Nettle Girl

by Maria Schrater

Weave what should not be woven


Prick your blisters open, plait the stinging stems

Seven shirts for seven swans before you speak again

One and two are painful, your fingers princess-pink

You’ve never darned a sleeve before, how hard could weaving be?

Stand bride before the altar, bloom torn from grotto-garden

As your fingers twist to finery the irritated weed

Turn the king your cheek—and though your hands are swelled to mittens

Crouch in moonlight on the sill, turning out the long, dark sleeves

Three and four are agony, fingerprints pulse heartbeats,

Your husband tries to kiss the wounds; you bite down on your scream

Hunt graveyards for your greenery, ignoring all the ghosts

Your hands ooze on serrated leaves, they whisper you are watched

The world has turned; spring has come, you count the black-billed heads

When the tally’s seven, find that you can breathe again

But five and six are dragging, your brothers beg for bread

Their beady eyes are emptying, they start to dream of nests

The older shirts are dried and husking, crumbling even in your chest

Mind the gaps in the seventh weave, in the planks of

The draft cart, in the bundled wood of the pyre

Last sleeve undone, two half-dried stems raking down your bosom

To prophesy the torch

Was it worth the years stripped of your voice, nettle-Queen,

The years of wearing crusted scabs like gloves, the years

Of sitting in your crown, just another decoration, the years of

Watching their unblemished hands raise to hide the whisper witch

At least the tear-damp green will ashen last

Your husband turns away and now your brothers

Crash down, beating at the flames


Drag the first shirt over slender neck with shaking fingers

By miracle it doesn’t tear – his wings shed to arms around you

As you wrestle with the second, third and fourth and fifth and sixth and

Seventh still has one white arc of feathers sprouting from his shoulder

With a swan’s mind for vengeance, hissing at the blanching crowd

From the safety of your embrace, and with splintered feet

You step off the pyre and out of this tale and say,

“It is done, and, darling, so are we.”


Maria Schrater is a writer & poet based in Chicago. Her work has appeared in Sycorax Journal and in Air & Nothingness Press’s Wild Hunt and Future Perfect in Past Tense anthologies. She is also an associate editor for Apparition Literary Magazine. When not writing, she can be found imitating bird calls in the woods. You can find her on Twitter @MariaSchrater.