Wait A Minute, This Didn’t Happen In “The Avengers”…

“Loki’s Curtain Call”

Trickster god – that’s me indeed.

But I might as well be

the Fixer God –

it’s in my hands

to craft clever, devious solutions

whenever

something goes wrong in this place.

“Fix it, Loki!” for millennia…

and never with thanks.

I’ve had enough.

What if

I were to let it all go –

just give up Norse-Godding –

for, say, interior decorating?

I certainly possess

a useful flair,

and I wouldn’t even have to look far

for funky paints!

Want some wildly coloured walls,

disguised trapdoors for unwelcome guests,

spatters of madness

here and there?

Call me up.

Need a conversation piece,

Chaos bound in Ragnarök?

I’ll see to it.

(There could be minimal damage…)

Odin may roll his eye,

Freyja and Freyr may look disdainful and toss their golden-apple hair,

but the loss

would be entirely theirs.

Goodbye Asgard,

I’m off to start a business.

Though, for the sake of efficiency

(and one last farewell gesture),

I may take along that hammer of Thor’s…

Marta Ziemelis. Copyright February 2014.

One day I saw an ad for the Jotun paint company, and my mind decided to play word association, reminding me, “Hey, isn’t Loki sometimes referred to as part- jötunn (also known as part frost giant) in Scandinavian myths?”  I then had a conversation with a good friend, also a fan of Loki and Norse myths, about what might happen if the infamous god of gleefully getting everything into a mess decided to go in for interior decorating. The piece above is the eventual fruit of that conversation.

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Less “Femme Fatale”, More Intriguing Human Being

“A Song for Lucrezia Borgia” / “Una canzone per Lucrezia Borgia” Lucrezia, Lucrezia, Lucrezia Your name sings and murmurs from the pages of my history books, set in a tapestry of popes, dukes, kings. How shall I understand you, who you are? Tiny curling vines spiral up from the printed words, thorny and bitter – […]

Wordblaze

“A Troubadour’s Dream”

I stand half-floating                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              in a field of purple heather,

beyond a hill beside me lies the sea.

Smells of seaweed, salt and honey

swirl in the air, pungent, sharp, sweet.

A woman appears, walking slowly,

purple blooms untouched beneath her feet.

In her cupped hands

she carries

a living, licking flame.

Her smile

brushes my mind –

here comes Brighid, goddess bright,

lady of smithcraft, wordcraft, fire.

Her shifting eyes, a thousand colours and none,

meet mine

My spirit cannot help but speak.

I feel words bubbling from my heart,

streaming from everywhere into me,

and I must tell…but purpose

is like a foggy mirror…

Brighid’s hand lies gently on my forehead,

presses fire into my skin,

draws out shining new flames.

Her ringing singing voice

speaks inside me:

This rises from you – by your fire you live

Seek the stories for telling,

sing them loudly over the hills

Burn away your fears with a poet’s flame,

a troubadour’s song.

Your task is to tell, and share, and shape

until pockets of puckering, fearful, poisonous silence

turn bright and hopeful

with the sparks of your eyes.

Her touch warms me

and I know, waking,

that the fire will keep me strong

when my feet stumble.

~ Marta Ziemelis. Written in Dubai, copyright August & September 2013.

This is my attempt to offer a reply to “Why do you write?” It’s a question I’ve heard a number of times, and never found easy to answer, because boiling the answer down into a few simple words can be a tricky thing – usually, what you get from me is either silence, or a tangled, involved explanation. No doubt other writers of many kinds are asked this as well. For me it’s something I need to do to purge intense emotions, deal with a crazy world – or, sometimes, just play with interesting sounds.

Bus Shelter Blogiversary

“City Lullaby”

I’ll sing to you from across the street

a city lullaby of buses rumbling past,

voices phone-babbling away,

birds chirping ear-clampingly loud,

squirrels chattering crossly in the park

when they go unfed.

I’ll weave for you a city lullaby

of smells from a hundred rolling food trucks,

the sight of a crowded courteous sidewalk,

too many cars, yet there’s room to be, somehow.

I’ll hum for you a city lullaby,

corners bubbling over with art,

fights right under everyone’s nose,

long winter walks that numb your fingers stiff.

I’ll croon for you a city lullaby,

noisy friendly laughter, hands held out,

new exploring ‘round every corner,

roughness and dirt, clear sharp bright spring air,

life happening now and now and now…

Hush, my city, in sleeping-time,

together we’ll waltz to quick dream-tunes,

smile at each other when the music rests.

~ Marta Ziemelis. Written in Riga, Latvia, copyright June 2013.

You can thank a scratched green bus shelter for the title of this post, because that’s where I was two days ago when I had the idea for this piece. It’s dedicated to Toronto, which, I suppose, I think of as one of my homes, even though I haven’t lived there for a couple of years now.

Also, two days ago was this blog’s first birthday, so happy Blogiversary! Thank you to everyone for visiting and reading, it means a lot to me to have such a friendly and supportive audience. I’ll keep writing, and feel free to prod me whenever it’s been too long since my latest post! Feel welcome to share your work and ideas with me, I’m always excited to learn about different kinds of art. Love to you all!

Forty-two! – or – The Postless Post

“Words are like birds

You have to be quiet and still

Else

they will not come.”

~ Marta Ziemelis. Copyrighted 2012.

Writing can be a strange exercise. Words come, then they don’t. I prepare myself by doing research, taking notes, brainstorming, drafting. I sit down (or stand up) to write, with the firmest sense of discipline, the most positive intentions, and…nothing happens. Perhaps writing is much like life – you can practice agency, be active, try to attract the kinds of changes for which you are hoping – and things, nonetheless, don’t happen in the way you expect. Unpredictable, that’s a good word for both writing and life.

All this is a long-winded way to say that, when I started this blog, I firmly intended to post here at least once a week. I haven’t been able to keep to that resolution, perhaps partly through laziness or lack of discipline, and partly because I’ve been fairly busy with other things over the past few months. No promises about how regularly I shall be able to post for the next little while. Also, sometimes I simply don’t know what to write about, here – especially if I don’t have a poem or other piece of writing which I feel prepared to share. (One of the curses of being a perfectionist: you rarely feel that your writing is at its best!)

That said, a sincere “thank you!” to all of you who have read and are reading my blog! Knowing that an audience, no matter how large or small, is reading my work – that  means a great deal to me. Why? Because it means that my writing makes sense to people other than myself; it means that my work has the opportunity to touch lives and make a hopefully positive impact on the world.

As the Scottish poet Robert Burns (or, affectionately, Rabbie Burns) wrote in “To a Mouse”, “The best-laid plans o’ mice and men/ gang aft a-gley”.  Our plans  – with regard to writing and other things – do often go astray. I can hope this is so because Life, the Universe, and Everything has different ‘plans’ in store for us, which we may not even be able to imagine.

Forty-two!

Not Quite Hallowe’en

“Fey Warning”

The songs, the songs of mortal men

grow still when our dance begins

Jewels dark and bright,

Drink like firelight,

pass from hand to hand

in the shifting fairy mound.

Samhain eve comes swift and sharp,

frost upon the air.

Season turns, our power burns

wild and piercing-fair.

Be wary, mortals, near the mound

Be wary of our song –

one careless step draws you inside,

to us you then belong.

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

A little tribute to the festival of Samhain just past (about which you can read more here).

The subject of this piece are the sìthichean (Scottish Gaelic, “fairies” or aes sídhe/ daoine sídhe (Irish, “folk of the mounds”/”people of the mounds”)  – known by a number of names in Irish and Scottish myths and legends, such as “the good people”, “good folk”, “fair folk”. “little people” or “fey”, who live in the Otherworld beyond and bordering ours. Why not call them “fairies” straight out? Because to refer to them directly by this straightforward name was considered disrespectful – and if the Fey are anything, they are notoriously capricious, quick to change their minds and moods. So treating them with disrespect can be dangerous, for they will as soon play a trick on you as do something kind. Yet if you are polite and show good manners, they may do you a favour or, if they really like you, give you a special gift.

(As one of the major turning points of the natural year, Samhain (roughly around the autumn exquinox, as far as I remember) is a time when the borders and divisions between the Otherworld and ours are especially thin and tenuous. Which is why, at moments like these, humans are especially susceptible to the fascination exerted by the Fey. It pays to be cautious at  Hallowe’en, and to treat the Good People with respect!

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?