A Bedtime Story

by Terreson
Delectable Mnts
First Place, January 2012
Judged by John Timpane

“Makes you lonely and cold
standing on the shoulder.
But you’ve come too far to go back home,
so you’re walking on a nowhere road.”

                        –Waylon and Willie

One rider in winter, wasted,
caught in thorn of thicket and
walking his exhausted horse;
who comes to clearing, who sees
white mansion. Bones of those
who came before spread across
perimeter of father ground,
who tested, feared the fall, and so fell.

And the door, the tower door,
with secret clasp that needs the key,
just one more name for right word,
for spoken touch to unlock the thing.
And door that opens, and his constant
horse led away, gentled, taken to rest.

With outrider here, I saw him straight,
shown inside the chambers, through
successive rooms, again the doors, again
the trials, again the litter of bones;
when finally the last door unlocks
and all it takes is true color of breath.

The inside room. How, sweet friend,
to picture the brilliance of that place?

Sun is yellow star they say. Moon white
moves the metric warmth they say again.
In center spin system molts and Milky Way births.
In fertile life there is death. In death, life.

And still the carnage of failure to step across,
to see and hear and clear the way,
as he does the thing, as he steps up since
it is the only worth and start of sunburst.

On hinge of stone and central to
this largest room stands the source.
The cup, the chalice, the golden bowl
whose last step, or so he hopes, is close
when journey soldier must do his best,
take the chance, must scald his senses, and
look inside to focus find what’s there.

All the greens imagined in that cauldron,
all the shades, moist to cool, all
the interlock of vine, skin bark, and
grove oak boughs spread to open;
or until the fall occurs, and he
standing in the garden, the enclosure, in
patio surround, nimbus of wet light,
in songbird sound and cover uncovered.

One fountain. One sip of water. And her.

"A Bedtime Story" stood forth early and remained standing apart, bathed in its own light. It tells a "story," but that tale is compounded of many elements, from Christian lore, Dante, chivalric tales, and the Old West, so we soon realize we are on a journey through all journeys, prisms refracting prismatic refractions from other prisms. All stories comment on all other stories, on how we tell stories and why. So it's also a comment on telling, on the act of telling itself. A lonely rider on a tired horse comes to a place, a long-sought-after McGuffin. All of this is delivered in offbeat language, deliberately halting and awkward, bursting at odd, very odd moments with lyrical pops and zags ("And still the carnage of the failure to step across,/to see and hear and clear the way,/as he does the thing, as he steps up since/it is the only worth and start of sunburst"). We are kept uneasy and sagging sideways in the saddle throughout, much like the exhausted rider. Among all the riches of this nutty, bent tune, I especially appreciated the snug closure of the last lines, which bring us to the end while steadfastly refusing to explain a thing: "in/patio surround, nimbus of wet light,/in songbird sound and cover uncovered. // One fountain. One sip of water. And her." What a smile on the reader's face throughout, as the poem plays with many legacies, tells many stories, delights with crooked pleasures of words. Best of all is the original voice. ---John Timpane