A Brief History of My Witches in 18 Parts

C. Russell Price

 1) I am six and watching a National Geographic afterschool special on African shamans and the introduction of voodoo to the US. I’m chomping down on my second pack of Dunk-ARoos and thinking the Power Rangers don’t have shit on this.

2) I am six and 45 minutes. In my backyard, beside my neighbor’s compost pile, I’m covering myself in pepper pulp and fermented blueberries. I’m lip-syncing to Paula Abdul’s hit track “Spell Bound” and twirling around like the TV people did. I’m invoking spirits like Drop Dead Fred and Bernie from Weekend at Bernie’s. I’ve covered every inch of my birdy body in red and blue and there’s a sudden tingle—it’s working!—I’m magic!—and then a slow, powerful burn. One so strong that if I had had the language skills to communicate then, it would have been a wild yawp of SHIT OUT MY FUCKING MOUTH FUCK BALLZ THE WORLD IS BURNING. Instead, my parents find me sobbing and hose me off like a skunked dog. When they ask why I’m covered in poblano and/or jalapeno seeds and grape gunk, I lie. I think to myself, little fucking fool, you’ve been playing with dark magic and this is what you get.

3) Before you imagine some scrawny six year old me rummaging through my neighbor’s trash like a raccoon, let me give you the setting. In a town of less than 1,000 people we had two rumors: 1) When the damn Yankees invaded and burned our town to the ground (hashtag never forget), the local militia buried today’s equivalent of 1.5 million dollars in confederate money somewhere in the mountains. Imagine! Out there in the woods and briars all your troubles could disappear. 2) At the top of each mountain in my hometown, there lived a witch. Well, what we called a granny witch whose fault it was that there was a bad tobacco crop or who would steal your pets if you let them out too late. When our football team lost state, god bless their hearts, we blamed it on the fucking mountain witch.

4) Fast forward: I’m nine and my mother, a high school art teacher, is whispering to my dad, a high school biology teacher, in the other room. Mom: We’re getting a lot more witches this year. I counted twenty at lunch today. Dad: Oh, great! We’ve probably just got ten or so. I pull the fucking covers over my face and give my cats (Scarlet O’Hara and Rhett Butler) a death grip hug. They’re talking about it so noncha-fucking-lantly. In two high schools of less than 400 kids a piece—a good portion are witches—you could have a whole separate marching band of cackling high school girls playing Marilyn Manson and twirling broomsticks. NEWSFLASH: talk to your kids about pop culture! That year that all the high school girls got magical The Craft came out. The eyeliner and Catholic school skirts took over my hometown in a fad panic, but don’t worry about me—I’m just gonna read some Goosebumps and wait for the girl on Strawberry Lane with bacne and a nasty attitude to kill me in my fucking sleep with her hoodoo that she learned at Spencer’s in the mall. But no, please, don’t worry ‘bout me.

5) In the 8th grade all 97 of my classmates and I had to read some hooky book called Where The Wildflowers Grow about some white trash girl whose dad gets really sick so she turns to wildcrafting. She runs to the mountains during storms to gather rare herbs and flowers. She makes an herbal compote and saves her father. I think she’s the tits so I start harvesting myself. I make a drying rack and gather all the greenery I can find. My bedroom smelled like this hippie chick I’ll meet in college who said “rad” as if she’s about to belch bong smoke in the middle of the word. I store my findings in mason jars and ready myself with mountain magic.

6) When I get to high school there’s a new flood of puritanism striking my hometown called Young Life. About once a day, one of these little bible thumpers would approach me in my all black to ask about Jesus and I’d just slowly float away. Every morning before and after school, 40 of them could be found circling the flag pole, holding hands, and chanting verse together and praising Jesus so loudly you could hear the hallelujahs on the football field. The habitual sinner that I was at this point (read: chronic masturbator) I thought, you really can’t take the hand of Jesus if it’s filled with your genitals. I thought of recasting my wicked ways and joining their circle, but that would have really thrown my hectic schedule of trying to get the quarterback to pork me in the faculty bathroom. C’est la vie.

7) [Insert 90’s montage of moving to Chicago]

8) There’s a little old lady who lives across the hall. I’m new to the city and she tells me stories about going to Woodstock and old school weed. Her apartment is strange and smells like jasmine.

9) There’s a little old lady who lives across the hall who calls one Sunday to say that she is dying. I go through her door to find her crumpled mid-stroke. I ride with her in the ambulance to the hospital—if she dies on this gurney, it will be my first glimpse of truthful death.

10) There’s a little old lady who lives across the hall who’s now in the hospital and asks me to do her a small favor— Her: Please look beside my TV chair for the little yellow ceramic bird and the needle with blue, black, and red thread. Take them to the safety deposit box on Western. You’ll have to take the bus for an hour and a half, but please do this for me and make sure they’re safe. Me (internally): um WUTTTTTTTTTT?

11) There’s a little old lady who lives across the hall who most def. is a real life witch. I open her coat closet because why the fuck not at this point and there’s shelf after shelf of black 5 inch binders. I pull one at random and each page is filled with what hex she cast and who they know and where they live…I flip further and further and further and then there at the bottom: Russell moved in. Russell came home at 4:15pm. Russell went out drinking alone, came home with blonde man. Blonde man leaves; Russell cries in bathroom. Day after day after day of everything I’d ever done.

12) There’s a little old lady who lives across the hall who’s home from rehab and doesn’t know that I fucking know she’s been keeping tabs. At this point in our story, yours truly has fallen foolishly in love with a man who had a face you’d want to slip a quarter somewhere and ride until your Mama gets done getting groceries in the Piggly Wiggly. Her: Did you do what I asked of you? Are they safe in the deposit box? Do not lie to me. Me: (internally: damn, bitch, chill) Yes, I did what you told me to do. Her: Good, now let me tell you about the little friend you’ve been having over—he’s in the Polish mafia. I’ve been following him. He isn’t safe. YOU are not safe. Me—HOLD THE FUCK UP DOT COM. I run.

13) When I tell my lover, the one with the face you’d want to slip a quarter somewhere and ride until your Mama gets done getting groceries, he laughs like a Disney villain. He says let’s do something a little cruel. So…we speak gibberish Polish in the hallway. We have loud, angry phony sex and phony fights while pretty much screaming Pierogi and Pulaski and making up words in between. The witch across the hall stops calling and moves out in a week.

14) In reality, I should have seen the red flag a mile away. If a man can be so cruel to a stranger, what then could he do to a lover? He can hit you. He can hit you and hit you. And you think, sweet dumbass, this is the mess you’ve always wanted. The last night he touches me, we were probably bumping uglies to Nina Simone’s “I Put A Spell On You” and then something in him snaps and he lets all the rage out and my body becomes covered in purple and blue and little specks of red and this is what you had coming since that time you thought yourself a witch doctor and twirled in vegetable debris. Or maybe the little old lady across the hall hexed you one last time before she left. Fact: if you took my lover’s name— rearranged the letters (maybe added or subtracted a few) it very clearly would spell SATAN’S MASTERPIECE.

15) The next night after I leave him for good good, I take everything in my place he had touched: a copy of The Giver, a little figurine from Chinatown, his favorite mug. I shave my head a la 2007 Britney. I haul all his shit and my little mop of curls into the alleyway. I throw everything in the dumpster and then—I don’t know if it was the Holy Spirit or what—but I light that fucker on fire. The dumpster is roaring in flames and my neighbors walk out to me all soot covered and crying. They do not approach. They let me burn privately.

16) A psychic outside my office sees me the next week and says: hey, your energy is really good today. I respond kindly and matter of factly, thanks! It’s a combo of Xanax and a mental breakdown.

17) I think about where he is and if he’s crossed paths with the little old lady from across the hall. I think of them cackling together. I say fuck em and line my eyes dark and thick and think about buying a plaid skirt. I go to a rare gems store on Broadway and buy two little stones that are meant to help my energy but I’m still a walking trashcan fire and now I just have two fucking rocks digging into my thighs.

18) My father is sick. My father is sick and I’m all the way in Chicago and wondering if there’s a way to contact one of the granny witches. I wonder where the mason jars full of herbs are. I wonder if it’s God or maybe something spooky that is prying me out of this hell to confront all my issues on a spiritual level. I drink. I drink more. I make unwanted arrangements. I flirt inappropriately with a Hari Krishna outside the train station and ask him about magic and death. He says that they don’t condone drinking or drugs and I’m like what the fuck is the point and go home to an apartment dark as voodoo. I light a sage smudge in one hand a Swisher blunt in the other. I put on Fleetwood Mac and twirl like I think I’ve always twirled, wild and hungry. I meditate. I say ommmmm until my whole body vibrates. I let the world into me. I have antidepressant induced lucid dreams in which I am finally the prettiest girl at a party and everyone’s too scared to talk to, so I hold my palms open, I float. I fly. Do you hear that? That vicious roar? That primitive magic that comes with just making it, if only barely, day to day? Let’s do something tonight, even if it turns out cruel, even if we burn everything beyond repair.

C. Russell Price is a genderqueer punk poet originally from Virginia but now lives in Chicago. Previous publications include Court GreenLambda Lit, Nimrod Internationalvoicemail poems and elsewhere. Their chapbook TONIGHT, WE FUCK THE TRAILER PARK OUT OF EACH OTHER was released in June 2016 by Sibling Rivalry Press. They are a visiting assistant professor at Northwestern University and work with The Offing.

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