Ritual

As the year turns into darkness,
I go into the cave to look at the wolf.
I am clean and hollow. I am priest
and sacrifice and cave. I’m where the wolf
lies bound and gagged.

Once I thought naming gave power –
Tom Tit Tot dances round his fire-
but now I know that power lies
in the wolf, and in the cords that bind him.

Did I sacrifice enough? The flesh.
I lie down. I lay me down on the cold slab
and let the light slice me –
the hot thrill of blood between my thighs,
the light shafting in, finding the altar.

Daily, we chant the runes
that strengthen the cords. Three norns,
three fates, three wyrdling sisters.
Tom Tit Tot dances on, and the wolf
hungers and waits and grows.

For Brendan at earthweal. We are looking at Samhain/Halloween, when the old stories come creeping out of the forest. Tom Tit Tot is the English version of Rumplestiltskin, and I was going to write about him, but Fenris Wolf sneaked in and made himself at home.

The Green Man

This valley curves, he says,
just like an upturned hand.
It holds us gently.

His hands are carved from wood,
cragged over time. They’re strong enough
to lay a hedge, and soft enough to graft a tree.
He knows the right amount of twist
you need to pluck an apple from
its mother-branch. He works hard
but he knows to pause and watch
the rolling flutter of the fieldfare
as they cross the winter ground.
He puts his head back, gazing up
to catch the fierce joy of
the wind-tossed rooks.
The wild hare knows him, meets his eye,
the deer steps daintily towards him,
leading her fawn. They’re not afraid.

And yet we know
that any day now he could just shrug off
that rain-soft jacket that he wears,
that sagging hat, reveal the green fire
running underneath his skin, and let
the green life sprout and shoot and tendril
come spiralling and spilling from his singing mouth.

This is for Brendan at earthweal. He asks us to write about the spirit of a place – and keep it local. If you like listening to poetry, there’s an audio version here:

And iI’ve linked to dVersehttps://dversepoets.com/2020/10/22/mtb-let-your-words-ring-out/

Obby Oss

Masked, I’m mayhem, mischief,
I’m grab and run, I’m green shoots rising
I’m rain on dry soil

Masked, I’m spring and leaf
and blossom opening,
and the first sip of the bee

Masked, I’m silver herring
spilling and glimmering
across the quay

Masked, I’m ridden by the goddess,
and I ride her, until we’re just
a roiling, rutting ball
of limbs and lust and dust and seed

Masked, I’m Jack o’the Green,
Jack in the Pulpit,
Jack the giant slayer

Unmasked, I’m Jack the lad,
outside the pub,
swilling a final pint,

spewing galaxies into the gutter

For Brendan at earthweal. We’re looking at the shamanic power of the mask. The Obby Oss comes out on May Day, just down the road in Padstow. May Day is a big thing in the south-west of England.

Obby Oss image from the Royal Cornwall Museum.

I’m haunted

The forest is still full of wolves
and the darkness is still full of forest –

at night the trees crowd up
against the windows. We have festooned
the house with fire, stretched thin and bright,
and still the wolves pad through,
eyes glowing amber, bright as table lamps.

Three o’clock, and I’m awake
with the hot weight of wolf-breath
on my skin. By morning, they are gone.

Yes, the moon is lonely. But what can I do?
These are not dogs, they’re wolves,
walking out of the shadows,
weaving between the trees
that push their branches through the roof
and into the night air.

A poem for earthweal. Brendan asks us to consider the lost, the extinct, the driven away, and wonder how they might haunt our landscape.

Michaelmas

Beacons and battlements –
they build your churches
in high places, with long views.

I think we need you now,
warrior and angel, defender,
I think it’s time
to take a stand

in the heights,
to look out across the sea
and guide us home.

I’m linking this to earthweal’s Michaelmas challenge, and to dVerse’s vatic voice challenge, hosted by Lisa. There are lots of St Michael’s churches around here – always on high ground. Mounts, hills, and headlands.

Crone

From here on in, I’m standing with the crones,
the cold-eyed, clear-eyed women
who stand in judgement. Yes,
I’m saying “No” and “Stop” and
“That’s enough”, I’m sweeping out
the old shit, the old cobwebbing mess
of sweet and pretty and compliant.

I have bled, and fed, and shed
so many tears now. Now it’s time
to take a stand, to accept
consequences. I’m calling
wolf and raven, I’m calling up
old blood, old wisdom – wait and see.
I’m offering the wintering power
of waiting, holding on. Tenacity.

I’m seeking out the austere beauty
of bone and rock, of leafless branch.
I will not soothe you. It’s time now
to embrace the anger of old women,
the fierce, cold flame, the pointing finger,
“I can’t be doing with it”. Stop. I’m doing right,
not doing nice. I’m holding firm.

The wisdom of the crone
lies in the soil, in time, in darkness.
That’s where the seeds are planted,
the seeds that send out roots
and tender shoots, and grow
to be great trees. Bury it deep.

Brendan is hosting at earthweal this week, and asks us to think about what mythic mentors we need now. I did a goddess poetry workshop just before lockdown, and again during lockdown, and I’m pretty sure I need to work on my inner Crone. This is my tribute to the strong old women. You might recognise some of them.

That thing we call joy

Once upon a time
I read a poem about whales,
making their stately way
through the deep ocean,
drinking in krill, and singing –
as if they were angels,
feeding on light, wings open,
chanting their songs of love.

I’m not an angel
but I know those moments
of freedom – no, of rightness,
when I fit the world
and sing in harmony
with blades of grass, and wasps,
and rooks, and tigers –
and I call it joy.

For Brendan at earthweal, who asks us to write about joy. Earthweal is a place of love for this planet, and despair at what is happening to it. The poets of earthweal try to balance hope and fear. I am proud to be one of them.

Evolution

stops and starts –
the way change banks up,
unnoticed, then breaks through suddenly,
cartwheeling. Boys become men.
A woman dies. A leaf falls.
The rain starts – did you feel a drop?
I think I did – and then we’re running
under cover. Fruit ripens.

Empty streets – are they the future?
or the past? I couldn’t say.
Endless blue skies, birds singing,
spring slipping into summer
slipping into autumn. What
are memories worth? They cling,
they float away, they sink,
ice-pops melting stickily,
the soil opening to take
the cherry coloured sugary
synthetic juice.

A pushchair and a rainbow-coloured dress,
sunshine on water. Piles of books.
Fluttering through my fingers,
scraps of something, anything.
Scratching the words on rock,
pressing them into clay,
the art of writing onto vellum,
parchment, the tap-tapping,
bell-ting typewriter,
the keyboard that I’m using now,
the notebook that I scribble in,
what are we doing?

A horse drawn on a wall in semi-darkness

Tell me a story. I’m all out of words.

For Brendan at earthweal – thinking about evolution and change and stuff like that.

Storms and rainbows are quite different things

Rainbows need sun and softness, ambiguity,
but here the storms come raging in from the west,
flash floods and the shrill sound of car alarms,
and the trees whipping back and forth –
and we name them – why do we name them? –
Ellen, who always sang alone, that pure voice,
passing it on to Francis, like the pope,
who seemed so nice, we liked him, then
he hit a woman, back at the start
of this mad year of fires and fevers.

You show me the shape of the storm,
but I can’t feel the logic of it, just the wind,
and the noise, and the utter darkness,
and half an hour ago it was still,
and now the wind is winding up again,
and what can we do? Gather up windfalls,
check the fences, close the windows,
breathe these small spaces. Wait.

For Brendan at Earthweal. Check it out.

We are drawn to saltwater

Some grandmother of mine once
raised her eyes to this horizon.
Not this one, no. A bluer one, a greener,
but she saw the weather coming in,
great storm clouds, brown as bruises,
waded to shore, gathered her children.
Tucked in out of the rain, she told the story
of the storm, the fish, the limpet.

That’s how we began. We built the world
from sand and seashells, coloured it
with words, wove ourselves cloaks of myth.

So, yes, I’m called here – my chest
opens at the smell of seaweed,
saltwater echoes in my veins,
my heart the moon. Yes, I look out
to the horizon, watch for weather,
yes, I’m lulled by wavesong,
yes, in this untamed place
unmappable, unclaimable,
I map myself, I claim my own breath. Yes.

Sherry is hosting at earthweal this week and asks us to write about the wild places that we connect to.