Fasti by Sonya Taaffe

Shadefast: The Feast of Saint Libitine
Beyond the city wall, a black dog
is running in the frost and stubble,
nine times under the cradling moon
like the sickles that sheared the last
of the harvest down. Who hears her
howl from the hearth-side will lose
a loved one before the longest night,
sooner if she whines from the sun-
swallowing west, the sky of strangers
and the guest who never sleeps: tonight
the casters throw bones, not cards,
to read the coming year. By gaslight,
their shadows tumble like loaded dice
toward the grave, gambling—whose ships
will creak with spices and spermaceti,
whose fortunes climb like the roses
of Sophia? who huddle on canal-corners
in a beggar’s coat, flayed of rings
and pennies, broken on her wheel?
Who will sain first grandchildren
with bull’s blood and white barley?
Who take the leaf-road into the dark?

The sortes libitinae, the dead fates
speaking from the Tree’s unleaving
fire, and in the ikons no one prays to
she is hooded with rags of summer
ripped down like sacking, leaf-must,
grape-mast; the winter-whetted Thorns
are robed no more gauntly than she,
who between her pale and dark hands
holds her own death mask, ghosts
curling from its lips like a candle
blown out. Past her, the Sun slants
only downward, each shortening day
another lintel deeper into the earth,
the granite-roofed sky. She will lay
the Moon’s dead petals at its feet.
Gather up milk-teeth and astragals,
lighter of the shades that sleighted
the future in their drystone gleanings;
the naphtha flares are hissing out
in the basilica, the cornhusks on
their doorposts rotted grey as rats.
In the rime-light before dawn, only
autumn leaves haunt the cobblestones,
whispering their own way into the day.

 

Solmas: The Sun and the Thorns
The oldest of the frescoes have flaked with time
like lichen from the travertine, butterfly-scales,
pollen-grains, so many suppliants knelt here—
warm bodies in the dark—in wait for holiness,
the bright returning or the inalienable cold.
The same midwinter grips up from the tiles
that ferns the quartered window like grisaille,
flashed with the moon, each station of the year
star-shot across the benches: the goat-fish,
the water-drawer, the blue-mantled maid
distant in the vaulting, a pauper’s pack of fates;
old blood in the mouth tangs of rain and rust,
the sweetness of beeswax is summer drowned
like a mirage in a single candle, blackening out.
Tu verus mundi Lucifer. O Fortuna velut Luna.

Nest - Liz Clarke

Gold thread caught in tatters on a dust-barked
branch, dry needles and deadwood, a kindling
heap. The altar streaked darkly over marble
flourishing with prickle-holly and acanthus,
pomegranates paler than frost that round
into the chill-struck palm: hold onto death.
Brighter than such broken flesh and seeds
bleeds the dying Sun transfixed on the Thorns
in lime plaster and orpiment, breath-corroded,
shrike-pierced, a berry of flame among unturning
stars; the saints of winter with vine-black eyes,
wind-tousled Hazinthe, Tiennot whose wrists
are chained with laurel, shadowy Veive’s
arrow-lightnings, arching away into the dark.
The heron-headed torch-bearer, upending
a cup of light. All spills beneath the threshold
for the serpent-starved roots. Touch,
and mystery sifts down like leaves, like snow,
the flint-strike of prayer and the heart’s blood
flares like a hekatomb offering up the night—
Round and round, Sophia rings her wheel.

 

 

 

 

Thorntide: Ribbons for Mari
They wake early, hammering before dawn
on any door that opens to their clamor
with sword-hilts, drumsticks, fistsful
Songbirds - Liz Clarke of violets and red-dyed wool, as ragged
with greenery as the paving-stones
their boots pound over, splashing up
the last sallies of old winter’s rain.
Hoarse from studying until sunrise
or drinking, half-leaned out windows
with broadsheets and bottles of wine,
medical treatises and nib-spattered
auguries pitched like flowering may
into the wind that warms off the river,
the willows yellowing by the bridge—
assignments discarded in their branches
like handwritten wishes, like the ribbons
tossing out behind spring’s hounds
as they harry away whatever chill clings
in the air, nipping at the heels of death
sleepless and steadfast, hungover
and hallowed, all the same hieratic
camouflage beneath their masks of bark.
Saint Silvian with a garland of green
onions snaps a gilt-stitched pennant
into the pale mid-morning, proudly
striding though the Serpent slinks up
behind, its bleached horse’s skull
scissor-scraping its slaty jaws, champing
for the greenstick splinter of bones.
Crown, scepter, and wickerwork orb
are in the Emperor’s hands, last year’s
rushes so brittle a father’s grief
will shiver them like a stricken lance;
parchments and powders up the Magician’s
black sleeves, nothing the Fool brings
but palms turned to the sky, brimless cap
tilted back on his head, wheat-chaff
in his pockets, glinting on the breeze.
Whether a woman carries the spinning-top
or a slender man, white roses plait
over Sophia’s shoulders and she alone
will not speak, closed within the hum
of time, the sure axis of the fickle
world. The rainers and the walkers
throng them, the patterns they trace
from back streets to the tyche’s court
as sudden and certain as catkins
bursting, bantering rhymes to shake
the Sun from its winding-sheet of leaves.
Their faces flash up to its new-sprung
height, freed from the Thorns as the Tree
gentles toward summer: the days ascending,
stretching into heat. The soldier-saint
sprawled where the painted eyes of fortune
gaze out forever from the sea, the Magician
is rummaging through crib-notes, name-seals,
a hip flask, exasperatedly fishing for
a miracle—only one would stop them now.

 

Meridian: The Sun and the Tree
There is no rain on this day.
The sun is everywhere—
in the heat glazing on the water,
rippling from brick curbs
onto marmorino facades,
in the bridges scaled under
with the reflections the city
polishes in, soaking up sky,
the drench of honey-light
over the tyche balancing
the Sun spiked with Thorns
and the rose-rayed Moon
on her palms, the marble
weight of a man for each.
The sun makes incense
of the loosened hair of girls
who last night left basins
of water on unshuttered sills
for the dawn to draw on,
one lightstruck glimpse of love,
the boys who insinuated
oak-leaf sprays between the panes,
silver-backed invitations
of olive onto the doorstep,
already sweating beneath linen
and leather as though they leapt
across bonfires before noon,
spark-sanctified into the season.

 

 

The banners that glitter back,
silken, the city’s pride, the sun
sews up against white slates
and the bells sing gratias,
kyrie, anikete,
humming
like a hive in summer pasture,
one gold-combed note rounding
all the curve of the sky.
Past the fitful shoots and spurts
of burgeoning spring,
not yet the locust-days
when even the stars stick
in the parching swelter,
the Sun in all its splendor
beams above the flaunting Tree
in hymns and lovemaking,
the lazy midday of the year.
In the furrows, after dark,
the night will be no less praised.

And the moon sheds its petals again.

 

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