The Slow Hanging

Jailers jingle keys and coins in their pockets
as she walks through the corridor of a grey
morning. Dew cold-softens the rungs
of the ladder and her toes curl to grip
each bar as – steadily – she rises up
a creaking platform built by sturdy men. ...

About the poem

This poem was published in the special ‘magic’ issue of Coffin Bell magazine in March 2019.

Researching the history and mythology of witchcraft has been fascinating, but often it throws up heartbreaking details. When I was reading about the Pendle witch trials I discovered that often gallows were incorrectly constructed and the rope not correctly knotted. As a result, people didn’t immediately die from hanging and were subjected to slow suffocation. To ease the pain, family members would sometimes attempt to hang off the feet of their loved ones to break their neck and provide a swifter death as an act of mercy.

The Slow Hanging became about that terrible fact, but more broadly about how structures and institutions can kill us slowly. The horror of the witch trials never seems to diminish for me, whatever I read in history books seems painfully real. I think in part it is because I can see modern parallels in the treatment of women and outsiders and while we thankfully no longer hang women as witches in the UK, the traces of such unfairness remains everywhere and many people still feel some form of poorly constructed, rough noose around their neck.