The Witch Makes Her To-Do List

Check on the frogs
in the pond, especially the one
with the crooked leg, who can’t hop as far
as the others. Ask them
how they are doing, whether the dragonflies
are plentiful this year, if any of them
have turned into princes lately.
They always croak at that, which is their way
of laughing.

Bring in the laundry—the cotton sheets
a resident ghost likes to play in, the pillowcases
scented with lavender
that will ensure only good dreams,
your black turtleneck and faded blue jeans,
your peasant blouses and a tiered skirt
the color of autumn leaves,
crimson and yellow and brown,
suitable for an afternoon in town
doing research at the public library or meeting
customers for your custom face creams
and love potions (the most popular
makes any woman fall in love
with herself—tricky to mix, that).
Try to find your crocheted hat, which must be
where you left it, but somehow isn’t.
Count the socks. If any have gone missing,
speak to them sternly. Really,
they’re supposed to keep track of each other!
Yet they never do.

Sweep the house. Sweep out
the old energy, which has gone dull
and stale. Sweep in the cold, clear air
of autumn. Sweep in time
to do the things you need to before winter
comes. Sweep in joy, and a fresh start
to the new week. While you are at it,
sweep out your heart
and open its windows for a while.

Gather herbs from the garden—
hyssop, fennel, rue. Tell the rabbits
they will rue the day they ate all the carrot tops.
Laugh at your own joke, share it
with the spider sitting at the center of her web
between the fenceposts. She will stare at you
with her black eyes, all eight of them—tough audience.
Check and make sure that damn cat
isn’t bothering the birds. “No flying on the broomstick
if I find feathers!” you’ve told her.
You’re pretty sure she’s been chewing the corners
of your magical books, and also the Agatha Christies
in revenge, but she insists it’s moths.

Make the teas and tinctures:
comfrey, yarrow, valerian. Bottle them
in small glass bottles, stopper them with wax,
label them in a neat, sloping hand,
the way you were taught to write in primary school
by a very strict Mrs. Johnson.
Sprinkle sage over the wooden floor
to keep away the mice. They’re so annoying,
waking you up at night with their endless chatter.
Afterward, clean the kitchen.
Dust the jars labeled Midsummer Morning Dew,
Maiden’s Sweat, Unicorn Urine, Water
From a Well That Has Always Been in Shadow,
Tears (mixed), Fears (assorted),
Rose Petal Essence (not from concentrate).
Remember to dust the tray of butterfly wings,
the stack of bones you gathered in the forest,
the bowl of random keys, including piano.
Feed the coyote skeleton you found one summer.
He can’t really eat, poor thing,
but he likes to pretend. With a jewelry cloth, polish
the moonstone globe that reflects various phases
of the moon and foretells the future—as long
as it’s not too distant, but sometimes
it’s just as useful to know what will happen soon.
When you’re done, make a mug of ginger tea
and rest for a while.

Bicycle into town
wearing the tiered skirt, a warm coat,
a scarf that flies out behind you. Along the way,
shout “Hello!” to the chestnut and linden trees.
They will wave their leaves back at you, saying
sleepily, Sister, we hope you’re well.
Say a spell under your breath for their continued
good health, for no worms or blight,
for quiet nights under the snow so when the sun
returns, when warmth comes again, they will awaken
renewed. Because after all, winter
is better than any face cream
for smoothing out the wrinkles of the world.
Stop at the library for that book on summoning
the Spirit of Inspiration or a volume of Mary Oliver,
whichever works better, the grocery store
for peppermint chip ice cream
and tuna for that damn cat,
because after all she’s your damn cat, your Serafina,
who curls up next to you on autumn evenings,
warmer than a hot water bottle,
who remembers the words to spells
as well as classic rock ballads,
when you seem to have forgotten them,
and can always find your mislaid reading glasses.
Maybe you’ll take her flying after all,
then watch Murder She Wrote on television.
Drop off a jar of ointment for old Miss Bridges,
who has rheumatism and trusts you more
than her doctor, although you remind her to take
her heart medication. “It’s not a competition,”
you tell her. On your way back,
stop to gossip with the squirrels, who always seem
to know what’s going on, those furry rascals,
rats with extravagant tails, but really quite clever.

Make dinner. Play scrabble with Serafina
and the ghost, who knows seventeenth-century words
you have to look up in an ancient dictionary.
It looks like rain, so make plans for flying tomorrow
to gather water vapor from the clouds
hanging around the mountains—
your Unfallen Rain bottle is getting low,
and it’s such a useful ingredient for minor curses.

Before you go to sleep,
check on the bats
in the attic. Are they comfortable,
hanging together, their furred bodies
next to each other, upside down
like a row of inverted coats,
their delicate ears
quivering? What have they heard
from the universe lately?
What’s the news?


Theodora Goss

Theodora Goss is the World Fantasy, Locus, and Mythopoeic Award-winning author of the short story and poetry collections In the Forest of Forgetting (2006), Songs for Ophelia (2014), and Snow White Learns Witchcraft (2019), as well as novels The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter (2017), European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman, and The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl (2019). She has been a finalist for the Nebula, Crawford, and Shirley Jackson Awards, as well as on the Tiptree Award Honor List. Her work has been translated into fifteen languages. She teaches literature and writing at Boston University. Visit her at

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