The Host

for David Jones

my riders are from my cousins court / on elk and boar and dragonfly / I come to ask the king under the willow tree / I come to claim his daughter / with jewels in my hair and in my breast
they carry the embers of the stars

radiant / announcing me

the king knows we ride these last three years / down the river eating thicket and tangle green / he has tasked me with three dooms / that his daughter’s hair may sweep me / he has pierced my breast with his promise / stricken me with one vision of her

he does not know / she gave me the secret / hidden under a stone / beside the river

be silent! she said
speak not of what is here!

the key / the key

I carry them under my tongue / and split amongst my host / dangling while we ride / our dogs leaping beside

in my right hand is the if that is also the else
in my left is the promise that does not resolve
inside the bone is the memory that cannot be caught


my lover and his host and their hooves and their hounds
with seven antlers seven spears
my mother will not mind my father must abide

my lover’s red and lusted face
doomed and gems doomed and dust doomed and betrothed doomed
my mother will not mind my father must abide

my lover’s grim and grey face
the law no sin my mother’s seal no sin
my mother will not mind my father must abide

my lover’s blade glin pulling out his blade
fourteen kingdoms fourteen dreams
my mother will not mind my father must abide

Conor Barnes

2 Questions for Conor

What was your process for creating this work?

I sit and I write and it comes out.

For "The Minotaur..." I had been reading a lot of Borges earlier this year, and this is very much inspired by him, particularly House of Asterion. The erotic elements are partially inspired by Autobiography of Red (Anne Carson), and partially by Hades (Nintendo Switch).

With 'The Host" I was researching myths and went down a rabbit hole from Scarborough Fair and ended up writing a version of Culhwch and Olwen. I also listened to David Jone's reading of 'The Hunt" to put me in the right mood (and to steal some language). I was fascinated by Culhwch's killing of Olwen's father and concluded that there might have been some encouragement from Olwen.

I also snagged a line from Rumi (by way of Prurient) of which I'm quite fond.

What is the significance of the form(s) you chose?

With "Ten Minutes..." I used the second-person because I find it forces one to be a more empathetic reader. It can get grating and become unsustainable in longer pieces, but in a short burst like this it adds to the punch. 

I tried a few different forms for "The Minotaur..." and found that this one helped it feel cyclic.

For 'The Host" I found the free verse gave the first section a lot of motion which helped with the sensation of a host racing through. Switching to more regular verse in the second section helps convey that it's a different viewpoint.

Conor Barnes is a Canadian writer living in Halifax. His fiction has been published in White Wall Review, Potato Soup Journal, and Literally Stories. His poetry has been published in Modern Haiku, Frogpond, and Puddles of Sky Press.

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