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Her homecoming is foretold by signs written
in the swirling leaves and omens that raise
their cloudy heads and roar: there was a crow,
some ghostly laughter in the shrubbery,
the birth of a bright new star. Each heralded,
we felt, her footsteps ringing on the path.

She left a twig or two from her besom
when she swept Autumn from the hall.
Where she was then is now an absence
shaped very much like her.
If I look askew I can see it
not-rocking in her favourite fireside chair.

The cauldron by the grate is streaked with rust
like the pins in the wax doll we found
among her other half-done projects
hidden in her knitting box:
old love letters, an unhatched chrysalis,
and several unravelling socks.

A loose page crumpled on the kitchen floor
shows some small magic to make onion soup
and a rare old recipe for the common cold.
On her allotment the neatly planted rows
of herbs are still labelled in a shaky hand:
as water parsnip, artemisia, and mandrake.

She has been away before:
to buy wooden spoons to stir the spirits,
for green glass jars to keep the demons in,
and for woodlouse oil for her familiar cat,
Grimalkin, who suffered badly with his ears.
At first we paid no heed but then we saw:

in her garden green skin glistened wetly
and a sad croak creaked as toads mourned
beneath the hemlock. They had lost heart,
lost the diamonds hidden in their heads,
lost their appetite for snails and slugs
who swelled in slimy armadas on the path.

There were flowers that strangers left the other day,
and a hoard of widows veiled with cobweb-lace.
Now, the black-plumed horses and pumpkin coach
waiting in the lane with a solemn mute
in a stovepipe and stiff frock coat
confirm, this time, she really won’t be back.

Oliver’s poetry has appeared in many venues, including Spectral RealmsStar*line, Illumen, and Rivet. A collection of his short stories, Stars Beneath the Ships, has been released by Ex Occidente Press, and much of his previously published writing is available in Basilisk Soup & Other Fantasies. His website is at
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