The God of Winter Solstice
Solstice, and the moon is targeted, ringed,
first with bright moonlit cloud,
then with blood, then
blood cooled by night sky,
with a raw branch rioting
a scrawl, a message, tearing across it.
The final ring is pure sky.
All of it. Night-cloud grey.
Grey and grey—
thanks to that moon, to the streetlights,
to the needles of city light
that could almost be
the stars we know are hidden
behind them. If we could only lift
that shield of cotton wool
there they’d be gossiping
about the gods like the treasures
they are. The stars
and how we see them
firing tales against the dark
like that branch’s dark against light.
Like the black curve of orca leaping
from the day’s bleak grey,
its bounding back
arcing in the air, with what
tastes like meaning after all,
what tastes just like joy.
The Goddess of Ore
There are things revealed in the canny clammy deep
only by working a seam for days for years for life–
past dilapidated deserted workings, past false leads
past the stalled nooks of other explorers, past exploring.
Through darkness full of canary-choking pockets,
teeming with the tiniest itchiest monsters. Darkness
full of the big dark. The biggest dark. Your headlamp
shifts from a nebula to a ember, mid-step. Your pickax
heavy and dull, the sack dragging your shoulder to hell
and back. You work forever, you work for life. Then
each step back to the daylit world you think you’re there
(not yet); you think you’ll never make it (you have)–
and there you are, cold sky emptying onto your face,
even clouded you must shut your eyes, scuttle a moment
back to the safe blanket of dark. Then gingerly re-emerge
where everything is exposed, your rusted skin, your filth-
scabbed torn and ragged skin you only notice now.
How long and how deep the scars are. Part of your harvest.
When at last you bravely spread your work before you,
you squint grimed eyes to see: the aging gems are beautiful;
the purest black coal is beautiful. So, too, the cracked
and blackened gems, the broken rocky coal, the ravages
of your mind and scorched imagination, each and every
bit of the blighted history that marks your flesh sublime.
The Gods of Piled Stones
I am a coward now, afraid of bullets, of sirens,
of cameras. Of the moment of truth and then
nothing. When you crawl into the cairn
you carry your living marrow under its stones
into an other place, an other world. If stone
is death and wood is life, what then here
is bullet and bone? At winter’s solstice
the defeated sun angles to touch the wall,
anointing it with buttered light breaking
with new ferocity but now at summer’s solstice
there is only my own shadow inside the shadows,
a darkness cast by only me. Is it enough?
It is must be enough. It is never enough.
The silence here is full of no triggers, sets off
nothing but wonder and is crowded with souls
who were richly remembered but not now.
Now they are unknowable. You can wonder,
imagine, but only the stones know. Until you feel
that hand inside yours. The cool warm echo
of human touch. Illusion, that palm those fingers. Elision.
It is progress against the impossible. It is enough.
‘You can’t know anything, unless you can do it.’
To learn is what matters, to be a maker
to know from the inside out, and in any case,
the usual wool is backwards for this,
so she starts from scratch,
in her daughter’s tight jeans
spins a Z twist instead of S
rolls clouds of wool between palm and thigh
until she has yarn her hands have known
each inch of, long thin strands she dyes
yellow, blue, black. She takes the undyed
wool for the warp, hangs it from a dowel
and begins. This is the next skill she learns:
how to wind the dangling wool into creation.
How to weave tide and wing into being.
Plans to make, false starts,
slowly, slow, the care she takes:
cream, yellow, blue, black
become panels for each side,
and a circling striping line
becomes binding and strap.
Then two rows of thick tassels,
marten fur to line the opening,
deer-hide strings holding hooves
for their clatter and what has she made?
What magic does she hold inside there
but knowledge, and the hidden space between
the soft, slow dance of her own fingers’ bones.
The October Gods
This prosaic morning, on the street,
a robin. I mean: in the street. I mean:
two cars, their wheels within inches,
and the bird merely rocks, as though
on gentle branch in a slight breeze.
In the lull between cars I realize it rocks itself,
not the cars or any wind. Its pebble eye
looks at me.
My sleepy late-to-work eye
looks at it.
My plaid car rag. I throw it over the bird.
Which twitches and hitches under its blanket.
Turns and spurns.
—I scoop it up. Hold the bird
wings beat beating in my hands.
Afraid of the life in it, of maybe its death.
Place it in the dirt and lift the rag.
The bird waits, wings spread. I can’t turn away.
Wonder if I can text can’t come
to work: there’s a bird.
Rescue is a duty settling in my skin.
I move to gather it up again to transport
to a shelter, but it has had it with me.
Lifts off flapping like a rag across the street
To our neighbour’s cherry tree.
The heart in my hands has flown,
alive and whole, whole and alive,
it is beating, has beaten me.
Of Gods and Goddesses. Poetry by Neile Graham
The God of Winter Solstice