Issue 5,  Poetry

Ode to the Shieldmaiden by Caroline Hardaker

The oncoming ships are set to tip by pulled chains
and the gods have agreed to play their part
to break the Christians’ formations, the backbone of their fleet.
It’s like the songs – where Shieldmaidens knife the sea-crest
with a hardy keel, with the men howling below
for perfumed boats to meet the mud of the earth,
oiled wood pitching into burnt splinters and twigs.

You see, to the sea we’re all bodies, all meat for scuttling beasts
but sinking for Saxons is falling lower than the soul can go.
I’ve heard this dripped from their Saviour’s lips.
After the melee, like the Disir, they’ll be drowned,
and men curl from hulls like wisps from nautilus shells.
Their souls (bolam cockle) burrowed within bodies until the cut,
forced free and rising to meet the air like ale froth, like yeast.
As for we – we leave them to rot as the struts to pillar up Valhalla,
Their skins the masts,

and we drink, and feast, and sow ourselves upon the sea.
But still alive, men’s piss swills the battle spears to sail like longboats;
our shields the land-masses, our homes built upon such tattooed crests.
I’ve brought the best of me and the gods bestowed the rest.
Their will is as borne upon my chest as any man who declares with me,
his roars to the kulning of gulls

and the chains of the night are set to tip the ships,
to break their keels without bend. The old world will reap upon the new
and feed wounds seared open with a poison milk; Odin’s flood.
Man and woman alike, all to fight, and all to be won,
so I and the few will hold no dress, no lace, no silk a-float,
just spears, the swill of piss, and the flat lapstrake of our boats.


Caroline Hardaker lives in the north east of England. Her poetry has been published worldwide, most recently or forthcoming in The Interpreter’s House, Magma, Shoreline of Infinity, and by The Emma Press. Her first poetry collection, ‘Bone Ovation’, was published by Valley Press in October 2017, and her second ‘Little Quakes Every Day’ will be published in 2019. You can follow her at

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