Hansel by Christine Butterworth-McDermott

I wake longing for candy. The taste
of crusty sugar on my tongue seems,
for an instant, to be an easy pleasure, but
nothing’s guiltless. I can tell no one,
not even my wife, why when she turns
on the light, I double-over, nauseous,
into the bucket besides the bed.
She wouldn’t believe the truth if I told it:
no one ever said not to talk to strangers,
not to take offered chocolates from aging hands.
I had to learn the hard way.

Now, they say I should’ve known better.
After all, I was the older of the two.
I was supposed to be the smart one.
I should have seen the sharp, eager look
that woman gave as she invited us in,
her smile drenched with spittle.
But I “didn’t see past the meringue,”
I’m “an easily duped fool.”

Everyone knows, of course, Gretel’s aim was sure.
She gets all the credit for shoving hard.
Even now, years later, she’s still making a success
of it. Book tours and motivational
speeches. It just teaches you that
those who do the saving reign
while the rest of us dream
of some midnight where

we feel like we’re seven again
licking crumbs from fingers,
devouring peppermint unabashed, being lured in,
lured away from whatever kind of life
we might have had.
No one cares if we’re always waking up
in darkness, craving something unspeakable,
craving the moment of freedom
before the flick of the switch, craving
confection pushed through a cage.

Christine Butterworth-McDermott is a fairy tale scholar/poet at Stephen F. Austin State University, where she teaches as an assistant professor. She has been published in academic journals and a chapter of hers appears in Twice-Told Children's Tales from Routledge Press (her interest is how novels in the 19th Century retell classic fairy tales). Her fairy tale poetry has been published in literary journals, and select poems have been nominated for a Rhysling Award (published in the 2005 anthology by Prime Books) and have received Honorable Mentions in The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror (17th and 18th Annual Editions).

Image: Hansel, Herman Kaulbach (1846-1909)