Imaginary Paintings: All Souls’, The Witch


~The Kilkenny Book of Hours, c. 1410

Outside, a half moon, waning.

Inside she sits by the fire, 

gray cat on her lap.

Her clothes are unremarkable

and her long gray hair is unbound

and mingles with the cat’s fur.

On the plain table, a wooden

bowl of apples. Garlic

and onions hang on pegs. 

A single dove shelters

on a rafter. A sudden wind

blows open the door.




I have just returned

but before I sleep

I must record.


The moon was dark,

the sky was clouded.

Earthscent was rising


up from the valley

into the cold air

along the ridge.


We came in our silence,

lit the fire in silence. 

When they arrived,


we sang the words

to set them free.

While we waited then


for the flames to die,

while we waited

in our silence


with the long darkness

around us, a pair

of owls called 


from the forest

down in the trees.

A good omen


for the season to come.

The flight home

was uneventful.



Last hold of winter, grip of dark and cold,

our times of gathering close by the fire.

Tomorrow the maiden will strew flowers,

tomorrow the furrow, the scattered seed.

But tonight, once more belongs to the old

who know to sit quiet and count the stars.

Blessed sameness in the passing of years—

mountain snows flowing from river to sea,

trout lily leaves poking out from the mould,

rhythm of courting and birthing and tears.

Shall we gather tonight on the mountain?

Shall we sing together the last winter hymn?

Already the children dance by the fountain.

In the light of the sun, our fire grows dim. 

MEMERE–prompt #75


Prompt #75: Invent a Grandparent


Once she stopped a runaway horse before

the horse ran over a little boy. The boy’s

father was so grateful, he got her pregnant.

He set her up in a shack on the edge

of town and paid her every month, enough

to get groceries for herself and my dad.

That grandfather died before I was born,

and I am just as glad.


Memere always had dogs, stray ones she tamed.

She could tell fortunes by watching crows.

I liked visiting her. Dad didn’t mind,

but Mother worried every time.

I used to sleep in her loft

on a feather bed she made.

She taught me how to kill chickens,

how to bait a hook,

how to build a fire with wet wood.


Memere had different names for the stars.

She had three books:

The Oxford Book of English Verse,  

My Antonia, and

Moby Dick, which she knew by heart.

She never did believe in God, she said.

What went on in the woods and sky

gave her enough religion to get by.



You may write about anything:


horse manure

the pattern on the underside

of a nuthatch’s belly.


You can’t write about a damned thing:

your mother

the lover who left

the deplorable state

of the world.




Well consider grammar,

its all.

Worry about words,

their everything.




Be afraid.

No matter what you write,

things will be revealed, secrets

you have concealed even from yourself.

Especially those.


Did you know, for example,

that you’re in love again?

Did you know that you never

liked your father, or the yellow cat?

That your house is on fire?


The witch who lives in the cave

under your bed knows everything,

throws everything into her cauldron.

So be afraid. You cannot know

what annealment will ensue.

November Writing Challenge #4

This one is kind of cheating because it was a story I wrote a few years ago, turned into a play.



Annie–retired secretary.  sweat pants and cute t-shirt, embroidering a baby blanket—

large mochaccino with whipped cream

Joanne–massage therapist, married to Annie.  Yoga clothes–hibiscus tea

Linda— retired nurse, dressed youthfully–lime italian soda

Hill—retired social worker-drab black and gray —black coffee

Sally–retired kindergarten teacher, bright cardigan

Young man


Other people at nearby tables—some should be able to sing

A few singers planted in the audience



A coffee shop with a barista at work. All the women but Joanne are seated around one table, drinking their beverages. There are people seated at other tables, too, doing the usual coffee shop kinds of things, occasionally getting up to get refills. The fourth wall is a window, looking out at the audience/street.


Joanne enters:  Hey all, sorry I’m late. My class just went on and on. Gotta grab some hibiscus. . . (she goes to the bar)

Annie: She always says that. The class goes on and on because she lets it. Dear old Joanne.

Linda: Well, I’m glad she’s finally here. I’m pretty nervous about this.

Hill: We’ve been over this so many times. Either it will work, or it won’t.

Joanne (returns with tea, and looks at Annie’s work)  Annie, I can’t believe you’re working on that now. If we mess up, the baby might not need it. 

Annie: Oh, Joanne sweetie, I think she will.  I think it will all work out just fine.  You have to think positively. And besides, I think better when my hands are busy.  (Bites of the end of the thread and spreads the blanket across her lap.. Takes a sip from her drink.)  There’s the little red hen. Now all I have to do is finish the duck and do the rooster. (And during the conversation that follows, she continues embroidering.)

Hill:  So. Down to business.  Can we do it today?  The trees are finally all on board, and the maples are especially anxious to begin, since they’ve already mostly lost their leaves and are heading for dormancy.  They so want to be part of this, you know. We knew we couldn’t count on the annuals, but the ones still green are willing to do what they can, and the mycelium is all raring to go.

Linda:  Well, we can’t do it at all after the hard frost forecast for tonight, so if everything else is in place, I think we should go for it today. The water is ready.  Really, really ready.  I’ve had trouble convincing a couple of rivers that they need to wait for everybody else.  As soon as they got word, they wanted to start.  They’ve suffered so much.   (Staring sadly into her soda.)

Annie:  So has the dirt. Bless its heart.

Linda: Which is why I’m surprised that it’s been so reluctant.

Annie:  You can’t blame it, Linda. It doesn’t want to work with water.  After all, water has been the most immediate cause.”

Linda: Agent, not cause.

Annie:  Agent, then. But you know dirt.  It’s always been the most conservative of the lot.

Hill: It was brilliant of Sally to suggest the frogs.

Annie: No kidding.  We can do without an element here and there, but without dirt, this whole project would be doomed from the get-go. And the frogs are the ideal mediators.

Sally: Well, it just made sense to me. Mud-dwellers know how critical it is for water and dirt to work together.  And they were able to point out that erosion isn’t water’s fault.  When this is all over with, it should be much better for everyone–water, dirt, frogs, toads, salamanders. . . those metamorphosing guys are really into this since they’ve got an immediate handle on major change.

Hill:  But change is hard for almost everybody else. People don’t like it much, after all, or annuals, or most of the Zone 5 perennials.”   

Joanne: Funny that the rocks are so much more likely to support change. You’d think that being so slow and unaffected, they’d oppose everything.

Sally:  Are you sure they’re on board?  They’re the ones I’m most concerned about.  After all, there are children to think of, and if the rocks are not cooperative, everything will blow up.  And you did express some doubt, Joanne, you know.  I couldn’t help but notice. (She pours tea from the pot in front of her into her cup and after looking around, pulls a flask from her sweater pocket and adds a few drops of liquid.)

Joanne:  They really are.  I know them well enough after all these years.  I don’t have their complete answer yet, but they always start with either a yes or a no, since they know it takes us awhile to translate.  This was most definitely a yes and they continued with a statement about the problems they’ve had with mountain top removal.  Even as we speak, they’re going on about their fears about deep-sea drilling.  They may be slow, but they’ve seen so much, and they’ve been part of the whole thing from the very beginning, ever since the first sharp-edged tools.

Hill: Sally, what about the mammals?

Sally: Well, not surprisingly, the bears won’t cooperate.  They’re too busy, they say, and besides, they still don’t believe there’s a problem.  I think they’re addicted to backyard birdseed–it muddles their minds.  The deer won’t help, either, which is somewhat surprising, given what we’ve done to them.  I think they’re just timid.

Hill: We certainly haven’t given them any reason to trust us.

Sally:  Oh, Hill, I’ve tried to explain things, but they’ve seen too many hunters’ tricks.  Their chief told me that now you can’t even count on scent, what with all the masking stuff in use these days. And if you find a good source of apples, well, there’s likely to be a hunter lurking somewhere near by.

Annie:  You can’t win ‘em all.  We knew we’d have trouble with lots of the wild animals.  How about the domestic ones?

Sally: They’re with us, thanks to the cats.  Dogs are about half and half, depending on their masters.  Cows. Horses—they’re pretty much a go. No chickens, but that’s no surprise. But— the heroes of the piece are–guess who?  Another wild tribe. Chipmunks!

All but Sally: Chipmunks?

People at nearby tables look up.

Sally (loudly, reacting to the attention): All over the yard! I thought it was moles digging the holes, but no.  So I set traps.”

The people at nearby tables go back to their laptops and phones.

Annie (still a bit loud) But they’re so cute!  (and quietly continuing) They convinced the mice.

Hill: Really? I thought they were plotting their own uprising.

Sally:  They were.   But the chipmunks pointed out, quite rightly, that if they joined with us it would save them the trouble of keeping everybody in order.  Mice are really good at spreading gossip, but not too good at organizing.

Hill:  So, we can use their network?

Sally: Absolutely.  They’re ready now.  All the mice in the world are ready. The team in this very cellar is ready to go, the minute we begin.

Hill: Excellent .So—we’re ready?   (She looks around the table and each woman nods.  Then here we go.  She places her large blue mug, still half-filled with black coffee, in the middle of the table. The others array their cups around it.

There is silence for a long minute while the women gaze quietly at the cups.

Young Man (entering from the audience, breathless)  The boulder! The boulder that holds up the cannon in the park!  I just saw it shake off the cannon!

Barista:  (soothingly) I’m sure it did.  How about a cup of chamomile tea? On the house?

Young Man:  No! I’m not kidding.  It shook it off just like a dog shaking off water.  And it’s moving!  Look, if you don’t believe me.

Several people get up from their tables and go to the window. Some scream.

A man:  Oh my God!

A woman: The planters on the corner.  The dirt is spilling out of them and the plants are just kind of rising up in the air. And the water in the fountain has all splashed out and it’s just hanging there.

A man: What are all those pigeons doing?  There’s hundreds of them!  And starlings.  All together, flying in circles.

Everyone is up, crowding around the window.

General chatter:  What the hell?  Squirrels?  Mice? Cats?  Look at all the chipmunks! Is that a cow?

College student: Oh man, here come the trees.

The five women sit at their table, quiet. Annie continues to embroider, placidly. 

The people are quiet, too, horrified.

A woman (holds up her phone and taps at it): It’s everywhere.  New York–Central Park–the rocks are coming out of the ground and all the squirrels are lining up, and the trees are marching.  And London.  The Thames has risen, but it isn’t flooding–the water is just sort of hovering over the banks.  Where’s Australia?”  She taps at the screen and continues to talk, breathless, unbelieving.  The sand all over the deserts, moving.  And the kangaroos and things are lining up and marching together.

Several other people tap at screens, and the rest continue to report from the window.

Various voices ad lib:

China.  The stones in the Great Wall.

Wait!  The stones in the church across the street are coming apart, not falling but just hovering.

New Orleans.  The Mississippi.

Same as the Thames. The Volga. The Yangtze.

Animals in the rain forests—they’re marching around!

O my God!  San Francisco!  The San Andreas fault–not an earthquake, just sort of shimmering. Some guy’s filming it—

the Grand Canyon?  What the hell?

The lights flicker and blink out, the screens go blank. The people stop their frantic chatter and stand where they were, their empty devices before them. There is a long silence, in the dark. And then, music begins. Earth music, with deep drums and animal sounds and wordless melody. And then the people in the café begin to sing, one by one, wordlessly, some of them weeping a little, a little harmony, nothing strident, just everyone trying to make something lovely together, until they are all singing. The lights are slowly coming up, and the house lights come up, too, slowly, and there are people planted in the audience who begin to sing. And this goes on as long as it should. 

Meanwhile, the five women sit, watching, until the music dies away and the people slowly drift out toward the audience, still humming, holding hands or with arms around one another.

Annie:  I’d say that was a success. and look, the duck came out perfect.”

Joanne:  (leaning over and patting her hand)  Only you could put the transformation of the world and an embroidered duck in the same sentence.

Annie:  And isn’t that the point?

Sally (looking in her cup): Tea will never be the same.

Linda: Nothing will. Even for us. And we knew what was happening.

Hill: Did we?  All we did was open a door.

Annie:That’s all anyone can ever hope to do. (She threads a needle with red thread) Now I’ll start on the rooster.


April Prompt #13: BALD MOUNTAIN

April #13

Janice #1: Bewitched, Bothered and/or Bald




Here on the shortest night

we dance back the dark.


All along the slope

St. John’s yellow flowers

bloom for the healing

of sadness and fear,

shining like stars

in the blackened grass.


The mountain unfolds.

The music pours out.


Do something.
They are everywhere.

Louise washing her wrinkled self
at the conference center sink,
naked and unashamed,
singing a hymn;

Elizabeth unafraid
to die in her house alone,
leaving the nasty nursing home
on the arm of her 90-year old attorney;

Hazel, Marion, Jean–
Three Graces, Weird Sisters–
dirty jokes about the curate,
roses from the old gay priest;

Bea by herself at dawn
along the lake,
hunting warblers,
fossils, walking fern;

Susan in her goatskin gloves
plucking nettles,
killing chickens
in their sleep.

Ann sharing her cane-stool
with the young ones
in Washington
just before the war.




Here is a poem about a strange character who appears in my imagination now and again.  



I was conceived at the crossing
where three ways meet.
My father was a shadow
cast by the moon.

The midwife who tended my mother
gave her an iron key to keep,
and I keep it still.  My mother
was small and often afraid.

She baked bread and pies
in the king’s kitchen;
we slept by the fire,
curled on the hearth.

My mother’s hair was dirty
and long, her eyes the color of cinders.
Her skin was white
and streaked with ash, her hands

were red and hard.
She taught me nothing
but weariness and pain.
I never loved her;  I never

blamed her.  When she died
they buried her deep in the wood
and covered her grave with stones.
Not even a sparrow sang a psalm.


She built
stone walls, wattle fences,
a house as large as she needed,
as small as no orphan could find.
Her bed was sewn from leaves of palm
and stuffed with the wings of owls.

She dreamed
of broken doors,
pools of yellow glass,
treetops bright with fire
and horses with sapphire wings.

She loved
many and none too well:
an elderly master of hounds,
the bishop’s paramour,
the oldest prince,
the fisherman’s second son.
One smelled of onions,
another of Chinese herbs.
She wrote their names
on acorns and lettuce leaves
and fed them to the squirrels.

She wore
an attic’s trunk of clothes:
a linen cassock gone to rust,
motley, silk, a cape of feathers,
the neat homespun of a tidy wife.
Her shoes were red
and filled with leaves.

She lived
on walnuts, oranges,
potatoes and wild greens;
she drank beer from a hundred cellars
and wine from the skull
of a heretic hung in chains.

Her table
was set with porcelain from the East,
brass vases of lilac and nettle,
tallow candles in silver candlesticks,
Venetian glasses, gourd spoons,
fish knives carved from sailors’ bones.

She named
her children after bones:
Vomer whose father had followed the plow,
Sacrum who left her and ran away to sea.
Humerus did laugh well and long,
but Scapula became a whore.
Ulna wed a farrier;  Ischium kept goats;
Patella, her darling, wove linen cloth.
Talus and his goodwife grew apples and pears
and Fibula, who could heal with herbs,
was burned for being a witch.

Her gods
required sacrifice
of cabbages and blood,
the bodies of mice and toads.

She played
a goat-horn pipe
and a seven-stringed harp.
She sang dirges to the trees
and carols to the moon.

She buried
dead robins
under willows
and kept red worms
in an iron pot.

She never
learned to dance.

When she was old,
her death
grew easy.
The crows and foxes
carried her all away.