Cover of Suzanne Palmer's book Finder

AW Amazon Store

AW is an Amazon Affiliate

If this site is helpful to you,
Please consider a voluntary subscription to defray ongoing expenses.

paypal subscribe button

How To Support AW

Editing for authors: because every writer needs a good editor.


Welcome to the AbsoluteWrite Water Cooler! Please read The Newbie Guide To Absolute Write

Results 1 to 25 of 447

Thread: The Compleat 'Thorn Forest' (A Gift for AW)

Threaded View

  1. #1

    The Compleat 'Thorn Forest' (A Gift for AW)


    .............a poem in thirty parts
    written and posted in erratic installments
    .......between May 2014 and May 2015

    .......................William Haskins a gift of gratitude to Absolute Write

    Jacob is Not Home

    If he could have
    he would have
    begged his mother
    with his newborn
    mouth to strangle
    him then and there
    soft shimmering naked
    on her belly
    and already old.

    This song would then
    be short and over
    and you would be home
    and Jacob would be home.

    Jacob is not home.

    Instead he drew breath
    and suckled and cried
    and learned like
    any animal learns—
    ears nipped and angry

    until supplication like
    gray waves of time
    washed over him
    making long his bones
    and teeth

    and memory.

    II. A Boy and His Dog

    When he was human
    Jacob ran on hind legs
    through untended orchards
    sick-sweet with rotting fruit

    chasing thoughts that cut
    before him a path that
    never led far enough away
    from the house

    ...... that leaned into
    ...... the setting sun
    ...... with the roof
    ...... that leaked
    ...... into a bucket at his
    ...... father's calloused feet.

    There he was
    a crouching beast
    hungry-thin and beaten

    most often found beneath
    the porch where
    one mosquito-bit evening

    he uncovered in a
    crushed dust-grave
    the skull of a dog
    bared teeth and bleached

    but no skeleton.

    III. Family Life

    The air hung dead
    beneath the boards and
    Jacob's sweat dripped
    and beaded into mudpie
    buttons in the dust.

    But the curses
    were muffled there
    the violence vague
    percussion of a
    hostile tribe

    until that night
    in the dying light
    the savage shriek
    and two sharp pops:

    Surely it was
    books or knick
    knacks knocked
    to the floor.

    Surely it was
    a prank
    nothing more.

    Surely it was not

    a mother dead
    by a father's hand
    a father's head
    by a father's hand

    and a boy alone
    cleaved to the skull of a dog.

    IV. It Could Have Been Moments, or Hours

    Sleep blends
    into weeping
    when it's
    ...dark outside
    ...dark inside.

    Dirt has a way
    of swallowing tears
    but fears take root
    and wind

    into a poison
    strangling vine.

    V. Protective Custody

    lucked from his haunches
    to the posture of a boy
    but still with animal eyes;

    past his and hers body bags
    Jacob waded paraded through
    a flood of flashing lights
    and unctuous eyes.

    Marked and measured
    ledgered like livestock

    he brooked the
    distant sympathies of

    white jackets
    and dark suits

    badges with numbers
    and photos younger

    than faces he faced
    in places flourescent
    and steel

    and breathing.

    VI. The Interview (or a reasonable facsimile thereof)

    Where'd your mama go, boy?
    Where's your mama been?

    Why you think your daddy
    put a bullet through her chin?

    Ever see her makin' time
    with Bobby Wayne McGinn?

    Where'd your mama go, boy?
    What's your mama's sin?

    What'd your daddy know, boy?
    What'd your daddy do?

    Why'd he kill your mama but
    then not come after you?

    Do you think the rumors
    about Bobby Wayne were true?

    'Cause ain't nobody seen him
    since last Saturday at two.

    VII. Jacob's Interlude

    How many years could
    Jacob trace back?
    Six, maybe seven;
    further than that

    were murky half-memories
    obscurely drawn,
    lurking like shapeless
    shadows at dawn.

    But in

    when sweet

    could almost be

    that he would turn
    and she'd be there -

    freckled cheeks
    and flaxen hair

    and somehow she
    could spare them both

    from the man with
    eyes like his own.

    VIII. Placed

    She called herself Miss Mindy
    and spoke too close to Jacob's face.

    Her lips the color of turnips
    fixed on words that referred to grace.

    But Jacob sleeps
    behind open eyes
    as cold as a cadaver,

    while Mindy sighs
    through as many lies
    as her turnip mouth can slaver.

    Thus an orphan was delivered
    from a wicked life of sloth
    and processed into bondage to
    a creature of the cloth.

    IX. The Virtues of Work

    So preached the preacher:

    "Tomorrow is a garden
    which must be tended by
    a sturdy back
    a steady hand
    a sober eye;

    that which does not eat shall die.

    Fruits of labor are sweetest
    and from the dirt they call
    the fallen saint
    the sinning wench
    the meager thrall;

    what does not take root shall fall."

    But Jacob,
    unshackled as
    a tumbleweed,
    would not heed
    the lesson
    and spoke
    instead of
    drought and
    famine and
    poison soil
    and did not take
    to righteous toil.

    The preacher did not spare the rod
    but Jacob held his tongue,

    for it was by the hand of God
    that the strap was swung.

    X. About Anna

    She too is a beast of burden
    bound under the preacher's yoke.

    Behind the third door
    down the hall, she sleeps
    beneath a photograph
    of some beloved matriarch
    long-dead and looming.

    He imagines the slumber-swell
    of her breasts as she breathes
    the breath of the dreamer.

    Jacob does not dream.

    He draws his blanket,
    growing warmer -

    Jacob the farmer makes seed.

    XI. The Folly of Sloth

    As the preacher oppressed
    and blistered his back,
    so the tormenting sun
    vultured his shoulders.

    Jacob defied two masters
    and from the field
    made good his escape
    past a bending stream
    into crooked trees
    with branches ancient
    and low

    and hid with his sin
    in the shadows.

    Like his namesake, he
    rested his head
    on a pillow of stone,
    praying himself to sleep,
    imploring the Lord
    to lower His ladder,
    teeming with angels,
    that he might ascend
    and crest at the feet
    of the Father.

    He woke instead
    to a scorpion
    scaling his belly,
    tail curled
    and dripping,

    beneath an empty sky.

    XII. The Wretched Sing the Song God Wants to Hear

    Was cold
    was rain
    brought Jacob again

    to the door
    of the preacher

    to trade his hunger
    for the lash
    and the Word.

    But Jacob's was the prayer
    of the mockingbird.

    XIII. Anna, Adjacent

    He was kept away
    from her by day
    by dirt
    by deed
    and distance
    between house
    and field
    .....where his mind lay fallow
    .....and his heart unhealed.

    But by night
    in the light
    that bathed the preacher
    in his babbling madness
    a secret language
    of glances danced
    between them in
    the flickering fugue
    of prayer and despair.

    They fell into each other's arms
    before they ever touched.

    XIV. With Winter Come The Grippe

    Two seasons hence,
    from the bed beneath
    the load-bearing beam
    the preacher cried
    like Christ:
    I thirst!

    It was Anna
    who tended him
    in the throes
    of delirium,

    when imaginal
    demons swooped
    like buzzards
    at his fevered brow.

    She sang him to sleep;
    he called her an angel.

    Anna politely disagreed.

    XV. Whispered Through a Cracked Oak Door

    Run with me, Jacob!

    Let us be swallowed
    by shadows, entangled
    in darkness to writhe

    under skies that brandish
    the moon like a scythe.

    XVI. Into the Small Hours

    Guided by that
    sliver of moon,

    hand in trembling
    hand they ran

    through frozen
    fields and canebrakes

    into the
    snarling brambles -

    whose thorns
    like concertina wire
    guarded the
    forest edge.

    Down the ever-
    narrowing path,

    through the crumbling
    brush beneath

    naked trees that
    clawed the sky

    onto the
    frigid train tracks -

    their breath
    like locomotive steam
    gilded the
    trestle ledge.

    XVII. The Transmutation of Jacob

    At the far end
    of the bridge
    breaks a path
    that doubles back
    beneath the ancient
    timber beams,
    into a jagged
    staircase that
    descends the
    bayou bank.

    It was here
    that Anna, so
    sure of foot
    and wicked,
    led him to
    the water's edge,
    where the thinnest
    hint of frost encased
    the leaves
    the reeds
    the weeds.

    She made for him a fire
    and made him fire beside it, thus:

    Jacob the Beast was made Man.

    XVIII. What Anna Said in the Afterglow Beneath a Creaking Bridge

    As the flames withdrew into embers,
    so Anna shrank into Jacob's embrace,
    and turning her face to the shadows,
    she spoke so as not to be heard:

    A foundling ripped
    from Providence, I was
    passed around
    and peddled,
    unloved and

    Treachery did
    follow me.

    Lechery did
    hollow me.

    But never did it
    swallow me -

    never did I wallow.

    Instead I made myself so small
    I stalked the world invisible
    and perfectly obscured myself
    from even my own eye.

    At which she wept in silence
    as Jacob salted his lips
    at her cheek.

    XIX. Jacob's Reply in His Sleeping Love's Ear

    From first I held you in my eye,
    never have you vanished.

    When those monsters
    banished you
    to this low estate,
    closed the gate
    behind you
    so that pleasure could
    not find you,

    you cultivated a garden
    and plucked me from the earth.

    Your blood ran through me,
    a compass to true me -

    this was the day of my birth.

    XX. The Plea With Which He Stirred Her Awake

    Run with me, Anna!

    Let us go feral
    in forests, unconquered
    unbridled and wise

    beneath trees that shelter
    we beasts from His eyes.

    XXI. Her Answer, Over Ashes Scattered

    Nowhere I've been,
    nowhere I am
    is free of the
    grasp of that
    goddamn man
    and his god,
    shaming and sharing
    my sin.

    Walk with me
    out of the woods, my love—
    fall in among the fallen,

    into wickedness,
    bricked, electric,
    forged by the
    fallible hand of man,

    where night lies dappled
    in pools of light

    and darkness
    crouches in alleys.

    This is true creation, love,
    the garden we deserve.

    XXII. The Journey Out of Forest

    Akin to a dream,
    Jacob ran after her—
    not as prey, but
    as one might chase
    a firefly, or
    pursue a tonic
    to soothe the
    unmistakable ache
    of deepest yearning,
    burning cold
    in the throat
    like winter wind.

    First to the house, she said,
    to gather their things
    and pilfer, perhaps,
    some others.

    Then the road,
    the thumb,
    the ride.

    To wander is
    to wonder, not
    to squander,

    she said.

    XXIII. A Man Must Rise Before the Sun

    The preacher from his fever rose,
    less than Lazarus,
    but close,

    cracked tongue clicking in
    the roof of his mouth
    as he called for

    the wench
    and the dullard.

    But the floor
    don't creak
    and the walls
    don't shiver

    and even a man
    with hell
    in his head
    can cipher:

    if two are gone,
    the gone are one.

    He gripped his cane
    he brewed his blood
    he clacked:

    "Lord make me the
    vessel of Thy wrath."

    XXIV. Beware the Hour of Long Shadows

    Through thorn and field
    Anna and Jacob race
    against the break of day,

    risking it all
    for one small
    final larceny
    to set them on
    their way

    by way
    of one small
    final visit
    to their prison
    and their misery

    (she knows where the
    cash will be and he
    will nick provisions).

    Softly fall their footsteps
    and shallow is their breath.

    XXV. Commence the Caper

    Once inside,
    their whispers
    hiss and glide
    like serpents

    across cold
    hardwood floors,
    peeling open doors,
    slinking through a
    chest of drawers,

    an enterprise
    best shrouded in
    the lesser eye
    of night.

    But daylight's
    come a-callin',

    crawling up
    the hillside.

    XXVI. The Curtain from Top to Bottom Torn


    The preacher
    madly spat his
    rattling phlegm and

    in the face
    of his qedesha
    turned dissolute and

    But was that smile
    that insolent,
    impudent hint of

    those knowing, profane
    curls in the corners
    of lips too red
    for morning—

    that urged the
    back of his hand
    to strike it forever
    from her face.

    She withered and delighted
    in the taste of her own blood.


    The preacher's
    fury drove the
    whistling hickory

    at the skull
    that quartered carnal
    lust and vexed a mongrel

    But was his pain
    those helpless,
    yelping cries in

    those craven, faithless
    scurrilous pleas
    of curs not fit
    for breeding—

    that spurred the
    punishing crack
    of cartilage splitting
    under flesh.

    He cowered and he suffered
    in atonement for his sin.

    But then, Anna

    .....bracing herself on a table,
    .....landed her hand on a pair of scissors
    .....and, setting upon the preacher,
    .....plunged them true into his temple
    .....and, with sacred satisfaction,
    .....dispatched him to his maker.

    XXVII. He Bled for What Felt Like Forever

    Jacob does not pray
    but studies
    the preacher's
    vacant gaze,
    fixed in a
    mix of fear
    and sickness,
    framed by
    thickening blood.

    Anna resumes,
    moves room
    to room, collects
    a gold watch,
    a bit of cash,
    the very necklace
    that from the neck
    dangles in the
    portrait of the
    woman that hangs
    on her wall;
    this is her haul.

    She whispers,
    "We should go."
    Jacob says no.

    He pulls from
    the preacher's skull
    the scissors,
    wipes away the
    invisible traces
    of Anna's
    desperate sin

    and presses instead
    his own.

    He says, "You'll have to go alone."

    XXVIII. A Scene of Singular Despair


    Two children of God stand broken over
    a holy man's pallid corpse.

    What monster more deserves to rot
    while vermin pick his bones
    and drag his carcass to the creek
    to splay on jagged stones?

    What martyrs more deserve to run
    a wild and unbound path
    than we who suffered for so long
    the venom of his wrath?

    Jacob searches her cheek with his hand
    gently for a tear.

    No distance will be far enough
    away to shed your shame
    with judgment stalking every step
    and whispering your name.

    The tyrant's poison blood must show
    as stains upon my hands,
    that you may chase your reckless lust
    into the wicked lands.

    Now it is her pleading tears that find
    his trembling hand.

    I took his life that you could live
    not trade your life for mine!
    We'll disappear and brook no fear
    of mortal nor divine!

    I'll give my neck into the noose
    and with my last breath pray
    that as you slipped out of the house
    God looked the other way.

    Jacob opens the door and on both sin
    and sinner turns his back.

    And when they ask you why you've done
    this thing you have not done?

    I'll look them in the eye and say
    I am my father's son.

    Anna steps through the doorway. A solitary leaf
    curls on the breeze at her feet.

    XXIX. The Lamentation

    He blinked into the sun
    as the horizon swallowed her.

    Perhaps he could have followed her,
    let the rapture blind him,
    pray they'd never find him;
    ....instead he wept
    ....and turned away
    and shut the door behind him. Then

    into the preacher's stiffening grip,
    he slipped The Book.

    Anguish settled over his head
    like a veil. He fell
    into tormented sleep,
    dread-dreams creeping round
    torchlit corners to invade
    his waking mind.

    And so he lay
    for a day,
    a night,
    another day,
    .....and prayed
    .....and raged
    against a god
    who refused to take his call.

    In the end, was the sheriff
    took his call.

    By and by, the sirens,
    the martial thump of boot heels,
    the ritual of justice
    righteously inflicted,
    kicked into his skull.

    Dully did he crumble
    to submission and obey
    his master's cold commands:
    .....Lie down.

    Thus was he bled,
    vanquished and tamed
    and led into

    XXIX. So What, Then? (An Epilogue of Sorts)

    It is human,
    at the very least,
    to pity the beast
    chained, contained
    by circumstance and steel—
    ..........a vantage managed imagining
    ..........a view exists
    ..........from the
    ..........outside in.

    So what, then?
    A life staggers to its sorry end.

    Orphaned by
    the father’s hand,
    the son himself
    now stands

    a stack
    of letters
    and growing.

    So what, then?
    A world crooked on its axis spins.

    While Anna roams the land of Nod,
    a preacher sleeps beneath the sod,
    no one’s seen nor heard from God,
    and Jacob is not home.

    So be it.

    ..................-The End -

    Image: "Two People. The Lonely Ones." by Edvard Munch.

    Original introductory note from May 23, 2014:


    originally, some of the following poems individually were being cross-posted in poetry critique, which is password-protected in the interests of poets seeking to polish work for publication.

    while this allowed me a valued venue for getting feedback from other poets (often useful and enlightening), i am not seeking publication and thus have no need for password-protection. i just want them to be read by poets and non-poets alike.

    for years now, AW has been a welcoming and welcome home for my poetry, something i very much appreciate.

    so it is my hope that the mods will allow me to post these here, where they are accessible without the additional log-in to the critique sub-forum (which people really should do anyway, by the way; you would be surprised at some of the treasures there, but alas human nature being what it is and the perception of poetry being what it is, it just isn't going to happen on any large scale.)

    anyway, if it is allowed to stay, i appreciate it greatly. if not, no hard feelings.


    Last edited by William Haskins; 01-22-2018 at 11:20 PM.

    Thorn Forest: A Gift for AW

    My poems on Twitter. Please proceed in an orderly fashion.

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
Custom Search