Dealing Out Poetry: Writing Verse Based on the Negocios Infernales Cards

One of the missions of making the Negocios Infernales RPG that Claire and I are working on has nothing to do with the game. We also wanted to make a writing tool to inspire writers and help them break out of their traditional ways of thinking. That, in fact, was one of the stated missions of the sabbatical: using game mechanics and gamic thinking to stretch my writing.

Today was our first official try at using the cards not for the game, but for art. You can judge the results for yourself, but I have to tell you, folks: I am pretty pleased.

Now, Claire is such a poet that she hardly needs anything to write poetry, except perhaps a cup of blackest tea. But she stated that the cards gave her that little nudge that allowed her to unleash things that have been on her mind. It reminds me…

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A Tale of Two Cities: Revisited

The house is full of composing right now. That sparked my jealous thing, so I started looking at the ragged lyrics I wrote for my Tale of Two Cities musical.

I’d given it up when I learned there already was a musical. And then didn’t start again because I thought, why adapt Dickens? I’ve got my own stuff to do.

But. There are some lyrics I still really like.

“Let Me Be Steel” from Act II


Lucie, you mustn’t be weak
Yes, you must stop your shaking
Lucie, you must keep your calm
While the whole world is breaking

Lucie the gentle, they say
How her tenderness fills her
Lucie compassionate, mild
Though her mildness kills her

If this is what tenderness brings
Cut it now from my bone
From anguish and impotence
Let me be turned to stone

Let me be steel
Let me be ice and murder
Vengeance, wrath and storm
Let me be steel
A rusted jaw to trap the foes
Who mean us harm

Make me like her–
Madame Defarge, or better–
Madame Guillotine!
An iron blade
A cold machine

Who can obliterate this fear?
Are there no Furies left to hear me?
No bright sword that I might wield
No shield at hand now he’s not near me?
I call down the frost and fire
Come and smother my compassion
For this woman whose desire
Contrives my husband’s execution
Why grieve for her bereavement
When I cannot change the past?
It’s tomorrow I’m afraid of
And the dawn will come too fast!

Lucie, you witnessed her woe
It was seething and wild
Lucie, you looked in her eyes
Saw the eyes of a child

Lucie, you sampled her rage
It’s the poison that eats her
She’ll feed it the requisite flesh
Till at last it defeats her

If this is what bitterness brings
Do I want it for mine?
Delight in the agony
Drink it like dark red wine?

Charles, I blame you
Can one man’s life be worth
A wife and child and home?
I wouldn’t change you
But can his value really be
More precious than your own?

Charles, I understand
It’s not the same, you know,
As saying I don’t mind
Oh, Charles, I think you’ll die of being kind

Charles, forgive me
Your sacrifice is small
Against this vicious flood
How could you live with
Knowing all our years of grace
Were bought with human blood?

Charles, I understand
I will show gentleness
And never let you see
The steel inside that almost vanquished me

And if my life must be a war
Why, then–
There have been wars before!

I’m just one woman
I have one duty
Come here, my Lucie
Mama’s done shaking
She will be strong for you
And she won’t cry anymore

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Content Warning

by C. S. E. Cooney

if that is freedom, fuck it
i don’t want it
to walk bare as a genital wart in the mayo clinic
swollen with liberty, flying the colors of the flag
fuck it, fuck your freedoms
give me plexiglass prisons, given me wardens in hazmat
give me solitary confinement
give me an oubliette
so I can forget
you and your fanfaronade freedoms

to hold my dying elder’s hand in hospice
that is freedom
you, your ilk, you kick it to dust
you kick it to dust with your leather shoes
to meet at feast together, eat together
marry on the day we choose
let our doctors see their children again
such freedom
you crush with as much disgust as the snake
beneath your heel

my venom grows
every night, every morning
chokevine murderthoughts
thorn and strangle me:
the freedom to be kind, to forgive
to live and let live
all flayed away
I am a criminal in my own mind
I deserve my chains

I don’t know what you deserve
(to do time for war crimes is what you deserve)
I don’t know what you think you deserve
but you take it anyway
no matter what it takes away from
all the rest of us

my friend, swaddled like a sarcophagus in the morgue
for one last look at her sister’s face
my friend, in her lonely hotel room, decontaminating her scrubs
while she Skypes with her cat
my friend, who stares out the window as Washington Heights
bangs its pots and pans
so tired, too tired to join the humble éclat, tired
from doing nothing, from staying inside, keeping the city safe

you spit in the face of my friends
you spit in the face of my friends
you little shit
you little shit


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Playlist for The Twice-Drowned Saint!

The release of a short novel, nested inside an anthology along with three very fine novellas (by Jessica P. Wick, Amanda J. McGee, and Mike Allen respectively), is a thing to be CELEBRATED WITH MUSIC!

Before I go further, allow me to link you to THE SINISTER QUARTET anthology! Click and see ALL the places you may purchase The Sinister Quartet from!

The Sinister Quartet, a Mythic Delirium Anthology

Now, below, to celebrate:

The author (moi!) hath made a playlist for THE TWICE-DROWNED SAINT, full of silent movie soundtracks, refugee songs, angel songs, glaciers melting (spoilers, darling), and kitchen heroes.


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My view at 5:26 AM, right before I got down and dirty with my edits.


Okay, I’ve been working pretty steadily on this writing bench o’ mine (borrowed) (in exile) since 6 AM-ish (well, I did break for breakfast), so I’m gonna stretch a bit. I may be done for the day.

I finished going over the hardcopy of my part of the The Sinister Quartet–that is, my short novel, The Twice-Drowned Saint. (PreOrder WHEREVER!!! Also, INDIEBOUND!)

All I have to do now is input the changes into the document my editor sent me, and I’ll be DONE!

It might take me a few more mornings, but then I shall be TOTALLY SHUCKED OF EDITING DUTIES and FREE AGAIN!

Free to… create RECIPES from our STORIES, and video-edit down my PAJAMA PARTY READING (or possibly re-shoot it now that I’ve re-charged the real camera), and BLOG about THINGS and WRITE POETRY, without feeling GUILTY!!!


I know this work is also part of The Work. And I am SO GRATEFUL I was able to do this last round of edits.


Until June. When I get my edits back for Saint Death’s Daughter. Heh heh heh. Then, we start all over again.


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These Great Outdoors; These Indoors Times

Here we are, back in the house I grew up in. I’m even in the last bedroom I had (we tended to play musical chairs with bedrooms as we got older and needed or wanted different things from our living spaces). Currently, when it’s not sheltering guests from the east coast, it is a yoga/meditation room for the two (currently furloughed) massage therapists, one professional dancer, and my awesome mama who live in the house.

Carlos and I are camped out in here, quite cozily. Our bed is a snuggly heap of foam mats on the floor, which is not too different from our futon back home. Mama lent us her desk, and I bought a small, very portable folding desk from OfficeMax. Carlos and I have lined them up side by side right under the window. When Carlos is doing serious writing, he goes out to the front room and sits in the small easy chair by the fireplace, but I like my bench, which reminds me of my writing bench at home.

Right now, he’s sitting at his desk, with Roll20 and Zoom (audio only) open at the same time. Our friends Fran, Tom, DongWon, and Josh are playtesting our tabletop RPG-in-development “Negocios Infernales,” which Carlos has managed to input into Roll20. It’s his third virtual playtest, but the first one I’m here sitting in on. The fact that Carlos got this far in virtual game-building is, to me, terribly impressive. I’d’ve given up crying long ago.

It’s funny, the things each of can do more or less tirelessly that the other finds tedious or all but impossible.

Take game design for example. Carlos spent hours making this virtual play possible. Me, I took a nap. However, for the other game he’s developing–which is a card game called “Favors”–making prototypes requires a lot of cutting and stuffing into sleeves. I CAN DO THAT FOR HOURS. Just give me an audiobook and I’m happy occupied. Carlos hates doing things like that. I tell him it’s because I did office work for so many years. I’m like the resident envelope stuffer.

We both love being helpful to my mama, however. We have that in common. So today, we went out into the alley out back and attacked the chest-high alley plants growing out there. (“What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.” — Emerson.)

Here is another situation in which we are different:

Carlos in general dislikes gardening, but he loves the weedwhacker. He says it makes him feel like a god mowing down armies. It’s fast, it’s loud, it’s mechanized; it is the perfect tool for a job like this. But I? I like CHOPPING THINGS DOWN. And also LOPPING THINGS OFF.

So while he mowed down his grass armies, I went through a pile of tools until I found the LIMB LOPPER. Because there was a huge patch of greenery with stalks as thick as branches. And they needed lopping.


All of which to say, we spent a good hour outside doing yard work. Which we never get to do in Queens (to Carlos’s great joy and contentment; he’d rather be writing) (so would I generally) (but after three years, I was super ready for some yard work).

I say this because this was after I went on a little neighborhood bike ride with my mama. And Carlos and my mama and I spent ten or fifteen minutes in the backyard shadowboxing, wielding bamboo sticks like tennis rackets and fencing foils and the batons from A Chorus Line’s “One.” That’s a lot of fun, physical movement for me. I revel in it. I glory in it. I don’t get this in apartment living.

I’m not sure if I’m losing weight, and I’m not sure I want to know. But I do know that I feel more deeply inside my body. My hands were trembling after all that lopping–I had to hold onto my drink with both hands!–and that tells me I was using and strengthening muscles that probably need it. My thighs are happy from three bike rides this week. Sore, yes, but happy. Also, I squatted down to get something the other day–and then I squatted again to fix it–and sprang back up, and realized my knees hadn’t creaked. I didn’t groan or huff. My legs didn’t complain. And it… it’d been a while.

Right now, Governor Cuomo has extended NY on Pause till May 15th. We’re therefore going to be extending our stay here yet again, for at least another fortnight past our already-extended return date. I’m in a city where most of my mother’s side of the family, and some of my father’s side, lives–and I can’t see them–except a few brothers who drop by and hang around outside in the yard to chat with us for a few minutes once every few weeks. Grocery shopping is stressful (we keep it at a minimum) and my ability to make money through narration is basically null, but…

But, in general, I’m happy. We’re safe. We’re comfortable. We’re among loving family. We take turns making family dinners, or sometimes just scrounging for ourselves. We watch things with my mama–Carlos and I watched the first two episodes of Los Espookys with her, and mama and I watched the new Emma, and alongside Caitlyn Paxson on Skype from Toronto. We kept waggling eyebrows at each other and making inappropriate comments in the chat. We play games at the table from time to time. We plant wildflowers.

And I get to go bike riding, which I’m afraid to do in New York. It’s a solitary activity–even if you’re biking with others–that harms none. I’m very grateful for that. I’m grateful to be here.

I’m worried about everybody. I have friends whose family and friends are dying. I miss being home. Plans for the rest of the summer and year are rippling and shedding. We must remain complex. We must remain flexible. We must remain ready to help.

And I must remember what Carlos says constantly: “Joy is local.” The world is monstrous, but joy is local. Both at once. And infinite else. We must remain complex.

I don’t seem to be any less busy. Not really spending a lot of time binging shows or books. Much is coming due. The trouble is juggling a schedule that seems to amorphous, or assigning priorities. Lists help. Waking up early helps–5:30-6:30. I don’t seem able to wake myself up with any number of alarms, but I’ll get up if Carlos wakes me. Even if the day gets slippery, at least I feel like there was enough of it, if I get up early.

I’m really enjoying writing the second draft of Fiddle, my new novel. It makes me laugh. It’s ridiculous and romantic and bizarre, and it suits my mood.

But I’m taking a break from Fiddle next week to finish copyedits on my ARC of The Sinister Quartet, which is coming out in June. My short novel–about 60,000 words–The Twice-Drowned Saint, will be found therein. In the upcoming weeks, I’ll be creating recipes based on all four stories in the book, playlists for my novel, and videos of me reading excerpts.

This is in addition to game designing with Carlos (for his sabbatical, and also because we really want to get Negocios Infernales up and running), and helping him create videos/content for his upcoming book (vigorously virtual) book launch of Sal and Gabi Fix the Universe. He’s been hard (and happily) at work giving virtual presentations for schools and libraries, and that content is just going to accelerate and keeping on coming. I’m very excited for him.

And that’s the state of the Hernandooney Household In Exile.

Oh, and if you’ve read this far–his book launch is on May 5th. He and Rick Riordan will be live on Instagram at 8 PM Eastern, challenging each other to a MYTH WAR in which the loser cuts off all his hair. Carlos made this graphic for it:


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No Certain Aspects

(A Spell for Mir)

by C. S. E. Cooney

no moon
is rising in this house today
no planet setting, nor sun
is dancing–all is quiet, all is
dark in this
theatre of the heavens

the street
of lights is quenched
stars stuffed under bushels, seats
are empty, the velvet cordons knotted
no movement
in the midnight curtains

there is a ghost lamp
keeping company
with the past
campfire of our phantoms
its own dance, its own dance

somewhere in the abyss
restless colossi
stir beneath cloud forms
dream in crystal coffers of ammonia
beneath adamantine oceans
waiting to rise

waiting to rise, and dress
in finest raiment, leathern slippers
waiting to crawl
through your casement, ring the bell
at your door
waiting to visit your very house

where you have lit a lamp
just for them

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Ekphrastic Acrylics

“Ocean Beach” by Amelia Cooney, Acrylic Pour

Nonestic Meets the Nothing
by C. S. E. Cooney
for Amelia L. Cooney

there, where the waters of oz
run sun-rich with silt
where those old waters run
powdered by paths pummeled by tornados
there, where gold-dust mingles with
bitter tears of dispossessed gargoyles
with silver sequins, and sad apples, and lonely-for-homeness
there, where come the waters, the waters of the river mouth
hard up against the nonestic sea
there, oh!
a terrible sea, that nothing sea
like a storm swept in
from the neverending story

“Sunset River,” by Joel Cooney, Acrylic Pour

Parochial Playground
by C. S. E. Cooney
for Joel Cooney

light as a feather, stiff as a board
light as a feather, stiff as a board
bright as a peacock, cold and hard
bright as a peacock, cold and hard

shove a shiv in the river
let its guts run down
shove a shiv in the river
let its guts run down

set a fire to the river
let the wyrms crawl ’round
set a fire to the river
let the wyrms crawl ’round

you are a
limnologist, standing at the edge
of a river
standing at that place where sunset meets
water, where land meets
lava, you are balancing
in the riparian zone, between
the green leaves of
home and
a channel of molten potential

eyes open, all-radiant


The first poem comes out of that bright, bold yellow in Amelia’s painting. I immediately thought of it as “Oz Yellow”–like the yellow brick road. The similarities between her roiling blue ocean and “The Nothing” in the Neverending Story struck me, and for the first time, I thought of those two childhood books (and films) together. Today I learned that the ocean of Oz was called “the Nonestic Ocean” which means “the non-existing ocean.” And that made me think of “The Nothing” as well.

The second poem “Parochial Playground” came out of a memory of that old schoolyard game we used to play: “Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board.” It begins by a circle of children lifting a single supine child in their midst all together, each child using only their index and middle fingers to raise her. It ends with that child–her eyes closed–being led to and placed upon a cement curb stop, told she is on the Empire State Building, and then… pushed off. The fall is not long. And it is forever.

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From WIP: Fiddle

Context: A conversation between two goblin sisters of Hatch Khelekeres— Loxósseliss “Fiddle” and Dida–about the half-selkie boy (elephant seal, from the Pinkbladder family) whom Dida wants to marry.

These goblin girls both have spider-like attributes. Dida shares a few things in common with the spitting spider. Lox (or “Fiddle”) is very much like a brown recluse. She likes computer games, staying in, and accidentally biting people who startle her.

“Wait,” I said, and Dida stopped rhapsodizing for a second. “Does your boy have immunity to . . . you know?” I gestured to her wet mouth.

Dida’s semi-translucent hair-legs writhed in ecstasy across her entire scalp. She smoothed the silken tatters of her mini-dress, then immediately rumpled them again as she began hopping up and down and hugging herself

“He’s fine.”

Her smirk indicated something more like “and by fine I mean HIS ASS” or perhaps “to people who are immune to its toxicity, this saliva is a feature not a bug.”

She went on to explain, “Gentry-babes from the Fathom Realms are particularly robust.”

“I see. More so than ungulates?”

The smirk deepened. “Brine is an excellent lubricant.”

I shuddered. “Saltwater? In all those crevices?”

She laughed. “Friction!”



“Rash. Rash on all your carapaces.”

“He’s worth it. I promise. Those thighs! That nose bladder! So. Will you go with me?”

And then she said the P word again. And again. And again.

“Please? Please, Fiddle? Pretty please? With sugar on top of dwayberry tarts and fruit flies and earwigs—please?”

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TweetSpeak Poetry Prompt 5: Mystery: Questions

From TweetSpeak’s Poetry Prompt Free Mini-Series. Sign up at their website to get prompts in mail.

This is the last of the prompts in this mini-series based on the book How to Read a Poem, based on Billy Collins’ poem “Introduction to Poetry“, but there are more free prompts here.

Based on Robert Haight’sHow Is It That The Snow
Write a poem that begins with a question. Don’t try too hard to answer it.

Since When

by C. S. E. Cooney

for Kiri

since when
did we take up our cameras, capture
our faces–
graceless, ageless, haggard and fey, shades of
dwayberry and moth-wing-gray
in the dusk?
since when was that us?

since when
did we use tablecloths for
instead of affixing them to our
persons with safety pins and fringed sashes–
choose to do dishes, when we might be prancing off
for sultry parklands, hand in hand, crushing
dusty moonbeams with our combat boots?

since when
did we reread Rilla, looking for escape
in friendly old pages, hoping to shake
off days of confinement, grinding duties
fearful uncertainties, find not comfort but
consanguinity with grief
death tolls that defy belief, and hear again
(as for the first time, again) that phantom
piper, and wonder–if he plays, he plays
for thee, for me–
for our beloveds or beloved strangers
on my side
or on thy side of the sea?

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