I was skipping behind a wide-hurled ball
Scudding over puddles and dirt
When I stopped, as if I’d run into a wall,
Before a man in a ragged shirt
His boots were all muddied by the miles
His coat by weeping skies
His thin lips sought for vanished smiles
But didn’t brighten his eyes
Something stooped his ancient shoulders
Like some fatal choice
The weight of Sysiphean boulders
Groaned in his rusty voice.
“Do you know the way back, my child?”
“Or where it can be found?”
Seeing my confusion, he sadly smiled
And heavily turned around
Setting his face to the driving weather
And dankly-falling night.
Weighted down with mud-clogged leather
He walked beyond my sight.
I was fidgeting outside a chapel
Getting ready for my bride
When ancient hands seized my lapel
And stopped me walking inside
His forgotten face I at once recalled
And I did not think it strange:
That though his boots were worn more bald
His face was still unchanged.
“Do you know the way back, young man?”
“Or where it can be found?”
As I stared in silence, he began
To retreat from the holy ground.
I found my voice and asked his name
He shook his head, appalled
As if by the ache of unending pain
And said “I do not recall.”
And turned away, leaving on my shirt,
Around my wedding flower
Fingerprints of dank and dreary dirt
Like a sigil of ominous power.
Now I am stumbling towards my grave
An old man, and a frail
And sometimes my heart begins to rave
In a way that makes me quail
For I seem to see that unchanging face
Smiling like the end of the world
From the shadows of every familiar place
Like a rattlesnake poised to uncurl.
For my easy life has not yet shown me
Words that could save me from harm.
And my living bones feel haunted-lonely
For three times is the charm
And still I don’t know the way back home
Nor where it can be found
And I dread that my fate will strand me alone
Forever above the ground.
This ballad was written in response to readwritepoem’s recent prompt to write a ballad. In the post they mention the song Hotel California, and reading the lyrics I was struck by the phrase “I had to find the passage back/to the way I was before”, which turned into this poem. I’m not sure exactly what it’s all about, but it came with some very creepy images and ideas that I’ve tried to do justice to!
25 July – edit. Having read Tom’s comments on the ballad form, I’ve done a little editing. When I write a rhyming poem my default pattern is alternating rhymed lines of 4 and then 3 stresses per line. And from Tom’s post I finally found out that this pattern is fundamental to the ballad form (it should be iambic as well but I’ve still never entirely buckled down to the phenomenal challenge of sorting my feet out!).
Having discovered this, I was somewhat embarassed to find that, in writing my first so-called ballad, I’d for once used four stresses in almost every line. Hence I went back to do a little editing. It doesn’t change the content much, so I’ve not made it a new post, but it does improve the swing of the lines.