I’ve known the story since second grade,

that terrible year. The teacher checking

our fingernails and handkerchiefs,

teaching nothing but tedium. Gray

and marcelled, as chained as I 

to that small-town school.

The stench of hot-lunch goulash.

White bread spread thick with margarine.

The shallow patch of backlot gravel

where we tried to play. 


Reading was my happiness.

Sometimes I was allowed 

to sit on the windowsill with a book.

And where would I have found

such a thing in that barren place?

I can still see the drawing clearly—

the line of the girl’s dress,

the dragon’s orange flame.

And the prince—not St. George, I think—

but it was the same tale—

the monster demanding sacrifice, 

the unexpected release. 




She went to the oracle

bringing an offering

of incense, a white pebble,

a drop of blood

on a leaf of thyme.

I am empty she said.


            Go deeper the oracle said.


But I’ve seen the crystals

growing from the floors

and ceilings, I’ve slipped

into the green waters filled 

with white salamanders

and blind fishes, 

I’ve touched the walls

covered with luminous worms

and spiders with legs

as long as my arms.


             Go deeper the oracle said.


I’ve been all the way in,

she said, all the way

to where the walls

are covered with paintings

of antlered men

and dancing women,

of suns and moons

and disembodied hands.

I’ve tripped over the bones 

of wild bulls and giant bears. 


             Go deeper the oracle said.


But there is no door, 

no passage, 

leading beyond that deepest cave. 

The only way left

is the way back out.


         Ah then, said the oracle.





Mother Hölle’s coiling 

       up thin threads of whirling

             rain. Tick, I hear her reel 

click. Deer on tiptoe carve a twisty 

         path to the curving

               creek where swallows gyre

at hatching flies encircling

         boys who cast and spool

                 at trout turning

through water’s whorl.  

          In the spinning

               sky, silk  dragons entwine,

                                             their tails entangle

                                                      in the wind.



June 5, 2009




I ate the fish,

though it offered me anything I wanted.

I wanted something to eat,

so I snapped its neck and brought it home.

My wife made soup with a few wild greens.

If she’d known, she would have fussed.

She wants more.

I want less.

Enough to eat,

a roof over my head.

My little boat,

and the water, and the air.



I was Vasilisa the fair, destined

to marry the tzar.

I carried Mother’s blessing

like a little doll in my pocket.

I did all the witch required.

I was on the edge of safety,

but I did not heed the doll’s trembling

and I asked about the hands.

Now the doll lies at the bottom of a well

and those disembodied hands are mine,

and the white bones in the fence,

the mortar and pestle,

the chest of wonders.

The skull above the door.



When they left for the ball

and the house was quiet,

I went into the garden

and stood beneath the tree

on Mother’s grave.

Stars, a thin moon—

the sky all silver and blue.

Through the silence,

my Mother spoke,

gentle, like a dove.

She told me what to take,

where to go.

Now I’m old,

in my cottage with my cat,

content as any queen.

Why would I want

to be queen, when I have

a gown of moonlight,

a crown of stars?



Here, my dear,

is the little hood I wore

when I was a girl.

And here is the little basket

I carried when I went

to see my granny.

I’ve put some cookies

in the basket.

Don’t eat them all

on your way home.



It was difficult at first,

that other woman’s daughter,

so lovely and so spoiled.

She resented me, though I told her

I would never try

to take her mother’s place.

(I’d had a stepmother, too,

and I knew how it was.)

When she ran away,

her father and I searched everywhere.

We found her in the forest

with those little men—

you can imagine what he thought

though she insisted all was well.

She would not come home,

though her father pleaded,

offered her dresses, jewels, a prince,

anything she desired.

I told him to let her be.

She was old enough

to make her own way,

strong enough to survive.

When we left her there,

her father said it was like

leaving her in a coffin.

I told him to wait,

and I was right.

She came home

not long afterwards.

It was easier then,

as if we’d become allies,

which, I suppose, we were.



On my sixteenth birthday

I climbed the stairs into the west tower.

There was an old woman there,

turning a wheel.

A thin thread formed under her hand,

like magic. She invited me to try,

but I don’t believe in magic,

so I thanked her,

and went back down to the party.



Every day, I am thankful

for this generous goose.

Without her, all of us here

would still be poor.



Once I was a fisherman

until I caught the talking fish

and ate it—against its objections—

and now I cannot speak

of anything but blue.


Once I was a bookbinder

until I bound a volume

of verses about flowers.

Now I am trapped by fragrances

and the lullabies of bees.


I was a grave-digger

alone among the stones

with the cool earth around me

until all I could do was

sing to the shovel, and the clay.


Once I was a weaver

but one day my fingers tangled

in the web and pulled me in.

Now I go on and on,

a tapestry of scrap and knot.


~an old one


Walking in the woods

always birds

often deer

often coyote

once turning a corner

face to face with a fox

equally surprised

once moose tracks


What am I looking for?

monkeys swinging in a branch of pine

seals basking on the old beaver dam

flamingos wading through cattails

or like in a story I read once upon a time

a little door low down in a tree

the golden key in my pocket








Our fabric is woven so tight and fine,

garments stitched up with pride—

gunbelts and helmets and gold—

We have the combinations,

watches, buttons, colored shoes.

This hat will keep you safe.

This cloak will end your pain.

See us in parade, wearing

mirrors of our own devising.


But where is the little child?

Around the next corner

on the street of clowns?

Down by the river

where improbable ducks dive

below the ice to feed?

Beneath your coat,

under your itchy skin?

Somewhere in your throat

they’ve worked so hard to close?

How much it is like death

to hear your fear exposed.




Once upon a time, it isn’t easy

to please mothers.

Some of them want beauty

in a box brought up from hell.



want you to have three

eyes, or only the one.

Some think you should have

stayed in school for a PhD

or at home with so many children

or both.

These mothers


want you to slave all day

for your ugly sisters.

They want you to marry the prince

instead of the woodcutter

or the princess you love.

They want you to tend the goat

and keep your hands nice.


They never, ever, approve

of your clothes.

To wear their crowns

you must cut off your hair.

To fit in their shoes,

you must cut off

your heels and toes.

November Writing Challenge #10

Gotta work on the ending. Or not.


November Writing Challenge #10



Snow White, sixty years later (age 76)  (her husband is Charming)—she is kind

Sleeping Beauty, sixty  years later (76)  (her husband is Gallant) —analytical

Cinderella, sixty years later (82)  (her husband is Handsome)—a little bitchy

~they may be dressed like modern women, but with tiaras, or they might be dressed as Disney or fairy-tale characters, but they should be gray-haired and elderly



A kitchen—era depending on director’s decision, but in keeping with the costumes

the three are seated around a table, drinking coffee or tea or something out of goblets


Snow White:  So, Grumpy came to visit last week. He’s the only one left, and he hasn’t changed a bit. He even looks the same. I think he was born old.

Sleeping Beauty:  I thought Dopey was still alive? I always thought Happy would outlast us all, given his optimism. He was always so robust. And he was the first one to go, wasn’t he?

Snow White:  He was. That took us all by surprise. But Dopey died about a month ago. Grumpy, bless his heart, took care of him until the end. I wanted them to come here to the palace where I could look after them, but Grumpy insisted that Dopey would be more comfortable in familiar surroundings. He was probably right. I wanted to go down to the cottage to see him, but my hip was acting up and Charming thought the ride would be too much for me.

Cinderella:  Sounds like Charming. Sometimes I think you two are lucky to have husbands who look out for you. Handsome just doesn’t seem to care what I do.

Sleeping Beauty:  That makes sense, though, doesn’t it? After all, our husbands had to bring us back from the dead, so naturally they worry.

Cinderella:  And all Handsome had to do was ram a shoe on my foot.

Snow White:  And speaking of husbands—I think Gallant is beginning to fail. He can’t remember anything these days—really can’t remember. And he’s taken to standing on the balcony and staring vaguely into space. I got the royal physician to look at him, but there’s nothing that can be done, he says. Age. Funny how that happens. And sad. I can’t imagine the world without him.

Cinderella:  Handsome has taken to humming. All the time. It wouldn’t be quite so bad if he hummed tunes, but it’s just humming.  She hums tunelessly.

Sleeping Beauty:  Well, it could be worse. We’ve had them for many years now. Sixty years! We were such children then, when they carried us off.

Snow White:  I was sixteen. A child indeed. All I’d known was the death of my mother and the cruelty of my stepmother, and then the kindness of the gamekeeper (Cinderella snickers) —he was kind. He was a good man. He said I reminded him of his daughter. Had it not been for him, I would have been killed. And the dear dwarves. . .

Sleeping Beauty:  I was sixteen, too. Sixty years ago!  But then, I fell into that sleep when I was sixteen and was awakened when I was technically one hundred and sixteen. I’d still like to know how she suspended time.  I missed so much. It was quite a shock to enter the modern world. The castle was so out of date! But my father let Gallant take charge of updating everything. Poor mother never adjusted, though, and to her dying day she dressed like someone from the Dark Ages.

Cinderella:  Well, sixty years ago, I was older than the two of you. Twenty-two. Old enough to know better. I thought I’d never get out of that appalling house, out from under the yoke of those awful girls and that witch of a stepmother. You two were lucky.

Sleeping Beauty:  I don’t think Snow White was so lucky. She had a very traumatic childhood. I was lucky, though. The world revolved around me. It just stopped for awhile.

Snow White:  And I was lucky in a way. I wouldn’t trade my time in the forest for anything.

Cinderella:  But think how much better things would have been if your mother hadn’t died or even if your father hadn’t remarried. You probably would have been married off to Charming anyway.

Snow White: Perhaps.

Sleeping Beauty: Well, it’s useless to imagine what might have happened. What happened, happened.

Cinderella:  And I suppose what will happen, will happen?  Que sera, sera?

Sleeping Beauty:  What?

Cinderella: We have a new court jester. A young man from Spain. He says that all the time. Que sera, sera.  What will be, will be.

Sleeping Beauty:  I’m not sure I believe that. After all, we have some choices.

Cinderella: I know I did. I wanted to go to that ball, so I found a way.

Sleeping Beauty:  At least in the Grimm version you did. Disney made you pretty passive. Actually, he made all of us passive. Me the most of all, I think. All I did was fall asleep.

Cinderella: Isn’t that all you did?

Sleeping Beauty:  No! I can’t believe we’ve known one another all these years and I’ve never told you!

Snow White:  Tell us.

Sleeping Beauty:  I heard the curse—you know—the fairy who wasn’t invited. So burning the spinning wheels was my idea. But then, my father had to figure out where to get thread for the weaving. I helped him set up a deal with the kingdom of Gallant the Fourth. So—-

Snow White:  So your Gallant would have known about you from tales told by his father and grandfather—

Sleeping Beauty:  Yes indeed. I like to think I played a part in my own rescue.

Cinderella:  I still think I had more to do with my fate than you two.

Snow White:  In the Grimm version.

Cinderella: Well, of course, the Grimm version.

Sleeping Beauty:  But you just used the word “fate.” Can we, in fact, influence our “fate”? Or is fate something that happens inevitably? Are we also “fated” to do those things which lead to an already determined outcome?

Cinderella:  Oh Beauty, honestly. Are you a queen or a philosopher?

Snow White:  There’s no reason one can’t be both, I think.

Cinderella: It’s fate.

Snow White:  Let’s not quarrel. We’re old now. We don’t know how many more years we’ll be able to meet like this. You were both good enough to come here this year since I can’t ride. And next year, who knows?

Sleeping Beauty:  You’re right.

Cinderella: You are. We’re lucky women, all three of us. There have been ups and downs, but maybe we really have been living happily ever after.

November Writing Challenge #2

What the heck?




Five children, gender doesn’t matter, about age ten. They are in a line on the empty stage, facing the audience.

Child One is holding a toy horse.

Child Two has a toy screwdriver

Child Three has an easel in front of him/her and is painting

Child Four is holding a doll

Child Five is sitting at a desk, writing in an old fashioned black & white composition book, and continuing to write throughout the play. This child will have some dialogue, though it may be read from the notebook.

Five adults. Gender may be the same as that of the children. Director’s discretion. They enter one by one.

Adult One is dressed in barn boots and outdoor work clothes.

Adult Two is dressed like a professional engineer—

Adult Three’s is Dressed for Success—a very neat suit, etc.

Adult Four’s clothes don’t matter, but are kempt.

Adult Five, ditto. She has a paperback book behind her back, which is concealed.



Adult One:  enters, stands behind Child One. The child turns and gives him/her the toy horse, and the child exits.  When I was a kid, I loved horses. My parents couldn’t afford riding lessons, but when I was old enough, they called up a woman who owned a riding school and talked with her about what I could do to earn lessons. She was great—she let me muck out stalls, and later taught me how to rub down the horses. In exchange, she taught me how to ride. I was, she said, a natural. Eventually I got a scholarship to college, and then was old enough to get into vet school. Now I work with horses all day, and I have two of my own. I’m really lucky.  Exits

Adult Two:  enters, stands behind Child Two, who gives her/him the screwdriver and exits.

When I was a child, I was always fooling around with things, mostly taking them apart to see how they worked. I got scolded a lot, especially because I took apart things like clocks and radios and once a telephone. But then there was a teacher who told my Mom that curiousity about how things work is a good thing, and he/she suggested that Mom give me stuff of my own to take apart, and she did. Mom went to second-hand stores and bought me old stuff. The only rule was that if it was electrical, I couldn’t plug it in, but I did once, and blew a circuit breaker. Well, now I’m a mechanical engineer. Now I figure out how to put stuff together. In my spare time, I like to fix clocks. Pretty good, I think.  Exits.

Adult Three: enters, walks over to the painting child and watches for awhile, growing contemptuous. He/she then suddenly kicks the easel over, and exits. The child follows, imploring, waving the paint brush like a wand.

Adult Four:  enters, smiles at the child, who smiles back and gives him/her the doll before exiting.

I always wanted to be a homemaker. It wasn’t a popular calling back when I was a child. But way back then, and to this very day, I believe that making order where people live is an important calling—a vocation—like medicine or philosophy or art. I was lucky enough to find a spouse who honors that. He/she earns enough to support us, and I keep the house nice and grow most of our vegetables and make nice meals. We’ve adopted four great kids who are mostly doing well, though we have our ups and downs. A bunch of neighborhood kids come here after school so their parents don’t have to worry about what they’re up to. Now that our children are all in school, I’m on the library board in town, and I volunteer at a nursing home, too. We take the kids camping for a couple of weeks every summer. My life—you know—it goes on. And I like it. A lot.

Child Five: setting down the pencil, reads from the notebook:

Once upon a time, there was a little boy/girl who lived in a house in the forest with her/his parents. One day, his/her parents were eaten by a bear. The girl/boy knew where to find nuts and berries in the forest, but winter was coming, and she/he didn’t know what to do, and she/he was scared. As the last sentence is read, Adult Five enters and walks over to the desk. The child goes back to writing, while the adult talks.

Adult Five:  I told stories as soon as I could talk, and my mother wrote them down. But when I was older and the stories grew sadder, my mother did not want me to write.  And when I was twelve, and my life was as ragged as Cinderella’s, my mother’s friend Ellen sent me a package for my birthday. Ellen was my mother’s best friend. She lived far away; I’d only met her once, but every year at my birthday she sent me a wonderful book, and she often wrote me letters, and I wrote back. And on this birthday, this most difficult of birthdays, Ellen sent me a package. I wasn’t allowed to open it until after I’d blown out the candles on my cake. In the package was a metal box, a green file box. On the lid, Ellen had taped a note:  “Every writer needs one.” In the box was a red notebook. On the first page, Ellen had written:  “Every writer needs one.” And there was a book, too, Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. On the flyleaf, Ellen had written:  “Every writer should have one, and use it.” Taking the book from behind her back and holding it up. And I still do.  So you see, there is such a thing as a fairy godmother.  She and the child smile at one another, and take hands, and they exit, the child with the notebook under her arm.