spira spiritum noctis

Midnight Musings: original poetry by Tess Avelland


In a dream
my feet were bare in glittering dew
and the night wind shone along my naked skin,
tangling in the dark delirium of my hair.

The wet grass was woven with endless stars,
the meadow alight like a second sky.

I knelt in the white silence of the great moon;
and a mystery spoke in my shimmering body,
and filled the waiting dark behind my eyes.

I awoke, weeping and speechless,
priestess of secrets too vast to remember.

(written about 1987, age 16 or 17)



I am the growing green earth and the dark soil beneath;
I am moon and stars, I am hearth flames and the blood of life.
The fields of golden grain burgeon forth my abundance,
my silver fingers are streams and sparkling rivers,
and I bloom fully in both flowers and fruits.

I am the great yellow sun and the black thunderstorm;
I am wind and cloud, I am dark forests and purple wine.
The fangs of wild beasts flash forth my strength,
my white bones are antlers and winter branches,
and I burn fiercely in both fires and frosts.

(Spring 1990)


"Eve's Message to Persephone"

Truly I know, daughter of field and sky, how in that ravaged darkness
the ruby heart of the broken fruit must have gleamingly beckoned you,
dripping with a ripe and crimson life, so vivid in the rayless gloom --
how the seeds must have tasted to your trembling lips and fingers.

Drifting lonely through dim-shadowed days, then thrilled with terror
as each night strode forward to embrace you, black and eager as the grave --
what did you whisper behind your falling hair, as you gave yourself
to the secret scarlet darkness and the knowledge of the god?

Never mourn the hunger or the yielding,
for yours now is the Knowledge of the whole and holy truth:
seed, flower, fruit, rot, and seed again, forever.

Exult at Eleusis our escape from a changeless Eden.
Without us, sister, there would be no Fall, no spring.

(Autumn 1990)



How brave I was, when first the chasm opened at my feet!

Believing I could face even the inner mysteries of that fearsome rite,
proud-hearted I gave myself to the descent, so well prepared
that when I felt the hard unyielding skull beneath his kiss of greeting
it was without a trace of horror or surprise. Such a thing was merely
part of the journey; it was to be expected; I myself had chosen it.

But all at once -- oh unsought, too beautiful, hurtful and unwelcome --
I found that his hair held the scent of every vanished summer;
and before I knew it, I had leaned toward him closer than I meant.

It was too late to turn away then; his arms were around me.
I stood aghast, trembling in a snare of sudden hopelessness,
and as the earth closed over us and sealed us together for a season
I whispered with my lips against his shoulder, I am lost.

(Winter 1995)



Body still and solid on the fallen tree, his feet in worn brown leather moccasins
planted against the earth as firm as roots in soil, feet as much a part of forest
floor and leather-brown leaves as of his body, he is of the earth. He is drumming,

drumming, one hand flashing, drawing forth rhythm from the drum, the other
holding the drum and still, like a live branch the wrist immobile-flexuous, bent angle
of branch curving forth from branch, balanced, arm curving forth in strength from the
trunk of his body, his body still and solid on the mossy fallen tree. His eyes closed,

his long dark tail of hair leather thong bound loose behind his head, face lifted rapt
into late leaf-filtered sun, light sparkling on his mouth, lips closed firmly, the muscles
at his mouth's corners moving unaware, rhythm of his drumming working his mouth

like lovemaking. Slow unclosing his drowsy eyes, full of light, forest-colored between
dark shadowy lashes, limpid as clear brown water, woodland rainwater pooled shining
in last year's softened leaves, his open eyes serene unseeing; now again slow closing
with slow and downward sweep of lashes, slower than the drumming rhythm rocking
his head, long lashes down on brown skin. Lips closed, mouth gentle working his

rhythm, body still on the fallen tree, feet planted, he is of the earth, he is drumming.

(Autumn 1996)


"Sirens Off the Coast of Sappho's Island"

This is where she comes, our sea-mistress,
when weary of their company. Our unhurried hands
take down her hair, unbraid it, comb it smooth
with the spines of seahorses, till it spreads glorious
on the sunwarmed spray-scented rock, rippling like the touch
of sun on water, and she sighs, and says she is home.

We sing away her robes and the heavy jeweled belt,
and wreathe her gently with wet loose-woven seaweed,
sparkling with sea-diamonds, cool against her blooming skin.

Far below in silence the skulls of men watch gape-jawed
as we pour herbed oil over gold bread warm as sand,
feed her with rosy fruits and fruit-stained fingers,
tip her breasts in wine, suck the salt tang from her mouth.

Each time before she goes, we braid her hair with cowrie shells,
a thousand tiny smiles hidden in the clefted darkness.

(Summer 1997)


"To the God of One Garden"

You never banished me, you blustering tyrant;
I escaped, and you hid your shame with lies. I'd only strayed
into your realm at all because I'd taken a fancy to your son.

I sampled your fruit and found it insipid; but not so
that earth-rich boy, more delicious for his conquerable
reluctance; so he and I fled together laughing, unthinking,
though ever since he's led me both a merry dance and a sad.

But sometimes I think his son's sons are learning,
having known the dry drouth of me, and remembering
the wild soft scent of blossom from their earliest childhood.

And you yourself, whose name I'm not supposed to know:

you still haunt that orderly orchard for me, the glossy fruit
waiting ponderously for a plucking that never comes, monstrous
with the scope of your misunderstanding, your false fertilization,
your after-all-this hope amounting to hubris.

Even now, poor fool, you expect me to return to you,
my head covered modestly, mouth sealed, full of repentant seeds.

No matter what you think you want from me, you never like to remember
that before you ever were, I was Queen of the isle of all apples.

(Summer 1997)



In the hidden center of my life, I glimpsed a god with shadowed face,
waiting. But my young girl's silly heart called him monstrous, distorted him
with fear and turned away; and so I sought the slayer of all that was likewise
shadow-seen in me. Tangled in my own thread, I lost my way; I only followed.

In the circling islands I knew at last the mainland life was not my destiny,
but unsure and on the ship already, I sailed a little way with the mainland man,
a little way. Then I sank from a sleeping life into a waking sleep on the shore --
farewell to princes and heroes, farewell my dimly-promised queenship.

Finding my own thread again, in true dreams I walk that myriad old maze,
wandering the wine-dark waves and wooded slopes, through green sunny groves
and meadows night-lit with moon and flame; searching among the roots of vineyards,
treading with the barefoot village revellers, red-lipped with the blood of sweetest life.

In true dreams I have drunk your essence, my fire-born mad young beauty;
what is and what will be between us is fixed upon the jeweled northern sky.
Priestess-proud I take for a queenly sceptre this rough wand pinecone-tipped,
for a queen's bed these soft skins flung on pine boughs. For you, for you
I will give away my golden crown, and weave one of starlight and ivy.

Come to me with wine on your wonderful mouth, and kiss me awake.

(Autumn 1998)

Like a piece of ice on a hot stove a poem must ride
on its own melting. A poem may be worked over
once it is in being, but may not be worried into being.

(Robert Frost, Introduction, Collected Poems, 1939)


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