They always do eventually.

Even with our pride bolstering them.

Even after they crumble,

We cling to their illusion of solidity,

And believe everything we think.

Until it rots us through to the core.


Then, we stand amongst the rubble wondering why.

Screaming in the darkness at some imaginary god to save us.

Requesting thoughts and prayers,

Rather than doing anything at all.


And so we join the lost,

The homeless.

For we have no home in ourselves.


Wandering,

Pounding at the gates of another

Begging for entrance,

Pleading for compassion.

Cut by the thorns as we try to scale their walls.

And we construct siege weapons,

To topple the towers,

And bring all to ruin,

Because we have been ruined by our indifference.


I have built a wall

I have dug a moat,

Made of algorithms.

To cling, to avoid,

Both are poisons.

I have turned away,

I have clung until my fists bled.

My own life, slipping through my fingers.

Only to find Saturn return and demolish my walls,

With the weight of its gravity.


Open the gates.

Smash the walls.

Feel the freedom of the open-air,

Of strange conversations in dense forests,

And find the wisdom in the unkempt grass,

Or roll in the mud until you are baptized.


There is no choice.

To ignore is only to delay.

To ignore is to forfeit your will,

Your choice in the matter.


Go Then,

Be forced naked into a wilderness that no longer wants you,

But claims you anyway.


We will make good mud.


We are exiles of our own making.  

The Argument (Poetry)

The Argument ©Michael Kilman 2022

The argument

There they are!

A few glimmering words, circling the inside of my skull

I reach… Pluck… Pluck… Pluck

Butterflies churn and excitement grows stirring me from near slumber

Something new to be born as the stars circle overhead.


Forget it.

You cannot grasp them.

Your tongue is swollen and thick from too much use

Your body aches from a endless maddening hustle

And your fingers dare not toil at their sacred assemblage


Liar!

Look at how they shimmer!

They are bright in the dark that they will arrange themselves as oceans often do

They caress me in all the right ways

And I long for their knowledge, their truth

I cannot ignore their cultivation.


Weep then,

Weep for hours on end for they will not flow from your lips or fingertips  

They will leave you a widow, after a lifetime of promises,

Moaning at all your loss

And then, kick you to the shadows where you will linger long waiting for a promised sun

That never shines


But I must!

For what else is to be done now at this late hour?

The clock maddens my mind with it’s ticking taunts

What fruit could this debate lay naked and open

It is best to embrace when the eyes will not close

I submit to their shimmer and ally myself to their cause.


Blocked

That is where you will find yourself,

Outside the door of an illustrious mansion, hearing the clambering and laughter of guests.

But with no key for entry. In vein you will jostle the doorknob.

Lusting after them with no passage.

You chase in vein fool, how many have you plucked?


Oh my good sir,

I have plucked them all in argument.

I have found peace in your taunts.

They are settled, nestling against my heart.

And they are alive.

Writing is living

Writing is Living

It’s been two years now since I released the last book in my sci-fi series The Chronicles of the Great Migration. And though I am coming close to finishing the book now… today, I had a conversation with a stranger that, despite the fact it had nothing to do with what I am working on in the novel, it inspired me to consider one of my characters in a new light.

Because… Writing is living.

We live in a world where indie authors tout rapid release. We are pushed to write quickly and publish quickly. Produce. Produce. Produce. Produce. Produce. Produce. Produce.

For those of you who don’t know there are even algorithms in place that, if we don’t publish quickly, our work stops being as visible on places like Amazon. We writers find ourselves on the factory floor, the assembly line in this algorithmic revolution.

But… Writing is living.

There’s a lot of pressure to write quickly. And, I am, honestly, a starving artist in the traditional sense. I hold multiple jobs to try and maintain my life. I want to write faster. I want to publish more often, but life has a way of intruding on art and art, in turn, life.

Because… Writing is living

I’m not here to argue that writing and publishing quickly is wrong.

I don’t think it is.

There have always been writers who can write and publish very quickly. The Romance Genre has always been that way, and a lot of the pulp novels throughout time are that way as well.

I am far from perfect with my writing habit. I wish I was writing every day. But mostly I write a few times a week and on weeks when money is tight, and I need to drive Doordash for 20 or 30 hours on top of teaching and parenting… writing falls away completely. It seems to slide into the shadows away from my vision and passes from memory.

Almost none of my income comes from writing currently, so I must prioritize.

But… Writing is living?

So, I put a lot of pressure on myself to write this series quickly. I tell myself… you want your dream of being a full-time writer don’t you?

Because… Writing is living.

When I don’t write, I feel guilt.

When I don’t write, I feel shame.

When I don’t write, I feel like I am not being true to myself.

When I don’t write I am miserable.

But then, it’s far more miserable when you can’t keep the power on, or food in your fridge, or you can’t go to the doctor when you are sick. Or you struggle to buy your kids a birthday present because you may have to skip meals. And you hate that there aren’t more hours in the day. If only there was more time…

Because… Writing is living.  

And then, there are moments like today. When I realize that my book will be better because it’s been a long road. That the time between sentences is only as long as it takes to start typing again, even as the setting sun marks the passing of another day.

Because… Writing is living.

When, a conversation, an experience, a thought, triggers this revelation about your characters or your world or your own perception of what is… and you think to yourself, gods, if I had been more consistent with my writing, I may have never had this revelation and my story would have been poorer for it.

Because… Writing is living.

There are plenty of things I can write fast. I wrote what became the first novel of the series, Mimi of the Nowhere in 10 days. But at that time, I was only working one job and, I had only thought it was going to be a short story and it just all hit me at once. Mimi possessed me. She took hold of me for those ten days and I could not stop thinking of her. Two of those nights I didn’t sleep. It was like love.

Because… Writing is living.

Upon Stilted cities, which was originally the first book and was so long, it was split because of length, took me the better part of two years of effort to finish. But the first pages were originally started when I was in graduate school over a decade ago. And then it sat, for 6 years, waiting to be remembered. Then, one day, it called out my name, and demanded my attention. And so, I sat again, pouring on to the page.

Because… Writing is living.

What does all this mean? It’s a good question. Part of me is writing this is to understand the question. At the moment of writing this, I don’t even know if I will ever publish this essay or not. Sometimes I write to discover something about myself or to understand my thoughts. Sometimes I just open a document and begin typing, with no idea what will come. If you’re reading this… that’s what you are reading.

Because… Writing is living.

I have a relationship with my keyboard, where my fingers come to life and I stop thinking and just let words flow, in the same way, a faucet doesn’t think about the water that spills from the nozzle, it just does what it does when the path is open.

Because… Writing is living.

I think maybe I want to say, don’t judge your pace or your speed of writing or sculpting or painting. I think maybe want I want to say is that all that pressure you put on yourself is unnecessary.

That Writing is living.

They aren’t separate.  

Life happens to you, and you reflect, and think about it and feel it out and then it transforms you. And with it, your art. When the caterpillar enters the chrysalis it rearranges everything before it can emerge. But all you see is the final product, we do not bear witness to transformation. We live it.

Because… Writing is living.

That doesn’t mean you don’t need a habit, a time and space dedicated to the act of creation, but if you had a hard week and you couldn’t paint, or photograph or write or compose that song, don’t hate yourself for it. Perhaps, instead, reflect on the lessons you learned about that time, about that space, about the intersection of your knowledge and experience, and draw on it. Let it flow through you so that when you do have a moment to turn on the faucet, so much flows that your cup of joy spills all over and makes such a mess, that you are forever changed. Don’t even bother to breathe… this paragraph didn’t.

Because… Writing is living.

And expectations are the death of joy.

I know so many authors, myself included, want that big break, those huge sale numbers, that perfect agent who will sell your novels for a huge advance, or that fanbase that just can’t get enough of your work, so that your cup runneth over, with great abundance. So you can just write, just create. Just… be. And life will be perfect… won’t it?

But… Writing is living.

That’s the danger of our culture. That we, in fact, mark success by the dollars attached to it. That if you aren’t contributing to the myth of this… supposed American dream… with your everyday actions, you fail as a human. If you can’t commodify what you create, what’s it good for? You have no value without productivity. And so we measure our art, our living, on our ability to produce, to… capitalize on what we have created.

And we think that is living. This… bootstraps mythology. Have you realized yet, you can’t lift yourself by your own bootstraps? Physics doesn’t allow it.

But… Writing is living.

We forget what art, in whatever form, is for.

Writing is living.

Sculpting is living.

Painting is living.

Singing, dancing, running, loving, crying, laughing, fright, anger, pain, they are all living. Maybe nothing gets in the way of art. Maybe our only real enemy is our doubt and anxiety. But then… doubt and anxiety are living too.

We are strange creatures. We have so much potential and yet we evaluate success by the smallest of measures. Greed is so small… so impermanent. But sharing another way of knowing, an experience, a thought, an image, these are great treasures.

Writing is living.

Simple words. But the truth is, we are all just stories, flashlights illuminating dark corridors, but never able to see the bigger picture. At least not alone.

Many lights, many stories, light up the night… together.

Writing is not a lonely act. It is a profoundly social one.

Writing is living.

Writing is walking to the edge of town, beyond the limits of what you have always known, and peering beyond. It is meeting a stranger and eliminating your differences, to discover your similarities.

Writing is living.

It has a time and a place.

Trust life to write your story.

Because… Writing is living.

A Wintered Heart (Narrative Poem)

A Narrative poem titled A Wintered Heart. The artwork I created goes by the same title.

A Wintered Heart

A heart of winter, a wintered heart,

She lay quiet, the letter torn apart.

Her tears streamed, like rivers to the sea

And she tried to make bargains, and made endless pleas


An age had past, and cold crept in

No smiles, no warmth, and no new life could begin

The fresh dark tears of the next mornings song

Rose up her cheeks and sapped her strength so that she could not go on.


There she lay, no warmth and no light

A mistress of time, without the slightest delight,

Waited, she waited, with her breath deeply bated

But once the cold crept in, her permafrost was fated


An act so unkind had birthed her present dread

And soon, she had sores from her long days in bed

That act of greed, and a lust for glorious stone

Had left her heart broken, now widowed and alone


She sat there all winter, in endless defeat

She lay so still, mice nested at her feet.

And as the spring time came, the sun drew in

And pressed on her face, lighting her skin.


It planted a seed below her dread,

And as the sun shone that morning, she swung out of bed

Her pain, had nested rot in her heart

And she could not bear the thought of no more love

AND no more art


And so that day, she made her demands

At the canvas she threw red paint and smoked contraband

But from her mess, came a new kind of love

A love of life, hard won, from travels above


Her wintered heart still, held great sway,

But she got a little better with each passing day

And new mediums of art caught her attention,

And she found small victories with her creative affections


So she took one step, and then one more

And one day soon she found herself outside her front door

And found a new canvas to shed her grief,

Though when she spray painted her mural, the cops chased her, called her a liar and thief


Though she had not finished and ran and hide

She planted a new seed on the cities west side,

New murals sprung up in tangent with her own,

And she started a club, and though at first people groaned

About the “grafetti” and the murals, it became a place for many to call home.

And though many of the wealthy had made their gripes

Soon the color that flooded the city brought new life


Community gatherings of collaborative art,

Helped her to get a kind of political start

She found that art brought so much relief

To help people shed the weight of their tragedy and grief


She started centers all over her city

And named them Wintered Heart, to make light of her season long self-pity

For she knew that seeing the signs swinging above

She would always remember her long lost love

And She would honor him with every stroke of a brush

Or spray can, or clay, or charcoal or the burning of sagebrush


Her wintered heart had planted a seed of hope

In place where so many felt at the end of their rope

And they loved her, and taught her a new kind of joy

That’s found in friends hearts, without any romantic ploys


Winteredheart… they chanted her name,

With love and respect and begged her to enter the political game,

Soon after elected mayor she made the city her new project,

Used art, music, theater, and poetry to help them remember self-knowledge and respect


Through her acts, she brought great change,

For the city filled with color and it helped her to rearrange,

The divides and the differences that people perceive

And she taught them that it was, in each other they should believe.


Still her wintered heart held great sway,

For she barely forgot about her lost love for more than a day

Her heart still long for his eyes and his lips

Or to run her hand through his hair with her fingertips


But she smiled, and felt, the joy of all she’d done  

Many victories, in her community, she had won

And her heart was frozen but happy at the same time.

For even a Wintered Heart, can find new rhythm and new rhyme.

TuT! TuT! (Poetry)

My first piece of poetry for 2022. The artwork is a photo collage of several images. Enjoy!



TuT! TuT!

There is a theme to be found in the hollow cheeks of children with their wide vacant eyes. Their gaze fixed on concrete with only the occasional stare as you walk past, curious, and ever certain of the sins of the last age.

Their tear ducts are empty from an era of dispossession, obsession.

Tut tut

Their dreams are the broken glass you walk on with bare feet.  


I traverse hulking skeletons along their spine. In hidden highways I stride past the corridors of indifference. Saturated with knowing.

The markets make gamblers of us, casting bones in cups, with aged, choked knuckles, that align our lots with one unblinking eye.

Tut tut

Nerves splice open and raw, and in the light, only exposure


There was failure there in the corner, passing for a human, with arms outstretched in asking, looking for any reason to find two solid feet to stand on.

His teeth were clean but his thoughts were of days when the fix was fresh. When color nourished every pour. He is poorer for it.

Tut tut

I turn my head, not wanting to see a possible future.


You don’t hear the children play anymore between these concrete monsters, it is the commerce, the smell of flat wages, caffeinated mornings, and empty bottles in the evening, that drive us to wanting

And any hope of fresh air rots in our complacent cowardice

Tut tut

My stomach aches, the pill caused a hemorrhage again


There is a trembling in my pocket, and as I slide my hand against it, to quiet it’s nagging, I realized I’ve lost all the silence and stillness, maybe forever.  

I cannot adjourn from this court of chaos. There is no detachment, just desire.

Tut Tut

The engines scream in my ears as the gears grind for another cycle. My anger is but a thumbprint away.


What should you feel as you pace through passageway of the damned? All the sulfur stinging your eyes in between rows of unkind smiles, glaring at you like idiot passengers on a doomed train car.

Drink it in, for the fountain must not overflow and everyone’s stomach must be distended before the sun kisses the earth.

Tut Tut

The screams always die before my throat can catch them.


Grass, fields, pasture lay ahead, the eye of the storm. With shouting, rasping, chuckling fervor, I pass through the gates.

There are ducks lolling just out of the reach of so many unleashed hounds, and people pampered in concrete corners.

Tut Tut

Their grief has no knowledge here.


Sitting, I wait for the fall, for a stall, for anything. But I am left waiting and wasting, sitting in the center of the eye and staring at the hulks on my periphery. Knowing they are watching every minute of rest. Flailing me with their guilt.

They are always looming, day or night, they block out stars and dreams

Tut Tut

They were built with rage in mind, and a coffin around the corner.  


I hear it. A close, friendly conspiracy. Shoulders pressed together and whispers of the young for an honest days work. They stand, run, in search for sign in splashing creeks. They hunger for the chase of minnows between toes, with plastic cup in hand.

Dunking, wishing, smiles, even in the mistakes. In folly they fly past the skeletons, and into the forest to where they always belonged.

Caring not, to Tut Tut.

Yearning to breathe free, I breathe with them.

I stand.

I join them.

My hand will be my cup.

And it will fill with joy.


Cover Reveal for The Children of AEIS!!!

The Children of AEIS, the fifth book in my sci-fi series The Chronicles of the Great Migration, now has a cover! I am so incredibly happy with this cover. The artwork for this cover was created by the very talented Jon Stubbington. Definitely check out his amazing work.

Though I don’t have a firm date for release for the book yet, it will certainly be out before the end of spring of 2022. The Children of AEIS is the penultimate entry into this series, followed finally by A Hand to the Stars.

From the back of the book:

In the penultimate entry of the Chronicles of The Great Migration, Alexa Turon, Runner 17, Major Daniels, and their allies must learn the secrets of the mysterious AEIS and the underground city of Lastion if they hope to discover the key to defeat Miranda once and for all. Above, those aboard Manhatsten scrambles to deal with a new crisis from ROAM.

But from the ashes of the Battle for Langeles and the conflict with the Children of Gaia, a new power rises, one unlike any the world has ever known. It has only one goal, to consume.



What is the Value of Art?

Here is a bit of spoken word poetry I just wrote called, What is the value of Art.

“Center of All”

What is the value of art?

It is our birthright, our education,

it’s the smashing of all our limitations,

it’s the last breath as death collects us

In an ever winding energy nexus

It’s the movement of words and thoughts and dreams

Of a plurality of reality, and a sequence of scenes  

It’s what’s delicious and nutritious for the mind and soul

So luscious and rich with wonders to behold

It’s our essence and presence as a universe to witness

A study of truth and the quickest path to fitness

Of our species survival all threatened by meaninglessness

In the hearts of greed where we find only deafness

Or daftness and a lack of meaningful madness

This Art is our madness, our collective sadness,

All balled up and beat up long past the gladness

It’s the laughter of life and the meaning of love

It’s the universe in our hands and as below so above.

So you ask, what is the value of art?

It’s all this and more

For our humanity

is lost

if we lose

it’s core.

Build Better Worlds Cover Reveal!!!

Last week I posted a sample chapter from Build Better Worlds: An Introduction to Anthropology for Game Designers, Fiction Writers, and Filmmakers. The book is due out this fall and will cover a host of issues in worldbuilding from the perspective of Cultural Anthropology, Biological Anthropology, Linguistic Anthropology and Archaeology. By using the science to compare real life cultures and what core elements exist in them, the book talks about how better to create authentic fictional cultures.

Without further ado, here is the cover for the ebook version of Build Better Worlds. More info and the official release date coming soon!

Ache in the Bones.

It’s been quite a while since I did any poetry or artwork, so, here’s some new stuff. I call this one Ache in the Bones


Ache in the Bones

Aching Bones

My bones ache,

And it’s something I can barely take.   

But I look at myself and try to break from the heartaches and earthquakes of those woes and worries that I just can’t seem to shake.  

Do I enjoy them?

Do I employ my messes to solve my problems and downplay the stresses?  

Or do I conjure up more problems and conundrums, unsolvable riddles and endless questions

Do I ignore the suggestions?

See?

I see.

I see what I do,

I know what I’ve been through and am starting to understand the things that I do

To increase my own suffering and the karma that I accrue

Programmed

It’s the underlying program at work,

It’s the ways that I was a jerk,

Or the way that I lurked around my own blindspots to ignore to rot

Most of my life I followed the toxic attitudes I was taught,

Never letting myself see the light,

Instead, I fight

I fight for the right to bury my head in the sand, rather than expand

My mind, or maybe find the things that I hide behind

You just gotta move forward?

What’s forward is back,

How can you choose to move forward when you’re stuck on the wrong track?

You gotta attack those toxic flashbacks if you wanna bounce back from the blackest night

If you ever want to be alright

What happened to me wasn’t my fault

But that doesn’t mean I have to keep pouring salt, on the wounds from the assault

If I just live in default mode and lock it in a vault, how can I ever erode the pain or decode this heavy load?

Healing’s a lot of guesswork,

Like I’m not even supposed to be here, I’m just an innocent clerk

But That’s my party pity, my last attempt being witty

Before I deal with the pain…

But trauma? Trauma is like an oncoming train, and you can’t refrain from standing on the tracks that live deep inside your brain

But it’s just a game, just some lame excuse to frame my history in an event to pretend like some of it was a mystery

Things happen to us.

But we happen to others too.

Recovery from trauma might make you feel pretty blue, maybe you can barely stand the things you went through or the debts you accrued

But that doesn’t mean I can take it out on others,

Others are my sisters and brothers

On the path

And can you do the math? If we keep walking this path, we’ll face the wrath

Of our actions, of our overreactions and we will find ourselves making factions, rather than taking the course that leads to the best actions for all beings

I’m far from perfect, but I’m practicing seeing,

Practicing just being,

To be a better human being.



Courage and Chasms


Courage and Chasms

One step

Across the chasm

Leaves her cracked and breathless

Wind stealing words

Slowly swinging and swaying

At the mercy of things she cannot control

She steps forward

Unbound Now

But Holding on Tight

Sliding hands and feet across great gaps

Carefully

With great intention

She will not fall

Like seeds buried in the earth

Reaching for the sky

But not knowing which direction to grow

She has courage

Like the bird leaping from the nest

For the first time

Knowing the ground comes quickly

And unsure if its wings will work

She has courage

Like the leaf letting go at the end of autumn

Ignorant of its final destination as it falls

She has courage

But if you watch her

You’ll see her plant her feet on shaky ground

As if it was solid

If you watch her

You see her will in each step

As if there was no danger

If you watch her

You might catch a glimmer of light

Of the things that drive her

If you watch her

You might find yourself out across the chasm

Following her footsteps toward something better