The House that Jack Built

the first trees were felled
and sailed in, wrecked, then slept
an age in the northern sun, blackening
to iron                    were found by horsemen
leading their horses and raised as
cloud’s axles, rafters of night, a god’s gates
     were passed through, seen
from miles off, rolled the sun
and moon along their lintels, rooted,
put out leaves                     for a second time
creaked, tasted the rain, held
the wind to their hearts while
the horsemen streamed like
their horses’ manes
into the dark, their fires
black smudge in the subsoil, their bridles
of gold underground

     lived long, grew great
                  were a second time
felled, dressed                   were sharpened to stakes
and raised as a fort
by farmers who’d followed their ploughs
to the treeline for fuel
to bake the pots
their ashes were buried in
with a scattering of grain
like stars                 each small clay
heaven still hangs in the earth

     were overgrown,
steered clear of
     called dragon’s ribs
                   devil’s cot                 were nested among, rotted
down beside
     harbored foxglove, eggshell
owl pellet, primrose, honeycomb

     were glazed, split
                  put out buds of malachite, blossoms
of salt, grew again, put out
small translucent fruits named
by the women who prized them
teardrops, ice apples, clarities
      were offered bread,
dolls of woven grass, plaits of hair, coins
with the obverse ground smooth, beads
of  turquoise

    twisted, straightened, filled
with rooks, held again
the wind to their hearts, creaked, scraped
off the sunlight’s scales with their leaves, were
a grove, grew
manes of lichen, were murmured
under, gave counsel on still nights
of open doorways the dead came through
on horseback or shouldering flails or bearing chimes
of ice apples                       gave shelter
     were felled for it, their roots
ripped up by a legion’s engineers
and left like brainstems
rucked on the earth

     were timber but the pit saws
snarled in their rings of iron
     broke teeth on the flints
that welted their sapwood
     were good
for nothing, stacked, fired, marched
away from, sucked up the flames,
hissed, smoked, glowed blood-
black, were tempered, twice-
forged                     bided
on site as battle-stain,
in story as Head Wood

     lay half-buried, grown over, still hot
                  were stumbled upon
by navigators, hit
with hammers and rang
until they were made lock gates
to slam
shut on the slow wet
     grew green, slime-
faced, knew runoff, weird particulates,
held fast against drizzle’s
tonnage, the nudge
and bonk of a bloater        were left
stinking when the water died

     stood strange in currents
of deep grass, open wide
     flexed, hungered once more
for the light, bulged, branched, rived
out of their lacquer, unfurled
leaves of oilskin, shook down clots
of blossom            lived
long, grew great
     weren’t felled but walled in, roofed
over, giving span
to a farmhouse, hanging
a hall from their outstretch, bracing floor
after floor on their inosculating
joists, which sang
to a barefoot tread and were called
home of shadows             heart of the wind

More Poems by Jacob Polley