Nykur

horse-lonely-on-road-to-Canoa-Quebrada-Brazil-grey-sky-lots-of-water-JBG

 

From the cold smooth eerie of the lake
a horse’s snout, black, elliptical, shining
like a talisman of a lost age resurrecting,
prowing the water with breath that is not.
The head arises closer to shore,
ears turned backward, the eyes white as rot.
As a horse he’s small, more like a dog:
Hooves backward too, his neck and trunk
rippling with muscles, pelt a dead brown,
tail black except for the tip, a whisk of gold.
Onshore a few sheep graze; they would
be meal enough, but nykurs loves humanflesh,
tender pink and rippling with drowning terror.
He pretends to nuzzle timothy in the grass
and tailflick flies, waiting for a village girl
to pass on the road next to the shore.
They always do, one century or another,
becoming soon entranced by the soft curves
of the nykur’s head, the fine hair and eyes
gone tender with dewy lashes batting.
Too young to dare linger with boys,
nothing satisfies longing in a local girl
more than to stroke a horse’s neck
whispering endearments of the sea.
But touch a nykur and the maid’s held fast,
hand and pelt one stone. That’s when
the nykur turns back to the lake
where the water is deep and cold and black.
The girl’s pleading and screams
becomes a wild braid of bubbles
and then the ancient lake smooths
back to the mirror of late afternoon.
In a few days the searchers
will find lungs floating on the surface
and know the nykur has struck again.
What they cannot know and
only the undersides of myth confer
is how they swim together far below
in realms cursed by sun and air.
Maid astride a smooth dark mare,
ghost and ghastly ride full gallop
in the night sky beneath every lake,
a mere airy as the reflection
in a grazing horse’s darkest eye
peering toward a water’s edge
no well nor sea has lung to dive.

April 2018

lake at sunset

Submitted to Real Toads’ Mythical Creatures challenge

Note

Folklore of the Faroes (an archipelago of islands off the coast of Denmark) tells of the  nykur, a nix or water-sprite that looks like a horse and lives in lakes, going ashore to graze. The nykur preys on humans, drawing them to him with his horse-like appearance. Once they touch him they are held fast and drawn into the lake. They can be stopped by naming them, brought to harness by making the sign of the cross on their back.

I hear many echoes of the myth of the rape of Persephone in this folktale,  the divine irruption of sex and death into life. (The MeToo moment seems to be turning this and accounting the mythic gape and gawk of Hades.)

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Suburbia

picket fence 2

 

The sleep we entered. The dreams we lost.
The wreckage that carried us to lesser coasts.
These bulbs that glow too dark for night,
too dim to quench. What bird smothered
us while we lay, dressing us like food?
We drift enthralled with pleasure
toward shores asweep with bones.
Those defeats we now call home.

April 2018

A Hedgewitchean 55

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Then And Forever

Oriental Poppy 2- Papaver Orientale

“Oriental Poppy” by my brother Timm, ca. 2007

 

There is only this moment
Between dust and silence
A goose in flight over water

Brother, all I have of you now
Is a wilderness of pauses
Where you stood still
Whispering

This

And took the picture
(Twenty times to be sure).

Relics on a shelf now
They are ghosts of a bliss

The ten thousand times
A finger’s press
Meant Yes

This trail in the woods
A child’s sudden smile
The tendril of a new leaf
Uncurling

To

This

April 2018

My brother passed away ten years ago today. Post to his memorial blog here.

Submitted to Real Toads’ Write Here Write Now challenge

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The Magic Mill

floating-seaweed

Fay Collins, “Floating Seaweed”

 

Did you know that oceans were once fresh? That you could
kneel and drink the Irish Sea to your thirst’s content?

Hard to think that now. Were wombs and blood so clear?
Were tears once clean of grief, as Adam before Eve?

A tale for you then, old yet somehow ever true and blue.
A poor Irishman went to see his rich brother for food.

His family was starving, his cow too thin to milk,
the porridge they ate for every meal mostly dirt and water.

The rich brother gave him a ham, but told him to take
it to a house far down the road. (In some versions, it’s Hell.)

Whatever they are willing to pay, the rich brother tells him,
trade instead for the grinding mill they hide behind a door.

It doesn’t make much sense to the poor brother, but what
does he know of fortune? So with the ham crooked in one arm

he trudged down the road (all the way Down to Hell,
in some versions) until he came to a dark house, set back

from the road like the shadow of late afternoon’s shadow.
He knocked on the door and an old man answered (some

say it’s the Devil, others an elven queen). The poor man
showed him the ham and sure enough, old fellow invited him in

and asked to buy it. The house is dark and cramped; balefire
or elvenlights flicker the walls. The old man offered money

for the ham but the poor man remembered his brother’s
instruction, and asked instead to trade it for the mill.

The Devil pursed his lips, pauses: then sighs. It’s a deal.
He (or the elf queen) disappeared into the forest of the house

for a few moments and then came back with the device,
a measly little table mill with a battered bell of a mouth

and chipped crank handle. The poor man wondered
if he should relent and take back the ham; it’s the surer

bet against starvation. But what does he know of fortune?
The old man instructes him how to use the mill. Starting it

is easy, just make a wish and start cranking: But to stop it
one has to say three magic words. The Devil leaned into

the poor brother and whispered them in his ear.
The words were in Gaelic and were surely very old,

sounding like silver fished from a forgotten lake.
When the poor man got back home, his kids surrounded

him wailing for food; when he produced the mill
his wife was furious. But leaning over the device he said

make food and begian cranking the little chipped handle.
Edibles start rolling out, hams and fish, bread and cheese

and cream. Oh such food! The family is saved at last
and they ate with thankfulness and joy. Sated at last of

hunger’s wrack, the poor brother whispered the three
magic words over the mill and it stopped. His wife thanked God

smiling for the first time in years;  the children dozed content.
He decided that fortune meant some pluck and a little luck;

thanks to the magic mill, he and his family never lack for food.
When the rich brother hears of his brother’s fortune,

he thought how he should have the mill; it was his idea to
send his brother on the errand, and besides, what does

a poor man know of fortune? So he walked over to
his brother’s house and offered three hundred pounds

for the mill. The poor brother ‘s well-fed now, why not
also get rich?  So he took the money happily and went

to get the mill. The rich brother is so eager to take
possession of the thing, as soon as the poor brother

tells him how to start it he turned and left, carrying
the mill back to his estate. Setting it on a table, he

whispered fine food and starts turning the crank. Elegant
stuff started pouring out, capons and pheasant,

ducklings and goose, jellies and tarts and pastries,
too many to count. Or eat. And even though the rich

brother’s house is grand, it’s soon filling up with food
from the busy little mill; the rafters are bumped by

an overwhelming meal.  Stop, stop! his wife cries,
batting a ripe Camembert away from her nose;

but the rich brother never learned the three magic words
to stop the mill. Fortune be damned, he shouts, gathering

up the manic little thing and running back to his brother’s house.
Trailing sausages and steaks and roast turkeys all the way.

When his brother opened his door, the food-beslimed brother
shouts Take this thing back, surely it comes straight from Hell!

Watching his brother scoot away, the poor brother said
the magic words and rack of lamb squeezes out and stops.

For years the mill was put to sensible use, sometimes
grinding food, other times spilling out coins. The brother

was careful to give thanks, for the mill, of course, but
moreso for the three silver words, which he kept upon a

mantel in his mind, polishing them whenever enough
was enough. But that is not the point of this tale, is it?

A sea-captain having a pint one night in the local tavern
heard about the fortunate farmer and his magic mill.

Later that night he stole into the farmer’s house and took
off with the mill. The next day he sets sail in his ship.

A few weeks later the captain overheard some of his crew
complain about the lack of salt; so back in his cabin

he pulled the magic mill out from his sea-chest. Make salt
he said and started turning the handle. Soon enough

salt was spilling over the table. Plenty enough he said
but the salt kept grinding out, rising the walls of his cabin.

Stop! he cried, but the mill is making salt merrily,
overspilling the crew’s quarters and filling up the hold!

No more! he cried as the boat capsized, leaving him
and his men to grab anything that floats while the ship

faded down from view trailing bubbles and salt. Down
at the ocean bottom, the mill kept busy grinding salt,

spoons then shovels then truckloads of salt spreading
into the blue, grain by grain hazing pure water to saline.

It went on hour after hour, day after year after age
until all of the river Oceanus was salt, every sea from

Ireland to the Mediterranean and Spain to the Americas
onwards to Asia and to India, from North and South poles,

a vastness beyond imagining and none of it to drink.
filling hearts with blood and tears from its immortal sink.

Is there a moral to this tale, or like a magic mill does it
keep pouring itself forth without a shore in sight,

spilling so into this life that every quintessence
of pain and joy carries salt in equal measure?

And what do we know of fortune, anyway?
What sated angel turns away and cries enough!

What three words can sated water pray here that
will let us all at last turn the page before it turns us,

covering us quiescent and suffocate in white? I don’t know
but I suspect it has a clear blue ring—like Thank you, friend.

April 2018

mill

Submitted to D’Verse Poets Tuesday Poetics — Fay Collins ekphrasis challenge

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Salem Rain Falling

outdoor_raining-1280x800

A woman was talking in AA yesterday about the simple gifts
of sobriety—serene days, love, the gifts of giving back. Then
she paused, teared up, and told a sponsee who had died of
her own will  that morning. Three years sober, the woman
had married a good woman, worked the Steps and attended
meetings regularly: Everything she said to her sponsor
was looking up or mostly, not a cloud on the horizon except
for that bad back & pills for pain & anxiety & depression &
who knows fucking what else, all the stuff you somehow
never tell your sponsor or wife or kids and leave to them
to figure out when suicide pours its cold rain in a blur.

I remembered my friend Andy who committed suicide
a few weeks ago, just a good guy whose terrors were legion
once he applied lips to whisky bottle, shot himself in his car
at the end of a final night out there alone: And then
I thought about my brother who died nine years ago
that coming night, a heart attack killing him at age 46.
And how it went in the wounded time that followed,
holding my old mother the next morning as she cried
inconsolably with yellow blossoms falling from trees outside,
flying out to Portland, watching a wide continent emtpy
of him. But the moment I’m here at the well for today
was of going into his apartment the next morning, spring rain
falling steadily outside on the tulips he had planted, glistening
on his car sitting more still than a living brother can imagine:

Inside was a dead person’s apartment in naked view,
living room, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom, all still
and full of my brother except my brother was gone:
self-help books and Bibles and classics on shelves,
boxes of slides and his camera gear in a backpack,
his guitar in its case leaning against a wall, any wall,
stacks of CDs he’d burnt with road mixes and New Age
compliation next to an old stereo with big beat up speakers,
a coffee table with candle and a photography manual
and guitar picks, Bolivan tapestries on the wall, his
flip-flops next to the couch near the door where
the EMTs had carried him out two nights before:

I could go on, but these items are only symbolic iota
which everyone who goes into such rooms too fucking late
assembles in equations which never add up enough
in the days and months and years that will follow
though most of it was worked out just before
we walked through that rain and opened those doors.
It’s the part that counts anyway when remembering
those who die too young & for reasons we never
really understand in the bittersweet tides of a life.
Someone has to go into those places to towel up
the blood & empty the rooms of raggedy ass stuff
& turn bone to ash to scatter on sea or mountain—
—maybe it will be you next time, either side of that door.

I’ve carried my brother’s death these years
and I’m still bringing him home—too late
and fitfully, and insufficient as such amends go.
But what else can I do? There were his rooms
filled with everything he would never return to,
his winter coats, his plates and spoons, his
bottles of Ritalin in too many places, all that
detritus of persistence in a cheap apartment
a brother struggled so to stay current in.
His fight now over, all that stuff could recede
to oblivion with him: But there’s a point to
such rooms, in AA meetings and in poems.
A meaning to cold rain falling in distant towns.
Nothing is wasted the heart’s economy, not even
bad history and wandering and dying too alone.
Such deaths we remember and shoulder with care,
sharing burdens which were too great to bear
—too late, always, to count the last drying tear.
I remember that room’s stillness in the silence here.

April 18 2017

Reposted for Poetry Pantry #399, April 15, 2018

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Rapture

hammock-in-the-middle

 

My father’s church was a kind of womb,
one of many to soothe my way. Sundays
we sang our hearts out for the Lord
and passed the peace with godly hugs.
The air inside was blue and high,
lapping beaches beyond all death.
Another ‘burb to hammock depth
without the salt that real things cry.

April 2018

A Hedgewitchean 55

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The Art of Yearning

cliffs-of-moher

Cliffs of Moher, Ireland.

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I’m learning to write the way I always
yearned to play piano. Not the upright in
the family parlor that I banged on trying
to read sheet music for a year.  Nor
the spinet in a college rehearsal
room when I studied theory. I mean
the old Steinway in my aunt and uncle’s
living room overlooking a lake in
that defeated season when they took me in.
Days I worked and nights I drank, both
in futility of dreams my young heart had
barely learned the cost of. Desperate to
find love again, as if reaching its beachside
bed would somehow halt the falling. Or
at least redeem it. Having hit the rocks
and so many times by age 25 to sense
that yearning might be fatal.

That baby grand had seen hard use for
decades by a family who loved music.
By then my cousins had all moved out.
Only my aunt sat down now and then, playing
Mozart from sheet music though she knew
it by heart. The Steinway had keys that plinked
so heavily yet soft, with clout most delicate,
like an ocean strumming against ocean cliffs
and salt spray mists the wings of gulls.
A place for falling angels to sing Glory.

Hungover, broke, angry at the world for
failing to welcome me and half-mad from
petit-mal seizures frothed by hard abuse,
I would sit there on hard grey winter
afternoons playing tuneful bits of this and that,
failing to work anything toward completion.
“Ditties,” my uncle called them, runs without
much shape to them, with no proper beginnings
or discernable ends. He was right. Having
scant training and no discipline, instead
I wove aching chords onto a lattice I
found mostly by mistake. With only my
yearning to serve as tutor and applause.

I loved the way that Steinway could
climb all the way up to the dizziest
aeries of the world: But it was the falling
that trellised yearning’s greater sound,
releasing something richer than desire
as I worked down the keys’ waterfall
to dead sea bottom. I learned then that
high notes need a bass cleff’s magnitude
to hold heaven in place; that every low
chord lifts a slowly spreading choir.

Whatever I was elsewhere, no matter
how poorly I repeated my mistakes each night,
at that piano I perched as close to ecstasy
as a lonely boy becoming solitary man can get.
Winter greys reflected on the stilled lake, nearby
traffic picking up its drone, reminding me that night
was coming soon. I could feel that thirst stirring in
its grave, tapping from inside the piano bench
for another futile round. But not yet. For a
half-hour more I roamed up and down that
Steinway’s keys, a dilettante with unschooled hands
roaming fields of glory I could never own
and have only and most poorly borne.

It takes strange craft to learn the art of yearning.
To need a music so much more than one can play it.
To hear it heavier than any heart could weigh it.
To name it everywhere that God cannot refrain it.

A thousand nights I’d driven out expecting
to find love any where and failed. Each nightly
ascent and fall through bar and bottle and
blurringmost bed joined a choir of chords too
bittersweetly perfect to sustain.  And gone
so fast, no matter how hard I pressed the
brass reverb pedal down. Our feathers are
made of stone, our wings were torn in heaven:
The falling part of yearning’s hard.
But O what fleeting views we’re given!

Three decades later, I’m trying to write
with the same willed trespass of those
fatal afternoons. Seated before that
Steinway’s keys with yearning youth intact.
Alone and happy and entranced by the
work at hand. Knowing that writing this way
isn’t about playing pianos well. It’s about
letting love’s perfection sour.  It’s about songs
that don’t begin and cannot end, woven
with a recklessness unsafe in any life.
And stumbling now and then onto a hidden
beach where the next wave somehow breaks
more gorgeously than all the ones before
just once before its gone. Its about letting it go
with defiance, nailing reverb pedal to the floor.

I’m almost there when I see him in frustration
and defeat shut the keyboard cover and
sulk off, hungry thirsty horny itching to
go out and drink the dregs of yearning.

I write for when that young man’s gone,
far enough away from the stilling instrument
to fail to hear it whisper Yes,
the silent dead cry Shore.

March 2014; reposted Oct. 2016, revised and reposted April 2018

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2-gulls-in-flight

Submitted to d’Verse Poets’ Ars Poetica challenge

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Long Ago Rooms

old house

 

In the house I dream there are long-ago rooms
I find far back of time I know, opening doors to
a history I tossed:: A Formica kitchen from the ‘50s,
my father’s Navy uniform folded on an unmade bed,
my first wife and her daughter opening Christmas
presents in the thrift-store furnished living room
that first year we married. Everything dripping darkness
onto old ice, like a squid’s eye hooked from abyss,
the trash of oblivion raised from repression’s heap.
Rooms I fled long ago are house now to sleep.

April 2018

Submitted to Real Toads’ micro-poetry challenge

 

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Ghosts Of The Local

tree 2 IMG_4659 copy

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I’m reading microfilm at the library
about my little city in 1955
and everything reads familiar but not

same street names same buildings
a mayor & city council & high school
& fret over ordinances and produce
all so present in its weekly newspaper

but a ghost / the past we left
to the underworld so long ago
maybe too long now / maybe not

The frames fly right to left
as I whirl through the issues
Time layers in weekly increments
no TV no cable no Internet
just the body of a city buried
in eight broadsheet pages published
every week from 1910 to 2006
when the body of that newspaper
was buried in the landfill
and its news to microfilm reels

The mayor of ’55 is a ghost now
so too the owner of the Rexall Drug
the garden club in the photo / ghosts
the bride-to-be and her captain / ghosts
the pair of fryers for 89 cents
at Economy Super Mart / ghosts
when they died / were sold /
were eaten / shat

The town buzz of ’55 has ebbed
below whispers at midnight now
though on the frames they shout:
bickering over annexation of Sylvan Shores
and the re-route of US441 away from town
and better water and electric
and what to do with the racketeers
selling bogus roofs to old ladies
—how can such noise entomb?

One lost year sunk in sepia murk
as the newspaper of record whirled by
all that was permitted into print
and then from just one editor’s vantage
nothing from the drunks on the road
hammering back to Pistolville
the shopkeepers hoping the tourists will come
the retirees playing shuffleboard
and wealthy gunning winter boats:

those ghosts mist the great chilled dark
behind the glib ghost of news
silent forever perhaps
or reborn as us

—But fear never goes away
even while its specific causes do

Fear is what sold newspapers back then
the kudzu bane of communists
of Brown vs. the Board of Education
& the specter of integration

Black children in white schools
marching on the white girls
Stalin riding with Sherman
trampling the flowered South
with an ultimate red shout

In 1955 black lives could not matter
and for that their faces are
closest to my window tonight
Leapt from lynching trees
onto the backs of fleeing riders
ghosts of the ghost confederacy
parading my ghostly street

Black bodies buried in the groves
are the darkest ghosts of all
but that somehow makes them loudest
in this vault where headlines moulder

Buried in the groves they worked
by deputies who were buried too

The groves themselves now ghosts
—frozen, razed, covered with asphalt
and built wide as paradise—

Ghost oranges brim this dead ship’s ride
Black whispers spoke its wheeling tide

November 2015, reposted 2018

Note
I’m a Central Floridian living in a small town northeast of Orlando. In 2015 I was hired by Gilbert King to help with local research for a second book about racial bigotry in Central Florida he was breaking ground on. (King wrote Devil In the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys and the Dawn of a New America, which won the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction in 2012). The research opened a cellar door on this small town’s history (and all of white-washed America, I think); I cannot look at its present happy suburban contours and not feel a deep sense of loss and betrayal.

King’s next book, Beneath A Ruthless Sun, is due out this month; also later this month, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which commemorates the documented lynching of more than 4,000 African-Americans since the Civil War, opens in Montgomery, Alabama. The Equal Justice Initiative reports that more than 30 blacks were lynched in nearby Orange County where progressive Orlando is now busting at its seams under an ever-hotter sun.

Submitted to dVerse Poets’ Urban Renewal challenge

 

topic

Mount Dora Topic, Nov. 24, 1955. After taking up the cause of the Groveland Boys, editor Mabel Norris Reese turned her attention to the expulsion of five children from Mount Dora’s white schools because the sheriff of Lake County didn’t think they looked “white” enough.

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Sleeping In Class

Fresh Running In The Rain Quotes sad wallpapers sad girls crying sad girls sleeping

 

I’m still waiting for my past to wake up.
Long stretches of it snoozed the afternoon
of my earlier life. I sense I missed something
in class, the part of the instruction which
taught how to number spirits. You know,
the vastly spreading ones who so pillow
my sense of waking and durable reality that
I can’t tell where they’re coming from
and where I went, like tides. I went to college;
sat there in World History taking notes
about the dreamtime and Neolithic grain,
the Grecian experiment and the rise and fall
of Roman clout. When did I lapse and let
my pen doze, far down rising waters?
Maybe I got lost in the fog of desire
crossed by fumes of bad whiskey.
Somewhere back then I lost track
of the count and settled for wild.
Pouring Alan Watts on Plato.
Reeling Toynbee for Tolkein’s fish.
Roasting Delphi with drugs delish.
No wonder writing was such a buzzkill,
demarcating monsters in the haze.
I’m still waiting for the Seventies
to lift its head and flutter lids and
find that professor’s voice again.
Maybe then the mayhem of this time
will falter, halt and creep on back
into their siloes of multiple choice.
I’m waiting for this pencil to
stop its fatal hesitation here, asking,
turn it up or boogie down?
Lah de dah or time to drown?

April 2018

Submitted to Real Toads Waiting For … challenge
and D’Verse Poets’ Open Link Night #218

 

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