Tokens

 

I would place before your feet

The entirely of my years of moments’ pleasures,

For one second of a smile.

 

While you dreamt, I would lay before you bottles

Emptied through mirth; all my loose change

From weekend after weekend poorly spent;

 

A collection of oddments, photographs

From seaside places; the north of France;

The postcard of my first true kiss, years past;

 

A world of textbooks I one time read,

And all the serials I spent long nights

Hungrily reading through, to find somebody;

 

My first pair of skinnies, and my first and last

Cigarette packets; the soft and pleasant earth

Where as I child when walking I once fell;

 

My teddy bear, a replacement for you

Before I knew you; toys broken; my Game Boy Colour,

Though I lost it, I would find and place beside you;

 

Locks of my hair, when cut into new styles,

I’d place in envelopes and leave beside your bed.

Sweet wrappers, precious stones, new shoes

 

Turned old from tread and love; whole afternoons,

The weighted sun: the lingering, happy sun,

I’d cup in my hands and present to you, a mere token;

 

A recording of my graduation day; my diary,

Kept in secret nights, for want of you

Even before I knew you; scented candles

 

Left to slumber beside the bath where I

Lost whole days, dreaming; the very footprints

Of walks by the lake two miles from where I lived;

 

I would gather these precious and all once-precious things

And leave them at your bedside while you slept,

If I could catch you, sleeping, with a smile.

 

Summon Me Softly

 

I may not be an angel, or a Fate.

I drink my tea, and head to bed at midnight.

But this I state:

 

Though I have made my worried way to bed

Without you, and left the waking night to you:

Think this instead.

 

Trace a circle of chalk by any street

Or walkway; whisper the secret word;

Click the shoes on your feet;

 

Or hold your breath for ten impatient seconds;

Or plea to the moon: and, as if by magic,

To me it beckons.

 

Dash a note on paper, throw it down a well,

Flick a penny for luck, cross yourself twice

And see where it fell;

 

Stroke a likeness of me in your hand,

Do whatever you believe: turn round and cry,

And there I’ll stand.

 

I may not be an angel, or a Fate.

But say the word, or even wish it true,

And simply wait.

 

Stare in the mirror, and call my name three times.

I’ll be the shadow for you in the corner,

The wind through the chimes.

 

So keep in your pocket a pendant, or a lock of hair,

Your gris-gris bag or any forget-me-not,

And keep me there.

 

And heaven knows I’m flesh and bones: but call,

And I’ll dimension-shift through any door

Or concrete wall,

 

I’ll emerge in eldritch fire. I’ll manifest

In white-noise words, or the Ouija’s secret verse.

Put me to test.

 

Keep a candle for me. Dress it tenderly

In fragrant oils, and light it after dark.

The flame is me.

 

 

Dedicated to, and written especially and peculiarly for, a certain special someone. Incidentally the overall theme is inspired heavily by the séance -rock of Morrissey, and there’s a great ambiguity over whether the narrator here has simply gone to bed early, or has finally sprung from this mortal coil. The message still stands. 

 

Epitaph for The Reader

 

 

2013-10-07 11.09.48

 

 

I took my long-awaited place.

I lay beside a lonesome grave,

 

The leaves around and all above

Fair figments of a peace, enough:

 

Dwelt in that green and leafy shade;

Resumed my bookmark-sleeping page,

 

Opened the crinkled book of life

For years of solace to surmise,

 

And savoured simply in that peace.

I hardly stirred to see the bees

 

Which sowed a silk of sound around

The wildflowers, unremembered all about.

 

I might have moved. Indeed, I might have died.

I have my book. I will abide awhile.

 

 

I have often found myself drawn to reading in the dappled shade of trees on a summer’s day. Naturally. What other type of shade do trees make in summer, other than “dappled”? Hmm? 

But it is particularly evocative to do so in a graveyard. To feel alive, and yet at peace; a guest and an intruder; vital, yet silent. I’ve written an immeasurable quantity of god-awful poetry about it already in my short and aimless life. But it did recently occur to me that I might write the reader’s own epitaph, both in the sense of my own epitaph and also that of “the reader,” that curious soul who lives their life in books until the very end. Quietly beautiful and unsettling in its self-reference. I hoped. 

As for the previous works upon which this palimpsest was written, it’s the usual texts: Morrissey, Seamus Heaney, various Romantics, and the odd war poet for the half-rhyme couplet forms. Balladic forms. A brief nod in a biblical direction. You get the idea by now, people. 

 

The Day, Decanted

 

decanter for poem

 

Drawn like a long-held breath, the lasting day

Decanted into its crystal, quaint container

Is perfectly still, a claret-colour, quiet.

 

I unstop the top, to firmly take the neck,

Tilt, and deliciously, languorously,

Savouring pour the trickle of liquor out.

 

Misted glass, so latent-rich with evening;

Blood-drained, I take the longest latest hour,

And bring to my lips for that sip, so soft, and sweet.

 

It has been a long day. You feel drained, down to the very last drop. The day has sat and thickened, deep-red; it has left a weight to your arms and legs, an almost-pleasant tiredness. You take the decanter in hand, and delicately pour one glass of exquisite wine. Delicious, delicate, and thoroughly deserved.

You will no doubt notice the rich consonance and alliteration. The rhythm is stretched out, half-patient, gently elongating into evening. I’m quite fond of a contemplative poem – the interchangeable synecdoches of the wine and the decanter, the day and the dusk – and at the end of a day like today, I’m rather fond of a glass of claret as well. So there we have it.

What’s more, it’s terribly short. Which is a bonus. 

Darksides

 

gary's picture challenge 1

 

1

 

An explosion of flame erupted from the man’s mouth: the audience gasped, greedy with fascination for more of this vivid and intoxicating delight.  Attuned to their appetites the magician twirled his fiery baton into the air, pirouetting two – no, four – even seven flaming batons, conjured seemingly out of nowhere at the finale of his act.

Such was the largesse of the heady celebrations, the eve the royal wedding, that every citizen of the Miracle Kingdom had wandered from their homes and into the welcoming night in search of amusement and enchantment: to see the dancers and the acrobats, the fire-breathers and the magicians, even to see the spirit-folk who threw spectacles of colour and light high into the night’s sky.  There was even talk that the Princess herself would be performing in the Festival Pageant.

This rumour drifted among the crowds throughout that sprawling, stone-clad city: akin to the recent talk of union between mankind and the spiritual races, the thought of the fairy-born Princess Ferona participating in this secular festival caused much debate and intrigue; but none of this had quite the reality to it, nor the visceral interest, of the veritable fact that the bridegroom himself would be jousting at midnight.  It had been declared by the Court’s own heralds that Lasius would take sport that night, and display his honour and his strength before the masses on the eve of his wedding through a battle orchestrated – as tradition dictated – to represent the struggle mankind had suffered at the hands of the Half-Fay.  Drawn by intrigue, bloodlust and a deep sense of pride for their Prince and their history, the mortal populace jostled closer and closer to the arena as it grew thicker and thicker with human presence. Even at the eleventh hour the throngs of spectators awaited the display.

These were exciting times, before the marriage, the coronation; before the union between fairy and man, between the many Kingdoms; and the promise of such a rare spectacle was almost too much to bear.

And they were not to be disappointed.  Upon the call of midnight a great fanfare, a dazzling array of lights, beckoned the young man into the arena.  The mob roared with joy as the Prince Lasius emerged: radiant with health and beauty, his fine armour scintillating over the form of his chest and upper arms, he was the very manifestation of honourable manhood.  At first his fine head bowed in modesty at their uproar – though high-born, he was but human, no great sorcerer or elven lord – but soon, like the rising sun, he raised himself high and bathed the auditorium in his splendorous light.

He drew his sword Catharick, so named for its cold, brilliant light – Catharick is the Ancient Miracular goddess of the sickle moon – and upon sight of this silvery blade the masses grew riotous with excitement, eager to see that fine, clean blade gloried with blood.

And so soon after, the opponent paced his way onto the stage.  Clad in dark-metal, Oderin – or the swordsman portraying him, traditionally a prisoner granted a chance of freedom if they could fight and win in this display – drew his own foul blade and bellowed defiantly at the jeering crowd.  Oderin was the Lord of the Half-Fay whose reign over the Miracle Kingdom had left humanity enslaved and in ruins.  The spectators were mostly human, in number and in blood: and the bogeyman Oderin had in so many festival jousts been defeated to their unending pleasure.  A criminal was executed, the effigy of Oderin was slain, and the spectacle of bloodshed appeased the masses.  Even in these modern times, some grudges were too heavily-felt not to indulge with sport and play: the dichotomy of a land in transition.

So it was that, at the bugle’s call, they cheered with righteous passion as Lasius clashed swords with the mighty Oderin.

Swifter than a hawk he sidestepped his dark-clad foe; as if blessed by the Gods he evaded each deathly blow, and in a few dazzling manoeuvres had the foul Oderin on his knees.  Lasius pulled at the tyrant’s long, lank hair, holding Catharick to the swordsman’s neck.  At the promise of fatal blood, so soon in the battle, the crowd bayed for death and cried out for the murder of Oderin.

The young Prince Lasius held his vanquished foe for a second longer: and then cast him to the ground.  The audience quietened, with an unsettled murmur.

“The image of Oderin is defeated,” exclaimed the Prince.  “I shall not spill blood for his memory’s sake this night.”

A hissing dispersed through the audience – heads turned, questions were whispered, derisive laughs were exchanged – and yet the Prince continued:

“The fair Princess Ferona was herself a Half-Fay, before the purging.  Born to their blood she elected, upon womanhood, to have that darker half expunged from her by The Rite.  Though her race remains within her, her soul is pure of the Darkside.  I would not stand before you, whole-human, and shed blood for amusement whilst claiming my soul too was pure.”

At this, Catharick was returned to her scabbard-home.  The Prince, in defiance of both ritual and the bloodlust of the crowd, stepped into the shadows behind the stage.

Chatter and outcry broke out like a sudden shower amongst the spectators.  Two such attendees, Poult the Fisherman and Fenerat the Carpenter, close friends since childhood days, turned to each other:

“It has been said the Prince has grown dark, and less pleasure-loving, late,” said Poult, scratching his beard distractedly.

“So it has,” replied old Fenerat: “some have it that the Princess has changed him, some way. Some moods he is fine, and free as the eagle; at other times he is a man bewitched.  I for one could not think the fair Ferona would have so harmful an effect on a man of his temperament.  Methinks the Prince has in his mind, to reunite the Kingdoms through diplomacy – that crooked art! – and not through the games of war.”

“The other Kingdoms desire no such union, though often it is spoken of,” said Poult.  “And no, Ferona is no malice-maker.  I would stake my house on it: the Darkside was cast out of her, though some say that Fairy-side is not so much dark as it is powerful.  Yet I say that there is in her some curious quality.  Her beauty is not questioned, neither, but that she can bewitch a man to see her…”

And such was the truth.  Indeed, not one hour later, the pageant was to commence: and lascivious man and envious woman alike remained in their seats to witness the performance.  The play in question, The Sister of Aronte, was well known to the people of the Miracle City as a classical piece performed at regal festivities.  Every man of them knew that it would climax with the two sisters, one unclothed, the other prone in bed upon the attempt at her sleeping murder.  Those women in the stalls who had not come for the art had certainly come to keep eye on their husbands.

The drapes had been drawn, and a curious, alluring light dimmed the arena to a persuasive and suggestive colour.  Anticipation was heightened not only by the mise-en-scène, but also by the knowledge that the two sisters would wrestle for their queendom; that the victorious Affa would slay the treacherous Yuri even when caught unawares in her sleep; that Ferona, as Affa, would symbolise a modern shift in the politics of the Miracle City, in tolerance of pious Half-Fay.  The conservatives turned up to ridicule this display of reckless lenience to that race; the liberals, to witness this demonstration – the second of the night, and indeed the second with a royal actor – of a new era of acceptance to the Half-Fay.

At long and lingering last the veils were drawn.  Not one of the men or women present could have anticipated the beauty of Ferona and her character, Affa: overflowing with light and glory, her entire body pale and graceful as a vase of spring water, the Princess astonished them all with her poise and elegance.  She recited the ancient poem of The Sisters, as Affa made to retire for the night: she curled cat-like onto the splendour of her queenly bed, and the phosphors were dimmed as the scene descended into a sweet yet perilous sleep.

The creeping Yuri – swift and deathly, balletic yet arachnid, a menace near-identical to her sleeping sister – danced onstage with a swirl of crimson smoke.  Bare but for the thick, long trails of her obsidian hair which descended to caress her arms and breasts, her movements were rich with meaning.  She embodied lusts and desires, delicate movements of cunning design, as she approached the regal bed.  She sang her piece with the stage-whisper of a demon, clean and threatening as a naked blade.

Closer and closer to the Princess she crept.  In near-silence she drew the steel blade and posed it evilly above her sleeping sister….

 

2

 

“You were a vision, my sweet,” whispered Lasius.  His hand traced the delicate form of her milk-white shoulders, drifted through the wonders of her hair.  “The people love you, almost as much as I.”

“I have always been a passable actress,” she replied with a girlish smile.  It set his heart aglow to see her smile. The features of Ferona’s face, though elfin, were more radiant than any woman’s: it was said that as the Darkside had been banished from her, her own light and purity shone through the stronger for it.  Such was the belief of the common people.  Lasius cared not for the cause of it.  He simply longed to bathe in its warmth and summer’s light.

It was not always so.  Some days she had seemed curious with him: though distracted, different, unpredictable, he had placed these moods of hers along with the peculiarities of all females, regardless race.  Under these clouds she would see him only in half-light, insisting upon the curtains being drawn – out of vanity, he thought – yet though for one minute she would be withdrawn and difficult, with a sudden change she would become incorrigibly intimate with him, pressing to him in the darkness of her chambers, feeling for him.  She would tease him, entice him so.  More than once he had tempted him from the celibacy expected of them both.  Yet they were young, and their love was beyond their entire command.

Before him now, as he bade her the last good-night of her unmarried life, he saw in her the full qualities of her wonder.  Loth to leave her so, he nonetheless reminded himself of the poor luck of coupling on the eve of marriage: he glanced back at her once more from the doorway, as she retired to her late, late night of rest.

Alone at last Ferona felt the peaceful, heavy lull of fatigue descend upon her.  Her heart fought to keep her awake, and her mind at times quite raced from thought to thought: of how she had finally found happiness, of how frightened she was that the citizens would eschew her for her caste, of how far she had come from an abjured Princess of the Half-Fay since she had been purged of her Darkside.

Irresistibly, though, the enchantments of sleep enveloped her, and unawares she drifted into a sweet and pleasant slumber.

… The creeping Fairy – swift and deathly, balletic yet arachnid, a menace near-identical to her sleeping sister – emerged from the darkness with terrible intent.  Bare but for the thick, long trails of her obsidian hair which descended to caress her arms and breasts, her movements were rich with meaning.  She embodied lusts and desires, delicate movements of cunning design, as she approached the regal bed.

As if weightless she padded her bare feet upon those luxurious covers, unnoticed.  As if a figment of a dream, she silently drew the long, steel blade, and poised herself lethally above the sleeping Ferona.

A gasping breath awoke the Princess: her eyes opened to the sight, the nightmare, of her very self knelt above her, naked and motionless, dagger drawn…

Ferona seized and cowered at the vision, as if to wake: and still, horrendously, the vision bore above her with inchoate malice.  Her mirror image, her very self, an assassin!

Before she could cry, scream or move, the vision quietly laughed to her in a so-familiar voice:

“You know, Ferona, I think I could pass for you.  We are so alike, in appearance.  Even in flesh and form.  My nights of passion with Lasius prove to me that even he knows not the difference!”

Her mind racing, her blood coursing with fear and revulsion, Ferona tried to speak: to curse this traitor, this fiend, this vile creature who accused Lasius of such terrible things… and yet…

“You purged me from your body, Ferona: to further your chances in this human city, and in pursuit of your blind ambitions, you cast me out.  You cast yourself out. My spirit, exiled from you, sought refuge elsewhere.  And carelessly, you expected me to die…”

Ferona froze at the understanding: the purging and the pageant, reality and fantasy, bled into one another before her waking eyes.  Her past was braced for murder before her, had found bodily form, had through wicked designs and blackest arts conspired to this end.  Her heart near burst in her heaving chest as she realised who knelt above her, ready to murder her…

“But Darksides do not pass into the other realm so easily.”

 

 

This was written as a response to my good friend and fellow writer, Gary Holdaway’s recent post, which you can (and really must) see here: https://garyholdaway.wordpress.com/2014/06/25/the-call-out/ This is a thrilling and chilling piece of short fiction in response to a picture I sent to him: as part of our ongoing challenge, he had to write a small piece which was either based on this picture, or which had as its “plot twist” that image as a central motif. Well worth a look: it’s thoroughly creepy and some damn fine readin’. 

His own picture challenge can be seen at the top of this post, and rather threw me. I’m not really one to write fantasy, but there I had before me two females in a rather awkward position, one of whom definitely has pointy ears. Pointy ears means fantasy. It just does. So what was I to do? In true Palimpsest style I adopted a lot of themes from the canon: spiritual creatures as races, weapons with names, spiritual powers, kingdoms, the works. I gave it all a little twist, inspired by the picture, and typed like a man possessed. That is, I fear, how literature is written. 

Now it’s my turn. Very soon you should all expect to see on Mr Holdaway’s blog – which you can find here: https://garyholdaway.wordpress.com/ - a response to the following stimulus. I have no idea what he’s going to write, which genre, how it will resolve itself: I am just as much in the dark as you, reader. So let’s see what he makes of it, shall we?

Mount Vesuvius in Eruption Jacob More

Best of luck, Gary.

 

We’re not out of the woods yet: lullaby for Isaac

 

forest picture optimistic

 

We’re not out of the woods yet: lullaby for Isaac

 

Not out of the woods yet, little one.

We can’t rest, on how far we’ve come.

There were moments when the trees we saw

Stood by, condemned us, deep with scorn;

At times we wandered, feared for lost,

That no-one would come after us.

No northern star in cloudless skies

Could guide us from dense canopies

Of sullen trees. Yet here we are,

Safe now, with space for quiet and care.

 

Not quite out of the woods: but not far.

You know, I think we’re almost there.

 

 

My beautiful to-be sister-in-law has recently brought the little Isaac into the world. Their family’s journey so far has not always been easy, and no-one can say for certain that things will be a bed of roses from here on in. There may be creatures lurking behind the trees; we might lose our way, every now and then, or feel like we’re walking in circles. The woods can be lovely, but they can also be dark and deep. But at least they have people who love them, and who care for them, as they continue on their travels through the wild, wild wood.

Structurally here I’ve kept to a nursery rhyme feel, simple rhythms, easy half-rhymes and clear imagery. Nothing flashy, nothing too clever: just a simple lullaby. But it is sincere. It is written with so much love. I wish them every happiness and blessing, for the rest of their lives. 

 

The Sails of Something More

 

sunsets and sailboats

 

Right far I made my riven way,

As life forlorn sank from my day.

Amber and veiled I set like gold:

My light though loving lingered cold;

But setting, and sunk delicate

I’ll draw to soft seas, infinite.

Ocean of life, westward I’ll draw

As never I had drawn before.

I’ll alight upon the silver sands

Of heaven’s hold, those sleeping lands -

Softly, softly to the shore,

Borne by the sails of something more.