Originally published in Willow Springs 77
From the author
Notes on “Two Poems”
In the past year, I have spent a lot of time reading and thinking about witches—as feminist figures, as outsiders, and as irascible and powerful women generally. Witches—those accused of witchcraft historically, those represented in folklore, and those so self-defined—are often women on the margins of society, whether by choice or by exile. As I read, I began to imagine the voice of an older witch talking to a younger one who is still figuring out how to live alone and on her own terms. “Witch Doctrine” then emerged.
I have also been researching ghost narratives. I’ve read many ghost stories, historical and cultural histories of ghosts, and fallen down podcast rabbit holes listening to everyday people’s ghost encounters. (A personal podcast favorite: a shadowy figure approaches a terrified small boy in bed, only to whisper “happy birthday” in an incredibly earnest way.) What struck me was that in my favorite ghost stories, encounters with the dead are rather small and couched in the mundane. Many have the ability for double-reading you find in Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw—these occurrences could be supernatural, or they could be the product of a lonely or distorted mind, a momentary shiver in perception, a palpable unease brought about by low frequency sound. (This last is a real phenomenon and possible explanation for ghosts, by the way—look it up.) “Dear Ghost” turned out to be one of my love letters to this kind of ghost story—the small ghosts, the quiet, un-spectacular hauntings that fill our lives. “Dear Ghost,” like “Witch Doctrine,” surprised me by also ending up being a poem about loneliness—though this speaker, instead of accepting her aloneness as the witch does, continues her search for connection, even if it is with the dead.
Music, Food, Booze, Tattoos, Kittens, etc.
Since I don’t have any pets currently (much to my sadness, since I love animals), I will fill you in on the predatory animals in proximity to me. When I visit my family in rural upstate South Carolina, black bears become one of the things I have to worry about. We have a family of them, a mother and two cubs, living in a cave on our land. I enjoy taking walks in the woods by myself, and since I like watching the deer and the many very stupid wild turkeys that also live in our woods, I refuse to wear a bear bell or carry a gun. (A bear bell, for the uninitiated, is a bell you wear to broadcast your presence in the woods, so as not to startle bears going about bear business, since, apparently, they are more likely to attack when surprised.) So far, I am still un-mauled.
When I am in Chicago, I work beneath a family of peregrine falcons, who nest on top of University Hall at the University of Illinois-Chicago. My first day on campus, I walked out of the building to see a pair of pigeon wings, fully intact and missing their owner, as if the smallest, dirtiest angel had fallen. That was how I found out about the falcons’ existence. The female’s name is Nitz, and her mate is named Mouse, who is described in news articles as “a male of unusually small size.” There is a falcon cam online every spring, where you can watch them feed their white fluffy eyasses (the delightful proper word for falcon chicks). These birds are beautiful, and they frequently land on ledges outside your office windows to size you up for meat. I love them.
About Annah Browning
Annah Browning is a Ph.D. candidate in the Program for Writers at the University of Illinois-Chicago. She is the author of a chapbook, The Marriage, published by Horse Less Press, and her poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Boulevard, Painted Bride Quarterly, Indiana Review, and elsewhere. Links to her work and periodic updates on albino alligators and other oddities are available at her website, www.annahbrowning.com.