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Mythic Passages — the magazine of imagination

Poetry: Wordes That Sound Fyne

©2007 Ari Berk and used with permission
[Images: "Santa Fe Sunset" by Kristal Kraft]

Dr. Ari Berk is a member of the faculty for sixth session (Meaning) of the Certificate Program in Applied Mythology, August 15 - 18, 2008.

Ghana Tomali road at dusk [Always, for me, inspiration comes from the road, from the journey, from the land seen slowly at a walk and the land seen in a blur through a window open or closed. — AB]

A Traveling Song

At dusk we'll stand together
On the weathered plain

Shadows making impression
Upon ancient ground

These words and deeds are carved
On the banded stone

Our spirits already there
In the Faraway

[Sometimes the words themselves, as sound objects, provide inspiration. This really should be read aloud. Other than that, the less said about this poem the better. — AB]

Wordes That Sound Fyne

Monkey, essence, revenant,
Spam-basket, irrelevant,
Bonus, onus, Hythloday,
Innu, ancient, ballustrade,
Ponderous, vile, vexation,
Spontaneous, ruination,
Supple, badger, canting, churl,
Spiral, odor, Oxford, turl,
Wicked, Alexandria,
Cur, beluga, Sandia,
Anasazi, Hohokam,
Pot-sherd, halberd, Sandringham,
Dulcid, rousing, damnable,
Compass, bounding, canticle,
Quill, hieroglyph, noxious, herb,
Osiris, codex, perturb,
Tudor, mundi, lachrimae,
Cavalier, undercroft, pray,
Enoch, tablet, palpable,
Oracle, formidable,
Scroll, bestriding, hoard, beshrew,
Lux aeternum, coarse, construe,
Prosper, antiquarian,
Scholar, island, Caliban,
Certese, shadow, sanguine,
Tempest, Winter, paladin,
Subtle, Falstaff, excrement
Guernsey, journey, supplement
Coracle, compel, extrude

[I have been so very, very fortunate in my teachers. When Mrs. Moberly died several years ago, I wrote this in her memory, an offering in remembrance of her many inspiring gifts to me. Some final words from her apprentice to bring her name once more to the fore of remembrance. — AB]

Cat's Eyes
(for Elizabeth Moberly)


Those lines
were made of
more than laughter
arranged like runes
about the edges of her eyes
   script of grace
   or glyphs of power
portions of a regard
quick to embrace good folk
or watch with equal delight
the work of needlecraft or glaive.
Their kindness belied
the adamant behind
for she was built of bedrock,
yet changeable in aspect
A Hunter's Moon.
A Mother's song
that rose and fell
at dawn and dusk.


No matter the weather
she favored dark lenses
so you may have found
her gaze hidden
though never her grin.
Remember her then,
The Baroness at play
in velvet, sable
and a Kinsale cloak
that framed her
in storm-hue
the shade
of owl-wise
Athena's stare.


And what is left to behold
in the wake of this lady's gaze?
In the absence that her
name alone may not define?
Only our recollections
falling from the circle
of the past
   her graceful hands
   an eloquent phrase
   the high-raised toast at Hogmanay
   a thousand mirthful glances
   her love of lore and all
falling, falling to us even now
from stars whose light
is chased before
the early winter sun.

Coso Rock Art[Some of my favorite writings are inspired by turning ancient objects over in my hands. I have been lucky. Many strange things have come up out of dark earth, or have been washed out of an old wall, or have become illuminated by a reckless ray of sun, just in time to catch my eye. — AB]


Black bands of light
bestow themselves about the Coso Range
illuminating primal spells
inscribed with intention upon the rocks.

When hand and eye caress the stones
(a voiceless tale may here be read like braille)
rough plots beneath your hands unfold
to say: Hunger and power are the same.

And shields are painted upon the hills
To hold and hide these stories from the foolish.

Gift of a Blood-red Stone

When hungry hands have flaked a form
Who's deadly edges glow and beg to bite,
Stone may strike a sanguine humour
That even ages do not dare dissolve.

Neolithic Axe Head

Desert Time

I. Snow on Mountains

You are changed, old man
Standing proud in your
crown of ice and fog
This, the gift of patience.

Coyote MoonII. Coyote

Running through the round
of hunger's breath-a calling
in the night. Common in its cant
But does the moon hear you?

III. Flycatchers

Frantic darting, stabbing
roads about the wind. Flash of white
and a quick call, too fast
for Coyote, hiding beneath the tree

IV. Cactus Fruit

Subtle chance of nectar
and promise of hunger's
end. These, the joys of
javelina, ever moving

V. Eager Stream

Bright, the mountain stories—
polished down and caressed—
are hurried over all
the hidden, purling paths

VI. Crows

Little cousins of prophecy
and carrion; slow to rouse.
Our knowledge of tongues
continues undisputed and indifferent

VII. Storms

Always unexpected when
the gate of fury is lifted
by the winds and waters
Spirals turn above the hills.

VIII. Relics

Of small account, the evidence
from ancient times. Worn and wasted,
lost and indolent, scattered as
seeds; revealed by sun and rain

IX. Cactus Wren

Pilgrims friend, about the thorns,
Danger is a game among
the branches. Our call is sharper
since we've known the wastes

X. Stone

Always, always, I can trust
a stone. Waiting down the dust,
I see the scar of battle on your brow;
scant, the blood within the bone.

[I love arriving by night in a place I've never been before. It's all anticipation then. That first morning — that first time a foreign place is seen by daylight — is a sacred thing. — AB]

Santa Fe SunsetSanta Fe I

Spirits moved about
the trees preceding
dawn; something more or
less than birds turned there
among the branches.
Supple light before
the sun and frost clutched
about the ground; the
First Day was simple
like this, no different, no brighter:
Black the silhouette
of trees against a growing sky
and singular
the morning prayer of crows.

Prayer for Voice

First Word
Sublunary Sound
Voices of delight
Tongue of telling
Feather song
Talon's mark
Breath of bones
Murmur of loam
Heart of Earth and Sky
   Sing in me
   reside in me
   shape my words
   and make them
   bright as suns

Ari BerkAri Berk is a writer, visual artist, and scholar of literature, history, iconography, and comparative myth. His publications have included academic studies on myth and ancient cultures, as well as popular works on myth for both children and adults. He is the author of The Runes of Elfland and Goblins!, two books created with artist Brian Froud. He is a member of the Mythic Imagination Institute Board of Directors, and has attended both Mythic Journeys conferences as a guest speaker.

Deeply dedicated to an interdisciplinary approach to teaching, research and writing, Dr. Berk holds degrees in Ancient History and American Indian Studies, as well as a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature and Culture. He has studied at Oxford University in England, and has traveled widely, making friends in many parts of the world. In the last decade, his work took him to the University of Arizona in Tucson where he taught courses and lectured in the areas of Early Modern Ethnography and Literature, Mythology, and American Indian Literature, History, and Culture. He was appointed to the committee that developed the first American Indian Studies doctoral program in the United States, and worked as assistant to the Pulitzer Prize winning Kiowa author N. Scott Momaday. Dr. Berk is now a professor in the English department at Central Michigan University, where he teaches Mythology, Folklore, and American Indian Literature.

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