I Receive a Phone Call from the Land Between

I receive a phone call
from a fellow journalist
who wants a favor,
wants me to go to Deep Woods
to photograph a location
in Deep Woods
named Deep Woods
because in broad daylight
the unmarked gravel roads
lose travelers with detailed directions
in a scattershot haze of lookalike trees

that could be the same forest
where the birds ate the breadcrumb trail
Hansel and Gretel hoped
would lead them back to reality
instead of into a fantasy world
where the starved children drool
at the sight of a gingerbread house
inhabited by a witch
who wants to eat them.
should I venture into this dystopian forest
at 10:30 on a 7 degree January night
to photograph a location my fellow journalist
has no clue about how
I should go about locating?
The answer:
because that afternoon five bullets
fired by law enforcement officials
entered the body of a man
who phoned 911 to warn the dispatcher
if someone didn’t help him
he would shoot himself.
The police say
fired first says my fellow journalist.
Do Hansel and Gretel know about this?
I want to ask suspicious
I’m the victim of a St. Stephen’s eve
joke about martyrs—ask instead
“Did he die?”
An uncharted location in the land
between what is real and what is not real
inhabited by residents of neither place
invades my intention to wash last night’s dinner dishes
and fill an empty pan with squash,
onions, garlic, and tofu
suiting my vegan inclinations

wanting suddenly to vomit in the unwashed pan
brimful with cloudy water
in my sink hosting tiny invisibles
celebrating rot and decay.
trumps horror. “Have you ever
been to Deep Woods?” I ask
and knowing he hasn’t before he answers
explain, “I’ve been lost there twice
in broad daylight with detailed
directions to where I wanted to go.”

My fellow journalist
explains his editor, not him
suggested me for the errand.

I taste
metal filings mingled with saliva,
spit gargled shell casings into the sink.
Hang up. Wash the dishes. Boil
squash without onions or garlic or salt, inhale
the unseasoned steam seeping from beneath the pan lid
and venture guesses about how old
the dead man is. What would he have wanted
me to cook him for supper?

Leslie Lytle’s poems have appeared in The Carolina Quarterly, The Georgia Review, Literary Review, New England Review and elsewhere. In her novel Chicken Stock (Hedgehog and Fox, 2015), a young woman desperate to save the family farm battles corporate agriculture. In Execution’s Doorstep (nonfiction, University Press of New England, 2008) five innocent men struggle against a system that wants to execute them for crimes they didn’t commit—“in real life, the true hell just might be inside the heads of the innocent men behind bars.” (Playboy, Nov. 2008). She works as a reporter for the Sewanee Mountain Messenger. Read other articles by Leslie.