Stalking the Dark City

A Poem

Joey Banks – Unsplash (trimmed by author)

I leave my family abed

(Tucked in and cosy)

And slip outside into something more comfortable

The darkness shrouds my infernal mission

The night-fog feels hard ominous implacably

Black and obscuring: a dense layered veil

Hiding deeds and misdeeds, trust and betrayals fall

From the dark and yellow lamplit windows

I smooth down my ebony cloak

Step silently over the shiny black cobbles

Slide into the shadows of back lanes and alleys

I descend the hill of grim passages and trammelled tenements

A labyrinth of merciless droll

Under the cover of nacht und nebel

(Such evils befall the world)

My black glove runs lightly over thin steel handrails

Down step by step the alley defiles

Knowing every brick, paver and hole.

I descend.

In the distance moonlight touches the thicket of spars and masts

The ships moored dockside; the salty sea-smell of the grubby river

Permeates the bricks and masonry

Curls its miasma into the malodorous mist.

Gas lamps throw up muted halos

Inside their rusty coronas: balls of golden light

Perch atop fluted iron columns

I prop in a murky slot

With a view of the drinking house

(I haven’t decided yet, or cast a lot)

Boisterous shouting clanking swearing,

Ruination in their heads, rough loud boasts and

Boy-men broken up chatter

Carry through the candlelit windows

They argue their choppy banter till the barkeep bawls

Enough! Time!

Figures shamble out

Weave their ways this way and that

These drunken oafs

I reach out: hold their hearts, some plump young

Well-meaning, others shrunken ash cinders.

It’s the usual crowd of numbed older men and young bruisers

A pair hold each other, struggle up the hill

Pass by gabbing and wavering

I deglove and feel the cool instruments

Arrayed neat as bright pins inside my coat: these

Silvery instruments can split wide a sternum

Trepan a skull or slice and cut in a trice. Plus

Vials of sleep, paralysis ichor and draughts of delirium

(Sometimes I like to hunt in the forest of the city)

The two drunkards are gone awassailing

Their unintelligible shanties dying in the fog

I slip, an ephemeron, nearer the ale house

I know, but I don’t know

And stop. Waiting.

A figure steps out

Walks stolidly uphill

His gait is more or less sober

Face hidden beneath a short cap

His attention on the uneven coal cobbles

He is the one, he will do

I will be the doer

He walks left disappears down a blind alley

I softly turn out to follow

I think a short sharp killing tonight

And take a quick breath of the fetid air

(My heart would thump aloud if I had one)

I pluck out a short handled blade

His head bent and wide steps tell me—a sailor

He’s heavy with the briny water:

The stiff salt-spray, his hammock below decks,

Glum eyes inured to the cobalt flat ocean

I stealthily close on my unwary intended

He does not sense my baleful presence

So close I can smell his beer and tobacco

Our silhouettes merge

The stiletto drops into my glove

I remember to breathe, then

My right arm leans round him.

I cut the blade

Clean, across his pink throat from ear to ear

I hold his collar, knock off his cap

His heart’s life blood pours out

Dark red from the mortal cut

He tries to turn, paws at the wound

But I press him hard against the wall:

He glubs: “Why am I done?”

An upward sweep of the knife cuts the tip of his nose

Then an ear I slice off

His body starts to fold, his wet breath blows bubbles

I follow him down, whisper in his good ear:

“You’ve done nought enough,”

Or some-such ambiguity

He slides down the wall, bloodshot soaked torso

And wan face look up at me

What do his sightless eyes see?

The after-light image of an opaque blackguard,

A life-thieving felon

His eyes roll back and I replace his cap at a rakish angle

Wipe cooling blood from the blade on his unlovely coat

Stand above his crumpled body

Another corpse, another dead man to add to my tally

That grows by the scores,

He’s the hundredth… or four hundredth?

It doesn’t matter—I don’t keep a diary;

It’s no whim that makes me take lives.

“Needs must…”, a soft laugh to myself

Ball up my bloody gloves into a thick woollen purse

No blood-fleck speckles my black coat

My naked hands stand out too white

In this gloomy dead end

I hope he’s found soon, before rigor sets in

I sketch him a salute: I’ll be seeing you soon

At the autopsy in my morgue, where

More bright tempered grabbers, tearers and saws await

Lined up on white linen next to the tray

That drains dark ruined blood and bone-bits away

My boot sweeps his encrusted ear to the gutter

(Perhaps a needless cut)

But I can’t find the nose-tip

A tasty morsel for a prowling hound

I retrace my steps back uphill to my home.

I always sleep soundly after culling them.

Murdering men. Someone must do it,

The killing I mean, if not I then whom?

I slide between the cool starchy sheets

See my wife in the half light asleep on her pillow

Close my eyes, sleep the restful sleep of the sinister

I dream of Persephone

Her return from summer to my place underground,

Pay her fare to the ferryman

Sit amongst the dead voyagers

Cross over the Styx then alight

Stroke Cerberus’s three heads and enter the Gate.

I’ll be there waiting to embrace her

When winter comes

The Forest’s Secrets

The houses stop at the end of the block.
I step down from the concrete slab
Follow the narrow path hemmed in by tall grass that
Brushes my trousers wet as I walk easily past

A dark forest stands astride my way
There’s no going round – need I be afraid?
Déjà vu flickers —
An ancestor shard of traitor Loki’s kind?and slips from my grasp

Wind quietly whispers through the branches and
A hushing murmurous song sounds from the myriad leaves
I stop to listen…
I can’t quite catch the sighing tune
The tree trunks stuck deep into the rich brown earth
Ivy tendrils creep over their round muscly roots

I must go through – that is my way
I sense a gladness in the woods
A siren calls to me: come caper play
A few quick steps into the shadows
Brings me to the wooden gateway

I shoulder a way past the coarse bark sentinels
Their eye-knots stare blankly at my back
Leaves and limbs crowd in
The gloaming light fades to murk
I dodge further along the grey trail
Which wends and curves through the dinge
Feeds me into a green-filled vale

Grey stones poke up like teeth: little graves
Studded all round the mossy bowl
Wreaths of coal-black lilacs slip me a silvery grin
Nodding purple irises open and close
Winking

Black plumes pour themselves into the glade
I look in every direction turning
My compass needle spins crazily, settles neither this way or that
I hear close by:
Foxes treading softly over dead leaves
The wolves that snicker, and
The damned black rooks that mutter
Further away:
Mythic beasts burble and bellow
Their echoless babel-calls
(they belong to the other)
Fall down lost
In the soil of the wooden labyrinth

I’m stunned. Dare not move
Or take one step; held in place by the boggy ground
(I close my eyelids but still I can see.
I try to push out the spell-struck glister of
the giddy shadowland)
My pale arm and hand feels my taut chest wall with
Its ongoing heart-thud inside

My eyes flick open, searching
There must a clue, some simple sign
Glowing phantom tracks or gingerbread crumbs

I pull and hitch a ride on
Ariadne’s wool, a glimmer of thread left to lead me out
Away from the half-human bulls
The black smokey Furies: the trio
Hound me with their god-proclaimed rules,
Make me stumble onto all fours
My hands clutch at moss dirt twigs
But I feel in my soul the godless timour
Of my fear: the barks and groans
My panic at the shrieks and groans
The woollen thread breaks apart in my hands

The Woods pull at my hair,
Slips inside my clothes
A frigid plucking at my skin, my ribs now bare
To its fossicking fiddling which jabs in and grabs my heart
Turns it over, a cursory interrogation of the rusty depths of my life
I shudder, hold my breath,
(I cannot abide that faraway cackling)
While my still pumping heart’s held
Casually in the raven’s bloody claw.
The chasm in my chest
Waits empty and lifeless,
My skin shrinking tightly over
Exposed bones, so ivory-white, so scarified and worn
The Raven King catches my eye, lifts my red heart
Then plunges it back into my whole
Smirks its toothless grin and points a blood-red talon
That way.

I pat down my thin beggar’s clothes and
Force my stiffened legs to move
I walk, then run pellmell
From the leering Raven and
Its daemon-linked world,

Closed in by the gloom
I race past the night-frighteners
Trace the snick snapping near my ears,
Of splintered bones and obsidian spears, of
A thousand year gone soldiers’ remains
Those who squashed metal helms,
Shattered unbreakable shields and
Scythed down all who stood to gain:
A scattered chessboard of murder
Stretches across a roan-red plain
I touch the filmy smoke of the martial deeds
Their savage spirits buried deep under ground

I flee heedless of the branches clutching and
Scritching against my thin skin
Press on through the drowning wave of ancestor memories
(please don’t go… haha hahe)
Behind me chortling laughter curls
Then suddenly the plucking fingers
Let me go.
The forest pushes me out

Into daylight, the grass,
I clutch handfuls of the precious green
Lie breathing face down
Smell our sun and the open air
Freed from the black-hearted conjuring
Of the Woods

I swear to my quivering body –
My lips touch the spiky arrows of grass whisper:
Never again tread that loathsome path
That shortcut’s not worth taking:
My horror at the labyrinthine fright-fest
Snagged and torn in that dark-star cosmos
Of the Forest’s domain
Still strains my heart