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Salem Vigil

DB Jonas


Old Sullivan found us,

Mehitebel and me,

by the great oak that day,

way out past the smokehouses,

in that pretty little clearing

among the Jack-in-The-Pulpits,

age fourteen, I'd say,

or thirteen. We'd brought

all our treasures along, the shells,

the ribbons and Indian beads,

my dead sister's Irish pendant,

bright-banded turkey feathers,

a little brass key

that had opened something

long lost, and two locks

of hair, I remember,

but can't remember whose,

and a little pot of lye,

and some violets,

pressed in a prayer book.


With all the solemnity

of our maidenhood,

we'd laid these objects out

in a little circle, and lit

a little candle stub

in their midst.

When he happened by,

we had just summoned

to our quiet clearing

some spirits of our imagining,

putative denizens of that shade,

bright wood-nymph or sprite,

and softly began to sing

a favorite hymn

from somewhere at the back

of that little prayer book

to entice them there.

We did not hear him

approach. All at once,

he was standing over us,

not speaking, then turned and left.


There is talk now in the village

that this latest sickness

is a scourge on all our households,

hard justice leveled for misdemeanor

of some sort, bitter harvest

of sins long since sowed,

and I feel their eyes upon me.

The loss of my last living child

drove me long ago

from my neighbors' company

into this tiny hunter's cabin

out past the smokehouses,

among the whispering elms,

with squirrels and voles and owls

my only companionship,

and the little family of foxes

that eat from my hand.

In the village, approached

by the occasional housewife

seeking some nostrum or poultice,

I see the flicker of fear

in the eye, and disgust,

barely disguised.


But what is that to me?

Long ago I left behind

that little prayer book,

the hymns to cleanliness

and righteousness,

the promise of glory,

the trepidations of conscience

to which these neighbors cling,

for the cool embrace

of this forest's shadow,

but know with what trembling

zeal they may at any time

return here, in search

of dark enchantments, to find me

in the guilty presence once again

of the spirits, to haul me back

into their company, back

into the flames of fear.