Poems from The Book of Baba Yaga
Baba Yaga is the Russian equivalent of the witch from Grimm's fairytales. She turns up in Russian folktale over and over again, mainly as someone who likes to capture and eat the local children, just like the more famous Grimm's witch in her gingerbread house. But, like all witches, she is also an ambiguous figure: she is a healer, a wise woman, living in deep harmony with the cold, Slavic forests, and she is often consulted for her wisdom.
This sequence attempts to imagine, and recover, her experience of nature, of her own expanded sense of time and biography in the space of the forest, and her relationship to other human beings and their bonds of love and family.
This selection excerpts two mini-sequences, the first, "Baba Yaga's Nativity", describing her birth and life in her forest, and the second, "Baba Yaga In Love", her memories of falling in love with a man from a nearby settlement.
Baba Yaga's Nativity
I was born in a stone country,
afterbirth slapping, lapping stone.
Mountains lifted shoulders to the wind.
Cold pines sheltered me.
The sap was my milk, gift of my mother,
still bride of the pines,
The berries in spring
showed me her eyes,
black dusted blue, damp with laughter.
Such beauty never married such power,
the power to carry the year
from its wet-eyed nativity
all the way to the fortress of stone.
I was strong too; soon I knew it –
could live like a rook in the cliff's nook,
sharp blossom, bird of the weeds.
But my strength was pitch,
tarry fortitude mined from the land,
from the bed of the sea.
Mother had no part in it.
Ben Morgan is a poet and academic based in Oxford, UK. His first poetry pamphlet, Medea in Corinth: Poems, Prayers, Letters, and a Curse, was published by Poetry Salzburg in 2018. It retold the famous myth through poetic letters, spells, prayers, sonnets and songs, as well as theatrical interludes. He has also published poems in Oxford Poetry and at The Sunday Tribune and The High Window. He has taught Shakespeare studies and early modern literature at a number of colleges in Oxford and is completing a monograph on Shakespeare and human rights for Princeton University Press.