Chawton Park Woods
by Jane Dards
The trees stand submerged
in a lake of watered milk;
space pillared by their fissured trunks,
canopied by their dark needles.
Light flows through their outstretched fingers,
shafts curling and roiling
with the rising breath
of newly-warmed grass below.
The birches are strokes of silver
spreading into branches of
a startling scarlet
against a sky of such a hard blue
you could rap your knuckles on it.
The last time I was here,
this was a narrow woodland path
winding through a tangle of trees;
bushes and holly on one side,
tall firs on the other,
brooding over a darkness in which
trolls might have hidden.
Now the whole hillside has been cleared,
with only a line of massive beeches
left as border-guards to fields beyond.
Broken stumps and branches
lie tumbled in the broken ground:
bare bones in a battlefield.
But in the rutted earth
beside the huge tyre tracks
is the foot-high infantry of the new army.
Every five feet, in regimented lines,
are the little tufts of firs
bravely standing their ground
in the graveyard of their predecessors.
Under the solidly overcast sky
stands a hillside of open beech-wood.
Each tall grey trunk is trimmed with
the vivid green of new leaves.
Lapping their feet is a sea of bluebells,
more blue than any sea could ever be,
with the unreal quality of a rich carpet
inappropriately laid outdoors.
The rain has eased to a fine drizzle
punctuated by drips from the laden branches.
The sky is heavy with more rain,
although, heaven knows, enough
has fallen already.
The thick dark mud, with its smell
of stagnant water and rotting leaves,
is a viscous record that silently
bears witness to previous passers-by:
booted feet and shod hooves,
clawed paw-prints of dogs large and small,
and the paired, tear-shaped slots of roe deer
that tiptoed down the path when
no-one was near.
The air is so thick, you almost need
to chew it before you can breathe it in.
The sky is a leaden lid on the world.
But then a wind rises, ripping holes in the
and the sunlight lances through.
It lights up the foxgloves standing
like sets of pink rockets,
long green shafts tipped with cones
of final flowers.
The bracken ripples, the trees murmur,
and you might almost think
it was Summer.
The air feels warm and still,
yet it is filled with sounds:
the distant drone of traffic;
shouting children and barking dogs;
nearer, a piping bird and
the clatter of a pigeons wings;
close by, the hum of flies, and the
washboard noise of a grasshopper
that stops as you draw near
hidden, it waits, legs poised,
for the shadow to pass on.
A dragonfly powers across the path,
a last reminder of lost primeval swamps;
its body a bright metallic blue,
its wings a bow-tie blur.
And a silent butterfly meanders by,
dry flickering of brown, presaging
the leaf-fall soon to come.