Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Witch Knight

I think there may be only one or two straggling readers left checking this blog, which I've sadly neglected. Not that I feel very guilty about it; I've been writing other things in other places. For that last reader or two, however, here's a reward - something that has sat in drafts for a long time now, edited every few months as I've thought about it again.

The impetus for this piece was a thought from a professor in one of my last (and most favorite) college classes. He said that everyone had a story they told themselves about how they would fall in love, and we should consider what ours was. A long, wandering journey? A magic lamp? A tragedy? A comedy? I hadn't thought about it like this before, but it came to me quickly what mine was: a battle. In the time since then, this is what my thoughts on my own love story have come to.

The Witch Knight

The castle is well-guarded
as well with spells and sheer will as with stone and vine, the people in the village say
you cannot go inside it
you cannot dwell in there

There is a guard at its door, with fierce armor
and a strong arm
and a sharp wit
and more mysteriously fearsome for that she is a woman too.

The villagers speak warnings to the wanderers
and some are not afraid but wish to see the witch knight with their own eyes.
some she drives off from her tower long before they reach the gate
some she beats or kills with her blade
To others, and few they be, she lifts the faceplate of her helmet, so that they see her true face
and these all flee, every one.

They say it's the eyes.
They say there is no match for that leveling gaze.

A man who is wise enough to seek what he desires determinedly, with skill and focus
but who is also fool enough to risk pain and destruction to get it
that is a rare man indeed.
The witch knight has looked forward and seen the threads of her life spinning out in many directions
maybe he does not come.
maybe he does not exist.
maybe he comes, looks, and leaves.
It does not matter. She has set herself in readiness. That is her part.

In the village the story is already told how it will happen
because the castle must be surrendered
so it must be a powerful man, with archers and bristling knights
overwhelming the walls. Or it must be a sly enchanter, slipping honey words in the witch's ears
until her quicksilver sword is lowered and her eyes dim.
Then he will carry her away, because that is what they want, the girls of the village
to be away, away from there
because a powerful man
because a honey-tongued man
he must surely lead the way to excitement.

But the witch has learned her lessons well.
Her castle is humble and old; powerful men march by it, it is not a worthy prize.
Her walls are plain and overgrown with vines; the vain men turn their heads away.
Her armor is thick and painted black as death; the careful men tremble and shrink.
Her blade is long and carefully sharp; the fools see only the end of it.

The last morning of the witch knight was cool and fair
a calm sun picked at the edges of leaves and stems of grass
and earthy brown songbirds left their nests among the ivy across the castle walls.
The morning was as ready as an empty book laid open
The morning was as new and green as the first breath of Eden
The morning brought him

on a cream-colored charger, quietly through the village.
Alone, and with armor so skillfully oiled and carried
no one woke to sound a warning.
Past the forge
Past the mill
Past the square and the empty market
he rode beyond to the old castle.

The witch knight was waiting for him
in her dark armor with her bright blade already drawn.
He dismounted at her gate
He readied his stance
He drew his own sword
and it began.

In three strokes the witch of the castle knew they were well-matched
and more and more this knowledge grew in her as the two swords darted and flashed between them
He did not fight to beat her
His sword's tip never touched her armor
And betimes he let his defense fail, just slightly, as if to see if she could find the hole.

The witch knight was a woman of no meager learning
she noted every opening
she knew the strike to accompany it
she did not waver to press her advantage
But each time, the stranger knew a counter that freed him.

Disbelief and hope fought each other in the witch knight's heart
but determination to match him steeled her arm
and she twisted away in one foolish step purposefully
She too knew the parry to block the attack that followed.
And they fought on, but differently then, as both knew
It was only a game
It was only a measuring gauge
And it was nearing its end.

The next time the strange knight let his defense falter was the last.
The witch saw it and threw her strength into the thrust of her blade toward him.
What did she see in the corner of her eye then?
The point of the stranger's sword, lowering, submitting.
Astonishment filled the witch's mind at the sight of it
her strike, flying fast, would cut through the man's armor if it were cheaply made
her strike would crush the man's armor if it were not
her strike would kill him if she wished it.
But she did not. Before her blade reached him the strength had left it
the blow glanced off the curve of the stranger's breastplate.

The witch knight paced back and regarded him
with a stance ready for his next attack
but the man threw his sword aside, unheeded in the grass.
He was a fool, then, the woman thought
She sheathed her sword
She raised her faceplate
She gave him the full strength of her powerful gaze.

Her face bespoke walls steeper and firmer than the stone ones they stood before, walls to heart and mind.
It was the beautiful and cold face of one who knew how little beauty mattered.
It was a face that many men had already shied away from.

The strange knight met her gaze, undaunted
and saw glancing across her eyes something of her weariness
something that was tired of ceaseless guarding and the long, lonely wait.

He saw himself.

He lifted off his helmet and returned her winter gaze with the smile of a summer sun
and the light warmed, melted, opened the witch knight's heart.

She pulled her helmet free
unbound her hair and shook it loose
and found her rebellious mouth curving to return a smile shy and new as spring.

With long-practiced fingers the strange knight went to the buckles, stays, and pins of his armor
and the breastplate, buckler, gauntlets, each piece dropped beside the sword in the grass
revealing in parts, arms, hands, chest, legs
A plain man in worn white tunic and hose
only the grace of his movements betraying his strength and self-mastery.
The witch knight too loosed her armor by pieces and let them fall
and when she pulled her feet free from their steel clasps she stood before him
shivering slightly in the unaccustomed lightness of her worn homespun gown.

The villagers would say later the witch had met her match
She and the strange knight met eyes and both burst into dust.
What else would leave their armor so strangely scattered?
But the truth of it was that when the stranger saw her standing in the field before her gate
he saw not a knight
he saw not a witch
he saw her truly a woman.
And with one gentle, approving smile, he toppled the last of that woman's longstanding walls.

She darted forward, leaping nimbly over the fallen armor
She took the lead of his horse in one hand
She took his hand in her other and held it fast
She turned and led him through the wooden gate of the old castle, to a small cottage snug in a garden within
where waited a hearth fire, a hearty stew, and happiness to the end of their days.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

On Being Fun

Partyin’, partyin’ (Yeah)
Partyin’, partyin’ (Yeah)
Fun, fun, fun, fun
Lookin’ forward to the weekend

Rebecca Black, "Friday"

If you'll bear with me a minute, I've got a wee axe to grind.

I seem to have met a lot of guys who list "fun" as one of the top, if not the top, characteristic they're looking for in a girl. Although I have never managed to extract a definition of "fun" from any of these guys (who probably believe no further definition is needed), observation leads me to believe that "fun" used in this context has many possible meanings, including:
  • Good at sports.
  • Good looking.
  • A comedian.
  • Willing to make this dating thing really easy for me. ("Hungry? Have some food! Bored on a Saturday night? Come to my game/movie night! Lonely? Let's make out!")
  • Giggles at everything I say.
  • Instantly comfortable and congenial during a date, no matter what else is going on in her life, how well/poorly the date was planned, or how she actually feels about me. Especially on the first date.
  • Shares my interests.
  • A constant source for ideas of new, different, and interesting things we could do.
  • Makes a connection with me immediately.
  • Has accomplished things in her life that are impressive/adventurous/exciting/whatever I think is cool.
  • All of the above, all the time.
Sometimes when I'm out on a date, I can tell I'm getting the Fun Scan, and I immediately freeze up. Am I fun? Have I done cool things with my life? Is my conversation as scintillating as expected? Am I giggling enough?? Ironically, nothing stanches my sense of humor as quickly as the pressure of being "fun," and then the entire date drowns in my swiftly rising boringness. And I never hear from the guy again.

So, my advice to the gents is twofold:

First, figure out what "fun" specifically means to you. Maybe you've outgrown one or two of its connotations and can finally discard them from your dating criteria. Maybe you'll find some good insight into why you date who you do, whether you feel successful at dating or not.

Second, don't expect full-blown "fun" on a first date. And if you get it anyway, hold off and see what she's like on the second date (at least) before you cement her likeness in your romantic psyche, because you definitely haven't seen her completely.

That's all. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Little Star Shining Brightly

The stars are all my friends
Till the nighttime ends
So I know I'm not alone
When I'm here on my own
Isn't that a wonder: when you're alone
You're not alone, not really alone.

Leslie Bricusse (with John Williams), "When You're Alone"

When I'm out walking at night, usually to or from my car, I find myself almost instinctively turning my face up to look at the stars. I look for my favorite constellations of the seasonthe Big Dipper in summer, Orion in winter. Somehow seeing these brings me comfort, like I have a friend in the night sky, and I feel at home under it.

The Big Dipper, I think, was the first constellation I recognized. It took me years—until I had to teach stargazing to a bunch of thirteen-year-old girls at Girls Camp one summer—to find it. Before that I would pretend I saw it, nodding my head like I was sure which stars everyone was pointing at. A few times I thought maybe those stars were it, but I was afraid that I'd chosen the wrong stars; I wanted to be certain I was seeing the same dipper everyone else saw. It was frustrating after awhile, and I told myself it was stupid to look for one particular dipper when I bet you could find a million of them all over the sky. How rare could that arrangement of stars actually be? Maybe people just picked out their own version of the Big Dipper and pretended like it was the same one for everyone.

Like I said, it wasn't until I had to help a group of younger girls find the Big Dipper that I found it myself. I went out into the middle of the cul-de-sac of my home a few times that summer before camp, trying to find it so I'd be prepared for the stargazing class. I had to learn more about it, which part of the sky it would be in at which time of night, and I enlisted the aid of my dad and my brother, who was interested in astronomy at the time, to patiently point it out by its brightness, orientation, and the stars around it. One night I finally found it on my own. It was wonderful! I finally saw with certainty what all those other people were talking about. The more I looked for it and picked it out, the easier it became to find, until it was so clear, it couldn't have been more obvious if there actually were lines between the stars like in the star charts.

Isn't it interesting how even though the same constellations have existed in the sky for who knows how long and observed by humanity for centuries upon centuries, each person still has to find them on their own? No one can see them for you.

There are a lot of similarities between this and something else that also brings joy and comfort to my life, and that is my faith in God. It's easy to scoff and claim that like stars, people are just picking out proof of God to make sense of a vast nothingness, or that people just see what they want to see. But I've found that the more I've looked for God in my life and the more I learn about His ways, the clearer I see Him. I feel certain that I'm looking to the same beacon that many of my ancestors and other faithful Christians in the world's history have followed, and yet it was not something anyone else could find for me. Like my dad and brother helped me find the Big Dipper, I've had a lot of guidance in my faith from my parents and Church leaders, but in the end none of them could see the evidence of God for me; I found it for myself.

When I tilt my head to look at the night sky, I see the stars I know and feel at home. Maybe this is partly because I also know their Maker, who is grander than the sky and every twinkling galaxy but still just as present and as comforting. He is my Maker too, after all, and the Father of my spirit. Seeking Him has brought more clarity and direction in my life than following any star ever would.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Passive-Aggressive Roommate Poetry

I've been a little lacking in the verse department on this blog lately, and it's time to remedy that. I discovered during my roommate years that although some people object to the passive-aggression of leaving notes around the apartment about roommate issues, nobody minds a note in snappy, rhyming verse. So I have a few poems to offer about some common roommate situations I experienced.

I wrote this one years ago and put it in the bathroom by a quickly disappearing commodity:

Afraid I will offend you (slightly):
Alarmed to change the paper nightly.
Can't you just use three or four?
Do soggy bottoms need much more?

Another bathroom one, just for the ladies:

The garbage can is often full
of evidence of monthly needs.
I ask that it, if possible,
be taken out by she who bleeds.

Put on top of a layer of plastic wrap over the sink:

The disposal isn't working
and the kitchen sink won't drain.
Please don't pile your dirty dishes
in our clogged-up sink again.

Never posted, but thought about over and over and over one specific term at school:

Please don't touch the thermostat
because it is apparent that
your parents raised a spoiled brat
who burns up electricity.
It's cold in here. You think I jest?
See me in my winter's best?
It's summertime, and I suggest
you leave the thermostat to me.

This is applicable to my current little, furry roommate:

I was happy to adopt you
and I couldn't love you more,
but I wish you wouldn't opt to
kick your litter 'cross the floor.

Fun, huh? I've got a few more poems left in me to add to these. What would you put down in verse in a note to a roommate?