Lo Stregozzo (The Witch’s Rout)

The Witches Rout by Marcantonio Raimondi and Agostino Veneziano (1515-1525)

Where do you go, great lady, in such haste?
Reeds billow at the passage of your train.
The eerie note — the horn your herald bears,
of some fell beast — sends marsh fowl flying wide.
On through the whirling night your bearers run.

Do you approach a feast of love? These are
such pretty boys, such gallant, strong-limbed men.
And you, your hair with clouding incense streams.
You do not fear to show the years grave in
your face, still less the power of your arms
and thighs. Enthroned upon the arching spine
and pelvic fan, your lightest whim is law.
Glad service! As you hurtle through the dark,
a grinning demon lurking in the mist.

Yet on a second glance (no lantern but
the moon), your troop takes on a grimmer cast.
I think now that your aspect tends to war.
Slew you the beast whose carcass bears you up?
And naked, yes, as ran the ancient Celts
into the fray. Are you the crow that flits
amid the tents ere martial sun shall rise
and croaks hail to the one, woe to the next?
Or wise Scathac, whose school admits no man
who cannot leap the gate to bend the knee?
Dash on, dash on! The carnage will not wait;
well may they fear, who lately were aroused.

Yet as you pass, I gain one final glimpse —
as mist begins to settle, reeds to still,
and not one print remains to tell the tale —
and now I know! Across dark miles and cold,
you gather up the souls of innocents,
collateral alike of love and war.

Plucked from the ruin, the river and the rack
of child-bed, safe beneath your shielding hand.
You bear them on, across the great divide,
who otherwise would wander without guide
and to such grinning demonlings fall prey.
Mid-wife who mediates twixt life and death,
twixt death and life: most sacred task of all.
And I will hail you goddess, queen and witch.

Yet I must bow my head and in my praise
be circumspect, for others may not see
you quite this way. Small minds enlist small fears
to smother awe and to such simpletons
are all the subtleties of Work and Art
reduced to dread and church-bells come the dawn.
The whole tenebral glory of your flight
Bound up in graven lines of black and white.

[Kyla Lee Ward has produced two collections of dark and fantastic poetry through P’rea Press — The Macabre Modern and Other Morbidities and The Land of Bad Dreams — as well as publishing short fiction, articles and a novel. She won the inaugural Australian Shadows Award for poetry and various works have garnered other Shadows and Aurealis Awards, and Stoker, Ditmar, and Rhysling nominations. An actor and Ghost Host, she has travelled widely and rhymed adventurously. Her interests include history, occultism and scaring innocent bystanders.]