These woods, dark in midday armor,
are barely breathing.
I walk, numb, over grass and vines
that do not move,
as if I merely hover here
on borrowed time.
I cannot see or feel my feet
or hear steps in the undergrowth.
Only smell is free to vibrate here:
pine needles, moldy, unturned earth.
Rot and sweetness fill my breath
with ancient drumming.
I must tell you; this is not your journey.
But these are my words;
I am carving them now, on strips of bark
that bleed into my opened hands.
The hard-bitten syllables open arteries
of copper; they snake along my wrists
to soak into death-ready ground.
This forest is not safe at night.
I think it is thwarted. The river is thick,
sluggish with blood and offal.
My hand, plunged below the surface,
unlocks lament that keens beyond its sound
as I search, without a point of reference,
the long-dead maps now visible above.
I don't know why I hurl the bark
into the distance. I throw it as far as I can,
and with it, I sling blood from my hand
in a fan-shaped arc. It hovers,
weightless in dense air,
hanging, a bloody rune
that muddled, dying bees
mistake for lavender.
You are not safe here.
I know I am not.
I have come too far and these woods
are dangerous; there are no constants.
I have lost my way, lost the words.
I have forgotten something I knew as a child.
You cannot trust yourself, not your senses,
not in this forest of rot and sweetness.
I cannot, though I am tired and cold.
I want to sleep, but I cannot
rest in these dream-filled woods,
in a forest that slips from consciousness
into icy voids that slice into night.
Once I carved words into memory.
I try to summon them now but they are lost.
I threw them into coppery graves
filled with dead things, with dead bees,
and I watered them with poison rivers.
They were irreplaceable,
and I let them go.
--Susan S. Keiser is a writer and editor, living in Key West, Florida and dabbling in pastry and literary marketing. Her work has been
published in SpokenWar, Haggard and Halloo, Carcinogenic Poetry, The Camel Saloon, and Orion headless.