© Dave Guttridge
Helen Ivory is a poet and visual artist whose fifth collection, published by Bloodaxe Books, is The Anatomical Venus. She edits webzine Ink Sweat and Tears, and teaches creative writing online for the UEA/WCN. Her book of mixed media poems –Hear What the Moon Told Me – was published by Knives, Forks and Spoons Press, while her chapbook Maps of the Abandoned City appeared with SurVision. As part of Versopolis Poetry, Helen's work has been translated into Polish and Ukrainian.
All the Suckling Imps
Summon your children by their given names
be wet nurse; harbour; slatternly distaff –
let them suck of your virulent blood.
Now issue them
Elemanzer, Pyewacket, Peck in the Crown
to derange the neighbours
rabbits, kittlings, polecats and rats
have them spill from your skirts;
from your crimson teats.
A hare on the threshold
tame like a dog
bright crooked cast
in its lemony eye.
Basket of apples
placed on the floor
of a virtuous larder.
A peppery grimalkin
curled on the roof.
A Goodwife takes to her bed
body a roost of convulsions
an apple a day an apple a day
A palaver of mice big as squirrels
ravage the hayloft
winter rises early
a smother of crows
draws its cloak
across the pale vault of heaven.
A scabrous dog
kiss cold as clay
springs from the lap
of its fostering bedlam
to dance and dance
the black dance of itself
atishoo atishoo, we all fall down
Old woman old woman
who lives in a shoe
oh monstrous mother
now what will you do?
The watchers have come
to unclothe your imps
the prickers are here
sing witchery, sing jinx
‘If a woman dare cure without having studied,
she is a witch and must die.'
Reverends Kramer and Sprenger,
Malleus Maleficarum (1486)
She comes when summoned
with birth blood and earth caked
to the hem of her skirts
and dark little half-moons
packed under broken nails.
The hedgerows are her pantry:
to quicken labour, there is cock-spur,
balm of poppies to assuage your pain.
Her senses are sharp as hoarfrost –
she will bid you when to squat like a brute.
And when the physician invents himself
he will call at your door
in the empirical light of day
with his bagful of leeches
and headful of planets.
He will scribe the words of the Lord
into your waxing belly.
And when your daughter
happens her crowning,
he will rip off her head with forceps.
Thou Shalt Not Suffer a Sorceress to Live
For her neighbour’s sickness
was more than merely unnatural;
for he sang perfectly without moving his lips.
For she is intemperate in her desires
and pilfers apples from the orchard;
for she hitches her skirts to clamber the fence.
For her womb is a wandering beast;
for she is husbandless, and at candle time
brazenly trades with the Devil.
For she spoke razors to her brother;
who has looked upon her witches’ pap
and the odious suckling imp.
For the corn is foul teeth.
For the horse is bedlam in its stable.
For the black cow and the white cow are dead.
All poems: The Anatomical Venus (Bloodaxe Books)