Oliver Smith



Your eyes unclosed, star-fractured, gasping from a wild ocean of dark planet-fall // The-slow turn of the engine-heart lost in storms-unmasked—this atmosphere of red pain, incandescent-flux-in-flood // Your breath stolen, dislocated in sharp fragments and-empty fractures // Wakefulness crazes the world’s age-old night with fire and silver-insects-beat in a breathless chest—the superstructure creaks like broken ice

You wheeze and rasp free of a thousand years of sleep // sleep melts // glowing flame-red as the ship kisses the water-mirror and turns on its bloated metal belly, marooned among a swarm of alien lilies. You spread your meteor sails’ golden membranes like a broken angel beside the dragon-scaled jungles where crystal ravens call beneath half sentient–roses

You rise from death, from a thing deeper than death // life chokes you // a bitter retreat from the lovely shores of oblivion where pale shadows rest in infinite stillness // Incarnate now, this desiccated-to-the-bone husk is reborn naked in the ash // Above the nebula sings and below this dry old lizard curses and draws in more life // life from land and sea // greedy-guts sucking for the air, clinging to a rock that falls forever among the stars

Now, you make the great discovery: even oceans of light-years away from who you were, you are still no more than breath and dust // and falling through the night, with your breath gone, there is only dust // only silence


Author’s Comments: Although the title ‘Apnea’ means ‘without breath’, this is a poem about sleeping and waking. It is about my sleep.

I get these flashbacks to an illness: occasionally, in the middle of the night I surface sat bolt upright and hyperventilating. Once awake, I realise I am not suffocating, my lungs are fine, and I go back to sleep.

It’s also about the science fiction trope of hypersleep, suspended animation (how else could you voyage between the stars?)

I often work with a modified form of cut-up; using this method seems to allow strange worlds to naturally emerge from the text; here it has produced a sort of Theodore Wratislaw influenced exoplanet. The poem makes that Decadent connection between flowers and despair in the abandoned ship among the alien lilies and half-sentient roses.

Who would want to spend centuries unconscious to reach a new world? You would have to be really fond of sleep or really keen on getting away. You sleep and travel and travel and sleep and travel through centuries of dream–after all that time submerged which would you prefer? dreams or life? After all everything and everyone you left behind is dust.

Oliver Smith is inspired by the landscapes of Max Ernst, by frenzied rocks towering in the air above the silent swamp, by the strange poetry of machines, by something hidden in the nothing. His poetry has appeared in Strange Horizons, Liminality, and Penumbric. Oliver’s poem ‘Better Living through Witchcraft’ was awarded first place in the BSFS 2019 competition and ’Lost Palace, Lighted Tracks’ was nominated for the 2020 Pushcart Prize. Oliver’s website is at https://oliversimonsmithwriter.wordpress.com/

Editor’s Notes: Shards of broken glass/red abstract shapes/explosion, glowing dynamic background (Freepik)

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