I am an English professor at a two-year college where I teach writing (creative and expository) and literature. My poetry has appeared in a number of small magazines, and I have two poetry chapbooks, That’s the Way the Music Sounds, from Finishing Line Press (2009) and Talking to the Mirror from The Last Automat Press (2010). In addition to loving poetry, I am also a fledgling mystery novelist in search of an agent. I live with another English professor and poet, Dr. Van Hartmann, and would rather be rich than famous. My website: www.laurelpeterson.com
Paying the Elf Tribute
When they bought the summer house,
he found it first:
a hollowed out tree trunk
five feet into the forest
that stretched like a rubber band
around their ring of meadow.
It’s an elf house, he told her,
his only daughter,
his only child.
We must pay tribute
to keep mischief away.
when school spilled out its charges,
and father and daughter were both freed
to move into the warm, secret days
and hushed, cool nights of the mountains,
they would make their way
five feet into the forest
to leave a shard of sea-rubbed glass,
a branch of silvered wildflowers,
a petrified charm tied on silk ribbon
at the elf house door.
The year her old cat died,
she left its collar
--to keep the new kitten safe, she told him.
The night she graduated high school,
a boy she loved died;
the highway and alcohol
loved him more than she could.
In college, a friend slid off an icy road.
Later, her grandparents, one by one.
For each, the elves received tribute, memorial.
After each came new love, a child.
Then came her father’s cancer,
the long, slow descent into absence.
He had retired by then
to the summer house made year round.
How was one to know what elves needed
as recompense for this?
She left husband and child to care
for each other, took charge
of swabbing pus from wounds,
washing his sheets of blood and vomit,
prying truth from doctors.
Every so often, she would slip
to the forest’s edge
to leave a talisman
in the small pile of tokens
that represented a life:
a 1945 penny, his Navy wings,
the gold pen she’d given him
when he turned forty, and
in one final desperate act,
as he lay evaporated almost to bone,
his wedding band from the mother
who had died before her daughter could know her.
He slipped away that night.
Perhaps that was the elves’ gift
for the ring. In the morning,
when she went to retrieve it,
angry at their treachery,
in the pile of fading glitter, sheen and decay,
it alone was gone
into the warm, dark heart
of the forest.
Credits: 'Paying the Elf Tribute' was previously published in Prairie Winds, 2004, and at Enskyment, www.enskyment.org.
©2015 Laurel Peterson