The Sword Excalibur

by on Mar 29, 2016 in Poetry | 0 comments

Old these hills and old the stone
Ploughed the grave and broke the bone
Long the grass on paths forgot
To camps and kingdoms which are not
Lost the songs of feast and raid
Dead the king and rust his blade.

Picking at the rock like scabs
to ease the dirt’s itch is one thing,
wounding the earth is something other.
The underworld has swallowed men before.

Thieved from the ground, the ore
attracts bad luck, its taint cleansed by blood:
the head of a captive, a newborn.

The sorcerer keeps his creature hid,
but is heard panting in the night,
a cough of sparks, the spoor of slag.
Fire sweats bright droplets from the rock.

Wrong as watching your own mother undress.
One look can spoil the metal, turn it
soft as torcs round the necks of women.

A king is no king without a smith.
This one, cast up by storm-winds
was hamstrung to keep him here.
Hobbled and wrathful, he beats metal,
bends it to his will; alone can draw
from dull rock the sharp sword.

Bladeless, a man might be called
robber, cattle-thief, bully.
The warrior-king names his sword
when it first tastes blood. I have seen
foes flinch at the gleam of hard metal,
wooden spears unmanned in their hands.

Who would risk the spiteful blades
of dead men in battle? Sunk in water,
left to grow old with the earth’s wife
the magic blunts. I know of

lonely places, curlew-haunted,
the sky shivering in its mirror
where a sword offered itself.

David Barber lives anonymously in the UK. He used to be a scientist, though he is retired now and writing instead. His work has appeared in Strange Horizons, Star Line, New Myths, and Abyss & Apex. He is a puzzle to his friends.

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