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)

The Magpie and the Spider

- Micolo J. https://www.flickr.com/photos/robin1966
– Micolo J. https://www.flickr.com/photos/robin1966

Lucy had a secret. A secret she hadn’t told to her father or mother or even her best friends.

She knew a magpie that came to see her almost everyday. She had a special connection with this magpie. She would feed it scraps of bread or handfuls of seeds, and in return, every now and then, it would bring her little treasures. Sometimes it was just a paperclip or a pin, but Lucy’s magpie had also brought her marbles, tacky rhinestone bracelets, a plastic heart charm, a set of silver keys, a heavy metal screw, chain necklaces and once a solid gold wedding band. Such a magical time it had been when the magpie brought her that wedding band; he had dropped it in their hiding place behind the garden shed, where it glinted happily amidst the filth and compost. Scraping away the crumbling mud, Lucy had tried on the ring. It was beautiful and heavy, though somewhat too big for any of her fingers. She had not stowed it away in her special drawer along with all the other gifted trinkets, but rather wore it on a rope of string around her neck, hidden beneath her t-shirt. A few days later, she had heard her parents talking about an advertisement for a missing ring in the local newspaper, but Lucy had not said a word. The ring was hers and while she wore it she felt safe; she knew she had the luck of a magpie’s love.

The magpie had been coming to see Lucy for years. At first she thought it was just chance that this bird decided to reward her efforts at sneaking food from the kitchen, but she had entered into a psychic relationship with the creature. She swore to herself that she could read its thoughts. Really, the magpie wanted the same things as her. A secret, special friend. The magpie never came to the garden in a pair, unlike the other birds. He was always alone.

Even in these winter mornings, Lucy would get up early to wait in the garden for the magpie. She would leave piles of crushed-up crisps or cereal out on the tree stump at the back of the garden. A little chaffinch danced on the branches of her mother’s apple tree, tentatively shuffling its wings as if deciding whether or not to fly. Nasty, pecking blackbirds would often swarm upon the lawn, digging their sharp beaks in the dewy soil for worms. With the wedding band thumping against her chest, Lucy had to chase them away so that they would not eat her magpie’ s breakfast. For the magpie was truly her soulmate, and she would not let other birds pillage her precious offerings.

One evening Lucy was returning to her room from brushing her teeth when she saw on the wall above her bed a massive spider. It was obviously a remnant of the winter spiders, who occupied her parents’ house from September to March to find shelter from the cold. It was late at night – too late to wake her parents – and Lucy could not go to bed with such a thing in the room. It was a horrid blot upon the perfect cream of her bedroom walls; a blot that unfortunately was often moving. She watched with disgust as it extended its creeping legs, wiggling the black mark of its body. Sometimes, the legs lifted and bent and lifted again as if they were pincers. Lucy was really starting to feel quite sick.

It was too high up to catch in a jar, and there was no use throwing something at it because it would only fall straight down and bury itself in Lucy’s bed.

So she clambered onto her windowsill and pulled open the heavy window. The night smelt fresh and cool, almost like a summer night, though those were still far away. There were the usual suburban sounds, the glow of other windows; but nothing more, nothing more at all. Underneath her nightie Lucy stroked the ring for comfort, beginning to sing her favourite song. Her voice left the house slowly, the haunting melody travelling through the night like a fly struggling through thick black molasses. There was a thin moon watching her. It was the only thing in the universe that knew that Lucy was calling, calling out for her magpie familiar.

And it came. It landed on the dark grass and looked up at her with its flashing amber eye.

“There’s a spider in my room. A nasty wicked spider. You must kill it for me, Mr. Magpie.”

The bird screeched with its habitual rattling cackle. It tilted its head just so.

“Please Mr. Magpie,” Lucy called out. She held her arms out to the dark night and with this beckoning the magpie suddenly swooped up and flew right past her into her bedroom. Squawking loudly, it flapped about with an air of mania until Lucy switched the light on. She pointed to the slowly-moving spider on the wall.

“There,” she whispered. The magpie seemed reluctant at first. It turned its head to gaze at Lucy. And how could any human being fathom what that strange bird was thinking; what lay behind the opaque brilliance of those amber eyes? But Lucy knew; Lucy knew her magpie would do whatever she asked. She watched as it raised its wings and soared into the wall, clutching the spider in its gnarled claws and crushing it into a tangled ball. Lucy watched with a kind of horrified delight as the magpie shrieked triumphantly, before swooping through the window again and out into the darkness, bearing the spider with it. Trying to stifle her laughter, she slammed down the window and admired the lovely canvas of her clean wall. Not a trace of death; not a trace of the spider. She climbed into bed and slept like a baby, oblivious to the distant rumbles of a gathering storm. In fact, only once did she drift from her slumber, seeing her window lit up with fiery lightning; but quickly she fell back to sleep again.

In the morning, Lucy awoke to mellow sheets of sunlight pouring through her window, and the sound of her mother knocking on the door.
“Come in.”
Her mother entered and handed Lucy a glass of milk.
“What was all that commotion in here last night?” she asked, her voice tinged with a hint of dread.
“Oh, what commotion? It must’ve been the storm,” Lucy said innocently. She drank the milk hungrily and wiped the traces of it from her lips.

Once she was dressed, Lucy headed into the garden to put the washing out for her mother. The storm had left behind a perfect day, with fair blue skies and the twinkle of birdsong and blush of hopeful crocuses. Spring would be coming soon. In her bare feet, Lucy stepped across the grass, which gleamed lushly with beads of rain and felt soft against her skin. The sun was warm on her cheeks as she pegged up the damp scraps of washing.

When she had finished, however, she noticed a scorched patch of grass and something dark at the back of the garden, by the shed. Perhaps the ground had been struck by lightning in last night’s storm. But as she crept closer, Lucy’s heart seized up like a frightened animal. Just there, lying on the grass beside the burnt patch, was her magpie. For the first time she noticed the fine jewelled beauty of its feathers: the blue, green and burnished red that gleamed in the sun like powdered sapphires. The glossiness of its black and white body, the marble jewel of its knowing eye. With shaking fingers, Lucy lifted back its wings, and alas it did not respond to her touch. She was certain it was dead; but that was all she knew. A bead of a tear escaped her shining eyes. Kneeling down, not caring now that the neighbours might see her, she took off the necklace with the wedding-band. Carefully, she placed it beside the magpie, and turned it gently over to face the sky. As she did so, a tiny spider crawled out from underneath its body, scarpering out over the scorched soil.

And there was nothing or nobody to hear Lucy’s frightened cry.

Prompts: spider, treasure

by Maria Rose Sledmere

Crocuses

There is light that freckles the air, where the dew drops that cling to branches catch the sun. You walk along the path that you did four years ago, thinking the same array of painful thoughts. Once, you stopped and sat on that bench with a friend, watching the squirrels dart along the treetop branches. You had only known this friend a few months, but her mother was suddenly dying. She had no clue of what was happening, only that time itself was shifting, the particles that made up her night and day were imploding with new distortions. You could not help her, so you sat beside her and talked about the weather, and how maybe spring would be coming soon.

The park is silent and still, because it is the middle of the day and everybody else is out working. You wonder how you might justify this excursion. The afternoon stretches out in front of you, long and full of longing, promising nothing. There is a way in which you’re not really walking at all; more like floating, your legs feeling light and your head a little dizzy. You miss the days when you were strong and healthy. Ducks are tentatively playing by the pond, waddling and flapping and adding cyan to the scenery with their rain-shined feathers. The water is still partly frozen, glimmering with all its depths and reflections. You have a sense of someone standing beside you. Your cold hands clutch the railings and your fingers feel the rusted flakes of paint, which you fight the urge to peel off. You find yourself shaking.

The sun will not stop coming out, will not stop forcing itself through the thinnish clouds which have left a pale membrane after the rain. The cloud breaks up and drifts away in cotton streams, barely more visible than airplane trails. You feel the sun warming your back, warming you even through your winter coat. It’s almost frightening. You did not expect this. You should have turned back; should have sat in the cafe and waited for the dark to come, so you could go home and eat. But now you don’t want to go home and eat.

You trudge up the path, your chest heaving from the strain of the gradient. A little dog bounds past you, yapping, and the owner is chasing after it. You turn back and for some reason the dog turns back too as it is running, turns back and stares right at you. Something flashes in its yellow eyes and you have to look away. You feel it gape in your stomach. You know that you are missing something.

There is a secret glade behind the evergreen trees at the top of the park. You used to come here in summer and read Laurie Lee while you ate from a bag of cherries and listened to a man nearby plucking at his guitar and singing. And once a stranger had asked you for the time, but it was not yours to give.

You come to the glade because even now – especially now – you crave its safety. In the comfort of the solitude you feel suddenly weary. Your limbs have lost their solidity. You lie down, slowly lowering yourself onto the grass. It is like falling into the arms of a favourite friend, soft and wanting. The smell of the earth passes through you. It is damp and cold after the rain, but the feeling of this does not chill you. Lying down on your front, you turn your face towards the trees where the light is beaming through in selective rays. White light, the fade of the day. That’s when you see them: the crocus shoots. They are white too, pure little things with their waxen petals erect to the sky. And the gaping inside of you subsides, because you realise that maybe spring is coming after all.

(Prompts: photograph of crocuses, wistful)

by Maria Rose Sledmere

The Death of Spring

Each spring she came as sure as the rain, the cold sunshine and the sweet aromas of cut grass and new flowers blossoming on fruit trees.

There was something otherworldly about the girl – no one in the town knew her name, or, if they did, they called her ‘the Daffodil Girl’ nonetheless. And that was fitting enough, for each year, on the first day of spring, she would come floating through the dirty streets, bringing with her the vernal breeze and all the freshness and irrepressible life of the country, with a splendid mound of bright yellow daffodils bundled in a wicker basket, and balanced on her hip. Her wind-tangled tawny curls were pinned and twined and braided around her head with the same wilderness that she carried in her step, in the keen, roaming gaze of her dark doe eyes. Her dress was out of place in the town – she wore no starched lace or whalebone, no constricting silk squeezed her swaying waist and there were no intricate arrangements of buttons or beads. She was like a milkmaid of a lost age, as though she had wandered from a glorious alpine painting, somehow, into this hard and smoky English town.

The burst of yellow as she wound through the streets, the subtle scent of fine pollen the colour of sunshine, it turned the head of every fine lady, every stiff gentleman and gabbling fishwife, every merchant, beggar and drunk. And one man amongst them all was particularly drawn to her. For him, the entire season had but one purpose, one value: he could watch the Daffodil Girl in her strange, slow progress, her pilgrimage of spring, and let her soft shape and sweet scent, the mild hum of ancient songs, sooth the turmoil in his soul.

This morning, the first of march, he had woken late. He punished himself, positively flagellated himself for the error. He had not slept a full night, he felt, for many a year. Yet it was no excuse.

Disheveled and out of sorts, he left the room without his stick, half tumbling down the decaying staircase of the boarding house and limping up the street as fast as his tortured frame would carry him. Passersby muttered their judgements, scowling at the frightful sight of the crippled lunatic lurching along the cobbles, asking themselves and each other why such a creature could ever have need to hurry. Who could be waiting for a wretch like him?

He persevered, even as his whole left side began to ache, to scream for rest. And then, as he crested the top of the hill, he saw her – a spot of sunshine in his bleak world of winter. The sight gave him a second wind. He clutched his thigh, defying the pain, and ran. He had not run for seven years, not since the days he has laughed at death as bullets tore the air and mud and pitch flew up around his nimble feet like showers of confetti…

The yellow bloom grew closer and closer, until he could see the white flash of her stockings above the sturdy boots, the mud and dust on the fringe of her skirts, the infant daffodil she had wound into her hair…

“Miss!” He cried, but his voice was a thin rasp, a shriek of rusted metal on stone. “Miss!”

She turned, and he saw fear on her freckled face. The shock, the disgust was heartbreaking in the eyes of this angel. Surely that face could show nothing but heavenly benevolence, infinite, divine calm…

“Miss, please!” He gasped, reaching out to her, stumbling like a drunkard, clutching blindly. His hand closed around the handle of her basket.

“Leave off me!” She cried, her cheeks flushed with anger and fear. “Help! Won’t someone help me?”

“No, miss, no, wait!”

She tore away from him, running, skipping like a dryad in flight. He half thought she would vanish, explode into a shower of golden petals and float away on the rising wind. The thought struck him with an all-consuming fear, and he made a last attempt to seize the girl, to hold her close and tell her that she, she was his saviour!

She turned, her eyes wide, and fell, flying backwards, away from him forever. It seemed she would fall into the ground and into hell itself. There was a deafening roar, hooves and voices. A huge black horse thundered toward them…the black horse and black chariot that haunted his dreams! Doom! Doom!

Silence, screams. The crowd of the street parted; women sobbed, men shouted their useless outrage, taking off hats and shuffling feet. Someone with sense called for a doctor.

There she lay: white, broken. Her hair was splayed around her like a glorious pagan crown, her hand lay gently on her waist. And all around were yellow daffodils, scattered like funeral flowers, like tiny mourners falling at her feet, heads bent with heavy grief.

The crowd cried tragedy, but it was more than a tragedy for him. It was the death of spring, the sun turned to cold stone. It was his apocalypse.

by Rachel Norris

prompts: daffodil, desire, apocalypse