A more certain world does not make for a less terrifying one in Michael Stewart’s astonishing and grave book of wisdoms and codes and laws and rites and rituals and charms. Gather: A sparrow is burning. Gather: There is news of the soul.
—Carole Maso, author of AVA
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 and the future we may be facing. Stewart’s language is spare and haunting, the allusions resonating, in this work that “reminds us how pale are the achievements of men.”
—Wendy Barker, author of Nothing Between Us
The Hieroglyphics is a mess. It is made up of seventy fragments that build into something larger—a creation myth? a re-imagined history? These fragments are all based on chapters from The Hieroglyphics of Horapollo, a 14th-century symbolic reading of Egyptian hieroglyphics. I tried to play with Horapollo’s lines and mix them with mine, see how far away from the original intention I could take them while still keeping the sound and movement. The result? One fragment is about birds in the south who do not eat but live off 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 and blink their eyes, although it is not enough to allow them to fly. The other fragments are like that too.
That tangle of a boy, all cock and legs. Broken fingers and oily hair.
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? and who is to say the lion was not the Sun teaching the great Hephaistus humility?
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.
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 and 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 and a fear of jackals. Till her trembling is four-legged. Only then do we offer her a spear and show her courage in a sharp point.
The mouth and 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 and Spears. The function of the mouth is to take and to discriminate. The Holy Man must taste the words he is given and sort the bitter from the sweet. And 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. And it is not for it to discriminate.
It takes sixteen years for our sons to learn this secret and 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 and at its realization it seems inevitable.
But what comes naturally should be augmented with learning. In their fourteenth year our girls are taught the thirty positions and their names. When they are performed correctly and in the proper order it is said that the sacred text is rewritten. The bodies form hieroglyphics, and the reading forms bodies.
Selected Reviews & Interviews
Michael Stewart has nothing to apologize for — J. A. Tyler, Lit Pub
Interpretations — Nicolle Elizabeth, Brookly Rail
13 ways of looking at Michael Stewart: An Interview — Lily Hoang, HTML Giant
Book Review: The Hieroglyphics — Charles Dee Mitchell, Potato Weather
A Review of The Hieroglyphics — Spencer Drew, Decomp Literary Magazine