Marly Youmans

Love for a Stranger

14-words-for-love Valentine project

In you
Of sun

Sixteen Hundred Years

She wants to settle her mind-a floating thing,
Like a feather fallen from the heavens,
Rocking downward, catching on a leaflet
Or seized by an eager child's outstretched hand.
She reads the poem once more, knowing it
Is drenched in sorrow for what can't be caught,
What will never rest and stay on leaves.
Sixteen hundred years ago, a poet
Brushes shapes on paper, praising the slim
White feet of a lady who is washing
In the shallows of a lake, wondering
At a man in a white boat and how each
Vanishes when the moon is doused by cloud.
She wants to lose herself in the moonlight
And the delicate, bright imaginings
Of the poet with his ink and brushes.
But sleep, like some inexorable silt,
Keeps weighting her body until she sinks
To the lake bottom where is no moonlight
Save fire streaks on the water overhead.
Sleep rummages inside her body, seeks
Whatever it can find, spreading nightmare
Panic from place to place. She loses light,
Dreams death; her mind darkens behind a cloud.

In the Outer Darkness of Middangeard

Perhaps the village priest chucked you out-
You were let to roam beyond God and time,
Shiftless in the wide loneliness, only
Half a being. Then one hard day you died.
So long as your body was held intact,
Mummied in stone or droughty earth, you could
Be brought back in the fold, but if your skin
Peeled and the gate-joints loosed the bone from bone
Until the earthly you became a cloud
Of dust, drifting up to heaven, fit for
Nothing but growing crystals into snow:
Well, there was no hope for you: you were damned.
No priest would sing you back into the church.
No second coming for your lithe, young limbs,
Your eyes that were blue invaded by gold
Until they turned to green. Nothing for you
Save fall like Lucifer the light-bringer
Into eye-quenching black. Nothing but that.

Yet if you in your wattle hut wrestled
With strange angels, a stone for your pillow;
If you howled aloud and knocked your fist
Against your chest until a door opened;
If lightfalls made vertical sharp plungings
Onto you, through you; if you were a pierced
Sebastian, arrowed by fine shafts of fire;
If spirit struggled like a captured bird
Within your breast; if all of this, you still
Could stand astonished in another world,
Your eyes blue or green, your body perfect,
Unscathed, unkissed by flaw, your lovely eyes
Compelled by the God-throne of resting light.

The Village Whispers

They say:

This hag rooting in her cellar,
   The bald-eyed cave dweller.
Ear to earth pressed, secrets teller.
   A kine and kin speller.

Her word:

Who says I cast a dwindle-spell?
   What secrets do I tell?
What is it to them where I dwell,
   Sunlight jailed in a cell?

Legends of the Virgin Martyrs

"Revealing her name will give courage."
Jyoti means light and flame

Elsewhere, one agony and death reminds
Us of those girls who held themselves apart
From Rome, refused the bridal marketplace,
As if they could belong each to herself,
And be a kind of secret land, with rule
Self-chosen, following another king.

Sing the rose and maiden apple, sing realms
Of light and fruitfulness, apple and rose.

Salt and raking iron were their stories,
Their totems butcher-bird and scorpion,
Their element, fire, these virgin martyrs
Dumped in the common pits-barbaric wounds
Were mouths that cried the Roman state and man
Would reap a girl of innocence that made
Her kin to Christ, arms nailed in wide embrace.

Sing the rose and maiden apple, sing realms
Of light and fruitfulness, apple and rose.

A would-be husband jeered one rack-wrecked girl,
Charged her to send him fruits from paradise . . .
She ebbed into herself, her sea and land
Repelling Rome and groom and emperor.
Then golden apples from another world
Appeared to him, and rose and rose and rose
Came blossoming, sweet-smelling from afar,
From the country that she was, where she lived,
Violated yet inviolate . . .

Sing the rose and maiden apple, sing realms
Of light and fruitfulness, apple and rose,
Rose and apple, the apple and the rose.

Yeats Wishes to Be Magus

Scent of a flower burned to ash,
   Delicate as rain . . .
He sweeps the powder with a leaf,
   Not losing a grain.

And now, underneath the bell jar,
   The pale silt's glistening.
He's waiting on some message,
   Watching and listening.

Yet nothing happens-nothing save
   Witchery of the act.
Moonlight broods on petal flour,
   Romantic and yet fact-

That is, not yielding up traces
   Of some damask-rose ghost . . .
Perhaps a stirring in the air
   At the very most.

January 5, 2013

Sir Gawain to His Shield

Past dragon fire and Wirral ice
   I came to bend my neck,
Yielding in grace a greenwood price,
   Biding the axe's beck.

I see the green lord's tree of blades
   Adorned with drops of blood . . .
A woman's hair in coils and braids
   Unpent into a flood.

I fear being a winter's tale
   Of marvels by a fire,
As strange as stories of the grail-
   To be what men admire.

So go before, eternal shield
   And do what I cannot:
Pentangle on a blood-red field,
   Be virtue's endless knot.


Recent books by Marly Youmans are: an adventure in blank verse, Thaliad (Montreal: Phoenicia Publishing, 2012); several collections of poems, The Foliate Head (UK: Stanza Press, 2012) and The Throne of Psyche (Mercer University Press, 2011); and a novel, A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage (Mercer, 2012 / The Ferrol Sams Award + Silver Award, ForeWord BOTYA.) Forthcoming novels include: Glimmerglass and a reprint of Catherwood in 2014 and Maze of Blood in 2015 (Mercer).

Photo credit: Rebecca Beatrice Miller, 8/2013


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Author Erica Jong
Marion Ettlinger: I was raised in Queens, New York, the daughter of German-Jewish immigrants. I was educated at The High School of Music & Art and The Cooper Union, both in Manhattan. Shortly after graduation, I moved to Northern Vermont, where I lived for seventeen years. Although I have been practicing portraiture since the Sixties, it was in the early Eighties that I found my true vocation in photographing poets and writers, who as subjects remain compelling and irresistible to me still. Using only natural light and black and white film, I continue this work based in Manhattan.
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