The Aching of a Hidden Hare
It’s amazing what you can hide beneath a hat. Most folk don’t give you a second glance but it’s not worth the risk. I have to stay alert. The day I go bare-headed will be the day someone looks my way and snap! My secret would be today’s painful trend. #Freak.
My face would be splashed across every front page. I’m used to being hounded – back then it was hounds yowling after my feet. Now, you’d set a different pack of dogs upon my scent. When newspapers flutter through the park, I’ve see the way people look, hunted beneath the weight of headlines, doomed by ink.
I have learned, through the years to be discreet. Hares have a passion for the dark – have an inbuilt fear of you. We, who have been born shape-shift witches have spent centuries run to ground or tied to a flaming stakes – burned for the crime of healing herbs, scorched for our different skin. We remember poor Isobel Gowdie, all those centuries ago. How we cowered, we leftover twelve of her coven’s thirteen. Like it was yesterday, I taste her smoke in my throat.
We make secrets of ourselves. At dusk’s call, I slip the invisibility of undergrowth, shake the pins and needles from my limbs. I shroud the pelt that creeps up my neck – fold my ears inside a cap, turn my amber eyes to the floor. Nobody pays much attention – they cross the street, rather than pass too close to my lolloping form. I wish you understood. Wish I could smile my cleft smile. History ought to be kinder by now. I have kept myself a secret for too long.
On Finding A Little Glass Jar on the Forest Floor
It saw me coming as I followed the strange and scented path, spied me through its belly’s eye and winked as best as it could, out from behind the blur of its algae skin. Thick and bubbled, cloudy with age, I stooped to clutch this odd egg, bedded in its needle nest. The lofty pines, straight as stair-rods almost made an ominous arch above my head, as if they would close me beneath a confined skin of weighted air.
I scratched it free with my fingers, wiped off the worst of the mud. As if it were a shell, I held its chilly bulge against my curious ear. At first, I only heard the sound of a phantom sea but after a moment, I began to sense forming words and found it had a tale that it had been aching to tell. It had been waiting to empty itself of what it had kept in the crypt of its hollowed mind, all these abandoned years.
It told me how once, many years past, a man and a woman had walked along here, bodies close but never quite touching – how the man had loomed as she leaned her back against the bark, arm pinned like a great branch, how the leaves had whispered with worry when they felt her uncertain love. How her doubt swelled in the heavy air between them, how he angered at their almost kisses, how his mouth always seemed to arrive, just as she had turned away her head.
It told me about the way she sought comfort from the forest – the way her fingers had made timid caterpillars, creeping through the moss, the way she watched the shape of light pool between each twig. She was not convinced that she saw forever in this man – the jar’s cool circle of a mouth was sure of that. She sometimes thought he slipped her sidelong, crab-wise glances – they peeled from his eyes, settled upon her shoulders like filthy snow. By the time she had reached to brush them off, he would be smiling again, podding her into his coat against the cold. He was too fond of such public displays of chivalric flair.
The jar told the story of the time that he had brought her here and how they sat in stilted conversation, how she would stay his hand when it journeyed across her withdrawn leg, how he would tut and draw it back, ask her how much longer? Ask her when?
The sky had spread its stippled view above them, free as the skirt of a gingham dress. She had wondered whether she should let him make love to her. After all, he had done so much for her hadn’t he? Didn’t everyone tell her all the time how he was a keeper, a real catch? He had told her that he could easily get it from someone else and she had tried, but he had sung that line if you go down in the woods today and she could not shift the thought of bears from her head.
She had packed a basket of apples and bread, salmon spread. She took up a knife and dug at the jar’s paste inners, clattered around its crystal neck. She thought about her mother’s life of beating rugs and bowing to the Sunday roast, and how the picnic was knocked to the ground when he suddenly rolled toward her, too strongly, much too fast. How big he loomed above her, how the floor seemed full of awkward stones beneath her back.
Time ate the wicker of the picnic basket. Mice ate the abandoned crumbs, but nothing could swallow the jar’s man-made glass. It held onto its secret, mixed with the forest’s terpene breath. The jar had sat where it had fallen, kept its silence through the years, sat while roots grew longer and poked through the winter’s fallen dead like weathered bone.
It saw the woman’s mother walk the path, call to the ghosts of deer that flicked behind the trap of knotted trunks. Once her foot had brushed the jar’s exposed rim and its memory spilled, redolent as spikenard. It heard the mother cry why don’t you write? The underground stirred, its contents safely held. The woman’s mother kept on saying it’s just not like our Cathy, to up and leave like that.
Jane Burn is a prize-winning poet, writer and illustrator based in the North East. She is a working class bisexual with a late diagnosis of Autism. Her poems have been published in many magazines and anthologies and she has been nominated for the Forward and Pushcart Prize.