This poem was inspired by an episode of Penny Dreadful (Little Scorpion) where the Hedge Witch Joan Clayton – one of my all time favourite characters – was beaten, tarred and burned alive.
My Mother, The Witch
My mother’s cottage is dark,
windows empty of flame.
Candles poke towards the sky,
like fingers bent with age.
Short wicks curl, hardened by the cold.
Sooty drips sit like tears
that have forgotten how to fall.
I was under the roots of the great oak
when they cast aside her willow woven
basket, lashed her long hair to the cart,
and dragged her to the town to burn.
She was calm, she went in silence.
When I was a child, my mother scooped
the moon up out of a puddle with her hands.
She let me touch and kiss its cold face.
My mother had never seen the sea,
but she told me tales of whales making
love. She told me how they held each other
tight and upright, how their heads would
emerge from the waves like new mountains
at their moment of climax.
I step inside the cottage where I first
slept and ate and spoke, laughed
and bled and fucked.
Bundles of plants hang from low rafters.
I fill cotton sacks with knots of nettles,
and handfuls of heather, lavender and sage.
The shattered bodies of a cat and toad,
owl and bat are splayed across
the fire’s stone hearth.
The bloods of my mother’s familiars
have come together and I colour myself red.
I wrap the creatures in linen, their bones
clinking gently. I bury them in the ashes
of the last fire she sat before, balling up
yarn and singing.
I do not touch her book of shadows.
I leave her whistle of alder.
I weep over the cradle of birch
where she rocked me asleep,
where she was rocked asleep
and her mother before.
Night has gathered in the corners
when I step back over the threshold.
A shower of lightening catches the thatch
and my mother’s laughter rings deep and rich and loud.
It carries on the wind and surrounds me.
It cushions my sorrow, softens my aches,
then departs, winding its way between
the ancient trees to the beyond.