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.

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