Sea Belles

They ring the seabells in the harbor

for the sailors there.

Now come the dancing village girls

with flowers in their hair.

They look so lovely in the sun,

in gowns of green and blue,

to match the mighty ocean’s blush,

and fetch a husband too.

The people clap and cry and cheer

as toward the waves they go,

A sacrifice of maidens come

to join the men below.

The echoes of the knells ring out

across the dancing waves.

The sailors wait impatiently

beside their silted graves.

The singing of the maidens now goes silent

in the surf,

The curse is spared again for those who stand

on muddy turf.

The only note that’s ringing now,

a lonely seagull’s call.

That binds the briny couples to the stones

beneath the squall.

They ring the seabells in the harbor

for the sailors there.

Now come the drifting village maids

with seaweed in their hair.

The Secrets in the Wall 2

Chapter 2:  Secret Games

The last brick was laid in for the tombs, and the people came to fill it as they years passed, some with solemn ritual and whispered grieving punctuated by muted sobs, others with mirth and raucous celebration of a life violently lived, and still others seething with quiet anger and not so secret relief that the departed would trouble them no more.
   But he’d been the first.
   The girls were playing hide and seek with the boys, and the forbidden territory of the tombs was too tempting a place to be ignored.
   Karlyn and Essyna had broken away from the rest of the group, going into the shadowed end where the torches wrestled with the perpetual draft that came down the chutes into brackish water.
   There they waited and tittered behind their hands, confident no one would venture this far to find them.
   Essyna said to Karlyn, “I heard Prince Broderic is not the true son of the king.”
   Karlyn gasped. “Then whose son is he? Who’s brother?”
   “I don’t know, but if the king finds out, and it’s true, the Queen will die.”
   As Karlyn turned to look for seekers, Essyna’s braced herself on the wall; she snatched her hand away suddenly, as if something had stuck her.
   Karlyn turned to her. “What happened? Are you all right? Did you hurt your hand?”
   Essyna looked at it, curious. “No. It’s not even cut, but something stuck me.”
   Karlyn ran her hand over the brick, rubbed it with her fingertips, but nothing happened.
   The Secret could see them from inside the wall, their gowns bright but stained at the hems with a slimy wetness that would earn them punishments, and their just-so hair beginning to unravel, Essyna’s red-gold ringlets like a beaded cowl across her shoulders, Karlyn’s the bright yellow of a late morning summer sun.
   Footsteps echoed, and an older boy’s voice called their names.
   Their eyes widened in fright, and they scrambled from their hiding place to make themselves seen.
  “We’re here, Broderic!”
   They stood before him, eyes down.
   He laughed, not kindly. “Your mothers will have your hides for those dresses, and your fathers for coming down here when you knew you were forbidden.”
   “You could not tell them,” Essyna pleaded.
   “No way to explain away those stains.”
   Karlyn swept her right arm downward, and the stains disappeared; her smile held only a veneer of sweetness. “What stains?”
   Broderic swallowed.
   Another Secret joined the first, and the wall visibly shimmered.
  Broderic cried out and turned white.
   The girls turned to look over their shoulders, seeing nothing, and turned back to Broderic, questions and worry replacing their fear.
   “Let’s g-go,” he said. “I-I-I’ll tell them I f-found you in the garden.” The torchlight and the sounds of their footsteps receded, leaving only abject blackness.
   “Wise choice,” Karlyn said, and the dire echo of her veiled threat carried back as the Secrets settled into the stones.

 

The Secrets in the Wall

As the young man passed through the dim torchlight, hearing the flames sizzle and pop, the smoke tinging his nostrils with the smell of tarry pitch in the cool, underground caverns, the Secrets buried deep within the walls began to stir.

They were slow and sluggish, like leviathan waking in dark, watery depths.

Shuffling forward once more, they gathered in dull hope to come just beneath the surface of the wall.

Is this the one?

The oldest Secret, granted due deference, looked out through the stone.

Watching his face like eager toddlers on a sunny day waiting for their parents to wake up, their gazes were heavy on his face.

He is not.

Their brightening translucence dimmed and died as they seeped back into the stones.

Spectral tears and moans, vibrating just out of range of human hearing, deepened the somber atmosphere.

We grow weaker all the time. Soon, we’ll not have the strength to break through.

They will come.

 So you always say. But will they come in time?

The oldest Secret had no answer for that, and turned away as the other Secret left him resuming his sentinel post.

They will come.

The echoes of the passing man’s footsteps faded, and only the soft fizz and crackle of the torches remained.

The oldest Secret, the first to inhabit the wall, found his own strength waning, found it harder to keep the others intact.

So far, they hadn’t lost any, but the days continued to pass uneventfully; those who had tenuous holds were beginning to slip. More floors put over them, more layers to the left and right of them, and the memories of the long dead in the crypt saw fewer visitors.

The Secret began to wonder if his own words had become automatic; he still sounded sincere in his own hearing, but he wondered.

A Father’s Day Memory

It was a sunny afternoon, and I was helping my Dad with a project; he did woodwork / carpentry as a hobby sometimes, and I was sanding something for him. I don’t remember specifically what it was, but I remember at the end, when the piece was finished, something was off.

We had some difficulty, but he knew how to fix it.

“But it’s going to take longer,” he said.

I looked at him.

“I’m going to do it the faster way,” he said.

I realized then that he was slowing down; he never considered doing anything less than a quality job, in spite of the problems.

I admit I was surprised, and as much as I hated these projects (because I’m better at writing than woodworking) and wanted to finish this, I said to him:

“That’s not your style.”

He looked at me; it was his turn to be surprised.

“Do it the right way,” I said. “If you take the shortcut, all you’re going to do is take it apart later and do it the right way anyway. I’m here to help you, so just do it now.”

He smiled, and we fixed the problem the right way, and he was happy with the work.

He recounted that story to other people for years afterward, pleased that I was there to admonish him to stick to the very principles he taught me about working, whatever the job, and to do it with a sense of pride and excellence.

I was glad we had that time, because I discovered too that sometimes, as much as we need our parents, they need us too.

I love you, Dad.

It’s been twelve years now since you took your final journey.

“I’ll see you when I get there.”

 

 

When Do You Need Me?

 

When do you need me?

“When I’m doing well.

Standing victorious,

riding the swell.”

 

When do you need me?

“When I’m feeling low,

walking with sadness,

with no place to go.”

 

When do you need me?

“In thunderous rain,

in heat waves and blizzards,

in heartache and pain.”

 

When do you need me?

“When others don’t care.

They stop and they laugh

and they point and they stare.

 

“When do you need me?”

When loneliness calls,

and deafening silence

fills dim, darkened halls.

 

“When do you need me?”

In mornings so bright,

I just can’t stop smiling

and everything’s right.

 

“When do you need me?”

Right here and right now.

I need you to love me

the best you know how.

 

When do you need me?

Each day and each night,

for you are my weakness

with all of my might.

Hymn of the Exiled

The rusty, russet soil of the shoreline

shrinks more quickly than I’d like.

The sandbar and the harbor release their hold

all too eagerly.

The current snatches at the hull

like an orphan seizing the last scrap.

And I find my heart adrift.

 

My thoughts try to swim back with all their strength.

My memories fade, weeping as they stand on the banks.

The luteous sun strikes me with a smalt melancholy,

so much deeper than the waves that skip us like a hollow stone

across the meandering ocean’s surface.

 

My love unties the knots of the bonding kerchiefs

of our Handfast Day, and I no longer care how high

the restless waves fling themselves at us to pluck us

from the deck and wash our bones to brine.

 

The kingdom crown, once so desired, so soon set aside,

besieges my brow with a phantom weight,

and the royal scepter

is now but a common oar.

 

There are no words to balm this sadness,

to bind this slow and leaking death.

And so I drown it in tears and rage,

never to be home again.

 

Never to be,

at all.

Eyes of Summer Ice

My trading for the day complete, that night I found myself on a night road between towns, journeying on despite the salacious female entreaties to stay and spend more money on excesses. I left too late, now regretting the rejection of their invitation.
I could either camp or keep moving; unfamiliar with the land, and being armed, I decided to keep going.
The twin crescent moons were poor companions for light, but better than darkness.
Tendrils of mist slinked along the ground, shrouding the trees like pale and ancient serpents.
The wind began to rise, and its temperature drop.
In the north I would have taken the change in stride, but I was far to the south where the sun burned much hotter, and the night at best should have been balmy, not cold.
As the mist closed in and grew thick I lost sight of the path.
The map was now useless, and I was no sailor to navigate by moonlight and stars.
Celestial brightness dimmed as incoming ribbons of black clouds veiled the moons, now seeming like a woman’s eyes staring through black silk.
My attempts to find the path proved futile, and stumbling about in the dark could only prove fatal. Finding a gathering of stones, I made my peace with ceasing the journey and sat down to rest.
I stuck my knife in the ground and put my arms around my knees, making as small a target as I could, and tried to sleep.
 
***********
I heard a woman’s mellifluous voice.
‘Traveler?”
I opened my eyes and saw a vision of stunning loveliness.
‘Traveler, this is not a good place to stop.’
I looked into the face of a young girl with skin the color of sapling branches, her eyes the color of diamonds in the sun, the faintest of gold traces in them.
I rubbed at my eyes; looking at those shining irises took some effort. “I got lost.”
She gradually came into focus, but when I looked at her, I had to turn away. An ethereal light seemed to shine from her; the slim netting in her hair and small gems she wore flared in the shrouded moonlight.
“I was trying to find the path, but the mist…”
*Why is it so cold?*
“Ah. Yes, the mist. It is ever the mist.”
“What?”
“It disorients you.”
“Yes. Yes, that’s what happened. Can…can you help me?”
“Yes, traveler. I know the way.”
Relief flooded me. “I’ll follow you.”
“There is nothing to follow, traveler.”
“What? Can you take me to the path?”
She stepped closer. “I am the way out; you have to kiss me.”
I picked up my knife, and the cold shot up my arm so fast that I cried out and dropped it, looking at her in shocked anger.
Her eyes narrowed, her voice all the more menacing for the fact that it was low and quiet. “You will not threaten me in my home.”
“Your home?” The sense of being lost was stronger. “This forest is your home?”
“I am as much a part of it as the trees, the wolves, the soil; it is all here, in me.
“We…share each other.”
She had me at too many disadvantages. The cold was seeping through along with a mild panic.
“What must I do?”
“Kiss me.”
“Why”
“So that you might be on your way.”
“But…”
“What I say makes no sense to you?”
“Yes, I mean, no. I mean, yes, it makes no sense to me.”
Her eyes glinted as she smiled with amusement, as if they were connected.
“I can help you find your way, but you must kiss me first.”
Perhaps her embrace will warm you.
I took her in my arms, tilted her face to mine…
 
************
It snows here all the time.
The freezing wind blows all the time.
There are others trapped in here with me; I hear them stumbling about, footsteps crunching, but our voices are gone.
Only the perpetual blizzard makes its white noise.
The light inside her eyes has blinded us, but we can hear her lies.
Another traveler on another night; the mist has led him to her.
I hear his voice and scream at him to run, to kill her, but he can’t hear me.
No one hears.
Soon he’ll walk among us, never traveling again, trapped behind the prison of her eyes.
Her eyes of summer ice.
 
You must kiss me first…