Monthly Archives: February 2013

A snippet from my take on Beowulf

Grendel

Fiercest foe, product of envy, a gut-fire flared
at the sight of treasures it sought but could never secure.
Music, wealth, gilt halls were agony
to the scaled creature, Cain’s child,
which lopped from its home in the mire of the mine.

The iron-latticed doors were nothing to Grendel.
Gold-edged copper hinges bent beneath claws.
In shadowy silence, he entered the court-hall,
the satchel of immutable dragon-hide flapped empty,
hungry for meat, beside his long thigh.

In the darkness his heart sought Hrothgar,
like calling like, as Cain called Abel to the kill-stone.

His terrible claw closed around a Geat’s tough side,
clamped down hard, splintering the bone-cage
of a mail-clad man who perished without a lone escaping cry.

Beowulf’s eyes were sharp in the darkness.
He sprung awake at the sound of splintering as shards
and gobbets gorged the throbbing throat of Grendel,
sinking flesh to the gullet that never felt fed.

The greatest of men slunk to the slick side
of the gibbering monster.
The strongest of Geats, mother-naked,
gripped the ravening claw with hands that were tough,
but terribly human.

He caught the claw in an armlock, drawing it back
so that the bones cracked, his thighs tight round the waist
of the thrashing tyrant that shuddered and thrust
around the hall against the hard hold of the man.

Locked together in struggle so great
that the mead-benches broke free from the floor,
scattering lamps, food scraps, lovely wrought platters
and the spent carpet of rushes flit their filth to the air.

Cain’s son, the shadow of Hrothgar,
shunted his own breaking body into the wall
in an effort to slake his enemies endless
thirst for combat or at the least leave the brains
of the Geat smeared on the oak beams,
scattering skull shards
at the talons that tipped his horned feet.
A fatty feast to fill his bowels.

But Beowulf held on, and his armed men were up now,
seeking to prod the pale bestial belly
with the etched blades of their swords,
spilling guts everywhere.

They could not strike clearly without risking their captain,
but their distraction served long enough
for the undaunted noble to strengthen his hold.

Beowulf sunk his bright beard between
the beasts broad shoulders, straining,
he focused his strength so that the room was filled
with a terrible shrieking, the sound of torn muscles
and air meeting the bright knob
which once fit into its matched socket of bone.

Blood shower, bone flecks, the red meat of the shoulder,
rained down on the man who clutched detached claw in his arms.
The Great Geat held his trophy up
as his triumph rang around the hall,
it was the treasure he was seeking.

Pouring blood, gore-socket weeping his life
into the dog-licked rushes, Grendel slunk out,
reeling, to die in his hole.

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Blood of the soil…

 

Bone Loss

 

Lifting the old lady over the horse-style,

the large, steam-breathed Clydesdale warmed my hair

with nut-scented droplets that had circulated through lungs,

organs, the courses of his blood.

 

The woman looked large, tyre-like rounds

visible beneath her blue anorak.

Her trail-boots danced against frost-slicked bars

without gripping. I feared the hooves.

 

My great-grandmother suffered concussion at ninety

doing something much like this- mounting a gate

with no one to help her, hoisting the bucket

of fresh cream for the butter.

 

I come from a hard breed.

Decades of dairy had gone to her head,

and thank God, the steel shoe had only grazed her.

At her age she could bear another dent.

 

Now, the Norman church was beckoning.

My husband’s grandfather had not been buried yet,

but the stones called out for praying, for preparing the earth.

 

A small open cave, perfectly formed

for ill made music, human voices singing.

Frost mapped the autumnal offerings, first harvest

of Wiltshire preserved, made solid on the altar.

Leeks, apples, cheese.

 

Life is mythology. Saints lives and fairy tales agree

that even on the path seeking something important,

under pressure of time, in the fear of getting dirty

or made somehow unclean, priority goes

to assisting the elderly. There are

compensating blessings, even unseen.

 

My fingers sank into the fat of this old lady.

She had the loose texture of still-warm meringue,

as though there were nothing solid in her

but light white summer-clouds, sunlight

held into trousers by the tight weave of cloth.

 

I lifted her easily, offering her body,

still living, bone-free and numinous,

to the hoar frosted soil.

 

 


Bone Loss II

 

It seeped out, painless, in the hot bath.

The razor slipped and there it was; alive

in the hair-clotted water, a cloud of myself.

I thought of what had gone into it.

 

Meat, primarily, consumed by me

and completely digested. Within those rusting cells,

the bones of older forms.

 

My mother’s Nordic mitochondria-

no longer independent- bonded

to a chain whose links dangle charm-portraits

of everyone I’ve been.

 

So many branched streams

feeding the sea of myself,

unwinding again in this body-heat water.

 

My thoughts go back years to a circle of graves

my third cousin showed me,

petals round a core that sprung from his land

in the centre of the pasture he kept

to feed his horses.

 

Five graves in the centre, five brothers

laid out in lines with fading stone markers

surrounded by fence my cousin kept up

like his father before him, a whole chain

going back to the ancestor son

who inherited this land.

 

I sprung from the veins of one of the others.

Outside of the fence, unmarked mounds

sprung petal-like, radial, the humps of the mothers.

 

Dark skinned, though they thought themselves Christian.

No place for them in consecrated ground.

No names either, no matter how faded.

They gave them up when they wedded those men.

 

My cousin told me that tribal lawyers

had petitioned to reclaim what was left of them.

His lawyers, better paid, won.

 

He is largely a good man, part blind like all of us.

I think that he wanted to know some of his mother,

the core of her that remains to us, undigested,

though he couldn’t have said this.

 

I would have torn down the fence,

unearthed those fragments, male and female both,

wed and mingled them there in the centre

beneath a mound like a pomegranate.

 

I would have spilled blood on them,

the steam of my breathing.

It would be interesting to note

what springs from the seeds in that earth.

 

 

Dreams I have in fever…

Under: Vixen

The face of a fox, crafted from hardened leather,
dyed yellow and red, whiskers delicately painted.
It is surprisingly heavy, thick, vivid in my fingers.

The ribbon is brown silk, matching my hair.
Tied, it vanishes in waves and soft folds of darkness.

The sockets are perfect,
touching my flesh so that the eyes
I thought I owned reveal themselves
as borrowed passage, paid in blink, in REM,
to the other, real, world.

Sometimes a mask is more true
than the thing that it covers.
A match more appropriate
to the creature in the depths,
the pulse heard beneath
a hard crust of snow.

These eyes, this unvarnished hunger,
reminds me of buried things
both witnessed and read.

A vixen on the hunt,
flesh and blood steaming holes
in a white wash above the arctic circle.
Snow covers everything like gesso,
the canvas only ever seeming blank.

Her movements are fluid, more sure than the world.
Her wet nostrils twitch, somehow unfrozen,
to catch the living scent.

The narrative voice couldn’t tell me
why she aligns herself this way,
her body falling to crouch, teeth aimed-
every time- at magnetic North.

She feels the thrum of blood
beneath the snow-crust, a life
lived unseen to pluck from the earth.

Her lips twitch back in pleasure,
the shared grin of bitches.
In a flicker of an eyelid,
compressed tension relaxed,
she dives beneath the cover of the world.

A black hole, made like her children
with the heat, the force of her body,
stares up from the cold.

Abyss, dark and beautiful,
calling out to the nothingness of white.
The death wish, the plummet,
drawing me with her.

More time passes, filled
with the questions, the terror,
of waking before she emerges,
claws scraping, her fur smoking the air,

triumphant with her mouth full of blood
and the sacred matter of the unbroken heart.

Entitlement

In The Auction House- London

I came in with no means for buying-
false pretenses, possibly, but a hunger
to look that was unabashed and genuine.

I walked on a carpet more elaborate
than anything seen outside a museum.
Soft, so soft through my soles.
Thin Arabic deer giving milk to their foals
delicate, repetitive nurslings
run round a red field.

In the centre, tagged for bidding,
a gold ormolu desk two hundred years old.

Gilt angles play pillar to a top of leather
as old as my nation, still unbelievably soft.
My fingers thirsted for it
with something like lust,
imagining the poems.

I had not been planning to touch,
but my clothes, my presence here,
lent me the right to it.
I rifled the drawers.

On the centre of the desk
stood a stand of elephant ivory.
It was elaborately carved
in a white-mans idea of the tribal,
specially made for the thing
that nested atop it.

The thing was an egg,
the same familiar colour and shape
as the white hens eggs in my kitchen,
a full foot tall, half-inch of shell,
porous as orange skin, hard as slate,
cracked all over, rehinged in glue from 1701.

I knew what it was,
I had seen pictures in books.
The Elephant Bird, an eight foot tall,
mighty thighed monster.
An eater of men.

I saw a painting once,
head bald like a vultcher,
saurian eye, serrated jaw
that might be a beak
in the same way
that my eye-tooth is a tusk.

The picture I saw
featured a leaf-adorned native,
standing calm beside it,
whose head rose to the level
of the claw-ended wings.

Such a thing overlapped, once, with us.
Such a creature fed on our red flesh,
and we fed on it.

It would have been a noble act
to plunge your spear-tipped arm
into its bowels, blood to the elbow.

It would have been an honor to die
in the struggle, that unchickenlike beak
driven into your brain like an inescapable thought.

The last one was shot by a hunter
a few years before the glue
which patched this specimen
was cooked by a servant.

He had no idea what he had done.
He couldn’t have. He was a nobleman
with no concept of knighthood.

He saw a dragon that could be slayed
without sweating. He took aim
and fired.

Tomorrow, people whose banks say
that they are worth more than a small nation
will raise a paddle for this sliver of history.

They will bear their trophy home,
as if they had earned it.
Mount it high on a shelf.

They will imagine that they own it,
that they posses it, that they own
anything at all any more
than I own this body
or the thoughts that inhabit it.

They will have no idea
of what passed through our hands.
What treasures we lose
with the easiest motions.

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