Poems

A Wayside Queen

She was born in the season of fire,
When a mantle of murkiness lay
On the front of the crimson Destroyer:
And none knew the name of her sire
But the woman; and she, ashen grey,
In the fierce pangs of motherhood lay.

The skies were aflame at her coming
With a marvellous message of ill;
And fear-stricken pinions were drumming
The hot, heavy air, whence the humming
Of insects rose, sudden and shrill,
As they fled from that hell-begirt hill.

Then the smoke-serpent writhed in her tresses:
The flame kissed her hard on the lips:
She smiled at their ardent caresses
As the wanton who smiles, but represses
A lover's hot haste, and so slips
From the arm that would girdle her hips.

Such the time of her coming and fashion:
How long ere her day shall be sped,
And she goes to rekindle past passion
With languorous glances that flash on
The long-straightened limbs of the dead,
Where they lie in a winter-wet bed?

Where the wide waves of evergreen carry
The song sad and soft of the surge
To feathered battalions that harry
The wizen-armed bloodwoods that tarry
For ever, chained down on the verge
Of a river that mutters a dirge.

'Tis a dirge for the dead men it mutters'
Those weed-entwined strangers who lie
With the drift in the whirlpools and gutters'
Swoll'n hand or a garment that flutters
Wan shreds as the waters rush by,
And the flotsam, froth-freckled, rides high.

Is it there that she buries her lovers,
This woman in scarlet and black?
Those swart caballeros, the drovers'
What sovranty set they above hers?
Riding in by a drought-beset track
To a fate which is worse than the rack.

A queen, no insignia she weareth
Save the dark, lustrous crown of her hair:
Her beauty the sceptre she beareth:
For men and their miseries careth
As little as tigresses care
For the quivering flesh that they tear.

She is sweet as white peppermint flowers,
And harsh as red gum when it drips
From the heart of a hardwood that towers
Straight up: she hath marvellous powers
To draw a man's soul through his lips
With a kiss like the stinging of whips.

Warm nights, weighted down with wild laughter,
When sex is unsexed and uncouth:
In the chorus that climbs to the rafter
No thought of the days to come after:
She has little regret and less ruth
As she tempts men to murder their youth.

Is she marked down as yet by the flaming
Great eye of the Righter of Wrong?
How long ere the Dreaded One, claiming
His due, shall make end of our shaming?
'How long, Mighty Father, how long?'
Is our wearisome burden of song.

A queen, no insignia she weareth
Save the dark, lustrous crown of her hair:
Her beauty the sceptre she beareth:
For men and their miseries careth
As little as tigresses care
For the quivering flesh that they tear.

She is sweet as white peppermint flowers,
And harsh as red gum when it drips
From the heart of a hardwood that towers
Straight up: she hath marvellous powers
To draw a man's soul through his lips
With a kiss like the stinging of whips.

Warm nights, weighted down with wild laughter,
When sex is unsexed and uncouth:
In the chorus that climbs to the rafter
No thought of the days to come after:
She has little regret and less ruth
As she tempts men to murder their youth.

Is she marked down as yet by the flaming
Great eye of the Righter of Wrong?
How long ere the Dreaded One, claiming
His due, shall make end of our shaming?
'How long, Mighty Father, how long?'
Is our wearisome burden of song.



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