I lied to the boy
who I met in the woods
by the church hall
who thought I was a boy
and took me home
to his mum down the lane
who thought I was a boy.
That wasn’t the lie.
I never said Joe.
I said Jo.
The lie was the tree
I was in when I met the boy
by the church hall.
The broad beech elephant
branch I was balancing on
when he said Is that your den?
I was the lie,
not the tree,
when I said No
and shook my head.
I said No
and shrank my neck,
tightening the corners
of my face to say
No three times in the way
the boy knew meant Course not.
This tree wouldn’t be my den,
not by a church hall,
by a wall,
not right by a carpark.
Even though I knew
the woods that the tree
guarded went all the way
down to a secret stream.
A stream that was worth
five pockets full of beech nuts.
A stream with a shoal
of chub that was worth ten dens.
I betrayed my tree
to keep my name,
to keep boys away
from my den,
to keep the fish
in the stream.

Joanna Lilley is the author of three poetry collections: Endlings, which is all about extinct animals, If There Were Roads and The Fleece Era, which was nominated for the Fred Cogswell Award for Excellence in Poetry. She’s also the author of a novel, Worry Stones, which was longlisted for the Caledonia Novel Award, and a short story collection, The Birthday Books. Joanna moved from Britain to Canada in 2006, 15 years after cycling alone nearly 6,000 miles from Nova Scotia to the Northwest Territories. She lives in Whitehorse, Yukon, with gratitude on the Traditional Territories of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation and the Ta’an Kwäch’än Council.