I got on the library queue for this book because I knew that it contains “The Monarch of the Glen,” which is the novella follow-up to American Gods. I am committed to my American Gods love, and wanted to complete my library of knowledge of all things Shadow.
But this book, oh, this wonderful book. It’s a collection of some of the most beautiful poetry and short stories, in perfect Gaiman-ian language, set in dark landscapes that are undeniably his. I could pick these works as his out of a lineup.
His introduction is very lengthy, describing the circumstances of the original writing and publishing (and award winning) of each of the works in the collection. But honestly, I have such a hard time believing that each work was conceived independently. They were made to be bound together. The through-lines are remarkable, and exciting, each independently about death, and loss, and the total absence of permanence to either of those states, or any state at all. Among many repeated metaphors, the phoenix to ouroboros metaphor is explored, and also made literal.
And then, if I may just give you from the collection an entire poem, to which I cannot stop returning, and have shared over and over with my friends with whom I share grief dialogue:
“The Hidden Chamber”
Do not fear the ghosts in this house; they are the least of your worries.
Personally I find the noises they make reassuring.
The creaks and footsteps in the night,
their little tricks of hiding things, or moving them, I find
endearing, not upsettling. It makes the place feel so much more like home.
Apart from ghosts, nothing lives here for long. No cats,
no mice, no flies, no dreams, no bats. Two days ago
I saw a butterfly,
a monarch I believe, which danced from room to room
and perched on walls and waited near to me.
There are no flowers in this empty place,
and, scared the butterfly would starve, I forced a window wide,
cupped my two hands around her fluttering self,
feeling her wings kiss my palms so gentle,
and put her out, and watched her fly away.
I’ve little patience with seasons here, but
your arrival eased this winter’s chill.
Please, wander round. Explore it all you wish.
I’ve broken with tradition on some points. If there is
one locked room here, you’ll never know. You’ll not find
in the cellar’s fireplace old bones or hair. You’ll find no blood.
just tools, a washing machine, a dryer, a water-heater, and a chain of keys.
Nothing that can alarm you. Nothing dark.
I may be grim, perhaps, but only just as grim
as any man who suffered such affairs. Misfortune,
carelessness or pain, what matters is the loss. You’ll see
the heartbreak linger in my eyes, and dream
of making me forget what came before you walked
into the hallway of this house. Bringing a little summer
in your glance, and with your smile.
While you are here, of course you will hear the ghosts,
always a room away,
and you may wake beside me in the night,
knowing that there’s a space without a door,
knowing that there’s a place that’s locked but isn’t there.
Hearing them scuffle, echo, thump and pound.
If you are wise you’ll run into the night, fluttering away into the cold,
wearing perhaps the laciest of shifts. The lane’s hard flints
will cut your feet all bloody as you run,
so, if I wished, I could just follow you,
tasting the blood and oceans of your tears. I’ll wait instead,
here in my private place, and soon I’ll put
in the window, love, to light your way back home.
The world flutters like insects. I think this is how I shall
my head between the white swell of your breasts,
listening to the chambers of your heart.