Fiction, The Winter Bride

The Winter Bride

I don’t really write poetry, but this is a ballad I began about 15 years ago. I was trying to go for something structurally reminiscent of Poe’s “The Raven.” Did not really succeed there, and the meter needs some definite tweaking, but I’ve always liked the final, repetitive refrain of each stanza. This was intended to be the first part of something longer, but I’ve forgotten what I had envisioned, if anything, coming after.

I.

Pearl mist snaked beneath
A swollen harvest moon
While scarecrow stood silent
Amidst the din of haunted loon.
I drew deeply upon
The sharp autumn air,
Exhaled it aside,
As my distant thoughts returned
To my treasured winter bride.

So many days gone by
Since I had seen her last,
She in innocent repose,
Lost in dreams (long passed).
I remembered her, softly breathing,
A life-like ebb and tide,
That coaxed from my lips
A smile for my sweet winter bride.

For Blue or for Gray,
Brothers locked in strife,
I left her with tears in our eyes,
Saying, “My love, my wife,
For country I must fight.”
And we embraced as we cried
Never knowing how long separated I’d be
From my lovely winter bride.

Canopied beneath a gentle, bejeweled sky,
A phantom breeze stalked a limitless night,
Lasting forever, like a death shroud
Obscuring the frightening sight
Of battlefield corpses.
I drew newly labored breath, and
Favored wounds I could not hide
As I continued my journey home to be
By the side of my cherished winter bride.

I imagined her hair like sun-flames flashing
Against obsidian glass,
A shimmering, ephemeral crown
For my angelic love, a compass,
Marking my North. I heard the melody
In her voice like a siren-song untried.
Death is no enticement, no reward, when weighed with the life
Captured in the soft song
Of my true winter bride.

Lamentable distance, she so far away,
But here approached a familiar stranger
Perhaps news of she had he.
But his volcanic eyes
Belied an ominous danger,
Made more apparent in his goblin-gait
And visage scarred.
I searched for shadow in which to hide.
But spying me, he whispered icy omens
And offered grim hope for again
Gazing upon my tender winter bride.

“For two gold bits laid upon my shriveled palm,
I can lead you once more again
To the love that calls you home.”
To which, with trembling voice,
I answered then,
“How is this? Who art thee
To know my plight?” Thus, he answered beside,
“I am he who has always ferried you home
—for a small charge of course—
to your distant winter bride.”

His words were queer, but struck a chord,
A truth, and I let him lead me by and by,
Across the purple expanse stained,
Like an open abattoir with blood,
And many a final sigh.
But I did not cry for friends I lost
Nor innocence raped,
But tried and tried and tried
To honor those tokens of ethereal love
Bestowed upon me
By my constant winter bride.

Silently, we passed through pregnant dark,
Slipping along empty dale, over stubborn hill
As lights—like trains of twin eyes—darted,
Danced in the dark, but were never still.
Came echoes of children laughing
And playing all around,
Yet not a body spied.
And a dead wind chilled me
When my guide
Whispered the name
Of my yet nameless winter bride.

“’Tis here you tell me of she,” said he,
Following the lights as if they were twin phantom rails.
Laughing, said he, “I never tire of true-love tales.
“Idyllic are they
—made more so—
By forgetting the details.”
I did not follow his meaning, but continued to follow him,
Becoming most unsure of my guide,
As he boasted, “You will tell me.
—You never fail to spin the tale—
Of your doting winter bride.”

“There is no woman like she,” said, cautiously, I,
“Who loves as an angel loves her God.”
“So, a god now are you?” asked he,
And smiled I,
“She is the wellspring that draws
The simplest of trembling Rod.
To reign in her heart alone, ‘tis my single, exalted wish,
As the truest of woe-less loves betide.
My shepherd is she and I her flock
For I am lost without
My heavenly winter bride.”

He grunted and was silent
As we carried on and over misty, moonlit field.
He pressed ahead, his back to me,
Leaving his curious countenance concealed.
I wondered upon his nature—was he spirit was he flesh?—
And considered what his words implied.
Oh, how I wanted to be rid of him, growing
Evermore concerned for my fair winter bride.

The moon soared, ribboned by haloed cloud,
And the two of us went in silence.
As hours ticked, the moon did not wane,
Never shrank from dawn’s impending violence.
We rambled through tangled copse, over even plain,
Across ghostly, soulless countryside
Until, at last, challenged I my fortunate guide,
“Truthfully,” said I,
“Is this the way to my lost winter bride?”

“Tell me of the war,” said he with twisted grin.
“’Tis the only truth you require.
Tell me of battles hard fought,
Of hands stained with blood,
Of baptisms by fire,
And tell you, truthfully, will I,
Without a note of boastful pride,
That I and I alone
Can return you to your beloved winter bride.”

The fiend, what manner of madness was this,
To barter in such a way?
Two bits have I given you thus,
Not a simple cent more,” he heard me say.
“As for the other, what sort of beast wishes
To know of such sufferings,
Where good men have died?”
With sorrowful smile said he,
“Knowing your own heart
Is the only way back
To your lost winter bride.

“Look about you. What do you see?” Hissed he,
Unfolding his arm before the empty expanse.
“’Tis nothing,” I said, “but land such as that
Which falls away from our backs.”
“But what of the land?” He pressed. “What more?”
To which I said,
“This land holds no secrets to hide.”
“Ah,” said the stranger, “but it does.
It holds, in its embrace,
Your very winter bride.”

“You are vulgar and cruel,” said I, but sallied he
“A fool are you, and have always been.”
“If it would please you, sir,” said I, “I will be on my own.”
But he stepped before me,
His patience visibly thin.
“I know this dance, and it has grown most old,” said he.
“The steps no longer fresh,
That can’t be denied,
But I have sworn an oath,
Upon pain in death,
To take you to your pretty winter bride.”

“So take me there,” I ordered,
“And my gratitude you will have.”
And, wearied, he to that, said,
“We have arrived, at last.
But the end is no longer nigh, I dread.”
I gazed about, and in anger, cried,
“What vile joke is this? Return my money. You lied!
For how can this be,
Where I am to find, at last,
My warm winter bride?”

The dead whispered their secrets ‘round,
Their breath kissing my cold, smooth cheek.
Poor game was this, thought I,
And in anger frowned,
Turning to my guide
To seek an answer for such vile trickery.
But gone was he—into thin air? to hide?—
Leaving me, again, alone and still searching
For my elsewhere winter bride.

On hallowed ground stood I,
As the midnight crow shrieked on high.
And here lay the fallen all around at rest, in peace,
As the world passed them by.
Sad, stone monuments marked their punctuated lives,
But I could hear their hissing voices.
With them, wept I and cried
When amidst the bellow and bawl,
The chatter and clamor of it all,
I heard the gentlest note, the call
Of my soft winter bride.

The wind grew wild, it cut and bit,
Like a crazed, murderous beast.
And all around, the trees overhead
Sang their sullen song for the restless deceased.
But there was her voice, oh so hollow, calling my name,
Leaving me dead inside,
“Thomas,” it cried, “When will you return
To your cold winter bride?”

“Returned I have, to see your fair, fine face.
But, alas, I have been brought
To Death’s familiar place,
By a man low and base
Who promised to return me, at last,
To your safe embrace.
I am full sure he lied,
Though by quality of your voice
You would be at my side.
Oh, where are you
My precious winter bride?”

“My love, I am here,” came her lilting reply,
Tender voice joining, in counterpoint,
The forlorn melody
And chorus of the fierce, feral night.
I turned and turned all about
In sylvan dark to find
The lost love that beckoned me.
Alas, little did I see,
Other than a City of the Dead,
That in midnight-light did keep
Its shadows deep, so might memories
Present linger and hide.
But there, from the deepest dark did come,
Lead all-around by twisted, goblin-like creatures,
In flowing, shimmering gown,
My elfin winter bride.

Photo by Petr Ovralov on Unsplash

2 thoughts on “The Winter Bride”

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