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Ms. Mercure opines that even when faced by carnivorous vegetation spiritual motivation is still to be had by a delicate turn of phrase…



Warrior Poets



Bonnie Mercure




            Uncle Melvin referred to our family as warrior poets.  By day, we fought to defend our land, and at night, by the crackle of the fireplace, Uncle Melvin read from the tattered book titled Greatest Poets of all Time.  The book was over two-hundred  years old, the pages yellow and thin.  They looked ready to crumble into oblivion at the slightest touch, but my great grandfather, Ludwick Smith, had the pages laminated before his death.  Nevertheless, the book was worse for wear.  It was used a lot.  Greatest Poets of all time was the only book our family owned.  We once had a Bible, the condensed edition, but Granny Jules fed it to a creepy ten years ago, when one dug its way under our fence and crept into our vegetable garden.


            Uncle Melvin, a grin on his dirt-smeared face, wiped his grimy hands on the front of his shirt and said to me, “Walt, would you be so kind and fetch the book?”


            “Of course, Uncle,” I said, already on my feet.  I had expected his request even before he spoke.  We’d just finished our nightly meal-- Mother’s specialty of boiled turnips and diced garden worms.  It had been a special occasion; today, our family had killed over a dozen madcons.  It would be a fine night for poetry.


            “I’d like to request a work by Whitman,” I heard my brother John say as I slipped from the room.  “The night calls for Whitman, I think.”


            Mother was in the kitchen, humming as she used a sheet of wax paper to roll the leftovers in.  She smiled as I strolled by.  “You did well today, killing two madcons.” 


            She swung her arm through the air in an imitation of me decapitating a madcon’s three heads.


            I nodded, pride swelling in my chest.  “I saved the life of a human.  A madcon was about to strike a man from the village.”


            Mother kissed my cheeks.  I breathed in and inhaled her scent, a mixture of old sweat and fresh earth.  “You’re a true warrior poet.”


            I headed to the upstairs loft.  Eleven mattresses lined the wall; ripped quilts neatly rested on top of them.   Four mattresses were currently not in use--they had belonged to two of my older brothers, my cousin and my aunt, all killed in battle.  Their names were  on the far wall by the window, carved carefully with Great Grandfather Ludwick’s pocketknife.  The list of family members who’d died in battle in the last two hundred years covered three-quarters of the wall. 


            I reached beneath Uncle Melvin’s mattress and retrieved a dented metal box.  Nestled in a groove in the wooden floor was a key, impossible to see unless you knew it was there.  The chatter of the rest of the family rose between the floor boards.  As I opened the box, I sensed their anticipation, a need that grew in them every night--a hunger for beauty and purity after a day of bloodshed.  It was a hunger that could only be filled by poetry.


            When I opened Uncle’s box, my heart rose to my throat.  The book was gone. 


            Unable to believe it, I tipped the box upside down.  The picture Uncle Melvin kept of our ancestors fluttered to the floor.  I picked it up and peered at the ancient faces; faces that were strange yet hauntingly familiar.  A man who looked a little like Father stood with his arm around a woman who had my younger sister Anna’s wild black hair.  Only the woman in the picture had her hair pulled back to reveal a flawless, pampered face.  They stood on a lush carpet of green uninhibited by metal wires and rusty chains to keep madcons and creepers out.  Beside them stood our house, sturdy and unspoiled, gleaming white under the sun.  Other than the shape and slope of the roof, I wouldn’t believe it was the same eroded, crumbling house we lived in. 


            I peered at my ancestors smiling faces, at their foreign, shameless happiness, and desperation stole over me.  Where could Greatest Poets of all Time be?  Uncle Melvin never moved it.  No one was allowed to look at it by themselves, only with the family unit.


            I put the old photograph back into the box and stood.  Fear settled heavy in my stomach.  Had a creeper sneaked in here?  I surveyed the room, expecting to see a hairy tentacle inching across the floor, ready to curl around my ankle.  But no.  It wasn’t in a creeper’s nature to hide.  They craved human possessions--objects that were so cherished they took on a life of their own--but they lacked the intelligence to conceal themselves.


            “Walt!” Uncle Melvin yelled.  “Did you get lost up there?”


            His voice was still light-hearted, but I heard an edge of uneasiness.  My skin prickled with chills.  How would my family live without the book?


            “I’m coming,” I yelled, and started down the rickety stairs.  Perhaps there was a logical explanation--Uncle would remember that he moved the book to a different spot, perhaps, or another family member took it out without permission and forgot to put it back.  There would be tender chastising, then we would have a hearty laugh and go on with our nightly reading of Greatest Poets of all time.


            Uncle Melvin and Father stood when I entered the room, their meaty hands pressed against their hips.  Father’s gentle face wrinkled with anticipation; Uncle Melvin’s eyes narrowed into slits.  The rest of the family stared at my empty hands.  The dying rays of sunlight filtering through the window made their faces appear crude and distorted.


            “It’s not in the box,” I said softly.


            Uncle Melvin wiped beads of sweat from his brow.  “Not in the box?”


            “Not in the box,” I answered.


            “Gone?” Father whispered.


            I nodded.  “Gone.”


            Uncle Melvin opened his mouth to speak, but no words came.  Just a hiss of air that reminded me of the sound the madcons make before they strike.  


            “Melvin?” Father laid a hand on Uncle’s shoulder. 


            Uncle Melvin emitted another hiss then, eyes rolling back to reveal only white, passed out.


                                                                        * * *


            The madcons came out of the forest in droves, their wispy arms outstretched, clawing the air in front of them.  Their forms were dark and slick, like oil, and they stood around ten feet tall.  They moved with a strange grace: they seemed to glide through the field, their pole-like legs barely moving at all. 


            I turned to Uncle Melvin.  His gaze was drawn to far off horizons, and not on the approaching madcoms.  A tear trickled from the corner of his eye and smeared his dirty cheek.


            “Get ready,” I whispered. 


            He nodded, though I could tell he wasn‘t listening.  Since Greatest Poets of all time was found to be missing last night he hadn’t spoken a word.


            Who had taken the book?  Surely it had been fed to a creeper, and no one would admit to it.  Everyone suspected Granny Jules, but she claimed she hadn’t seen a creeper in months.  The only other person home all day was my sister Anna, who was too young to go into battle. 


             The madcons’ sleek shadows played across the ground as they drew closer, and their three heads sprouted like weeds from their shoulders.  Their mouths, crammed with dagger-sharp teeth, opened wide to greet the morning. 


            I clenched my ax, and, as I always did before battle, I recalled the words of my favorite poem by a man named Dylan Thomas.


            Do not go gentle into that good night...


            Every night the madcons sank into the ground, only to rise again at the first light of day.  In order to destroy the madcons, the remaining human race would have to torch the earth in the dead of night. 


            But now we didn't fight for humankind.  We fought for our village and our community.  We fought with the hope the madcons would move on to another village and leave us alone for a season.


            Old age should burn and rave at close of day...


            The madcons opened their mighty mouths wider and emitted snake-like hisses.  Uncle Melvin, in a poetic mood, had once told us the madcons didn’t have any eyes because they lacked souls.  With that thought in mind, I raised my ax, ready to strike.


            Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


            I sliced my ax through the air and split open the dark belly of a madcon.  The madcom screeched and stumbled backward, a thick, black substance oozing from its middle. 


            Father cried beside me.  I turned.  He struggled on the ground while two madcons hovered over him, their six necks craning to get at the delicate flesh of his throat.  I raised my ax and swung at the head closest to my father while, simultaneously, I raised my foot and kicked the other madcon in the midsection and watched as it flew off Father.


            The head of the madcon rolled across the field.  The remaining two heads  shriveled like dried husks and the alien crumpled to the ground.  Father leapt to his feet swinging his ax.  There was no time for thanks.  Other madcons bore down on us.  Screams of villagers, screeches of madcons, filled my ears.  I came to a place inside myself where nothing else existed but killing, and the lines of my favorite poem.


            Do not go gentle into that good night...


            A woman’s head, half her face gnawed off, rolled by my feet.  I kicked it with impatience to get to my next kill.  I was a warrior poet, and nothing else mattered.




            When twilight came and the madcons sank into the ground, the creepers came.


They waded through the carnage, hairy tentacles grasping bits of flesh and bone.  I sensed their hunger, their need for emotion, for something tangible to fill them.  It was said that the madcons brought the creepers with them from space to guard the earth while they  slept.  But that insatiable need within them...where did that come from? 


            They were easy enough to stomp and kill, as long as you didn’t let a tentacle slip around your ankle so they could pull you down to their level. 


            Father and I made our way through the field, trudging through the gore of blood and flesh, stomping on creepers without much thought.  We searched for the rest of the family unit, as we did every evening, but this time fear tightened my stomach and constricted my throat.  Uncle Melvin claimed that there were fewer of our family killed because we possessed Greatest Poets of all time.  The book was our

good luck charm.  And it had always seemed to be true.  We had a lot to be thankful for. 


Our crops were plentiful, and we had the largest remaining family unit left in the village. 


            So it wasn’t much of a surprise when my brother John found Uncle Melvin’s head nestled in the grass beside a trampled creeper.


            Father knelt and cradled Uncle Melvin’s head in his arms.  He whispered something into his brother’s ear I couldn’t hear, then looked up at us.  “The book.  We need to find it.”


            I nodded.  My brother helped Father to his feet and, our beloved uncle’s

head in the crook of Father’s arm, we made our way home.




            We buried Uncle Melvin’s remains in Granny Jules' vegetable garden.  Granny Jewel kissed Uncle’s cheek before placing him into the shallow grave.  Then we stood around the garden without speaking, the night wind caressing our faces. 


            My younger sister Anna was the only one who openly grieved.  Her sobs tore at my heart--raw, primordial cries that cut through the night. I held her close and trailed my fingers through her wild black hair. 


            “The end of warrior poets,” Father said softly.


            Anna trembled against me.  I held her tighter, and suddenly I knew: she was responsible for the lost book. 


            I kissed the top of her head.  “It’s okay, dear one.”


            She tightened her thin arms around me, moaning into the night. 


            “I know and it’s okay,” I whispered in her ear.


            She quieted and looked up at me, her face contorted in pain.  I smoothed down her hair and thought about the picture of our ancestors, the woman’s smiling, pampered face. 


I wished to see that look on my sister’s face, even for a moment.


            “I took the book outside,” she said quietly, so no one else could hear.  “I don’t know what made me do it.  I just thought one time, reading by myself in the sunlight, wouldn’t hurt anything.  Then before I knew it a cold, hairy tentacle wrapped around me. 


I don't know where it came from.  We haven’t seen a creeper around here in months.”


            The other family members trailed inside, shoulders slumped in defeat.  Anna

turned her head to watch them and whispered,  “Will you tell them, Walt?”


            “I won’t.”


            “It’s my fault Uncle Melvin died.”  She lowered her head.  “And  everyone will die because of me.  Our good luck has been shattered.  We’re no longer  warrior poets.”


            I didn’t know what to say to that.  All I could do was hold her close, rock her gently back and forth and tell her I loved her.


                                                                         * * *


            The idea came to me later that night while I was upstairs staring at the names on  the wall.  After we added Uncle Melvin’s name, the others retreated downstairs.  Even from up here I sensed the profuse silence that hung over the family, the fear and uneasiness that shadowed their sprits. 


            I picked up Great Grandfather Ludwick’s knife, which we had used to carve Uncle Melvin’s name on the wall.  Uncle Melvin’s passion embedded deep in my heart, I headed downstairs.


            I held the knife up for everyone to see.  They all watched me with wide, uncertain eyes.


            “Who remembers a favorite poem--committed it to memory?”


             Father stood.  “What’s this about?”


            I looked at Anna, smiled and said, “We can still be warrior poets.”


            Gasps rippled across the room.   A hopeful smile on his face, Father pressed his hands to his heart and said,  “You found the book?”


            “No, but I have a poem.”  I tapped my head.  “In here.”  I tapped my heart.  “And in here.”


            I went to the far wall and wiped the dust and grime off of it with a shirt sleeve.  Then, with careful precision, I carved the words, Greatest Poets of all time.


            Underneath it, I carved In memory of Uncle Melvin.


            I wrote the poem from Dylan Thomas, each word a labor of love.  It took a good amount of time to chisel each verse, but it was well worth the effort.  The poem looked magnificent on our old, crumbling wall, more than a tribute to the dead.  It was a tribute to life, to those left behind.


             When I was done I wrote this:


            Warrior poets, we seek the truth


            Of those who came from space.


            Warrior poets, we seek the truth


            Of those who caused the demise of the human race.


            Warrior poets, we seek the truth


            So we give praise onto the night


            Give up our day to fight when it’s light. 


            Warrior poets, we seek the truth


            But answers are not found.


            The only truth is that warrior poets will live on.


            Father rested his hand on my shoulder.  “That’s beautiful, Walt.”


            I shook my head.  It was nothing like the poetry of two hundred years ago, but it was my own.  It held beauty because it came from my heart.


            I handed the knife to Father, but Anna stepped forward.  “May I go next?”


            “Of course,” Father said.


            I handed the knife to Anna.  She smiled--a smile that bathed her face in a glow and touched her eyes. 


            It was the face in the picture, of our ancestor, and it was beautiful.