St. Walpurga's Nightmare
(or, No Medicine For Melancholy)
Up on the hill where the blade never goes
skimpy clouds dangle like a phrase of bad prose,
with May Day's and Hallows' night stars locked in boxes,
up on the ghosts' hill with the little foxes
sits the old witch always stirring her pot
of bandages and sweet oils, scalding hot,
her dry smile a bleachmark on her tie-dyed skin;
she's only waiting for the crows to begin.
Give her a coin and she'll midwife next year
or recount the rest of your life for good beer
in her voice like a hatchet while her fingers stir
mockingbird's screech into kettle's blur.
What's in the cauldron you sainted crone?
"It's hope, she croons, the alphabet I own.
You can't live on it, though so many try,
but you can certainly die on it time after time
riding the Big Wheel on dandelion silk
sucking tobacco like the baby's milk,
drinking and thinking you'll go up and up
then crushed on the revolve like a styrofoam cup.
Before you learn what your body can do to you, you
think its a warm glass of wine poured out for you
but it soon cracks in the time-slip and shatters apart
like your broken heart, dear, your broken heart.
Before you see what hope does to the living
you think it's a wise thing, loving and healing,
not bitter and blinding,
hiding the reminding
of the shambling footsteps shuffling in back of you
of the behemoth ambling in one night for you
the only hope that turns out to be true:
he'll break all your bones, dear, and eat them, too."
But dreams can be merciful with their endings
whatever the bile-twisted gist of their sendings,
for dawn took her words just as fast as she spoke
and drowned them all in the lovesongs of crows.
posted for Shay's
Note: I've taken a lot of liberties with the history of St. Walpurga, a medieval abbess known for Christianizing the heathen Franks, learned in healing, who was canonized for, among other things, the 'miraculous oil' that oozed out from her dead body, and whose saint's day was enthusiastically celebrated with bonfires for many years on May Day. Obviously, I have added All Hallows to her domain quite mendaciously. She was said to be the bane of evil spirits and witches, so I'm sure she is turning over in her grave at being combined with one here. Finally, apologies to the Rocky Horror Picture Show for stealing 'time-slip,' and thanks to Susie for the gift of her poetry all these years.
Images: Walpurgisnacht, 1923, © Heinrich Kley
Antlers with Crows, author unknown, via internet