And the War is Never Over

This poem had been building for quite some time.

I’ve been volunteering with the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center since 2007; I’m a community education volunteer and a survivor speaker. In the former role, I’ve been doing a lot of work within my local community and the greater SF/F community regarding sexual violence. It’s been pretty nonstop. And by the nature of it, it worked its way into every aspect of my life – especially as I began to write a novel about childhood sexual abuse. And spent some time actually working at BARCC as well.

I began to fray. Vicarious trauma, they call it. It’s not uncommon. I kept pushing myself, but I got to a point where I had to take leave or snap, and I did take leave.

And the week I took leave, I wrote this poem.

Which has new meaning now that I’ve realized that I was in an abusive relationship at the time – a relationship that exploded into violence the week the poem was published.

“And the War is Never Over” was published in Strange Horizons in May 2013.


Where We Died

This one, I remember writing.

It’s a shadow of sorts of my first published short story, “The Angel of Fremont Street”. It draws from the same inciting incident – but instead of an examination of the years beyond, “Where We Died” is a snapshot, one few-second slice of a life right before everything changes forever.

It’s short, as my poems go. By necessity. Just one moment long.

Where We Died” was published in Niteblade #24, June 2013.


The Busker, Broke and Busted

I’m in an odd position with this poem, in that I don’t really remember writing it.

I remember it coming out, and me being bewildered – because it isn’t actually a poem. It’s a song, a Gilbert-and-Sullivanesque patter song about an obsolete robot. I remember bits of it coming to me in the shower, and I remember singing the lilting “I am, I am” notes to myself. (Poorly. There’s a reason there’s no audio on this post!) I just don’t remember the impetus! Which is highly unusual, but there are exceptions to all rules.

Its sole appearance in public to this point was the poetry reading at Arisia 2012, where I had my daughter sing it – the audience laughed, they sympathetically “awwed”, and they attempted to take up a collection to purchase and upgrade the poor robot! I was also heavily encouraged to write an entire musical. Which… might happen, with the help of Erik Amundsen, if our lives ever settle down sufficiently.

Besides the obvious issue that it’s properly a song, not a poem, it’s also very long, and was rejected from print magazines for that reason, but I did not despair. I was feeling uncharacteristically bright and pushy one day and asked Apex Magazine editor Lynne Thomas when they’d be opening to unsolicited poetry again; she responded that I should consider myself solicited. Little did I know that she’s a musical theatre geek! So this song/poem/impending event ended up with exactly the right editor. I love it when that happens.

“The Busker, Broke and Busted” was published in Apex Magazine #48, May 2013.


The Year in Shira

2012’s publications:
* “Mushroom Barley Soup: An Invocation“, in Stone Telling #8
* “nameless“, in Through the Gate #1
* “The Oracle Never Dances”, in Mythic Delirium #27
* “Ereshkigal’s Proposal to Hades”, in Mythic Delirium #27
* “Splinter” in Apex Magazine #42.

If you are of a nominating sort, “Mushroom Barley Soup” is considered a Long Poem and “nameless”, “The Oracle Never Dances”, and “Ereshkigal’s Proposal to Hades” are all considered Short Poems as far as Rhyslings go. “Splinter” is eligible for all the stuff short stories are eligible for.

This year, I won the Rhysling Award for best short poem, for “The Library, After”! And I was Guest of Awesome at Pi-Con, which was, predictably, awesome.

In the coming year, look for “Happy Hour at the Tooth and Claw” in Clockwork Phoenix 4, “And the War is Never Over” at Strange Horizons, and “The Busker, Broke and Busted” at Apex. And now I must get back to writing!


Ereshkigal’s Proposal to Hades


(Art by Paula Friedlander!)

I am tired of Persephone Poems.

We all have them! I have two. It’s an attractive narrative – the lovely, innocent young maiden seduced into the underworld. People have done interesting things with the story. But it’s one of the most popular narratives out there, poetry-wise, and I am drowning in Persephone and want to drown her.

So yes, everyone loves the good girl.

What about the bad girl? What about someone who’s a Queen of the Underworld in her own right, and could be an equal match for Hades?

I’m a Sumerian mythology geek, and I’ve told my version of Inanna’s Descent. What about Inanna’s sister, who requires that Inanna surrender her very life?

That’s a strong character.

So here, Ereshkigal has a proposition for Hades.

And I still can’t read the last line aloud without blushing.

“Ereshkigal’s Proposal to Hades” was published in Mythic Delirium #27.


The Oracle Never Dances


(Art by Paula Friedlander!)

It’s funny how many of the pieces I sell to Mike Allen of Mythic Delirium originate with him, in one way or another. This one is quite directly traceable to him!

Every year at Readercon, Mike runs a speculative poetry workshop. One year, Readercon had other poets listed as participants – Mike was still in charge, but people doing the workshop could come to the poet-assistants and ask us for input and guidance. I’m not sure how well that worked! (One person did approach me, but he seemed more interested in my cleavage than my critique.)

What was productive, though, was that Mike made us write! We had an enforced period of time where we were just to write whatever came to us. Just stretch. It took me a while to pull my brain into writing mode; I kept sneaking peeks at Erik Amundsen’s notebook (he is incredible). Finally I settled down and wrote three short pieces – a haiku, just to put my brain in “we are paying attention to words now” mode. The beginnings of a poem about how we relate to fairy tales. And, since my brain drifts inexorably to fairy tales, oracles, and Vegas when left unattended, this poem about an oracle in a nightclub.

Drinking’s a bad idea, when one has a tendency to spill prophecy. Dancing might be even worse.

“The Oracle Never Dances” was published in Mythic Delirium #27.


Splinter


Almost every story I write comes from multiple seeds that seem unrelated, but collide in my head. Like temporal lobe epilepsy, quantum physics, a certain waiter, and a particular habit of Charles Fort’s did to create “Valentines”. In this case, there were two particular things.

The not-deeply-personal thing: At PiCon, in August 2011, I was on a panel about quests, and I mused that really, we don’t often see what happens after the quest. We see a happy return to the everyday world, and we see that someone has gained Courage and Wisdom and Insight, but we don’t see any negative effects, and we leave our adventurers immediately after, when they are oh so happy to be home. But what happens later? And what happens if things don’t work?

More personally: I used to live in Vegas, and I still have a deep attachment to it and its broken beauty. Every so often, when I’m in a particularly masochistic frame of mind, I google people I knew. Nine times out of ten I get an obituary. We were not living good lives back then; this is no surprise. I got out only because I got pregnant and had a flash of common sense. I left, in fact, the very day I found out I was pregnant. I lack closure… so I write about Vegas a lot.

In August of last year, for the first time in many years, I got a hit on the most important personal in my Vegas-life. And it was his obituary.

I’d thought he was already dead a dozen times before. Rumors. I heard he’d ODed, I heard he’d been shot, and I had years between looking for anything under his name, because I just couldn’t. So I honestly, at this point, did not think he had been alive for a bit. But he was.

And he had a family, a wife and stepkids.

And I… I had this unexpected surge of horrible grief, because once upon a time I loved him, and he is a huge part of a hugely important part of my life. But also, seeing the picture of him with his wife and kids, I thought, “I am not entitled to this grief. They lived with him for years, they were his family, I am a fragment – they lost a husband and a father. I lost a memory, a story I tell myself.”

It took me a while to allow myself the grief.

He was theirs more. But he was important to me. And he was one of the last remnants of this incredibly intense, surreal, often terrible thing that has shaped my life.

So when I allowed myself to accept the emotions and not judge them, I got ambushed by story one day and sat down and wrote “Splinter” all in one surge, one violent outburst. I vomited forth – sorry for the imagery, but I had about that much control over the proceedings – this thing, this cry of pain and loneliness. I did it because no one else was left who knew.

And then I sat on it for months, because what is this thing? Who would want it?

I met Lynne and Michael Thomas of Apex Magazine at Wiscon this May, and we befriended each other on social media. So when, this June, I came across “Splinter” in my files and wondered aloud on Twitter who would want something so short, dark, twisty, whatever, they both told me to send it to them.

So I did.

And here it is.

“Splinter” was published in Apex Magazine in November 2012. It’s on Tangent Online’s 2012 recommended Reading List.


Cyd Athens at Tangent Online says: “Shira Lipkin’s “Splinter” evokes fear without ever showing the actual source. Rather, it relates what happens after a group of travelers step off the edge of the world. Whether what they encounter is alien, magical, or paranormal is left to the imagination. Beginning with an intrepid group of five best friends, each section of the story focuses on a single member. One by one, we learn of the aftereffects of an experience so horrible as to make consideration of a return trip unthinkable. The tale is narrated by the last one standing. This fast read is strong, evocative, and disturbing in a way that makes one want to read it again.”

Carrie Cuinn says: ““Splinter” by Shira Lipkin is short and blunt, to the point, and a perfect piece of flash fiction (though I think it may have a few too many words to strictly be called “flash”). It’s a moment, a conversation, a story, a thing that happened, and it says just enough to be all of those things without having to be anything else.”


nameless

“nameless” is actually the first thing I wrote in the world of what’s now my novel-in-progress, Cicatrix. I had an image of a dancing woman with twisted scars on her shoulderblades, what might have been wings…

The poem didn’t quite work. It sat on my hard drive for a while as I did other things, including expanding that glimpse into a novel – now the person who used to have wings is male, and he has an interesting way of covering those scars. But, as always in a novel, there’s room for other stories than the ones I’m currently telling. Somewhere out there there’s room for the narrator of this poem.

And somewhere there was the right poem for her! I revisited the poem recently, trying to cut it down to ten lines; it didn’t work. Then I opened it up just a little more, let it breathe – and here we go.

An interesting autobiographical note: my birth mother never named me. I was simply “the baby” until she gave me up for adoption. Throughout my childhood and adolescence, I went through name after name, and nothing stuck; when I later learned that I hadn’t been given a name, I attributed my name-fluidity to that.

In the world of Cicatrix, why might a child not be named, or be un-named? What effects might namelessness have?

“nameless” was published in Through the Gate #1 in September 2012.


Mushroom Barley Soup: An Invocation

When I was little, my grandmother made the most amazing mushroom barley soup.

She made it from scratch, and that alone was so different from dinner with my parents, who don’t cook. (My father grills. But usually dinner at their place is takeout.) Just the flash of her knife on the cutting board was something out of another world for me, something to be observed and marveled at. My grandmother’s world was so different from mine, so foreign – and the story that we were told as children of the ’70s and early ’80s was that progress was all, progress was what one strived for. Never look back. Spaghetti and meatballs in a takeout tin was superior to homemade soup; it saved time and mess.

But I loved that soup! I loved the heavy spoon in the green Depression glass bowl. I loved the dense flavors. I loved that my grandmother loved making it. It was my grandfather’s favorite dish, you see; she made it for him.

And he died, and she never made it again.

I asked a few times, but she demurred, and I realized that it was her soup for him; that she couldn’t. I don’t know if she knew how much I loved it; I was ten, and I don’t know if I ever really communicated it to her. She died when I was 14, after a protracted and terrible illness.

It’s not just the recipe I lost. It’s not even just my quietly funny and sweet grandmother. It’s my connection to a past that I value more every year, the sense of history, of where we came from. In my early life, the culture around me was telling me to sever that connection and boldly go into a homogenous future. That is not what I want. I want my grandmother’s soup, and the glass bowls she kept all her life, and the slow chopping of mushrooms, and the murmurs of a dying language. I want my roots.

I cook from scratch. I’ve discovered that I have celiac disease; one of the first things I realized upon my diagnosis is “I can never have that soup again.” But I’ll be experimenting with quinoa or millet in place of the barley. And it may never be my grandmother’s soup, but it’s okay if it’s mine. And I will teach the recipe to my daughter and, when she has them, to her children, and I will tell them about their silly-sweet great-great-grandma Essie.

Mushroom Barley Soup: An Invocation” was published in Stone Telling #8, August 2012.


Rhysling Award! and other updates

Apparently I have just won the Rhysling Award for short poem! The poem in question is “The Library, After”, originally printed in Mythic Delirium #24. You can read more about the poem here! Many thanks to Mike Allen for publishing it, and everyone who nominated and voted for it!

I’ll be reading it at my reading at Readercon today at 2:30, joined by 2nd-place winner Erik Amundsen; I nominated his poem, and trust me, you want to hear it. 🙂

This is as good a time as any to post about my recent short fiction and poetry sales. If you want things I’m already in, see here! If you’d like to know what the future holds…

* “nameless” will be in the inaugural issue of Through the Gate.
* “Mushroom Barley Soup: An Invocation” will be in Stone Telling.
* “Ereshkigal’s Proposal to Hades” and “The Oracle Never Dances” will be in Mythic Delirium.
* “Splinter” and “The Busker, Broke and Busted” will be in Apex Magazine.

More later; I do have to get to Readercon!