And it isn’t like she imagined
it would go this time.
There are no sirens. No smoke
or shocked bystanders gawping over
a taped-off crime scene.
She digs clawed fingers into the soft belly
of the woods and counts her breaths.
This is real.
This is wet loam and old leaves.
Beneath cracked palms, ten million connections
spark to life and transmit a distress signal.
[At the main street crossroads, the signal lights change to amber and stay there.]
is a snarl ripped
from soft throat through the pit of
her stomach and sends small birds scattering.
[The old dog in the pub starts whining at the empty threshold until the publican curses and shuts the door.]
Her fingers are rooted, tangled
in the mesh beneath the mossy skin
of forest. Green veins twist her shirtsleeves,
creep thorns across clearing and root bole.
[The chairman of the allotment society watches his prize marrow ripple and spoil.]
A mile away a diminutive elm
pokes its branches out of the hedge it has buried in
for refuge and remembers sentinel hills
[There is a baby crying in the police station. Nobody can find it.]
The forest responds.
Mycelium neurons return
answers from a yew behind the village church,
nine hundred years wise and still guarding the gate.
[The vicar is pouring communion wine down the toilet. The wafers fur in their sealed packets.]
The hub trees echo and she bends
with the saplings and weeps.
The forest takes her gift of salt.
Her blood thickens and becomes toxic.
[A wife trips on a name and drops the serving dish, watches Sunday lunch splatter gravy across the linoleum floor.]
She withdraws her fingers, retracts
the taproots from her soles.
Admires the ripple of thick bark beneath the skin.
One. This is real.
Never again, the trees shudder. Never again.
Leah Atherton is a linguist, poet and runner based in Birmingham, UK. She had poems about her adventures featured by iRunFar and Porridge magazines and Brum Radio Poets. Elsewhere, her work has appeared in Birmingham Art Gallery and on BBC Radio WM, and was included as part of Beatfreeks anthology Wilder Dreams and Louder Voices. Her debut poetry collection, A sky the colour of hope came out with Verve Poetry Press in 2020. She believes in strong coffee, campfire whisky and the power of muddy shoes.
Find Leah on Instagram at @poet_on_the_run
photo by Gabriela Cheloni (via pexels)