Iseult in Kernow

by Patricia Monaghan


The wind sighs in the hazel boughs;
breath of a beggar warm in my hair
as he carries me over traitorous water.

Do all men grow remote and cold?
The apple garden empty, the moon
an empty eye above an empty bower.

Distant on another stormy headland
he dreams of soft flesh and openings,
of firm breasts and tethers of lace.

Nothing changes in his dreams. Lace
does not fray, potions never leach away.
He lives in a world without mirrors.

I sit before mine in the autumn night
shriven of dreams, wondering when
we changed places, when I turned beggar.

The wind breathes of oranges and spice
from the far south. I would go there,
go there and die where no one will say

look how she has faded, was she not once
the lovely one; how strange she is, and old.
Oh, oranges and silence and forgetfulness.


I took to my rooms when I heard the news.
He has taken a new wife, younger than me,
a wife with my name. He sends pledges

of his faithfulness, his unceasing love.
He sends trinkets of gold from her estate.
He does not attempt to see me.


We were on the moor one day.
Silenced love finds secret places.

Secret love finds silent places.
Only wind there, echoing his breath,

until two swans flew high over,
calling: another pair mated for life.

There is a marriage of flesh beyond
law, beyond restraint of custom.

The marriage of flesh is like song,
like familiar song, every note welcome.

As we lay by the shimmering lake
warmed by the sun, drowsy with love,

I felt something press my arm: it was
a slit-irised goat, white and wild.

I reached up and touched his horns.
In that moment, I was entirely free.


Do all men grow remote and cold?
Am I now silver where I was gold?


I came and went like the mist on the sea,
a white lady with a swan-white neck,
smiling, grave, given to sudden song.

I came and went like the mist on the moor,
a white lady with small white hands,
silent, grave, given to sudden love.

Look at me now: a second rainbow,
fading, pale, blurred and echoing,
echoing the bright one whom he loves.


He knew my husband old.
He knew I would be free.
He sailed in search of gold.
He did not wait for me.


Apple scented bower, full moon, nightingales.
He has them all again while I face autumn
in brocaded cloaks and gowns of gray silk.

I am silver where I was gold. I am caves
and mountains where I was fair plains.
I have fallen off the precipice of age.

Folly to love now, folly to love again.
Foolish heart, foolish girlish heart, become
an alchemist, learn to turn silver to stone.


Do all men grow remote and cold
when women mirror back their age?
He loves another woman with my name
and replays act one upon another stage.


Let me sail south to solitude and spices,
wrapping mist around me like a veil.

Let me pluck oranges from fragrant trees
and eat them, ripe and golden, at sunset.

Let animals come to me again, pressing
hard horns against my soft white arms.

Let me walk on windy hills at dawn
searching for garnets and pale blue eggs.

Let wind lift my hair, salt wind of the sea.
Let there be one burning star in the sky.

Let that be my life, solitary and complete.
Solitary save for the sea birds and the sea,

and stars, and streaming sun, orange groves
and fields of spices, shy deer, swift hounds,

leaping fish, fruit-laden vines, and apples,
sharp sweet autumn wine upon my tongue.

©Patricia Monaghan

Patricia Monaghan

Patricia Monaghan died in November 2012.  She had been professor of interdisciplinary studies at DePaul University and was a widely-published author, a winner of the Pushcart Prize and the Friends of Literature award for her work. She produced four books of poetry, including Dancing with Chaos (Salmon Poetry), a book that explores chaos theory through poetic images. Her most recent book of poetry is Homefront (Word Tech Editions), a book that explores the lasting impact of war on families of psychologically-wounded veterans.
She was a frequent collaborator with musicians who set her work to music, most recently folk composer Michael Smith, whose Celtic-inspired art-song settings of Patricia's poetry have been released on the CD, Songs of the Kerry Madwoman, while the Alaska a capella group the Derry Aires did a two-CD compilation of Patricia's poetry under the title, Seasons of the Witch.
In nonfiction, Patricia was an active scholar and author. She wrote two encyclopediae of mythology: The Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines (Greenwood Press) and The Encyclopedia of Celtic Myth and Folklore (Facts on File). Her most recent nonfiction book, The Red-Haired Girl from the Bog , explores ecology, myth and folklore in Ireland. She was also author of an introduction to goddess spirituality entitled The Goddess Path (Llewellyn Worldwide), a book of translations of classic goddess poetry (The Goddess Companion, Llewellyn Worldwide) and a book of goddess stories for girls (Wild Girls, Creatrix Press).
Patricia was also one of the founders of Black Earth Institute: connecting earth, spirit and society through the arts.

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