"how not to 'bring down the flowers'"
There were many hundreds of ordinary women
who were valued by their communities
for their superior knowledge of healing.
Shakespeare probably did many of these a disfavor
by his portrayal of the witches' brew in Macbeth,
an image that has lingered to the present
long after we have forgotten the extraordinary
materia medica in use in official European medicine.
—Gabrielle Hatfield, Encyclopedia of Folk Medicine
Go not where toads
hop. To keep your petals close
-furled within, the fetus fecund,
blooming from bud to full
flower head, touch no seneca
snakeroot, nor smartweed.
Do not expose your naked
body before a blossoming hawthorn.
Steer clear of houseleek, meadow
rue, fairy flax, and fir clubmoss.
Do not eat the rye
moldy with ergot. Put a piece of cold
iron under your bed, a Bible under your pillow.
When your time nears,
go on pilgrimage to find the wife stone
in the isle of Rona's
moldering chapel, the one you touch to ensure
easy labor. Find the right amulet:
otter skin, aetites, sea beans.
Chew a star thistle, or drink tansy tea.
Or make a pain-killing cake from egg yolk,
grated dandelion root, hempseed, milk, and plenty gin.
Mix a warm fomentation of mugwort
boiled with cloves in white wine.
If this fail, drape seaweed over your
If this fail, stinking nightshade
will induce a twilight state.
When all's done, the midwife will warm
a twig of ash
and place its tip,
oozing sap, into the newborn's mouth.
Dayna Patterson is a consulting editor for Bellingham Review, poetry editor for Exponent II Magazine, and founding editor-in-chief of Psaltery & Lyre. Her poetry has appeared in The American Journal of Poetry, The Fourth River, Gingerbread House, North American Review, Sugar House Review, Weave, Hotel Amerika, and others. www.daynapatterson.com