Gwen Ellis

When the gallow-wood cracked and knocked beneath me,
I didn’t lay my body against the crisp floor, or fold,
or spill salt in their name. I didn’t do much at all.

Days before, my breath had caught as he kicked and convulsed,
a reaction to the willow sap smeared with self-sure fingers
across his dreaming brow. He’s gone mad, they said.

Rigid as a lamb slipping from the womb, young limbs
contorted, he lay gasping and quivering, his mother
wailing my name – Gwen, Gwen.

Even then, I didn’t curl into the crevice of his sweat-soaked knees
or hide in the folds of his bruised eyelids. I didn’t rock as they called
for their God. Iesu Grist. I refused to pray.

When they flaunted the pressed symbols like fat black flies
buttered on the page, I didn’t let the ink stain my skin.
Ox-arms bundled my frame, rough-palmed.

Through the window, slit like a watchful eye, the wind howled
the note of my last breath, clean as organ pipes. Damning.
I whistled with it. I waited.

Outside, I stared into mouths wide as caverns, their words whipped
away by the crack of cold air. The faces of my accusers demonic
in the milk-light, the threads of their being, noose-like.

When the gallow-wood cracked and knocked beneath my feet,
I embraced the softness of clean fabric, imagined dancing
myself into darkness. I fell.


This poem is set to appear in Parthian’s Cheval 10.