Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Myrðaling



The Myrðaling
A Ghost Story





Cold across the portal
through the shadow of the veil
the child shivers at me
wild-walking the mirk.
She's thin as she'd never been
when she lay as she was left,
tiny feet kicking in a stiff skin wrap,
taller too than when her kicking stopped
alone in the bramble where the light broke
as the snow wound blue
around her like smoke.

Now she can walk miles
through the night from the black
back corners of the winter before
and after all things
for she's passed the rock door;
on the slaughtering shadow
that splits the soft loam
she blows like a seed that won't be sown
but must be milled instead
on the stone of years
with a river of bones.

She opens her mouth
and sings like the plague
for a name of her own
to give her a grave.
Take mine I say--it's all I have
for a night sister here in the dying year,
where we've gone too far
to turn around, where too soon
we eat the bread of the dead,
where spirit can weigh
as heavy as flesh when the veil falls away.

Then the moon-twin came out of her lost disguise;
I saw the child smile, and close her eyes.



~October 2014





posted for    real toads
Challenge: Get Listed with Grapeling
Grapeling (It Could Be That) hosts a very seasonal prompt, and asks us to include at least three words from a sinister list he has provided to tell a campfire-worthy ghost story. For the list, follow the link to real toads above.

Process notes: In Scandanavian folklore, a myrðaling, (from Old Norse, 'myrða,' murder) or more properly, myling, was the ghost of a child killed by its mother in infancy, usually  the child of an unmarried woman, or of a poor family unable to provide for it, abandoned in some unfrequented place and forced to walk the earth seeking burial. The myling might appear and reveal the acts of its killer in a song, or call out for a name, when the hearer could save the spirit by saying "take mine' so that it might then rest in consecrated ground, (as in this poem) or it might vengefully possess the living, jumping on their backs and forcing the victim to carry them to a graveyard, growing heavier with each step. You can read more in this wikipedia article.




Image: The Strawberry Girl, 1777, by Joshua Reynolds
Public domain via wikiart.org
I have manipulated this image.



16 comments:

  1. dang.....nice descriptions and layering...
    sings like the plague...shivers....my fav part though is how you layered

    she blows like a seed that won't be sown
    but must be milled instead
    on the stone of years
    with a river of bones.

    because each line is an image that sticks but the progression through is really cool if you just read it one line at a time...

    she is rather haunting....

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  2. This is such a balance of scary and sad. What an amazing image is a child abandoned to death and then having to wander to find respite personified in your line: tiny feet kicking in a tight skin wrap and milled on the stone of years with a river of bones. And that heartbreaking singing like a plague for a name made me grateful you gave her yours in the recognition that we all eat the bread of the dead. An unforgettable story, Hedge.

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  3. Hi Joy, I seem to be having terrible problems posting on Blogger lately as I had some gmail password issues last week, and now every comment seems to get eaten. So I posted something earlier that has disappeared. (Not that it was such a great comment.)

    A very moving, very sad poem. I've always loved this emphasis on naming in this kind of legend/mythology (used also a lot by Ursula LeGuin in those wonderful Earthsea books) , but here you make it very clear that the naming is not so much about magic words, as about acknowledgement--that the naming has to do with a recognition of existence or of suffering, and the giving of a name, is really giving compassion, but in this case giving a name is also a kind of parental act--the parent lost, and now another person steps up to the plate and gives a name, acknowledges, cares for. And here one has very much the sense that the abandoned child is calling like-to-like and that we all have that abandoned child growing up and wandering around in us, kicking against our own skin wraps. Of course, the basic scenario here is terribly affecting, but your physical and lyrical description of the scene makes it all the more so. I also like the reversal on the idea of the flesh as the bread of life (a/k/a communion)--here a different communion where eternal death is sought rather than the eternal life of wandering around suffering. Also kind of reversal on the babe as savior. k.

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    1. Ha! Worked. I also like that I read the title as "my railing." I guess it's murder, but here it seems very much like a plaint. Great pic btw.k.

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  4. Whoa! The poem is fantastically well written, with many wonderful lines but I found your notes of explanation equally riveting........I had not heard about mylings before.......climbing on one's back and growing heavier with each step - maybe THAT'S what happened to my life, LOL. Seriously great writing, Joy, as always. You never bring anything less than your best.

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  5. I picked out the same lines as Brian as faves. I'm glad you went for the merciful ending too, which is quite beautiful.

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  6. Oh, I love your ending, Hedge...free at last...I'll tell you, I was totally rapt of your spooky story, Hedge! I love your rhyme choices especially bread/dead and your 7th and 8th lines were pivotal, for me. Excellent writing!

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  7. There are tears and fright with this one. " She opens her mouth and sings like the plague"...that's just a tiny bit of the whole piece that I love. Great work!

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  8. a shiver I sit, staring at crumpled lines that I leave unpublished, but glad (if that is the right word) for this pen. I grew up across the street from a cemetery, and wondered, when the foghorn lowed, whether the children's graves in the oldest part of the graveyard kept them in. and tonight, I think not... thanks for adding your voice ~

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    1. That's a bit of synchronicity if you will, M-I too grew up with a cemetery directly on the other side of our back alley--its walls covered with wild hollyhocks, and really vast--Chicago-vast. I also worked with a Cuban refugee who wouldn't go into a cemetery we maintained in the park system as he said he could 'hear the children crying." Your own poem for this challenge was one I won;t soon forget.

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  9. In nature, infanticide by the mother occurs in many species. Female swine and rabbits kill their young if they are weak or resources run low -- it's called "savaging." Rats. Wasps. Sharks. Nearly a third of all infant orangutan deaths are caused by their mothers. Always there's a grim necessity. With human mothers, we add mental and economic woes--addiction or insanity or debt. If a choice between a boy and a girl must be made, often it's the girl who's killed. The human debt is trebled because we remember these acts, personally and collectively. A human mother's conscience renders such acts unspeakable. The deeds are more hidden and buried. Thus the haunting, which is less by the dead upon the living as the living on themselves. Framing all that in this All-Hallows ghost tale both intensifies and sanctifies the horror, accounts the collective sin while making personal redress. Adopting the folktale thus mothers the child, offer a ghostly loss in the speaker's own tale a consecrated place for burial. The incantory poetics here raises the vaporous portal (where the veil is thin) with chilling and brutal clarity, deft both in seeing the sad child out walking alone in the freezing night and calling out to that child with a mother's voice. (Or solving the conundrum by finding a middle ground of sisterhood.) The gift in the penultimate stanza is the boon of sharing one's own grave -- housing the tale with one's own bones, offering shelter to a "night sister." For the child has grown on even though the crime's slaughtering moment still haunts the rooks, eternally trapped in the downstroke of the deed. "Then the moon-twin came out of her lost disguise; / I saw the child smile, and close her eyes" -- thus the mother is forgiven because the child at last welcomed. Three tibia trombones of All-Hallows huzzah for this, Hedge, amid the raucous applause of the skull chorus.

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    1. Brilliant review, Brendan. There is a whole lot of wisdom and understanding of both natural and unnatural deeds here.

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    2. Yes, indeed, B--thanks for the effort and insight and time that went into the framing of this comment. i came across this folktale by accident (on the mishmash of memes and screams I call Farcebook, one of the nordic myth pages I follow) and it began haunting me almost immediately upon reading it. As you know(or maybe you don't) due to my personal history, the fate of this child, in another time and place, might easily have been mine--the search for a name of my own certainly was. Perhaps its the same for many of us, whatever the conditions of birth--we are denied or betrayed by those who should nurture us, and seek forever for resolution. Anyway, as so often, here the salvation of both parties lies in kindness, in giving and forgiving, as you so accurately observe. Thanks as always for reading, and for the understanding.

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  10. There is nothing creepier than a ghostly child for me... This taps into those tales of babes in the woods, changelings and children stolen away under the hills. I found the speaker's desire to give the child a name to use very appealing as a way to conclude the narrative.

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  11. First of all, what a great choice of subject, and an education for me. I had never heard of such a ghost child, but it makes perfect sense. To be nameless *and* murdered would certainly be cause for haunting in any cemetery in the land. Or peat bog. Or...well, the list goes on.

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'Poetry is an echo asking a shadow to dance' ~Carl Sandburg