Seven Kinds of Stories
Nothing tonight but the lovesick churr
of sudden crickets. I sling dark thoughts
across the room, see where they fall.
I do not want to sleep. I flip the pages of a book.
A woman strings bright threads across a loom,
trusts piety to bring him back.
In wavering light, silence answers: Soon.
Cinderella scrambles for lentils on the floor,
Empties each grimy handful in a pot.
I do not want to sleep, I scramble
for a point in an unusable plot.
Penelope unravels a thread
Because the tapestry suffers from
too much red. A boy is plunged
headlong into a river, dry at the heel
where his mother fastens her hand.
Cinderella cannot forgive,
but knots her brows to understand.
I do not want to sleep. There are plots
I think I know by heart, but I can’t tell
who left, or returned, or broke the spell.
They name the boy Achilles and bind the heel
in leather, calfskin, the barks of ancient roots.
He wonders at the godly foot, warned against
the smallest harm: a stone, a bramble,
a stick. In Messina, Benedick
outwits Beatrice and wins the scene,
calling her his Dear Disdain.
She makes a pact with the god of wit
to win the play back: this is only
one scene; there are four other acts.
You sleep and do not read,
you sleep while I turn page after page
in dim light, follow a plot I can use
to know your mind.
A Pumpkin does not a carriage make
In real life, but it will do in Cinderella.
She eases a foot into a glass slipper
Bright as stars and cold as ice.
Midnight, She promises, Midnight,
Paris shoots an arrow clear through that coral
skin. Makes a moral out of human flaw,
as if the flaw meant human failing.
Penelope fixes her gaze in disbelief:
The olive tree so carefully pursued
turns on the loom into a map of Ithaca.
The odyssey isn’t his return,
it’s how her world extends without him:
beyond tree, or garden, the threads
on the loom. Try, they say, the slipper
on the urchin, and Cinderella
wins the world, the story, the Prince.
Seven kinds of stories and that’s every
book we know, in a thousand variations,
yet I’ve missed one—
the stoned-eyed, impossible monster
we’re meant to overcome. Was it Perseus
who told it first, was it Ishmael,
the snake-haired woman, the slippery whale
in an unruly sea? And what would you say
if I asked you tonight, say you found me
in this room, hunched over a page in dim light.
There’s a boat and a whale and a sea.
Let the narrative tell it, and let us be.