To Seek, To Strive, To Find by Bethany W Pope

To Seek, To Strive, To Find

1.

Long ago, far away, a woman lived
Overlooking a lush green valley. Down,
Very deep in the glen, lived her first love.
Eventually they met, and fell together – before Death
Arrived and carried one into the dark.
This is the story of their time on earth.
Far away, long ago, we slept on soft earth.
I wove white blossoms into your black hair. Life
Revolved, for one moment, around us. Darkness
Seemed farther away than the sun. ‘Slow down,
Then go faster,’ I said, wanting to die.
Sweet agony; the slow-bursting pleasure of new love.
I am called Orphea. You were my love.
Greater beauty than yours this exhausted earth
Has never seen. Conversation faltered, died;
Tongues had higher purposes in this life.
I never paused to listen for more than your name. Down
Spread across your shoulders. Your lips were so dark.
Now, I laugh, remembering the way your dark
Eyes reflected my face, returned my expressions. Love,
Very few mirrors were clearer. ‘Go down,
Explore.’ I said. I meant my cunt, not earth.
‘Return when you are satisfied. This life,
My love, will give us everything before we die.’
Our time was brief after all. It wasn’t long till Death
Reached up and swallowed you into the dark.
Expert on every kind of beauty sweet life
Tempts us with, He knew which treasure to take. Our love
Hadn’t a chance. I found you cold as earth,
Artfully arranged across a clean eiderdown.
No metaphor encompasses my grief. I swooned down,
Landing hard against your beautifully sculpted chest. Death
Observed me, coolly, from a gaping hole in the earth.
‘Oh look,’ he said, his skull-mouth grinning, dark
Knowledge burning in his empty eye-sockets, ‘your love
Is dead. Can your salty tears goad him back to life?
No.’ Death said, ‘I dragged his soul down into the dark earth.
Go get it, if you dare. Haul your love back into life.’

2.

Life, until now, had always been easy. I
Downed a blood-red glass of wine before I began;
Love couldn’t strengthen me enough. I caught
Death glancing at me askance. His eyes were so
Dark that they drank all light, like a still night sea.
‘Earth is full of doors,’ He said. ‘If you hum,
Earth trembles. Sing, and the hinges shudder open.’ I,
Life-loving, awkward, sang as best I could. Tar-
Dark cracks spread between a yew’s white roots, so far
Down that golden sunlight was swallowed. Into
Death, I went; seeking you in the name of our
Love. Death took pity, lent me a torch to carry.
Love powered it – anyway the flames pulsed. ‘Go.
Earth’s paths all lead to the true centre. You
Die a little with each breath drawn here. The flames,
Life flicker. Hurry, or you’ll never escape me.’
Down I crept, picking my way through the
Dark, over a path paved with white bones. My
Dark road took many turns as it led me back to
Love. I saw terrors. A giant who looked like you,
Down inside a pit of molten gold. Sour
Earth crusted the sockets of his huge eyes.
Life has no place where harpies fly, filthy and free.
Death has many eyes, strong hands. And I’m so small.
Death’s path led me into a chamber full of
Dark figures – rag-covered human forms that
Life had long abandoned. They stood without breath.
Love, you were among them – a face in the sea.
Earth rose like a cathedral, high above that
Down-gazing hoard. They circled in a spiral
Down to a huge black mouth that gaped for them. So
Death pierces the planet, sharp as a shiv:
Earth revolves around this bleak axis. The
Darkness throbbed around me as I searched them. In doom
Love, I found you. Pale and vague, I found you.
Life, my flame, sputtered as I groped for your hands.
I followed you down into Death’s dark land. What
Love drew me from green earth? Your life, grown cold.

3.

I only needed to touch you before new life
Enlivened your slack features. The path that led down
Blazed with light; the bones rejoicing at our love.
Even the pallid shades we left behind, Death’s
Followers, seemed to be grinning with joy. The dark
Opened up as I dragged you back up to earth.
Remember the excitement as the earth
Erupted, heaving us out into our new life?
You seemed insubstantial, fragile, at first. Dark
Oleander leaves showed through your skin. Down
Under the soil, you’d seemed so solid. Death
Released you, and you flickered – the ghost of love.
Laughing, I remembered your body. Love
Overwhelmed me as I led your soul home. The earth,
Verdant and sweet, held no hint of your death.
Expertly, you slid into your clay-cool corpse. Life
Returned, a red flush highlighting your downy
Cheeks. You opened your eyes; so clear, so dark.
And we were happy. Yes. So happy. The dark
Never bothered us again. We fucked, tasted love.
Remember how wonderful it felt to wander down
Enchanting paths where passion-flowers bloomed? Earth
Verdantly blossomed, sharing our joy as well it could; life’s
Enchanted flavour enhanced by a taste of bitter death.
And no, I couldn’t forget the strange way Death
Looked at me; half pity, half scorn. The dark
Holes (where His eyes should be) reflect nothing. Life
Is more than empty delight. So is love.
Mirrors rarely give anything back. The old earth
(So cold) holds answers, and treasures to dig, deep down.
Eventually, I left you. The light that I thought lay down
Lighting your eyes, was my own, sent back. Death,
Fearsome as He is, holds more for me than that. Earth,
Though beautiful, has more to offer than flowers. Darkness
Overtakes us all. We grow tired, and old. My love,
You never had an original thought in your life.
Out there, life waits, blooming with dark wonder. Down
Under the earth, Death lovingly waits, to answer my questions.

 

 

*This is an acrostic sestina cycle. The acrostic runs down the left margin in the first poem, down the right margin in the second, and down the left margin of the third. The acrostic reads, ‘Love at first sight is never more than looking into a mirror. You see yourself. That love must die before your lover can reveal himself to you.’

Bethany W Pope is an award-winning writer who has published several collections of poetry: A Radiance (Cultured Llama, 2012), Crown of Thorns, (Oneiros Books, 2013), The Gospel of Flies (Writing Knights Press 2014), and Undisturbed Circles (Lapwing, 2014). Her first novel, Masque, shall be published by Seren in 2016.

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