TED talk: the curse of the red-headed woman

{a play in three acts}


act i

{the resurrection}



(all the time),

i think i was

a witch

in a past life.


(joan of arc,


or morgan le fay.

or one of

the witches

from salem.)


i said that

to my mother once

when i was little—

i marched right up to her

and whispered it

like a prophecy.


she barely looked up

from her ironing

to acknowledge me.


so, naturally,

i howled

like a heathen

to try and get

her attention—


i have always had

what my mother

would call

a performative streak—


but she merely shooed

me off,

told me i was

being a bother,

that witches aren’t real.


i didn’t have the words

to explain to her,


this visceral knowing

that there is magic

stitched into my spine

the same way my soul is.


this intrinsic feeling

that i am a stranger in this world,

because i am paying for some

ancestral failing

down my bloodline.


because to be a witch

is to have the devil in you—

to be a witch

is to be an enemy of the state—

and that is to say

that being witch

is almost as unforgivable

as being woman.



the two go hand in hand.


why do you think

that men always complain

about witch hunts,

but women are the only ones

to ever be hunted?


i know it sounds crazy,

but i think i’ve come

to the realisation

that i am the descendant

of all the witches

they couldn’t burn.


(and the ones they did.)


i see evidence of it

etched into

the terrain

of my body.


but perhaps

this is only something

i have noticed.


what you see:


a girl with

with blue eyes

red hair

pale skin

lovely bones


what i see:


blue eyes:

a timeworn antique,



an heirloom my grandmother left for me in her will,



pale like the fairy pools in the isle of sky,



hidden. kept a secret like the silencing of a voice.


these features are all borrowed

from the grave,

you know;


worn out

and collapsed

from watching century

after century

slowly brag by.


i think i have always known

that each piece of me

once belonged

to other witches of women

before they turned to dust—


(remember that you

are born from dust,

and to dust

you shall return–)


i think they longed

to visibly mark me as theirs’;


to pass on the curse

of the red-headed woman.


they are haunting me, now—


they walk around this

hallowed house at night,

harmonising their shrill


into a symphony

of perished women

until this

is the only thing i can hear.


do you really think

i haven’t noticed

how the only lyrics

are their own names?


it always starts

the same;












i always wonder

if they chant

their names like a hallelujah

because they know

they have been forgotten,

and they fear they

will forget themselves—













i guess this is what happens

when everything else

has been taken from you—













this cacophony

only stops

when the dawn comes—


after all,

sunlight only ever burns you.


perhaps this is why

i have stopped sleeping.


act ii

{the rising}


an observation:


every woman

to ever live

has known or will come

to know

what it feels like

to be hunted

by match-boys

and huntsmen alike.


whiskey-dipped catcalls

hungry stares

being followed home

by a clothes-hanger stranger

with smoke on his breath


fear of filing the restraining order

because i don’t want to see him

sitting smug in that court

fear of what he will do to me

if he finds me

fear that when he finds me

he will want

what he feels i owe him

house key daggers at the ready

you can never be too careful these days—


doesn’t this all sound familiar?


i read once

that men are afraid

women will laugh at them

but women are afraid that men

will kill them—


this is the anatomy

of an institutionalised oppression—


one which has formed

and strengthened

since before the times

of adam and eve.


is this the backhand of god?


the huntsmen have learned

that fear makes one small—

and when one is small,

they are

easily able

to be controlled.

this is why our husbands

force-fed fear down

our pocket-sized throats

in the centuries leading up

to this one,


burned it

into our shoulders

with hot red branding irons


lashed it into us

with righteous fists

and wooden crucifixes


held us down

and roughly implanted it

into us

knowing that we had

no means to stop them.


i have often found myself thinking:



we really must have something

for them to be afraid of

if they will go to all these lengths

to beat it out of us.


us, red-haired,

widow’s peaked,






witches of women.



who cannot be tamed

or broken in

like a new pair

of leather boots.


they do not see the beauty

of our foreignness—


they cower when we howl

at the statuesque moon

like the wolves we are,

because they do not understand

that we are carved from it,

that can we can feel it

pulling our tides,

that it is

a monument erected

in our honour—


our sisterhood

makes them nervous—

the way that we have learned

to recognise the smell of blood

because we have bled

more than any man—

and together, nonetheless.


they have not learned

how our bodies work,

they cannot comprehend

the magic of our composition.


can you really blame them?

we are a wonder far too

complex and divine for them

to master.


act iii

{the requiem}


at the end of november,

i will be returning

to the land of my ancestors—


the place where they burnt

all the women

they could not silence,

and cleansed the earth

of their ashes

with fire,

as if they were the ones

who had made it dirty.


i will be leaving behind

everything i have ever known

in this place i have never belonged,

but i will miss it nonetheless.


i feel like i am going home.


home to the rolling green hills

and to the crisp, grey rain

and to the cobbled streets

with moss growing in between

the cracks of stone.


i am being pulled there

by some strange force

of nature, i know—

it only makes sense,

i suppose;

i have always had

the most uncanny instinct

for my own calling.


that would be the witch in me,

you could say.


you know,

my sister-witches

still whisper to me

at night,

and i,

the resurrectionist,

with bleeding ears

am eager to listen—


this is the least i can do

because i am them.

i am all of them.


i have been persecuted

for being a witch

in every century;


 joan of arc,

found guilty of witchcraft.

burned at the stake, may 30, 1431.


walpurga hausmannin,

tortured for her confession.

dismembered while still alive,

then burned at the stake, september 2, 1587.


alice grey,

accused of murder by means of witchcraft, 1612.

tortured for her confession.

for reasons unknown,

she was found not guilty.

no one knows

what happened to her

after the trial.

one can only imagine.


katherine hewitt

bridget bishop

janet horne

agnes waterhouse

isabell rigby

geillis duncan


i see you;

i will remember you—


you deserve to be listened to,

to have your names

written across the earth

with scorch marks

to seize back your voices

and your bodies.


i want you to know

that someone sees you

as more than just



i am not firewood,

though it only

took one look at me

to know i’d be



you know,

i get the feeling that some men

have never fully forgiven us

for reclaiming our bodies,


but long gone

are the times

of crooked kings

and match-boys

and women’s opinions

being a fire hazard

and witch hunts

and waking up

to fingerprint-bruises

on the insides

of our thighs

and praying

it was god

who left them there.


a woman’s power

should not threaten

your masculinity.




learn to love us

without swallowing us


learn to hold us

without owning us


learn that if you made yourselves the sun

because you didn’t think we were bright enough,

we made ourselves the moon

because we knew we were woman enough;


do not burn us—

shine with us.


in november,

i will be returning

to the place

of my ancestors.


the place where

they burned

all the women

they felt threatened by.


i have been burned

in so many past lives

that it is only natural

for the fire to live inside me now.


never forget

you can’t make fire

feel afraid.


because witch,

i am.




and i could not be more proud.



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