The Bean-Sidhe Calls in Owl-Light

by Neile Graham

The owl's voice buffets the night with its tumbling roll
and the emptiness between. It beckons on my behalf:
red rover red rover, we call one over. And one comes —

foolish, human, old as winter trees, arms naked as branches,
his thin breath a faltering smoke between us, frost
from the welter of leaves on his gnarled feet.

I turn my palm to the night sky. The owl's voice halts.
The man's step pauses, then owl's wings pass a blessing
over his head. Grace. There is beauty in that.

And in this man's appearance there also is grace. His thin,
shy skin in ice wind. I hunger for this. Hunger for recognition
in his eyes as I step out from the trees into what brightness

there may be in this night. Does he see me yet? Does he see?
His eyes are full of owl-light, owl-light and eclipse, dart like sparrows,
alight on nothing till they latch on me. Then he names me

with the names of all women he has loved in his long life:
calls me mother, lover, child. Dear winter tree of a man
I am all of her you have ever met. I am Her. For what that's worth.

Call me Mother Death as your breath ceases to cloud
the few inches now between us. First I dress you in the web
of memory the next step of your journey requires. I discard

ambition, impatience, guilt. Your armour against this year's end
echoes the blessing of that bird's wing. It clothes you with fire.
I take your hand. Your knobby twigs of fingers coldly clutch me now.

And I scrub you, cleanse from your skin the stench of Styx
and Acheron, rinse you first with tears of Cocytus then the balm
of Lethe. Then I relax my hold. Show your new flesh how

to carry the newborn breath and weight of you. How to rise again
to walk once more through dark forest, bravely armed and leaving me.
He walks, his back pine-straight, stride certain, tall but dwindling

into winter night. A rush of wind startles the trees around me
as he disappears. Gone and going. Going and gone. Oldest and new.
What is he born into now? Who, the owl calls. Who indeed?

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