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Issue 27 • January 2018
edited by Adele Gardner

Table of Contents

Editor’s Introduction • ArthurianaAdele Gardner

Authors’ Notes about the Poems

Camelot Cats • Mary Soon Lee
Rex Arthurs • Deborah L. Davitt
A Good Knight’s End • Marge Simon
Gawain’s Rap • Vince Gotera
Green Lady • Amanda Partridge
Our Morganna • Jessy Randall
Old King Coel • David Lee Summers
Igraine • Jane Dougherty
From Her Tower, the Lady of Shalott Sees the Ice Age Come • R. Mac Jones
The Passage of Merlin • David Lee Summers
The Hawthorn Muses • Shannon Connor Winward
This timeF. J. Bergmann
The Request • Mari Ness
The Death of Private William • Oliver Smith
five sigils • David F. Shultz
And I Am Still the Lady of Shalott • Mary Cresswell
To the Knight’s Lady • Marie Vibbert
Dearest Galahad • C.R. Harper
Ask • A.D. Harper
Excalibur’s Lament • PS Cottier
Swordsplaining • Richaundra Thursday
The Future King • Lorraine Schein
Glastonbury Apples • John Caulkins
Arthur’s Seat • Andrew J. Wilson

Camelot Cats

The cats at Camelot
dueled at dusk
on the castle battlements,
twilight pooled in their eyes,
claws drawn,
jousting for their spot
beneath the circled canopy
of Arthur’s table.

On the night that Lancelot
met Guinevere,
the cats at Camelot
read dire auguries
in mouse bones,
in how the autumn wind
curled cold under their bellies,
in the comet’s twinned tails.

So they gathered by the river,
all the cats at Camelot,
from champion toms and queens
to the least and last-born kitten,
and in the midnight river’s run
drowned their ninth lives
to stall the coming
of that malignant fate.

—Mary Soon Lee

Rex Arthurs

A bitter drift of scent, the odor of
burning sagebrush,
wafting in from the desert;
the rancher’s men pulled their bandanas
over their faces, steadying their horses,
unsettled by the smoke,
then raced through Rex Arthurs’ lands,
finding bodies strewn among
the burning buildings,
the tracks of stolen cattle.
Arthurs was an older man, past fifty,
but he was well-known in the territory—
had put together many a posse
to capture cattle rustlers,
had meted out frontier justice
to many a bandit with the old service revolver
belted at his waist.
He rushed from building to building,
shouting his wife’s name, “Gwen! Gwen,
Are you here?” wondering if he’d find her alive,
or if her body lay crumpled and bloody
in some corner.
A shout from another building,
where his foreman, Lance duLac,
had found a clue—a cold and empty man
with a soft French drawl.
Born in Louisiana, he’d been on
the wrong side of the
late great unpleasantness
between the states,
and had come west
to put the war behind him.
“Mal Gaunt left his brand on the wall,”
he declared, pointing at the sign.
“Says he’s taken Gwen as well as the cattle.”
Rex Arthurs swore, his hand on his gun.
The cattle tracks led one way;
the tracks of a few horsemen led the other.
Without the cattle, his ranch would die,
his people would starve.
Yet if he didn’t rescue his wife,
what kind of man would he be?
“I’ll go after Gwen,” duLac volunteered.
“You go after the rest of the rustlers.”
A hard ride through the desert
brought duLac to the creek,
where Gaunt’s men had stopped to water
their thirsty horses. For ten minutes,
only their guns spoke;
when the smoke cleared, Mal Gaunt lay dead
with half his men.
Gwen, weeping and dishonored,
he found bound to a scrubby tree,
bitten by ants, sunburned and bloody.
He tended her wounds without a word,
offered her water from his canteen
to wash her face, pretended
not to notice the stains on her skirt.
When he made camp for them at sundown,
still miles from the ranch,
Gwen asked him to hold her
so that she could sleep;
sought refuge from the horror
of her memories;
and he, having his fair share
of war-wrought images to escape,
sought the refuge she provided.
They both still loved Rex,
tried to go about their lives
as if nothing had happened.
Six months after the attack,
as the calves frisked in their pens,
a miscarriage:
and Gwen didn’t know
if she should mourn.

—Deborah L. Davitt

A Good Knight’s End

an arbalest, a fist of woven chain

Sir Godwyn lay there, dying
in a field of bloodied clover,
his battered shield a testament
of his undying love.

Around his neck, her silken cloth,
the white of it now freshly stained,
& breastplate punctured by a dozen bolts,
yet in his passion, beyond pain.

She’d watched the coming storm,
the sway of clouds & colors passing
from lavender to indigo
& prayed he would survive.

’Tis said she appealed to High Court
that her lover might be spared,
for the crossbow is far more
than a match for mail.

She even turned to Merlin,
bargaining her body for a night
& in exchange, a spell of fortune
for the safety of her love.

She failed, but sent him all she had:
a company of ghosts, prisoners in kind
to share his fate—blood on leather,
a rain of shadows on his grave.

—Marge Simon

Gawain’s Rap

Yo! My name is Sir G, and I got the energy
    To kill you a giant green dragon,
Then rescue a girl down in the underworld
    Before breakfast. I ain’t even bragging!

It was Saturday night, and we were partying right
    (Yeah, Christmas at King Arthur’s crib),
When swoosh! through the door swept a great big horse.
    And the rider . . . man, he was a trip!

He was green, he was green! Ain’t kidding you, green!
    Greener than the back of a dollar.
Decked in emerald gauze like the Wizard of Oz,
    On his emerald horse, he hollered,

Now, who’s tough enough to risk all his Puffed
    Wheaties on a teenouncy wager?
Who’ll strike me first? Baby, do your worst!
    Then let me hit you back a year later?

I thought, what the heck? So, I took his green axe,
    and twish! I decapped his head.
But the jerk jumped right up and picked that thing up!
    I’ll see you next year, chump, he said.

Well, that’s the end of my song, but don’t get me wrong:
    Next Yuletide, I hang at Hulk’s castle.
I play with his wife and give him his life,
    Then slide back here, Jack! No hassle.

—Vince Gotera

First appeared in The Wooster Review, Winter 1989.

Green Lady

My husband always was exuberant,
gallivanting off to the four corners
in search of adventure.
It came as no surprise to me that
adventure would come in search of him.

The Fey, they called her
because she was born of faerie magics
and nursed at feywild teats.
She arrived at our manor one night
seeking refuge from the cold
offering in exchange one out of season
rose that somehow clung to summer’s heat.

When Bertilak became the Green Man,
his manic energy intensified.
He spent days in the green chapel
worshipping a strange and unknown god,
singing and proclaiming feast and famine.
Our marital bed became a place of fertility
rite rather than of wedded love.

I thought that after the boy knight left
and the quest from the Fey was complete
that things would return as they had been,
but my husband’s love of the game continued,
and every winter he set off to find
a new participant in his New Year’s game,
one who held no fear of the Green Man.

Winters for me are lonely things
as I sit in flickering candlelight that is cozy
if you are with the one you love, but
merely ominous when you are alone.
I wait weeks for my husband to return
from his quest, and when he returns
I prepare the house for our expected guest,
a young man with more insecurity than sense,
one who took the Green Man up on his offer, and
who will perhaps take me up on mine.

—Amanda Partridge

Our Morganna

We didn’t think
she was so bad 

We were sixteen

For us she was
the main character

We passed ideas
back and forth

Like salt
at the dinner table

We didn’t have
any magic powers

Except maybe 
we did:

We no longer believed
the first versions
of stories

We distrusted those 
who told us how
things were

Maybe they 
didn’t know

Maybe they 
didn’t know 

At Halloween 
we decided

We could both 
be Morganna

We could each
be our own

And so
can you 

—Jessy Randall

Old King Coel

Old Duke Coel
Was loyal to Rome,
And loyal to Rome was he.
He called for his sword,
And he called for his shield,
And he called for his archers three.

Brave Duke Coel
Fell upon the king,
And fell upon the king did he.
He captured the crown,
And he captured the land,
And the senate’s support was key.

Rome rejoiced
And confirmed Coel king,
Confirmed Coel king indeed.
They sent a legate,
And they sent a tax man,
And they sent a legion with speed.

Dear King Coel
Was a clever old soul,
And a clever old soul was he.
He paid Rome tribute,
And he gave Rome a pledge,
And the Isle of Britain stayed free.

Though King Coel
Was a strong old soul,
And a strong old soul was he—
He left the crown,
And he left the land,
And he left Pendragon legacy.

—David Lee Summers


The mists surround you, husband mine,
The fumes of battle round your head;
And though your face is mine own love’s,
I’d feared to hear that you were dead.
You come to me though battle rings;
I hear the cries of men in death.
Your hands are rough, sword-calloused, cold,
And on my face, chill is your breath.
No word you speak, oh husband mine,
Though in my bed, your pleasure take;
Your eyes are empty, husband dear—
I fear I’ll never see them wake.
They tell me you were killed that night,
That what I saw was dreamed in sleep;
Your ghost it was, or cruel jest—
This child I bear, I’ll never keep.

—Jane Dougherty

From Her Tower, the Lady of Shalott Sees the Ice Age Come

Only the light on ice is alive, only the skin, days
branches wear caught water, water copying its captors,
dormant on dormant trees, eaves, roads. The mirror frosts. First,

in it the world turns cold and iced over, the whole of it, and she
turns as fern frost covers the reflection, no more solely mirror-eyed.
She thinks, I see trees, and I see ice-trees, ringless within, and I feel

marrow turn to ice, and there is grey within light, in skin, in ice, in her
stony tower, a geode of stone and mirror, under the grey sky,
a geode of sky and ice, and everywhere ice outside, and she there reflected

in her and her in her and then her in her and her and then her and her and then

—R. Mac Jones

The Passage of Merlin

I was there at the dawn of time when Merlin
passed from being. Blind in one eye, joints stiff,
incantations not working as they should,
he was but a shadow of the noble
creature yet known in the world of men.

I was there of old when two dragons, white and
red, fought beneath Vortigern’s stronghold. Though the
Saxon dragon was potent, Merlin knew the
British dragon would prevail. Merlin earned
fame and renown in the world of men.

I was there at Guendoloena’s wedding when
Merlin rode in on a stag, wrenched a horned
helm from his head and smote the bridegroom. Not
an old man, but a robust creature with
sleek, black hair—the envy of men.

I have just come from Merlin’s nursery,
where he plays with his sister, Ganieda.
One day, she’ll build an observatory where
he’ll follow starlight back through time. I look
forward to her journey in the world of men.

—David Lee Summers

The Hawthorn Muses

There is no immortality but a tree’s love.
            —Peter S. Beagle

Even then, I was old, but trees
have no measure for time
beyond branch-breadth
We have no word for it, either
only patterns; leaf and bloom
bareness, slumber.
But I have learned
the way of naming
the distance between stars
the dance of one
star up, down, up
the march of seasons
that he counts; one
after another, always
attending to such things.
This is his nature, and thus
after all this time entwined
now it is mine. Together
we have seen
centuries, he says, though to me
they all look the same
only the fall
of foliage that people wear
the cut of their cloth
changes, and the way they move
horses now carriages now 
automobiles, and tiny shining
not-birds in the sky. The world
he says, is passing him by.
He broods
sometimes, like winter
quiet, cold, his thoughts
burrowed so deep I could almost
forget he’s here, except
for the soft tickle-rumble
when he snores
but when he rouses
to the rush-red and the
bumble-buzz of summer
he stretches long 
and hard within my 
ever-embrace and then
he tells me stories; like the one 
about the girl.
Ripe as haw, my fruit
he says, trembling 
on their stems, her lips
plump and pouting, aching
to be kissed. 
Jealous? he asks as I stiffen
and sigh—can I feel
such a thing? No matter. She
was inconstant, he tells me. She lied
and though quick, and clever
(perhaps moreso than he?) she
cannot compare
to me. And though steadfast
we are not by choice, I cannot
fault the she, Nynave 
(that name that, even now, he cannot
utter, save
in the throes of dreams 
he does not know 
that I can see); for
had she not led him here, bespelled

believing my many-fingered touch
was hers, had she not 
ensnared the great wizard in bark 
and branch with words of power, magic
taught by his own hand, would I
have lived so long? Would I know
the vastness of the heavens, the
business and busyness of kingdoms
blooming like bees’ nests far
beyond these green hills 

where I was seeded? Had she not
tempted and spurned him, bound him 
to my boughs and crook, would
I have known this need
this we? If she had not, would I
have ever understood 
what it means to love 
this man?

—Shannon Connor Winward

First appeared in Timeless Tales Magazine #8, “Arthurian Legends,” July 5, 2017.

This time

… and she was one of the damosels of the lake, that hight Nimue. But Merlin would let her have no rest, but always he would be with her. And ever she made Merlin good cheer till she had learned of him all manner thing that she desired; and he was assotted upon her …
          —Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte d’Arthur

of year you can see to the bottom of the lake.
No woman’s arm. No gleaming sword. I return
once every century to maintain the accords of trust,
ever-delaying the reckoning, the summoning.

Two doors lie before me: one into light and one
into shadow; I choose neither. I am he who waits.
When I am hungry, I devour diesel-stained air
like an accordion, scrape condensation from glass

windowpanes, windshields, mirrors. I still possess
a hedge-magician’s array of tricks: anyone can
learn to swallow a sword, to eat fire, to inhale
a lit fuse back into oneself until the glow is no more

than an invisible shimmer. But no more disciples.
In the old days, the powerful took what they wished:
that was the natural order. And they were expected
to reward their lovely assistants as they deemed fit …

foolishly forgetting that Fate is also a woman.
Ah, Nimue, what reward did either of us deserve?
You, for your betrayal; I, for what in this new age
would be termed your exploitation. And both of us

under the yoke of loyalty to a transformed kingdom.
Queendom, I hear you whisper. Arthur still sleeps.

—F. J. Bergmann

Title and first line from the last sentence of “Guard? Guard!” by Ed Skook, Poetry, October 2017.

The Request

Morgana, Morgana. 
                            The sweet whisper
in the night, begging me for a silver spell
to allow you to choose just one, to forget.
                                                      Just one—
the perfect knight, or the somber king,
the delirious taste of just one mouth.
Oh, my dear, my so very dear.
How much easier, sweeter
it might have been, should have been
had you surrendered to the rich sweetness
of my arms and lips instead.

—Mari Ness

The Death of Private William

After a painting by James Archer

“Is this the way to Avalon?”
William asked them as he rode,
            Clad in golden armor, crowned,
            Upon a horse, with lance and sword,
            Through lanes and woodland groves:
            Where mossy ruins gently crumbled
            And brown trout basked in deeper pools.

There lies the way to Avalon:
Just step aboard the boat to sail
The wild waters for a further shore,
To stand among your brother knights
Against other men at war.

Did you find the way to Avalon?
I found it as I walked
            Across fields that were churned to mud;
            Where the living burned and the dying screamed
            And the trenches filled with blood.
            The red fires glowed and the stars they fell
            With an eerie phosphor light,

And illuminated Avalon
Where the best of men were reaped
Like summer corn beneath the scythe,
As all prayer died in the field guns’ roar
And shells howled through the night.

Do you take your rest in Avalon?
There is no rest beneath the boughs
            Of the thousand lovely apple trees
            Nor under sun that shines so warm,
            Nor among the flowers grown so very tall:
            For neither azure skies nor English rain
            Can stop the dreadful trumpet’s call.

There is no peace in Avalon
Where the knights know only war
And Private William sits enthroned;
Awaiting battle in the sullen earth,
Among the countless bones.

—Oliver Smith

five sigils

arthur’s sigil

a braying unicorn with one leg in a snare, a black dragon turning a field of lavender to ash, a mountain fortress built from all the hearts turned to stone by betrayal, a band of pure light in the form of a blade, an army of shadows cut from their roots, the weight of love balanced against the weight of honor, and for an impossible instant, everything right. a hideous, two-headed ogre gored on the blade, entrails laid bare across the hall, red stained glass in the church, men made stronger after slaying their illusions, which is better than being happy, which is, indeed, the meaning of sacrifice, of knighthood.

the tip of a sword
flits from shoulder to shoulder
she wields the blade

mordred’s sigil

a tar-black eye, a bat’s shriek in the moonlight, and every man who died for another’s glory. a man born in shadow who learns to see in the dark. a pack mule, yoked with a champion’s trophies, saddled with pain and faking a smile at table scraps. a beast of burden, dressed clumsily as a war-horse, wooden armor. a brother never sharing at the feast, except to toast the victor. milk that is sour, or else theirs. an apple, tasted for rot, and, finding it fresh, foregone. an angel spreading shillings or shit at her inscrutable discretion. a slave with a warrior’s heart. a rebel against the invisible.

dead tree
the way it keeps its shape

merlin’s sigil

an oak staff, a calloused hand, a splinter below the nail bed, a book written in a tongue only read by the dead, the question all men ask, the singular question. a white beard that reaches the sky, the true name of god on an ancient scroll that crumbles at the touch, the answer all men seek, a multitude of answers. the genealogy of angels from creation to unveiling, written in grains of desert sand, an angel ministering to the crowd, a fisherman pissing into the sea, the judgment all men receive, the final judgment.

ring exchanged
below purple flowers
reasons for silence

percival’s sigil

thorns of a rose, the autumn woods, dawn splitting the horizon, a chalice spilling the wine. how pretty she was, from a distance, how flawless the painting, in passing, how impenetrable the fortress, before the war, how purity is, above all, the product of poor vision. the body of god. a man praised for approaching that standard, who bears a closer look. a beggar, shame worn along with his rags, a priest, shame hidden beneath his robes. simple sins as patches on the sleeves of simple men, and the greatest sins hidden with the greatest care by the greatest men. look with these eyes to your king.

inside the chapel
amid silence from the pews
a crack in the stone

guinevere’s sigil

a wounded dove in a meadow, flexing its broken wing, creeping ivy on a castle wall, the sun viewed through an arrow slit, a choice between love or honor, and it must be love, for honor is owed to the invisible, where love is owed to flesh and blood. the whisper that god is love, the silence that god is honor. a supple willow, bending, weathering the wind. a broad oak, unbowing, stubborn, and in the storm, snapped. a shining lake called love where spirits are born and to which they return, an angel falling in love the first time, which is remembering, an angel falling in love the second time, which is forgetting, a wellspring encircled by a lover’s arms, a desert under the red sun, lesser forms of love, all of them weakness, a warrior’s heart forged by honor, and by love, broken.

crumbled castle
above forgotten ruins
cathedral bells

—David F. Shultz

And I Am Still the Lady of Shalott

Obedience makes my father fonder
perforce I’ll sit my sentence out …
But hark! what knight is riding yonder

armed and armored, short and stout?
Ah! my supple spine doth shiver—
be still, be still, my girlish heart!

What brings him to this greenwood cover
acting out his lust to quest?
“Tirra lirra by the river”

seems the song that he knows best
of all the chants and lays he’s heard
tracking dragons through the west.

His voice is like a soaring bird
that wheels around the castle walls.
Gulls and gannets I’ve observed

are prone to repetitious calls.
I’ll cry him now! A waving token
will spur him on to think of girls.

My knickers are alas bespoken
so mayhap I’ll wave my bra,
hoping that at last he’ll notice.

He’s turned this way! Hurrah, hurrah!
Yo, gentle knight! I’d not appear a
nuisance sticking in your craw,

a helpless damsel or parade on-rainer—
I have an ask—a true no-brainer—
prick off to another castle, sirrah,
and spare us all the tirra-lirra.

—Mary Cresswell

To the Knight’s Lady

Erec faced Enide:
Unprepared in harness worn,
Unanswered shame to his Queen riding
Onward to claim the hawk. Chrétien’s
Tale now provided his weapon so neat,
Perfect on onionskin,
To avenge armored callousness with
Virginal linen shift. Practice this:
Her job is expressed in stillness;
The hilt offered is hers,
But never to wield.

Orbiting a nameless sun,
I face a man:
I’ve practiced, my harness biosteel,
Unanswered blame on my shoulders—
“Girls just want to look pretty in armor.”
My weapon made to sear flesh from bone is
Flawed as an icicle.
It cannot be used on his callousness.
The first Arthurian knight—by right of
Paper lineage—
Began his adventures by abandoning the hunt.
We ladies are told to honor his gift, but
Largess expresses place. Practice this:
I raise his hilt
And never will yield.

—Marie Vibbert

Dearest Galahad

knight of gold!
we only bite to be sure
you are for real

—C.R. Harper


Wondering much, [Gawain] mounts his steed, and rides through a land no longer waste, while all the folk he meets bless and curse him; for, by asking concerning the Lance, he has brought about the partial restoration of fruitfulness. Had he also asked of the Grail, the curse would have been entirely removed.
      —from “The Grail and the Rites of Adonis,” Jessie L. Weston

To ask the simple question is too hard.
Who can ask their love if it’s requited,
or ask a God if they are there, or ask
the doctor what she really thinks, deep down?

Come the singularity, the all-wise web,
it will be easier—just think a question
with intent and pay in telepathic dollars:
the truth will be downloaded to your mind.

But that’s to come, when we’re post-human.
Now is the world of questions typed but deleted,
the cancer specialist’s tired smile, Tarot cards
dealt twice because they came out wrong

the first time, and Gawain too frightened
to ask the meaning of the Grail, leaving us
in this half-cursed land, doomed to be
half-satisfied. Asking, but not quite.

—A.D. Harper

Excalibur’s Lament

I liked it, embraced by rock,
sheathed in geology,
a pointed fossil.
To be dragged out
into the kingly light
seemed rude, uncouth.
Metallic Lazarus, shimmering.
An unwanted surprise party
was foisted upon me,
though I was just a gift.
A few adventures,
a couple of heads,
and then they drowned me.
The Lady of the Lake
stores me next to ballot boxes
and nuclear codes,
fetched from the future.
She says that’s a place
quite murky enough
to make Morgana blush.
The fish consider
their fishy reflections
on my erstwhile lethal blade.
The water is refreshing,
free from Arthur’s tangy sweat.
But I miss the boulder.
It whispered of my ancestry
before I was mined and shaped,
given four heavy syllables
and a bit part in myth.
Tucked into the stone,
I could dream that I was home.

—PS Cottier


“Typical,” the witch sniffed,
Absently stirring her cappuccino.
“They beg for help,
You give up precious resources—
Beyond just time and energy—
And then they act like
It was their idea the whole time.”
The lady nodded sadly.
“I’d really hoped he’d be
But when it was over
He took all the credit.
And of course,
No one questioned it.
He was entitled to it.
No one heard
My bubbles of protest.”
She sighed.
“I was really quite fond of that sword.”

—Richaundra Thursday

The Future King

          At twilight, Arthur’s bleeding body lies ashore. Wailing voices swirl from a black barge emerging out of the star-mist.

          The four great witch-queens of hyperspace, Morgan, Nimue, Queen of the Wasteland, and Queen of North Gale are weeping, and have come for him. They lay his battle-torn body aboard.

          “Set sail for Andromeda!” says Morgan le Fay. “We seek New Avalon, the island-planet beyond the Western galaxies, where still live the holy priestesses.”

          The ship’s prow rises past the moons above, steers starboard beyond the Great Wall of Space, dense layer of neuronal galaxies, which appears on no known map.

          The four queens row past the event horizon through the black hole’s whirlpool toward the planet of women, there to heal the fallen king’s grievous wounds.

          We will staunch his wounds with star-stuff, for Arthur is made of that which blazes bright as a kilonova. His reign burns fiercely but creates gold that flares into bright crowns, lighting up the dark realms, thinks Morgan.

          The Lady of the Void’s spectral hand extends a sword to her out of the singularity’s depths: Excalibur of the Multiverses.

          “Excalibur,” Morgan says, gripping the sword’s hilt. “Mine at last!” She raises it high, brandishing the blade thrice. “Now none can stop us on our journey across the sea of space, its silvers, submerged moons, noisy silences.”

—Lorraine Schein

Glastonbury Apples

Have you ever tasted a Glastonbury Apple?
The abbey is known for its orchard.
Take a bite and let the juice run down your chin.

It will wash away the dirt and dried blood
from your face
It will wash away your toothache
It will wash away that scar on your collar
from that time you fell 
from the old yew your mother told you not to climb
It will wash away the blue from your eyes
and the freckles from your cheeks
It will wash away your fear of the dark
It will wash away your ruthlessness
but also your ambition
It will wash away the pain of defeat
and failure
and loss
but strangely not the pain of hunger

—John Caulkins

Arthur’s Seat

Who lies inside the hollow hill
      Awaiting one last call to arms?
It is the one they could not kill
Who lies inside the hollow hill,
He has not died and never will;
      King Arthur, bound by Merlin’s charms,
Who lies inside the hollow hill
      Awaiting one last call to arms.

—Andrew J. Wilson