Scantily Clad Press, 2009
Sometimes mirrors are maps, and sometimes maps are mirrors. â€”Kelly Link, Travels With the Snow Queen
When, late one night, the boy with milk-teeth comes to your window, do not follow him unless you care for housework & mending. When he asks for a kiss, give him a silver thimble on a red ribbon, for he will not know the difference.
Likewise, when one
claiming to be an angel approaches, be very suspicious. Ask questions. Know your words are stronger than his, for this will confuse him. Know your arguments are stronger than his, for this will confound him. Be polite, but insist he disclose his mystery & then send him on his way.
Upon waking in the morning, put three coins & an apple in your satchel & a compass on a chain around your neck. Hang your key from the wind chimes in the backyard. Close the gate to the green fence & walk west to the river.
When you reach
the bank where the soil becomes sandy, bury a coin to ensure your safe return.
the river, which will lead you to the forest. the yew, which The Great Chain of Being designates the lowest form of tree. Pay no attention to this strict hierarchy, but fill your pockets with berries. Measure distance in hours.
When you come to the tower at the edge of the forest, go inside & climb the spiral staircase. Open the door to a room full of glass eyes. Look through the lenses,
what you once read about stars & charts & the variables of observation. Find Cassiopeiaâ€” she will point you toward the heart of the woods. Take the knife from the table & leave a coin in its place, remembering what you once read about respecting sharp edges . Do not panic when you realize the door has locked behind you.
Braid a ladder from your hair
& climb out the circular window, rappelling gently down the sheer, vertical face.
Warning: the angry fairy will try to draw blood. Trap her in a glass jar, but do not keep her as a lantern, for her light is false. Spit into the jar & whisper, I rebuke thee, & watch her wings fall off as she writhes & melts into an earthworm & four pointed teeth. Turn the worm out on to the dirt & as it squirms & burrows underground, throw one tooth to each compass point. Hold the empty jar overheadâ€” fireflies will rush to fill it. Blow a kiss into the jar & whisper your gratitude. Carry the jar before you as you enter the woods.
There is a dark path through the dark woods & it leads to a dark house lit only by a fireplace & there lives the crone. Go inside & she will offer you her secrets. She will tell you three things & the third thing is: the owls are not what they seem.
The second thing
is: dragons don't dance & they don't smoke cigars. The first thing is: when you are dead, you may have all the ponies you want. Do not believe her, but when she asks for your apple, give it to her. by her fire. Rest.
The Prince of the Forest walks upright on legs like a deer, has small horns curving through dark curls. He takes his job very seriously, will insist on guiding you through the woods, his hand resting lightly, low on your back. He will tell you about of the Onceler Queen, her archery skill, her auguries & arguments, & how she finally left the wardrobe for good, colored her mouth & went out dancing; & about The Girl Who Grew, who abandoned flight & ultimately shuttered her windows against the chill, lit candles, poured wine into goblets, wrote not in ink but in a golden splash. You will say, & lived happily ever after? & he will confide that The Onceler Queen was last seen drawing the threads of a mourning veil on her face with black eyeliner, & that The Girl Who Grew submits to spells of sudden sadness each spring. You will roll your eyes & dismiss the idea of a punishing moon, & he will tell you you're missing the point.
He will show you the fiery heart where
his sleeve should be & offer you a quill. You could write your name there, stay with him, maybe take up yoga or knitting. At least until the letters smudged & dissolved into rivulets encircling his wrist.
Whistle past the graveyard & think how strange to find a graveyard in the middle of the deep, dark woods. When the handmaid sitting on a pile of stones beckons you, go to her.
Her smile will be warm &
her face will be familiar,
she offers her hand, take it. She will say, Squeeze my hand how much it hurts. She will say, If it starts to hurt too much, you can turn back. No one will think less of you for it. Later, you will remember this when the tightness in your chest spreads to your fingertips.
You will hold your own
hand & squeeze & only then will you remember how to breathe.
Notes on going underground: Take nothing for granted.
Those who come to your aid
will expect recompense.
You will question the notion
of fairness there, but you might also question your own basis for comparison. & then finally, a dilemma: The Goblin King will not be at all what you expected.
For one, you will find
him much taller than the average goblin, &, actually, very good-looking. He is cruel, yes, but also, he is generous.
He will juggle three
glass spheres to amuse you.
He will offer you
a peach (but, remembering what you once read about eating otherworldly fruit, pocket it. Say you’ll save it for later).
He will promise that if you only
love him, renounce the sun & perhaps cower occasionally, he will be your slave. It will be a very tempting offer—
after all, it’s only forever & you never really tanned
in the first place— but of course you will leave him & his pale jewel eyes & moon-glow face & it will almost be a pity.
The Light Princess sits by a small lake, skipping smooth flat rocks over the waterâ€™s surface.
Sit beside her on the fallen
tree trunk, remove your boots & stockings & cool your feet in the clear water.
When she grumbles
that her rocks sink like stones, do not laugh at her. She will tell you how (as often happens when princesses are born) someone was not invited to the christening, & how (as often happens next) the forgotten someone cursed the babe & pronounced that the princess would only ever be happy. That is, that the princess would lack gravity, entirely. She will tell you how, for many years, she remained buoyant & never cried; how her parents tied a ribbon to her ankle in case of strong winds, how they filled her pockets with pebbles to keep her close to them. She will tell you how one day she fell in the lake & found her gravity there (but only there) & how she then always wanted to be swimming. She will tell you how eventually (as the plot demands) she met a prince & they fell into the lake together & soon fell in love & how he then made her cry & how in the act of crying she lost her weightlessness forever. They soon married. Her prince is very kind & his kisses are sweet. she is happy.
For the most part
Still, sometimes she misses
the buoyancy of heartlessness, the lightness of mind & the pull of the lake.
Walk away from the lake, boots in hand (the grass is soft here). Watch the moon rise in the pale sky. Lie down (the grass is so soft here) & sleep & dream of a woman holding a scepter culminating in a cuckoo. She will look a bit disappointed to be there.
So will the peacocks
She will tell you
other peopleâ€™s dreams are never very interesting. She will suggest you dream instead of snakes, of blood, of bugs, assuring you these are all portends of good luck. Her face will be weary but wise & the scepter must be an indicator of something, so ask her to tell your fortune. She will sigh & smooth your hair. You will be spending time outdoors, in the forest, near water. When you roll your eyes, she will pull your hair sharply & demand, If everyone cut off their heads & stuffed their mouths with asaefoetida & buried their hearts at the crossroads, would you? & you will say, probably. Look, she will tell you, you've been hoping for real toads in imaginary gardens. What if, after all this, you find yourself on a beach of cinders, under a white sky? she asks. Wouldn't that be just a little embarrassing? Awaken to see the moon high through the trees & peacock feathers scattered on the ground, all around you. Pick up the book lying beside
your boots. Read.
There's a girl made of ice, in love with a beast. She's walking into the woods at night with her throat exposed, with nothing in her hands. When the bluff is called, she will either be killed, or their masks will slip, & she will relax for the first second ever. & she'll take her heart from its velvet-lined box & give it to the beast & it will beat so fast & the sun will come out & his monstrous form will fall away & her ice will melt & the briars retreat & she will fall into his arms & his kiss will wake her. Or, she will shatter into a million pieces.
(Whether this is a happy ending or not is dependent upon whether you are a Girl or a beast).
Jenn McCreary is the author of two chapbooks: errata stigmata (Potes & Poets Press) and four o'clock pocket chiming (Beautiful Swimmer Press), and of a doctrine of signatures (Singing Horse Press). She lives in Philadelphia with Chris McCreary, with whom she co-edits ixnay press (www.ixnapress.com), & their sons Caleb & Malcolm, with whom she reads many fables & fairytales. A fulllength collection of poetry, :ab ovo:, is forthcoming in early 2009 from Dusie Press.