John M. Gist’s creative writing has appeared in publications such as the Dr. T.J Eckleburg Review, PIF, Superstition Review, Gravel, Wilderness House, Pithead Chapel, Prick of the Spindle, Left Curve, Academic Questions, New Mexico Magazine and many others. With an M.F.A from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, he teaches creative writing at sunny Western New Mexico University.
You glimpsed your future, my present, from this forest
overgrown, you claim, and your name is Myrddin Wyllt?
Arthur from your mouth drops familiar as a childhood friend,
yet myth has him dead and gone ages ago to Avalon.
Where is this so-called prison? I see no bars, only mist.
Is it time stolen for which you owe?
Or is it guilt from which these bars are built?
Why did you not warn your King of Gwenhwyfar,
if future you can see? Why usher in peace
only to have it sink into blasphemy? Why
germinate hope and sun starve the seed?
From your future I come, Myrddin Wyllt,
from a race of Last Men happy blinking
from leading not and obeying none
from no herd with no shepherd and no goal beyond
from insane men seeking stability in mirror’s reflect.
“What use have we for a fairytale wizard?” Last Men
ask as one and blink. “Everything here is small.
Our fetid fields are unable to sustain imagination.”
Yet you dare invoke notions of honor and betrayal
as if their relevance meant more than some prehistoric
bone fragment stuck in the mud of a mind befuddled
by liberty unmoored in a tempest of freedom unbound.
Where are we, Myrddin Wyllt? Brocéliande, you say?
What’s that? An ember of ingenuity smoldering
in the backwash gray matter of a brain beseeched
by binary commands, the coup d’etat of machines?
I am your Last Man, spirit routed into circuitry.
What is it you say, Myrddin Wyllt?
You want a hero?
There are no such things. No more. Not now.
For the time being, virtue swallowed
by a white wall of manufactured certainty.
For the time being, morality obscured by milky clouds
of soap bubble meanings puffed by minds adrift.
For the time being, heroes emasculate abhor violence
in favor of imposed peace incited by virtual wars on screens.
For the time being, our boats afloat on still waters
encased by porcelain walls of bathtub’s bubbling shallows.
For the time being, kings buried in the mists
of traditions deemed futile as wind in dead grass.
For the time being, resurrection a tale told by idiots,
poison in apples offered to children outside of school.
For the time being, transcendence caught in the undertow
of a riptide, sucked into the drain of the porcelain tub.
And your forest Brocéliande, Myrddin Wyllt,
bars of misty guilt a time thief condemned to,
is not safe, no more, not now.
You exist somewhere in the Celtic twist
of DNA. I took the test. Spit in the tube.
Sent in the postpaid mailer.
Beetles have been set loose to devour
the wilderness of being, deforestation prescribed.
But maybe I can save you Myrddin Wyllt,
even when you cannot rescue me.
Who are you without Arthur?
Program your tale, I will, and Arthur’s,
into a game with computer-generated
betrayals, battles free of blood,
love void of caress, the table a perfect circle
not to be found in nature, where electronic
knights can drink electric ale or the wine of virtual
grapes. Yes! The whole world will once again revel
in the legend of King Arthur and the Table Round!
And nobody will believe.
For the time being, at least, at last, you, wizard,
might live as one who once breathed,
a man of blood and sinew who loved and wept,
within me, the Last Man, your Arthur,
New Song for the Old Longing
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.
—- W.B. Yeats
Where is this cave and why so cold, Myrddin Wyllt,
hibernal chill seasoned like coal laced with ice
flakes that must melt in the heat of the hearth?
Am I dead-dreaming?
Death and dying a matter of degree?
You ask who I am and I answer
doubt about ghosts and Sidhe
and mortals who dress like goddesses
and women who strut like martyred
roosters, would-be boys in silken suits
replete with Windsor-knotted ties.
I know not what I am. Human? But what is human?
A sequence of enzymes and acids, a yearning
for transcendence, freedom’s urge?
And what are you? A wizard of old wrung out
wizened or a fragment of fractured fantasy
flowering in mind’s eye? Who exists, you or I?
Who dreams this dream of ancient rime
where the sea-god Manannán sits astride
a salmon of starlight steering a foam froth
chariot towed by two stallions maltha black,
hearts pumping whitecapped vitality
through a thrum of watery hoofbeats.
No eternal reward will absolve us now for wasting
time in god logic; gift of grace bestowed
by shining ones immortal extend only to beasts
of ruby blood, pearly bone, we who are born
to croak and, just maybe, hallucinate. Ontotheology
be damned. You ask who am I? A man.
Or was. Born under mountains’ rocky crags,
majesty of purple sunset peaks above plains
fruited with strip malls and highways winding
black like calcified arteries of civilization’s decomposing
corpse. Disenchanted landscape of perpetual eclipse,
pray the sun incinerates the hubris of our smug discontent.
Our house is tainted by home-brewed poisons,
species blotted out in geological blink, envenomed
with toxins of progress, the algorithms of sin.
As a child I witnessed a woman
swaying next to an apple tree dead,
skeletal giant, near river’s flow, full moon aflame
in her hair. I awoke in bed mewling under the blare
of a naked bulb of electric light, attempted to share
her sorrow in the moonshined night. Outside the window
the wind winter-howled. As a child I witnessed an elk-man,
fur thick skull live-eyed, gallop through a red-dirt desert
to dissolve into a sun dripping rubescent in the west.
As a child I witnessed wonder and it was real. Adolescent conceit
scoffed at kids playing on green grass of the local cemetery
under clouds shaped like elephants and boats and angels,
imagination snitched by electronic screens built of code.
I grew old, bones brittling, nursed further from Lethe’s teat
and forgot the gift altogether. Memory now returns.
In coming here, Myrddin Wyllt, to this wretched
gloom you call home, I have seen silver
salmon like sea-stars nourishing roots
of the trees of life and knowledge, seaweed
suckling the light of heaven. You declare
to know Her, my love, my song, my soul?
How can this be in so dim a pit?
A prison you claim? And what crime
did you commit, old man, suicide?
Weep does She still, timeless in time,
hair golden like sunshine washing clean
the gem-crusted cliffs before splashing
into the sacred pool. Does the waterfall’s falling
mask the entrance to a tunnel, a tunnel tunneling
to a heart-rending treasure: apple grove brimming
with fruit forbidden to those beasts of red blood
and bones white? Tell me, Myrddin Wyllt,
is it mere remembrance of youth spellbound?
Or is the longing we yearn double-helixed
in these souls manifest, memories of Danu’s
children real as reindeer in arctic snow?
But as that mirage dissolves into the tar sand ichor
from which it leapt, an ancestral craving returns;
rooted in red-dirt earth, nourished by sun and moon
and starlight salmon swimming in river’s flow,
spring rains stir dull roots of the shriveled
apple tree on the shore. Seasons unhoped for.
Summer surprise: green leaves, white blossoms
from that tree once deemed defunct, death mask
ripped from the smarting face of hibernation.
Silver apples of Moon
Golden apples of Sun.
Ruby-red apples of Mars.
Can’t you hear Her calling
the way she used