The Hedgerider's Lament
Part II: Candlemas Sestina
Winter rides the leafless hedgerow, black and aching for the thaw
a frozen masque of mummers misbegotten by the hag.
A dying moth in winter’s web, I’m null, unwarmed by fire.
I call to the guardian of the living earth to forsake her vestal well
to bring her yellow days and put an end to the strangling white;
instead of snow make milk for lambs and wake the sleeping sun.
I pulled the blackthorn's sloes and brewed the gin of autumn’s sun,
drank deep, then burned the sticks to keep alive until the thaw.
The Cailleach’s staff struck and brought the tedious vault of white
where water was married to restless air in the couplings of the hag.
There are bruises for the hand that cracks the ice-crust on the well
and earth’s white cloak hisses on the coals of the worldsmith’s fire.
Once amber green my fingers tore the world-skin, meeting fire;
finding only the haunt of a look, a tendriled scent that fled the sun.
No living hand can draw your twisting wisp from that black well.
Only wishes' mist can pass between, and dust awaits the thaw
I hunker by a murdered fire and bandy curses with the hag,
who laughs and shrouds my hedgerow tight in her bands of white.
Yet there’s Another coming when the blackthorn flushes white
and the wind will thrash the greening twigs as all is cleansed in fire.
The spring will dance her mayday on the apron of the hag,
and unwind the days and bring her bag of blue that holds the sun.
The Cailleach will freeze, a standing stone before the thaw,
while her snow becomes white water rushing azure to the well.
So day’s full light expands and ice is melted from the well.
Tomorrow’s gin is brewing in the blackthorn’s buds of white.
Grass-green grow the seedlings as the hedgerow starts to thaw
and winter stubble burns but I’m still cold beside the fire.
The blood-burned breach still shows itself a curse beneath the sun.
The silvery white bride’s smile still flirts with the eyes of the hag.
But a bride might need a midwife someday, hidden in a hag
and a hag might be more than a weight best cast into the well.
The carcass of dead caresses burns to ashes in the sun
and births a skin of amber green that swallows up the white.
Summer gives her pledge of life and bids me tend her fire,
and all her seed and kindred in the razor leaved hedgerow’s thaw.
Perhaps this year the sun will shine so clear and burning white
that the hag will laugh to see me in the mirror of the well
and I’ll forget the thing that’s broken as the world begins to thaw
For pronunciation of the word Cailleach, click here
I’ve borrowed heavily from Gaelic folklore in this piece, so I append a few background snippets to cast a little light on terms and definitions. Those interested in more detail can follow the wikipedia links:
Candlemas is a day of purification in the Christian faith often associated with the ancient Irish festival of Imbolc, celebrated in early spring.“… In Irish and Scottish mythology, the Cailleach …is a divine hag.. The word simply means 'old woman' in modern Scottish Gaelic.. The Cailleach evinces many traits fitting for the personified Winter:...she fights Spring, and her staff freezes the ground. …Some interpretations …describe the Cailleach as turning to stone on Bealltainn...
I’ve also made a few references to wells and fire that are associated with the Cailleach’s counterpart, Bridget or Bridhe, goddess of spring and summer, christainized as St Brigid.
Image: Cailleach by RedDragon102857