Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

This is the time of the long shadows. 

The earth slumbers, tucked beneath a white blanket,

all noise muffled and muted, softened by snow,

and the days have become short. Light lasts little,

and the nights are long and dark as velvet.

The sun barely shows its face, peeking above the horizon

for barely four hours at a time, then it leaves us,

leaving the earth in shadow once more.

 

This is a time of ice.

It is a time when white rime beards the branches of trees

and the frozen lakes shine silver in the light of the moon.

 

This is a time of stories.

For in the long nights, what else is there to do

but tell beautiful lies.

 

This is a time of hunger,

of fattened animals sleeping away in caves,

when no grain ripens and no fruit swells.

 

This is a time of beauty,

when all the colors are taken away from the world

and there is nothing but black and white,

like calligraphed ink and paper.

 

And all the while, through the time of long shadows

the earth slumbers, snug beneath its quilt of white

while beneath it life waits, wide-eyed and wondering,

waiting for flowers to blossom and green sap to flow.

The earth turns on, and all the world holds its breath,

no voice sounding, no sleep disturbed,

rolling ever onward through space,

dreaming of spring.

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Happy All Hallow’s Eve, everyone!

Or actually, it isn’t really Halloween while I’m writing this. In actuality, I am writing this at 7:43 PM on October 30, a time that many of you may know as THE PAST. But, through the magic of WordPress’s “Schedule” option, I’m making this entry post automatically when it reaches noon on October thirty-first!

WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(that was a ghost sound, not a party sound, by the way)

For this edition of CWW, we have yet another poem. This isn’t any ordinary poem, though. A couple weeks ago, I was thinking about a special poem to post on Axolotl Ceviche on Halloween, and I started thinking about what the creepiest form of poetry is. And once I considered the answer, it was obvious:

Children’s skipping rhymes.

Seriously. Picture it. You’re all alone in a creaky old house. Night has fallen, and a chill mist blows in from the moors. The house is dark, and as you head up to bed, you hear it: the tinkling sound of a girl’s laughter. Unsettled, you tell yourself it was just a trick of the wind, and then you see her: a little girl, dressed in a pretty blue pinafore, her face shrouded in shadow. In a voice like the tinkle of windchimes, she recites:

Ring-around-the-rosey, 

Pocket full of posies,

Ashes, ashes,

We all fall DOWN!

As she says the last word, a flash of lightning illuminates her face, and you can see that she has no eyes…

If that didn’t wig you, I don’t know what will.

Anyway, I wrote a creepy children’s skipping rhyme. And then, because the rhyme itself suggested a whole rich history, I decided that I’d write some of that history up, creating a fictional explanation for the fictional rhyme.

Happy Halloween, everyone. Wherever you are, may your night be filled with tricks and candy, and may shadows always cross your path.

~ Ian

 

Ten little girls walked out of town, 

One little girl went tumbling down. 

 

Nine little girls went out at night, 

One little girl didn’t feel quite right.

 

Eight little girls went looking for eggs, 

One little girl had broke her leg. 

 

Seven little girls stood on their heads, 

One little girl just woke up dead. 

 

Six little girls squished through the mud, 

One little girl got covered in blood. 

 

Five little girls would dance and shout, 

One little girl couldn’t find the way out. 

 

Four little girls cried out for their mum, 

One little girl was just struck dumb. 

 

Three little girls played silly games, 

One little girl got caught in the flames. 

 

Two little girls flew through the sky, 

One little girl caught the Devil’s eye. 

 

One little girl went and cried for help, 

One little girl was burned in Hell. 

 

No little girls came back that day, 

Wonder what their mother will say?

 

Ten little girls walked out of town,

and ten little girls went tumbling down. 

 

The preceding children’s rhyme is dated as having originated around the year 1705, possibly in Philadelphia (it was certainly common by 1790, when British folklorists Wycombe and Tully, in their first trip to the new United States, recorded it being sung by children in Newton, Massachusetts, and a Georgia lawyer and slaveowner Geoffrey MacAnder noted in his diary a variation of the rhyme “which a Negro girl learned me as a boy”. It spread to England in the 19th century, and has been a popular skipping rhyme for generations, common up until the 1940s.

Like many children’s rhymes, it is claimed that the rhyme is based on historical events (such as the oft-cited and possibly spurious claim that “Ring Around the Rosie” dates back to the Black Death). However, as far as I can tell, the rhyme is based on a very old story: that of the Maids of Shrewsbury.

Shrewsbury, New York, was a village of about five hundred inhabitants located on the Hudson river, near the location of Poughkeepsie. In the year 1684, eight full years before the Salem Witch Trials, the people of neighboring villages reported that several young women between the ages of twelve and seventeen (the accounts differ as to the number, although it is usually given between five and fourteen) were running naked through the woods, cavorting with Indians and making noises like animals. The men of Shrewsbury, fearing witchcraft, allegedly locked the girls up in a cellar. However, shortly after midnight on the night of Saturday, August 16, 1684, neighboring villages saw a number of “huge winged beasts” rising from above Shrewsbury, which “screamed like women”. These beasts took off in all directions. Shortly after this, at around 3 0‘clock in the morning, there were a number of bright flashes from above Shrewsbury, visible for twenty leagues around, which looked like “colored lightning”, in the words of the contemporary minister from Kingston. The next morning, when a number of locals visited Shrewsbury, found that the village had disappeared– not burned to the ground or destroyed, but simply vanished, as if it had never been there. The visitors found a number of burned, dismembered female bodies in the nearby woods. For years to come, it was believed that the area where Shrewsbury had disappeared was haunted. Reportedly, the same phenomenon of “colored lightning” has occurred on the night of August 16 several times in the same part of New York, the most recent in 1891.

Whether the story of the Maids of Shrewsbury is true or not is not for a historian such as myself to decide. However, it is known that the vanishing of Shrewsbury was a key influence on the town fathers of Salem, Massachusetts, during the witch trials, and perhaps began the witch-burning craze in America during the late 17th century.

(from Marcus Amesbury’s Life in the Colonial Hudson Valley, 1967)

Yes, yes. I’m aware that I haven’t been doing any substantial blogging for a while. This is not news to me.

I hate to use the “I’m really busy and I don’t have time to blog” excuse, but hey, I’ll use it anyway: I’m really busy and I don’t have time to blog. I can only imagine how busy I’m going to be by November, because after all, I’m doing NaNoWriMo. Plus, you know, going to school and hopefully maintaining a social life– crap like that. I’m probably going to be too busy to do much blogging.

But hey, this post is turning into a long list of excuses. So, because Axolotl Ceviche is and always will be a place for me to put whatever dumb bullshit that pops into my head, here is a limerick that I wrote for reasons that I cannot remember:

 

There once was a horny old hag

Had breast implants which would not sag

They queefed and they farted

(But never quite sharted)

And that’s why she put them in bags.

 

If you don’t understand that, don’t worry. It’s not for you. (not really, I don’t get it either)

~ Ian

This poem had its origin in the fact that I wanted to write a poem in a verse form that I’d never used before, the Rondel (a kind of repeating verse, like the pantoum or the sestina, but different in its own unique way).

It’s not bad, by which I mean I don’t loathe it. I wish I could have rhymed the word strange properly, but there you go. I happened to get the first line of the poem stuck in my head at one point, so I wrote down the rest of the poem. And I will say this: I love faeries, and I don’t care if society considers them girly. The old-school faeries are completely dark and badass in a way that Tolkien’s elves never even came close to, and they tend to be my preferred type of faerie. Even so, I still kind of have a softness for the annoying buglike little bastards that faeries have become in our modern day. Say what you will about them, I’m sure that if you pissed them off enough, they’d go right for your eyeballs.

Not much else to say, I guess. Ah, well. Enjoy.

~ Ian

I’m Going Into Faerie Where The Stars Are Strange

I’m going into Faerie where the stars are strange.

The autumn leaves are falling underneath an evening sky,

I go now to the place where my bones shall ever lie,

There forever lying, nothing save dust shall remain.

And should I walk forever down beneath this falling rain,

I’d never lay my burden down, never slumber, never die;

I’m going into Faerie where the stars are strange.

The autumn leaves are falling underneath an evening sky.

I’m passing now forever far beyond you mortals’ pain,

beyond suffering and madness. Now my child, don’t you cry:

I’ll never be returning, and before you ask me, “Why?”

Know that my body weakens, like the summer-drying grain.

I’m going into Faerie where the stars are strange.

I’m working on Syntax One homework

and listening to Queens of the Stone Age

and I dearly hope

that the Apple word processing software known as Page

s doesn’t quit up on me

which would be like being attacked by a swarm of Brobdingnagian bees

which would fill me with great rage,

you see.

 

It’s gray and sort of foggy outside

which makes it sort of ideal weather to hide

and for that reason I might want to sneak away

to do my homework some other day

and I’m starting to ask myself, “Why?

Why am I not slacking off and watching Firefly?”

 

But even though I really want to rewatch Firefly (or possible Buffy)

I know I can’t, because as for me

I have to get a good grade

so that I can someday get paid

if I choose to go into the field of linguistics

which is my backup plan if this whole writing thing doesn’t stick.

That would ensadden me.

I would ensaddened be.

My sadness would be multiplied by a certain number

(which in my head is made out of lumber)

and the number of the number is equalling three.

 

And because I’m bored and want to be off watching Joss Whedon productions,

I have suddenly decided to create a sudden drop (or reduction)

in the quality and goodness of my poetic rhymes.

If these poems were published in a book, they wouldn’t be worth two dimes.

(The meter is fetid, and it smells like toe slime.)

You don’t want to listen to me anymore? Fine.

I’m going to go away and make my homework the shit,

so I can get a good mark,

a shot in the dark,

I thank you for your time.

It’s been legit.

But now I have to run.

It’s been fun.

I thank you, gentle reader, for reading my fine poetries,

and hope that you are not ever stung to death by a horde of angry bees.

 

(with apologies to William McGonagall)

This is actually a poem that appears as part of The Lotus Imperiate!

Or it will. Eventually. Once I actually write the scene it appears in.

Basically, at some point in The Lotus Imperiate, the characters summon one of the Elemental Powers, who can be thought of as being like gods– but in The Lotus Imperiate, the Lotus Lords (the equivalent of gods) personify abstract concepts, like justice or beauty or strength, while the Elemental Powers are all about the physical. One of them, Sharaasha, is the Elemental Power of the Sea. She is the personification of both the bounty and rage of the ocean, and believe me, when she appears, there’s no bounty anywhere near this shit. The summoning of Sharaasha will, in its turn, kick off many of the main plots of Books Two and Three of the trilogy (which I haven’t named… so sue me, I can’t come up with titles to save my life), and have Long Term Repercussions™ over The Length of the Saga®.

This is also an interesting poem because it’s in iambic tetrameter, which is by far the most common poetic meter in English poetry, and yet I’ve rarely used it in my poems. I wanted to convey the feeling of the rhythm of waves and tides and currents. I don’t know what an invocation to any of the other Elemental Powers would sound like. They would probably use different verse forms. I just haven’t thought out what they’d be.

~ Ian

 

Beneath the moon, the rise and fall

Like heartbeats rushing with the waves

And to the sea we live in thrall

To its sweet brine, we are its slaves.

 

For from the sea we crawled in times

When time itself was fresh and new

Our bodies, foam, our blood, its brine

We still remember, we the few. 

 

Lady of salt, we call to the thee

Where you lie dreaming in the deeps

Come to our aid, we set thee free

Awake, Sharaasha, from thy sleep. 

I have chronic insomnia. This means that occasionally, I can’t fall asleep. No matter how hard I try, it’s impossible.

This poem was written on the day after a night when, no matter what I did, I couldn’t go to sleep. I was trying to convey the sensation of being low on energy, yet always needing to keep going. The poem itself is based a number of times when I had insomnia. It’s a composite of events– not one specific night.

I also liked playing around with non-linearity. I think the poem’s pretty good, anyway.

Yours,

~ Ian

 

The Long Dark

 

by Ian P. Johnson

 

 

1:34

 

It’s not whether I want to sleep.

It’s whether I can.

 

 

2:41

 

I have entered the Long Dark, the place

where time is distorted. Nothing exists

save those three blinking numbers

on the bedside table, blinking endlessly,

watching over me where I lie.

(Not while I sleep. I should be so lucky.)

 

Time seems to lose all meaning here: I’m lost

on a sea of errant thoughts and drifting throughout

the universe, time’s arrow forgotten, entropy seemingly

halted. There’s nothing here but shadow and

absence.

 

I have things to do tomorrow, classes, friends,

dragons to slay and demons to repress

but there’s still nothing, nothing save the darkness

and the endless stream of nothing

that I float through.

 

I cannot get out.

 

 

3:06

 

happen.

 

 

3:25

 

I try to use stories to fall asleep.

Endless episodes of Doctor Who and Red Dwarf,

funny, witty British shows

streaming 24-7 on the laptop beside my bed,

a small square of light, a fire

to keep out the Long Dark.

There’s nothing for it.

The stories of Daleks and GELFs take on a dreamlike intensity in my head,

strange images of prancing madmen

dancing in the back of my skull.

Suddenly I know what it was all about.

I know what Grant and Naylor were trying to tell the world.

I pull out my notebook, turn on the light

but there’s nothing there, nothing

but a dying ember.

(Was that a dream? I think it was a dream.)

I don’t know. I can’t know.

 

 

4:02

 

myself.

 

Huh. Okay.

 

That didn’t work. Let’s try going forwards.

 

 

4:57

 

Now I’m listening to music, headphones on

so as not to disturb my roommate,

since he’s a light sleeper

and easily irritated.

It’s a form of sublimation,

of losing myself in a song.

 

It doesn’t work.

I am lost in the Long Dark.

 

David Gilmour sings about kicking around on a piece of ground.

 

I stare up at the darkened ceiling.

 

 

5:20

 

What are the laws of cause-and-effect? I don’t know. I’m thinking things before they even

 

 

6:34

 

I decide that, what the hell, as long as I can’t sleep

I might as well go see the sunrise.

So it’s down, down to the rugby field

where I sit, a fool on the hill,

the eyes in my head seeing the world turning round,

the stars dimming, Venus rising,

a herald of morning, a child of light,

eala earendel engla beorhtast.

 

The sun comes up in a blaze of violent purple-red.

The world lightens. Birds sing.

The darkness outside has ended,

yet I still haven’t left the Long Dark.

 

I don’t know if I will ever leave.

 

 

8:04

 

Now it’s breakfast, and time still hasn’t stopped slowing.

Everyone’s speech is distorted and weird.

The lady cleaning the yogurt machine says puuuuuuut yooooouuuur baaaaackpaaaaaack ooooooon the raaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack.

 

I blink. I’d forgotten I was wearing it.

 

 

9:27

 

Morning lecture. I want to sleep. I can’t.

 

I’m looking out at the world through a plate-glass window

slicked with rain, all the people distorted and fuzzy,

swimming in a haze of watery color.

 

I don’t think my body is my own anymore.

 

I cannot break free.

 

I’m lost.

 

The Long Dark continues.

 

 

1:43

 

Everything is perfectly sharp and crystal-clear.

My body is so full of energy that it’s like an exquisite pain,

filling me up so much that I can taste it

like battery acid on the back of my tongue.

I have come to a realization: nobody I see is real,

nobody exists, we’re all just atoms and space dust

and balls of entropy that think we have souls,

and if I were to just wind up and punch someone

then it wouldn’t matter, because it would be just like

hitting a rock.

 

They’re not real. I’m not real.

 

 

5:06

 

A friend asks me, looking concerned, Are you on drugs?

 

I blink.

 

What is a “drugs”? I ask.

 

What is a “you”?

 

 

10:73

 

Night two of the Long Dark.

 

I don’t know how long I can take this.

At least I have my two friends, Bertram the Hyrax

and Abdul the Egyngolia (the last of his kind,

a genus of trilobite that went extinct in the Paleozoic)

plus my secret favorite, Helena the Harmonica-Playing Ukelele.

They sing little songs to me, all through the night.

 

 

eleventy-twentysix

 

I know how to control time. I can go back to the beginning

and stop this from happening. I can control the timestream.

I am become God. I can save

 

 

banana3

 

Echidna and the Coconut went to a Sunday Fair,

Echidna and the Coconut wore ribbons in their hair.

Echidna said to the Coconut: “My sky has but one star:

For you, my lovely Coconut,

yes, YOU, my lovely Coconut,

is the loveliest ‘Nut there are!”

 

 

???

 

I FEAR NOTHING ANYMORE.

 

 

5:15

 

Finally. Sleep.

 

Blessed, blessed sleep.

 

 

The Next Day

 

I go about my business, going from class to class. Even though I only got about three hours of sleep, somehow I’m able to function well enough without drooling or falling face-first into the baked ziti at dinner, which I count as a success. Finally, when the day is done, I lay my head down, close my eyes, and wait for sleep.

 

But it won’t come.

 

 

2:41

 

I have entered the Long Dark.

 

 

august 30, 2012

This is a poem about Doctor Who.

I wrote it in October.

I wanted to explore the often complicated and sometimes chaotic relationship between the Doctor and his Companion, and the fact that such a relationship always comes to an end– and when you’re not traveling with the Doctor, something goes out of your life. You don’t have the same sense of wonder that you once did– you’ve seen the wonders of the universe, and now nothing can compare.

I didn’t have any specific Companion in mind when I wrote this poem. In any case, here it is.

(I called the poem “Bigger on the Inside” for obvious reasons.)

~ Ian

 

Bigger On The Inside

 

There’s a man (who isn’t really a man)

who has a box (which isn’t really a box).

The box is bright blue.

It’s also bigger on the inside.

It also travels through time.

 

(You must accept this.

It’s honestly not the craziest thing to ever happen.)

 

One day, the man (who isn’t a man) shows up when you’re in trouble.

Maybe you’re being attacked by mannequins, or there’s a crack in your wall,

or maybe the hospital you work in has been transported to the moon

by rhinoceroid space-cops, leaving you with a small bubble of air

slowly running out, until you and four hundred other people suffocate.

(Maybe you’re being pursued by statues. Who knows?)

In any case, the man will show up in his box (which isn’t a box).

There will be a sound like tortured piano wire,

and there he will be, grinning madly,

his eyes wild with the fevered passion of a true lunatic.

(He may try to speak French to you. At first you will find this annoying,

but eventually it will grow on you, until the words “Allons-y!”

are like the call to adventure.)

He will perform some jiggery-pokery,

wielding his shining silver LED magic wand

which really shouldn’t work but does.

And after a lot of running around and shouting,

whatever was Wrong in your world will be gone, and everything will be fine again.

And the man (who isn’t a man) will take you back to his box (which isn’t a box),

and he will say, “You could come with me, you know.”

 

And because you’re alone, and so is he,

you decide to travel together for a while.

(After all, the worst that could happen is adventures, right?)

 

So off you go, riding along in the box with the man,

as you take off on a journey through time.

(By the way, the box also travels through space.

You have to stop trying to think in terms of Logic.

When the box arrived, all that went out the window.)

And you stop, and step out of the box,

blinking in the sunlight on a brand new world.

 

You could be on a space station, high above the surface of the Earth

in the year five billion, watching as the sun comes up

like a rolling wave, red and swollen,

swallowing up your homeworld like a sandcastle.

Or maybe you’re in an ancient city,

nestled at the foot of a volcano,

as smoke rises from the mountain and the earth rumbles

as if it is giving birth.

You may be in a new New York on another planet,

where everyone has British accents (for some reason),

or in a megapolis on the back of a space whale,

a generation starship light years from home.

 

The man has enemies.

Nobody grows as old as he is (and he is old, very old indeed)

without making a few.

Some of these enemies are alien mutants

encased in hollow shells the shape of pepper pots.

Others are stomping robots,

each one with the brain and heart of a man.

Sometimes his enemies are shadows.

Sometimes they are statues.

Sometimes his enemies are not what they seem to be.

Sometimes they are exactly as they appear.

Whatever the case, you end up fighting (some of the time)

and running (most of the time)

as you traipse across the maddening gulf

between Now and Then.

 

How long you stay on board the box is up to you.

But one day, you’ll leave the box,

set it aside like an out-of-fashion jacket,

returning to your world, the Real World,

the world of cars and computers and pop stars and phone bills.

And when you come back (as they always did,

the people who traveled in the box before you),

you’ll feel like something is missing.

It’ll worry you, like a gap in your mouth

after you’ve lost your first baby tooth.

The world will seem a little grayer, a little cloudier,

a bit more dull than usual.

Slowly you’ll begin to wonder if you were mad.

(After all, you saw suns die.

You saw planets being born.)

As you sit there, gazing out into traffic,

stirring your coffee idly with a spoon,

watching the rain fall down from a sky the color of nothing,

listening for a grinding, catching sound,

a sound like tortured piano wire.

Maybe you’ll hear it in your dreams,

and when you wake, it’ll fade like a sofa in the sun,

and you’ll wonder if everything was just a dream,

all the wonders you saw, all the miracles you did.

 

You’ll sit there

and grow old

waiting

for the man (who isn’t a man)

and the box (which isn’t a box)

hoping that your life will start again.

 

Good luck.

Because I was curious to see how my previous poem “Rowan: A Poem of Love and the Border” would work out if I changed it from poetry to prose, I decided to change it.

I don’t think it works as well. But, still: you can disagree with me. And, hey: I think this just goes to show that sometimes you need a certain format for certain stories.

With that, here’s my revision of “Rowan”.

~ Ian

 

Rowan: A Poem of Love and the Border

 

Zero

Borders are sharp places. They are a razor-wire edge, a cold sharp cutting blade, and where they dig into the flesh of reality they lacerate; hell-hot drops of blood dripping and seeping through the cracks in space and time.

Where the blood seeps through, pain follows. Anger flows. The innocent and the damned are mingled.

Time runs slow and disjointedly.

Things get mixed and scrambled.

The world falls out of step.

It was to the border that Rowan came.

 

One

There are sentinels who watch the edges. Men and women who guard that which is from that which is not. That which is: green, ripe, fat, full of the essence of being. That which is not: hungry, emaciated, dry as dessicants and as cold as nothing. The story of time is the story of the conflict between being and not-being.

One such watcher was Rowan.

How long did she stand there? How long did she wait, staring into the cold starlight, the earth turning towards dawn? She never told me.

I never asked.

She was beautiful, I think, although I believe that at the time I was looking for a hero to save me from my misery. Her hair was milk-white and flowing. Her eyes were dark. Nose, lips, cheekbones, all were in the right places.  Long legs, strong shoulders, tall, proud, like a standing stone, and when we made love she would wrap her legs around me and bite my neck with her small, sharp teeth.

She came into my life but for a moment. A brief moment, when I was young and the world was green and new.

(She was much older than me. I think. I never asked her age.)

I was in love (or thought I was in love) and I think (hope) (wish) that she had some affection for me. She came into my life like a brief shower that falls from the sky in the spring sunlight. She left me like the sun, slipping out of my world slowly, until everything was dark.

Not a day goes by when I don’t miss her.

 

Two

“This is my sword,” Rowan told me, “and you must never touch her. I give you leave to touch any part of my body, from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet and anyplace in between. But this is my sword, and we share a bond that is closer than lovers. Closer than twins are we. We are two parts of the same body.”

“Do you love your sword more than you love me?” I asked her.

It was a teasing question, an idle statement, the kind of jest a lover would make. I expected her to smile and laugh, shrug, and lean against me, pressing her lips to mine, our tenderest skin touching.

I was as surprised as anybody when Rowan replied, “Yes.”

 

Three

She would leave for weeks on end.

She would vanish into the darkness once every few months, leaving my side as I slept after we made love. I knew she was gone, because her sword, which always stood by the fireplace of my cottage when she was around, would invariably be gone.

She always knew how to hurt me most.

One night when it stormed and raged, dark thoughts flew through my head like birds of shadow.

Is she with another man? 

Someone far away, where nobody knows me?

How many lovers does she have?

Is she lying to me?

I went down to the inn on the village green, bought a bottle of Rhaelish whiskey and drank it down, cup by cup, every last drop.

When I came home, she was there, asleep in our bed.

I woke her up, called her whore, raged incoherently at her for the better part of an hour. She sat there and bore it. Finally she showed me her back and peeled off her bandages and there it was, from her tailbone to the nape of her neck, a pink-and-tender healing wound that was only a week old.

After a moment of shock my head cleared. I understood.

“I don’t abandon you for myself,” Rowan told me gently. “I abandon you for the world.”

 

Four

I touched her sword, one winter day.

Rowan was out chopping wood and I was in the house watching the fire crackle, leaping and crackling with gleeful abandon.

The firelight shone on the pommel of the sword. I came over to the fireplace and drew the sword.

(After all, she said that I could touch any part of her body, didn’t she? We were lovers. We were friends. Were not Rowan and the sword two parts of the same body?)

It was not much. A bit heavy, very sharp, but the sword was a thing of beauty. Not gaudy or jeweled elegance. It was the sane, practical beauty of a beloved kitchen knife.

I felt guilty to touch it.

I have a poet’s hands. Rowan had the strong fingers and scarred palms of a skilled warrior. It felt wrong for me to handle a sword.

I sheathed it and went back to watching the fireplace.

Rowan came in at sunset, carrying an armful of wood in her strong arms. I said nothing to her about touching her sword, her most private part. But I felt guilty, and Rowan must have sensed the guilt, for we did not make love that night, nor did we sleep in each other’s arms (as was our custom on winter nights) but back to back, shoulder blades touching, the stigmata of silence lying over my house.

 

Five

After I touched Rowan’s sword, we fell out of each other’s lives.

She was gone more and more frequently, going away for longer and longer, until one day at the height of summer she did not return.

I cried. I was heartbroken.

But I was young.

And young hearts heal.

 

Six

I saw her three times after that.

The first time was in a tavern in the gaudy city of Lost Steelhaven at the mouth of the Swiftflow River.

I had moved to the city to make my living as a playwright. I had a woman, barely more than a girl, who I took to the tavern and sat down on my knee as I drank and played dominoes with jewel-pipped ivory squares surrounded by beautiful women and some of my friends.

She stood across the room, firelight shining on her milk-white hair and her eyes, like obsidian at the heart of a volcano.

She wore leather armor and her sword, which I had touched, was slung across her back. I could tell she was a mercenary, a sword for hire, standing there with her arms crossed and her body language as impassive as a mountain.

(I did not speak to her. It’s awkward to introduce an old lover to the girl you plan to sleep with later that night.)

The second time was at a ball in High Overholt, the greatest city of the cold North, where I was performing my newest play for the delight of the magistrate’s daughter.

She was there wearing a gown of soft damask, the soft green color of spring grass. I had never seen Rowan in a dress before. You could have knocked me over with a feather.

She spotted me, this time, and came over to talk. She smiled, and laughed, and we danced a measure as the band played sweet music.

She told me that she was going to the border, that she would be away for a long time, that she might never return. She told me the story of conflict, of being and not-being and how not-being will one day win. She would do whatever she could to postpone that day.

It was a bittersweet meeting.

The third time was in a dream, but somehow, in my deepest bones, I knew it was a true dream.

She sat on a rock, sword on her knees, staring up at the starlight, coldness in her eyes, waiting for something.

For what? For the end of the world.

This was the last time we met. And though I am old now, with a wife and three children and five or more bastards, I still think of that time I had with her, when I was young and the world was green and new, when the days were filled with laughter, when the nights smelled sweetly of love.

Not a day goes by when I don’t miss her.

I almost completely forgot today was Wednesday. Shows you how I’m kind of a spaz, especially when I have too much free time on my hands.

Anyway: Spring Break is going along like a long and comfortable bath. It’s warm and wet and soothing, and I don’t really want to get out, because it’s bitterly cold out there, and I’m not going to make it between the tub and the towels in time before I freeze my ass off.

But I’m looking back with this poem: a poem that I wrote over Winter Break, about a character that came into my head and simply wouldn’t get out.

She entered my mind as an image: an ancient warrior, standing on top of a hill in time-worn armor, staring up at the ever-revolving stars, hand on her sword, long flowing silver-white hair blowing behind her. Rowan. That was what her name was. It couldn’t be anything else.

Anyway, I figured I needed to write a poem about Rowan. A free-verse, story poem: one that played around with form and rhythm. Like I said: for me, poetry is weightlifting. I do it in order to practice for my actual story writing. (And yes, I have been working on original fiction all this time… Maybe I’ll post some of it eventually. Who knows.)

This poem was basically practice with imagery and sentence rhythm. But when I kept on writing it, I found that I’d come away with what might be an interesting story. It doesn’t really work in prose form, but I like the underlying tale: a story of a warrior and her lover, and the brief time that they spent together. A tale of destiny and duty, and the battle to keep entropy from dominating the universe.

I think there are more stories to be told about Rowan. I’m not sure what they are, but they’re out there.

The border is a metaphor poached from Gloria Anzaldúa, one of my favorite thinker-type persons.

Hope you enjoy this.

~ Ian

 

Rowan: A Poem of Love and the Border

 

Zero

 

Borders are sharp places.

They are a razor-wire edge,

a cold sharp cutting blade,

and where they dig into the flesh of reality

they lacerate;

hell-hot drops of blood dripping and seeping

through the cracks in space and time.

Where the blood seeps through,

pain follows.

Anger flows.

The innocent and the damned are mingled.

Time

runs

slow

and

dis

join

ted

ly.

Scrambled get mixed things and.

The world falls

out

of

step.

 

It was to the border that Rowan came.

 

 

One

 

There are sentinels who watch the edges.

Men and women who guard that which is

from that which is not.

That which is: green, ripe, fat,

full of the essence of being.

That which is not: hungry, emaciated,

dry as dessicants and as cold as nothing.

The story of time is the story of the conflict

between being

and not-being.

 

One such watcher was Rowan.

 

How long did she stand there?

How long did she wait,

staring into the cold starlight,

the earth turning towards dawn?

She never told me.

I never asked.

 

She was beautiful, I think,

although I believe that at the time

I was looking for a hero

to save me from my misery.

Her hair was milk-white and flowing.

Her eyes were dark.

Nose, lips, cheekbones,

all were in the right places.

Long legs, strong shoulders,

tall, proud, like a standing stone,

and when we made love

she would wrap her legs around me

and bite my neck with her small, sharp teeth.

She came into my life but for a moment.

A brief moment, when I was young

and the world was green and new.

 

(She was much older than me.

I think.

I never asked her age.)

 

I was in love

(or thought I was in love)

and I think (hope) (wish)

that she had some affection for me.

 

She came into my life like a brief shower

that falls from the sky in the spring sunlight.

 

She left me like the sun,

slipping out of my world slowly,

until everything was dark.

 

Not a day goes by when I don’t miss her.

 

 

Two

 

This is my sword, Rowan told me,

and you must never touch her. 

I give you leave to touch any part of my body,

from the crown of my head

to the soles of my feet

and anyplace in between.

But this is my sword,

and we share a bond that is closer than lovers.

Closer than twins are we.

We are two parts of the same body.

 

Do you love your sword 

more than you love me?

I asked her.

It was a teasing question,

an idle statement,

the kind of jest a lover would make.

 

I expected her to smile and laugh,

shrug, and lean against me,

pressing her lips to mine,

our tenderest skin touching.

 

I was as surprised as anybody

when Rowan replied,

Yes.

 

 

Three

 

She would leave for weeks on end.

She would vanish into the darkness

once every few months,

leaving my side as I slept after we made love.

I knew she was gone,

because her sword

(which always stood by the fireplace of my cottage

when she was around)

would invariably be gone.

 

She always knew how to hurt me most.

 

One night when it stormed and raged,

dark thoughts flew through my head

like birds of shadow.

Is she with another man?

Someone far away, where nobody knows me?

How many lovers does she have?

Is she lying to me?

 

I went down to the inn

on the village green,

bought a bottle of Rhaelish whiskey

and drank it down,

cup by cup,

every

last

d

r

o

p

.

 

When I came home, she was there,

asleep in our bed.

 

I woke her up, called her whore,

raged incoherently at her

for the better part of an hour.

 

She sat there and bore it.

 

Finally she showed me her back

and peeled off her bandages

and there it was,

from her tailbone to the nape of her neck,

a pink-and-tender healing wound

that was only a week old.

 

After a moment of shock

my head cleared.

I understood.

 

I don’t abandon you for myself,

Rowan told me gently.

I abandon you for the world.

 

 

Four

 

I touched her sword, one winter day.

 

Rowan was out chopping wood

and I was in the house

watching the fire crackle

leaping crackling gleeful

and with abandon.

 

The firelight shone on the pommel of the sword.

 

I came over to the fireplace

and drew

the

sword.

 

(After all,

she said that I could touch any part of her body, didn’t she?

We were lovers. We were friends.

Were not Rowan and the sword

two parts of the same body?)

 

It was not much.

A bit heavy, very sharp,

but the sword was a thing of beauty.

Not gaudy or jeweled elegance.

It was the sane, practical beauty

of a beloved kitchen knife.

 

I felt guilty to touch it.

 

I have a poet’s hands.

Rowan had the strong fingers

and scarred palms

of a skilled warrior.

It felt wrong for me to handle a sword.

 

I sheathed it

and went back to watching the fireplace.

 

Rowan came in at sunset,

carrying an armful of wood

in her strong arms.

I said nothing to her

about touching her sword,

her most private part.

 

But I felt guilty,

and Rowan must have sensed the guilt,

for we did not make love that night,

nor did we sleep in each other’s arms

(as was our custom on winter nights)

but back to back, shoulder blades touching,

the stigmata of silence lying over my house.

 

 

Five

 

After I touched Rowan’s sword,

we fell out of each other’s lives.

She was gone more and more frequently,

going away for longer and longer,

until one day

at the height of summer

she did not return.

 

I cried.

I was heartbroken.

 

But I was young.

And young hearts heal.

 

 

Six

 

I saw her three times after that.

 

The first time was in a tavern

in the gaudy city of Lost Steelhaven

at the mouth of the Swiftflow River.

I had moved to the city

to make my living as a playwright.

I had a woman (barely more than a girl)

who I took to the tavern

and sat down on my knee as I drank

and played dominoes

with jewel-pipped ivory squares

surrounded by beautiful women

and some of my friends.

 

She stood across the room,

firelight shining on her milk-white hair

and her eyes like obsidian

at the heart of a volcano.

She wore leather armor

and her sword (which I had touched)

was slung across her back.

I could tell she was a mercenary,

a sword for hire,

standing there with her arms crossed

and her body language

as impassive as a mountain.

 

(I did not speak to her.

It’s awkward to introduce an old lover

to the girl you plan to sleep with

later that night.)

 

The second time

was at a ball in High Overholt,

the greatest city of the cold North,

where I was performing my newest play

for the delight of the magistrate’s daughter.

 

She was there,

wearing a gown of soft damask,

the soft green color

of spring grass.

 

(I had never seen Rowan in a dress before.

You could have knocked me over with a feather.)

 

She spotted me, this time,

and came over to talk.

She smiled, and laughed,

and we danced a measure

as the band played sweet music.

 

She told me that she was going to the border,

that she would be away for a long time,

that she might never return.

 

She told me the story of conflict,

of being and not-being

and how not-being will one day win.

She would do whatever she could

to postpone that day.

 

It was a bittersweet meeting.

 

The third time

was in a dream

but somehow, in my deepest bones,

I knew

it was a true dream.

 

She sat on a rock, sword on her knees,

staring up at the starlight,

coldness in her eyes,

waiting for something.

(For what?)

For the end of the world.

 

This was the last time we met.

And though I am old now,

with a wife and three children

and five or more bastards,

I still think of that time I had with her,

when I was young

and the world was green and new,

when the days were filled with laughter,

when the nights smelled sweetly of love.

 

Not a day goes by

when I don’t miss her.