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  • Green, and Nine Herbs, and The Owls
  • Laura Kasischke (bio)


Like the worm on its way to the center of the cabbage: A crisis at the core of certain things. Loves that couldn’t last. The boy in Spain. The death-row penpal. The old woman walking straight into the mirror, and then rubbing her eyes, backing up, trying it again. We all cried, Stop!, but she just kept walking. And you were warned that it would be a happy song followed by a brutal fact. Eagle-headed god forged out of gold. Rag stuffed into a human hole. My young son at the planetarium, and how he asked me when they turned the lights back on, “Are we on Earth again now, Mom?” To end it on the universe’s terms. Or not: Needleful of pentobarbital. And the cat, the cat, our last green and peaceful gaze after a lifetime of that. Then, in my arms, the earth’s bonds slackened. To have reached the source of all that sweetness. That satisfaction. No turning back. Who would turn back? [End Page 32]

Nine Herbs

after Bill Abernethy’s translation of the Old English charm

. . .

First you must recite this little charm nine times, and then. . .

. . .

Remember, Mugwort, what you told us? What you arranged at Regenmeld for us? Against poison, against contagion, against the hateful one who travels through the land?

Three against thirty, Mugwort. Remember? Remember

polio, tuberculosis, HIV? Remember sickle cell, and diabetes? Pediatric cancers? Hemophilia? Have you forgotten these?

And you, Waybread? Mother of all herbs! Over you, our carts have creaked, our pigs have snorted. Our brides cried out in pleasure or in pain, but when we crushed you, you came to life again!

Please, Waybread, now, holiest of all plantains: The hateful one has learned our names. To you we pray.

And Watercress! O, Watercress. Forget not our malignancies! [End Page 33]

For the lesser shall be the greater and the greater the lesser, and so shall always be . . . To you, who grows, like God on stone . . .

And, you, dear Nightshade. And, you, our Chamomile. You, Crabapple. Lamb’s ear. Wood-sorrell. Wallflower. Fennel of the feathered leaves.

A worm came creeping,A worm came crawling,

And it tore a man in two . . .

A worm came creeping,A worm came crawling,But Woden, with a stick, hitit, and it flew!

Hodgkin and Huntington. Parkinson and Pick. Gilbert, Grave, and Gehrig. Kaposi, Bloom:

We curse your many sacred names! We boil and blast and bathe and salve and sing!

Against red poison and reeking poison! Against the green and yellow poison, against the black poison, brown poison, purple poison, blue. Against

water-blister and worm-blister, thorn-blister, and thistle-blister. Against ice-blister and north-blister. Against west-blister, fire-blister

from the south, from the head, from the stomach, from the feet. [End Page 34]

You must recite this charm of mine nine times, and then . . .

But to which pole can we flee when it comes to us from each?

When it has videotaped our wives at their ablutions? Photographed our husbands as they mowed the lawn?

The do-gooders with the evil-doers, we know. The rich with the poor, of course.

But our dearest infants and oldest friends? Our bitterest enemies, as well as our teenage daughters in their scented beds?

And when, in the end, even our sweethearts turn from us in sorrow & disgust you tell us to recite a charm, to grind some herbs to dust? And if

this fails, what

then? Then—

. . .

First you must recite this little charm nine times, and then—

. . . [End Page 35]

The Owls

Their holiness, their loneliness, the song they sing in certain barns on sad, old farms about the scales on which the love was weighed, or the terrible armchair onto which was tossed a small girl’s nightgown once.The widower’s broken ankle, and the summer a transparent fish was caught in the pond. Invisible if not for its heart. Its lungs. The throbbing jelly of its subconscious: No one would fry it for supper. Like Dora, Little Hans, the Rat Man. When Freud told them their own...


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