(c) Nin Harris, 1999/2014/2018. All Rights Reserved.
(Pamphlet A632: Museum of Printing History
Description: Ritual Song B4325, used in the Woosteris Mystery Plays)
Listen! I have made you a story
aglow with whorled patterns,
viridian inlaid with leaf-of-gold
upon a diamond-shaped frame,
cobalt borders interweaving deepest teal,
snaking knots of oracle’s purple.
Spider-sister working on the loom;
Arachne, in feminine hubris
dares challenge the Grand Complect.
One woman, nexus of many threads and patterns,
atones for the flouting of Neith’s design
she weaves ‘til warp and weft
transports her into the over-soul.
frigid atalanta’s curling toes poised for flight; her breeze-trembled nose
and tensed limbs like a marked stag in a Sviegian hunt
or a wild boar slain in the name of desire.
The Captive Empress
Hyacinths and frangipani bloom outside these prison walls,
fragrant with the balmy sea-kissed air of a Lith Gurland night.
I huddle on a marriage bed, my legs crumpled against my abdomen;
my mind remembers tortured cries of livestock sold in auction
to grace banquet tables of my Dvenri brothers groomed
and tortured as hostages-in-arms, and janissaries.
Tonight I weave in whispers a tale for the Fratricidal Emperor
(though we utter not this name in his presence that hurts
the eyes with the sharpness of a thousand envenomed daggers)
He has done his worst but the living is still sweet.
I fear more the void of no thought where all stories die.
I must make it good, must make him ache to hear
how Sinbad found the roc’s egg in far away Mirozkh
how old lamps for new spirits a palace away,
how the Noble Chef put an end to doomed Lusini for
the fourth time since its creation in a sugar-laden
slaughterhouse of hook-clawed butter-daughters silvered
by the light of a bloodthirsty moon; I must ensorcell him
with tales of enraptured krakens and
the ovallei priests of a spectral Ocean cradling
the three-masters and conquest-notes
of Reldarian pirates and red-robed spider monks;
I must lay upon him with the artifice of lovers the cantos of
Renduk Milder, that imperial poet-panderer of illicit desires,
that charlatan of the masses. Let me spin this tale then.
Let me pray that the morning sun that shines
through the ornate iron bars will not be my last.
I am running out of stories now that the Caliph of Mirozkh
has made his bride from the sea speak —
she has given him a son and treasures from beneath the waves.
“The princess he has surrendered at long last”,
I say with a twist of my lips, knowing he will like that,
knowing that I bide my time till the day when my word-weavings
will capture his final breath.
My store of tales scant themselves, shriveled mid-sentence
in my craw as the thousandth night approaches
Should I tell him of the golden apples of desire?
I have kept this tale for last
I will watch as his eyes cloud over with love,
with this witchery that I have brought into the world
— a smitten butcher with blood-stained hands from a dozen deceased wives
And ten dozen slaughtered siblings kneeling at the altar of my stories
while beneath my bed I cultivate
a family of asps fit for a frenzied end.
daughter athlete freedom-fighter huntress
you would run free up and down
you would be an argonaut
temptress who is never tempted
the downfall of hunters
and lustful Barlishyan lycanthropes.
“We must bring her low!”
— the Woman Who Weaves
caresses the orchard’s pickings
and waits for an enterprising suitor
to call upon her name.
The Smitten Adventuress
“I will have none other, father
than the one fashioned by my hands!”
Kept hidden in an old recipe book
is the formula for a man & so
the youngest and best-loved daughter
has put on an apron of pristine white
building a man out of caraway seeds,
the thickest celestial cream
to inspire a mystic’s visions,
eggs crafted to be a Barlishya’s doom,
essence-of-violet and honey from the holy bees
and the sweetest candied blood oranges
fit for the Empress of Desire.
Sixteen months to mould you
sixteen months to nurture
I’ll whisper you the secrets of velvet-wrapped desire,
anoint you with the syrup of wild berries
plucked from the hidden groves of the Svieg.
She will climb over the Southern Crescent Range
She will swim the River Svieg as it snakes in and out of cities and the Forest,
She will befriend a family of frogs, court robber-kings and Mirozhi hermits
She will get: a golden tambour, a cartwheel, iron stakes ,
a golden dress, a golden spinning wheel,
and strings of jewels to win back a candied heart.
“Will you not listen? It is I who loved you well!
The jewel-winged arlishya that guards this halls
has turned your heart from mine!”
He drowns in drugged slumber
while servants whisper and crouch
beneath a twice-carved archway,
“I will sing to you of golden apples. Will you not listen?
You once loved this tale so well.”
Golden apples to bring a glow to her cheeks
Golden apples to fan long hidden embers to a conflagration
Golden apples that will be scapegoated as she picks them one by one
Golden apples will he throw to trap the tempest in mid-stride
Golden apples spiked with desire with secrets to beguile a beguiler anew
I surrender to you in delirium, induced by a debt unpaid.
My primordial roar holds back a melting glacier
by calling forth an avalanche.
Autumnal moon, you watch me drift
amongst bristling trees, branches like antlers
upon my brow, my berry-stained feet and lips.
I dance within Sviegian hidden grottoes overgrown with moss
as another city sinks into the tentacled embrace of Lake Llendrys,
— an avatar of dreaming, a whisper in the night;
listen to my night-wail as I pull the wool over your eyes,
protecting, still protecting my little corner of paradise.
Still crouching in labyrinths, still whirling in moonlit bacchanals.
Come and catch me if you can
Come and love me if you dare;
An ungainly Atalanta running around
ghosts of arboreal stadiums to escape
the beguilement of golden apples
that live within my throat
and snake within my craw,
that lodge within my heart
and pushes these words onto
epics and tales to snare you,
to win me free, to win us free.
(Loomsmother’s curse hits a quivering mark –)
Watch me grow claws, Beloved.
Listen to me roar in wrath.
We will be as two lions in a
temple where once two lovers clasped.
This poem started life as “Golden Apples” in 1999, and I wrote it after I finished my final law exam. In those days I was feverishly rereading Italo Calvino’s Italian Folktales, Lucius Apuleius’s The Golden Ass, and I was reading A.S. Byatt’s Possession for the very first time. This story came out like a fever-dream. It was on my website for many years and I received a lot of positive feedback about it. I took it down around 2006 (honestly I don’t remember exactly when) because I had intentions of making a poetry collection. Around 2014 when I was planning on making a chapbook of all of my Sesen short stories, I retooled and remixed this poem for it. I’ve worked on it off-and-on since then, and am pleased to offer it here on my website. (It’s a bit difficult to submit this to poetry markets since it’s a poetry reprint).