Three poems from GLOSSING THE SPOILS



Out of the curse of his exile, there sprang

ogres and elves and evil phantoms

and the giants too who strove with god

time and again until he gives them their reward.



Did they spring up marked by a curse,

scarring the forehead red,

that of the exile, the outlaw, some old god

trampling the heath, voicing his challenge

like the prolonged scream in the marshes

of something killing something? A bang

(prowler outside my ajar window?)

wakes me startled from an outlandish place

full of the fallen, their angelic harangue.

Out of the curse of his exile, there sprang


the hint of some thing wading closer

through the dark, hungry for flesh;

tight throat, eyes closed, shapes

flood in from a frost-stricken scene,

the fen where it nests, rough and alone.

Weeds choking the mire’s bottom,

an enormous head emerges, grimacing,

laughing its gruff, inhuman laughter.

(Am I dreaming up these gruesome

ogres and elves and evil phantoms?)


Monsters banished before Cain

cut down his brother Abel,

they persist. Unable to sleep I wander

past the poster of a psycho TV star

tacked to my daughter’s door. He assaults me.

Dots of light in his pupils, odd,

gleaming like hard, barbaric gems;

spots of blood on his face, a criminal’s

he killed while working for the crime squad.

And the giants too who stove with god


stared too long into that abyss that stared

back into them and now into him,

our hero driven by his voices to kill.

He’s on a mission to purge the city

like a wind cleansing the marshes

of their pestilence, their ill-starred

thistles swollen with seeds.

Vigilante, he is stalking the guilty,

the ice pick killers in the freight yards,

time and again until he gives them their reward.






And so they lead him to the chamber

where the Fisher King lies

which seems to be strewn

with grass and flowers.


The Fisher King lies in a room

smelling of the river. Its reed grass and sedges

covering the floor are strewn over

with wildflowers: cowslips and lavender spikes,

and, of course, clover to avoid madness,

where windows of green glass shower

down light as if from underwater;

everything wavers. Is the Fisher hale,

or gray as a dying river elder?

And so they lead him to the chamber,


another promising hero to see this king

who leans against pillows groaning

from an wound in the thigh, or groin.

A river slides through it, brown

with the sunken foliage of a Viet Nam

jungle; he watches it explode into a floodway

sucking his recruits suddenly from shore

into a kill of snakes and seepage, all

the bamboo groves napalmed in the melee.

Where the Fisher King lays



in his carved oak and curtained bed,

his thoughts drift to last summer,

burying his buddy in a family plot.

A convoy of aging motorcycle knights

comes to attention, as a cannon volleys

its salute over a humid field, its platoons

of daisies, cowslips, buttercups, and clover.

Sulphur and singed petals smudge

the air, incense for the dead. This afternoon,

which seems to be strewn


around him like pollen grains on a tomb,

he honors the hero’s departure with a whiskey,

begins again to write a few

lines of seduction, or plans for escape

to a woman confused for letting him

pour his deluge into her, overpowering

her dream of a fountain where tulips

nod their tended heads; she knows

he lies alone in his river-washed tower,

with grass and flowers.





Plenteous are the wonders

upon the blue wave’s kingdom;

swift is the sailing

when Maelduin makes his voyage.

The Voyage of Maelduin


“What drove your people to sail West?,”

a Cree student asks in our Arctic trailer,

the temperature hovering at -50 outside.

“Not hard,” a bard of old would say.

“It’s the open-ended curve of our art

lifting our boat like a wave, its rowers

and bailers, from off a windy headland

with its cliff-castle into the Great Sea.

It is the restless art of the wanderer.”

Plenteous are the wonders


to lure him offshore: celestial music

shaken from a silver branch by a strange

woman, or the poetry of a trickster god,

rolling his chariot over the flood.

His promise: beyond the sallow fog,

lies an isle without grief, or gruesome

death, a place of tilled land

and white cliffs warmed by the sun.

Soon monks begin falling like flotsam,

upon the blue wave’s kingdom,



throwing themselves to the fierce, green

tide like criminals cast off

in hide-covered boats without rudder,

or oars. Seeking penitence or the truth,

they remember what their new god

told Abraham: “Go forth, leaving

your native land and your father’s house,

to the land I shall show you.”

Winds brawling, a whale spouting,

swift is the sailing


in the old yarns of the seafarers, older

than the standing stones they navigated by,

trading their ingots of copper and tin,

brokering in time and space to the oars’

creak and splash, catch and drive.

Watching the sea swallow the ridges,

the green slopes, the gentle hills,

the crew bursts into a shantey—bravado

overriding lament—sculling from their moorage,

when Maelduin makes his voyage.




Poetic license (fairy glamour) occurred with a few of the epigrams: their verbs were changed to the present tense and their verbiage compressed, to achieve a more seamless flow between ancient and modern.

Seamus Heaney, trans., Beowulf  (London: W.W. Norton, 2000) 9. Does the hero become the monster he fights?

Nigel Bryant, trans., The High Book of the Grail, 77. Symbol of life, many Fisher Kings have appeared: Vishnu, Buddha, Tammuz, and Christ, etc.

Caitlín Matthews, trans., “The Voyage of Maelduin,” in The Celtic Book of the Dead (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992) 20. God speaks out in Genesis 12.1, as again and again boats set sail for Avalon, Ys, Lyonesse, Atlantis, and the Isles of the Blessed.

Charlotte Hussey's poetry and academic writing have appeared in Canadian, American, and British journals/anthologies. She has published a chapbook The Head Will Continue to Sing, and her first poetry book, Rue Sainte Famille, was short-listed for Quebec’s QSPELL poetry award. Awen Publications is bringing out her second collection, Glossing the Spoils.