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



Monday, October 13, 2014

A Late Approach

The day keeps mostly still
corset-stiff with heat and laced
in high degrees. She has worn
this garment for months --- moving
in little wind and layers of glare.
The  nights have lingered
in too much warmth - - causing her to turn
the hours restless and the leaf shrivel
on trees to rhythmic ticking.
How many seconds
before they pass, denied their right
to blush, flame and swirl
wanton in a lip-moist wind?
Her clock spell (cast upon them)
gives no answer, and she soon
discovers this --  Autumn
has just spared time for her
and   has not forgotten
how to love. The season enters
so cool and damp,  rain
breath-fallen on the hill. Its scent
pure and pined-for while the moon
glows like the match flame
that could light a candle;
and beckons a bird to sing
in its briar leaves  at night.
Only at night - a lover's song
when Fall comes at first
to lull the heat and  loosen
the breeze. When memories
disrobe in a darkness lengthened
to ease the sun, tender the heart.
Note -- The beautiful painting is called, "Communicant" by Henri Le Sidaner.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Saga Of The Bags

Under an oilskin tarp,
an old man sets up his table
with bags of boiled peanuts and soy beans.
He always tells his buyers
the brown paper perfects their taste
and is kinder to the earth.
The road  stays quiet. No travelers
except an armadillo
emerging from  a field of tall  grass.
His body bangled in  light bronze
matching the sun
that ripples on the river
and warms the skin of a girl
who boils something  much different
 in the distant  hills.
     *  *  *  *  *  *  *
Trees form an alcove
where the tennyo stands
stirring indigo leaves and oak ash
in her steel vat.
Strips of gauze
hang on the  branches
waiting to be soaked
and saturated by length of time.
the maiden prepares her dye
knowing one grade of  mist
must be the deeper blue
of mountains where evergreens
are steeped in twilight ;
and the other, lighter gray
(like lint) where sea birds
steep their wingspan.
in a sky of  filmy brine.

Slowly, she dyes her cloth
and with limber hands
spreads smooth the colored swaths
knowing soon they must be stitched
and styled as bags. Sheer bags
for the scent of  rain and wood,
beach and billow;  the migrant awe
of dreams and drifters.
     *  *  *  *  *  *  *
and among those drifters, who did not buy
the boiled goods, but other things instead,
a  woman and her son
turn from the surf -- leaving their own fog
along the shore. White litter
that flutters and floats
out to sea, only to rip
on a coral reef  or slide
as luminous waste inside the throats
of  turtle or seal. Their songs
of longevity spliced
with plastic.

Note: In Asian/Buddhist mythology, "the tennyo" is a female deity or celestial maiden who dwells on a mountain  to guard and reveal what is  most sacred and splendid. In some myths, she helps to craft natural phenomenon which is part of the climate, both in heaven and on earth.