by Sara King
An epic poem that tells the story of a young woman cursed.
Eyes of Jet
I am a woman who's been a man
I've seen through eyes as only I can.
I toss and turn throughout the night,
And soft I moan in lonely fright.
For it'll not be but one life I live,
But as many as my dreams can give
To this poor wretch by the night’s end.
And thus I live what the mind can send.
I awake exhausted, without rest,
As out of place as a snake in the nest.
It is a struggle to survive the day,
And earn the pathetic farmer’s pay.
No man will wed me, for I am cursed
To spend my days as a babe just nursed,
And my nights tossing as if possessed
With but the grave to earn my rest.
Cursed as I am, men tempt me not.
Only a man with jet eyes have I sought.
I gave myself this impossible task
So that in my solitude I may bask.
For no man could ever have eyes so black
And thus, a tortured soul I’ll lack.
My mother, she thinks it weird
That I care not for a fine beard
Or teeth straight, pearly, and white
Or a man who is blessed with great might.
But little do they know I never
Want to marry a husband ever.
And thus I chose the rarest thing,
Like a bird with an extra wing.
A man with eyes green, brown or blue
Possesses such a common hue.
A man with eyes of blackest jet,
He is the hardest one to net.
I choose this since a man would hate
The way I toss and turn at late.
Alone, I sleep without worry,
That one morning I'll need hurry
From my village damned by dreams
And a husband's angry screams.
Ah, but the sun, in the distance it sets,
And I must pay my bed its debts.
Tired, I am, and sleep I will,
But rest I will not, for I nap on quills.
“My dearest lady, you must come quick!
The lines aren’t holding; the en’my’s thick!”
The little child in serving-girl’s dress,
Cried out in fear at the terrible mess.
“Don’t worry, child, I’m sure all is well.
In long years, our army's never fell.”
“But look, they advance, the men, they run,
Our home, sweet mistress, is theirs for fun.
Milady, I know you do love this house,
But they will have us if you aren’t a mouse,
And escape unscathed but for your pride,
And save that fair and noble hide.”
A shout of triumph filled the hall,
Gleeful cries to herald the fall
Of the crest that ruled so long,
To the fury of the throng.
And then the servant did a thing
Of which the bards henceforth would sing.
“Take my robes and flee this place.
I shall stay and slow their pace.
I'll claim you went south, when truly you go
Unsuspected, down the river you’ll row.
It’s you they want, not a servant as I.
Remember to be most timid and shy
And never look up to catch a gaze,
Or you’ll not get out of this horrible maze.”
The lady cried for her servant’s great heart
But the maiden pled with her to start
Upon the journey to better lands
'Fore soldiers came and soiled her hands.
The lady knew that for her lie,
The gentle lass tonight would die.
"Come with me and flee this place.
Put away my jewels and lace."
But the stubborn girl remained,
Intent to see her freedom gained.
“I will remember this kindness dear,
And tell it to any that will hear.”
The serving-girl laughed and smiled and said,
“All the better for when I must wed.”
And then she urged the lady away,
Out the window and into the hay
Of a wagon, resting quiet beneath,
Grass piling ‘round her like a holly wreath.
Up in the chamber the soldiers entered,
Their faces haggard, their noses weathered.
They listened to the servant’s lie,
But one amongst them had keen eye
And saw the window half ajar.
“She’s there,” said he, “And can’t be far.”
Another said to the maid within,
“Prepare to meet your expired kin.”
The noble hurried as best as she could,
Her skirts ungainly, her shoes of wood.
She followed her friend's advice and stared
As close to her slippers as she dared
She hid in a corner as the soldiers came
Running toward her, their coats the same.
Her ailing heart had never worked
So hard that inner darkness lurked.
Her chest heaved as they ran on by,
Though bitter tears betrayed her lie.
She ran from him, both deaf and dumb,
Her passage hurried by a drum.
Her pursuer pled with her to slow,
But she could not trust her father's foe.
Though only one had seen her tears,
All the others could sense her fears,
And chased her to the raging river,
Cheering him to take her liver.
The princess gasped and took a boat,
And unleashed the others all afloat
Upon the raging river tide,
Like little seeds in its waters wide.
Behind her, on land, the dirty soldiers jeered,
For her pursuer did swim, as she had feared.
She paddled with hands, her heart out of beat,
But the soldier gained turf by using his feet.
She splashed and she cried but the boat would not go,
And the soldier swam back with her skiff in tow.
Like fans of a brutish game well won,
Men on the shore laughed in great fun.
And hollered out to her what they’d do,
As soon as they’d raided her parlor of brew.
It was then that she thought it prudent to swim.
Though the soldier reached out, she was faster than him.
The frigid water swallowed her whole,
Like a lion would savage a foal.
Her heavy skirts dragged her under
While the soldiers watched in wonder.
She coughed and choked in the murky dark
Lights bobbing 'fore her in a dazzling arc.
She clawed and thrashed for any small gulp
Of air she had none, her lungs in a pulp.
A fist grabbed her dress and pulled her above
The churning river with a touch kin to love.
She coughed and gapsed as her lungs would let,
But froze like ice when she saw eyes of jet.
I awoke wet and cold, shocking my kin
The river still clinging to my white skin.
They growled and they grumbled and turned away,
Leaving me to await the day
I dared not to close either eye,
Fearing that if I did, I’d die.
In dream or truth it matters not,
For the soul leaves the battle once it’s fought.
My body shivered in the dawn,
As wretched as a new-birthed fawn.
I dared not rise, for I’d have all day
To further waste my soul away.
So in the freezing damp I lay,
Wondering what the gods would say
When I finally rest my head,
And joined the ledgers of the dead.
I'd ask the question I have nursed
Since the day that I was cursed.
Why, of those under the sun,
What evil crimes have I thus done?
But alas, my lids again slip closed,
And I soon depart this world of woes.
“Back to the kitchen, naughty boy
Lest I flog you for being coy.”
He knows it is stupid, and thoroughly dense
But the boy has truly lost hold of his sense.
He said with a smirk, “I’m sorry sir,
But ‘bold’ be better, I’d bet you my fur.
Coy means shy, bashful, and modest.
‘Bold’ has the definition of which I am fondest
It can mean insolent, daring, or brave,
It would be much better for your little rave.”
The cook gave a shout
And ordered him out,
His face as red as a dying fish,
His arms uplifted to throw a dish.
The boy laughed and danced away,
Enjoying the morning’s awful fray.
Out in the street, he hummed to a tune
Ignoring how his stomach did croon.
He walked with a skip down the main road,
And stopped to help a vendor carry his load.
“Good boy,” said the man with the bright velvet hat
“You’ve got a kind heart, to help me with that.”
Then the fat little man leaned closer to say,
“I’ve got you a deal, if travel you may.”
The boy gave nod with a smile and spake,
“My master has giv’n me indefinite break.”
“Excellent,” said he, “Now before the crowds thicken,”
“I must sate my stomach with some chicken.
Before the people come out to eat,
I’ll pay you right well if you’ll buy me some meat.”
He gave the boy a shiny new shilling
And told him to bring back something filling.
The boy had little ‘bout the deal to regret,
And ran at a pace that his feet chose to set.
Halfway there, he was stopped in full stride
By a like waif who from him tried to hide.
He bent into a harmless crouch
And said that for her he would vouch.
If she had trouble, she only need say,
For he had a place where she might stay.
The girl looked up with a snarl and fled
As if “I’ll skin you,” is what he had said.
The apprentice would then have caught up,
To assure her that he would find her some sup.
But the boy over her did fret,
For she had solid eyes of jet.
With a much slower pace, he went to the stand
With the most food and held out his hand.
The butcher saw the shiny new money
And scowled as a bear guarding his honey.
“A little thief is what you is,
Now give me that piece or I’ll call for his
Majesty’s guard, then you’ll be caught
And all of your thievery will be fer naught.
“It’s not mine,” stammered the waif.
“Just as I thought. I’ll keep it safe.”
“But…” The frightened child tried to object
And was looked upon as a nasty insect.
“You’ve one last chance, you little cur.
Give me that coin or my wrath you’ll incur.
At that, the boy turned tail to run
The morning had lost all of its fun.
But he was stopped by a brute of a man
Who could crush his skull with only one hand.
His uniform was crisp and blue,
His waxen boots shiny and new.
For the butcher had raised a shout
And because he ran, there was no doubt.
The guard wrenched his arm with a giant paw,
And inspected the coin without a flaw.
He gave the boy a scowling look,
And asked if he could read a book.
The boy frowned and asked him why.
“Because you’d know this was treason high.”
The boy stammered something slow
And insisted that he didn’t know.
Upon the man’s forehead was etched a frown,
And as he spoke, the boy’s gaze dropped down.
“This coin was stolen from the queen.
By a devious thief, evil and mean.
It was one of a set of four
Hidden behind a secret door.
The thief got away, but we let the town know
So we’d catch him if the coins he dared show.”
And thus he was escorted away,
His trial set for the next open day.
In chains, he said nothing before the court,
For he was allowed no speech, as was the sport.
The cook came to testify that he had known
And that no merchant to him would loan.
All the while, the child said nothing,
Dull with anger, his spit frothing.
For the vendor in the back did sit,
Smiling with enormous wit
The cur knew the culprit and his plan
But could not weep and remain a man.
The verdict was quick, and the sentence harsh.
He was to be hanged, then left in the marsh.
The judge set the date that justice be done
And the vendor departed, his case well won.
For to the gallows marched the spiritless soul,
His neck to be broken with the church bell’s toll.
The mask was put on, the noose wrapped tight,
To the orphan’s eyes was nothing but night.
Shouts and jeers volleyed the crowd,
But the boy stayed silent ‘neath his shroud.
And then the dreaded moment came
The first bell tolled to end his name.
“You stupid girl, it’s well past noon
The day you wed will be none too soon.”
My mother left me for the food,
The baby staring, openly rude.
My sister watched me with wide eyes,
I saw her shiver with surprise
And avoid my glance in the boldest of ways
When I turned ‘round and sallied her gaze.
“Why did you shout that it’s so dark?
You could have shed a tree its bark.
You scared us all and someone joked
That you’re a witch when you’re woked.
Then we all were silent as we watched
You toss and curse a trial botched.
Tell me, sister, that you’re normal,
And I’ll denounce the claim right out formal.”
Try as I might, I could not explain
The forces that I thought so plain.
My sister looked upon my face,
Her eyes wide, her cheeks as lace.
When I could not reply, she looked away,
And left me alone to face the day.
They sent me out into the field,
My sister erecting a silent shield.
My family showered me with scowls,
And draped before their eyes black cowls.
That night I did not intend to sleep,
But rather wait for my soul to seep
My life’s energies into the air,
And sacrifice my heaven’s fare.
To burn the weave of life undone
And make my way into the sun.
But lo, my eyes closed and cast me out,
Into a place of pain and gout.
“Me babes! They have the dead-ones’ cry!”
The neighbor’s silence was sad reply.
“Please help me, I’ve nothing for them to eat
Me milk’s all gone from me withered teat.
Me husband, with his kind black eyes,
He, too, in his sickly bedding dies.
All I’ve left are these we beget,
With their father’s eyes of jet.”
The woman shook her covered head,
And as she closed her door, she said,
“I cannot help you, I’m sorry my friend,
In this resolve I refuse to bend.
I have my own family to feed,
All of our bread and more we’ll need
To survive this year until the spring.”
The mother moved to block the thing,
And pleaded for her dying whelps,
“I’ll do anything for your help.
Please, I hold my babies dear.
Their deaths are all that I can fear.”
The neighbor warned her to step back,
Or more than a husband she would lack.
“What would we have to consume
When you and yours have quit Life’s loom?
Do you suggest I give you my son’s food
So that you may feed your pups, young and crude?
My kindness will only end with the dead
So I will save my son and keep him fed.
Your poor boys are much too weak.
It is a miracle, not food, you seek.
They’re too small to survive first snow
If I give you milk, all will die for show.
And if I give you what you ask
I’d only go prolong Death’s task.
Save yourself the sorrow now,
Slow starvation do not allow.
A quick death in the cold of night
Is the best solution you have in sight.
Save yourself the pain, don’t wait.
You’ll meet your sons at Heaven’s Gate.”
The woman met her neighbor’s eye,
And spat forth an angry cry.
“You paltry wretch who hath no heart,
May Plague take you in his filthy cart.
I curse you for your charity naught
T’was a tiny gift from you I sought.
Now three will die for your little troll.
A bit of milk you refused to dole.
May you die like we, and your soul blister
In the roaring, sifting sands of winter.
May you live till last and witness all
Of your family freeze and miserably call
Your name frozen upon their lips,
Their bodies taken in little nips.
And then, to live, may you have to eat,
The sucklers of your selfish teat.”
The neighbor ordered her away,
Her simple face in a frenzied fray.
The mother with her boys so young
Upon her back their cradles hung.
She carried them down past the mill,
And over a little knoll of hill.
There, flowing freely from the rain,
A river ran in a busy lane.
Its frigid waters bustling by,
Smashing rocks that dared to try
To slow the angry snake of ice,
They were to it as pesky lice.
The mother watched the waters pass,
A harrowed, teary wizened lass.
Slowly, and with great delay
Down the bank she made her way.
With no sound, she began to wade
The color from her lips did fade.
At her ragged feet the water tore,
Clawing viciously, demanding more.
The mother with her children slipp’d
The water gave a roar and ripp’d
The parent and her children two
Beneath the river’s waters blue.
There was no sound, nor any cry,
That gave the world a last goodbye.
With a curdled scream I woke
On frigid waters I still did choke.
It was only after a minute or two
That I looked ‘round and surely knew
That in the town I was no longer free,
For with great scowls, they said to me,
“You will burn in the reddest Hell,
It was for you that Adam fell.
You will curse us nevermore,
We found your kind in forgotten lore.”
“Please,” I said, “Only tell me what I’ve done.”
They spoke to me of a witch’s fun.
For they had proof, or so they claimed,
That it was me their dead loves named.
Then they told me of what I said,
While I had foolishly rested my head.
A desperate curse, foul and black
An explanation I did lack.
It was for this that they cast me out
With stick and stone and plenty of shout.
They wanted me not, for I was a witch,
In heart and soul as cold as a lich.
How else could long hours of the night I spend,
Tossing and turning without end?
The strange words that poured forth from my lips
When my eyes would stay shut, despite the whips.
And with this evidence did they contend
That my nasty ways were near an end.
The trial was short, the verdict quick,
Banishment at the behest of the stick.
Into the swamps alone I ran,
As quickly as a mortal can.
They would not follow for all the ghosts,
The swamp upheld as its earthly hosts.
The first day I was afraid
But soon my terror chose to fade
And I opened my eyes slowly to see
That with stones, they had set me free.
For once in my life, I was able to dream,
Without worrying what I might scream.
And it was with that calming thought
That my dreams became painful not.
But rather, tiny bits of heaven,
That made my wretched spirits leaven,
And from then on showered down at night,
Like little stars falling at twilight.
In these softened dreams I met
A man whose eyes were twinkling jet.
Once he appeared, he refused to stray
Even after my hair went gray.
I came to know him as my friend,
My tortured heart he strove to mend.
I came to see his love as kind,
And with each dream, our souls did bind.
I wandered ‘round the swamp one day,
To keep my tangled thoughts at bay.
I watched the ground pass ‘neath my feet,
Trying to cool a tired mind its heat.
To my surprise, I felt a tingle
Though the source, I could not single.
I glanced up and my heart lost measure,
My eyes bulged with inward pressure.
For there stood a man with eyes of jet
Twinkling like a diamond wet.
I stared and found I could not speak,
My old knees trembled, limp and weak.
Slowly, as best friends was our embrace,
Tears of joy streaking each face.
No words were said, for none were needed,
We’d found each other, our souls’ cry heeded.
We lived together, at night and day,
Every sorrow drifting away.
Never again will either wonder
Why our dreams tore us asunder.
For they were a window unlocked,
And our simple lives they rocked
Until we threw away our pain
And began afresh, as springtime rain.