They spoke in gesture and in low
swinish gutturals, conjuring spells
to aid themselves in the delicate art
of untwining threads of thunder.
At night, clawing the forest floor,
hunting gems to barter for bridges
over this tedious witchwork and on
to fitter feats for hands more often scrubbed.
A heathen’s abandoned house, pig’s
lower jawbone affixed above the threshold
just days before the winter solstice
would arrive to phantom drums.
In the light they turned: a maiden’s hands,
now a woodcutter’s rough hands,
now the truth: two pale, palsified
hands of the already-mostly corpse,
the pungent scent of earthy herbmagic
balled beneath their brittle nails.
Hunting, I was, and cold, when I
shoved inside to find them floating.
They reached out, palms up, as if
to say, Please, boy, please hold us,
and curse me for a fool, I reached out
too, and trembling, I did take them.
In Father’s orchard I saw him.
He gutted our goat then stooped
and slurped and sucked the gore
and wiped his talons in our flowers.
I saw him twice unscrew his gruesome head
and lay it aside for hours.
And when the new sun lit our trees
and his wet feast was over
I saw him crown and cloak himself again
and turn his thirst to power.
Like a sleeping bear it hung long
and lay sidesaddle as he rode,
a bristly but elegant throw
to handsome up the horse.
This beard was a beastly beard
of its own deep appetites,
starving always and always starving,
and when for food it wished,
this beastly bear beard, it ate.
Some knight might block up
the kingsroad and call out
for a strange foretelling—
Cunning man, call my fate, else
it’s meat I’ll make thee with my blade.
And the beard would rise up
and learn our noble knight
one last lesson in digestion.
Hairy belch. Now the wise one
casting a glamour over the gore
and flesh flecks until he can find
a proper stream for cleaning.
The wind near silent blowing.
The moon so gentle in its rising.
The timid horse trotting,
but only ever-so slightly trotting.
All afraid of what might wake.
All afraid that what might wake
might wake with empty belly.
* * *
“Hands . . .” and “His Majesty” first appeared in Star*Line. “The Beard” first appeared in Strangelet.