Eleanor Lerman

The Witch Deliberates

What does memory want, do you think,
with its feverish demands? Yes, demands:
it does not lift the curtains with lacy fingers
or regurgitate someone else’s (clearly,
someone else’s) dream of childhood,
but unfolds a raw, red sky and claims
to know about hotel rooms, disappearances
On a broken foot, with a broken mind,
down a dead road
—that was my life?
Who says I have to admit it? Would you?

My plan was always to feign ignorance
I thought if we behaved, we would escape
Type, type, type. I did the letters, I ate my
dinner. Now I would like my medicine, please,

and if they don’t sell it anymore, then sell me
something else. The past, at least, was built
on principle (I am angry, I am baffled,
I hate school), but the future is gaining
speed. Each random, savage tomorrow
makes us into something, but what?

But what? Just let me go, said the child
in the garden as all the bunny rabbits
ran away. Maybe, said the witch, but you
look real good to me.
And so the witch
deliberates; the child gauges its strength
In a dark, dark woodland, one can only
imagine what kind of magic is afoot

A Book of Spells

In a railroad apartment, on a certain street,
in a neighborhood that has since changed
        its name, you open your book
Sitting at a table; cold tea in a cup, the cup
        on a plastic tablecloth
It is a summer afternoon. The curtains are still

What will be written about your life will begin:
In a railroad apartment, he or she opened
         a book of spells
and began to study. Little more is known

But I know. Not what you were looking for:
that is your secret. Not who you were: I don’t
        think I care
There are other matters in this age, this era
        that are personal to me
I would like to make reference to them, but
        am prevented, or simply unable
Not that I like to bring myself into these
discussions, but there is a kind of now that
         cracks overhead, resounds
like a temple gong. And now is the time

Why? Because it is not a dream, the way
        these years pass by
Because there is no way to measure what
        falls away; it cannot be known
And yet, there are still questions I want to
        ask you:
What are the forces that work through us?
Where should we live? What should we do?

What is written about your life will include,
The room was ill-furnished, but I
        know better
It had stripped itself bare for you. It held
        its breath

Eleanor Lerman is the author of five books of poetry and two collections of short stories. Her first novel, Janet Planet, was published in 2011. She is a National Book Award Nominee, the recipient of the 2006 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets and the Nation magazine for the year's most outstanding book of poetry, a 2007 Poetry Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and a Guggenheim Poetry Fellowship in 2011. Her most recent work is a video collaboration with her brother, Philip Lerman, supporting Occupy Wall Street: on YouTube.