Of Gods and Goddesses. Poetry by Neile Graham

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.

Creation Hymn

 ‘You can’t know anything, unless you can do it.’ 
-Bill Holm

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.

Learn more about Neile Graham at her website.

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