Do you know what it’s like/ to live with witches/ to have witches in the clear water and when, on a summer evening, your grandmother says goodbye in a car park/ there’s a witch in the air, in the gravel?/ Do you know what it’s like to hear stories/ of witches burrowing in the nick of Pendle/ a hill you can’t see from your bedroom window, there should be a line of trees/ but when you drive through the crook there are ruined barnyards and half-formed sheep/ one winter, fields and fields of dying lambs and branches so black they looked burned?/ Witches so well-known that they sit in tiny plastic chairs and are propped on windowsills/ a silhouette in a painting and also in the stone eye on the church/ somehow in the stained glass of Reed Hall/ in my grandad’s car when we lost a kite/ in the panopticon over Wycoller./ Witches eat the dry stone walls, witches gnaw on information boards in public parks./ Witches stuff moss into my cheeks, flush to the bone. In the slanted light you can/ imagine their death, but they are/ dying again when you run over a railway bridge with a Chinese lantern, dying again as a barn owl flies over a roundabout, silent arch over glowing tarmac./ Do you know what it’s like to live with witches?
The first time a boy/ stopped to kiss me, he looked at my lips outside a newsagents, and/ saw they were chapped to my teeth. In the snow behind him there was a witch/ in the park years later – they were there in the hog roast stands and the bend in the road, the devil’s elbow/ For years there was blood under my nails, and now it’s all drawn out, I’m full of organs but empty of blood.
Is there a way to explain that living in a valley makes you move/ to the shape of hills?/ A witch-home/ is a house made of soil, and built in the curve of /Pendle./ Like water, we move to the shape of the vessel, and some winters we freeze over.
A witch can be the hole, too. A witch can be the gap left in your ribcage, when the blood has run out. I kept a leech in a jar. A leech can be approximations of how far to run from one house to another, of using a steeple as an arrow to important ground, pointing down through the ivy and into rock-riddled earth. The fog throbbing out of an industrial chimney (just air, just air) – a witch we all know. In the hare that skittered around the garden for a week, and the time I scratched words into my skin, equivocations. Do you know what it’s like to live with witches?
Sophie Dickinson grew up in Lancashire, in the North-West of England, and now lives in East London. She is a freelance writer and journalist, but when she’s not hurriedly writing phone-note poems, she can be found collecting ceramics and wild swimming.
photo by Catherine Avak (via unsplash)