All year I gather birch twigs,
gather them up into bundles, just so.
Tie them carefully. Make sure
the heft is right for shins
and backsides. At the end of November
I begin blackening: rubbing coal dust and ash
into my already-dark hide until
I leave smoky footprints.
Oh, child, when you feel my stings
will you realise at last I’m the only one
to care about the naughty?
The chuckling saint only brings gifts
for those sweeter than spun sugar.
Too much sweetness attracts flies, like dung.
Let us dance. You hide behind the chair.
I snarl and flash my sharpened teeth.
Around and around each piece of furniture
until you tire and my switches
tease your skin. Your parents will hang
my golden bundle—my gift—for you
to look at year-long, while your spun-silk
sister’s doll will break in a week, maybe two.
Listen at the window for my chain-call.
Don’t reach for spun sugar. It shatters.
Jennifer A. McGowan lives near Oxford, England, and has published widely on both sides of the Atlantic. For more poetry, info about her first collection and anthologies, and for samples of her medieval calligraphy, visit http://www.jenniferamcgowan.