Dina Hardy's "Folklore" explores the geology of our collective consciousness. God and Satan, Adam and Eve, Cain and the moon: these subjects are both ancient and immediate, typical and individual. I imagine Eve in the first poem of this selection (already we're at page 2,651). She has partaken of one fruit but not the other, the knowledge of good and evil and also of her mortality awakening desire. In this folklore, Eve is only innocent insofar as she still seeks a period before the "wreck," before compromise and frustration and, of course, the transgressions that desire brings. As Hardy's pagination suggests, such searches are ultimately futile: to desire is to already invite calamity.
Hardy's tome—itself derived from encyclopedia entries—identifies the lines where such cataclysms have left layers of irradiated dust. The Bible that protects against a bullet might save a life or start a war. A child's cut nails might tempt it to become a thief. Hardy's recreation of an encyclopedia us readers cannot read ourselves is Borgesian, a book that expands like language into the four corners of the earth, into stars, into spheres of Heaven and Hell. Wherever we look, we find desire and transgression; whichever page we open, we find upon its pages the desires that have been and the desires that will be, marked like scars of celestial bombardment.
Folklore pg. 2651 Folklore
The sea, reflective as Earth’s satellite,
mirrors the sliver—difficult to keep in focus,
a shimmer in ink above the atmosphere,
and below, on a surface usually broken
by mermaid’s fins, locks, and bows of ships.
This is the moment before a wreck. In a false lull
—lullaby—everything calm. Before
fish filled black water: the first sentence
and a few more until the mention of one
whose name means beginning. Before her.
Back on land, the most fertile of clay.
From this, two figures formed.
Nothing derivative, nothing lost.
Or unequal. Still, different.
She could say no, so she said no.
Being of the same, he was no stranger.
She preferred someone stronger—
hung around the ceiling, caught like an echo
between the source sound and an unknown point
of reception. She reserved the most tender part
of her heart for those she didn’t know.
Fell for one on high, who in turn fell
from the seventh to the fifth, to farther still—an arc.
An act of choice, of not knowing, this was the devil
she went with. Meaning night, meaning demon.
With servant birds breathing fire and water:
the cause and the cure. Her body—a desert
—she seized infants, asleep, alone in a house.
Saying her own name
gave her the power of seven who cast spells.
Descend with the children to a pit. There,
she reposes as an abode for jackals,
a haunt for ostriches and screech owls.
Hers are the reflected eyes
a woman sees when she looks in the mirror.
Folklore pg. 2652 Folklore
Within beginnings—dawn and birth—
as with the weather, a spectrum: storms and sun.
Signs to be read that set the course.
Consider what can change versus what comes
by luck: born in the caul,
to be exempt from calamities. Lighting
after draught brings false promises
of precipitation—as long as the thin skin
from the day of delivery is carried in a container:
outside turned in, as reflective as second sight.
Beyond chance arrival: what hands can hold.
When cutting an infant’s nails—never on Friday,
Sunday or before the baby’s first birthday—
prevent the child from becoming a thief:
place a Bible beneath to collect the clippings in the crease
of the open pages. A day. The phenomenon
of translation, transition. To ensure a voice rich
with song—fog lifting at daybreak—bury the parings
under ash. Over the next few years, salt and set fire
to each of the child’s teeth loosened at the root, then lost
to the flames. To do so: peace. To not season and incinerate
is to risk the chance the discarded tooth will be discovered
by a rat and gnawed, tooth against tooth,
until the child’s replacement becomes rat-like.
Upon discovery by a dog: a dog’s tooth grows.
Of salt and flames, such is the power.
A child in the wilderness, unguarded, could be cursed
with permanent teeth from rodents, wild beasts, insects.
Under this price for forgetfulness, also,
a delayed punishment. At the moment of death, a gift.
You’re given a pail of blood, told to search for
your first set of teeth within. The pail expands
as you are elbow deep, then shoulder—
through claret and clot, a lifetime. Inside
your newly toothless mouth, your tongue turns to rust.
Folklore pg. 2653 Folklore
The farmer’s hymnbook in the pocket
of a borrowed coat stops a bullet.
Or starts a war. What is lent
gets taken. How quickly leaves change
seasons shift. How powerless against things:
a gun, an article of clothing, a book, something
as simple as wood, as in this typical request
to a friend, “hold onto my inherited
ornamental beams of mystical value”—
aka outer dais-board—also, the only thing
handed from father to son before the boy is exiled.
In his new country, a new house to be built;
his neighbor held the object for a decade’s span
until the time to reclaim his property:
the thing that drives the plot.
Uninvited, he enters his friend’s house
with an unshakable thought in his mind:
mine, mine—takes the decorated wood—
possibly his, probably not—and kills two men,
his friend’s sons; bloodshed follows,
neighbor to neighbor, for decades.
A reason for offspring: to continue killing
past the afternoon-onto-morning (and still
no sign of the sun) when they placed him
in his grave. His daughter carried him
in her bones, held no fear of blood,
had an appetite for lies. Her naked sword
against her exposed breast was enough
to frighten her family’s foes back to their boats.
Now fatherless, axe in hand,
and filled with the desire for slaughter,
she forged a quarrel with her siblings
—killed two. With a shiver, not from the cold,
a memory of how it began: wood. To paper,
with printed words that can save or take your life.