In fairy tales, anyone not young is suspect.
Doubly so if she’s a woman, living alone
in a gingerbread house that looks sweet,
but is actually stiff and stale as fondant.
Suddenly, I’m the part of story the prince
must be rescued from, when the reader thinks
don’t go in there, don’t fall for that. Suddenly,
the best I can hope for is to be the good witch,
sexless in a ballgown as wide as an applecart,
thick with good advice, and beatific (which
isn’t the same as beautiful.) If I want to be
beautiful, I’m required to also be evil, or so
the story goes. The story goes by so quickly.
I didn’t know I’d be here so soon. I didn’t
know I’d be here at all, a minor character
in somebody else’s tale, tending my garden
until I’m needed as a foil for a young princess,
or as some other plot device—a trick, like
a rope of someone else’s hair, or a gingerbread
house with an oven waiting inside.
She made a gesture that meant
I want to be held, but not touched
He made a gesture back that meant
my hands are numb—I can hold you
without knowing how you feel
and this was both a terror and a relief.
She closed her eyes and it was true:
his hands were numb—they didn’t feel
like anything, and this was nice
for a moment, until she realized
my clothes can do this—hold me
without knowing me—forget
my shape as soon as I remove them.
She shrugged out of his hold,
and left him inside out on the floor,
and he never forgot her name—
he’d never learned it to begin with.
She made a new gesture that meant
bring me a silk slip, a cotton dress,
and a wool coat. She filled her closet
with embraces, each one draped
over a hanger. This was nice for a while,
until she imagined she could hear them
whispering to one another, describing
her shape, accurately and inaccurately—
both were equally bad. She decided
invisibility was the most comfortable
garment she’d worn and pulled it tight
around her in a gesture that meant
nothing, since no one could see it.
Only the Clothes on Their Backs
The man wears a song
with torn sleeves. His spine
is a broken arpeggio. The baby
is deaf from the shelling,
but when he holds her,
she feels the lullaby
pressed to her cheek.
The woman’s dress is a pair
of pigeon wings opening
against darkness. They fold
around her body when she sleeps.
She never sleeps.
The baby is swaddled in a piece
of sky that came loose and fell
in a shower of concrete. Sparrows
beats their wings against
the cloth, trying to get home.
Everything else, they left behind.
A city is a heavy thing to carry,
and their home was already gone.
In its place, rubble that was once
buildings spattered with blood
that once lived in bodies.
Their faces are blank, washed
away in rain. When they want
to smile, they lift their cheekbones
and their skin twitches like a cat’s
back when you touch it.
The girl wears her grandmother’s
fringed shawl. Someday, she will
give it to her own granddaughter
and say, in a language
she doesn’t yet speak,
This is your inheritance;
This is your history.
Feel how lightly it holds you.