BY MARY LANHAM
First, gather the supplies: soft fabric, a sharp needle, sturdy thread. Buttons, beads, and bits. Cotton scraps for the stuffing. The internet also recommends a lyrical list of herbs (dittany, sandalwood, mugwort), but you don’t have any of those herbs. Arrange your materials as if you’re going to take a picture, but don’t actually take one. Feel good about keeping it real.
Next, the preparation: draw shapes onto paper for head, body, limbs. Add allowance for seams and for sorrows. Pin and cut with care. When it’s time to sew, make sure the innards are all facing out.
Inside your poppet will be a prayer, or a spell, or a wish. Inside will be memories transformed into offerings (a tarnished locket, a chipped crystal). Set these offerings on the table. Feel calm and pleased as you look at them, as if they are a poem so perfect you don’t even want to show it to anybody. A potent secret, to be hidden away.
But first, your poppet needs a face. Embroider the eyes, nose, mouth – suggestions of something greater, each pass of your needle an attempt to tether the numinous to cloth. It’s somewhat harder than it looked in the blog videos, but persevere. Your poppet can still be potent with a malformed nose.
As you work, whisper to your poppet. Tell them who they are. Tell them who you are. Tell them who you hope to become. Observe as the eyes you shape begin to return your gaze.
Next, fill and attach the limbs. Prick your fingers. Prick them a lot. Drop the poppet repeatedly. Start to doubt your competence as a human being. Pretend the tiny dabs of blood are an intentional part of the process. Realize you’ve attached your poppet’s arms so low they look like a defective amoeba. Pull out the stitches and try again.
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Sing your poppet soothing songs, the songs the child in you remembers, with words that reassure: the sun goes down, we sleep, the sun comes up again, it’s okay if you’re an amoeba.
Do your best not to curse. This isn’t supposed to be that kind of spell. Finish with the limbs. It’s folk art, it’s fine, this wonky poppet is fine. Simplify your plans for the clothing; surely sleeves are extraneous. Sew a plain little sack. You can cinch it with twine and call it good.
Collect yourself. Crack your back. Tidy away the snarls of thread and snips of cloth and abandoned, complicated trimmings. When the candles are lit, when the sun is down, bundle the offerings into your poppet’s belly. Begin to stitch the opening closed – a rough whip stitch, the dress will cover it, no need to be a fucking martyr. Run out of thread halfway through, start a second length.
Breathe in. Breathe out. This is a ritual, dammit.
Decide it would be especially poetic to seal the poppet with a last drop of blood. You’ll dab it where the heart would be. It’ll need to be a big drop. Try to prick your finger without going too deep. It won’t bleed. Try again. Try your thumb. There can’t possibly be a trick to this. How many times have you done it by accident, and now you can’t do it on purpose?
Give up on poetics. Finish closing the belly. Slip on the homely sack dress, wrap it with twine. Tug until the hem covers most of the amoeba legs.
Hold your poppet. They fit neatly in your cupped hand, regarding you. They are haphazard, ramshackle, not at all like the how-to pictures.
They are complete and perfect. They are magic.
Mary Lanham is not entirely unlike a well-adjusted human being. She writes stories about imaginary things and nonfiction about the things we imagine. You can find more of her words at subtleworkings.com.