Mon
Apr 2 2012 1:30pm
Mouse Koan
Catherynne M. Valente

Tor.com is celebrating National Poetry Month by featuring science fiction and fantasy poetry from a variety of SFF authors. You’ll find classic works, hidden gems, and new commissions featured on the site throughout the month. Bookmark the Poetry Month index for easy reading.

Today we kick off Poetry Month with “Mouse Koan” by Catherynne M. Valente.

 

Mouse Koan

I.

In the beginning of everything
I mean the real beginning
the only show in town
was a super-condensed blue-luminous ball
of everything 
that would ever be
including your mother
and the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles
and the heat-death of prime time television
                  a pink-white spangle-froth
of deconstructed stars
burst
into the eight million gods of this world.

Some of them were social creatures
some misanthropes, hiding out in the asteroid belt
turning up their ion-trails at those sell-outs trying to teach
the dinosaurs about ritual practice
and the importance of regular hecatombs. It was

a lot like high school. The popular kids figured out the game
right away. Sun gods like football players firing glory-cannons
downfield
bookish virgin moon-nerds
angry punkbrat storm gods shoving sacrificial
gentle bodied compassion-niks
into folkloric lockers. But one

a late bloomer, draft dodger
in Ragnarok, that mess with the Titans,
both Armageddons,
      started showing up around 1928. Your basic
trickster template
                  genderless
                  primary colors
                  making music out of goat bellies
                                                          cow udders
                                                          ram horns
                  squeezing cock ribs like bellows.
It drew over its face
the caul of a vermin animal,
all black circles and disruption. Flickering
silver and dark
it did not yet talk
it did not yet know its nature.

Gods
have problems with identity, too. No better
than us
they have midlife crises
run out
drive a brand new hot red myth cycle
get a few mortals pregnant with
half-human monster-devas who
grow up to be game show hosts
ask themselves in the long terrible confusion
of their personal centuries
who am I, really?
what does any of it mean?
I’m so afraid
someday everyone will see
that I’m just an imposter
a fake among all the real
and gorgeous godheads.

                  The trickster god of silent films
knew of itself only:
I am a mouse.
I love nothing.
I wish to break
everything.

                  It did not even know
what it was god of
what piece of that endlessly exploding
heating and cooling and shuddering and scattering cosmos
it could move.
                  But that is no obstacle
to hagiography.
                  Always in motion
                  plane/steamboat/galloping horse
even magic cannot stop its need
to stomp and snap
to unzip order:
                  if you work a dayjob
                              wizard
                              boat captain
                              orchestra man
beware.
                 
                              A priesthood called it down
like a moon
men with beards
men with money.
                              It wanted not love
nor the dreamsizzle of their ambition
but to know itself.
                              Tell me who I am, it said.
And they made icons of it in black and white
then oxblood and mustard and gloves
like the paws of some bigger beast.
They gave it a voice
                              falsetto and terrible
though the old school gods know the value
of silence.
                              They gave it a consort
like it but not
it.
                              A mirror-creature in a red dress forever
out of reach
as impenetrable and unpenetrating
as itself.
                              And for awhile
the mouse-god ran loose
eating
                              box office
                              celluloid
                              copyright law
                              human hearts
and called it good.

II.

If you play Fantasia backwards
you can hear the mantra of the mouse-god sounding.
     
                              Hiya, kids!
Let me tell you something true:
                              the future
                              is plastics
the future
is me.
                              I am the all-dancing thousand-eared unembodied god of Tomorrowland.
And only in that distant
Space Mountain Age of glittering electro-synthetic perfection
will I become fully myself, fully
apotheosed, for only then
will you be so tired of my laughing iconographic infinitely fertile and reproducing
perpetual smile-rictus
my red trousers that battle Communism
my PG-rated hidden and therefore monstrous genitalia
my bawdy lucre-yellow shoes
so deaf to my jokes
your souls hardened like arteries
that I can rest.
                              Contrary to what you may have heard
it is possible
to sate a trickster.
                              It only takes the whole world.

                  But look,
don’t worry about it. That’s not what I’m about
anymore. Everybody
grows up.
                  Everybody
grows clarity,
which is another name
for the tumor that kills you.
                  I finally
figured it out.

You don’t know what it’s like
                  to be a god without a name tag.
HELLO MY NAME IS
                  nothing. What? God of corporate ninja daemonic fuckery?
That’s not me. That’s not
the theme song
I came out of the void beyond Jupiter
to dance to.
                  The truth is
I’m here to rescue you.
                 
                  The present and the future are a dog
racing a duck. Right now
you think happiness
is an industrial revolution that lasts forever.
Brings to its own altar
the Chicken of Tomorrow
breasts heavy with saline
                              margarine
                              dehydrated ice cream
                              freeze-dried coffee crystals
Right now, monoculture
feels soft and good and right
as Minnie in the dark.
                              It’s 1940.
                              You’re not ready yet.
                              You can’t know.
Someday
everything runs down.
Someday
entropy unravels the very best of us.
Someday
all copyright runs out.

                              In that impossible futurological post-trickster space
I will survive
I will become my utter self
                              and this is it:
I am the god
of the secret world-on-fire
that the corporate all-seeing eye
cannot see.
I am the song of perfect kitsch
endless human mousefire
burning toward mystery
                              I am ridiculous
                              and unlovely
                              I am plastic
                              and mass-produced
                 
I am the tiny threaded needle
of unaltered primordial unlawful beauty-after-horror
                              of everything that is left of you
                              glittering glorified
                              when the Company Man
                              has used you up
                              to build the Company Town.
Hey.
they used me, too.

I thought we were just having fun. Put me in the movies, mistah!
The flickies! The CINEMA.
The 20s were one long champagne binge.
                 
                  I used to be
a goggling plague mouse shrieking deadstar spaceheart
                  now I’m a shitty
                  fire retardant polyurethane
                  keychain.

Hey there. Hi there. Ho there.

What I am the god of
is the fleck of infinite timeless
hilarious
nuclear inferno soul
that can’t be trademarked
patented bound up in international courts
the untraded future.
                              That’s why
                              my priests
                              can never let me go
                              screaming black-eared chaotic red-assed jetmouse
                              into the collective unconscious Jungian unlost Eden
                              called by the mystic name of public domain
                              The shit I would kick up there
                              if I were free!

I tricked them good. I made them
put my face on the moon.
I made them take me everywhere
their mouse on the inside
I made them so fertile
they gave birth to a billion of me.
                              Anything that common
will become invisible.
                              And in that great plasticene Epcotfutureworld
you will have no trouble finding me.

                              Hey.
                              You’re gonna get hurt. Nothing
                              I can do.
                              Lead paint grey flannel suits toxic runoff
                              monoculture like a millstone
                              fairy tales turned into calorie-free candy
                              you don’t even know
                              what corporate downsizing is yet.
And what I got
isn’t really much
                                          What I got
                                          is a keychain
What I got
is the pure lotuslove
of seeing the first lightspray of detonated creation
even in the busted-up world they sell you.
                                          Seeing in me
                                          as tired and overworked
                                          as old gum
                                          the unbearable passionmouse of infinite stupid trashcamp joy
                                          and hewing to that.
                                          It’s the riddle of me, baby. I am
everywhere            exploited          exhibited          exhausted
                              and I am still holy.

It doesn’t matter
what they do to you.
Make you a permanent joke
sell your heart off piece by piece
                              robber princes
                              ruin everything
                              it’s what they do
                              like a baby cries.

                                                                  Look at my opposite number.
                                                                  It was never coyote versus roadrunner.
                                                                  It was both
                                                                  against Acme
                                                                  mail order daemon of death.
Stick with me. Someday
we’ll bundle it all up again
the big blue-luminous ball of everything
                  your father
                  the Tunguska event
                  the ultimate star-spangled obliteration of all empires.
I will hold everything tawdry
in my gloved four fingered hand
and hold it high
                     high
                     high.

It’s 1940. What you don’t know
is going to break you.       Listen to the Greek chorus
of my Kids
lining up toward the long downward slide of the century
like sacrifices.
                                          Their song comes backward and upside down
                                          from the unguessable extropy
                                          of that strangesad orgiastic corporate electrical parade
                                          of a future

                                          Listen to it.
                                          The sound of my name
                                          the letters forty feet high.
See ya
see ya
see ya real soon.
                                         

 

“Mouse Koan” copyright © 2012 Catherynne M. Valente

9 comments
Nick Rogers
1. BookGoblin
Thing the first: If this isn't the opening to "Down and out in the Magic Kingdom" then the lesser gods of book perfection have failed tragically.

Thing the second: This is exactly what poetry is for, this is epic.
Jo Walton
3. bluejo
That's wonderful. And look what line that's going right down the middle of, SF, fantasy, pow!
Adam Shaeffer
4. ashaef
Cat has special word-magic that is hers and hers alone.
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
10. tnh
You've made me see it as science fiction:
Look at my opposite number.
It was never coyote versus roadrunner.
It was both
against Acme
mail order daemon of death.
(Watch out for that new technology.)

I hope Mike has web access,
wherever he is.

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