Sunday, April 19, 2009

Poetry Train Monday - 97 - As Prisons Go

This is the next in my found poetry series, which I've been doing since the new year. I've taken it from one of my manuscripts, featuring Jocelyne, Lady Moncrieffe, the Dowager Countess of Kinnoull. It's the early 1820's near Crieff, Scotland.

Guthrie Carmichael is a Highland Scot working on her lowland estate as the gamekeeper. His decision to stop poaching from her estate requires one last delivery of game in town.

I've based Lady Moncrieffe on Canadian actress Neve Campbell. Guthrie is based on English actor Sean Bean.

You can read a previous poem about Jocelyne HERE.

You can Ride the Poetry Train by clicking HERE.

As Prisons Go

I arranged to be taken into Crieff
Meet up with my sister coming in by coach
First time in four years. Four years!
Disheartening thing - if not for Finlay’s death

Would this visit even take place?

The MacDougal resentments
Only stretched so far, thank Heaven
Whom did I see seated across the square
But the gamekeeper, Carmichael

Soldier stopped before him

Gaze traveled up to the red jacket
Before he had a chance to blink
One of those booted feet kicked
The pipe from Carmichael’s mouth

Scarred hand reached down

Took up the sacks. Carmichael
Kept his gaze trained on the soldier
“What would this be? Eh?
You wouldn’t be the lord of these parts, now?”

Carmichael neither moved nor spoke

Soldier lifted grouse from sack
Dropped the rest into the dust
Dangled bird from taloned feet
Too close to Carmichael’s face

“Name!” the soldier barked

Black boot planted on Carmichael’s hand
“Stop! Stop, I beg you! What is going on here?
Let him be!”
Pulled at red-jacketed arm
Sergeant shook me off angrily

Until he saw who it was

Guthrie snatched hand to chest
Soldier saluted sharply
“This man is poaching from the estate.
I’ve apprehended him for you.”

I recalled these very sacks

Fixed to the back of the gamekeeper's saddle
That morning after the storm
That morning when he'd found me
Wet, bedraggled, desperate

Had seen me safely home

I'd sleepwalked but
He'd found me
Found me with these sacks
Fixed to the back of his saddle

Carmichael hung his head

Cradled his hand
I stared at his crumpled hat
Lying in the dust
“You have made a rather unfortunate error, Sergeant.

This man is my gamekeeper.”

Carmichael looked up
Soldier’s bravado paled
“Can you stand, Mr. Carmichael?”
I extended my hand to him

“Don’t be too concerned, Milady.”

Carmichael's voice so ragged
“Where is your regiment stationed
I asked
"I should like to have a word

With your commanding officer.”

Soldier colored till his face
Was indistinguishable from
Scarlet fullcloth of jacket
Bead of sweat trickled its way

From under black-plumed bonnet

Down his rough-skinned jawline
It vanished in the gap between
Neck and stiff white collar choking throat
“May I speak to you privately, Ma’am?”

“By all means, Sergeant.”

We stepped aside, walked a few paces
Along the wall. Stopped
Bent our heads together
In rapt discussion for some minutes

Soldier broke away abruptly

As though he’d been stung
He saluted, then moped from the square
I turned toward the carriage
Carmichael helped me up the step

My sister waiting for me

Carmichael withdrew his hand
Cradling his sore one
“You had better get in,” I said
“You have been injured, after all.”

He nodded toward his horse

Waiting patiently across the square
“Then be quick about your business.
Make a point of stopping at the castle
When you return."

He opened and closed his mouth

Like a fish in the grass
He nodded his assent. His hand
Moved up to tug at hat that wasn’t there
His fingers hung suspended in midair

For an awkward moment

Then ran through his hair
“Drive on, Willis,” I called out
Old man clucked to the horses
Carriage lurched forward

Carmichael stepped out of the way

Before wheels ran over his toes
I stood, my back to him
In the pale green drawing room
“Thank you for coming,” I said

“Your servant, Ma’am,” he answered

Bowing slightly
“Are you?”
“I am.”

I broke from where I stood

Moving slowly round the edges of the room

“I would question your definition
Of ‘servant’, Mr. Carmichael.
You have been using my late husband
And me to suit your own purposes.”

he croaked

I halted, turned and faced him
“If you were poaching that morning
After the storm...why
Did you come to my aid?”

Carmichael spluttered

As if he’d swallowed a
Gulp of water down the wrong pipe
“I couldn't very well leave you out there!”
“Another man might have done just that.

Well, we are in a fine pickle, are we not?”

“Aye, Milady. We are, that.”
“You should be turned over to
The magistrate, and have done with you."

He returned my gaze, giving himself over to me.

I shuddered

“Why did ye tell that lie for me?”
He asked
“Laird Moncrieffe - he would have
Had me in gaol by now, sure.”

“Perhaps. The man who fancies himself

The new lord of Kinnoull
Would be even more severe than that.
Think hard, now, and consider carefully
What I am going to offer you.

I once offered you a room here

To recuperate from your wounds
But you refused. I’m afraid I must
Make that offer again
And I beg you to accept this time.

I have need of your cottage.

As prisons go, I hope you’ll find
This one to be exceptional.
I, myself, have always considered this
To be a home.

Mr. Carmichael, I possess information

You would prefer me not to pass along.
You likewise hold secrets of mine.
‘Men do not despise a thief
If he steals to satisfy his soul

When he is hungry.'"

He looked as if he'd just
Dashed the contents of an upset stomach
Extending my right hand, I said
“I believe we must shake on it.”

Carmichael rallied

Taking my hand in his
After one shake for form’s sake
We let go with expediency
“I’ll ring for Kearney,” I said

Picking up the bell to shake it furiously

- Julia Smith, 2009

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Poetry Train Monday - 96 - Not After That Look

Happy Easter to all who celebrate this springtime holiday.

Continuing with my found poetry series, here's a poem I've taken from my very first attempt at writing a novel. It's my only completed manuscript to date, and it needs a lot of reworking. But as with many writers, since this is the first novel-length character to inhabit my thoughts and my heart, this character will always be the most special to me.

Guthrie is a Highland Scot in the early 1820's, working on a lowland estate as the gamekeeper. The lady he serves is a newly-widowed countess, whom he recently helped return to the castle when he discovered her out on the grounds in only her sodden nightdress after a storm.

A terrible miscalculation has convinced Guthrie he must stop poaching from the estate, as he's been doing to save money for a new life in the Canadas. Guthrie informs his best friend and poaching partner that he won't be taking part in it anymore.

Click HERE for a previous poem about Guthrie.

I've based him on English actor Sean Bean. Lady Moncrieffe is based on Canadian actress Neve Campbell.

You can Ride the Poetry Train by clicking HERE.

Not After That Look

Guthrie left Lundy’s room
Above the storehouse
Headed back over fields
To his own rough cottage

No one about at this late hour

Just as well be noon
All the sleep he was likely to get
Worked up as he was
Paused in the night air

Head back, look at the stars

What he needed was a smoke
Boulder ahead a little ways
Sit himself down, light up his pipe
Collect himself

Smoke rising gracefully into the night

Nice to sit here
Only man awake in all of Scotland
Just God and Guthrie Carmichael
Sitting together and having a smoke

Thoughts like bait in a swollen stream

Sooner or later, these thoughts
Would arrange themselves
An actual plea
For forgiveness

Movement in the distance

Turned slightly
Peered into the gloom
Unholy shiver pure fright
Ran through him head to foot

Liquid movement, gliding paleness

Took pipe from mouth
Slid off the rock
Quiet as the ghostie there
A spirit loose in these parts?

Could well be a brand new ghost

He might be scared witless
If he was the first to see it
Wouldn’t that be something?
Crept along, gained steadily

Could make out a dress, a white dress

He raced ahead
More noise with increased speed
Skin along his neck crawling
Dare not steal a look behind him

Might lose footing in the dark

It would be upon him
In all its ghastly menace
Leaped down a small rise
Close to turf, eyes level to ground

Perhaps he would give this ghostie its name

Figure’s approach inexorable
Guthrie’s winded breathing quieted
Its face
He had to be imagining

It couldn’t be

The ghost was his mistress
Lady Moncrieffe
Had the lady died in the night?
Remorse for the injury he gave her

Flared hotly in his chest

She had mended from that wound
An accident?
He followed again, wondering

Heaviness of her movements

Manner fluid, dreamlike
Guthrie stopped cold
That morning he’d followed her on horseback

The morning after the storm

No one had spoken of it
As if it hadn’t taken place at all
Eventually this path would take her
To the road where they’d first met up

She was sleepwalking. Had to be.

Increased his pace a little
Didn’t take long to catch up with her
Stomach lurched again
Her eyes were wide open

She took several trancelike steps

She slowed and stopped
“Ma’am.” Guthrie touched the edge of his tam
She crossed her arms in front of her
“I don’t think he’ll be coming, after all.”

And she turned to walk back along the path

Guthrie dashed smartly to overtake her
Slowed to a walk
She looked at him
Her gaze traveling through him

Smile flittered across her lips

Eased next to Guthrie
Slipped her hand between his arm and waistcoat
He crooked his elbow
Arm and arm with Lady Moncrieffe

Nearly dragging him along with single-mindedness

The long walk to Kinnoull an unsettling stroll
Her bosom pressed against his elbow
Her hip brushing his thigh
Was she awake or asleep?

How could he be so fortunate among men

Coming across her each time
She took these strange odysseys?
Perhaps this worked as a penance
For not putting an end to his poaching


If the Good Lord meant to show him
What it meant to be a shepherd
Who was Guthrie Carmichael to argue?
He would see his wayward lamb home

No harm done

No one the wiser again if they were lucky
Outline of castle loomed
In faint light of approaching dawn
No word had passed between them

They reached a door he'd never seen before

Could see that it gaped there, still open
Why the turmoil swirling in his stomach?
He led her to the doorway
Opened it a little wider

And passed her through

Extending the arm she’d been clutching
Till she was over the threshhold
He watched her feet
Assuring that she didn’t trip

Then he looked up into her face

Before he knew whether he was up
Down or turned on his ear
There she was - planting her lips on his
Lady Moncrieffe stepped back

Eyes trained on him

In the most unnerving manner
Shining with languorous flame
Before he had a chance to stammer anything coherent
The corners of her lips curled

A provocative smile

“I’ll wait for you,” she purred
Beginning to walk inside
She turned her head to glance at him
Lips closing over invitations unspoken

Lashes dropped to hide desire in her eyes

Then she was gone, swallowed into the shadows
Guthrie stood there for a long while
Unable to move out of the doorway
The words she’d spoken

Commanded him against any will of his own

Like a man from the old tales, her spell cast on him
And nothing he could do to resist her
Come now, lad. She’s dreaming.
That invitation was not meant for her gamekeeper

For whom, then?

Her poor husband, that’s who.
He reached into the darkness of Kinnoull
His fingers groped for the doorhandle
As if reaching into a hive

Crawling with bees

Carefully, he pulled the door shut
He would post himself on watch not too far away
Keep his eye out
In case she wandered again

He’d light up his pipe, finish his smoke

There’d be no sleep
Not for him
Not after that look
Into his ladyship’s eyes

- Julia Smith, 2009

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Poetry Train Monday - 95 - God Knew Her Pledge

Today's found poem comes from my vampire WIP, featuring a Dark Ages Welsh warrior named Peredur. This poem introduces Tanwen, Peredur's betrothed. She waits for her warrior to return from the fighting against the raiding Irish - only to receive news she does not want to hear.

Ride the Poetry Train - click HERE.

God Knew Her Pledge

Fighter from Peredur’s war band
Stood with Father, talking
In a low voice
The two looked towards her

Tanwen’s pulse stopped

Mother stood near
Tanwen didn’t want her there
Didn’t want to hear words of comfort
Could not bear an embrace

That was not her beloved’s

Horrid shuddering started
Her teeth knocking together
Brother, sisters stared at her
One look in Father's eyes

And she knew

Tanwen turned, walked calmly from them all

Path before her shimmered
Tears balanced on lashes
She knew these dips, rises blind
Feet carried her to crag overlooking the bay

Dampness beaded her hair

Awash in tears, inside and out
Seeped unbroken stream
Thought her heart had broken
If she had a heart left to break

Sea birds glided between coast and surf
Crying out her anguish with their shrieks

Why love such a proud man?
Peredur never listened
She told him he was all she needed

He kept leaving her to fight

To win a name for himself, he’d said
So Father would agree to a match
Where did that leave her?
Betrothed to a corpse

Sobs punched their way through her chest at last

Curled into herself, clutched tight
With arms that could not stop the mourning
Could hear noises, wondered where they came from
Even as her throat ached from crying

She saw nothing except his green eyes
Felt nothing but the whisper of his breath
This couldn’t be real
He was too powerful

Too swift, too expert a fighter

To go down to a spear
The man was mistaken
Peredur was alive somewhere
He couldn’t be gone

Why did she totter on rocks
Slick with mist? Why did she want the
Pain in her chest to stop squeezing? Why
Wasn’t it Peredur arrived at her father’s door

To finally ask for her hand?

Wiping sleeve 'cross her face
Tanwen emerged from the darkness of shock
Felt a presence behind her
Tanwen paused as she turned

Cavan, son of village wise woman

Pale gray eyes gazed upon her
As though he knew
What lay screaming in her heart
Shaking her head, tears starting anew

“It can’t be! It can’t be true!”

Cavan gestured to boulder behind them
“Come and sit with me awhile.”
Cavan helped her to sit
Tanwen’s face felt pummeled

By so much crying

Where could tears come from
When she felt so numb inside?
Cavan turned object in his hand
Her gaze rested on a ring

The ring Peredur’s father had given him

“Where did you get that?”
“Peddler sold it to mother.
She held it in her hand
She saw it all before her.

Everything that happened."

Tanwen fought the urge to grab it
Cavan held it out, dropped it
Onto her outstretched palm

Metal touched her skin
She thought of the ring slipped
From Peredur’s cold hand
Reality ripped a gasp from her throat

Ring nearly tumbled onto scraggly brush

Cavan wrapped solid hands around hers
Ensuring her grip with his own
Tanwen sagged till forehead touched her wrists
If Cavan were not there she would pass out

Crying started again

She could not listen to it
As though
She were someone else
She would not hold her beloved’s ring

If he still lived

She never spoke her pledge of fidelity
Before the village
She’d said it often in her heart
God knew her pledge to be true

He knew that today she became a widow

- Julia Smith, 2009