Issue 24: Milena Williamson

I Must Be Thy Lady

After my mother took like a trembling,

some called me queer. I was stricken

by books or hens or needle and thread,

machines of moonlit revels.

My husband begs a little boy.

We could rear him up, he says,

warming me at the kitchen hearth.

What are the lines I learn by heart?

Give me a chance, I must be thy lady.

You’re making an emergency of me.

My husband hums a nursery rhyme.

Are you, are you, or are you a wife?

A dog howls at the offstage moon

and all my mother comes into mine eyes.

The Engine of My Thoughts

Humour altered, my father trumpets above my bed,

waking me to restore my former light.

Turn off the light, I say, and my husband puts out the light.

A metal spoon or a wooden stump,

a saucepan with yesterday’s scrapings,

a candle held aloft, a clean hearth.

I call for sweet water but as he begins it,

he finishes it. My dress alights

and smoke seeps from under my costume.

My other loved ones stir in the guest room

and knock on the door, lovingly locked.

I have some washing if I had the hands.

If I had the hands, I would rather be dancing.

Then I am for the air. I return

to the corner of the moon, distilled by sleights,

where no name fits my nature but my own.

A Butter-Woman

She often brought me eggs, a bit of banter,

and nothing more. A good neighbor,

she calmed the cows and sang their milk to butter.

Certain women have the power to steal butter,

this we know for sure.

There is devilment in the taking away of butter.

Those who know better

than to talk of fairies, they knock on my door,

asking questions, offering gifts to butter

me up. You want the story? No bother,

I’ll tell the truth before

another paper prints blather.

My neighbor was never a bother.

Strange to think I won’t see her anymore,

neither her nor her dog Badger.

She crossed my fields, empty but for

the cows who lowed for more.

My tongue loved a butter-

woman’s mouth, an egg out of a cloister.

The Raven and the Lark

As a babe, our daughter made us an alphabet.

My wife and I learnt her signs until she was

a woman, a rich ornament of what we meant.

When my wife began to wither, she tended her—

adding water to the sea and sailing ships in her eyes.

Then my wife passed, my daughter’s milk turned

to marble, the butter turned, and I had no one

in the world to turn to. It was not me, should ever

a finger on her. The raven does not hatch a lark

and according to the papers, the body found was

of middle height with blue eyes and regular features.

She sang like a bird, sweet tidings of the sun’s uprise.

Sweeter Creature

I threw no paraffin oil on my wife, nor neither

was there oil in the house, only what she herself

put out of a bottle into a lamp that was lighting.

I did not place my wife on the fire.

The world hath not a sweeter creature,

and she was too fine to be my wife.

We cut her from the sweet creature

she rode in the dark. She cried, unpin me,

and death’s unnatural that kills for loving.

One of her legs was shorter than the other,

said the man who took her measure.

His limp was just a farmyard fracture.

One of her legs was longer than the other,

said the man who measured her in bed.

When a changeling walks, she skips.

I have no wife. It was the very error of the moon—

she came more nearer earth than she was wont

and made men mad.

Milena Williamson is currently pursuing a PhD in creative writing at the Seamus Heaney Centre at Queen’s University Belfast. She was the winner of the Mairtín Crawford Poetry Award in 2018. Her poetry has been published on RTÉ and in Magma, The Tangerine, The Honest Ulsterman, the Poetry Jukebox in Belfast, The North, Poetry Ireland Review, and more.

Find more of her work at These poems are from a series about Bridget Cleary, which was supported by an award in 2018 from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

Copyright © 2020 by Milena Williamson, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.