After Erysichthon

The whole world is a feast of runaway craving,

of a curse that has outrun its uses.

Early on, our ancestors twisted up,

moved root through rock, spread fragile first leaves wide.

All land was new, mountainous, unsoiled.

 

The forests that grew have lasted so long,

spreading across the world at glacial pace.

We stretch and recede, grow up and move out.

Famine and war will parch your lips, drag you

below the Earth where we feast on your flesh.

 

What is breath but the ambrosia of trees?

You suckle our gaseous exhalations.

We wean you down to Hades at your death.

 

Who are these children who warm,

strain, and devour the wide earth,

cornucopia fraying,

desert bursting at its seams?

 

We are the trees who were once never wronged,

not axe-culled, not forced to grow through fences.

The Thunderer and those bright kin alone

touched us, burned us, but we claimed the wide land.

Forgotten myths say we gave birth to you.

 

We danced with Hermes on sloping mountains,

later with Pan whom my tall sister bore.

To me came Artemis’ strict retinue.

We ran in those places no man dared see.

Then your people grew up and tamed the wilds.

 

The gifts we brought you at your birth were myrrh,

frankincense, and storax, life-giving scents

beloved of gods, the sweat from our bark.

 

Erysichthon was condemned

as he felled that first grove.

Its nymph guardian begged, and

sap pooled at her feet like blood.

 

Forests fell back, expanding horizons.

When we seduced you, we brought you to groves,

breathed in the incense and breath you exhaled,

taught you secrets of bees and bitter plants.

You worshipped us alongside stone statues.

 

We know which of you swung the axe to cut

deep into the sap-giving arteries,

your grandmothers and sisters cut to stumps.

This is how we learned how to give curses.

Now all-consuming hunger binds us all.

 

Persephone opens wide arms to those

initiated into mysteries

shining like white cypress bark and gold leaves.

 

We punish with a hunger.

That murderer devoured

until he bit down deep on

his own tender flesh, ripped hard.

 

Our lives stretch so long that none can compare.

Curses work best when exercised lightly.

Torchers of nymphs, bearers of distress, you

smashed so many of us, pried open trunks,

carved once-sacred wood to ford the wide sea.

 

Rage boils thick in our sap when nymphs die.

We witness trunks uprooted, roots twisted

hard from a fall driven by gravity.

More often, they’re intact, dead from disease.

Dryads decay hidden in scrapped branches.

 

What you give the forest opens the way.

Here in mountain places, philosophers

found pathways in sunbeams mottled with green.

 

The hexed consume without end,

now without limit or death.

Their tools extract Plouton’s wealth;

all the world weeps out poison.

 

In perfumed shrines where our secret teachings

saturated air, ground, and cool water,

offerings blackened cave ceilings with soot.

We cannot suckle those who have breath, not

until your hearts root down in awe of place.

 

Make white cakes covered in sticky honey.

Go to the chamber of the ones who dwell

among the countless wronged dead, they who howl,

who listen to sapless whispers of shades.

Pacify them and be made whole again.

 

Come to the mountain, come to the gorge-nook.

The water we pull up through our roots tastes

sweet of nectar and metal, wilds and waste.

 

We repeat the dead ones’ names.

This world is old, the list great,

our curses worn like old silt.

 

We watch all in reflections

metal and glass leave, your eyes

searching, tamed lightning your guide.

 

You linger in pallid storefront lights, dark

patterns ghosting across your distracted

faces, forest yet close. Look up. See us.

 

Sooner or later, your meandering

steps will remember sacred rites once more.

Sooner or later, emptiness will tire

you—you will reach for the wholeness of yore.

mm

Kaye Boesme

Kaye Boesme is a poet, conlanger, and writer. Her poetry has appeared in Kaleidotrope, Illumen, and Eternal Haunted Summer, and she has a short story out in The Society of Misfit Stories Presents. More information about her work is available at kayeboesme.com, and she’s on Twitter as @kayeboesme. Boesme has a background in library and information science, so while she did not set out to know strange things, strangeness happened upon her.

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