September it began, one sultry evening.
The apple trees were full of wasps feeding
or worms sucking flesh. Clawing their way
through hedges, blackberries were focussed only
on plumping, gorging themselves on sun. Nothing
prepared us for him. We were in the dark.
The horses sensed it first. Under a dark
moon, unnatural currents in the evening
air brushed against their skin. Nothing
usually spooked them, not when they were feeding,
but they suddenly reared and bolted, only
stopping when they reached the bridle way.
Still, we suspected nothing. There was no way
we could have known. Even when a dark
shadow covered the sun, we said it was only
a passing cloud, a quirk of nature. That evening,
he was spied in a distant field, feeding
the sheep. A loony, we thought, a good-for-nothing.
Not long after, he appeared in the village and nothing
was ever the same again. It was strange, the way
he wormed his way in. We gave him a job feeding
and mucking out horses, let him sleep in the dark
barn, offered him scraps to eat in the evening.
Wages, we said, were for local farmhands only.
Within a week, the children adored him. He only
had to nod and they flocked. Soon, nothing
could stop their rumours of miracles – how, one evening,
he’d brought a dead calf to life, or the way,
as soon as it felt his presence in the dark,
a lamb that couldn’t suckle had started feeding.
Sick of this silly talk, we gave up feeding
him. Told him to sling his hook. Only
the horses saw him go in the gathering dark,
followed by all our children. Now, we have nothing.
Since he left, the seasons don’t change in the way
they used to. We live in the endless half-light of evening.
Our animals long ago stopped feeding. Nothing
is left to dig or plant when there’s only evening
light. We’re cursed. We’ve lost our way in the dark.
(After Franz Marc’s Caliban, from Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’.)
Horror and beauty co-exist in me.
Half man, half monster, I live with a divide
too deep to fathom. Since my mother died,
I lumber over the island, scan the sea
for traces of my kind, but there are none.
I dream of storms, imagine wind and weather
smashing boats against the rocks, and other
creatures swimming here. I give each one
a name. My favourite is a slender form
I call Miranda, who walks at dawn beside
the cliffs. Her beauty stops my breath. I hide
when I see her, fearing I’ll do her harm.
The monster in me wants to grab her, snatch
her from her tribe and keep her for my own
pleasure. I could bind her with a chain
and gorge myself on her flesh, just like the witch
who was my mother did with bears and goats
she caught. (Their frantic silhouettes would rise
on the walls of her cave and I’d hear their cries
of anguish as she sank her teeth in their throats.)
The man in me thinks differently. He fears
to touch her, bids me listen to the call
of gulls, the sound of wave-song, wind-song and all
the island’s music that hums about my ears.
Trapped in a chasm that splits my soul in two,
I veer between its opposite sides, each
of equal force. Nothing can mend the breach.
Engulfed in darkness, unable to be true
to who I really am, I feel the pull
and power of Sycorax, hear her voice
insisting I must make a final choice
and follow her … and yet, the isle is full
of noises, sounds and sweet airs that give delight,
not hurt. Sometimes, I dream of clouds that break
in gold across the sea at dawn and make
me long to live forever in their light…
Sycorax – Caliban’s mother in Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’.
The Comer-In won 3rd prize and Caliban’s Choice by Doreen Hinchliffe received a Special Mention in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (October 2020) judged by Roger Elkin.
Doreen’s poems have been published in various poetry anthologies and magazines, including Mslexia, Poetry News, Magma, Orbis, Acumen and The Interpreter’s House. Her first collection, Dark Italics, was published by Indigo Dreams in 2017 and her second, Substantial Ghosts, by Oversteps Books in 2020. Her first novel, Sarabande in Blue, was published by Blossom Spring Publishing earlier this year.