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)

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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)

Sophie

Sophie had always been sunny. Born in June with sunlight locks and seared cheeks. Like those old Italian paintings, she was the female cupid – all cherub-like and delightful, whacking great smiles on the stiff, oil lips of the heroines. She sang single lines of nursery rhymes with greater warmth than any heavenly choir could muster.

“Fetch the engines! Fetch the engines!”

Ever curious and on the hunt for anything new, Sophie would take things without me knowing, just to discover them herself. She didn’t like being told what was the wrong way or what was the right way: she had confidence in HER way, and nothing else could matter. She’d tell me sometimes how to do things “properly”, with the imagined wisdom of someone ten times her age.

“You can’t make tea like that”.

“Mummy, put the milk in the pot before you warm it”.

“I can warm the milk better”.

I am nothing like Sophie. Quiet and safe, I don’t explore or discover or try anything new. She was adventure enough for me, my little girl. A supernova. When I tried to explain action and consequence she couldn’t listen to me, and it grew more difficult as her audaciousness increased.

It’s a strange thing, to see the snow of Winter and think of her. The way she tramped about the garden in her boots in Summer – chasing the frogs and the damselflies – made her stand vibrant, even against the blue sky. Snow seemed to restrict her from her adventures, the clouds dulling her buttery curls with the sky.

The heating broke last month. I hadn’t the money to replace it, having spent it all on hosting the family for Christmas. We were surviving on hot milk and multiple blankets.

Sophie had grown entirely contrary. I was never right, always to be questioned, always doubted. I held my quiet patience until two weeks ago, when I was heating our milk before our bedtime.

She had reached to touch the pan, and I warned her to be careful because of the heat. She asked me why, indignantly, and I explained carefully that she could burn her fingers on the fire, because it was very hot. She was insistent. Fire wasn’t hot, it was cold. I bickered with her, against usual practice, but she wouldn’t give in to my gentle reasoning. And though I knew she was fully aware that fire wasn’t cold at all, I broke.

I screamed at her, hysterical with frustration. Frustration at having my family for Christmas, at being a single parent, at not having any bloody heating in January, at having to constantly, constantly battle with a child telling me left was right. I don’t know how much I let out at her, only that it was too much. She cried and apologised and looked so heart-breakingly beautiful I could hardly summon words to address her. I managed to tell her everything was fine – that there was nothing to be sorry for, but despite my efforts, we both went through the motions of her bedtime routine in guilty silence.

For Sophie, having to sleep with three extra mismatched blankets was a fantastic game. Warm milk and soups and cuddling was something special to her, she couldn’t have known how unhappy the boiler was making me as I emptied kettles and pans of hot water into the bathtub for us.

I can imagine her making the connections. Mummy was suddenly angry, and it had something to do with her, something to do with the cold and something to do with the fire.

Sophie always had to figure it out for herself, I thought, stood in the icy presence of my black-clad family. The police had asked me why I hadn’t heard her before the alarm, as I slept in the room beside her. I could feel the scrutiny and suspicion through my own guilt like a salted wound. They found my matches hidden under her bed like a secret diary. She wouldn’t have cried for me: quiet and safe, I had taught her that when Mummy was right, she was scarier than anything she had ever seen before.

And for once, my little girl had proved me right. Fire was hot.

Louie Houston

What were your prompts?: “Bitter cold leaves site of Philadelphia fire encased in ice”

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