from NER 40.1 (2019)
I ought to see myself as a man. Be proud and grateful.
I’d much rather be your ermine with a silver bell
on my pink satin collar. Let my farewell and arrival
tease the same gasp from you. Let your sound
surprise you every time. If you grant a silk pillow,
I’ll make of myself a moon your guests can admire.
When lords throw bloody chunks at their hounds,
impress them with your finger dipped in honey or olive oil,
all I need to survive. Let saints be wrapped in swaddling
clothes: cradle me, I’ll warm your hands. Tonight,
like every other night, there is a fire, silver dishes of sweets
and almonds. You recite a French fairytale called “Winter”
while the shadows of snowflakes drift across the floor.
It’s the climax of a story about exile, which is a love story, too.
The prince is scarred, has grown a grief-beard. He’s slain
the scaled beast, its eyes bright as a fallen star, its back
like a nautilus. He’s assumed the position of Christ.
Three times, he’s spurned the love of the Fairy Queen.
Until now he’s refused to ask for help or protection.
I would be too ashamed to ask for these were I a man.
The sky in the tale is like the sky outside: pinkish-gray,
a greenhouse of jasmine and lilac filling with smoke.
When the prince trudges out of the cold, tall as the pines,
hair crowned with white that melts and chills again
on his neck and ears, and rests his head on his lord’s lap,
breaking the curse, your ladies draw closer to each other,
their silences nearly touching. They return to their chambers
when the story ends. You put me in a cage and go to bed.
The fireplace bares red fangs. Outside, the fox and bear.
Crows undulate in their night like a repressed mood.
The last of the hunters return home with their kills,
rabbits and squirrels they’ll skin and dress. They are silent.
Bulky in fur, they are some new creature, a little blood
staining here and there. Who is not with them? What loss
will harden their hearts because they won’t speak of it?
Would they know how? They are changed. They are at the gates.