Content Warning: death, violent themes
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 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 www.francesboyle.com, and follow @francesboyle19 on Twitter and Instagram.
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.