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Poem: "Atramentous Visions" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
Poem: "Atramentous Visions"

During the August 3, 2010 Poetry Fishbowl, I wrote "The Fisherman's Daughter," inspired by a prompt from valdary and sponsored by minor_architect.  Several folks -- including janetmiles, danceswithwaves, eseme, and red_trillium -- posted requests and ideas for a sequel. 

The following poem took a long time to coalesce and rise from the deep.  I've decided to post it in full, rather than compete with the two epics already in progress.  So donations are welcome but not required.  Also, you have haikujaguar to thank for part of the title; she introduced me to the term "atramentous." Donors include: synnabar

Atramentous Visions

She lives in the mountains now,
making her home far inland
and high above sea level.
The seer dwells within stone walls
hung with vivid tapestries, and her bare feet
tread on woolen carpets instead of damp sand.
Well she remembers the home of her childhood,
but the tides of her life have carried her
from the distant harbor of her heart.

Only the salted water in the scrying bowl
reminds her that she was a fisherman's daughter
born to the beaches, far-flung as driftwood now.
The water sings against the glass as she pours it;
the white grains feel sharp as sand in her fingers.
The cries of the seagulls sound in her inner ears
as the magic begins to stir.

Dark as a starless sea, the kraken ink awaits.
The seer clenches her fist
around the quartz flask,
and the gold rings on her fingers
click against the cool stone as her hand closes.
The long shelf is lined with such flasks,
enough to last a lifetime.

A single drop of this ink
is enough to fill the bowl with black liquid
and bring the atramentous visions
slithering to its surface.
In this trembling abyss
lie all the secrets of the deep:
the richness of the fisheries
and the slumbering shipwrecks,
the storms' fury and the waves' wrath,
the movements of the monsters,
even the stately grace of the tides
in their eternal pavanne with the pale moon.

The seer receives them all
and sends her messages afar.
Only her words and her love
can go with them,
and nevermore her body --
never again to comb the beaches
like dark blond hair,
never again to smell the sea breeze
or to hear the beautiful weeping cries of the gulls
with her own shell-pink ears,
never again to lie on her back in a small boat
while the waves rock her to sleep.

The krakens know who has betrayed them.
They would kill her if they could,
but they cannot.  They can sense her
but they cannot reach her,
hidden high in her mountain stronghold.
They cannot even discern which of the fishermen
truly belong to her, and it would not matter
if they could -- she can foresee
their every move and warn the men from danger.

Yet for all their size, the krakens are not seers.
They do not realize that she gives the fishermen
more than one sort of warning.
They do not know that she allowed
one of their monstrous kin
to claim one of her monstrous kin,
when her uncle hunted beyond the limits
and harpooned the pregnant whales.
They do not know that she gave
her cousin's bones to the riptide,
after he dredged the fragile, necessary marsh
to make a new harbor.

They can sense her eyes upon their ink,
but they cannot see what she sees,
cannot feel the sea's subtle grip on her soul
nor the willing sacrifice of her service.
She, too, has become a guardian
with arms as long and supple as theirs,
although the krakens do not know this.
So she stays out of their reach
and works her magic at a safe distance.

The seer touches a fingertip to the surface
and wakes the ripples of vision,
then traces a line of watered ink
down her forehead to the tip of her nose.
She smiles at what she sees
in her bowl of secrets. 
Today is the day, then,
the day she has foreseen.
One of the sailors on this ship
that she saves from the sudden storm
will hear her voice in the wind.
He too will leave the sea behind
and hike up the long road to the peaks,
delivering himself as a prize
to the one who has paid the price
for these visions.

Her husband will give her two children:
a daughter for the mountains,
a son for the sea.
The daughter will become
the seer's apprentice,
in time taking her mother's place as the warden
who balances the needs of the land and the sea.
The son will become
a sailor, a trader, a ship-captain
born with the knowledge of tides in his blood.

The seer knows that she herself
will live out her life in the mountains
to the end of her days
and no longer.
One last time she will ask the evergreens
to release the sun's fire from their keeping,
and then it will be her son's duty
to hike down from the high mountains
and mix her ashes into the sand
of the beach where she was born.

Time flows around her in currents,
holding the seer's mind in an embrace
as powerful as kraken arms,
clear as water and opaque as ink.
The days are layered as perfectly
as mother-of-pearl.
Today is the day
that all of her yesterdays promised,
that all of her tomorrows fulfill.

In her visions, as in her dreams,
the seer swims again,
sweeping her seal-dark eyes
over the heaving sea.
The seer opens her mouth
and the sirens of the deep
teach her how to sing her way
into the waiting harbor of her husband's heart.

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Current Mood: accomplished accomplished

33 comments or Leave a comment
From: oakwind Date: September 22nd, 2010 09:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
Wow! I really like this one. I could wish for a novel set in this world, including this seer and the adventures she visions.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 22nd, 2010 10:30 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I had fun exploring it further.
jenny_evergreen From: jenny_evergreen Date: September 22nd, 2010 09:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
Wonderful! Thank you!
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 22nd, 2010 10:29 pm (UTC) (Link)

You're welcome!

I'm glad you like it.
wyld_dandelyon From: wyld_dandelyon Date: September 22nd, 2010 09:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh! Very nice!
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 22nd, 2010 10:29 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

Feedback is candy.
e_scapism101 From: e_scapism101 Date: September 22nd, 2010 09:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
Beautiful...just beautiful.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 22nd, 2010 10:28 pm (UTC) (Link)


I'm happy to hear that.
kestrels_nest From: kestrels_nest Date: September 22nd, 2010 10:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
That is both lovely and compelling.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 22nd, 2010 10:28 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I'm glad you like it.
eseme From: eseme Date: September 23rd, 2010 01:06 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh yes! Smart girl, storing the ink. I thought she was smart like that.

I love the concept that she has to hide form the krakens, that she has great visions and power, but cannot live in the place she loves. Sacrifices matter.

Thank you!
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 23rd, 2010 01:20 am (UTC) (Link)

You're welcome!

I'm glad you appreciate the subtleties in this poem.

I knew from the beginning that it was a complex story and character, because of the way she started out in "The Fisherman's Daughter" having to scrabble for everything. So as the gains went up, the costs had to rise with them. But there were always compensations. One of the other things that changed is that she has gained considerable wealth, which she appreciates. She still misses her seaside home, but she's learning to be comfortable with what she has, for the sake of protecting what she loves. And that's life.
danceswithwaves From: danceswithwaves Date: September 23rd, 2010 01:27 am (UTC) (Link)
Absolutely lovely. And haunting.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 23rd, 2010 01:50 am (UTC) (Link)


I'm glad it worked for you.
red_trillium From: red_trillium Date: September 25th, 2010 10:19 am (UTC) (Link)
This is sad, it touches a lonely place in me. I have been homesick for some of the places I visited and hiked in Northern California. This poem touches my heart for that.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 25th, 2010 06:09 pm (UTC) (Link)


My sympathies. I wanted this poem to convey the give-and-take of willing sacrifice, and the tradeoffs of powerful magic. I think all of us have places we miss, that we hold in our memories.
the_vulture From: the_vulture Date: July 19th, 2011 11:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
I just finally read this. I can feel her pain quite keenly; there have been too many long periods in my life spent away from the ocean.

As for the sacrifices made for power, ironically, I had recently read the following quote by the character Londo Mollari, from Babylon 5:

"Isn't it strange, G'Kar? When we first met I had no power and all the choices I could ever want. And now I have all the power I could ever want and no choices at all. No choice at all."
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 20th, 2011 01:36 am (UTC) (Link)


>>I just finally read this. I can feel her pain quite keenly; there have been too many long periods in my life spent away from the ocean. <<

*hugs* I love the ocean, though I've not been able to live near it in this life. I can sympathize.

I always felt sorry for Londo. He's a pain in the butt, but he's our pain in the butt.
From: technoshaman Date: January 11th, 2016 11:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
There is, apparently, kraken ink. Sadly, in our 'verse, it's not very good.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 11th, 2016 11:56 pm (UTC) (Link)


Here I was thinking maybe someone had harvested giant squid ink! Because cephalopod ink actually has been used for pens.
33 comments or Leave a comment