He tries to sink back through the earth,
Through iridescent slips of schist,
To where the rock can douse his eyes,
Quench fire of sight, dull iris light.
The space – which counts the stars as months,
And judges time by shadow falls –
where lives can howl and show their age.
Each tick of sun and moon: a death
Up here, where echoes never start,
He lays down low and feels through peat
The rocks beneath, the subtle heat,
The walls where blood is merged with night.
Unfreed, unbound, and lost beyond:
The air is thin and spiked with sound.
Outside the time of human facts
The dead come calling from the swamps.
The birds and butterflies don’t change.
The rocks once cast and carved remain.
The fears and sorrows flow like springs,
All down the ages stay the same.
And yours and mine are never lost:
They’ve found their place and blow like dust.
And these emotions, streams and hills
Are flesh beneath our shifting skin,
Are sight behind our blinking lids,
Are answers lost to truths and gods.
The swamps are deep and thick with snakes,
It’s there – in peace – we lose our hopes.
Before your long descent you bathe
In waters drawn from Acheron.
You feast and light the fires of death.
The shadows start to move and speak.
The first few steps into the dark
Will take you from the world you know.
These final minutes of your life
Will shred all sense of what is real.
The dampness of the walls and air
Has soaked your naked, puckered skin.
The deeper in the maze you move
The louder come the shadow’s taunts.
You stagger in your final room,
And here – where echoes cease – you see.
On Crete he dreamt of Epirus,
Of crossing through the stream of death,
Of drifting through the fields of hell,
Of casting off his monstrous form.
He dreamt one day the sword would thrust,
And free him from his prison walls,
Would let his eyeless soul see light,
Would kiss his throat and end the dark.
He ran his hands along the walls,
And felt the music of the stones.
The songs they sang of other worlds
Beyond this hateful measured place.
On Crete he dreamt of Epirus,
The mountain springs of Acheron.
The mystery ends when life ends
When eyes can see beyond this light
When fields are mountains, seas and skies:
A labyrinth of passing states.
The limestone springs which burst from cliffs,
The hawks and snakes which flow like streams,
The towns which grow and crumble back,
And through them all the binding thread.
Beneath a slope of sage in bloom
The monster licks his face and stares
Into the darkness of his lair.
He waits to take another life.
As all the other creatures here
He ties the strands of many fears.
The hawkmoth flew on silent wings
Around the dancing moon of fire,
With pink and tessellated eyes,
And scent of oleander brier.
A jackal prowled the maze at night.
She stripped the flesh and stole the bones.
She spoke the language of the hills,
And cowered when I cursed her moans.
A whipsnake sheltered from the sky.
It coiled and wound its way this deep,
To prey on rats and sleeping bats,
It warmed its scales on rotting meat.
They came as innocents, unplanned,
Like messengers of other lands.
They use the strongest men to cut,
The fleet to carve, the weak to smooth,
The dying breathe the dust and choke
On leaden lodes and metal veins.
They pile the spent in pits of lime,
Their bodies covered quick and deep.
The ones who make eternal works –
The slaves and workers – pay their tax.
The maze beneath the palace walls:
In marble, onyx, granite, bones.
The mines behind the Empire’s rise:
The tailings heaps which hide its graves.
They mark the cost of their success:
These kings and heroes, rich and blessed.
The Minotaur, he roamed the land,
And time again he saw his hand:
The empty fields and measured tracts,
The creeping maze of polished stone,
A beast with eyes as bright as stars,
And countless monsters bursting life.
He saw the cages rising high,
And Minotaurs that feasted well.
He overheard some words of death,
And tasted rancid, reeking air.
He saw the grabbing creatures fall,
He saw how he had turned them all.
And from the freedom of the moors,
At last he’d found his prison walls.
He thought the moor would never end.
He ran until his feet were raw,
Until he left a trail of blood
Congealing, black as caves at night.
This freedom broke just like his heart:
It severed joy and shattered veins.
He ran until the hurting ceased,
Until he had no more to give.
And there just where the bleeding stopped
The moorland track had turned to grass,
And reached the edge of high sea cliffs.
He stopped and stared into the waves.
The ocean heaved and rolled its dead,
The waters grey and thick with lead.
He runs the moor on gritstone paths,
The heather pollen thick in eyes
Unused to sun and distant skies.
He fears his shadow on the quartz.
He’d built an image of the breeze,
But now, at last, he feels her touch.
He looks about but cannot see
The fingers running through his mane.
He tastes the blood upon his tongue.
His heart is bursting through his throat.
The moorland paths run on and on,
Across a world un-walled, unknown.
Below the earth he stood up proud,
But here – so small – his head is bowed.
To love the beauty of the world:
How such a beast as this could live.
The nightingales and orange groves:
Beneath them all the fear and loss.
To love the mystery and the space:
The measurement of prison walls.
The moorland tops where skylarks rise
Above economies of death.
To love the way we grasp at truth:
Its horns are sharp and black with blood.
The only day we have is this.
The gods have made these memories strong.
The sun will rise beneath the earth.
The daily horrors count our worth.
In every pit there waits a beast
To break your will and snap your back,
To feast on every fear you bring:
And fears you’ll bring, and feast it will.
Just take the rope and lower away
And go in search of horns and snout,
And breath the stench of mustard gas,
And primal stew of sacrifice.
You need that beast to drag you on,
To shake you from the placid ways.
Its monstrous and divided lusts
Compel you to prepare for life.
For round the next uncertain bend
It just might be that this will end.
These Minotaurs: the lost and sad,
The broken bodied, buried, burnt.
These fragments of the tales and fears
Are scattered over ancients’ seas.
These Minotaurs: so full of pride,
Of lust, of frail and short-lived reign.
These horrors spawned which rise and hate
And tear the spirit from the heart.
These Minotaurs: the innocent
Chthonic children, bursting free.
The gods of tunnels, formed and planned.
The gods of monsters yet to be.
These Minotaurs which question us.
These Minotaurs betrayed by us.
The town wore dust as some wear skies,
Its buildings barely stood on props.
The crumbling had been centuries long.
A rootless people drifted through.
Around the town the maquis spread
Obscuring tablets pressed with tales,
And ancient bricks which burnt and broke:
The merest trace of palace walls.
Its stories scattered through the world,
With sails for wings and widening eyes.
They drifted off beyond the earth,
Became a breath, became a fear.
The truth lies lost beneath the scrub:
A pile of bones reduced to chalk.
(The title is from Seneca: Phaedra, 173ff)
From off the moors I’ve heard your moans,
And seen the blood stains on the stones,
The howl of fearful winter storms:
Above the doors I’ve seen the charms.
But were you ever any more
Than breath exhaled in voiceless awe?
A thought which lingered on too long,
And left the anguish clinging on?
And did you taste the cavern’s air:
The dampness, rock and trapped despair?
Your monstrous counting of the space:
The skeletal wrecks through which you pace.
And did the living curse your name,
And weep as lovers fed your shame?
The moon sits by her dancing maze
And spins her thread like spider’s silk.
She speaks of heroes, dreams of death,
And shows the dancers where to tread.
The planets one by one step up
And take the thread and dance the maze.
They face the sky and vault him high:
His horns are sharp and stained with blood.
The dancers keep a pounding beat,
They feel the earth beneath them groan.
The sky demands his sacrifice:
He tastes the pulse within them flow.
The golden crown of Thetis glints.
The moon will weep to feel its weight.
The seam runs through the field, beneath
The wall, beneath the house, beneath
The fear of darkness and of loss.
The seam is deep and rich and wide.
Around the Earth, throughout our time
The seam is dredged and scraped and blown.
The fires it lights explode the night.
The dressing floors are never still.
Beneath the moor the tunnelling spins,
Beneath the wilds made wilder still,
Beneath the need to feed the fires,
The need to feed the landlord’s will.
It merges, weights and drags us down,
Malformed we’re trapped: part beast, part god.
It’s just the same wherever cast,
The skeletal remains of beasts,
The broken doors, and backs, and will,
And eyes which shine at thoughts of death.
The innocent will take the blame.
The ones without will give it all:
The miners, herders, old folk, kids.
The shoeless walk the hardest path.
And deep below the brutal horns
Are gouging at another throat,
And taking yet another life,
And making yet another pound.
The creature knows the way of things,
It counts its truths and deems them fair.
To gods we are forgotten beasts
Whose only sacrifice is time.
We play, we suffer, pointlessly:
We know that look of weary rage.
If we were older, you and I,
A fight like this would seem absurd.
We’d sit together, spin our yarns,
And cling to deeds that once meant all.
I see the scars about your face,
The way you sway and hesitate.
You seem too heavy on your feet.
You don’t react, you hardly move.
No questions, cries or final words.
No mercy begged, no mercy shown.