The Barbarian Bard

Tales and Musings by Michael A. Espinoza

Archive for the category “Poetry”

The Gem Stone’s Folly

Hail readers,
As many of you likely already know, this month is Pride Month. A while ago, I wrote this poem—a darkly-themed fairy tale-esque piece—but I wasn’t sure if or when I’d share it. I’m not entirely sure what the poem is specifically about, and it’s certainly far from uplifting. I guess I just want to share it and say please embrace the diverse array of wonderful people in the world. Don’t discourage a person from being who they are just because it clashes with your concept of who they ought to be. We all shine in our own unique ways, and whether it’s orientation, presentation, or identification, the world has enough love for each and every one of us, but we have to choose to share that love. Don’t just talk tolerance, take actions of acceptance.

In a family of rocks, a stone was born,
of like-body, and like-mind.
Of dark and solid flesh was he,
in each way alike in kind.
“Sturdy and strong,” their friends would say,
“a worthy rock you’ve sired.”
And the new stone beamed with every word
of praise that he inspired.
A life of stone was a good life;
stalwart, day and night.
He gave no ground, he felt no fear,
he let shine no light.

But a reckless sunbeam struck the stone,
angled perfectly,
and a dazzling light reflected from
his face for all to see.
The young stone smiled and spread his light,
amazed at his own glow.
Glittering, glinting in the sun,
an unprecedented show.
“Oh parents,” thought the joyous stone,
knowing they’d be proud of him,
“what great news I bring to you:
your stone son is a gem.”

A gem, of all things; glorious!
He could not contain his pride.
He’d never known of his own form,
that a glow was sealed inside.
Stones and gems were of equal worth,
for each could be of use.
But so rare was it, a young rock’s fate
to be free for them to choose.
And so he sought his family out,
gathering them all ’round
to see his light. “But what is this?
Why must you glow?” they frowned.

“A gem,” they wept, “Oh son, but why
have you delivered us this curse?
All gems are stones, but never should
this order be reversed.”
“We raised you,” his parents sobbed,
“to know your rightful place.
By your choice, you shun your folk,
and spit into our face.”
“But parents,” the young gemstone pled,
“I can be both bright and strong.”
“You can,” they said with somber eyes,
“but such a life is wrong.”

Bereft, the gemstone left from home,
uncertain now of life.
He’d thought his glow would bring delight,
not familial strife.
“A gem is no less hard,” he thought,
“no less able to be
a thing of strength and beauty.
This glow is part of me.”
He was not corrupted, nor defiled,
not deviant or “bad.”
But it seemed that all his light could do
was make his forebears sad.

There was no joy in a gemstone’s life,
if it shone on only pain.
He could not hurt his loved ones so,
he was not so vile and vain.
If being what he’d grown to be
was a curse unto his kind,
he resolved to be a stone,
and leave his glow behind.
But how could he eschew the light
that sparkled on his skin?
How could he take the gleam without,
and bury it within?

First he tried a layer of earth
and hoped one coat would do,
but no matter how he layered it
his radiance shone through.
Next he tried a staining dye,
that soaked in every pore,
but rain washed clean this new disguise,
and he shined brighter than before.
At last, the truth he realized,
the only answer there could be:
light cannot reflect upon
that which it cannot see.

So he delved down to the depths
of the dark and sheltering Earth,
and surrounded himself with the stones
so alike him at his birth.
There no light could ever chance
upon the facets of his face.
There no eyes could see his glow,
and know of his disgrace.
He stood still, and he stood strong;
he made his loved ones proud.
But less proud were they of his self,
and more so of his shroud,
for he’d found a way to lose their shame,
to hide his grievous sin.
And now the gemstone’s only light
was but a memory within.

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The Writer, The Death God

Recently, I was conversing with a friend about the motivation for writing. While I write fantasy and she prefers either realistic fiction or non-fiction, we are both avid writers of our own styles. She mentioned that personal experience motivates a lot of her work, and provides inspiration for some of her content. Jokingly, I replied that “I write fantasy because I can actually fix the problems in those worlds.”

Amusing though that was, it got me to thinking about my relationship to the worlds I create. I could simply write paradises for all, with no turmoil or dismay. But I am a writer, and so paradise is never good enough. We need conflict, we need death. We need characters to be written to life so that we can make their lives Hell, then save them from it. Much like a god, we are the architects of boundless suffering. Now, to be fair, I have a perhaps unwarranted attachment to my characters. They feel to me like living beings, like people for whom I am responsible, and it pains me to hurt or kill them in the name of storytelling. But stories need conflict, and conflict needs misery in some form.

I’ve stewed on these thoughts for a few days, and at last they have come together in the form of a poem, possibly a song. And as the words (or lyrics) say, I hope that the writers of our world—whatever form they take—can learn not just from the misery we craft into our own creations, but also from the efforts we make to mend that strife. Let them be less like Death Gods, and more like Writers.

I’ve penned countless towers, destined to fall.
I’ve breathed life into heroes, and murdered them all.
Firelit bard songs, I’ve written a score,
and silenced those voices in the clamor of war.

With a word, I shape a world,
where countless seek peace from endless strife.
On a whim my heart gives birth,
and with a thought, my mind takes life.

Dragons will die because men want their hide.
Demons will slay so you feel justified
in rending their hearts and taking their lives.
Hail to your Death God! Glory and pride!

I bring misery, to set the pace.
I lift high a hero, then nail him in place.
Of lives shaped and shattered, I care for them naught.
A life’s only worth is to further my plot.

In a night, I’ll plan a life,
from its conception until after its death.
Beyond compare is your despair,
for I rule every footstep, and I govern each breath.

Dragons will kneel, so that men may ride.
Evil is evil; your hate justified.
Think nothing of the souls inside.
Slay for your Death God! Glory and pride!

To my own end, countless fates I condemn,
a soulless god, a heart of stone.
A familiar Hell I raise where you dwell,
to escape the Hell in the world of my own.

Dragons you fear, for I have none here,
in my magicless world, I pray you can forgive.
I’ll make your world Hell, but I’ll mend it as well,
and hope the writer is watching… and hope the writer can learn…
in the world where I live.

Skaði, Mistress of Winter

Hail to you who, in your might,
took up weapons of war to set wrongs right,
who alone marched on Asgard’s walls,
unafraid to fight or fall.
You, so bold, facing all odds.
You, unaided, against the gods.
No war-party at your back,
no allies in your brave attack.
Seeking recompense for your father’s doom,
you claimed a prize: a worthy groom.
From the halls of the gods, you claimed your mate,
that the Aesir might avert your hate.
But oh, Fair Lady, you found despair,
for you could not claim that god most fair.
Wed you Njord, God of the Sea;
a marriage that simply could not be.
And now you are alone once more,
up on your mountains, and him by the shore.

Oh Winter Lady, hail your might!
Hail your strength to set wrongs right.
True power it takes, to be as you are:
unafraid, unshaken, as you travel so far
across wintery waists and barren lands.
None may hold you under their command.
It might be easy for you to conquer us all.
We would fall at your feet, as you stand so tall.
But true might is not the strength to reign.
It rests in the power to spare others from pain.

And so, My Mistress, oh Lady Fair,
I rest well knowing that you are there.
You watch me closely, as I take my sleep,
you stand over me; my guard you keep.

I offer you a mighty hail,
for I know, Dear Mistress, you shall never fail.
Of your kindness I avail,
whilst I honor you, and tell your tale.

Spectator Sport

My ticket bought, I stand in line,
on the empty, teeming street.
Alone I fight the silent crowd
and am ushered to my seat.
The lights go down, I shield my eyes,
the curtain’s fall away.
I join the roar of no applause;
it’s time to see the play.

In this show I see a man,
born as all others are.
In the first act he sets his sights
on vistas wide and far.
His dreams are vast, ambition high,
his wings have come unfurled.
He’ll grow into a mighty man
and spread those pinions across the world.

The crowd and I watch others join
this young man in his cause.
They help shape his words and build his thoughts
so none will give them pause.
His greatest friends, they turn this man’s
dream into reality.
Yet for all the agents in his life,
it’s lived with no agency.

His dreams now shaped to worthy form,
his wings clipped so they appeal
to those beloved guardians of his will,
who traded dreams for constructs real.
The successful man finds brief delight
in stepping briefly from his cage,
so he may be an audience of one,
and see his life acted on the stage.

He buys his ticket and stands alone
an empty face on an empty street.
He joins and is himself the crowd.
He takes the only seat.
The lights go down and he shields his eyes
to hide the tears that start,
for he knows when this play reaches its end,
his own act again must start.

———

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The Hero’s Return

The wind blows up from western dales
to churn the glassy sea.
The mists of morning drift upon
the fog enshrouded lea.
A raven rides the murky sky,
its wings the shade of night,
and the denizens of darksome depths
retreat at morning’s light.

I tilt my eyes to the sky above
and catch the raven’s eye.
Though no man walks along my path,
alone never am I.
Fingers of fog tug at my cloak,
but ever I stride on.
Through darkness grim I’ve made my way,
at last to the break of dawn.

From the fell vales of the southern hills
to the frozen northern keeps,
I’ve hunted darkness and its brood,
where e’er it crawls and creeps.
Silver in my glimmering blade
has played a deadly tune,
for fiends and demons who laugh and reel,
beneath the weeping moon.

Years I’ve walked and years I’ve fought,
all light I did defend.
But old am I, my bones are weak,
my song is at its end.
The song of steel is a young man’s air,
too fast and cruel for me.
But my soul shall e’er keep up the fight,
though my body joins the sea.

———

If you enjoyed this post, please consider donating to help fund the publication of my novel.

The Fall of Whiterun: A Skyrim Poem

Some background for this poem:
Inspired by the video game Skyrim, this poem chronicles the siege of the city of Whiterun by the Stormcloak army. During the era in which the game is set, the land of Skyrim is embroiled in many a turmoil, but one of the most gripping conflicts in the land is the civil war between the Imperials and those who support the governing of Skyrim by the empire based in Cyrodiil, and the Stormcloaks, Nords who want their land ruled by their own governing body. There is no clear “good guy” in this war. Some argue that Ulfric is right to fight the Empire that governs Skyrim with an iron fist, bans certain forms of worship, and is quick to declare sentences of death. Others hold that he is a racist egotist, wanting a land that would favor Nords above all other races. And some hold that he is an inadvertent puppet in the plan of a third faction who hopes to profit from strife between the Empire and the Stormcloaks. But debating that is not the point of this poem. This piece tells of one event the player’s character may encounter based upon their previous choice, that is, whether or not they chose to return the ancient Jagged Crown to Ulfric, an item he feels will validate his kingship of Skyrim. He then sends the player’s character to Whiterun, to offer the Jarl (lord/ruler), Balgruff, an axe, which serves as a symbolic question: If the Jarl accepts it, then he sides with Ulfric and will support him in fighting the Empire. Balgruff sends the axe back to the Stormcloak leader. His answer is clear…

—–

Nords for generations to come,
when ancient stories they sit and tell,
will ’round the hearth-fire recount the tale
of the day that Whiterun fell.
The great walled city stood untouched
by foe from far afield.
In Dragonsreach the Jarl did sit,
his city as his shield.
Then Ulfric, of the Stormcloak line,
sent a message to Whiterun’s hall.
In silent words the message spoke,
“Side with me or fall.”

Balgruff sought to guard his keep,
to save his city from harm,
and so he sent a message back,
and formed up his men-at-arms.
The Whiterun forces held the walls
and barricaded roads.
The Stormcloaks made ballistas ready
to fire devastating loads.
Down came the barricades
the city streets ran red.
Mailed boot steps trampled over
the dying and the dead.
The Stormcloaks took the hold and keep,
though struck not the Jarl down,
but offered his seat to one more loyal
to Ulfric and his Jagged Crown.

Now times have changed and years gone by,
the world not as it was.
But still all Nords remember clear
the Stormcloaks and their cause.
And above all else they do recall
and on this memory dwell:
the day that Nord fought Nord for land,
the day that Whiterun fell…

He Hailed the Thunder

In remembrance of David Tito Cotto.

—–

The hearth-fire flickers, now
colder than it was before.
The wind howls mightily,
into the wintry night.
A choir of unmatched beauty,
are the voices of dear friends.
Now that choir sounds
with a softer harmony.

Each came here in friðr,
and knew he was well guarded,
by a humble host with
mighty mirth.
And so guarded was that friðr,
that none feared a foe
would work ill deeds
‘neath night’s dark cloak.

As the sumbel horn came ’round,
our eyes widened at your passion,
when proclaimed you, “Hail Thor,
hail the Midgard’s Shield!”
You raised up your voice,
and toasted the Serpent-Slayer.
With each deed in your life,
you brought the Thunderer joy.

Now you are gone from our midst,
and the hall is made somber.
The fire crackles its
memories of a warmer time.
Each gathered head bows,
each gathered mind prays
for our brother gone
to meet the Gods.

But then ’round comes the sumbel horn,
and none can resist,
the chance to proclaim, “Hail!
Hail Asa-Thor, hail Hammer God,
and welcome to your hall,
our brother who honored you!
We rejoice in his life,
that carries on in the Halls Up High!”

Lord of Masks

A boy was born whose visage
filled his parents’ hearts with dread.
They bade a doctor shape a face
to hide his loathsome head.
The doctor taught the boy to shape
a fair and pleasing one,
then placed it square upon his head,
so the monstrous face was gone.
The boy grew content in his face
and wore it every day.
“How beautiful, your child is,”
his parents’ friends would say.
But for a growing boy with lofty goals,
life makes many a task,
not too many for the boy to take,
but too many for one mask.
With cunning skill he set about
to crafting many faces;
each with different looks to win
friends from different places.
He wore a special face to work
that brought him great success.
He wore a face to casual dates,
and to balls of fancy dress.
And at each event he did attend,
always was he seen well,
as a man of class, of charm, and wit,
in favor did he dwell.
But time is short, fame shorter still,
and his wore out its span,
leaving him a tired, old,
and lonely, bitter man.
He woke each day in a silent house
and found himself alone,
and whatever face he chose to wear,
none felt quite like his own.

Those Who Dare to Be

This is an older poem, one from my “back catalog,” if you will, but I believe it is still very relevant. I hope you enjoy it. And remember, the literal definition of the word heretic is “one who chooses” or “one who makes a choice.” Just a fun fact to consider.

Each epoch is marked by those who dare
and by those who condemn.
The Great Wheel turns, the cycles repeat,
but none are wiser made.
Each looks to his forebears as the past.
Their present is not so.
Their eyes, cast backward or far afield,
see in their deeds no ill.
Divine, they say, is their will to hate,
a gift from lofty heights,
a freedom clung to with fervency,
a right not to be taken.
A right to hate, to them more precious,
than another’s right to be.

Like farmers harvesting a grim crop,
they choose their verses well.
Handpick those that sate their hate’s hunger,
ignore those that taste poor.
A word here and there, fit to condemn.
Disregard all the rest!
Well they forget the condemnations
that inconvenience them.
Quotes carefully picked, sharpened like spears,
they march out for the hunt.
An innocent prey suspects no ill,
for harm it has brought none,
while speakers of peace draw ever near,
eager to sow grave ruin.

Once before it was the heretic,
who chose another way.
Many times the prey was of their own,
who sought a different path.
“Impure races” and the “lesser sex,”
each has had their turn.
Those of “wrong skin” or with the “wrong love,”
have been evil in turn.
Each the next head on the chopping block.
Blood fuel for zealots’ fires.
Those who dare to be as they are made,
who dare to think and feel.
So great this need to reform or end
those who simply dare to be.

Ice Maiden

Lo, there you walk ‘pon virgin snow
oh silver-footed spectre.
Pale as winter’s hoary veil,
thy hair a grain-gold wave.
Upon thy feet, as so nimble you wend,
flakes of snow frolic as if young and at play.
Thy legs well carry, with gait so swift,
you ‘cross the wintery plain.
Aurora as thy blanket, you slumber
‘pon a bed of frost, a pillow of snow.
The ivory slope of thy breast seems one
of the white-gleaming winter-dunes that bedeck the tundra.
When wakest thou, by morning’s blaze
thy fiery eyes alight
upon some distant vista veiled in white
and full on you make your swift pace once more.
Oh maiden-goddess of winter’s rain,
I linger frozen-hearted in thine awesome wake,
a’feared yet compelled to join thy footsteps,
to follow where e’er you wonder.
But mortal man may no goddess caress
nor abreast with her make his journey.
My eyes burn hot as the flame does fade,
that golden-haired fire dwindles.
Upon the horizon shall I always recall,
the beauteous maiden of ice,
as glimmering brightly she disappeared,
and the winter died unto the spring.

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