Ephraeth

Once, as male, imperfect
I lay with you under animal skins

Our love was sad and sweet as New Year
sacrifice, rivered with wreathes and stories
pretty as pearls and as worthy

I lay with you under animal skins
and defiled you not, the touch of your
fingers secluded me

I was as brother to you, sister almost
my man-ness untended

Ephraeth was the song I knew from
my mother’s knee, the song I learnt fresh
each day, the song I never could sing from
myself nor she hear of herself, within our
places we smiled the knowledge

Once only we faltered, one Beltaine feast
as the great fires burnt low and men lay
well fed and fast-drunk, the women with
them, save the old and the young and the
crippled, and Ephraeth, who being not yet
wed, crept to where I kept my own counsel
and considered the singing of that night

She came to me and spoke her fear and I,
softened with songs and stars, stroked her
hair and laid my palm on hers and spoke
little, letting the waves and the night deep
ease her and perhaps the truth of friendship

We were not children then, nor have we been
for fourteen summers, Ephraeth mother six times
since and I with one hundred long songs held on my
tongue and more than I care to count in my hand
and always the knowledge a tie between us

 

As she crooned a comfort, she sang to me
When I told of brave hearts, the telling was for her

 

Ephraeth is long gone and I too
but the knowledge smiles on in your
gentle touch, in the ease of exchange
and soothing amity

 

My stories were strength to her
She is still the breath in my harp

About the author
Jenny Dobson lives in Central Hawkes Bay and took part in NZ Poetry Day with a lunchtime performance at the Waipawa Library. She recently had a poem about laundry highly-commended in the NZ Poetry Society's International Poetry Competition.