A Winter’s Challenge

by Lorna Smithers

The mid-December wind
Tears down the last leaves
Blasted boughs circle the skies
Like wild weather vanes,
The ivy trembles.

Amidst the ramparts
Decks a forest miniature
Where the prickling holly
Shines aquifolium locks
On berries vermillion.

A wight watches
With eyes red as blood
Verdant beard and woody features,
Huge stature draped in an armature of evergreen,
The greenest man I’ve ever seen,
An interfuge of strife and trouble
Assimilating the quiet stillness
Of a dark silent chapel.
He plucks a sprig, a fractured microcosmic tree
And commands “do justice to my apparel.”

And where to hence?
To your wild home north of the Wirral
To a solitary cavern of abandonment
At the year’s turn to ride forth on a steed
Green maned and tangled
Bearing in one hand the holly sprig,
A dauntless axe in the other
To issue your winter’s challenge?

Who now would heft your axe,
Adhere to your severed speech
And proffer their head upon your block?
Will you ride to the Queen,
The lord knights of parliament,
The bankers and bureaucrats
Knowing chivalry and honour lie dead
Capsized beneath this world
Where Arthur slumbers, whilst above
The powers of darkness prosper?

Will your challenge be issued?
Will the dark of this winter’s night listen?
And who amongst us would pass your test?