Dr. Micheline Maylor was Calgary’s Poet Laureate 2016-18. Her latest poetry collection is The Bad Wife (2021), and Little Wildheart (U of Alberta Press) was long listed for both the Pat Lowther and Raymond Souster awards. She recently won the Lois Hole Award for Editorial Excellence in Alberta. She teaches creative writing at Mount Royal University and has been recently translated into Farsi.
Teach me mortality, frighten me/into the present. Help me to find/the heft of these days. That the nights/will be full enough and my heart feral.
- “I Imagine the Gods” Jack Gilbert
A spark of moonlight and horn in the thicket
tames a wild-heart as jackrabbit curls his body
around my ankles in the morning blue-light.
Cernunnos commands predator and prey, stay,
together in the frost blown-glass dawn.
Three of us lost: woman, god, and rabbit.
Three seek brighter ideas, destinations in this
world of work and blurred lines between creation
and created. God of the Wild Places, tell me,
teach me mortality, frighten me,
startle me out of complacency: the biggest crime.
In the shadow, the glint of his horned head,
tricks light into sparking as starlight or hope.
A beard of moss tangles as the uncivilized,
unordered as human thoughts or actions. Rabbit
maws a winter apple, blossomed from shadow side.
Peaceful communion at six thirty-nine, morning time.
Natural enemies here, in the watching, protected.
A fig forms firm and real in my hand, brings
me back into the present, helps me find
my phantom heart in the haunted gold-magic
of his torc. Spun wires circle his heaving collar-
bones head-to-head we reveal ourselves,
rabbit and me, face-to-face in gold rested there
on a god’s torso. Why hadn’t I noticed this before?
A heaving diorama of life and dream in replica.
The cycles at play once more. Cernunnos
turns back to the river valley, a paddle in
his right hand, a sundial in his left, shows
the heft of these days. That nights
open gateways between spirit, nature, and me.
His skin morphs to fur, the antlers stay,
and the torc moves to dangle on his left
horn. Under the cloak of a deer, my rabbit
friend grows bored of this proximity,
scuttles into the underbrush, uncertain
if any of this has transpired at all.
In the east, the light rises up over the Bow,
and the dream promise delivers: Gratitude
will be full enough and my heart feral.
A mini-entree by Catherine Owen
Dreams, as I’ve certainly previously noted, are a challenge to write poems about. They can’t be so insular in their symbology that they don’t invite a real audience and yet, they need a mysterious energy that compels. Cernunnos, the god of wild things in Celtic mythology, is possibly perfect as a sigil of the subconscious, containing both a translatability and an aura of the unknowable. And Maylor’s making of the poem as a glosa, that medieval Spanish form popularized in Canada by the now-deceased poet from Victoria, BC, PK Page, increases the lyric’s absorption in the psyche through its structure, rhymes and of course, the cabeza whose quatrain of lines end each of the four ten-line stanzas, from the elegiac American poet Jack Gilbert.
Maylor is freer with the typical 3,6, 9, 10 end rhymes of the traditional glosa, as likely befits a piece from the mind’s underworld, but she sprinkles overt or subtle rhythms throughout in prey/stay, frost/lost, side/time/find, there/before and Bow/feral. “Startle me out of complacency: the biggest crime” (evoking – or invoking? – Yeats) is perhaps the most powerful line as it sums up the whole need for the poem’s magic ritualizing of this woman of reverie, the rabbit, the spirit of the inhuman. Amid the real of the moss-beard, figs, a winter-apple, the torc of gold wires shimmers on an antler, borders between selves vanish. There is metamorphosis, noticing where nothing was before.
As Maylor borrows from Gilbert as guide in the poem, so Cernunnos is her Virgil in the dream. With that dual cynosure, she ends with a twinned revelation: back in her Calgary river reality, Gilbert’s “nights” are elided and replaced with Maylor’s “Gratitude.” Her pagan dream life entwines with the precious metals of the day’s reading to create this spell of new knowing.