Stonecoast Review Issue 5

A Mother's Lament

Written By: Alan S. Ambrisco

“ . . . they have seen two such creatures
prowling the moors, huge marauders
from some other world.  One of these things,
as far as anyone ever can discern,
looks like a woman. . . .”

                         – Beowulf, translated by Seamus Heaney


They call me monster:
lurker in the dark, mother of horrors,
an apocalypse poised for action.
I am that, and more besides.
When they butchered my boy in that mead-hall,
men with hoary beards and beer guts,
they thought I’d do nothing,
take it, like their women,
traded to weave peace among men
who fight for fatherland and bragging rights.
I let my son go among them,
he stumbled back bloodied, one-armed, dying.
They called him Grendel, terror to hall thanes,
but me they give only the name of mother.

I went to retrieve the arm,
saw it hanging in the rafters,
steel-fingered talon mounted as a trophy
by men who need tokens.
How that boy disappointed me,
playing their game, haunting the places
where they carve meaning from mountains,
telling stories of clean-faced gods
and well-marked boundaries, silencing
fears with wordplay and weapons.
He listened when they called him monster,
ate up the implications.

The world is fen and waste—
not warm metaphor but metathesis,
unplanned movements in the dark.
I live in the cold, cluttered places,
where all movement is up,
bedrock falters, stone rings hollow,
the spaces between words and sounds,
where meanings shift like paradigms.

Ashamed, they fight me in the dark
with no weapons but faith
that my loins give birth
to those with names.

Alan S. Ambrisco is an Associate Professor of English at The University of Akron in Ohio, where he teaches courses in medieval literature and a poetry writing workshop. His poems have appeared in Great Lakes Review, Kindred, The Red Rock Review, Sheepshead Review, and Whiskey Island Magazine, among others.