Sunday, November 16, 2014

Tendency

 
She was the restlessness,
the rewilding of us;
and so, she pulled us
into a house of woods.
 
Its walls pillared
with camellia and cedar.
 
Its floor strewn with leaves
and the mud underneath
damp. Her feet did not
imprint the earth
 
while ours left traces
of boot  and shoe.
 
We stopped by a stream
where salmon came to spawn
and cranes flung their white
shawls across the sky
flying south.
 
Lost in the presence
of birds and fish, she drew
our attention
 
rubbing together
two stalks of kindling.
We became wood smoke.
 
Our spirits diffused
to drift and linger,
 
to pilgrimage
on the forest path
finding near twilight
 
what needed, (what yearned)
to be retold --
          and  remembered.
______________________________________
Beautiful artwork is by Japanese artist, Enoki Toshiyuki
 
 
 
 

Snow White's Visitation



The winter air
so clear and cold, it
covers the mountains
like a glass lid
 
and beneath -- darkness
tumbles along the snow.
The hair of a princess
falling into the folds
of her bridal gown.
 
She has already
lived her life
in the fairytale, awakening
to a prince
and prosperous fate, but this
 
is her specter
mounted on the dais
of the high desert terrain.
She looms before that bride
who sleepwalks through the day
dazed by the spell of routine
and deft fingers
indentured to cell or tablet
 
 the same way her ancestors
were bonded to loom
and spindle. The woman 
who chews an apple, slice after slice
 inducing her mind
to forget the prince, the partner
 
who needs to perceive
his reflection
in her mirror. Her voice
at coloratura pitch
shattering the ceiling, the keen silence
             with joy.  
___________________________________________________________________________
 So many times fairytales these days are turned into jaded views of courtship, love and marriage along with a great deal of cynicism. This is sort of my reaction to that; saying Snow white's specter looms on the horizon as a reminder to the wife who is totally absorbed in her career and ambitions, her identity as a self-contained maven , that her partner needs to be recognized as a vital part of her life and that his presence/reflection should also be reflected in her outlook (her mirror). And in doing so, her voice should also inflect that high sense of joy thus shattering the glass barrier of isolation that prevented this relationship from ascending to a higher level of understanding and communication.
 

 

 

 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Inventor

                           

                          (A country house in France, 1782)

 


Her chemise hung over the hearth
and her husband watched
its cloth inflate
as the fire glowed
and heat rose
with the scent of cherry wood.
 
Like a ghost
the flame's breath
stole possession of the garment
shifting  slightly left then right.
The young man having made
his study of the scene,
enough to guess that such  a flame
could launch a large balloon,
 
exclaimed -- soliloquized;
 
Oh! woman
despite your shape
shown elsewhere this day,
thou art loosed.
 
You are here
as shadow, as wood smoke
 lifting from the warmth
that placed a kettle
on the fire
 
or hot stones in brass
that kept sheets warm
while passion struck
the bare kindling of our limbs.
 
Oh! Woman, thou art loosed,
flown from that slender form
to make your presence known, lining
 
 lingerie that stirs
 my blood as well -- or more
than propelling flight
with a basket and bulbous
sack of air.
 
Its silk painted blue
with the wine god's face -- and golden
fleurs de lis.
 
Oh! Woman thou art loosed.
The house in light
and you levitating at dusk
makes me sense --
                          I am possessed!
_____________________________________________________________

In the latter part of the 18th century, inventors and scientists became obsessed with flight, especially through the use of a giant  balloon, fueled by  flame and carrying its passengers in a basket gondola.  Two brothers in France, Joseph and Jacques Mongolfier, were the first to launch the flight of one of these elaborate contraptions. Inventors and scientists, they spent months stretching into years studying the dynamics of the climate, the air craft itself, and launching sites. The idea to lift the balloon off by fire was discovered, according to legend, by Joseph when he watched his wife's chemise (hanging over the flame) billow  as the heat rose and dried the intimate apparel. Drying laundry inspired a master idea and plan. This poem is not meant to  portray Joseph's character or reaction; but a character derived from that fabled event and how it affected  his relationship/identity with both science and sensual passion.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Storytellers


Sometimes, the storytellers hanging out in the marketplace, the quaint pub/shop the old house or railway station are the objects, themselves. Antiques that offer through artistic detail, inscriptions, place of discovery or some knowledge of their personal lineage, the vestiges of a story. And the rest is either revealed through research or the beholder/owner's imagination. The inanimate trouvère, on one hand hints at its tale in silence, but on the other, inspires the observer to complete or reinvent its history.
 
 

To wake things up that are in him..

                                          George Macdonald

                                     

There are centuries  of us

silent and heirloomed -- left

in half-timbered shops, temple ruins,

the spider-veiled cellar or eaves. We are given

our song by use or scene.  By those

 

who shadow the  vase, linens, lamp,

ink well, parchment, or book.

And oh!  yes, that powder horn found

in the barn's loft, abandoned 

with blonde strands of hair

clinging to its strap.  Goshawk wings

sketched along its sallow bone. What woman

shot a firearm and why --

or did she simply fill the thing

to save her husband time?

 

The tale remains sparse, spoken

through etching, wisp and place.

The rest revealed

by hand and eye that mold

its shape into a chapter.

Whatever scenario

gives the relic a relatable

air,  an intimate ghost.
__________________________________________
The artwork is a detail of a larger work by 19th C. illustrator, Arthur Rackham,
from his "Ring of The Nibelung" collection.

 

 

 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

An Idyll

 
 
Twilight fades in
shadowing the roses
like a woman's pale
lavender gown.
 
The air cool
and a few birds
rustle in the hedge
as if they're words
striving to become
a prayer.
 
A vesper
blessing the lawn and light,
our garden
in the high desert.
 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Shift of Shape and Season


About two decades ago, I found a curious yet intriguing magazine in the college bookshop at Princeton University in New Jersey. It was Autumn and the ivy leaves on the brick walls of this prestigious intuition were beginning to turn. I felt enlivened by the collegiate atmosphere as well as by the brisk wind and changing foliage. And then, when I  opened  The Witches Almanac, I was drawn deeper into the mysteries of Autumn and the ancient magic of Wiccan lore, spells and wisdom. Everything from fire-gazing to  herbal recipes for curing various ailments   resonated between the pages. 

 


What stood out as my favorite, was the legend of  Lady Sybil of Bernshaw Tower. Her story was one of  noble malaise, shape-shifting and a need to be more than ordinary. Described as a "proud and wealthy young woman" in 17th Century England, she felt confined by the social demands and obligations of her day. She was drawn ( since childhood) to the landscape of forest and field along with its secretive wild life . In time, she developed a desire to practice the art of shape-shifting and other enchanting tasks that were associated with pagan sorcery.

 
She become very proficient in this craft and would run through the woods at night, especially through the deep ravine at Cliviger Gorge in the form of a milk-white doe. Her woodland excursions would linger throughout the night into early dawn. Then she would return to the manor house and resume her mortal shape and normal routine. She kept this secret from her husband and led a dual life. He, however, suspected his wife was dabbling in the forbidden art" and forsaking her Christian faith; thus bringing peril to her soul and the good fortune of the household.  Eventually, he confronted her and she confessed promising to give up witchcraft and atone for her wayward deeds.

In some versions, Lady Sybil relinquishes her power and allegiance to the occult on her death bed. She is forgiven by her husband and absolved of all sin. Her spirit, however,  rises from the grave and still continues to haunt the woods and grounds in the form of that white deer. In my two poems, there is a slightly different twist. The first piece was written years ago when I first read about her legend. It's more or less a narrative/ballad  simply defining the beauty and wonder of Lady Sybil's run through the dark woods. It praises her sense of freedom and furtive grace, her connection to nature and the transformative power of one's will and imagination.  Even the lines in the first stanza ( describing her hair) deliberately linger on its texture and color to show how she is  rooted spiritually in both a rustic and Christian world.

 




The Lady Of Bernshaw Tower


Run wild through the ravine
lovely milk-white doe,
dark-green with ivy
red-sweet with raspberry
and no one  will know
of your golden hair
long as the marshland grass
clean as the brook,
and soft as candles
rippling light at evening mass.
 
Run wild through the ravine
lovely milk-white doe,
the moon grinds a new dream
against a wheel of wind
and no one will know
of your beautiful hand
wearing the signet ring;
a hand that wields magic
and coins of mushroom
scatter about in the spring.
 
Run wild through the ravine,
lovely milk-white doe;
the maid will lay out your gown
and shoes in the tower
so  no one will know
of your journey downward
along  the witch’s path,
all vines and rock-chasm’d hill.
Fear not the morning bells,
nor your husband's wrath,
the tongues of stone,
water and timber
 remain ancient and still.
_______________________________________________________
The second poem, written recently as a retrospective piece, is more about the human struggle to change for the sake of winning the approval and trust of a significant other. And in the process of making that change, there is always the question of relinquishing part of one's identity and will. While the vow to transform  is given with an earnest heart, the ache, the ghost of the natural self  still haunts, often evoked by certain creatures or events in nature, like the  cry of migrating birds or the changing phase of  the moon.
 
And besides the woman changing for the sake of her husband and soul, there is also the transformation of the asker. Lord William, Lady Sybil's husband, had been an avid hunter and had suspicious of her behavior and random absences for some time. Yet, when he forgives her and believes her to be truly redeemed, his character becomes more tender and vulnerable. Where as his wife had metamorphosed into a wild creature via sorcery, he through faith and  need, comes passionately seeking  her renewed affections   like the deer described in psalm 42:1
 
As the hart panteth after the water brooks, So panteth my soul after thee.
 
The irony  exists not only here in the concept of shape/soul-shifting but also in the last strophe describing what he hears and does not hear. So absorbed in confirming his wife's loyalty and love, he hears the kiss he placed on her hand but not the cry of swans passing overheard. Their raw song unravels like a restlessness that had been stitched in place. A release of something (within) that still lingers behind  in echo and want.


 






























  
Lady Sybil With A Mirror In Her Chamber
  
I will spare him the misery
of suspecting any move, look or mood
that seems unnaturally mine....
      From Confessions  of The Bernshaw Tower Bride                                                     

She turns before the tilted glass
soft-footed,  hair falling
long and light
like the moon shafted
through the wild wood
where she used to run.
 
Those days now
are the fade of nettles
damp mushrooms and moss.
The  disappearance
of a doe's shadow
that was white, once  her own.

Candles respire
at a steady rate. The room calm
and covert with oak shade
awning the windows. She, too,
breathes easier this night
having a husband's trust
restored He forgave
as she traded  ancient spells
for psalms. Tall

and lean-limbed he came,
not as a hunter tracing
the heel marks of a swift hind,
but like a thirsty stag
longing for the clean
tears of her love, the sobbing
of a sorceress
redeemed. He removed
his gloves and  took her hand
hearing only the kiss
he issued there

 
while the cry of swans
crossing overhead
unraveled like thread
from a tight stitch
that might hold a button
or hook. The sky's
           opalescent moon.
____________________________________________
Note -- for further reading on the legacy and legend of Lady Sybil of Bernshaw Tower, here's a link to a 19th