John M. Gist‘s creative nonfiction and short stories have appeared in publications such as the Dr. T.J Eckleburg Review, Superstition Review, Gravel, Pithead Chapel, Prick of the Spindle, Left Curve, Academic Questions, New Mexico Magazine and others. He was recently awarded runner-up in South Loop Review’s 2014 National Essay Contest judged by David Shields and had been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He recently was named finalist in the 2015 Tucson Book Festival Literary Awards. With an M.F.A from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, he teaches creative writing at sunny Western New Mexico University.
The Dwarf, the Sword, and the Queen
For many a petty king ere Arthur came
Ruled in this isle, and ever waging war
Each upon other, wasted all the land
—–Alfred Lord Tennyson
Remember again how it was back then
when death drifted eerily o’er the sea,
sailing toward the misty shores of destiny.
Where have you been and where were you then, when,
from the gloom, the phantasm ark Fata Morgana emerged?
Were you here Gwenhwyfar, cloistered and waiting for God?
Bedwyr alone was not, before the ladies black-hooded did come.
Crouched behind a tree was I, the bump-lump bark mossy moist
with my sobs. I bore witness there to justice abort, her sword
rusted and blunt. “What did you see?” moaned my King, blood
leaking from his wounds pale pink. “Just the lapping of waves,”
said the knight, the words wrought with both greed and grief.
“Worthy you are not of that blade,” whispered my liege. “I am dying.
See? So pray, do as I say, and toss mighty Excalibur to the sea.”
Creeping through reeds hissing with breeze, followed I Bedwyr
to the shore where he hard-hurled the sword to the briny deep.
Rising from dismal depths through white-capped waves, a fist,
girlish and white, came forth to take hold of the hilt. With fingers
thin, thrice she brandished the blade, burst the rust from the steel,
and into the depths the sword did sink, nevermore for mortal eye
to reveal. Arthur, spent, sighed and slept. Bedwyr wandered
woodland murk. There the knight came upon a grave freshly filled and,
falling, wept for shame of loss. A whoreson’s faith! Arthur dead
was not, or one day would not be. So why weep? Kill the knight, thought
I, do murder in the name of Law. But I am just a dwarf. Do you believe,
dear Gwenhwyfar, that I was there in that grim eventide, water
plashing blood bespattered sands, as our King, bearing
our last hope, was swallowed by an all-devouring dark?
You want to, need to, but cannot? Is that it, dear Lady?
You hold old desires with which to suffocate sorrow. I know.
He loved you more than Law, more than Lancelot, more than Life.
And you? Where does your love now lie? With him, the King,
or with his best of knights, who awaits lascivious in your dreams?
Worry not now, no need to cry, a secret have I to impart:
in the cabalistic black a light did appear, a star atremble in the sky.
Faint at first, but, in a space betwixt thoughts, that star afired.
On the horizon, in the slot between worlds, a faerie ship did form.
In the crow’s nest a laughing nymph oblivious gamboled.
Three queens, black clad, wearing crowns of gold, then Arthur heft
from shore to ship, and so justice (do you understand Gwenhwyfar?)
was filched from our land. The faerie queens wiped clean my King’s
wounds with ointments magic made, admixtures of instinct and faith,
and then the nymph, gay as a bee in sun, stinking of seawater,
fish and kelp, flitted from ship’s bow to stern and back again
like a lucid dream soon forgot. From the wheel house one queen
turned the ark toward Avalon while two others hummed healing
songs, and the ship that bore once our future King blossomed
into flame and set the night on fire like the star. Do you understand?
No old women to tear at their hair, no weeping and gnashing
of teeth. No bemoaning throng wailing at the demise
of our hero’s dream. Just me, a dwarf, and Bedwyr,
a knight, kingless, hapless and blind in that smoke-thick night.
Rain came then, the drops as thin and viscous as cod liver oil.
The fire, a pyre false, burned on, succumbing not to the crashing
of waves or the watery clouds above. Blinking away the blur
brought on by tears of anguish and smoke bitter, next,
I recall, I found myself forsaken on the dank shore sands.
The gray waters swelled in the pale taffy sheen of a newborn sun
that burned black vapors away. Fish churned on the sea’s surface.
I sunk to my knees, palms pressed together tight, and I prayed
to a hitherto unknown god. I yearned for the Grail, and then,
to you, Gwenhwyfar, on a white ass I rode. I dare you, beg you,
to understand that which has been done. What now? What next?