When you ride into the lawless borderlands
Remember the stones and the streams, for direction is easily lost
And the cross on the hill may not be the one you remember
And the bones on the slope may be your own
Do not travel in December
For January kills. Do not wear a crown or a smile
For the robbers will find you. If you keep a ring or an emblem
Be prepared to lose it, but not to the visible robbers
If you make a song or a fire, rake over the embers.
Just here two shining hosts attempted to clash in battle
And failed: the bones of one are secreted by the glacier
The others are covered by the wandering high sand dunes.
Leave signs and messages by all means
They are many: some were never read, some may be your own.
The bogs enfold the banners, leather, lace.
Do not be surprised if the fire flickers into a form
Or the gully-clutched wind wails like a mourning woman
Or the face in the bog-pool is another person’s
Be prepared for the sense of something at your shoulder
And do not be shocked if your shadow wavers for another
Do not ride by the rock-face faintly carven.
What is this place we have come to between the mountains
The shallow hollow just enough for a tent?
You may find a buckle or a tooth and the grey shades cluster
To answer them death, to ride away from them death,
Or maybe you dreamt them as the ravens rose in triumph
As the sun fell and the moon rose and the stars’ fire
Beckoned the wolves’ wail, quietened the hare’s breath.
Why have you come to this place where people have died
In a stream over stones? What have you put in the bag you carry?
Ride slowly, ride on, be wary
For the borders shift, the dark cave grows, the river runs faster
And the broken sword in the soil where once lay a lake
Shifts and unites, for the time of the borders is coming.
This was a poem written in a kind of fever and followed the same day by two others which I’ll post soon. I’d had the idea of borderlands knocking around for weeks until a poem coalesced around it like a pearl around grit.
Copyright Simon Banks 2013