Wild Swans


For J-9, though words will never be enough. For now, I wish you Joy on your birthday.

A hundred years and more ago (a hundred eighty-three)
It was that year in ’38 this story came to be
A story rife with wild swans, and of their sister true
But for your sister, now a swan, you tell it new

There was a jealous queen (of course), so perilous and fell
Though in your case, an addict’s rage called down your living hell
The wickedness of each, in turn, turned sibling into swan
Elisa had eleven swans, but you have one

This wicked world would give us toads to uglify our minds
To vanquish energy and will, make tenderness unkind
But fairy tales turn toads to poppies, red as bloodsilk spun
Red poppies had Elisa three, but you have none

In solitude Elisa sat, upon her seat of glass
Exiled, heavy-hearted, driven out into the grass
But when she dreamed, they came to her, those siblings she adored
Twelve siblings strong in blood and bond, but you were four

And here’s where stories fail, my friend, the fishbone in my craw
Here’s the nettles’ scrape and sting that leaves me scalded raw:
Elisa and her wild swans, they triumphed on their quest
They traveled far but broke their spell–in one grand geste

Her brothers bore Elisa high all in a barque of bark
But who’s to carry you, my friend, across this ocean’s dark?
Morgana whispered to Elisa, how to lift her curse
But where’s the fairy’s gift to you, to lift far worse?

But like Elisa bent to toil in graveyard nettles deep
Like Elisa spinning flax, blistered, losing sleep
You’ll yet bend your grief to work and finish what you start:
This story spun for sister-swan, from nettled heart

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