A note about “Sisyphus Walks”

/ April 28th, 2011 / No Comments »

About six years ago my buddy Charlie Saplak and I collaborated on a short story that re-imagines the Greek myth of Sisyphus, condemned to push a boulder uphill in Hell until it grows too heavy and rolls over top of him — after which he has to start all over again. Squish; repeat. In our version he has to reassemble the bodies of titans who have been torn apart by some cataclysm, but his work is always undone before he can finish.

During the composing process, Charlie asked me to consider writing a poem that would flesh out some of the details of this new Sisyphus’ world, and “Sisyphus Walks” is the result. The short story, which has yet to find a home, ended up quite different from the all-out surreal approach I went for in the poem, which borrows much of its imagery from a strange dream I had of a desolate landscape with pipes protruding up from the red, barren ground, through which can be heard voices carried from unseen caverns fathoms below the surface.

This happened to be the poem I had handy when Jessica Wick of Goblin Fruit invited me to submit to their first issue. Her co-editor, Amal El-Mohtar, who I hadn’t yet gotten to know, improved the piece considerably with a handful of edits.

To think that half a decade has passed since then; Goblin Fruit just celebrated its 5th anniversary with a terrific new issue. How time flies …

(Read and hear the poem here.)

Poems from The Journey to Kailash XI

/ April 28th, 2011 / 2 Comments »

Sisyphus Walks

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Sisyphus lifts the thighbone of a god
Above his head (a bone thick and long as
A felled tree) and begins his trudge
Across the hard-packed dust.

Spills of silver fluid blanket uneven stone,
Not pooling in hollows but spreading in
Thin film atop the ground, slick sheets
Draped over surface, that part rather than
Splash as Sisyphus steps through.

Pipes, metal, ceramic, cracked, of
Unpredictable diameter rise from valley floor
As breathing tubes from water; some protrude
Through mounds of bone. Ragged
Openings echo voices from some
Place deep below, their syllables
Forming no language Sisyphus knows.

Sheer black rock bluffs rise from the plain,
Jagged walls carving empty ocean basin
Into this bewildering maze where Sisyphus
Is never lost as he walks, titan bone
Balanced over head, around and over other
Cyclopean remains, charred pelvises or ribs,
A jaw bone that rocks itself, still eager to speak,
Fingers long as Sisyphus’ legs crooking
Come Hither. Sisyphus has seen all before
And ignores.

From these bleak walls towers rise, not built
So much as grown, or eroded, stalagmites
Stabbing into oilslick sky. At intervals,
Massed clusters rise as castles, their rough
Battlements riddled with windows, round portholes
Peppered at random, even bored into unsculpted
Bluffs; sometimes faces peer from them,
Bestial visages, or smooth masks, or things
Much more indistinct. They never speak, and in
A blink have gone. On them, Sisyphus
Wastes no wonder.

Shadows in the maze constantly change,
Thrown by whatever arch the spines of the sun
Choose to sweep as it twists and squirms
Cross-sky, a glowing wyrm whose radiance
Brings no heat, its soft progress sometimes
Thwarted by coils of sickly rainbow cloud,
Sometimes whipped along in eddies
Of a firmament where colors never blend.
Like Sisyphus the sun never settles or sets,
Merely strains against confinement, thrashing
To all compass points and back again.
Sisyphus remembers a moon, complex
Mobile of cold beauty, intricate pieces that
Spun and interwove; but like the night,
It’s banished; he can’t remember when
He last saw it shimmer above.

Pushing against the grain of a wind
That sucks and blows as breath,
Sisyphus arrives at last at neat fields
Carved at random by castle shadows.
This is his destination, though no place of rest.
Among the ordered rows of bone
He walks, until he comes to a tract where
Parts of a behemoth skeleton
Lie ceremonially on the ground,
Arranged as one should be;
Shoulders above ribs, feet below knees;
Gingerly, he lowers thighbone into place.
No arms yet, no hands, no head.
Sisyphus walks away, with countless
More bones to search among
To find and collect the right ones.

Once this god is together again,
Perhaps it will tell him why it placed
Him here, why night never comes,
Whether Sisyphus has at last
Repaid his long-forgotten debt.
And if it has no such to say,
Then he will begin again
With another one.




“Sisyphus Walks” and accompanying reading first appeared online in Goblin Fruit, Issue 1, April 2006. Copyright © 2006 by Mike Allen. Art: “Sisyphus” by Franz von Stuck, 1920.

For the record (Mythic Delirium 24 update)

/ April 27th, 2011 / No Comments »

The final bit of interior art for the upcoming issue is in. Paula Friedlander and Tim Mullins came up with one illustration each for Elissa Malcohn’s “The Last Dragon Slayer,” creating an interesting (and deliberate) contrast….

Paula's dragon

Tim's Dragon

A note about “No One”

/ April 27th, 2011 / 1 Comment »

Another domestic poem, born out of nothing more than strange noises regularly heard at night outside my window in the very office where I now sit.  The poem’s approach owes a great debt to the wonderful ending of Thomas Ligotti’s horror story “Nethescurial,” which is why I eventually dedicated the poem to him. As luck would have it, I actually got to show the poem to Ligotti himself, and he dug it and told me he felt honored. So I suppose I can die gruesomely happy.

(Read and hear the poem here.)

The chest is filled to the brim with buttons, of just about every kind you think could exist

/ April 27th, 2011 / No Comments »

My short story “The Button Bin” is now available online in its entirety at Apex Magazine.

Poems from The Journey to Kailash X

/ April 27th, 2011 / 1 Comment »

No One

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I do not hear a tapping
beside me at the window.
I will not raise the shade.
I will not see eyes there,
silver with reflected moonlight,
the same eyes that flashed

outside the attic window
as I peered up the dark stairwell
three long nights ago.
What face could have those eyes?
It doesn’t matter, I tell myself.
I did not see them.

The scratching on the pane
I hear is just a branch
striking the glass.
There is no tree
next to my window,
but listen how the wind breathes —

it must have blown a branch down
from elsewhere in the yard.
The noise is relentless,
but tonight I’ll leave it be,
stay here in my pool of light,
with my bookshelves and papers

and the comforting sounds
of my fingers on the keys.
There is no need
to indulge this growing impulse
to reach out, tug the shade,
unlatch the sash.

There is no pale face
waiting in the dark.
No one is screaming.




            for Thomas Ligotti


“No One” first appeared in Dreams & Nightmares #62, 2002. Copyright © 2002 by Mike Allen. Reading by the author, © 2008. Art: Detail from “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters” by Francisco de Goya, 1799.

A note about “Disaster at the BrainBank™ ATM”

/ April 26th, 2011 / No Comments »

A real-life version of this poem actually happened to us, years ago. A teller at our bank mistyped our account number, causing a deposit to vanish into non-existent account limbo. And of course when we wrote checks based on the not-unreasonable assumption that our money had not just spontaneously disappeared into an alternate dimension, we were penalized with steep overdraft fees. As I recall, the bank branch manager argued that it was our responsibility to catch the screw-up … It probably won’t surprise you that we cancelled our accounts with said bank soon after. This poem basically riffs on that incident, with the details given a what-if spin and seasoned with a dash of (dark) humor.

(Read and hear the poem here.)

Poems from The Journey to Kailash IX

/ April 26th, 2011 / 1 Comment »

Disaster at the BrainBank™ ATM

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We’re sorry, we’ve misfiled your personality,
and deposited your childhood memories
in someone else’s account. We warned you:
we’ve just upgraded, you must protect
your own persona till the bugs smooth out.
It seems you’ve far surpassed your limit
In altruistic reverie, we’ve deducted two
life-changing epiphanies for each infraction
(our standard fee) and provided you with
four new subconscious anxieties as insurance
against our own liability. Now here’s your requested
pleasure center stimulation. Have a Nice Daydream™.





“Disaster at the Brainbank™ ATM” first appeared in Talebones, Oct. 1998. Copyright © 1998 by Mike Allen. Reading by the author, © 2008. Art: Images courtesy of Wikipedia.

A note about “Giving Back to the Muse”

/ April 25th, 2011 / No Comments »

This poem means to be a reversal of the typical poet-muse relationship; I once called it an “anti-muse” poem and was corrected — by a YouTube commenter! — that it’s still a tribute, in its own way.

And for some reason, I slipped in a Marshall McLuhan reference. That’s what an advanced degree does for one.

(Read and hear the poem here.)

A Mythic Delirium announcement and reminder

/ April 25th, 2011 / No Comments »

Hey, folks, two things.

First, as you might have guessed by now, Mythic Delirium 24 isn’t going to make its target release date of April. These things happen in the realm of DIY small press projects … I’m waiting on cover artist Tim Mullins to finish his newest cover and also to complete an interior illustration. Once those things are done, we launch. (Everything else is ready.)

Second, this is the final week to submit poems to be considered for publication in Issue 25. The reading window will shut down at the end of May 1. (Guidelines are here if you need a refresher.)

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