Sheenagh Pugh

Askeladden’s Conversation With Death

Askeladden meets a flaneur
one afternoon, on the boulevard.
Silk scarf, hat on three silver hairs,

he nudges the chestnut husks aside
with his polished toe like a new conker.
Askeladden returns his nod

and says, have we met? You seem a stranger.
I always do, says the rustling voice,
dry as dead leaves. My name is Walker,

yours will be, soon. A pretty pass
for most, but our lad’s not lost for an answer.
Askeladden, he smiles and says,

you think a man can be gone for ever?
Don’t hold your breath. As long as a story
can hold a name, folk will remember:

you can’t get rid of the likes of me,
for I’m a need, a luck-piece, a lure.
I am the green sycamore key

that seeds in the mind, unlocks adventure.
I’m like the grapes that are crushed and trodden:
taste the good wine and I’ll be there.

A name comes round in the ballad’s burden,
barley leaps up in the field each year,
and I’ll be back, says Askeladden.

Sheenagh Pugh lives in Shetland. Her latest collection is Afternoons Go Nowhere (Seren 2019).