I was not knit together in a bulldog’s womb,
but circusroyalborn—my crownhead parents? Ponies.
Loved their tiny otherwiseness.
Thus she looks down on me
in more ways than one—
my rival, Cleopatra—
raven-named but Harlowhair’d, like me. In fact
I’ve often wondered if we
paradise, as sisters do,
selfsame facemaking serpents
in the edens of our bones
(both white as oyster babyteeth and underpillow wishes
every snake save one, that is
:that thyroid asp that grasps the garden’s Tree of Big and Small.
I crane my neck and see myself reflected in her eyes—
a princess staring, weeping,
out those twin dank castle casements;
long to ladderlet my hair to Hans,
who’s always at her feet.
Why don’t you listen to me, Hans?
Fairy‘s a clippedwing word as well
:Big People change its clothes before
they let it leave their mouths
or else those very fairies (so they say)
will slave those speakers, make them dance
within forever rings of moonlight mushrooms.
The way she makes you dance…
And we’re the fairies, Hans—
don’t turn! To me you are a man,
to her—sit down—
a toy, and not a loved one,
just a pennybellied pig she waits
foot-tappingly to smash.
When I think of all the forests black we’ve run through
(Big People wield the curses now
and plot, back home, to make us dance
a while for their fun
then tuck us into poison bassinettes—
that you’d ignore me, leave me—
and for one of them, and her—
that candycottage face,
that spider turning trapeze tricks
Is that it then?
She tumbles, tentpost-top,
a bird your heart can soar beside
and I am groundbound, evileyed by tinyness,
resigned to ponyride these dung and sawdust circles?
By now a thousand angels must’ve passed between
the sore and sudden hushes at our table.
You act as if I’d pointed at the lightning.
and we’re pieces one and all,
nightmare catalogue collages;
we are pastestuck scissored jokes.
Our wedding gifts? Our gifts—
swords swallowed, fire sneezed—
or just our emptyhanded, softly-spoken fellowstrangeness
:pinheads cluster, crooked teeth, around the redchecked table
(desperate hairbows: tender cactus blooms)
:legless Johnny —waning moon in rented tux
:the Twins, trapped mid-sprout, smiling.
I bookpile-sit at the table’s head,
my face a pinched and dainty saddog eyelet
and my hands two hasty patches on my lap.
Underwater-watch the bride and groom
(my tears) their faces churning through
their thick againraised goblets.
Hans could be
a rainforgotten marblegame
and she (in white no less)
not quite as drunk
but just enough to squeeze and kiss
the strongman at her side, that Hercules.
A wrung-rag midget starts the chant
We accept her—one of us!
and topturned bottles sing along.
The loving cup trembles, hand to hand—
when hands we have—and
we accept her we accept her!
One of us! One of us!
Then Cleo, whiter now, leaps up—
her pearls fling like dungflies
One of you?
I’d rather die
She throws the talon chalice down
and hawks up hatchling Hans.
I ran off then
(was offered, and declined,
a tooth of wedding cake—a prince-predicting,
preferred that night my stubborn, empty head and bed
I didn’t see that Cleo sickseed Han’s glass with arsenic.
Didn’t see the trio
(Hans atop her ox-yoke shoulders
and that Hercules, his mocking tuneless horn)
laughing, leave us like the tide.
The freaks washed up, sat stunned and stuck like seashells.
When all my flowers wilted, failed,
the others drew their knives.
First, jeweller’s loupes, they scrunched
at Cleo’s wagon windows, watched her
Then jigsaw harlequins they are—
a shattered, stainedglass deck—
they dealt themselves, beneath the stars,
into a human horoscope, nativity
:like an eagle’s slit still-breathing guts
they held each other, shuddered,
plotted Cleo’s sorry fate.
That lightning night
(now blind, now not)
men walked like trees
(and trees like men)
they crawled—rainsirened earthworms—through the mud,
knife-toothed, pistoled, most just anger-frankincensed
:chewing vengeance like tobacco, poised to spit
to Cleo’s caravan.
Their spiderstones spun cracked-glass window webs
and then, as if the rain was postmarked “LOURDES”
they grew themselves for once into
a whole and healthy body
with the strength and arms and legs
(and some to spare)
to crash the wagon on its side
and send her screaming to the woods.
What happened next? I mean
however did they do it?
(Play some chickencoop homemovie in reverse—
in which a steelsaw puppetplays the wolf, and yes
her legs were harrowed, two humped furrows in the field—
but the feathers tarred her, didn’t fly…
And now she pit-sits, one of us,
a freakshow’s star attraction
:white carnation in the owner’s new lapel.
And that she seems:
She was once known as The Peacock of the Air
today an almost cauliflower, downy
Humpty Dumpty in that silly velvet coat
or so they tell me.
I’m too terrified to look.
Once beautiful, now ugly,
still my rival, Cleopatra,
still, for different reasons, scares me
even though she’s now shy’d down to my size
and must look me in the eye.