The trouble is, see, we keep losing all our poets to those there woods. The nymphs and the dryads, they can’t get enough of them. They tease them and torment them and sing to them, until it makes them mad with want, and well, that’s when they go. Sort of like sirens, I guess.
They’re not all good poets, necessarily. Some of them can just stack a couple of metaphors on top of each other without grating on your nerves. But they take them all, even the not-so-good ones. . . I was going to say they take even the bad ones, but they don’t: I guess because a bad poet isn’t really a poet.
And this is a problem for us, you see, because we like poetry: life’s just not so worthwhile without it. Some of us like the long epic ballads, ships and sailors and final fights, you know. Others, like our mayor, they’re minimalists. Keep it short, they say, no excess words. The flowery stuff is for the gardens. But the fairies in the woods, they’re not picky as to form: they take ‘em all, all the works, and all the poets. There’s almost nothing left. Martha O’ Donnahue, she lost two sons to the woods, and one of ‘em could play the fiddle too, she had a book of poems buried in her back yard. Kept it there for years, but they found it all the same. Once we were famous for our poets. When they take away our poet children, they take away our civic pride, too.
We can usually tell our poet boys right off the bat. In my experience, they’re quiet, shy sorts, though sometimes you get a talented hell-raiser that nobody likes. Now a days, some people say we should be protecting them: keeping them away from the outdoors, or tying them up to their older brothers so that they don’t wander off. One lady who lives down by the edge of town, she even says we should send them away as soon as they write their first stanza, keep ‘em safe. But the majority opinion takes no stock in that. It’s not that they’re being kidnapped: they choose to go. And if they choose to go, how could we stop ‘em? I’m not so sure I hold with that, I think that maybe the fairies are cheating somehow, but that’s how we do it: we wait and hope that one of them will want to stay.
Somehow or another, though, they all go for a walk in the woods. Some of them are warned not to. They’re told by their parents, or their young friends, what might happen if they do. It usually happens after their first good poem, whenever they find the poet in themselves. Some kids write nice little ditties soon after they learn to read, other kids can wander their legs off in those woods, and it’s only after they hit puberty and pour their hearts out onto paper and make good sense with it that the fairies touch them. The poem’s the thing, see. The fairies don’t take promises.
Now, we don’t know how they all get the idea of going walking in the woods. Different folks have different theories. One lady says there must be something about those woods that attracks the poetic temperment. Man who teaches in the schoolhouse, though, he says he thinks the faries sing to them, and they follow the song into the woods because they’re curious. Our blacksmith, his brother was a poet, he says he thinks they send little farie’s out into our village, and that they invite our poets down for a chat. We’ll probably never know. One way or another, though, they all go walking down there.
Not that it’s always the first trip that gets them. It often takes more than one; it depends on a variety of factors. If they stay in the main woods, it’s the dryads they’ll be talking too. If they go down by the river, it’s the nymphs. Beautiful women, both, but it can make a big difference, so I hear. Dryads are better singers, but they like to take it easy, while nymphs are cavorting and flirtatious. They’re shameless, the lot of them. They’ll tease the poets and laugh at them, show them magical kingdoms under the rivers or in the branches of trees, and offer them anything their hearts desire. That’s enough to get some of them right off the bat.
Others, though, maybe they have a profession they want to get back to, or feel lonely for home. Maybe they love their parents, or they’ve got a sweetheart. Maybe they’re just plain afraid. Whatever it is, they say no. But they always change their mind. From then on, they’ll hear invitations whispered at night, and every time they see the forest, there’ll be a shapely arm, gesturing them back. Sometimes they go on a second visit, and still come back. Nobody’s ever come back from a third: by that time, those poets are just mad with desire, they can’t sleep right, can hardly eat. It’s worked that way for years – they’ve got those boys’ numbers.
When it’s a girl poet they’re after, well, then they have to go to a lot of trouble. It’s all women spirits in that woods, so they have to import. They bring in mischievous young pucks as handsome as willows who whisk them up and dance them through the forest, deliberately catching her clothing on briars and thistles. And from then on, wherever she turns, she’ll have a handsome suitor from the forest waiting on her whims; fairy pucks can sing like dreams, they’re charming as the devil, and know a thousand and one soft spots on the skin to touch at each opportunity, to massage each moment, to caress in the darkness. They have everything but depth, and can be anything except sincere. I’ve never known what girls see in that type, especially poets. But it never fails. All the pucks ask is that they follow them into the woods, and so they do – and they don’t come back.
Now it’s just the rest of us, left alone. And mothers don’t know what to hope for. Do they want their children to have thoughtful tongues and observant natures? How clever can your child be if you want to keep him? But, of course, there’s another pain too, and an uncertainty that we don’t like to talk about. But it’s a mirror that we can’t help looking in to every time we loose another poet to the fairies.
What is it they offer them that we can’t? Why do we mean so much less to the most beautiful minds we have? A nice hot fire, home cooked meals, family and good company at night: these are our staples, these are our lives. We always offer them freely: it’s all we’ve got. Yet not a poet in decades has stayed. What more do they want?