Ogrin and the Boy


You climbed my rock
today a snot nosed child
dirt on your cheeks cold cracked
bearing a warm pot wrapped in rags
to buy time with a crazy holy man.

Tomorrow as a bird you'll come
a speckled buzzard, or a crow
black as a midnight cloud,
dark as the heart of hypocrites.

Or sometimes as a shepherd or a traveller
A sovereign or a waxen girl
Wanting my presence or my words.

To some I am an oracle
others, a lunatic.
The time I cared for which is gone.
You've come to listen
and paid your way with food.

I'll teach you all you need to know
though you'll not understand a word.
Now it's my time to speak
and spin my unheard life before I go.

What did you see here on your way?
Flesh caught in stone
the dribblings of my rocky candle
showing more true than any chiseller could
the world of muscle, fat and skin?

We live in fragile bags of blood.
In Roche my home, flesh does not die
folded forever into curves
locked into stone my rock
kept in cold hell.

One day they'll want to cloak
these images. Some Abbot,
preaching morality, and in the name of Jesu
will burn these stones,
maybe with me aboard.

Remember this, boy,
look past the vestments that they wear,
look for the colour of the bird that perches in their chest.

If you can learn to see the coal
that smoulders in the craw
of those that run the roost
you will do well.

Look, as you go away, back at the Rock
right at the top
you'll see a lifeless cock.
I've got beyond it, boy.

Mad in the heart, mistaught,
I made the jump that turns life inside out
fled to the monastery
hoping that holiness and echoing stone
would quench the fire.

Don't try it. Sure there are some in there
who seem to win the war on selfish flesh,
but they are few, and most hold
to rigid discipline
shot through with tainted lust
that they apply to anyone without a sword
like Saxons in a broken town.

I saw where they were to
and fought them off
with stronger arms
and with my wit and words.

They hated me,
and I them, though at least I tried
if not to give, then to forgive,
but each soft scream from buggered novices
rekindled my desire
to see them shamed or dead.

Slowly I learned
that justice is a long lame horse
and Mark could no more intervene
than fly.

That's why I came here to this lonely rock
this dragon snout my buzzard's lair
to fight the fire.

Some days, the Higher comes to earth.
All movement stops except
the gentle drift of wood smoke working up
or wheeling birds that climb a spiral staircase
only their wings can sense
leading them not to parapets, but clouds.

Smoke feathers from the settlements of men,
one there, one there
chewing away at rolling forests
and sometimes, when the wind is right
I hear sharp fragments of a harp or pipe
sometimes a shout, or woman's voice
drifting on the wind,

and on those days
when Light comes down to earth
and men are far away
our deeds shrunk down to innocence
we seem too small to hurt the way of God.

The Great can tolerate our tickling,
and if we bite, he brushes us away.
Those days, I know we are not wholly lost
that Spirit still survives.

Those days, I see on the horizon
Dinas to north and west,
the other sentinels around
each scanning their wide ring,
links in a chain that reaches east to Cador's forts
to where the Wan's Dyke draws a line
between ourselves and slavery.

Those sentries feeling too
the rush of love that comes on happy days,
yes, and the Saxon sentries in their way, they feel the Peace.

Those days are few.
The fair horizon closes down again
Earth's shining colours drain away
and clouds return
but for that time, heaven is close to earth.

Roche is my refuge from the world of men,
their lies and foolishness, false smiles
and secret words.

I swapped their images
for crude existence. Hunger and cold
took me to heart. My stomach
chewed on itself like a trapped fox.

Within a week, the wolf winds came,
shrieked in the gullies of the stone
until they woke the demon of this place.

The Devil lives in fire within the earth.
This rock, and many like it,
are portals of his home.

I fought for hours within the storm
crying out Jesu's name
adding my screaming to the tortured wind.

Facing the power of Satan at his gate,
one human will against the Otherworld
was not enough. My words of faith
would calm the nightmare for a spell,
then it came back with greater force.
I faded like a wounded warrior
who knows this battle is his last.

The moment of my death, my Ally came.
The cloak of darkness ripped, and Light
- sweet peaceful Light -
flooded the space.

I looked, and golden Michael stood above
his wings across the sky
his sword a sun cutting the night time air.

The Nightmare sank away,
back in the earth.

Time was as still as ice.

My mind was seized by knowledge
that I was here, a sentry at the gate
and that this service, though severe,
was mine alone.

I am a slave to Light, a temple guard,
known to the One, as you are too, boy
although you are asleep
until some time when your simplicity
will find the Peace.

In every action that we make,
the merest word, the scowl, the smile,
Heaven and Hell
are working out their strife.

That flower of grass,
there by the rock
shaking its modest head
contains more beauty than
a bishop's gold encrusted hook;
it's singing, if you listen well.

Music is everywhere.
Michael's movements make long melodies.
Those songs you sing around the fire
they come from Spirit, like the flower.

The great is wrapped within the small,
and in the smallest part, the whole world stands.

No wonder that they call me mad,
I see beyond the surfaces
and know that in my nothingness
I find the world.

Michael is always with me here,
though I forget sometimes,
and why a Being of his kind
should need a bag of bones like me
I neither know nor ask.

Trees go from green to grey and back again,
the seasons turn, kings change
but Michael and his world stand fast.

What if the Saxons break the wall
that Cador holds with Arthur's help?
What if they drive us all across the sea?
What if the harp and pipe should in the end fall still?
What if the sea should deal with us, as Lyonesse?
Michael remains, and more, the One he serves.

I suffer on. My body calls at times
informing me of pain and emptiness
waking my wailing self, and sometimes - still -
I think to move a little to the left
where there's no rock to prop me
and take a moments fall
to crack my eggshell head
a hundred feet below.

Ignore self pity, boy.
Death serves both God and Time.
It's bad luck to command the Fates.
I hold my task, helped by my Ally
and by this food you brought.

You came to practice patience.
I know you care for none of this
but hear me out, hoping for Arthur's name.

When I was young, I wanted Avalon.
A good monk (one of the few)
Knowing my heart, took me along
a three day trek, of which I recall one thing,
stones set in mud, mud set with stones,
the path in front of me
with fleeting glances at the greening world
until we came to Avalon.

It was a sea, but not like one that you have seen.
No movement, just a vast flat shallow lake
some islands, some with reeds.

In dry years, most of it is marsh,
but when I saw it, it was bright,
lace trimmed with drifting shreds of mist
and in a tiny delicate canoe
we paddled out to Avalon.

Silky, unruffled by the wind
and not the slightest sign of wave,
except the ones we made.

We came as day light fell,
and candles - hundreds of them - sparked the night
The song of monks was echoing the songs of heaven
and for a second I saw angels joining in
real as I saw Michael when I came to Roche.

You want to hear me speak of Arthur.
I'll make you wait. Stretch out your silent company
- the sort I like - and suck the soup you brought.
Your mother knows her herbs.
Give her my thanks.

Most come for comfort,
wanting a cure or prayer.
Some thank me kindly,
others go back to men
complaining of my manners and my smell.

Let them do as they wish.
Their moods do not move me.
This rock's my shell and hiding place.
I leave all changing things behind

except for one.

I brought a dress once
for a Queen.

Yes, I had gold,
a few bright shining coins
printed with Caesar's face,

Often I thought to throw them down,
buy sanctity through giving up that last small hold
on human life.
Hated myself for grasping them,
screamed at me like an Abbot
who's found a crust of bread
under some poor monk's paliasse.

That gold gave guilt to me for years - listen -
until that night when in my dreams
I saw the Fugitives begging for help.

Three time I woke, three times I dreamed
them pleading forgiveness with no words.

Dawn came, the dream remained
a foul dress on fair flesh.

Smothered in grief, I stayed for hours
numb to the world
blind to the visits of my birds
until I heard the scrape of climbing feet.

Down there - along the way you came,
I watched the prince and princess of my heart
making their pilgrimage.

They stood before me, Tristan and Yseult
bone thin and ragged
burnt brown as nuts
skittish as deer
but with far wilder eyes.

I could not bear to look at them
for all the lonely pain they carried there;
I, who look all people in the eye
to read the things their words may hide away.

Nor could I speak, for I,
who spoke my heart to men
when truth might end up in my death,
I was made dumb by fear
and lost my tongue, a child
who's brought before a king.

They took my silence then for surliness
thinking I judged them as the crowd.
And so in part, an un-purged moral part,
I did. I had scant love of Mark,
had seen the leavings of his anger
but he's a man, and most men at the top
fall foul of wisdom.

But robbery of any kind
can only add to grief
in this grief sodden world,
and robbery of love…

Besides, I'd met him,
and he saw the man in me
that others miss among the lunacy.

They used my quietness
to give their evidence.

The wounded warrior, healer maid,
of broken blades and broken hearts
avenging anger, how he talked her down
the reason for his mission
and the setting sail
all passed me by, until they told me
of the weird brew they'd drunk
aboard the southbound ship.

I jumped. I'd met power of Irish herbs before.
How they can change the way we see.

In Erin there were folk
before the Celtic song was heard
and in between their fighting
the Irish picked up skills from them
among them, medicine.

It's not a snag for them to open up
the inward eye
and show your dreams as bright as day
nothing for them to kindle love
like thatch on fire.

The hero blamed the nurse
but only a lovesick fool
could down an Irish tea
mistaking it for wine.

Then though I understood
and looked up, bonded with
their shining eyes
and felt the ties of outcast friendship form.

I saw their hard resolve
to enter once again
the world of men.

Even the deepest love,
lived out alone
can bring you crawling back
to be again part of the humdrum crowd.

I'd been through that.
How could it be that I could pass the test
when Tristan, mighty Tristan
not alone, but with his one heart's love
could fail?

He had his Michael-lady there
could see and touch his angel
by day and night, outside and in,
and yet he failed. Was it for her?
Was it because of how they were
raised and brought up to be in company?

Did they face demons worse than the one
who hides beneath my Rock?
Or was it for the mercy shown to them by Mark
that time they slept?

They talked, the sun grew strong
and stung our heads. Clouds came
and scattered water on our burns,
then cleared away, and as
a silver sun bent over Dinas
I heard them through, still silently,
Since once the tongue is locked
It falls asleep.

They stopped. In silence then
I had no words to say
and felt a sudden fear
as when I lay beneath
the demon of the
Rock. I who can read a pilgrim
by the way he climbs,
I had no word for this.

They had turned back.
Mercy had wrenched their souls apart.
She should return. Sole Love was not enough.
They must run lives among the world of men.

And so this faun, this being of beauty
had learned she must leave Love.
And then I read her agony.
For all the loss of love,
the thing she wanted
was that she should not go back
dressed out in skins.

Still dumb, I crept out madly down the rock
to find the gold. I gave it her -
the hermit gave the queen not wisdom
but the gold she needed to buy cloth
so in that cloth the world would see a queen
not a wild pig.

Maybe there's sense within the way the world is run.
I have no eyes for it.

I've lost him. Over there, he sees the coneys
skipping in the sun, and wants a stone
to kill and be the hunter back at home.

Look for the Dragon's nose, lad, as you go.

I knew a seaman once,
who cut the sea within the world.
He saw a perfect dragon far away
Its jaw was biting on a hill,
its back writhing with black scales and wings,
and at its mouth, huge fire.
They turned and ran.

Don't heed their tales of heroes, boy.
No one, not even Tristan, could face a dragon.
Why make up enemies, while we have mortal men?

This Rock could be the cold bone of a nose.
I saw the landscape heaving up with heat
Lugg's bubbling cauldron, cooking an Earth
for us to live out all our lives.
Maybe he boiled the flesh away,
leaving this part he could not crack.

This place is sometimes too the axle tree
of all the world. Time slips and slides.
I've seen that forest to the south
cut into ramparts by an evil race
gigantic beetles
greater than the biggest wain you've seen
clashing - sometimes I hear them still -
singing and groaning like a dying horse,
shining and pitiless without a heart of any shade.
No light within, only a bitter strength
greater than those who laid the Stones.
They carved the hill in ramparts, incomplete
raised mounds without a grave
laid lakes in which no fish would jump
prepared a castle which could touch the clouds
but which they never built.

He thinks I'm mad.

I did see Arthur once. Smelt him first
him and his company upwind ten long miles.
The day was bathed in golden warmth
now that the Land has woken up.
The wind was just a movement of still air
mixed in with trumpet gorse.

I caught the first shrill tang of blood.
A metal flash, and silently
I watched them wind like centipedes
across that valley there
and all the time the scent of blood and flesh grew more.

I turned out with the crowd to meet them
standing awash with gratitude and love,
maybe a little fear
I watched the first outrider come.

His eyes were widely fixed with watchfulness
and branded with a scene that pressed his mind
much harder than our shouts.

Eyes wide and white, sky blue
shot through with blood
but in the well where sprit drinks the sun
his spark was tinged with red, and round his eyes, face red
and round his face, his hair
dung with a reddish tinge.
His cloak - a brownish red. His harness
stained with blood. A chestnut horse.
His shield and standard a red kite

Again his eyes exchanged that spirit spark.
I saw that he had felt
the silent opening of meat
that sees a sword.

I saw a mother's face and this time heard
her broken wail. The scream continued
and we both looked at his blade,
half hidden in its sheath.

What did he make of it? Triumph or guilt?
His face was carved of oak.

He clattered by, and all the rest filled up the lane.
I was too tangled in the brambles of the vanguard's life
to take much note of Arthur.

To him I was a shabby monk
one face among the crowd,
the face he chose to watch.

I saw a horseman, like his vanguard
tinged with the fire and weariness of war
but with a depth that was more dark
than I have ever felt.

His eyes
carried the blackness of a lonely tarn
a depth that should contain a secret.

I felt a power in him,
his presence fed our gratitude
made us feel real for once,
our feeling fed his spirit
and passed it back to us
a growing circle
or a self consuming snake.

Sorry to let you down.
Arthur did well for us
but he's a man
and you and I are kings
within our heart.

Now it is time for you, young prince
to make your way back home
before the night
swallows your tender path.

He's gone.

Gone with the dying sun
counting another day
another life
until the flesh will dry and rot
and this my knowing self will find the light
and live with Michael

maybe to return

But let me not come back into the time of insects
except, with Michael's help, to bring the inward fight
to victory.

© Richard Lawson
Congresbury 2003-6

© 2001 R. Lawson This page was last updated on 22.3.03