The Church and the Forest

When I was young, my mother carried me to the Forest;
We could see it through the windows of the Church.
The birds and cats, dogs and hawks — they were new to me.
I motioned to my mother; she carried me outside.
The air was cold and the wind bit,
But, like a beautiful song, the sounds of the Forest entranced me.

The Church bell rang, but I did not hear it.
The wind rustling the leaves overpowered the birdsong,
And the birdsong overpowered the bell.
My mother heard it; she left, thinking I would follow.
A fox and a rabbit, playing, caught my eye.
And my mother left.

The Church has been here longer than I can remember,
Standing in a glade, surrounded by the Forest.
The people in the Church are always happy.
They’re always safe.

I’ve heard of a flood that drowned the badger,
Deep in his burrow, but the people stayed dry.
The winds have cracked boughs and branches,
The squirrels nesting within, fell and were broken.
A fire, licking the heels of a thunderclap, danced wildly,
While the mice lay still, smothered by a blanket of heat.
And the people in the Church were out of harm’s way.

I spent many years in the Forest,
Playing with the animals;
And on occasion, I heard a bell ringing in the Church tower.
It called to me.

It rang over four times,
But I was scared.
I was having fun frolicking in the leaves
With the bears and rabbits.
I’d given each one a name,
As they had for me.

I was secure,
but something was missing.

I know almost every inch of the Forest,
But I didn’t see the snake.
It left a scar,
One that won’t heal.

The animals can hear the bell; they give it pause,
But they’re just animals and don’t care.
I have seen a dove floating in the air; It lives in the belfry,
And frightens the raven away.

Now, I see the dove near the Church’s door;
It beckons and I nod.

I turn back to my animal friends,
“I’m leaving now, but I’ll come back.
We will play again.”

From a branch, an owl looks down,
“No you won’t. There’s more of your kind
In the Church. You won’t come back.”

Suddenly, a pig interjects,
“And if you do, we won’t play with you.
You want to be in the Church.”

The bell rang again; the dove was still.
“But I don’t belong here and the Church is calling me.
We’ve played games, every day. And we have no more to play.”

I turn back to the Church;
My heart starts pounding. I see no dove.
I look up to the sky and all in the trees, but no dove,
“Am I too late?”

Tears escape my eyes and I sigh.
Until I see the arch — a dove holding an olive branch.
The door slowly opens; light pours out.
Two figures, bathed in light, steps onto the porch.
Both are smiling and nodding,
They know me.

As I move toward the Church; the birdsong builds.
Wind throws dirt into the air and my eyes,
I am blinded. And the bell,
overcome by the birdsong, offers no guidance.

Now, I hear voices, in front and behind me.
But, which direction do I face?
I don’t know which voices are the animals’ or my friends’,
I am lost, so close to the Church,
Fear strikes, “What if I follow the wrong voice?
Please, help me.”

The radiance from the Church shimmers,
Is the door closing?
The voices grow louder,
“Who’s there?”

The blinding storm turns wet, as drops of rain
Turn into streams that blankets the Forest,
Transforming it into a swamp, a pit of mire.
Each step is harder than the last, and I slip.
My outstretched arms land on another’s,
Not the mud that holds my feet.
The arms set me straight,
“The Church is not far away.”

Each syllable brings comfort to my heart,
And I grow weak and strong.
My legs lift feet covered with thick with mud,
“Where’s the Church?”

The torrential rain becomes a light shower,
But there is no bell.
“Follow my voice. You belong in the light.”

I hold my eyes shut, and move to the voice.
Quickly, the steps came.
My eyes still tight, I climb the Church steps.
The birdsong fades, defeated by the bell.

On the porch, I open my eyes.
The two figures on either side of me,
Took my hands in theirs,
“You’ve come a long way. It’s time to go inside.”

Honeydew fills my nose,
And the light caresses and warms my body.
We step closer to the door, as I wonder aloud,
“Which of you pulled me out of the mire?”

They glance at each other, and then to me,
“We did nothing to help you.”

I gaze down at my mud-clad feet,
“Who then?”
Lifting my head to the arch, I see.
“Look. The dove is covered with mud.”

Smiling, I accompany my friends in to the Church.
“Thank you.”

© 1994 David Carroll. All rights reserved.