Listening to the Music of the Wood

A poem I wrote came in second place for a writing contest with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project (the second year I came in second) and I used some of the comments/critiques to revise it a bit, and then I added a podcast. The poem is a memory poem, of Sunday mornings in my childhood when almost the entire neighborhood packed up for Church … except for me.

Listening to the Music of the Wood (slightly revised)
Listen to the podcast

They all left on Sunday mornings,
dressed up in clean clothes and polished shoes;
their faces pushing up against the inside windows of their parents’ cars
as I waved goodbye in my dirty jeans and beat up sneakers,
feeling not quite alone but utterly free as they disappeared down the road,
swallowed up by the sound of the church organ.

I’d take in the deepest breath of the day;
drawing in the silence of the neighborhood to consider my own thoughts
of the Infinite and the world beneath and above me.
I could hear music moving in and among the trees —
melodies of the woods
that called out to me with a spirit all of its own.

I imagined their preacher standing up high on the pulpit,
pushing back against the sins of the world,
delivering sermons on the temptations that lay around us,
guarding his flock against the tide of bad judgments and unexpected calamity,
moving his congregation with equal parts anger and compassion,
making them understand that this is but a fragile peace
and that one must live with open hearts and open minds,
while my friends — so prim and proper on the outside yet full of chaos and energy on the inside —
fidgeted in their seats with empty ears,
daydreaming about the Wood ….

where I scampered about with abandon in the early morning Sunday light,
climbing the tallest trees to survey the world from above
and declaring this place to be my own Heavenly Kingdom
for as far as my eyes could see.
If you listened, if you put your ear to the wood and held your breath,
the wind would make faint hints at a symphony,
something for the solitary journey into the heart of the mind.

My friends sat on hard benches, balancing bibles on their knees,
absentmindedly turning page after page, scanning words
written in a language they could not quite understand —
while I opened my long, sharp, silver pocketknife
and carved a secret name into the biggest tree I could find,
pledging myself Protector of the Wood from the Great Unknown
that always seemed to be lurking just beyond view.

It was only a matter of time …

Those spirits later did come calling
— right at my doorstep, discordant in tone, unsettling —
and it turned out that neither the preacher nor the Wood
could do much to fend off this unbidden sadness of the world
— the slow rumble of minor chords ever present, ever present —
even as I retreated into the trees for solace and comfort,
seeking out their protection as I once promised mine to them
and finding nothing but loose notes engraved in the bark,
solitary sounds outside of the song.
I’d rub my fingers along the carvings
and feel the wounds I had made with my words and actions,
complicit and conflicted and completely alone.

A childhood is made up of overlapping worlds:
some defined for us; some, we make our own.
On Sunday mornings, when I’d become the center of the Universe,
the possibilities of changing this place for the better never seemed more likely than when I was
lying down on fallen leaves,
staring up past the treetops,
pushing off into the clouds,
listening to the music of the Wood.

Peace (in poems),

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