…our bodies aligned
intricate as a river delta, seashore
and desert alike alien to that green
that covered your mouth with date-leaves,
that rained figs like sighs on my shoulders…

© Sonya Taaffe, from ‘Postscripts from the Red Sea’ as published in Goblin Fruit.

…when the chill between them
froze the rhododendrons in mid blush…

© JoSelle Vanderhooft, from ‘Little Tricks’ originally published in Goblin Fruit.

She looks at him as if she had been bruised,
her grey eyes catching storm and sea
like tide pools gather wrecks in miniature
and when she stares that way, as if she knows
he looks into the distance to avoid her unasked questions,
a little bruised himself and guilty
as the sacrificial dawn that ever gives
insufficient warning for the sailors
still night-drunk and restless in the cold.

With love, as with most storms, there is no warning,
and less prevention - the heart’s red sails
cannot be taken down, the cedar deck
smashes into straw,
the water closes faster than a tent upon the raging stars.
There is no warning, either, for the arms that basket-catch
the islands warm and white beneath her pelt
that smells of salt and fish guts turned a day past rot.
There is no warning that he will look on her
as a man looks on a woman
so that when he stumbles on her white-backed nakedness,
her first skin looped low on a myrtle branch
he snatches it away like something vile
so he may save her, too.

At their wedding feast, the bone-lace gown, his mother’s
scratches her wrists and her cove-hollowed throat
— third skin
raising welts and wheals like atolls.
There is no promise when he ties their hands in a reef knot
or when he hides the hateful pelt beneath the floorboards with the worms
that she will not look so very far away
Where the sea boils into a line inside
the mirror flatness of her eyes.
Indeed, sometimes when he looks fathoms deep
he finds only leaden waves to roar back at him,
not the portraiture of his lined face
all good wives should display.
There is no promise that she will not walk
the line where sand melts into wilderness,
her eyes blistering beneath the clinging spray
even as her belly blisters.

Old sea men say that nothing in the world is sure
except that ships will list between the pregnant clouds,
and marriage to an unskinned girl will end in water, too -
the blood waves closing over net-splayed hair,
over lips that breathe - alas, at last
before that sand silence, that deep
calling out for depth.
Upon the shore, his broad arms full of squalling,
burdened with the specter wail of seals
another promise manifests like rain sweeping down the cliffs,
that he will cry and cry without return.

So when she looks at him
his girl, his sea-whelp,
her grey eyes washing up the past like driftwood
he cannot answer all her unasked questions
anymore than he can answer green-gilled greed
or that worse sprite, good intention
when they peek at him through dreams.
For there can be no warning for a question
anymore than a daughter’s bones may warn a father
as they sprout beneath her foam-fair flesh
or her hands may cry alas, at last
as they reach, as if by instinct, for the boards
burying that now eyeless pelt like sunken treasure
to pluck it out, to hold it to the light
in the determination small girls have
to try on mother’s gowns.

© JoSelle Vanderhooft, ‘The Sailor’s Daughter’ originally published in Goblin Fruit.

Look at the light, clean as skin.
Look how it sits on the sand, as if it knows a secret;
as if it has swallowed me
and I am sitting
(zazen, of course, I know all the proper forms:
thigh on a glisten of proto-glass,)
in its phosphor-intestine,
painting breasts and axes on the walls
in India-ink.
Say my name.
Say it with spittle and daub,
with glottal abandon,
with a dog-tongue pant. Say it
without Raphaelite hip-vowels or gauzy sibilance —
don’t let the stink of their violets
touch my bones —
I deserve better
than Ophelia in her bathtub,
top-full of ice cubes.
 
Yapjw ———————— Psappho.
——— Ps-a-p-ph-o.

Say it leaning up against a bone-column
with a lyre in your teeth,
strumming with incisors,
banging the lower chords with molars —
pluck me out of the red, red sun.
I burst from your mouth like pomegranate juice
like blood from a knuckled punch.
Spit it onto the earth,
a tree will grow from the red, red seed,
and its branches will be full of black pis clapping and phis welt-purple.
I am hard to hold in the mouth.
I pull at the uvula and lie between the lips
like a sacrifice between two stone slabs —
I beg to be crushed,
I beg for the pulverization
of my Orphic bones —
O maid of Phrygia! Pound my calves
with your grape-stained heels!
Punish me with your mouth,
your cat-blood breath —
I have earned dismemberment
under your spasm-limbs! If you loved me,
you would serrate my head
from my shoulders —
should I have less than the ragged larynx,
the gore-spattered clavicle?
(Do not,
do not whisper my syllables
as if they were strands of hair
floating in the salt sea
beneath a bare, black cliff
running silent into the surf.
That body,
breasts stone-battered into grottos,
maze-black eyes gobbled
long since by seabirds,
—— was never mine.)

© Catherynne M. Valente, ‘Errata’ originally published in Goblin Fruit.

As if she’d been a dryad wild
whose parent oak was felled.

© Samantha Henderson, from ‘Queen Elizabeth and the Fox’ originally published in Goblin Fruit.

With the mouth I chewed silence,
mashed and masticated
into a holy thread…

© Catherynne M. Valente, from ‘Flax’ as published in Goblin Fruit.

… the theory of courage, which is the great contribution of early Northern literature. This is not a military judgement. I am not asserting that, if the Trojans could have employed a Northern king and his companions, they would have driven Agamemnon and Achilles into the sea, more decisively than the Greek hexameter routs the alliterative line — though it is not improbable. I refer rather to the central position the creed of unyielding will holds in the North. With due reserve we may turn to the tradition of pagan imagination as it survived in Icelandic. Of English pre-Christian mythology we know practically nothing. But the fundamentally similar heroic temper of ancient England and Scandinavia cannot have been founded on (or perhaps rather, cannot have generated) mythologies divergent on this essential point. ‘The Northern Gods’, [W.P.] Ker said, ‘have an exultant extravagance in their warfare which makes them more like Titans than Olympians; only they are on the right side, though it is not the side that wins. The winning side is Chaos and Unreason’ — mythologically, the monsters — 'but the gods, who are defeated, think that defeat no refutation.' [W. P. Ker, ‘The Dark Ages’, pg. 57]. And in their war men are their chosen allies, able when heroic to share in this ‘absolute resistance, perfect because without hope’.

© J.R.R. Tolkien, ‘Beowulf, The Monsters and The Critics’

"In the epoch of Beowulf a Heroic Age more wild and primitive than that of Greece is brought into touch with Christendom, with the Sermon on the Mount, with Catholic theology and ideas of Heaven and Hell. We see the difference, if we compare the wilder things — the folk-tale element — in Beowulf with the wilder things of Homer. Take for example the tale of Odysseus and the Cyclops — the No-man trick. Odysseus is struggling with a monstrous and wicked foe, but he is not exactly thought of as struggling with the powers of darkness. Polyphemus, by devouring his guests, acts in a way which is hateful to Zeus and the other gods: yet the Cyclops is himself god-begotten and under divine protection, and the fact that Odysseus has maimed him is a wrong which Poseidon is slow to forgive. But the gigantic foes whom Beowulf has to meet are identified with the foes of God. Grendel and the dragon are constantly referred to in language which is meant to recall the powers of darkness with which Christian men felt themselves to be encompassed. They are the ‘inmates of Hell’, ‘adversaries of God’, ‘offspring of Cain’, ‘enemies of mankind’. Consequently, the matter of the main story of Beowulf, monstrous as it is, is not so far removed from common mediaeval experience as it seems to us to be from our own… Grendel hardly differs from the fiends of the pit who were always in ambush to waylay a righteous man. And so Beowulf, for all that he moves in the world of the primitive Heroic Age of the Germans, nevertheless is almost a Christian knight.”

© R.W. Chambers
, from ‘Beowulf and the Heroic Age’ as quoted in J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘Beowulf, The Monsters and The Critics’.

Days holding
nothing but

days. Despair
is the hollow

thud of love,
inverted.

© Thérèse Bachand, from ‘A440’