“Black Leaves” – “The Earthstar” – “Nicodemus”

Black Leaves

Black leaves laughing
at the side of the road.

Oblivious
people press on
and the leaves crimson,
curling their toes.

Occasionally a girl
stops and makes a face
at the scandal, and the leaves
go for her mouth,
serious only about
oblivion’s code.

Then back to their blather—
less burning bush
than minstrel show—
these black tongues laughing
at the side of the road.

The Earthstar

She hated her sister’s fondness for light,
her daily bathing, her nightly howl
of joy. She hated it because
she knew it would outlive them both
somehow.

Sick of it, she shut herself
away and sealed the windows and doors.
Her sister never came to visit
anyway. And if she did—
she’d dig.

And so she dug, through soil and crust
and mantle and mores, until she felt
the very queen of worms.
But the constellation of cracks to her left
was spreading,

and it hatched a passageway of sickly
gold. And at the end of the passage,
at the centre of the Earth, a little
star reclined—the portly prince
of seeds.

Its orbit held her tight but didn’t
move her—she dug in her heels, and thought
of her sister, and of the incorrigible
day. And the Earthstar turned her to tears
to dust.

Nicodemus

He trickles down at night,
a dirty film of smoke
escaping a chimney played
backward. Through the muted
rooms he sails until
he finds the one whose western
wall is shelves of toys—
of dolls and superheroes
interposed with beasts,
or something like their totems—
with which he brings his ruby
face and ruby eyes
level. Then plasmic light
infuses them, and sets
the stage for what he likes
to see—these fledgling souls
coming alive and touching
each other.

It is like the bare
beginnings of drama, a pre-
pubescent bard’s nocturnal
brush with dew. He drives
the babes to grope and fumble
through the woods of dream,
to wrestle on the threshold
of innocence.

And on the holiest
of nights, he touches them—
imagine how he touches
them, and how they try
to mouth Nicodemus,
Nicodemus… but with
what mouths?

He has had people, of course,
but they remember too much—
nor can he abide
the smell of what they ooze.
His little acolytes
remember in a broken
way, which is to say
he takes his leave and with it
their awareness, suspending
all reflection. Why else
would they genuflect
as though his coming were like
an evenstar that thaws
the leaves enough to have them
stir, and almost breathe?
Ah, he is their world.

Humphrey ‘Huck’ Astley is a poet and musician based in Oxford, England. His works include the three-part album and stage-show Alexander the Great: a Folk Operetta (PinDrop/PRSF, 2013-15), The Gallows-Humored Melody (Albion Beatnik Press, 2016), and WI5HING WELL (Rain over Bouville, 2020). His writing has appeared in various publications including Agenda, The London Magazine, and Poetry London.