Sometimes we’re living in science fiction. Sometimes it’s more like a Borges story.

[I used to publish my non-devotional poetry on my LiveJournal account, but their recent TOS changes make me unwilling to do so.  Until I figure out whether I’m going to bother with Dreamwidth for anything other than reading others’ journals, I’m going to post it here when I feel so moved.  Honestly, since I dedicate all my poetry to Brigid, none of it is actually non-devotional…]

Inspired by this article from Atlas Obscura, I give you:

Uncharted

In some wind of internet terrain,
A program waits, patient, bits
Ticking over.  The glass turns, algorithms wake-
Random bumps appear, are eroded;
Meticulous calculations churn for
Ninety seconds (geologic ages in server time),
And maps emerge- mountains looming over valleys,
Coastlines carved in with bays and capes,
Islands jewel-scattered across oceans.
All this done in hand-drawn style,
Fantasy-labeled with names hinting of
History and deep language, fit for the
Endpapers of novels.  An atlas
Building itself from water and topography
Every hour- and the rivers always reach the sea.

Poem: Note for the journey

Note for the journey

When you are drawn down that hungry well,
That tunnel, bored through cruel stone,
And your eyes, straining through the blindfold dark,
Desperate for the least glimmer or phantasm,
Catch a firelight-flicker on the edge of sight,
Only to realize it sparks and glows, relentless
From the eternal flame that heats change’s cauldron-
Remember that the skeleton of the flower
Shall be fleshed out in petals of heart-flame,
And you shall rise from the furnace, purified,
Alchemized into the truest gold.

05/27/2007

The Problem of Diarmuid and Grainne

As a devotee of Fionn MacCumhaill, I’m always happy to find books dealing with his legends (and those of the Fianna in general).  So I was very happy the other day when Monster Alice pointed out a lovely book to me in a used book store:  Dermot of the Bright Weapons.  It’s about Diarmuid Ua Duibhne, one of the most famous of Fionn’s Fianna.  The illustrations were just beautiful, and it was in decent shape for something published over 75 years ago, so I snapped it up.

Half the book is devoted to possibly the most famous story of Diarmuid, Tóraigheacht Dhiarmada agus Ghráinne (“The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Gráinne”).  In short, it goes like this:  Gráinne is betrothed to Fionn.  She doesn’t want to marry a man old enough to be her grandfather, so puts Diarmuid under geasa to elope with her.  Fionn pursues them, although the sentiments of the Fianna are more inclined to the eloped couple.  Lots of adventures happen, then Aenghus Og (Diarmuid’s foster father) intercedes and makes peace.  But some years later, Fionn and Diarmuid are on a boar hunt, and when the boar gores Diarmuid, Fionn refuses to heal him and lets him die.

I’ve never been happy with this story.  It casts Fionn as the villain- he acts completely inconsistently with his character in other stories.  I have to remind myself that I’m looking at these stories as myth- and in myths, gods and heroes and other Powers often act in ways that aren’t right by human standards.  Myths aren’t about us, they’re about the Powers, so our values don’t necessarily apply.

A lot of the literary use of this story frustrates me, though.  It got sentimentalized  by a number of the “Celtic Twilight” authors;  the retellings of the story have a tendency to focus on the romantic love aspects, an anachronism at least, and make Fionn out to be some sort of vengeful ogre.   Gráinne tends to come out looking pretty bad, too. But if you remember some other aspects of Diarmuid’s background, the bones of the story become a spare, harsh, but beautifully complete tragedy:

  1. Diarmuid is under a divine curse that he will be killed by a magical boar.
  2. He has a “love spot” which makes him irresistible to women who see it.
  3. Gráinne is fine with being betrothed to Fionn (a grandfather back then wouldn’t necessarily be all that old… and remember what Kissinger said about power).
  4. But she sees Diarmuid’s love spot and falls for him.
  5. She puts him under geasa to elope with her.
  6. Fionn quite justifiably pursues them.
  7. Aonghus Og makes peace, but Fionn still bears a grudge (understandable).
  8. Fionn tries to keep Diarmuid from going on the boar hunt by telling him about the divine curse.
  9. Diarmuid ignores the warning (hubris, a classic tragic flaw) and is gored by the magical boar.
  10. Fionn’s grudge and the curse combine and Diarmuid dies.
  11. In some versions of the story, Gráinne forgives Fionn and ends up back with him.  If she was under an enchantment (from the “love spot”) all along, this makes a lot more sense.

Stripped of all the nonsense, this is a compelling and heartrending story, and works much better as a myth.  It’s not a happy story, but that’s not what myths are for.

Word sonnet for Simbi Andezo

Galina Krasskovka recently introduced the concept of word sonnets on her blog.  So I decided to do one for Simbi Andezo:

Simbi Andezo

Waters
swirl,
salt
and
sweet.

The
serpent
waits
between.

Sometimes,
His
eyes
meet
mine.

Poem for Brigid

A little context here: in the second act of the Washington Christmas Revels this year, the “Forest Queen” led the other women in the cast in a piece dedicated to Brigid:  they created two symbolic wells on stage, with a lantern in each.  All the women were veiled and had crowns of lights; they were singing Hildegard von Bingen’s “Ave Maria”.  My spouse later asked me about some detail of what they were doing on stage, and I replied, “I can’t help you… I was having an ecstatic religious experience.”

They lay out two wells in cloth, on stage;
Two lanterns candle them, and suddenly
Her eyes regard me.  I am caught up,
Unstuck, suspended in the tree-trunk,
Lightning-stroke connection of flame and pool,
Of land, sea, and sky; the long lines of
Singers, veiled, light-crowned, pass by me
Down the aisles, and all I can do is ring,
Struck by the voices, the light and shadow;
I peal out in my mind: praise, praise, praise,
And hope I can do my tiny part to pulse
Her peace throughout the world.

 

Poem

Imperative

It comes this time as a burning word, in
No script I know, landing foursquare, feverbright
Somewhere behind my eyes. Unseen, a lambent
Absence; around it my thoughts swirl, the work
Of the day in abeyance, while I observe,
Hesitant, a lone walker on a known shore,
Struck staring at the opaque waves, drawn
By a call from deep between the crash and
Hiss back of surf, below the surface
Glitter and foam, nerving myself for
The shock and lash of the glorious unknown.