by Tim Rich

Come a little way into these woods,
there is nothing to fear, no
liquorice-eyed crow happy to mistake your head
for a lost dove, no
              primroses hiding a broken well
              into which any innocent might
              drop all knees-about-neck and lay,
              trying to pat themselves to sleep,
              until their last tears salt the earth.
Come a little further into these woods, there are no
berries looking pudding-perfect before
eating you alive from the guts down, no
              none of that in these woods, no
              one here in wait behind some bald rock, no
stuggy clay to suck the petals from your meadowing feet
and pull at your legs until you genuflect and drift
down into its brothwarm wetness and wait
to be sun-set like a stone god.
              Not here. Not in these woods.
Come towards this bramble chicane; beyond there are no
pit pony madrigals
blackdamped from the gasping
mouth of the mine, no
              caravan pulled around the yew
              which was there before the church, no
              slivers taken from the bark for the healing pot and, yes,
far in — further almost than your heart seems to want to go —
you may nearsense a mile-deep lake, served by two rivers:
one heated in the kiln of the earth, the other
falling to us from the jade glacier, and yes,
you can swim into the uncomputed galaxy
where cold spirals into warm,

              and there is, yes, over the other side, yes,
              a soft bank of violets on which you may dry while gazing the arc of
              the Sun or the Moon or August Jupiter or flights afar
              and, yes, listen —

there is a nightingale,
mostly thornridden with the sallow shades, sometimes
at your shoulder, hoping always to sing with you
what is missing from conversations of maintenance, and, yes,
              there is fruit on the butlering branches: peaches, pears
              washed by forgotten rain; weighting on the spur to be
              twisted from the stem and, yes,
here is the freedom to move without circling chairs and, yes,
              here too the glorious hubble of ditchlife, but wait —
something is not quite right —
the rhythm of this path doesn’t feel shaped to my feet and
those fat anthers and wine-lipped stigmas
are not in any book I own, no.
              And what has lured out that fungal incense,
              hot hoofs?
This is not the wood I thought it was, not
the place I believed I was taking you to.
             Those across stones stepping the river are wrong ordered.
             The sky is too high above the canopy.
             This is not the wood.
             So similar and yet.
What lies ahead? No
danger or delight can be known to me here
Do we see mist wreathing the silver gill of birch up there or
the warm breath of villagers sharing news
of a selcouth traveller? Listen —

is that hawk morse
or car alarm?

              I don’t know
              All of my strategy has become dust.
This may be a wood like the other or
perhaps it has its own lore, but
you must invite yourself in here, and no,
I cannot come any further into this wood,
              even if you ask me to, but yes,
as you head off, from this rasping mouth of mine
I will sing of where we walked together, yes,
until I’m out of sight (yet always at your shoulder) and yes,
              you may be right that, yes,
              those bees can lead you to nigthhoney, and yes
blue-lipped fish are rising to speak in the brook, and yes

                                 the air here does seem clear and ready for you
                                 to hang the notes of your own song
                                 on the bowing trees
                                                as you go
                                                on your way
                                                              on your way.