The Alchemist

The house was strange without one.
Corners where it could be swelled
daily in their emptiness
and threatened to topple the festivity.

Contrary under her gaze, he determined
that a squat bought thing just wouldn’t do,
and, shedding skeptics,
picked me as acolyte for misadventure.

And so in speckled overalls, like skins,
treading dampness into itself,
we left Crosby-carolling
for the trees who shivered at garden’s end

and saw in hand and hand on trunk,
he hoisted me into the twiggy innards
and spiced stench of sap
to amputate a branch or two or three

that we might puzzle together
in counterfeit of Christmas.
Metal teeth chattered bark to pulp
until my knuckles roared.

Then on the grass he laid our loot
and crouched and bent and sculpted,
rehearsing imperfect forms
gloveless, beneath the limbs’ original,

and twisting out an edifice, like origami
patterned from some secret
blueprint, invisible to me,
he stood content over his design.

Inside, we propped our patchwork nature,
boughs shot out like a mad star,
where he hoped it might not
shout its own lie loud enough

for her to tear it all to pieces.
Still, she came, and stood, and, silent,
circumspected for a hanging second.
And she smiled.

From one angle it was almost a tree.
But from every side his alchemy
now seemed to warm the house,
fuller in its strangeness.


James Parris writes from East London. He has just begun to turn his mind to poetry