1. Grendel

My mother calls me “Grendel”;
we live beneath the slime
of Sullen Swamp in Wildwood, 
untouched by human time.
If you dive half a mile,
a phosphorescent glow
will guide you toward the opening
of our home far below.

An age ago, my mother,
enraged, devoured Dad;
my father was the only friend
that she had ever had.

She’s never had another
since then, except for me.
She bitterly bewails her fate
almost incessantly.

As you may well imagine
I stay away from home
as much as possible all night;
I ramble and I roam

through forests, fields, and meadows,
fed by the energy
of growing things beneath my feet
and starlight over me.

I’m always feeling dismal,
but I can recognize
the beauty of the things I see;
I have discerning eyes.

One evening as I rambled
I heard the gaiety
of singing, laughing, friendly men;
the sounds attracted me.

A hall stood on a hilltop,
its windows full of light;
I saw the silhouettes of men
carousing through the night.

Those people didn’t want me;
they said I couldn’t stay.
I made them feel uncomfortable;
I’d have to go away.

I found that in my anger
I grew enormously;
I found myself devouring
those who’d insulted me.

When I strode from that building
I’d eaten thirteen guys,
but soon, as anger turned to shame,
I lost my extra size

and was again no larger
than giants you might find
in any crowd, within the range
of normal humankind,

but childishly proportioned,
albeit with a beard
down past my chest – quite manlike,
not monstrous, only weird.

How did that ton I’d eaten
evaporate, or where
did it end up?  A mystery,
and I don’t really care.

As I dove down, remorseful,
I thought, “They had the right
to tell me ‘No’; I can’t make up
for what I’ve done tonight.”

My mother told me, “Grendel,
it’s me that you should blame,
since, after all, I am the source
from which your anger came.”

I said, “But you had parents
from one or both of whom
your anger came; the line goes back
forever – anger, gloom –

throughout the generations
forever, or it starts
with God, who is the one who chose
to give us wicked hearts.”

She said, “Your heart’s not wicked;
through ninety-nine percent
of your existence you’ve been fine
and sometimes excellent,

and in addition, Grendel,
you’ve got a splendid brain,
which you received from your dear Dad,
whom I recall in pain –

recall how I devoured
my one and only friend,
who’d lifted me from misery.
I wish my life would end.”

She stumbled toward her chamber
as sobs burst from her chest
and I lay down upon the floor,
abysmally depressed.

Throughout the day I lay there
and pondered what I’d done,
unsleeping until I could feel
the setting of the sun.

Then finally I decided
that I’d return and fall
down on my knees remorsefully
before the banquet-hall

and beg them for forgiveness;
expressed contrition might
restore the natural scheme of things
that I’d torn there last night –

restore me to my function
of wandering alone,
unloved, unhated, dismally
yet peacefully unknown,

and sometimes, as I wander,
perceiving some strange tree
or boulder, feeling half-dissolved
in God’s eternity.

I told myself, “Forgiveness
isn’t needed; all you need
is to express your true regret
wholeheartedly, and plead

for what it’s very likely
you won’t be given there,
and if you’re unforgiven,
that’s fine; you shouldn’t care.”

But I of course still harbored
some hope that they’d abhor
me somewhat less when I knelt down
before them at the door.

Perhaps the men, accepting
my meek apology,
would see me as incompetent,
not as an enemy.

I swam up to the surface
and started journeying
back to that place where men converse,
tell jokes, and laugh, and sing.

A lot of men in armor
were standing warily
athwart the entrance; I drew near
and soon they spotted me.

Their spears went horizontal,
all aimed at me; I knelt
and started to address the men,
to tell them how I felt.

I said, “I’m very sorry
about the wrong I’ve done;
I know that I don’t have the right
to murder anyone

because of my hurt feelings
at having been dismissed,
regardless of the pain I feel,
which hits me like a fist.

I ask for your forgiveness;
please find the warmth within
your hearts to give me this one thing.
I won’t be back again.

I won’t be back, I promise;
just give me this one thing,
and you can go inside the hall
and tell your jokes and sing.”

“Fuck off,” their leader snarled,
“you filthy lunatic,
you murderer, you evil beast,
your pleading makes me sick.”

They charged me and I ate them,
then I smashed down the door,
which had been slammed and bolted shut,
squeezed through, and ate five more.

Again I strode off homeward
and shrank to normal size,
ashamed, remorseful, as I wiped
the teardrops from my eyes.

“I’ll just accept their hatred,
and wander friendlessly
as always, but now shameful guilt
will make life worse for me.

Why shouldn’t they abhor me?
I’m bad, it’s obvious.  
They sensed it, and rejected me;
then I was murderous.

The fact that I reacted
in that way proves them right.
So I deserve to walk alone
in guilt night after night.

I’ll have to keep my distance
and dwell in solitude;
this is my duty, isn’t it?
I’ll hate myself and brood

on my gross imperfection, 
on my monstrosity;
I’ll wander in the denser gloom
that’s been assigned to me.”

But I returned, determined
to lie there on the ground,
my eyes closed and my ears pressed shut;
I wouldn’t hear a sound

and so would not get angry
at words I couldn’t hear
or at their unseen glowerings;
I’d wait as they drew near

to kill me with their spearheads,
thereby redeeming me
from this life that should not have been,
and my monstrosity.

The hall, though, was abandoned,
but for a single man,
who, lounging by the shattered door,
sipped soda from a can.

He waved and called, “How are you?
My name starts with a ‘B’,
and ends with ‘f’, so call me ‘Biff’.
You seek serenity?

I thought so.  Well, you’ll find it.
Consider me your friend;
extend your arm; I’ll tear it off,
and your despair will end.

By dawn you’ll leave this prison
that people call ‘the world’
and you will see eternity
majestically unfurled

in all directions outward
as you pass through the gate
from darkness into shining light
where you will contemplate

the wonders of a heaven
entirely alive, 
experiencing everything
for which all spirits strive.

The intervening hours
before you leave this sphere
will give you time to say goodbye
to those who’d miss you here.

It won’t be very painful – 
an ache that you’ll ignore
because you’ll sense the bliss beyond
this world’s half-open door.

“Thanks, Biff,” I said, “let’s do it,” 
and I held out my limb.
He took my wrist within his hand;
I loved and trusted him.

I felt the flesh dissolving
within my shoulder, felt
the tendons, ligaments, and skin
first soften and then melt.

Not many seconds later
Biff had entirely
detached my arm; he held it up
and, smiling, said to me,

“I don’t think you’ll be using
this instrument again,
so with your kind permission
I’ll give it to the men.

I’ll hang it from the rafters
so that when people sing
and laugh within the hall they’ll know
you did the decent thing

by thoughtfully allowing
what I have done to you;
you’ve demonstrated that you’re good; 
they’ll see that this is true.”

“Thanks, Biff,” I said;  “I’m grateful.”
I stumbled homeward, free
of guilt and shame; my gaping wound
was bleeding heavily.

Somehow remaining conscious,
I dove down through the slime
for half a mile to the hole,
which I slipped through in time

to give my weeping mother
a filial embrace
and leave a final kiss upon
her wet, distorted face.

I said, “Mom, please don’t worry;
I met a man tonight
who has allowed me to attain
the heavenly delight

for which I have been longing
throughout my years on Earth;
I’m going to experience
a wonderful rebirth.

I hope we’ll meet in heaven,
and you’ll live happily
at last; I know I’m happy now;
my killer’s rescued me.

Perhaps he’ll help you also,
if you go seek his aid.
I think that helping murderers
is his specific trade.

His name is Biff; you’ll find him
where thoughtless men converse,
aware that thinking only makes
our situation worse.

Don’t grieve; don’t feel resentful
about the pointlessness
of our existence in this world
of sorrow and distress.

Find Biff and let him show you
the way out of this cave
of shadows; you’re the sort of soul
that he would like to save.

2. Grendel’s Mom

She calls herself “the Loathsome One”;
she’s made herself forget her name;
she’s tossed by acid waves of shame,
and now she’s lost her only son.

Those waves, while tossing her around,
pass through her, burning her within.
She often hears the long-lost sound
of her friend’s laughter, sees his grin –

the only friend she’s ever had
except for Grendel, their dead kid –
when she remembers what she did,
how she devoured Grendel’s Dad.

Those tossing waves that burn and freeze
and fill her with remorse and grief
had carried bubbles of relief:
her son’s descriptions of the trees
that he’d admired while he’d walked
across the wilderness above,
for, listening while Grendel talked,
she’d felt the warmth of mother-love.
He won’t be talking anymore;
his corpse is sprawled across the floor.

She ponders: shall she go and meet
this Biff who ended Grendel’s gloom?
Can he end hers?  Can he defeat
despair like hers?  Across the room
she paces, mumbling, “Go ahead;
you don’t have anything to lose.
Why can’t you make your mind up, choose
to go to him?  Now Grendel’s dead
just like his Dad, so why endure
this grim existence anymore?”

At last the Loathsome One ascends,
resolved to find this Biff who ends
embodiments that shouldn’t be,
compassionately setting free
imprisoned souls, who can restore
sad souls to what they were before
corporeality deranged
their passions and they were estranged
from God and one another, lost
and horrified, and ever-tossed
by grief and terrible remorse,
pulled helplessly with brutal force
along an agonizing course
of hideous events.  No more;
he’s waiting for her at the door;
he’ll smile, welcoming her there,
and let her pass into the air
of sparkling infinity
where loving souls wheel joyfully
like gulls above a sunlit sea.

Some soldiers stand outside the hall
conversing, drinking beer from mugs.
One says, “Hey, lady, do us all
a favor; we need love and hugs.
I’ll be the first one on your list;
it’s been a year since I’ve been kissed.”

She says, “No thanks; I’m here to see
the man who helps those such as me
who long to leave this factory
of pain; please tell him that I crave
the same assistance that he gave
to Grendel, when he tore away
my son’s right arm here yesterday.”

The soldier scornfully replies,
“Oh, was that murderer your kid?
That psycho?  Given what he did,
I would have gouged out both his eyes
and scalped him, then I would have burned
your son alive – the death he earned
through his atrocious, vile deeds.
So you’re the one who sowed the seeds
of last night’s shocking tragedy!
You owe us an apology
for birthing that monstrosity.”

The Loathsome One cannot contain
her anger, nor can she restrain
her rapid growth.  She swallows three,
then flees back into misery.

But as she sobs upon the floor
beside the corpse that she must soon
dispose of, she becomes aware
of whistling sounds, a cheerful tune
that ripples downward through the air
above her, from the ceiling-hole.
“Hello,” says Biff.  “I see a soul
that needs to be waved through the door
beyond which lies infinity
where spirits sparkle endlessly.”

“You swam down all this way for me!
You’re wonderful!  Your sympathy
astounds me, Biff!  Here, take my wrist
and tear my arm off.  I’ll exist
within a better place then.  Please,
do it at once.”  She’s on her knees,
her arm raised, hoping he agrees.

“I’d rather stab you,” he replies.
“Stay still, relax, and close your eyes.
You’ll barely feel a thing.  It’s done;
the blood that’s gushing from your chest
is beautiful.  Lie down and rest
beside the body of your son.

3. The dragon

A dragon lived within Mount Lux.
He had a lot of pretty stuff –
innumerable artifacts
upon the floor, arrayed on racks
or hung from wall- and ceiling-hooks,
as well as beautifully bound books.
He’d made all of this stuff himself,
and he delighted in this wealth
of pretty artifacts displayed
throughout the chambers of a maze –
his personal Smithsonian,
his private Metropolitan,
and now and then he would invite
a visitor to come inside
and see the things that he’d produced
but almost all them refused,
because his teeth were sharp and long
and there was something strangely wrong
about his gaze, and in his scent
there was a whiff of excrement.

The people dwelling on the slopes
grew numerous; the dragon hoped
that he would therefore have more guests,
and he would frequently suggest
a tour of the interior,
but he received no visitors.
He spoke as gently as he could,
persisting, and he sometimes stood
for hours at the opening,
continually beckoning,
but no one cared, and they grew rude
as he persisted, and his mood
turned murderous.  He flew about
above their homes, his mouth a spout
of fire, burning almost all 
of them to death, but several crawled
away in time to tell the king,
whose counselors said, “Sire, bring
an army with you when you go
to fight this dragon.”  Biff said, “No,
I’ll go alone; when he and I
converse, he will agree to die.”

Biff climbed the mountain, calling “Hi!
I’ve heard about you!  You’re the guy
that’s fascinating everyone!
They’re telling me that you’ve outdone
all others with your artistry;
I’m fond of creativity.”

“Hello,” the dragon said; “please tour
my galleries.  I’m pretty sure
that you’ll enjoy the things you see,
and it would mean a lot to me.”

“Of course,” said Biff, “I’d love to see
the things you’ve made; your artistry
should be appreciated, not
ignored, so show me what you’ve got.”
Led through Mount Lux’s passageways,
the king was shown each gallery.
“I can’t bestow sufficient praise
upon you for the things I see,”
said Biff; “I truly love it all.”
As he walked through hall after hall,
he looked at objects one by one
and said things such as “Wow, well done;
this item’s splendidly expressive ...
so dramatic … grand … impressive.”

Later, back outside, the two
shook hands.  Biff said, “Tell me, are you
a happy person?  You may feel
elated now, but here’s the deal.
This time tomorrow I expect
that you’ll resent the disrespect
that everyone except for me
has shown you by dismissively
rejecting your persistently
repeated invitations.  You’ll
feel that humanity is cruel
and as you sit alone and brood,
remembering these slights, your mood
will generate renewed desire
to destroy them all with fire.
I know that you’re good at heart;
the splendid products of your art
make this apparent, so I’m sure
that you’ll appreciate the cure
that I’m about to offer you.
Ingest this pill, and it will do
what’s necessary; then you’ll be
communing with divinity
in sparkling eternity.”

“Thanks, Biff,” the dragon said; “you’re right,
and thank you for your thoughtful gift;
you’ve done so much today to lift
my spirits; later on tonight 
I’ll swallow this and disappear
into the preferable sphere
of being for which I have striven
all my life; now you have given
me the means of getting to
that place.  I’ll be there thanks to you.”

Biff said, “Why not ingest the pill
right now, so that your best friend will
be with you as you pass away
from worldly night into the day
of God?  I’d like to see you go;
then I’ll be sure that you now know
the happiness that you had sought
throughout your life, while you were caught
here in this dismal factory
of sickening anxiety.”

The dragon said, “Yes I agree.”
He ate the pill.  “Accompany
me there.  Why not remain best friends
in heaven?  Friendship never ends,
and you’re my friend, so we should be
together there, together see
the splendors of eternity,
in endless shared felicity.”

The dragon’s oral fire burned
the king to ashes, and he fell
upon those ashes; both had earned
eternal peace, and all was well
for both of them, as all will soon 
be well for those beneath the moon
who suffer monstrously and scare
less freakish people everywhere.