My Work

What Does a Life Leave Behind?

What does a life leave behind?

A shelf of books, a drawer of socks,
a robe never worn and given away
unwashed dishes left for a ‘later’ never-come
and bills, always bills—for pills, for palls,
for flowers and for a last ditch’s efforts.
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To Pompeii

 

View of Vesuvius, from the House of the Centenary, Pompeii. Courtesy of National Archeological Museum of Naples and Wikimedia Commons.

To Pompeii

24 August, anno 832 ab urbe condita

From Baiae I write, Severus Tarentius,
to tell you things you must already know:
business is good; the weather is fine.
I have only just come from Rome,
bringing with me two new handmaids
for my dearest wife, Aurelia.

One is a Greek woman, a skilled hairdresser—
sold, I think, by our feckless Senate colleague
Syrianus, to pay his debts.
I recently beat the old goat at alea, by the way,
a victory decisive as Scipio’s at Carthage.

The other is a rather unfortunate figure,
a slave woman from deepest Germania,
driven, the trader told me, across the river
that divides our empire from their lands
by maurauding tribes out for loot and brides.

It disgusts me how
these Germanics fight among themselves.
Such suffering they cause for their own kind!
This new woman, like many others,
fled with her small child
into the arms of our legionaries
and the warm embrace of Rome.

The babe was wailing
while she was on the block.
She wailed too as we led her away.
It was really quite distasteful:
somehow, Rome’s din grew even worse.
And the smell, Severus,
I can smell it still here—like brimstone
against the salty stink of the bay

We have given her a bath.
She’ll be well taken care of now,
among civilized people.
I think I’ll call her Macaria,
for blessed is she.

What other news is there to tell…
Oh!
I have met the new emperor
–long may he reign—
and I am not impressed.

Yet Caesar is always useful, though,
so long as we are useful to Him.
Gods, this table needs a new leg!
Perhaps Caesar can grant me one of those,
so I won’t be writing in the midst of a quake?

I am looking out across the bay
towards your home at Pompeii.
It is hot, but the mountain
looks so tranquil from here.

Such is the order of our lives, Severus:
empire without end,
baths and dinners,
immovable and unchanging
as Vesuvius’ peak.

-By Allison R. Shely, September 2018. 
All rights reserved.

Cole Destruction

The Course of Empire: Destruction, Thomas Cole, 1836. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Happy Tidings from the Death Card

It’s Been A Tough Year So Far

I’m not one much to talk about my personal issues on the internet, but since the events of the last six months have had a major impact on my (lack of) output for this blog, I think I owe you, and myself, an explanation.

There is a lot I can’t tell you, a lot of the details, to protect the privacy of the others involved.

Suffice to say, it involved a lot of death.

There was a brush with physical death, on Easter Monday, in a car accident.

There was a death of self, as this “adulthood” thing forced me to let go of old notions of who I am and who I want to be. This came about largely because of a death of faith, of faith in ideals and institutions that formed me.

There was the death of a friendship. I expected this one to be the worst of all, when I worried about it years ago, or in the last year as part of me, a part unacknowledged, suspected it was coming.

In all, it wasn’t so bad.

 

File:RWS Tarot 13 Death.jpg

XIII. Death. From the Rider-Waite Tarot, ca. 1909. Public domain.

You see, the death card almost never means death, at least not physical death.

I don’t believe we can foretell the future, but as a writer I am very interested in the symbolism of the Tarot deck.

The death card of the Major Arcana gets a bad rap for being No. XIII and for being, well, about death, strangely enough. The card shows death, but only because death is necessary for rebirth.

I walked away from the accident unscathed. After five hours in the ER, waiting for the final confirmation that I had not hurt my head, I went home. There I found Sassy, a little confused about why I was late, and very upset that dinner was delayed.

In letting go of what I thought I was and wanted, I have moved forward. Now that school has been out for a few weeks, I have been focused on my first few freelancing assignments. That is the logistical reason for my long silence on this blog. I am excited to be a “real” writer now and a “professional,” in fulfillment of a dream I’ve had since I was four years old.

As for the end of the childhood friendship, I wish it had not gone down the way it did. I know people grow and change. If things had tapered off between us naturally, it would have been much easier to accept.

One of the hardest lessons about growing up is that doing everything right won’t protect you. One of the other hardest lessons is that your effort can’t make up for what someone else won’t put in. It hurt a lot at the time, and it hurts from time to time, but I find myself looking forward to the future.

I get asked why I like my “frightening” and “morbid” crime shows. As trite as it may sound: while you have to be careful not to only see the darkness, you cannot look away from death without ignoring life.

The death card is change. Time is change. Time marches on, trampling over kings like Death’s horse does on the card. Who am I to resist? What point is there in fear?

That said, I’m glad to still be here with all of you.

Photo Essay: Weekend Nor’easter

7 March 18
Norfolk County
Massachusetts

Currently I’m inside at my desk, listening to the rain fall as this new storm moves across my neighborhood and into Boston. No snow, so far. Just a day of rain.

I’m thankful it’s quiet, because I nearly died in the last Nor’easter, which blew through Friday into Saturday, spawning confusion, panic, and #windmaggedon.

As I never tire of harping on, I grew up in Texas. I’ve lived through hurricanes, the worst of them being Ike. I’ve lived through two weeks of late Houston summer with no air-conditioning in the wake of said hurricane. (I know, I know, first world problems).

I fulfilled my childhood goal of becoming a storm chaser when I nearly drove into a tornado crossing I-10 somewhere between El Paso and San Antonio. It came at us we didn’t go to it.

Easter weekend one year I spent huddled under the staircase with my sister as the sky turned green. The door into the garage was ripped from its hinges and thrown across the yard.

New England weather doesn’t scare me.

Usually.

Polar vortex? Chilly.

Nine feet of snow in five weeks? Impressive.

Whatever fresh hell came through town last weekend? Utterly terrifying.
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Sitka

 

Grizzlybear55.jpg

Grizzly bear. Public Domain. Sourced from Wikipedia.

Sitka
A Short Story
By Allison R. Shely

Newton, Massachusetts

The strip mall is an unassuming place, by Newton standards: glossy glass storefronts, a herd of Lexus SUVs parked outside the Whole Foods, the shrieks of dying human desperation breaking through the gentle Muzak.

The periodic screams come from the end unit of the center, Cheryl Smith’s boutique gym “Survival of the Fittest.”
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