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Alyse Bensel

Witchcraft and A Woman's Worth

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Dürer's snails and armored rhinoceros
roamed the town of Darien. The rain poured
down a thousand tiny green frogs, their mouths

agape and ready for worms unwilling
to drown. Boguet wished away
sin's New World, with its witches

buried in the soil, ready to rebuild again.
Within her imagination—
the secrets bound to keep for providence

in wooden boxes—shone brilliance
alone, ascension inherent in her soul
or a sign for witchcraft. If following

the heavenly signs, her hands
caked in dirt, she kept all this filth
and all this cleanly duty hidden in her pockets.

As They Are

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Indians, who are not well treated when in the service of the Dutch, use [the seeds of the plant] to abort their children so that their children should not become slaves as they are."
–Maria Sibylla Merian, 1699

I fed those hungry silkworm mouths during drought.

I woke to skeletal peonies, Johanna fussing in her bassinet.

Even a namesake cannot know what is needed for both child and husband.

Seven bad seeds—a butterfly that will never puncture its hardened cocoon.

Or when what staggered out was half a barely living thing.

I've seen how those born starve harvesting beside their mothers.

My servant whispers of a seed that dissolves what they carry.

I've seen excess and know myself lacking.

This heat stifles my breath.


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We lost how she made indigo
stick to fabric and never bleed,

the crimsons and gold hues
tracing the edge of brocade.

A dye never to lose its sharpness.
Washed again and again the design—

tulip, hyacinth, iris—still swirls
across silk as if a breeze

has lifted her skirts, hushing
the quiet and yet so bright as to sin.

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