Pain is always present in the cold bite of the wind, early morning, and the dead leaves swirling, the bones, too many, too sharp beneath the old cat’s fur, the deaths and the regrets, too many, too late. They never go, the needle-pointed jabs of memory, the jolt of absences, the ghosts at the elbow, when the laughter gets too free, and the light seems so bright it will never fade. There is a reason in the ache but not a remedy, a wound but not a lesson, a scar but not a healing. The animal curls around the hurt, seeks not to measure good times against bad, to remember. Our pain is the shadow behind the sun; without it would we even feel its golden warmth?
The wind that blew all night has stripped the leaves and ripped the ivy from the wall; its hot breath bringing summer from the south has faltered, anger in its mouth. Wild storms will come, I hear the urgent call of songbirds sheltered by the wall, and nothing battles in the higher air, no wings are crumpled, tossed aside like chaff, the magpie doesn’t leave her swaying nest, a feathered anchor for her fledgling brood. I hear alarm in every leafy sigh and sough of branches, heavy with new leaf, in every flower head with petaled crown that fragile, bows, so soon to come to grief.
I’m still following some prompts, but not posting them on the different sites. I’m finding I just don’t have the time to read and reciprocate to comments. This poem, a sonnet of sorts, was written for the earthweal prompt, a reminder that we’re coming up to Bealtaine.
In this meadow where only ghost cattle low, bright buttercups bow their golden heads, blue flax flowers mirror the pale May sky. In this meadow where only ghost cattle low, lush grass growing now is cropped by the deer, a jungle where pheasants and foxes peer through stalks and stems and flowered threads. There were cattle here once but now the hare, the fox, the badger, the rabbit and deer tread wary paths the night time; no snare is set in the grass, no traps to fear, beneath the hedge where the spindle trees grow, and the fire that’s lit on this clear spring night is for ghost cattle shades, the past’s swift-winged flight.
This is the sonnet for Ingrid’s EIF challenge. It’s not a Valentine’s Day thing, every day is Valentine’s Day in this house, but there’s love in it and that’s what counts. If you feel a sonnet coming on, link it to her post so we can all read it.
To a baby not yet born
When north wind blows through ragged winter trees, Raking thorny claws through stark black hair, Silent fall the furred and feathered, these Who trembling cling to bough and brake, pauvres hères. Living in the moment, hopes of spring Are dim, when frost’s cold pelt lies on the ground, And only soul to brave the blasts and sing Is thrush, the lone unfrozen liquid sound. Could there be life beneath this frozen skin, The skim of ice on water, snowdrop-pierce, Where deer scrapes break leaf-crackling, thin As hunger clinging to the bones, as fierce? Sleep, curled in nested flesh, heart-pulsing, warm, My little one, untouched by winter’s storm.
When there is no evening light, no dusk-mote thickened air, no gentle slide from gold to blackest night and only falling grey and greyer, ware the dark mouths mouthing darkest words, water-sucking mud beneath the feet, feathered ruffled roosting with the birds pouring loud in ditch streams flowing fleet. What is it takes the silver, grinds the dust of stars and planets, scatters ashes wide? In this sunless sea-gloom serpents must uncoil in gutters where the pike fish hide, as I drag fingers down the chilly pane, stare dull-eyed through sky horse’s streaming mane.
I could have seen you pass on any street, That skipping step that children keep for when The school day’s done, there’s nowhere else to run But wild and thoughtless home to play and tea. I could have called you back with some excuse, A word about your brother, mother, nan, But you’d not wait, the wind was in your heels, Drawn or driven, reckless, did you know? You raced the pavement, skip-hopped cracks the while, The minutes ticked, and knowing now, your smile Was empty, frayed as anger in two fists¬— He beat the laughter from you, beat it dead. The children who run wild, wind in their heels, Are too fleet and bright for this dark world.
I got this sonnet style poem from the Oracle this morning.
I sit in shadows cast by half-seen dreams That drip their honeyed light on thirsty ground. Though storms play, twisting skeins of feathered cloud And threading them with rain, I close my eyes, See only summer ocean, swallow-tossed, with waves of darting blue and lightning forked.
There are roses still that climb the house about, And songs still sung from tree to sighing tree In the ancient shining tongues that only Birds know, sweet and sad, rose-red and raw With premonitions of the whispered cold, The bare bones shifting of a year grown old.
It will come the end, hill-stalking black and stark, Yet in the deepening sky soars spring, the lark.
I have been rereading Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and have found myself as enthralled as Stephen Dedalus and Joyce himself by Yeat’s verse that Stephen quotes, Cathleen’s last words from the play, The Countess Cathleen. The whole chapter is full of references to the swallows. The words have stayed with me, and I am reproducing Cathleen’s short speech from the play. The fourteen lines that follow are my own.
Bend down your faces, Oona and Aleel; I gaze upon them as the swallow gazes Upon the nest under the eave, before She wander the loud waters. Do not weep Too great a while, for there is many a candle On the High Altar though one fall. Aleel, Who sang about the dancers of the woods, That know not the hard burden of the world, Having but breath in their kind bodies, farewell And farewell, Oona, you who played with me, And bore me in your arms about the house When I was but a child and therefore happy, Therefore happy, even like those that dance. The storm is in my hair and I must go.
W.B. Yeats: The Countess Cathleen Scene 5.
I watch the swallow swoop above the grass, Their wings as sharp as spearpoints, voices shrill As children playing at their thoughtless games, And wonder will they call back from the sea, When storms sweep, tossing waves and bringing night To hearts that only ever knew the summer sweet. Will they call back to what they left behind, The meadows rich with sun, the light that warmed And danced with them the days the summer long, That slip to autumn now that they are gone? The wind wails cold among the darkening trees, Cold the days to come, the candles dim, When swallows flock to fly the waters loud And leave me empty-eyed in this wild crowd.
Poem written early this morning. Later, in Blue and blue and bluethe Oracle picked up the same images and gave them a slightly different interpretation. And again, a painting by Odilon Redon illustrates it.
These long, languid days of relentless blue,
slow moving as the sluggish stream,
that flow one into another seamlessly
stitched with the hot breath of invisible night,
hurtle into oblivion,
a morass of dead moments,
molten and merging into gold,
slipping like quicksilver from the tightest grasp.