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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