The shortlisted entries are, in alphabetical order, Stream by Kester Reid, The Room at Waterside House by MJ Oliver, In the Valley of the Shadow by Adrastos Omissi, About Witches by Charlotte Stevens and Above Grasmere by Penny Walker. Congratulations to you all!
You can enter the Wild Words Winter Solstice Writing Competition now. Entries close on December 21st 2015.
by Kester Reid
The sunshine takes me walking. Rainy season sweetens heat. Sun is climbing, near its peak, but this leafy space is cool-cool, and has yet more hours of rowdy peace before heat rises, and reaps its silence. I make for my stream ‘Piedrita’: little stone. And here the sun itself streams thickly into shadow scenes. So bright, it deepens shaded space, emboldens the dance of Dark with Light. And the Truth is never still. Here my glinting marvel is this stream’s tiny perfection. Miniature river of round yellow pebble, complete with pools and patches of sand. I sit central on a gracefully twisting log, wet with gleam. Waiting for nothing, I watch the moving silence. And liquid light ripples gold upon green undersides of leaves. Fallen branches arch over in grand decoration, vines entwined throughout them, splaying, displaying. I notice ahead of me, you are an oh-so-slowly winding vine, bridging the brook. And your yellow trumpet flowers peek at me, seductive; each one hanging, hidden, under a perfect leaf roof, fleshy green, and spread out in a fan. And underneath each roof of leaf you show me dark splashes of red. Wombish stains of your claim to our same blessing: life and death. I marvel, your leaves so wide-flat-fan spread from creeping stems, waving hands of soft flesh that shelter delicate secrets flowering. Whilst from above all is so green and unseen. I hear a hovering, a whirring, and ‘jempe’, hummingbird, humbers past in a blast of streaking brilliance. Right beside me and through an impossible gap, a stream-portal of fell-chance over a miniscule pool gurgling…through in a flash, and then gone. But you’re buzzing, I hear you, and so suddenly there! dipping, splashing, dancing for moments, and then gone. Now back! And again gone, like a splash – in the green serene lake of my dream. But now here’s a deeper hum. Look to my side and here is bumble bee, but BIG, striped BOLD black and yellow and buzzing strong. I watch you a time as you return over and again to just the same sticky spot of good mud… what are you doing? Not eating, as I thought. Not drinking, no. You trundle on the ground, collecting great mouthfuls of puddle paste. You hover for a moment and transfer to dangling legs. Again you land, munch, hover, and transfer. And so grow two building bundles hung with care on bumble limbs. And then off downstream at a steady hum-buzz, and gone for a minute or two. Back again, and same task at wing… you must be building things. Caves and tunnels and honey-pods perhaps. A whole home of foraged earth. Wet right now, but drying firm and proud by when the afternoon brings cloud. Do you know you are a true master? And didn’t you teach us of cement?
I wander downstream a few steps, still sands shift beneath my feet to swirl and swim, and tiny pebbles crunch together softly. Spiders’ homes are strung every place, in great communities, or alone. Many cast their net horizontal, trampoline-like over streamlife, and I guess you must be specialists in your sport. I step around, and careful-through: ‘won’t be the one who breaks you’. Turgid pop of swamp-loving stems bursting under my weight, as I slow-rustle through fleshy foliage and find a fungus garden foresting the steep slopes of dying tree-roots. Tiny white mushrooms curving up from the buttress mountainside, like a vast rolling stand of tropic palms. Clinging on just tight enough, not tight at all, ready to fall. Delicate cloud-grey caps tremble altogether – ‘do you feel it, my vibration?’ And here above, a nest, abandoned at head-height, with a single leaf drifted down upon its top. Tiny, for a tiny bird, who weaved it fine with living threads, and worked in softening moss to line the bed of feathered babies, who shreeped for some busy time, then flew, and gave her rest. A story willingly left, and all alive. Here the perfect stream spreads into swamp, and I’ll not pass. Crystalline divine dives into spreading dark. And upstream from where I sat all closes out to thorns. No more than 30 winding paces in between. One of the tiny places holding worlds in which to Dream.
The Room at Waterside House
by M.J. Oliver
A leopardess paws
at the cage of my thinking,
Seductive and dappled
as jungle sunshine, the abattoir scent
on her breath the only clue
to ferality. Through the bars
I see her eye-lids slowly open,
slowly close, a gentle dusting
with her lashes, tear-ducts
gleaming. Her cub
rubs his forehead
on the rosettes of her throat,
from her muscular tongue,
his closed eyes smile
in feline idolatry.
Irritated by his idiotic frailty
she sinks her teeth in his neck, chews,
spews out the meat
through the bars of the cage,
curls up alone inside my head
In the Valley of the Shadow
by Adrastos Omissi
Uncoffined, they laid her. The sunlight, dappled by the stained glass, touched her face. The patterned light took some of the deathly, waxlike pallor from her skin. But she did not look like she was sleeping. They never look like they are sleeping.
He knelt before the altar, staring at the body. He had no more tears. They had run until they had washed his soul away and now he was an empty vessel. One empty vessel looking at another.
The monks had finished their chanting and the church was emptying again. A novice, casting furtive glances at the body, was changing the candles in the chancel. Hoping to send the boy fleeing with a harsh word, he wearily filled his lungs with air, but all that came forth was a pitiful moan, like the sound corpses make. It caught in his throat with a rattle and he sobbed. The boy fled anyway.
He could not bear to look at her, nor could he find the strength to look away. How had he been so foolish? After all these years, how had he been so foolish?
He had cheated death in the famine under Edward of Caernarfon. He had survived the great plague under Edward’s son, in 1348 and again in 1350. He had outlived an arrow that had pierced his groin at Homildon Hill. He had outrun pneumonia, bloody flux, a dozen fevers and poxes, and even given old age the slip more times than he knew how to count. Each time, the sands in his glass had run down to their last and he had made his flight. Each time it had cost another, but before so monstrous a thing as death any price had to be paid.
Where had he learned it, this gift of his? He could no longer remember. Only in rare and fleeting moments, when the smell of rain on pine trees would take him back to a long forgotten past, could he recall any life he had lived that was real. When he smelt the pine trees beneath the rain he would remember, for a fleeting moment, a distant song and warmth and red hair between his fingers.
He knew that he had been old, so very old, when the Northmen came across the sea. Even in those long forgotten days, before William, before Alfred, he remembered the scent of pine, and how it haunted him, and how it made a weariness that he could not bear come down upon him. And he would run. But he could not escape the weariness. It was inside him.
He had learned it, that much he knew. This dark magic had not been born in him. Someone had it taught to him, for he remembered the words. Nothing more than little snatches, here and there, but he remembered them. He remembered them in English, though he knew that they had not been so spoken to him.
He knew now nothing of the language that had first quickened on his tongue. He longed to speak it, but it stuck in his throat and would not come, like a dream fleeing before the morning. It was all gone, save only that one, terrible word. Maithair. Mother.
Keep nothing close that you love.
Those were the words. That was how to do it. How to survive. How to keep going inside. How to keep cheating that wind that blows the candle dark.
This choice he had not expected to be foisted on him. True, he had wondered how it would be to leave her behind and go on in the world without her. But he had expected that moment to be far from him, to enjoy many happy years in the bliss of her youth.
But then he had fallen. The rock had caught him as he fell and then… that final moment as the ground found him. He had never known anything like it, as if pain were a lake that he had been quenched in and it had soaked deep through him, shattering his bones. When she came to his side, he had no time to think. Life barely clung to him. He reached up, and he took life from her.
And now, uncoffined she lay beneath the altar. Pine branches had been laid about her, as if to mock him. Their perfume rent at him.
You had to believe that their story was not your story. That the songs they sung were not your songs and their joys could not reach your joys. That was how you kept going, kept fighting the weariness.
For death was the greatest evil and it could only be fled. Before death there was no other recourse. Death had to be fled, forever.
And you could not believe that if you loved them.
He stood and turned from the altar. He could not stay to see her buried. The scent of pine had found him and now he must go far away. Far away to live, and live, and live…
A dry sob racked through him as he thought of it, and he slipped from the church. He wanted to die. But he knew he never would.
by Charlotte Stevens
Ripped out of me this thing. Ripped out of me.
How did it come to this? How did it come
To me who knew to keep my secrets tight,
Fist-tight, not flung palm-spread, lips tight-shut dumb?
My wet heart once conker hard, conker bright,
Safe in its wrathful shell, rendered to none,
Spun. Spun from the belly warmth of my trees
To things unknown. Me, who saw what flames do.
By fire we were scourged, flames filling the breeze,
But dawn was different: the reproach of dew
And it was cold water took out my breath.
A defeat so profound, a drowning fate.
No glory fire. A defeat that took death
By water to rightly articulate.
It is a lust, the scent of a lightening spark,
That curling paper black and slow, so played
Open slow in creeping orange light.
How did it come to death by their wet zeal?
How did it come to daylight’s bright ordeal?
Clutched feathers, feather light and fingertips.
All I asked for were feathers. All I asked
For were some scraps of paper, light as down,
And ink. Some blackish ink and little scraps
And quiet. All I asked for was black ink
And quiet: pillow quiet drawing down.
Black ink, soft feathers, quiet: dark and down.
But there's a magic to this suffering.
Oh, there's a beauty in the twist of it.
How did it come to this from mutterings
By light of lapping candle flames soft lit?
And vouch how with my thumbs to my toes bound?
With my mouth stuffed, arms pinned, feet tied, vouch how?
My heart was in my mouth; my mouth was gone.
Yet I wasn't afraid. In madness I wasn't afraid.
With scrying best kept to blue midnight's arms,
In my brokenness, multiple, I wasn't afraid,
Laid out, bound, with all my broken charms.
Each offering, each muttering, each scrap
Are words half-formed in half-light, a struggle fight:
The play, sun bright, of flames on water mad.
The ghosts of things deranged, exhilarated
Yes, best keep scrying to blue midnight's arms.
In moonlight gather up twigs and things:
The toy light of small dark things igniting.
Each scrap alone is un-declarative,
But gather pieces scattered up.
by Penny Walker
We climbed above Grasmere, not really together:
Clumpy mums behind skinny skipping kids,
Your heels higher than my head all the way,
Until the grass levelled out and Easedale tarn glittered up at us.
Folding your fleece, I held your soft shirt to my face
Warm, sweet child-smell, will-o-the-wisp.
I built a cairn of clothes: pants in pockets, socks in shoes
Covered the pile with a beach towel, garish against the gentle turf.
Your legs were thinner in the water, greeny white, paler than bone.
You faltered, crouched - firmer with each deepening step.
Stretched out fully you slipped through the chilled broth: a seal-frog.
Swiftly too far out for me to call you back.
The rock in the middle was big enough for two gangly girls.
You stood and waved: brave, strong, independent.
Shivering slightly, showing all your pearly teeth in mile-wide smiles,
Mermaid hair dropping silver favours to the fish.
Your safe return is a commonplace miracle.
I cannot swim out to you – too old, too slow, too cold.
Your supple aquatic youth brings you back.
I enclose you in moss-flecked terry cotton as you dress.