Gawain for a Day
Just before dawn old warriors cried
and carrion died inside their dreams.
The man today who thought of
Gawain, awake, could only
cry his heart out to heaven.
Gawain formed a star from blood
to resurrect his sinning bones, and
spun a crooked service from his lips
to the watching Virgin on the wall.
An aeon later the mortal woke,
terrified someone would call
and break his dread inaction
in the room without a prayer.
Galloway’s veins whipped Gawain
to life like a gamecock on a quest,
mumbling on a sinew of decay,
and making his way to God knows where,
without a sense of errantry.
Light hit the man who felt it least,
touching his skin unlovingly,
shadows in the craters of his eyes,
showing the wrong in every breath.
Gawain knelt for no one,
whatever any lying annal says.
Sun muscled his mission
and sent him muscled through the hills.
An old hawk’s sport is unknowable
without a border to patrol.
Today the man’s wound went away
long enough for him to dress.
Knots unfurled in his chest
and fluttered like pennons in the breeze.
All crawling knowledge of his self
retreated to leave him blessed,
and any challenge could be answered
this one moment of his many years.
Sentinel fog hid hunting dogs
he killed like sparrows on his talons,
tale tellers hoping to catch a speck
of the fierce death he lets fall
from a face as red as summer death.
He crushes them with his boot
and laughs to see them change
to squalling birds flapping
by the Solway side.
Without knowing it at first,
the man grew an inch all morning,
then saw his height reflected
in the dark eyes of a woman,
he cursed his lack of guile
for not taking advantage.
Gawain’s games in May time
are best left to imagination.
Women, rare as unicorns in the wild,
were snared by his flaming eyes.
His thanks a gruff comedy,
laughing with her at the sight
of his rotten flesh able
through some gross alchemy
to shudder through the act.
Mystic birds haloed his head,
girls whistled invitations
from first floor windows,
vanishing when he looked,
as if to test his sieging strength.
He wondered who could taunt
him so cruelly,
leaving him to drown in sweat
all through the boiling afternoon.
Dining in the Dark Ages
was no matter of taste or decency.
Fish, flattened by saints’ feet,
were still able to curse
the men who boiled them.
Gaunt men roamed in rat packs,
unable to keep fat on limbs
or keep the plague at bay.
The man eats with the knowledge
it will deliver him to death,
chewing with calm black languor,
disallowing the flavour
and knowing it will sour later.
Any pleasure he deems to take
will sag as rancid fat
on his creaking frame.
Ravens mock Gawain’s shrinking frame
as the gloaming shrouds around him.
A screech owl delivers his soul
to a dark house never guessed at
when dew was on the trees.
His fears were like the staring
of moon struck men,
standing like stricken cattle,
sure the moon would fall.
Streetlights transport the man
to the certainty of dreaming,
relieving the burden’s weight
of the day like Gawain.