Word Witch

She’ll tease and tempt with mystic words,
__This foxy sorceress.
Her syntax soars like sun-bound birds—
__This wizard poetess
Casts slick linguistic spells that sing
__Of Cupid’s carnal kiss.
Her saucy muse is sure to bring
A red, red rose and diamond ring,
__But cannot conjure bliss.

She’ll thrill and spill the sweetest sea
__Of honey in keen ears—
A silken trill, a symphony
__That drips with dead men’s tears.
She’ll summon rapture in the croon
__Of sirens in the mist.
They’ll steal a soul and melt a moon,
Caress the senses till they swoon,
__But will not conjure bliss.

Her cauldron bubbles with the tale
__Of hearts that yearned then burned—
Raw hearts that sought romance’s grail
__In dreams that Venus spurned.
Spleen boils with wing of turtle dove
__In misery’s abyss—
All stirred by seer of toad-skin glove
Whose lyric lure (devoid of love)
__Will never conjure bliss.



Toad Ode

O warty dweller of the weedy pond,
O cauldron-dodging lodger of the lake,
My happy-ending heart has grown so fond
Of craggy clamminess, I plan to take
An algae night to swim in bulgy eyes
While basking in the choruses you croak.
If pussycats and owls can dine on quince
And float their pea-green boats to heaven highs,
Then I can plant a wince-free kiss to smoke
Your chilly lips and free your inner prince.

I’ve met a ton of toads, but none like you,
O legend of the frilly lily pad.
They wowed and wooed and cooed and left me blue—
All armed with charm that hid a tad of cad.
Each peachy paramour assailed my eye
With weapons of the flash and dashing kind—
A scorching thrust of lust that left love dead.
And that, O dumpy, dimply one, is why
My inner princess surfaced just to find…
You… the toad I’m owed… the prince I’ll wed.

Oh dear, I fear my awestruck heart’s forsaken –
I’ve puckered up with pluck and now it seems
I’m out of luck—your inner prince won’t waken.
A snoring schmuck has dashed my princess dreams.
O crinkled critter of the realm of reeds,
O soggy squatter of the swampy sphere,
I’ve snogged you at the bottom of your bog
Yet you can’t meet my doleful-damsel needs.
I now assume a suitor won’t appear
Unless I slip your grip and kiss a frog.




a twisted villanelle 

In twilight’s glow you’ll know you’re not alone.
You’ll hear their whispers rasping in your ear.
They’ll burrow through the marrow of your bone.

They’ll reap the seeds their cunning kin have sown –
A harvest that would make a demon cheer.
In twilight’s glow you’ll know you’re not alone.

They’ll bask in every gibbous-moon-soaked groan
That rumbles through the eerie atmosphere.
They’ll burrow through the marrow of your bone.

Your dreams will shudder with their ghostly drone.
Your skull will crawl with thoughts no heart can bear.
In twilight’s glow you’ll know you’re not alone.

Befouled with gore they’ll draw a ghastly moan.
They’ll bore beneath your skin and raise your hair.
They’ll burrow through the marrow of your bone.

Soon mini ghouls will roam your twilight zone
To trick or treat as grinning pumpkins stare.
Shrug off your shroud. Don’t rot at home alone.
Creep from your crypt and throw those imps a bone.



Susan Jarvis Bryant has poetry published on Lighten Up Online, Snakeskin, Light, Sparks of Calliope, and Expansive Poetry Online. She also has poetry published in TRINACRIA, Beth Houston’s Extreme Formal Poems anthology, and in Openings (anthologies of poems by Open University Poets in the UK). Susan is the winner of the 2020 International SCP Poetry Competition, and has been nominated for the 2022 Pushcart Prize.

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19 Responses

  1. Cynthia Erlandson

    These are all just delightful, Susan, filled with fun ideas and brilliant phrases! I love your slightly varied refrain in “Word Witch”. I think “Toad Ode” is my favorite, for its unique humor, highlighted by rich alliteration and droll internal rhyme, and especially for its clever allusion to “The Owl and the Pussycat” — not to mention the seriously wise line, “A scorching thrust of lust that left love dead.” “Corpseville” is fun, clever, and wonderfully descriptive — and also sneaks in the serious line “They’ll reap the seeds their cunning kin have sown.” You’ve given us a perfect set for Halloween.

  2. Mark Stellinga

    Susan, sadly, the windchill factor here in Iowa will be in the teens when trick-or-treating time arrives tonight. We live in an area oozing with imps and always look forward to briefly engaging with them and their folks. Tonight will require a somewhat thicker coat than we typically need to bear the chill as we sit on our porch and listen to the little jewels echo their parents’ remarks: *What do you say, Joanie?* – and – *4 is enough, Darnell!* We only hope the number of candy-grabbers breaks the record. 🙂 BTW – all 3 poems are wonderful – as expected. They really make one think. Stay safe over there.

  3. James Sale

    Wonderful word wizardry Susan – two of these have also appeared on Sparks of Calliope and I have left a comment there too! I especially like the Toad Ode, even the title has linguistic impact!

  4. Paul A. Freeman

    A trio of terrific, terrifying treats. I especially enjoyed the Toad Ode.

    Thanks for the reads.

  5. Julian D. Woodruff

    3 splendid Halloween treats, Susan, with a generous helping of your verbal trickery and and an eerie mix of levity and heaviness.

  6. Joseph S. Salemi

    These three pieces reveal a command of language and rhetoric that is more than stellar — it’s galactic! “Toad Ode” alone is a tour de force. It takes the familiar story of a girl having to kiss a lot of toads to find her Prince, and turns it into a spiraling fantasy of great verbal intensity and comic force.

    As for “Corpseville,” Susan manages to leave the reader in a real quandary — should I be scared, or should I be giggling? It is seriously creepy, and at the same time tongue-in-cheek. That is a very difficult thing for a poet to accomplish. And the line “Shrug off your shroud. Don’t rot at home alone” …Wow!

    “Word Witch” is a brilliant mosaic of language, but it leaves me sad because I dread to think that this is a reflection of the poet’s personal feelings — that she can “tease and tempt with mystic words,” but cannot find bliss. Say it ain’t so, Susan! Let this be a poem about some other Word Witch, but not you!

  7. Roy Eugene Peterson

    Susan, you summon a range of emotions with each of your exquisite tales entertainingly suitable for Halloween. Pathos and humor equally abound as my senses are titillated from line to line and verse to verse. You are indeed my ideal of being a word witch, a wizard of words with internal rhymes and alliteration that are like a symphony of sweet sounds that dazzle as they amaze. I am so happy you found the right toad for your abode or was it the frog for your bog. (Apologies to Mike. LOL.) “Corpseville” is a wonderful rendition of All Hallows Eve as we prepare to “throw those imps a bone.” Every poem you write is filled with imaginative creativity that few on this earth have ever achieved.

  8. Rohini

    These are all so darn good I can’t tell which one I like best. You’re the unrivalled queen, nay monarch supreme of the villanelle.

  9. Margaret Coats

    Susan, I go for the formal treats in your terrific array of Halloween poems. “Word Witch” is a costume ballade of unique song sections, and I have a special liking for nine-line ballade stanzas. These are better than candy corn used to taste. “Toad Ode” is an imaginative switch for the fairy tale, and an amusing disappointment when the huntress must find a frog in the bog after all. The twist I like in the villanelle is the subtle change of rhyme sound in the last three stanzas. Have a happy evening treating neighborhood imps, if that’s your plan. We have to take great care that our black cat does not escape; can’t trust her on this particular night. Hope George Lionel avoids anxiety from any spooky activity in his domain.

  10. Norma Pain

    I loved all three Susan, especially Toad Ode, the soggy squatter of the swampy sphere, the dumpy dimply one!! I love your use of language. Thank you for these very funny Halloween treats.

  11. Russel Winick

    I’ve long had mixed feelings about Halloween, but starting the day off with three great Susanisms definitely improves that equation. Thanks as always!

  12. Brian A. Yapko

    Susan, sorry to be late to the party but I must comment on this trio of unearthly delights!

    Your “twisted villanelle” “Corpseville” is so very odd. It’s frightening and funny at the same time (very much in the spirit of the Addams Family or the Nightmare Before Christmas.) You create a mood of memorably freaky fun with a surfeit of Bryantesque alliteration, assonance and internal rhyme. For some reason the words “Befouled with gore” sends a tingle down my spine but the final lines “Don’t rot at home alone./ Creep from your crypt and throw those imps a bone” made me howl with laughter.

    Your “Toad Ode” is a fairytale delight of expectations thwarted peppered with a Shrek-like cheekiness. Who else could write a line like “A snoring schmuck has dashed my princess dreams.”? The unexpected Yiddish juiciness of that line made me laugh and prepared me for the bathos of your speaker’s overwrought apostrophical lament with lines such as “O crinkled critter of the realm of reeds, O soggy squatter of the swampy sphere…”

    But my favorite of the trio is “Word Witch” which is packed with meaning as well as literary devices. But here the devices are the magical tools of the witch’s trade and thus when they are put on display it as if an explosive spell has emerged from a bubbling linguistic cauldron. It’s marvelous. But what is most marvelous is that repeating thought regarding the inability of the witch to conjure bliss. That, it would seem, is beyond the witch’s power. But not the poet’s because you have absolutely conjured bliss – at least for this reader!

  13. Jeff Eardley

    Susan, Brian is such a great critic that it is hard to add anything to his scintillating comment. I loved all these, but if I had a favourite, it would have to be “Toad Ode” as I have forever been a pathetic Bufonophobe. Great stuff, and no warts at all!

  14. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    I apologize for the delay in replying. I returned from a trip to England with the flu, which has taken a while to recover from. Thank you very much for your remarkable comments… they always inspire, encourage, and spur me on to my next batch of poems. And Fred, “How about a poem or tale in which the princess turns into a Frog or Toad when she kisses one?” – I hope to read your rhythmic marvel soon.

    • fred schueler

      Oooh, I’d need to find an appropriately jingle-jangle rhythm for the tale of a lovely young herpetologist, who after tracking Blackish Rat Snakes to their lairs, and groping huge Snapping Turtles out of the outlets of Tamarack fens, and resolving the principal components of growth rate variation in Pickerel Frogs, and the biogeography of orange head spots on Spotted Salamanders, finally canoes out among the Waterlily pads, and is encounters her first Mink Frog. She cries out “Jewel in the eye of the North, Jewel in the eye of Nymphaea, Jewel in the eye of the Sphagnum, Green and cream and black and gold,” dares to kiss this loveliest of anurans, and spends the rest of her career producing globular late spring egg masses in response to the “bonk, bonk, bonk” calls of her love.

      • Susan Jarvis Bryant

        Fred, you have my attention… I love your sentiment, your imagery, your use of poetic device… if you would only give them to me in a form that appeals to my melodic heart… my soul would be elevated to realms of toad-ode bliss!

      • fred schueler

        Okay, here you go. The name of the Mink Frog is Lithobates septenrionalis, the “northern frog,” the secret incantation is from my “Animal Allies” poem of 1986, and Mill Run is a newly established Conservation Area on the South Nation River.

        Samantha was a herping girl who radioed Rat Snakes
        She found their hibernacula in cliffs along great lakes.
        In Tamarack fens where the muck was mixed with ancient peat
        She hauled out giant Snapping Turtles by their sharp-clawed feet.
        She snapped the eigenvectors on the Pickerels’ dorsal dots
        And salamandered geographics on orange-coloured spots.

        One day she put her canoe into the South Nation River,
        And headed upstream to Mill Run to see what scampered thither.
        On lily pads a bold Mink Frog snapped up Succineidae
        And held his place as she j-stroked to his vicinity.
        She looked into his eyes and spoke a secret incantation
        And found herself septentrionalized in a sudden sweet sensation –

        “Jewel in the eye of the North,
        Jewel in the eye of Nymphaea,
        Jewel in the eye of the Sphagnum,
        Green and cream and black and gold!”

        Each spring her love’s “bonk bonk, bonk bonk” now sets her heart a-fluster
        An in his embrace they squeeze out a globular egg cluster.
        So, lasses, when you find a frog’s bright glance appeals to you,
        Kiss him and you may find yourself an anuran princess, too.

      • Susan Jarvis Bryant

        Fred, thank you very much indeed for rising to my challenge. I will admit to having to refer to the dictionary a couple of times (a task I love) and to stretching my imagination beyond its pedestrian limits, but the exercise paid off and I was rewarded with an entertaining Schueler sensation for which I’m most grateful. Thank you!

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