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Eleanor Lerman

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Witch, Walking

It’s the damp, gray hour 

just after dawn. A light wind, hesitant:

not sure yet whether to lay a claim

upon the day


And here is me: old, getting older,

a woman with a small dog

A modest dog. I am a modest person,

waking, dressing to take my pet

out into the possible wind


Also: in this poor county

of women and witches,

it is the hour when witches

are permitted to walk their dogs; 

always, they stay on their side of

the street, I stay on mine


Here, in this county of

wreckage and grief  

at least this is a safe hour:

No spells are cast, no damage 

is done. In acknowledgment, 

we wear our traditional costumes:


For me, my old frayed jacket;

for the witch (my witch),

a long black dress, torn in places,

with a dirty hem. And she has 

a cloudy eye


Sometimes, she nods at me

and I nod back. Her dog is 

enormous—actually, I think

it is a wolf. Red eyes, sharp teeth—

exactly what you would expect


Then as the years go by, I sometimes think

that I hear this animal speak to me

In truth, the dog I have now 

is not my first dog. This is not 

my first witch. And now, in this life,

things seem to be repeating themselves


The house gets cleaned, the groceries

are delivered. I try to hide

the damp gray hours in the closet

but you know how the story

will be told:


She crossed the street. The faithful

dog followed. But even I can’t tell

anymore if I ever went home

The Last Report from the Underground

Cold moonlight poured like water 

through cracks in the windows; winter

broke the locks and barged in, banging

up the stairs in hard shoes—it was always

winter on East 10th Street. Rain on St. Marks,


rainy days on the crosstown bus to nowhere

The Vietnam days. I was a girl when girls

knew nothing, when all the boys looked like

the Jesus kind: black eyeliner, black coffee,

black hearts, because that’s what we liked 

then, when our own hearts were broken


Rumors reached us that troubadours had moved 

into the Chelsea Hotel so we flew downtown, 

chewing on the ends of our hair. For years, 

we waited for a message but the news from

the prairies never reached us; the papers we

read were already damaged by conversion therapy


and we wouldn’t have believed them anyway—

no one ages in troubled times. No one ever ages

when they walk the streets. Overhead, the sky

kept building itself out of blocks of sun and

clouds and shadows: we stood on the rooftops

and howled at them to come closer and 

I think now, that perhaps they finally did


But that’s not the end of the story—

this is: the last report from the underground

was riddled with bullets. The last time

the East Coast was heard from 

it had already crossed the border 

but rumor has it that any day now, 

it will confess to how and when and why

Eleanor Lerman (She/her) is the author of numerous award-winning collections of poetry, short stories, and several celebrated novels. She is a National Book Award finalist, a recipient of the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets, and was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship as well as fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts for poetry and the New York Foundation for the Arts for fiction. Her most recent work is her seventh collection of poetry, “Slim Blue Universe” (Mayapple Press, February 2024).

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