There it snakes downwards, my plait like a golden rope.
She climbs, hand over hand, barely any weight at all:
my black-cloaked former keeper.
In her absence from the tower, my former home,
I'd always dreamt I wasn't hers
that my fairness didn't come from her.
I'd smell her before I'd see her: an odour of rottenness
as her storm filled the tower.
Her eyes were like embers in a dying fire.
That day she had fury with the clumsiness of thunder.
She'd found my silk rope, my escape plan.
Screeched obscenities at my prince and banished him.
The thorn bushes had broken his fall,
but blinded and injured him.
Now he has my voice as a guide.
The voice that first attracted him as I sang to myself.
And I like his otherness, that he's not her,
but as dependent on me as I was on the witch.
The Second Wife's Tale
after Stephen Crane
Outside the gates,
I found the Man,
Beneath the red moon,
he held that creature in his arms
and tasted of her.
I said, "Is she sweet, Husband?"
"No. She is bitter." he replied,
"But I love her
because she is bitter
and because she
Somewhere, a woman is burying
a notebook. Hum away those hands,
the ones with dirt-crusted knuckles,
marrying bones to glass, as if
Snow White has stayed in that
sleeping-box. And that other one:
she carries a basket. Or she doesn't.
You know who I'm talking about.
You think of crones with sickle-moon
faces and long fingers, eating
salted doeheart beside the fire.
There are no witches in candy
ovens. There is no sentient
mirror. There is no plaid-shirted
prince to hamstring a hard
queen, or a wolf.
'Jack finds three ladies tied up by the hair of their heads.'
Illustration by Hugh Thomson from Jack the Giant Killer, 1898