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 Page: Profile: Poetry   Total Views: 13,703,710  

Poem Specs

VxPoem ID: 15047


Posted: August 9th. 2005 11:06:23 PM

Views: 1814

The Birchwood Circle Sacrifice (work in progress)

by B. T. Newberg

Age Group: Adult

The drum went round us and round, a droning and ponderous gallop,
Swift as a charger, soft as a colt and a nursing mare;
And each of the poor-saddled riders, unruddy and whiter than scallops,
Had fear in their saddle-pouches, and dreams in the twists of their hair.

And our names were all motley and awkward, as Dewey and Hector and Scott
Came along in a car, and Felicia and Tawny and Lynne
Made swift as a cloud of hooves to the birchwood-covered spot,
There to re-saddle a rhythm some ages un-reined by their kin.

Was it foolish or hardy to gather and canter the legends of old,
Burdened with ages, in unproven rhythms lighter than hay?
For we cast our souls in a fire, a fire that now has grown cold,
And the ashes were ashes of ignorance, whose burden was trampled away.

And there were snow-colored birchwoods, wrinkled and peeling like paper,
Unwrapping their tinderous bark in slips as we kindled our fire,
And twigs, like the bones of horses, went up in a smoky taper,
Till the wood gave a crackling timbre, and tongues licked up in a spire.

There was sage and the scent of sweat as the sun went dangling low,
And we bathed in the curls of white sage wafted about with a feather,
Wafted and smudged over limbs in the dim and fading glow,
And the world dissolved in our spirits, as the sun hung down by a tether.

And came along crows, like a wind, the white of the branches shaking:
Their black beaks and char-colored claws, and plumes like a swarm of flies,
O'er-clouded the branches; they tilted and hopped in the sunlight slaking,
Cocked their ululant heads, and squinted their full-round eyes.

Till the sun poured low, spilling over the tops of the leaves
With a golden drink, and flooding the sky with a rosy liquor;
And a chill descended, that shivered and crept up the cuffs of our sleeves;
We angled close to the fire, as the dimness gave way to a flicker.

And wetting her quivering lips, Lynne handled her bucksin drum,
And Tawny's rose up in her hands, and Dewey's sunk down in his lap,
While Felicia and Scott had none, but rattles they brushed with their thumbs,
And poor bespectacled Hector made ready his hands for a clap.

"Why are we gathered here?" said Lynne in a lonesome call;
"To sing to the gods of old, " we said in a splintered chorus;
"Then let it begin"; and sighing, she measured the drumstick's fall;
The drumstick raised, and lingered, and a breath was caught in the forest.

Till a wind through the birches rushed, course as a horse's whinney,
And the crows tilted and hopped in the branches still whiter than scallops;
The drumstick fell, and flickered the stars in the dusklight thinning,
As the drum went round us and round, a droning and ponderous gallop.

But the clop clipped like hoof-clops over sloped and rocky ground;
The riders galloped and slinked, wobbled forth and sidled,
But found their certain feet when awoke in their blood the sound
Of wide and wandering plains, and herds of horses unbridled.

Then the riders turned east, and implored with their rattles and drums
Those easterly spirits to harken, and witness the galloping sound;
And the south, the west, and the north were all entreated to come,
And the sky and the earth reached forth and rooted our song in the ground.

And all this time I was by them, near as a fly to a horse,
Nor drum nor rattle shaking, but robed in a gown of white,
Whose trim was gathering ashes, as the birchwood burned its course,
And the wind blew sparks to the crows, and embers glowed in the night.

It carried a scent like onions, or something smoked on a grill,
And reminded I had not eaten since the dusk of the evening past;
And the smoke insulted my eyes, as I stood in the grove unstill,
Tapping and folding my fingers, as the drumming subsided at last.

... (to be continued)

Author's Notes: This unfinished poem follows the rhythm of W.B. Yeats The Wanderings of Oisin. I loved the rise and wave of Yeats' poem, exploiting rhythms natural to the English language. So I decided to try my hand at it, choosing as subject matter a typical Pagan outdoor ritual.

The story is partly inspired by my own first experiences with Paganism, and partly by currents and ongoing conflicts in the community. I hope to memorialize some basic structures of the communal experience that is ritual, such as purification, calling in the corners/gatekeepers, and making prayers and offerings. I also hope to bring out some of the sticking points that create friction in the community. For example, conflicts of heritage and questions of cultural appropriation.

copyright 2005

As a Naturalistic Pagan, I believe in evidence. There is no evidence that deities and magic are "real" in the most literal sense, but they may yet be moving and powerful. These poems are a tribute to the inspiration of Pagan ways.

For more information on naturalism, see

Author's Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
More Poems: B. T. Newberg has posted 73 additional poems- View them?
Author's Profile: To learn more about B. T. Newberg - Click HERE
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