Category Archives: Neither duck nor moo

Outpost

I wrote this short story during the latest round of SPARK (a quarterly collaborative event pairing writers and artists), in response to a photograph by Rachel Brown. You can see the two together here.

*

Captain Yang was on watch when exoplanet ZX159c came within view. The sensors showed that gravity was high, but within tolerable levels. The planet had a breathable atmosphere, an ideal temperature range, and initial readings suggested it was teeming with life.

The captain woke up the others – Flight Officer Lin and Science Officer Tan – and all three prepared for the most dangerous part of the journey so far. Their descent through the atmosphere was even more hair-raising than expected, due to strong winds and heavy rain, and Flight Officer Lin had to make an emergency landing.

The spacecraft had come to rest on a rocky plateau near two massive boulders. A sheer cliff face rose above them on one side, and on the other side could be seen the distant glimmer of the ocean.

Despite the sensors’ reassurance that the atmosphere was breathable, the captain insisted that they suit up before they went outside. The rocky terrain was full of undulating ridges and was difficult to traverse.

After walking for about an hour, they came across an enormous conical structure about the same size as the ship, with vertical ridges and subtle bands of colour in green and sandy brown. Science Officer Tan identified it as a giant marine mollusc. When the others looked shocked, she explained that it was almost certainly a herbivore, so posed no danger. Nevertheless, they made sure to give the massive creature a wide berth.

Half an hour or so later, they came to the shore of a lake. Science Officer Tan collected a sample of the liquid from the lake and tested it.

‘It’s water, with fairly high concentrations of dissolved ions. Not drinkable as it is, but it could be made safe to drink through distillation.’

‘Very encouraging,’ beamed Captain Yang. ‘It looks like this planet might be the ideal place for a new colony.’

Flight Officer Lin looked at his watch. ‘Time to head back,’ he said.

*

After the storm, Mary took Barney for a walk along the beach. The little cocker spaniel ran ahead of her, splashing and snuffling in the rock pools.

When it was time to go back home, Mary called Barney to her. As she was putting on his lead, she noticed he had something in his mouth.

‘What have you got there, Barney?’

Mary reached gently into the dog’s mouth and pulled out a little model, about two inches long. This wasn’t the type of cheap plastic toy given away in cereal boxes; it was made out of metal and was beautifully detailed. A child must have left it behind when they were playing on the beach, thought Mary. Well, their prized possession wouldn’t go to waste. She’d give it to her five-year-old grandson, Noah. He had a big collection of toy vehicles, but as far as Mary knew, it didn’t yet include a spacecraft.

 

(C) Helen Lewis, 2018


The Pond

You long for a pool

fit for a Sultan’s palace:

so clear you might span its depth

with the breadth of a little finger;

so still, there’s no way to tell

where water ends and sky begins.

 

But what you’ve got

is a pond choked with pondweed,

its surface churned

by a thousand thrashing fish.

 

You’ve lived with the pond all your life,

but lately a seed inside

has bloomed into a whisper,

‘Get in!’

So here you are at the water’s edge,

discarding clothes

like a snake sheds its skin.

 

You wade out

until you’re treading water,

face drenched with fish-splash.

 

A gentle current pulls you under.

Fish swarm above

like moths around a street light.

As you drop deeper

they melt away

like snowflakes in June.

 

Deeper still,

your little pond

opens wider than the ocean.

With delight you realise

there are no ponds;

there is only water.

 

Then time muscles in

like a night club bouncer

and chucks you out

onto the cold pavement of normality.

 

Shivering,

you tug tangled clothes

over damp skin.

 

Looking back,

the pond’s the same but different:

now strewn with water lilies,

its surface rippled

by a dozen basking koi.

 

(C) Helen Lewis, 2018


On the Whanganui River

I grasp the moment
the way I grasp this paddle –
as lightly as I can,
knuckles still white.

The weight of time
is my ballast –
the ghost of a seal hunter
cutting through ice water.

No glacier-melt here.
The river gorge is a leaking boat
letting in sunlight
to leave me soaking hot.

On the stony sandbank
an installation of
driftwood sculptures
lies artfully abandoned.

Among the tree ferns
and rata vines
cicadas complain incessantly
about the heat.

A harrier hawk rises like a hymn
at the note of my paddle
and then is gone.

(C) Helen Lewis, 2006

______________________________

The Whanganui River is on the North Island of New Zealand. Here’s a link to a couple of short videos about the canoe journey down the Whanganui. 


Meditations on a mountain: five haiku

 

i

sunrise paints the slopes

in semi-precious colours

pearlescent with ice

 

ii

the wind carries the

tang of fresh snow, sends flocks of

prayer flags fluttering

 

iii

rising up from the

monastery the scent of

sandalwood incense

 

iv

sunlight glints off prayer

wheels, inscriptions worn smooth by

a million fingers

 

v

the mountain’s a sand

mandala, washing away

in the stream of time

 

© Helen Lewis, 2013

 

______________________________

I wrote this series of linked haiku during a round of SPARK, in response to a painting by Cynthia Pailet. See the two together here.

 


The Matrix

 

You know that bit

in The Matrix

where Neo wakes up

on a bunk bed,

head shaved,

cheeks like rice paper?

 

Remember how his fingers

scan the back of his skull

like a child reading Braille

and stop

when they find the hole?

 

That’s when he knows

for certain

he’s no longer dreaming.

 

I keep on feeling

the back of my head

but so far,

nothing.

 

© Helen Lewis, 2006


Seasons

 

The season’s turning now. Late summer’s long-held breath

is finally exhaled. Now autumn’s alchemy

has seeped its way inside the trees to turn their leaves

to copper, bronze and gold. The sky’s no longer blue;

its cobalt wash is painted out with layers of grey.

The wind blows cooler, damper, stronger from the sea.

The river’s high and brown, and summer’s dusty paths

have turned to muddy tracks. The scent of wood smoke drifts

inside from down the street. We stack logs on the porch.

I find it strange to think that half a world away

the season’s turning too; that where I once called home

the spring is breezing in, and kissing grey to green.

 

(C) Helen Lewis, 2006 

 


The gift

                                                                                             

You give me love. Its frame is cracked,

its silvered face is pock-marked black.                                                                                              

 

You say, ‘It’s only second-hand,’

I squeeze your arm. I understand.

 

I hang your present in the hall.

I screw it tight so it won’t fall.

 

I gaze beyond the glass and wood.

I never knew I looked this good.

 

 (C) Helen Lewis, 2006

 

 

 


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