Jul/Aug 2010 Poetry

Three Poems

by Nic Sebastian

Artwork by Costel Iarca


taxus baccata

the night was charcoal and silver
under the yew at the crossroads
where two people met

she was elegant like dusk, with black hair
three silver eyes
and one hand

he was boastful like midnight and oh handsome
but one of his eyes was a dark bucket and he had
three hands

they bartered
under the winter moon
under rasping yew branches

delicately she lent him
one eye, quietly she borrowed
a hand

they wandered off together
linked organ to joyous
organ by floating threads
that sang

look closely now
ten years later
at the crossroads under the yew
those tender grafts

(that silver eye, that beautiful hand)
have knotted into twisting
meat-hooks planted deep
within flesh

those luminous threads linking
eye to eye and hand
to hand have thickened like scars
into wrenching

rawhide rope, it is
all bright blood and deep bruise
under the yew tonight



fraxinus excelsior

my name is Yggdrasil
nine worlds grow from me
like fruit

runes hang in my branches
the underworld
is my root

I am also the serpent
Nidhogg, gnawing
upon myself

draw water from the well, norn
pour it over me
that my branches may not rot

Emma is fifteen this summer
she thinks the student Ivar
is beautiful

declaiming under the ash
with shaggy hair
and river-wet skin

Ivar's silver eyes
are moon-lure, his voice
honey of ash sap

there are rings and widening rings
in Emma's rabbit eyes

her bare feet step forward, her hands
reach out

Emma! her father's bellow
sounds through the hedgerow
his ash cane thumps the ground
she is late

and Emma surprises her father
she runs at him from the meadow
like bolting prey, like Peter Rabbit
pelting home



boswellia sacra

in Salalah your sisters spread my jeans
and t-shirt on a wicker rack
with knobs of frankincense smoldering
on coals underneath

so I emanate frankincense
as we ride out from the ruins
at Sumharam to the territory
of the Bait Kathir who are
the incense gatherers of Dhofar

on stony high ground one burning
afternoon we find wiry trees scattered
across the white plateau
some growing
out of solid rock

gnarled and tranquil they resemble
olive or juniper and bear lightly
the weight of legend
of merchant magi and messiah

which you describe to me
quoting Ibn Battuta
and Avicenna with your voice
like the smell of frankincense
which is balsamic spicy
and slightly lemon

the Bait Kathir gatherers shave
strips of bark from the trunk
with square minqaf knives

the white resin they call luban
oozes out and hardens
into crystals which they scrape
off and collect in palm baskets

that your sisters may burn it on coals
to make white smoke
beneath my clothes

that I may emanate frankincense
riding with you from the ruins of Sumharam
to the hills above Salalah tending secretly
the burning coal
of my heart


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