Songs to Setirov.

September 24, 2013, 10:43 am
Filed under: poetry

    Talks with potential publisher fell through, so I’m gonna be starting up posting Ragnarok here again.

    For the, you know, three or four of you who had any idea it existed and had been being posted here in the first place.


Ragnarok XVI
May 16, 2013, 11:16 pm
Filed under: blank verse, epic, poetry, ragnarok | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

“Mean you to slay this?” Varr said slowly, as
The Sulfur Carrier stretched, its knees below
The pit its impact had carved out, “Do you
Yet say that this your sword shall cut down this
Collossus, berserker?” Klau swallowed, and,
With his eyes to vasty foe fastened,
Said, “Yes, I shall, although I can no more
Imagine how than I can fly.” Shane snatched
The girl, who stared as fixedly as does
The sparrow at the adder at the dark
Arising form, though seeming without fear.
“Then do!” he shouted, “Strike it down! I will
See her to safety. I only ask that,”
The Boxer grinned, “you slay it not too swift
Before I can get back to use my fists.”
Then as the Sulfur Carrier drew back
A hand crowned with obsidian claws, as
Its shoulders’ skin cracked up like drying mud
And in the cracks glowed magma, as along
It’s hunching back it bubbled like hot tar,
Shane dragged the girl away. He tossed her light
To Varr, who on his shoulders, like a horse,
Bore clinging, and they took off running for
The stairs. Shane fumbled on his gloves, looked back,
Saw Klau the Berserker had drawn his sword
Black but bright, saw beyond a fist house-sized
Come down upon the rampart’s foundation,
So as he reached the top step, it buckled
And tossed below his feet. They half-scrambled,
Half-jumped along the quaking, crumbling stair:
They could not have gone faster if they’d flown,
And yet not fast enough. The tremor tore
Asunder gaping rents in the cold earth
Below the wall. Through them the Soot poured in
Like maggots not content to wait for death
Of natural causes, and turned assassin,
Their weapons brandishing, their baleful stench,
Their rotted hissing smothering the air.
As is the rush of foam over the edge
Of roaring cataract split into rags
And drops, each willing with all of its heart
To outrun gravity, to reach the ground,
Meets like a football rush the rush of air
That courses up the riverbed, so that
The weight and momentum of riveulet
And spout are shattered by the updraft. Both
Checked, twisted, broken, diverted, combined
And turned to thrashing mist, not reconciled
But warring still twixt wind and water in
Itself, even as it rises and drifts
Like cloud of dust above the battle’s toil,
So did the Soot wave break upon the few
Who but a moment gone in horror gaped
At wash of undead sunlight. Now they fought
With all the rage and savagery of him
Who hope no more for victory, nor life
For himself or for anything he loves,
Whose only comfort is that those who slay
Shall pay most dearly for the privilege.
Into the furor Shane the Champion dropped
Like leaf-speck from the brink of waterfall,
And like a leaf speck he seemed vanished in
The churning chaos waves of Soot and strife
But as the leaf will float, and break the waves
And whirl through eddies toward the smoother stream,
So did the boxer break the waves of Soot
With blows like heavy balls toppling tenpins,
So did he circle through the melee, to
Rain crushing fists on rotten bone and rust,
Each step won with the slaughter of one foe
And each toward the mountain pass. Behind
Came Varr, sword whirling cleaving undead head
From smolder-hissing body, and the girl
Upon his shoulders piggyback, still looking grave,
Heedless seeming of carnage all about,
Up at the Sulfur Carrier, who moved not
Now that the wall was ruins. No ranks here.
No lines to hold, advance, or to retreat.
No time for discipline, only for death.
No time for tactics, only for each breath
Drawn red and furious, only the ache
Of muscles no more heeding ache, only
The split second to strike down one more foe
Or be struck down yourself, and then the next,
And then the next, and then the next. Shane struck.
And Shane was not struck down. Others had not
His fortune or fair fate. Ulf the Black-Brow
Went, as a mighty tree is overwhelmed
By caustic lava blast, beneath a heap
Of Soot both still, if not living, moving,
And those who moved no more, and there was crushed.
Down went Cuan Holyspear, with both the head
And butt of his stout shaft still striking, like
A whirlwind, even as he toppled with
His lifeblood drooping. Down went Rolf Quick-Rage,
In mid charge, slain Soot flying in his wake
As do raindrops that hit the windshield; though
Each is scattered, already they have fogged
The vision, already they have soaked through
The brakes, already the crash can’t be stopped,
And though his momentum still slew them, Rolf
The Quick-Rage himself already was slain.
Down went Gor Battle-Hungry, now sated.
Down went Dar Storm-Braver, under the storm.
Down went Vyze Fighter-of-Tides, toppled now
By tide too heavy. All about was death
And double death. And through it waded Shane
As men might wade through flooded streets, and Varr
Carried the girl as one carries heirlooms
From floodwaters salvaged. Now only yards,
Now only feet, now only few inches
Came between them and stairs to safety. Shane,
Rushed bullike, knocking Soot flat to both sides
With both fists, forehead, and wound-heedless chest,
Then whirled upon the lowest stair, to hold
The ashen undead off, and buy some time
For Varr to bear the girl to safety, but
The Soot so pressed them that the two stood back
To back, the girl between, fighting on all
Angles. The stairs they took sideways. They slew
As many with the fall as with the fight.
The din behind them dimmed. The battle grew
With distance indistinct. No more the sole
And individual tragedies they heard.
One blow was blended with the next, that rode
On top, like letters in a cursive hand,
Until there was no sound of single sword,
Only a roiling, rolling sea of noise.
The last they saw, ere they slammed fast the door
To the long council hall, and barred it shut,
Was Klau, still on the remnant of the wall,
Like plaster saint upon a pillar set,
And fighting furiously the dark Soot
That swarmed like cockroaches up the rough sides.
The Black Sword was as a lawnmower’s blade,
In every place equally, cleaving all
Instantly, grinding all effortlessly,
So all around the ruin dead Soot fell
And, as they fell, resolved to ash, like slow
Black snowflakes on the sulfur-colored night.
So small with distance was the scene, that sound
Was absent, and the Soot seemed shrunk
To smaller than the god of fury whose
Sword oversized ripped down their multitude.
Beyond, and vaster far than both, there smiled
The Sulfur Carrier. The doors swung shut.
And Shane the Champion could see no more.

Ragnarok XV

As haloed patriarchs, hewn from the stone
Atop the arches, mid the cornices
Where gargoyles grimace at the bitter taste
Of dusty rainwater, watch heretics
Self-excommunicated all depart,
Stoic, still militant, and stony-faced
Shed not one tear, for all the rain pours down,
So did the remnant of the Old Man’s host
From guard atop the wall watch silently
The long serpentine line the witchfolk walked,
Their packs and bundles swaying as they leaned
Upon this foot, then that, so they advanced
Without real steps, as do those waiting on
Their turn at some officialdom, past which
They have their liberty to go their way,
Which up the long stair trailed, as do the throngs
That back and forth for roller coasters wend.
Yet one among the guard looked on them not;
One stood upon the rampart with his face
Fixed outward, with his back toward the heights,
His gloves about his neck, his scowl bent on
The sooty, hissing corpse-horde spread below.
He watched them long, in silence, where they stood
Like men stricken with sleep upon their feet,
And at length, without turning, he spoke, “When
The wind shifts round, I can not only smell
Their inward rot smoldering, I can hear
Their sizzling, like the sounds of windblown sand
Eating the mountainside. If this wall cracks,
Among us slaying they will be, and till
The last of them was dust they would not pause.
Yet they, perhaps, are kinder than are you.
They speak not. So at least they tell no lies.
Their hate, if hate they can, is obvious,
But you deal blows that cannot be looked for
And have doomed us more deeply than they could
Without your aid.” Behind him, King Roam’s voice
Responded, “Do not think we wish you ill.
We merely wish ourselves better than you.
Our treachery is contingent. Their hate
Is deep and needfulest necessity.
If this wide plain below us were all cleaned
Of these filth revenants, what cause would then
Between us beget enmity?” “It is
Begotten,” growled the boxer, “It is born.
For all your might have beens, the Soot are here
And you have chosen not to stand with us.”
The Witch King leaned against the battlement.
“What surety have you, Shane Falconi,
That you are of this ‘us’ you eulogize?
That, when they stand, you will be there at all?”
He mused, and smiled when Shane stiffened in shock,
“The Old Woman has given me of you
Some certain secrets, some uncertain lore.
I know the prophecies you almost heard,
But what of them? We both are men of deeds
So let me tell you what I know of yours.
Since you woke somewhere in this afterworld
You have been much in doubt if this be death.
Were I you, I can vouch that I would doubt.
For see, can you deny that if you took
A blow sufficient to unfix your mind
So that it no more tasted the real world
The dream that took its place would be as this?
Where you are crowned with glory for your fists,
Your only instruments of pride, in life
Or mayhap in undreaming. Where your sad
And hopeless thirst for honor is allayed
As could it never have been in the world
You left, one way or another. Where you
Are ‘brother’ called, and ‘champion.’ You could
Not have composed a fitter fantasy
With twenty concussions! What does that say
Upon the odds that all this, you composed?”
“Only that if this be indeed a dream
You do give me no cause to wake,” Shane growled.
King Roam tapped his pipe against the stones
And idly said, “What if I told you I
Do know the name you seek but can’t recall,
Say I know there’s a figure you have seen
In dreams and memories only from behind.
Say the Old Woman told me she yet lives,
So if you dream, why then, tis no more than
The second half of blinking, and you will
Be back with her. Would that be cause to wake?”
“Then do you mean to tell me that I can?”
Shane asked, all suspicion. The Witch King smiled,
“I mislike prophecies. I am not pleased
When I must play the hand I have been dealt
Come hell or water high. Yet yours at least
A kernel has of truth. You lived too late
For warriors like yourself. Were you not taught
Always to say goodbye before you took
The warpath, as all brave men used to do
Who might no more return? If you had gone
To your death ready, willing, with farewell
Though nevermore we meet upon your lips,
Why then you would be bounden here as are
The rest. But you did not. And so you yearn
For her you left no farewell, and you dream,
And this dream haunts the ghost, Falconi, and
By it the ghost may yet retrace his steps
Back into life. Call this waking, or call
This resurrection, or call this return.
You may go back. You need not stay. You may
With my folk come on exodus. No need
To glimpse the Sulfur Carrier, or face
Its wrath. You need not die a second time,
So come!” King Roam stretched forth his hand to clasp
With Shane’s. The boxer only glared and said,
“When next you sound your traitor’s mouth at me
I will strike it,” and he would say no more.
Eventually the Witch King shrugged, and left,
And as he went he sighed, “There’s always some
Who do not have the sense to come inside
From hurricanes.” Shane did not turn to watch
But kept his eyes fixed on the undead horde
Below, that shifted slow, like one asleep
Scarce inches from awaking. Now it seemed
There was no pattern more in their movement
Than in the dustmotes dancing in the sun,
Now that there was the purpose of some hand
Invisible, that each by its own drift
Moved in step and in concert with the rest
Like flocks multitudinous at twilight
Of blackbirds on the wings of autumn storm.
The afternoon was waning. The hubbub
Behind him of the witchfolk throng had shrunk
To bare murmur, when at his elbow came
A voice that said, “Please, these high battlements
Are too high for me, and I cannot see.
Would you lift me, warrior?” Beside him, Shane
Saw her who had so carelessly foretold,
And who had at the council spoken not,
And now upon tiptoe craned up as tall
As she was able. Shane frowned, but took her
Small hand in his, and on his shoulders set
The child. She looked with curiosity
Down on the Soot. “It is too bad,”
She said, “That there should be such creatures, who
Annihilate whatsoever they can
For nothing but the annihilating.
So I am glad that somebody took thought
For how to stop them. My heart warms that you
And all your fellow slain but not at rest
Stand against them. They should not be let prowl
Through world on world, working the ruin of each,
But somebody should shout upon them ‘Nay!’
Though he might as well try to hold the tide.”
“Did not your king,” Shane grumbled, “call our stand
Fruitless and senseless? And is he not right
Now that his needed aid is left and gone?
This tide, I cannot halt it with my voice
Nor with my fists. When you are high and dry
Should you look back, you will not even see
The place I was ere I was swept away,
And swept away we all shall surely be
No matter if we stand or if we flee.”
She answered, dangling her stockinged feet,
“I shall not so look back. I shall not leave.
I shall remain and see this tide myself
Whatever Roam may say, and we will find
That howsoever fallen be the world
It will not be so fallen that there is
No final rally, no almost too late,
No final catastrophe turned to good
The more incredibly as suddenly.
So wait, Shane Champion, and be surprised
With me.” She smiled, and plucked a pebble from
The mortar crack, and dropped it idly, as
A man might toss shell fragments in the sea.
Shane followed it, but lost its place somewhere.
Before he could guess at its landing, one
Soot in the foremost ranks collapsed, head cracked,
And toppled. In a moment its place was
With another filled so it could not be
Discerned at all even where it had stood.
“You must not stay,” Shane whispered, shocked, “I shall
Not suffer that a little girl should be
Left behind without refuge.” “If you are,”
She interrupted with a tiny hand
Over the boxer’s mouth, “to refuse flight,
To safety spurn, to risk your all upon
A glory and a stand you think hopeless
When you might leave it, how much more may I
Who knows the glory to have yet some hope?”
“You are a child!” the boxer objected,
Plucking her from his shoulders to the wall.
“As is your berserker,” she sallied back.
“You ought not be exposed to such peril!”
“No more ought you, and yet in them you thrive.”
“You have not died. You have your business still
With life and living in some other world
Less doomed.” With soft unconscious gravity, she said,
“Did I not tell you, did not Roam explain,
That so do you?” In the stunned silence came
The sound of boots on stone and armor clank,
Then Varr and Klau were with them. “Sinks the sun,”
Varr breathed in deep, “and as it sinks, there grows
Conviction in my heart that the time comes
Swiftly and sure, when we shall learn indeed
How dead we are, by finding that we die.
The board is set, the seed is sown, the strands
Of destiny and that which might have been,
Save one, are severed off. But one path now
Is open to us, and we have not far
Upon it to travel.” “I care nothing,”
Klau snorted, puffing out his chest, “for what
Men yet mortal would say, whether or not
I live or die or some third thing beyond.
So long as I may use my sword to win
What fate has given me.” Klau looked up to
Shane with the eager smile of one who sees
At length the end of some thing long endured,
But then his faced turned puzzled. “Were not all,”
He said, “yon witchfolk to have left and gone?
E’en now the last of them is departed,
How is it they have left this least behind?”
“How is it the Old Man has left the least,”
She retorted, “to lead his last defeat-“
“She will not go,” Shane sighed, “She does not heed
The danger, and I know no more how to
Explain that this is no place for children!”
The girl slid from her seat, planted her feet,
And stared coldly and regally at them.
“You said you needed us. You were dismayed
When Roam abandoned you. Well here is one
Who will not hope abandon, as did he!”
Klau shrugged, “Then I was wrong. If we needed
The help of you and yours, your king would not
Have left. Since we do not have help, that shows
But that we shall need no help. All I need
Is this my sword, which shall by prophecy
Strike down the Sulfur Carrier. No need to risk
Your life as well. Go now.” Varr pulled his chin,
Saying, “Though I am loath to turn down help
From any source, I cannot in honor
Allow an infant maid amid the thick
And thorniness of battle such as this.”
“Does it seem that I care what you allow?”
She stamped. “You should,” Shane answered, “For if you
Will not seek safety of yourself, then I
Will drag you up the mountain pass, seek out
Whatever gate or portal is found there
And toss you through.” But ere his hand could clap
Upon her shoulder, came a chilling wind
And subtle alteration in the light
Of the almost-set sun. All stood stock still
Breath hammering in bright, reflexive shock
And looked up just in time to see the sun
Blaze deep unnatural blue. Then in the light
That made each face an icy famine skull,
They heard a sound like screaming in the sky,
Like curtains being rent from seam to seam,
Like air compressing in the bullet’s wake,
Like thick glass shattering as if the dome
Of sky above were cracked and something punched
Right through. Then as they looked, transfixed, there came
A bolt of boiling fire through the air.
It struck the valley floor behind the Soot.
It rocked the earth. It sent cracks up the wall
To puddle round Shane’s feet like dusty rain.
The rocks nearby, at the heat of its fall
Turned molten and glassy. The rear ranks of
The Soot horde were flattened and turned to dust.
A moment later, and the smoke swept past
The rampart, and the touch of it was foul,
Oily, clinging, and reeking of sulfur.
Shane blinked his streaming eyes clear, and he saw
Arising ponderously from the dust
And coalescing in among the fumes,
A shape, hulking and simian. It raised
A blunt featureless head. Then ear to ear
Like cut-throat’s victim, spread a jagged gash
All jack-o-lantern malice smile without
All all-consuming furnace heart within,
Beneath two eyes of soulless, brutelike hate
That glinted like headlights in summer haze,
And out of both leaked sallow tongues of flame.

Tidings of Comfort and Joy.
May 8, 2013, 12:01 am
Filed under: lyric, poetry | Tags: , , , ,

I heard the prophets yesterday
When I got off the train.
They were in alleys huddled
Against the summer rain.

Their voices growing frantic
With incredulity,
For often have they shown us,
For never do we see,

For the things the prophets warn us
Are things they’ve said before:
The rich are growing richer.
The poor are staying poor.

We make sure that it’s peaceful
When we lay to rest the dead,
While living men have nowhere
That they may lay their head.

That food is growing dearer.
That home is growing rare.
That everything you’ve ever loved
Will melt into the air.

Our sins cry out to heaven,
Our sins will be avenged,
The sins they prophesied upon
Will bring a final end.

I did not stop to listen.
I’d heard it all before.
Their prophecy, though fearful
I can’t fear anymore.

I won’t try to dispute them
I have no doubt they’re right.
But other tidings have I
From the bitter depths of night.

That thunderstorms are coming.
That whirlwinds shall we reap.
That it is better to be dead
Awake, then live asleep.

And that it makes no difference
In how you try to cope
If you have hope and nothing else,
Or everything but hope.

So if the end is coming
Then let it hurry on.
I’ll be the first to welcome
Apocalyptic dawn.

Yea, if the end is coming
And age of ages spent,
I am already ready.
I might even repent.

I’ve made peace with regret, I think,
And ceased fire with despair,
Mostly cause when I turned on it
I found it wasn’t there.

I’ll eat and drink, I promise,
Though not so merrily.
And if I die before I wake
Why then, dead will I be.

And when apocalypse comes down
And shatters worlds of pain,
I’ll dance beneath its thunders,
And sing into the rain.

For God in His Great Mercy
Has suffered us to be
A speck that need not suffer
Into infinity.

The prophets say they told you so,
This world is what we get
For feeding not the hungry,
For letting them get wet.

The prophets say they told you so.
And frankly, they were right.
So many of us sinners
Sin on without delight.

The prophets say they told you so,
But I say I will choose
That what they mean as warning
I shall take as Good News.

Ragnarok XIV
May 1, 2013, 10:42 pm
Filed under: blank verse, epic, poetry, ragnarok | Tags: , , , , , ,

Varr broke the silence first. “You saw him, then.
Our Lord is yet alive. I had not dared
To think the question, lest I should answer.
But the Old Man lives yet. So lives our strength.”
Shane muttered quietly “Not he alone.”
And when they looked at him, the boxer said
“I have seen, since I woke midst yonder trees,
An Old Man as you both described, and more.
I have seen something that he will not name.
He called it Sulfur Carrier. Have you
Heard tidings of it too, Brother Blacksword?”
Klau rose to the challenge, “The Old Woman
Who prophesies is yet among the throng.
She told me you were coming. She told me
You would be vital, and must captains be.
Of Sulfur Carrier she would say nothing but
That it was coming too, so, Champion,
If you are Battle-Seer, as it seems,
And have dreamed of it, pray tell all you dreamed.”
Shane blinked, befuddled, and said “I saw no
Battle. I saw a form, manlike, maybe
But of shadow and flame, and wreathed in smoke.
I tasted its sour diesel fuming stench.
And though it was but shadow in my mind
It very nearly killed me. How much more
Deadly will it be in the flesh? Is this
The blow you plan to strike? Is this the foe
You say your sword will flatten? I know not
What manner of demonic thing it was,
But even I could see it could take more
Than one sword, even one so great as yours.”
Klau stood, and drew himself to his full height,
Though this brought him up only to Shane’s chest,
Still seemed he to tower. “You think as those
Who live and live and will not die, who cling
To mortal life as if there were not life
In death and deeper death than this. My sword
Will slay the Sulfur Carrier. I know
Not how. I need not know. Why should I grasp
At hows and whys and what will matter not?
My edge will not grow sharper for them, nor
Will this Dark Manlike of Fire lie more slain
When I its breast have pierced, its heart cut out,
Because I know a how.” “Now hold!” Varr cried,
Smiting the table with his clanking fist,
“This is no summer afternoon, for games
Of manhood bragging! This is no beer hall
For drunken oafs to strip, and flex, and crow
At their own wine-inflated strengths!
This is war council! I grant, Champion
And blood-brother, this scheme does sound insane,
But what else have we? I grant, Berserker,
That what the Old Man promises will come
Will come, but we must strive with cunning to
Accomplish the foretelling into fact.
Now butt your heads no more! Let us call in
The council you spoke of, to lay our plans
And move on swiftly to deeds to be done.”
Klau took his seat again, glared once at Shane,
And gestured toward the door, “E’en now, they come.”
Just at the door, so silent suddenly
That ‘Where did they come from?’ was changed into
‘How long have they stood there?’ within Shane’s mind,
Two men in witchfolk patchwork stepped out of
The outdoor darkness. One was tall and broad
And blank of expression, as if asleep
Like porcelain guard dogs. The other short
And stocky, full of sour looks, and in
His beard he scowled suspiciously around.
Yet so like were these two unlike in
Movement and wariness, that they seemed more
Identical than twins. Between them came
The Lady of the Witchfolk they had led,
Her Granddaughter upon her arm, and like
Their shadow, the Old Woman Shane had seen
In his dream, switching places in his mind
With the Old Man, like some humorless dance
Behind the walls of being, in and out
Of hiding, and danced in deadly earnest.
“Hail, honored dead,” the Lady said, serene
As opium eaters, “If you have plans,
Then let us see how well they fit with what
We shall know and shall do.” The youngest said,
“Don’t worry, Champion. I trust in you.”
The Old Woman said nothing, until she
Swept past the wary guard and took the place
Furthest and opposite from Klau. She held
Shane in a sullen silent stare, as does
The sluggish alligator, caged, regard
The shouting children that peer in at it.
“We meet now for the second time, as I,”
She growled, “Foretold. We will meet but once more.”
As Shane and Varr retook their seat, Klau said,
“Where is your king? I would not strategize
Without conferring with the general of
All but a score and seven. Where’s King Roam?”
The lady helped the child onto a seat
From which her feet dangled, “King Roam knows not
That we are here yet. We have words to say
To you three that are not for him to hear.
He will come presently, then you may talk
Of plans and plots and possibility
But first hear of what was, is, and must be.”
“If they will hearken. Few do,” snapped the crone.
Shane leaned upon the table. “End your hints.
If you would say, then say, and on our heads,”
The boxer growled, “be worry whether we
Will hearken or ignore.” The Lady’s sphinx
Smile did not twitch as she pointed at Klau
And said, “You. King Roam will not help you. He
Will take all but your score and seven and
Leave you alone with the fate you covet
But do not yet expect.” She turned to Varr
Still smiling, “You. You will be left behind.
You will be Last to Flee, and when you flee,
You will have nowhere left to flee to.” Then
She turned her masky smile to Shane, but when
A voice rang “You,” it was not hers. The Old
Woman had risen to her feet. “Falconi. You
Have here a place you have not earned. Think you
That I know not the roles you seek to fill?
You cannot fill them. You were not foretold.
You cannot face the Sulfur Carrier.
You cannot pass back through death, you have not
Passed through it even once. Why do you dream
Of a world that is dead to you, and why
Do you still think on someone who you can
Not even name? Falconi, get you home.
This is no place for those not Champions.”
All three warriors started to their feet, hands
Upon their weapons. The three women seemed
Not to notice, but calmly sat as if
At a picnic supper in their backyard.
Varr shouted “Thou shalt not speak so to him!”
Shane seconded “Not to any of us!”
Klau growled “Try not my temper, witches.” but
For further fury there was no time. From
The door came a deep voice, but dry, that laughed
Behind each word, and froze behind each laugh
Saying, “I see that you are men, or ghosts
Of men after my own heart. Long have I
Longed to silence these meddlesome biddies.”
As is a tree that stricken seems, and for
A mummifying cerement is wrapped
With miles of ivy, with envenomed vines,
With mosses scented like funeral oils,
But within yet is lithe, and quick, and green
For all that it does bend, so seemed the man
Leaning against the door. His trailing locks,
His beard and mustache long and whiskerlike,
The charm-bedecked, verdigris moulded chains
As patchwork and mismatched as were his clothes
Seemed all to stoop and strangle him, yet with
One reflex like unbending of his neck
The two mute bodyguards bowed and vanished
Into the night. Klau moved his fist away
Off his enraging pommel, and said, “Now,
Is come at last one who speaks riddles not.
We can say what must needs be said. Behold
King Roam of the Witchfolk!” The silence swelled
As without word or nod the Witch King turned
The nearest chair right-angled to itself
And at the table’s foot reclined on two
Wood legs. Into a long clay pipe,
Carved with grotesqueries, bright with bluebells
Whose paint with years of use was cracked and chipped,
He stuffed oak leaves, and finally he said,
“Pray don’t mind me. Go on. I’m sure you have
Some deadly, deathly matter to discuss.
You always do.” Then from some sleight of hand
He pulled a match already lighted, and
Puffed out the sourly sweet of oak leaf smoke
Contentedly as if at a picnic.
Klau eyed him warily, then spoke again,
“Let each of us fit words to coming deeds.
We twenty-seven here will make our stand-“
“We wish you luck with that,” the Witch King said
And said no more. Klau scowled, and Varr spoke up,
“What would you have us do? For this we died,
For this we live again, for this did we
Come to the world. If you some other plans
More subtle than a simple warrior shade
Could grapple with have doctored or distilled,
Say on, and see that we hesitate not.”
Roam rolled his pipestem, chuckling, “I would not
Have any one of you do one whit less
Than as you would. The Sulfur Carrier
Carries its grudge against you, after all.
For me and mine it has only the hate
It has for everything. If we cannot
Survive its ire, we can outrun. If you
Are stubborn and unhesitating, we
Will have the time we need, and more besides.”
Shane felt his hackles rising. “You do not
Intend to stand with us,” his voice hollow
And waiting to be filled with rage. “You are
Perceptive,” King Roam snorted, “I had feared
That I would have to say it three or four
Times over.” Shane and Varr were on their feet,
The long bench clattering as it toppled,
Too angry now for weapons or for words,
So Klau spoke first, “This, after we have held
This place for your protection, after all
The brothers we have lost in guiding this
Or that fugitive rag-tag through the Soot,
After we have poured out our blood for you
And spent the strength that might have been stored up
For our glorious stand, in getting you
To where you can smirk in your treachery?”
“I should have known,” Varr growled, “you would repay
Salvation with abandonment. But think!
If you would but stand with us, what great deeds
Could then accomplished be! I have enough
Cunning to know that with your power upon
Our courage, we would have an even chance,
Then would there be no need for you to flee.”
The Old Woman spoke up. “We make no stands,”
She said sharply, “Forever is our way
To make a final haven in the grey
Of twilight of the ending of a world,
To gather there, to fly upon the paths
Where others, friend or foe, can follow not,
To leave lorn earth behind us forsaken,
To fade like mist, to scatter like brown leaves
When the last autumn nights are blown away,
To vanish like a dream at rooster crow,
And never to look back.” The Lady smiled,
“I told you we were not to be trusted.”
Shane did not wait for more. The boxer turned
And stormed out from the torchlit hall, his fists
So tight his knuckles whitened. At his back
King Roam had lit his pipe again, while Klau
Was slumped back in the throne, as is a child
For the first time bereft past comforting.

Ragnarok XIII
April 18, 2013, 9:43 pm
Filed under: blank verse, epic, poetry, ragnarok | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Where once the yearly snowmelt flood had carved
A narrow serpentine defile, that poured
Itself onto the plains until there was
No more snow left to melt, now were there walls
And roof, rough hewn and roughly thrown into
A rude, windowless, serviceable hall.
No tapestries hung there, nor trophies high,
But means and implements of war lay stacked
Against the granite walls. Bedrolls and stores
Like houses huddled covered all the floor
Save where a table long enough to seat
A hundred men sat empty and drowsing,
Its polished face dull in the little light
The iron braziers on the wall spat forth.
Into the wooden throne upon the head
Klua cast himself. At his right hand and left
On benches long but vacant Shane and Varr
Sat down to listen. “Much that you must know,”
Klau said, “you burn to ask. First hear my tale.
Some answer it may be. There at your back,
Should you hunger or thirst, is journeybread
And small beer. More than these we do not have.
Your pardon beg I for the welcome,” Klau
Smiled wearily, “if it does not befit.
These evil days for hostcraft leave scant time.”
“These are not days,” said Varr, “for any man
To stand upon his honor. Long ago
We learned to hold our tongues and utter not
Our pain at wounds of body. At itches
Of soul, merely, no less we can do.” Shane
Pulled off his gloves, laid them on the table
Across eachother, and said but “Tell on.”
He warrior boy unclasped his heavy blade
And in its scabbard laid it on the board.
“My homeland, in the places men draw breath,
Was poor and paltry. My people were dark
In features and not given much to speech.
No heroes had we, nor no warrior kings,
But bandit lords of whom we lived in fear.
The only weapon I had ever seen
Was an old sword, as long as I was tall,
That all my childhood hung above the hearth
And never left its sheath to taste the air.
My father had no guess at whence it came,
It had always been there, for all his years.
There might it have remained, but for a day
Darksome and dank under descending clouds,
Backlit and broiling with fearful portents,
Huddled and hushed with looming thunderhead,
When tidings came of bandit princes, scarce
An hour before the ravagers themselves.
What could be done but what we did? We sat
Behind the bolted door and prayed for what
We knew we would not get, that they would leave
And we by miracle would be untouched.
In through the shabby walls, like water through
The rotten log fallen across the stream,
Came cut off screams, the tread of heavy boots,
Wailing of children who knew not their fate
Even as its iron jaws around them closed,
The rustling roar of flames, the ring of steel,
All waxing in volume as they drew near.
Then came a blow upon the door, that I
Felt as if it had struck me in the chest.
Ere I could cry ‘what?’ to it, my body
Had sprung up to the hearth, snatched down the sword,
And charged the weakening wood. The brigand was
Balancing in his foot a second kick,
But I, knowing not what I did, unsheathed
The blade grown black with smoke and long disuse
And in one motion clove the door and him
That down he toppled, bleeding in the mud
With shards and splinters covering his head.
I had just time to see that all around
My faceless gathered foe, with spear and sword,
With hatchet and long knife, then I was in
Among them like a rabid dog. As does
A man missing a step accelerate
And take his next three steps too swiftly, shoved
Forward by his own juggle-balanced weight,
So did the weight of my too-massive sword
And my colossal anger drive me on:
If I had stopped, and let momentum fade,
I could not have lifted either again.
My hands taught me to fight e’en as I fought.
I parried, I struck back, I marveled that
I had done either, even as again
I parried, I struck back. Though they hit me
Time and again, so that with sweat and blood
I was anointed equally, I gave
The pain as little heed as does a bull
In his ferocious charge give to the hedge
He tramples through. The blood flowed in my eyes
And blinking I fought on, my blindness but
Making my rage more deadly and more wild.
When I had blinked my vision clear, the foe
Each one lay slain and slaughtered. Then the rain,
Clear, cool, and stinging on my wounded side,
Broke, came down, washed the bloody scene away.
With it came weariness, frigid and deep.
My eyes slid shut. I felt I fell asleep.
I woke to water splashing on my brow
And wondered for a moment why the sky
Should show so bright a face unto the rain.
Yet as I sat upright, I found that I
Was face-up in an infant brook, and not
Beneath the thatched and dripping eaves. It lay
Within a wooded hollow. From above
A gentle waterfall played cross my cheek
As lightly as a falling leaf would land.
As do the juices in the sun-ripe fruit
Pool in the bowl-shaped bite and gently ooze
Along the concave, to drip off the edge,
So did the waters glide around me to
The bottom of the hollow, under roots
Of oaks ancient and muscular but bare,
Beneath few fallen trunks, between the stones,
Nourishing the few ferns that still showed green,
Before it wandered off behind the trees
And rocks the height of men. Three days I lay
Too weak and too unwilling to move more
Than gathering wild blackberries took. There
Would I yet lie in lazy hermitage
As beasts that perish do, fearing not what
The next day’s dawn may bring, and are content,
With nothing but a sword whose onyx blade
I never would recover strength to lift,
But that on the third day the sun burned blue:
The spring that fed the waterfall dried up
So that naught but the barest trickle fell,
And the sweet berries I subsisted on
Turned sour and flavorless, like stricken grass.
That night I slept uneasily. I felt
Again some dire malevolence stalked round
My place of refuge, where I had not strength
To do more than watch it smash in the door
And, grinning like a bonfire, cut my throat.
The morning broke cold, clear, clean, and quiet.
My hand remembered how to grip the hilt
And I could feel my fate approaching. I
Did not have to wait very long at all.
Before the sun stood in the middle sky
A figure blundered over the low rim
And slid its muddy way to where I stood.
It was clothed in decaying rags. It stank
Of long-burned compost. I could see no face
Behind its mask of mud and rusty ash,
Nor hear no breath, instead a sizzling hiss
As when the smelted ore is plunged and cooled.
It scrambled staggeringly to its feet
And crouched as does a runner waiting for
A split-second long signal to be gone
Or like the rabbit that thinks itself heard
But not yet seen, and waits prepared to bolt.
Where it stood, lurking, the ground putrified
That had nourished and nursed me, and I felt
Within me something crumble like a dam.
Ere I had told my limbs to move, I leapt
Across the streambed, naked sword in hand.
The thing raised a notched hatchet, far too late.
Overhead and straight down I slung my sword.
With both my weight and its I smashed its skull.
I split it like firewood, from pate to groin,
And cracked the rock it stood on. As it fell
Already crumbling, I behind me heard
Laughter deep and satisfied. There a man
Armored and armed, venerable but strong
Smiling at me beneath a single eye,
Stood where the waterfall lately had poured.
‘Well met, young juggernaught,’ he said, ‘You need
No long encouragement, I see, who are
Impatient so for glory that you join
The battle that roars thunderously around
Your ears without waiting for recruitment.
We are both fortunate. I have no more
Time to spare for recruiting. You will here
Find glory that needs no officialdom.
Bring you your sword. I must be on my way,
And that right swiftly, or all will be lost
And this world will not see another day.’
He led me down the streambed, till it joined
A river rushing stonily around
Our knees, so that we left not track or trace.
The current pulled doggedly at my shins,
Worn breeches, and thin shoes, and pushed at my
Center of gravity, as a wrestler
Twists first this way then that, now pressing hard
Now giving way, to topple with surprise
His foe. My sword I carried on my head
Away from the cold waters that crowded
Against my ankles like an eager dog.
We marched all day, our faces toward the press
Of current, the Old Man in front of me
Who toiled in his wake, and as we went
He told me tales of warriors who had died
Fiercely enough to win an afterworld
Of war. He said I would be counted high
Among them: ‘It may be you are the one
Who, in the pages too vast to be read
Wherein we move and live and have our day
Of glory, is written to slay the foe
To save this world and everything it means.’
All night we walked. I could not have seen the
Guide in front of me, save that fireflies
Appeared around him. So we forged upstream
Beneath a live, shifting celestial globe
Forever scribing constellations new
And unforeseeable. Up from the stream
They shone back, rippling like the figures seen
Darkly through wrinkled glass. As does a fort
Upon a moonless midnight, hung with lights
At every door and window from its crown,
Between the crenellations, to the foot,
Athwart the gate pillars on either side,
In the black fathomless moat waters throws
Its own reflection, so seems it to come
Shouldering through the featureless darkness
Toward the wanderer to ride above
Him, as he draws near, on light-doubled height,
So loomed his dark shape ever before me.
At sunrise, he spoke ‘Halt,’ and drew my eyes
To a divide between two mountain horns.
There in the early shadows, I could see
A grand ruin. I followed him beneath
An arch whose gates rocked hinge-askew ajar,
Across a weed-thronged courtyard. There upon
A stairway of card house toppled flagstones
A faded crone stood, bent upon the sight
Of the sunlight sinking along the slopes.
My guide greeted her, ‘Hail, great Grandmother,
Who told me there was no hope. Did you see
How this one crushed the Soot as easily
As men crush flies?” She did not raise her eyes,
But said, ‘How long is it since you killed flies?
They are more hardy than your platitudes
Would credit. When I said there was no hope
I meant it. And I speak the truth. You bring
Another mortal martyr, and you dream
That the inevitable is a lock
That only wants for finding the right key.
The first of your defenders fell last night.
More will join him, before tomorrow’s dawn.
Already, the Soot press to torch your hall.
My people are gathering to this place
To make good our escape. If you have sense,
You will fly with us, else this refuge is
Become a gallows. I have not your taste
For gallows-speeches.’ The Old Woman turned
To push her way past us and down the stairs,
When her hand chanced to brush mine, and the hilt
Of the weapon I gripped. Her eyes snapped up
And she stopped in mid-step, and when she spoke
It was not only with her voice. ‘This blade
Will deal the final blow that will be dealt
In this war. That will be the end. Past this
I cannot see.’ She shuddered, and pulled tight
Around her shoulders her worn shawl, as if
The frayed threads could hold off the portent she
Had uttered and set hovering around.
She spoke no more to us. The Old Man paused,
Then sighed and swallowed his frustration, said,
‘Well, it is good to know I have not lost
My eye for a good warrior. I guessed right,
When I guessed which I could afford to lose.
If you are so essential, then we must
Arm you more fittingly.’ He led me in—
You would not know this room, it was so ruined—
And from the stores before you he took out
This savage armor, this shirt of wolf-hair,
This fury-drugging warpaint. ‘This store was
Laid down in days that were called ancient in
Antiquity. My people have changed much.
Not one of them would recognize the arms
They once went proudly in. They have changed much,
But not enough. We still have not learned hope.’
He knelt, one hand laid past paternally,
Upon my shoulder, like a sacrament
Administered in secret, hastily,
He fixed both my eyes with his steely one.
The sunrise filled the doorway, as if poured
From a well on the sun of liquid light,
Cold, colorless, and clear in the clean dawn.
He spoke, ‘Now you must do, and not divine.
Must act and know you will not understand.
Beyond this place, there lies a maze of caves
Delved down below the very mountains’ roots
To the foundations of the world, which are
Ideas. All worlds are founded on ideas.
From there I can go forth to any world,
In them will I be safe and stay unfound.
I play chess with the darkness, and myself
Am king. All will be lost if I am lost,
So you must be content to be a pawn.
It may be out there I will find the one
Who is the key the Old Crone mocked you for.
It may be I will be pursued, and you
Will be left to defend against nothing.
It may be that the Soot will break themselves
Upon your stout defense, and win our war
For us. It may be all my fears are vain.
But you, until you see me once again,
Must hold out, must endure, and must await
I know not what.’ I feared that he might breathe
Apologies, so for the only time
I spoke to him. ‘I will endure, and woe
Befall him who makes test of it. Master,
Go boldly where I do not understand.
When you return, as you will, this place shall
Yet hold firm and unbreeched, and so will I.’
The Old Man almost laughed. He smiled and said,
‘You have told not your name, Klau Berserker.
You know not mine. Perhaps there is no need.
Deeds, and not names, are our best weapons now.
But know this, if your name were known across
The multitude of worlds I’ll wander through
And honored in each one as it deserves,
They yet could not make up, with all their sum,
The honor in which I shall hold you.’ Then
He rose, he turned his back, he vanished in
The dark archway you see behind me. Since
That day I have done much, yet have done naught.
I have repaired the wall. I have mustered
Such forces as survived the Soot so far.
I have kept safe the way out to the worlds
And made the path level. I have opened
My stronghold to the Witchfolk refugees.
I have held out. I have endured. I have
Awaited you, Champion, and the day
You bring upon your heels. Soon will this sword
Again taste battle, and soon comes the day
Of glory and salvation, when I strike
A blow to end all blows. Your eyes shall see
The glory of the toppling of our foes!”
Klau shut his eyes, and smiled as if in bliss.

Ragnarok XII
April 11, 2013, 9:22 am
Filed under: blank verse, epic, poetry, ragnarok | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Somewhere it was sunset. On the hills
The last refractions of the scarlet sun
Licked at the upper edges, like a flame
About to catch on paper, but below
All was now more than darkness, as the bars
Crossed cruciform around a lantern wick
Grow blacker than themselves against the light,
So though the sky was light yet, torchlights flashed
From point to point, appearing like fireflies.
Somewhere it was sunset. On a wall
Half-ruinous but half-rebuilt, there stood
A watch of silhouettes, like figures for
A shadow puppet play. Behind them rose
The hills up into mountains, bare and sheer.
Below them rolled the rills of tumulus
Down onto plains that seemed to subtly shift
Like sand unstable, or like scorching air
Above a distant road. No grass was this
Stirred by a lazy breeze to gently wave,
For no grass grew there now. Now all was soot.
Somewhere it was sunset, but a light
Was rising o’er the wall the sun had left.
One of the torches flickered in the dusk
From one end to the other. Seven times
It stopped a moment, once for every guard,
And left behind a brazier kindled but
Flickering in the wind of coming night.
The torch had run its course and had begun
To imitate the sun, when from the first
Watchman that it had visited there came
A shout. It stopped as if the bearer were
That instant turned to stone and was a carved
Effigy representing vigilance
That poses on cold parapet with brand
Ablaze, and eyes forever fixed. Between
Two foothills came a string of ragged folk
All moving with the threadbare haste of one
Who sees his goal beyond hope and puts on
More speed than he had guessed he could endure.
Yet they had cause for haste. Behind them came
Pursuers dark in more than silhouette.
Each time one staggered near, the hindmost two—
The one in armor, the other wrapped in
Brown cloak and bareheaded—would halt and face
The too enthusiastic brigand, then,
With solid strokes and few, leave it upon
The turf to fizzle and collapse to ash.
The one with blade that caught the vanished sun
In flashes brief as lightning, the other
With snap of swirling cloak and thud of glove
Like heavy thunderclap on the eardrum.
The masses on the plain were stirring. The
Most near reared rotten faces round, disturbed
By battle noise not brief enough, and like
The cautious first departures of a crowd
After the match or speech or spectacle,
Began to stumble toward the refugees.
The headmost of the ragged band, a dame
Motherly-aged, if but she stretched her hand,
She could have touched the gate, when a cry came
Beneath the kindling torch, saying “Open!”
And at the word the fortress woke. The doors
Were thrown wide with enough haste that it seemed
The stones to either side of it should crack.
As forward flowed the dark tide of pursuit
Again the voice commanded “Fire at will!”
Down poured, with sound like rain onrushing, bolts
Onto the Soot-horde’s heads. The arrows crushed
Them as the hailstorm shatters the corn field
And left a swath of dust and splintered shafts
For the next ranks to trample. The last two
Ducked through the gates, and whirled to fix the foe
With feral stare and ready stance, when the
Voice trumpeted again “Make fast the gate!”
The mighty doors slammed shut, and cut the sight
Of foe from foe off with their sudden boom
While the two were skidding to a halt.
As are the waves against the jagged arms
Of broken concrete wearily cast out
Into a geometrical embrace
Around a scrap of sea so shielded that
Within the salty water is as still
As mirror’s face, so did the Soot horde rush
Mindless against the wall to no avail.
As out the single drumbeat, from the slam
Of iron door on stone, spread in the cool
Azure and orange of the evening air
The two last through the gate as one released
Long breaths, that had the work of fifty breaths
Each done. The man in armor pushed his helm
Back from his brow, and wrung his grizzled locks,
And said, “Well, here we are. We ran three days.
We fought for every inch of earth. We dragged
Ourselves before the faces of more Soot
Than I had thought existed, to get here.
And here we are. Now where is here?” “Ask not,”
The other answered, throwing off the cowl
From his spark-colored hair, “of me. Ask her
Whose scryings led us here. This wall is thick
And high and sturdy, but I do not like
The view. Why we should risk so much to gain
A wall to put our backs to, I know not.”
“Who speaks?” said soft and solid that same voice
That tempest fletched and furious had called
Down on the luckless Soot. “What words are these?
What mercenary’s cant infects my ears?
If mewling such as this can issue from
The lungs and mouths of those who gave their lives
For honor and for hopeless odds, then we
Indeed must be at doomsday.” On the stair
That lead up to the parapet, there burned
A brand, and underneath there stood a boy
Scare old enough to wear hair on his jaw.
Scant armor wore he, but a grizzled pelt
Of wolfshide bound over his back, his arms
The claws for gauntlets wore, the helm
Was the still-snarling skull, the fangs
Parting his coal-black hair above the face
Scowling, downturned, thin, streaked with stripes of woad
And set with anger that its very calm
Became a kind of rage. Upon his belt
There hung a scabbard far too long. The tip
Rested acute upon the step behind.
When drawn, the blade must have been more
In length than bladesman was in height, in weight
Than wielder. Though the torch illumined not
His black eyes, they burned bright enough themselves.
Varr sheathed his sword, and said “I see you are
Of my hall. I rejoice, for now I know
We two are not the last. Well met, indeed,
Young brother.” But the boxer frowned and said
“And who are you, to gainsay when I speak
My mind? No one could call you an Old Man.
Men may fight without understanding, but
The whiles they do, they wish to understand.
If you have understanding of this fight
Then hoard it not, and prove my doubts in vain!”
The boy smiled as he lowered the torch, “I judge
Not by your words. I saw your deeds, and those
Are what has weight and worth. Come, Last-to-Flee.
Come, Champion. And meet your company.”
He pointed with the torch, and from the gate,
His scabbard clanking sharply on each stair,
He led them inward toward the mountainsides.
As rivers fast conjoining blend their selves
Their waters welding into one, their mass
And slow momentum intertwined, confused,
And redirected, so the witchfolk throng,
Some new arrived, some camped for many weeks,
Milled in the stronghold. In amongst them went
Warriors in armor, some fatigue-faced from
The long day’s watch, some new arisen for
The longer night. Between then, as a rock
Cuts through the white and tossing cataract
The boy led Shane and Varr. Against the sheer
Obsidianate cliffs, there was a porch
And promontory of cold stone. They turned.
Below, a sea of torchlit faces swam,
Like too-close constellations neath their feet,
Upturned toward them. As the clouds at dawn,
Opaque as heavy mountains, check the sun
To stretch the morning out into the day
And keep the young dew-freshness until noon,
So did the scarlet torches spread sunset
Past sunset. The clouds seemed as the low boughs,
The mountainside the trunk, the faces filled
With half-hope and half-light the fireflies
Of some autumnal forest. The boy strode
Onto the very edge, above the throng
Suddenly silent in expectation.
He smacked his palm upon the pommel-stone
Of his titanic blade, and his voice rang:
“Warriors and heroes, brothers not in death
But brothers in frustration of it, who
Have plumbed even down to its heart to strike,
Now is our hour of victory come at last!
Now shall we drink our fill of honor, blood,
And glory far beyond the dreams of those
Who strive and strain yet living on the earth!
Now is our company complete! We all:
Gor Battle-Hungry, Vyze Fighter-of-Tides,
Heim Hammerhanded, Dar Braver-of-Storms,
Ulf Black-Brow, Torg the Lucky, Piers the Bold,
Koll the Shield-Breaker, Hark Guesser-of-Foes,
Cuan Holyspear, Fin the Stubborn-as-Stone,
Lief Fatherless, and Ard Maker-of-Gates,
Stad the Ship-Slayer, Helm the Far-Watching,
Rolf Quick-Rage, Heath the Finder-of-Rich-Land,
And I, Klau the Berserker, called Blacksword,
Shall have our names engraved in more desert
Of glory and good memory than all
Our fathers numberless and valiant. Each
Of us these coming days shall do what all
True kings pretend at, true troubadours sing,
And true warriors have longed for but done not!
Behold the two last warriors of our rank:
Varr Last-to-Flee and Shane the Champion!
Hail them, who come the dawn will be with you
Hailed by all peoples for all time to come!”
As out a single overpowering cheer,
Filling Shane’s chest with sense of now and here
As water fills the pipe it travels through,
In echoes spilled over the wall away.
Klau turned, smiling like one who knows the name
You are in vain attempting to recall,
And said, “Be not amazed I know you. Come.
Your counsel would I have, but ere I do,
My tale will you have of me, that you may
Know what comes with the coming battle day.”
Klau turned to go within the rough stone hall
Wedged in between the shoulders of the cliff
And made a pass into a tunnel. Varr
Followed, but Shane a moment stayed to watch
The torches lower and disperse, some to
The barracks, some the gate, some to the wall.
Ere he had gone within, gone was the light.
Darkness came down at last, and it was night.