The place where Story is
The Place Where Story Is
I go down again, through the parting in the bracken,
A fox in a hole, past the tangled roots, the rotten,
Feeding bodies of skeleton mice,
The occasional skull, down where light
Shrinks to a pinpoint flicker against bedrock
And even the taproots have ceased their struggle
As cisterns. I go down beyond agate,
Past still forests of fossilised ferns where dragons
Lie in classical frieze and our oldest races
Run gape-mouthed to socketed dust.
I breathe air lain dormant for eons,
Taste the cool mineral scent on my tongue
Until my scrabbling fingers are frozen,
The nail-beds bloody, cuticles torn,
And I taste death in my lead-powdered mouth.
My shoulders scrape against the shrinking
Corridor of rock, blades worn free of their false sheath,
Protruding like the rotten wings of Hel
The daughter of Loki, she who ministers,
Guarding the passage between living and dead.
A sharp, hot pain.
The sound of air, escaping
From rib-punctured lung.
And still I move forward,
Lubricated by the loss of skin,
I shunt through the passage as a child
Bursts into what mortals call life,
Landing like an angel descending, enrobed in flame,
To the place I know, the steaming jungle
At the heart of the world.
It reminds me, every time I come,
Of the subterranean forest Grimm
Described in the Twelve Dancing Princesses;
It has the atmosphere of myth,
Unsurprising since the story
Is the fruit which grows
On these diamond-leaved trees.
You must be strong to gnaw
That scintillating pulp, though it will sustain you
Better than any surface-growing fruit.
The bark is silver, the thorns are gold,
The river, not Lethe, which runs through the fields
Is wine; the water tastes of the best
The kind you see in Renaissance paintings
Among corpses of geese.
Each time the descent makes me thirsty, I take a small sip.
Not enough for the full effect, but a drop sufficient
To wash the bone dust
From my desiccated tongue.
The air is warm here, so close to the core,
The vines grow lush and thick as kudzu,
Their fruit are human skulls,
From their eye sockets.
And all around are wolves,
The ghosts of foxes,
Sparrows hanging from branches,
Dark-pelted seals calling from the streams
In the voices of selkies.
There are other people,
Occasionally, looking like I do,
Bloody and war-torn, horribly dazed,
Soldiers finally come home, after long struggle,
But only on leave. We all long to stay.
The residents keep their scattered
Houses a little further in, closer to the ruler
Of this place who lives in his mansion,
Filling, slowly, his many rooms
With resuscitated souls.
This is the edge-place, the land at the border
Where Hecate walks with her bowl and her dogs.
Sometimes we talk.
We have similar features,
Seen beneath her silken veil
In spite of her smooth skin, and
My torn and ragged hide, we have
Similar appetites and influences.
I drink from her ewer, silver and red,
Words are spoken, and her largest Dalmatian
Runs for me, nosing my crotch, resting
His blood-painted nails on my shoulders,
Lapping my cheeks for affection
And the taste of salt.
The treasures I gather here,
I cannot tell you, save only
In metaphor, the occasional hint –
But you can see them, look,
I bring them shining,
Heavier than you, to this vapid light.
I fell down for you, into the pit. It was for you,
For the sake of your salvation, that I clamored back
From the place that is my home. It was for you
That I took less of a drink than what my
Thirst wanted. It is for you that, when my body
Has rested, my lungs cleared, my skin grown
Thick and strong again, I shall plunge back
And leave, as coin of passage,
In Hecate’s bright bowl, a red throbbing piece
Of my own living heart.