Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Supernal Nature"

This poem came from a comment by je_reviens regarding "A Night More Full."  It was sponsored by DW user aoifes_isle.  It belongs to the series Path of the Paladins, which you can explore further on the Serial Poetry page.

Supernal Nature

There was nothing left of the church but a statue
and the stumps of grey stone walls
and the glitter of rainbow glass
between the dying weeds.

Ari knelt in the yellow grass
and combed her fingers slowly through its strands,
touching a shard of scarlet, a splinter of blue.

The statue's head was gone,
and the arms with the offering bowl,
the alabaster skin worn clean of paint
and no other symbols to be found;
so there was no telling Who it had been.

Ari said as much, and added that it didn't matter.
Shahana nodded, and together
they began to search for the head and the arms
and the offering bowl if they might remain.

"What does it mean to be a goddess,"
Ari asked Shahana as they searched,
"instead of a mortal woman?"
She kicked her way through the brittle weeds,
sweeping them aside to reveal the dusty ground.

"It means many things,"
the older paladin said slowly.
"Supernal nature is a complicated thing.
It is not just a matter of power..."

Ari was already nodding.
"I thought of that," she said,
"for Gailah is still a goddess
even with Her power so diminished.
I can feel it.  But what am I feeling, really?"

Shahana smiled then,
cool autumn wind tugging at her pale hair.
"That's part of it, that feeling of grace, of connection:
for a goddess can touch the soul directly,
where humans can touch it only indirectly.
Gailah can take physical form -- or well, she could once --
but it does not form a barrier as it does for us,
because She is not made of  matter the way we are."

"We have souls, though," Ari said.
"So we do," Shahana replied,
"and that is the bit of divinity within each us,
held like the coal of a campfire in a clay jar."

"Look!  I found a hand!"
Ari exclaimed, crouching down
to lift the pallid shape from its nest of thistles.
She scampered back to lay it beside the statue,
then returned to Shahana's side.

"A goddess perceives the world in terms of spirit,
not in terms of flesh or leaf or stone,"
Shahana continued.  "It is the truth within,
and not the shape without, that Her senses perceive.
To Her, time is an ocean, not a slow rain of moments.
So it is that a goddess may look upon a mortal
and see what is hidden, even to a man's own awareness,
for to her it is as clear as water."

Shahana stooped then,
and picked up something from the ground.
"I have an arm," she said.
"Let us see if it matches the hand."
It did not.
They resumed their search.

"You showed me a spell,"
Ari said, "for the reading of good and evil.
That's about souls."

"Divine magic deals much with the spirit of things,"
Shahana said.  "Sometimes Gailah can lend us
a little bit of Her perception.  That we can receive it
is part of what it means to be a paladin,
or a saint or a priest, though each is a bit different
and all have their own duties to attend."

"The priests teach the work,
the saints embody the work,
and the paladins protect the work,"
Ari recited carefully.

"That brings us to spheres of influence,"
Shahana said.  "Each deity looks after
one or more parts of the world.
It is Gailah's attention which maintains peace
and upholds goodness, binding together
the souls of Her followers
and manifesting Her virtues within us."

Ari found the other arm by tripping over it.
Silently she picked herself up
and brushed the dirt away from the alabaster limb.
Ari dipped a hand into the willow-hidden spring
to rinse the sleek stone.
"She has so little left to give,"
Ari said sadly.  "No wonder this poor world
is falling apart on us."

"Little enough, but growing again,"
Shanana reminded her
as she lifted the statue's arm
from Ari's grasp to test it against the hand.
This time it matched smoothly.
"There, now we need the hand for the other arm."

The shadows crept by as they searched.
"Sometimes I feel that we take more than we give back,"
Ari grumbled, kicking at the crumbled remains of a wall.
From the other side of it Shahana replied, "I think not,"
and cupped the alabaster hand in her own warm palms,
dusty from the search but still reverent.

"It is up to us to decide what we will make
with the gifts that our Lady offers to us,"
Shahana said.  "Watch now."
She touched the hand to the proper arm,
then summoned forth a trickle of power,
reminding the stone that it had once been whole.
The two pieces joined together.
Then Shahana matched the shoulder
to the torso of the statue and sealed it in place.
"Your turn," she said to Ari.

The girl fumbled a bit as she tried
to find the proper orientation for hand and wrist,
but Shahana still felt the instant
when the spell quickened and took hold.
"Well done," Shanana told her.

Ari fastened the arm to the statue
and then looked at her mentor.
"Do you think we'll find the head,"
she asked, "or the offering bowl?"

Shahana sighed and shook her head.
"I doubt it.  We've looked all around.
Sometimes the bowls were made of gold or silver,
or the heads with jeweled eyes."

"I suppose there's nothing to be done about the head,"
Ari said.  "This can be a statue for all the gods now.
We need  to replace the offering bowl, though.
Do you know any spells that might work?"

The statue was stone ...
"I know a spell to turn wood to stone,"
Shahana said.  "Carving a bowl
is far beyond my skill, alas."

"I could weave a bowl -- a basket --
from the willows growing by the spring,"
said Ari.  "I doubt I could make it watertight, though."
Shahana toed the bits of broken glass and said,
"Perhaps I could make a liner."

"You don't want to help with the weaving?"
Ari asked Shahana.
The older woman chuckled.
"No, I never had any skill for that," she admitted.
"I made baskets by braiding straw
or sewing coils of grass."

So Ari made the bowl of willow twigs
and laid it carefully in the statue's hands.
Shahana cast the spell to transmute the wood to stone,
alabaster white creeping over willow green.
Then they gathered up all the bits of broken glass they could find,
red and blue and yellow and green, laid in glinting whirls
all around the bottom of the basket.

"This will be easier with yours than mine,"
Shahana said cryptically, then added,
"Take out the fallen star that Gailah sent you
and lay it in the center there."
Ari did as she was bid.

Shahana began singing a single verse
from a longer hymn, one often used
to invoke blessings.

"Shine on, star against the darkness
Shine on, star of steady pace
Shine on, star of holy sanction
Light up all this sacred space."

Ari's voice joined in, sweet and clear,
and the fallen star began to shine
with a white-hot fire. 
The air around it shimmered.
The shards of glass glowed a dull red,
then orange, then a yellow as fierce as the sun.

When Shahana brought the song to an end,
the fallen star dimmed and cooled,
its brilliant heat no more than a memory.
The glass, too, cooled
albeit more slowly.
As the last of its molten light faded,
the colors embedded in the glass
became visible once again.

There between the hands of the restored statue
lay an offering bowl woven of alabaster twigs
and glazed in flecks of red and blue, yellow and green,
melted together by the fire of their faith.

Shahana traced a solemn finger along the cool smooth rim.
"To be a goddess is to hold the world in your hands,"
Shahana said, "and to cherish the entirety of it,
the whole and the broken alike."

Ari retrieved her fallen star, adding,
"... and to Light up all this sacred space."

Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, gender studies, poem, poetry, reading, spirituality, writing

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