Obedience, or the Lying Tale by Jennifer Chang

 

I will do everything you tell me, Mother.
I will charm three gold hairs
from the demon’s head.
I will choke the mouse that gnaws
an apple tree’s roots and keep its skin
for a glove. To the wolf, I will be
pretty and kind and curtsy
his crossing of my path.
 
The forest, vocal
even in its somber tread, rages.
A slope ends in a pit of foxes
drunk on rotten brambles of berries
and the raccoons ransack
a rabbit’s unmasked hole.
What do they find but a winter’s heap
of droppings? A stolen nest, the cracked shell
 
of another creature’s child.
I imagine this is the rabbit way
and I will not stray, Mother,
into the forest’s thick,
where the trees meet the dark,
though I have known misgivings
of light as a hot hand that flickers
against my neck. The path ends
 
at a river I must cross. I will wait
for the ferryman
to motion me through. Into the waves
he etches with his oar
a new story: a silent girl runs away,
a silent girl is never safe.
I will take his oar in my hand. I will learn
the boat’s rocking and bring myself back
 
and forth. To be good
is the hurricane of caution.
I will know indecision’s rowing,
the water I lap into my lap
as he shakes his withered head.
Behind me is the forest. Before me
the field, a loose run of grass. I stay
in the river, Mother, I study escape.

This poem comes from The History of Anonymity: Poems.

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To learn more about Jennifer Chang, visit her page on the Poetry Foundation website by clicking here.

To read Kate Bernheimer’s wonderful essay, “Fairy Tale is Form, Form is Fairy Tale,” click here. And click here to read the Wikipedia summation of the fairy tale “The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs.”

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