Poems from the Forest

Many thanks to Liane Strauss and Martina Evans for organising the Pop-Up Poetry event last week at Leystonstone Library, and here are the two poems that I read on the night.

The first is a tribute to a family friend, and to the beautiful terraced garden of his Sussex home that descends layer by layer down into dense woodland. The second … well, let’s say it’s not as elegant.


Daily now, he descends. The final downward step
Through fading irises, to where the forest’s dark branches
Reach through a perimeter of sagging wires
At the garden’s lowest corner.
They absorb the sun as it sinks behind them,
Shadows reaching across the grass, a pensioner’s fingers
Groping for the last coins left in the purse.
Dumblooomin’, we joke out of earshot, its real name
Lost in another time. The garden’s final petals
Are worn on his shirt, the incongruous patterns
Of it Hawaiian spring snagged on brambles,
Down here where the secateurs can’t reach
Beyond the nodding hydrangeas at the wilderness’ edge.
Memories lost to any chance of flowering
Swell like rose hips, drop barren on the rockery,
Deadheads wavering on a faltering stem.
As autumn fades to winter, he lingers on,
Pours tea for a sister a hundred miles north
And twenty years dead. “Bonnie,” he says,
“No playing in the trees now. There are bogeymen.
Goblins.” By Christmas, the shadows
Will have claimed him.


After gathering pressure of the humid day, sweat-soaked skin
Slithering inside denim, against cotton,
The barometer plunges. We descend as the heavens fall.
In the woods above the bay, under the wavering canopy
Of the elms’ wide-stretched limbs,
Lightning bleaches the night in streaks,
The ruined tower of a dead man’s folly
Casts its shadow on the making of ours.
‘Pagan weather,’ he murmurs into my neck,
Snagged teeth drawn and all else bared. ‘Celebrate it.’
And then the chase is on, hail rumbling through bracken
Like runaway hooves, the spear burrowing into
A young buck’s flank. Snakes swallow each other’s tails,
Like devouring like as they circle for the kill.
Nightskies now discharged, two saplings scan the horizon,
Toe-deep in litterfall and leaf mold, temporary etchings
Of devotion fading from their bark.


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