Bad Mothers by Anne Brannen

I knew my elder sister would return
to sweep the ashes. She would part
sugar from sand, she would fill my mouth
with honey. She would bring shoes,
red ones with buckles. She would raise me.
I would be buried under the juniper tree,
I would be cooked in the stew,
I would be eating poisoned apples
and traded away for spinach,
I would be weaving nettle shirts
for my brothers till my fingers bled.
My throat would be slit to spite my father.
I would be waiting for deliverance.

She never showed. I was on my own.
Gathering my scraps, I set off. I stole
seven-league boots, I moved fast.
I threw ribbons behind me to make rivers,
I tossed combs over my head to grow trees,
I couldn’t be caught. I gave my bread to beggars,
an old woman, and a golden bird who said it knew
my family. A sweet-tounged fox showed me a house
made of gingerbread, where finally I slept.
Safe at last. The black forest hides me
and I’m inviolate. Alone. And above the trees
surely that flock of birds does not follow
a careless path of crumbs, and surely no refugees
from a bad mother can find me, to nibble
at my foundation till I crack.


BIO: Anne Brannen lives in Pittsburgh, where, for her day job, she studies medieval drama.

IMAGE: Fairy Land, Edward Reginald Frampton, 1872-1923