All Things That Matter Press has sent me the first edit of my new novel, In the Unsettled Land of Dreams. I am working hard on the edit now, but it is slow. One of the surprises is how long it is going to be in print. I guess this is going to be one of the more significant works I produce in my lifetime, although I always am wracked by doubt about my longer works.
I thought I’d celebrate, though, by posting the first sonnet and paragraph in the novel. Each chapter is prefaced by a sonnet and followed by text. The book starts in Mingo Swamp in Missouri’s boot-heel country. Joshua, a major character in the novel, is faced with one of several decisions that he will face on a day that promises to change his life forever.
A Spenserian Sonnet
Inside the swamp beside a cypress tree
(White herons in the water, bullfrog croaks
A symphony as dusk, as stealthily
As cat’s feet stalking small, shy birds, evokes
The coming night) the Preacher slowly stokes
The fire blazed in his heart and starts to sing
Songs powerful enough to loosen yokes
White masters forged through endless menacing.
The words he used burned deep; he felt their sting
And saw his spirit fire alive in eyes
Awake to dreams, inflamed imagining
Of days spent free beneath glad years of skies.
The darkness deepened underneath the tree.
He’d preach, he thought, then, later on, they’d flee.
Joshua did not want to go with his mother when she came down from Master Bulrush’s big house after dark where she was the Mistresses’ servant. He had gone through another miserable day. His stubbornness, born out of unfocused resentment, was always getting him into trouble. He couldn’t seem to want to protect himself.
The Overseer, an aging black man called Silver Coats who had terrorized Bulrush plantation slaves for years, had struck out with his whip and cut a shirt already threadbare twice that day. The last time the whip’s cord had cut him, leaving a long, red whelp crusted with blood on his skin. The deep, painful cuts were made on purpose. The Overseer was an expert at how deep his whip bit flesh.
Joshua, small for his age, mostly didn’t cry when the big black man, gray haired, light skinned, with a mean streak and perpetually snarling face, whipped him. He was fourteen years old and had long ago decided he was not going to cry every time the Overseer, or Master, brought out one of the whips hung in a small lean-to shed attached to the plantation’s red barn.