The Banshee Speaks by Jessie McMains

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Some call me Banshee. Every place on this earth has one of me, and my place is right here, near Lake Michigan, between the Root and Pike Rivers. I wander the shorelines and riverbanks, haunt underpasses and train tracks, and I cry, and cry, and cry. There are those who say I’m a death-bringer; a being half-vampire, half-witch, who lures innocent souls to their demise. They are wrong. I may be a harbinger of death, but I am not the cause.

No, I do not catch or kill; I mourn those who are already doomed. You could say I’m a professional mourner, though I am not paid to do this. I, too, am doomed. Doomed to roam this stretch of land until the end of time, weeping for the nearly-gone. I mourn species as they pass from this place or the earth entire; have cried for the panther and the eastern elk, for the blackfin and the longjaw Cisco. I’ve grieved for those and many more that have been felled by ax and plow, by gun and greed. But there is no blame in my tears, no choice in my keening. So I cry, too, for humans about to die by accident or illness, soon to be killed by murder or sorrow, and those who stayed so long in the kingdom of swoon that they have lost their way back home.

If you see woman wandering the roadside, pacing the riverbank, if she is wearing a grey coat and a black dress, if she is wailing so pitiful your heart could break—you have seen me, heard me mourning you, and you are not long for the world. You can plead all you want, but I cannot alter your fate—if you see me, it is already too late. And if, in the night, you hear a shriek that turns your blood cold and raises goose pimples on your flesh, that is me. But, if it is not your time to go, you will not see me. You may stand out in your yard searching for the source of that horrible sound, and perhaps you’ll see a something swoop down from a tall tree, catch a flash of white against the night sky. A barn owl, you will think, that’s all. And I will remain only a legend to you.

For now.

Jessie Lynn McMains is a writer, zine-maker, and the 2015-2017 Poet Laureate of Racine, Wisconsin. Recent publications include 10 Poems By, an e-chapbook published by Hello America, and It’s Like The ‘Watch The Throne’ of Tender Punk Poems, a split chapbook with Misha Bee Speck. You can find more at her website: