Today, from New York, I introduce LindaAnn LoSchiavo, writer and thinker. LindaAnn was nominated for the SFPA’s Elgin Award last year, for a collection of poetry. She has many works to her credit.
Handmaiden to the Dark Side
A bogeyman, like the one lying in wait under your bed, is likely to be unprepossessing. Beauty in folklore reflected inner worthiness, kindness, and morality. Conversely, fantasy’s evil-doers―goblins, trolls, demons, and miscreants―are born beastly: grotesque, misshapen, stunted, lacking sex appeal.
Tweaking that stereotype, Bram Stoker [1847-1912] decided to depict his iconic bad boy and animated corpse as a humanoid shapeshifter, erotically charged, his fangs coexisting with a sensual mouth. A charming cosmopolitan, Count Dracula is a tall, strong, mature aristocrat with the ability to regain youthfulness via blood-sucking. Stoker’s wealthy Transylvanian confirms his passion for real estate and ancient architecture, explaining, “A new home would kill me.” He’s courtly, too, holding the door open―for his guest’s untimely departure.
Dracula, the 1897 bestseller that’s been a model for supernatural horror writers, is one of the titles that thrilled me during my formative years. I read prodigiously as a child, one library book a day, memorizing poems and whatever caught my fancy.
Introduced to grand opera as a toddler, and taken to Broadway shows since I was four years old, I was not shielded from menacing adult themes onstage. For instance, since I had devoured Henry James’ gothic horror novella The Turn of the Screw as an elementary school pupil, I was taken to a performance of Benjamin Britten’s chamber opera adaptation. It featured two evil spirits who prey on the children; sexy, demonic Peter Quint and his cohort Miss Jessel, whose beautiful costumes and vocal chops dispelled some of their inherent Jamesian monstrosity.
Narrative and drama padded my girlish dreams. At nine, I had a poem accepted for publication and staged my first one-act drama in New York City (adapted from Alcott’s Little Women), my script typed six times for cast members. My nine-year-old self never heard of the sleight-of-hand trick of photocopying.
Whether writing or reading, what captivated me were the transgressive characters, who dared to be different, whether it was Jo March, Queen of the Night, Peter Quint, or Count Dracula. But whenever I put pen to paper, unlike Bram Stoker, I gave villainy a long leash. No intrusive vampire hunters in my stanzas.
My speculative poetry collection, Elgin Award nominee, A Route Obscure and Lonely [Wapshott Press, 2019, 62 pgs.] dances to dark music, featuring, for example, Black Sabbath rites, sinister deeds, and the Grim Reaper, who’s kept busy.
Two of my poems focus on vampires and what they vibe to: real estate and rejuvenation. “Unquiet House,” a dramatic monologue, is voiced by a vampire, posing as a house-hunter.
Unquiet House Dilapidated house. The broker’s keen To pitch the property to newlyweds From out-of-state, which we pretend to be. Maria’s chatter is distracting him, Eyes showing gleams of true engagement, winks. I slip out ― for a photo, I explain ― Meticulously cautious. Quiet shoes. How many bargain hunters have been here, Inspecting dirty cellar walls for clues Of water damage, not suspecting mold Is not the worst homeowner’s legacy? The deck is clouded. Spiders overhead, Suspended from dead vines, await a broom Knifing through filaments spun secretly. Unnatural deeds carry threads forward Like the black widow spider, breast-stroking Through gossamer voids under ragged moons. Sweet blood’s in undiscovered special rooms, Unconquerable sorrows tendon-taut. The “For Sale” sign nods back and forth as if It recognizes me through my disguise. No longer called a conjuror, my steps Still carry the pulsations of lost hearts. The agent doesn’t realize what’s right Behind him, why he must be sacrificed. Maria’s eyes meet mine, a message swept Across in spidery blinks of eyelash. The undead must have dreams for which to wait.
Of the thirty-three poems in A Route Obscure and Lonely, twenty-six were written in 2019 for this collection and composed with some symmetry. For instance, “The Mermaid’s Lament” was paired with “What Mother Failed to Mention about Dating a Mer-Man;” a chant royal “Persephone in January” was mated with a dramatic monologue on Persephone’s abduction “The Son-in-Law from Hell;” “Samhain” set on October 31 was offset by a spookier vision inspired by Mussorgy’s 1867 orchestral tone poem: “Night on Bald Mountain, St. John’s Eve, June 23.”
Then, ready for another round of vampire versifying, I retrofitted Dracula as a player in a Regency romance in the vein of Jane Austen. The first line of Pride and Prejudice―about “a truth universally acknowledged,” inspired the epigraph to “The Tale of the Vintner’s Daughter.” Her family’s vineyards depend on sun, whereas “he shuns daylight, potato-like.” Could Dracula’s real estate portfolio be date-bait?
The Tale of the Vintner’s Daughter “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a foreign bachelor, in possession of a drafty castle, must be in want of a wife.” She overheard her parents mentioning A vast estate, long vacant, just changed hands. Inheritance. Fortunate foreigner, Related distantly. A gentleman ― Aristocrat ― whose bloodline staked his claim, Will take possession soon of Mount Ardeal. Townsfolk with daughters gave approval, sight Unseen. A bachelor! Well-circumstanced! Considering an heiress gets respect At any age, she was insulted when Her father dared to call her “an old maid.” Inspecting manicured and chaste white hands, Aware there’s merit in matched wedding bands, Realities of warring unmet needs Upbraid the tight lips of virginity. Receptions will be held, bite-size buffets. This heir, unknown, is suddenly “a catch.” The vintner’s daughter can sense life’s about To change once she’s in a relationship. Enchanting friendships could lead to courtship. Her early childhood memories were filled With bone-dry men admitting they had come To slake their thirst, which is unquenchable, She learned, while watching mother pour and pour. Vacationing at vineyards tutored her. She watched the women kneeling to tie off Vines ― how their expertise was in the knots Not grapes ― enduring, bending, bowing low, And salving calloused hands at quitting time. Admiring the fruitfulness of their Harvest on horseback, they see an ornate Black carriage pass, its curtains tightly drawn. It must be him, the heir they’ve heard about. Born in Romania, this bachelor Inherited five castles, acreage. Unlike the grapes, their ripening athirst For sun, he shuns daylight, potato-like, Basks in his soft cocoon of native soil. Their fete won’t start till red horizon’s drained And autumn air’s electric with decay. Assuming his disguise, Count Dracula Arrives, polite, attired properly, Seductive, well turned-out considering He can’t see his reflection. Mirrors won’t Hold him. Avoiding long engagements, he’ll Tell ladies he prefers to sleep alone. Echolocation guides his strong black wings To candle-lit bed chambers. Milky white Breasts, pleasure’s playthings, don’t stir his manhood. Sharp fangs seek virginal smooth necks. Always His type, blood’s sustenance is what he craves, Imagining the process from the grave. He’s parched when entering the ballroom. Delaying satisfaction sweetens it. Unmarried females study him, inspect His gold ancestral jewelry engraved Impiously. Flirtatious words affect The vintner’s daughter, nodding glassy-eyed, Intoxicated. His gaze penetrates Until she’s under his hypnotic sway. The heiress has arranged to meet the Count In private. At eleven they will mount Their horses, undetected, take a ride. Discreet, she’ll hide in the orangerie, Alerting him to the romantic grove By a rose-petalled trail, a daring ruse. Excited to imagine his caress, The dark dissolving inhibitions, she’s Startled by flapping wings overhead. Peculiarly, her petals were consumed. Spotting a white handkerchief on a chair, She rests her rosebuds there ― a silent prayer.
Published in Bewildering Stories, Issue # 825, Sep. 16, 2019
Dark poetry is not a road to warm refuge. Death occurs often in these pages and never in service of a higher purpose. Yet contemplating the eternal quietus is bracing. For away from the abyss, all height’s revised.
N.B.: Some poems have a video version.