The Legend of the Green Man

by Christopher T. George
FreeWrights Peer Review
First Place, November 2013
Judged by Kelly Cherry

The Green Man persists through the lies, the obfuscations,
the pretentious accents and the newspaper pirate hats crafted

from today’s headlines. The Green Man peers at you from behind
the tree trunk entwined by the yellow-eyed luminescent serpent,

just as he spied on the Persian archers, the Roman pikemen
who tramped through the forest leaving their dead slumbering

under the fall leaves. Still, we earn our salaries as did
those soldiers rewarded with salt and never look back; we

pretend we are in receipt of generous donations, largesse
of the gods — golden leaves that mound up in attic chests.

The Green Man is watching you through each day’s relentless dreck,
the never-ending commercial static. Something that you can’t control,

despite all the newfangled inventions: something primal and obscene.
Yes, yes — you saw him once: once seen, never forgotten. Listen.

He’s listening to you, watching your every move. You hide your hand
in a black velvet glove. Hide your face in a mask. Just don’t ask.

This month my pick for FIRST PLACE is "The Legend of the Green Man." The Green Man, often depicted in visual art as a face, framed by leaves, from whose orifices vines grow and tangle, and in literary tales as a kind of Robin Hood—a figure of the forest—or, as in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a pagan deity or mentor, is a mysterious holdover from earlier times, and this poem in couplets reminds us, at one and the same time, of the immeasurable difference between us and the vegetable world and our necessary closeness to it. Here we see him hiding behind a tree trunk to which a threatening serpent clings; we are reminded that he likewise spied on "Persian archers" and "Roman pikemen," which tells us just how ancient he is. Yet like the Persians and the Romans, we do our job in life, we are glad to cull "golden leaves" or coins. But the Green Man never leaves off looking: he has us in his eyes, he sees our mistakes, he knows we are, like him, "primal and obscene," no matter how technology and the world change. He is the sinner with whom, it seems, we cannot fail to collaborate, and though he welcomes our collaboration, he is also disgusted with it. This poem is short but it carries a good deal of tension and I found myself shivering as I read it. --Kelly Cherry