Tears to Pearls
Daring, reliable shaman, Väinämöinen, eternal poet, sails north to gloom and sedges to steal back the Sampo, magic three-part mill fashioned of cow's milk, swan quill, barley, ewe's summer fleece—one part to grind flour, one for salt, one for money—three binfuls every morning to ensure prosperity for its owner (that's all anyone wants, despite the beauty of its ciphered lid).
He chants spells, travels safely through rapids, marshlands, inland waters, until the ship stalls on a giant pike's shoulders and must be freed, he cuts the fish in two with a sword (what else could he do), tail part into the sea, front part into his boat, he steers to an island to cook the pike and eat it until only bones remain.
Väinämöinen crafts a five-stringed harp from the pikebones (one can make the first of its kind from anything), body from jaw, pegs from teeth, but the kantele sends out no joyful music at the hands of any islander, nor can any in the Northland make it ring, its charming chords speak only for its maker.
Animals come to listen: squirrel, weasel, elk, lynx, wolf, bear, eagle, hawk, swan, salmon, carp, perch (even pike, not knowing the music's source), all weep to hear the harp, the songmaker too, his tears big as peas, cranberries, partridge eggs, a swallow's head, the tears roll to the sea, down below the water.
Väinämöinen offers a gift to the one who can retrieve his tears (there is always an impossible task), asks the people gathered, asks the raven but even he does not comply, only the blue-billed scaup offers to dive, finds rare blue pearls, the tears changed by sweet tones into lasting treasure.
* Source material: E. Lönnrot, The Kalevala, Runos 39-41, trans. E. Friberg (Otava Publishing, 1988).
for Liz M.
No stories were ever told about the Numina*, practical gods of ancient Rome, helpers and protectors of families, who guarded the cradle, presided over children's food, dignified everyday life.
After miscarriage, residual cells—unseen microchimerisms—travel the mother's body like a relentless spring tide of Numina, morph into other types of cells, intertwine with hers in a delicate, familial ballet.
They tell their own stories: how they endure the low-grade hum of waiting, defend and fight for the mother's life, protect future tiny siblings, offer second chances. The last quotes the first, looped in love.
* Italicized line: E. Hamilton, Mythology, p. 44 (Mentor Books, 1940).
Meg Freer grew up in Montana and lives in Kingston, Ontario. She has worked as an editor and currently teaches piano and music history. She enjoys taking photos and being active outdoors year-round and has attended the Summer Literary Seminars in Tbilisi. Her photos, poetry and prose have been published in various anthologies and journals such as The Sunlight Press, Eastern Iowa Review, Poetry South, Sequestrum and Ruminate.