My poetry collection about bourbon, ghosts, and Bluegrass Blues is available in Kindle format. Eventually the paperback will be ready, too.
My poetry collection about bourbon, ghosts, and Bluegrass Blues is available in Kindle format. Eventually the paperback will be ready, too.
Come away with me— let us ride
far from this withered, cold countryside
upon our fleet-flown phantom steeds
unknown among all earthy breeds
with flowing manes of tidal froth
and hide as soft as pillow cloth
and come away on floating hoofs
over moors and valleys and roofs,
and let us journey on, yonder,
from the mundane to so wander
where the mists of dreams may dawn—
to the isle of lost Avalon.
Away we go, to farthest shore
that borders truth and love and lore;
where a moonlit wave never breaks
except for when a dreamer wakes
to rub the sand from groggy eyes
and dispel dreams with woeful sighs,
but not us, oh not so, not we
as we gallop most silently
over a coast of broken glass
where all the hourglasses amass
and spill in vain their futile sand
on the coast of that timeless land
known and unknown as Never-Not
where still there stands grand Camelot
as a dream within a glass globe
beneath a wizard’s twilit robe,
protected, apart, kept away
from the forces that rust and fray;
a refuge where when we are old
we may yet live in youthful mold
as children in Spring’s fresh ascent
without wondering where youth went;
when spine was not so crooked yet
and mind did not so soon forget,
but kept its joys and loves and sense
like a flower its fresh fragrance,
and eyes could see as keen the hawk
and heart leapt at each other’s talk,
whereas now we wilt, growing frail
with later years that wound and ail,
waking life but nightmare itself
conjured by Time, that witchy elf
who delights in dissolving lives
in her cauldron, which naught survives,
so let us go where Merlin waits:
that Isle of Apples, lest the Fates
destine us for mortal sorrows
that take all our hopeful morrows.
Let us join these tears by candlelight
as we huddle close together
in a small halo not half so bright
as we would like in such weather,
for this woe-betided Winter’s night
is cloaked in the raven’s feather,
so hold each other, (hold oh so tight),
knowing Death may always sever
our lives so starkly as black from white
in his borderlands of Never,
for a time will come when we alight
beyond such borders forever.
“Consequences follow, my dear,” Lady Thatcher said. “They are the most faithful of hounds.”
“If only men were so faithful,” Lady Fairsdale said, fanning herself with her little oriental fan. “Then I would not fret so much over Henry’s time abroad.”
The two ladies exchanged mischievous, knowing smiles.
“The stray cannot remain away for long,” her elder friend returned. “Perhaps you should seek consequences of your own in the meantime.”
“I have enough dogs in the kettle,” Lady Fairsdale said, tucking a stray tress of russet hair behind her dainty pale ear. Her ear was tinged a faint cherry at the topmost curve, as were her cheeks and the flat of her chest above her bodice-bound bosom. “And of dogs and men and consequences I have tolerated enough. They all make such a terrible ruckus.”
Lady Thatcher sipped at her tea, a glint of mischief enlivening her otherwise dull brown eyes. “In my day the ruckus was what made dogs and men and consequences, my dear. A good ruckus makes the world go round.”
The pool of shade plunged from their broad parasol and soaked the two Ladies in its cool depths while the lustrous sun rose to peep over the treetops, burning the cool mists into fairy-fire that disappeared in the crisp dazzle of the dawn. The two Ladies chatted away, and gazed upon a young man and his happy father by the hedgerow. Lively petal lips found compensatory fare in conversation, though younger petals longed to quiver in other diversions.
“A man’s task is to prove himself worthy of a Lady’s affections,” Lady Thatcher said. “A Lady’s task is to prove him wrong. If she fails, then he has met his match. If he succeeds, she has failed herself.”
“You speak as if no man is worthy of a woman.”
“A wealthy geriatric may be,” she said. “Provided he has the decency of an imminent grave.”
Lady Thatcher was herself mottled with age, and yet like a well-kept antique she yet clung to a certain luster and fine figure which had possessed the hearts of many susceptible men when in her youthful bloom. And she still spoke as if fresh from the bud, in full array of her colors and her fragrance.
“That said,” she added, “a poor servant may be worthy, too, for a while. At least insomuch as he proves adept at the task given by his Mistress.”
The faint cherry of her young companion’s cheeks bloomed into a scarlet blush that no high breeding could conceal. She fanned herself fervently, and gazed out upon the lawn. The gardener and his son trimmed at the hedgerow. The old man stood with a bent back and a sweaty forehead, pointing and directing his son. The latter—in his prime years—worked the sheers assiduously, scissoring away the offensive leaves from the otherwise squarish greenery. Distantly, the dogs in the kettle barked with incessant insistence.
“When is Lord Fairsdale to return?” Lady Thatcher asked absently.
“However long he requires in Venice,” Lady Fairsdale said, disinterested. “Two months? Three? He has been gone already for two months.”
“So you have time, at the least, for more consequences,” Lady Thatcher remarked meaningfully. “A Lady in her youth, such as yourself, should always seek the fulfillment of such idle time in whatever means are natural to you.”
The young man glanced at the young lady from the distance, smiling to himself. His father took no note, but the young Lady did. Lady Fairsdale noted the young man’s large, strong hands, watching them flex and relax, her green eyes traveling up his thick forearms to the folded sleeves and up his broad shoulders to the slight slit of his white shirt, the cleft of his chest, the straight neck and square chin, dark eyes and dark hair. He was a strong buck, she knew, and yet the doe led him on like a dutiful fawn. Lady Thatcher watched Lady Fairsdale watch the young man, and smiled with vicarious pleasure. Lady Fairsdale’s bosom heaved, crowded with frustrated breath and its own largess within her bodice.
The dogs continued to bark, but both Ladies ignored them.
“It is needful work,” Lady Thatcher said.
“What is?” Fairsdale said, entirely dazzled and distracted by sunlight on a labour’s dew.
“Caring for gardens,” she said. “There are consequences in failing to attend them. They can grow positively riotous if unchecked.” She smiled. “And there is so little ruckus heard when one’s husband is away. The dogs can yap all they please, but none will mind them.”
“I should mind them,” a voice said near at hand, startling the two Ladies. “The temper of a dog is only equaled by faith to his Master, and he will bite those whom his Master mislikes.”
The gentleman loomed, a shadow with the sun at his back. Cradled in his arm, like a newborn babe, was a rifle that gleamed blackly in the forenoon sun.
“Henry!” Lady Fairsdale gasped. “I thought you were yet in Venice!” She cleared her throat, and calmed her heaving chest with the flat of her hand. “Has the venture been a failure?”
“To the contrary,” Mr. Fairsdale said, his tone casual between grinning yellow teeth. “The venture went rather well. So well, in fact, that I sent Howard to manage its conclusion while I returned home to see to…other affairs.”
He abruptly stepped around the table and headed toward the gardener and his son.
“Henry!” Lady Fairsdale exclaimed, close to fainting.
Lord Fairsdale halted and turned about, still grinning. He looked cheery and cheeky, ear to ear, though the thin wisps of gray hair at his temples— in their disheveled state—lent an air of uncouthness to his overall visage; as though frayed by some wayward tempest. An unhealthy sweat bedewed his reddish forehead, trickling over wrinkle and pox scar alike. Yet, his features otherwise were cast in a mold of hard-chiseled amicability.
“What is the matter, my dear wife?”
Before she could speak, a group of men— likewise cradling rifles—stepped forth together. Mrs. Fairsdale, attempted to contain her heaving breast and the hammering heart within. These men were her husband’s friends. Lords, one and all.
“Hunting today?” she said, glancing to Lady Thatcher.
“Of course,” her husband said, still grinning. “It is a lovely day for it.”
“Must you?” she asked, feeling frantic and febrile. “It does not seem a good day for it. Looks like rain.”
There were dark clouds converging on the horizon.
“A quick hunt will not take long,” he countered, still grinning. “It is my land, my wife. I will do as I please. The rain will not keep me off from it, however sadly it falls.”
The dogs in the kettle barked in a great clamour as the group of men converged on the gardener and his son. Lady Fairsdale watched them unblinkingly, feeling powerless and faint. Her hand instinctively sought the hand of her elder companion, tremulous at the clutch.
“Do not fret, Ellen,” Lady Thatcher said. “He suspects nothing.”
“He never smiles so dreadfully much,” Lady Fairsdale said, breathing labouriously. “Not ever on our wedding day, or the next morning.”
“You fear overmuch,” Lady Thatcher said. “Your husband is like most English husbands. Thinks himself lord of his lands, but is ever asleep on the throne. All is quite safe. No need to faint at phantoms, my dear.”
“But the hounds…” Lady Fairsdale said, trembling. “What a terrible noise!”
“Oh, they are beasts without reason,” the older woman said. “As are most cuckolded men.” She giggled softly. “You did well by marrying a man twice married before and twice your age. He is likely, thus, twice certain to be abloom within a meetly season. And then, my dear, your true life will begin.”
“I will not marry again,” Lady Fairsdale vowed. “I wish only to serve myself.”
“And so you should,” Lady Thatcher said. “Just keep plenty of comely youths in service. It has done wonders for my woeful years of widowhood.”
Lady Thatcher’s sly smile encouraged Lady Fairsdale’s to debut. It was a most winsome smile, charming both man and lad and lord and pauper, and had won her many an invitation to London’s most prestigiously exclusive soirees. Her smile suddenly vanished, for she could hear, at a distance, the conversation between her husband and the gardener’s son.
“I have never hunted before,” the young man said. “Perhaps you would rather I serve as a beater?”
“Nonsense,” said Lord Fairsdale blithely. “You are a hunter after my own heart. This I know to be entirely true.”
The young man’s father admonished his son to acquiesce to the Lord’s proposal. The dogs barked ever more loudly.
“It will be my first time using a rifle, sir,” the young man said.
“I think you will have much luck in it,” Lord Fairsale remarked. “The Devil’s Luck, I dare say, and a happy disposition toward it. All young men do. Just aim to the heart.”
The young man looked to his father and, sheepishly— almost shamefully— glanced to Lady Fairsdale. She shook her head only slightly, her eyes wide.
“I insist,” said Lord Fairsdale.
The young man was handed a rifle and shuffled away with the hunting party. Lady Fairsdale watched as the group of men walked down the sun-gilded field, toward the dark arbor of the forest; divided as day from night. Lady Fairsdale sighed. All cherry tinge had drained from her cheeks and ears, her face a pallid mask of bloodless fear as the men vanished within the woods.
“My dear,” Lady Thatcher said, “you mustn’t fret over such things. There is a proper order in society, and the English are known for following decorum among their peers. No harm will come of it to anyone of importance. Least of all to you.”
A shot rang out vengefully, like the crackling thunder of an old, angry god. Lady Fairsdale’s heart leapt as if to burst. The dogs’ clamour died at once to a deathly silence. The rain began to weep along the horizon.
It was low tide and Jacob stumbled down the white dune, staggering stiffly toward the lapping surf on the New England coast. Bubbly froth lazed forward and withdrew, then lazed forward again, tumbling planks and splinters of wood and other flotsam in its playful foam. Jacob hobbled with his arms raised for balance as the dune finally plateaued onto the white beach. His backside still stung from yesterday, when his father had whipped him so hard with a leather strap that he could not sleep all night long. He had shoved his little sister. As atonement— in the eyes of his parents and of his God—he was to collect mussels from their clusters among the seaside stones on the beach, or catch crabs, or harvest whatever else God would provide since the Natives had retreated further inland with the advent of Autumn. His father said that the Natives helped the previous Winter only because God had inspired in them His love, but that the pilgrims could not rely on the Natives now. There would be no more help from the heathens, he said. Jacob wondered why.
Jacob was grateful to be away from his family. He was angry, but was too young to understand much more than he was tired of his sister following him incessantly and betraying him whenever he attempted to do anything besides chores. Susan was a little Judas, he thought, and he wished for no more flagellations on her behalf. He had only wanted to walk by the creek, alone, and catch frogs, perhaps, or skip stones. But Susan was stubborn as his shadow, and clung to his trail as steadfastly on her short little legs. Losing his temper, he baptized her in the creek with an abrupt shove of his hands. Yes, she almost drowned, but he saved her, drawing her small body up from the hole he had not seen in the creek. Weeping, but still breathing, she clung to him as he carried her back to their village. Her dress was drenched through and she had nearly drowned herself again in tears by their arrival in their drab stick-and-wattle house.
Jacob hated Susan as he walked along the shore, aching at the seam of his britches. It was his tenth Autumn and the seventh since crossing the Atlantic to the New World. He could not remember the voyage except vaguely— impressions of dark, dank cabins cramped with other pilgrims seeking new lives away from England. Within the shadowy, fetid ship he had felt it sway back and forth upon the grumbling sea and it seemed as if they were in the belly of the Leviathan. His sister had not known the Hell of floating upon the sea. His mother had tried to comfort him with kisses and caresses, and his father had tried to comfort his mother with the Word. But a toddler knows when his parents are lying to themselves. It was evident upon their faces, which he remembered most vividly of all. Their faces were like the damned, and they shuddered as he did at the endless roar of the godless sea.
Seagulls cawed shrilly above, drifting sideways with their white wings lifted aloft, suspended almost magically on the salty winds. Jacob wondered if angels possessed such wings, and if they flew in the same manner in the firmament. The seagulls’ voices reminded him of Susan’s as she cried, and so they infuriated him. He stooped down to pick up a shell or pebble to throw at the birds, but his hand happened upon something strange on the shore. Brushing aside the sand, he found a little doll made of withe and decorated with a pale blue ribbon. Picking it up, he dusted it off. The face of the doll had been painted, but the smile was erased by brine and sand. It reminded him of his sister. He glanced about, and saw more things upon the beach, tumbling languidly to and fro in the lethargic waves. They were remnants of what had been a ship. It had been a large ship, he knew; not unlike the ship which he and his mother and father boarded years ago to come to this wondrous and terrifying world.
The pain in his backside had kept Jacob from sleeping last night, but so, too, did the storm that raged distantly at sea. The winds bellowed like demons and the thunder boomed like pagan gods in a terrible war. Rain leaked in through the roof of their house and pooled in the village square. Not even the stone church was spared flooding. Now that the storm had passed, the sky was crowded with pillars of white clouds through which the sun gazed wanly. The sea had calmed itself, though the wind still hissed uneasily, as if resentful; its grudges not yet relinquished.
It was easier to believe in pagan gods than his father’s God in this New World. His father had said that the New World would be a new Jerusalem; a paradise on earth, born in the belief and the devotion to their God. It would be different than the Old World and all of its iniquities.
The seagulls cried overhead, like angels in agony, and Jacob felt a deep sadness. He untied the blue ribbon from the doll, then hobbled up the dunes and onto the wind-blasted, rain-flooded New England grass. Using a stone, he dug a small hole in the muddy earth and set the doll within it, covering it over. He then used the ribbon to bind two sticks together and propped them up above the small grave. He tried to say a little prayer, but it died on his lips. His eyes burned, but not from the chill, briny wind.
Collecting up an armful of mussels, Jacob hobbled home and gave them to his father. He then apologized to his sister and spent time with her, watching her as if she was the most precious miracle in the world. All throughout the week he never spoke a cross word to her, nor lost his temper with her. And if he became angry, he remembered the drowned doll that had washed ashore.
Susan saw him cry only once—a few tears while he fed the chickens—and asked him what was wrong.
“The world,” he said. “Old and New, it’s all wrong.”
Think of Mortality, and so tremble
that the despot Death lords over all
so that however Love assemble
a festive wedding in his festooned hall,
yet will Prima Nocta precede ever
so Love’s ceremony be broken
while that abhorrent king doth sever
marriage bonds and sacred Hymen’s token.
For however strong and faithful lord Love,
he is tenant in a tyrant’s lands
and Death reigns vast, as vulture to dove,
claiming with his covetous, cruel hands
like a greedy miser his grandson’s joys
and Love’s maiden wife as if his own
to father but stillborn girls and boys
while ruling, untouchable, on his throne.
Wildeflowers have never bloomed so gay
as they had bloomed thus for Dorian Gray
and yet with the open bloom came, too, doom,
for it had birthed him from his own secret tomb.
Like Achilles mourning his dead “friend”
he sought himself and fate to his own end;
to be sincere requires sacrifice,
your own or the world (a small part will suffice)
and it means blooming from furrowed turf
fertile with corpses buried in the earth—
corpses of the old, prejudiced ways
to beautify with flowers the coming days.