Saturday, June 4, 2016

Sheikha A. writes


A tip toeing trickster 
hops roof to roof,
hefting a sack on its back,
descending chimneys 
to snoring minds,
holding the dreaming orbs
tentatively, scrying
into raconteur dreams.  

It’d put its ears
to the commotion inside – 
grin, frown or grimace –  
plunging skinny dwarf
hands into the chasms;
a pit less cauldron 
of stygian mysteries.

Trickster spirit,
going roof to roof
with a sack on its back,
fishing and collecting
bones become ghosts,
overdue tenants
in crowded homes.

Honed of task
like a mechanized mouse,
transporting ghosts,
from roof to roof
into snoring minds
and plunging deep a bone – 
the mind of which 
wakes to as a past
night’s dream.

By the break of first
light, the trickster’s feet
bear worn away soles;
its sack emptied,  
a mind fed.


  1. The English word “dwarf” comes from the Old English “dwergh,” which perhaps came from the Old Norse “dvergr” or directly from the Proto-Germanic “dwergoz” (which itself derived from Proto-Indo-European “dhwérgwhos.”
    The meaning of this word is unclear, although it possibly comes from a root that means “to deceive.” Is the plural "dwarfs" (roofs) or "dwarves" (wolves). In 1939, J.R.R. Tolkien used "dwarves" when he published "The Hobbit," while Walt Disney released "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." In the short run, Disney's film tended to codify the spelling his way, until the 1960’s, when Tolkien’s "Lord of the Rings" trilogy became hugely popular. (Tolkien wrote that the genuine plural was "dwarrows" and regretted not using it.) In fantasy literature, the dwarf tropes come from Germanic folklore. He may have been small, though he was not referred to as such until the 13th century sagas; he dwelt within the earth and had metal-working skill, and was envied by humankind for his wealth and skill. His race was older than mankind and was associated with ancient megaliths. He brought ailments such as warts and fever but was a master of the healing arts. He shunned sunlight and may nave been a spirit of the dead, though generally he was portrayed as a comic "trickster" figure. He had a reputation for honesty and would give people what they asked for rather than what they meant to ask for. In modern times, the traditional dwarf figure remained essentially unchanged, but the one known as "Santa Claus" evolved into a gift-bringer who entered people's homes via a chimney and telepathically decided whether they had been "naught or nice" during the preceding year. The illustrations of the poem are German Christmas postcards from the early 1900s, featuring a thin, stern, and forbidding-looking version of Santa rather than a "jolly old elf." Instead of a bag of toys, he has a stick to punish bad children.

  2. Scholars have proposed theories about the origins of the dwarf by way of historical linguistics and comparative mythology, suggesting they originated as nature spirits or as beings associated with death, such as the Sanskrit "dhvaras" (a type of "demonic being"). Competing etymologies include at least two Indo-European roots, "*dheur-" (damage) and "*dhreugh" (from whence come the English "dream" and the German "Trug" [deception]). "Völuspá," a Poetic Edda compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources, said the dwarf was the product of the blood of Brimir and the bones of Bláinn (although both beings are generally considered to be different names for the primordial being Ymir). John Lindow has suggested that its stanza 10 may be a description of Ask and Embla being given human form by the dwarfs and then given life by the gods. But the Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson, also written in the 135h century, called the dwarf a maggot-like creature who festered in the flesh of Ymir before being gifted with reason by the gods; it also said that Norðri, Suðri, Austri, and Vestri (North, South, East, and West) held up the sky. In the eddas, the dwarf is given various roles: a murderous creator who invents the mead of poetry, a reluctant donor of magical artifacts, a sexual predators who lusts after goddesses, as in the tale of Alvíss who sought to marry Thor's daughter but was kept talking until daylight turned him to stone (like a troll; similar confusion with other creatures can be seen in the Anglo-Saxon charm “Wið Dweorh” (Against a Dwarf) which seems to associate it with the mare that causes nightmares. Almost always the dwarf is an old man with a long beard, though the supernatural temptress in the Swedish ballad "Herr Peder och Dvärgens Dotter" (Sir Peder and the Dwarf's Daughter) is a dwarf.

  3. The word “stygian” is the adjectival form of Styx, one of the five rivers that surrounded Hades (the underworld, ruled by Hades) and refers to anything dark, dismal, and murky. All five rivers converged at the center of Hades on a great marsh, which was sometimes also called the Styx. The Acheron (or Acherusius) was the "river of woe" across which the dead were ferried by Kharon (Charon), the son of Nyx (Night) and her brother/husband Erebus (Darkness); his brothers were Thanatos (Death) and Hypnos (Sleep). His name was a poetic form of “charopós” (of keen gaze), which referred to eyes that were fierce, flashing, or feverish eyes, or merely bluish-gray; it may have been a euphemism for death. In the 1st century BCE, Publius Vergilius Maro (“Virgil”) called him “A sordid god: down from his hairy chin / A length of beard descends, uncombed, unclean; / His eyes, like hollow furnaces on fire; / A girdle, foul with grease, binds his obscene attire.” That description was the model for Dante Alighieri’s depiction in the 14th century, who wrote of his forcing reluctant sinners onto his boat by beating them with his oar. When the Etruscans appropriated him from the Greeks, he became the hammer-wielding Charun (Charu [Xaru], or Karun [Xarun]), he was portrayed as a giant with snake-like hair and snakes around his arms, with pointed ears, a hooked nose, a black bear, large tusks, heavy brow ridges, large lips, fiery eyes, enormous wings, and a bluish pale cream, or greyish color. The Acheron was sometimes used as a synecdoche for Hades itself. In the “Phaedo,” Platon called it the second-greatest river; it flowed under desert places in the opposite direction from Oceanus, the greatest river. The so-called “Homeric” hymns had the rivers Cocytus and Phlegethon flowing into it, and Virgil had the Styx and Cocytus flowing from it. The Acheron was sometimes referred to as a lake or swamp, as in Aristophanes' “The Frogs” and Euripides' “Alcestis.” Pausanias and Dante tried to reconcile the ancient sources by placing Charon in the swamps of the river Acheron.

  4. Roman poets usually associated Charon with the Styx, the muddy “river of hate,” which Dante placed in the Fifth Circle, where the wrathful and sullen were drowned, with the wrathful fighting each other. As a boy, Achilles was dipped into the Styx by his mother, the sea-nymph Thetis, the granddaughter of Tethys, in order to make him invulnerable, but he was killed by Paris’ arrow when it penetrated his heel, where his mother had held him. Parallel to the Styx flowed the Phlegethon (“flaming") or Pyriphlegethon (“fire-flaming"), which Platon called "a stream of fire, which coils round the earth.” Dante put it in the Seventh Circle of Hell, reserved for tyrants, murderers, and others who commit violent crimes, describing it as a river of blood that boils souls; the depth at which each sinner must stand in the river was determined by the level of violence they caused (Attila the Hun and Alexander the Great were up to their eyebrows), and centaurs with arrows patrolled it to make sure that the sinners stayed in their allotted place. To Dante, the Kokytos (Cocytus), "the river of wailing" (from the Greek word for "lamentation"), was a frozen lake in the Ninth (lowest) Circle, reserved for traitors and defrauders whose bodies were buried in ice. At the center of the circle was a three-faced Satan, only waist-high in ice. Under each chin a pair of wings flapped to increase the cold. The heads on his left and right side chewed the legs of Brutus and Cassius, the assassins of Julius Caesar, while the central mouth gnawed the head of Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Jesus, while Satan’s claws tore at his back. The Lethe ("oblivion," "forgetfulness," "concealment," the antonym of “aletheia” [truth]) flowed around the cave of Hypnos, where its murmuring induced drowsiness, and then into Hades; everyone was forced to drink from it in order to forget his prior life. (In “The Republic,” Platon said the dead arrived at the "plain of Lethe," through which the river Ameles ["careless"] ran.) Virgil wrote that the dead must have their memories erased by the Lethe before they could be reincarnated. According to Statius, it bordered Elysium, the final resting place of the virtuous. A few mystery religions taught their initiates that after their deaths, instead of drinking from the Lethe, they should drink from the Mnemosyne so they could remember everything and attain omniscience.

  5. These rivers were also the personifications of gods. Hēsíodos identified Lethe as the daughter of Eris (Strife), and the sister of Ponos (Hardship), Limos (Starvation), Algae (Pains), Hysminai (Battles), Makhai (Wars), Phonoi (Murders), Androktasiai (Manslaughters), Neikea (Quarrels), Pseudea (Lies), Logoi (Stories, Rumors), Amphillogiai (Disputes), Dysnomia (Anarchy), Ate (Ruin), and Horkos (Oath). Acheron was a son of Helios the sun god and either Gaia the Earth or Demeter the harvest goddess, and the father of Ascalaphus through Orphne ("darkness"), a nymph who lived in Hades; she was also called Gorgyra ("underground drain") and even Styx. Acheron gave refreshment to the Titans during their war with Zeus, who retaliated by turning him into the river. His son became the custodian of Hades’ orchard. When Ascalaphus informed the gods that Persephone had eaten pomegranate seeds in the underworld, they forced her to spend part of every year there. Demeter was so angry at him that she buried him beneath a heavy rock, but Heracles rolled the stone away and released him. Then either Demeter or Persephone turned him into an owl by sprinkling him with water from the Phlegethon. Styx was the daughter of Tethys (the daughter of Uranus and Gaia, the sister/wife of Oceanus, and the mother of 3,000 Oceanids and of the world’s major rivers). Pallas, the Titan god of warcraft and of the springtime campaign season, was her husband, and they were the parents of Zelus ("Emulation" or "Glory"), Nike ("Victory"), Kratos ("Strength" or "Power"), Bia ("Might" or "Force"), Eos (Dawn), Fontes ("Fountains"), Lacus ("Lakes"), and Scylla, a beautiful naiad who was claimed by the sea god Poseidon, but his wife Amphitrite turned her into a monster by poisoning the water of the spring where Scylla bathed. (According to Publius Ovidius Naso [Ovid], her lover was Glaucus, a sailor who had discovered a magical herb which could bring the fish he caught back to life; when he ate it he became immortal, but it changed his arms into fins and his legs into a tail. Aeschrion of Samos claimed the herb was "dog's-tooth" and was sowed by the Titan, Cronus [Time], while Alexander of Aetolia credited it as an anti-fatigue remedy for the horses of Helios the sun god. Nicander credited him as Apollo’s teacher of the art of prophecy, and he might have been the father of the Cumaean Sibyl, Deiphobe. But his fish-like features repulsed Scylla, and Glaucus asked Circe for a love potion. When Circe tried to seduce him, he told her that trees would grow on the ocean floor and seaweed on the highest mountain before he would stop loving Scylla. In revenge, Circe poured a potion into the sea where Scylla was bathing, turning her into a monster with four eyes, 12 tentacle-like legs, a cat's tail, and six long necks; each head had a mouth with three rows of sharp teeth. Four or six dog heads ringed her waist. In this form, she destroyed passing ships, ironically in light of Glaucus’ role as rescuer of storm-tossed seamen. Nicander wrote that Glaucus chased a hare on mount Oreia, took it to a spring to eat it, and rubbed it with some grass growing there, which brought the hare back to life. Glaucus ate it himself and went into a state of "divine madness;" Zeus forced him to fling himself into the sea. Hedylus of Samos said that Glaucus committed suicide after being spurned by Melicertes, the grandson of Cadmus, though Nicanor said Glaucus was the same person as Melicertes, deified as Palaemon, the guardian of ships and safe harbors.) During the war against the Titans, Tethys raised and educated Zeus’ wife/sister Hera as her step-child, and Styx was the first to side with Zeus, who rewarded her by binding the gods to her by forcing them to take oaths in her name. Styx fell in love with Phlegethon but was consumed by his flames and sent to Hades; when Hades allowed her river to flow through, they reunited.


Join the conversation! What is your reaction to the post?