The forest rises up at their backyards,
Leans over lawns where fences lower their guards,
Drops leaves and branches, skinny beams of dawn
Right on the roofs, the swings, garden and lawn.
Children grow bored with sandboxes, slip out
Into the woods to hide and run and shout.
"Now let's go down the path!" "How far
does it go?"
"Forever and forever." "Come on!"
"I don't know
If we're supposed to..." "Scaredy cat!"
"He'll tell..." "C'MON!" Thin voices,
Subside, and two go down the path. And go
And go...how far's forever? Dappled light
Shows way ahead the trail curves out of sight
Among the trees. Behind...the same. No car-
Sound now, no human noise, they've gone too far.
Just leaf-noise overhead and crunching under
Their tennies as they step on stones and blunder
Through muddy strips whose suck prolongs their footsteps,
Then leap to higher ground and tread on root-steps.
Bright bit of red - a cardinal flickers...gone.
They tire, think of lostness, of the long
night, never getting home, the cartoon trees
Whose mouths stretch out sad "OOs" and ghostly
In howling wind, no refuge from cold rain
But houses made of cake and candy cane
Where witches eat you up.... They walk for ten
Minutes, which seem hours, stop, and listen...
Nothing happens. They choose a bush to piss in,
Then back they trudge - why was it so much farther
The other way? - to find a fretful mother.
"But it was neat in there!" "LOOK AT
"We saw a spider and a cardinal too!"
Later, in church, hearing of God, the child
Thinks butterflies and birds and anything wild
Must know all about God, since they're allowed
To go into the woods. He dreams a proud,
Tall, buckskinned vision of himself, the first
To find.... It changes each time it's rehearsed
In his church dreams, confused with talk of Heaven.
Years later, he's a big boy, nearly seven,
And knows the woods cannot go on forever.
He's seen the maps and knows his woods could never
Get past the ocean where his family went
to spend a weekend living in a tent
That smelled like fish. The woods won't go that far.
It's like the moon; it's nothing like a star.
And yet, he's never followed all the way
Down that old path. He's going to - today.
Ten minutes in, he's lost his neighborhood
And wonders if it would be bad or good
Or anything at all to be alone,
Just be oneself, with no one else, no phone,
No Mom, no Dad, no brother, sister, friend...
He's sure SOMEwhere this woods has got to end!
He stops to rest and notices small noises,
Stands very still, fills up with tiny voices,
Then, like a symphony conductor, makes
The wind rush through the leaves in rippled quakes.
The motion travels past his eyes, held still,
And now soft movements everywhere, a thrill
Inside him, all of it inside this hush
That makes things move. Against his brow the brush
Of tiny wings. An airplane buzzes through
And dwindles. He contains them all, can do
These things at will. He walks on, feeling
As if his head sticks through the leafy ceiling.
He finds his eyes again, walks tall and strong
And watchful - he's an Indian. Now a song
Wants to be sung - it's made up as he sings -
March ON through woods and streams and hills and things.
Twice cardinals flash across the path - the same
One twice? The path will end like any game -
He knows it's not the path that never ends.
He wonders if the trees can be his friends.
"Hello" he says, and pats a gnarly oak,
Whose leaves are giggling - do they get the joke?
What if it does go on forever? Oh!
It's brighter just ahead - a clearing...No,
A grassy slope - he's blinded by the sun...
Down to a street, a house, another one -
A neighborhood - "Just like a real one, too!"
With grass, cars, sidewalks, weeds - "It must be
Some old kids toss a football in the street.
He feels he's made all this himself - how NEAT!
Its detail and completeness dazzle him:
Each car's familiar emblem - could he dream
These Fords, Toyotas, each with license plates?
An ant hill! No amount of looking sates
His craving for this newness. He must walk
And touch, God come to earth to gawk
At His creation. Light as a leaf he's whirled
Past houses, yards and cats - a whole new world!
A supermarket, barber, drugstore, shop
With dressy mannequins - they will not stop
unfolding, miracles! - and in a store
Where clerks politely manage to ignore
His not belonging there (for he is real).
He buys two candy bars - Mounds, Heath - they feel
As sleek and firm as those he gets at home.
Once more he views his built-in-one-day Rome,
Then threads himself into the weave of trees
To celebrate in chocolate and breeze.
Later he wonders that it once seemed far,
Having since learned how near it is by car;
He cruises through that magic neighborhood,
The other side of the mirror - something good
Will surely happen to him here one day.
Still later with a girl he drives that way
And in a restaurant (now he's seventeen)
Over many squeezings of coffee bean
He tries to tell her this is a magic place,
And as he talks she seems to find his face,
Explore it with a wonder like his own.
So well she listens that, no more alone,
He finds himself explaining subtle feelings
He hadn't known he felt. Like drunken reelings
His stumbling words, with unexpected grace
Regain their swooping poise. When, drunk on space
He's made that words can't fill, he loses the flow,
She puts her hand on his and says, "I know."
It's love, he knows: She's got to be the ONE!
He knows they'll marry - it's as good as done.
And four years later, done it is. They move
To another city, still afloat on love,
For she's the magic found on the other side
Of forever: Her hair, her smile, her stride,
An unexpected phrase - it's all his story:
Whatever she does becomes new territory
Claimed by his magic. When the marriage fails
(For after all she too has dreams), like nails
Clawed out of weathered boards, each magic,
Leaving, screeches; they fall apart, past tragic:
Clutter of boards, bent rusty nails...for he
Had given her his magic so that she
Might give it back to him, an endless gift.
She's gone, it's gone. Long weeks to sit and sift
Through ashy ruins.
home, he walks
In the woods, sees soda cans, three ragged socks
Curled up in the weeds, a giant poplar choking
In ivy, feels not much, thinks (calls it joking),
"If we bulldozed these trees and put up houses,
We'd have square boxes full of spatting spouses,
Each as happy as me." He walks to the end
Of the path (it's not too far), losing a friend
With every step, feeling only a need
To feel something. But there's no path to lead
Nothing to something. And yet, long before HER
These woods held magic. He waits. Will nothing stir?
Years later, once again inside the wood
He stands admiring. Really it's a good
Place to grow up. He starts to count each kind
Of tree and shrub in view - for in his mind
It had been three or four, but now he's got -
It must be dozens, hundreds!...but it's not
Magic. He strolls, hoping to see the gray
Torn open by a cardinal flash or jay,
Finds sparrows, rusty robins, then, at last,
A flash of red. But magic? No. That's past.
He thinks, "What if I put the magic there?"
He shuts his eyes and thinks, "I don't know where
I am. These woods go on forever. If
I keep on walking till my joints grow stiff,
It just goes on and on, nothing before or behind
But woods, hills, meadows, lakes...." He sees this,
Then opens his eyes. "Well...here I am, right here."
It works a bit. He feels something. Grief? Fear?
That's something, hardly magic; Well perhaps
He needs but to believe his mental maps.
He tries again, spinning around this time,
Eyes closed...trips, falls, and sees a gleam...a dime!
Omen enough to try again. He spins
Until he's lost which way is which. He grins
To overhear forgotten thoughts, his own,
Like "What if all the people I have known
Have just now vanished? What if THIS is IT?"
Again it works a little: Just a bit
Of his old forest peeps through scraggly trees,
Whose branches now are nodding. He agrees,
Nods to their nods. The branches reach
Out into forms as plausible as speech,
Familiar forms, like fingers or the thin
long shadow of his mother looking in
From the hall to see if he's asleep. Why should
This make him sad? He's trying too hard - no good:
You can't force magic. Once again he tries -
Quick, gentle, sneaks up on it with his eyes
Wide open, tries to think it without words,
To put it there - and, sudden as a bird's
First morning cry or on a plane the ears'
First pop or one of the sun's dust-glittered spears
Cast (as it darts behind a cloud) to gild
That spider's thread, one flash, then gone...he willed
It: Something happened. Gone - but caught. It's true:
He can put magic there. He tries again,
But finds a gabble of thoughts: It looks like rain.
It's getting late. He has to catch a plane
To get to work tomorrow - what a pain!
How interesting! Again the world is gray.
He heads for home (a changed word). All the way
He bubbles with new thoughts: "I put it there
Myself, the gray, the magic - only where
I put them. Who knew magic so diverse? -
White, black, all shades of gray, blessing and curse:
I say 'Just woods, forever' - and it IS.
If I can do it, any child's a whiz!
I've doubted my own magic, for I make
So many kinds at once, a dense, opaque
Entangling of transparent strands, a jumble
Of all the worlds that I agree to mumble
Into being beneath my breath at meetings,
In sleep, in waking dreams, in friendly greetings
I don't mean - it's much too complicated!
The child is lost in all that he's created.
I try to say 'These woods go on and on
Forever' and at once I hear 'What NON-
Sense!' (My own voice a traitor) and 'Tomorrow
I do a presentation' and (sharp sorrow)
'I have no one,' 'Nice breeze,' 'What are choices
For dinner? Chinese?' I am full of voices,
Each with its own nest to plaster and patch
Together, twig by twig - in which to hatch
Who knows whose eggs? Few of the nests I make
Belong to me. For my or someone's sake,
I live in a world of scrambled magics, bright
Reds, blues, golds, purples - but in this dull light
They blend to grayness that belongs to none.
And that's precisely how the world is done.
So all I have to do to make my old
Magic is put it there - it's good as gold,
It hasn't rusted - and not (and here's the trick!),
And not put anything else there. I am thick
With voices claiming to be mine and making
My wishes for me. I take me, forsaking
All others - I must simply learn to speak
With one voice."
of the woods, last peek
Of setting sun - no notion how he'll relearn
His magic, but he knows he needn't return
To the woods - try spells, snare a wise elf -
To find the magic hidden in himself.