The Red King’s Sword
by Marly Youmans
Shuddering, sheathed in water, the naked sword
Obscures the air with cloud: the Fool, arrested
In passing, watches the muscled arm emerge
And the woman, imprecisely lovely
With rubicund face and drenched coils of hair,
Inspect the hardened blade of martensite.
She is a kind of blade, the Fool suspects,
Gone red and bright with metamorphosis.
Two children pump the bellows, and a third
Kneels beside a cluster of grinding wheels,
Rubbing the edge of a sword with a stone.
At a second furnace, the bladesmith gleams
As he smelts iron ore to molten sun,
The eldest boy assisting at the fire.
The sword, as yet unhilted and unquenched
By blood, spawns dream inside a foolish head:
The jostling armies in the borderlands,
Fanged with crystal steel, thirsting for man-sap,
Hungry for children’s evanescent flesh,
Grinding the bones of the Red King to flour.
The Fool stands caught and helpless, wishing much,
Enduring images out of the pitch
Of mind and longing to be more than he
Will ever be until he only wants
To be a stock-still, heart-dead shaft of steel
That, hammered, knows no pain and never feels
A loss or break or frenzy to be changed.
The woman slips the sword inside a glow
That squirms, the carbon ruddy and alive
As if its fossil ferns still swayed to wind
In some impossible, fool-fancied peace;
She swings the blade onto the anvil’s head,
Shaping its thews with blows, making of it
A thing that can flex and return to true.