THE FROGMORE POETRY PRIZE 2003

 
John Latham
DECIDUOUS
  Each day, after fraying, he climbs inside the oak,
sometimes rooted, sometimes riding on the wind,
whose leaves furl him, keep him warm at night,
whose light is emerald, so too the nestled eggs,
the sky uncloaked above the ravages of gales,
the grieving moon behind its veils of cirrus.

If he fasts, nourished only by dapples in the air
and flutes of dew, lies, eyes closed, in the web
he wove from mistletoe; if he forgets to care,
asks nothing, dissolves, and doesn't breathe,
he can sometimes see, in the darkest undergrowth,
shards and shadows of the traffic of his tree

pale images of people he once believed he knew,
a motley crew who'd touched or scarred him.
As they flit around the curtains of his vision
he's their ringmaster, their puppet, he pounds
the earth and shouts, cracking a soundless whip,
his hoops turn inside-out, buckle, slip away.

They thrill him, make him weep - cupped hands
which smell of sleep raising a crazed white bowl
out of the oven, an ink-stained thumb flicking
a note onto his desk, an evil wink he'd practice
in his mirror, lips whose suction scared him,
coy hips, purple toe, a glance he misconstrued,

and latterly, in the hollows where songs rest,
he finds two faces he best loves: she, visitor,
bold dancer, kneeling at his feet, sponging
his cold forehead, whispering a joke; and he
who fooled him, saying see you in three days,
but poleaxed off his stool into the night.

He knows the oak has seasons, leaves will brown
and fall, his memories float down and drain away
– while he, too weak to wriggle from the vines
that bind him, will thin, dessicate to dust.
They're only scrapings of long-discarded skin,
but they flesh him out, seduce him, draw him in.

Seeds swirl as he lies thinking what to choose:
a velvet cushion into which he'll slowly sink
and lose himself - or a ridge of jagged light
where she, with bleeding feet, skates rainbows.

          
 
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