The Lorelei Signal

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Erasing Myself From the Narrative

Written by Marsheila Rockwell / Artwork by Marge Simon

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My stepmother was a witch

But, then, this is a fairy tale

All stepmothers are witches here

 

As if the very act of raising

Another woman’s child

Is enough to curdle maternal instinct

 

Incite envy, compel the rod

And poison good will

Hiding some jealous truth beneath

 

A shiny, red, delicious skin

That only yields its dark secrets

To hungry tooth, or thirsty blade

 

Piercing, slicing, tearing away

Revealing the imagined worm within

But, then, this poem isn’t about her

 

My mother was the wife of a lettuce-thief

A virgin/whore heavy with child

Whose cravings would not be denied

 

She had to be punished for daring to desire

And so I was taken from her, new born

But this poem isn’t about her, either

 

This poem is about me, alone

In my lofty tower of stone

Where my stepmother, the witch

 

Put me to keep me safe

From a fairy tale’s many and varied dangers

Which is to say, from princes

 

But, this being a fairy tale

Those princes and their cravings

Will no more be denied

 

Than my mother’s prenatal hankerings

Though hers at least only required

The theft of a witch’s salad greens

 

And not the plundering of a virgin

And the plucking of her juicy maidenhood

Her low-born status all the better

 

For her prince’s inevitable abandonment

Leaving her to reap what he had sown

(Princesses being, in these particular tales

 

Less than ideal protagonists

Their fathers often not appreciating

The devaluation of their property)

 

But I am not a princess

And this poem is about me, alone

In my lofty tower of stone

 

Where songbirds bring me herbs and flowers

Mice delivers roots and gems, spiders spin

Fine cheesecloths for filtering tinctures

 

And a great horned owl named Archimedes

Angry at his magician

Once brought me a book of spells

 

Bound in supple skin, unlikely to be human

I learned many things from that grimoire

And found a way I could escape

 

Not from my lofty tower of stone

Cool in summer, warm in winter

Its window overlooking a forest lake

 

Indeed, I have no desire

To leave this peaceful place

That I have made my home

 

I plan to leave this fairy tale

I lack only one component

But that shall soon be remedied

 

Ah, there he is, my plot device

Calling for me to let down my hair

I do so gladly, tossing out my thick braid

 

Its length an unwelcome weight

Made more unwelcome by the addition of his

I hold my strong shears ready, steady, waiting

 

When he nears my window, I begin to cut

Sawing through the heavy plaits

With blades sharpened daily

 

In anticipation of this purpose

“I’m almost there!” he cries, panting

“Me, too,” I gasp, breathing hard, “Don’t stop!”

 

His hand breaches my window summit

Just as the last strand snaps

He grabs wildly at the ledge

 

And I stab him with my scissors

His desperate grip loosens, he falls

And the sound his body makes on impact

 

With the jutting rocks below

Is music worthy of the nightingale

I summon butterflies, sending them to collect

 

A different kind of nectar

The blood of a prince, freshly slain

The last ingredient for my spell

 

Once the flurry of painted wings departs

I call my circle, focus my intent

Speak the prescribed incantation

 

Mix my potion in a pigeon-pilfered beaker

Then walk to the window, lean out

And dash the glass against the tower wall

 

The liquid splatters, and where it lands

The stone begins to smoke, pit, disappear

I withdraw, a smile tugging at my lips

 

Less of triumph, though there is that, surely

More of sheer, unburdened relief

My tower will be hidden now

 

Vanishing from the pages of this fairy tale

Visible only to my animal friends

Who have never wished me any harm

 

I am not my stepmother, a fairy tale witch

I build no candy houses, own no

Mirrors with literary pretensions

 

(There is a cat; he’d say he owns me)

I do not eat children and I do not make bad bargains

With mermaids, or the husbands of pregnant neighbors

 

I am simply—finally—free

But fairy tales have no place

For a truly free woman

 

And I am well quit of this one

Rewritten, replaced, forgotten, erased

So I guess this poem isn’t about me, after all

 

Thank goodness

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Marsheila Rockwell is a Rhysling Award-nominated poet and the author of twelve books and dozens of poems and short stories.

 

She is a disabled pediatric cancer and mental health awareness advocate and a reconnecting Chippewa/Métis. She lives in the desert with my family, buried under books.

 

Find out more here: www.marsheilarockwell.com.