It was only a step into the forest
to the river running fast and clear
and I knew that summer trick
of spinning strong rope
from paper and heart-strings
twirling it high and far
to snag lightning-split oak
where wizard-words swarmed
like bees, spilled like blackberries
to fill mouth, pockets, buckets
It was only a step from the forest
to where the crone sold heartsease
for desire, a mere bucketful of words
and a spinning strong rope
Here’s heartsease, and you give me
your desire. I keep it in blue jars,
well-sealed. Just one pinch warms
me through a year of winter windy
nights, good as a peat-fire or cat-purr.
I’ll take the rope, too, strongly spun
of heart-strings and paper. Once
you leave the forest you’ll not need
it again, and ’twill serve me well
as a clothesline. Those shriveled words
in your bucket? Keep them.
All that long-lighted day I watched her
rope-spinning, flinging it bridge-ways
across the clear river, bee-hum loud
in the glade. Rain held off and held off
as it did in such a summer (a wizard’s trick
or maybe of the crone herself). A girl gathering
words like blackberries, fingers mouth juice-
stained and she never saw me in her headlong
desire but oh, I would have told her heartsease
is not worth the price. For a word I would have
told her an eased heart is nothing, songless.
But she came by belief and all that light-
long day I watched her, aching, for it was
only a step to the crone’s hut and now
she’ll never find her way back.
I had a prentice, once. She came across
the river, bright belief like starshine, sharp.
I taught her names; to listen, still; how words
quick-hum inside the oak, how they can build
and howl like lightning splits the sky, and spill.
We strung them fine on heart-string rope to make
a blackbird song. She’s gone. To have her back!
but autumn spells and heartsease hold her now.
5. Heartsease for Desire
I believed in fairytales
that words had power
to call up forest, river, oak
deep places of wolves and ogre
kings, the blackbird boy enchanted
pouring pathos into song until
I would take him to my breast
find him changed to joyful lover
in the rain-hung green-washed glade
We strung the words awhile—my master and I—
making shining things, berry-jeweled strings
that held no power, for though the blackbird watched
he never came to earth and in the rainless heat
my desire built like storm, pitched me headlong
I lay under bee-hum, dreamed
of my blackbird boy, followed
him branch to branch
into wolf-eyed forest until
in shadow of sagging hut
I saw the crone
6. Autumn Spells
My heart falls and falls. She smiles
like a flower under glass, fading
far from native earth and sun and sky.
I give her home, children, garden, love
but longing follows her like a shadow
wakes me in the night to see her walking
at the forest’s edge, staring hard across
moon-bright water, listening—for what?
—fingers open, reaching, empty.
7. As Though to Breathe Were Life
What use to stand at riverside?
To hold this feather, wishing hard
or hold my breath and listen, still
for even aftermath of storm?
Why cast these rusty strings of words,
scrape fingers raw on stumbling sounds?
As well to toss a yarn-skein high
expecting fall of gauzy dreams
to make a winter’s shawl. What use?
I’ll huddle, fireside, aching fierce
for sun. I’ll unpick stitches far
into the night. I’ll unstring words—
for nothing here is bright or sword-
like, nothing glints; and even hope
dies dim and dull, unused.
8. Crone’s Patience
Winter land gray, hawk-still, slow
river under ice-shroud; with the moon
fair I far-see: Autumn spells won’t hold
her, not for all the heartsease in the world.
I dream of her hair-shorn, light and dancing
at forest verge, spinning rope of spring-buds,
rain-troth. I spin out these shriveled words,
sup on desire, waiting. My girl will come back.
9. Blackbird’s Patience
Time has not passed for me
in years or even seasons, moonrise
or sunset, river flood or ice-sharp howl
To wait as I have is only suspension
of wing-beat, heartsong—in my dreams
I walk the earth but my voice is gone
Wizard still strings his words in dullness
Crone sits staring, opens blue jar and sniffs
My girl will come back—To have her back!
But I’ve seen her across unbridged river
settled for what humans call love, forgetting
bright belief like autumn’s rotted leaves
10. Once and Future
These years I have burnished
silver, shelved desire
as a thing to sip and sniff
parceled out love as if
the supply might dry up—
What use? Tonight, dozing
fireside, if snow-wind brings
a blackbird note, I will swallow
whole a drop of hot sun enough
to fill and build and spill
and light my way
to riverside where summer
bridge glints gossamer
humming like bees—
only a step to the forest
fleet-foot past crone’s hut
to rain-hung green-washed glade
where he waits, my blackbird
boy dark-eyed, impatient
to take me to his breast
11. At the River Crossing
I am the child of root and air, the song
of limpid river, tumbled rocks;
my father feathered black, my mother brown
and pocket-faded, full of words.
I sing and shape the stumbles into spells
of love for Crone to honey-fill her jars,
for Wizard’s far-fetched flings at sun and moon.