In Her Workshop by Oliver Smith

The Margravine Mathilde, has among her lands
An old windmill on a hill that once burst into flames.
The result a wild experiment by her wicked Uncle
Who foolishly mixed necromancy with an angry mob.
His death ennobled her, gave her a castle
Set in magnificent grounds, but the sword
Of a marcher lord rests uneasy in her hand.

She had formerly spent many Cosmopolitan years
Conducting tours of arctic fiords and reading
Self-improving works of anatomy, physiology
And especially electrochemisty. 

In her new home she lets noble modesty
Rule her tongue and grave discretion mask
Her nightly emptying of new-filled tombs.

When questioned about her hobby, pursued
In the family tradition, she is deferent
To the scythes and sensibilities of her burghers.
But in her windmill she’s the secret surgeon
And labours hard at imitating God’s creation.
She wields a scalpel sharp as the lemons growing
In her castle’s well ordered and extensive gardens.

She hums as she cleans the metal of her table.

Her thoughts follow other rhythms than the washing
Of lye and soap and water. Her heart is the sea
Ebbing and flowing in a silver mirror.
The clots and gristle and glistening fat
Are translucent fishes swimming
In the wake of a small boat on the waves.

She wrings out her cloth and every scrap
And shred of discarded flesh spills out.
In this knotting of meat and machine.
The yarn of life is cut, carded, and spun
At her wheel. Her tapestry is hung about

The new created Eve, who reflects her ladyship
In a mask of skin-work stitched fine as lace.

A spare hand crawls from its formaldehyde.
The detached appendage seeks its own way
Skittering over brown floorboards:
Oiled, varnished, reflective. It might be a crab
The way it finger-walks, clicks across the oak.
While the patchwork Eve waits in her bandages:
A daughter to the Margravine born of no man.

She checked the donors as she decanted them
From their graves aided by crooked Colombina,

Old Igor’s slightly singed daughter,
Who’s ticking out time with a beating heart
Caught in the electricity of Eve’s eyes.
They have spent so long waiting for the flicker 
Of lightening in the sky and now a puff of cloud 

Grows like a graveyard mushroom in the night.
The storm rages like an angry burgomaster
And illuminates the machinery as Mathilde
And Columbina  winch Eve to the roof top
Where blue fire bathes her head to toe.
She stirs in uneasy dreams of burning windmills.

But the mob sleeps on in the village, unaware.

At last Mathilde can forget the towers
of her ancestral prison, the borders burden ,
And duty to her forefathers. As Eve, her twin,
Acts the perfect mirror  and Mathilde has
A new career running steam-boats out of Bergen.
Some notice that things remain too-much as they were:

Strange, they say, how the chatelaine
Is unchanged fifty years later. Consistent in her day
And night and clockwork through the seasons:

Her face impassive and still fine as Flemish lace.
A silver mask dancing in circles through the snow
With her servant old Colombina, whose father
Served Mathilde’s, now famous, Uncle Victor.

Columbina wears a sly smile, party to some secret
As she picks lemons in the summer gardens.
In winter dressed in white fur, she sugars the fruit
And ices the Christmas cake, keeping the hours
Of her ancestral home in the castle on the marches.
While far away a steamer’s moored. Footsteps tripping
Through the snow towards the bright lights of a city.


(First published in ‘Basilisk Soup and Other Fantasies’ by Oliver Smith, 2016)

Oliver is inspired by the landscapes of Max Ernst, by frenzied rocks towering in the air above the silent swamp, by the strange poetry of machines, by something hidden in the nothing. His poetry has appeared in ‘Abyss & Apex’, ‘Liminality’, ‘Rivet’, ‘Strange Horizons’, and ‘Sylvia Magazine’. His poem ‘Better Living through Witchcraft’ was awarded first place in the BSFS 2019 competition and ‘Lost Palace, Lighted Tracks’, which appeared in ‘Eye to the Telescope’ 32, was nominated for the 2020 Pushcart Prize. In 2020 Oliver was awarded a PhD in Literary and Critical Studies by the University of Gloucestershire.
His website is at


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