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A Witch's Blues

For General Alder

Kentucky bourbon goes down like silk,

then burns like kerosene.

Old blues crackles from a vinyl record

through a needle kept sharp with work. 

I was there when these blues were born, 

I knew the women who gave birth to them.

You need not tell me what their wailings mean–

The bending of a guitar string is its own form of work. 


All women give birth, in one way or another–

children, whiskey, art–

In some ways, every woman is a witch. 

Every woman feels the sting 

of being loved and resented,

needed and despised, 

their magic at once disregarded and feared. 


But be not lulled into thinking you are like them;

we are still but a few bad dreams from smoldering at the stake.


When surviving means finding virtues

in world of hate,

Balvenie and Bessie Smith

are sometimes all that keep me 

from burning all the capitals

and dancing in their flickering light.


But I turned my womb to ash

and gave birth to an army,

every soldier a daughter

for whom my heart aches.


I raise a family from the bodies of the fallen

and offer up another generation to the grind.

I will grieve every last one of them when their times come;

grief weighs heavy when the fault is mine.


Our family tree is planted deep in Salem’s soil,

its roots nourished with her blood.

And if, late at night, you hear me singing, and

whiskey’s burn no longer soothes,

Daughters, raise your voices—

It will be their last regret 

To hear a witch’s blues. 

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