Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tuesday: A Poem

... all laughed except Tyr: he lost his hand. 
The Poetic Edda on the god Tyr hence Tuesday -

A 6.3 quake devastated Christchurch NZ  Tuesday, 22 February, 2011  

Two planes struck Manhattan New York Tuesday, 11 September, 2001 


He puts his hand in the wolf's mouth, the wolf
swallows. Let's start with this. A god not gone
but waiting; his sacrifice a gesture of surrender
and determination. And what of the tricked wolf?
A god's fingers stuck in his narrow throat – no chance to spit out.
It happens as it must. A handy
guarantee. Let's start with the price of order: 
the lean, worst place for a deity.
Sink in. Obeying destiny the wolf bites deep
and dreams of mocking laughter; Tyr of
the prize.

Let's start before this even, in the dark waiting
for the beginning, is it always the same?
The growl of night: descending, distending
like a rope woven with footfalls and hair,
bellowing storm and bee-wolf alike
embroidering new darkness with stories,
threaded like constellations in the sky's
blanket. A man has two hands, and no idea
he's about to give one up – a lesser sacrifice than the six
fabled elements entwined to order chaos. He lets go
his hand so the biter can be tied.

A yielding then. No runic miracle, no digits
carved into steel as Mahuika's fingertips ignite
fire from winter's heart to illuminate
the day of grace. Yet, here’s a bit of madness, a
lunar dream: the vulpine tether binds the gods
to the one-fisted man. The wolf-wrist twitches; light
pinkens the dawn, and a shoulder shove, a broad
back, a strong trunk separating day from night, 
earth from sky.

Everybody laughs, the bitterness of sacrifice:
blood's iron taste exploding on the tongue
licking air, trading war for chill slippers,
marking Tyr's day as one not of trust,
hope or faith, but the righteousness of battle;
a sinister champion of single-armed combat
under the sky. A day when the earth itself heaves up
as if to throw off the wolf's shadow.
Let's see it as a day of arms, then,
a duplicity of protection and loss
from a silken ribbon of footfalls, sinew, spittle and breath.

By the Tuesday Poets April 2011 
Mary McCallum, Claire Beynon, Catherine Bateson, Janis Freegard, Bernadette Keating, Belinda Hollyer, Helen Heath, Orchid Tierney, Tim Jones, Kathleen Jones, Eileen Moeller, Andrew Bell,  T Clear, Harvey Molloy, Saradha Koirala, Helen Lowe, Susan T. Landry, Helen Rickerby, Jennifer Compton, Renee Liang, Robert Sullivan, Emma McCleary, Alicia Ponder, Catherine Fitchett, Elizabeth Welsh, and Sarah Jane Barnett.
In spirit : Zireaux. 

Written communally in celebration of Tuesday Poem's first birthday. Begun just past midnight Tuesday April 5 2011, completed 10.45 am, Sunday April 10 2011, and edited by curators Mary McCallum and Claire Beynon. 

Well. we had a blast. It started a week ago on Tuesday, at one minute past midnight. The first lines were posted and off we went - a tag team of poets in NZ, Australia, the US, the UK (and one unexpectedly in Italy), across time zones and countries  - passing the baton. One by one we wrote 1-2 lines in our allotted slot between 8 am every morning and midnight every night.

Day One there was a small technical hitch that promised to unhitch the whole thing - easily sorted. Day Two, sadly one of our poets - T Clear in Seattle - had a personal crisis that forced her to withdraw. Not so easily sorted. We keep T's name on the list above in solidarity, and because she baked our delicious birthday cake. 

Astonishingly, 'Tuesday' the poem unfurled at its own pace and with its own heartbeat. Every four hours we'd check in to find a line or two - - - -  of new words - - - -  like the tiniest stitches discovered in the shoemaker's fairytale shoes. 

It was such a pleasure to see a word or phrase bouncing off another one, a line break leading to a new stanza, a long line stabbing out into whiteness, a short pithy sentence tucking up in a corner. Fun to read a colloquial turn of phrase or a pun or a word scooped out of another time.  Incredible to see the story of Tyr tugged and stretched and rolled into another shape with new threads. 

All the Tuesday Poets appear delighted by the coherence of the poem, and the way it's come together, and has something gorgeous and layered and powerful to say. None of us could have written it individually, let alone imagined such a thing, but together we could. We did. Little editing was needed, too, just some tidying up of stanza lengths, enjambments, the odd word, so the poem worked as a whole. 

As one poet said, opening up the finished poem was like Christmas morning. 

And what's it about? 
The first lines opened with the myth of Tyr - the god who gave us the word 'Tuesday'. Known also as Tiw, he is  - at one level - the Norse equivalent of Zeus or Jupiter. He was the god of both battles/war and justice/legislation/public assembly. He was courageous, fearless, a master tactician and skilled leader/diplomat. 

As a 'sky god', esotericists consider him 'not gone, but merely waiting to be called forth'. He is seen as protecting humanity and the gods from the destruction that would come if the heavens and earth should collapse into one another. In the northern mythology, it is Tyr who comes closest to a transcendental quality. The rune attached to his name summons religious belief and great leadership. 

The myth of Tyr is written up in the collection of Norse sagas called the Poetic or Prose Edda. It tells the story of how Tyr allowed the great wolf Fenrir to bite off his right hand in order to bind the wolf's chaotic force and protect others. The gods asked the dwarves to craft a magic leash or silken ribbon called Gleipnir to restrain the wolf. But Fenrir suspected a trick because the ribbon was made of elements that didn't exist. He wouldn't let the gods bind him unless one of them stuck a hand in his mouth. Tyr, known for his courage and honesty, agreed to do it.

The Prose Edda describes Gleipnir:

It was made of six things: the noise a cat makes in foot-fall, the beard of a woman, the roots of a rock, the sinews of a bear, the breath of a fish, and the spittle of a bird. And though thou understand not these matters already, yet now thou mayest speedily find certain proof herein, that no lie is told thee: thou must have seen that a woman has no beard, and no sound comes from the leap of a cat, and there are no roots under a rock.

Each Tuesday Poet has developed the Tyr myth, weaving in other myths and references to Tuesday in popular culture and that old chestnut 'the human condition', slowly building on the underlying rumble of the Christchurch quake and 9/11 - both on Tuesdays nearly ten years apart. The rumble grew and by the final stanza is a roar.

We're so proud of what's been achieved here. Could it possibly be a world first? 

Thanks to all the Tuesday Poets who are part of the Tuesday Poem this birthday week, and to all those who have come before and are waiting to return. Check out the sidebar to find out where these poets reside with their own poems and the poems they love. 

To you, the blogreader and appreciator of poems, we proffer our right hands. Do with them what you will. We will continue to write. 

Artwork: Tyr and Fenrir by John Bauer
Editors: Mary McCallum and Claire Beynon 


Melissa Green said...

Oh, my, what a beautiful piece of work. It is so dense, multi-layered, so tightly knit it's hard to believe it was not handed down with the Eddas themselves--there are no seams that show, no false notes. It's a glorious poem to honor Tuesday, and in the shadows, Christ-chuch and Manhattan. It couldn't have been made by one hand. I'm reminded of the way the Bayeaux Tapestry was made---the needlewomen sat in a circle and embroidered a scene from William the Conquerer and the single piece of linen seems to go on for miles with perfect small stitches that like miniature paintings showed us one part of a bigger story.

Congratulations, Tuesday Poets! It's wonderful! And where would we be without our dear Mary McCallum and Claire Beynon?

Thankk you, everyone. It's a joy to sit before the fire of this mythic-seeming piece and be warmed.

susan t. landry said...

i just want to say...what melissa said!
no, joking: in my very own words, it's just gorgeous.
and i do want to point out my favorite line--i don't know who added it ('fess up?), but every time i read through, here's what grabs me:

A man has two hands, and no idea
he's about to give one up

i suppose to analyze it, it's the moment of the loss of innocence (per Christchurch, per downtown Manhattan), when it dawns on us, the global us, that the future we imagined has slipped away, and something for which we are completely unprepared has begun to reveal itself. mighty chilling, and beautifully wrought.

power to the poets!

lillyanne said...

I am so proud of us all.

Mark Pirie said...

Happy Birthday. I enjoy reading Tuesday Poets' posts on my morning break at work. It is good to have poems you can quickly access and read during the day. A great idea.

Mary McCallum said...

Thank you Melissa, Susan and Belinda - all visiting from the other side of the world - and Mark who is just around the corner!

I am proud of us all, too. It was so much fun - cerebral - challenging - satisfying. But most of all it was a community at work, and therefore all about generosity and trust in the end.


Helen Lowe said...

Such a great way to celebrate--I was proud to be part of the poem project as I am to be a Tuesday Poet. I am now looking forward to another TP year.:)

Ben Hur said...

Bring on birthday number 2! We're ready for you, but still a good 50 or so Tuesdays in between. That's a lot of good reading to look forward to.