after Amadae

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

Rupert’s Truth

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

(summer-bunting, bird-green)

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.

 

I borrowed the first line from this poem of Jenifer’s. It got me thinking about beneath-the-surface things, which led me to Rose-Witch and Rupert because I was in a mood for truth-in-fiction over fiction-in-truth.

 

Thorn’s Advice*

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.

 

*stealing shamelessly from Tennyson’s “Ulysses.”

 

Laurel

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.

 

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.

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

on revenge.

 

Camlann

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.

 

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.

 

Ophelia (from Rose-Witch)

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.)

 

 

Heorot (from Rose-Witch)

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.