Invocation of the Unicorn
As hunters enter the woods,
we enter the room of tapestries.
Medici’s horn in the corner
casts a gleam that seizes our vision,
a narwhal tusk masquerading
as the unicorn’s tapering wand.
The tapestries spin enchantment.
They snatch us towards the start
of the hunt,to a hundred species
of plants and beasts. We identify
daffodil and periwinkle, perceive
witch’s broom, lady’s mantle.
Meld, madder, and woad’s
pigments of red, blue, yellow,
an artist’s bed of dyes. The tapestry
depicts origins of its own making.
The lymerer collects scant droppings
as a scout signals from behind
a walnut tree to the extant hunting
party. The unicorn is found. We see
sage leaf and orange tree, antidotes
hinting that the unicorn purifies
the fountain’s poisoned stream
from which a pair of pheasants sip.
But the unicorn can’t be disturbed
when conducting his magic.
The tree blossoms and bears fruit
in a single instance, a paradox
of fertility. Twelve hunters surround it
in conversation, their dogs in wait.
Goldfinches, a stag, and rabbits
lay before the flowing pillar spout
and the cypher AE. We puzzle over
what the enigma means. Pot marigold
under the hyena’s chin signals
disaster. Man watches animals
gather around the fountain. Ten
hunters approach the beast. The
unicorn leaps out of the stream.
An oak tree stands at center scene.
AE glowers from four corners
as elsewhere aristocratic initials
utter invocations. A castle looms
in the background. A partridge
cheeps of thievery, the hunters’
spears brandished and thrust
at the unicorn’s torso, enclosing
The beast is surrounded
by men, dogs, and greenery,
forcing the unicorn at bay.
It defends itself well. Horn
dipped, it gores a hound as it
kicks a hunter. Has the fruit
of ripe orchards turned sour?
The heron, known for lofty
flight and unperturbed by such
melee, is here made serener.
A single drop of blood trickles
from a slit in the unicorn’s coat
as spears strike from all sides.
We’ve heard only the purest
virgin can subdue a unicorn.
Otherwise, it remains invincible.
“Hail queen of the heavens.”
If the unicorn appears as Christ,
the hunter as Gabriel, the maiden
motions to Virgin Mary. We see
the mystic capture of the unicorn
in two fragments. The handmaiden
distracts from the only cameo
the virgin makes on the scene:
a glimpse of sleeve, her slender
fingers linger on the creature’s
mane, the three enclosed within
the garden as menagerie. The scout
blows a horn from below an apple
bough, behind the gate. The spell
is broken, the unicorn captured.
The unicorn bestows one last glance
to the absent maiden that fans
his coat, missing from the frame.
Stabbed by lances, echoing
Christ’s passion, the unicorn
is killed and brought to the castle.
The scout catches blood drops
in his drinking gourd. A party
of men and women parade
the unicorn to the fortress,
its corpse slung over a horse’s
saddle, one hunter fingering
its spiralled horn. The unicorn
is depicted both in the moment
of the sword blade’s deathblow
and in the procession carrying
his corpse. His trophy bears
a crown of thorns. In an instance
we see the unicorn in captivity,
the beast fenced in, wounds
replaced with pomegranate
seeds, blood with juice,
captive but seemingly content.
A woven chain around
his neck, secures the unicorn
to a wooden pen, seated therein
amidst white irises and Madonna
lilies, carnations and clove,
orchids and bistorts, dragonflies
dashing over the wallflowers
and white thistle, the cipher’s
tasseled cord hanging from a tree,
bearing its riddle mysteriously.
Cassidy McFadzean is the author of Hacker Packer (McClelland & Stewart 2015), winner of two Saskatchewan Book Awards and a finalist for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award. Her work has been a finalist for the CBC Poetry Prize and the Walrus Poetry Prize. Cassidy graduated from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 2015 and is at work on a second collection.
What a rich poem you’ve given us. Congratulations, Cassidy.