Arielle Greenberg

The Wicker Man

When the baby breaks night with a cry,

my first waking thought is Summerisle

Why?  Because I am hunting what haunts me?

Because I am a giant fool?

I’ve always run toward an asp,

Medusa’s captive, looking,

looking too hard at the sun.

An algorithm for how I am burned alive.


Also, that night is not so dead after all

when on the other side of the bedroom wall

some unseen adultery is dancing naked for me and me alone.

I wake to The Wicker Man, 1973, year after I was born,

a figure in some film I’ve never seen, can’t see, won’t see,

tempting me toward some motherless guile,

calling in the creeps.  Look here, the monster says,

and I’ll turn you into stone.  So I research it cultishly.

And am so afraid.


The baby sleeps on.  I would too

but I’m in a dream, the bones of a hare

buried under my pillow, where my two hands hide, useless.

The next day I pretend to be awake, alive,

lifting her neat body in the air for a clean diaper

and thinking sacrifice.  Something in me is grey and hard.

Something in my hands is a ritual laid bare.


If one was to look upon me slanted, I’d be

a sear-eyed girl escaping up the chimney.

Naked and bare.  A jaybird.  A bough, breaking.  A suicide. 

A petite sacrifice.  I live, as they say, in fear:

in a giant man made of tree and fire.

Like a fool.  Over the sundial like someone’s mother,

eeking through the calendar, leaking in the ash pile.

The room is dark except for the clock.

Where’s the midnight in this mystery?


Where’s the midnight in this sunlit horror flick?

I knew from the start I’d die at the end,

trick or no trick.  Virgin or not.  Queen or no queen,

heir apparent, little rabbit crying in its sleep

the only words it knows: a certain blaspheme

and away I go into ritual again,

looking so hard at what will rake my eyes over the coals,

the familiar torture that knights the break.



“The Wicker Man” first appeared in Spoon River Poetry Review, 36.2.