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Winterberry

by Lisa DesRochers-Short

For Karen Wrentzel

Of all the trees that are in the wood,
the holly bears the crown. — Traditional British Folk Carol

I.

This kind, this Ilex verticillata, sheds her deciduous
tiara that leaves jewels of red
berries clinging to gunmetal branches.

Consumed By: Wild Turkey, Cedar Waxwing, Mockingbird,
Bobwhite, Blackbird, Bluebird, Goldfinch,
Catbird, Cardinal, Mourning Dove, Robin
Raccoon, Moose, Deer, Mice, Rabbit

Supporter of the Forest in Mid-Winter : Solstice Feast of a Bleeding Thorn Crown

Plant Symbol = ILVE anagram for ? Live, Evil, Vile, Veil,
sorry I–nothing starts with you.

Mildly poisonous to humans.

Okay,

her fruits are poisonous to humans.

The smooth bark is the color
of a water-rubbed-thin-white
-splotched-black stone

the dense branches
extend upward
with raised and scarred lenticels
that look like an old scar,
the graze of a bullet.

It grows in a zigzag
with the upright spreading fingers of
the singing of the choir.

Flowers: small and dainty,
found in axillary armpit
of a stem and blooming
greenish-yellowish-whitish.

Each leaf of Summer emerald
turns Fall’s gold, then collapses and drops
off by Mid-October.

Winterberry is dioecious. Needs a lover for
Rebirth. Pollinate the late Spring.
Plant a couple with each other.

Winterberry is found throughout the Eastern United States

like Maine like the spot
200 feet into the maples off
Greenwood Mountain Road
where bloodshot berries
exploded their color early
in a screaming gunfire.

Other common names: “Black Alder,” “False Alder,” “Fever Bush.”

Break a fever. This shrub
has a native tendency
toward swampy bogs and acidic soil
but craves a lot of sunlight.

Plant it in these areas where
not much else will survive.

II.

She has become Red Sprite:
the Holly King now Holly Queen
with Jim Dandy by her side
in the ruling times of the Oak King.

Red Sprite “she-holly’ (3-5 feet in height)
and Jim Dandy “he-holly’ (3-6 feet) summons
Saturn and summons Mars
and The Element of Fire.

Cast spells for dreams, for wealth,
for revenge and beauty.
Protect against the lightning
striking the house, what luck.
Invite faeries to shelter from the cold
but make sure to burn them out in time.

She would love these rituals relating to death
and its cycle, mysteries of the world:
the power to tame animals and
the flowers that freeze water.

Druid, and Celt,
then Roman, and Christian sprigs
of spiked she-holly
in flowing hair
of the height of Summer
and the low shadows
in Winter’s crown.

Ancient spirit royalty
overthrown by running time
out on the theory of light
in a circle, or a gilded
fractal.

Suggested offerings:
he-holly, wren feathers,
antler velvet, chestnuts.

III.

Red Sprite was part of my family early, close cousin for a second. She was 8 when I became.

She shared her birthday party with me at Grammie’s house when I was 4 and she was 12.
What a strange thing for a 4 year old and a 12 year old to do, and happily. Two old souls celebrating
their final rotations round the sun. Pisces, you symbolic final resurrecting Jesus-fish. Her birthday: March 13th, mine the 14th. Felt like fate. I had a Cookie Monster cake. What was hers?

I remember going to Red Sprite’s house and running into woods to a secret hideout. Siblings and cousins playing. Since I was little and tired, I wanted to go back to my mother. Lost after trying to leave the tree fort, I started crying. A kitten, a gray tiger kitten, started consoling me. He rubbed against my leg and I picked him up, burying my face into his striped fur. Then it started. The burning and itching sensation all over but especially in my eyes. I started screaming. Red Sprite flew in fast. The kitten had been rolling in poison ivy. Apparently, I was allergic (still am). Red Sprite led me blind back to her house so I could partially see my mother who would bathe me in calamine.

My mom and I were at a baby shower with Red Sprite and her mother. I don’t remember who the baby shower was for but Red Sprite was wearing awesome bell-bottoms that she made. Jeans ripped at the seams with a triangle of yellow fabric with green rosebuds. I was 13. She was 21. I fell in love with them, couldn’t stop making them, wearing them, selling them. Hey hippie, that was my identity throughout high school.

Red Sprite and I talked about Astrology a lot, and Edgar Cayce. Prophecies. Visions. She went upta The Forks (Maine wilderness, straight wilderness) and was a guide for a while. Then she went to Montana with friends, then came back to Maine to pack up her Subaru and go back to Montana on her own. Always had to work outside, such an adventurous faerie.

She came to my wedding. I’m 25, she’s 33 and there isn’t much of an age difference anymore: convergent series. I walked up to her while she was admiring my paintings: star charts I had drawn for those special days: the day my husband and I met, and the day we got married (that day). I explained my reading. We both got excited in agreement upon the interpretation. Later that night when things got interesting, I got to smoke with her for the first and the last time. We were pointing out stars to one another near the pool, smoke rising in the summer air, really drunk. She met Carl. I wanted her to meet all of my ferrets but there was too much chaos for that. Next morning we hugged goodbye, she told me it was an awesome party and we needed to connect again. That was the last time I saw her.

We brushed souls when I found out. Grammie’s voice so serious. Said this is about Red Sprite and I already knew. Grammie always warned to wear blaze orange. Sobbing, I drew up a last star chart. It said, death in the family, it said death, death, horrible scope of heaven, terrible planetary alignment, caught in crosshairs.

IV.

It isn’t in here?
Why isn’t it in here?!
Needing a different Field Guide to show the way.

Dig, digging, dug

into ground for gemstones
on her own land.
Used to be a sap camp
come tap the trees for their sugarblood

with spade to the dirt’s throat.
No. Hip, stab hip with a sharp
bullet and bleed out.

First day of hunting season,

200 feet into the maples off
Greenwood Mountain Road
in Hebron, Maine

where bloodshot exploded color early
in screaming gunfire.

October 28th, 2017
10:33 am

streaks still stain the rug of amber
pine needles beneath

white snow now
ice crunch through

and tear at ankles now
bloody ankles

sinking foot into crust
then a lush cotton cold
that burns and pricks

like holly will cut
like the hunter will shoot
like the first day of hunting
like a deer will not
not a deer a human

brown dress
“ass of a deer’ he said

didn’t look
“deer don’t scream like that’ he said

he didn’t look

he called his father

but he didn’t look

he didn’t call the police
or ambulance

he called his father

and by the time —
she was —

ashes
the bush
the berries
the winter now

the spot at which she —

her blood is her winterberry

now a winterbeacon to
feeding animals but

not the humans
poisonous — humans

Red Sprite feeds the innocent
animal for which she was mistaken
all so innocent, also
innocently
digging
gemstones
in a maple stand fit for holly
and
the rising of the sun,
and the running of the deer.