Aqua Vitae: A Practical Recipe

by Kurt MacPhearson

Ponce de Leon sought the Fountain of Youth
upon the Isle of Bimini, but instead
he ran aground in Florida
and founded St. Augustine. Ever since then,
people have flocked south,
as if those waters bubble up from the Everglades,
or, perhaps, the dank recesses
of a central Floridian swamp—where cypress stand
a stoic watch, arms outstretched
and roots exposed like legs poised to dance
with demons driving men to drink
without fathoming their thirst for an impossible elixir,
or chemicals churning in an I.V. drip.
Such youth is stale. Like a cracker left out of the box.
Yet south they still go, as if word of this fountain
were only now trickling out
to hospitals,
to clinics,
and gated retirement blocks:
promises clutched in gnarled fists,
orthopedic shoes shuffling to a doctor’s didactic chant.
But the aqua vitae they seek
could never be extracted from a marshy bed,
or by metaphorically delving
the depths of an ailing heart.
Instead, distill legend from bitter truth:
And to this essence apply alchemical flame;
close eyes, conjure Caribbean thoughts,
then sprinkle these ashes
upon a moistened tongue.


My Singularity

Image via

Image via

My Singularity
by Kurt MacPhearson

At this point, everything slows
spaghettification rends
meaning from words
as they plunge
one by one
into the

Nothing escapes

Not even the light of your heart

Poetry Slot Machine: A Triptych

Poetry Slot Machine: A Triptych
by Kurt MacPhearson

feeding                 poised                 wife
coins                     with                      bars
to a                         open sack           front
one-armed         as windows        door
grocer                   display                 I don
for                           abundance        sackcloth
promised             in                            and
cherries                lemons                ashes

I worked on formatting this for 20 minutes and I gave up trying to get the columns to match up. Oh well, that just follows along with the poem’s theme: Nothing works out like you plan.

Barstool Contemplation


by Kurt MacPhearson

The bar is a rubber band
stretched to its limits
with flat beer & watered whiskey
as the ashtray brims
with choke
that I’ve smoked
while thinking & drinking
& trying not to rhyme
with words that fall
like hammer on hand
between nails of a pensive day
bearing the stoic exterior
of an after-hours drinker
& seeing the world
through beer-bottle eyes
not sure whether to live
or to lie
because sober words
require countless drafts
to dilate time
while thinking & drinking
& rhyming all the time

Short Answers (Extended Version)

I suffer from social anxiety. It has rendered me mute or tongue-tied too many times to count. Because of this, I avoid new people whenever possible. I use the self-checkout at the grocery store so I don’t have to talk to the cashier. When it’s time to order pizza, an epic battle between my nerves and my stomach ensues. I once suffered with a broken molar for three weeks because I was too apprehensive over yet another unwanted social interaction to make a dentist appointment. I’ve sought help, so the anxiety isn’t as crippling as it used to be, but there are still times when I believe that my biggest mistake in life was not striking out to the nearest National Park on my eighteenth birthday to become a hermit.

My anxiety affects my personal relationships too. I’ve never been comfortable conversing with people I do know for fear of saying something offensive or that I’ll be misunderstood. And, because negative thoughts are self-defeating thoughts, I’ve often walked away from conversations with friends and family members to look for a crowbar to pry the foot from my mouth. Over the years, I’ve compensated for this by guarding my opinions and responding to questions with short answers.

Short answers have served me well.

A good example of an effective short answer is my response to questions concerning what I do for a living. The short answer is that I inspect engine parts. And it’s the perfect answer, because people rarely ask me to elaborate. Elaborating leads to questions about the manufacturing process. I can’t answer those questions because I’ve never been a part of that process; my entire job consists of examining raw parts for defects. If it sounds boring, that’s because it is. I find it so boring that five minutes into my shift a fog settles over my mind, and I usually get lost in the fog for the duration. Regardless of how I feel about my job; however, it pays the bills.

Raw Camshafts

Raw Camshafts

2mm Nick on Camshaft Lobe

2mm Nick on Camshaft Lobe

Another aspect of my life that I’ve never been comfortable discussing is the fact that I am a poet. I am a poet because I love words. I love words because they have the ability to fit together to form images that are only visible through my mind’s eye. I love to break down words, examine their etymologies as a forensic anthropologist would a body preserved in a tar pit. Then, like an aerospace engineer, I try to rebuild them in new and interesting ways. I’m always thinking about words. I think about words while I’m inspecting parts, mowing the lawn, and even while pretending to listen to my wife. I cannot not think about words.

One of the reasons I rarely tell people I’m a poet is because of the questions I have been asked. One of the most popular concerns the stacks of cash I make writing poetry. This, of course, is a vicious myth. There is no money in poetry. I’ve been writing poetry under a pen name for fifteen years and have sold over 200 individual poems, and I never wrote a poem that paid a bill.

If the questions aren’t about cash, then they’re about subject matter. The short answer is that I write speculative poetry (often referred to as science fiction poetry). The drawback to the short answer is that it usually elicits strange looks and more questions. Questions requiring answers of increasing length and difficulty. And with these questions, my anxiety kicks into overdrive and fires afterburners. My ears buzz and my tongue cleaves to the roof of my mouth with a mental peanut butter so thick that no amount of milk could wash it away. The last thing I want to do is make a fool of myself while attempting to explain my passion.

So, instead of making a fool of myself by speaking, I figured that I could work through my social anxiety issues like any sensible member of the 21st Century: by writing a blog.

What is Speculative Poetry?

The short answer: Speculative poetry is poetry that incorporates science fiction, fantasy, and horror images and themes. Here is an example:

by Kurt MacPhearson

 A nebulous toddlerSTRLNJLGST2010
woven over epochs
into blubbery orange and yellow swirls
with blazing green quasars for eyes
and a single curly tuft of blue
upon its bald, lopsided head
sits as a greedy Buddha
at the edge of space
gobbling galaxies
like peanut clusters
and ignoring the dark matter
stuck between its two gaseous teeth
as it reaches for red giant crumbs
with tentacle fingers
squeezing with avarice
till knuckles form
all the while broadcasting
a collective mine-mine-mine!
in gamma ray belches
from deep within its black gullet
as a warning to the cosmos
should it learn to crawl

Originally appeared in Star*Line, 33.4

I don’t have a longer answer for the definition of speculative poetry. The one I gave suits me fine. These work well, too:

  • “[I]n the speculative poem, the poet presents an unreal world as though presenting a real one.” Mark Rich, “The Idea of the Real,” Strange Horizons
  • “Speculative poetry [as opposed to mainstream poetry] has more to do with the imagination, the world of dreams and the world as it could be.” Bruce Boston, Grand Master speculative poet, interviewed by John Amen, The Pedestal Magazine

Finally, I love reading speculative poetry as much as I like writing it. After all, poetry is all about the words and how they fit together to form provocative imagery. And a great way to get the most of that experience is to listen to poets read aloud their poems. Perhaps one day I’ll muster up the courage to record myself reading one of my poems, but until then, here’s a clip of Neil Gaiman reading his poem, “Instructions.” I hope you enjoy the imagery and wordplay as much as I do.

Terence, Mephisto, and Vicera Eyes by Chris Kelso – A Review

The following is my review (as Kurt MacPhearson) of Terence, Mephisto, and Viscera Eyes by Chris Kelso, which appears in the latest issue of Tales of the Talisman.

Terrence Mephesto cover

In Terence, Mephisto, and Viscera Eyes, the reader is thrust into a bizarre world where nothing is quite right, and it almost seems as if it should be that way. This world, known as the Slave State, unfolds in nine short stories that are not for the faint of heart. The opening story, “The Family Man,” is only a page and a half, yet the sheer brutality described therein sets a tone for the rest of the stories. The title story is told from the point of view of a mistreated dog who, after being castrated, is overcome with the desire to be a writer. “Baptizm of Fire,” set in surreal version of Lagos, Nigeria, descends into a nightmare of both love and murder that pulls the reader deeper and deeper into the horrors of the Slave State. And when the reader finally reaches bottom, the incarnation of the bestial Slave State stares back with eyes dripping with viscera.

Few books have disturbed me. And of those few, none have disturbed as Chris Kelso has in this collection. From the bizarre atmosphere evoked from the first page, all the way to the final, horrific transformation in “Birth, Sex, Death, Stigmata,” I could not stop the mental cringes. The dark imagery, the emotional punches to the groin, the utter emptiness of the loss of control… Dread lurked on every page, yet I had to have more, as if I were searching for hope, though all the while knowing I would never find it.

“Baptizm of Fire” was the blood-curdling and thought-provoking standout of an amazing collection of bizarre fiction deserving of five talismans. If the lasting, disturbing impression this collection has made on me is any sign, Chris Kelso will soon be a major presence in the genre. One that should be feared.

(Terence, Mephisto, and Viscera Eyes, published by Bizzaro Pulp Press, is available here. It’s been a few months since I’ve read it, but I still get shivers when I recall certain scenes in “Baptizm of Fire.”)

A Memory Deferred

I added a page for the short story, “A Memory Deferred,” which I wrote under my pseudonym Kurt MacPhearson. It was published in the June, 2013 issue of Interstellar Fiction. I decided to post the story because of a recent interview with speculative poet Marge Simon on Darkscrybe (which I re-blogged). I collaborated on a poem with Marge called “Reunion Ltd,” in which a man is given a chance for a reunion with his dead wife. The poem appeared in the Spring/Summer 2011 issue of Paper Crow.

“A Memory Deferred” is derived from our poem. I may have written it alone; however, she provided some valuable input in the revision process. So, if you’d like to read the story, you can click the menu tab, or click here.

How to Win a Space Race


by Kurt MacPhearson

the spacetime curve:
swing event horizons
and shrink years to months as Einstein

Originally appeared in Star*Line 32.1

For the Record



Please, Honey, don’t run away.
I swear I can explain.

Tentacles are more useful than thumbs.
Really, they’re not so strange.
Think of pachyderms;
their trunks are misnamed.

And with these extra limbs
with which to cuddle you…

Such disgust is what’s kept me
hidden in this flesh-toned suit.

Do I complain about the
shortness of your tongue?

No, wait! Don’t go!
My anger’s sheathed,
just like the cilia that pass for my teeth.

Perhaps one day you’ll realize
we’re all the same inside.

Meanwhile, you need not fret.
The suction-cup hickies will fade.

In Defense of Pluto


Image via NASA

In August 2006, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) stripped Pluto of its title of the Solar System’s ninth planet. Pluto would henceforth be classified as a “dwarf planet” because it had not cleared the neighborhood around its orbit. In other words, the IAU punished the King of the Dead for being too lazy to pick up after himself.

Seriously, though. It’s old news. The astronomy community has moved on and the idea of the Solar System having only eight planets has slowly caught on. It doesn’t change the fact that Pluto is still out there and that it bears study. The New Horizons space probe is supposed to start snapping pictures any day now. We’ll get some stunning images. Perhaps we’ll be able to count his icy wrinkles and peer up his frost-rimed nose.

I’d written “In Defense of Pluto” after I learned that Pluto no longer measured up to Olympian standards (or the IAU’s, depending upon whom you ask). While I understood the wisdom of the overthrow, I still believed he deserved a proper defense.

by Kurt MacPhearson

You’ve called him rogue
a miser and a trickster
and though I agree he’s done
some reprehensible things
if anyone is a product of his environment
then surely this twisted old ragamuffin
can’t be blamed for snatching up a young woman
he spied picking flowers
then trapping her in his dark abode
with the offer of fruit

Decades now you’ve watched him
out there, bothering no one
while you debated his status
then finally exiled him
to the asteroid-filled fringe
without allowing for so much
as a mumbled plea
for a chance to reform

Is the boatman
now to play jailor
or just some astronomical oddity
left him for mute company?

As much as you’re ready
to remind us of the severity
of his crime
you should take into account
that Pluto’s proximation
is due to the lot he drew
when sharing the world
with his two mighty brothers
whose own crimes are innumerable
yet by sheer magnitude
and illumination
go paradoxically ignored
as you recite with tongue-in-cheek fondness
the mischief the ancients could conjure
while gazing with wonder
upon their gassy
moon-flecked eminence

Perhaps your disdain
for Pluto’s existence
comes from relative size
in a system shrinking
with our telescoping reach
or could it be
that if you look deep inside
your pitiless, scientific heart
there lies
an unspoken, irrational fear
for the King of the Dead
lurking in your perfect heavens

Originally appeared in Tales of the Tailsman 7.1