Friday, April 19, 2024

Requiem of Astolat

In a grey tower by the window’s side,

Astolat, heavy stone beneath her feet,

feathered in the night, sheaves of yellow wheat,

flaccid over the hillsides, singing bide,

townspeople, toward happy, ringing stare

at the dark windows of mirrored Elaine,

at the rose petals, blood-red, falling plain

on the remnants of her red fragile hair,

where she combs like water, reddened tresses, 

where she winds her way accursed, alone,

whilst the mirror would crack a lovely woman:

skirts drag the floor of her linen dresses,

and her blue, the scent of the river foam;

underneath the laurels, she rested then.


Shrouds of a petal, nuanced in shadow,

she wafts slender; as young as she is old.

Upon the ramparts stretched like blackened mould

across stagnant old rock water shallows:

the fingers of the ancient world as sleet

as they were sunshine, the tulips, scarlet,

and the weavers barter on the market,

rumbling verse endowed upon the shod feet

of the villagers, and their wooden dance.

For the curse unnamed had turned them almost

stone, rendering arms dilapidated,

crumbling, creeping across the encampments

of all damp England and its lonely host.

She sees only the mirror’s reflection.


The visionary gift has resided

within the pangs of her ivory breast;

what she sees waxes poetic at best,

elm over bluebell in dell presided.

What she fears thunders in the howling night

beyond the castle’s rigid oaken door,

preys the broken mind to tiger-rent floor,

takes the remnants of joy in its jaws’ height.

There is little peace here within the walls.

There, flickering, the summer light’s taxing

call upon the hard heart to, softened, turn;

there, a hollow uttering down the halls,

of guttering candles, drenched in beeswax;

call upon beating wing to ceaseless, churn.


Each novice now will turn their hem-stitched backs,

and buds shut tight will weep as I did weep,

at the glory of this palatial-steep

shame of the womanhood, 'tis brittle lack.

For four and twenty years a girl is made,

and for a fine-brushed head, she glossy shone,

her talents lay in making him a home,

across a river he would gladly wade

for the love of her one candle, win her.

He would hold her spindle in the darkened

sun, and she would spin by the light of moons.

There was one autumn garment left on earth,

and its coated threads engulfed its spartan

beginnings, she threw it over a loon.


The magic of the underworld would see

in this act, a sheer immeasurable

moment of genius, for loons durable,

with a coat of metal became money.

The steel efficiency of provisions

made ascension to higher realms duty,

her forehead’s tiara decked in ruby,

in visiting different dimensions.

Yet even yet, he did not love this one,

in all her grey as graphite stone, untoward,

she in her illustrious way, desists,

from writing with her wand of carat gold

upon the castle door his name, behold,

and sinks into the moat, she yet resists.


The goblets have all spilled their wine in prayer,

the sunken table bowed with venison,

inklings of the crimson gown’s unison

with madness: one should have knelt, then wiser.

Icicles in a crown had made winter

solstice decorate convent lake and trees,

with unseeing eyes, she, unpardoned, sees

widened, unfailing beam of the lintel

over the snowy landscape of powder,

subduing her one grace to nameless art,

she is whitened in a wash unduly.

Holding power of the house over her,

making her unable to with him part:

she, in, out, breathes only scandalously.


The dark has hid her, as a cape-robed guide,

as she, in the boat’s stern, will carve her name,

to bear her beaten soul within its frame,

here now upon the calm-strewn river’s side.

Solemn enchantment at the lady fair,

for no other in all England, for love,

is sanctimonious as a pale dove,

with life escaped her last breath, lying there;

she is the pearl of Lancelot, his side

pierced of blood and water, cross-held shield, she

lies lifeless, cold and with lily-white hands,

has felt of still-born rigour, not his bride

but his perfect corpse, mingling water, free

and floats to Camelot of quiet lands.

Emily Isaacson

Photos used by permission
Dedicated to the memory of Ed Suderman