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“I like to roost/in the minds of others,//like a blackbird/in the rafters of//a church,” the speaker says in Annah Browning’s collection of poems, Witch Doctrine says. “…I peer/into their ears and nuzzle//the small bones/of their sadness.”
I love the world that these poems inhabit. It’s somewhere in the liminal space between the natural world and the paranormal–the space between life and death, where all things are possible. More than that, the voice in these poems is phenomenal. The speaker is wise and mysterious, in the way that witches and ghosts are. There’s a knowledge in Witch Doctrine that is intriguing, intimating this knowledge through lists, spells, and letters. The speaker is connected to the world that she inhabits in a way that allows her to thrive.
In the poem, “Witch as La Belle Dame,” the speaker says:
“Don’t forget to love me./I require it, my milky eyes/require it.” The speaker is imperfect, and her demand for love from the “you” in the poem is entirely human. It’s the witch in the speaker that makes her confident enough to demand it.
“I won’t let you get farther/than the sycamore tree./Lie down and be a map//for dew and frost. My finger-/nail traced paths,” the speaker goes on to say. The “you” in this poem is ensnared by her. The scene is set up here, where the two beings in the piece are laying in the grass beneath the tree. The speaker is tracing a finger tip over the “you.” It’s a beautiful, tender image that the poet has drawn here.
“every/rabbit I send for you//to eat will only be a little rabid, a little/lean” The “you” in this piece is clearly not in control–the Witch is. She’s a little bit dangerous–her love is not exactly what the “you” wanted, but it’s what the “you” will get. It’s an imperfect sort of love. Erotic and raw in its honesty, but also soft and yielding. The image of the rabbits conjures softness, they are a gift, even if they are thin and wild.
I enjoyed this book so thoroughly that I cannot recommend it enough. Browning’s ability to create images that become lodged pleasantly in one’s brain is absolute perfection. The book is equal parts sun-drenched love story and Gothic haunted house. Witch Doctrine is available now through The University of Akron Press.