Green the bough

Hello gentle readers. August is here, and just after sunset tonight a full moon will rise over the peninsula. Rising fullness. Harvest what you are able to carry this time of year, whether from pain or pleasure — it seems to nourish all the same.

I come to you this month bearing a harvest of my own to share, albeit a watery harvest that slips through the fingers. Our consideration of the four classical elements has brought us here, through fire and air, to water.

In Ancient Greek, we find two terms describing speech, logos and mythos. They are not synonymous though; the wending tale of the latter stands in sharp contrast (or compliment) to the foursquare dissertation of the former. Logos calculates where mythos illuminates. Here in these letters I attempt to balance the two modes, but this month we embrace, without inhibition, the mythos. I offer the following watery tale in that wending spirit — read it as you might a poem.

A black and white photograph. We sit beneath a young birch tree with seven stems, atop springy branches of juniper creeping over the dune. Grasses tickle the skin. The evening sky glows and a warm, wandering breeze comes from nowhere in particular.


At dawn light will tip the sphere toward itself, pull by the highest boughs of white pine. Without them dawn can find no purchase. But you came here to sleep.

Prepare a bed beneath a birch back from shore, lay the receptive body down on receptive ground, on sunwarm sand. This is your incubation — warm sand will incubate the body. At noon sun blackens, at night it glows from clear prismatic grain.

You came here to follow thistle root down to water, birch root out to anchorage in the drift, to be circled quietly by deer. This is what you came for.


In sleep find the waking bough spring back from sun’s weight. Limbs stretch to loosen, the airy idiom of gesture returns. In sleep you are most and least yourself. Without it fibers fray like a branch bent too far. Death met in sleep enlivens the waking day — the practice of dying does green the bough.

Eye of doe opens wide to the dark. Dark lens calm at the edge. In dream you will kneel before hoof raised to sky, sharpened at the shore on fine black stones wet in lapping waves. Long bone, long ligament, joined. Lower the eyes, bow the head, she has found you.

Instructions. Willowshaft cut from the living tree and held over flame to draw straight between the palms. From crow a tail feather, blackened by sun but at night clear as quartz. Split it along the spine. Take a bit of resin from white pine’s wound.

What shall it be tipped with, this arrow? A flake of chert? Glassy blade of slag? No. Bleached by the same sun that blackens, a skeletal heronbill half buried in sand.


Before dawn blooms, before you wake beneath birch back from the shore the arrow will carry you to the place you chose in dream. There will be the sound of thunder and you will start from the sand, hair wet with dew.

Before this flight you must rise and walk to shore, over the rocky shallows to the soft lakebed rippled under clear water. Lower limbs and submerge the torso, the head. These are the waters of forgetting — it cannot be otherwise. But just as sleep’s death gives life to waking, water births and drowns both, obliterates and generates anew. A rumble propagates through the body.


You’ve seen ten thousand dawns bloom plasmatic over the water. Here a sharp disc burning, here a rosy glow, here late from haze. Ten thousand days of hoofprint to shore, of juniper creep, nodding bloom. Of quartz cold in sun, black wing iridescent, catkin wet with dew. Of bone bleached in dunesand, gullcry, monarch fast upwind, of white pine reach, slipface, slide. Of gaze, of burning mind.

At dawn light tips the sphere toward itself, pulls by the golden arms of pine raised to sky. She is the lightbearer, lightborn. Venus here as Phosphorus, doe in dream. She keeps her secrets.

At the end of Plato’s Republic, Socrates shares with Glaucon a tale of the afterlife and the cosmos that classicists refer to as the ‘Myth of Er’. Myth here again in the sense of mythos, as illumination. Lovers of cosmology and psychology (literally the logoi of the world and the human soul) will find it a highly rewarding passage1, with limbs reaching forward well into our time. The above is an oblique retelling of that tale.

And that is that. Thank you for reading along with this first-of-August installment of Polylith. Go for a swim, if you like, and step outside after sunset to puzzle at the full moon rising from the treetops.

Until next month, may your harvest nourish.


  1. This is Jowett’s 1871 translation; I use Bloom’s 1968 version.