When You Have Lost Yourself

When You Have Lost Yourself
by Theodora Goss

It takes a while to find yourself again
after you lost yourself in the dark forest,
accidentally letting go of your hand,
losing sight of yourself. “Where did she go?”
you ask the owl, the squirrel, the skeptical fox
who looks at you like a philosophy professor
when you have given an answer so obviously wrong
that he can tell you haven’t read the textbook.
Unfortunately, there are things no philosophy textbook
will tell you, like how not to lose yourself,
where the paths in the forest go, or what the trees
are whispering as you pass — the oak, the beech,
the alder. Are they talking about you, or
the other you, wherever she is wandering?

It takes a while to find yourself — it takes
looking behind each tree, under each rock,
on the backs of leaves, among the meadow grasses,
asking crickets, chickadees, woodpeckers,
calling up to the distant circling hawk,
who can see the flickering tail of a hare as it runs
across a clearing. Perhaps you have hidden yourself
in its burrow, lined with fur, under an oak tree?
Perhaps you have hidden yourself under the roots
that overhang the stream, and only dragonflies
notice your eyes gleaming in the darkness.
Perhaps you have hidden yourself under the litter
of last year’s leaves, or up in the canopy,
which is already turning red with autumn.

And once you have found yourself, what will you do?
I suggest taking yourself back to the cottage
near the clearing, sitting yourself in front of the fire,
making yourself some soup on the ancient stove,
with carrots, potatoes, and beans, flavored with parsley,
then putting yourself to bed and telling yourself
one of the old stories. It is after all
stories that tell us who we are, stories
that remind us where the paths might lead, and how
to talk to foxes so we can ask directions,
how to find the witch at the heart of the forest,
who might, as it turns out, be yourself after all,
stories that tell us what we could become,
stories that guide us home.

(The image is an illustration by John Bauer.)

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3 Responses to When You Have Lost Yourself

  1. Nancy says:

    Most beautiful, Theodora…and true. I discovered myself…who I really am…as I was writing my book on a 1600s Ipswich, Ma, midwife and healer. Ancient things about myself. By getting lost, we find our new selves…or perhaps our true selves.

  2. Sarah says:

    I love this poem so much. It has been living in my “in” box since it arrived, exactly the right words and images and feelings and— oh— the right everything—at exactly the right moment.
    The only trouble is that the unanswered email piles up above it, for now when I go there, instead of hitting “reply,” to one letter or another, I open your poem and vanish into the woods.
    And when I find myself nestled amongst the leaves, I take myself to the cottage where my spindle is ready to twirl, making more weft for swathes of lichen-dyed cloth.

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