Jul/Aug 2007 Poetry

To the Bag Lady of Yonge Street

by Bojan Pavlovic

Photography by Kawika Chetron

To the Bag Lady of Yonge Street

Do not pretend not to know her, because you do.

She is the one who walks at the speed of memory,
Up Yonge Street in a black leather coat.
(Which, some say, makes her look like a wet bat).

She is the one who trembles her right hand at the world,
Which opens for her, in deference.
(That same hand, they say, closed the last door that she ever owned).

In winter, she appears like Baba Yaga,*
Searching for her lost hut on chicken legs, while
We pray not to hear her say:
Turn your back to the forest, and your front to me.

In posh Yorkville, children ask their nannies:
Is that there a witch, for real, a witch?

Policemen on horseback feel their animals shiver
And fear to know why.

Men and women curve around her and try not to
Look at the hand that trembles—the hand that
Closed the last door that she ever owned.

When I come home, I close my door
And say three times under my breath:
Turn your front to the forest, and your back to me.


* Baba Yaga is, in Slavic mythology, the wild old woman; the dark lady; and mistress of magic. She is also seen as a forest spirit, leading hosts of spirits. In Russian tales, Baba Yaga is portrayed as a hag who flies through the air in a mortar, using the pestle as a rudder and sweeping away the tracks behind her with a broom made out of silver birch. She lives in a log cabin that moves around on a pair of dancing chicken legs. The keyhole to her front door is a mouth filled with sharp teeth; the fence outside is made with human bones with skulls on top—often with one pole lacking its skull, so there is space for the hero’s. In another legend, the house does not reveal its door until it is told a magical phrase: Turn your back to the forest, your front to me. (Wikipedia)


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