The fairy tales have no simple endings.
Hansel and Gretel do not go home.
And that spidery wart of a witch,
that black-laced bitch who waits
in the woods of sly-eyed rodents
and owls who rotate their conspiring heads,
has a thousand and one sugared plans
to keep you here and in pain.
In the stinking saw-toothed dungeon
of her face your gingerbread dreams
dissolve. The family members will cook
one another alive (for love,
they say, for love). And the dove
who once returned you safe and sound
is now a crow, sniggering
on the home’s thatched eaves.
There is no reconciliation. The longer
you stay the more sluggish your feet
the heavier your lids and your brain
begins defending those rusted chains
of fear. Nor is there a hunter near
with glimmering axe, waiting for
your sobs, waiting to rush in and
split the hag’s dry pod of a head.
Stealth, my dearest; childhood is over.
Put away your green balloon and slam
the oven door. The smell of her sizzling
flesh is not so bad as you imagined.
Later, in the blue bruise of forest
you will leave your sister,
whisper your own name over and over.
You will lie down and sleep
beneath the clear and separate stars.
Questions and Answers
About “Fairy Tales”:
Our grade eight teacher—an amateur actor with a resonant voice—would stride back and forth reciting poetry. He held the class spellbound with such stirring poems as Shelley’s “Ozymandias” and Keat’s “Ode to a Nightingale”. One day, in a quieter mood, he read us Emily Dickinson’s “Because I could not stop for death”. I cannot say why that poem touched me so deeply. On the long walk home from school, the lines of my first poem came to me. It was a brilliant winter afternoon with a sharp wind, but I hardly felt the cold. I walked along the the cadences of the new poem, enjoying for the first time the artist’s detached attentiveness that was to become a preoccupation and a joy.
By the time I opened the front foor to our house the poem was fully formed. I dashed up to my bedroom and wrote down the lines before they could vanish from memory.