September 3, 2020

Throwback Thursday: The Scattering and the Gathering, By Gerri Leen

Editor’s note: Gerri was one of the earliest regular contributors to EC, and this poem is an example of why I love her work. It’s packed with imagery and emotion, and it tells a story as well as any prose arrangement could. From 2016.

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From afar, the castle glows
Nearly as brightly
As the bonfires littering the hillsides
You sit, verdant cloak pulled around you
Chilled despite the warmth
Of this midsummer night
"You are so thin, Sister," I say as I sit
The river rushes by and I dangle
Bony feet in the coolness
I am too warm and you are cold
Even if now we are the same size
Skin hanging loose over brittle bones
But in six months we will be fat and happy
And you will roast while I freeze

I left you swollen at the last Winter Solstice
Filled with joy to see you after
Your long absence in the between time
You had been a shadow
Following me, growing along with me
Until the moment we traded
When the sun returned and you were
Left with what I harvested
Grains and fruits and creatures
But also things not so tangible
Dreams and plans and love, born under the fading sun

What did you think of my treasure?
I have never known, and you send it back out
With so little emotion
Six months is plenty of time to disperse
To scatter, to sow, to seed
All the things I pulled back into me
Until you are nothing--or nearly so
You bring us to this moment
When the waxing ends and the waning begins
And we trade places yet again
Fairy godmothers, plural
But none seem to realize
There are two of us
We are identical even to our
Propensity to wither during your time
And swell during mine

"It was a good harvest you gave me," you say
"I sent it all out.  You will be hard pressed
To bring it all back." You lean against me
We are so seldom together that I relish the closeness
And ignore the implied competition
Just once I would like you to linger
To stay by my side as I retrieve all the things you've scattered
To see if you're right that you will outdo me
To have you witness your triumph or failure
from more than some shadowy perch
But you can't stay
We have both tried to defy the force
That separates us
We have both failed

"How is the princess?" I ask, forcing my mind
Along less dangerous paths
"Mourning the loss of her freedom," you say
The princess found her prince during my time
And she will be happy with him again as midsummer
Ushers in the cold, as leaves fall and the colors change
From green to gold and orange and red
And then to nothing, to bare branches and
The frigid winds of early winter
I bring things back, I hold fast
It is you who bestows the thirst for the new
Not for nothing is Spring Fever part of your domain

"She is pregnant," you whisper
"I thought she might bring
The child forth during my time"
You sigh and your breath leaves a frosty residue
As if it was deepest winter and not this gentle night
I am glad the princess will not deliver under your dominion
She needs grounding
You only serve to fan her restlessness
A child of the waning times will clutch
And cling and be the trunk of a tree that
Holds the leaves on, free to rustle but never fly
A beautiful jailor, one the princess will never think to resent

From the river, I hear music
It is time
In the winter, we skate across it
But now we stand and throw off
Cloaks and gowns that shimmer with magic
I touch your side, press in and feel the contour of your bones
So little of you left
Will there ever come a time
That you give too much away?
I suppose you have wondered if I
Will ever pull so much back that I burst
"What are you thinking of?" You draw me into the water
It is not warm and you shiver as you pull me close, as we sink to the
"Only that I love you," I say as I surface alone

"I love you, too," you answer
Your voice more a rustling of the wind
Than actual words
I close my eyes and try not to think
Of you as a prisoner
Half shadow, your skeletal frame growing
As I fulfill my duty
It is futile because I am your shadow
When you take power
Free of my duty but not of you--of us

We never asked for this
Perhaps someday we'll be free
In the meantime, I stand and begin
To reverse the direction of the magic
You have woven
What goes out must come back
And I feel the flow change and
Across the hillsides, bonfires flare up
I hear the sound of swimmers in the river
Soft laughter and the sound of flesh pressing to flesh
The murmurs of old love renewed

It is not so bad, this prison
There are many that would be worse
I pull magic around me
Add extra shimmer and conjure
A wand of starlight to make a show
For my princess--I have missed her
Even if she has no idea
She should have missed me

Gerri Leen lives in Northern Virginia and originally hails from Seattle.  She has stories and poems published by: Daily Science Fiction, Escape Pod, Grimdark, Enchanted Conversation, and others. Her first
solo editing gig, the A Quiet Shelter There anthology published by Hadley Rille Books, was released in Fall 2015 and benefits homeless animals.  See more at


Image: Not sure of source. I bought it off of Etsy years ago. 


Lissa Sloan said...

Such an intriguing idea, the meeting of the opposites as they trade places!

Kelly Jarvis said...

A lovely poem of contrast and emotion!

Unknown said...

Oh my, this is so beautiful. I've always thought of the holly and the oak and the solstices as their battle to change places. This gentle exchange of places with two loving sisters is just so touching, what a beautiful piece.

Katew said...

I’m a huge fan of Solstice-related anything!