Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE BALINESE WITCH DOCTOR, by KAREN SWENSON



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THE BALINESE WITCH DOCTOR, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: He sits in the circle of his simmering
Last Line: Baby chicken stirs in moonlight's shadows.
Subject(s): Indonesia; Religion; Dutch East Indies; Theology


He sits in the circle of his simmering
pressure lamp. (First you must find its private sound.)
Outside the compound's wall, frogs ribbit in the moon
silvered paddies. (Its own combination of
vowels and consonants.) Night after night he studies
the thin palm-leaf books of grandfather, father (because
evil answers to its name), the mantras, the etched
drawings, clues to a new demon generation
of poisons, killers rising from mosquito coils,
the sweet perfume of insecticides.

Under frangipani's pinwheel blooms
(you call evil like a dog) he's spent the day
on fortunes told to giggles of girls, charms composed
to banish roaring spirits from dreams, water blessed
to rinse away witch-spelled insanity (and it
obeys, begs, sits, plays dead), he listens to his granddaughter
sleeping in rough bouts of breath between her parents.
He scours for the demon, labors for her breath,
while on the family altar the down on a headless
baby chicken stirs in moonlight's shadows.





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