Poem/Song: “On the Strange and Lamentable Tale of the Witches of Saluda”

Bonham_House_1

The Bonham House, Saluda, SC (Source).

It’s been a while since I posted any original wordcraft, so here’s a poem I wrote recently. The last part is a song. I wanted to hearken to the Scotch-Irish traditions of the poor folks who settled the Carolinas. You can hear me sing it on the embedded audio I have included.

On the Strange and Lamentable Tale of the Witches of Saluda

I. The Town

I saw them dancing at the old waterworks
with torchlight in their eyes, huge
gates to unseen countries
of the damned and dying.
Off in the woods, the fog
snaked through like a hungry hound bent
low over the scent
of some lesser beast.
The pines keep our secrets from us,
so we can forget.
Didn’t you know that even the
goats and horses have eyes, ears,
loose lips muttering imprecations
under their breath? Never
look over your shoulder
at a crossroads. Men have died,
petrified, for less.
Or else they shoot into space
and freeze in the rictus of their fathers,
grinning madly at the dead sun
below. I have drawn
salt from the shadow of your footsteps,
I have planted rows of teeth in my head.
What dragons will come
when I bring a scythe
to the harvest?

II. The Purlieu

You hardly know how dark
the young pine woods can be.
Not a patch of tall trees, mind you,
but ones that stand
just about twice your size.
Still plenty of silent life ahead of them.
You can see them at the edge of evening,
surrounding a field surrounding
a low crop of tombstones
all asunder and blurred
by the rain’s improvident hand.
The trees wait there, wordless,
dusk-bleached, lined up like so many
carious teeth. But they are not
what draws my eye
the fathomless
dark that spreads behind
like a growling and
hungry gullet.

III. The Back Yard

It will not go away.

Momma said to come to the table,
no use passing your life
by the back window
daydreaming.

But I could see it pacing the lawn as I ate.

Huge, black,
unblinking, white
of tooth.
I don’t think it ever sleeps.
The heat of the noonday and the
shadow that flies by night
do not afflict it
the stones in its shoes
and the rancid water it sips
out of our traschan lids
do not injure it—
the play of the neighbors
and the tumult of the street
do not distract it.
I have not yet seen it blink.
I have not yet seen it turn its gaze
from the house.
It watches.
I don’t think it ever sleeps.

Momma says
daddy woudn’t have tolerated
any such foolishness.
I don’t know.

It makes not a sound.
I think it knows what we talk about
in the house.
I think it knows when we rise and fall
to our prayers.
I think it listens to what we confess,
to our fights, to the whisper of the rain.

I don’t want to go out there.
I don’t want it to get it.
I don’t think it ever sleeps.

IV. Found in a Buried Notebook, Written in Red Ink

Don’t turn your back to the trees
or walk up the weed-cracked pavement
beneath the sign that reads
CAR  ASH CO N LAUNDRY
and don’t keep the pottery you dig up
in your garden
bonewhite under the red
clay and grey sand. Don’t
venture to the edge of the field that
smells like salt
and don’t keep your teeth in a shoebox
(it might become a skull)
and don’t knock on walls
where there should be a door
or take down the portraits
of the nameless.
Don’t ponder what might have
broken the sign from the fencepost
or written its replacement
in an unknown script.
Don’t let your children go to the post office alone.
Don’t let your daughter play with the dolls
she doesn’t remember receiving.

V. The Song of the Lost Daughters


The young girls singing thread silk in their hair
Io Hymen Hymenaee
Io Hymen Hymenaee
Discarding the rest of the clothes that they wear
Io Hymen Hymenaee
Io Hymen Hymenaee

They join with the voices of the torchbearing throng
Io Hymen Hymenaee
Io Hymen Hymenaee
And soon they forget every other sweet song
Io Hymen Hymenaee
Io Hymen Hymenaee

Songs that illumine the queer, darkened lands
Io Hymen Hymenaee
Io Hymen Hymenaee
Like the water you pour over bloody hands
Io Hymen Hymenaee
Io Hymen Hymenaee

Her lace crown covers her eyes as they lead
Io Hymen Hymenaee
Io Hymen Hymenaee
Her into a thicket that smells of ripe seed
Io Hymen Hymenaee
Io Hymen Hymenaee

To hide from the angels that watch in the trees
Io Hymen Hymenaee
Io Hymen Hymenaee
And teach her the sacred rites of the bees
Io Hymen Hymenaee
Io Hymen Hymenaee

“An will ye cam back to yer mother so fine?”
Io Hymen Hymenaee
Io Hymen Hymenaee
“Ah will ye return to me, daughter of mine?”
Io Hymen Hymenaee
Io Hymen Hymenaee

“Ah mother, dear mother, I can’t come at all”
Io Hymen Hymenaee
Io Hymen Hymenaee
“Until I’ve repeated our first mother’s fall”
Io Hymen Hymenaee
Io Hymen Hymenaee

“The Sabbath is waiting, the dance oh so dear”
Io Hymen Hymenaee
Io Hymen Hymenaee
“To teach us the meaning behind every fear”
Io Hymen Hymenaee
Io Hymen Hymenaee

They never did see her again in the day
Io Hymen Hymenaee
Io Hymen Hymenaee
But once on a new moon, as old people say
Io Hymen Hymenaee
Io Hymen Hymenaee

Seven years waiting and seven years won
Io Hymen Hymenaee
Io Hymen Hymenaee
Seven years burning, but far from the Sun
Io Hymen Hymenaee
Io Hymen Hymenaee

Beware, all me daughters, what hides in the air
Io Hymen Hymenaee
Io Hymen Hymenaee
And never thread silks so fine in your hair
Io Hymen Hymenaee
Io Hymen Hymenaee

Poem: “Passing a Cemetery Seen From a Train”

BellefonteCemetery

One of my ancestral cemeteries in Pennsylvania. (Source).

Alright, here’s another original piece. I think I’ve decided that I might as well publish a few things every now and then, since I seem to be getting a good response.

Passing a Cemetery Seen From a Train

We are not to count them,
the ones we make rare.
Nor should we come too close
stepping in would strip
the varnish from our eyes,
making us like them
too soon. No, let this hill
rise away from me,
spangled with the dead
and watered with the whispers
of those not yet able to speak.

Poem: “To the Romanian”

RomaniaSmoke

Romania. Photo taken by the author, March 2011.

Since the response to my last two original poems has been so positive, I thought I’d publish a little more. I wrote this piece a few years ago.

To the Romanian

I am opening a window in my mind again.
I am peering into the sodden landscape
Of stone, snow, and parted lips of lead,
The chalice which catches the wax
Imported from Carinthia—like the
Ring that snags on the
Crow’s ashen teeth.
The shudders are snapping in the wind;
Smoke is rising from the valley.

Poem: “Southern Storm”

CloudsBW

Clouds. (Source).

Another original piece from the old notebook, spruced up a bit. As I mentioned in my earlier poem, at this point I don’t really plan on putting too much of my own stuff here. But in lieu of some other posts that are taking longer to finish than I had hoped, here you go.  

He is the ghost that fogs the mirror
before you rise to greet your Sunday face,
beer-swilling face with stubble like termites
tumbling through your grandmother’s antique chair
as she sings half-bred hymns to you in a
Gypsy tongue she learned off a carnival
barker. He stands before the black bookshelf,
pondering the glass veil between Word
and Man, wondering if sand or stone would
feel better in an old shoe, or like a
paper Mephistopheles, he leaps now
into the street, wild, un-tame and unkempt,
with matted hair drawn into a loose bun
or some pin-stuck old Indian style.
He offers you his body for consolation.
He offers you his tongue in lieu of words,
they are all tied up in leather behind
the shimmering partition like a
coquette calling from her Japanese screen.
And he dances lugubriously,
inebriate on the sound of
jazz funerals winding their way down dirt
roads to the noose-cackle of strings and the
lantern-glow of heat-lightning.

Poem: “Fernandina”

SpanishMossCurtain

Spanish moss. (Source).

I recently discovered an old notebook of mine with several poems I had forgotten about writing a few years ago. While I don’t intend to publish much of my own creative work on this site, I liked this piece enough to offer it up for your consideration.

Fernandina

Spanish moss is a
green garland at dawn and a
gibbet at twilight.

The sea is foaming
at the mouth again. Someone
ought to put it down.

The bricks, like whores, are
washed in salt and made sooty
once more in lamp-glow.

I see your face there,
reflected in the postcard
nestled in my hand.

Amidst the buzzing
kitsch, it whispers a simple
note: “Wish you were here.”