Kate Cayley




That was the summer when all the bees died, and the water turned yellow. I thought about you that summer. I am spending quite a bit of time alone, with both the girls at school all day, and Tim and I never talked much after you went away. When I remember you we are in a garden, and the bees are buzzing. Karen came to me one day from the backyard to show me handfuls of little lifeless bees, soft as her breath, brittle as her bones. Even her pockets were full of them. They spilled out onto the floor, which we recently had redone in terracotta tiles. She lined a glass bowl with moss and kept them as pets, until Nancy ate one and I just had to throw them away. Then when the water turned yellow overnight and the radio and the internet said everything was fine, we are dealing with it, we are trained in emergency preparedness, Nancy got a strange growth behind her ear and Tim complained that there was a bitter taste in his mouth, like burnt coffee. So we started sleeping in the basement because it seemed safer, and we turned on the radio and on the radio it said that someone had reported that, somewhere, there was another earth, another planet, and it seemed that on this other earth there was water. And I looked at our water, and the tap dripped yellow and then stopped. And I thought of this empty planet, somewhere elsewhere, and I find myself more and more thinking of it, and of you there, drinking that water, looking into the light of another sun.




Looking for a name, a woman’s name:

Bloody Mary, patron saint of fear, of the future,

dark lady of girls’ rooms that roil

with perfume, sweat, dark hair sprouting

like fungus. Girls gathered round the mirror’s light,

calling to the woman veiled, weeping tears of blood,

Bloody Mary.


And it’s said if she’s asked in the right way in the right way with

obedient breath, with smooth tongue, she’ll show in the mirror

a man, husband, bright spark, a rescue,

a man, waiting there.


So girls, little girls, their tongues

stuttering their names, gather and wait.

Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary—


blood pumping, careful, careful,

do not watch her so closely, do not touch

the mirror, do not say her name

too loudly, Bloody Mary, patron saint of fear,

other Mary, other mother in the mirror—she’ll come


forward, reach through glass, pull

you into the mirror beside her, behind her, weeping

tears of blood, and there will be no man there.




She keeps them in wicker cages, pretty maidens, pretty girls, throats necklaced with feathers. They would be lost without her, she reminds them. The wood is very deep, very dark; she lives in the middle of the wood and her house is not gingerbread but terrible stone. Lost in the wood, as they were, ringed round with branches, all that fine flesh torn, the moon watching them through the trees all night. The witch now keeps them shuttered but her halls are bright, the sun shines in even in deep winter, when their poor transformed claws freeze to the perch, those claws that once were hands, those throats that once chaffed against high collars. The witch is white as milk, red as blood, dark as ebony. She sits eating seeds and the youngest ones fly to her and shit on her shoulders and she feeds them seeds from her own wet small mouth. Birdsong shrieks and beats around her happy solitude and means nothing to her because, for all her cleverness, she cannot understand one single trill. But the birds all sing together, all sweetly together they sing: mother, mother, who shall bury me?





The girl walked along the road she had a dress and shoes and a fine white loaf for when she was hungry but the tree cried to her oh pity me pity me and she took the loaf and broke it and hung it on the bare branches of the trees and walked on along the road and her shoes sunk deep into the ruts of the road and the wind sang in her ears and her hair was carried behind her by the hollow hard wind and she came to a boy who was thin as a tree and he cried oh pity me pity me so she took off her shoes and slipped them onto his sharp-boned bare feet and the girl walked shoeless along the road and her feet bled in streams of red behind her and she came to an old woman who was naked and the old woman cried oh pity me pity me and the girl took off her dress and put it on the old woman and the girl walked on naked down the road and the road mocked her cold nakedness and all there was for her was the wind behind her and around her and before her and the girl cried oh pity me pity me and the moon took pity on her and loosed a dress that fell all around her and the girl lay down on the road and slept until the wind blew thin through her and blew her away.




My grandmother says: my father

was the baker’s son, they were important people

and had an indoor toilet. The only people in the village

to match them were the minister and the teacher.


She says: he wanted to be an artist, but his father

said no, and beat him round the ears and gave him

a hat and a walking stick, made him an apprentice.


When he met my mother he fell in love. She lived

in the next village. He walked a lot, bought candy for her sisters,

finally asked her parents for her hand.


Then he sold eggs, built them up and up

into a tower of cracked gold wealth. O how he made money!

First a basement apartment, then an upper floor, then a house.


The eggs lived in a cold room. We had a driver

and a maid, not much older than my oldest brother;

we four children teased her till she cried. Good years.


Then the war, all the eggs lost,

rolling down dark alleys. The driver

was shot, the maid

went to work in a factory.


After, there was nothing anywhere.


So he grew tomatoes in a field—squashed red

globes—sold them, kept a goat in the cellar.

He and the goat were good friends, when he went out

he had to go quietly or the goat

would follow him down the pock-marked Berlin street.


Then he made shingles. So things were alright, but

his storeroom burnt down one night; shingles are wood,

they catch easy.


After that, she says, I don’t remember what he did. That

was a long time ago, and he was old.


Anyway, by then I was here. It’s too hard

to remember everything.



Excerpted from When This World Comes to an End.
Published by arrangement with Brick Books.

Kate Cayley’s play, After Akhmatova, was produced by Tarragon Theatre, where she is a playwright-in-residence. Also the author of a young adult novel, The Hangman in the Mirror (Annick Press), and artistic director of Stranger Theatre, she lives in Toronto with her partner and their two children. When This World Comes to an End is her first poetry collection.