Green Holly Man New Year, 2011

by Laurie Byro
Desert Moon Review
Second Place, February 2011
Judged by Kwame Dawes

When I wake I feel guilty; it’s been a year since
I met you last, but something draws me to the forest
where you have summoned me in the past.

Since your wrists were cut, I sip you secretly
like wine. The barbed edges of your touch still hold me
captive as birds peck and flock to red winter

berries. Snowy wind rattles my windows and I know
you are chiding me to walk with you on this first day.
I gather greens and abandoned birds nests and form

my life into a wreath. Later, when I weave blue jay
feathers and attach acorns I remember how your eyes
change as you become what I want but can never have.

I fear this is the year you will leave me completely, the year
when I leave the mewling of you down by the shore,
and ice covers the lake. I’ll not watch for you again.

Later, when I undress in the mossy dark, I notice my legs
have scratches like train tracks. I know then, you are gone.
The ice on the lake is frozen enough to walk on.

Your hands will not touch my shoulders like a rough
shawl. When I walk the lake alone this winter, fish
and turtles rearrange themselves in the silence underneath.

It is easy to dispense with the simplest flaw of the poem—an over abundance of “I’s”—easily mended with deft syntax and constant vigilance. Beyond this minor flaw, this is a splendid poem—haunting in its evocation of loss and obsession, and unsettling in its treatment of guilt. But its grace lies in the language: “your hands will not touch my shoulders like a rough/ shawl…”—that is fine work and we see much of this throughout. Importantly, not everything makes sense, and even the causal assertions, like the suggestion that the presence of scratches are clear evidence that the “Green Holly Man” is gone, seem believable because the persona has been well established as capable of such leaps. As much as most of the poem happens above the ice, the final image speaks to the kind of necessary rearranging that is taking place below the surface of thought, feeling and action. In other words, the poem ends with a fine metaphor that is both visually affecting and insightful. Nice work. --Kwame Dawes