A Classic Sampler
Beowulf / Viking Poetry
Sir Gawain & the
Green Knight and Pearl
Poetic Techniques /
Masthead / Awards
New Changes & Old
The Eightfold Year
Mary Alexandra Agner
I yearn this year for yams yanked
straight from the sod, their yellow skins seared
in the heat of the hearth, home and healing
baking into my bread, the crust bursting
with rosemary. Rushing, their faces red
my family leaves the frost, comes to the fire,
welcomed, warming their hands, waiting
for the smell of soup simmering over flames.
The melting wax makes us merry, mellow,
playful. Our pagan practices plait
our good, our grudges, our groans and gaffes
to a single strand of sweetness.
We sweep the stoop, shake the sheets
into frozen February, their flannel fabric
like waves of warmth to wash away winter.
We light the candlewicks, the white wavering
in the Chinook's call. Our house clean
we paint the ceremonial plough pastel,
plant it, and water it well with whiskey.
We watch for the marks of the Maiden
sifting through seeds, sowing spring,
unrippling the roots of radish and rose.
Our yard soon unfolds yawns of yellow:
dim young daffodils to dwarf the darkness.
I scuffle through thin snow, separating stalks
of grass, grinning at their green.
I stoop at the pine tree, pushing the wet pile
back from the weathered bark at its base.
My woodruffs, wilted, weighted by winter:
one final fleece of frozen water.
I remove my mittens, mixing the meltwater
I touch on the tips of the leaves, tracing
the lines lengthwise. I long to lift
the petals, pick them. My ears prick up: your pencil
scrapes your sketchbook. You shift the sheet so I see
the batch of blooms burst from the book.
The bonfire begins with the band of blue
sky burgeoning purple, prolonging the display
of light. Leaning against a limb, I look on
as you dance in the darkness, leaping and dipping.
May wine in one hand, I whisk you away
to the mossy mound I've marked with marigolds.
The sweat on the skin of your palm is sweet
when I taste it, my tongue teasing the tips
of your fingers, then your forearm, the flush on your face.
I submerge in your smell, your smile, the softness
as you nuzzle your nose from my throat to my navel
and we laugh between kisses, like the Lady and Her Lover.
We depart in the dimness before dawn,
our picnic basket packed with asparagus, peaches,
bread, and cheese, bound for the beach,
the sunshine, golden as a strawberry seed,
reaching over the horizon. Our ritual
for the longest light of the year: listening
to the surf sound the seconds until sunset,
digging deep into the sand and there discarding
our fears, the year's failures. With firewood,
we obstruct the opening, then douse all with oil.
The fire twists the tints of twilight.
Our mistakes move from ash to mist to moonlight.
I bleed between the briars of the blackberry
bush, sweat sliding over my skin, slipping
around my wrist like the sun waning in the west:
a handful of the new harvest to carry home.
In the kitchen: one cup of flour for the Crone,
the Mother, and Maiden. More for me.
My palms push into the dough, pull it, prod
invisible sheets of gluten, sticky with summer.
I press the fruit firmly into the final shape
of the bread and bake the loaf brown,
hollow, hot, like the humid hours
of August that sutumn's arrival will ease away.
Against the west wind, we wander
under autumn arches: oak, ash,
a giant maple, gathering leaves for garlands.
We scuffle our shoes in the sloughed-off sun,
searching for a conjunction of colors that casts
lights like dawn deepening to day. the dark
breath of winter blows, benign, without bite.
We lean on the wall to watch the weather.
Nature mimics the Mother: in mourning, misting,
drowsy, her head drooping, her drizzle
falling as varnished veins. The verdure vanishes
lost in leaves aloft, released, unleashed.
Grey gloom connects sky to ground. Groping
branches, bare without leaves, beat about
windows. The wind whistles, then whispers
when the sun sets. The year's shadows stand up.
I pick up a pile of pictures: people
I love, now dead. The darkness and dimness
blur their beginnings, their bodies, my breath
condensing in candle and moonlight, as I call
up my memories. I murmur how much I've missed them,
share the excitement and sadness of seasons since.
Outside my garden: children giggling, ghosts
laughing to be liquid among the living.
Copyright © Mary Alexandra Agner, 2005.