There was a cottage near icy waters
and in that cottage a family fair
with father, mother, and seven daughters
whose upstairs bedchamber was theirs to share.
The eldest daughter was of such an age
that she looked upon the neighbor lad’s heart
with the favor due, both proper and sage,
of a Christian virtue and reserved art.
All the town spoke of their marriage as though
it had been a prophecy long foretold,
and her preacher father deemed it just-so:
as right and goodly as if writ in gold.
All said the eldest was pureborn as Eve
before she had partaken from the fruit,
and said she was of nature as would leave
all others impoverished, stem to root.
But the eldest daughter dreamt otherwise,
seeing a face midst trees not far from there
and, at night, she flew across starry skies
to meet the man who beckoned her elsewhere.
So, one night, when all had fallen asleep
the eldest lay with her shift set aside,
she opened the window, without a peep,
and looked out upon the auroral tide.
Airclad in night clouds, and boldly leaping
from out of her cottage bedside window,
while nearby her young sisters were sleeping,
shoulder to shoulder, in a restful row,
the witch bore herself up, beyond the home
where her father had sought to teach her fear
so her soul would nest at night, never roam,
admonishing the lass year after year.
Yet, her preacher father could not forbid
the eddies of her heart that rose in gusts,
and she flew free as a soul gone morbid,
yet alive, burning pale and hot with lusts.
Over glen and vale, veiled in stars and shade,
she escaped the lectern’s brimstone bluster,
coming to a man camping in a glade
whose dark eyes gleamed with a goatish luster.
“Where fare you, my fair lithesome lass of night?
Where do you go, lass, mantled in the moon?”
She said, “To swim in the milk of moonlight,”
and into his arms she swept in a swoon.
As a hart in Winter’s rut he set to
and she welcomed the rhythm full and fine
while the winds rose up, the smoke black and blue,
and lips ripened sweet as grapes on the vine.
And, indeed, there was pain in their union,
and there was pleasure to be had betwixt,
much as grapes with stones ate in communion,
and a sweet wine can sicken if not mixed.
Yet, she had chosen him all on her own
and knew her preference better than most,
nor did she flinch, skin to skin, bone to bone,
nor from the coiled horns of her woodland host.
When their congress had swelled unto its end
they laid aside, the one near the other,
cooing like doves in a curious wind;
she said, “I am nothing like my mother.”
Her new lover laughed in sardonic glee
and stood up, stroking his grey satyr’s beard.
He said, “Your mother could oft leap a tree
to enjoin in my company.” He leered.
He then disappeared from the glowing glade
and the fire went with him, nought but embers,
but he whispered low to her like a shade,
“It is not love, but it warms Decembers.”
Returning home, barefooted in the snow,
the young witch had much too much to regret,
and was surprised by the hearth’s sullen glow
through the pane—her father’s hard features set.
“Jezebel!” he shouted. “Harlot! You whore!”
He yanked her indoors, his fist lifted high
and struck her once, twice, many times the more
until black and blue—she thought she would die.
Crumbled on the floor, the witch could but weep
as her father read to her Bible verse,
meanwhile her sisters pretended to sleep
and her mother lamented her own curse.
“Now the works of the flesh are manifest,”
the patriarch quoted, his voice afire
like the hellmouth hearth as he beat his chest
and denounced daughter to a phantom choir.
“Think you well on your blackened heart,” he said,
“and recall the bruises I have dealt you
when next you dare wickedness out of bed,
for the next sin shall be your last to rue!”
He left his witch-daughter slumped on the floor
and returned to bed a beast beneath yoke,
and though his wife sighed, he would hear no more,
saying, “Speak not. My fists never misspoke.”
And thereby the grapes of his daughter’s lips
bled out to sour as vinegar in haste,
the wine spilling, aging, the bitter pips
expelled like her Bible lessons…a waste.
She rose up, at length, from the floor to stand
and tottered by the hearth, much like the flame
that swayed weakly in the hellmouth hearth, fanned
by the cold wind through the open door’s frame.
“Let only the sinless cast the first stone,”
she muttered to the shadows twisting round,
and then, listening to the cold wind moan,
she read her own blood, trickling on the ground,
and she saw a tooth within that puddle
and she knew it the pip from her own maw,
and she bethought how utter a muddle
her life was to follow any man’s law.