Approach the cottage through gardens bright
with poppies. Watch your progress spread
the grasses, tall as storks’ legs, crested white,
their fragile seed-heads scattered, taking flight
above the fearful field-mouse in his bed.
The grasshopper will fall silent when you come
along the narrow path where brambles claw
your coat. The bee will cease to hum
and silence, pulsing like a drum,
will hold you. The rat of doubt will gnaw
your soul. The cottage has assumed a stranger’s face.
The old step holds no welcome here within
the fractured arch which nettles now debase.
The door-mouth, puckered with distaste,
sneers at a broken garden-wall in ruin.
The heart grows cold. Within a pocket hid
a key lies leaden, with a lawyer’s note:
authority to seize the past, perhaps be rid
of scars that lie beneath the skin, morbid
imaginings. So very thin the coat
that hostile brambles pluck, like beggars in the sun,
as, dispossessed, retreating now through colours bright,
you run, the key unused, the quest, so recently begun,
aborted. The stork-leg grasses bow their fine-spun
heads to mock your craven flight.
In a black tree, a crow, with raucous shout,
warns you away, forbids your return.
As courage fails, resolve gives way to doubt.
Composed withdrawal becomes a headlong rout
with bitter tears, with bitter tears that burn.
A grasshopper begins to scrub away
the imprint of your presence. The ancient gate
sags like a jaw, all living spirit gone to clay.
About the cottage hangs the odour of decay.
The past, unquiet, settles like a weight.
An early version of this poem first appeared in GAP Magazine and subsequently in my Strange Journey collection in 2011.