Baba Yaga Has Tea With Kostchai the Deathless

Baba Yaga Has Tea with Kostchai the Deathless

Jane Yolen

When Kostchai comes to call he brings roses,
mostly wilted by his breath which smells
like a mortuary. His eyes are still
as gravestones and as hard.

He calls her Baba Yaga, no nicknames,
gives a little half bow, dusts the chair
with his white handkerchief before sitting,
compliments her on the shine of the floor.

They sit across from one another,
glasses full of tea laced with plenty of sugar
and arsenic, talking about their latest operations.
Organ recitals, she calls it.

He complains her house is too cold,
she says nobody uses proper grammar any more,
he says the price of tea is outrageous.
She says someone tried to steal her parked pestle.

Vasilisa and I sit in the pantry like servants,
collect the dirty dishes, the glasses,
later launder the table cloth, mop the floor.
Vasilisa pockets the coins he sets on the sideboard.

I see they’re gold, with the head of the tsar
looking to the left, where danger comes from.
When he goes, Kostchai kisses the Baba on the cheek.

It leaves a scar.


Jane Yolen, often called “the Hans Christian Andersen of America,” is the author of over 350 published books, including Owl MoonThe Devil’s Arithmetic, and How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? The books range from rhymed picture books and baby board books, through middle grade fiction, poetry collections, nonfiction, and up to novels and story collections for young adults and adults. She has won two Nebulas, a World Fantasy Grand Master Award, and been named a Grand Master of sf/fantasy poetry by the Science Fiction Poetry Association. Six colleges and universities have given her honorary doctorates, and her Skylark Award—given by NESFA (the New England Science Fiction Association)—set her good coat on fire.