After 117 Poetry Wednesdays and a handful of pre-Poetry Wednesday posts about poetry, I feel the need to sit here on someone else’s laurels and let the good people of Commonplace Books take over.
Those of you who caught the post two Mondays ago know that I recently caught the Night Vale* virus and was looking forward to episode twenty: “Poetry Week.”
I’ll confess, I skipped ahead. And I was not disappointed.
Weirded out a little, sure—but not disappointed.
The poems in this podcast mean something different every time I read them, or hear them. Even if that something is nothing.
Christina Rossetti would have liked them, I think, and Oscar Wilde would have understood them. It’s possible that Poe’s subconscious whispered poetry like this to him all the time.
Me? I like Katherine Ciel’s the best, though the Mayor’s verse and the opener by Trility Wade—whose name I’m sure I misspelled—tie for second.
And I very much agree with Cecil’s assertion that poetry is in everything.
The episode is about twenty minutes long, which is a lot to ask, and sound may be problematic for some of you, so I’ve also provided a transcript below.
But if you can listen, please do—Cecil Baldwin’s recitations and reactions are half the fun.
Incidentally, I’m expecting a more enthusiastic response next time I hold a poetry contest around here—I am a Librarian, you know.
“You’ll be safe here,” says a whisper behind you.
Welcome to Night Vale.
Listeners, today begins Night Vale Poetry Week—one of our most sacred town traditions.
As you know, every citizen is required to write hundreds of poems. Non-stop poems.
During this time, the City Council lifts their bans on writing utensils, thesauruses, and public descriptions of the moon. And they mandate that everybody uses their municipally granted Free Will to join in on the fun.
Last year over 800,000 poems were written by Night Vale residents, and then eaten during the Poetry Week’s closing ceremonies by real live Librarian,s who were chained to thick titanium posts inside double-locked steel cages.
Honestly, listeners, I don’t think it’s a good idea to ever have Librarians out in public, no matter how secure the posts or cages are. I know there were no serious injuries last year, but some of you older listeners might remember what happened in 1993, when an unchecked Librarian population resulted in the loss of many innocent and screaming book lovers.
But that was twenty years ago. Let’s not dwell on our corpse-strewn past.
Let’s celebrate our corpse-strewn future!
On the show today, we’ll be featuring some poems sent in by listeners from all over Night Vale. We’ll start with this one. Last night Night Vale’s Poet Laureate, Trility Wade, with clenched teeth and frightened eyes, delivered the opening stanzas for the Poetry Week festivities.
Here is what she read:
I fell in love with a Hooded Figure
who tied my tongue with an ink ligature,
and silently urged I write this poem.
Please believe me I wasn’t forced,
through bone telepathy or the code of Morse
to pen this uncoded, un-subversive gem.
On the desert farms, the ghost-eyed maidens make the cheese
while a maelstrom of thick milk falls with ease.
Our punishment? Hot-blooded clotted cream.
The days here pass like cancerous sunspots
and black metal trees can’t compare to car lots.
You are in Night Vale.
Wade capped off her reading by screaming, “It is lies! It is lies!” before separating into minute white particles and fluttering away on a swirling breeze. Like soft snow, she covered our hair and light coats. And, like snow, it smelled of fennel and meat.
Then, a voice announced over the P.A., “Everything is perfect in our little town!”
Poetry Week has begun, Night Vale. It’s going to be a great one.
This weekend, the Night Vale Zoo finally reopens after last month’s renovations. Among the new features are fences and plexiglass to separate the animals from each other, and from zoo patrons. Zoo officials promise that they focused especially on the tiger, bear, spider, and snake areas in this regard.
Another new feature is the Sensory Extraction Room, where a randomly selected zoo goer will be dropped into a pitch black, soundproof booth or two straight days, while zookeepers harvest their scent and teach it to genetically improved predators.
They’ve also unveiled a new logo, featuring a swan being eaten by a giraffe, and a new slogan:
“You go to the zoo so the animals can watch you.”
So come join in on the fun this weekend! Slow-moving children with more than 15% body fat get in free!
Oh, I can’t wait anymore listeners. Poetry Week has to be the most wonderful time of the year. Let’s get back to some fantastic poems that have been sent in. Some of them are even from our city officials, like Mayor Pamela Winchell, who put her quill to parchment and sent us this lovely stanza:
No one will
have to be
it will not
That poem also doubles as recently-enacted legislation, enforced by the Sheriff’s Secret Police. Thank you, Mayor!
And now—and this is very special—a poem written by the Sheriff himself.
The town criers have cross-stitched their mouths shut
And stapled their eyes open.
The benches are all broken.
No one sits down anyway.
No one can fit their broken wings beneath their cloaks.
A skin condition
That makes its victims appear timelessly sad
Prominent citizens drown in the carpool lane.
Their makeup floats to the surface.
Wine glasses clink together.
They hate each other.
Until one breaks
And then the other.
There is no such thing as vagrants.
There is no such thing as home.
The sun has a tick.
No one can afford flowers,
But the children
Stand very still in the garden
Until the cold snap cracks.
Very pretty! Thank you, Sheriff.
And now a poem set in by Erana Panchik, a third grade teacher from Night Vale Elementary. It is called “Street Cleaning Day.”
Where are my children?
Do I have children?
I know where.
They will not go.
But what way? Again, the announcement.
They are coming.
I must choose.
I have chosen.
Thank you, Mrs. P! You did the right thing.
Madeline LeFleur, executive director of the Night Vale Tourism Board, sent in a piece of paper that just reads, in all caps:
Below that is a reddish-brown smudge shaped like an underfed hawk alighting upon a mesquite tree. She also scotch taped what appear to be three human molars to the page.
Y’know, at first I thought, this is not poetry. This is visual art!
But that’s mere semantics.
We are all poetry, Night Vale. Every breath or branch or sigh before another hopeless night of uneasy slumber is itself a verse in a great poem.
Oh, here’s a question, listeners!
Have you seen those new billboards all over town recently? They have no pictures, just hyper-bright and colorful text that reads:
“20% off everything! We’re going to take 20% off everything! Every thing! We’re crazy!”
There’s no store or brand associated with the advertisements, and the Highway Department said there’s no record that anyone owns the billboards, or that they were ever put up.
“They just appeared one day, and we all sort of accepted that they were there,” a representative from the city told us.
The Sheriff’s Secret Police warned that the advertisement appears to be completely literal, and that soon, 20% of everything might indeed be gone. They are still investigating as to whether or not we have a choice of which 20% gets taken off and where that 20% goes.
Scientists say that the 20% must go somewhere, because of something to do with something called “thermodynamic laws,” but police officials remind us that scientists are comedians, and that they should stick to comedy.
Let’s have a look at traffic.
Old Town Night Vale resident Katherine Ciel just sent in the following report of what’s happening out there on the roads.
On Sunday, a lambent crevice
Opened up in the street outside my house.
By Tuesday, birds were flying into it.
“I probably won’t miss you,” my mother said.
“I’m only interested in the end of the world,” I replied.
Many find it difficult to breathe
Without the atmosphere,
But we knew how.
We just stopped breathing.
We’re at the Moonlight All-Night Diner,
And they’re serving up fruit
From the plants growing out of the waitress.
The closed sign whispers, “Please, don’t touch me.”
We watch bodies fall to the ground outside
Like deep sea creatures surfacing.
You turn to me and ask,
“Do you ever think about suicide?”
I look away from you and close my eyes,
Eat the raspberries to confuse the blood in my mouth.
Now you’re in the only car in the parking lot at midnight
And you’re watching me throw stones at the moon,
Which hangs low in the sky
So that he can look into your house.
Your sister tried to touch him
From her window once,
And he flinched.
Now he and the oceans watch her with a quiet concern.
The lilac sky is trying to rest her head on his shoulder,
All trees gradually growing through her.
A hummingbird whispers to you,
“Be careful. Under her dress is her skin,”
And then builds his nest in the middle of the highway.
I look back to you.
And you close your eyes.
So, Night Vale, it sounds like you should use some alternate routes today. Thank you, Katherine, for that report.
This has been traffic.
An update now on Poetry Week: a strange thing has happened, listeners. A note was posted at the entrance to the Dog Park. I’m told the note is on paper that is black like the ocean of space and the text is . . . Well, it’s not white, really more transplendent, radiating its strange free verse message from the dark page.
The message reads:
Today they scratched me from sleep,
Carving my name in cement.
Ash stains my pillow
And bruises the shape of spiders.
Climb my neck.
Sunlight catches dust and
Broken glances between strangers,
Dodging desert puddles
Of something metallic.
I’m highly contagious,
Quarantined to another body
I’ve since infected.
I will sleep into you,
If you hold me too tightly.
I assemble your letters
Left torn in the pocket of a hospital gown.
I stain the paper with sweat.
I’m beginning to steal your voice.
The voice that lies, dying, in the Dog Park.
The poem is signed with just the letter “E.”
Listeners, while I certainly love luxuriating in the language of a good poem, I do not condone entering the Dog Park. It is forbidden. Dogs and dog owners are not allowed in the Dog Park. Please, disregard this renegade poet’s radical lies and stay away.
Oh, I fear the damage is done, listeners. Whoever this “E” is must know we are all now in grave danger. . .
And now, a word from our sponsor:
With low interest rates, now is the perfect time to buy a home. Just name your amenity! Every house in Night Vale has a luxurious view of The Void. We also have great schools and plenty of spiders!
Who wouldn’t want to settle down in Night Vale?
Seek a licensed realtor to help you find the house of your dreams!
Realtors live inside deer. When you find an undersized stag or ailing doe you can catch, simply wrestle it down and knife open the chest cavity. Then let the realtor inside help you achieve your American dream.
The head of the Greater Night Vale Realty Association, Russell Swenson, says:
No one has lived here for years.
You’re one of them.
One of the No Ones.
A woman is a fire,
and No One is invited.
Anyone can watch.
No One can help.
(Hey, Dana? Is this a poem Russell wrote for us, or . . . ?)
So, start looking today for your new Night Vale home.
As the old saying goes, “streets swallow their own tails and choke!”
Listeners, oh, this is bad news:
The gates to the Dog Park have been opened for the first time anyone can recall. In fact, no one even knew there were gates. We’ve only ever seen tall black walls with no visible entrance or exit—but there are gates, and apparently they’re just standing wide open.
Witnesses say that inside you can see a couple of old tennis balls, some frisbees, and a black stone monolith that is humming a hum that makes everyone who hears it feel calm, and ever-so-slightly more sensual.
The City Council issued a statement moments ago, which was a series of ancient glyphs. No one could read the language, but we all understood what it said. It was a dire warning. A warning to the mysterious “E.” A warning to those by the Dog Park. A warning to all of Night Vale.
A great pain, a great piercing, a great scream that will soon break apart our sky and our lives if this insolence does not stop.
If you are near the Dog Park, listeners, do not enter it. The Monolith, or whatever you think you see, is not for you to know. Public property is not for citizens. Stay home, Night Vale. Write your poems.
This should be a fun and festive time to write government-mandated rhymes, not storming the shores of hell and bringing us all to war with you.
I’ve just sent Intern Dana—or Intern Dana’s doppelganger, I am still unsure—to the Dog Park to warn those who are standing so near to their demise. I only hope Dana is in time to save them.
Let us go now, possibly for the last time, to the weather.
Old Woman Josie called during the break and said that the mysterious “E” is one of the Angels, and that the “E” stands for Erika.
“Erica?” I asked.
“No, no—Erika, with a K,” she said.
“Oh, Erika—with a K,” I said.
And then there was a weird pause, and then she said, “All Angels go by the name Erika.”
And then I was like, “Right, right, right,” and I felt dumb, because that’s, like, the first thing you learn in seventh-grade transmigration studies.
Anyway . . .
The City Council, in a press conference said:
“Oh! An Angel wrote that? Well, okay then, never mind. Sure! We’ll show you the Monolith! Come on in.”
And so those on the streets outside the Dog Park entered. And the City Council showed them the Monolith, welcoming all with friendly upturned palms.
But some witnesses resisted. Their conservatism served them well, for the tall, black gates soon closed, vanishing into the smooth onyx walls, taking the Dog Park visitors with them.
There may never be either again.
Sadly, Intern Dana—or her double—was inside the Dog Park when it was sealed. And listeners, I hesitate to tell you but, as a journalist, I think I must: Intern Dana—or her double—texted me a photo of the Monolith just before the gates closed.
Did you know? There is an inscription at its base. And get this—right here, on this, the first day of Poetry Week, the inscription is a poem.
According to the plaque, the poem was written in 1954, by former Night Vale mayor, Danielle DuBois, quote:
“In honor of nothing, that should never not be unknown.”
The poem reads:
The gentle man in glow light
Is a candle in his maybes.
His face is a loamy bog.
Do you ever stop to look at all the blood you gather?
Metal halos spring from your attention.
She said, “watch with all your eyes
Lest chance again escape you.”
Said, “Chalk’s wasted on blind children.”
Wrote today’s specials on the board.
What’s blessed entry, in this weather?
I heard it tapping, but it doesn’t leave a trail.
When you catch a beating heart in the wild,
You hold it squirming and say, “That is that.”
But the damn thing keeps on moving
‘Til you squeeze it in your hands.
I know not what the Monolith’s poem hides, Night Vale, nor if there will be any consequences for my actions today.
But I do know it is Poetry Week.
It is only the beginning of our favorite fun and festive time of year. Let’s not think about what we’re not allowed to know! Let’s think about what is safe to know!
And let’s start with the beauty of our words. So get out those pens and dust off your iambs and couplets.
Also, Intern Dana—or your double—you will be missed. I tried texting you back, but now there’s just blood seeping up through some newly-formed crack on my touchscreen . . . So, I think that’s a no go.
And to the rest of you, goodbye too, but with the hint of a future hello.
Stay tuned next for the sound of some helpless thing being eaten.
Goodnight, Night Vale.
Night Vale is the brainspawn of Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor