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a song for the story

Chapter Text

In the old days
we threw our daughters
to the Beast from the Sea
while we hid behind our walls
waited for the screams to stop
for another year
the Beast always came back

in the old days
we slaughtered our sons
to sate the blood thirst
of Old Man Time
so that we could forget
that we were growing old ourselves
it never worked

in the old days
we built men of wood
and burned prisoners in them
to the old gods
the old powers
of earth and sky and sea
to keep the enemy
from our walls
it never worked either

(we never stopped trying it though)

we will not make the old mistakes again
we will not tell the same old lies
we will not do that any more
we will not lay these burdens
on our children’s shoulders

instead
we will build ourselves children of metal
quicken them with lightning
pour our hearts and hopes into them
climb inside them
and burn together

we will send our daughters out
to meet the Beast
but under arms
at the side of their brothers
and we will go with them
and fight and die together
or live
as Fate decides

Chapter Text

no
cupid & psyche isnt a greek myth

but ALL the greek myths

fixed

euridice and persephone running away
from orpheus and demeter
to find out the truth of the world on their own
heeding the serpents
eating the seeds of the fruit
wicked girls saving themselves
over and over again by trial and error
learning more at every turn

& all the roman myths they became

on top of all the sumerian myths
( orpheus is apollo is tammuz
is dumuzi is dagon is
enkidu is gilgamesh
ishtar is innana is kybele
is hekate is sekhmet
is serket is hera
is lady of all hearths and halls
&of all who make war on the halls of another
bull kings & lion men & fishermen & shepherds
star queens & queens of the dead )

& all the egyptian myths
( for all are isis and osiris in the end )

told by a child of all those cultures
that had washed over each other like flood tides
war and trade , trade and war , endlessly churning

caesars ( kaisers ! ) seeking to be sun gods
sun kings of macedon seeking to be sun gods of egypt
but only managing to be akhilles & hektor & patroclus & andromache

endlessly mourning at the gates of the city
where the oracle priestess was ignored

& the serpent slew those who tried to champion her
from the shattering force that slipped between the gates

WE SAW THAT SIGN PAINTED IN LIGHT
AS TALL AS A WALL CAN REACH
& THEN WE SAW IT BROKEN
WITH ICE & WITH FIRE

but every story told has been a new telling of it

because it spread west and north and gathered new animal helpers

the stepdaughter of the god's-mother
who refuses to acknowledge the marriage
rides on the back of foreign wind gods
in the shapes of giant eagles and ravens
who might eat her if she doesnt succeed in the quest
to save her husband who is a bear now
( or sometimes a hedgehog )

worse than invisible
or maybe not

bears & hedgehogs are pretty cute
if spiky at best
& able to crush w a single blow at worst

spread south again , changed again ,

gained new mystical symbols
new character interactions
but lost a lot in the retelling

the daughter grows weaker & weaker
does less & less to save herself & the others
the sisters do not help each other
the mothers & grandmothers are out of the picture

where is the girl who wore out seven pairs of iron shoes ?
who shed more skins than the shapechanged serpent prince ?
who served the terrible old women
who keep the watch on the walls of the world
faithfully
& learned the secrets
to save her people in return ?

i have not seen her on the silver screen

not until this summer

and where is the prince
who would not give up
would not give in
the gentle bear
the trickster prince who played along
pretended to drink the sleeping potions
pretended to agree to the forced marriage
but always found a way around
delaying long enough
for his lady to ride to his rescue
& save the day
right at the last second
right in the middle of the wedding
riding in to ruin it in disguise

i havent seen much of him either
not until this summer

but the strongest magic is worked between two mirrors

but why stop at two ? ?

the frontier is wider than it was
when apuleius africanus retold THE MYSTERIES
wider than it was when the armed falcon
tried again
in the days of destruction
new worlds for the breaking
an apocalypse for the land of the marigold
the golden star-flower of immortality
making THE LORD & THE LADY
HORNED KING & STARRY QUEEN OF THE GODS
& all their dread attendents
petty , small , cute & silly
not to threaten the priestly powers
no more of england than of spain
in a time when they could burn you
and your books with you
for your heretic words
& your bawdry protests
( many lost plays tell the truth of this )

not totally succeeding either

OBERON is still a name to conjure by
and THE QUEEN OF AIR AND DARKNESS
still seeks her lost daughter
her lost sister
hunts her down the nights and days
tireless hound of heaven with her sturdy flashlight

all the sisters all the brothers all the mothers all the fathers

hurling themselves at the giants
that grind our bones for bread

but the story goes wrong every time
the curse cannot be broken in one lifetime
the WHITE KNIGHT pines for the RED QUEEN
who loathes her flesh & turns from him
to the BULL FROM THE SEA
out of shame and frustration
& is shamed in return
& lashes at his head
while her son , her lover
stabs her to the heart
( but it wasnt there , she lost it long ago
which is why she could not give it
to her gentle bard
who nevertheless turned to necromancy
joining in the dreadful communion
devouring the children
in the name of the power that all men joke about
denying its name while they sell their souls for it

the cock , the bull ,
the godsign of potency
man seeking to rule
with none by his side
sky over earth
sun over water

TICK TOCK TICK TOCK

the clawed serpent pursues
relentless servant of the mothers
the sisters sent into the desert
for daring to rule as men

the stinging bites of vengeance
for all their murdered children
all the sacrifices
on the altar of time
& macho pride

times change
names change
language changes
the stories abide

the FOOL cannot save them
can only listen & learn
enough to save his brothers

the ones who listen & learn from him
though they mocked him and betrayed him
stole from him & struck him & called him "faggot"
( not all , though - some welcomed , though timidly
fearful of being marked by the cursed elder brother
of gaining more scars )

& he bore these wrongs patiently

until it was time to pick up a rock instead
slay the giant to save him
strike him down & drown him
& draw him up again
free of the older brothers curse
monster turned back into a boy
no longer a wild boar
or a young bull
seeking to gore

ready to speak & listen
give comfort & counsel
return the stolen oracle
learn the truth of the secret crime
the unburied dead
impiety among impieties

in the house of the impure heart
in the midst of the dry salvages
where hell is other people
( make a hell of heaven
or a heaven out of hell
by thought -- and word spoken
symbol shown )

too late to save them all

the lamb is slain by fire
the cat by the tooth of the dog
that loved her
but not as much as his own pride
& the respect of other men
but only men who qualify as men
by worshipping themselves
sword & plowshare
& hammer

as though those were enough
as though only one possessed
of a fierce white bird
could pick up hammer or hacksaw
as though the seed will grow on its own
as though the iron that bites is enough
and not the earth and the water that nourish
as though the sword was not made to be sheathed
the scabbard more powerful than the blade
so the oracle priestess told the king
when he came to the sacred waters

some few , some bloodied few

they wander out into the wasteland
following the boy who is named for their king
the first king and the many kings after
the old name of emperors
CAROLUS MAGNUS

who was to so many others
who died & bled
to fill his coffers with gold
and precious stones
emeralds from the mountains
past the gates of hercules
boasting no limits to his rule
THE EMPEROR FROM BEYOND THE SEA

the living manifestation of the thunder
of the throne
the wheels within wheels
always turning
eyes without number
watching , weighing , measuring , judging
beasts fierce & flaming

do not disobey
in thought in word in deed
even in your dreams you must follow the rules
do as we say do not ever question
believe only what we tell you
love only as we allow
or else the fire
the water the gallows tree
if you are lucky

if you are not --
dragons teeth
& the hounds of war !

dear friends
sacrifice a cock to aesclepius for me
said the storyteller sentenced for his tales

gods too must learn how to die
must find their lost selves
must wander in expiation
world after world
learning how to love
trying & failing
starting over again
in different forms
each time discovering
what it is to live

for

IT IS NOT GOOD FOR GOD TO BE ALONE

but the story is long in the telling and it is late

if it were summer even the katydids would be asleep
but fimbul winter is here
and i too am learning the story as i tell it
walking the maze of moments
telling it wrong because i didnt dare to see
what was right before my eyes
in letters of fire as tall as the temple of thebes

( peace out )

 

Who is the third who walks always beside you?    
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road    
There is always another one walking beside you    
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded    
I do not know whether a man or a woman    
—But who is that on the other side of you?

Chapter Text

you may have heard it told

how there was war in heaven

& the sons of god made war amongst themselves

or maybe it was the brothers against their father
seizing their birthright , revenging themselves upon him
with the knife , cutting off his future
no more sons to sacrifice to himself
ever

or maybe it was some of the sons against the others
some on the fathers side , some against

& those who lost were thrown from the heavens
or maybe they jumped rather than be punished
or worse yet , forgiven --
who can say ?

we have all heard some version of it
the names change , the arguments advanced
in favor of rebellion & a changed regime
but the gist of its the same

& the exiled defeated fallen sons

they went wandering the earth
setting themselves up their own kingdoms
taking brides for themselves from among the daughters of earth
who were their sisters , their nieces , their weaker cousins

taking them from their weaker brothers ,
only half god-sons
or still further diluted
disregarding their fathers futile resistance
if they did not give them willingly
( why do you ask what the daughters thought of it all ?
since when has that mattered ? )

and they and their sons were the giants upon the earth
in those days

or perhaps that was only the story told
by the tall invaders ,
to justify them taking all the best portions
the first fruits
the lions share
the wealth that kept them tall & strong & healthy
among a people shorter , darker , shorter lived
& scorned for it

BEAST FROM THE SEA FIGHTING BEAST FROM THE SEA
WHO BENEFITS WHEN THE BULL-GODS BATTLE ?
not the herders of flocks , the fisherfolk ,
the weavers & workers of clay

sun tzu tried to warn the kings who revered his words
when all your grazing is given over to war horses
what will your soldiers & their families eat ?
who will they follow
when you do not keep your promises -
you who claim the divine right of blood
or the stranger who comes to fulfill them ?

( all this has happened before has happened again
many times many places many names many tongues
worlds without end)

no regrets will bring back the dead
no oracles words can make the false be true
no matter how much gold or jade
you give the star reader

& anyway eventually the sons of the god in exile made laws
& compacts between each other & their weaker brothers
rules about war , about who could take whose women
& under what circumstances ,
about who could be forced to serve his brother
& under what circumstances

witnessed them on stones
stones in the hand
stone tablets
signet rings of onyx & jasper
cylinder seals of cut blue stone
or stones only by vanity
stones only of flesh
& blood

but stones of showing

daughters do not have them
mothers do not have them

how can you swear oaths ?
how can any be forsworn to you?
how can you count ,
that have no stones to show ?
justice is not a thing for women
mere women
we will take care of it
for you
dont worry be happy
& beautiful
we ask no more of you
& want no more ,
either

so said the sons of gods
now gods themselves
so many little gods
bull kings & lion kings & eagle kings
many horsemen
with iron chariots

the skies were silent
the rocks under the plowed earth were silent
who was about to contradict them on earth ?

the voice of the sea was not silent
but who should interpret for the ocean ?

oracles are always for hire

in all of this long story of the war
for the throne of king of heaven
the sons rising up against the devouring father
the loyal brothers driving off the rebel ones
and the exiles plotting their return
( endless return )

there some who are always missing
the sisters who were there at the start
the mother or mothers who had to have been there
children arent born from nothing
sons arent cooked up in vats by magic
not really

theyre there in the oldest stories
but they keep getting forgotten
left out again and again in the tellings of the tale
so that those who retell it insist they were never there
cry "LIAR!" when the daughters object
"but we were here all along !"

but why DID the brothers go to war over the father ,
some for some against?

was it on behalf of their missing mother , perhaps ?

did the king of heaven
demand his bride come dance
before his drunken comrades
his fellow gods and gods-sons
show off his trophy to them all
the fairest queen in all the worlds ?

& did she refuse , saying
"I AM YOUR EQUAL & NOT YOUR SLAVE"

did she tell him to go to hell ,
and did he send her there instead ?
slay her for her disobedience

or cast her out
taking a weaker bride in her place
perhaps her daughter
or perhaps one of the daughters of earth
beautiful as a goddess of the sunrise
( though death is on her like a crown of thorns )
replacing her when she dies
over & over
( they wear out so quickly , these mortals )

or did she go of her own free will
choosing exile rather than to be a laughingstock ?
did she remove her court to a far off place ,
and there rule according to her will ?
some stories seem to suggest that

did she keep her daughter safe ?
hide her in a proud tower among the stars
far from the rough feasts of her brothers
& cousins in their fathers hall
set her to study the wheels within wheels
the cycles of time & tide & fate
to see all things under the moon ?

or did she keep her in quaint exile
a little cottage farm amid the woods
tell her to be content like the bees
milking the goats & herding the cows
the geese the sheep the chickens
growing good food & drying the herbs
nothing more needed than that
for happiness

did her daughter heed her ?
or did she yearn for the great beyond

did she sneak out to see what was really there
did she read forbidden books of lore
or disguise herself as her maidservant
and dance in the village square
like any mortal girl ?

did she run away with a flashy hero
in a glittering costume & a swanky chariot

or was she carried away by stealth or by force
by her father or his brother or their sons and servants
to be the bride of one of them

or more than one

unless she put her head out the door of the car
when they drive thru an underpass
like dierdre
who was more angry than sad
furious in fact
ready to put a death curse with her own blood
on the kinfolk who betrayed her
and killed the ones she chose to love
the three brother-hunters she shared without jealousy

killed them with spells of ice and poison
because she was the fairest
& her king had chosen her for his own
rather than kill her in her cradle
for the war her beauty would surely start
like his priests advised him to

red with her own rage
careful plotter
wiping her own mind
anger cold as ice
( but we cannot have that can we ?
maidens must be meek
& mild
no matter what )

regardless she found her missing
the tower empty , the cottage silent
the goats unmilked ,
the beeskeps still unsmoked

and none could say where she had gone
or been taken
or if she had gone willingly
or been taken

so the queen of the night uncovered her mirror
her great black mirror of polished stone
lit the bowls of gold and silver and bronze and jade
filled with the dried blood of holy trees
fragrant amber from afar
looked through the smoky veil
until she found her traces
or saw her sacrificed
bloodily on the altar of her fathers war
her brothers pride
given to THE BULL
lost beyond recall

or perhaps she drew water from her well
strained it & boiled it & poured it in a clean clay cup
looked within while the bees hummed
in and out the open kitchen door
until she saw her daughter serving in her fathers house

dressed in rags & ash of mourning
her hair cropped , her eyes red with weeping
chains on her that she not escape
because she would not go willingly
to the bed of the king
or the kings son

& the bulls of heaven do not want
only to be obeyed
but also loved
& that freely

it is not enough to have the outward compliance
they must also have your whole heart too
& your thoughts as well
they are weak & cannot bear defiance
cannot survive defiance
cannot breathe without the air of respect
& so in their strength they must kill
whoever does not yield all
always

or force until consent is given
and then say SEE ? WE HAD THE RIGHT
WE HAD THE YES
WE DID NOT BREAK THE LAWS
THE PROPHETS TELL US SO

regardless
the queen of the sky
or the queen of the earth
she went riding forth to the rescue
rushing to save or avenge her daughter
( even if her daughter was happy
where she was ,
not a prisoner
but a queen in her own place ,
among a strange people ,
poor but kindly --
she could not see it
could not allow it
to be so )

but she was not familiar with the arts of war
having given all her attention to the making of things
not their breaking
so she summoned champions
to save her daughter

heroes

men with the skills of war ,
who professed piety
& gratitude for saving them
from the dragons
& the wild boars

but they were always seduced
by the promise of the GOD-FATHERS approval
they never came back
stayed in his hall of heroes
eating & drinking
& pinching the arses of his half-god kids
who brought them their beer
their nectar & ambrosia
their wine & apples of immortality

so she went herself instead at last

leaping down in wrath
from her high tower among the stars
hurtling to earth like a comet of destiny
a swan-queen rampant & raging
to the side of her cygnet
wings like storms
every feather a blade of bronze
her hair blazing behind her
her jewels scattered in her haste
falling like a rain of meteors
past her to the realms of man

or carefully ,
packing well for the journey
locking up the cottage , giving the key to the neighbors
leaving them lists about what to plant & when to pick
payment for feeding the goats the sheep
the cows the chickens
telling the bees
before putting on her hiking boots
her weatherproof coat of waxed canvas
& taking up her staff for the road

either way she went searching
that is what matters

but the queen of air and darkness
had not realized how far the fall
fell too fast
tore off her wings
struck the world like a mountain dying
burning , burning , burning
all her flesh her garments
all her jeweled armor
scorched away
only bones far beneath the earth
bones & ashes to seek for the lost one
in the darkness

the mother of the forest
stayed on the road
carefully checking her maps
her compass , asking directions
of those whose hospitality she carefully repaid
& then checking those against the maps
& the compass

but the road went through mountains
& then through gorges
& then turned into a cave
& she followed the tunnel
past where it should have become the road again
according to the maps and the compass

it didnt

she kept going

Chapter Text

the careful mother
carrying her lantern
measuring & measuring every step of the way
in the unmeasured passages beneath the earth
hearing water on either hand
but having run out too long ago to remember
passing softly by dead dragons caught in stone
for they might not be dead after all
but only sleeping

wishing for some companion on this journey
wishing she had not spent all those ages alone
with only her daughter for company
( but it had been enough , then -- )

came to a choice of paths
one leading down to a sunless sea
one leading up to a brightness
and a noise of voices and busyness
of men doing things

being sensible
she took the upward path

but the damp floor of the passage became mud
sucking her down to her knees
she fell many times
lost many of the things in her pockets
lost the compass
( but not the book of maps in her pack )
( not yet )

eventually the lantern ran out of juice
but the light & the noise were stronger now
she hurried on her way
came out in a place where earth & water
air & fire
all changed places
without regard for each other

mud blasted into the sky
fire fell from it

men charged past her carrying swords
on the ends of their bows
that shot arrows of flame

none looked to either side
all ran ahead into the disorder
vanished in the clouds of mud & steam

she would have turned back

but the tunnel behind was gone
there was only rock
only the empty wall of the mountain

she had to keep walking

where there was no path
where any path there was
lasted but a little while & was gone
swept back into the mud

until there were long lines
twisting grooves carved into the earth
made half-solid with beams and baulks
timbers and sacks of sand

in them
were both men & rats
fighting for food
each smiting the other
when they had the chance
the men shooting the rats
that fed on the dead men
and bit the living

she followed them
the men who manned them
and a few women in white
they did not see nor speak to her
they waited
watched their hourglasses

then
as she walked the planked path
under her boots
through the mud,

all rose up and ran in one direction ,
out of the maze , climbing its wall
along ladders set there for the purpose
this was not anything she knew
nothing of her aeons in the wood
in the villages
in the cottage by the stream in the quiet clearing
none of that told her what was coming
waiting for them
in the open space ahead
the space between the long deep lines in the earth

not the coiling thorns with neither leaf nor blossom,
thornbushes of iron & wooden X
mile upon mile of them
serpents made of fangs
nor the air that stung like a scorpion
stopping the breath
silently secretly creeping
palely green unseen in the steams around them

nor the hordes of biting flies
& stinging wasps
that shredded the flesh from the bone
whatever had been left by the thorns

nor at the last
the walls of fire
fire from the hands
poured out like dragons

the earthquake that followed was a mercy
burying the burned & broken queen
beneath the earth that would grow nothing
nothing , nothingbut more bones

& there she joined the queen of air and darkness
sister-mother in her prison
shining swan of the star-song no more
and there they mourned their daughters
& dreamed of their vengeances
down in the deep places at the roots of mans world

& there they were joined over the centuries
by many another mother
so many mothers so many lost daughters
so many queens of heaven & earth
their temples torn down
their songs silenced
their images smashed
or their names taken from them

replaced with other names
tame names
taking their voices
leaving only pale images
obedient , silent
to stand in their places
when their people cried out for justice
against the sons of the bull & the eagle
the lion & dragon
& the GOD-MAN who ruled alone

until at last there came a light
a faint brightness in the air
how could there be any
in the hollows at the roots of the world ?
how could any shine from afar
as one walking the roads across a great distance

when the light came close
the dead queens of earth & air
saw it was a rider on a wingéd horse
a rider all armed , with spear & shield
& armor of gilded bronze
a cloak of ravens feathers over it all
her eyes so piercingly bright
one look from them could strike an enemy dead
or hold them powerless for her spear
if she so chose

& they knew her then
for the sun kings favored daughter
motherless child of his thought
the one who told his heroes what to do
when to do it
& where to get off
taking no flack
because she was one of them
one of the boys
but better than all of them
& her father let her get away with it
because he found it funny
encouraging competition he called it
making them all better
warriors

so they readied stones
having lost all else
in their descent
only pebbles from the earth
better than nothing

but she dismounted
and they saw that her armor was dented
its gold scraped away
her wingéd horse scarred
feathers missing from the shining plumage
tired & tattered but still ready for war

stood there in silence confronting them

with her owl-brother on one shoulder
( he had lost a wing , she had built him another of bronze )
& the serpent-stepson , child of a minotaur
left to her to save or slay
strange & monstrous
but innocent of his fathers crimes
she took him up & taught him words of wisdom
now he rode with her at her side ,
wrapped about her wrist

& bowed to them

saying

"O MY MOTHERS I HAVE FOUND YOU AT LAST !
TELL ME HOW I MAY SLAY THE BULL-MEN
& FREE THE WORLD FROM THEIR REIGN !"

& at first they did not believe her
thought she mocked their sorrows
thought she came to lead them to worse fate
betrayals after betrayals
worlds without end

but she convinced them in the end
she had not known
had thought her fathers enemies all monstrous
until one day she found the sky-queens mirror
captured jewel in the depths of the treasury
carelessly tossed among the wealth of ages
all the lost & stolen art of the world
heaped up by the gods

and she looked in the mirror & what she saw there
turned her heart to stone
so that her fathers smiles
her brothers praises glowing or grudged
could not touch it

"I , BRIGHT-VICTORY ,
WILL WALK THE PATHS OF THE LIVING
GO TO THE WORLD OF MEN
RESCUE MY SISTERS FROM THE BULLS
OPEN THE GATES OF THE DEAD
& FREE YOU , MY MOTHERS "

so she swore
on her spear & her shield
on her own name
& her own heart
& the bright jewel of her mind

charged forth on the worlds-roads again
war-weary & battleworn
but still ready for action

but the ways grew narrow & steep
all her sorcery could not hold them clear
she could not urge her flagging steed ahead
must dismount & walk
still with her brother-sons riding on her
but the path grew steeper still
the walls of the worlds closed about them
she had to climb

climbing
through stabbing blades of unseen force
weights of time & distance
not even a goddess could climb all that way without help
& her boys were but little
willing though they were

she lost them both
sliding & slipping in the jagged dark
one this way
the other that

one with his broken wing
mended with bronze
one better suited for the secret ways
under the earth

but voiceless in this form
he could not call out to her
when he slipped from her arm
could not change back in the cramped tunnels
must make his own way
trying to find his fluttering brother
his foster mother
only to end up alone
in the world of the dying
like the others

they arrived with nothing
the terrible paths had torn everything
from them
the wing of bronze
the spear & shield & armor
the raven cloak , power of flight & sight
& their names & the memory
of their purpose

they were broken
no longer whole
no longer single selves
set upon vengeance
no longer immortal gods
but bound to the wheel of the stars
like all the other children of earth
that the gods had made & cast aside
now favoring this people
now that

but they were not alone
though they did not know it

for the sky gods favored son
the champion who cast down his rebellious brother
demanding who he thought he was , their dad ?

had flung himself after his fallen twin
horrified at what hed done
not certain where his duty lay
but more sure the more his father praised him
for his proper filial piety
that it was not in the courts of glory

so he too wandered here in exile
and so the other
both broken , both scattered
shards of godhead all across the worlds
seeking each other & their missing mothers
not knowing who or what they sought

lion-hounds of heaven on a tireless track

pursued by the stern warrior
with eyes of adamant
precious ,
ice-cold ,
cutting ,
colder than earthly gems
companion to the serpent & the owl
solitary wanderer of the wilderness
bent on vengeance for a faith betrayed
( or so she thought )

the bull-mans daughter
seeking her lost sisters
iron of war in her mind
& a heart of stone

behind them
below , above

the mothers wait
among the roots & stones & bones
in breathless hope-that-dares-not-hope

the gods-father scowls
stares at the feasting heroes ,
the music & the dancing to the flute & the lyre
the bright gold & warm leaping flames
on every hand
and broods in bitterness
on his betrayals

the stars swing past
mortal generations
slung along the circling track
try to figure out where they are by what they see
& mostly get it wrong

( the story isnt done )