runes for an old believer

Remember when letter — like actual pen and paper letter — chains were a thing? Then they made the transition to email. I don’t know why, but recently I’ve received more requests for these email chains than ever before. Everyone (including my own mother) seems to be BCC’ing me in the “Women’s Leadership Exchange” started by Rebecca Udell (thanks ever so).

By the time I received my third email nudging me to join, instead of ignoring it, per usual, I did two things: one, I Google’d “Women’s Leadership Exchange,” which lead to this fascinating article.

Next, I cracked open my poetry books in the hope of sending a short but “uplifting” poem to my instructed person in the email chain. I got lost in the options from “The New Yorker Book of Poems,” and had a blast discovering old favorites, as well as reading new ones.

(For the record, I finally sent off Looking West, by William Stafford).

But I don’t necessarily find poetry to be uplifting. I suppose it can be, but certainly not in the way of an earnest pop song or inspirational speech. Poetry is the wistful but crafty step-sister, instead taking the reader to a moment by letting them step through sideways. and giving them all sorts of tactile experiences through words.

At least, that’s what it does for me. But the best part of my browsing was coming across Rolfe Humphries’ eerie, folklore inspired poem, Runes for An Old Believer. While it doesn’t feel as apocalyptic as, say, T.S. Elliot’s The Wasteland, it’s not uplifting, either.

Hold to your sprig of rowan.

RUNES FOR AN OLD BELIEVER

The wolves of winter will be much abroad—
Hold to the sprig of rowan
When we are near the evening of the world. 

The weather darkens; wilderness and wood
Thicken with stalkers, when the sun goes down,
The wolves of evening will be much abroad. 

They creep toward fold and barn, across the field, 
Gaunt-gray or shagbark brown,
When we are near the evening of the world. 

The herd their meat, their smell the smell of blood, 
The ground their ground, the bolted house their own,
The wolves of evening will be much abroad.

The body, like the oak, is bent and gnarled,
The shallow-rooted mind is overthrown, 
When we are near the evening of the world. 

If iron fails, and salt, and Aaron's rod,
Hold to the twig of rowan. 
When we are near the evening of the world,
The wolves of evening will be much abroad. 

-ROLFE HUMPHRIES


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