Meeting at Olympia

Today I’m very pleased to host a poem from fellow Holmfirth Writers’ Group member Peter Rudman.


Stone and dust, dust and stone 
A victor’s column, chiselled with honour,
Thrusts upward; there to tread, 
Among the remnants of temples raised
To the Gods, to the living, to the dead.

Black clouds convene above the Sanctuary
Of Olympia, the sun shimmers
As it takes its leave. Thunder warns us 
That we are trespassing, that we are 
Not alone; shadows kneel at the altar of Zeus.

We don’t imagine, we feel, preparations
For combat. Shades of the ancients flit by,
Time weaves around us, allows us to see
Into a past, which is also a present. We can sense
What was, and what will always be.

Someone has lost his glasses at the Temple of Hera, 
So we travel three millennia to look for them, 
Taking ghosts with us, a spindrift of dreams
That fades, time after time; the spectres withdraw  
And Olympia, again, is as it seems. 

pic:  Rabe! 2011. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International

Swan of Tuonela

Today I’m delighted to host a poem by fellow Holmfirth Writer Mary Lister, from her forthcoming collection, Trapezing in the Dark, published later this month. Mary’s piece is inspired by Finnish epic poem The Kalevala.

Swan of Tuonela

I longed to return to Suomi,
to the Finnish forests and lakes.
So I called aloud to the wild trees,
the Rowan, the Birch, and the Oak.
“Who will give me wood to make
a fine sledge, with a slicing edge, 
a sleigh to carry me on my way
that can double as flight, or float?
-A transport light as a swan’s feather
bound with elk and reindeer leather?”
The copper Rowan, whispered,
murmured in the wind, and sighed.
“Not I, not with my wood or copper berries,
I must watch over water and air.
The gold Oak shuddered its golden leaves,
“Nor I … I am too stern, too rooted firm,
with stout arms that reach the sky.”
But the silver Birch shivered, sighed and quivered,
“Take my wood, I’m one of many, many am I.
My roots are of Karelian chants, 
my rustling leaves Sibelian dance,
the Kantele my branches high.”
I made of her a fine long sleigh,
a flying sledge, light as a feather 
that soared like music in the wind.
And I was on my way
 to the lands of Sariola, of Pohjola, the Northern lands
where the sun can barely shine
one hour in every day.
I met with Vainamoinen then, inscrutable, a man of myth,
Spirit of Water, and frozen lakes,
with the Sampo in his hands.
“You only have a little time,
a moment here, a passing dream.
Your journey takes you on
to the darker lands of Tuonela,
the Shadowlands, the Isle of Death.
Your time is nearly done.”
Then Vainamoinen helped me search
for a snowshoe made of birch, a leather belt of reindeer hide,
the black feather of the sacred swan….

A perturbation on the lake,
a rippling shadow in blackness bleak.
The Swan of Tuonela flew down,
with a cello sound, a haunting horn,
and a swansong in its beak.
I clung around its downy neck,
cradled in its feathered wings.
We took flight among the scudding clouds,
billowing, torn as tattered shrouds.
Forests and frozen lakes below
seemed scattered as we flew.
We came at last to Tuonela,
Hel’s home, isle of bones,
of grey wraiths, and flitting ghosts
and jutting standing stones.
I have no Lemmenkainen tricks,
and no shape-shifting shaman power.
The light is taken from my eyes
approaching this, my final hour.
I write this tale, these thoughts, this note,
traced on snow, soon melted, gone.
-A message with no journey on -
with the black feather of that swan… The Swan of Tuonela.