I step into the center of the glade
with darkness draped around me like a cloak,
and (shivering) I peer into the trees.
The Hunter perches on an oaken branch.
I cannot see her face. The owls hoot
amongst themselves–a strangely feathered moot.
I pull my knitted cap from off my head.
It’s what my mother taught me (rest her soul).
And when I kneel before her, as my Pa
had warned me, ere he passed, I shut my eyes
against the shadows looming all around.
My heart attempts to leap toward the ground.
“It’s time to speak your question, child,” she says.
At first the words are stuck inside my throat,
a jumbled mass of mangled notions. But
the air hangs thick, and not a feather stirs,
and so I force them out: “I… want to know
where home is now. I’ve nowhere else to go.”
My folks are dead, of course. The hut was burned
by raiders; neighbors (those not killed) were hauled
away to work in distant mines. I hid
amongst the trees, at the edge of these haunted woods
where even monsters feared the shadows’ reach
and winds could whisper close to human speech.
The Hunter brings me back from memory
with laughter. “Child,” she says, “this is your home.
You come to us with darkness in your heart,
with wisdom earned through terror, and a strength
of will to strike your foes. Oh yes–your home
is here. Receive your wings; you needn’t ever roam.”
The harshness of her voice inspires inside
of me a horror, and I turn to run
too late. I’ve taken seven steps–and then
the talons burst from out my weathered shoes
and tear the dirt. I cry out, but my voice
is wisdom as a song. Was this my choice?
I flap my wings and settle on a branch
of gnarled and twisted oak. She smiles at me,
this Hunter, Mother, Teacher… Witch. The wood
seems brighter with my owlish eyes. Sharper,
and more alive. The raiders, were they here,
would look upon our eyes… and learn to fear.
The wind arrives–and with it comes a cry
of pain, in human voice, as brutes and beasts
return to break yon weaker souls. I look
askance as Hunter raises up. “We hunt,”
she says, and all the woods takes brutal wing
as one. It’s hell. It’s home. It’s everything.
Brian Hugenbruch lives in Upstate New York with his wife and their pets. By day, he writes information security programs to protect your data on (and from) the internet. By night, he writes speculative fiction and poetry about imagination, identity, family, and time. His poetry has also appeared in Abyss & Apex, Liminality, and Silver Blade. No, he’s not sure how to say his last name, either.
Author of “On Brutal Wing”
What inspired you to write this poem?
This was inspired by an online image of what became the Hunter and a flock of birds: a hooded figure, face obscured, bright eyes, perched in seemingly malevolent company in a dark wood. I started wondering from whose point of view that image might have been drawn, and what drove them that far away from their sense of ordinary. I was also anxious to write a slightly longer narrative poem, so image and impulse melded really well.
What do you hope readers take from this poem?
Sometimes we find hope and help in the strangest places. And in times of darkness, even hope can be terrifying. (Don’t let that stop you.)
To give other writers hope, would you mind sharing with us how many edits and/or submissions this poem has been through?
This poem went through three drafts before submission–the infodump, the narrative clean-up, and recitation/polishing. (Three to five drafts is pretty common for me.) And while it found a home very quickly, I’ve had some poems and stories that don’t find their forever homes until 20-30 submissions later. (A story of mine published mid-2020 spent a full five years in queues before it was accepted.) It can take a long time, but there’s always hope.
Recommend something to us! This could be a book, a short story, a video game, a project you’ve heard about, something you’re working on, etc. Anything that has you excited and that you want people to know about.
I always love to name-drop the fiction anthologies from Zombies Need Brains, since they pull together a lot of fantastic authors (new and established) to work on imaginative themes. I’m especially proud of the story of mine that appeared in MY BATTERY IS LOW AND IT IS GETTING DARK (ZNB, 2020), a sequence about old technology finding new purpose and new life long after its original mission faded.