These strange, ghostly lights sometimes seen on swamps and marshes are said to lure travelers away from the safe path to their doom. Will-o-wisps appear in The Book of Life, when Lizzie is running through the Louisianan bayou, pursued by the possessed men known as plat eyes.
I wrote this poem a long time before The Book of Life, but I think the last verse particularly captures the sense of loss and confusion Lizzie experiences in her time with Caroline Day and Lola, trapped in the mysterious Cypress House.
It was easier as a nipper.
Given your first slide rule in senior school
you’d soon work out the sine, cosine or log
with one swift push, and a pull.
Measurement was easy. Just
as you could flip a quick 3 to the foot of a C
or pass back a 2 to an O
so too could you slap the net with the ball,
top right or top left.
And you knew when to keep your trap shut,
understood when all around you
were silently agreed.
But now you’re in a world gone fuzz.
Your conscience, soul, mind, whatever
it is against which you judge
is blurred ground,
rushing away beneath your eyes.
You’re out on the marsh at night.
Everything you thought was solid you
has turned out to be
just a trick of the light.
Will-o-wisp was first published in the excellent Magma Poetry Magazine (issue 20)
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