Baba Yaga Gets a Student

I sleep in my hut
                                                my feet pressed
                        in the doorjamb,
                                                            a breast on each shelf,
                        my head resting
                                                            against the chimney.
The gate creaks
                                    and the skulls jaw
                                                            their greeting.
My hut spins round.
                        Its claws scrape
                                                the dirt. A girl
stares without blinking
                                    past my blue nose
                                                            and into my eyes.

                        I order the house
                                                to kneel
                        and sweep the girl over
my threshold.

I take her basket of belladonna blooms.
                        She weaves spider webs into my hair
and my crooked fingers
                                    draw words from her lips:
a cure for her father.

I stare into the dish of oil
                                         and see his arms paddle
                                                                        the sheets, his feet kick
                                                                                                air as he swims his bed
                                                                                                                                    across a river.

His wife’s skin caverns
                                    around her mouth.
                                                            When she was younger there were dimples
                        but now            her hollow cheeks frame sharp teeth.
            She counts the coins spilling out of the mattress.
                                                and strokes his smoldering brow.
                                    She spoons poison between his flaking lips.

 

You came too late, girl.
Once he bathes in the river
                                                                        I cannot call him.

            I shrink my body and the girl
slides onto the bench beside me
            to gaze into the oil.

His limbs twist under the sheets—burning scraps
                                                of paper coiling into ash.
                                                            We see behind his lids
                        what plagues the retinas:

                                    A beak sifts through loam,
                        snaps up bloated bodies.
                                                He slogs through the muck. Slip-sliding one step
                                                            ahead of the piercing beak.
                        The mud rises up his thighs,
                                                                   creeps over his groin.
                                                His feet tangle in twisted roots.
Bronze light flares along a tree limb,
                                                            flays the orbs of his eyes.
The fever ulcers through his skull.

                                                The oil sizzles in the bowl.
The girl and I choke on the splatters.
                        My apprentice slithers off the bench
                                                and hangs the kettle over the fire.