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A priestess from the Samarkand for whom a tree
with poison thorns is named, invited me
to stay awhile, for free, inside her cave
because she’d heard a group of four
were on the move again, a loopy convex
band distorting what has long been true.

I’ve heard of you, she said, circling me. Is it true
you’re resurrecting form, pinning poems to every tree
you see? Not quite, I said, hoping not to vex
my esteemed host. Not every tree allows me
to post poetry. Who are these loopy four
you speak of? Am I safe inside your cave?

For now. What gathers in authentic and concave
assemblages has always served the poet true.
It’s when you leave my hallowed ground the four
begin their mischief. While you’re here, my tree
of venomed thorn will listen and protect you. As for me,
I’ve business in the city. Pay heed to those who vex

you while you write. A prick, she laughed, doth vex
and pleasure both. I settled in. The roomy cave
was cool, the implements she’d given me
were of the highest quality. I wrote both true
and fictional until I heard strange noises from the tree,
a kind of hissy groaning in a slow four-four.

I crept outside, curious about the distorting four
I did not know by name. The bluish convex
glow of moon cast rippling shadows on the tree;
the comfort I had felt inside began to cave.
Spiky thorns six inches long looked true
to form and deadly. I did not feel like me.

A kind of beetle shell slipped over me.
I longed to spy, seek out some enemies. Four
or forty-four, who knew? Intelligence I hoped was true
suggested that someone out here sought to vex—
but couldn’t while I worked inside the holy cave.
I ran back in and heard a wailing from the tree.

A spy who looked like me was caught next day, convex,
her four limbs tied in agony behind her near the cave.
An untrue poet, she had pinned her work to the wrong tree.

to be continued…

© Elaine Stirling, 2014
More of the gorgeous cave images can be found here.