“The Trick of Fire” by Alyxandra Harvey

In my village
There are stories which can only be told
In the winter.
My sister’s is one, with her perfect dipped candles
And the way the sun reaches down
To touch her.
They call her the Summer Witch
And they fight to win the braided bread
She makes on the solstice.
She smells of midsummer: lavender, strawberries
And green things.

They do not tell my story.

That is not precisely true.
They whisper when I pass,
But only when the sun is high above them.
At midwinter when we know darkness for days,
They dare not say my name at all.

They will tell you I am too hungry.
It is not my fault the candles gutter when I pass.
At least,
I do not think so.
The wood in the hearth hisses as though it were wet
And my father stubs his toe on the chair
And blames me.
He never thinks to learn where to put his feet.

The darkness does not demand or steal or
share your flaws with the world.
It only waits.
Patient,
soft as a lullaby.

But you prefer the summer songs,
The dancing in the fields,
The sweat on your skin.

In my dark cottage, I know where everything is.
The kettle, the chipped cup,
The bowl of hazelnuts.

Last year the housefires would not stay lit
And the villagers drove me into the woods.
I did not mind, not really.
Until I did.
I broke the ice in the river for
Drinking water and I watched the stars,
Who have a different sort of fire.
My sister baked bread and brought it
As far as the blackberry bushes.

When the sun came back, so did I.

Mostly.

Part of me stays in the winter woods,
Even now,
Because you can never be too sure.

I spent hours trying to learn the trick of fire.
I ate the candles my sister made,
And then the fire.
It did not burn my tongue
But it did not share its secrets with me,
Either.
She brought me daisies to wear in my hair
And I stared at the shine of the sun on the river
Until my eyes were like thorns.
My sister danced and danced,
Until her feet bled.
I danced with her,
I learned to sew the yellow sun charms,
Though they made me itch and
I was better with red berry
And salt.

But on the first day of winter,
The candles still went out.

The village ovens burned the bread
And then the coals turned
Grey.
I spent days trying to light the matches,
The rushlights,
The torches.
My fingers blistered and I was so thirsty
I ate snow.

I dropped the tinderbox.

I turned my back on the hearth,
And broke the candles
Like wishbones.
I do not need them.

I can see in this darkness,
I know the shape of my own feet,
The silver of frost at the shutters,
The way the cold air changes by the front door.
I can taste the shadows, like sugar in my tea.
There is a softness here, a safety not offered by the
Too-hot sun over the fields
When it burns the wheat,
Or by the fire as it races up the walls of your bedroom.

I do not wear the summer roses.
There is beauty to bare branches and
Icicles on the rooftop, sharp as
needles.
I will wear them like a crown.


Alyxandra Harvey is the author of The Witches of London, The Drake Chronicles, Haunting Violet, and Briar Rose (poetry). She likes books, tattoos, and chai lattes. Sometimes fueled by literary rage.