“When we were young, we shared our bread and milk”

When we were young, we shared our bread and milk […]

“When we were young,
we shared our bread and milk”

 

   When we were young, we shared our bread and milk
Played games in the woods, chased the spirits there—
Caught a glimpse of something more, never scared
Were you, just laughed off the ghostly face
   Even when it appeared at your window
At night, and whispered secrets yet untold
What did it say to you in the darkness?
I always sat rapt, struck, when you spoke
   Of the depths of the encroaching forest
And how you saw another world inside
The reflection on the piano’s sheen
Just smiled as you fingered dainty tune.

   When we were teens, we never got too close
A hug or two, once a kiss — nothing more
But we never didn’t smile, best of friends
A boy, a girl, in love with the world
   But you always wanted more, spoke of things—
And when we wandered in the pouring rain
Your mind wandered to darkness, I knew so,
And I wondered what cold dreams you saw.
   We fell into our patterns with swift ease
And made those signs that only we did know,
I wanted to never see you depart—
But you were bruised, your eye red, swollen;
With stolen alcohol, you smoldered.

   It had been half-decade we didn’t speak:
I got out of town after you showed me
The room hid beneath the abandoned house
That lay quiet, unpleasant ’tween trees
   Skeletal and in constant winter grey—
You held my hand too tight, I remember
And something was wrong in your hazy sight.
I never knew I loved you before
   Then, the moment I knew I feared you much;
And after we went to mine and ate sweets,
And didn’t speak until you said goodbye
And left a shadow in dreadful wake.

   When I returned, it was on your request—
I found you at home, dilapidated
Plaster, pebble-dashed tomb where on the floor
Lay shrunken mess of erstwhile father.
   No longer woman, but dusk-changeling
So far from girl, Acheron followed you
With perverted grace of vindication:
I shivered to see your serpent smile,
   And wept when you told me what had to come;
Sweet childhood friend, dark empowered sorceress:
Shadows crawled upon your father’s dry corpse.
I watched man turned to messy chaos,
In hands of girl I once broke bread with.

   When you were young, you were stranger than life:
In cryptic patterns you danced fairy dance;
Snakelike smiles replaced that kind childish grin
As you stowed away your pain from me
   You hid the acrid scars and acid burns,
And listened close to whispering souls of which
Offered dark gifts of ancient sacraments
You uttered of, in hushed tones aside
   Gabbling crick in oaken glade we called home;
And you spoke to me what you meant to do,
One day, when the wind was rising eastward:
Comeuppance for your red swollen eye.

 

Luanne and the Lost City

When all has seen what all has done […]

Luanne and the Lost City

When all has seen what all has done,
and all to lift and all upon,
the four of thee with two in view:
when death falls from her lips,
the Elder takes the throne.

The boy of young wakes and steals away,
through the streets, away.
To the green, away.
He has done it three times now,
and each time has felt better than the last.
Time to be alone.

The fog clings to his jumper.
The village is desolate at such an hour,
and his footsteps echo into the
morning sky.
Early morning, early.
Still dark.
Rumbling grey skies waiting to break,
winds of vicious velocity.

At the park, she is waiting.
A little bit taller than him,
blonde hair, shimmering eyes,
still small, but to him a giant.
She smiles as he arrives.
He smiles too,
but worse.

She speaks to him, and her voice
lilts on the breeze.
She must be pretty, he thinks,
but he doesn’t really know what that means yet.

‘I want to take you somewhere,’ she says.
He wants to know where.
She nods her head
towards the woods.
He says that he is scared of the woods.
She laughs. It makes him shiver.
‘Don’t you want to play?’ she says.

He does want to play,
but he doesn’t know what to do.
She’s older than him,
so maybe she knows a secret way,
because otherwise they may get lost,
and he hates getting lost.

‘We won’t get lost,’ she smiles.
He trusts her.
It’s in the way she speaks.
So soft.
Soothing,
unlike his mother’s voice.
He takes a chance.

He asks for her name.
‘Luanne,’ she says.
The name bounces across the dew
on the grass.
He follows her, across
the bridge, and up the lane,
the woods high above them,
loomers with twisted arms.

The woods grow as they walk,
and she takes his tiny hand.
‘Little boy,’ she says,
‘you are cold.’
He nods. He is cold, it’s true.
Colder still with every step.

Luanne looks back and smiles at him.
Her shimmering eyes, yes, shimmering—
they seem to hold no pigment,
and even to his tiny mind this seems strange.

But she is pretty, or so he believes,
because he has only heard that word,
never really understood it.
His brothers say it sometimes.
From what he’s heard,
there are girls at school that are pretty.
But he wouldn’t know.

He pays so much attention to her face
as they walk,
that before long,
they seem lost. Everywhere
around them: spiralling trees.
He asks her where they are going.

‘We are going to meet the elders,’
she says.
‘There are five of them.’
He fumbles with the sleeve of his jacket.

He asks where they live. The girl
does not answer, instead
she just smiles. A pretty smile.

The trace of morning sun has been
blocked from the sky.
This isn’t his home,
nor should it be,
but why should he not be here, anyway?

Why not walk with this
girl of the woods?
This pixie?
She looks like a full-size Tinkerbell
from Peter Pan.

And after some hours, the woods break,
and he cannot believe his eyes:
there are whole other towns and villages here,
overgrown and sunken,
sleeping.

In the distance he can even see a city,
ancient, deceased,
huge towers reaching up.
Buildings within buildings,
ruined black architecture.

He laughs,
because it must be a dream,
must be.

Luanne stops and they gaze
over the lost buildings.
She turns to him and crouches.
‘This is how it could be.
How it should be,’ she says.
She pokes him in the belly and twinkles a smile,
‘and you’re going to help us.’

He wonders how. How
could he be any help to anyone?
He knows, he knows he is but
a burden, a nuisance.

It’s fine.

And now, he wonders—
how can he help?
For once, he wants to.

The girl leads him down further into the debris.
Trees as colossi, they must be four no five no seven no
eight no a million times bigger than him.
The branches grow persistently, breaking through
each other and joining together in harmony.
It really is peaceful here, he thinks.

They walk inside a house. Luanne
seats him in an old chair
that seems to be made of wax.
She looks into his eyes.
‘Let me tell you about them,’ she says.
He nods.

‘Sing the praises of the old gods,’
says Luanne.

‘We first feel Callaszag, the Soaking Wet.
His presence is signalled by a brewing of clouds
in the north. Once he is ready,
three thunderclaps will sound. And then,
the torrent that lasts for two nights will come,
and with it, there will be arrival.’

The young boy watches
as Luanne’s pupils glisten
with joy.

‘Then we will behold Shath,
the Watcher of Many Eyes.
His arrival is preceded by the One in Blue,
and this arrival is stated by
the taking of virtues.’

The young boy sees a glimmer
of spittle fall from the girl’s mouth.

‘Following Shath is Veliszeth,
the Dirt Beneath the Surface.
We shall know she is here when
we hear:
Weal and Woe,
All Bark Fades,
and Full is the Cup.
Oh, how mean she is.
She covers the eyes.’

Her voice is louder now,
not shouting, just bigger,
more precise,
and he does nothing but watch and listen.

‘Before the end, we meet Lucreczia,
The Tainted Mother.
Her arrival is preceded by the Music.
Tones between tones between tones.
Fragments of melody,
like nothing else.
Her arrival is stated
by the taking of names.’

She lowers her eyes, no longer
staring so wildly around the room.

The young boy meets her gaze,
but there is something different this time.
Her sparkle has dulled.

Luanne holds up four fingers, then
she raises her thumb to create five
and says,

‘When all has seen what all has done,
and all to lift and all upon,
the four of thee with two in view:
when death falls from her lips,
the Elder takes the throne.’

She blinks, and the shimmer is back.
She smiles at him. Pretty.
He stares.

Outside, beyond the borderlands,
in the great depths of the black forest,
the great lost city moaned.

The Gorgon

It was in misty Hammersmith that I first laid eyes against the Gorgon.
She looked like me:
The frame, The brittle structure of her bones.

The Gorgon

 

I

I had been out at last, walking
   without a fear, stalking
      the city of my heart’s mirth:
Begging forgiveness and innocence to dirt,
Shattered, soldered and aching,
As my waking dreams smouldered.

But by Misty Hammersmith, she looked like me:
Through Ravenscourt, and to the tube,
Shot through and through,
A distant stare:

My flesh tingled with slate,
Marble pores at the sight:
I could not move, as if to sate
Her sunken eyes: I felt
   petrified.
Like soured stone.

Harbouring seraphim,
I rooted around in my pocket
   for my keys.
I heard their rattle, but could not find them.
Only scraps of leaf tobacco
   and empty filter strips.

Steps, behind me: quicker, lest
I were caught by the identical
   clatter of our shoes.
A silly game. A childish jest.
Playing tricks on myself
   far too literally.

Those words of pallid truth,
A broken beam of circled light;
In those frames I found such sooth
   reflected many times:

Returned gazes that stare bright as the Star,
Serpentine image bears down on the role;
Lead actor encased in pillar of salt,
Love interest flees in conspicuous car;
Audience soaked in layers of green light,
Flesh crawling with marble architecture;
Seated between a lustful onlooker,
And a bold talent scout of certain sight;
Wooed were I, so sure of blight, I watched it,
Entranced by willing, aching desire;
All dreams I had were in moving pictures,
And the Gorgon spun the tale, as I sat;
      Now in my house, the walls hang bare to see:
      That ritual of thy sweet, darker thee.

My door now locked,
That was sure — but once
   the images started swimming,
There was not a lock on earth
   that could halt the presence dimming
      palpably from the roof.

Down the wallpaper.
Across the carpet.
Like the tapping of drizzle.
Like the foal that kneels
   at the feet of its predator,
A vampire-yellow vapour.

At the basement stair
   I found myself
      as if spellbound,
Enchanted.
Wisps of light and Stygian sound
   gaining ground
      in what was once my home.

Then I looked upon her truth:
I saw her audience, frozen,
Like the foal.
A travertine display
   of erstwhile lives;
Given over to those brass hands.

Her fallen children,
Nothing but marble statues
   travelling down the District Line.
Her greatest admirers, halted in time.

She pushed me aside,
Then pulled my arm,
And led me to my bed:
She tucked me in,
And sat beside.
A small smile hidden.

She released her hair from its tied knot
   and it slithered down her shoulders,
Down her back, across the sheets.
I heard it hiss, and flicker,
Venomous.

She turned around and removed her eyes.
The glassy cyan discarded,
She bowed her head,
So I could not see what was left.

She spoke her part,
And explained in plain English
   the suffering of my heart:

I, Narcissus:
The demiurge of my own downfall.

I, Oedipus:
My very own gynosphinx
   to tear my mind apart.

I, Hamlet:
But my father’s ghost speaks not to me.

I, Perseus:
But no bag of holding
   to store that
      which I could not sever
         even with an adamantine sickle.

No cloak of justice—
No silver bullets—
No helm of darkness—
Divine intervention, too,
Was off the cards.

With her words shared,
Her hair encompassed my bed-ridden form.
I saw her smile again
   as she turned to face me.
Her face morphed,
And yes, I was a fool,
To ever believe she and I were the same.

Teeth of razor-kind,
Claws of brass well-formed,
Rapacious tongue so fork’d.
The serpentine locks that fell all around
   the brace of gold that graced her neck.

Starting from the tips of my toes,
I stiffened.
Trapped in the headlights of my own mythology.

And with Persephone at hand,
The chthonic mouth opened up.
O, Glory.
O, Sweet Queen:
That mezzanine ’twixt gold and dust.
That estuary of Styx, forged by my lust.

I took my final journey,
Gazing through the black eyes
   of the Gorgon.

 

II

When the smell begins,
And the neighbours pry,
And the authorities informed;
When the door cracks,
And the lock shatters,
And the friendly steps set foot
   into this bedroom:
They will find nothing
   but soured stone.