[This is the first tranche of a new long poem, entitled simply 17. It is both a prologue to this longer poem and a free-standing piece. While the overarching setting and theme of my previous long poem (64) was the sea, 17 is set around a forest landscape. It has a very different tone.]
17 Prologue Selva Oscura
The place reeks of life and death entwined;
buds reaching up heavenwards above the canopy,
catkins drooping sneezy sweet-smelling pollen
through blent, intermittently sunlit, dank air
amongst the tangles of rotting branches and living roots.
Rodents scuttle through the undergrowth of decay
and feed uncurling ferns and sleek moss and blooming
bluebells with their gift of excrement. Sun is tempered
by leaves and berries swell and drop and rot in the dripping rain
and are eaten up and carried away.
And bark peels away as the xylems and phloems of expanding trunks
keep careful record of weather and the glacier-march of time.
In winter, it is a graveyard of frost, crucifixes and icicles.
And the men in green and black
force their slithering stealthy way on their bellies
through the undergrowth, like snakes,
knife clenched in teeth,
trap, garrote or musket at the ready for rabbit
or fellow human being who strays this way.
When shots ring out, the grouse flee through the treetops
and the leaves of elm and ash and birch and beech and oak
quiver in fear. The forest is a place set aside by law
for the rich, overseen by a corrupt local judge. The jury of owl and eagle,
weasel and wild boar, stag and hare and hen, eagerly await their turn.