Maggie Butt





Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford

A witch was bottled, and stoppered with wax
in this ribbed and silvered scent-bottle.

The hand-written ticket does not explain how
she was captured, but says an old lady warned:
if  you let her out there’ll be a pack of trouble.
Now cramped in this wasp-waisted glass

for more than a century, trouble a-brewing,
her anger has matured, grown both expansive

and precise. If she escaped, her wrath would tempest
through this tip-toed museum. Displays

of apple-corers, wart-cures, mole’s fore-feet
would spin and shatter, curiosities whirl in a typhoon.

She would howl like winds from the lands which offered
up the reindeer skin knickers and raincoats

of seal intestine embroidered with caribou hair,
trash their hard-won, unexpected beauty.

A small girl asks her father if it’s true, says she thinks
the bottle is too small to hold a real witch.

He hurries her past the shrunken heads; murdered
toddlers’ skulls; tiny, silken Chinese shoes to hide

the mutilated, putrifying feet of other daughters,
and doesn’t say what spells he’d be prepared to cast

so she could never be contained and labelled.
He doesn’t say that furies roam the world, screeching

through the night, twisting the minds of men to unspeakable
acts; or that he knows his love for her looks small

and breakable as the witch-bottle, stretches wide and helpless
as the sky at evening; and how little he could do

if the witch began to twist the fire-sticks in their sockets
till the whole world was ablaze with tongues of rage.




Maggie Butt’s fifth poetry collection was Degrees of Twilight (The London Magazine) 2015. Maggie is an ex-journalist and TV producer, who supervises Creative Writing PhDs at Middlesex University, and is a Royal Literary Fund Fellow in Kent.

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