The Luminary Postgraduate Magazine Lancaster University

'The Giving Trees' and 'Where the Wild Things Were'

Elizabeth Johnston


Where the Wild Things Were

 ‘She has heard a whisper say / A curse is on her if she stay’
                —Tennyson, ‘The Lady of Shalott’

When, long ago, he wore her down
and wanting love, she promised vows,
a forest grew inside her bower,
a web of vines, so many flowers
the walls a world around her turned,
for wild things no longer yearned
and she saw only shadows,
        in the mirror only ghosts.


‘Til one day from far away,
she heard a song, a wild song,
 a wild, dark, and drowning song,
and then she knew, as some wives do
        a curse was on her if she stayed.


And so she crept to siren’s shore,
unloosed a boat, and rowed unmoored
into the noises of the night,
so buoyant was her sense of right,
so desperate was her moonlit flight.
Now done with compass, done with chart,
led only by her thrumming heart,
she sailed through months, and weeks, and days,
through parted willows, fields laid waste,
until at last she found that place,
where creatures horned and snaky-haired
        dance a wild rumpus.


And she thought not of right or wrong,
at last was certain she belonged
among the howling, sharp-toothed throng,
the triple-headed beastly strong.
She stayed awake the whole night long.
She ate their feast and sang their songs,
and to the cadence clapped along
and she knew all the words because
        once even she was wild.


But when he found her empty room,
the mirror cracked, the lonely loom,
the water lily’s wild bloom--
his heart grew faint, he flashed his sword,
he swore an oath, and called his horse,
and rode down to the sea, of course,
for, prince or no, he needed her
       to love him best of all. 


He followed and he found her there.
Her eyes were black, and loose her hair.
She sang in tongues, she raged, she raved,
but he was strong, and he was brave
and knew the words to break the spell,
to ward off wild, make her well--
And so he took her hand and cooed,
But what is here? And who are you
To moor in such a wild space?
This tender heart, this lovely face?
This dark and darker savage place?
His dinner cold and left for waste 
       back home where she belonged?


And though she gnashed her teeth and cried,
and roared her roar and rolled her eyes
and even tried her song to sing,
it was a terribly futile thing.
He did not blink, but said: Be Still.
       And tamed her with his trick.


Yes, we know how this story goes:
the bride who runs, the girl who roams,
how in his arms he’ll brings her home,
like Peter to his pumpkin shell,
like Jacob with his bride in veil,
like Hades to his ghastly hell,
and in his tower keep her well,
and sometimes let her story tell
        his wild thing, he loves.


The Giving Trees

‘Once there was a tree.  And she loved a little boy.’ -  Shel Silverstein, The Giving Tree
 ‘Women are measured by what they endure’ - Meryl Streep


The Giving Trees:
the myth with which our veins run thick--
how thirsty, thin, they
weather freeze,
grow tall, branch out,      
and bear the weight,
surrender wide,
and count their years in wounds.


We’re told that they are rooted,

In time we find we cannot be
 all giving trees,
 begrudge the blossom
plucked, the ripe fruit gathered,
    the bowing low, the binding,
resent the lending
limbs, our fruit, our shade.


We should not worship, only grieve
these whitened, branchless trees,
boneyard of saints who, yet in death,
still shelter those who crawl inside,
or, trunkless, offer stumps.


Unhappy myth!
Let us seed new growth,
measure our worth in words instead of scars,
take what we want and when we want
say no and turn away,
disrobe ourselves of guilt,
sweep from our roots apology.
And in this wide and quiet place,
 this damp and darkling space,

Back to Issue>>

Journal Home | Department Home | Editorial Board | Open Access Statement