(Writing Retreat at Totleigh Barton, 2018)
Beyond a dirt-born coven, fourteen not twelve,
we ride in high on moist autumn mists,
clustering to celebrate our ancient craft,
hone its arcane practices, shape and dew-drop polish.
History flows through this place like a dark inky river.
From life’s raw stuff we form wild magic,
grooming, cultivating, expanding precise marks and sigils
to create a crown, a soaring dome, a celestial globe
shining and iridescent,
ballooning into rainbow flecked promises
as we gather up the proper words.
As time courses towards its zenith
we enter the sanctuary of our bubble
to chant the words again,
filling the space with noises, sounds and sweet airs,
perfected, extended echoes.
The moon is our white totem, magical sphere.
It commands the ebb and flow of our sacred rites,
gifts luminosity to this great queen of bubbles
as she ripens, fully and immaculately.
Her semi-liquid dermis now fine as angel breath,
throbbing to the moon’s ice-light pulse.
Perfection, frail and delicate, breathes an instant only.
The drip of our domesticities demands and intrudes.
Greymalkin calls incessantly or at least
my own hungry shade of lamp-blacked night.
To fulfil our journeys we must exit through the bubble,
destroy its fragile grace
letting its soft skin burst around us.
As a parting gift
it wraps me in shining colours,
soaking me bone deep.
I travel on in rainbows.
From act and memory we shape ourselves makers, not made.
Observe the skill of carving life, an ancient craft,
birthed from hills that gave us cause.
Our early marks flowed with the pulse of life’s bright force,
like the mark of a bird in the morning snow,
like the stag marks the tree to claim his domain,
like the needy river shapes the land.
Actions ripple through stone.
Enough to set a race of giants thrusting across uplands,
a living spurt of white across the green seed of the land.
The ripples run on.
In sundown’s gentle light free men of the west
carved both light and life into the high halls of the dead
and into their own hearts’ stone.
To the east, on a hillside baked by a harsher sun,
men carved the word of a new made god
into living wood with nails and a sword.
The energy of the carving echoes
in the blows of masons’ hammers
through centuries of stone.
Blessed are they who carve their lives on the high hills for all to see.
But the ripples run everywhere.
Creation grows in the small
chippings and abrasions of a day’s repetitions
shaping the world around us with no less a craftsman’s skill.
Repeated kisses of our hopes and longings
bestowing meaning and purpose,
maintaining significance in the slow moulding of clay and bone.
From the simple now of this pen tip,
the scratching of words onto paper,
echoing back to the beginning
yearning towards the future,
looking for a word that starts it all
or at least shapes life’s patterns to make them real.
Even we may ripple.
Maybe it is not too late to remake ourselves;
to shape the dark and unknown
with the comfort of your flesh carving mine
in the endless dance of life,
crafting both small lives and little deaths,
declaring ourselves makers, not made.
Self Destruction Slowly
I cut my toe nails this morning:
ten tiny crescent moons flushed away down the plug hole.
Then came shaving,
slicing down the coarse dark stalks
like so many John Barleycorns,
tiny corpses dragged in the wake of the moons.
Then I applied the rock to the hard place,
pumicing soles and heels
as months of my life flaked away.
Discarding myself atom by atom,
because there will always be more,
but my skin is growing thinner
and the nights are drawing in.
Which came first,
The song or the crow?
We are the singers
And we don’t know.
Which came first,
The crow or the song?
Are you listening now?
‘cos this will take long.
So what’s your answer?
Was it our lush song you first heard,
soft and lilting in the bare-bone branches
of this failing ash tree?
There’s nothing sweeter.
Or was it our night-sheened plumage
dazzling in the jewel-sharp light
of a morning chilled with promise
that first speared your sight?
Here we are, though, the ancient duet,
up high amongst these skeletal limbs
and you’ve eyeballed us, right enough,
sitting here. Waiting.
Waiting. We’ve done a lot of it.
We were there, squatting on Odin’s shoulders,
when this day first rose.
Our thoughts and memory tales,
already long in the telling, were his.
What are ravens if not dirt big crows?
Do not doubt our lineage.
We have dined on royal meat,
bleeding delicacies of the rarest part.
In afternoon sun above fields ploughed with carnage
we hymned the battle
then feasted at the evening’s wake.
Equal and enough for always.
We have flown straight into your poets’ dreams,
making myths of ourselves.
Not that we’ve needed to:
legend ingrained in every feather,
gifted by the past’s egalité,
a timelessness of crows.
Chorus to mankind’s bottomless fall,
sunset lament and morning dirge,
corvus in eternam.
Bearers of the one great truth.
We shake man’s dust from our feathers
back down onto the hungry soil,
which is waiting too.
Surya Passes Above The Marigolds
Splashes of orange
earthed in brown and green.
Five small sunbursts
searching for the sun.
Birds chant from a distance
in branches beyond sight
having found the light
these Ragged Annies
can only imagine
and ache towards
from their bed of dust.
It’s a caress they’ll not feel
though the lower air is warmed
by the passing of the God’s chariot
they may not approach.
J. S. Watts is a UK poet and novelist. She has published seven books: two poetry collections, "Cats and Other Myths" and “ Years Ago You Coloured Me”, two poetry pamphlets, "Songs of Steelyard Sue” and "The Submerged Sea” and three novels, "A Darker Moon” - dark literary fantasy, “Witchlight” and “Old Light” - paranormal, published in both the US and UK. See www.jswatts.co.uk
Books by J.S.Watts: Old Light (novel), Vagabondage Press – ISBN 978-1946050205; Witchlight (novel), Vagabondage Press - ISBN 9780692406908; A Darker Moon (novel), Vagabondage Press - ISBN 9780615706528; Cats and Other Myths (poetry), Lapwing Publications - ISBN 9781907276644; Songs of Steelyard Sue (poetry), Lapwing Publications - ISBN 9781909252028: NOMINATED for BOTH SFPA and Saboteur Awards Best Poetry Pamphlet 2013; Years Ago You Coloured Me (poetry), Lapwing Publications - ISBN 9781910855157; The Submerged Sea (poetry), Dempsey & Windle – ISBN 9781907435591.