Forest

Forest

The trees are knotted
in the spot where the bluebells grow
in June.

Gnarling, their roots twist
into strange, exotic shapes—
Spirals and triangles, spikes
like barbed wire.

We used to sit here
as children. We knew the notch,
the dark hard eye,
the tender part which you cut
to get the sap out.

Everything here is a cycle;
there is no flow of time,
no regress or
degeneration.

In summer the frost fades
to forget-me-nots;
through the canopy, long
into the evening, light lingers
in splinters and sparkles.

So I return;
the trees seem to whistle.
You hear their singing, its softness
like pining. Walk with me.

The greenness changes with the seasons.
Now I look upon it,
these tufts of grass, these oak leaves
glow with yellow fire—
chocolate, chestnut, cinnabar.

I look upon the colour, my fingers
scratching the eye. Its hardness
comes apart like ice.

I stare into that black spot,
the cavernous passage laden with frost,
the eye like a moon.

In the copper of twilight I see you again:
grass in your hair,
bluebells in June.

by Maria S.

(Prompts: green-man.jpg, passage, degeneration)

cherry melancholia

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Photo by Manuela Hoffman

cherry melancholia
Maria Sledmere

rain on the lawn; the greenness
dark and deep. a handful of shells
clotted in the mud with the blossoms,
the pink ones
from the cherry tree.

she walks out slowly,
snow petals swirling round her,
silent.

in the garden she will lie
where the grass is softest. she will lie
staring at the glass sky,
a sleepful of memory.

just love, the garden will say,
just love.
she forgot the place where he kissed her once—
it wasn’t here

but she returns anyway,
the grass feels sweet underneath her,
the air tastes golden, the first taste
of crab apples in autumn. love
set her going in spring, a silk cut
from a willow tree.

smoke rises in the distance
to the smell of cherry pie.
once he kissed her eyes, her cheeks;
he told her she was cinnamon.

in the garden now she is older,
older as the trees are, ring after ring
in each year, each reel of string
that she unwinds.

they come to bind
the sweet peas with twine.
bitter berries,
summer wine.

she is older
and the pie in her mouth now
is cloying; she is older
and the leaves are dying,
falling with the raindrops, the poor branches.

The garden speaks
now she is older, the rings round her eyes—
old pools of light, cherry pie,
speaking
of melancholia.

(prompts: eloquent, garden)

A Dissident

A Dissident
by Paul Inglis

He didn’t despair.
Looked each man in the eye,
and with a manic grin
made some jokes.
“Please, boys.
Can we make this quick?
I’d love to stay and chat,
but I’ve got a meeting
with the bishop at four.
I’m a busy man these days.”

At the last moment,
he threw open his arms
to embrace the empty air.
Defiant laughter rang out
in mockery of the guns,
and then the rattle of lead.

A red heap by the riddled wall,
crumpled quietly, quickly.
Lies sodden like Autumn leaves,
but not for long.
They’re shooting the next one
in five minutes.

The Witch’s Son

The trees on the bare mountainsides creaked and bowed down in the sudden wind like an orchestra leaving the stage, and a vast, dark shadow moved over the entire valley. The weak sun was blotted out, and the witch’s son looked to the sky as the wind brutally shoved him back like a playground bully. The dragon was so large it could have swallowed a zeppelin whole without any trouble, and its wings spread like a mile of translucent red sails over a bony, reptilian framework. A voice, like a thundercloud talking, shook the rocks under his feet so hard he fell to his knees.
SHOW ME YOUR FIRE
As a child, he’d watch his mother for hours at the hearth, making her potions. She never told him to stand back, or to be careful – “can’t fear fire if you’ve never been burned” she’d say, as she dropped handfuls of dandelion heads into the brew. It was an unfortunate saying, because the witch’s son loved fire. He’d watch the fire under the heavy black pot more intently than his mother sometimes. The way the flames danced and flashed enthralled him. When he turned sixteen, the witch’s son dyed his hair for the first time. Autumnal red at the base, fading into lurid orange, then soft gold, then white, then finally a cold, almost icy blue at the tips. He wanted it to look like his head was surrounded by flames.
His skill at general magic wasn’t much to talk about. He could charm cards, make short-term, deplorably bad love potions, passable glamour and occasionally levitate things a couple of inches off the ground. But what he was good at was making the flames dance. He could make them into shapes, draw them out like party streamers, make fire of his own creation crackle and spit around his hands with only the slightest feeling of warmth on his skin. What he wanted was hotter flames, that burned brighter, and for that he needed the hottest, brightest fire of all – dragon fire. Dragons were few and far between, and generally lived in great, empty mountain passes and not near the small, smoky city than the witch’s son presently inhabited. So he packed a bag (it was his schoolbag. He might have been a witch’s son but his mother couldn’t teach him algebra as well as alectryomancy) wrote a note to his mother which he left on the kitchen table, picked up a map, and left in the search of a dragon.
Fire was the one thing he’d been good at, the one magic he could do, and he had a point to prove. He showed his fire. The fire illuminated the valley, and lit the undersides of the clouds gold and red like Chinese lamps. He pulled the fire from himself, throwing it up into the sky and screaming because in the presence of the dragon, his fire burned hotter, burned so bright it hurt his eyes. The dragon’s shadow flickered and grew in the changing light, and in the roaring of the superheated air he heard a deep chuckle.

by Morgaine DV
What were your prompts?: childhood, potion, dragon

Berry Picking

It was late August and the evenings were still long. The air in these years is fresh and pure, mottled only with the playfulness of imagination, a flickering light of primary colours; that melody, that lovely  paradox of possibility and infinite security. I’m not sure how old I am, maybe nine, maybe ten; maybe even seven. I think I have plaits in my hair: blonde messy plaits with grass and leaves caught in them, as if I were some kind of woodland creature. I run and spin around a lot, my breath always caught in the dizzying air. Me and my limbs like climbing trees. I reach for branches with my arms; my thin fingers cling to them with earthy nails.

My cousins are here and we’re playing a game. There’s an old rowan tree at the back of our garden, which sucks all the light in the morning then bounces it back towards afternoon. Since it’s nearly September, the tree is rich in an abundance of vivid red berries, gleaming like the eyes of so many children. But to our eyes, they are precious and lovely as rubies. We are pirates, plundering treasure. We are climbing the tree and picking them – every last one – and tossing them in a bucket we’ve found in the shed. I remember the shed so clearly. The shed smells sweetly of sawdust, and that rainy, swampy scent of wet grass that comes from the lawnmower. Sometimes we sit in there, in the stuffy warmth, amongst the buckets and spades and gardening tools, and swap made-up stories.

No time exists in these summer evenings; only the bubbles of our laughter and the slow-changing light. The way our skin glows pale and moonlike as it grows darker. The way our voices float upwards, swallowed by a sea of stars.

We’ve cleared most of the tree now; its branches are bare of berries – left only with green. A green that blurs at the edges, that makes our spirits shimmer. The four of us stand at the foot of the tree, admiring our handiwork. The bucket is almost full.

‘But I can still see some up there!’ someone says. We look up and there are several handfuls still clutching the branches at the top of the tree. We wonder who will be brave enough. The boys step back kicking their feet. I am the oldest; by nature, it will be me.

I climb with ease, with my young sweeping limbs. No looking down. No fear, no notion of falling. My vision is confined to the enticement of those scarlet fruits above me.

And soon I am there, waving my arms triumphantly. I pluck the berries and toss their clusters down to the ground. They fall fast in bloodied, godlike rain. From up here I can see the whole town: what seems like a thousand rooftops rendered magical in the purplish twilight. An atmosphere that pulls at my brain. A moon emerging from a murky horizon, the church steeple thin and eerie against a backdrop of silken clouds. It is all wonder, a view that somehow contains me in its pocket of time. I shake as I finally break away and climb back down.

My cousins hug me as I become the day’s heroine. A whole tree, stripped clean. A child’s harvest of earliest autumn.

My mother calls us inside, but we do not listen. The air is still warm, the light now sparkling with summery darkness. One of us goes to retrieve a potato masher, and we stand round our bucket, our cauldron, like little witches. We take turns to smash the overflow of berries, passing the masher round, watching the red drip and slush and seep as we crush vehemently. Are we making a potion, a poison? Performing mystical rites? Brewing our own bittersweet jam, with its distinct tartness that pierces the tongue and waters the eyes?

We are concocting a tonic for time: for the long hours that melt and fade as we grow and change and lose the clarity of innocence, of childish sight. We relish something tangible and bright.

by Maria Sledmere

Prompts: childhood, potion