Herbaceous Citadel by Avra Margariti
Editor's Note: We have an original bonus poem for the month to share with our readers today! Author Avra Margariti's wondrous poetry makes us want to wander an apothecary shop and discover its secrets...
When I was the baker and the butcher’s daughter
I never once visited the forest
where lost princes or peasants fall
in bramble patches, frozen ponds, early graves,
where tree boughs claw and bleed you dry,
and fairytales go to die, happy endings
like pulling rotten teeth.
When I was my parents’ child,
I shied away from the city, with its
dubious characters and roaring automobiles,
its electric lights and dawns of progress
of what a girl can do, or be.
A witch visited my parents’ conjoined shops one day.
After watching me work with gimlet gaze,
she left me a book, although I told her
I could knead dough and pluck chickens
but could scarcely spell my own name.
You know where to find me, the witch said
nestled in her skirts, the scent of lavender and thyme,
the stink of smog and petroleum.
I traced my name in the fungi section, later.
Amanita, she of agaric mycelia and fruiting bodies.
Mushrooms that can kill, as easily as cure.
When I devoured every word and illustration,
the ink swirls memorized even after
the book was snatched from my hands
and thrown in the oven,
when I could no longer call myself my parents’ daughter,
I retraced the witch’s footsteps through the forest.
I followed the scent of lavender, of thyme,
nothing to my name but the rags on my back.
I slept in rabbit warrens and badger burrows,
supped on the leaves and bulbs deemed edible
by the witch’s botanical grimoire, avoiding the
conniving camouflage of poison.
I dressed my blisters in natural salve and gauze,
my scratches I smeared with honey.
When at last I caught the subtle scent of smoke and oil,
it led to a little shop tucked between the city and the forest,
anathema to both my parents’ superstitions.
The witch stood behind the apothecary’s worktable,
before an astringent array of phials and tins.
Child, the witch said, looking up
from pestle and mortar, Amanita,
are you ready to learn my craft?
When every particle of me wanted to protest,
say I’m not good nor smart enough,
I’m not made of the stuff of cunning folk,
I hushed the aching parts of me with promises of healing.
I stepped farther into the pharmacopoetic altar,
the witch welcoming me inside
her herbaceous citadel.
Avra Margariti is a queer author, Greek sea monster, and Pushcart-nominated poet with a fondness for the dark and the darling. Avra’s work haunts publications such as Vastarien, Asimov’s, Liminality, Arsenika, The Future Fire, Space and Time, Eye to the Telescope, and Glittership. “The Saint of Witches”, Avra’s debut collection of horror poetry, is forthcoming from Weasel Press. You can find Avra on twitter (@avramargariti).