The Brown-Eared Hound

RivingtonRivington, October 31st, 1917

Dorothy tossed in her bed as thunder rolled. She had awoken heart pounding, restless and agitated. This had happened every night since receiving notification her husband had been killed in action. Her sadness was still raw and there remained a part of her that refused to believe he was dead. Apprehension growing, like the gathering storm, she threw off her sheets, paced to the window and threw it open as rain began to pour.

The baying of hounds rose from the kennels. As lightning flashed she saw the dark outlines of horses on the hill, heads raised, tails high, before they wheeled and galloped out of sight. The scent of fresh rain rose from the grass. Suddenly she craved being outdoors.

Heedless of what her maid might say, she descended the stairs in her pale nightdress, crossed the hall and flung open the doors. Rain ricocheted off the yard. The smell of drenched petals in hanging baskets mixed with the sweetness of straw in empty looseboxes.

She heard a scraping of hooves; her husband’s black getting up from his bed and putting his fine head over the stable door. Dorothy had been forced to keep him in since the day the letter arrived due to bouts of a near fatal colic. There was a wildness in his eyes she had never seen before. When he whinnied its high pitch sent a chill down her spine. She was shocked to see him throw his chest against the door, which groaned but withstood the barrage.

Shivering now she made her way to the kennels. Muddy water from the hills washed down through the yard over her bare feet. Never before had she heard such a commotion from the hounds, even when they were closing in for the kill. When she entered she was assailed by their hot, pungent scent. As they paced and leapt against their cages, the mad note in their voices made her tremble.

Get a grip, she told herself. You’ve never been afraid of horse or hound before.

She could not resist looking at the empty cage, the home of the brown-eared hound. White all over, his only colouring had been the russet tips of his velvet ears. After her husband went to war he had pined away to skin and bone. The day she received the letter, Dorothy had found the cage door open, the brown-eared hound gone.

The howling reached a new crescendo, and was met by a familiar bark from the yard. Every hair on Dorothy’s neck rose in turn. It seemed her limbs moved of their own volition as she left the kennels and closed the door.

Thunder roared and a flash of lightning lit the yard. She saw the outline of the brown-eared hound and beside him her husband, wearing a peaked cap and khaki uniform. His right hand clutched his left side and he leant on his rifle. His face was pallid and drawn.

Dorothy froze. “Malcolm?” Her heart leapt with fear and elation.

Malcolm stared at her, as if not only through rain and vacant space, but from another world. Eventually his weak smile flickered, “Dorothy.”

Tears leapt to Dorothy’s eyes. She longed to run to him, embrace him, but… looking at the gaping wound, the surrounding blood, there was no way he could have travelled back from France… Choking, “I don’t understand. What happened?”

“I was hit by a shell on the way across no-man’s land. I died quickly, unlike many others.”

“So the letter was right,” Dorothy managed a faint whisper. “There was a traitorous part of me that refused to believe…”

“That part was right,” said Malcolm. “The dead do not truly die, but ride on the otherside. The brown-eared hound brought me back. I’ve come to say my final farewell. Then I must take the black for the hunt will be here soon.”

“How can you take the black, when he’s not…?”

Her voice was eclipsed by that unworldy whinny.

The baying of another pack filled the air. The brown-eared hound joined their furore. The clatter of hooves echoed from the road. The black banged his foreleg against the door.

“We must part now until we meet again in the afterlife,” said Malcolm. “The hunt is here.”

“How?” Dorothy strained her eyes in the darkness. There had been no hunt since the men went to war.

The first thing she saw was the coal red eyes of the hounds, their pale shapes wreathing out of the rain. Each one shared those russety ears.

Her knees went weak and buckled.

When the horses and riders came into view her heart seized. Many were hunting horses she had ridden out with, the young men acquaintances sent to war, still in uniform, bearing gristly wounds. They rode with cavalrymen from bygone eras, armoured warriors on thickset war horses and stranger outriders, male and female, clad in primeval furs. The huntsman at their head with his dark face and antlered headdress barely looked human at all.

Time seemed to stop and the blood in Dorothy’s veins stilled.

The black broke through the door.

Two of the outriders dismounted to aid Malcolm onto his back. Dorothy noticed many of them rode without a saddle or bridle.

“Farewell for now,” said Malcolm. “When your time arrives you can join us. Until then keep the brown-eared hound. He knows the ways of the hunt.”

The huntsman blew his horn, a sound that threatened to bring down the looseboxes, to rend the very world apart. Already dizzy and on her knees, Dorothy lost consciousness.

She awoke on the break of dawn, cold and soaked to the skin, with the brown-eared hound licking her face. Stroking his russet tipped ears she pressed her cheek against his damp white coat.

Malcolm’s final words spoke again through her mind.

Dorothy wasn’t waiting. Stumbling to her feet she went to the field gate and whistled for her chestnut mare, who came eagerly. Led by the brown-eared hound they galloped away over fields to wilder moors, through lonely valleys and deeper ravines, pausing only to look out from hilltop crags in pursuit of the hunt.

They were never seen again, and whether they found the hunt nobody knows.

Moon Poets

In February 2013 I responded to a call out for regular poetry submissions to Moon Books blog and my work was accepted. In November 2013 I was asked by Trevor Greenfield, Moon Books’ publisher and publicist, to become a resident poet alongside Tiffany Chaney, Robin Herne, Romany Rivers, Martin Pallot and Beverley Price. In December 2013, Trevor invited us to submit twelve poems each to an anthology.

I’m very excited to announce the official release of Moon Poets is on Friday the 28th of November and it is already available for purchase here: http://www.moon-books.net/books/moon-poets

Moon PoetsIn this anthology you will find Pagan poetry from six authors with different styles and viewpoints.

Tiffany Chaney is a poet and artist residing in North Carolina, USA. I was captivated by ‘My Cailleach,’ which contains fantastic imagery such as a storm collecting ‘a gaggle of old women,’ and this goddess ‘blooming into a frozen dryad’ when she ‘turns to stone on Beltaine.’ Human relationships are echoed in relations between god and goddess and Tiffany explores the life cycles of maiden, mother and crone.

Robin Herne is a polytheist Druid based in Ipswich, UK, who has an impressive knowledge of world mythology. Many of his poems use complex forms drawn from the culture of their subjects. For example, ‘Words for Wuldor,’ an Anglo-Saxon deity, is written in ljodahattr metre, which was used by Heathen skalds and ‘The Ghillie-Du’ is written in ae freislighe, a Gaelic metre. For me his most moving poem is ‘Little Rabbit,’ which is based on the Taoist story of the Rabbit God, ‘Tu-er-shen’. I also love the fierceness of ‘Song of the Wolf Clan,’ which is inspired by the ancient British god, Vindos.

Romany Rivers is a Witch, Reiki Master, artist and mother of two living in Canada, USA. Her poetry explores the changing seasons, motherhood and the nature of the Divine. These themes are interwoven throughout her work. It is clear her experience as a mother permeates her understanding of the myth of the mother goddess giving birth to the son / sun. ‘Autumn Arrives’ describes Romany’s inability to explain to her son why she cannot fix a tree.

Martin Pallot writes poetry inspired by nature and Paganism. His series of Haiku depicts the natural world, its creatures and mythic figures in clear, precise imagery; ‘Fox track in damp earth, / A plethora of Feathers / Where he broke his fast’; ‘Selkie and her seal, / Two souls in a single skin. / Neither can be held.’ Another form he shows mastery of is Tanka.

Beverley Price lives in Ipswich, UK. She describes herself as ‘a weaver of dark prose and poetry’. Several of Beverley’s poems focus on her relationships with ‘dark’ goddesses such as Morgana, Lillith and Hecate. Lines that struck me were the dichotomies in ‘The Lillith Effect’; ‘Under the Hullupu tree we sinned. / The Eve of bones we became saints. / A whiter shade of pale singing dark songs.’ Other poems explore love and a fascination with winter.

I selected poems depicting my relationships with my local landscape and river goddess Belisama and my patron god, Gwyn ap Nudd. ‘Proud of Preston,’ is an address to the city written in Belisama’s voice. ‘The Bull of Conflict’ is a glosa based on a medieval Welsh poem depicting an early encounter with Gwyn. ‘Glastonbury Tor’ is a sonnet recording my dedication to him. ‘The Region Linuis’ and ‘Prayer for Netholme’ cover the history and mythology of Martin Mere, Lancashire’s lost lake. Other topics include the disappearance of the bees, the Awen and revenants.

This is the first time I have had a selection of poems published in print. Looking back it is interesting to consider in what ways I have moved on and how these poems and the landscape and deities who inspired them still influence my creativity.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to Trevor Greenfield, all the Moon Poets and Lee Nash the cover designer for making the publication of this book possible.

Thank you and Hail! To Gwyn, Belisama and the spirits of my local landscape for all your guidance and inspiration.

And another big thank you to family, friends, fellow poets and bloggers who have read, listened to and commented on my work.

A review of Moon Poets by Druid author, Nimue Brown can be found here: https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2014/11/19/moon-poets-a-review/

Peneverdant

King Edward held PENWORTHAM (spelt PENEVERDANT in the original); there are two carucates of land. It paid 10d in the time of King Edward. Now there is a castle. There are two ploughs in the lordship, six burgesses, three riders, eight villagers and four ploughmen. They have four ploughs between them. There is half a fishery. Woodland and hawk’s eyries are as before 1066. Its value is now £3.’
– Domesday Survey of 1086

Fireworks or exploding stars map stories,
a tapestry of bursting constellations,
two ploughs, four ploughmen
with four ploughs between them
and eight trudging oxen,
heavy hooves turning clods of mud,
carving curved furrows for seed to fall in two carucates.
Three riders travel the night sky urgently,
grazing horses torn from green fields
sweating a lather, snorting white streams,
hearts beating like anvils. I pray they will not break.
Toiling with hoe, turf cart and spade,
harangued in sack cloth sparkle eight villagers,
in yellows, reds and oranges
their unacknowledged wives and daughters,
infants, fools and cripples who made our lordship.
A hawk’s eyes stare from its eyrie’s dark cage.
Strong talons crack bars like a young bird’s ribs.
Swooping beyond my husband’s glove and fist,
it levies my heart into broad oak woodlands.
A starlit salmon out-swimming fisheries upriver
reminds me time moves on. I cannot stay forever
on this green hill, queen of a castle that no longer exists,
awaiting the fiery outline of the escort of the dead.

Castle Motte, Penwortham

Interfaith Week 2014

Over Interfaith Week (Sun 16th Nov – Sat 22nd Nov) members of UCLan Pagan Society and myself have been involved in events led by UCLan, Lancashire and Preston Faith Forums.

For me as Interfaith Rep this included giving an introduction to Paganism and the river Ribble as a sacred site on Preston’s Faith Trail, placing some tiles in UCLan Faith Forum’s Multifaith Mosaic, taking part in a panel on religion and gender at Cardinal Newman College and attending a Celebration of Faith at County Hall.

Building Bridges from Burnley at the Celebration of Faith event

Building Bridges from Burnley at the Celebration of Faith event

The latter was organised by Andy Pratt, who is the leader of Lancashire Faith Forum. This was a great opportunity to meet with members of forums from across Lancashire and to introduce UCLan Faith Forum and Pagan Soc to others. I was surprised to discover that few forums had contact with Pagans and none had Pagans on their executive committees. I’m hoping that now Paganism is recognised as a religion within the Interfaith Network this will change.

A more detailed write-up of the week can be found on Pagan Soc’s blog: http://uclanpagsoc.weebly.com/our-blog/interfaith-week-2014

Crow on the Old Tram Road

I photograph the long line of lime trees
yellowing, framing it like a painter,
catching patchwork colours
as if painting by number.

The caw of a crow
makes me lower the camera.
It is chasing two house martins
although crows do not chase house martins.

The crow is too big.

Approaching down the old tram road
getting bigger and bigger,
more upright,
tall as me, it passes through me
and I know I have crossed something on the spirit road.

Not long ago I made a powerful choice.

This is my world now. Not that picture
of a crowless scene but a road of omens and possibilities.

Old Tram Road, Penwortham

Oddity House

It’s a rickety old house with tainted windows.
Spiders coiled in corners cannot unthread webs
like linen sheets draping straight-backed mahogany chairs,
a dishevelled settee, skewed cushions. Soft mould grows
from china plates, green-grey spilling down table legs.
Over stray toys, dumb bells, metallic dog bowls and a cloudy poof,
mice chase an obstacle course, nesting in torn bean bags.
Chewed wires crack and fizzle like nerve endings.
Lights flash on and off. What weird moribund enchantment.

Did he leave her? Did she leave him? What happened
to the children? Could this be an evacuation?

Sirens wail overhead. Mice hunker down and spiders curl.
The ceiling opens to spiralling constellations.
A whirlwind unwinds the house in streaming webs,
dog bones, broken light bulbs of illumination,
a chest of love letters unlocked. His words to her
and her words to him insigiled on the night air.

Are they safer in the North; a man and woman, three children,
one dog, crouched in a cellar beneath terraces, cuddled round
a photograph of Oddity House as kind and angry words, spat
out Ludo pieces and coat hangers ricochet from slate roofs?

Or is there no escape from brutal engines, new walls, the house
that survives the hurricane to greet them in their next life?

Slugless

Most people do not like admitting to slugs
oozing in under their back door,
magically slick as solder,
rearing shining intelligent heads,
drivelling a slow glide across lino, up walls,
peering round the handle of a coffee cup,
dropping accidentally into tepid dregs,
entering the fridge to nurse an iceberg lettuce.
But they will admit to their slugs hesitantly
when everyone has gone home
and the silence is too big,
the need too great, the need to tell somebody
about the slugs! How they were seen
at midnight glistening spookily,
antennae raised like little radios,
sliding curiously as water
across work surfaces, on the draining board,
about fear of picking them up, though
they are only cold as the temperature,
of their shivery, mucousy skins,
mainly of treading them between the toes.
Most people will admit to their slugs
when the night is dark and shining
and icy bicycle trails serve as a reminder
of their flaxen bodies heading for doors
or windows. We take strange comfort
in the shared knowing they will be there.
However, one of my friends cannot
admit to any slugs. Instead he treads
the borderline, the perimeter of his garden fence
every night, hoping they will be there.
Not wanting to consider being slugless.
And even I, to whom the slugless confess,
cannot fathom the meaning of sluglessness.

Light Brown Slug - Copy