The Sorceress in the Tower
by Theodora Goss
You’re speaking to me, and you don’t know, you can’t see,
that I’m very far away. Deep in the forest
there is a tower surrounded by a high wall,
and in that tower lives a sorceress. That’s who I am.
Within that tower hang tapestries with scenes
of a hunt in which the unicorn spears the hunter,
who has been betrayed by the maiden he was trusting
to catch the magical beast, his intended quarry.
The walls in the library are lined with bookshelves
of rich old oak, filled with books in leather bindings,
some handwritten, some printed, with the titles
stamped in gilt on their spines.
At the top of the tower there is a room with windows
that look out over the surrounding countryside.
Under one is a desk, with a pen and inkwell
that never runs dry. That’s where she sits and writes
her spells, and also general correspondence.
The room contains a bed shaped like a swan,
a wardrobe filled with the sorts of dresses a sorceress
would wear, whether she wants to go to a ball
and cast a curse on the prince, or attend a convention
of sorceresses (they meet semi-annually),
or sit at home on Sunday, randomly
doing magic. On one of her bedroom walls hangs a mirror
that will reveal any scene in the past or present
if asked politely (there is an etiquette
in talking to magic mirrors. They’re most particular.)
Downstairs are the library filled with books
and a kitchen in which she often eats her breakfast.
It contains an oven that can bake anything
from brownies to an elaborate chocolate cake,
a kettle that is perpetually filled with soup,
French onion, cream of mushroom, tomato bisque,
an icebox that never melts and is never empty,
a pantry that’s always stocked. In the kitchen closet
hang a broom that sweeps, a dustpan that carries dust
to the compost heap. Everything runs on magic.
The skillet fries up eggs, and after lunch,
the dishes wash themselves.
Outside the tower, within the surrounding wall,
there is an orchard of fruit trees: apples, pears,
peaches, even cherries and apricots
if the frost doesn’t get them, as well as raspberry bushes.
By the kitchen door, an herb garden grows in knots,
both ornamental and fragrant. Vegetables
flourish in rows: tomatoes, aubergines,
cabbages, peas, the various kinds of squash.
In June, the rose arbor will be a riot
of albas and gallicas, damasks and mosses.
On summer mornings, she likes to clip the roses
and bring them inside, put a vase on the library table
so the entire tower is filled with their perfume,
from the kitchen to her bedroom.
The sorceress lives in that tower alone, except
for a cat — who owns whom has not been determined.
They argue, mostly about philosophical subjects.
And an owl who lives in the attic. And the toad
at the bottom of the garden. Sometimes Grimalkin
(the cat) tells her she needs to get out more often,
but sorceresses are generally introverts.
Anyway, she has plenty of company:
the maiden in the tapestry likes to talk,
as does the mirror, when it’s in the mood,
and she has her library. Of course the trees
converse with her as she walks through the forest.
The birds call down to ask how she is doing
and the winds greet her by name. So maybe alone
isn’t quite the right word.
“Can you pass the salt?” you ask, and I look up, startled,
because it’s such a long way back from my tower
to this table, so far to return. Fortunately,
the sorceress also owns a pair of shoes
that can carry her anywhere in an instant. Now,
what were you saying?
(The illustration is by Charles Robinson.)