Delicious Sensory Games

“Gingerbread”

Look! Ginger and molasses, sweet-tart smells,

hang in the air

teasing, warm

a storm

a tender madness.

Taste! Rich between your fingers,

softcrisp dough

surrenders to a crumble.

Smell! Flecked with cinnamon gold,

brown sheets unroll,

waiting.

Feel! Darksweet sweetsharp floods

flavours without name

dance upon your tongue

Listen! whispers wish a warm song,

ginger and molasses,

mmmm…

~ Marta Ziemelis. Written in Dubai, copyright February 2012.

For me, one of the most wonderful aspects of writing is that I am free to be playful, to twist and tweak words and ideas as I please. Sometimes – quite often, actually – I begin a piece with no idea how it will turn out, and as I go along I make little discoveries – different ways to look at the world. That’s what happened here. I began with gingerbread. My memories and experiences of this treat – both making and eating it – have always been intensely sensory and sensual. Thus it is no surprise that writing about them became a kind of game, which involved me combining sensory impressions in unusual ways. Trying to put a visceral sensual bombardment into words.  Perhaps it needs to be tasted, felt, smelled, in order to be fully understood.

To Make a Dragon

“To Make a Dragon”

Misty breath-of-clouds, swimming-swift

Briny drops of amber, heavenly blood

Ox-ear, snake-neck, carp-scale and eagle-claw

A thousand sacred pearls, wisdom-shine,

Lotus blossoms piled at lakeside shrine

Red-bright whiskers growing like great trees

Sighs and roars which lift and calm the seas,

stirred about with paper fans, flick-winds.

Opal-eyes, hearts of shaded jade,

Coral crowns, heavy robes of silk,

shimmers in crystal palaces under-wave,

guided river-course, blessing and ward,

warm, thunderous laughter barely heard…

Spring-azure, green, imperial gold

Tints of shadow in glades of sung bamboo

Ringing, shuddering voice of brassy gongs

Sacred rain new-summoned, grateful throngs

Blend them all, etched on temple-roof or blade –

Thus, o friends, are mighty dragons made.

~ Marta Ziemelis. Written in Dubai, copyright March 2012.

The piece above was inspired by Jane Yolen’s lovely poem “The Making of a Unicorn”, from her anthology Here There Be Unicorns, breathtakingly illustrated by David Wilgus (see the relevant page on her website).

I was (and am) fascinated by the poem’s premise, and wished to write something similar about dragons. Originally, my version was to be about dragons as they are known in the West – such as Smaug from The Hobbit, Fafnir from the Volsungasaga, or the Dragon faced by St. George. Breathers of fire, hoarders of treasure, lovers of riddles. Yet when I started writing, the words were clumsy and ideas didn’t flow well. Understanding that I needed to try a different approach, I decided to try writing about Asian dragons instead, which were less familiar to me. So I began reading about Asian dragons, and pages of scribbled notes and a couple of drafts later, I had “To Make a Dragon”.

How I Love Words (And Languages Too!)

Greetings, my friends.

At first I hoped this post might contain a poem about Sir Gawaine, knight of King Arthur’s court – and surprisingly recalcitrant writer’s subject, as it turns out. I’ve started a number of pieces about Gawaine in the last several months, and have been unable to complete a single one of them to my satisfaction. This may be due to insufficient perseverance on my part – I must admit that I have the bad habit of being a lazy writer, more often than I care to confess. However, though perseverance and discipline are invaluable skills for any manner of creator, I suspect that in the case of Gawaine, I am trying too hard to control the arrival of his poem. It has been my experience that some of the pieces upon which I later look with the deepest joy and sense of fulfillment are those  whose first few words arrive unasked, when I am not thinking of them deliberately. So, Sir Gawaine, forgive me for now. Your poem is waiting, and when it is ready, I shall share it here.

In the meantime, I was sifting through my files (“my files”, how strange it seems to say that!) for something I feel needs to be shared, and I rediscovered the piece below, written this spring.

“What Are We To Say”

What are we to say, we who speak more than one language,

To whom vārdi, paroles and Wörte  are all words,

When we are asked, even by a friend,

How we manage so many? By listening,

By drawing them into the heart,

And filling our ears with different kinds of silence.

We might wish, sometimes, for a little more silence,

as each new face demands a different language;

but when the choice is given to our heart

we revel in the sweet rainstorms of words,

each drop tasting different, requesting listening

in a way our ears cannot explain, though we try to tell a friend

how it is, this speaking with three tongues or more.  The friend

who understands best will be one like us, who senses how silence

can be shaped into a hundred different streams by listening,

by seeking each moment’s perfect language.

Swiftly we shape different worlds of words,

asking wordlessly which of our minds they match, which heart

is clear and waiting now to share our love of sharing. The heart

of multilingualism is – treating every language as a friend,

a new discovery with a treasure chest of words,

each word to be loved, tasted, set in the silence

like a jewel. Each world–tongue, each cànain 

reaches out to us, and we are compelled to be it –  by listening.

Our endless quest of listening

takes us to the very heart,

the core, the spring, unbounded source of language –

to every listener a patient, clear-eyed friend –

which might be limpid silence.

And this spring helps us find words,

when translation seems impossible, when words

defy all our powers of listening,

when we feel a struggle against the very silence

– and yet take of our love the heart,

make the gap between languages into a friend,

and blend the untranslatable into a cocktail, a shared language.

So, in the end, every language

to us is a friend,

an anamchara, shared – our heart.

~ Marta Ziemelis. Written in Dubai, Copyright February 2012.

This particular piece sprang from two roots. First, I read a beautiful poem by Dominican-American writer Julia Alvarez entitled “Bilingual Sestina” – which I encourage anyone bilingual in English and Spanish to read!  – that inspired me to write one of my own similar to it. Namely, a poem written in two languages at once, shared between the two. And I said to myself, “What more fitting subject for such a work than the very experience of being multilingual?” Which leads to the other root: my experience of explaining – or attempting to explain, at times – the essence of what it feels like to carry a handful of languages inside my head, and to be able to switch between them at need, without strain.

Briefly, cànain and anamchara are Scottish Gaelic words, the first meaning “language, tongue, speech, dialect”, the second – a soul-friend, a person with whom one shares a deep connection to be cherished, the kind of connection that is difficult to express in words. (For anyone inclined to consult a Scottish Gaelic-English/ English-Scottish Gaelic dictionary, I can recommend this one, which I have found useful).

With humility and with great love, I would like to dedicate “What Are We To Say” to all the language teachers I have had and hope to have in future, whether inside a classroom or outside it. And, of course, to all the people in the world who carry more than one language in their heads, and  who feel the wonder and the joy in it.

Previously Published

I was unsure of the title I wished to give to this post, and after trying out several options, chose the one you see above. Why this title? Firstly, because it is nicely alliterative, and I have a weakness for alliteration. Secondly, because it provides a unifying thread – both poems included in this post are works of mine which have previously been published elsewhere. Curious? Read on!

“Saaremaa”

O blue island tempest-tossed,

haven of a thousand songs,

grey-pearl voices of the dawn

dance you in their eager arms.

Silk-smooth sea-waves soflty breaking

on a shore of reddened stone

twine with spice of juniper

in a sacred scented flow.

Nightclad fir-trees proudly rising

from the heads of ancient cliffs

calmly face the whisper-waters,

deep-rooted their dark-glowing grace.

Forest coolness slowly rises,

drawn from secret bowls of green –

waltzes slowly sinking twilight,

on these shores of stone and dreams.

Silver kisses darkened skies,

light caress on breathing foam.

Velvet hugs the sleeping shore

Silence sighs

her warm-spiced note.

~ Marta Ziemelis, written in Riga, Latvia, copyright 2009, 2012.

 

“Warrior’s Way”

What hides

behind the strength of the sword?

What hides behind the tension

of the fiercely bent bow?

String snaps

yet the shot flies true,

finding its way.

Gentleness is fire

and fire, gentleness.

The one forged in the other

Endless cold caress.

Quarterstaff rings

on the stone of the night,

releasing eternal

arrows of light.

Sword to sword

hand in hand

is it battle

or a dance?

Road of steel

Light of rain

One shot

makes end the beginning again.

Give me strength

Give me faith

Silent and starlit

the warrior’s way.

Whose hand forges

the bridge at my feet?

Gaze of dark eyes

I ride forward to meet.

Hooves on the stone

twilight song

Riding now homeward

and winter is gone.

Sword to sword

hand in hand

is it battle

or a dance?

Hand in hand

eye to eye

Battle is done

and so, goodnight –

until we wake in warriors’ hall,

mead in hand and stars above.

~ Marta Ziemelis. Written in Toronto, copyright 2010, 2012.

Anyone who wishes may read more about the island of Saaremaa, which inspired the poem bearing its name, here.

An earlier version of “Saaremaa” appeared in the 2009 edition of the arts journal UC Review, while an earlier version of “Warrior’s Way” was published in the 2010 edition of Garm Lu: A Canadian Celtic Arts Journal. While re-reading these pieces during the process of posting, I felt that each of them could be well served by a bit of tweaking. It is for this reason that they sport two copyright dates apiece.

“Saaremaa” was written shortly after a family visit to the island in question, a certain amount of which I had probably spent in a crabby mood. (As a kid I disliked being involved in trips which required lots of rambling around. What was the point of looking at all these things?, I thought. Although I feel differently about rambling now, if it’s happening in a place where I want to be.) Something of my anti-rambling attitude probably contributed to the crabbiness, as it often did (and sometimes still does) on such occasions. But, at the same time, I remember being stunned by Saaremaa’s natural landscape  – the overgrown, green-covered meteor crater in a forest, intricate blue clouds trailing across the sky, the sight and smell of juniper (which seemed to be absolutely everywhere). It held me tight and insisted that it wouldn’t let go until I wrote about it. So I scrambled for some paper and a pen; the poem you see above was the eventual result.

As for “Warrior’s Way” – I don’t remember exactly how it began, but what I can tell you is something of what went into it. Ever since I could read, I’ve been reading folktales, myths and legends – especially Norse myths, because as a Latvian kid I’d been told some of these stories even before I could read. At some point I started reading Robin Hood legends and Arthurian legends too ( each of which merit their own post alltogether). But one thing Norse myths, Robin Hood tales and Arthurian legends had in common was the figure of the warrior – a fighter, often living by a certain code of honour and with loyalty to a leader and comrades, who would go on quests and have wonderful adventures. This figure – particularly as regards its focus on honour, loyalty, adventure and a significant purpose in life – has really stuck with me. I know my views of mythical and legendary figures and the lives they might have had are romanticised, but isn’t that part of what stories are for?

Tonight in Camelot

One of the primary purposes of this blog is to be a place through which I can share my original poetry – hopefully with a wide audience, in time. Please feel free to read, comment, discuss, and forward!

(I would like to note that I am the author of all poems and photographs posted on this blog unless stated otherwise, and that I reserve all rights to the same.)

“Gwenhwyfar”

Bow before the spirit white

whose light festoons her bower.

Sing the bride of Arthur’s court –

the High Queen and the flower.

~ Marta Ziemelis. Written in Riga, Latvia,copyright 2011.

 

“Tale of the Kitchen Knight”

A lady sat at her casement,

with eyes as clear as sky,

her voice flitting like sparrowsong,

and glimmering low and high.

There came in sight a yeoman rough,

striding oe’r the land.

Bow and quiver were his tools,

strength was in his hand.

‘Tower-singer, come you down,

come and be my maid.

String my bow, come grace my camp,

and do not be afraid.’

‘Nay, O archer over-proud,

I do not wish to be

your pretty doll, your drink of mead

beneath the greenwood tree.’

A fairy lord a-walking came,

bright stars they were his eyes,

a cloak of night about him wrap’d,

his sweet voice full of lies.

‘O mortal beauty fair as sun,

come dwell inside my mound.

My power yours, you shall be queen

o’er halls beneath the ground.’

‘Nay now, my lord, such tales I’ve heard

of all the things you claim.

You’ll snatch my very soul away

and trap me in your game.’

As stars appeared, there whistling came

a merry smiling knight,

his scarred and burned and blistered hands

did swing through twinkling light.

Her eyes fix’d on those hands, she called,

‘Stranger, whence come you this eve?’

He laughing cried, ‘I’m the Kitchen Knight,

to Arthur’s court I cleave.’

‘The Kitchen Knight I am called there,

my craft is pots and bread.

I carve no warriors in the lists,

I craft royal feasts instead.’

‘I love bright things’, the lady said,

‘but not those of the royal kind.

If you seek my hand, you must

stay now to hear my mind.’

‘I love bright things, both true and fair –

like friendship, song and ale.

Offer me these with loving heart,

I’ll join you without fail.’

Gone with him to Camelot,

she learn’d his noble heart.

Both friends and lovers they became,

a pair who would never part.

She sewed a banner – mead and meat –

as sigil for her Kitchen Knight.

They lived, they loved, they cooked and sang –

and ne’er was a court so bright.

~ Marta Ziemelis. Written in Riga and Toronto, copyright 2011.

 

“To Tristan”

No one understands the words you’ve said

said to shield the silence in your head,

silence guarded by the clamour of the sword

Her face floats,

white flame unspoken word –

Yseult.

Phantom hands like fire and like song

raise your blade

as you turn within the lists,

giving you a strength none can defeat.

Yet the price is cold and bitter,

sharp as a receding tide.

Wakeful, you stir under the moon,

chasing

the image of your happiness, a pale ghost in the breeze.

Blood speaks in your heart

but cannot reach across the seas

through walls of stone,

where she sits by another man’s hand,

her thoughts

shaking and burning

as they try to touch you –

you, who are hers.

She sings to the waters,

you scream to the wind,

voices meeting in midair

for the memory of a kiss.

Only the deepest core of your heart

lives

– and it might as well be stone.

~ Marta Ziemelis. Written in Toronto, copyright 2011.

 

The pieces above were published in the March 2012 edition of Garm Lu: A Canadian Celtic Arts Journal . Each one deals with a character or particular moment from Arthurian legend, which has long been a fascination of mine. Since there are well-known Arthurian figures which have been written about ad nauseam, I’ve made an effort to write on  lesser-known characters, on moments within the Arthur tales which are never described – or at least, to offer unusual perspectives on some familiar faces.

Many sincere thanks go to my friend Greg Darwin, who offered invaluable advice when it came time to edit the first draft of “Tale of the Kitchen Knight”. Tapadh leat, a chara!

I wish you all happy reading!