Eleanor Rees’s Andraste’s Hair

Andraste’s Hair
Eleanor Rees
   
– Andraste: Iceni goddess of war and victory.
   
   
In the woods they are burning her hair
                              three of them
they light it with a match
and she lets them
she lets them burn her hair.
   
Watches the ends smoulder.
Watches the ends curl her curls
curl up like leaves.
   
She lets them burn her hair.
There are long dark shadows
                    between trees
                    like corridors
blocked with boulders.
   
– The area is cordoned off. –
   
She let them burn her hair.
   
– The area is cordoned off. –
   
When the sun splits open
   
the gaps between trees
   
and the sun slices into the scene
   
they see:
   
that she let them burn her hair.
    
*
   
The light opens up the morning.
   
A plait lain out on the end of the bed
                                        like a rope
several metres long it hung there
swaying
                    tied with a yellow bow.
   
It belongs to no one now
lopped off at the nape of the neck.
   
The door is closed.
   
*
   
Arms raised to hug the sun
woman
                    eyes like sods
ratchet-nosed, craggy
hatchet arms creak and clank
   
lady
   
sleeping under sunless light
   
another sun gone
   
reaching obedient:  she dreams.
   
*
   
From among the ashes
from what had not burnt
gathered to a mass
of brown turf gathered
her hair
and carried
– a cloud in her arms –
and carried
to the river
her hair
to spread in the warp of water.
   
The light smooth and silting.
The forest behind –
remember
too much                    too much
dark cannot exist?
                    The sun swings to the right.
She went left
to the river
old dirt track
stepping over grass
hair taken down to depth.
   
In the forest they look for her.
   
Now,
   
she walks along the path by the river
her hair in her hands
to deliver
what had been taken
to the river
to the water
the smooth strand that curves its path
over the head of the hill.
Something subsides.
Something has passed.
   
Behind in the forest
in half dark heaving afternoon
they claw at earth
scratch around for a trace
                    and further
in the woods
search through evidence
make lists of explanations
make lists of reasons
for her absence.
   
The sun guides steps,
footfalls
imprint on soil.
    
*
   
It wasn’t about who was listening.
If anyone was listening
                         – to the song not the words –
speaking would mean silence
                         – dead ears dead ears –
but variation
the pull and placing
in a line brimmed to full
     with evocation
was almost love and almost listening.
    
Quiet response to quiet sound.
   
*
   
A song heard in the forest days later
   
burbled
   
made a young boy cry.
   
Wrapped round trees
stayed, not moving,
                                   just hung
a stopping place.
   
We could meet
in the woods by the river
stand eye to eye
in the stopping place
                   and wait
words curdling our bones
                    to stone
         be petrified
                                             in sound
a single drum beat, one long groan.
   
While she walks
a path behind her concertinas
each stride a fragile weight
that
  pushes up the earth,
turf over grass over turf.
   
   
Know how
it is now to be stone now
to know how to finish.
   
Listen, she’ll break you.
   
Will you follow?
   
   
 
from Andraste’s Hair (Salt Publishing, 2007).
    
Read more about Eleanor and Andraste’s Hair here.
    
Andraste’s Hair was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best
First Collection 2007.
    
Visit Eleanor’s website.
   
Eliza and the Bear, Eleanor’s forthcoming collection from Salt in October 2009, explores wildness and what it means to inhabit a body, what it means to be an animal with a sense of self. The poems circle the tensions between a domestic, communal experience of selfhood and the individual wild feminine of the “I” of the title poem. They explore love, longing and esire with unabashed imagination.

2 thoughts on “Eleanor Rees’s Andraste’s Hair

  1. Julie

    I have just read this over and over, and I’m still high. So, so beautiful!! I can’t even express what these words do to me. This is on my “must buy” list for sure. Thank you!

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