“SYNTAX” by Ken Poyner


It is a mystery for some, but not for me.  I have seen it before, and you only have to see it once to be hooked.  It gets into the sinew of you and you cannot help but feel it is both wrong and right, normal and misshapen.  Common and special.

It starts out as an individual thing.  Individuals begin to lose their nouns. They lose their words for places; then they begin to lose their words for things they do not see very often.  Soon, though, it is things and implements that they do see often, that they use and understand. Not long, and the contents of their own living rooms in the majority are not namable, are corporeal but not conversationally a reference other than by direction.

The nouns go.  They do not whisper one last utility and then vanish, nor do they fire out in screams and then collapse in to a woeful spit of flame. No.  You can go down to any drain and see the nouns caught in the eddies created when anything draining away backs up against trash or leaves or anything that makes for a breakwater.  Nouns swirling in meaningless whirlpools, caught in debris at the edges of clipped front yards.

You might fish them out, pen them to a backyard clothesline – in time, use them again.  No one has thought of it.

Soon the individual phenomenon becomes social.  People who have lost nouns realize others – their neighbors and commercial associates – have lost the exact same nouns.  Or at least have lost nouns that are applied in the same way, used in similar circumstances, employed as anchors to conversations embracing the same subjects.  Nouns that in one way or another occupy, for more than one person, the same space – if, nonetheless, for each individual bent just slightly differently around the mystery of syntax.

People note that some have lost nouns primarily around the house; others in more public and wide windy spaces; some in travel alone.

It is only natural that those with similar losses would band together, find in each other’s experiences a common purpose, or at least a common hand.  Even given the similarities, how could someone still retaining most of the nouns for his second story bedroom relate substantively to someone who could not reference his second story at all?

This is not the mystery.  Like to like gather; citizens of similar loss make pact.  But then, so divided and collected, they all continue to lose nouns and ever more are all one and the same:  a collection of divisions grown comfortable but indistinguishable. What once was safety in sameness, now is but pockets of safety, each safe zone an identical light in the dark.

As the nouns grow ever more scarce, sentences begin to lean heavily on their verbs.  Many sentences are resolved to remain incomplete. In fact, it becomes the fashion: short, choppy stabs at meaning.  The speed of everything accelerates. Action. Direction. Order.

Adverbs.  A conjunction.  An article. One marooned noun now and again.  If they cannot define themselves with their nouns, the afflicted will fall to applying their verbs to the problem, to their possessions, to their loved ones.

Verbs that move and angle and propel and position and play and placate and render and uproot and plan.

The last remaining nouns are not yet lost.  Each is happy for a while to be the sole affection of the crowd, and they remain happily intent for as long as they can, relishing the celebrity of scarcity.  But soon the elasticity of the need for them becomes too great. They begin to fray; they begin to hold more meaning than they can focus. They tire. Soon, worn and threadbare and looking almost like verbs unfed, they elect to go.

The last nouns pack what they can salvage from the action-heavy sentences that they have been left to buttress, and walk out of town under cover of the last stand of the adverbials.

The next morning there is nothing but activity in the citizenry’s eyes.  Muscles do not know they are muscles, but they tense prepared for the day’s non-stop eviction of energy, for the coming and going, the racing and the slowing.  Mouths form into the train stations of onrushing blind activity, of continuing and continuing and continuing without the need for conclusion or destination. It is amazing how much dead weight nouns could be.

It is no mystery, not to me, none.  I have seen it before. I ask, without a pronoun, why in all of this would I act?  But hearing is only hearing; listening is only listening; understanding is only understanding.

It is time for me to leave.  I must get home while the house is but a blur and arriving leads to settling leads to resting leads to rejuvenation leads to the wife saying whoever you are:  I am prepared. I am prepared. I am hoping it will become a mystery, though what was once a means to an end is now only a means.


Ken’s seventh book, his third collection of mini-fictions, “The Revenge of the House Hurlers” should be available at largely any bookselling site, and possibly a misguided bookstore or two, around the first of February, 2019.  Four of his previous six books are still in print, and two of those are mini-fictions also.


Constant Animals, 42 unruly fictions

Victims of a Failed Civics, speculative poetry

The Book of Robot, speculative poetry

Avenging Cartography, 55 bizarre fictions

Available at www.barkingmoosepress.com,

www.amazon.com,  www.sundialbooks.net,

and most bookselling web sites.



Evenings I walk between the lines and lines of nanocarbon support beams, watching the smoke from my cigarette swirl in the eddies created by the churning atmosphere blowers.  The slightly sweet air drifts stealthily in at perhaps two or three miles an hour: just slow enough that movement within the building can break the constant current and set up a series of mathematical dependencies that will curl the air around its eagerly kissed disturbance for hours.  Through those shadows my smoke wishlessly rises and falls seemingly at random, and it engages me as I slowly clear my mind and scratch idly at the artificial dirt maintained on the environmentally sealed floor. Occasionally, when conditions are right, the loose smoke speeds off in something as close to a whirlwind as I will ever see.

The unpredictability of small things thrills me.

The last of the day’s caffeine is slowly working through me, and this will be the final cigarette of the evening.  Once I have finished this one and walked through my domain for a good listen, it will be up to bed. It is not so good to strive against the elasticity of proven production schedules.   The morning will crack slowly and artificially out of the northeast corner of the massive building and I will start again another day of wondrously cocksure work.

The air, the temperature, the pressure can all be maintained to other-worldly standards, but I revel in this limited gravity, and can easily fly to the greatest heights in my enclosure, then sit at nothing more than one end of a glide path, looking securely down.   I have my roost there. I can commute ceiling to floor endlessly, yet save my strength for better tasks. I have a marvelous brood. I have watched ever more pullets become biddies than I could have dreamed of, had I not been selected for the neighboring planet program.

I doubt my grandrooster, besotted with a denser world’s gravity, could have imagined his grandfowl: growing large on genetically pure feed and urged upward by reduced gravity, marshaling a huge flock of the predictably perfect, the finest in chicken stock, the best egg-layers of any generation, all set off to elicit a product beyond any other.  An entire omelet from one egg. One egg alone the center of a family’s dinner table. A couple with but one egg in their backpack, looking to stop half way in their idles and crack the lone boiled ovum open to share the wealth of protein and vitamins. My grandrooster’s biddies, in his tiny flock on our home world – for as much as he might peck at the backs of their heads, no matter how heavy his heart in his chest – could never have produced in such a world such an artifact, and yet he would be proud of his flock’s tiny eggs, simply for lack of imagination.

I have no worries, but when I worry, it is not a worry about who I might have been had I not been selected to rule an off-world flock.  I do not dream of open green spaces, where I might peck at gizzard stones with a stringy flock of solid but gravity stunted chickens; where the collectors of eggs feed us from the open bowl of an apron; where there are bugs to supplement a cruelly diverse diet; where life is wire and beating against your own extra weight for lift.

No.   I worry of freedom, and a sun that does not rise by computer specifications.   In our prize coop, conditions at times can be too perfect. When I dream of freedom, it is of myself, standing three or four feet tall, the lack of gravity having made me a monster.  I strut in the faint red glare, my feathers gray with the lack of light, a glass of scotch in one wing, unfiltered cigarette in the other. The air would need to be thicker, but I would covet the limitless red dust, the rocky soil, the chill of the unbroken climate.  Behind me my flock would stretch, scratching in true Martian soil, looking for true Martian nesting materials: all of us free on the open plain to have our eggs amass and our biddies go into brood.

And then the first true Martian generation:   a family of free red range chickens, scurrying about in the thin atmosphere, the unburdening half gravity:  for the lack of thicker air, their feathers thoughtlessly falling where they are shed, corpses of production, a carpet of industry.  Wondrous feathers nonetheless.

For now, the members of my dominion settle into their artificial nesting places, and our eggs roll mechanically away:  chicken eggs, yes, but different for the halo of Mars, the biophysics it introduces to the cycles of once earthly fowl.  Even here, even now, we are not of the breed that was left behind.

We are earthly chickens no longer.  I put my cigarette out with the butt of my left foot.  It is almost time to take in the artificial night, to prepare for the artificial day.  But one day, this cycle will be real. We will stop filling egg crate after egg crate for the long trip back to a world now unknown.  We will lay for a domestic audience, or for ourselves; and when I crow, it will be to a disc far more distant than any of my ancestors could have known:  praise the morning, no matter how dim the light.



After years of impersonating a Systems Engineer, Ken has retired to watch his wife of forty-one years continue to break both Masters and Open world raw powerlifting records.  Ken’s two current poetry (“The Book of Robot”, “Victims of a Failed Civics”) and two short fiction collections (“Constant Animals”, “Avenging Cartography”) are available from Amazon and most book selling websites;www.barkingmoosepress.com;  as well as Sundial Books in Chincoteague, where Ken and Karen go to escape irreality

“The Quest” by Ken Poyner


I now use electric shears.  I have a set of various sizes, bends of scissor, length of blade. All are rechargeable cordless models. I have both a home recharger and one that plugs into the car AC outlet.  The problem with the car charger is that you have to charge one set of shears at a time, and often you just cannot get all the ones you think you will need done when you need them.  You have to predict what series of shears you are most likely to use, what conditions you think you might most likely find in the wild.

But it is better than when I had to use manual clippers.  More awkward, more time consuming. I don’t know how I ever got a monkey shaved.  But I did. I got so many monkeys shaved that one day I lost count. I held one monkey nearly shaved and thought to myself, this will be … will be ….   I realized I could not remember how many had come before, could no longer fathom the simple mathematics of my conquests.

I am faster now with the power clippers, but before the upgrade I was fast, too.  The longer it would take, the more likely the monkey would squirm away, the animal would land a solid punch or bite, or I would be caught.   Speed has always been prized. I’ve heard the wardens thrashing through the brush, certain they were going to slap cuffs on me and send one more monkey shaver to be fined and his shears confiscated – but, by the time they made the clearing or game path, where the monkey hair was spread all around like the leavings of a celebration, all they would find is a newly shaved monkey.

I’ve changed my method since the electricity was introduced.  I start now at the head, work down the back. Used to, I would always use a harness to keep the animal from biting me; but now, while I use the harness with most shavings, quite a few I can whip through with dexterity alone, abandoning the harness to harvest more speed.

The object, of course, is not always the cleanest of shaves.  So what if there is a tuft left here or a tuft left there? Sometimes you get down to the skin, sometimes there is a half inch of fur left.  The wardens getting close, or even a particularly unruly monkey, can cause you to speed up, to rush the process as much as you can. Nick a monkey good and proper, and his or her resistance goes up several notches, you had better hope you had used the harness and that it holds.  I’ve nearly lost a finger to an angry monkey, been kicked so hard I thought some of my ribs had been displaced.

But it is worth it.  Worth the near misses of the wardens.  Worth the ire of an uncontrollable, incensed monkey before or after the indignity of shaving.  Worth the small injuries, the long road trips, the treks through the brush, the hubris of the jungle.  Worth learning which shear is best to use on what species of monkey, what combinations of blades are properly combined for rough and detail work, worth learning the delicate angles of restraint.

It is all for the enlightening result:  that newly shaved monkey, howling, picking at the hair left, the look of unknowing in its eyes slowly becoming the shielded look of an animal that understands that it has been mastered, utterly mastered in a way beyond its widest understanding.  Some men might capture or hunt or cage, but the animal understands that. The wardens understand that. But we monkey shavers, we ask for more out of our efforts, more out of our lives. We look for the dull disbelief, the lost connections, the rootless alienation.  In our wake, we leave both men and monkeys completely perplexed, mysteriously astounded. It gives us that precious visceral, almost sacred, understanding of our overlord achievement: a shaved monkey racing away, and our strange dominance is again for a while undeniable.


Ken’s collections of short fiction, “Constant Animals” and “Avenging Cartography”, and his latest collections of speculative poetry, “Victims of a Failed Civics” and “The Book of Robot”, can be obtained from Barking Moose Press, www.barkingmoosepress.com, as well as Amazon and most on-line book outlets.  He serves as bewildering eye-candy at his wife’s power lifting affairs, where she continues to set world raw powerlifting records.  His poetry lately has been sunning in “Analog”, “Asimov’s”, “Poet Lore”; and his fiction has yowled in “Spank the Carp”, “Red Truck”, “Café Irreal”.  New books annoying potential publishers:  “Gravity’s Children”, speculative poetry; “The Revenge of the House Hurlers”, brief fiction. www.kpoyner.com.