Monster Masquerade – Julia’s Dream Part I

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Julia’s Dream – Part I
(By Nick Gibbs Poetry)

It’s almost midday

But you wouldn’t know,

Heavy blinds

Lock down the windows

And thick felt curtains

Trap light and sound

And stale tobacco smell

In the living room

And throughout

The silent house

~

Upstairs,

Richard Trevalyan

Last of his line

And still looking

Pretty fine for his

Not inconsiderable age

Stirs in uneasy sleep

~

Involuntary his hand

Twists the sweat-soaked sheets

To clutch at ribs and side

It traces the scar

Of an old wound;

One of two

That never

Truly healed

~

If you look closely

Creeping past

The clutter of his bedroom

You can see his eyelids twitch

As distant memory

Coiled in dream

Pays a visitation…

~

A sunlit meadow

Some nine centuries ago

Two young lovers

Folded together

Golden limbed and graceful

Strong with the reckless

Blaze of youth

Curl upon a riverbank

Beneath the drowsy canopy

Of a weeping willow tree

~

Such a scene to stir

An embittered cynic’s heart –

The pitch and song of young love

With all its mellifluous notes,

Yet there resides a sadness here

Should you care to find it,

A note of jarring discord

And I shall show you where

~

As always was

And always is

The secret sadness sits

Seeded in their hearts;

~

Richard and Julia,

Eternal lovers

His blonde hair

And her red tresses

Matted now together

In the passion of their union,

But even as their bodies

Danced and twined

In the ferment of their love

Even as the autumn sun

Shone kind upon

Their pressed and flushing flesh

And meadow flowers kissed

Their rolling, sprawling forms

The worm-tongue river

Spoke of dark eddies and undertow

Of heartbreak and turmoil to follow

For Julia’s beloved Richard

Was set to join his liege-lord

And leave for foreign shores

Pledged to the service

Of a Third Holy War,

Departing on the morrow

From Dartmouth port

at which the sturdy

Troop ships

Were already mustered

Making this meadow bank

Their last farewell

~

Pity poor Julia

The blighted springtime

Of her gilded youth –

Beloved yes

But not yet betrothed

The secret flutter

Of burgeoning life

There already in her belly

A secret as yet unwhispered

But soon potent source

Of much distress

~

Were that languid river

Burbling menace behind them

To stretch from the grasslands of home

To the bronzed gates of Jerusalem itself

It would not have length enough

To tame the flow of her despair

~

And spare a thought

Also for fearless Richard

Abandoning his dearest

To the appraising stares

Of unworthy men

And the coldness of a world

That did not belong

In any part

To any woman

~

He perforce was

Trading tangible pleasures

For a weak pope’s vengeance

Plate-steel armour

And an unbloodied sword:

As an able-bodied local man

Whose over-zealous lord

Had answered

The call to arms

It was either go along

Or risk losing a hand,

Besides which Richard

Had pledged his word

And his word must stand

For something

In a world of

Such inconstancy

~

He had tried explaining this

Like every soldier has

No way for him

To make her understand

The pain it caused to

Turn his back on her

For the sake of sworn duty

~

This he attempted again

But his words

Carefully chosen

Were once more

Swept away in her tears

And choked his throat with shame

~

Angrily she turned away

And they lay like

Parted pages in a book

Thinking different thoughts

Then his hand sought hers

And found it trembling

‘I will return,’

He told her

Making it a solemn vow

‘Win or lose,

I’ll find my way

Back to you

` And meet you here

By this tree and river

As God is my witness I shall.’

~

Murmur that

In your fitful sleep Richard,

For there is no God

And he has no witness

But even if there was

Your kind and hers

Have no place

In His plan

~

Back we must go

To the riverbed

All those untold years ago

And Julia is on her feet

Those delicate beautiful feet

Brushing out her lustrous hair

As for Richard he

Harvests their clothes

From off the tree

As if plucking

Apples at his farm

~

She must be content

With his vow

And she is, for now

But to seal the deal

With something physical

She plucks long red hairs

From off her brush

And deftly twists them

Into a tidy lock

‘For you,’ she says,

Pressing her token

To his open hand

‘To remind you

Of me, always.’

~

As if he could forget her!

Her face and body

Her touch and voice

And softness of skin

But this flame of hair

He takes with him to war

To remind him

Of what it is

He’s fighting for

~

And what a war!

Just getting there

Took nigh on

Half a year

A creaking line of masts

Strung out to the horizon

Bulky hulls shoving

Against driving waves

With their precious cargo

Tossed and thrown

Around like dolls

The ocean was

A grey expanse

Of nothing much to see

Then suddenly landfall

A thin sketched

Pencil line

Of somewhere vast and new

Somewhere he had never been

And would never want to go

~

Then began

An endless march

Across fields

And through towns

That smelled of exotic spices

And echoed with unfamiliar sounds

And all around them settled

The putrid stench

Of death and disease:

Grim-faced men

Dropped in the sand

To be stacked

Along the dusty roads

Like firewood

Stitched in sacks

~

The sun here was so big

He had never thought of that before

But he was willing to bet it was

Much bigger than at home

And it beat upon them mercilessly

This clanking army of metal shells

Smaller by the day

Wilder by the night

~

Soon the towns they passed

They sacked and burned

And left as ash in their wake

Grinding through the alien sand

As a barely mobile plague

Of hungry desperate men

They mocked the cross they carried

By the innocent blood they shed

~

Behind his eyes

In camp at night

Images danced

Of women dragged

From their homes

Stripped and beaten

And worse besides

Their men reduced to

Staring heads

On crimson-dripping spikes

And though he took no part

He shared his fellow soldier’s stain

When less than holy

At last they came upon

The Holy Lands

~

He watched childhood friends

The men he had grown up around

Change in time to savages

Their lusts sharpened by privation

Nothing here off-limits

Or beyond the grasp

Of hardened fighting men

No redemption here

For the mortal soul

Only madness,

Madness such

To claim them all

~

Thoughts though

Of sweet Julia

Sustained for him

A shred of sanity

Denied to many

Of the others

Stopped him from

Becoming them

Her perfume lingered long

In the lock of hair

And those memories of home

He bore with him

Tucked within

The clumsy gauntlet

Of his steady sword arm

Even as he rode to fight

The armies of Saladin…

*Superb epic poem by Nick Gibbs (Click here to visit and follow his blog).

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