Twelve by Shira Lipkin

We saw him tip the wineglass,
Spill the drugged draught into his shoe.
We are not so stupid as they’d have you believe.

The rustle of silk and velvet, chime of jewels
The soft leather of new dancing slippers
A secret smile, a secret door.

Silver trees glistening in unnatural light,
In the silence beneath the earth.
Behind us, he breaks off a branch and thinks we do not hear.

The avenue of gold, its light warming our passage;
The leaves are sharp. They cut his hand.
We smell his coppery life and smile.

Leaves of diamonds reflect light, silly cloak or no.
We laugh as he gapes at our wonders,
Our voices like the tinkling of the leaves he steals.

He weighs down the coracle. He is a big man.
The youngest of us complains prettily.
Men like to think they know more than us.

And finally, the banquet-hall! Twelve princes underground!
No room for you, soldier, sneak-thief.
We are taken, all of us, in every sense. Watch.

The music is dizzying; we lose ourselves in dance.
Spinning across the cold marble floor
Exchanging partners; we share.

There is nothing for us in the world above.
Not when there is this: the princes. The dance.
The trees of silver and gold and diamond.

Between dances, the feasting. Sweets and fruits.
They watch us eat, avidly as they watch us dance
Pomegranate seeds between our teeth, fresh and sharp.

This is the twelfth night, the end of a spell.
He is shocked when we tear the cloak from him.
No return, we say. Never again to the world above.

The end of a spell; a new hunger, fresh and sharp.
We share. He was a big man.
There is plenty of meat for all.

Shira Lipkin lives in Boston with her husband, daughter, and three cats, most of whom also write. She is also often in charge of a tribe of morbid myth-slinging Girl Scouts who frequently give her cause to consider the bloodthirsty roots of fairy tales and folklore. She has fiction and poetry in current or forthcoming issues of ChiZine, Electric Velocipede, Polu Texni, and Lone Star Stories. You can track her movements at

Image: Twelve Dancing Princesses, Kay Nielson