Desert Journey

Desert Journey

In the wild places, life loses its confusion
And shines instead with the brilliant clarity
Of fresh-hewn crystal, sparkling with light
And edges so sharp they would draw blood.
The final tent is lost in a shimmer of heat,
Long miles behind me in the sand;
I cannot see my destination
Though mirages try to distort my vision
And lure me from my straight path.
I lay the compass on the baking ground
Follow where the arrow points me
Even though I can see nothing ahead
But sand, sand and yet more sand.
It will be cold tonight, surely,
The ice glittering in the moonlight
Mirroring the hard stars in velvet sky
Singing with high voices like distant angels.
Tomorrow, the sky will be too bright
But I will remember the stars
With their haunting piercing songs
I shall walk to that rhythm
Till I reach the other side.

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Sexy Beast

Sexy Beast

Spring, you sexy beast, you’re back!
Blowing hot and cold again,
From pheromones and feathers fluttering,
Pistils and stamens at it,
Hammer and tongs,
To nights that end in ice,
Frosted grass and ruined plants
Pricked out too soon, too tender.
You’re so full of juice
You might explode with green.
Stiff new leaves, quivering catkins
Open-mouthed flowers
And frantic frogs, a-courting,
Birds, oblivious of envious eyes,
Bill and coo and shag.
That’s a bird, too, right?

The Winter Queen, set to music!

If you enjoyed the Otherworldly aspects of Away With the Fairies, and The Wild Hunt, then you may well enjoy the Celtic Myth Podcast Show https://twitter.com/CelticMythShow . I bumped into Gary and Ruth on Twitter and they really liked my poem, The Winter Queen.

Anyway, their winter show is extremely enjoyable and uplifting at this cold, dark time of the year, and they have done a wonderful, spine-tingling reading of The Winter Queen, with the music of Phil Thornton as evocative backing. I confess I was in tears when Gary (one of the presenters) messaged me on Facebook and I listened to the show, because it felt so lovely to have been included in this way. I’m probably a Celt by ancestry, but I am very much a Celt at heart whatever my blood might say.

Do download the show. The Winter Queen comes at around 35 minutes.

http://celticmythpodshow.com/Shownotes/episodeSP38.php

The words to the poem can be seen here:

https://zenandtheartoftightropewalking.wordpress.com/2013/12/16/the-winter-queen/

The Winter Queen

The Winter Queen

She came softly on the trailing edge

Of fevered dreams and sinking sleep,

Face a mask of opaque ice, her eyes

Blue-bright as a sunlit glacier.

Hair as soft as swan’s lost down

Filled with pearly Honesty and skeletons

Of Queen Anne’s Lace.

Her wreath was of frozen holly leaves

Dotted with berries of bloody red

And dusted with traces of white hoar frost

Like glitter on a Venetian mask.

Her clothes the rags of summer splendour

Faded by the autumn skies

And ripped to ragged ruin

By gales and snowstorms yet to come.

Around her throat withered rowan berries

And rock hard sloes dried to stone

The meagre treasures hanging still

Amid the shaking hedges here.

Her staff a shaft of blackthorn, bare

Of leaves but bearing thorns and buds

Hard and tight as clenched fists

Defiant of the clutch of cold.

Her voice was hoarse with winter storm,

Yet soft as a draught under my door,

Insistent and full of power

Commanding me to obey her words.

The creatures of the wild will need

More food than my late sister did provide,

For my realm and season will persist

Past the time when buds should break.

Take my rowan beads, and hang them

Where the birds will feed

As signal that you will be their friend

Though my reign be far too long.”

I woke. Her touch upon my face

Turned skin to leaden hue like death.

In the night garden ~ musings by starlight

In the night garden ~ musings by starlight

The grass has cooled now and feels pleasantly moist against the soles of my feet. During the heat of the day I could not walk here, barefoot or otherwise, for fear of treading on the many bees that buzz among the thousands of clover flowers. The texture of the grass is scratchy, reminding me how dry it has become. The flower heads are soft white, and even they are beginning to wither.

There are flowers that have become magically altered by the darkness; blue and white Canterbury Bells seem luminous, the blue ones almost fluorescing in the limited light. The sky has still streaks of pink and gold at the far horizon, but otherwise is deepening to indigo very fast. The last of the swifts flew over some time ago and I am watching now for the arrival of the first bats, as the night shift takes over.

The pond is now dark, the golden globes of the water soldier flowers shut tight, and the hum of bees collecting water is silenced. If I stand here a while, a goldfish will surface for a moment, then disappear into the depths again. The first water lily flower is still closed, screwed up like a puzzle, but it will perhaps open tomorrow.

The sky is now deep blue, and has a clarity about its darkness that is surprising. The first of the stars glimmers and then twinkles; within a few moments there are more visible than I can count, diamond white against the velvet backdrop like gemstones being shown off by a jeweller.

A soft breeze shakes the leaves of the trees, still warm from a hot day, and with it comes an intoxicating scent. It’s the fragrance of the summer nights I remember from twenty years ago in our first garden, crushed grass, roses and night-scented stocks that I sowed in every gap amid perennials and between paving slabs. Rich, but ethereal, the perfume transports me back to another hot night, when I was still young and full of hope and life seemed a little simpler than it does now. I was not happier then but I had poured much of my energy into creating a garden that held magic.

At the end of the garden I have put a bench, beneath the sheltering canopy of leave of a cherry plum tree. There’s a trellis near on each side, up which grow well established old roses. One is named Alchemist and this pleases me. The scent is comforting, and mixes with that of the jasmine and honeysuckles we have planted to complement the roses. The border near my seat has other scented plants too that give up their aroma at night. Night-phlox, which my brother grows for me each year, has starry white flowers touched with deep blood-red maroon markings, and its scent is powerful. It smells like a mixture of Refresher sweets from childhood and expensive French perfume.

I sit on the bench, feeling a few dried leaves crunch beneath me and I look up. I have a line of plain fairy-lights, solar powered, that like tiny globes of white fire, like stars strung out on a line like beads, and these are trailed through the lower branches. The sounds of the town go on around me but I don’t hear them much. I feel insulated from it all, I feel a million miles from here.

Somewhere close by, the hedgehog is beginning her nightly rounds, and will stop at our garden for a supper of dog food and a drink of water from the birdbath. I wait, feeling the first bite of a mosquito, and wishing I had brought citronella oil out with me to fend them off.

There is a moment where everything is held in perfect expectation, a breath away from realisation; the transformation of a mundane suburban garden into a world where beings from beyond this reality might step blithely into this world and I into theirs and where it’s eminently possible that a unicorn might begin cropping the starlit clover.

A cloud passes over the stars and the moment is lost, and I get up to go inside. At the back door I pause and the scent of the night garden washes over me and with it, the hopes and the dreams I once had flicker like fireflies around me. The past and its memories are here, too; they’ve never gone away, but have been waiting, like dormant seeds buried deep, for the right conditions and the right time to start to sprout.

What will these forgotten seeds grow into?

Summer Solstice Morning

Summer Solstice morning

I have not slept. I have spent the night tending the fire, gazing into the dancing flames and the embers that glow red amid the grey ash that coats them. It may be summer but the night has been chilly and my body aches with it, and with the enforced stillness. I’d like to feed the fire now, coax it into new life, but the purpose of the night was to keep the fire barely alive till the first sunlight breaks over the tree-clad horizon. I have fed the fire one stick at a time, keeping the balance between it remaining alight and the spark being extinguished for lack of fuel. On a normal day I would have banked the fire with slabs of turf hacked from the grass-clad slopes below my cave but this is part of my ritual, this meticulous slow tending to the spirit of the hearth.

Inside my cave, my cooking fire has burned low too, but I know I can rekindle that quickly and easily. My stomach growls and I think of hot tea and cakes made from the last of the autumn’s chestnuts, cooked on a flat stone in the margins of the hearth.

This is not about fire; this is not about light. And yet both are fundamental to this morning. If morning ever comes, that is, for the sky is midnight blue, speckled with stars and frayed with wisps of clouds that blur their twinkling.

But I can hear birds beginning to stir, to emit the first notes of their songs to greet the daylight with, and when I look again I can see that the stars are going out, one by one. The midnight blue has become greyish, and as I gaze into the blackness below the ledge where my cave opens out into a half moon of soft sand, I can see that the forest beyond is no longer a sea of darkness. I can see that there are trees as diffuse light strikes the leaves and branches, and very far off the line of night is vanishing as the first rays of sun pierce the sky. It will not be long, but my legs are cramping and I struggle to my feet, stamping and waving my arms to restore the blood flow to my body.

Like red eyes, the embers glow more brightly as the morning brings a stiff breeze that scatters the ashes and whips the last of the dying fire into one final bloom of flames. I stand very still, hearing the soft crackle, and I wait. The golden burst of sun-rays is sudden; it always takes me by surprise how swift it comes, this morning. As the light touches the forest and then reaches my little dwelling, I take my flask and I hold it up to the rising sun. Mead, from last year or the year before, sweet and strong. I drink deeply, gulping and letting it pour into me. Half for me, then I upend the flask so that the rest floods the fire. There is a hiss and a smell of honey, and the fire is out.

This day is the longest day and will need no ritual fire. The furnace of the sun is at its peak now and we shall need no more reminders of its power until the harvest comes.

I turn, wobbling slightly as the mead has gone to my head, and go inside to brew tea and brown sweet cakes before going about my day’s work, while outside the mountain I live on is warmed by the midsummer sun and the creatures I share the land with start their day. 

Desert Journey

Desert Journey

In the wild places, life loses its confusion

And shines instead with the brilliant clarity

Of fresh-hewn crystal, sparkling with light

And edges so sharp they would draw blood.

The final tent is lost in a shimmer of heat,

Long miles behind me in the sand;

I cannot see my destination

Though mirages try to distort my vision

And lure me from my straight path.

I lay the compass on the baking ground

Follow where the arrow points me

Even though I can see nothing ahead

But sand, sand and yet more sand.

It will be cold tonight, surely,

The ice glittering in the moonlight

Mirroring the hard stars in velvet sky

Singing with high voices like distant angels.

Tomorrow, the sky will be too bright

But I will remember the stars

With their haunting piercing songs

I shall walk to that rhythm

Till I reach the other side.