I don’t know why I’m doing this, to be honest.
Some time ago I had this line stuck in my head. It was something about Baba Yaga and her Chicken Leg House. Like most of my ideas that eventually got turned into a proper work it refused to let go. It refused to be exorcised. So I ended up tweeting it, but instead of just pumping and dumping like I was some kind of NFT hyped cryptobro, I ended up turning it into some kind of lousy, edgelord poem, posted as a Twitter thread. I have since gone back and tried to improve it. I had an idea for its rhyming scheme, but as for scansion I was almost entirely clueless, so I gave up on it halfway. You can read it here, but today’s post has me trying to explain my thought process verse by verse.
Again. I don’t know why I’m doing this.
Before I start I have to mention that when I mention ‘I’, ‘my’ and ‘me’ down here I obviously don’t actually mean myself in real life. I mean the ‘literary’ self, the one referred to in the poem, the narrator. But if you needed to be told that then maybe, just maybe, this post had a point.
Dark Roots is a poem about faith and hope for the future generation raised by a bunch of assholes. The key is the final line of the sixth quatrain:
“Your boughs will reach Heaven, for your roots are in Hell.”
What this refers to will be explained when we reach it, but basically the idea behind the poem is that irrational belief that our offspring, raised by the irrational, selfish and corrupt people that we are, will turn out to be better people than us. Or, as Jane Austen put it (to misquote her), ‘Call it Hope’. Perhaps there is some truth to each successive generation being better than its predecessors, perhaps not. This poem leans toward the former.
My grandmother flies the night sky in a cauldron
Her broomstick dropping bombs on fascist encampments
She can cure hangnail tooth rot heartache and crotch louse
With the potions she brews in her chicken leg house.
This of course refers to the myth of Baba Yaga, the Russian witch who flies around in a cauldron and lives in a house with the legs of a chicken on it, so that it can walk at her command. Initially I had the idea that she would represent one aspect of the pagan Triple Goddess, specifically the Crone. Old, wise beyond her years (of which she has many), but not to be fucked with, I felt her the manifestation of the older generation, which we know call Baby Boomers. This representation was reinforced by the line ‘dropping bombs on fascist encampments’, a reference to the Night Witches, a group of all female Soviet air force pilots who harassed the Nazis in World War 2. The cures Baba Yaga espouses, her magic potions, represent their ignorance of many things we take for granted today. By having this association, I hoped to create a sense of the older generation; people who have done great and incredible things, but who also were very ignorant of certain things that society has now discovered.
My Mother perches atop a banana tree
The nail in her neck softening the face I see
Her white gown stained deep red from the man blood she spills
Fangs dripping, her laugh echoes as she drinks her fill.
This references the Malay myth of the Pontianak, a female vampire ghost said to be created when a woman dies in childbirth. She’s pretty spooky; dressed all in white, dark long hair, pale face and long fangs (you gotta have fangs, she’s a vampire) and is usually found perched on the top of banana trees — why, I don’t know, go with it. She has this distinctive eerie laugh, known in Malay as mengilai, and all of this is referenced in the poem. There’s also this ‘go to horny jail’ level super thirsty (sorry) myth that if you drive an iron nail into her neck, the Pontianak will appear beautiful. I wonder what kind of horny you guys have to fantasise about a fucking blood sucking ghost, but in the end it works just fine.
I have it in my head (or, to use a fandom term, headcanon) that Pontianaks drive nails into their own necks on purpose, changing their appearance, in order to lure in these horny ass motherfuckers, and bleed them. It works for me because I wanted to portray a woman sure of her own sexuality, and capable of using it to her own benefit. This portrayal of vampire women is rampant in media (witness Lenore in Netflix’s Castlevania; those of you arriving from Twitter know her as my pfp), and while it’s a bit outdated, it works with the theme of ‘old sins’.
My Sister waits for prey with a poisoned needle,
For her favour they beg, cajole and wheedle,
She tangles their stilled hearts in silk threads she weaves,
Still inside they come, though never intact they leave.
I hate this one. Every other quatrain has been a reference to a mythical being, but here my sister is just a goddamn spider. In a sense it kinda works because of the association of black widow spiders and femme fatales, but I have two femme fatales in the whole poem already (my mother and wife, the latter appearing in a later quatrain) and I’m kinda repeating myself. It’s only recently that I thought I might want to remove this quatrain, because I used to think that somehow, somehow, I could still fix it. I don’t know.
I went to the crossroads where I lynched my brother,
Whiskey in one hand and guitar in the other,
My father, horned and ornery as an oak tree,
Took and tuned my guitar, handed it back to me.
This refers to the legend of Robert Johnson, the legendary blues guitarist. It’s said that Johnson sold his soul to the Devil to gain his supernatural guitar playing skills, and as the story goes he went to a crossroads and sat there, playing his guitar, when the Devil appeared, took his guitar, tuned it and gave it back to him, and left. The depiction of the Devil as horned is nothing new, but the association with the Oak Tree was, again, from paganism, this time from The Horned God, in his aspect as The Oak King. The pagan god was used as the christian view of the Devil to vilify paganism, and so it fits here. The reference to lynching and whiskey is due to the society in which Robert Johnson lived, and the fact that it was my brother who was lynched is supposed to reflect the fact that these hate crimes committed are done against fellow men, and thus reprehensible, tying myself to the evil past. The fact that my guitar skills was given by my father, the Devil, is a reflection that even my good side is tainted by my evil.
My ram horned wife seduced me at a bacchanal,
As my punishment for the sin of playing well.
Her tail beckoned. I followed her into the fire,
My heart burned with lust for Meridiana’s daughter.
A reference to the succubus, a demon that tempts men into sex, aka the demon with the easiest job in the damn world. This quatrain’s existence wasn’t in the original Twitter thread, and is partly why I hate Quatrain 3. I didn’t need a sister; I’d already established that my father is The Devil, and if I married a succubus, then who did I marry? (My sister, in case you were wondering). The image of the succubus with ram horns and tails comes from the popular media depiction of succubi, and an alternative I wanted to consider due to the reference to bacchanalias was goat horns. Bacchanalias, in case you were wondering, were booze fueled revels during which satyrs got drunk and had copious amounts of sex (satyrs were blessed with magnum dongs). The image of the satyr was similar to depictions of the devil, and again I tie my wife back to my father with this and the reference to my guitar playing, and so I don’t know why Quatrain 3 exists. I mean, the sin of incest was right there. Also, the reference to the tail is not just to drive home the succubus image, but also a crass wordplay that could also mean, colloquially, ‘Dat Ass Doe’.
Meridiana was the name of the succubus that managed to tempt a freakin’ pope. The pope in question was Sylvester II, and the legend was that Meridiana had seduced him when he was Gerbert of Aurillac, and helped him to ascend to the papacy. This in exchange for corrupting the church from within with blasphemous decrees. Needless to say, this was a political ploy by opponents to his ideas, but the idea of a succubus managing to seduce a pope was, to me, an amazing idea. Why tempt random johns into sex when you could tempt a pope and corrupt the church from the inside?
I shelter my son under a tall willow tree.
Never shall my family teach their tricks to he.
I tell him, grow tall, my son. Grow big and grow well.
Your boughs will reach Heaven, for your roots are in Hell.
The willow tree is another reference to the Horned God, but this time in his aspect as the Holly King. I have to confess; my wicca isn’t that good, and I messed up the trees. I also mistakenly associated Oak with Winter and Holly with Summer. Whoops. It should be my father who is associated with Holly, and my son with oak. This is because I laid my hopes to my son, and hopes that my evil family would not touch him, and that he would grow to be good instead of evil like us. The last line is a reference to a quote by Carl Jung, a psychologist whose work involved the study of paganism:
“No tree, it is said, can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell.”
So this is the Quatrain in which I express my hope for the younger generation to grow out of our evil, literally, and become better.
My grandmother still lives in her chicken leg house
My sister still shares secrets and prey with my spouse.
My mother still drinks blood and laughs when I see her,
I still have the guitar I got from my father.
The reason for this quatrain is to sort of reveal that our evil past is still there, and the evidence is still there. Just because it was in the past does not mean that we have atoned. Shit, we may even still be doing it. Again, the line with my sister irks me, but I don’t know how to change it.
And that’s it. I doubt it’s a good poem, but that was my thought process behind it. Was this good? I don’t know. Maybe it’s good for me to sometimes revisit my work and think back to the creative choices I made. Hopefully it helps me improve my writing. Hey, you know another way I could improve? If you pointed out what works and what doesn’t. I’ve gotten more than one comment on my blog posts already, and they all excite me to no end. Yes, I’m that starved for attention. Do post any critique you have. It’s welcome.
If I am to reach Heaven, I must go to Hell, after all. Or something.