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Showing posts from 2015

To The Girl Tired Of Being Called Pretty

If you prefer, I’ve plenty more steam rollers
tucked in my pockets, so pick one:

Smart—how nice, how
useful, how many mistakes can you make
before the long, flat stitches
of your body fall apart?

Brave—and strong, yes. This
will get you as far as your own legs
want to go, but take care.
When you’re lost in the dark, the slightest
trembling in your jaw might shatter
the narrow glass of your cookie-
cutter silhouette.

What do you think that means?
You are already—
but you think that I am wrong, that you are
only a slip of paper wide enough
for one word.

We could sit together, instead.
You could give me your hands—their
dimensional form, their lines and creases
and measured motion—and I will learn

of the mountains you’ve climbed
and the books you’ve worn out,
of the treasures you cradle and
thorns that you clutch,

you could give me your hands.
Then I would hold them tight
and tell you truth: your heart moves
life in loops and arches,
your eyes are endless seas,
and you belong

not rolled out thin on
cold pavement, but standing
on your solid feet
among the bowing hills.


Maybe we have approached the sound
of an army erupting across a cloudless sky,
the clamoring victory cry from those whose
thousand hands drew back the firmament’s curtain
and watched their king go forth,

whose voices rose like daybreak
when they looked, and wondered,
and did not understand.
As for me, I could not speak when the golden dusk
had breathed out glory that gripped me tight

like a baby’s fist around my finger,
still streaked red from the womb but steady
as the ranks of time, strong as a mother’s heartbeat,
unseemly as arms that scatter the stars yet
lift my deadweight bones like something
precious to be held.

Maybe we are approaching the sound
of true love: this low thrumming
moves the ground under me, rattles my skeleton,
shakes my soul awake and I
have glimpsed the land beyond the sun,

I have touched a face older than the ocean
that bent from light into black dust, that stooped
over my crumbling corpse and breathed—

When I heard your name, I wept
louder than the angels' shout.
They do not know the weight we carried on
our cracking necks, the long despair in heavy silence
that is splintering beneath your red-streaked feet,

which have walked from blood to blood across
the cemetery of our earth, and we,
the bones, sprang up with joy
to hear your steps at last.


The world and I dance a fine line
between glacier and wildfire, but
it's my body that sometimes flubs the tightrope.

Here I go, flipping
like a pendulum gone insane,
desperate for steady orbit,
a hot star scrabbling at one side and the
universe’s freezing hands grasping at the other.

I've grown armor made of ice: the greaves,
the cuisses, the pauldrons. I'm thinking maybe
if I tremble hard enough, I can shake
my legs and shoulders free.
My down comforter is a useless furnace and
laughs at me. The afternoon
is depressingly grey.

My down comforter is a furnace and someone
has stretched holiday plastic wrap across the sunset.
The light leaks eerily red through my window
like maraschino cherry juice, like twilight
on Mars. I am a human space heater with
a second skin made of sweat.
The covers are tangled on the floor.

Millennia ago, it seems I sped along as fast
as any spinning planet, as innately
balanced as the earth for life and
living—for summer wind and winter scarves and
children laughing on the lawn—but perhaps
I am imagining
it all.

My dreams fractalize:
Shiver. Run. The city grid.
Burn. Sit down. The sidewalk cracks.
Shiver. Swallow sand. The network of my capillaries.
The head on my neck is swelling;
it is filling with cement; it will
explode by dawn.

September Song

The year is tilting again, spilling days
like this: the steady light, the falling leaves,
the slow decrescendo of cicadas at night
and the ages-old sensation of
wrapping up the world,
days ripe for harvest, days
in quiet transition, days like this.

Out in the fields there are hay bales dreaming silently
and pumpkins stretching under vines;
beneath the highway bridge the Brandywine has dwindled
in low water and will soon swell with the autumn rain,
savoring the thrill of rushing motion before
midwinter comes to still its currents in ice.

In dark, heavy bunches, round grapes
sweeten in the high sun, waiting for workers in
dust-stained denim, in canvas gloves and
sunbrowned skin, to strip them from the trellises
and haul them to crush,

while storefronts wear glittering foliage
in manufactured colors,
cheap reflections of the glowing forests
that will be practicing their horizontal symmetry:
the trees will blossom earth and clay
into the sky, then discard drapery
altogether, a bared network
of tangling limbs both above and below,

and I will listen to the geese crying southward—
a cry for the cold wind that carries them
far from here, a cry for the withered grass
and the naked ground, for the going away
of everything in all the years
that have been lost.

Kitchen tables, soon, cradle baskets of apples
and hard-shelled winter squash, sweet potatoes
and sweet corn, the long summer’s bounty,
a rejoicing in life that in its dying
gives life again. Sour walnut-fruits will drop
blackened from the walnut tree;
bush-tailed squirrels will grow fat
within its branches.

For now, before my bones remember
how to shiver, before the dead leaves settle in
the sidewalk cracks and overflow
the storm drains, there are days like this,
my windowsill like gold every morning
and afternoons that tilt, spilling late-day light
across your face, like the sky itself
had followed where my heart would turn
and found its way home.

To Kai, From Gerda

Just now, I bent to pick a flower;
your absence had hollowed me so thoroughly
my fingers snapped like straws.

I don’t know why you left,
why you slowly, suddenly, like a freezing
river cleaved our home in two,

I don’t—I don’t know why
or when you became who you became.
Your eyes like frosted glass

winking at the world,
your jokes like icicles thrust in my back, as if
I didn’t hear every word.

Do you remember? I think
you cannot:

In the last summer of our childhood
we pressed a rose. Its petals folded
into arches and windows
more intricate than a cathedral, tucked
safe in the heart of our favorite book

and when winter came and we
had opened it before the fire, those dry
petals looked out at us, the face
of something older than innocence

but you wrinkled your nose
and laughed. What a laugh!
It cut me open, harsh
like the northeastern wind
that grinds at the corners of our house,

all bitterness, no mirth.
Like a dead rat, you said.
You didn’t notice me bleeding.

A crow with your mother’s frown
showed me a vision of you: the cold ground
had shattered on your shoulders

and you heaved the pieces
across a colorless floor while she watched
smirking from her throne.

My clever boy, she said,
my clever darling, stay with me

You sighed tearlessly
and kept working, as if you could craft
eternity from broken earth.


A forest of umbrellas, cheerfully garish,
springs up with the receding tide like mushrooms
after a thunderstorm;
meanwhile the flock
of browning bodies sprawls sun-seared,
sleepy, over the giant mirror of the sand;
a kite wearing a sharkskin swims fluttering
through the clouds and scowls
with all his teeth.
One family with three little girls keeps
disappearing under the waves—
the lifeguard shrills angry warnings,
windmills his arm into a one-way sign
back to shore, back to shore.
The wind comes tumbling off the ocean
and snags itself in my hair and
this is almost perfect:
your laughter muffled with a cracked
conch shell, our hands wrist deep
in sea-wells and sandcastles, the burn
of happiness and salt water
singing in my throat.

If Anyone Thirsts

In the stillness between us, your eyes
had turned to dust bowls, fixed on me
with pleading heavier than a scream,

and my cottonball tongue,
four weeks dry and sitting on my teeth like
leaded sand, had no answer.

My hand pressing at the darkened window
like burnt wrinkled sackcloth, fingers
shriveled and ashen,
my eyelids leaking black mud
and silt.

My exhale—I have nothing, I have
nothing—leaving only dust,
ghost tracings falling silent from
the cold glass.

For years I lived from one jar.
It wore lightning-bolt fractures all
over, uneven edges that caught
at my fingernails as I stretched out,

waited for mercy to pour its
measure down every seven days,
and drank sparingly.
I was a mess of cracks and caverns,

but it sewed me up so slowly
I didn’t notice, a stone ridge
laid down by patient rivers,
unaware of my own growing.

The years went by. It was
enough, I thought.

Someone had torn down the wall
that kept me from knowing you:
suddenly I saw you, withering
silently there, and the gaps in my jar
had multiplied so it lay in pieces like
dead autumn leaves around us and

your little mouth was empty,
your tiny throat bone-dry.

Climbing over the rubble to you
I would have torn myself open,
crushed my own heart and wrung out
my lungs for a trace of water

if it meant that you could
drink—but I was parched as
dusty brick, sun-baked
to the core.

We sat in stillness, waiting.
Something pounded at the door.

That insistent drumming, getting
louder all the time, and the low growls
rattling the windowpane left me
shaking, both arms shivering

as I pushed the door wide and
fell headfirst into a thunderstorm.
The shock surged through me as surely
as if I'd been struck, rain and relief
streaming into my hair and down my neck

and I gasped and gasped until
water pulsed out with every breath
and life had filled me up and

dripping into my ears and out my mouth,
pulling me trembling to my feet,
yearning to give, to give,
to give—

and it turned my face, and I
caught the heavens in my hands,
and I came running
back to you.

The Dress

He gathered thread from the twilit sky
while she set the loom—
the warp and weft of passing time
and fingers interlocked,
a sturdy frame of promises,
a treadle made of dreams.

Their hands stained royal blue as they
spread the cloth beneath the moon and 
worked into the night,
cutting shapes more careful than
constellations, stitching seam to seam of
infinity bound up on his shoulders,
settled at their waists,
flowing past her feet.

When she sat down to embroider,
the thin, cold needle cried loudly as with
the cries of many voices:

Blessings and fortune, it said,
hanging ancestral gold at the gown's 
neckline, and it spoke like 
mountains upon mountains,
the dignity of endurance and the
wisdom of good age,
oh, blessings and fortune to you.

Love and be loved, the needle sang
like a dozen stars at once, and with it
she called us, caught us
one by one until we danced 
around the dress and formed a sparkling
circle for her hair, 
a silver wreathing for his brow,

crying welcome, brother,
welcome—singing love
and everlasting love,
oh sister, all to you. 


Our conversations spin like a coil
around a magnet.
Weather and friends and books
twist among the rest, but

somehow it always comes back to 
Heaven, for us. 

(sapphire, agate, emerald)
Some things we plan to learn in Heaven:
1. Violin for me, accordion for you,
   mandolin for us both.
2. Ballroom dancing.
3. The gospel according to Bartholomew,
   Philip, or Thaddeus.
4. How to ride a pteranodon, because there
   are definitely dinosaurs.

You walked where he walked, and
began to understand more deeply
the inheritance prepared for us.
As always, it is history's illumination 
that unveils tomorrow's beauty;

you pulled the curtain back a little,
called me to look,
hung the reminder of our adoption around
my neck, for me to hold as tightly
as a champion's gold medal.

I will wear it proudly, boasting 
in nothing but my father,
on the glorious day I cross that finish line.

(onyx, carnelian, chrysolite)
Some things we'll remember from Earth:
1. "Trifles," "The Story of an Hour," and other 
   writings we first read together.
2. Murmured Bible discussions
   between classes, instead of homework.
3. Trading long skirts for African travels.
4. The fact that you named my scarf

(topaz, chrysoprase)
It's the middle of the night
when it overtakes us again:
the weight of what forever means,
the staggering reality of approaching joy,
the ever-expanding certainty that
keeps our fingers jumping and
our eyes wide open.

We follow Isaiah into the throne room.
We tremble in the thunder of praise
that echoes amidst a thousand 
beating wings—we behold,
we behold, we behold—

I'd known you for a week,
maybe two, but time 
doesn't matter in a friendship
more like sisters, long-lost
for half a childhood,
sibling souls recognizing one another

The wrinkled green loveseat didn't ask
to be a simile, but when I said that 
Heaven is truer than Earth, you
thumped it hard, agreeing
with an open palm.
"It's solid, like this," you said.
I laughed.

We had met at the cornerstone;
we were there to stay.

"From the beginning," you say, "God
set us on something 
that would last."

Reflections On a Pineapple Field

Today I sat on the crest of a hill
and watched a ramshackle family throw
their throats wide open, a song's raucous and
careless handful in the day's dying light,
while I leaned forward on my knees,
soundless for once.

You weren't there.
Would you have told me why my heart 
flew like a cardinal, then, and 
perched precariously between my teeth? 
Would you have seen the chains on my wrists
or the howl I tucked away quickly, 
quietly, in my back pocket?

I remember your birth 
as the newest strand of spider's silk spun
in a webbed cradle sprawled across
the grass, the springtime budding of green wood
newly grafted to the old oak,
I remember the kind embrace of 
its roots while I watched
you unfold, knees to chest, 

the warm bark pressing into my skin
with dreams shaped like paper castles and
cardboard crowns, the iron stove
in your grandmother's kitchen and the 
thick curl of her barley-colored hair 
as she gathered you and 
your little sisters close. 

My own tree is not a tree at all.
We are whirligigs and fungal spores and
rustling vines that wither with the summer, 
generations like migrant birds
blown across the seas,

so when you'd uprooted yourself
and walked the line of the earth's equator
with me, I thought you might—
I thought you might 

Up on these cold ridges now
the hours are grown thick with night.
Beside me, a katydid laughs like
glass bottles and you are here, blinking
moths from your eyelashes.
In the valleys beneath us, the song 
swells still louder

(I had imagined you forgot
the slow waltz of autumn's fire, the deadly 
lullaby of winter, and me:
but I have traded iron chains for magnolia
and you wear pale honeysuckle
like ballroom gloves,
we bound up our wrists so long ago
to let those flowers grow)

and in the darkness, our family’s
makeshift ties are bloody as roses and
stronger than new wood. 
They are calling us to them, crying
sweet comfort, that we are
gathered from the ends 
of the earth, that we 
belong, that the sun—
the sun in the east
is rising soon. 


The space between moments
is a dangerous place to find yourself.

For a fraction of a second
you might have traveled in time
or between dimensions:
you take half a breath in the dusty womb
of your childhood house or in
the quivering depths of a city you
don't yet recognize;

you glimpse misty rain falling golden,
slipping viridian off mushrooms
ringed with iridescent blue,
and feel the last booming tremor
of a cloud whale's song

before you're back again, dizzy,
worrying where the next click
on the clock's second-hand might bring you.

Someday, you're afraid,
you'll slip away
and never find your way home,
Rip Van Winkle asleep indefinitely,
Tam Lin minus your Janet,
Persephone with twelve seeds
rattling in your empty stomach.

It's with the weary knowledge
of an old shanachie that you tell me,
The space between moments— 
I think it's where fairies live.

And I—the minutes held linear
and evenly spaced across my hands,
a daylong time traveler going just one way—
wonder what on earth, or under
heaven's reach, you're trying to say.

The Hang-Up Loop

The girl of your dreams
is a hijacked fragment of a person,
flat as a rice screen
and blinding as a hasty sunrise.

You close your eyes and access
the interface: she plays guitar
and holds your hand and lets you run
your fingers through her hair,
but you have forgotten
what her voice should sound like.

define VocalQuality windchimes \\\ ? no
class->. strings(instrument)
          1. {cello};
          2. {harp_
          3. flute? ERROR

She has glasses and wears them sometimes.
She writes songs and sings them herself.
She flickers—flicks through pages—
a library heart of your favorites:
War and Peace, The Great
Gatsby, The Little Prince, and

her thoughtful eyes are clear blue as oceans
but that’s not right.

display[] EyeColor = {
          “cherry wood”, “Potter’s clay”, “cherry wood”
          “hazelnut”, “new moon”, “hazelnut”
          “cherry wood”, “Potter’s clay”, “cherry wood”
          } \\\ ?? unsure
>> ERROR unexpected symmetry

“I shouldn’t have you here
at all,” you say, while slow-dancing.
For response, left hand
burning through your shoulder,
her brow creases in an elegant curve—
you remembered that one
perfectly—and you think, you
could weep right now.

function wit = intelligence(conversation)
          define Vocabulary = [lexicon];
          processing = Vocabulary(conversation)^personality;
          wit = Vocabulary(processing);
>> ERROR undefined parameter "personality"

She smooths a thousand wrinkles
from her ricepaper skirt,
and shrugs a crimson cardigan
over the orange blouse you last
saw her wearing.
"Darling," she buzzes, "it's time
to leave."

\\\ this language 
doesn’t exist

You should go
You should

>> end … ERROR
>> end … ERROR


I had peeked into your heart
and found the most curious hole
in plain, familiar outlines.

What could those long fissures mean,
I'd thought, if not my own
arms and legs—or those ten splayed gaps,
if not my outstretched fingers?

(You don't realize until you lie down,
how great an organ the heart is,
and how gigantic a cavity
your minuscule skeleton can't hope
to brace itself into—)

While falling, I looked up and saw
that the silhouette was still the same,
though somehow infinite,
an enormous void in your dark sky
waiting for the dawn's explosion, for

the arrival of morning fire and
its human-shaped sun.
You'd have lost yourself in me too,

just something we do:
shadows in the night unaware
of our own translucence,

of what it costs to leap, or
what it means to find ourselves
drowning, inert fixtures

dangling in each other's
stagnant blood. Waiting for the
surgeon hands and outstretched arms of
a human-shaped son.

Dreaming, Dreaming

Nothing here is real.
Do not be alarmed at the way
these thorns make you bleed, and
the mossy earth gapes at your feet,
and the sky seems almost
too heavy, low enough for your scalp
to scrape itself against.
Nothing is real.

I am asleep, and I
have made everything up.
Any moment now, those stones
beneath you may turn to water,
or sand, or cotton candy, or
anything I imagine, but keep
walking. I would
like to meet you.
I am asleep, and I am
making everything up.

My brain has sprouted wires
like long hair,
and my dreams drain out from
my skull like kitchen sinks
and old batteries. They have
been observing my world
from the outside for what
must be centuries, and
I do not know how you
found your way in. Already
I can hear your footsteps through
the long wires, twisting up,
backwards, back
into my brain.

Come and wake me up.
I have changed the thorns to
daisies, and a sun is rising
in the distant north.
Climb the old stone steps until
you find me sleeping here,
and see my face in the cold
green light of blinking screens,
my head a mass of dark
tangled cables. Unplug them.
Come unplug them, and
wake me up.

Other Princess Poems:
Snow White
The Little Mermaid
Beauty and the Beast

Young Ivy

The time has come, I am sure,
to let the ropes fall from my chest,
for my heart will soon
be too big to keep in any body.
It may fit in this empty, hundred-walled
house, gorging itself full
on the drippings of honeyed light
pouring from these windows,
sleeping on these warm, bare
oaken floorboards.
I woke up here with you
in a thunderstorm, while outside
young ivy, cold and pale, clung to the wet,
white walls, and great feathery
clouds roared with laughter in the sky.
The lightning splashed on your hair
and cut me open from neck to navel
with the precision of a surgeon,
a scalpel wielded to release
my soul, to let me breathe
again, at last.
I might have wept, but only
because I was happy.
And so this elephant heart of mine
keeps growing, and it laughs, too,
promising to fill these rooms
with flowers and grand-children
and dreams that look us
in the face and smile.
The time has come
to let the ropes fall from my chest.

Guide to Becoming an Honorary Brother

~ by Grant Farmer, probably. 

Step 1. Stay low on the radar for years on end,
not really talking but always there.
(When did you even meet?
At birth??)

Step 2. Be “the older brother’s friend.”
Boys hang out with boys.
Awkwardly long hair and perpetual
acoustic guitar, and all.

Step 3. At sixteen, after haircuts and
lots of growing up, have one conversation
about music for three freaking hours
straight, no tangents.

Step 4. Paint a mural together.
The ground color is sandy, it is earthy,
it is not poop do not call it—
call it poop.

Step 5. Little things now. Chinese takeout,
the Psych series finale, Sara
Bareilles, stickers, fundraisers,
bowling, lyrics, books.

Step 6. Go to Africa. Africa!
Sing in the fields with the goats and pigs
and puppies; together learn to love
the Ugandan rain, sunsets, and people.

Step 7. You’re in. You have been
for a while. But just to make sure, pretend
you’re her mom and pester her
about grades.

Step 8. Stay up on that radar. That’s it.
Just stay there.

The Beastly, The Beautiful

I have a single memory of
my father’s face. I could tell it to you
for hours—the red-blue currents
of love and grief that swirled
in his vast violet eyes
as he lifted my tiny indigo body from
my mother’s crimson corpse, the
tender smile that briefly shattered the lines
on his skin, before I closed my eyelids
and never opened them again,
though the rest of me grew strong
and healthy as the years went by.

The townsfolk would crow at my story
if they heard it, or cross
the cobblestones from me
in some pretense of superstition, but
my father understands.
He knows that I can see
what others cannot,
that even with ordinary eyes
I would not have cared for appearance
when there is so much behind
the ribcage to explore:

the deadened brown of his merchant’s
cares, the dark gray of his wife’s memory,
the shock of vibrant roses he tends here
for his three daughters;
the pearly expanse of one sister’s
innocence and the sour yellow of the other’s
wounded heart, and the lovely silver
glimmering deep inside them both.
The rainbow mosaic of the passing
townspeople, their souls pulsing
in a hundred hues.

You were a tempest of autumn color
and a storm of fiery incandescence
when I met you, a sunset of a man
bold and bright enough to take
my breath away.
I knew of your monstrous teeth and
grotesque features, frightening for
any normal pair of eyes, but it
hardly mattered

when your wine-red spirit
burned, and danced like that.
Is it any wonder I could not bear
to leave your side, once
I had known you? Is it
any wonder I loved you?
My sisters call you handsome now,
but even they know nothing of
the brilliant flames you hold within.
I would not trade
the sight of them
for anything.

Other Princess Poems:
Snow White
The Little Mermaid
Sleeping Beauty

Among the Ashes

I should have felt your hunger
in my belly, your thirst in my throat,
your weariness in my limbs
all the more for my fullness.
Your hurt should have
knocked at my strong breastbone
like a scream, gaping
in the face of my wholeness,
and yet I stand here, breathing evenly.

What anesthetic have I greedily
gulped down, what painkiller have I
hoarded, that I am numb to you?
What will it take for my heart
to rage at your despair,
for my eyes to weep with yours,
for my feet to rise,
and carry me to you?

I will sit beside you
among the ashes.
I will fill my pockets with bandages,
my bags with bread, my fingers
with all the love
that they can hold.

The Pursuit of Knowledge

The first leap from the nest
is like drowning, the directional
confusion, the dizziness of
momentum, that one despairing
moment of paralyzed lungs,

and then. How intoxicating
the slight catching of wind beneath
your pinions, that first, tiny
upward quirk

before the ground's impact.
The second leap is easy.

A Child's House

This tree once spread its verdant wings
In sanctuary for our play,
The harbinger of youthful spring

With memories now frozen, splayed
In branches cracking to their core
Beneath a sky billowing grey

Like life, and winter, gone to war.
We wove those branches into art,
The tree that you and I adored,

But creeping ice has clutched its heart
And teaches us this eerie sound:
A child's house falling apart.

Where can the cold ruins be found?
Their shards will be my mournful throne,
And frosted leaves, my weeping crown.

the wind returns

time, and its passing. that
inexorable march towards eternity,
by our stubborn brains somehow
snapped into pieces that fit
between our teeth for a while.
the last year. the next deadline.
midnight, fast approaching.
hours? seconds?
what do you call dawn?
what will we call the moment when
the sky darkens for the last time?
somehow we know it goes on
and on without end, so we're kept awake
at the notion of extinction,
of nonexistence, of oblivion after
what we call death.
how could time go on without us?
how could . . .
i have heard a rhythm in the infinite,
the graceful inheritance of one day
to the next and a story that tells itself
over and over again, where
we wake into mornings the same but
more important for the yesterdays
that have gone by. the yesterdays that
matter though tomorrows
never end.
i have heard
a rhythm.

Haikus on Education

I really tried to
pay attention in lecture
(a.k.a. naptime).

did problems in bed.
left the calculator there
for the exam. crap.

"have you started the—"
"no." commence ironic laugh.
we're dead. we're dead we're

physics physcis phis
ysc centripetal accel
eration? theta?!

Love Songs of A Writer


He had glasses made of sapphires,
the biggest lenses I'd ever seen,
with thick wired frames painted silver.
When he spoke his mouth
dripped diamonds, which may as well
have been newborn stars—
I wanted to pick them up,
but they burned too bright for me
to see, even paper-blindfolded
and squinting.
I think somehow he must have learned
to close his eyes and glimpse
the universe: nebulous,
bold, beautiful,
the sun at the center of everything.
Last I saw of him,
he hung upside down from
a spinning swing; I didn't watch
as he eclipsed, a planet
orbiting out of sight.


She wrote like a thief,
like she'd crept into all the rooms
I never thought to lock, and carelessly
hauled away my thoughts, those
sleeping cocoons of dry silk
still waiting to break open.
I drew in a sharp breath
to read them for the first time—
made their wings blur and
tremble with my shaky laughter
half-delighted and half-terrified,
hands aching to take back what
must have been mine
(they must have been mine!)
but motionless, freezing instead into
the crinkling chrysalis of an addict.
A good thing, that I never emerged.
She took the words with her
when she disappeared
at midnight, when the moon
was full of borrowed ink and
the moths beside the lamp
were dead.


I lay down at the canyon's edge,
whispering over the empty space,
and it was your voice
that called back,
pressing the sounds into solidity,
folding them into crusty salts and
crystals of river-carved song.
You led me, barefoot,
to creekbanks full of clay, where
we stretched out
maps of our arteries again and
again, until blood finally
flowed through to wake
the dreaming earth.
And though we itched sometimes
for wings that could lift us
through the night sky,
when years had gone by we settled
ourselves to trace the stars drifting across
the baubled water—to lean back
on hands resting, steady, firmly
rooted beside each other
in sun-warmed stone.
It is, I think, how
mountains grow.

A Tail, A Tale

This web of scars on my face,
crawling down my neck in ribbons
and screaming over my shoulders,
was like the shadow of a shark, or
a reef of rotting coral
when I first came home:
my father hid his face and fled,
while my sisters shrank away
one by one, and the whole
kingdom grew silent in horror.

I kept the story to myself,
since nobody would listen.
The way the knots buried themselves
in my flesh, and the ropes ground the scales
from my skin, and the wooden boat
drove splinters through the canvas
of my back, and the humans
shouted in anger, while
water and fire fell from the sky
like whalebone spears and diving pelicans.
The three days of agony spent
choking on wet air, hungry,
bound up in rough nets that
tightened and grew colder every hour.

They came by at night, every one of them,
with fire in their hands, cursing at me
in their harsh language and
throwing broken glass at me
until I bled like the neverending rain, and it
pooled strangely beneath me

all except for him.
He sat by me sometimes,
singing something that sounded strong
and steady, like the great currents
sweeping southward or
the salmon heading north
in spring. His hair was the color
of sand, shining silver in the moonlight
as he picked up the glass shards
around me, ignoring the cuts
they left on his palms.

When he dragged me from the dark
and opened his fishing knife,
gleaming wicked as an orca’s jaw,
I thought his kindness had run out, but
he only sliced the ropes and
hauled me over the side
with a salt-crusted kiss to my forehead.
I could hear the slightest bit of song
behind me as I swam away.

He arrived years later with
a tail and gills and a smile,
when my family had learned
to love me again, and the people had
grown used to a princess who
was less than beautiful.
He would not speak, or sing, but
held my face in his mangled hands,
where my long-healed scars, meeting his,
burned again for a moment,
then collapsed into him like
wayward children finally
coming home.

Other Princess Poems:
Snow White
Beauty and the Beast
Sleeping Beauty

Rapunzel, Rapunzel

Aunt Scallion said I could call her
anything I wanted, as long as it wasn't
'Witch,' or 'Mother,' so since
she named me after salad,
I figured it was only fair.
On good days, I’ll call her Callie,
but when it’s “Rapunzel, Rapunzel,
keep drawing those free-body diagrams!
Well. On those days she will not
forget her onion-rooted identity.

You are under some delusion, I think,
that I am locked here in distress,
that I long for sun and sea and stars
and most importantly, love,
and your love specifically, whatever
that means to you.
I am not distressed;
I am undergoing education,
and by my calculations I will be done
in less than six months, actually.

Aunt Callie and I have been
working on this project for years.
Soon our pulley system
will be sophisticated enough
for me to lower myself from the window
unaided, using only
my hair. Isn’t that exciting?
Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait
until then if you want to try it.

I don’t have the time to recalibrate
for your height and weight,
but I’m sure I could keep
yelling down to you like this
on break hours,
if that’s what you want.

Aunt Callie says to tell you
that I am Samson and you are very
close to being my Delilah,
which I think is a terrible analogy.
She’s not old, but she’s
kind of getting there.

There are stairs round the back,
if you’d like to come solve equations
with me. It’s dreadfully boring
sometimes, which is why I’ve
taken to singing the quadratic formula
whenever it shows up.
That must have been what you heard.

Aunt Callie says you’re welcome
to come up, if you can get past
that bit of overgrown hedge. We’re not
the best gardeners, pardon us.
She is making onion soup with rampion,
which I think is supposed to be funny
and really isn’t, but if you’re determined
enough, you can find out
what you think of it yourself.

Other Princess Poems:
Snow White
The Little Mermaid
Beauty and the Beast
Sleeping Beauty

The Dragon's Daughter

My mother is a dragon,
scaly-clawed and fire-mouthed,
enormous and settled in her ancient wisdom.
Born where the earth
meets the sun face-to-face,
she has carved out caves for her children
from the forbidding cliffs of a foreign land,
and labors ferociously, day and night,
in teaching them to fly.

It is no easy task: who wants to
leave his snug home, his mother's warm
and beating heart?
And so she growls and pushes,
sends us to school one-by-one,
burns the cookies every now and then.

I am a dragon's daughter,
yet here I am, breathing ice into the early morning,
wings still new and hidden beneath
my winter coat. For now, my legs—slipping
though they are on packed sidewalk snow—will do.
What would my dragon-mother think,
to see me now, half-numb and hungry
in the harsh wind?

Remember to wear a hat, she says,
and tell your brother not to forget his scarf.
The warmth of her voice bleeds through
thin glass against my ear,

an ember to hold beneath my tongue
as I catch my frozen breath
and hold it in my fiery heart till
I am home again.

Mirror, Mirror

This is what they tell you:
I was a baby with pearl skin, black jade
hair, and a crying mouth
wet and red like ripe apples
in the early morning mists,
the king's daughter once, they will murmur,
still lovely if she had lived
before they show you the greater treasure
of the emperor's little boy,
his tiny porcelain face a perfect mirror of
his mother's splendid beauty.

Nobody understood why
I did what I did.
The gods themselves could see
I loved him like a son, and how I loved
the fragile walls of our home that
trembled in the autumn wind, the fragrant cherry
blossoms that dangled from the curving rooftops
and blanketed the courtyard in the spring.
(How I honored my father excellently,
how I respected his wife as if she had
borne me in her own womb.)

Because they did not know,
they will not tell you of my brother's
first words and how they spoke
my death. Not ba-ba, not ma-ma, but
my own cursed name—and oh,
at that moment my mother's fingernails
began to grow, into the wicked
teeth of a jeweled comb biting at my neck, and
the fraying of my collar's fastening
that twisted in too tightly,
and cold knives to peel sweet apples for
bribing his little tongue,
and all the while he cried and cried
and cried for me.

How glad they were to lose me!
I ran up and up, as far as I could,
while my little brother fell silent at last.
She would have another, I told
myself. She would
have another.

Now the hot sun has painted my skin
with mud, and the mountains have kissed
my hair with snow, and my wrinkled mouth is
the muddled color of dusk.
You may find me here, sitting by
the ricefields when the sun is setting, but
only if you hasten: my time is slipping
like the moon wanes into darkness.

My seven sons have no sister
to cry to. They bring me oranges from
the lowlands and green jade
from the caves nearby,
smiling like their father
and nothing at all like me.

Other Princess Poems:
The Little Mermaid
Beauty and the Beast
Sleeping Beauty