Potter’s Wheel

She speaks inside me, sitting as she always does at her potter’s wheel. The clay spins and her leg moves in a comforting rhythm while her fingers, gnarled and veiny with age, gracefully work a stubborn lump of red clay into something beautiful, useful, and unique. Her voice has all the cadence of a magician’s incantation, the words rolling and filled with diphthongs. In her voice is the hills, the crystal-clear creeks, and a tree-trimmed sky.

She is patient. She works the clay, her nails darkening with the earth. Her leg does not cease its rhythmic movement. “The land is our life,” she says, watery eyes squinting as she molds the clay. “Our life and our future. Never forget her, child.”

I nod, though I do not understand at first – for I am young and foolish, and the crone seated before me is many lifetimes old, and her wisdom is the wisdom of the ages. The hum of the potter’s wheel continues, the image of the white-haired crone fading into the blackness behind my eyes.

I open them. Above me is the heavy gray of a sky promising rain.

Water is life.’ I think. ‘Because we are water.

Air is life.’ I know, breathing deep. ‘Because without it, we perish.

Fire is life.’ I remember, feeling the heartbeat in my chest. ‘Because our hearts are filled with fire.

“The land is our life,” I say, hearing the crone’s voice mix with my voice. “And our future. We must never forget the land.”

Happy Winter Solstice everyone.

(Image belongs to Lane Brown and can be purchased @ https://www.inprnt.com/gallery/lane/crone/ )

With Mortified Fondness

In many ways, I was a typical teenager. I spent a great deal of time in my room. I listened to music and wished I was anywhere but where I was at any particular moment. And starting sometime during my sixth-grade year (I was eleven at the time), I started writing poetry.

I fell in love with Edgar Allen Poe. I had dedicated journals where I would painstakingly copy the flowery, overwrought poetry I’d ‘perfected’ on simple notebook paper several hours before, and I suspected that one day they would become collectors’ items when I was older and much, much more famous.

I still have those journals. Sometimes I open them up, sift through the pages, and feel mortified fondness for the poems written there.

My poetic style is more sparse than before; I became enamored with haiku and tanka and never really looked back. It is very difficult for me to write a poem that expands beyond a half a page. But that poetry was the beginning of so much more…

Like most poets (and writers in general), the same themes come up all the time in my work.

Despite what some think when they meet me in real life, my inner world can be quite dark and filled with shadows.

Themes of loneliness and heartbreak abound. A turbulent and fractured spirituality colors perception and experiences. The desire for connection is overwhelming and the emotional distance between myself and others seems quite real.

It’s one of the reasons I love Poe so much.

His work is romantic and melancholy, much of his work is somewhat autobiographical, and there is a spirituality in his words and his imagery that feels just as real as it is symbolic. It resonates for me now just as strongly as it did when I was an adolescent.

In addition to other projects, such as “The Bells of Reine” – a short fiction inspired in a loose sort of way by Poe’s poem “The Bells” – and my haiku anthology, I’m compiling a collection of poetry and short fiction entitled “Ophelia’s Tears”.

“Ophelia’s Tears” will explore themes of romance, heartbreak, my struggle with gender stereotypes, bisexuality, as well as darker elements like anger, trauma, and feelings of despair.

Some of those poems and short works will ultimately preview here on The Writings of J.S. White and I hope you enjoy them if, and when, they make their appearances. It is also my hope that they will resonate with you as much as Poe so often resonated with me.

Necessary – a short story

The landscape was awash in tones of red and burnished gold, rays of light stretching from the horizon across a vast rocky plain until they touched the research station’s meter-thick, leaded glass barrier. Outside the barrier, perhaps two thousand meters across the plain, the great maw of a vast canyon remained in shadow, a black stain on the ravaged surface of the planet.

Ru’man Kreylur blinked twin eyelids against the glare of the ruddy sun and, feeling a touch of whimsy, imagined its radiation seeping through the glass barrier into his body. There was warmth and there was pain as his body changed, molded, mutated, into the smaller and softer body of a human.

There was a huff of annoyance behind him. “You can go blind that way, you know. Parents used to warn their children all the time about staring into the sun.”

Ru’man smiled but did not turn. The image of himself as human faded and he was once again looking out over the rocky plain beyond. His reply was light-hearted, playful. “Is that what happened to you, Dr. Brennan? Did you stare too long at the sun? I can hardly imagine you as a disobedient child.”

A chair scraped. He heard the soft footsteps of his companion cross the room and stop next to him. Ru’man turned to face Dr. Elizabeth Brennan, took in the filmy blue color of her pupils; the pupils that used to be brown. He saw the burn scars covering one side of her head, glossing over the small audio implant where her ear ought to be, then down the column of her neck until it disappeared into the neckline of her shapeless tunic.

She did not look at him, her eyes gazing sightless out the same barrier he had been peering from moments earlier. The ruddy light of the earth’s sun gave her a youthful, flushed glow.

“You know better than to ask such ridiculous questions, Ru’man.” She chided. “Now are you going to tell me what’s got you preoccupied? Or must I resign myself to getting no work done today?”

Ru’man’s smile broadened and he touched his colleague’s shorn head, his sensitive finger pads delighting in the light fuzz of new growth. Dr. Brennan pursed her lips and removed his hand. “You know I dislike it when you do that.”

Chastised, Ru’man turned back towards the barrier and folded his hands behind his back. “I was thinking about when my people first arrived here. How different it all looked before the Wars. I was imagining I had been created as one of you…that I looked like you, thought like you. It’s one of my favorite distractions.”

Dr. Brennan did not answer but reached out to touch the barrier with one hand, her five digits splayed across the reflective surface. Ru’man noted that she had kept her small nails clear today. It was foolish perhaps, but fact that Dr. Brennan had left them clear and uncolored pleased him.

Over their years of working together, Ru’man had come to take pleasure in a great many things Dr. Brennan did or did not do. Unlike his own people, humans were infinite in their idiosyncrasies. They never ceased to amuse him.

“The barrier feels warm today, but not as warm as yesterday.” She frowned, withdrawing her hand. “Is it evening already?”

“It is. I thought we could work during the earth’s nocturnal cycle instead of the day for the remainder of our stay here. In this manner, we can conserve energy otherwise lost while the dampeners are in place.”

“That would be advantageous,” Dr. Brennan agreed. “We could stay at the station longer before the others retrieved us. Maybe even another week.”

“Precisely…though it wasn’t the only factor I considered.”

He refrained from touching her head despite his overwhelming desire to do so. Instead, he returned to his workstation and sat down, clearing his breathing passages as he went. He did not wish for her to become angry with him again.

From his place across the room, he watched as the sun’s red tones bled from his colleague’s face, returning it to its usual, mournful pallor. She spent too much time within the Conservatory, too little time outside the walls and too little with her own people.

“We were unable to use the dampeners because of a minor systems failure yesterday. Your species is more vulnerable to gamma radiation than mine, and it was only when I noticed how unwell you became that I remembered. It disturbed me and I wanted to ensure it did not happen again. ”

“That was thoughtful of you.” Dr. Brennan said after a moment’s pause. “Thank you.”

“I will always try to be thoughtful of you, even when my superiors do not,” Ru’man said, fighting the urge to clear his passages again. The environmental controls weren’t to his preferences, the air within the workspace too moist. To take his mind off the discomfort, he moved data pads about, shuffling them into a more efficient order. “Courtesy and manners, you know.”

Following him, Dr. Brennan sat down at her own workstation, picked up the case of tiny, pin-like audio chips, selected one, and slipped it expertly into her audio implant. Instead of getting back to work, she paused and looked over towards him. Her glazed eyes seemed to consider him.

“You know, Ru’man, it’s quite interesting. Manners are a product of culture. What’s seen as rude in one culture might be nothing more than polite discourse in another. In the same way, if you remember the Histories, an act of peace to my people was seen as an act of war to yours two hundred years ago.”

“Yes, quite an unfortunate misunderstanding,” Ru’man said, looking away from her. The Histories were something he didn’t like to discuss. He enjoyed working with Dr. Brennan; she was intelligent, practical, and endlessly fascinating. Yet, whenever the Histories were brought up between them, there was always a sense of tension in the air, one he found far more uncomfortable than the too-moist air.

“It would have been quite beneficial to both of our species had things gone differently, Dr. Brennon. Don’t you agree?”

He chanced a glance upward. Dr. Brennan was running her hand over her shorn head and looking away from him, back towards the leaded barrier and the glowing red sun beyond it.

“My people are in the minority now, Ru’man. It is only necessary, I suppose, that the manners and morals we once held as ideal are supplanted by those in the majority. That is certainly the opinion of many a historian, but that doesn’t mean I must agree with them. Or with you for that matter. I hope that won’t be misunderstood.”

It was Ru’man’s turn to be silent. He blinked his twin eyelids and tried once more to slid into his fantasy of molding, mutating into a human, but it seemed hollow somehow. False and vulgar.

He looked towards the landscape outside, with its blazing sun and shadowed canyon, at the planet which, having birthed the human species from the soup of creations eons ago, now held them in a decaying repose.

“It may be necessary, Dr. Brennan, but I find it regrettable. I am Su’ulian, not human as you are, and I often fail in understanding much of what there is to know about your people. However, I would give you every courtesy I could manage as I find you infinitely worthy of courtesy.”

For the briefest moment, Dr. Brennan’s face was flushed with red, as though the dying sun outside the barrier had not fled beneath the horizon. The slender column of her throat moved as though she needed to clear her breathing passages as well, but the moment passed, her usual expression returned, and Ru’man was left wondering if their conversation was over.

Uncertain, he picked up a data pad of atmospheric readings and tried to return to his work, but Dr. Brennan broke the silence once more, surprising him.

“Thank you.”

“No thanks are necessary,” Ru’man replied quickly and scrolled through the data pad. A different sort of discomfort was pulsing inside his chest cavity.

“No, it is quite necessary.” Dr. Brennan argued. “You are my dearest friend and I want you to know that.”

Ru’man Kreylur felt a rush of warmth flow through him so strong that he almost glanced up and gave himself away. His twin eyelids blinked and blinked again as he bent over his workstation. It was inconceivable that Dr. Brennan’s words have such an effect on him, but they did.

To be Su’ulian was to be polite, impartial, indifferent…but in that moment, Ru’man had never struggled so hard to remain that way. Against his strongest instinct, he met Dr. Brennan’s cloudy gaze and gave her his best imitation of a human smile.

“I believe I feel the same.”

Copyright © J.S. White

Image property of Lewis Moorcroft

The Garden Fairy – a tale of magic and friendship

Grandmother was a kind old woman who lived in a small house near the woods. She lived in the house all alone for her husband had died many years ago. She found joy in all the small things of life, but tending her garden was her favorite thing to do to pass the time.

Now Grandmother’s garden was not like other gardens tended by other old women. In fact, it was very special. It was special because living within it, among the many flowers and aromatic plants, was a fairy. The fairy’s name was Lily.

Grandmother did not realize it, but Lily helped her plants grow tall and beautiful every spring and summer. Every day, the little fairy would fly unseen between the dancing flowers, lush leaves, and sheltering bushes, sprinkling magic on them to make them grow.

The reason Grandmother never saw Lily was because when the old woman would go out in the mornings and the evenings to water the plants and weed the flower beds, Lily would fly high above her head and land on the top of her wide-brimmed hat. When Grandmother tended to her plants, she would often talk to herself. Not only did she talk to keep herself company, but she also talked to make the plants feel at home.

Lily liked to listen to Grandmother talk because she thought Grandmother told the best stories.

Now, in the fall and winter, when the plants in the garden would wither and sleep, when no flowers ever grew and Grandmother seldom went outside, Lily would sneak inside the old woman’s small house. She would watch her hard at work at cleaning house, or mending clothes, or cooking.

On the coldest nights, when the wind would blow from the north, Grandmother would shiver in her bed, and Lily would come out from whatever hiding place she’d found that day. Sprinkling magic, she would make sure the old woman’s fire would burn long into the night. Then, because it was often late and she was tired from hiding all day, Lily would make her bed in the old woman’s long, silver hair, and sleep until the early hours of the morning.

This went on for a long time. But as time passed, Grandmother grew older and frailer still until she was no longer able to work in the garden at all. Each day when she was finished with her chores inside the house, which began to take longer and longer, Grandmother would sit on a little bench just outside the door of her home. She continued to talk to the plants and continued to tell her stories. And Lily continued to sprinkle magic on the garden and to listen to Grandmother’s stories.

The winter was a sad time for Grandmother. The flowers in the garden would wilt, the fragrant bushes and other plants lost their aroma and their leaves, and the harsh weather kept her inside for days at a time. One particularly blustery day, snow began to fall. Even Lily’s magic was not enough to keep the house comfortably warm, and cozy, and Grandmother soon became ill.

Unconcerned with staying hidden, Lily took care of the old woman as best as she could. As the snow melted and she was able to venture out into the woods, Lily brought back what food she could to Grandmother. Sometimes she had to fly very far and when she retuned her wings would ache and she would lay beside the old woman, curled up in her silver hair, and together they would sleep the day away.

At last, the sickness seemed to pass.

One day, after Lily returned from the woods, she found Grandmother out in the garden. The sunlight set the old woman’s silver hair gleaming and there was a peaceful smile on her face as Lily settled gently on her shoulder. The old woman’s gnarled hands were covered with soil and where she knelt on the ground, there was a small pile of weeds.

“This garden is special to me,” the old woman said. “My husband, when he was living, planted all these flowers when we wed. I was so happy and together we lived a good life. Now that he is gone, I thought I had only my flowers. Our children grew and moved far away, and they do not visit. For a long time, I was very lonely, but I understand now that I was never alone. You were here with me, little one.”

“Yes.” Lily said, clutching the woman’s silver hair. “Your garden is beautiful. I like living here and I like hearing your stories.”

“I am glad,” the woman said, reaching up and patting the fairy’s head with one gnarled finger, “and I am sorry that I will leave you just as my husband once left me. But you mustn’t be sad, little one. For wherever there are flowers, I am there as well…and if you listen closely enough, you will hear me. Telling you stories, as I always have.”

The two of them spent their time in garden after that. Grandmother would pull the weeds and Lily would sprinkle magic and they shared many stories with each other before the setting of the sun. When the time for sleeping came, Lily was too frightened to close her eyes and the old woman smiled.

“Do not be frightened. I am simply going to another garden elsewhere, dear child. There will be many flowers, more beautiful than you can ever imagine.”

“But I want to go with you.” Lily protested, clutching the woman’s hair. “I am small and quiet; I promise I won’t take up much room.”

As she had that morning as they worked side by side, Grandmother patted Lily gently on the head, and with her last words, said, “My child, there will always be room in my garden for you.”

So it was that the old woman passed away.

Grandmother’s children came and buried her among the bushes and flowers she had loved throughout her life and when they left, Lily was left alone. She could not bring herself to leave the small house by the woods where she had spent many happy moments with Grandmother in her garden.

The old house remained empty and soon came to ruin, but those that lived in the area told stories of a magnificent garden that never died. No matter what time of the year it was, or how hard the rain fell. No matter how cold the wind blew or how deep the snow became, the garden that held Grandmother’s resting place always remained covered in rich, fragrant flowers.

Some even said it was magic.

Copyright © J.S. White