‘It is said that Long Meg and her daughters were a coven of witches who were holding their sabbat, when the Scottish wizard Michael Scot came upon them and turned them to stone. The stones of the circle are said to be uncountable, and that should anyone ever reach the same total twice, the spell would be broken.’ – BBC Cumbria
I was the biggest of us and slow,
second-oldest: long ago
made babysitter, laundress, built
for the heavy lifting,
for a baby on the hip.
I was a shadow thrown
to contrast my sisters’ glow.
His was magic I’d never seen –
so green in the ways of men –
his hard science buzzed its puzzles
in my head long after he’d come
and gone. I knew he was lying
all along – finding me in the lane
where he’d told me to be, saying
he wanted me, alone. I knew.
Or I should have known.
The hawthorn was wild that spring,
the hillside ringed: its sweet and lousy
stink on my hands from where
I’d thrashed in the ditch.
I whispered the secrets my mother
had warned me to keep,
my guard peeled back by the glamour
of his brown, naked gaze.
He was afraid, I see that now.
Our brave and homespun craft
enacted by candlelight
and weather, familiars crammed
in the lee as inexplicable rain
maddened the thatch.
We made things happen.
Men have always hated that.
And yet. When I danced,
I danced for him. The blossom-
socked may trees glowed
like our skin in that hot night’s moon.
He moved up the hill and I wanted
to scream he’s come for me, I fucking
told you so to a world that only
ever rolled its one green eye
at my clumsy desires. But I knew.
He was not there for me –
or not only for me.
‘The Hand of Glory is the dried and pickled hand of a man who has been hanged, often… combined with a candle made from fat from the corpse of the same malefactor. […] The candle so made, lighted, and placed (as if in a candlestick) in the Hand of Glory, would have rendered motionless all persons to whom it was presented.’ – Wikipedia
Let me stop you right there,
she says, and passes the hangman’s candle.
The hand doesn’t move in the puce light
unless it is moved – its five limbs domed
under the palm – it is huge and pale
as a camel spider. Sinister, the murder hand
she cut herself from the swung corpse,
avoiding his gaze, knife scything extremities.
(Executioner stage left,
back turned, palming her coins.)
In pantried lines, the spoils of her gallow
scavenges: you’ve heard what happens
to hanged men, and her tall jars
measure the evidence. Pickling
pulls the colour out of flesh. The liquids
hold their ghosts’ dance of vein,
white skin: fingers, shucked eyes.
She’s tried to stay out of town,
hung signs in the trees, made sure
she’s well and truly accused. But a few
still come, full moon drunk and bent
on crossing the palm of the witch.
This one’s tall, well-armed: panic
pink as a birthmark on his paused face.
Wait, she says to them, hold the light,
then looks away as the hand
creaks closed on their throats.
She’ll work through the night to take
what’s good about him – peeling
his skin like a rain-heavy dress, slicing
his nerves. Every creed has a hand
of protection. This one is hers.
after Helen Farish
If I’d been dead that long, what would I miss enough to want to see it first
when I woke up in my black dress,
creaking grave dust, mother
of all hangovers? Perhaps
the Edinburgh skyline with its crowsteps,
barrelling pigeons, tenement windows’ damp
and mournful eyes. I could be planted
in the path at Princes Street Gardens, right
in the tarmac, so when I woke
I’d have to punch through, fingernails
torn, George Romero style. Or I might like
to see a lake first – the way when I was young
and the weather was warm my dad
would say shall we drive out and look
at a lake? – make that pilgrimage
to brown birch shade ringed by fells.
Kirkstone Pass, maybe ditch me
in the sheep-bothered rocks so I’d sit up
to Brotherswater, road zig-zagged to the trig point,
drawing all the dead to higher ground.
But honestly? I’d be happy with the cemetery,
its sandstone slabs propped up and crumbling
like so many rows of cooling toast.
My one request: that I be sunk
directly across the path from you,
so the soles of our feet could touch
if not for the packed and cinder-sprinkled
earth. When I hear the call –
when the terrible genderless angels walk
through that churchyard and sound
the tower’s bell – I’ll come up fast.
Across from me, you: barely awake, and perhaps –
do old habits die? – feeling around for your specs
in the soil. The first thing I’ll watch:
you, realise you’re dead. And the second:
your smile, as you remember me.