Saving the Innocents: A Fragment
I have brought you here for this singular purpose:
We will rescue the innocents I’ve marked.
You toss your Keats and declare yourself ready,
but I know how you cower, dreaming or not.
I know this riffling of pages, birds plunging
from the cliff, after-silence of low moaning wind.
Straight to the battle it was
my finger that marked the place
in the Idylls and gravely
she presented the sword of glass
so that he might put an end
to the imposter—to me, pretending—
and thus I would save her innocents.
Dreamlike it made sense, the stench
of sand-salt and blood, the drip of fear
and fog. The memory of Thorn
(You can’t trust her) and my
heedless desire to have her anyway
tell me I could be great.
She stood at the lakeside, pale
skirts summer-twilight glowing,
hair loose and light about her head
as if in water outspread. Wavelets
ankle-lapping. I called out
but oh, God, she would not listen.
She just ran and I could not
follow, all dark and I couldn’t find her.
The slap and slosh and cold water closing…
(We sat on the wall and talked,
we lay in the grass and loved.
You princes always prating
of other islands in other cold seas—
Forgive me, good sir, I am bound
for better or worse, for airier realms.)
A dank, dark, desolate place. I met him
for the first time there. Thorn. Beneath
melting snow, rank rotting greens, this
smell oozing from my pores with the fear.
The old king’s hall, where the monster
feasts. You can read of such places,
but to stand within reach…
A stir of breeze, soft beyond high hall
timbers (darker loom against fading stars)
and then the voice in my ear: You can’t
trust her. My heart leaps (yes, against bone-cage)
as his wild, sly face appears—a man. Merely
a man. Sir Alwin, he says, mocking. Her pet name
for you? Elf-friend, you will save no one tonight.
Shriek of door hinges, flash of light. His hand
on my arm as I start forward, fumbling
for the horn. From the hall, a gurgling scream,
clash and clatter of weapons or of benches
wrenched from the floor. From Thorn, a sigh.
She’s a patent liar. Ask her if that’s not true.
Was it meant to be a metaphor? The girl
in a tree, Thorn soft-laughing, leaves
spiraling down in gold-slanted sun?
On the road the king’s men, riding closer,
singing “Greensleeves,” and I came here to save
her. It was her hawk, said Thorn, it has been
done before. I think Rose is straying
rather far from the mark. It has been done
before: The hawk in the tree, the lady
with a sword, in the breeze autumn leaves
stirring, then still.
You know well you’d have been happy
had you not met her. You had your books,
your studies, the unfading margin of adventure
in a well-traveled world, the yearning
for knowledge. She has circumscribed your life
with these crumbling castle walls—dreams—rot.
Now you fret of rusting unburnished, waiting
for her whistle to call you forth, to shine in use!
Go back to your poets, those ancient masters
of high romance, and be content. Imagine
Rose never loved you. Imagine you can go
through life with this stitched-shut heart,
a pocket of no use, your gray spirit following
knowledge like a sinking star. As if to breathe
were life. Try it.
That dark hollow underneath
all that is green and delightful
and for all your blithe youthful
manful trying to deny (tripping
light words, heroic forms)
it is there, ancient:
a rotting bog.
Coming up through that leaf tunnel
to see the rose sprawling tangled
within crumbled tower
I felt it humming below.
Long before Thorn’s warning
I knew if I were to cut her free—
please her at her word—
I’d tumble as surely into that hole
that her roots had long been carving.
Not a trap as he would have it
but merely a regrettable casualty
of nature’s own force.
Rose Bestows a Gift
He wears it under his shirt,
the amulet—like all would-be
has-been heroes—like Lancelot
himself, a tortured soul within
blind-bright armor. Anointed
as a boy, the hope of his people
against tales of oppression (fair
maidens ravished or dragons
in the courtyard): beauty/hatred
might/right. A limp story but
you’ll have it. To begin, go back
to his Jonathan. The sister
is merely bitter, bent
Jonathan to His David
It is better to be sidekick
than hero. All I must give
is loyalty and that only briefly
as I appear in the shadow
of his sun. My actions, my heart
never questioned. His errors called
before the masses and publicly
paid; when I slip it is not far
to fall, and humility is ever
my currency. If I get caught
up elsewhere, killed in battles
of his making, is it not just
a way to pay my smaller sins?
I said from the outset I would die
for him. If only it would do him good.
People need to know a great man
can love and grieve. It’s reassuring
to see he’s made of our same clay.
Amadae Is Dead
1. What of those who remain?
She stood by the cave mouth, weeping—No,
Ana is not one to weep. But her shoulders
curved the weight of grief she has carried
from before she knew she should grieve.
2. Ana calls it lightness
When the world lifts suddenly
from your head and you discover
all the ways you suppressed
and suspended happiness…
Is it only that he is gone
to the fathers of his people,
his body gone to mother earth?
Is it only the way he always looked
to the tree-sky when we talked
and my heart is an empty gourd?
3. How was I to answer?
To say, Rose gave me this tale and the end
was inevitable as the crumbling dirt at our feet?
She had always hoped her contained diamond
hope. Could I not have given her that diamond
just once, in the daylight?
4. Rose has no sympathy
I cannot give you what you want,
but only a whisper, a shadow beyond
the corner beyond the next corner.
You follow the breadcrumb trail
and find it peters out; you hold the thread
but stumble on the same stone
on the black cave floor. There is no
lightning gift of the gods, no comfort
in my flesh—what flesh? You dream
of soft caresses but wake cold-still
and forget everything I said.
Remember when we hid in the caves
late dust swirling in red sun and talked
of home, imagined roses blooming
thorn-berries yet green and sour, river
foam-cold? We had the king within reach
but were too fearful—proud—young—to grasp
the hem of his robe. Remember how
the cedars howled with the storm of it
wind rushing like undammed water through
the desert valley heaped with his dead
and ours, and you lay huddled, fevered
by the fire? I went out long before
the cliffs should have echoed new birdsong
to watch the armies march clacking, bone-
white, on and on into morning
I go first into frosted night, flinging charms—seven
words to fend the blizzard whole while moon
sinks into clouds, swallowed in gray velvet
I’ve armed myself in furs; you red-robed in velvet
singing fireside untired, one slight flame against seven
nights of breaking cold, failing moon
No cracks in river ice, unmelted hidden moon
though your steady voice, low velvet
calls the fire. Outside alone I count slowly, seven—
seven nights until moon cuts again through storm-velvet