The Exorcism

By Joyce Sutphen b. 1949 Joyce Sutphen
It was homemade and primitive,   
like pulling a tooth with a string
and a slamming door, like taking out
an appendix by kerosene light
where dogs wandered in and out
the dirt-floored room.
Nothing for the pain that
everyone wanted to examine,   
the twisted heart they thought
they could shout back into place.

Moaning and fluttering their fleshy hands
on the wind, on the wail of the soul possessed,   
they certified her in a manner Inquisitional,   
frantic when she held to the grip of darkness,   
grimly determined to wait the thing out,   
something learned from movie sheriffs,   
white hats ghostly in the moonlight.

When she would not answer (though they
conjured her by heaven and by the all
mighty names they knew), they laid hands
on her and shouted down the well of her eyes.
Many tongues twisted in their mouths when
she went, leaving behind only   
the smallest tooth of wickedness.

“The Exorcism” from Coming Back to the Body by Joyce Sutphen. © 2000 by Joyce Sutphen. Used by permission of Joyce Sutphen and the publisher, Holy Cow! Press.

Source: Coming Back to the Body (Holy Cow! Press, 2000)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Joyce Sutphen b. 1949

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Subjects Living, Health & Illness, Religion, Mythology & Folklore, Ghosts & the Supernatural

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Joyce  Sutphen


Joyce Sutphen grew up on a farm in Minnesota. She earned a PhD in Renaissance drama from the University of Minnesota, and has taught British literature and creative writing at Gustavus Adolphus College in Saint Peter, Minnesota. Her first collection of poems, Straight Out of View (1995), won the Barnard Women’s Poets Prize. Subsequent collections include Coming Back to the Body (2000), a Minnesota Book Award finalist, Naming the . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Health & Illness, Religion, Mythology & Folklore, Ghosts & the Supernatural

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.