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By Eleanor Wilner

Nights, by the light of whatever would burn:

tallow, tinder and the silken rope

of wick that burns slow, slow

we wove the baskets from the long gold strands

of wheat that were another silk: worm soul

spun the one, yellow seed in the dark soil, the other.


The fields lay fallow, swollen with frost,

expectant winter. Mud clung to the edges

of our gowns; we had hung back like shadows

on the walls of trees and watched. In the little circles

that our tapers threw, murdered men rose red

in their clanging armor, muttered

words that bled through the bars

of iron masks: the lord

who sold us to the glory fields, lied.


Trumpets without tongues, we wove lilies

into the baskets. When they asked us

what we meant by these, we’d say “mary, mary”

and be still. We lined the baskets on the sill

in the barn, where it is always dusk

and the cows smell sweet. Now the snow


sifts through the trees, dismembered

lace, the white dust of angels, angels.

And the ringing of keys that hang

in bunches at our waists, and the sound of silk

whispering, whispering.

There is nothing in the high windows

but swirling snow,


the glittering milk of winter.

The halls grow chill. The candles flicker.

Let them wait who will and think what they want.

The lord has gone with the hunt, and the snow,

the snow grows thicker. Well he will keep

till spring thaw comes. Head, hand, and heart—

baskets of wicker, baskets of straw.


Eleanor Wilner, “Without Regret” from Reversing the Spell: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 1997 by Eleanor Wilner. Reprinted with the permission of Copper Canyon Press, P. O. Box 271, Port Townsend, WA 98368-0271, www.coppercanyonpress.org.

Source: Reversing the Spell: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 1998)

  • Religion

Poet Bio

Eleanor Wilner
Poet, critic, and translator Eleanor Wilner was born in Ohio, and attended Goucher College and Johns Hopkins University. She was the editor of The American Poetry Review, and has taught at many universities, including Smith College and Warren Wilson College. In her poetry, she often writes of myth and memory, with what has been called a “mythical impulse.” She avoids confessional writing, choosing instead to invoke themes of mythology, and reinvigorate them in a modern context, especially with dense historical and contemporary allusions. Her poems reflect her wide-ranging intelligence and her commitment to peace and justice.

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