by Neil Philip
The poison slaver from the serpent’s mouth
falls with the drip-drip-drip of a stalactite.
Faithful Sigyn catches it in a bowl.
But when she slops out
drops of yellow venom splash my eyes,
forcing me beyond the blindness of this cave
back into the world of light and pain.
Each time I tell myself
I will not flinch,
but I cannot stop the shudder running through me.
The spasm is so strong
I almost break my bonds.
Forged from the entrails of our son,
they will never burst until the crack of doom.
How can I withstand
the convulsions of my memory?
Light is blazing from the golden roof of Gladsheim
as if it were the sun.
My one-eyed foster-brother and I
slash knives across our open palms
to seal our love.
How could I guess
his blood would curdle in my veins?
I am in labour
beneath the earth.
My waters break
and the agony
is nearly as unbearable
as my torment now.
But when my baby is born
and unfolds his eight little legs
to totter upright,
I lick him clean
with infinite tenderness.
Can I help it if
he will carry the All-father
all the way to the land of the dead?
Sif crouches on all fours
as I ride her to the stars.
Her sobs are half whimper,
half moan of ecstasy.
As she arches her back
her locks of living gold
flow across her flesh—
a field of ripening grain.
I gather them at the nape
and with one sly cut
shear her like a sheep.
Let her husband thunder all he wants.
What do I care
if he can’t take a joke?
My lips sewn shut with a leather thong,
my silken words are gagged inside my throat
by my own swollen tongue.
How can I imagine
one day this will feel like freedom?
I am flying through the air
in the shape of a falcon
to fetch home Idun
and the apples of life.
How can I bear to remember
this dream of weightlessness,
this eternal youth?
My children are being
torn from my arms.
How can I be sure
where my home is now?
My precious ones are monsters,
My blood-brother’s perfect boy
is called “the beautiful,”
and everything in the whole wide world
has promised never to harm him—
save one tiny sprig of mistletoe
too small to swear an oath to Var.
I pluck it and nurture it
and shape it into a spear,
and guide it from blind Hoder’s hands
into his beautiful brother’s heart.
Why should I cry for him
when my own boy howls in the dark of night
and their eyes stay dry?
I am a stippled salmon
lurking in the cool waters
below a gleaming waterfall.
Its rainbow spray
reminds me I was once a living flame.
How could I believe
they would catch me and net me
from the ashes of my own cunning?
It is dark.
The only noise is the gentle sound
of Sigyn’s breath,
and the rhythmic dripping of the poison
from the wide-prised jaws of a viper.
Soon the bowl will be full again
and she will turn away to empty it.
Then come the shakes,
and the soul-searing flashbacks.
How will they feel,
my proud betrayers,
when they see me sailing towards them
on a ship made from dead men’s nails?
Don’t they understand
I know all their dirty little secrets?