Stepping into the Woods

Turn around. The woods have swallowed
you already. The way in is easier
than the way out. Obey these rules:

Stay on the path. Do not follow the lights
that flicker on the edge of sight.
Do not eat the bread crumbs,

or listen to the voices, though they echo
through you like the promise of home.
Begin to forget that word: it’s only

a place you return to and find
no longer exists. Like a cabin
braced with candy canes, lovely

to see, dangerous to touch.
You’ll meet strangers on the way.
Speak to them if you must,

but give them nothing, tell them nothing.
What sharp teeth they have.
Others have come here

before you, but few have left. Curiosity
can consume you. You may think
you see your parents, your lover.

Do not run to them. If you come to a cabin
with legs, walk past it. The skittering
behind you may grow distant in time.

Try not to dream of what may have been.
Distrust what you see. Remember the tale
of the girl who took the stranger’s

generosity, how he dragged her
through the streets in a spiked barrel,
or chewed her bones clean. Learn

that trust can kill, and that death
is not the worst thing that can happen
to the young. If you must sleep,

do not dream. The woods enfold
you now, thick as blankets. I tell
you the truth: they are patient

as wolves, hungry as winter.