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Ars Poisana by Carina Bissett & Andrea Blythe

Editor’s note: This fantastically magical poem left my mind reeling in a very good way, and it explores the wildness of the natural world and the power of women in memorable words that inspired my imagination. It’s perfect for the last work of 2021.

The gate is closed, rusting iron whorled

in mimicry of the secrets within, but the warnings

go unheeded when you’re too small to read

the spiraling symbols. A girl can see coiled metal,

the verdant overgrowth beyond and long

to stretch her thin limbs through the gaps

where a green world awaits. A girl can long

for the wild wisdom of witchy women,

that teeming, slithering, slippery awareness

found in the psychedelic splendor of an acid dream,

philosophy sipped from a flower’s nectar,

power unearthed in a poisonous embrace.

A girl can be drawn first to the bright blush

of petals glowing among the tangled shrubbery

and vines, having not yet learned such blooms

have names, attributes, uses beyond beauty.

A girl can breathe in the fragrance of a trumpeting datura,

unaware it can drive her into dancing delirium.

The hundred-eyed periwinkle watches her descent,

gleeful in their garlands promising a girl’s death.

The blue flag flies and the wolfsbane howls,

blithe in the innocence scattered and lost

among the lustful swoon of lilacs bowing,

branches tangled in the tendrils of passion flower vines

flowering with the promise of a long night’s sleep.

A girl can learn to ignore the thorns that tug and tear

at fabric and scratch at skin as she tends

this fierce nest of greenery, each plant

in its patient patch of soil cultivating its own

secrets, hidden possibilities of poison or healing,

waiting for a witch’s touch to crush the petals, grind the roots

down, down into a dreamy potion of seduction,

a preparation worthy of violent desire and promises broken.

A girl has heard the stories, fair maidens who knew better,

but slipped into the witch’s garden despite the warnings.

The witches have stories too, stories about good girls

who plucked petals from blooming plants

to eat the secrets and plant the seeds in black soil

and red hearts. They grow foxglove and belladonna

and angel’s trumpets in gnarled patches,

their own bones lengthening in aching bursts, flesh

thickening, breasts blooming. The slender shoot

becomes a vine, then a jungle. A girl who takes a chance,

becomes a woman, then a witch. She will ramble in her garden,

shedding pollen red as blood, red as the rust clinging

to the iron gate that squeals as she pushes it closed.

Carina Bissett is a writer, poet, and educator working primarily in the fields of dark fiction and fabulism. Her short fiction and poetry have been published in multiple journals and anthologies including Bitter Distillations: An Anthology of Poisonous Tales, Arterial Bloom, Gorgon: Stories of Emergence, Weird Dream Society, Hath No Fury, and the HWA Poetry Showcase Vol. V and VI.

Andrea Blythe bides her time waiting for the apocalypse by writing speculative poetry and fiction. She is the author of three poetry chapbooks, the most recent being Twelve: Poems Inspired by the Brothers Grimm Fairy Tale (Interstellar Flight Press, 2020).

Image of Angel’s Trumpet from Pixabay


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