Free Verse: "Gretel"

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To banish an enemy from your home,

sprinkle salt in the doorway as they leave.

Saturn oil, a black candle, and the right words

will bind someone to you. Spin blood

into sugared syrup to entice

even the strongest will. These things,

and more,

I have learned from her.

I notice things now I didn’t before.

The wind whispering, conversing

with the sighing trees in a language just beyond

the reach of my understanding. On walks in the woods

I see any number of beings out of the corner of my eye —

sprites, spirits, gnomes, nymphs, faerie.

Each night I leave out two saucers of milk:

one for the fat soot-and-grease man who lives

behind the oven, and one for the skinny,

mossy creatures who live under the porch.

People think I’m mad, tell me

none of these things

are real. Even my brother

shields himself from superstition

with a cloak of scientific theory.

But they had said

there was no such thing

as witches either.

I never told anyone I wept

when the old witch burned,

my tears sizzling on the hot bricks.

I still see her sometimes

in empty ovens,

her hair dancing

on updrafts of heat.

Her cruelty had been a blade

leaving wounds

that never healed.

I hated her, but I had learned,

and I was sorry.


Author's Note: This poem was first published by Chiaroscuro (ChiZine), Vol. 44, April 2010.

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