If you’re going to trust anyone who beckons you to an unfamiliar table, trust your local witch first. Sure, it didn’t work out so great for Hansel and Gretel, but that’s only one, sanitized part of the story. Me, I always like to hear the witch’s side, and to drink the witch’s brew, too.
Lev Mirov’s poem is an invocation to the table. What’s on offer is “Grandmother’s old bone-broth soup, salted with the tears of the dead / smoked from the resin of dream-trees growing when the world was young”. I love “Witch’s Brew” because it’s seasoned and peppered with what seems like incredible suggestion, but also tastes like the meals of home. It’s a reminder that the best speculations are often in the very place where your navel string is buried. Surely, your grandmother’s soup can raise the dead. It might be said in jest, but you know there’s a part of you that believes it. Mirov’s speaker leans into that gustatory openness, hands you a wooden ladle, asks you to inhale the richness of the fare. All you need to pay for it is your unburnt tongue, your faith in grandmother-magic.
And it is magic. One bowl has the power to let the “gods of misrule take the faces your mother knows them by / and hail you with the family names as a friend.” The closeness of the poem’s speaker, addressing you in second-person present, curls into you like the wafting of that Sunday kitchen aroma, and no matter the kind of soup you grew up on, you can smell it while you read these lines.
Food might be natal magic. We eat of and from our mothers, our they-who-bore-us, to stay alive. Sometimes we need to eat into that remembrance, to find our own brew, and swallow.
This is the sixth installment of Other Kinds of Men, a speculative poetry reader in honour of Ursula K. Le Guin. Speculative writing, which encompasses the major genres of mythology, fantasy and science fiction, has often given voice to the most relentless and ungovernable urgencies of this age, and any other. Le Guin understood this: that to write about dragons, ice worlds and other seeming oddities was, in fact, to write into the messy, riotous complexity of ourselves. Here’s to dragons, and here’s to Ursula.