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The Hieroglyphics

The Hieroglyphics

by Michael Stewart, J. A. Tyler (Editor)

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Fiction. "In THE HIEROGLYPHICS, a novel(la) in prose poems, Michael Stewart tackles nothing less than a radical revision of creation myths that comments darkly on the ancient stories we have received & the future we may be facing. Stewart's language is spare & haunting, the allusions resonating, in this work that 'reminds us how pale are the achievements of men'"&


Fiction. "In THE HIEROGLYPHICS, a novel(la) in prose poems, Michael Stewart tackles nothing less than a radical revision of creation myths that comments darkly on the ancient stories we have received & the future we may be facing. Stewart's language is spare & haunting, the allusions resonating, in this work that 'reminds us how pale are the achievements of men'"—Wendy Barker.

Product Details

Mud Luscious Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.00(h) x 0.30(d)
Age Range:
16 Years

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Read an Excerpt

The Hieroglyphics

By Michael Stewart

Dzanc Books

Copyright © 2014 Open Road Distribution
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-1726-7


1. { Eternity }

God is like a beast; he does not know time. To know time is man's alone, it is a weight only the seed of Adam may feel.

2. { The Universe }

It is the vast stretching. It is the smoothest, like water. It is ever coiling. The stars are just the shimmer of light off its scales. It is without end swallowing its own tail, its body resting in its mouth, its mouth resting on its body. It is ever watchful; when it blinks the sky darkens.

3. { The Year }

The first of their strange children born in a year is named & the year is given this same name. It is believed that the child & the year are one.

4. { A Month }

So each month there is a celebration & a new honor is given to her. Even the old women come to her on their knees & whisper requests. But when the last month comes, & winter begins to set on them, they stone the child, ending the year. Then prepare for the next.

5. { A Season }

The seasons are another of the Egyptians' tricks. Their tax collectors with their knotted ropes sectioned off the movements of the great bodies, as you might separate horses or an enemy's spears. Still, the wind drags its teeth over the five nations & the Nile satisfies its hunger when it pleases.

6. { What They Mean by a Hawk }

The hawk does not rise or fall at a slant like other birds. He plummets & soars. All stories refer to the one story.

7. { The Soul }

It is from heat that life comes. A lifeless body sealed from predators, but still exposed to the sun, will produce life, flawed & deformed maggots, but life. Our lips grow cold when we are close to death.

In the South there is a species of birds without mouths, which live only on the heat of the sun. At night these birds are so still they appear dead, but the heat from even a small fire is enough to make them stir & to blink their eyes, although it is not enough to allow them to fly.

8. { Ares & Aphrodite }

Our history & our future are written in omens & even the new beliefs cannot change this. Ares is followed by Pices, composed of Aphrodite & her son Eros. The Hunter always moves towards Leo whom he can never catch.

9. { Marriage }

When they speak of marriage they talk of crows nesting in an old woman's cunt.

10. { The Only Begotten }

Like the sons of Cain they are tender in their hatred of God. Like glass they are only revealed when they rebuke the light.

Since females do not exist among them they mix their semen with warm clay & in this way fashion children. Each father devises a son.

Sometimes they collect their spears & win wives. But the women brought back wither quickly, their breasts dry & from their folds tiny cocks protrude, which are without semen & cannot grow erect.

11. { What They Mean by a Vulture }

These women have fashioned their own spears & thus have no need for men. There are stories of them descending from their city for a week every year & engaging in great orgies. But those stories are not true. When these women wish to fill their wombs they open themselves to the North Wind & are covered by him for five days. During this time they take neither food nor drink, their only hunger being for conception.

They do not nurse their daughters on milk. Rather they make deep cuts in their thighs upon which the children are allowed to give suck. For this reason their daughters are fearless: that blood is warm.

This tribe has warred with the armies of Alexander, with the people of Cathay, against even the hordes of demon-men to the West; they littered the hills with the bodies of those giants. There are stories of the women using the dead for pleasure. These are not true, but the women do return to the battlefield; they bend over those still moaning. They are quick with their knives. They are the very opposite of pity.

12. { Hephaistus }

That tangle of a boy, all cock & legs. Broken fingers & oily hair.

13. { What the Stars Signify }

& by God the movement of the stars & the whole of the universe is accomplished. For apart from God nothing exists.

To read the stars is to know God's will. &, because time is unknown to God, our history as well as our future is written in the same script in that same book.

Our Horoscopist has learned that the movement of five determines the economy of the universe. Each night he notes the position of these stars, their waning & waxing magnitude, if they are covered by clouds, if their movement is forward or retrograde.

His notes are kept secret. Even the King may not know what is written in them. Divination without worship is an abomination. It is to not know time, which is an affront to God.

14. { What a Baboon Signifies }

Are not like other beasts who die in one day. But a part of them dies on each day for seventy-two days & is honored with funeral rites in the temples. Thus the temples have seventy-two rooms, & seventy-two Priests, each named after a part of the baboon.

15. { Moonrise }

The moon does not give off its own light, but borrows the light of the sun & reflects it as if it were its own. Such is the way with the good in men.

16. { The Two Equinoxes }

At the first point of Aries & the first point of Leo each year the sun spends its time equally between earth & heaven, which in large tells us the story of Hephaistus.

17. { Spiritedness }

Wrestling a lion, of the two testing each other against each other for many hours, neither finding in the other weakness. Hephaistus' form is said to have approached poetry. But what are fingers to claws; strong arms to such jaws? & who is to say the lion was not the Sun teaching the great Hephaistus humility?

18. { Strength }

To depict strength they draw the torn face of Hephaistus.

19. { On Guard }

We are awaiting the flood of the Emim, who our Priests have told us are coming to drown the wickedness of men, which is great on the earth. Man whose every imagination of the thoughts of his heart is on evil continuously.

20. { Fear }

We remove the fear from our daughters. If she is frightened of the dark then we tell her the night is full of jackals. We describe their teeth & the sound of their footsteps. In this way she learns to fear them more than the night. We push this; we make muffled steps outside of her tent until she is only tears & a fear of jackals. Until her trembling is four-legged. Only then do we offer her a spear & show her courage in a sharp point.

21. { The Rising of the Nile }

A tongue that extends from the stomach. Her always-moist tongue. A tongue eager to taste mud & crops & children.

22. { Egypt }

Egypt because with its heat gives life to all things in itself & by itself. From the mud of Egypt our children are made. From its terrible winds come our daughters. Egypt who is a drunken man & an insatiable woman. Who is so many shameful things.

23. { A Man Who Has Never Travelled }

God is more honest to the club-footed man, to the lame, to those with withered legs. He has written the limit of their steps into them. They are not pulled by the possibility. It is the sure-footed & the tireless who are taunted with the idea of the South.

24. { A Phylactery }

It is the custom of our spears to swallow a pebble before tying their sandals or painting their breasts, before the possibility of battle. This weighs down the soul, keeps it from escaping through their wounds too quickly.

Our children have their tricks too. They carve shapes into their arms. Hoping to impress the older girls with their ability to withstand pain, & hoping to entice the young spears to look at their long & well-formed arms. It is a way of saying that they are ready.

Even our old women attempt to control fate through little things. They dance in a crude fashion & chant & breathe smoke & other nonsense. As if God wished to look on their sagging breasts or hear their crooked voices.

25. { An Unformed Man }

Their misshapen hands make ungraceful children. With huge, uneven arms. Overlarge heads balanced on thin necks. Cocks as long as a child's arm extending to the tops of their tiny calves. Thick fingers making thick fingers & knotted ears. Wet eyes. The ungraceful skin of frogs.

They are clay mockeries of a man. They are a blasphemy & God hates to look on them.

26. { An Opening }

The bronze wall of Alexander has no opening. No hinge. It is polished by the wind into a brilliant shine & spans from one mountain peak to another.

On one side is written: From here will the armies of Gog & Magog, like a second flood, come to destroy the seed of Adam.

On the other: This is the second cunt from which we will spill.

27. { Speech }

Hephaistus in his old age, after he had been driven from our cities in disgrace, went to the jungles of the East & there became a Prophet. One morning, when Hephaistus was making his body pure, a baboon appeared before him. Being perhaps mad, the old man began to reveal the secrets to the mute baboon. At the end of the first year the baboon repeated back one word to the old teacher. & so Hephaistus taught the baboon for four more years until he had revealed to his student the greatest mystery. The baboon then went among his kind & taught them how to make these words & so it happened that the great mystery was not lost.

When Hephaistus died, the first baboon waited the five days of mourning & then descended into the cities of man & was captured. The baboon was taunted & kept in a cage & people paid to look at him, but the baboon did not utter a sound. Until one day a Priest walked by & saw how the beast was being treated. Moved to sympathy, the Priest purchased the baboon. Later that night the mystery was revealed for the first time in a generation of men. & so the temples were built.

28. { Silence }

On the forty-third day the baboon's tongue dies. In the morning it begins to lose color & by evening it has withered into a wrinkled, stiff leather, which the Priests solemnly remove. For this reason silence is also referred to as the baboon's black tongue.

There is more to say about silence. A dumb man is considered neutered because birth was the first function of the mouth, until the second day when Adam's original mouth was given to Eve. Even today the act of speech mimics that of coitus. The tongue makes the mouth's womb productive. Our mouths still ache for their first divine function & it is for this reason that we receive so much pleasure when a tongue parts our lips or a mouth swallows our seed. God loves for like to meet with like.

29. { A Distant Voice }

Is what pulls our young men over the desert. Every year two or three of them go to the South. They lay down their spears & they do not take with them any food.

Their mothers are in the habit of burning a sparrow on the night they leave. The hope is that the ghost of the sparrow will follow the boy. How this sparrow will protect them we cannot imagine, but maybe these little things are enough.

They do not come back. Certainly they die looking for that voice. Perhaps they grow weak & are killed by feral dogs, or perhaps after so many days their legs buckle & they fall gracelessly into the sand, the voice just a little distant, & die there listening. Perhaps, however, they do find something.

30. { Ancient Descent }

We know that all things do not come from God, certainly not the ever-wet tongue of the Nile or the indifferent North Wind. Aberrations are the progeny of sin & God is sinless. Thus, we cannot weigh the blame of our birth onto God.

We are bastards. There, it is said. We are the adopted sons. Our fathers unknown; our mothers look away when they see us, they pretend not to recognize their sins. For this reason we are of the most ancient descent. The first son was a bastard, the first daughter an unwanted harlot. But this neglect has been good for us. It has made us hard & when the time comes we will be our own midwives. Our terrible birth will kill our mothers in their attempts to keep us in. Our first cries will be battle cries. We will not be casual in our hatred nor negligent in our revenge. Our fathers will know us.

31. { Taste }

The mouth & the ass are both tools of the same function, but they must be kept distant for the health of the body. So it is with Holy Men & Spears.

The function of the mouth is to take & to discriminate. The Holy Man must taste the words he is given & sort the bitter from the sweet, & give to the body each in measure.

The function of the ass is to clear the body of impurities that have made their way in. & it is not for it to discriminate.

32. { Pleasure }

It takes sixteen years for our sons to learn this secret & fewer years for our daughters. It becomes an ever present buzzing in the ears, a reminder. Like the other mysteries, the seeds of it have always been present & at its realization it seems inevitable.

33. { Copulation }

But what comes naturally should be augmented with learning. On their fourteenth year our girls are taught the thirty positions & their names. When they are performed correctly & in the proper order it is said that the sacred text is rewritten. The bodies form hieroglyphics & the reading forms bodies.

34. { The Soul Delaying Here a Long Time }

Hesitancies suffer a species of damnation unknown to any other sin.

Some souls are not quick, are heavy & cannot, like smoke, lift up to God. But yet are not so heavy that they mix with the mud & become again men. These souls rest against the ground like dew, which during the day rises only to fall during the night. This is their fate, until the world ends & all things on it end.

So, if a man should be good, let him be great. But if a man should be evil, let him have no pity, let not the least good touch on him.

35. { The Return of the Long-Absent Traveller }

An old man came to our camp in the blush of evening. He walked easy & was standing straight. He was missing one ear & several fingers, each cleanly removed. In response to our questions he opened his mouth & past the crooked, grey teeth we could see that his tongue as well had been removed. We were curious & brought him food proper for an old man. After eating he scribbled in the ground for awhile with his knotted finger. Most of the writing was illegible, the characters were the shaky script of a child, but two words could be read. First son & then, much later in the writing, flesh. We pressed questions at him & he ignored them like you would a gnat. I am unsure he could even understand what we were asking. Soon we withdrew our questions & sat with him in silence.

He fell asleep leaning against a log we use as a hitch. When he slept he made a garble of noises more suited to an animal than to a man. He woke several times in a panic, but clammed quickly & slipped back to sleep.

When in the morning he collected the articles of his small bag & began to walk from us we did not restrain him, because we did not recognize him.

36. { The Heart }

The heart is many chambered like a temple because it is the home of the soul.

When the bodies of the fallen are too great & cannot be carried back to be buried in observance of the law & God's will, which are two that are one, their hearts are brought instead & buried with all ceremony afforded to them. This is because it is the soul only which we honor. The body is a thing for maggots & vultures. & God thinks that this is good.


Excerpted from The Hieroglyphics by Michael Stewart. Copyright © 2014 Open Road Distribution. Excerpted by permission of Dzanc Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Michael Stewart is currently the Rhode Island Council for the Arts Fellow in both fiction and poetry. His work has appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies, including Conjunctions, DENVER QUARTERLY, and American Letters & Commentary. He is the author of A Brief Encyclopedia of Modern Magic (The Cupboard), Almost Perfect Forms (Ugly Duckling Presse, THE HIEROGLYPHICS (Mud Luscious Press), and Sebastian, an illustrated book for adults (Hello Martha Press). He lectures at Brown University.

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