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Content Warning: death, violent themes

Frances Boyle – Death, Unnatural: Work
T.Partridge_Death Valley Spine.FU8A9064.jpg
Frances Boyle – Death, Unnatural: Work

Frances Boyle – Death, Unnatural

Death is for burning, death is for the

drowning. We hoist the winter witch

goddess high, parade her beribboned

effigy through the village, along

footpaths, elbows linked against

the curse of missteps on narrow trail.

We jeer at this doll of rags stuffed

with straw (the better for burning),

souse her in troughs and barrels.

But we avert eyes against plague,

against the death, unnatural, she

forever will be, the stumble we fear.

At end of day, we’ll burn the witch

ditch-side where the stream runs

muddy, heave the blazing poppet

into water. Mutilation a penance

―hers―for our sodden shames.

Charred fabric, ash and sludge.

Note: “Death, Unnatural” references Marzanna, the Slavic goddess associated with winter, death, nightmares and plague An old ritual where an effigy of Marzanna is paraded through villages before being burned and then dumped into a body of water continues today in some Slavic countries.

Frances Boyle – Death, Unnatural: Work

Frances Boyle lives in Ottawa, Canada. Her newest book is Openwork and Limestone, (Frontenac House, 2022). In addition to two earlier poetry collections, she is also the author of Tower, a Rapunzel-channeling novella and Seeking Shade, an award-winning short story collection. Frances’s work has been selected for the Best Canadian Poetry series and Poem in Your Pocket Day, and appeared throughout North America and in Europe. Recent and forthcoming publications include TAB Journal, Dust Poetry, Rogue Agent and The Windsor Review. Visit, and follow @francesboyle19 on Twitter and Instagram.

Frances Boyle – Death, Unnatural: Work

Photograph: Death Valley Spine by Tristan Partridge

Tristan Partridge is a writer and photographer based in Santa Barbara, California. Tristan’s text scores, poems, and commentaries have been published by The Center for Deep Listening, Bottlecap Press, Resilience, Dead Letter Office, and others.

Frances Boyle – Death, Unnatural: Work
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