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,
recoiling from 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
or wallow in the crumpled wings.
Ox-arms bundled my frame, rough-palmed, familiar as night,
and I smelled iron, curdling and hot. I didn’t flinch
at the heady clack on clack of the bolt.
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. Slack-jawed, their tongues
lolled in the milk-light, limp as nooses.
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 appears in Parthian’s Cheval 10.