A collection of poems of fantasy, myth and fable.
Contents
Song of the Sea

 

I pressed to sea upon the midnight tide,

riding between the riven waves and rain,

and never did I turn my looks aside

but sang the swells and deeps an old refrain.

 

The dark and secret sea was pitch and tilt

when nets and snares swept from her life

the serpent-maid to thrash in blood and silt

to slip the kiss of scale along the knife.

 

The mermaid turned as silent as the moon

upon the deck and shivered like the sails.

She watched, each lidless eye a worn doubloon,

as I pulled spines and graved away her scales.

 

Her face was still, her seaweed locks a wreath,

and all I saw was black or gray or white.

The salt-cracked deck was dark with blood beneath

her pearly entrails in the silver light.

 

I press to sea upon the midnight tide,

riding between the riven waves and rain,

and never do I turn my looks aside

but sing the swells and deeps a new refrain.

 

(First published in Aoife’s Kiss, March 2007.)

 

 

Annulus

 

We worship here the darkest appetite.

Along the water's edge we watch the scene:

the crocodiles and snakes unwind their coils,

their scales reflect and break the water's green.

 

It is Sybella's death we worship here:

the darkest appetite that destines us

to congregate along the water's edge.

We watch the scene: bare flesh besmeared with mud,

she dives, emerges once. The crocodiles

and snakes unwind their coils in violent

parabolas. Their scales reflect and break

the water's green with spreading rings of blood.

 

It is Sybella's death that destines us

to congregate, bare flesh besmeared with mud.

She dives, emerges once in violent

parabolas with spreading rings of blood.

 

 

The Song of the Flesh

 

The tiger-eating man awaits the dawn

of night’s slow breath, the bruising sky, to slake

the hungry rage for salt and iron.

 

The streets are slick with crimson spills that jet

from stoplights stung by bitter summer rains;

two shapes unhinged from shadows flicker.

 

The tiger whiskers wind and weaves its spell

of claws and fangs, and dies in snapping bones.

Then sinews crack, and then the song of flesh.

 

The Desert and the Anchoress

 

Magic Realism Bot ‏@MagicRealismBot

A desert whispers to a nun: "I wish I was a labyrinth."

 

As the desert shifts its dunes again,

the moon pours mercy down,

a watery milk that dries to dust

before it reaches earth.

 

In the shadow of a granite shard

the anchoress has lived

within her vows of solitude

and silence fifty years:

her sacramental wine is but

the trickle from a spring;

her meat, the locusts left by winds.

 

The desert owls believe her wise;

her virtues are their own:

the viper, ant and scorpion,

the sirocco too, agree.

 

She sits each night upon the sands

beneath the silt of stars.

Each night the desert whispers, sighs:

I wish I were a labyrinth.

In serenade, in lullaby,

in susurrating breaths,

it pleads, I wish I were a labyrinth.

 

Between the notes of cricket’s song,

the hiss of wind and sand,

the baffle of the owl’s wing,

her silence speaks an answer.

 

Within your dunes that ever shift,

so many have been lost,

and so you long for what you have,

the folly of the world.

The truest mazes have no walls

but bare simplicity,

and thus no mark or thread avails.

 

Be empty, pure and featureless,

a desert true, and wish no more.

 

Dryad

 

In the eucalyptus grove, to faint resistance,

the moon scythes through the night's worn velvet scrim:

a locust song the grim noise in the distance.

 

Some years ago, I dreamed its synonym:

noise in the distance like all my pages tearing,

the night's worn velvet scrim eyeless, uncaring.

In the eucalyptus grove, I first loved you.

Smooth bark was flesh, a locust song the grim,

slow fire's lisp. Our tongues caressed each limb

and burned. I woke up seeing the moon scythe through,

to faint resistance, the smoke's first wind-blown wisp.

 

I first loved you some years ago, I'm dreaming.

All my pages torn, slow fires lisp,

"Smooth bark is flesh and burns." I wake up screaming.

Enkidu Curses the Harlot

 

Condemned to die, he curses her:

so sweet it seemed when he was beast,

as wild as wolf or hart, as free.

 

And then at water’s edge she lay,

and bared her breasts, unwound her veils,

allowed his rude, rough hands to grope.

 

And after, forest things fled him;

no longer did he feel their blood,

their breath within, their timelessness.

 

So Shamhat dressed him with her linens

and brought him to a shepherds’ camp;

he tasted beer and ate roast meats.

 

The fate that followed then began

with her that day beside the water.

Condemned to die, he curses her.

 

The city’s pleasures, baths and oils,

fine clothes, great feasts, and golden goblets

with spice-tinged wines become his joys,

 

and more: his friendship with the king,

adventures to insure their fame.

They slay Humbaba and Heaven’s Bull.

 

Some jealous gods charge he must die;

for mortal men must not upstage

the gods; he sickens more each day.

 

Condemned to die, he curses her:

remembers life as beast, and man.

Condemned to die, he takes it back.

 

In The Beginning Was

 

“Life itself is a quotation.”

     — Jorge Luis Borges

 

She spoke a stream of colored stones.

I slid and fit each edge and face

to form the globe, began to trace

“here be monsters” through unknowns.

 

We lived beside a turquoise lake

among the reeds of malachite,

jade willows; then fell the night,

obsidian, the air opaque.

 

In darkness, first, she spoke a fire,

then smoke; she spoke a river of tongues

to lick the flames, spoke eyes to hang

by billions in the sky to choir

the night with light; she spoke heart, lungs

to live amid the bones she sang.

 

Stone Parables

 

1. The Mountain Knows

 

Tectonic pressures lift the crust,

compress and buckle rock;

the wind and rain abrade the face:

one tick of cosmic clock.

 

I hold the remnant in my palm,

a pebble white as snow,

and ask its stoic blankness why

as if the mountain knows.

 

2. A Stone Appears

 

A sleight of hand, a stone appears,

as compact as a soul.

It rests atop magician’s hand

and round the knuckles rolls.

 

A flourish flips the nimble stone

into the startled air;

the naive eye will follow fast

what seems was never there.

 

Managamanore

 

The castle ruins atop the hill

pierce through the ancient trees,

and all around is still.

 

The road has long since crumbled down;

the cliffs of sheer and brittle rock

erode without a sound.

 

The sunlight, wind and soft spring rain

attack; the fortress still defends.

The silence will explain.

 

◊     ◊     ◊     ◊     ◊

 

 

The Apprehension of Angels

 

To wheel so long at Eden's gate

the flame of flashing sword,

the strength of angels must not fade

or be instantly restored.

 

And whole, at once, they may perceive,

or so Aquinas thought,

to see through time and matter's weave

to creation’s central knot.

 

Yet some chose sin, their wills were free,

and were forever cast out.

So fruitless that forbidden tree;

agnostic or devout,

it's weakness and uncertainty

puts our damnation in doubt.

 

 

Fifty Days After

 

She treads the garden’s simple maze and dreams

of some new life retracing what she knows.

And then the western sun spears through what seems

a shred of lace on thorns of withered rose.

As she approaches, truth's not what she thought;

instead, it is an insect's empty husk,

a papery wraith that breezes have whipped taut,

and lit up by the sun an hour to dusk.

It’s Sunday, she recalls, and Pentecost,

then whispers to herself, “All is lost."

 

 

Lilith

 

Struck down and twisted, form deformed, your cry

the wind bowed through coarse strings of stone and dust.

No more than wind, you scuttle, writhe, unnoticed;

the crack of nails and scrape of scale an itchy

discomfort felt but absently by sinners

as causeless shiver or brief prick of guilt.

A hunger pulsing through your entrails drives

you forward; even those hyena teeth burning

in jawbones frustrate: they can only tear

your own rank flesh or newborn demon spawn.

 

In the past the people feared: the stillborn child,

the girl attacked by beasts, the handsome youth

found murdered in deserted place, the calf

that died days after birth or was deformed,

the milk that curdled, wine turned vinegar

were all ascribed to you in mothers' tales —

and all beyond your power, consequences

of nature, evils of chance or man, or both.

For ghosts can't touch the living, though you reach

with festering claw to clutch a throat or heart.

 

Most in our faithless, casual new age

can’t read what truths such fairy tales provide.

So some invoke your name, rewrite the myth

to suit their cause, as do we all, for we

must see through our own eyes to live. And yet

you were cast out and cursed to wander, shade

or less. Your sin’s no virtue, bravery

or strength, but pride, the sin the mind forms first

and loves, the glamour that felled a third of angels.

Though tales new spun would have it otherwise,

it was not man you disobeyed, but god.

Ash Woden’s Day

for Ryan

 

Christian sects  impose the ash

of blessed palms  on penitent brows

the dark cross  the dust to dust

tokens of decay  portents of hope

their crucified Christ  redeemed from death

 

But the day is named  for the Norse Odin

pierced by a spear  blood wrung into the well

hung upon the tree  in torment as toll

to secure the secret  of the sacred runes

the wisdom to write  the word the Wyrd

 

 

Stations

 

A word completes our life, condemned by death:

the judgement is our second body, a weight

of eyes which buckles will and crushes breath.

 

And then we see upon love’s face our fate

and strangers forced to make our weakness their own.

When sudden acts to comfort us berate

 

our curses, we stumble on the sullen stone

of pride. We rise, tell them they need not mourn

before we fall beneath the weight of bones.

 

Our secrets are revealed, each shame a thorn

before all eyes, impaled to all our roles,

everyone we’ve never been, and die unborn.

 

They take us down to place us in a hole

for someone else and drink our blood, consoled.

 

 

Rondelet: The Dead Are Mute

 

"When the dead speak, they talk to him."

— Commercial for television psychic/medium

 

The dead are mute

on the shore of wild, dark waters, waiting.

The dead are mute,

and so by fires of briar root

they signal us, gesticulating.

Though we think we hear, insinuating,

the dead are mute.

 

 

Stigmata

 

At times, the silver lightnings arc and flash

from holes the size of quarters in each palm.

But no one sees. The people take my cash,

wave back, or shake my hand without a qualm.

 

I wake to find the gaps are stopped with pearl

or opal orbs. And if I pry them free,

they melt away like ice, or take wing, hurl

into the air, and rocket to the sea.

 

And when I put a hand before each eye,

then no one thinks I see. I see too well:

I read the starry warnings in the sky;

dooms that spiral in a sun-bleached shell;

frantic, dire trajectories of a fly;

blind eyes and faces seared by each mind's hell.

 

 

◊     ◊     ◊     ◊     ◊

 

 

The Motheater

 

On summer nights, this very one perhaps,

it takes the shape of any spot

where light is blind, and furtive whispers chirp,

where ectoplasmic shadows clot.

 

It mimics forms that serve its hungry hunt:

the coal-black rat, the charcoal cat,

the shadow of a wind-wracked tree

on window panes, or dark-winged bat.

 

It even sculpts itself into a man

if that will bring it what it needs;

and more and more, it tracks as one of us,

to find the broth on which it feeds.

 

It does not chase, nor lie in wait for prey,

but radiates into the night

a pulse of fevered rays that draw the ones

who hide in dark, but steer by light.

 

On summer nights, this very one perhaps,

it stirs to hunt in any spot

where it may feed on bloody need. So near,

it closes in with every thought.

 

 

Les Paladins de la Lune

(with apologies to John Keats)

 

You ask the reason I seem so:

the way that I attend the breeze

for some faint song, or sit alone

and ill at ease.

 

So I will tell the dream that pulses,

asleep, awake, behind my eyes.

And hour by hour, it floods and ebbs,

but never dies.

 

I find myself upon the moon,

and, whether dark, awaiting birth;

below horizon; or destroyed;

there is no Earth.

 

I see my hands are leaden gauntlets,

and I am sheathed in plate and mail

as if a knight of romance, or

grim fairy tale.

 

For years or days I drift across

the silver dust of arid seas

or climb the mountains' razored rocks,

but find no ease.

 

Within a narrow, sheer-walled valley,

pale knights approach as if to fight.

I find, each time the dream recurs,

yet one more knight.

 

The iron faces turn and stare.

The vacuum seems to flute and trill

through armor seams and hollow throats,

a whispered chill.

 

As if the sigh of long dead stars,

their voices hiss behind the gloom

and silent cold to speak their names

and so my doom.

 

For my own emptiness has played

the strings of every knightly doll.

And beneath my plate and mail,

nothing at all.

 

Then I'm alone upon the moon,

a sightless eye that rolls the vast

and starlit universe, till all

unwinds at last.

 

You know the reason I seem so:

the way that I attend the breeze

for some faint song, or sit alone

and ill at ease.

 

And I have told the dream that pulses,

asleep, awake, behind my eyes;

how hour by hour, it floods and ebbs,

but never dies.

 

 

Castle of the Air

 

(based on illustration by

M.C. Escher, "Castle in the Air")

 

Across the wide, night sea,

an ancient turtle glides;

the gentle wake is smoothed

by wavelets it elides.

 

Upon the sea-worn shell,

a kneeling child keeps watch

and holds with hands that know

the shell's each curve and notch.

 

Above the wide, night sea,

a citadel ascends,

the outline dim against

what light each star extends.

 

The castle hovers, still,

in tense serenity

and casts a rippled trace

upon the star-lit sea.

 

Before the shadow form,

the child and turtle pause

to see the castle float

upon suspended laws.

 

The child uplifts pale hands

in wonder and desire

while towers reach for stars,

a longing in each spire.

 

Upon the wide, night sea,

the pair, as if weightless, go.

And in the wide, night sky,

the winds, unburdened, flow.

Above is emptiness,

the starlight, and below.

 

 

The Poet at the Court of Chance

 

The fair queen of the wheel,

of the dice, and the deal

held a ball at her court of chance.

So I wore cap and bells,

brought quills, scrolls, bagatelles,

but I never once asked her to dance.

 

At her whim I wrote lines,

read to deepen the wines,

about moonlight and anguished romance.

Each word rose in song,

and no step could go wrong,

but I never once asked her to dance.

 

By her hand, light as air,

I ascended the stair,

ventured through the casino's expanse.

She dismissed fate and odds,

those cruel games of the gods,

but I never once asked her to dance.

 

As we swept down the aisles,

lords and ladies feigned smiles

while their eyes scorned her sweet sufferance.

Like crickets in June,

whispers hissed a sharp tune,

but I never once asked her to dance.

 

Tumbling dice went on rolling;

hands, face down, went on folding,

unable to meet my glance.

While the wheel goes on spinning,

there's no losing or winning,

and I never once asked her to dance.

 

 

Mr. Cognition at the Palace of Wisdom

 

He did not wend his way to it; the path

was not a winding one, and it was clear

enough: a bramble sprouting prickly wrath

just off the trail was nothing much to fear.

He snapped a thorny sprig as souvenir.

 

The place itself was stairs, was made of stairs.

He had to climb the massive brazen doors

to open them, and once inside, the chairs,

the tables, silverware, the walls and floors

were steps, whole staircases in tiled squares.

 

After many flights, he stood beneath

a towering window made of colored glass

depicting, first, a palace on a hill

of clouds, and then, from their dense, stormy mass

a coiling staircase, steps like rows of teeth,

curled down the sky, its lowest step the sill.

Upon the ledge, a plaque; glyphs notched its brass

to read: “But set your foot, and set your will,

upon the second step, and you shall pass.”

 
 

© 1990-2019 Joel Lamore