I turned from the group
on a whim and a deertrail
that cut cross our footpath
heading into the woods

trees closed around me
silence clung to my skin
I stopped once listened
heard nothing and kept on

ahead the way darkened
blocked by a shadow
running side to side
longways on the hill

I came upon a giant oak
felled in a forgotten storm
once proud now laid out
flat on the muddy ground

I thought of Ramses
lying broken in the sand
the granite his glory raised
and gravity brought down

the deer had turned aside
to wend their way around
I thought I’d stay straight
and climb over

but when I grabbed ahold
to pull myself up
the bark broke loose
and sent me sliding back

peeling away as I fell
like dry splintery hide
off the hard deadwood
carcass beneath

on which something
once hidden
had by something
been written

I tilted my head
this way then that
trying to read and
half afraid to

until letter by letter
and word by word
it all slowly unraveled
into one long meandering line

scrawled by something
as it crawled along
eating its ancient story
into the wood

using an alphabet
old before pharaoh
holy before hebrew
written before man

and although
blind hunger drove
its narrative it read
somehow familiar

roughly translated
it said time will win
against you me the
world everything

that all we have
and all we feel
is only stolen awhile
and must be given back

I touched the old tree
thinking of what was
and no longer is
and all that soon won’t be

and I knew I’d go back
and be home before dark
and be with the others
and be as before

but just then
when a bird sang out
I thought I heard
a new mournful note

beauty and pain
have been feeling
the same since I read
the writing of the worms

1983