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.
In the beginning of everything
I mean the real beginning
the only show in town
was a super-condensed blue-luminous ball
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
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
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,
started showing up around 1928. Your basic
making music out of goat bellies
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.
have problems with identity, too. No better
they have midlife crises
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
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
Always in motion
even magic cannot stop its need
to stomp and snap
to unzip order:
if you work a dayjob
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
They gave it a consort
like it but not
A mirror-creature in a red dress forever
out of reach
as impenetrable and unpenetrating
And for awhile
the mouse-god ran loose
and called it good.
If you play Fantasia backwards
you can hear the mantra of the mouse-god sounding.
Let me tell you something true:
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
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.
don’t worry about it. That’s not what I’m about
which is another name
for the tumor that kills you.
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
dehydrated ice cream
freeze-dried coffee crystals
Right now, monoculture
feels soft and good and right
as Minnie in the dark.
You’re not ready yet.
You can’t know.
everything runs down.
entropy unravels the very best of us.
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
I am the song of perfect kitsch
endless human mousefire
burning toward mystery
I am ridiculous
I am plastic
I am the tiny threaded needle
of unaltered primordial unlawful beauty-after-horror
of everything that is left of you
when the Company Man
has used you up
to build the Company Town.
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
Hey there. Hi there. Ho there.
What I am the god of
is the fleck of infinite timeless
nuclear inferno soul
that can’t be trademarked
patented bound up in international courts
the untraded future.
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.
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
it’s what they do
like a baby cries.
Look at my opposite number.
It was never coyote versus roadrunner.
It was both
mail order daemon of death.
Stick with me. Someday
we’ll bundle it all up again
the big blue-luminous ball of everything
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
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
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 real soon.
“Mouse Koan” copyright © 2012 Catherynne M. Valente