The Hag in the Tree – Kate Falvey

I crept up to him while he slept
and studied the twitches his dreams made
beneath his frail eyelids. He should
have sensed my stare.
 
Soon I knew if he
was being chased by wings and needles,
or if he was lost in a flailing bark
inside the snapping prongs of foreign waves.
 
I took a shine to his beauty
and studied his wavy gouts of silent pain,
shirred through the pine bark I’d made
from my own withered skin.
 
I crept in after filling my son
with the riot of the moon
and teaching him the languages
of spindrift: light, and growth, and change.
 
This little slip of a sprite in the pine 
knew nothing but delicate abandon,
weak-willed hostility, monstrous self-
regard, his magic imprecise and wanton.
 
He played havoc with my infant son
tormenting for flimsy pleasure with a
slippery and ephemeral power. I spied
him poisoning a flower, discerned
 
his plans to tease my son to brinks
of docility and dread, shrinking him
to meager genuflection, the son of
Setebos and Sycorax! the leashed
 
hound of a smirking sprite,
the least of all the voices on
our isle, the bare whim of a noise,
a poser, a mothy flirt of minor arrogance.
 
And yet, this ambiguous he
in my tree calls me to a dangerous
maternal softness, vying with maternal
rage. My son must be ascendant
 
but the world, being a stage,
requires antagonists and will slip
into mazy wanderings that even I
cannot control, despite my art,
 
despite my ancient vanity, despite
my incandescent age. I exert myself
and move the thick-waisted moon
out of her wheeling self-possession
 
into a gasp in my child’s nascent seeing.
I give this tree-caged spirit my remorse
and something of my slyness as I rouse
my art and shelter in the ripples of this pitch.
 
I am drained of spells and inclination
to command so will only half-bewitch
the seas and watch this biddable spirit
flit new tricks and bend to a tired
 
and once glorious will when he is
tree-unsheathed by a passing stranger
with a storm-tossed, vacant child as
beloved by him as mine own son by me.
 
My work is nearly done.
No idle deviltry, no cruelty, no
bloated shows of superior might.
Caliban, attuned
 
to light and music I can barely sense
will know true freedom by its loss,
wield true power through his subjugation
and trust the moon drunk phases of his birthright.


Kate Falvey’s work has been published in an eclectic array of journals and anthologies, including the Mysteries issue of Deep Overstock; in a full-length collection, The Language of Little Girls (David Robert Books); and in two chapbooks. She edits the 2 Bridges Review, published through City Tech/CUNY, where she teaches, and is an associate editor for the Bellevue Literary Review.

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