An Amazon Centauress

Some years ago a friend and patron came to me with sad news. Her breast cancer, which had been in remission, had spread to a bone of her arm. I was stunned. On my workbench there was a wand I had been inspired to make: a raven perched on the very bone in question. A tool for creative visualization. I gave it to her. It was obviously made for her.

That night I had a dream of an Amazon Centauress shooting a flaming arrow into the sky. When I described this image to her husband, he insisted I realize it in wood.

In the process, I had considerable difficulty fashioning the bow. Each time I made the upper curve there was some flaw in the osage orange, and I kept cutting away at my small piece of stock until there was only one useable segment left. It had a small knot in the end, and I realized that the bow was actually a snake.

But after I had carved the portrait image, I still didn't know what the symbol meant. So I began to write an old-style ballad about the mythic figure. The following poem answered my questions.

(After radiation therapy and a bone marrow transplant, our friend has been in remission for seven years.)

The Amazon Centauress

Sometimes on the road a tale is told
How the ancient crones could weave
A spell: to make a young girl old,
Or root her too deep to leave.

And sometimes at night by a fire bright
They tell of the Witch of Wye,
Who with a chant and a gesture slight
rekindled the light on high

They say it was on Mid-Summer's Day
That the path she took was crossed
By an inky water which blocked the way,
And laughed in the rocks until lost.

So hunkered the Witch of Wye to muse
And rummage her ancient lore,
Seeking the very spell to use
To make her crossing sure.

And as she muttered beneath her breath
The tail of her eye caught sight
Of a sun-dazed serpent upon the heath,
A sinuous shimmer of light.

"Now here," she smiled, "is just the bridge
this river of darkness to span."
And she squinted her weird eye just a smidge,
And an eldritch enchantment began.

But as so often the way with words,
Or the magic that spells life's flowering,
It happens we chant the charm backwards,
And the life in our bones starts devouring.

Just so the Witch of Wye mis-spoke,
And instead of a shining way over,
A hideous demon of darkness arose,
And his shadow the sun did cover.

A beating of leathery wings in the air.
And a reeking of sulphurous fumes,
Engulfed the enchantress frozen there,
As above her the doom of day looms.

A fitful wind tossed the witch's hair,
As the thing she'd called swallowed the sun,
And all she could do was sit and stare
Until the enchantment was done.

Neither man nor beast nor womanly wiles
Can unconjure the doom of day,
And when all the joy is caught in its coils,
No crying can wash it away.

But there comes a time in the turn of things,
When the worst that can be has come true,
And if in that instant the right song sings,
You might just the horrors undo.

So in the moment the darkness fell,
And the little stars shone at noon,
The hunkering witch a new song did tell,
And sunk her whole soul in the tune.

"Arise in me a nightmare form,
Black as the terror of dreams,
And while my hooves beat out the thunder of storms,
Make me and Amazon Queen."

And there on the spot where the witch had feared,
And twisted a dusty tress,
A figure of challenging power up-reared:
An Amazon Centauress.

Of man and beast and womanly wiles
The Centauress was woven,
And her battle song she sang with a smile:
That the darkness come down and be cloven.

A thunderous laugh shook down the sky,
And the air was all stench and reek,
"What pitiful thing is this to try
And match with me?" the doom did speak.

"For I am the beast of ending all,
And now my dark has come.
And what are you who dares me call?
With what weapon is fate undone?"

The Centauress laughed a silver laugh
That rang and danced in the stones.
"I am the shining that lights the path
When fear has chilled the bones."

"My weapon is the force of life
That uncoils in the sun,
And the love that conquers over strife,
And says that all are one."

"I come out of the self-same deep
As monsterous things like you,
And now I've come to disturb your sleep,
And the horrors you dream undo."

The stars winked out in the blackness
And a keening wind did blow,
But quick as thought the Centauress
Snatched up the snake for a bow.

With golden thred of hope she strung,
And flexed the bow full taut,
Then reaching in, while joy she sung,
Plucked the arrow of her heart.

The heavens gaped and horrors fell.
Black fires scorched the sky.
The Centauress took aim full well,
And let her heart-shaft fly.

Her flaming arrow arched the night,
And struck: A rending scream.
And from the darkness burst the light,
As woken from a dream.

The Centauress spun round and leaped
Across the inky brook,
And there the hunkered witch was heaped,
More quick than you could look.

She shook her locks and beat the dust
From off her rumpled clothes,
And mumbled (as the lucky must),
"My goodness that was close."

Sometimes on the road a song is sung
How the ancient crones could weave
A spell: to make an old girl young,
Or root her too deep to leave.

Sometimes by the beds of babes they sing
Of the wandering Witch of Wye,
And how she faced the hideous thing,
And rekindled the light on high.


Bryce 1993