Three Poems—Alena Sullivan

Ars Magicae

Witchcraft found me in the womb
where it forced open my mouth
and made me sing my name                   to my mother in her dreams.
I woke to the world with the moon in my mouth,
mystic words like raw and ragged pearls
                                                                        clacking against my teeth.

It struck me as lightning in hot Southern storms,
spells soaking my skin with the rain:
             this is how you weave the future;
             this is how you cast the bones;
             this is how you find secrets in the hearts of men.

It spun itself inside me, spiderweb
silk and strings of starstuff and
                                                          so many secrets,
magic itself a nebula below my ribs,
echoing chorus of worlds long dead or still someday yet to be.

I wore it like a coat:
             frayed witch’s wool and pockets full
                           of hexes,
                                                        healing charms.
It kept me warm as I wound my way down
             into the squirming gut of the world,
                                         deep and dank and smelling of ash,
                                                                                                  of ozone.

On autumn nights when the moon went dark
I walked wet woodland paths in bare feet,
lungs drowning oxygen and making midnight music of its bloated corpse,
             crackling, crooning songs
             only crows and cats could understand.

Here, now,
it streaks my hands like blood,
                                                                        dry and flaking
as I turn the cards for little girls
who cannot yet see the storm clouds rolling in,
             the multitudinous eyes that open and             blink
from their own shadows.

Now the stars inside me are beginning to show through,
skin worn thin with near a century of spells,
but I will not be afraid—

when skin has gone and my work is done,
I will strike like lightning,
will spin in darkest space,
will whisper from the rolling silver stones of rain:
             This is how you read the leaves;
             This is how you cast the spell;
             This is how you learn the secrets in your shadow.

Love Song of the Swamp Witch Scorned

These thoughts of you have turned to sores:
                                             oozing swamp-smells,
                                             summoning flies that flutter in my gut.
I have found roadkill more lovable than you,
              eaten exoskeletal insects with more spine—
and yet, wax paper wings buzz below my ribs
                                                       at every glance toward your memory.

Tell me, is life really better as a birch tree?
Would life in my arms have been so bad?
It is immaterial now:
                                             you have no mouth to lie to me,
                                             no eyes to lose myself in;
                                             your fingers touch nothing but sky.
I am left to this ugly witchwork:
                                             to peel off your skin in strips
                                             and douse it in light from the moon,
                                             gibbous and gibbering as she makes her way
                                                              towards fullness and madness alike.
It dries white and curling in on itself,
trying to deny me its secrets
                                                         as you did.

One kiss of the buzzard-bone knife
                                                         to the throat of a red-eyed rabbit—
one gnarled fingertip slipped between flaps of flesh gaping—
                                                         all the ink I need.
Letter by letter, line by line,
                                                         I bleed the story into your skin.
It is a love story,
a sputtering song sunk deep—
                                             proof that I was here,
                                                            proof you held me dearer
                                                            than you allowed in light of day.

When it is done,
                                                         when it is written,
I wrap you in ribbons of your own skin,
let your secrets curl around your bones—
brittle now, but thick with words:
                             words you whispered after midnight
                             into amber glasses of ambiguity,
                             words denied when dawn snuck in.

I suture my spellwork surgery with vermillion and white,
silk thread binding
                             rabbit’s blood.
The moon,
                             hanging fat and dripping pearls down your arms,
                             silvering the midges and swamp flies,
                             pooling at my feet like blood.
A kiss,
                             first and after, to seal the spell:
                             every passing eye will read your naked secrets
                             and no sober dawn
                                                          will be able to bleach them away.

Shade of the Moonkeeper

I’m having too many thoughts in these last months and I—
I can’t sleep. 
I can’t sleep, there are ghosts in my room 
and one of them’s you and she’s holding the moon 
like it’s fragile glass, like it’s old, old paper, 
and she’s speaking in a language she’d chide me to remember and 
I don’t know the words but the tune is familiar—
she’s saying that she’s gone home. 
Gone home to the summer fields found down the winding middle way, 
dancing like a raindrop to the sea. 
She shines 
silver from the inside and she’s drinking faerie wine like it’s water—
like it’s water—
and she still smells like amber, but now elderflowers, too, 
and she moves like she’s dancing and sets aside the moon 
on a bookshelf in the corner of the room—
the little bookshelf 
in the corner 
of the room. 
And she holds out her dancer’s hand and she says, 
“Hey there, my girl,” and the world 
shrinks down, folds close like moths’ wings 
and old dreams 
and other silky midnight things, 
and for a second, for a moment, no time has gone, 
we’ve just kept living on, 
she never slid out of her body on that dawn and  
I take up the moon because I know that it’s not fragile; 
it’s too busy beating hard between my lungs, 
too busy giving life inside my breast,  
putting light into my bones so I don’t rest—
I know it’s strong, strong as steel, 
strong as dark, primordial clay—
so I take up the moon and I 
take up her hand and I 
breathe as she fades and I stay, 
and I stay.

Alena Indigo Anne Sullivan was born to witches and raised in a neopagan community in the North Georgia mountains. She spent her formative years being homeschooled by her mother and traveling the world with her father’s Celtic band, Emerald Rose. She holds a degree in Anthropology and an MFA from the Stonecoast MFA Program for Creative Writing with a dual concentration in Poetry and Pop Fiction. Alena is a fiction writer, poet, and visual artist who focuses on identity within narrative and the repeated cultural patterns formed by storytelling. Alena’s short fiction and poetry have appeared in Strange Horizons, Rich Horton’s Years Best Science Fiction and Fantasy, Goblin Fruit, Star*Line, Luna Station Quarterly, and elsewhere. Alena also runs Sealskin Studios on Etsy, where she offers custom embroidered spells, pagan prayer images, sigilwork, and various other magical objects as she creates them. You can find links to her work on her website at, shop her magical artwork at, or reach her on Twitter @tea4tuesdays.

photo by Dollar Gill (via unsplash)