Claire Askew’s poetry has appeared in The Guardian, The Edinburgh Review, New Writing Scotland, The Dark Horse and PANK, among others. Her work has been selected for the Scottish Poetry Library’s Best Scottish Poems (2008, 2009, 2014, 2016), and widely anthologised elsewhere. She is the author of The Mermaid and the Sailors (Red Squirrel, 2011), and This changes things (Bloodaxe, 2016), which was shortlisted for the 2016 Saltire Society First Book Award. Poems from these volumes have been recognised by the Edwin Morgan Poetry Award (2014), the Mslexia Women’s Poetry Prize (2014, 2015), the Charles Causley Poetry Prize (2014) and the International Salt Prize for Poetry (2012), among others.

What the kitchen witch said

Begin at the tips: the tops
of stems erecting
their cities in the blue spring.
Things have to be clipped
at the seed-head, at the bud:
like witches,
plants must be kept down.
Correct the bolt,
unpick the stalk –
parch it to a wand
on the hot sill –
twist off the stamen,
wash its peppery stain
from your hands.
Save the blooms.

If you’re not on your knees,
you should be: level
with deadhead and bee-path
in the garden’s stained-glass
nave.  See how the earth
made you; the way
it laid fat tears of rain
in the Lady’s Mantle.
Everything damp: cut
any plant and it will bleed.
Your lungs are like two
charmed hands, open
to the stink of sage,
to dill, the clean
bright peal of mint.

To seal the charm, you dig.
First a seed dib, then a pothole,
soon a pit.  This
is the part where you get
what you want:
the things you’ve wasted,
lost.  First, roots,
their shapes like tongues
and hands cut off.
The small, brown teeth
of seed.  Keep
going: pull back
the curtains of soil,
put down the strong,
white ladders of your hands.

Hit the shocked
mirror of water,
and go on.
Hit bedrock, break it,
get buried alive.
It’s there alright:
a land that has
yet to be mapped,
a darkness unlit,
a nation not yet brought
before your good,
clean God.
Keep going.  I know
that if anyone can take it,
it is you.



Image: Potions by Rebecca Siegel on Flickr, used under CC BY-2.0 license.