If you come with me now, I will show you
Where the monsters are.
They sleep deep in the woods
And their breath,
Smooth in sleep, stirs the treetops.
Stay close to me. In fact,
Lets hold hands. You are younger than I am
And I do not wish you to be frightened.
If you must laugh, do it softly. Press
Your hand over your mouth like this.
We do not want to wake them.
They sleep with their eyes open
Their eyes are huge and round and golden,
Slashed with black. They are as big
As tennis balls.
It is quite safe when the sun shines.
Do not pause here. The bindweed
Is beautiful but deadly. When the monsters pass
Poison drips from their scales into the white mouths.
That makes them evil. If you stand here too long,
Two lithe, long tendrils will shoot out like green snakes
And wrap themselves around your ankes
So that when you try to run you trip and
Sprawl and then it has you. It will heave like
Porridge heating in a pan and heap itself over you.
It presses its leaves into your nose and mouth
So that you cannot scream or breathe. The white flowers
Knot themselves into your hair and soon
No one could tell you ever had been there.
Quick. Our feet are still free to run.
We must not go near the dappled stream
It may seem sunny and shallow, but two years ago
A boy drowned there. Yes, further out
There are deep dark pools that seize you
In their iciness. They found him floating, white and bloated.
Let us each remove a shoe and place just one foot
In the warm buzzing shallows…
Quick! Jump back! That’s enough! But do not
Shriek like that. We must be quiet. Shove
Your shoe onto your wet foot and lets go on.
Quiet. Do not scream. The sun has gone
Behind a cloud. They wake.
We must not panic. I know a place to hide.
Keep your head below the leaves.
Don’t be afraid. I will not leave you.
The heat from their bodies
Withers the leaves.
And the breeze of their passing
Hisses in the trees.
I wrote this when I was seventeen. It was about the first thing I wrote that I thought counted as “grown up” and I still like it. I’ve never been very sure what to do with my poems – I haven’t really written many since starting to write novels, and the “send to magazines” method feels alien to me now. So I thought I’d take a leaf out of Roz Kaveney’s book and start publishing them here, and maybe eventually jump-start myself into writing poetry again.
I think it’s funny that, even way back when I thought I was going to be a writer rather like A.S Byatt, I still just wrote about monsters.
More free work here! By the way, Not a Sparrow is based on a Greek myth. Can anyone tell which?