The Head in the Well

Once, as I walked in the Everwood I came to a clearing, grown in moss, a well to one side under a spreading ash and in the well: the head of a man. Duckweed twined through his hair and beard, algae painted his pale face green.

I thought him dead until he opened his eyes—greener than algae, greener than moss, so green all other greens look dim.

“Come and wash my face,” he said and I have read enough tales to do it. I set him on the soft moss, washed his face with my handkerchief and as I did his cold skin grew warm, his pale cheeks grew rosy,  and color returned to his lips.

“By the foot of the tree, behind the curb stone there is a comb. Comb out my beard and hair.” I found the comb and sat beside him, gently untangling his matted beard, pulling away the twisted weeds. His beard was dark gold, not the grey I’d thought, and his hair, when I’d done the same was the color of true gold and long in ripples over the moss.

“One favor more,” he said, “a drink. My horn sits by the well.”

And there, where I had seen nothing before sat a curling white horn chased with gold and set with emeralds. I filled the horn from the well, the water chilling my fingers with its cold of deep stone and hidden secrets.

I held the horn to his lips, careful of his dignity. It is hard to drink at another’s hand.

He smiled. “Now, you drink, put your lips where mine have been, and take my blessing.” It was like a kiss, to touch the place he had touched. The water was ice in my mouth, a taste of winter—but it burned my throat like mead, its heart searing, my mind filled with a clamor as if every word known were shouted at once, every image invented overlaid into lightning and I fell back beside him on the moss.

“Leave the horn, but take the water and the comb,” he said, “And set me back in my well. I will know you, when you come again.”

I did as he asked, and left, the comb as heavy in my hand as a task unfinished on the heart.

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Raven Dancer

They call you dark, a phantom,
a hungry ghost laughing at war,
reveling in the gory deaths of thousands.
You show me another face, O raven dancer,
O poet of vision. Your strong hands
do the work of living too,
your dance of death a doorway
that the grave claim only the flesh.
You hold our spirits like spears
sharpened by the words of a poet.

Transplants

“Do you see this hill? It is named ‘The Lady’s Seat’ because
this is the place she sat to rest after raising
the warriors to fight in the battle
of this plain, here, where we are standing.”
So spoke my guide as we wandered
the land that had known his grandmothers’
grandmothers, and theirs before them.
Every rise had a name and a story, a piece
of history that touched him and his kin.
What is it like to see your history scribbled on every
hill and river you have ever known? To know
you belong to this land, that your feet
trace the same path pioneered by your people?
To live where you bear the name of every hill,
not the other way round.

Transplants on stolen soil, can our roots ever
find that depth or certainty? Or must we always
echo the lands of our grandmothers’
grandmothers? How long before this is home?
And what stories are we writing over?

The Night’s Captain

What gates can you open with your Cheshire smile
O father of the five gods? What chains break
at the touch of your hand? What spirits wake
in the whisper of your silver-gold hair? While
others cry for war, you call for peace,
insist on honor, walk a righteous path—
creep into the heart of the daughter of the rath
and give the son who would release
the fruitful earth from time’s cruel play
though counting time is your gift, the pull of tides,
the light on the wake of that midnight sea you ride
relentless as time itself. Night is your day.

In night’s desert, your smile cuts like a knife,
But you rest at dawn to dream another life.