Friday, June 14, 2013

What's Been Left Behind

I

Sometimes
you invite a witch into your house.
We've all done it. And too late, you observe

the oblique and lightless eye, the hunger and the rage:
you note the little pouch of corpse-powder,
and the uneven breath.

“It's a skinwalker all right,” you think,
and your flesh creeps: your hair rises.
Stories come to mind. You wish they wouldn't.

Somehow you get the witch out of the house, but then
you have to deal with what's been left behind.


II

The first thing to remember is that witches,
having set themselves against time,
are uniquely vulnerable to it.

They grow old faster than we do,
and the half-life of a witch's curse
is twenty minutes.

So when in doubt, you can simply wait:
each day is like a year, each year is like a life.
Time brings to us each sun as a renewal of hope,

each moon as an opening flower. But each spells death
to your wretched hurrying witch. When in doubt – just wait.


III

The next to bear in mind is this:
the details matter to witches, not to us.
Because witches have set themselves against meaning,

they must work instead with forms and recipes.
St John's wort culled at the dark of the moon
and cut with a copper knife – for them, nothing else will do.

But for us in cleansing? Sage to burn, if we have it;
cut any time in any country. But in a pinch
dead grass will do. Or paper matches from a tavern book.

We are working with the meaning, not against.
Anything will do.


IV

And finally, remember the very act
of asking in the witch, the act you so regret,
weakens them fatally.

Hospitality deals them a wound
they do not understand, but which
works backwards in their blood

and multiplies confusion:
any curse they leave behind
may well turn into blessing.

17 comments:

Dale said...

There are, of course, a multitude of beings referred to as "witches": many of them benevolent, many more at least harmless. I might have used the word "sorceror" instead, if it weren't so awkward in a line of poetry. I'm speaking of specifically "witches" or "skinwalkers" as the Navajo tradition (so I've read) understand them: those who cast off kin and friends, and hope to win advantage by poison and death.

Christi Krug said...

Wonderful! Favorite lines: "The half-life of a witch's curse is twenty minutes," "Paper matches from a tavern book."

NT said...

I like "malefactor."

NT said...

"Somehow you get the witch out of the house, but then
you have to deal with what they've left behind."

I must confess this is one case where the lack of noun agreement bugs me a bit. Can't say why.

Dale said...

Yes, sloppy pronouns all over the place in this one. I really didn't want to assign a gender to my witch, though :-)

Kat said...

Also love this, also got a bit hung on the pronouns. Would "what's been left behind" work well enough? You lose a little of the sense of touch, but solve the problem. Or even bring a little more specificity - "the shadow left behind" or some such?

My favorite: "Hospitality deals them a wound they do not understand, but which works backwards in their blood."

Dale said...

Ooh, let me see if that works!

Zhoen said...

Yeah, having to translate the word witch. I have such a sense of it as wise woman, or worst case - vulnerable woman that isn't liked so gets incinerated. Demon?

mm said...

Very glad you've clarified why you used the word "witch".

Excellent stuff. Sometimes your imagination is dazzling!

elisasspot said...

weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee ;)

Dale said...

See Zhoen on a very different range of witches: http://onewordisenough.blogspot.com/2013/06/witches.html

Dale said...

Mary, yes, my witches come from Tony Hillerman!

Dale said...

Elisa -- :-)

marly youmans said...

That was unexpected! And I enjoyed it. (Recently committed a witchy poem myself.) I imagine the pronoun trouble will go away after you let it sit a while--any tweaks will seem so obvious then.

Dale said...

Thank you, Marly!

Kat said...

I love also the consideration of the word "witch" and its strong connotations in different cultures. The poem made me think a little about hungry ghosts, as well, which then made me think about ghosts and ancestors and culture again. Do one on them, next? ;)

Dale said...

I'm sure I have hungry ghost poem somewhere...