June 8, 2021

Dark Heartwood, by DJ Tyrer

Editor’s note: This poem has a delightfully eldritch feel to it. And just what future will be revealed for this family?  I wonder. A memorable read.

She was late with child

And fading fast, life slipping away

Neither village women nor midwives

Could say why, offer hope


Nor could the wise women tell

The cunning man diagnose, cure

The hedge witches offered their herbs

Some comfort, no cure


But, one old witch told the husband

“There is one possibility, perhaps

If you were to seek a goblin midwife”

He asked, “How? Where?”


“In the oldest part of the forest

There is an old, old tree,” said she


“Take some of its dark heartwood

Trace the contours by finger, then knife

Carve free the shape of a person

And release her, the goblin midwife”


So, the husband went

Deep into forest, shadowed


Found an old, old tree

Drew out its dark heartwood, drew it free

Ran his fingers across it

Discerning a shape, contours


Took his knife and began to cut

Whittle a poppet, child-like

Held the manikin in his hands

Cradling it, cradling his hope


Eyes blinked open

To his shock, surprise


The goblin midwife jumped down

Free of his hands, alive

Looked up at him

Asked him, “What do you want?”


He explained his wife’s predicament

It cracked a smile, dark and strange


“I can save her life

Save your wife, I can

But, there is a cost to it

Great cost, one that must be paid”


The husband couldn’t deny it

“Anything, anything at all”


“I shall save your wife

Deliver her child, but take it

Take the babe away as my price”

Heartbroken, he could only agree


Carried the goblin midwife

Upon his back, homeward


Took the curious creature to his home

To his wife, his love

Where it crooned over her belly

Strange songs, healing tunes


Bringing her back from the edge

Of Death’s cruel abyss, back home

Reviving her from her malady

Bringing forth the child, innocent


But, as the midwife worked

The husband left their side, slipped away

Sought the wise old witch

Described his bargain, his heartbreak


And the wise old witch laughed

Not cruel, but bitter


“Such is the way of things

A bargain, a devil’s deal

A life for a life

A wife, a child”


He begged her to help

“No,” said she, “it cannot be

For once a bargain has been struck

It cannot be undone, unstruck”


And with a glistening tear

She told him, “This I surely know”


Returning home to wife and child

Husband was bitter, angry

And the goblin midwife chuckled to see him

Reminded him of their bargain, their deal


“In return for saving your wife

Give me your child, the one you made”


And the husband smiled

A grim smile, mind whirling


“That truly is what I swore

A bargain made, now fulfilled

The child I made

I give you – yourself”


And he took the goblin midwife

Tossed her on the fire, heedless

Returned to dark heartwood

The goblin burnt away, became ash


Husband joining his wife

Hopeful of happy ever after, perhaps

The player of a cunning trick

Or, oathbreaker, traitor


Rewarded with wife and child

Or, storing up a curse, a bad ending?


Bio: DJ Tyrer is the person behind Atlantean Publishing, and has been published in issues of The Horrorzine, Illumen, Sirens Call, Star*Line, and Tigershark, and online at Lonesome October, and Three Drops from a Cauldron. SuperTrump and A Wuhan Whodunnit are available to download from the Atlantean Publishing website. He also has a personal blog.


Image from Pixabay.


This story is brought to you by Sara Cleto and Kathryn Shailer, two of EC’s Patreon patrons. To learn more about helping EC continue to thrive, visit our Patreon page. Alternatively, if you have PayPal, you can send a donation to ecsub2016@gmail.com


Brigid Levi said...

Wow! The imagery in this is gorgeous!

DJ Tyrer said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Unknown said...

Very compelling with tasty words throughout. Thank you!

Lynden Wade said...

Ooh, this really drew me in. I saw it in my mind's eye as very Heath Robinson, with gnarled trees and a gnarled goblin wife. I think Christina Rossetti would have enjoyed this!

DJ Tyrer said...


Lynden Wade - I think we're seeing it the same!