Friday 30 April 2021

To the scald a salve after 'Snake' by D.H. Lawrence

 by Maura Barrett


 By ancient stone walls in stolen away places, clandestine. Shadows splayed on limestone towers; sunlight sparkled on the Boulick stream. He a Pharos, to which I was drawn, lured by the corona of his eclipse. He liked the reflection, how it shimmered 'on a hot, hot day'. My vessel glides serene, assured, rose tresses in my wake. He rested a soft-cover book against the sill of a stone arch and cited verses. I consumed his stance; his mystery and I inhaled the breath that he exhaled and tingled alive. Listened and 'like a second comer' waited. His foot rested on 'a fissure in the earth-wall' solid. High above in a cloudless sky, a pair of swallows spiralled in elegance.

           'Was it perversity that I longed to talk to him? Was it humility, to feel so honoured? I felt so honoured.' There was something in how he held his wrist, in how his unbuttoned shirt sleeve revealed a filigree of capillaries and soft skin. There was something too in how he fingered his hair shyly, unconsciously, his eyes gentle and cordial, noble yet mischievous. The literature or rather his delivery of the poem, enticed me like fairy music. Perhaps he was the King of the Sidhe, for what was in him was potent and primal, 'earth-golden from the burning bowels of the earth.'

           There was between us a channel of ionised air charged with a current that fizzed. I knew it in an instant. Knew by the tone in his voice when he spoke with me in the mill 'and mused a moment', by how he leant his hand against the wall behind me and 'looked at me vaguely', and by the scent of him. Lightning strikes aged walls and grounded and all as I was, it scorched me. Then there was the hand of providence, meeting in unexpected places, reaching for the same book, the hook of history, the love of words. And so began my enchantment.

           Trifling with the fairies is never wise. I of all people knew this and we had promises to keep. So I donned my warp shield and kept it in check and he shrouded me in a woollen brat. Once he morphed into a horned stag and I was very nearly lost. I had to dig deep, source the strength from the core of me, unleash those uncharted waters by way of defence. Each time I quelled it, it depleted my resolve. 'And voices in me said, if you were a man you would take a stick and break him now'. The woman in me, responded to the man in him 'and yet those voices' and the contradiction seared me. 'But must I confess how I liked him, how glad I was he had come like a guest in quiet, to drink at my water-trough.'

          So that is how we went on, surviving intact somewhere in the midst of contradiction. 'And truly I was afraid, I was most afraid, but even so, honoured still more that he should seek my hospitality from out the dark door of the secret earth'. Time mulled along. Catastrophes happened, lives changed. I hid from his gaze a while, seeking refuge in the shade. Wondrous things happened and in the joys we celebrated, ever mindful, ever careful, ever drawn. And in those times he quenched his thirst 'he drank enough and lifted his head, dreamily, as one who has drunken' and I imbibed in the honour of keeping that pitcher replenished. Paradoxically the more he consumed the more intoxicated I became. Then he faced the heart of darkness 'and looked around like a God, unseeing, into the air, and slowly turned his head' and left me.

          'A sort of horror, a sort of protest against his withdrawing into that horrid black hole, deliberately going into the blackness' found a home in me. 'And I thought of the albatross and I wished he would come back' and a spell later he did, Fate sending out her tendrils to snare us. By more ancient walls on the Shannon shore, I invoked the Goddess Sionna in her wisdom as my guide. My well spring was as arid as the deserts of the heart of darkness, and I could divine no more. She sent us wine and she sent us sunlight and she sent us the hook of history.

          Somewhere on that quest, on the boundary of a townland we crossed a line and 'suddenly that part of him that was left behind convulsed in undignified haste writhed like lightning, and was gone.' Being slighted made me harsh and I spat curses in his wake. It was a fury begot in rejection and rancour and I banished the Sun Deity, who cited me verses,

         “Don't contact me ever again!'

I stomped away intact; my flag of righteous victory unfurled trailed after me. Joan of Arc, Bodecia, Maeve, 'and immediately I regretted it, I thought how paltry, how vulgar, what a mean act!' I despised myself and the voices. The flames followed, licking, searing, scorching. I curled the flag around me, wounded and hurt and settled into a mire of anger, a morass so laden and shrouded in mists of wrath that no sun would pierce it. He was gone 'pacified, and thankless' and good riddance.

          Until thirty moons on, the night of a super moon eclipse, when planet and satellite and sun tug and play light against shadow. The Moon in her dance exudes sapience. The Earth tilts in homage and the Sun's fire soothes not seers, balms are born. At once 'he seemed to me again like a king, like a king in exile, uncrowned in the underworld, now due to be crowned again.'

          Somewhere by a window in a Celtic night, a woman sits, moon shadows on a freckled face, rose hair soft on her back. She looks into the night, and wonders. She marvels at how light it feels to have laid down the burden of resentment, the power of hate. Her scald is salved. She wishes him well and sends him good thoughts to waft on his crinkled face in gentleness and in light and in love, penetrating the heart of darkness where she thinks he might be. She hopes that on the turn of the axis mundi that they might reach him, on this special night.

 ‘And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords of life. And I have something to expiate: A pettiness.’

About the author 

Maura Barrett is an emerging Irish writer who grew up in the Comeragh Mountains. She believes that there is a language in landscape that seeps out of her and fires her imagination. It is sprinkled with metaphor; the ordinary, everyday event trickles out and tells the deeper story. 

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