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April 2013, vol 9, no 1

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Claire Everett


“I never thought I’d end up here with you, with our blended family”.

We’ve been talking about how far we’ve drifted from our roots. I’m so far now from everything I ever knew, and yet, how uncanny that I had great aunts who migrated north to work in the cotton mills at the turn of the last century, their names lost to the vaults of time since any lips that might have uttered them have long been dust.

Grandma’s footsteps . . .
I stand in the shadow
of the lightning tree

It’s almost moonset when we reach the woods and Orion is striding high in the south. In silence now, we wait and listen, not just for signs that someone might have camped overnight, but for those things beyond the human ear: the sense of a deadbolt sliding across the stillness, or of shutters thrown wide, inviting us in. Nothing but the kewick of a tawny owl calling to her mate and the hoooo of his reply.

badger light . . .
slipping into
my parents’ bed

We no longer stick to the main track, we’re beating our own path through the heart of the woods. We walk in single file, twigs snapping beneath our boots, as the flame of morning begins to take hold. Blue by blue, the sky lightens and the wrought-iron silhouettes of distant trees offer us their filigree. Once we’ve passed through the small grove of hazels, we’ve arrived. My husband rests his rucksack against a jamb of hawthorn and unrolls the mat.

“Tea m’dear?”

It’s all part of the ritual. Wren and robin have started to mark their territories with song. I’m reminded of Christmas cracker novelties, those metal puzzles my sister and I always quarreled over. Autumn is more than a rumour spreading through the trees and there’s talk of rain. My cheek is sore, most likely from the branch that caught me in the half-light.

staff of blackthorn –
when I can’t look my father
in the eye

Did you spoil me because you spared the rod, Dad? Mum used to say it never did her any harm. Your hundred yard stare, your silence, were punishment enough.

“Are you warm enough?” my husband asks.

“Yes, I’m fine”.

He’s made a windbreak out of twigs and now sets the penny stove behind it. The meths ignites with a pop. Again, the breeze, stirring the coals, as the sun reveals a touch more russet.

firelight . . .
Grandad’s tales
taller than me

The tallest birches lean in, but there’s no malice in their whispers. No he said, she said, no squabbling over the spoils with him barely cold. The old have little more say than the dead. Mum’s coming to us this year. But she came to you last year. What would Mum like to do?

moss-covered stone . . .
my mother wants to die
in her hometown

The tea’s piping hot. We sip it slowly. There’s sun enough to warm the finch’s breast but we won’t wait until it’s reached the lintel like we did in the summer.

“You know, I wish I could give you more . . .”

My husband is shaking the dregs from our cups, preparing to make a move. I plant a kiss on his lips, stop him in his tracks.

It’s become customary to scatter some seed before we go, just as our ancestors might have made an offering to the land wights. Other than this, we leave no trace.

a squirrel’s grainstore
in the palm of my hand . . .
sunlit rain

Note: land wights from the Norse Landvættir, also part of the Germanic tradition, meaning spirits of land, or place.