"Half-Hanged" Mary Webster, Real Witch?
Rumour was loose in the air,hunting for some neck to land on.I was milking the cow, the barn door open to the sunset.I didn’t feel the aimed word hit,and go in like a soft bullet.I didn’t feel the smashed flesh,closing over it like water over a thrown stone. I was hanged for living alone for having blue eyes and a sunburned skin, tattered skirts, few buttons,a weedy farm in my own name, and a surefire cure for warts; Oh yes, and breasts, and a sweet pear hidden in my body. Whenever there’s talk of demons these come in handy.
The rope was an improvisation. With time they’d have thought of axes. Up I go like a windfall in reverse, a blackened apple stuck back onto the tree. Trussed hands, rag in my mouth, a flag raised to salute the moon, old bone‐faced goddess, old original, who once took blood in return for food.The men of the town stalk homeward, excited by their show of hate, their own evil turned inside out like a glove, and me wearing it.
The bonnets come to stare, the dark skirts also, the upturned faces in between, mouths closed so tight they’re lipless. I can see down into their eyeholes and nostrils. I can see their fear. You were my friend, you too. I cured your baby, Mrs., and flushed yours out of you, Non‐wife, to save your life. Help me down? You don’t dare. I might rub off on you, like soot or gossip. Birds of a feather burn together,
though as a rule ravens are singular. In a gathering like this one the safe place is the background, pretending you can’t dance, the safe stance pointing a finger. I understand. You can’t spare anything, a hand, a piece of bread, a shawl against the cold, a good word. Lord knows there isn’t much to go around. You need it all.
Well God, now that I’m up here with maybe some time to kill away from the daily fingerwork, legwork, work at the hen level, we can continue our quarrel, the one about free will. Is it my choice that I’m dangling like a turkey’s wattles from this more than indifferent tree? If Nature is Your alphabet, what letter is this rope? Does my twisting body spell out Grace? I hurt, therefore I am. Faith, Charity, and Hope are three dead angels falling like meteors or burning owls across the profound blank sky of Your face.
My throat is taut against the rope choking off words and air; I’m reduced to knotted muscle. Blood bulges in my skull, my clenched teeth hold it in; I bite down on despair Death sits on my shoulder like a crow waiting for my squeezed beet of a heart to burst so he can eat my eyes or like a judge muttering about sluts and punishment and licking his lips or like a dark angel insidious in his glossy feathers whispering to me to be easy on myself. To breathe out finally. Trust me, he says, caressing me. Why suffer? A temptation, to sink down into these definitions. To become a martyr in reverse, or food, or trash. To give up my own words for myself, my own refusals. To give up knowing. To give up pain. To let go.
Out of my mouth is coming, at some distance from me, a thin gnawing sound which you could confuse with prayer except that praying is not constrained. Or is it, Lord? Maybe it’s more like being strangled than I once thought. Maybe it’s a gasp for air, prayer. Did those men at Pentecost want flames to shoot out of their heads? Did they ask to be tossed on the ground, gabbling like holy poultry, eyeballs bulging? As mine are, as mine are. There is only one prayer; it is not the knees in the clean nightgown
on the hooked rug I want this, I want that. Oh far beyond. Call it Please. Call it Mercy. Call it Not yet, not yet, as Heaven threatens to explode inwards in fire and shredded flesh, and the angels caw.
Wind seethes in the leaves around me the tree exude night birds night birds yell inside my ears like stabbed hearts my heart stutters in my fluttering cloth body I dangle with strength going out of me the wind seethes in my body tattering the words I clench my fists hold No talisman or silver disc my lungs flail as if drowning I call on you as witness I did no crime I was born I have borne I bear I will be born this is a crime I will not acknowledge leaves and wind hold onto me I will not give in
Sun comes up, huge and blaring, no longer a simile for God. Wrong address. I’ve been out there. Time is relative, let me tell you I have lived a millennium. I would like to say my hair turned white overnight, but it didn’t. Instead it was my heart: bleached out like meat in water. Also, I’m about three inches taller. This is what happens when you drift in space listening to the gospel of the red‐hot stars. Pinpoints of infinity riddle my brain, a revelation of deafness. At the end of my rope I testify to silence. Don’t say I’m not grateful. Most will have only one death. I will have two.