Now summer cedes to autumn, clips
the clusters from pedunculate
oaks. To think—I thought it cute,
the doctrine that the oak trees sculpt
the air and water, earth and light
Jove gives. They saw we mocked their rites,
those druids of the heathen cults
who at the dockside cursed and wept
and beat their breasts to watch the stripped
trunks taken for our prison hulks
to ferry out the latest get
of orphans reared on shame and hate.
We felled, again, the groves they kept
to wear as tokens of renown
which meant, for me, a civic crown
and a fast track to the senate.
I post my list of apostates,
troop dispositions, crimes. Soon, night
will loop its weight about my neck
and pull me tight beneath its cope
into the hope I can’t escape:
a hand on which some jackboot stamped
that’s cramped and stained with oak gall ink
will one day take the wood I pulped,
trim a footstalk and pen a mark
beside my name. And I will wake,
trembling, failing like the oak
beholden to the thunderbolt,
its broken oath on my cracked lips.
James Brookes is a British poet living in Boston. An Eric Gregory Award winner, his poems have appeared in the London Review of Books, Poetry, Hopkins Review, and elsewhere. His latest collection is Spoils (Offord Road).