Anne Harding Woodworth

Photo by Lynn Ritchie

You wait there on the brick stoop, almost ready.

The knocker is embedded in the black gloss—

but a house like this never loses its sounds



You anticipate eyes blackened with charcoal,

lips big with waxy vermilion,


tongues sliding over. They sit

cross-legged on red velvet chairs,

lean against Georgian pilasters.


The barkeep offers you a drink. Gas lamps

gurgle and there's heat in the house,

chill being quieted by the chimney's warmth.


A birdcage hangs from the high ceiling,

large enough for her whose song

you listen for, the desperate words


that breathe through the metal bars.

See yourself walk slowly now on figured rugs

over to the wide staircase.


The dark-stained bannister will lead you up,

on up to the lonely room

that looks out onto the front,


where you stand now in a late-night London rain.

Try knocking. Methinks the lady . . .

Photo by Anne Harding Woodworth

Beware of meat that's hidden by the water bottle

in the refrigerator. Forgotten, it's turned to green

and exudes an odor of marsh-weed, like breath

of one whose organs now are shutting down.


Beware of rats that come in during night

and chew the telephone cord. When you call for help,

there is no tone, no sound to link you

to the spreads and spits of land outside.


Beware—after a rain—of slimy bricks

that pave the garden path. You'll slip and cut

the ribs that've kept you intact these years,

given to your torso form and frame.


Beware of burial grounds, plots where bones

are laid, where secrets rest and then begin to stir

from deep within the ferrous earth,

seeping upwards toward the light of day.


Beware of ponds overrun with water hyacinths

that will suck you into their mesh of stems,

into their underworld wet and cold and teeming

with orts of swimming things.


Beware of crocodiles, who bite with jeweled teeth

and sparkling mouths. They eat the sun in all their greed

and bring about the darkest hours. Of crocodiles beware

till daylight comes again and opens up to danger.

Photo by Anne Harding Woodworth

Welcome to our wonderful smiley country.

We want your stay with us to be joyous

and filled with sunny memories.


In case you plan to offer a friend

a chance to hallucinate or to mellow out

or to make you rich,


remember we can kill you for that.

We've killed lots of human beings

in our happy country.


But we treat the condemned with kindness.

Some have even married before the deadline,

in spite of being shackled, two to a cell.


How do we kill them? you might ask.

With a handgun. We love handguns here.

They are so easy to aim at close range.


And the condemned are drugged

with something not unlike what got them

into our hands in the first place.


We kill them in secret. No press is informed.

No family. Not even the condemned knows

when it will happen. Sort of like life itself,


or rather death, which the rest of us will go on

to experience with our loved ones

and according to our religion and our bank accounts.


The condemned leave money in their leg irons

as a tip for the executioner. That's just a quaint

tradition we have here in our cheerful land.

Anne Harding Woodworth's fourth book of poetry, The Artemis Sonnets, Etc. (Turning Point), was published in November 2011. Her poetry, essays, and reviews have appeared in U.S. and Canadian literary journals and at various sites on line. She divides her time between the mountains of Western North Carolina and Washington, D.C., where she is a member of the Poetry Board at the Folger Shakespeare Library.



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