Twilight of the gods
No, we are the dunes;
with flimsy crust,
with grass and scrub,
we hope to hold
against the dry,
the drift from shifting winds.
— from ‘I think, therefore . . . ?’
Osiris felt a weariness, a chill,
a numbness grip in toe- and finger-tips,
creep through limbs and slowly take the torso.
Well he knew the feel of death, that murdered
and dismembered one, rejoined, awakened
through wizardry of Isis, sister-wife
to find one wet dream’s ecstasy at least
was real enough to father hawk-head Horus
on her who flicked between falconiforme
and human as she hovered on his glans.
Well he knew the creep of death within
the dark and smother of the lead-sealed chest
his brother set to drift on delta currents.
But this time differed. Those same-forever moments
lived all at once by gods were stretching thin.
Far back, long, long before the days when Narmer
wedded white and red as double crown,
he’d taught his folk to break the soil, raising
barley and wheat to keep them through the hunger-
seasons and the dry; he’d taught them laws
to live by, the arts of human kindness; and in
the all-moments-present afterlife to which
his son and true-love sister-wife had raised him,
he’d ruled as pharaoh of the dead, as final
judge, gifting divinity to kings
and folk. But now even the deep-known, always-living
death-creep dwindled. The lavings, the offerings
of food, supporting ka and ba had ceased;
no sacred chant and dance to sistrum’s rattle,
to flutes and strings. The carved and painted scenes
on temple walls, those banks of sustenance
drained fast. The colours stayed; the life leached.
Those sibling lovers lingered long, had even
seemed to thrive beyond their fellow gods,
sustained by other peoples. All fragrance faded.
A newer, tortured one now pushed aside
Osiris as god of death and resurrection
and hawk-head Horus as the holy son
and Isis ever-mother giving suck.
In turn the bleeding one begins to fade. . .
II Ásgarð’s doom
Óðinn long-brooding the Æsir’s High-One
Ásgarð’s skald ever sought knowledge
counted not high the cost of tossing
the eye he plucked into the well
of Mimir’s draught in magic rich
foreseeing to drink from the spring of Yggdrasill
world-tree water wisdom clasping.
Skill-thirsty One-eye skolled his stolen
mead of song from Mani’s pitcher
(whose spillings marked with stains the moon
gave power to plant poems in hearts)
He stole it anew from Suttung father
to Gunnlöð the loyal the girl-giant he wed
and left to weep alone in her bride-bed.
Yet close and true she covered his flight.
In kenning-coining craft he waxed great.
Still hungry for knowledge he hanged himself
Óðinn to Óðinn offered on world-tree
with Gungvir speared (gift from black-dwarfs).
He swung nine days from the swaying bough
wresting from death runes and their magic.
One-eye unrestful wary always
heard tales uneasy that told him little
but boded ill and bleak for the Æsir.
A witch he sought out a wisdom-teller.
Deep he delved in death’s realms
and forth-calling her foretelling commanded
dark doom-saying dreadless hearing
in fartime how the fell rime-giants
whelming war would wage on Ásgarð
ruin raining Ragnarök’s shatter
till from doom dawning fresh days would open
by Baldr ruled reborn slain-one.
Slain-father Óðinn sought out the dead
glimpses seeking grasping ever
though why would the dead outwisdom the living?
One-eye watched wary ever
always against the ending battle
held to himself heroes war-slain.
He gathered also the gallows- and tree-hanged
hords to him offered a host in Valhöll
a guard for Ásgarð against the giants.
That gallows-greed gainsay it not
still far from sated in the forest of Teutoburg
when Hermann’s host holocausted
three legions with eagles led by Varus
nailed heads to trees heaped up captains
on altars in woodlands to Óðinn sent them.
Ill though fruited Óðinn’s wakefulness.
Gaze ever glanced (by glimpses murk-won)
split from where a speared one from east-lands
with nails tree-hung sent knowing stewards
calling to him kings and jarls.
He failed to fathom through full yearhundreds
loss creeping till loosened Ásgarð
into tales slid down of times long past.
Thór wasted of muscle wearied ever
and heavy hung the hammer Mölnir.
Óðinn grown brittle ached in bone
and Frey once proud sat phallus-drooped.
Ragnarök raged not from rime-ridden Útgarð
Lóki’s longship led no storming.
Through fading befell the fall of Ásgarð.
III Christus Pantocrator
For Jesus too the ways of death
were hard, with wisps of memory floating
loose in space and parts of faces
jumbled, even his name in shreds,
with no clear skill to sort and gather.
But in his first bewilderment
a something nagged his consciousness
and would not let him go until
he saw. At last it came to him,
the terror of his men-friends, the women’s
sorrow standing near his cross.
Through dimming sight, with air-starved brain
he’d seen his mother and his heartlove,
Miriam of the shepherds’ tower;
their tears returned to him the knowledge
they would wash his corpse with salt
and herbs, enfold him in a shroud
and bear him to a rock-carved tomb.
Trouble for those shattered souls
lent strength to manifest at last,
first to the lovely Miriam
wraith with body in special merging,
a time for joining and farewell;
then seek to lend the others heart.
The generations grew, and with them
anecdotes of healing; and sayings
heaped on sayings of god’s kingdom
as not an earthly rule with pomp
and power but already there
within. Paul and others lifted
him high a second time, called him
the Christ, anointed one. And higher
still some raised that landless one
to godhead enthroned beside the Father;
they bowed the knee before his glory.
It’s hard to pin it down exactly;
‘transparent’ seems not quite the word.
True, he floats majestic still
robed in gold and crimson, halo
back-lighting with radiating cross,
crowned with coronet, with right
hand raised in blessing, faded wrist-scar
showing above the fallen cuff,
and left hand holding a ruby-crusted
crosier of silver-gilt.
The brow-scars torn by thorn-cap
too are healed. All this seems splendid;
but where the inner radiance?
where the Christus Victor triumph,
death trodden down? From reredos
and dome the icons rule the naves;
and yet it seems a film of dust
that does not lift has dinged the splendour.
Pigments have lost their power, their lustre,
mosaic tiles their shine and sparkle.
The resurrected life drains out.
In lesser churches too with spaces
smaller and more intimate,
in halls frequented more by priests
and humble folk than kings and bishops,
paint lifts in tiny flakes; it powders
from icons graved of wood or stone
to leave bare forms in faded greys.
The Lord Pantocrator to whom
of old, with bended knee and eyes
uplifted, bowed imperators
and kings, and oceans broke their waves —
that Lord grows tired of arm and torso,
grows dull of sight; his staff drags heavy;
the feet are shod with lead, not leather;
his eyes stare as from hollowed spaces.
Few are left who chant his praises,
the grey, the white, the stout, the stooped,
and rare the children in his halls.
The Kyries and Glorias
rise thin and faint, mere wisps of sound,
and Credos scarcely reach his ear.
Few hear his message; fewer care;
and rulers mouth the dry-gourd words
ever followed by a ‘but . . .’