Monday's Poem

Susannah Martin — Hanged as a Witch
In the forest she gave me this poem

© Bill Gough

An empty pumpkin
drained and folded
upon a rock
is, by winter draped,
where I am emptied
by the early morning
fallen empty to the ground
this ground my father plowed
this ground that plowed me under
under the maps and wills and boundary lines.

I, a mere woman, was to have the land, the land was to be mine
and men would not let the moonlight give the lands
to hands the world would say weren't mine;
these curling hands that stooked the hay
and milked the cows
and held the bucket that dipped the moon
from the well
that carried stars on water until my eyes were dizzy with the look of stars
on water
and instead of bringing water deep into the farmhouse
I spun around and my skirt was at the circles edge and I was the
center of the spin
and I stopped and all the moons and stars and skies spun around me
until I twirled the bucket in lazy loops over my head and down and round
and no drops were spilled and my arm was a spinning whirly-gig
and no drops spilled — no stars fell out.

The land, it was said, should not be mine,
a woman at the center of the moon
a woman who in the night could lift her eyes and move into the moon
a woman who could feel the mantle of the trees rest
light upon my shoulders and spill along my back my hair released from
braids swimming
down my back
back to the house that was so empty , empty of the moon, empty of the stars
empty of the trees and night
a tree is in the fireplace
moved to order by the sharp edge of the world cut by straight lines
by straight hanging lines.

How I got my reputation for being dangerous was simple enough.
One morning I looked and saw the world and at the same time saw
how men had taken straight lines where no straight line existed in the world
and cut the face and bosom of the earth with their straight lines.

My mother soft and curved and skirt wrinkled spread in a circle around her
made no straight lines
when she gazed out at the land and I was at her rounded breast and her
nipple made a long circle for my lips
and her milk spilled, and washed a flood into my mouth and a gush down
my throat.

Men looked at the land and they held guns
and the guns were straight and aimed at the sun,
dark lines against the sky
while other men joined lines across the land,
and anywhere the land was crooked they
set it straight and began measuring for meadows and began cutting down trees
and straightened them out with the straight line of two-handed
cross-cut saws and ripped the circles from the edges
and burned the branches, and didn't notice the smoke would not rise straight
the smoke would curl and clasp the sun and tickle trees.

I was older and one morning saw all the edges
that men had placed to cut the heart of the world.
My father, belt buckle angled metal and, sharp knife at his belt,
fence-lines drawn across the land
with hammer in his hand hit long straight nails
to hammer the world together
to hammer the world straight.

When I learned the land could be mine, I knew that I could set it free.
I told them I would tear down the house and make it as rounded as an owl's wing
I would tear down the barn
and make it curled and curved like a squirrels tail,
spiraled as the head of a ram
and there would be no fences, and even the well would go because it was
a straight tube drilled into the eyes of the world to make her cry.

The land, they said, the men who keep the world
straight — like a road that does not wander, is not to be yours
and told the court that only a witch would want such roundness
only a witch knew how to climb inside the moon.

What is a witch they asked?

A witch is she who does not want the world to be ordered and controlled,
who thinks each tree a living thing
and will not see a tree as plank
and will not see a tree
as table and chair
and sharp-edged buckboard.

It is she who may worship what is seen.

This witch, they said, must have one straight line, one that takes her
where she is to go in a straight line
to death.
This is the law of man and straight-edged bible.
Why, said I, this bible is a crooked book a curved book
— see, here, the Jesus you talk of
stopped hands that were to throw sharp rocks ...

She blasphemes they said

... and Jesus loved, to his heart, women.
He loved a whore I say
loved her and threw the bankers from
his father's house
the straight line clank of money
gone as gold clattered
your gold is not true gold I told them

it is gold of
hearts like a small hard house
all corners.
The devil cannot catch a person unless there is a corner...

She speaks of devils
she says she lives inside the moon
she blows the dust from water before she drinks.

Oh see the curves — Let us tear down houses and
see the swell of the earth beneath them.
And they close their ears — they hard-hand
straight edge press to block the sound
stop my voice.

They lead me to the scaffold
they hold me
by the arms and buckle my arms so my arms are an angle
they lead me
from a room.

This room
now holds an ocean
where the
clouds roll
towards your eyes.

You stand before my house,
this slate-tipped
house of rope and gargoyle
of steps
that lead through
circles of rope.

A railing
of rope burns.

A straight line of rope

This house
holds my hands
so much my hands
that they stretch
on arms of
sweet stones

bones laid
on your shoulder.

I am here holding you by the shoulders because....

....because there is no straight line to your heart
is there?
Your heart is round I know it must be
with blood curve if you hear me this far away
your ears swirling inwards to the curves and earth-tone of your middle ear
and you have heard me my voice round and warm between the years.

That night
the night of the hanging
this night
the night you hear me
blood shadows are spilled by the moon
to smoke and burn in icy fire.
Ice candles drip near houses.
A distant dog is eating time.

What empties now goes in the moon.

Midnight the world adjusts
her tuning
and snow flings blood-lace like maple sugar across the snow.
Snow drifts my hair
my lips my eyebrows.
This is where I go when they hang me.
This is where I land
when the rope swings me like a pale pumpkin above the world.

Where you
walk I
place my
My words are
on your tongue
as gentle as
a host
of cloud
hot as iron
as tipped
as the
of a hatch.

My eye holds reflections of fallen pumpkins
the sun rises inside my open eyes
and warms the lids and they close.

The field once empty
has at its center forgotten
spring clouds
slumped pumpkins
long wet hay
bundled by the snow
I am emptied by the morning
snowed over
a drift beside the pumpkins.

I fell
ocean —

I splashed
into your rope-bursting
heart —
your eyes
filled with
and I now live
inside the salt
upon your cheeks.

I am small drops of water
steaming salt into the snow.
I am the spaces in snow
soft as a doily held
between the eyes
and the eye sight of
the first spring light.



Bill Gough Is from Newfoundland,
now living with wife & partner
Caren Moon on Vancouver Island.
He teaches at Malaspina University-College in the Creative Writing Department. Photo by G.R. Snyder.

Bill Gough: This poem began at Goddard College in Vermont while I was working on my MFA — and a voice spoke to me in the upper garden of the college. I learned later that the land was once owned by the woman of the voice — she who is in my poem. She was tried in Salem as a witch — and hanged there in 1692. The poem formed in that upper garden; shifted through my time at Goddard, and arrived in its current form on Salt Spring Island.

































































































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