Boys become crones; baked bread becomes a baby; electricity turns out to be Jesus; a first grade class stages Oedipus Rex. At the center of it all stands Baba Yaga, the child-eating forest witch and earth goddess of Russian folklore. Under her tutelage, Charlie Bondhus uses the occult and the magickal to explore the fluidity of age, gender, and self-perception in this radical and playful book. We here at Patheos Pagan are happy to share with you a few selections from Charlie’s latest poetry book, Divining Bones.You can pre-order Divining Bones here.
Portrait of My Mother as Baba Yaga
You laugh when I tell you how I’d hide
beneath the covers where my stuffed animals were rats
with human faces and mom
was the bogeywoman
grabbing with strange fingers. A game
like being tickled to screaming. I’d thrash in the hot
dark until the sheets were soaked in my juices
and Mom was a cackling chef,
furloughed from the polite society of my father,
playing with her food.
light a candle, chant
at the mirror, and you’ll see
her in you: the old murderess,
the bloodthirsty abortionist.
After the twentieth incantation it began
at my chin and spread
across mouth, jaw, and cheeks,
until my lower face was hers.
11 years old I already knew
the joys of being home alone; of leaving
my bedroom door open as I pushed my pubescent cock
and balls up inside, imagining myself
as something else.
When I touched my new hard
lips I thought about Mom,
whose disapproval was stronger than any witchcraft.
But it was already too late.
When I turned on the light
my face had become
sexless as an egg.
Self-Portrait as Baba Yaga
Sundays I go down to the Hungarian
deli on the Lower East Side where
I can get away with eating children
if I’m sly about it, slipping them
into the goulash when no one’s looking.
Later I cruise Coney Island
in my mortar and pestle, but
only the elderly Soviet emigres
and granny fetishists pay attention.
These days I cast queer spells and
burn myself at the stake for the crowds,
offering nickel love
potions to the lovelorn at 33rd and 7th.
I have a tortoiseshell cat who catches mice and speaks
Polish and a tortoiseshell comb that turns
into a city when it’s thrown on the ground.
When out-of-town children
ask my gender, I tell them
I’m a witch.
“Where divination meets poetry in extraordinary fashion! After awhile you can look to this book for answers, opening and closing it nine times with a question in mind, the poet Charlie Bondhus leading the way. Magic spells and paranormal experiences abound among beautifully written lines by a poet we will all want to share and know. I love this book!”
-CAConrad, author of While Standing in Line for Death