Rumour was loose in the air
hunting for some neck to land on.
I was milking the cow,
the barn door open to the sunset.
I didn’t feel the aimed word hit
and go in like a soft bullet.
I didn’t feel the smashed flesh
closing over it like water
over a thrown stone.
I was hanged for living alone,
for having blue eyes and a sunburned skin,
tattered skirts, few buttons,
a weedy farm in my own name,
and a surefire cure for warts;
Oh yes, and breasts,
and a sweet pear hidden in my body.
Whenever there’s talk of demons
these come in handy.
. . .
You were my friend, you too.
I cured your baby, Mrs.,
and flushed yours out of you,
Non-wife, to save your life.
Help me down? You don’t dare.
I might rub off on you,
like soot or gossip. Birds
of a feather burn together,
though as a rule ravens are singular.
In a gathering like this one
the safe place is the background,
pretending you can’t dance,
the safe stance pointing a finger.
. . .
I fell to the clover, breathed it in,
and bared my teeth at them
in a filthy grin.
You can imagine how that went over.
Now I only need to look
out at them through my sky-blue eyes.
They see their own ill will
staring them in the forehead
and turn tail.
Before, I was not a witch.
But now I am one.
excerpt from Half-Hanged Mary by Margaret Atwood
“The superior learning of witches was recognized in the widely extended belief of their ability to work miracles. The witch was in reality the profoundest thinker, the most advanced scientist of those ages. As knowledge has ever been power, the church feared its use in women’s hands, and leveled its deadliest blows at her.” – Matilda Joslyn Gage, 1893
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