Four poems from "Becoming the Villainess" (Steel Toe Books)
by Jeannine Hall Gailey
Girl, they can’t understand you.
You rise from the ash-heap in a blaze
and only then do they recognize you
as their one true love.
While you pray beneath your mother’s
tree you carve a phoenix into your palm
with a hazel twig and coal;
every night she devours more of you.
You used to believe in angels.
Now you believe in the makeover;
if you can’t get the grime off your face
and your foot into a size six heel
who will ever bother to notice you?
The kettle and the broom sear in your grasp,
snap into fragments. The turtledoves sing,
“There’s blood within the shoe.”
You deserve the palace, you think, as you signal
the pigeons to attack, approve the barrel filled
with red-hot nails. The great hearth beckons,
and the prince’s flag rises crimson as the angry sun.
He will love you for the heat you generate,
for the flames you ignite around you,
though he encase your tiny feet in glass
to keep them from scorching the ground.
The Selkie Wife’s Daughter1
I always wondered why she sang so strangely
at the spinning wheel, why her eyes held all
the mourning of the darkest sea. And why
she held me away,
as if afraid of my skin, why my feet and
hands were webbed with translucent sea-skin.
I used to bring her armfuls of yellow
water iris to almost
see her smile. I wondered why father
never let me swim out against the waves,
never let her walk the shores alone.
He feared she might
disappear like a snatched breath on every
angry tide. And when I found the skin,
by accident, beneath the kindling, its fur
mottled as the moors
in summer, soft as milk in my twelve-year-old
hands, I brought it straight to her. I hoped
she might smile again. I couldn’t guess
she might hold me close,
then shrug on that magic seal coat and swim
quickly away, enchantment broken, transformation
complete. She never saw me, waving frantic
from the shore.
So that’s what she left me – webbed fingers
and toes, a lonely father, the stench of salt
and seaweed, the knowledge she had never
been herself with me.
The Snow Queen
You tell yourself he only left you for her
because of the wicked shard of glass in his eye,
but the truth is, every man wants an ice princess.
The truth is, you’re too easy to get used to –
your sloppy warmth, the heat from your skin
fresh from the garden – it’s too much for him.
He’d rather marvel at her tedious snowflakes,
caress her frosted hair, bask in that cold gaze,
that veneer of symmetry. So you wander
around town like an idiot, forgetting
even your shoes. The boys there
are all still in awe of her. “Did you see
that thing she was driving?” they keep asking.
You set off to bring him back, not thinking
you are the last person he wants to see.
“He’s trapped in that ice castle” you murmur,
“He needs to be rescued.” Dogged, you follow
the tiny shards of glass, and their sparkle.
And when you finally find him, dark with cold
from her brutal kisses, he doesn’t even
recognize you. You stop blaming the shard
in his eye; how can you rescue a man
whose heart, transfixed by skeletal crystal,
craves the bruising of frost?
Persephone and the Prince Meet over Drinks
At first I thought, Daddy?
squinting in the shadows when I saw his face,
alone at the bar.
So many similarities to the picture
mother keeps on the mantel,
that squared jaw, those cold grey eyes.
His ravishing grin drew me in,
the way he treated me like a grown-up.
He bought me cocktails, whispers
of pomegranate in the bottom of the glass.
(How many is this? Four? Five? Six?)
I laughed and laughed, though he wasn't joking.
And so what if, at the end of this story,
with a ring on my finger and a castle
to boot, you find out that my prince
is prince of nothing but darkness?
I knew what I was doing.
I was prepared for a long dance with death.
1This poem’s title and contents are adapted from a traditional folk tale of the Orkney Islands, sometimes called “The Selkie Wife,” other times, “The Goodman of Wastness.” “Selkie” can refer to seals or to half-seal, half-human creatures.
Read Jeannine Hall Gailey's poetry, blog and more at http://www.webbish6.com/poetry/poetryindex.htm
Order "Becoming the Villainess" at http://www.wku.edu/~tom.hunley/steeltoebooks/villainess.htm