All Their Voices

Words and thoughts in devotion to the Divine


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Sacrifice

There was never any doubt.

No chain smithed by mortal man would hold the eternal hunger,

And so — as so many times before — we turned to the dwarves

For the fetter to bind that malicious maw.

They crafted it out of six impossible things,

And told us: It will hold.

We knew Fenris could not snap this bond.

 

But so did He.

 

And so the Ravener asked:

By what token am I to trust in this game–

That, once bound, you will free me?

 

All of us, Aesir and Vanir, knew without speaking that,

Once our word was given, we would have to break it.

He could not be freed.

And I could see in their eyes that none of them–

Not the one-eyed wanderer,

Not the red-bearded thunderer,

Not the lord of the fertile fields,

Not the keen-eyed far-seer–

Would do so.

 

No, there was never any doubt.

In my mind, there was only certainty:

I do this thing because it must be done.

I do this thing because the Hunger must be bound.

I do this thing because there is no one else to do it.

 

Without hesitation, I told the baleful beast:

I, Tyr, will place my hand between your jaws.

If you are not freed when the game of binding is ended,

Then my oath is broken,

And my hand is forfeit.

 

He accepted this, for were not my unbroken word

And my good right hand — my sword-hand —

Ample token of trust?

 

I thrust my sword-hand between the beast’s slavering jaws,

Felt those fangs — black with the rotting shreds

Of a thousand good warriors’ hearts — close about the bones of my wrist.

 

And so they bound him: with woman’s beard

And mountain’s roots; with cat’s footfall

And bird’s spittle; with bear’s sinews

And the breath of a fish —

Knowing beyond a doubt that it would hold.

 

And so did he.

 

I do this thing that must be done:

Let all men know by the hand I will lose that

          Tyr broke his oath.

I do this thing that must be done:

Let all men know by the hand I will lose that

          Tyr cared enough to make the sacrifice that had to be made.

I do this thing that must be done:

Let all men know by the hand I will lose that

          only by Tyr’s will was the wolf bound.

 

I stared into the wolf’s wild and wicked eyes as his fangs

passed through the flesh and bone of my wrist, slamming shut with a ghastly clash.

 

All the world could see the wolf’s woe: I had won.

 

I, oath-broken.

I, the sacrifice.

I, wolf’s bane.

 

The wolf howled in impotent rage and grief.

And I — bloody, broken, but not beaten — smiled.


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The Road to Brân’s House

(This serves both the New-Deity-of-the-Month poem I promised for Brân, and day four of the Five Day Poetry Challenge.)

raven

If I stand in darkness, it is because
I stand in the shadow of His wings.

Have I been climbing this mountain forever?
Perhaps. But it is the only way I know,
step after step, sometimes staggering,
pausing to catch my breath,
resting a hand against the rough bole of a tree,
feet dug in and set,
and this is the way I must travel
if I want to see Him.

Oh, He doesn’t make it easy,
but why should He?
The mountain does not come to the man;
that is not what mountains do.

Every so often, now and then, I think I catch
a glimpse of a little piece of Him:
the flash of an eye,
the curve of lip,
wind blowing through that black, black hair–
but it is sunlight on water,
or wind-sculpted earth,
or leaves blowing on the breeze
which means it is Him, after all.

I know the stories:
giant brother, sorrowing sister, anger to kill
hundreds of men and burst a magic cauldron from the inside,
but here I travel out of the domain of story,
and make my way to see Him face to face–
that is, if He will let me.

It all started with whispers, really:
the sweep of wings on the wind,
and shadows from overhead,
and curious longings,
and too much time in unfamiliar daydreams,
and suddenly I wanted to know Him better.

There are no mountains where I live.

This little midwestern town at the cock-tip of a lake
is the dictionary definition of flat:
lonely, too, and boring, and banal,
and not the sort of place
that a girl like me
would go looking for a god like Him,
but here I am, nevertheless.

The stories are a guide, but a drunken, inept sort of guide:
Wales is no map for Indiana,
and the waters that the people who lived here longest called Michigan
are not the Irish Sea:
nonetheless, I must make them serve.

I greet Him in the morning with coffee,
and honey-oat cakes; there are no ravens here,
but after awhile, their littler cousins, crows,
come sniffing around to see what I have to offer.
Is that just nature being nature, then,
or does He work with what’s available,
as They all do?

This journey is apt to be a long one,
but then, all the best journeys are;
there was never a god worth seeing
who didn’t require some effort on the part
of those who would gawk;
more still from the devoted and the devout,
who would bring prayers and offerings and their hearts,
laid open bloody and bare,
willing to do the work,
if only to find the truest meaning
in giving themselves up to service.

He doesn’t make it easy:
I said that once,
I repeat it now;
what better way to winnow out
the rubberneckers, the cynics, the greedy, the lazy,
and those for whom scorn and jeering
is barely concealed beneath a veil of bored curiosity?
If they’re only here for the show,
best to kick them to the curb now.

So, yes, over the river and through the woods,
though the woods be sparse, and riddled with disease and parasite:
box elder bugs and emerald ash borers and black maple spot,
and all the rivers hereabouts are only now slowly being reclaimed
from having become dumping grounds for garbage.
Still, that is the traditional route to go when going to visit someone’s home,
and it might be a circumlocutious route,
but it’s the only one I know.

And I go slow on purpose;
I’d hate to finally show up at His house,
find Him,
and find out I wasn’t wanted there, after all;
it’s the worst sort of rudeness to force yourself into
a place where you weren’t invited, after all,
but I haven’t heard ‘No!’ yet,
so I go–
–but slow.
Gods can change their minds too:
they have that right, no less than we mere mortals do,
although it’s a lot more dangerous
to ignore Them when they do.

I don’t know how long this journey will be;
it’s been a while now already,
though not as long as some I have taken,
and some I am still taking.
I have a nebulous sense that
it will be finished — eventually —
though no real understanding, yet,
of how the journey’s end will be.

For this is not archaeology:
I am not here to simply dig up potsherds,
fit them back together,
and suddenly be an expert on
all there is to know of Him;
this is not a child’s puzzle,
piecing together every die-stamped cardboard token,
so at last I see the bigger picture;
and this is not medicine,
waiting only to find the right drug
to cure some dread disease.

This journey I am on is worship,
as much an act of reverence as any prayer or offering,
and with each step further that I take,
I understand that even when I arrive at the end of the travel,
it will not lessen the mystery,
enlighten the masses,
or leave all loose ends tied up neat and tight,

and with that, I am content.


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First Harvest

(Day two of the Five Day Poetry Challenge. Again, this is a new poem.)

Wisconsin - Field of Oats

Her fingers bleed; the stones
are buried deep,
tangled in roots of long-dead trees,
and clotted with soil better meant
for green growing things:
the sweetness of apples, the golden riches of grain,
the root vegetables that grew below the surface.

Each drop of blood that seeps from her flesh
into the soil waters it, nurtures the ground,
adds richness to the dark loam that
yields its stony crop to her untiring labor.

She bends herself to the task for days,
cutting the trees down,
letting woodsmen drag them away
to save the wood for the hearths
of the folk when winter returned;
the roots themselves she tears out of the ground,
casting them aside, slowly
reducing forest to fertile field.
Above, the sun: its fire rains down,
bringing its heat to the land below,
summoning from within her
the rain of sweat spangling her brow.
About her, bees hover in a halo,
fanning her with the cool breeze of their wings.

Relentless, she works, sparing no time
for food or drink or rest; her strength flags not,
but day by day her frame dwindles
as her body’s substance burns away
in the fierce flame of her will to finish her task.
A day will come, she knows,
when every stone and every root would be removed,
every spring unblocked, every stream cleared,
and then at last her people could till the land,
sowing there the seeds that would let them
lay away the fruits of that first planting,
and thus, survive the cold to come.

The morn she draws that last stone from the land
comes at long last;
she casts it aside to the oxen yoked to the chariot
to drag it away for the walls the farmers built
to hedge in the boundaries of the fields,
and with a final sigh, falls insensate to the ground.
She knows that, all too soon,
her flesh will belong to the soil, too,
taken apart my rain and worms and the roots of green growing things,
and then in one more way,
she will help to feed her people.


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Five Day Poetry Challenge: Elgin

Elgin_Marbles_east_pediment

So, I got tagged by Galina Krasskova for the Five Day Poetry Challenge. I had to look it up to figure out what it was (not being the sort who is often challenged, or challenging). The challenge is to post five poems, one per day, and to nominate someone else to do it also. (I have to think about who to nominate.)

The rules I read for the challenge didn’t specifically say it had to be a new poem every day, but I’m going to try to go with that, at least until the well of inspiration dries up. And, since I’d been thinking about doing a villanelle, that’s what you get.

I wrote this over the last half hour. Hope it suits.

Elgin

The theft still stands; they show it proudly now,
Though years have passed since stones they took away.
The country mourns, bereft of their gods’ gaze.

Phidias threw his heart into his work,
Spent years at birthing gifts of piety:
The theft still stands; they show it proudly now.

Apollo, Zeus, and Hera graced the walls;
Hermes and Poseidon watched from on high;
The country mourns, bereft of their gods’ gaze.

Unmoored from where they stood for centuries,
And shipped across the sea to foreign lands:
The theft still stands; they show it proudly now.

And for his crime, the burglar revered was:
Though enemies had lied to let him steal;
The country mourns, bereft of their gods’ gaze.

And to this day, these stones sit far from home;
They bear the name of their thief: him, alone.
The theft still stands; they show it proudly now.
The country mourns, bereft of their gods’ gaze.


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Kriophoros

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There is sickness in the air:
a pollution of the spirit,
hanging over the cities,
hanging over the pastures where the herds graze,
hanging even over the temples where offerings are brought.
Do not mistake me for that other One;
Lambs are light, easy to carry,
for all they may kick and bleat
or shit down your shoulder.
Shepherds may revere me, but I am no shepherd;
The burden I carry is no lamb newborn
or shaggy ewe, udders swollen with Spring’s milk.
No, what I carry is the flock’s guardian
— not the shepherd, no beardless boy with bark-stripped staff —
but the flock’s true king,
crowned heavy with horns,
fire in his eyes at the merest whiff of wolf or bear;
fierce his shout and fierce the thundering beat of his heart,
fiercer still the courage he shows as he charges those
who would do the ewes or lambs harm.
This is why he makes the perfect sacrifice;
this is why I carry him, heavy and struggling,
across my shoulders, around the city walls,
high enough for all to see —
the shepherds in their fields
and the priests in the temples,
the children playing in the streets
and the merchants in the city square.
He is no mewling babe, easily controlled;
it takes determination to hold him,
and the certainty that bringing the blade to his throat
to spill his blood and then lower meat and fat and fur to the fire
will bring on the favor of those who sit so high above
and send that sweet smoke unto them.
After you have washed yourself with water
of sea salt and bay leaf smoke,
after I have borne the ram to the place of sacrifice,
after all the proper rites been conducted,
then — and only then — has that spirit-sickness lifted,
has the miasma been purged,
and then and only then will the herd rest safe once more.


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“The Discourse of Thought and Memory”, or, “Twa Corbies Reminisce”

“Twa Corbies’, Steeleye Span

(c) Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

(c) Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

We think when there is no one else to think.
We remember when no one else can.

That knight, murdered,
his body hidden behind the old fallen wall:
Only his hound, his hawk,
and his wife knew where he lay;
they, and his killer,
and us.
(The man who murdered him was his wife’s new lover, by the way.)
Sure, we fed; I ate his eyes.
I’m a raven, after all.
What would you expect me to eat, oats?
And yes, we plucked the golden hair
from his head to pad our nest:
(Muninn was ready to lay a clutch of eggs.
We are ravens, after all.)
But when we had eaten, and taken what we needed,
we took one other thing from him:
the knowledge of his situation.
And this we carried with us,
back to Valhalla, back to the Allfather,
and there we shared it with him,
and then there was one more who knew
of the man’s murder.

What he did with that knowledge is,
of course, his secret.

We are ravens, after all.
But perhaps not just ravens.


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In the Greenwood

Silvanus_BritMu023a

Lurking in the shadows of the woods,
I see You there, Silvanus,
running with the deer,
standing guard over the badger’s sett,
Your face dappled with light
where thin rays of sun
break through the cage
of the smallest branches of the treetops.

Your crown is oak and ivy,
Your brow garlanded with these sweet leaves;
singing birds flit in a halo round Your head,
and You walk barefoot through
the thickest tangles of thorn and briar.

The fox is lulled to sleep in Your lap,
the bear sleeps curled up at Your feet,
and the serpent twines round Your ankles,
unmoved to bite and share his venomed kiss.

All the forest opens to You,
wild god, fierce god, great god,
sharing with You its secret heart,
and You, its secret heart.