I wrote this poem a number of years ago, on the long plane ride home from Holland where I had attended a lovely and small academic conference, where I gave a paper on poetry in pagan ritual. It was inspired by a delightful evening spent with new friends. Goblin Fruit, the excellent poetry magazine (boy do I miss them, but their archives are still active), agreed to publish it. Then the wonderful Terri Windling featured it in her blog; what a great day that was! Her newer blog, Myth & Moor, is a constant source of delight, wisdom and inspiration.
I hope you enjoy.
It’s deceptive, this light at Hallows.
A mask of wind and water, spinning, sparkling,
like silver spokes, or falling leaves, or candy floss,
or false conviviality, too-fast friends.
As the river curves to meet us, we shamble along,
soaked with mist, parched for ale,
like troubadours, or troubled ghosts,
on our way to a midnight market,
there to choose cakes and berries from the goblin stalls,
in the shadow of forbidden castles and glowing maples,
the walkways bright as coins beneath our feet.
Here where the sloping banks converge,
the trees lean in, as if to kiss,
thorned and black on the right, airy and golden on the left,
Bacchus, Hecate, Apollo, Aphrodite,
nuzzling, glancing approval as we invent words
to mark this season of harvest.
No yellow moon, no sheaves of wheat, no bawdy lyric,
but ploughshares swinging,
hoofed beasts clocking over wet grey streets to sleep in tranquil barns.
The red blush creeping up your throat surprises us all,
like brazen hollyhocks that suddenly realize
they’ve reached the second floor.
Dizzy with drink and drunk on autumn’s ether,
we find the otherworld we’ve sought all evening.
Its hollow hills ring, empty as dessicated bulbs,
yet bright with color, flowing with nectar,
its great halls lit with rustic lanterns,
candles set in carved-out turnips, meant to keep spirits at bay,
and yet soon the very air is keening.
The sky is slowly tinted green.
Our tongues are slippery with juice.
The clock strikes three, three times,
and we are younger than we were.
I started to like you, your small hands like Proustian sweets.
I started to like you, you and your words like dark abundant rain,
poppyseeds poured out on cobblestones.
Simple folk we, laughing long songs like books of fruited verse.
There where the cats consider the canal,
the moon at last emerges, and we become
more and more unfashionable by the minute.
I conjure a forest from a single tree:
like ardent sloths, we hold fast to its mutant trunk,
hard, rough, pulsing with faint heat.
It multiplies into a fairy-tale wood, varied as Paradise,
thick with English bluebells and rhetorical mushrooms;
it smells of sex and stagnant water,
hashish, leafmold, bile and burnt sugar, rotting velvet,
and tobacco that ought to be Turkish.
We could be anywhere: a Holland of the Mind,
or drowned Ys, forgotten Brittany,
a temple of jewels in Morocco,
a chalk hillside hewn by pagan muralists,
a Danish bog stuffed with dead druids,
a green field in America,
or a fragrant churchyard that beckons in dreams,
like mementos from a love lost in war-time,
coal-dust in your hair, violets in your pocket.
The veil between the worlds is thin, they say, tonight.
And if we walk now to the marketplace
(we fancy it built of fog and fireflies)
the goblins will smile, cry hail and welcome!
They nod their heads, stroke our hair, grasp our fingers,
whisper, yes, the veil grows thin, grows thin.
They hand us three lengths of shimmering cloth,
dyed the colour of winter plums, smelling of old roses.
We give them all the gold we have.
We wrap ourselves in purple.
We wake, and seven days have passed, or seven years.
Our fingers are torn, stained red with fruit.
Our lips are bruised, and taste of truth.
I touch your mouth, and it is the sun.