Thursday, October 27, 2022

St. Walpurga's Nightmare

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.

October 2022

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


  1. That's it, I'm letting the Pope know what you Scands have done to St. Walpurga! :-P This is nothing but a dark delight, Joy. I chuckled at the clouds like bad prose. I love it all, but that 6th stanza in particular, and the final two, are my favorites. Poor mockingbird, though! Was it the whole bird, or just its screech that went into the pot? In any event, this is the perfect poem for the season, depending of course on what the Pope will have to say about it. Word is, His Eminence is out in the woods, having confused the adage about himself with the one for bears. As soon as he responds, I'll let you know, and thanks so much for responding to the List! It made my day and warmed my stony little heart ever so. :-)

    1. Thanks for reading. The screech not the bird. Sorry if that was unclear. I wasn't intending this to be that comic,Shay, but glad you enjoyed it.

  2. You had me with the opening lines - those clouds like bad prose. And the ghost hill with the little foxes. Delightful. Loved the whole thing, a wonderful cauldron-y read for the end of October.

  3. Love it...It reads to me like what I feel when I write. I struggle with the alphabet, think I have a bit of a handle on poetry, and then like life it becomes broken bones, and a nameless grave of the barely read. I love your ending. There's a bit of hope in the fretful sleep and awakening of living life in a nightmare. What an amazing piece to walk my way out of October with. You have done wonders with a word list from words pulled from my poetry.

    1. I used "dandelion," too, even tho it wasn't on the list, because I always associate it with your poetry, Susie. Thanks for the very kind and perceptive comment, and for inspiring me with your work so many times.

  4. "Her dry smile a bleachmark on her tie-dyed skin": this pretty much set the mold of her character as someone who bleaches hope dry, "bitter and blinding," and the closing lines come as such a relief providing the "dawn" we need after the darkness of her poisonous words. I have no personal acquaintance with St. Walpurga, but I think she would be smiling at the escape from her dark distorted doppelganger. A masterpiece, Joy.

    1. Thanks Dora. I'm having some issues but I will be by as soon as I can to read yours.

  5. This is a new favorite for me of your amazing poetry Joy! I love the imagery and the impeccable rhyme! I think every poet can relate to the message in this. The struggles, the pain, and the desire to be heard. The closing lines are beautiful and I love the idea of her words being drowned in the love songs of crows! Gorgeous writing my friend!

    1. Thank you dear Carrie. So glad you liked it. I loved yours as well.

  6. This is a spectacular! I was mesmerized as I read it, like I had fallen under her spell. Or yours, as it were.

  7. I believe my St Columba would mutter something like this when his dark pal Oran took the wheel to ride wildhuntwise through the night. You've put the cackle in Walpurga's Beltane fires with this saintly witches' brew. I'm a little drunk reading this about hope: "You can't live on it, though so many try, / but you can certainly die on it time after time." (Hope is the champion's portion at earthweal though no one can brew its Grail potion properly...) How feral and fey when you turn a saint upside down (Heavens, how did they keep her halo clean on Walpurgis Night?), but your final stanza makes me understand why Columba cried out, 'mud, mud back on Oran's mouth lest he blab no more!' 'Tis all and only a dream, thank god. Just like all poetry, thank the old gods ... A rollicking ride Hedge, truly a hoot to read. (And five vatic laurels for line #2.)

    1. Thanks, B. I'm glad if it gave some float to your coracle. I have to admit reading the life of St. Walpurga was a wild ride in itself. She was the zealous virgin sister of two pious brothers who spent her life healing and converting assorted heathens in a rather stern-appearing way. You didn't end up an abbess by frivoling around in the greenwood, let alone a saint. How she got pegged for Beltane is a mystery to me. Here I'm afraid she's speaking in a hedgewitchian voice. The bitter view of hope comes from the long losing battle with my husband's cancer. But we still have the lovesongs of crows to sustain us.

  8. This is terrific. It hangs right in the balance between expected and unexpected, keeping the cauldron of hope alive - lest it kill us. I loved that part the best - "you can certainly die on it time after time" and then "the shambling footsteps shuffling in back of you." Love song of crows indeed. I will have to listen to them closer, if I dare.

    1. Thanks qbit. It always makes me feel like I made something work when you like one of my scribbles, and yes, the love songs of crows are not for the faint of heart. ;-)

  9. Wow! A tale wonderfully told, Joy, crackling with atmosphere and character and magical mayhem. I love that the witch has tie-dyed skin! And how it ends with the love songs of crows. The second and last stanzas and their imagery are my favourite. Happy Samhain, Joy! <3

  10. grins abound from line 2, and then the (yes) rollicking verse. bobbing my head in tune to those crowsongs. (I think I've mentioned before, I always greet the crows when out on walks.)

    I've found that I no longer believe my body betrayed me. just, age. and I no longer hope for health, but for a just peace in the lifetime of my sons. perhaps neither will arrive - but as one wittier than I said, in the long run we're all dead anyways. ~

    1. The seeds of mortality are planted at birth, and none of us know when they will bear fruit, just that they will. No, not a betrayal, I guess, just a consequence of being flesh and blood. I've outlived two husbands, and am continually surprised to still be here, but there's no getting around it, the hounds are sniffing closer all the time. Peace and resolution don't look to be forthcoming, but I'm not foolish enough to write off the hope, however futile this poem makes hope out to be. I'm glad if it could give you a smile and a pleasant reminiscence of crowtalk.


"We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, out of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry." ~William Butler Yeats

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