Snow, Blood, Night

by Joshua Gage


I. Mother

Winter is the time of waiting
when the world is eaten by cold and hunger
haunts the shadows. Everything is scraps
and savings, and memories hold until
the sun blesses the trees with leaves.
Where there is snow, bellies shrink
with longing, and the food is all salt
and dryness. Even apples cease
their sweetness after a time.

In the castle's cold, I wanted to feel
filled. I would to my mirror, naked
and run my hands across myself,
the edges of my ribs, the well
of skin that ached beneath them.
I would rock the dream of a child to sleep
all the while weeping. I sang
lullabies to our reflection,
told stories to the darkness. My daughter
must be beautiful by now,
but have lost time to this tower.
The stumps that once were nails won't claw
the stone. Even the blood has stopped.
I cannot keep the days, cannot
tell sun from moon, cannot feel
anything but the worm of hunger
gnawing its way out of me.

II. Stepmother

Every night, I would soak
myself in the lake of the mirror
and rise, clean, a maiden untorn,
until she grew, a calf
ready for veal. Then
I could only draw scars
and wrinkles from the water.

The huntsman brought her lungs
and liver for my table,
but the mirror still spoke of winter
despite the blossoms perfuming
the trees. I will lace ribbons
to string her breath from her lungs,
carve a bone with poison
for her hair. She damns
my face with second best,
so I will bless her lips
with this apple, watch her
fall with the first red bite.

III. Daughter

Winter is a shroud the world wears
when it grows weary of the sun, and days
forget themselves to darkness. I had lived
in the woods so long, I could have been the earth
itself, dark with years of leaves and rot.
The men returned to me each night to mine
between my legs. Their stench would soak my sheets
and cling to my skin, but I didn't mind.
Night after night, they came to me, like monks
drawn to prayer. They became the bells
of my cathedral, my Book of Hours. They left
me trinkets for my flesh, gold and diamonds,
until it seemed like I was a jewel myself.

I grew numb to cold and would lie in the snow
beneath the moon. I watched the storm pull down
the stars and cling to me. Lying still,
I was just another tree or stone in the landscape,
motionless, glittering with ice as though entombed
in glass. The lord of the land discovered me
asleep, lifted me upon his horse,
and rode me to his castle. His wife is a witch
who watchs me like a raven on a corpse.
But the men who love me know the secrets of iron,
the ways of lock and key. They visit me
when the moon is in a womb of clouds, and stoke
their fires. I will become the queen, bejeweled
and admired. The lady of the land withers.
Her skin is lined with years. Soon she will slip
these shoes upon her feet and learn to dance.

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