Here a foul and dreadful river, heaps of mouldering flowers wither,
Where bird and beast will never feast or near in passing dare to go,
Grew a wistful, lonely willow on a pale and spectral pillow
Of softest, coldest, pallid mounds like egret down and angel snow.
Not oak nor birch would dare besmirch the grandeur of that saintly wood.
Nor man nor god would dare to trod the curst soil where that willow stood.
Within that tree seen just by me grew a branch of the purest gold,
That used to shine for none but I -- a riddle not 'til now been told!
In amazement I stared weakly, and in wonder declared meekly,
"Of whose curious, wondrous seed had this heavenly tree been reared?
Whose pistil or willow stamen from some tree-folk forest daemon
With such gen'rous heart and wealth had so unselfishly volunteered?"
Then a most peculiar bustling from the leaves came now to rustling
And a hymn and jingle-jangling from a strange and arcane prayer
Whose declaration made be known to a tinkling-twanging tone,
A parable most delightful of a forgotten maiden, Mare.
And before the last verse finished, through neglect or curse diminished,
The tree grew quaintly silent then declined to sing hence more.
Through no delaying of my own, with not a gasp or uttered moan,
The tree grew queerly silent then resolved to sing no more.
In my spirit stirred a sadness. In my reason grew a madness.
And I desired to hear some more of this ancient romantic lore
Whose wisdom of ages wrote it and outlived the sagely poet
Who penned half a tragic story and then set words to song no more.
I demanded a conclusion, not to be left in seclusion,
"Whatever had become of her, that long-forgotten maiden, Mare?
Whose love had been so taken and whose faith had been so shaken and
Through no willingness of her own left her heart so unaware.
"Had her one and truest lover from the heaven up above her
Come to save her from the peril of a crueler twist of fate?
And then inscribed a vow of love with the quill feather of a dove
Upon tall and golden spires that adorn the heavens gates?
"Or had she slipped into depression, to wallow in dejection,
With a weeping that would rival even that of the willow tree?
With a ring upon her finger, a mere token to remind her
Of a lover lost in battle and a love that could not be."
My lips plead for explanation. The tree gave no revelation.
I had no patience for this tree or for my question to repeat.
Then some act of divination rest my soul with liberation
As the branch fell from the tree and rest now humbly beside my feet.
"Finally, some clue," thought I. From the willow came a muffled sigh,
In an aged and musty breath that many years had ripened inside.
Then with no more reservation I pulled the branch in resignation,
crying, "You stinking demon tree. Now, why hast thou still not complied?"
The stick had taken root and sprouted. In my mind, I highly doubted
That no twig born of this Earth could have grown so instantly.
All the more now curious, bordering here on furious,
I set out to unearth that branch on hands and knees, impatiently.
Fist by fistful, and clump by clump, I had vowed to expose that stump
Whose riches and whose splendor now I quickly began to abhor.
For no bountiful plantation could extend no consolation
For an arduous excavation of a twig that resolved to war.
I felt I must have been possessed, for no intent had I to rest,
Though the task seemed purposeless and should certainly absolve in jest.
The ground replete of clay and stones that jabbed my aching, tender bones,
Pricked me with a carpenter's nail that in the soil had come to rest.
"Evil omen or curse," I said, "Leave me be or god strike me dead!"
I squeezed my bleeding finger that had turned the earth a crimson red.
As the branch neared to be exhumed, to digging then I soon resumed.
My blood into the soil bled -- my life on which the willow fed.
If only someone informed me. If perchance they'd thought to warn me
That God or Satan bore a child that grew into a willow tree,
I would not have thought to meddle. I'd been pleased as punch to settle
For an incomplete poem of love and on my way go merrily.
But no advice of caution came and in my mouth my tongue grew lame,
As the golden bark sparked life and mimicked muscle and rotted bone.
Twisting like a ferrety claw, and reaching like a monkey's paw,
Creaking with some hideous groan assured me I was not alone.
In my gut my organs tangled. Every wit in my mind dangled.
From that ghastly, decaying hand my gawking eyes could not be torn.
Bolts of lightning running through me, sure as hell that now before me,
Through immaculate conception hellish devils were being born!
Then in front of my eyes, transformed, skin absorbed that skeletal form,
Where once sickly bone had grew now adorned a gentler hue,
Slender fingers and lovely nails that in the vilest soul unveils
Tenderness and affection that a woman's gorgeous hand can do.
Then something unforeseen took place. The hand in all its refined grace
Seized the job that I'd deserted and dug itself up from the ground.
I merely stared, could only stare, 'til what I saw, could no more bear,
In sorrow, simply staring down: stood atop her burial mound.
My heart grew faint. My vision blurred. Beneath the ground a tremor stirred.
I knelt down gently, sadly smiled, and kissed the hand and held it tight.
Then the rest of the tale was known. With none to love, left all alone,
She took her life by hangman's noose - and so ended her troubled plight.
But that would not be all, you see. The hand, now free, had beckoned me.
Pointed toward a golden gleam, a glow which I had not yet seen!
Reaching out, the hand extended, as if on that thing depended,
As if on that thing reflecting, was life or death of Mare between.
I brushed the dirt aside, astounded. In the grave a weeping sounded,
Though no visible orifice upon the corpse had moved at all.
I took the object in my hand, brushed away the grime and sand, and
In my palm rest a golden ring that fit a finger meekly small.
Upon her hand I placed the ring. My mind was sure of just one thing:
Mare had the most loveliest hands of any I had ever met.
As if my thoughts had just been said, or if my mind had just been read,
She squeezed my hand so daintily as though to pay off some great debt.
I covered up the shallow grave as Mare sent me a parting wave,
And then I knew what all had meant. From heaven had an angel sent:
A willow with a golden limb, a deep and ancient, wondrous hymn,
And I to mend the whole event so Mare could part this world content.