The Poetry of Ellin Anderson


Ellin Anderson

She stood between the sun and I,
A pillar of the April sky,
With gaze grown narrow on the East
From aiming arrows at the Beast —
As thick as river reeds, they fly;

Fly, like the down of drifting seed,
The snowy pearls that rift and bleed
Against that everlasting strength.
No terror of its height and length
Dilutes the blue of eyes that feed

The living voice we share in thought,
And all the dead whose grace is caught
In vernal splendor, where they sing
Of skies that herald storm or spring
And hearts that form a single knot.

Within that face, forever dear,
I saw the blue of faith appear
In turmoil, like two fading wicks
Above her silver crucifix;
They flickered up as I drew near:

“This is the sacrificial day
We look for, and you must not stray
To find the truth we raise at Mass
Enshrined upon the withered grass —
No priest will suffer your delay.”

I wondered how a priest could shield
My senses from the burning field
Whose rosy fire met the sun,
Surged like the dawn, and made them one.
Red blades of spring whose ardor healed

The wrack of winter — then it came:
An angry star with track of flame
Fell screaming in deliberate flight,
And set another field alight.
Half-blind, I cried, “Who is to blame

For burning us?” “We do not know.
My answer is that you must go
To service, and give something back;
Behold your mother, veiled in black.
Come here, and we will dress you so —”

I lost her voice — a second shell
Sent shrieks above the chapel bell,
And, desperate for a healing sign,
I ran to look for stronger wine
Within the wooded citadel:

Far from the sound of crackling fire,
The wrack of winter, and desire;
Over the hills to find my way
Through pastures where the flaxen hay
Was sown with rubble and barbed wire.

Where morning shone, the ridge was crowned
With melting snow that lingered round
The maple trees in ruby bud —
Red-veiled, as if a mist of blood
Had drifted from the winter ground.

The sunlight leaping in my veins
Leapt high along the wooded lanes
Whose oak and birch trees, half asleep,
Held all the secrets faith could keep
From fatal cold. And when it rains,

No garden grove or shaded lawn
Holds shining maidens of the dawn
Like those that trembled, angel-white
As wafers cast from Heaven to light
The forest floor. As quickly gone

As robins’ winter unity,
So that the singing pair can be;
The skipping flocks, where bloodroot weaves
A track below the golden leaves
Lent motion to the tapestry

Of autumn thoughts. Through stands of birch,
The crimson guardsmen made their search
With eager notes, intent to find
A harvest of a dearer kind
Than sleepy moths. We shared one church,

And one communion, for the dead;
I chased, or else the robins led
Where wheels of petals, reaching up,
Combined the wafer and the cup
Of morning, so that all were fed.

Within the grove, great piers of oak
Were bright with silver tears that spoke
Of storms that bless the warming year
When nesting robins reappear.
Deserted by the feathered folk,

I knelt upon the leafy mould,
Indifferent to its damp and cold,
And asked the herb: “What are your stars —
An Easter blossom ruled by Mars?
Bright poppies blaze in red and gold,

“But covet midnight at the core;
You hold the day like precious ore,
And rubric that makes wisdom rich;
Twelve nights from now, we greet the Witch;
Twelve petals for a troubadour

“To scatter. Now, on Father’s knife,
You stem releases scarlet life
For writing verses in the wild;
You truly are the War-King’s child
Made manifest, white star of strife!”

I heard a sound. Some treasure-trove
Had drawn the robins down the grove
To drape the ground with druids’ pall
Upon a mound of oaken fall.
I wondered if love’s madness drove

The birds to scratch for acorn-mast
Like lean spring bears — a strange repast
For portage to their future brood —
Unless they gleaned a corpse for food.
What clever birds. I walked, aghast,

To see what might be lying there;
My rapid breathing drew pure air,
And if I could trust heart and breath,
My steps had found one sweet in death.
The robins worked with tender care

Around this soul’s eternal sleep,
Until, through leaves no longer deep,
I saw black cloth, and understood
Whose child was dreaming in the wood,
What harvestman the birds would reap.

Grave caution warned, “The world’s at war!”
And yet I knelt beside him, for
Calm courage is the grace that brings
New honor to the race of kings.
Could either love or faith restore

Life’s roses to that pale blond skin?
“Awake, young man of porcelain!
But with the chaste kiss of a blade,
For in this sign are heroes made
Our strength, when promised lives begin.”

And when the metal pressed his heart,
He leapt up, and we sprang apart;
Then fell together, pace by pace,
As if the eyes that scanned my face
Were steel-blue magnets, like the dart

That drew his gaze towards my glove:
Spring sky caught in the mirror of
The razor-shafted blade of steel,
Still crimson with the bloodroot’s seal.
No sign of either hate or love

Made windows through his downcast eyes
To chambers where intention lies:
Soft gentians open to the bee,
They said: “This grove belongs to me,
And closes on a dearer prize.”

He watched, but did not say a word
To break the silence — like a bird
Who waits to find a clearer note,
And brushed the oak leaves from his coat.
Yet more than forest murmurs stirred,

For war finds thos who stand aloof:
Red fire thatched the chapel roof,
And from the vale, there came a shout
As souls in flames came running out.
“Look there,” I said. “What better proof

“That we should wear black mourning-dress?
They target those who now confess
Beneath a strange Good Friday spell:
They seek redemption, and find Hell.”
At last, he spoke: “Some fires bless.

“But was this evil truly meant?
Perhaps it was an accident.
That knife is mine. I know the Rune
Your hand conceals. I had it hewn
In case I woke and found it lent

“Or stolen from me.” “Say it, then.”
He spoke a word unknown to men,
And voices blending rhyme and rant
In martial time, began to chant
Beyond the sun. I looked again;

The handle held the Rune he’d said.
I brushed leaves from his golden head
As memory fed my terror, shook
My senses — even as I took
His hand, and cried, “Then you are dead!”

“We breathe as one. Your kin seem fair.
They knew they could not keep you there.
The good seek truth, that all might hear,
But to the wicked, truth is fear:
A stronghold that they cannot share.

“The dead youth sing, as with one will,
Sustaining what no blade could kill:
An endless heartbeat, four then four,
That opens sense, but locks the door
To all but those who hear it still.

“I swear it now: Our truth is true.
How did we sing, and how shall you?
But tell me now: What blood appears
On your half of the garden shears —
Some deadly flower’s fatal dew?”

“This is the blood of innocence,
The bloodroot’s flowing lives condense
Upon this blade — each one of them,
For many flowers share one stem
Beneath the ground. The best defense —“

And then it was my turn to scream:
“The hex! The hex! This is no dream!”
The seal of Mephistopheles
On steel, shot down and rent the trees,
And plowed the soil, and made it steam.

He said: “The foe we now engage
Sees unity that stokes his rage;
Moreso, because the hallowed sound
Of chanting brought this dead to ground.
And when they see that we can wage

“Defensive war to break their curse,
They’ll only send us something worse.
Their plan will take a dozen nights,
And so begins the fight of fights,
Here in the hills. It’s not perverse

To long for their unholy shriek
When fire strikes the highest peak
And splits it open — wait and see
Their shock at who and what breaks free!
Might we walk through the grove, and seek

A place to watch?” I said through tears:
“It’s been my hiding place for years.
The woodland folk won’t bar their doors.
But first, take back this knife of yours:
A compass for the heart that steers

“A course through lives no longer caught;
One blade to cut the Devil’s knot;
One chain of hearts, one voice in sleep;
One strength, one choice, and faith to keep
A cleansing light on those we fought.

“Is this our temple? Tell me why
The death-song does not terrify?
No other grave beneath the sky;
No other runic spell to try;
No citadel, save you and I.”

© 2013 by Ellin Anderson. All rights reserved.
No part of this work may be copied or used in any way
without written permission from the author.

St. Patrick's Day
Tiger and Blue Jewel

Winter's Hill
Maple-Key Song
November in Camelot

Wassail Song
The Rooster at Midsummer
Liberty Enlightens the People

The Leap
The Goldfinch
Three Bears
Song of the Lily
White Tree at Twilight
The Christmas Tree

Grand Bois du Nord
The Owl
Moth Summer
The Little God of Joy
Photographing the Moon
A Rabbit
Rose, Do You Know
The Two Pining Bachelors

The Harvest Chorus
The Maple Mask
Ghost Cardinal

The Little Heath-Rose
The Sorcerer's Apprentice
Song for the Harp

The Spinner
The Prayer of Cephalus
Circe and Ulysses
The Black Arts
Tristan and Isolde & Jupiter's Two Casks

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More Poems by Ellin Anderson

The Little Mermaid
Anne's Hearth