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Featured Poem • May 2017


How to Grieve: A Primer for Witches


Sara Cleto


Polish your black boots until the leather gleams like a salmon. Polish them again. Rend your widow’s weeds. Mend with bits of lace, willow fronds, and the coldest, sweetest dreams in your larder. Dance, madcap, with young men who smell of butterscotch and long grass. They needn’t know your name, need only spin you fast, faster, until thoughts peel away from you like apple skin on a knife. Wear your oldest, gaudiest jewels and listen to the faded griefs they whisper. Spin gold into straw. Sing with your sisters— they won’t care if your voice cracks crow-sharp, and they can harmonize on a minor third to any tune you choose. Take on commissions you would refuse under other circumstances. Brew potions for spoiled, golden-haired girls, and, when they return, weeping, tasting the difference between love and its shadow, serve them cool honey-berry soup. Weave a wreath of ivy, thorns, violets. Wither it near the fire before placing it on your brow. Break every curse smoldering quietly in your town— it matters not who cast them or why. Accept no payments for this service. Feed your familiar richly on lentils, dandelion greens, marrow bones, though you eat nothing yourself. Sing alone. Pluck herbs from your garden patch. Brew healing tea that requires hours of chopping, straining, stirring. Don’t drink it. Fly with your hair unbound, laugh up at the moon’s dagger-bright points, and remember. Gather the tiny bones from the corners of your room. Play, earnestly and precisely, at necromancy, but only play.



Sara Cleto is a PhD candidate at the Ohio State University where she studies folklore, literature, and the places where they intersect. Her areas of interest include fairy-tale studies, disability studies, speculative fiction, and 19th-century British literature. Along with Derek Newman-Stille and Brittany Warman, she runs the online folk narrative hub Through the Twisted Woods. She and Brittany Warman are the co-founders of the Carterhaugh School of Folklore and the Fantastic. Her poetry and prose can be found or is forthcoming in Faerie Magazine, Mythic Delirium, Goblin Fruit, recompose, Rhonda Parrish’s Alphabet Anthologies and others.

About “How to Grieve: A Primer for Witches,” she shared, “I wrote this poem three days before my beloved grandmother lost her battle with cancer. She was a fierce, intelligent woman who loved books, knew the importance of kindling friendships, and thought that animals were often much better souls than people. While she would probably think that this poem was very strange indeed, it was written for her.”



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