Bewitching Witch Hazel

By Cynthia Gallaher

Osage, Oneida, Pottawattamie, Menominee,
Mohegan, all know the power of “magic water.”

Putting to boil leaves and twigs
from which “Great Spirit” arises.

Its essence in sweat lodge steam
to limber up legs for games of lacrosse,

Bathe sore muscles,
strained backs and ever-tender emotions.

While fork-tongued settlers used
forked branches as infallible divining rods

To dowse for precious metals, or deep springs
of water underground.

It’s a little spooky when the shrub
finally blossoms spider-shaped flowers

Around All-Hallows Eve,
after dropping fall leaves.

It’s a little spooky when it spits hard,
black seeds like catapults at passersby.

It’s a little spooky when lightning storms
turn its clear bottled liquids milky.

But a little bewitching, when at day’s end
a woman can face the oval mirror

To let common cotton and witch hazel
usher a simple, balanced beauty,

Lending the air a hint
of autumn apples.

"Witch-hazel drips" by Ruth Hartnup

“Witch-hazel drips” by Ruth Hartnup

Cynthia Gallaher is the author of three full poetry collections and two chapbooks, most recently, Omnivore Odes: Poems About Food, Herbs and Spices (Finishing Line Press, 2013). The Chicago Public Library lists her among its “Top 10 Requested Chicago Poets.”