LELA and the FIRE ARCHER (excerpt) by Anna Marie Laforest (Copyrighted material, May, 2013)
Lela is the daughter of the Empress of Earth
her mother gave her emerald eyes
her father gave her serious brows
and all on her own her fingers are long,
quite long these bones, magic and soft
- with the glittering nails of an artist.
Whatever she touches blooms and flows;
she hugs a tree and it doubles its leaves
and lifts her up to talk with the moon;
she caresses sad roses by their velvet chins
and they smile and burble themselves into tea
- sweet thorny rose-petal tea.
Lela tickles grapevines and they laugh,
their tears in clusters fall to her hands,
she’s the pride of her mother the Empress of Earth
and her father who taught her some things about Land
but where they are now is a secret to all -
- so Lela follows her nose.
The other thing about Lela is this:
she’s always hungry for fresh juice and lettuce -
she’ll walk or dance miles for berries
to crush into juice, sometimes red, sometimes purple;
the bears love to tell her which berries are best
after all, their whole summer is spent squishing berries -
- and her land has ten million bears.
It is easy to graze on lettuce here
the rabbits showed her how it is done -
first you hunch your paws and feet
and sniff four directions with your nose
north smells like geese, and south perfume
east is toast and west is dark
and, as every rabbit knows,
lettuce smells like hickory-chickory
so just bounce in the direction of those
- her land is full of rabbits too.
Lela the daughter of the Empress of Earth
loves to dance and to sing
she doesn’t know why, she just does those things
the ground loves her feet and the grass loves her song
her hair dances too, it’s so long and pretty
and whatever she sings for happens
(as long as she sings the last line twice)
- that’s how she gets what she wants.
(yes, she must sing the last line twice)
- that’s how she gets what she wants.
Besides the millions of rabbits and bears,
a special friend lives in Lela’s land
an angel-fox, Sophie, her very best friend,
an alchemist who mixes two things
to make a third, like tar and vines
to make a cream if your cut is bleeding,
and Sophie digs tunnels into the ground
and Sophie changes color in order to hide -
green in forests, or grey like bark,
red near squirrels or under leaves, and
bluish-clear when she jumps between trees
or tries to fly. Her finest wish
(though she already rules the under-Earth
she and her magic ball),
her finest wish is to fly,
and she stiffens her fur with starch
and tries to make some wings -
one day she may succeed, meanwhile
Sophie is - Princess Fox of the Forest.
Right now, to find her, Lela sings
“Dear trees, and Earth, and Spirit above,
ancestors, grapes, and all that I love,
thank you so much for everything
and in this moment please-please bring
my dear friend Sophie, this I sing
my dear friend Sophie, this I sing,”
and Sophie - appeared!
At first Lela did not see her friend,
Sophie likes to play tricks, and today
she hid, red, in a maple tree,
in its high ripe tri-pronged sugar leaves,
while Lela waited patiently, then - thunk!
Sophie dropped down directly in front
“Trying to fly, Sophie?”
“Yes, indeed, someday I will,” and the fox
licked her fur from blue to white to green,
and sat in the forest with Lela.
“Why did you call me? Hungry again?”
“Oh, no. I am full of black-and-blueberry juice.
I followed a map the brown bears sent
this morning for my b-“
(Here Sophie licked herself brown.)
“The brown and black bears sent it for my bir-“
(Sophie licked herself black, just in case.)
“Why did they send you a map?”
“They sent it for my birthday.”
Sophie’s eyes turned upside down.
- “Your birthday, is it?”
Then she frowned. “You must wish
I had a present for you. I am sorry!
I didn’t know.” “Oh, no,” said Lee,
That’s not it” and her long magic fingers
combed Sophie’s fur, to reassure,
her glistening nails scritch-scritching her chin
and the fox began to purr.
“What is it, then,” Sophie wondered
looking up at Lela’s serious brow
and Lela sighed, stood up, and danced
a little to clear her mind.
“Now, Sophie,” she said, “ please listen to this:
while searching for berries, while following the map
- guess, just guess what I found?”
“Uh, berries, I’d say, except that you’re asking,
so it’s not berries-“
“No, not berries.”
“No, not Not-berries, but something else. C’mon Soph –“
“Okay, don’t tell, I will guess.
You found nuts? or flowers? or a new kind of tree?
No? okay, then let me fetch –“
‘Fetch’ was the word that Sophie used
when asking her Mercury ball for help.
Now she pulled it from hidden within her fur
And tossed it in the air, silver and gleaming.
Merc, as she calls him, is never wrong,
although he’s often cryptic
with riddles or rhymes, just hinting, not specific
(then Sophie pulls her fur and squeals)
but this time he answered without fail
- “a whale! She saw a whale!”
“A whale!” said Sophie. “What is a whale?”
“Yes,” said Lela, her emerald eyes sparkling,
“I ran into a whale! The map of the bears
is drawn so well, I ventured further out
than ever I went before. Just for a lark -
it is my birthday, after all. And –“
“But what is a whale?” said Sophie again.
“Beyond the forest, beyond the lakes,
beyond the edge of the scrub oak trees,
past the yellow indigo plants, there’s a place
where the rocks break into sand
and there was more water than I could see
and at the shore I met the whale – oh, sorry, a whale is a-“
but Sophie was reading a page in her Book
the page marked “whales” and now she knew
as much as you or I, you see,
unless you’ve ridden a whale yourself
then you know much more than she
- and Mercury.
That tiny silver ball, you see,
because it’s made of Mercury
bounces faster than fast can be, goes to get a thing
and brings it back, especially Sophie’s Book,
the Book of pages of “That Which Exists
Beyond and Further” than what she knows,
so when Sophie heard Lela say “beyond”
(beyond the forest, beyond the trees),
she sent her feisty Mercury
- who fetched the book forthwith.
“Does he have a name, this whale? He needs a name.
or should we go and see?”
“He has a name, Sophie. Let me tell it -
His smile is big, his laugh is brassy,
his tail has barnacles, it flaps when he laughs,
and his talk is a little sassy. I wish I’d stayed
but the best part is, and this is no fable –“
“He spouts ink?” guessed Sophie. “Yes,” said Lee,
“he spouts ink! How did you know?”
“I read it right here,” said Sophie, turning pages.
“But what is his name?”
“Oh, Gabriel. I call him Gabe, and he eats sea gell, not fish.
Let’s hurry, go back, I promised him.”
“It’s your birthday!”
“I know, and that is my wish.”
“Are you sure?
Just one birthday wish,” Sophie advised,
“and there’s something bigger you wanted, you know.”
Lela rubbed her brow with her long-fingered hands
and narrowed her bright, emerald-wise eyes,
but said only this -
- “Let’s go.”
“First let me get my present for you
I left it up in the maple tree."
"I thought you didn't - "
Sophie skittered up and down the tree
and held something out in each hand.
A twig and a vine, in a moment in time,
would become a third thing, she knew,
so held them out in the palms of her hands
and took a deep breath, as Sophie mumbled,
drew her paws in the air
and in a blink they were actually there -
beyond the yellow indigo plants,
the rocks in the sand, the water most fair.
“Sophie, you’re an angel, you know!”
- “and a fox,” winked she, with a glow.