The Three Strangers

A gift for all my readers (all three of you). While not strictly about Christmas, this poem concerns something I have been reflecting on quite deeply for a while and may blog about (if I have time) next year. In the meantime, enjoy, and see what it speaks to you about. I give you:

The Three Strangers

I.

And I had thought myself intrepid,
bold, courageous,
seeking out this dim log cabin
on the ghostly mountain,
with first sign of winter’s snow.
Yet last night he came –
the Mountaineer –
and put my vigour to shame –
came knocking at the door.

– No, came swooping in,
with bright, keen eyes –
sternly came and settled in
and folded himself in a chair.

“A wind is getting up,” he said.
“Storm clouds gathering in the North.
You ever stayed on this mountain, son?”

“No,” I said, “just came here today –
may I offer you a red meat stew?”

Silent. Unmoving. He made no reply.
His eyes fixed out the window.
“Your roof could use an extra layer
of pitch,” he finally said.
“I though I’d let you know.
The tar will clog the gaps
And counteract the weight of snow.”

“What is your name?” I ventured then,
but still got no reply.
“And where might I get pitch
before the storm sets in tonight?”

He laughed – the stranger laughed!
His head swivelled round to look at me,
a sudden twinkle in his eye.
“Depends how thick you make your stew!”
Then stood and ruffled his coat,
and made to say goodbye.

“Sir,” I pled, “will I survive
with storm clouds coming on?”

“As long as strangers roam this mountain
son, I think you’ll live.”

He took off then and disappeared
into the darkening sky.

 

II.

The red meat stew sat uneasily in my stomach.
The heavens rumbled.
I began to hunt for logs and matches
and pitch! Where would I get pitch?!
When to my surprise a gentle pecking –
tap-tap-tapping – was heard at the door.

The gentleman stood flapping
the first flakes falling from his coat.
“I’m dying for a drink.”
“Come in,” I said, remembering
the mountaineer’s parting words.

“Have you seen a sheep out wandering
up the slopes round here?”

“A sheep?” I said – thinking of the stew –
hearty mutton and lamb’s liver –
“Not up here today my friend.
You are a farmer then?”

“From down near the town
with the people all around –
you’re brave to come up here!”

“They say a storm is brewing,
and I haven’t any pitch!”

“Who said?” he said, swinging his pack around
with a thud upon the floor.

“The mountaineer – the silent one –
seems wise, and old – austere.”

“He comes and goes, it’s true.
But do not take him from a miser.
He’s loved by all the townsfolk,
all my kinsmen – fishers, farmers, builders.”

Chided by the stranger I then marvelled,
as from his load he produced a jar.
“I carry pitch upon my back –
here, it’s yours – for the storm and winter.”

A rush of gratitude – and suddenly –
“A drink!” I cried, and ran.
But when I returned with glass in hand,
the wooden door stood empty,
and all was dark outside.
I stood a moment looking where a nail
protruded on the decking,
before I turned and went inside.

 

III.

A hasty layer of pitch later –
and not a moment then too soon –
puffing, blowing, chattering I crouched
and fought with match and wood.
Why did I come?
The howling now was right outside my door.

When suddenly another sound,
so gentle yet so strong,
a peace that broke the fear of the storm –
a softly cooing song.

The words were unintelligible,
the language of another time.
I rushed to the door
and welcomed in
A white-haired motherly sage.

Neither spoke. The wind whistled on.
Her eyes held mine for an age.
Not fierce, nor enquiring,
nor sad or pleading or ill.
Only the perfect peace of innocence
filled every inch of her face
and lit up my soul.
She cocked her head, and looked around,
and settled on the mountaineer’s chair.
When she too had perched
in the self-same spot
she spoke – and love filled the air.

“You’re not from around here, are you, dear?”
I shook my head. She smiled.
“A stranger does well to welcome strangers.
They can be the best friends you have.
Now stop standing there like a fool with those matches,
and bring them here.”

Taking the box, she ruffled through
and found one to her liking.
Then lifting up and flitting to the fireplace
arranged the logs just so.
“They must be stacked together.”
A hiss and a spark and a flame jumped to life!
A whump and a crackle was heard.
She shuffled two chairs closer
and ushered me in.

And away from the gale
we talked into the night.

Of her husband the mountaineer,
And their son the farmer,
And of strangers, and mountains, and God.

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