There's an ache to the woodland air
these days, as if the wind is mourning
the deathly flames that blossom on the trees,
the brittle aging of its trembling playmates,
a deep sigh of the forest that cuts to her heart.
The leaves murmur beneath her feet,
chatter at her from the rustling treetops,
catch weakly at her hair as if to say, remember--
do you--do you--remember? She does.
She knows this path like a well-worn dream,
though the trees have thickened many times
since brighter eyes and quicker limbs
last wandered through this long-beloved place.
Her steps are sure and steady as they always were,
but she fears she's lost her welcome here
somewhere between the years:
she kneels, finds the shallow creekbed choked
with rotting sticks and cold wet grass,
and grieves for a time when it ran swift and free,
when tadpoles played in the clear water
and slender flowers swayed by its muddy banks--
here frogs peeped shyly from weedy shadows,
and fishes sang and white moths danced in twilight
and the woodland sprites crept out at afternoon
but all is still and silent now, hidden from her face.
The soft dirt stains her cheeks
as she raises a hand to cover her eyes,
smelling of slow earth and lingering decay.
One fallen branch reaches to caress her ankle,
its fragile arms twined and tangled like careless vines,
some tree's patient imitation of a proud buck's crown.
The child in her would hold it to her own temple,
would wait and wonder how the world
looks different through the creature's eyes,
but the years have taught her to know her own skin,
and so. She breathes deep of the aching air
and retraces her steps like climbing from a dream,
holding the branch till she stands at the forest's edge,
the wooden antlers twisting wearily around her fingers
and crumbling to dust in the morning light.