The Garden

Her garden lies west of Reason,
Washed pallid in the glare of a waxing moon,
Overgrown with wild rose and orchid:
Greedy roots clutching the soil
Beneath a façade of green;
Leaves crowned with berries of dull maroon,
Throbbing hearts that shudder on the breath of night;
Stalks blossoming petals of dark silk;
Thorn and thistle;
Vines clinging like serpents to young maple and oak
To lick, to caress,
To smother and choke them,

They call her Nightshade,
And she walks forever in darkness.

In black dusks and blinding afternoons
I wandered wide the world's expanse,
My compass
A mirror clenched in white, fearful fingers,
My North-star
A thirst which turned my lips to sun-cracked clay.

I crossed a desert:
Vast plain of scrub and sand,
Ravaged with heat and dust.
My heart leapt. I shouted and sighed to see the abundance of foliage before me,
Shining like Zion in this
Sprawling, desolate wasteland.

Enter and you shall drink.
Said the edge of the green,
So I entered and searched,
Drawing deeper into the heart of this new wilderness,
But still there was no lake,
No stream,
No, not a puddle to slake my thirst,
And my heart sank and I was weary,
Heavy with my burden,
Tormented, yet undying, by this want of water,
Ready almost to suck the weeds and grasses,
The petals of blossoms for it,
And then I came at dusk upon an ancient cypress,
Standing alone, rising over the tangle of creepers
And the corpses of fallen, vine-strangled maples,
Its rotted limbs grasping at the stars with disfigured talons.
My sight swam and, conquered by fatigue,
I collapsed in a heap at the foot of this
Gnarled, decrepit tree.

Darkness and whispers...
Then, a voice,
A woman's voice, sounding in hushed clarinet tones
Uttering a word—my name?

My eyes are opened.
I rise to my knees.
The woman:
She's standing here,
Jet-black tresses spilling on the frost of her gown,
Her face
So pale,
So serene,
So beautiful,
And yet...

She says
Proffering me a phial of dark liquid.
I'm so thirsty!
God, so thirsty!
I drink at once.

She says.
I'm standing.
My lips cry
"Isolde! Isolde!"
No! Silence!
I must compose myself.
The mirror! Where is it?
Got to arrange myself.
No! Where is it!
I had it. Oh no!
It is gone!
Stolen by fairies,
Spirited away into underground riverbeds!
It is gone!
Broken to pieces,
Blasted to fine moondust!
It is gone
Like a shooting star over the horizon.
Forever gone!

Never mind!
Her eyes,
I can see myself in those wide
Dark eyes,
Pupils yawning,
Twin oceans of shining black water,
Wrapping me in soft, dark sable,
Muting the air around me
Until all is silent
Save the thunder in my chest.
I see nothing,
But I'm all afire,
Her draught searing my limbs,
Scorching my mouth with laughing flames.
And then...

I have fallen again.
I wake again and look,
Casting my eyes out like a fisherman
Into the sea of vegetation. Where?
Where is she?
She is gone.
She is gone and I thirst anew.
I clutch the trunk of the lone cypress,
Still tingling with the ecstasy of her liquor.
I gnaw and suck at the boughs,
Tasting gall and the sour tang of bark,
But my thirst is undiminished.
I must drink again, again from that cup—

Hers alone—
My hope and damnation!

And so, I stood and cast my eyes into the depths of the heavens,
Seeking a star,
Some sign to lead me away from here
Though I knew not where I'd travel.
To the home that was now a memory, ancient and dim like old books saved from childhood;
To a green meadow crossed by narrow, meandering streams;
To a broad river valley nestled in reeds or soft grasses;
To a lake forest of stout oaks where I might hunt and fish and live off my wits and ingenuity;
To a city where I might enshrine myself in the obscurity of the crowd and suckle the vast teat of civilization;
Or to die in the desert even,
For my heart was dying and desired the rest of me for company.
I stood and cast my eyes into the depths of the heavens,
Seeking a star, a sign, an arrow in the darkness,
When before my eyes they appeared:
Sighing, groaning apparitions
Glowing with an eerie lunar luster,
Swarming about the withered branches of the cypress.

We call her Nightshade,
And we walk with her in darkness,
Forever lost in the twilight of her garden.

George Chadderdon © 2000