By Craig Hammond (June 2005)


I learned to map read from an early age,
from old paths and journeys -
passed down to me -
from them.

Journeys that they
had been taken on,
from way back,
since before they could even remember:

Places that once you have visited, they always stay with you,
no matter how far you try to stray from them,
or wander,
their whispers always remain.

A lot of the journey-paths are open
and well worn, passing through shallow woodland,
and you can see that many people know of these;
but some of the paths - only the initiated know of.

The narrowest of the paths meander
down towards the thickness of the forest,
and brush along the density of its inhaling vastness;
before falling into its veiled borders, enveloped
by its dark mysteries:  

The forest dwellers pass the knowledge
of the lonely, hidden paths onto their descendents -
a rite of passage,
murky inter-generational secrets -
simply the way it has always been,
and the way it will be.

Where we shall land no more

We instantly knew each other;
we were not from a direct family line,
but it must have been a coded glimpse,
of the secret place within each of us;

an expression, or
an accidental comment, unintentionally codified
and sub-consciously deciphered.

But because of this, we just knew
that forest people dwelled within both of our families,
without actually speaking about it - infant telepathy,
attuned to the secret messages of the ancient trees.

Knowledge of the forest isn't something
that you're ever really supposed to speak about;
especially when you're young,
even with the other fledgling wanderers
making the forest-journeys.

The same path is rarely,
if ever,
taken with others;
the forest is too vast, too dark
and twisted that no one ever really can.

And it's part of the unwritten lore
that you never reveal your lineage to anyone,
else shame and punishment be brought upon the family.

This definitely
seemed to consolidate our unorthodox friendship;
the things we increasingly knew,
and the things we increasingly knew that we couldn't
speak about,
meant that we communicated
in different ways.

It was always lonely when
we returned from the forest journeys with our guides,
but we had each other,
and our secret words and
hide-away embraces gave us our very own world of
warmth, security and affection,
away from the darkness of the others - the forest dwellers, and all beyond.

Our hideaway was a watchtower-fortress
that we'd built over the top of the coal-dump,
at the far end of his backyard.

If this should ever come under the threat of attack,
or infiltration, we would skilfully
descend the yard wall,
and escape in skirmished zigzags
along our separate and practised escape routes.

From here,
we would re-group half-way up the Magic Faraway Tree,
that stood in our secret clearing,
on the edge of the forest.

Stolen summer days,
delicately winged recollections of
bright warm days,

carried along with the floating white seeds of
London's Pride,
over soft-tarred railway sleepers,
and into hazy-pollen fields
were the days that used to be ours - no paths, no guides

and on particularly clear days,
we would scale the full height of the tree,
and come to rest -
hidden deep within the billowing-green foliage;

from here we would gaze over
to the other children,
who were far off in the distance,
and could always be seen playing in the sand,
along the Coastline of Innocence.

They filled us with wonder,
and we'd sit there awhile
in silent thought.

Occasionally, we would whisper questions
about them
up to the Wig Bird who nested
way, way up -
just out of our reach, beyond the highest bough.

This strange tufted creature had a very long name,
we could never say it properly,
to us it just sounded like a
big word.

He would always respond
telling us the same story,
that one day,
after many dark adventures a
Light-Keeper will come
to us in our sleep,
and guide us to those clear blue waters.

Always, afterwards,
we would look back across
to that place where
we no longer belonged,
and dreamed.

Shorter days
and falling leaves would always return
to warn us of impending winter.

Helplessly drawn
to the beautiful death of autumn
we would return to the watchtower,
or the tree;
and from our vantage point, we would see
that the chill of winter
never seemed to bite the other children as much as we.

And then came our last Autumn;
we were young warriors of the forest now,
our bodies had changed,
our voices had changed;

we spoke, and we knew that
it was the last time
that we were going to see each other.

We tried to make sense of the strange places
that we had been to, together - and with our guides.

But our words were clumsy and inadequate,
so we kissed
and embraced in the same way that we had always done.

After, I told him that he would always
be in my thoughts and dreams
and then he was gone.

And then I left,
and set out on my journey
to try and find the answer.

There are many lost souls out in the wilderness,
and they gravitate
to each other in the strangest and
sometimes most dark and beautiful ways,
trying to forget
the paths and monsters that they have encountered;

but the old paths strike deep into the soul,
and travel deep -
underneath the superficial cloaks
that we loosely drape over the entry-wounds.

A picture in my heart

I reached the empty shoreline;
and set off walking
through the hazy dawn sunshine.

A gentle swirling breeze from nowhere
invisibly caressed my skin,
and the slight-yellow warmth
of the new-bourn sun
beckoned me to follow.

As I wandered,
the beautiful expanse of the eternal ocean
made me feel more alone than ever.

And when the sun made its silent retreat,
into the depths of the dark night
I'd lie awake - and create a picture in my mind;

a picture of the most beautiful light -
that would embrace me
with the sun in her heart.

I would open my shirt
and let her light pour into my void,
and in the warmth,
I'd crawl into the blanket of sleep,
and drift;

here I would dream
of seeing one of the children who shone:
those that we used to see from the tree.

Often my wounds hurt,
and I'd heard that salt-water was a natural healer,
so one morning
I decided to swim out
towards the depths of the deep ocean.  

I closed my eyes,
slowly - deeply inhaled,
and positioned my face
towards the light.

I waded in
and immersed myself into the rippled,
translucent sky-mirror.

I pushed my feet - off
from the corrugated sand-ridges, beneath.

Gliding onto my back,
I exhaled, kicked, and drifted.

The warmth of the sun sparkled down on to my face,
and my ache receded slightly
as I remembered the distant voice of the Wig Bird.

The music of the breeze -
a gentle, shimmering rustle
of distant leaves,
carried me away with the bird-song up into the sky.

After a time,
the warmth of the sun disappeared from my face,
and I felt delicate ripples
and droplets of water, wash and splash over me.

I opened my eyes and saw her.

She said that she had seen me
drifting alone from way over in the distance,
and she had become strangely fascinated by the dark hole
that ran right through my soul,
as the sunlight just seemed to endlessly fall into it.

As she looked down over me,
the sun silhouetted her form,
and emanated uneven shards of brilliant white.

I gazed at her aura of pure light,
and recognised her
from the picture that I had dreamt about.

I asked her if she had grown-up on the Coastline of Innocence;
she had,
and she said that I was funny
as there were strange shadows in between the words that I spoke.

As time passed,
I stripped away the layers
and slowly opened up my entry-wounds,
the pathways into the forest.

I wanted her to fill
the sunken, twisted by-ways and secret trails
with her light - and cauterise them.

Sealed from the outside
I could be free from the sucking emptiness.

I opened my shirt and showed her my map.

I took her hand,
and guided her
along one of the paths
into the forest.

When we arrived, the embers
of her bright-white innocence
began to fade,
and we fell through my continent
and into an uncharted abyss.

In the morning,
I awoke to find her face soaked in tears,
she said that my darkness was too deep
and vast,
and that she could only cry at the loneliness
of the memories strewn along the way.

She told me that I had taken all of her light,
and she could no longer see.

I asked her not to leave,
because I loved her so deeply
that it went all the way through to forever.

But she said that she had to go.

Having been here before,
I knew that there was a hidden door
that led out from this place,
so I led us both out to the beach,
and only her footprints remained.  

The Watcher in the Dark

A cold-night breeze blew
across the deserted shoreline,
the swell chopped, and a shifting pattern
swirled and swarmed across the surface of the water -
an undulating, jagged coat of silver-moon armour.

The rasping night-air whistled and muffled
around my numbing ears, and
had almost coaxed me to my knees,

when over in the dense blackness -
amidst the sand-dunes and rock-banks,
a flickering yellow
from a distant fire Pierced through the tear-wells of my streaming eyes,
and persuaded me to seek out
whatever shelter that there might be.

I stumbled through
the side-swiping sand
and the rushes and rocks,

And arrived at the solitary beacon -
next to which
sat a dark-cloaked figure.

He turned and bid me to come and take refuge
from the biting night-cold,
and shelter in his cave.

I asked what the place was

and he said that Wanderers come here to hide
and forget about the distant Ships
that glisten far off
and pass-by, with their unattainable cargoes.

Tired and empty
I entered the mouth
and huddled down with the Hiders.

Some of the newer half-hidden dwellers
attempted to ignite an old story
of creating a raft - to set out
to reach one of the Ships, and escape.

But those that were now chained to the darkness
spoke out great-black rain clouds,
that gushed forth an angry torrent,
drowning out the hopeful sparks.

The Watcher then sealed their fate,
whispering into the tears in their souls, he told them
that the rafts would take them to their deaths,
as the ships
were nothing more
than cruel shapes - cast by the Sun
along the distant shelf of tomorrow;

and that Tomorrow is always such a terribly long-way off.
so let the warmth and the darkness
take your mind away from there,
and bring it back here, to rest into the empty echo of now.         

His words spoke deeply into
My ruptures,
and I decided to Hide awhile.

A solemn figure
sat in the darkest recess of the cave;
her body and face hidden by the shadows,

The breeze-licked flames
at the mouth of the cave
cast an occasional shard of dancing light
across her thin, huddled body.

I could see that the flesh on her feet was scarred
with old and recent lacerations.

She noticed me
looking over at the charted Countries
mapped-out on her flesh.

I learned that she cut them,
as it helped her release
the last vestiges of Light-Dreams
that occasionally visited the horizons of her troubled thoughts

so that before they could take form
and light the touch-paper of her tears,
she'd take a piece of dark flint
and cut into the soul's of her feet;

blood-tear droplets would fall and coagulate in the fine sand,
and form a dark pool of never-remember.

I ventured back out to The Watcher,
and asked for a black rose with a particularly long stem.

Returning to the shadows
I intertwined the needle-sharp barb
so as to bind our arms;
and with a final twist - the dripping thorns
pierced our flesh,
and my thoughts ran away with me into the lower depths of the cave.
When trolls venture out

the quiet loneliness of a life within
becomes too much,
and one time I shouted - a desperate yawp,
out into the empty darkness;

I watched the frantic Imp of the sprawling noise
dissipate into the night.

I listened awhile,
and on the cool crisp air,
I heard your voice drift slowly back towards me
and caress my face,

before kissing my ear,
and taking refuge in my mind.

I recognised the tones within the spaces of the echo,
and knew that it was you.

We came together at the old Millstone on the Moors,
and drank the intoxicating nectar
of the clear stream
and each others company.

As we chatted,
I went against the lore of the forest
and mentioned that I knew of many routes into the Dark Land -
sought out by many generations of my family,
and that for many years now,
I had been searching for a Light-keeper -
whom I needed to find,
as the rhythm of my beating drum was beginning
to fade
and seal over.

I knew that I didn't want it to become sealed
and quiet,
as this would banish me to eternal residence
within the familial forest.

Through the inter-
mingling condensation clouds
of our exhaled breath,
I could see the glistening stars of the universe
in your eyes,
and I asked you where you had gotten them;

and you told me,
saying that occasionally
people are forced to visit the forest,
even though there are no forest dwellers in their family.

You told me that
the thickest, darkest
shades of deep-forest green
hide from sight many monsters

where they feed on poisonous fruit,
and quench their thirst
with the foulest of waters.

When they are bloated from gorging,
and bursting for release,
they venture out of the dark-and-the-creaking
and steal an Innocent from nearby woodland.

One day,
two Trolls seized their moment
when your father was tending the sheep,
one of them ran to you,
and as you tried to escape you tripped and fell,
and they carried you off
along one of the remote paths into the forest.

In their lair
they threw you onto a bed of Hyacinth
and each put some of their poison into you -
they had been poisoned when they were young,
and it had become so rancid and gone so deep,
that there was nothing left of the light.

They took the stars from your eyes that day,
and left only the darkness of the forest.

But, I said that you had stars again -
because I could see them:

You drew close to my ear,
and whispered that an Angel
had given them back to you.

I asked where I could find the Angels,
as I thought that they might be able to take me
to the Light Keeper;
but your face became sombre.

You told me how the poison
ate away at you so much,
that one day,
after taking care of the well-being of your own little Innocents,
you drank a special potion
that enabled you to clamber into the basket of a huge white balloon,
that took you far, far away from the forest,
up through the clouds and past the sky.

As you drifted off
into the deepest of sleep,
an Angel came to you,
and said that she understood why you had come,
but she needed you to go back down,
to tell the other wanderers of the forest
of a different path.

You should tell them that each night
the Whisperers from the Stars
come to all of them in their troubled sleep -
to beckon them to the safety of the streams
in the woods and fields;

you should tell them to follow.

They can bathe in the healing moonlight,
and wash away the poison of the forest.

To help you in your journey,
she placed some healing stars into your eyes -
so that others may see.

I looked into your eyes,
and saw the beauty of heaven there.

Whispers of Light

We set up camp in a clearing with a stream,
enclosed by thickets and Woodland.

and You tell me
that now is the time

but I'm afraid.

So you embrace me, kiss me
And invite me
to lie down
amongst the evening fresh bluebells.

Our eyes closed in oneness
You begin to sing in Angel-tongue whispers
to the stars.

A sweet-scented air-caress
signals Their arrival.

They come to rest next to me,
place their hands into my heart
and onto my head;

and I begin to see the roots of the Forest:
Space Cowboy

Gazing inward
from the centre of the Wooded clearing
I can see me -
Trapped in the memories of the Forest.

I'm on a battered
red and yellow plastic tractor -
with black pedals
attached to either side of the front wheel.

And I'm slowly riding round in circles;

I have my favourite silver NASA jacket on,
army trousers,
and my black felt cowboy hat
with a silver starred badge attached to the front.

The space cowboy
turns, and looks out to me -
with his silent thoughtful eyes,
and I look back at him and
I'm crying,

I want to tell him
that those things weren't his fault.

Oh - to run in there and grab him,
so that we can both make a dash for it,
through to the ends of the forest,
not stopping until we make it down to the shore -
where we can set sail
to somewhere far away on some driftwood.

But I can't move,
as I'm crying so deeply,
so hard,
that no breath can escape my mouth;
my chest overburdened with decades of cry
gushing all at once.

So I blow a whispered thought
over to his pale solemn mind;
to say sorry
for the wasted and lost years that he's been dragged through,

followed by years of oblivion,
filth and silent rage,
and that I wanted so desperately for it to be different.

I just wanted him to know
that I was searching out other maps
and looking for different paths,
but at the end of each of them,

I was still left alone with myself -

I just couldn't escape me
and the shadows that had been left behind in my soul.

And then I see the most brilliant light
expanding amidst the silver-point stars.

The twisted Shadows that had been lingering
and peering from behind the Forest-line
shrink and disperse,
back into the blackness.

And then I see Him,
the Light-Keeper, with a face so bright
that I can't make out the details of his features.

He walks over towards the forest,
And takes hold of the hand of the Space Cowboy;

he looks up towards the Light-Keeper - and smiles,
he can see that he's going home.

They both walk over to where I lay,
so I gather myself up
onto my knees,
reach out and hold the Space Cowboy and squeeze him so tightly.

He kisses my cheek
and as the grip of the Bind-Weed starts to diminish  
I can feel that my empty caverns
are being filled with the most amazing Light of human love.

I let him go
and they turn and begin to walk away.

I can see his silver NASA jacket glint
as they walk from the forest and ascend into the freedom of the Light.

I give myself up to the Light,
enclosed in the diamond sun of a warm kiss
I want to follow
and go to sleep
In the breathless light;

But the hands of many
take hold of my form
and bring me back down to rest.

And in the dreams of my healing sleep,
I gather-up an infinite Star-Trail
to scatter
across the lonely paths of the Wanderers
in the midst of their dark nights,

to beckon them
to their rafts,

to the ships.