The Modern Heretic

Some days I think I might have been a witch.
I have the temperament for one – brooding, meticulous,
able to whip up a potion as easily as winking
in the rusted cauldron that hangs over my firepit,
chattering in the background like an old housewife.
They’d come to my cottage (of course it would be a cottage)
and track mud all over my freshly scrubbed floors
and ask me to fix any number of ills.

My mother won’t eat. My dog has colitis/cataracts/a thorn in his paw. We’ve a plague on our house – slugs/moths/flies/cockroaches/what have you. How can I get my revenge? How can I better my failing eyesight? How can I make him love me back?
Affairs of the body are easily mended, I have found,
whilst affairs of the heart are troublesome. I do my best.
Prescribe them courses of herbs, crystals, leeches
and speak cantrips over their trembling bodies.
To the lovesick ones I’d give a flower,
teach them that old bit of nursery doggerel:
He loves me/loves me not/loves me/loves me not.

Rip. Drop. Repeat.

There’s a fifty-fifty chance they’ll go away happy,
and if the odds aren’t in my favour it’s no sore loss,
for nobody trusts a witch anyhow –
why, it’s certain-sure they’d burn me if it weren’t for the curios I sell them,
candles scented with lavender, organic honey in glass jars,
butterflies splayed and stapled to a board,
herbs to banish winter
and usher in spring.
Calendula. Horse-chestnut. Black cohosh. Eucalyptus.
Heretics have an easy time of it,
no one expects them to be anything but what they are.
When night fell I’d go out and stand naked in wheat fields,
golden wheat fields that shimmer all the way to the horizon
and move and sigh like water.
I’d plunge my hands in glassy pools trying to catch the moon,
although what I’d do if I caught her I can’t imagine.
She looks good enough to eat, creamy and soft. Perhaps I would eat her.
I used to think flowers tasted how they smelt; I thought blood might taste of strawberries,
and sunlight of white wine come straight from the vineyards.
It is useless to speculate! She does not really exist,
I can touch her, but she runs between my fingers as if she were afraid of me.
The things we love are so often out of reach.

It’s hard to practise witchery in the modern age,
but I keep all the trappings nonetheless.
Dusty black dresses and velvet gloves, fishnets,
bruise-dark lipstick
to stain my mouth as if I’d just been blackberry-picking,
and a witch’s cat, long and thin as a branch, as a whip,
with round pale eyes like opals and a mouthful of knives.
I walk through woods barefoot, even when my feet bubble up with blood,
it’s good for me, it doesn’t hurt,
the saints of old called it mortifying the flesh.
At the heart of the house, all comes to its conclusion.
We eat our meals together, my witch’s cat and I,
and I listen to him purr regular as a clock, as an engine.
On the table by the door is a wildflower, simple as a child’s drawing,
with the ringed centre – a tufted yellow sun, Day’s Eye –
and one petal remaining, the sun’s ray, tinged with pink.
She loves me. She loves me not.
Outside the rain begins again
like an answer.

by Lis Skinner

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