[by Shannon Connor Winward]
—after Edgar Allan Poe
___Midnight in the cemetery, prowling, hunting, fat and merry
One black Cat grew rapt and wary, pausing on the bone yard floor.
___In the sky the moon hung low, setting earth and grave aglow;
___All gleamed white without shadow, but for a looming sycamore—
Over all, the fingered shadow of an ancient sycamore
______Where no tree had stood before.
___Ah, distinctly this Cat knew each stone that leaned and shrub that grew
Ev’ry tomb, each oak and yew, each urn and perch, and furthermore
___Here in this quiet terrain, the Cat was king. T’was his domain!
___Testily he faced this bane—a trespass he could not ignore.
Tail thumping his mad refrain, this trespass he could not endure—
______This unwelcome sycamore.
___Yet to the feline’s great ire, lo, the tree did not expire
Nor vanish in smoke or fire, nor fall to the bone yard floor.
___But from deep within its maw, there came a throaty, grating caw.
___Then from the tree’s leafy maw, as if from Hell’s own fiery door
Flew a massive Bird as black as that beyond a crypt’s barred door,
______Croaking, “Hark! The night of lore!”
___O! Then came the wind a-growling; from the ground an eerie howling
Sent the feline scrambling, meowling—cross the moonlit yard he tore!
___Yet he found his flight arrested; spirits from their graves divested,
___Ghosts above their tombstones crested, specters through the air did soar
To the Raven’s gleeful roar, “Rise, ye slumbering souls of yore!
______Rise, on this, the night of lore!”
___Thus the Cat fell back with dread, surrounded by the risen dead
Dancing on the graves they’d shed; and from the looming sycamore
___Quoth the Raven, “Be ye free, ye takers of life’s long reprieve!
___T’is tonight, All Hallow’s Eve!” And as the Raven did implore,
Phantoms danced and whooped and weaved across the cemetery floor
______Reveling in the night of lore.
___‘Midst all this nocturnal whiling sat the Cat, his luck reviling,
‘Till the spectral waltz, beguiling his foul mood to likewise soar,
___Joined the fray with feline grace; his tail aloft, the Cat gave chase—
___Ghostly hems, tendrils of lace, the sailing, trailing shrouds they wore
Drifting ever just beyond his reach across the fey dance floor—
______Such fun he’d ne’er had before!
___Over all, the Bird surveyed, frolicking Cat and swaying shade
‘Till dawn’s light into the circle strayed, and moonbeams bled to hoar
___Frost upon the ground betrayed the prints of only one lone Cat.
___Heaving breaths, he stopped, and sat, bereft to be alone once more.
But the Raven still looked down from where he’d been the night before,
______perched upon the sycamore.
___Silent, watching, black eyes gleaming, stately, but yet elsewise seeming
Normal—had the Cat been dreaming? Was he mad the night before?
___Feigning nonchalance, he paused. He flicked his tail. He licked his paws.
___Suddenly, the Raven cawed—a laugh! At him, the Cat was sure.
Laughter at the Cat, for sure; such insult he could not ignore!
______Haunches raised, he braced for war.
___Far the Raven’s wings outstretched, deep in the branch his talon’s etched.
Swathes in the grass Cat’s tail sketched, yet from the tree the great Bird tore
___Up into the lightening sky—a smudge of black, a lingering cry
___All the Raven left behind—but for the curious sycamore,
Standing where naught grew before. And since that wondrous night of lore
______there it stood, forevermore.
Shannon Connor Winward is the author of the Elgin-award winning chapbook, Undoing Winter. Her work has appeared in The Monarch Review, Qu, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Analog, The Pedestal Magazine, Literary Mama, and The Wild Musette among others. In between writing, parenting, and other madness, Shannon is also a poetry editor for Devilfish Review and founding editor of Riddled with Arrows Literary Journal.