Monday 7 March 2011

Lost Words - Parts 3 & 4

Lost Words is divided into 16 parts, within which are 4 divisions of 4 parts each. This post concludes the first part of the poem. I hope to post the rest of the first half this week, as well as audio-files to go with them. The remainder will be posted after my reading at the Uptown Salon in a few weeks time. Enjoy the third and fourth parts of Lost Words:

Lost Words

Across a storm-lashed landscape,
Lit by lurid lightning,
Through the torrent of water that washed the world
In murky mud and mire,
Thundered two horsemen, as spirits of the storm,
Riding the wind as it whirled and wailed.

The horses, half blinded, hurried on,
Faster than thought, they flew through the night;
Every pace plunged into pools of mud,
Spraying filthy foulness all around.

But through the night and through the noise,
Through the muck and through the mire,
Varan’s soul was soaring.

More alive than ever,
His blood beat in his ears,
His heart hammered in his chest.
His words were still lost
But he yet lived,
And so he laughed loudly.

Riding before him, cloaked in his cowl,
The stranger rode in silence.

“What shall I call you?”
Once again Varan asked,
“You may call me Culann,
Lord of the masks.”

“And where are we headed?”
Asked Varan as they raced,
“We head for the sea
And its watery embrace.

“Now be silent once more,
No more shall I say,
Soon all will be clear”
And with that, Culann sped away.

Headlong they hurried across muddy fields,
Like mad men they raced beneath the full moon.
Always due east, down to the sea.

As the first signs of sunlight
Flowed like honey over the horizon,
Varan saw spread before him
An endless expanse of emerald ocean.
Never before had he seen the sea
And he was awash with wonder.

But Culann did neither stop nor stare,
But charged straight for the headland
And the edge of the earth.

Varan began to panic and tried to stall his steed
But the horse ignored his attempts -
It followed Culann as they neared the knife-edge.

And up -
For a second they were soaring through the air,
For a second Varan could see forever,
His soul was in his mouth as they sailed above the sunlit sea.

And down -
The crashing waves
Raced up to meet him,
Roaring and breaking
Again and again.

And down -
Jagged rocks jutted out
From the foam.

And down -
Varan screamed.

And all was black.

Varan awoke and opened his aching eyes.
All around him was water, above and below.
In a panic, he pushed himself up,
Fighting to free himself from the salty sea.
But it was too far.
He breathed his first breath of water.
Then another.
And another.
And still he survived
Surprised he sought out Culann
And found him below his feet.

“What is this?” asked Varan
“I can breathe without air!”
“What does it matter?
And why should you care?

“Accept that you can,
And swim, follow me.
There will be stranger things,
For you to see.”

The warm water was well lit by sunshine
That rippled and rolled, round and round.
The sea was salty and of a soft blue tone,
And Varan could see clearly as he swam on,
The currents caressing his form.
Swimming skilfully, Culann surged onwards and downwards,
Making for the murkier depths below.

Down and down they descended
And the water grew darker and darker,
Until Culann stopped suddenly.

“Hold,” said Culann,
“Your first challenge you face.”
His voice was still clear
Though his hood hid his face.

“We approach the Black Tunnel
Beware what you see -
Though your fears will seem real,
They’re just fantasy.

“Your dreams will seem solid,
They’ll tempt you to stray,
Your hopes will be offered
To tempt you away,

“But stop you must not!
Or you’ll forfeit your soul.”
Varan nodded grimly,
His eyes black as coal.

“And so it begins.”
Culann lifted his cowl,
Brought his face into sight,
Revealing a mask
In the form of an owl,
As black as the night.

The water grew colder, it clawed and bit cruelly,
As the fallen poet followed Culann
Through the dank depths of darkness.

They swam to a shaft, a structure of stones -
No wider than the width of a warhorse,
No taller than the top of a tent.

The rocks were rough and rugged,
They were darker than death,
And blacker than blight.
Between the boulders was a black void
And nothing could be seen beyond.

All this Varan saw and he became afraid,
The sinister shades chilled him to the soul,
Their ominous aura filled him with horror,
But the bard had no option.
He set his jaw firm and steeled himself on.

The rocks were slimy, and slick with sludge,
Freezing filth that inflamed the skin,
But the smith could see nothing
And was forced to feel his way forward.

A horrific howl to his left and Varan’s blood ran cold.
A growl to his right, a snarl up ahead;
The baying and barking of hounds
Assailed him from all sides.
Ahead he glimpsed glistening fangs
And glittering eyes, glowing and glowering.
The bard bit his lip till blood flowed freely
But he fought off his reflex to flee in fear.
The hounds were not real, he reminded himself;
He repeated this over and over,
As if his words could ward off the wolves,
And he swam on, never slowing.

Suddenly, the snarling subsided and ceased altogether.
The smith was surrounded by silence
As calm and cold as a crypt -
A ringing resonance of nothing.
He could not hear his heart,
His breaths or his motions.
He could not feel his fingers
As they felt their way forward
But he could smell the stench of soil,
Of timeworn wood,
Of death and decay -
A graveyard stench.
He was dead but not dead,
Aware but not alive,
Buried but still conscious;
He was utterly and eternally alone.

Varan felt faint,
His head span and swam in circles,
He went as white as winter
But he swam on unceasingly.

The feeling faded,
And the bard was back in the Black Tunnel,
Swimming slowly but surely.

Then, in the back of his mind began a murmur,
Soft but insistent, it swelled slowly.
At the beginning it did not bother the bard
Whose focus was fixed on moving forward,
But as it welled up, the words became clearer
And they would not be ignored;
They were smooth and sensual,
Sleek and seductive,
Alluring, yet awesome;
And the voice spoke thus:

“A wordsmith with words
Is a wonder to be sure,
And a sorcerer with spells
Can live for evermore
But a bard without ballads
Is no bard at all,
And a poet with no poems
To his grave he’ll soon crawl
But this need not be so
Your words can be yours,
They can pour from your lips
When you open your jaws,
It’s so easy, so simple,
So clear what to do,
You need only pause
For a moment or two
And your words will return,
They’ll be inside you.
If you stop for an instant
You’ll find I speak true.”

But the smith would not stop or slow,
He didn’t trust the tantalising tones.
He had faith in the one he followed
And would not be diverted
But the voice marched on, more mighty still;

It was immense and intense,
It shouted and screamed,
It raged and it roared,
It hollered and howled
But still it was soothing,
Soft as satin or silk:

“Why do you not stop?
What is there to fear?
How can there be danger
With nobody here?
You’ve been tricked, you’ve been fooled,
There is no other way,
To get back your words
You must do as I say,
You must slow for a second
And your words will come back,
Else forever you’ll stay
In this tunnel of black.”

Though he dreamed and desired his words to return,
Though he dwelt in the deepest despair,
The sorcerer stayed steadfast
While tears trickled from his eyes.
And slowly, the voice vanished.

But the tunnel had one more trick,
A final test to try the bard,
A final, fateful hurdle.

Slowly it started,
Laughter like a bubbling brook,
Distant and delightful.
And a voice sweetly singing
A lullaby of love.
And the sight of a smile,
Of ruby red lips.
But it was the piquant perfume
That pierced the poet’s brain;
The scent lit sparks through his soul.
It was a touch of fire,
An intoxicating air of evenings in June,
Of rosebuds and blossom,
Of heather and heaven,
His heart beat so hard
He believed it would burst -
It could be none but Nimue.
He had not smelt that scent
Since she succumbed to sickness
But now Nimue was near once more.
The laughter grew louder,
And he could see the sprightly smile
He’d thought he’d never see again.
She held out her hand,
As fair and fine as the fae.

Varan ached for her embrace with every ounce of his being.
He reached out his hand to her,
Searching, stretching, straining.
But he forgot to move forward
And started to slow.
As he touched the tip of her finger -
He felt a small sting.
Hurriedly he heaved back his hand.
Nimue was dead, this was but a dream.

Varan went on his way
But before he swam on, he stole a last sight of her -
Nimue’s crimson lips were twisted cruelly and callously,
Her monstrous eyes mocked him.
With a pained heart, the poet passed her by.

The water began to get warmer once more,
And the foul, fetid, stones were left far behind.
Before long, the bard breached the surface
And he emerged into an airy cavern
Where Culann was already waiting.
Varan climbed from the clutch of the water -
But nothing he wore was wet.
Marvelling at this new magic
Varan glanced at his guide.
Culann nodded but said nothing
Before walking away, down a winding path.

Varan followed his footsteps
But his finger still felt sore.
He looked down.
There was a single crimson bead of blood.