365 Poems/99 The Changeling (Rough First Draft)
The fire dips lower. Winter works its way
through floorboards, small gaps in the walls.
The newborn mews as cold creeps
inside its crib, under the blankets.
The new mother stands, feels her shape.
Her belly, breasts, legs – all changed again.
She knew little of life, until the baby started to
turn in her belly. But today, she still
doesn’t notice the stars, or the importance
of warmth and light in the hearth.
The child squirms in the priest’s arms,
as he struggles to bless it’s crinkled forehead.
It screams until it’s little throat is raw.
Back at the house, the child’s soft face
scrunches, becomes stiff, a twisted mouth
suckles, until the mother’s breasts seep blood.
A wise woman councils the girl, and a fire
is built in the bake oven, over three Thursday nights.
The changeling is edged towards the flames
with a baker’s shovel, until it’s cries
bring the beasts from the forest.
The third night arrives with a white eyed woman,
the human child swaddled to her slack breasts.
Pitted with coal dust, slumped, ungainly
and awkward, the changeling
vocalises his betrayal.
The human child, quiet, pale, clean,
like a new lamb, lifts small hands
to try and touch his mother’s tears.
Based on an old Swedish folktale.
Art by Theodor Kittelsen.