SPOTLIGHT: Of Weeds and Witches by Shelly Jones

Penelope Learns to Weave a Double Helix

I walk along the craggy hillside
overlooking cliffs, green waves below.

My drop spindle careens from these heights,
deftly spinning the wool tended by Melanthius
as I search for your ship in the distance,
that I might cast my line and draw you near.

Like you, my wool is roving, a grizzled storm cloud drifting over the sea.

Like the winds on your sail, I wind on, my journey brief, my work undone.

Murky memories of you surface
when the morning light shines
on our son’s tanned face,
when a sheep bleats, alone, scared,
in the black hours that belong to Nyx,
when a storm cracks your name
across the sky, rain muddying our fields.

But the years wane, my hair greys, my belly sags,
and the bed, carved from an olive tree
by your calloused hands, molders in your absence,
its roots rotting in the brine of my tears.

I turn to the spindle, splicing together
a ram’s fleece, algae, a bit of stag hide,
sacred to the virgin goddess of the hunt,
who nimbly wields a bow (even better than you),
flax, grapevine from your father’s land,
a hair from your pillow, preserved, still golden.

I adjust the tension, slow my tread,
the thread elastic in my hands,
strands of you plied not with a witch’s herbs,
but the fibers of my existence without you.

For years my fingers cross warp and weft,
weaving a new flesh to press against my face,
to soak up my tears, caress near-virgin skin.

At last I finish, selvedge raw,
snip the loose threads like a Moirai in training,
stand back to admire my creation
before it wraps its arms around my waist,
woven torso snug against my chest.

We fall into bed, ever-fixed
to the sallow olive tree,
and shake its branches bare.

You are not the only one
who has slept with monsters,
but mine are of my own design.

I breathe life
into the fibrous body
beside me, and
ignore the knock
at the door – at last.

The Azure Captain

They say her hair turned azure
from the sea, salt-tinged, waves like tongues
lapping at her, marking her as theirs. A badge
of acceptance, of expertise, her men begrudgingly
do her bidding. She navigates the straights of the sea serpent,
the coves of the kelpie, steers a walty mizzen past
sleeping harpies to the keys of Kallisto
using only the memory of stars to guide her.

She anchors off the reef, musky aroma of jungle flowers
on the nearby keys knot her blue hair, overwhelm
the men’s senses, drawing them portside. The captain
retires to her cabin, the sun-colored horn, a trinket
from a previous expedition, jangling at her hip,
orders her men to keep watch, but the keys call
to them – the lure of land, gravel, dirt
between their toes, backs sinking into sand.

They whisper below deck, tales of muder, mutiny,
their suspicions pour over the hull like swells
cresting the ship in a gale. She feels the wood listing
beneath her boots, knows the riotous winds shifting,
closing in around her. Cursing the captain, the crew
leap overboard, swim bare-chested in the moonlight,
the reef lacerating their hands, arms wading
through blossoms of blood until they reach the island.
They kiss the sand, rub it up their arms to stanch the blood,
until one man shouts, points at bones softened, wind-whitened,
strewn along the beach. In the dark, they hear the low
trumpet of a horn, turn to see a flash of blue billowing
against worn sails before hearing the growl behind them.

A Feline’s Guide to Astronomy

Pinholes in curtain:
constellations of starlight
To navigate home.


2 starved children (variety: hungry will do, unloved taste sweeter)
1 dusky forest, poorly marked and overgrown
1 gingerbread house (pre-fabricated acceptable, but guests will know)

Coat the starved children in tattered rags and lies. Lead
them to the edge of the dusky forest, their trust as thin and brittle
as the apologies of a feckless father.

Fold the children into the woods, aching limbs tumbling over upturned roots,
ducking beneath flagging branches. Listen as their stomachs
churn, breaking down the memories of bread, moldy and stale.

Place the gingerbread house, with sugar-coated shingles,
caramelized shutters, frosted panes in the middle of the forest,
at the cusp of the children’s exhaustion.

Make it impossible for them to turn back, turn around,
only turn on each other.

Fill the children with confections, doughs, icings, delights their step-mother knew,
but was too practical to bake or buy, yanking them away from the bakery
window on every trip into town, muttering something about sweets and rot.

Pull apart the siblings, sever their tender, familial sinews.
The bond that grew in the woods withers when brought to light,
stumbling across the witch’s syrupy threshold.

Marinate the girl with memories of a timorous father, stooped and fallow,
eyes hooded, dull like the boy’s; a willful step-mother;
an empty store cupboard, crumbling pantry, hollow larder.

Double check that the oven is preheated, the fire blazing, ready,
once she’s made her choice.

Knead her with strong hands, shaping her will, rolling out her future, papery thin,
only enough to cover her scraped limbs, no scraps, no extra wasted in the woods
by a prodigal brother, feeding sparrows, the hare, rather than surviving.

Allow the girl to rest, calculate the risks. Set a timer for five minutes. Do not allow
her to over-think her next move, to regret her decision. Any longer and pity
overwhelms her plot: escape, revenge, desserts that seem just to a child’s palate.

When she is ready, pinch her cheeks, dole out compliments.
Garnish her with the courage to never look back.

Clean the oven once the girl has gone to bed, tucked in deep beneath
layers of blankets to keep out the cold, the dark, the smell.

Toss the bones in a pot to simmer and cook down overnight.
Nothing wasted, everything earned.

“Take This”

“Take this,”
the minotaur snorts,
holding a mirror
out to Theseus,
before he locks
the serpentine labyrinth
and steps into the sun
for the first time,
hooves biting
unblemished soil,
horns stretching up
toward the blue sky.


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