If I could lean on a limb of yours
broken away and cast from your body –
a good solid limb, stripped of its old bark
and bearing brown scaled skin underneath –
then my legs would never give way,
and neither would my heart. If one queen
brought her husband to health underneath your uplifted arms,
then why can I not seek healing at your feet? I need relief
from the slow centuries still settled into my shoulders.
I have a million ravens resting upon those shoulders,
stone-carved ravens that cannot tell a woman
apart from a tree. Maybe they think that I will
give them rest, just as you have given me after
every time I became black flight, feathered warnings,
ghastly predictions of fields and hills torn apart
like bread, like breasts, like ribcages, like
families. I have been entrusted with the fields, with the
furrows, with the plow, and even with the life
springing forth from seed or loin –
but all they remember me for is the raven’s flight,
the shadow I cast on the battlefield,
the warning that every sword craves a throat like
teeth that enjoy parting skin to get to the blood underneath.
Fight, or fuck? That is the question
of my existence. I’ve offered my love to
the same, tired passel of young warriors, almost
lulled to death myself from the repetition – and
the story is always the same: they refuse
my love. They see me and their blood freezes to a
slow infinity instead of running red and hot, like
the passions from Pele’s skin. They think that
I always wear raven feathers and
make love to swords – and they love their swords
more than a warm refuge inside the ancient tunnels.
So, dear plane tree, will you hold me
with your arms again? I tire of
warrior promises and warrior rejections. I was closet-born
this time around, and I crave the sun, the air,
the soft new grass under an unshod soul, and
your sure, steady limbs. Saturn, my father this time,
knew how to swallow, knew how to kill trees,
knew how to build closets and lock daughters inside
their wooden bellies – but he knew nothing of
heartbeats, color, or sun soaking into tree bark skin
and limbs lifted up to give thanks to the sky. And he knew
nothing of your arms, which have held me when
he was absent, counting time and swallowing my siblings. I am
tired of seducing warriors, wearing black feathers, and
stealing the sun – I will leave him in the sky to warm us both
and I will rest, perched upon one of your limbs,
and watch Love rise up from the fields
once she is sure that the swords are gone.
Written 2/21 and 2/22/12
© 2012 Nicole Nicholson. All Rights Reserved.
This poem was written for We Write Prompts #94, Ode to a Tree. I think I went a bit on a tangent with this one — the speaker is addressing the tree but also speaking of herself at the same time.
This poem was written this time wearing the mask of the Morrígan, a Celtic goddess associated with fertility, battle, and death; she is also considered a triple goddess. Not too far off from the Norse Valkyries, the raven is associated with her — she was said to fly over the battlefield and either strike terror into the hearts of warriors or inspire gladness and confidence for victory. She attempted to give her love to the Irish warrior, Cu Chulainn, but he spurned her…and as they say, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”. Cu Chulainn died in battle…and his enemies only believed him dead when a raven landed on his shoulder.
I believe there is a “Goddess Chronicles” that is emerging here, beginning with the “Pele” poem from last week and also including the “Radha” poem I wrote shortly after. I’m choosing some goddesses from various pantheons to represent different aspects of myself and to say different things to different people. I chose the Morrígan to represent a darker aspect of myself. She feels isolated from the outside world, and frequently sought companionship from men who are emotionally unavailable. She is the part of me at home in the darkness, at home with darker imagery, but in the end would really prefer love, light, and the sun. Expect to hear more from her in the future.
Also, some explanation about the plane tree — it is the sycamore maple tree of Europe and is referred to also as the Scottish maple or the Celtic maple. Legend has it that Mary, Queen of Scots, nursed her sick husband back to health under a plane tree located at Darnley in Glasgow.
I hope you enjoyed the poem.