Joshua Judson

The Green Man

 

‘So I turn’d to the Garden of Love,
That so many sweet flowers bore.
And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tomb-stones where flowers should be.’
– William Blake

i
I swear by every tree and blade of grass
on Forest Rec I’m coming back again.
I swear by every trapped and vibrant bird
in the Arboretum aviary.
I swear by all the Boulevards in town,
Uni, Lenton, Radford, and Gregory.

I swear by the aggy Canada Geese
gi’in it the big un to Away fans
on Victoria Embankment, I swear
by ducks taking flight over City Ground.

I swear by the black water in the fountain
on Market Square, and that lad, one summer
snorkelling in it, his picture in the Post –
his small body floating like a lily.

ii
A fag end floating like a lily
in an ashtray outside The Green Man.
It’s stopped raining and the pavement’s giving
up it’s smell, the hanging baskets are dripping
on our shoulders and Chris and I are drunk,
talking about the initial misgivings
we held of each other. How they’ve gone now.
Drunk and glowing in the half-light, we hug.
Moths are dancing round the heat lamps,
someone’s uncle shambles drunk up the street.

We don’t say love, don’t have to.
It’s there in the shoots crawling out our mouths,
in the buds that grow from the shoots,
bursting into leaves, enough to hide in.

iii.
There’s leaves enough to hide in in the yard.
No one in this South East London houseshare
knows whose job it is to prune the trees back so
we duck, we weave our way to the front door.

We let it grow. We get leaves in our hair.
We let the spiders build homes in the hoods
of our jackets. Branches creep up the windows.
When we cross paths in the kitchen, we say

I can’t believe the yard. The state of it.
The leaves give us a dappled, natural light
in all our rooms. A rhythm. I come home
one day and see something through the branches.

A man who looks to be made up of leaves,
a green man leant up against the doorframe.

iv.
The green man leans against the doorframe,
casting a handsome shadow, a bottle
in his hand. I’m on the bed and thirsty.
I’m in my head and thirsty.

Have you ever picked up a full bottle,
found it empty? Have you ever picked up a baby?
Felt how heavy it is with dumb potential?
Have you ever held a man? Found him light?
Yourself wanting? Your head bright? Your breath heavy?
I don’t know how to say it better:

I was on the bed and thirsty,
In need of something to clutch.
We had drunk everything else in the house
there was only empty bottles and his mouth.

v.
A clutch of empty bottles at the mouth
of this path, leading us into the park.
I’d brought the Green Man back to Notts,
wanted to show him what I was made of.

We walk slow and quiet through Forest Rec.
My man knows each of the trees by name,
lays a hand on every trunk as we pass.
we look into branches, see nesting birds.

A crow flies down and lands a plastic bag.
A wasp buzzes past my ear towards the road
becomes a motorcycle caning it
up Mansfield Road, then a trail of black smoke.

The Green Man sighs like branches in the wind,
new blossom wilting in the acrid air.

vi.
New blossom beginning to wilt mid-air
outside St. Michaels, Lichfield. Dads wedding.
My brother and I offer our arms for our grandparents
help them out of the car and into the church.

We check and make sure, we quiet and dutiful.
We, sneaking round the corner to choke anxiety
with nicotine. In the background of the selfie
we take together, a pair of stone eyes watches.

I crush fag end under shoe, and he pockets his vape.
A pair of stone eyes sees me pat his back
A pair of stone eyes, surrounded by leaves
The Green Man carved above the doorway

of the church. A pair of stone eyes that see
everything I’ve grown to be.

vii.
I’m taking what is grown of me,
what is green of me, and making a man.

In Murat Food Centre, the Green Man held
a bunch of fresh dill and it got greener.
He followed me as I browsed, breathed life
into the aubergines and the green chillis.
Everywhere he went he left it brighter.
I sparked up on the curb outside.

I dropped my fag end in a drain.
He said your idea of yourself is killing you
and everybody else. It’s killing me.
I swung round to reply and found him gone.

I swear I’m gonna bring him back somehow.
I swear by every tree and blade of grass.

 

Joshua Judson is a poet from Nottingham, an alumnus of the Mouthy Poets collective and a member of the Barbican Young Poets. His work has appeared in Magma, The North, Brittle Star, The White Review and The Rialto. He won second prize in the 2018 York Literature Festival Poetry Competition and was shortlisted in the 2018 Poetry Business New Poets Prize. He has written commissioned works for the Royal Academy of Arts and Barbican.