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A Dance Around the Cauldron Prose by

Linda Lerner Illustrations by

Donna Joy Kerness

A Dance Around the Cauldron Prose by Linda Lerner Illustrations by Donna Joy Kerness

Š2017 Linda Lerner Š2017 Art by Donna Joy Kerness All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without the express written permission of the author, except in the case of written reviews. ISBN: 978-0-9984580-3-8 First edition

PO Box 5301 San Pedro, CA 90733 Printed in the United States of America

A Dance Around the Cauldron



etween 1692—93 twenty people were accused of being witches and executed in Salem Massachusetts. Nineteen were hanged on Gallows Hill, and one elderly man was pressed to death by heavy stones after he wouldn’t enter a plea. Several others died in jail. My purpose in this collection is not to retell what happened, which is widely known, or to give an account of Arthur Miller’s powerful play, The Crucible. Instead, I’ve chosen to use his technique and blend characters together with people we know living among us. In Miller’s play, two judges are used as a composite of several involved in the trials. He keeps the real names of people but changes ages, and other basic facts. Rather than use all the play’s characters, I decided to work with those who are most easily recognizable and together, create a community, a town, a city. The point isn’t accuracy of historical fact, as much as to convey the atmosphere that led up to what happened. Little


is known about the individuals involved, but much about the paranoia, and hysteria, as well as sexual tensions and wrangling over land boundaries that exploded in Salem. While for Miller, it was partially an allegory for the Communist witch hunt during the 50’s that inspired his play, the situation has much wider implications, as he knew. What is going on now in this country makes it especially poignant for me, but to restrict it to that, is also too limiting. I see the situation as something ongoing, barely noticeable, until an accumulation of incidents makes it impossible to ignore, its darkness sweeps down on us, and we have no choice but to rise up and confront it. 400 years is next door, across the street, the place where you live and work; it is the distance between one neighbor and another. The village was called Salem then. Its villagers walk among us; they act like us. We do not recognize them. We prefer not to.





e first met her in Salem. She is a foreigner. It doesn’t matter from where, only that it’s a very different place from where you live. She speaks another language, dresses differently from you, and goes to a different house of worship or none at all. Some said she prayed to the devil. Because we do not understand what she says, we believe that she is scheming with others like her to do us harm. A chorus of voices point at her; scared, she points back at them, at us. So, I confessed. They kept asking what wasn’t asking but wanting to know when I worked with the devil, and I kept saying no, I didn’t work with the devil, and because I don’t speak their language, they misunderstood me when I said I didn’t want to work for him, meaning Mr. Paris, but the pronouns got confused, and they thought I meant the devil, until I didn’t know what I meant or was saying except I didn’t want to be whipped and hanged, so I told them what they wanted to hear, even gave them names when they asked who was with me… You’ve all heard about me, the person in jail who confesses, under pressure, to a crime she didn’t commit, who’ll agree to having done anything if they’ll only leave her alone. I am Japanese, African American, Mexican, Irish, German, Muslim, a woman who keeps shifting her identity so you don’t suspect who I really am or where I came from. In Salem I taught the children to dance in the woods, to sing foreign songs, to be free. First in body then in mind. I didn’t know what weapon I was handing them.





rumor twists and turns with the weather, winds down an imaginary road to a brothel, a red-light street a few centuries from where I lived in Salem. My name is Abigail. Don’t believe what you hear. Nobody vanishes. Dies. Not really. I live next door to you, work in the same place. Go to the same house of worship. They called me a witch then. A word is like a drug, can make someone do terrible things to people they wouldn’t do otherwise. Gave me the power to hurt people. Being needy does that too. Unloved, an orphan child, I was taken in by my uncle, a reverend. You know him, maybe worked for him, had a father like him, a rule obsessed dead guy who tries to pass himself off as someone who just wants to do the right thing, a prick; he tried to kill what’s alive in me. Cared only about his reputation, himself. Sound familiar? I danced naked in a forest fully clothed and it felt so good to let the wildness out. Tituba helped me to unlearn what the goodies instilled, what I was taught by the church. Never could shake that witch label. Called by other names, comes down to witch in the end. So, I became what people called me. Was bad for a time, did bad things to those I didn’t like. Said I saw people flying to get back at someone. Said I could fly. I wasn’t lying then. I was hurt. What goes past skin doesn’t show up on skin. A few centuries later I flew for real. They said it was the drugs. The streets and cafes of Greenwich Village, Woodstock, and Haight-Ashbury were my forest later. Flowers spring from my breasts, eyes, ears, every place Proctor cultivated, planted seeds which grew, and never learned to un grow back. I am your husband’s mistress, your lover’s fantasy, the one every man wants and doesn’t marry. Hasn’t the courage. I am your colleague, your best friend, the one who’ll do anything for attention, get love anyway I can. The goodies are all here too, ready to turn on me for not being them. It’s a chorus of voices I can’t still, that turn up wherever I go. My crime? Being alive with every cell, every heartbeat, not knowing how to be dead.



Elizabeth Proctor


am the woman who waits up for her husband to come home, and pretends to be asleep. Has headaches, is sickly. He comes home later and later with excuses I pretend to buy till I can’t. My husband won’t believe me if I tell him, so I keep it to myself. The sun is always grey now. Gray like ashes; I can smell it and think of the cauldron in that forest, fire leaping out, a woman dancing he invites into his heart. Once, just once, he admitted it. Her name was Abigail then. I am your best friend, colleague, maid or baby sitter, your husband’s student, someone you never suspected till you did. I am the woman who can’t satisfy her husband. Gray, everything is grey. I want him to change the color for me. He tries, but it takes so much effort, it wears him out. I am the woman who walks around with a self-righteous air, the one who asks to be pitied, for all she’s sacrificed for him, and hates the word; one who brings up all the years of their marriage. Doesn’t that count, she asks? I see the rope he feels around his neck strangling him, till death do us part till death…he struggles to breath past, can’t, sees me holding the rope, that will kill him trying to save him from her. Remember how he swore it’s over and is because he decided it has to be and tells her. She asks him to look at her, touch the flame, feel the fire burning inside him, and tell her, he sees nothing. She doesn’t know how to snuff out what he started. Maybe you are me, or the other woman who put a spell on him. They called it by its right name back then—witchcraft. No one says it exactly that way now. They consult horoscopes, go to tea leaf readers, look for signs and find the forest in the heart of the city the cauldron in a lover’s mind a flame rising up from it into a woman


— 10 —

John Proctor


tall dark figure stands off to one side brooding over the town. His guilt is absorbed by the town.

— 11 —

— 12 —

Ann Putnam


lightning-strike curse finds me four centuries later in New York City cradling another dead child. My name was Ann Putnam. My name is Joan, my name is Susan, my name is Alice, my name is yours is someone’s you know. Each time I watched my belly grow. Each time, I caught a woman who reminded me of her, one called Abigail, staring intently at my belly. Watched her fingers move around an invisible thread as if she were knitting, felt each imaginary stitch strangling a child in my womb; I heard my mother’s words, may you have a child just like you, twisting in my head. The books and papers are filled with stories about me these days, the women who waited too long, who wanted a career more, maybe never wanted a child until it was too late, the ones who can’t conceive, or says they can’t to cover up why they never trusted any man to love them enough, the women who keep going to doctors, send away for magic potions that don’t work, willing to try anything. One puny, sickly child who escaped the curse lay in bed then, unable to talk or move. The doctors had no answers then. That day centuries ago I sent my only child, a sickly one who escaped, into the forest with Tituba, to see if she could conjure up her dead siblings; yesterday at a séance, I sought to awaken those dead children, find out who murdered my babies, those who grew inside me, and the ones who never made it there. It isn’t natural. Call it by whatever name you want only don’t tell me it wasn’t the devil killed my babies. Someone is to blame. Someone is the murderer.

— 13 —

— 14 —

Mary Warren


ou’ve heard about me, Mary Warren, from Salem, the girl who worked for John Proctor, who kept changing her story. Remember? What does a name mean anyway. I’m also the girl you met in grade school, one who didn’t have an apple-for-theteacher attitude, always being punished for something, not like the goodies in their immaculately ironed clothes who never got a spot of dirt on them or were in a spot of trouble. Everyone knows about that other business now so I won’t go into it again. Despite rumors you may have heard, I never meant to hurt anyone. I’m not a bad person, really. Strange things started happening, and I saw things I didn’t see. Everyone said the teacher, the baby sitter, someone did this or that till I saw it too. I needed to belong, be part of the group, part of something that was important. It was like a mental cataract I couldn’t see past. I also feared retaliation if I said the opposite. Everything became a sign. Witch hangs in the air, unspoken now. It was a bad flu season one year and everyone was getting sick, except one person in our crowd. Someone kept pointing to the fact, saying, isn’t it odd, till I and everyone felt it also. She just shrugged. What else could she do? In a game we played one person used to win by saying the opposite of what she believed was the right answer, and she always won this way. It made no sense, only it kind of did. Sometimes social media feels like a court, where you have to swear that you believe this or that with everyone in your group; what is right is what everyone thinks is right. To go to the other side is to make a compact with the devil—what they would have said back then. Nothing really changes.

— 15 —

“Linda Lerner’s latest tome, A Dance Around the Cauldron, is a heady potion infused with rare magic. Lerner, long recognized for her hard hitting and non-compromising poetry has now created prose portraits of characters from the Salem Witch trials. These depictions tossed into a time machine flash from gothic to modern and ultimately become frighteningly realistic mirrors of you and me today. Lerner’s pieces are coupled with the subtle and sensual drawings of Donna Joy Kerness, whose bewitchingly beautiful washes reflect with perfect accuracy the innermost thoughts of each person. The chapbook is a wonderful collaboration filled with strong implications that stay in one’s mind long after the reading.” —Michael Shores & Angela Mark, Sharkart Studios * * * “Linda Lerner’s poetic sketches of the forces moving through Arthur Miller’s The Crucible glide across history, taking us on a journey that looks backwards, forwards, and sideways to engage the layers of human experience that merge past with present.” —Annette J. Saddik, Professor of Literature and Theatre, City University of New York

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Lerner sample  

Between 1692—93 twenty people were accused of being witches and executed in Salem Mass. Nineteen were hanged on Gallows Hill, and one elder...

Lerner sample  

Between 1692—93 twenty people were accused of being witches and executed in Salem Mass. Nineteen were hanged on Gallows Hill, and one elder...