Poem: A Winter’s Tale

winter

Winter’s Tale, winter’s tale,

Bodies grouped into bed – Chinese,

Tibetan, brick-oven mattress, keeping

Their bodies warm. We clap if we think

There are ghosts around – ghosts need

Applause

 *

Spices fill the air, vapours of

Cinnamon, cloves, cloven hooves,

Mulled wines and smoked viands,

Purling down the hall, rolling up

Chimneys to exchange greetings with

A night crisp and cold as a frost giant’s

Thumbs

*

What will the norns have to say

About this? They have kept my

Fate simmering in the larder for

Longer than I can remember, my

Family crumpled together, like

Skeletons in a crypt

*

Chinese, Tibetans – but certainly

We are in London – the mayor flicks

His yak-tail whisk, and hides himself

Under many skins –

Offerings to the Mountain Gods

*

“I am but one man – a friend

Called me a medieval bard – but

I have all of Tibet and China within

Me; perhaps, too, samples of Mongolia,

And blizzard-faced Siberia, where my

Throat-singing can still be heard.

 *

“I should like to go to some fireside

Tavern, and tan my hide into the devil’s

Leather.

*

“You see, he’s just been misunderstood.

We need the devil as much we need that

Which shuts him out.”

*

My cloven hooves clattered over

Cobblestones, streaky sludge from

Mysterious snow, where the wisteria

Faintly grows

*

I lay down in the cold.

I wanted to die.

I wanted my follicles to be

Fingered with the flame of

Every piercing frost.

 *

And lo! The Lord of Frosts

Appeared before me in his

Glistering kingdom. He set

The sails astrand that lets

Every mucker know, his

Iceberg would soon come

Into land.

 *

 “But my family!” I pleaded.

“My wife and her daughters

Are all squeezed into bed in

One Tudor room!

How will they escape you?

How will they fly from

Pneumonia’s embrace?”

 *

“They won’t,” said the Lord

Of Frosts, coldly. “All freeze

Whom I dare to freeze. And

Have I not frozen? Your case

Is lost with me.”

 *

“Please,” I begged him. “Is there

Nothing I can do to save them?

Take me – not them!”

*

The King of Frosts was not

To be appeased. He had a

Hunger for human women.

He wanted to feel their skin

Cripple beneath the

Tenebrosity of his arctic flesh.

A disgusting rapist of the realms.

Yet he dared call himself lord!

*

But then he had a thought:

*

“I have never experienced this

Thing called ‘heat.’ He said to

The man. “Give us leave to

Wear your body, and perhaps

Thy wife and daughters will be

Spared.”

*

“Perhaps?!” cavilled the man.

“Am I to lease my life on the

Crumb of a perhaps?!”

*

“What man can promise

Any kind of certainty

In a world such as this?

Take what I give you.

Perhaps they will be

Spared.”

 *

The man nodded his assent.

*

Casting his soul out with a

Scream, The Lord of Frosts

Took habitation in his body,

And instantly founding it wanting

 In pleasance. But he knew this was

Only because he knew not heat.

Hence, findeth heat he must.

 *

II.

The man, meanwhile, was in

 A graveyard of shivers. Arctic

Demons sang out in symphonic

Shrieks to towering snowmen –

To Kings of Death, and Queens

Of Hate.

*

They ushered his chill soul

Into their almighty halls,

Racing through with blistering

Winds, and immense ravens with

Jet plane wings.

*

“We loves the cold,

We loves the old,

We cuddle death,

And the wind’s palsied breath!

 *

“We loves the snow,

We loves the frost,

Into the icy sea,

You will be tossed!”

 *

Thus, they tossed him into

The sea. He would try to cleave

His way out, but the only adjacent

Landmass was an archipelago of

Madmen, who would throw him

Back in again, laughing, every time

He tried to come aboard.

*

III.

Meanwhile, The King of Frosts

Acclimatized himself to human flesh;

To the misery of chilblains, and the constant

Hell of living in an environment,

Never intended for life.

*

“Oh wifey! Oh kiddies!” he crooned

Down barrel-dragon streets. Drunkards

Lurched glaringly out of newspapers,

And tawny owls screeched above; a

Midnight curse to all they do not

Love.

*

IV.

At last, he found his house.

He walked up the sooty stairs,

Screeching at any guardians of

The threshold who might prohibit

His malfeasance.

 *

His wife and kids were on the

Second floor, crammed into a

Four-poster bed. In a palace, faraway,

A Haydn oratorio was carousing the night

Air. But, this was not a palace – just a den

Of sleep.

*

The Winter Demon could see inside

The dreams of the children. They

Dreamt of the redemption of hunger –

Of larders overwrought with cakes, and

Jellies, pastries, and hard toffees. No

Cinnamon smoked here – just the parlous

Perfume of ice.

 *

The Winter Demon tried to see his

New wife’s dreams. But

Her dreams were only whispers

Of a plea, degraded into

Sepia – A Husband’s Return

 *

The Frost King loomed over

The bed. He saw the piled-up

Coverlets, and was reminded

Of an avalanche – a love letter

From Abomination.

*

“Pneumonia, my pretties! Sweet

Lung-spattering pneumonia!”

 *

“Stop that muttering, Henry Giles,”

Murmured his missus from the bastion

Of the covers, “and get into bed! Your

Heads all a-muddle from

Those night-terror colds! Get

In here where it’s snug and

Warm!”

*

“Warmth!” The Frost King drooled.

“That’s why I’m here!”

At his wife’s insistence, he stripped

Off his sodden, slush-soaked clothes,

And crawled into bed beside her. He

Did not know what to do. He had never

Shared a bed with a human woman

Before, except in the catharsis of

Death.

 *

But the wife directed him. She

Cradled her soft, fat body against

Him, his loins nestled betwixt her

Buttocks like toad-in-the-hole. Then

She took his hands, and sternly clasped

Them to her milksome breasts.

 *

“There you are, my dear!” she said,

Delighted. “That’ll warm you up! Just

You hold on tight, and those winter

Demons won’t plague my Henry

No more!”

*

“But I AM a Winter Demon!”

The frost king wailed miserably.

*

“Of course you are, my dear!”

Missus Henry cosseted him.

“Now, you just snuggle up

With your missus, now, and

We’ll see if we can’t thaw

That winter demon out!”

*

V.

And, true enough, the Winter

Demon melted like butter in

The arms of his wife. And, except

For a little sniffle every now and

Then, no more was said about

It.

*

But, what of poor Henry Giles?

Was his soul still floundering at

The Bottom of the Ocean being

Snapped at by sea demons?

I shall leave that for the reader

To decide. Otherwise:

*

It’s all in winter’s night, my friend,

All in winter’s night!

 

 

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